September 25, 2014: Mmmm, Bearnaise…

Julie M:  Now that I am a Woman of a Certain Age, I’m finding that there is a special kind of film being marketed just to me. The heroine is an older woman (typically played by Judi Dench or Helen Mirren), the location is exotic, the woman is strong although in the beginning she is a) confused b) mean or c) standoffish, and eventually she melts and/or comes into her own through the application of a youthful character, a charming man her own age (whom she starts out hating), and/or a younger woman whom she mentors. In the end she “learns something about herself” and does things she would never have dreamed of doing at the time the film starts.

Jenny K: Hey, we’re not as old as The Dames…at least, not yet…meaning no disrespect to those lovely ladies and/or their immense talent.  But you have to hold onto those pre-retirement years with both hands, and they move faster and faster now, but I’m determined….but, I get your point, sorry, carry on.

Julie M:  Although they are all kind of the same, that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. I liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and now, ditto The Hundred Foot Journey (2014). I was aware the whole time that I, a WOACA, was being manipulated and pandered to, but man, it was pretty fun.

In this iteration, Helen Mirren plays Madame Mallory, a perfectionist and somewhat crotchety fine-dining restaurateur in a small town in France whose nose is put out of joint by the arrival of the Kadams, who take up residence and open an earthy, noisy Indian restaurant across the street from her hoity-toity establishment. The Kadam patriarch (a glorious Om Puri) antagonizes her from day one:

 

and eventually they have a balls-out business war, which plays out hilariously.

 

Meanwhile, Hassan (a very dishy Manish Dayal), the son and chief cook, becomes infatuated with French cuisine and with Madame’s sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). Hassan’s culinary talent soon becomes obvious, and Madame is simultaneously threatened and intrigued.

Jenny K: I love Om Puri in his long-suffering dad roles, he does it so well.  He steams and fumes along with the best of the dramatic comedians…or is that comedic dramatists?  Remember his films, East is East (1999) where he plays a Pakistani patriarch in Britain, and its sequel West is West (2010) where he takes some of his marriageable sons back to the mother country to find a bride…no, wait a minute, as I recall, in that second one, Om’s character, George Khan, sort of bugged the heck out of me.  Still a truly gifted actor, though.  Here he does it again, while on a sort of marvelous food travelogue!

 

Julie M: In addition to Om, the gorgeous scenes of rural France, long lingering camera pans of Hassan’s face, and multiple hits of food porn make this fairly obvious targeted to you-know-who and it would have normally made me roll my eyes. However, music by A.R. Rahman, an introductory flashback to the Kadams’ roots in India (with a nice cameo by Juhi Chawla as Mama) and the final message familiar to anyone who has seen even one old-fashioned Bollywood movie takes The Hundred Foot Journey a few steps beyond the typical middle-aged-lady-fantasy that is found in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to something interesting, without approaching the middle-aged-lady-weeperness of, for example, Philomena. Definitely worth seeing–once, and not thinking too hard while you do–and then going, as I did, with a fun group to an Indian restaurant that, unfortunately, did not measure up to the assumed deliciousness of the food in the film.

Jenny K: When I saw Hundred Food…eh…food-ean slip there…I mean Hundred Foot Journey, I felt like I was getting a real dose of cinema comfort food. It’s the latest in enjoy-your-life-it’s-not-over-yet films by Lasse Halstrom. I just rewatched his Salmon Fishing in the Yemen where a supposedly stodgy (? Really?  Yeah, right.) Ewan MacGregor finds a new lease on life with Emily Blunt in the deserts of Yemen with a dishy sheik and lots of big fish along for the ride. Not that EMcG is exactly ready for a senior discount, but his character was similarly stuck in his ways and weighed down by duties, obligations and the fatigues of routine life. Love both films…how could you go wrong with Helen and Om? Though I’m not sure I really believed their jodi would last for any length of time. Perhaps I just loved her much more effective “senior romance” with Brian Cox as her long-lost Russian spy-boy-toy in Red (and Red 2). A much more explosive chemistry there, even discounting the automatic weaponry she sported! He comes in at the end of this clip with a twinkle in his eye and saves the day…though she probably could have done it herself.

 

Julie M: But Madame and Papa…I never saw them as becoming more than just very good friends and late-life companions. He was too attached to his dead wife and she to her restaurant. Plus, she’s still French. But, back to Salmon Fishing. I read the book and was not sufficiently impressed to see the movie, although it keeps showing up on my library’s DVD shelves so I should probably borrow it one of these weekends.

Jenny K:  Definitely a must-view, if just for the scenery…Scotland and our Sheikh Mohammed (Amr Waked), both. And Kristen Scott Thomas’ hilarious comedic turn as the PM’s Press Director.  Who knew she had that set of chops in her arsenal?

