January 10, 2017: Goodbye, Puri Sahib

om-puri

Julie M: Indian film lost one of its guiding lights on January 6. Om Prakesh Puri was best known as a character actor—his appearance did not lend itself to lead roles in films that wanted to be popular, and he was definitely no chocolate hero. He worked on stage, in television, and in film, first in “art” cinema, later in mainstream Bollywood. I don’t recall seeing him dancing or singing, though: he always seemed to be too serious an actor for that. Puri was the crossover actor that all Bollywood actors dream of being: fluent in several languages, he worked without prejudice in Indian, Pakistani, British, and American films. His rough looks and gravelly voice as he aged often landed him roles as either a police officer or a stern father/father-figure, frequently positive ones, occasionally ambiguous, rarely 100% negative. As an indicator of his “type,” his name is often thought of when one thinks of actors like Naseeruddin Shah (the Filmi-Goris perennial fave and Puri’s longtime good friend), Shabana Azmi, Amrish Puri (no relation), and Smita Patil. He was the “angry young man” before Amitabh Bachchan, and appeared in later films like Rang de Basanti and Yuva, both serious films about young people coming into awareness of their political obligations (although in Yuva, he played a corrupt politician who is threatened by the young upstarts).

American audiences may remember seeing him in Gandhi (1982) as the character who killed a Muslim child because a Muslim had killed his son, and wants some kind of absolution from Hell through Gandhi. It was a pretty intense one-scene cameo for him early in his career and I believe it was his first non-Indian film job.

Puri had already won the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor award in 1980 for the dramatic and heart-rending art film Aakrosh (aka Cry of the Wounded). In it he played, nearly silently, a peasant whose life is one of such unfairness, dehumanization, loss, and violence at the hands of others that he commits a heinous, violent act of his own simply to prove that his entire life and those of his loved ones won’t be known for complete victimization. WARNING: this is very difficult to watch. The role in Gandhi, however brief, brought back, to those who had seen Aakrosh, a similar character who had the opportunity to make a very different decision.

Jenny K: In a similarly visible US film appearance in Roland Joffe’s City of Joy with Patrick Swayze and Pauline Collins, Puri played a Calcutta rickshaw driver with such detail and determination that he impressed even the New York Times, though the film itself didn’t do well. Here’s a bit of his biography, remembering that film, chronicled by his ex-wife, Nandita.

Julie M: Puri could also handle silly comedy as well as the more serious dramatic roles. One of my personal favorite Indian films is the 1997 Chachi 420 (Fake Aunty), which was inspired by the American film Mrs. Doubtfire.   As Banwari Lal, he is instantly suspicious of “Lakshmi” (the fake-female babysitter for his employer’s granddaughter), and pits himself against her repeatedly as she thwarts his plans to siphon off his employer’s money. Here’s a great scene with Banwari comically spying on her as she walks through town (there is dialogue but no subtitles are necessary).

As in most farces, there is eventually a comedy of mistaken identity, and this one involves Banwari in a hilariously complex way.   At the end he learns the truth about Lakshmi, but has committed so many evil deeds that he cannot reveal what he knows lest they all come out publicly and ruin him.

Jenny K: That looks hysterical, but in addition to a light touch with slapstick, Om Puri could be funny with just a look or a gesture, bringing an indelible quality to what would, in other hands, be a rather bland supporting role. Take his part as Pandit in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool(2003)…a fabulous film, but paired with his old school chum Naseeruddin Shah again, as Purohit, they play policemen/city officials who bring real color to the usually bland “chorus” role in this Macbeth adaptation. They completely had me laughing from the get-go.

om-in-maqbool

(Screencap thanks to Amrita Sen on the Borrowers and Lenders site.  I could not find one, and no pic would be a crime!)

Julie M: But his roles as a gruff father trying to resist change are the ones that I think a lot of people would remember him for, and two of them are conveniently filmed in English. In 1999’s East is East (and its 2010 sequel West is West, which we reviewed here), Puri earned international acclaim as the patriarch of a British-Pakistani family. As George Khan, he is dismayed that his British-raised children won’t respect Pakistani traditions and is abusive to them and to his British wife. In this scene, George is upset that his youngest son is faking that he is not circumcised in order to fit in with the other boys.

Although played as comedy, Khan’s struggles with his family’s identity rang serious and true among not just Pakistani immigrants to Britain, but among any bicultural families torn between the old ways and their new homeland. In 2014’s The Hundred Foot Journey, Puri plays Papa Kadam, an Indian immigrant to France whose smelly, casual Indian restaurant is a nuisance to Helen Mirren’s Madame Mallory, who runs a classy Michelin-starred French restaurant just across the street.

They become instant enemies: in this scene, Papa has bought all the pigeons in the market so Madame cannot make her restaurant’s signature dish.   He doesn’t say a word in the scene, but he is so good at the character that you know all you need to just from his face. The journey he takes from stubborn ire to protectionism, to eventual détente and maybe something more, is again one that is familiar to any immigrant.

Jenny K: What I constantly marvel at is how a man with such an instantly recognizable face and voice can give such a variety of characterizations in the body of his work. I remember going to see Mirch Masala (1987) during the Kennedy Center’s Maximum India festival back in the spring of 2011, and almost didn’t recognize Puri at first, who, at 37 was playing an old caretaker of sixty-some. He was always playing older, at least by the time I began watching Indian films in the eary 2000’s. And, because of that, it’s hard to believe that he left us at only 66!

Mirch Masala is one of those dramas of colonial India that play so well, especially with its stellar cast. Naseeruddin Shah is epically slimy as an evil governmental officer, or Subhedhar, who uses his position to harvest the countryside for taxes and other “side benefits.” On his rounds one day, he sees a particularly lovely, but married, woman, Sonbai (the feisty Smita Patil), at the banks of the river, and tells her what he expects from her. She flouts him and runs away to hide in the local warehouse yard where the chili harvest is dried out in the sun. Abu Miyan (Om Puri) is the factory watchman, or chowkidar, who stands alone with the women in their defiance of the subhedar’s demands for Sonabai’s surrender. Even the mayor of the town is against them, thinking that the cost of one woman will be worth the loss of the whole town. Sometimes the film leans toward the melodramatic, and Naseerji twirls a particularly fine moustache, but I really enjoyed the film and Om Puri’s noble character. [Sorry, no subtitles, but the visuals are vivid!]

Another old favorite of mine for its classic cast and solid performances was Disha (1990), our review, here. Puri’s performance as the “crazy” older brother, Parshuram or “Pagal Parsa” who sticks to the farm life and the continual digging of his family’s well, is the rock on which the whole story is built. The whole film is a picture of how poverty in the countryside sent multitudes into the city to better their family’s fate, but it usually didn’t. Nana Patekar, Raghuvir Yadav and Shabana Azmi are also wonderful in it.

Whatever role he took, Om Puri left us with a clear picture of the person he was trying to share. It was a gift, rich with detail, charm and passion, subtle or broad, always perfectly delivering the director’s intention. That is not a talent that will be easily replaced…if ever. Thank you, Puri Sahib.

May 4, 2016: SRK, Still FANtastic at 50!

Fan: SRK on the gates of MannatOut of the drought and dearth of inspirational films coming out of Bollywood these days, Shah Rukh Khan’s FAN has stirred our sluggish viewing hearts back to our keyboards! Imagine that! It spurred many a thought and pulled a post out of fingers so stiff from boredom that I thought we’d be indulging in another multi-month of reviewing sloth. Thank you, SRK!

Jenny K: Hey there…are you going to get a chance to see SRK’s Fan? Pat, Kathy, Jayesh and I went to