 

Julie M: What I kept thinking, of course, was what if this had been an Indian film? We would have gotten the full backstory of how Papa and Mama met, courted and married: her food ties, his absorbing of her passion (because he doesn’t seem to be from a food family, he got swept up into hers), and enough of the cute couple back and forth [SPOILER ALERT] to make her eventual death even more dramatic and shocking (it seemed beside the point here, simply to get her out of the way so the plot could continue), [END SPOILER] and then the continuation into the next generation with more of little Hassan growing up at her side and in the kitchen. The puny, abbreviated flashback via the story he told the immigration official was just not enough for me. Then there would have been more poignancy when Papa goes all out to continue the business afterwards, [SPOILER ALERT] and conveys (of course, many more times) what heaven-dwelling Mama says. And we would have seen more Juhi. [END SPOILER]   Plus, of course, more songs and even an item number, set in the old restaurant, that tells us how much a fixture it was before it burned. It would have been much more satisfying, like, um, a good meal…

Jenny K:  I’m always one for more Juhi Chawla!  Definitely would have been a plus…but would Dame Helen have shared half a film with another love interest?  Not bloomin’ likely!  She’s a very strong WOACA…and she was already sharing the screen with multiple dishes that all too frequently stole focus.

Julie M:  But as it was, didn’t that sea urchin dish look yummy?

Jenny K:  What did you say?  I was browsing Yelp….mmmm!   French or Indian???

Julie M:  I vote for both!

September 22, 2014: A plea for realistic South Asian voices

Julie M:  I don’t usually reprint others’ work without comment or context, but if you like the Indian literature posts on this blog you should check this essay out.

http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/brown-south-asian-fiction-pandering-western-audiences/#

Now I need to go back and look at my literature posts to make sure I as a reader am not falling into any of Ms. Akhtar’s listed traps and tropes.

Author Javeen Akhtar

Sept. 18, 2014: Women’s Rights, and Wrongs

Way back in March, in honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to get the girls together on several nights in the same week to see what the Indian cinema market had to offer on this theme, as it seemed they were making a particular effort.  It was a rather intrepid undertaking, going to see three films with women in the drivers seats, at three different venues within three days, and I thought I was up to it…but it may have been too much.

The first film we went to see was Queen at the Loehmann’s Cinema in Falls Church.  Pat and I went out in the cold snap and joined a faithful group of midweek theater-goers (it was a Tuesday) eager to find out what all the fuss was about.  I had never seen so many glowing reviews for a film, or more specifically, a performer as I had for Kangna Ranaut that week on Rediff.com, here’s an example.  I was really looking forward to watching it, and it didn’t disappoint.

Kangana Rules in QueenTo give a short synopsis, Kangna plays Rani, a lovely, yet very girl-next-door Delhi girl, quiet, modest, soft spoken, who we meet in the first days of her wedding celebrations. Along with Rani we meet her parents and her funny younger brother, Chintu and the rest of her family, and are ready to jump right in and join the party.  But, unfortunately it doesn’t last long, as her fiancée, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), gets her to meet with him at a café, two days before the final ceremony…and calls it off!  Rani doesn’t rant, doesn’t rail at him, as one would expect, but she pleads with him, and when he still holds firm, sleepwalks through the next few days of the dismantling of her shaadi dreams.

The one thing she can’t let go of is her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam.  Lovingly planned to two of her favorite cities, taking that trip, even alone, is the only thing that might, she thinks, assuage the pain in her heart.  Her parents, helpless to do anything else for her, let her go.  The rest of the story is the adventures Rani has on this ten day voyage that has her discover a part of herself, find a strength that she never knew existed…a life without a man defining her.  This new freedom, while daunting at first, with practice, becomes a life-sustaining force for Rani.  She meets many new friends, sees new places and has volumes of new experiences along the way.

Lisa Haydon, Girl-WindPat and I both really enjoyed going along with her.  The performances were uniformly good, with Rajkummar being effectively swinish as the jilting boyfriend who comes to his senses, too late.  I’d seen him in sweet earnest performances in Talaash and Kai Po Che!  and had no idea that he could play scum so well… And the eye-opener of the evening for me was Lisa Haydon, who I hadn’t seen before, and she just captured focus in any scene she was in, blowing through Rani’s life in Paris like one of that city’s fabled April breezes.  She’s going to go places, I’m sure, and the resemblance to Angelina Jolie, doesn’t hurt.  But Kangna Ranaut captures our heart in every scene, whether crying after her first release of emotion with her first taste of alcohol, or dancing like a maniac on the club bar, or simply standing up to her louse of a fiancée.  She holds onto that girl at the center of the story and makes us feel it with her and root her on.  Two major thumbs up from us.  Sorry the trailer doesn’t have subtitles.  Couldn’t find one with them.

Continuing with India’s ongoing female empowerment theme, Kathy’s all jazzed up to see Juhi Chawlha opposite Madhuri in Gulaab Gang, about a woman (Mads) who fights for womens’ rights, literally and verbally!  So, off we went to Gaithersburg to catch this one.

Directed by Soumik Sen and pairing two of our favorite actresses, you’d think we would have loved this one.  I should have researched it more, though it’s been so long since we’ve had a good Juhi film, that we’d probably have gone to give her support, in any case.

Juhi Chawla the VillainessThe research would have shown me that what purported to be a based-on-real-life story had been drumming up lots of negative publicity and protesting by the purported heroine of the piece Sampat Pal Devi that didn’t bode well for the film.

A brief synopsis would tell you that Madhuri Dixit is playing Rajjo, a woman who is moved to establish an ashram in Uttar Pradesh to teach young local women how to read, support themselves and even defend themselves.  They live and work together in unity and peace (unless you count the fits of physical justice they deal out that have all the men in the area wary of the sight of pink saris coming at them), and Rajjo is encouraged by their future when an ambitious local woman politician Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla) comes to their ashram looking for the Gulaab Gang’s support in the upcoming election.  But Sumitra should have known that her less than noble goals would come out and you just don’t cross Rajjo’s gals, as any of the locals could have told her.  Juhi is fabulous, by the way…I’ll never take her at face value again…pretty can play devious and crafty, as well!  Brava!

Madhuri in FlightGulaab Gang dancingMadhuri is lithe and agile and suitably tough in her role, but I didn’t know how to take the film, as a protest or a comedy?  In the midst of a fight, here comes a musical number stopping all the drama.  And those sticks they are wielding are not dandia sticks, either.  They pack quite a punch, complete with martial arts style slo-mo.  I’m afraid the music didn’t make their message any more palatable to me.  I’d agree that women shouldn’t sit still and take all the abuse given them, but should they take action that make them just as brutal as the guys?  What with this and the equally iffy Dedh Ishqiya from January (Sorry, Nasseerji, you know I wanted to love it!) Left us with a sour taste in our mouths.  Thank goodness we’ve still got Irrfan to look forward to.

That would be Irrfan Khan, in The Lunchbox (Dabba – 2013). The “little crossover film that could” has Irrfan trading notes for food with an under-appreciated wife, not his, played by Nimrat Kaur.  But this slow-burning foodie favorite has been worth the wait for audiences and investors alike as it’s slowly earned it’s money back and is still playing at four theaters here in the US 29 weeks after it’s opening!  It’s an art house darling to die for.

The Lunchbox PosterThe short story: Nimrat’s character, Ila, is an unhappy housewife, trying to recapture her husband’s attention by her cooking, to not much avail. She gets advice on how to spice up her life as well as her food from the unseen “Auntie” upstairs (voiced by Bharati Achrekar). When Ila sends the newly flavorful dishes off to her hubby via the tiffin-wallah delivery boys, she waits hopefully for a change in his demeanor, but doesn’t get one. However, the next time she tries, she gets a thank you note, of sorts, from the man who actually received the food, Saajan Fernandes, widower and impending retiree (Irrfan, yummy, as usual, even when trying to hide his light behind the “moustache of middle age”).  The continuing errors of the tiffin guys give her the outlet they need for their unexciting lives.  The will she/won’t she tension of his appreciation and her need of it, keeps you nicely on the edge of your seat until the end.  Here’s a trailer.

Now, the SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen it, and intend to, don’t read the paragraph below.

As much as I liked the performances (Nawazuddin Siddiqui was adorable in this! So many faces this man has!), this film doesn’t merit the high degree of adoration the public seems to be giving it. The biggest problem I have with it would perhaps be solved by putting back in some of the length it feels like was there at one time. I’m all for women’s empowerment, but I don’t think that her character would have left her marriage with so little cause, in such a short span of time. She convinces herself that her marriage is over because her husband doesn’t like her lunches, and perhaps is having an affair? And she doesn’t even confront him about it, not once? Seems horribly abrupt, or perhaps we’ve missed a scene or two of spousal abuse. Never thought I’d be asking for that, but a cause like that would make more sense of her drastic solution, especially taking her child with her. I certainly wasn’t expecting a “make yourself happy, no matter who it hurts” ending worthy of Hollywood at its shallowest.

September 11, 2014: Krrish? KRUSHED.

Julie MKrrish 3 (2013): Stupidest. Movie. Ever.

Jenny K:  Didn’t you loooove Viveik [Oberoi]’s pie-plate armor? NOT!!

Julie M:  Bad CGI, fight scenes that lasted WAY too long, and the most inane dialogue and plot devices ever. Hrithik [Roshan] should be ashamed of himself–and just as he was starting to make a name as a serious actor. This one made Ra.One look good, and that’s saying something.  The only reasonably entertaining part was in the beginning, where Krishna kept losing various jobs because he had to turn into Krrish and go save someone.

(and that’s all we are going to say about that)

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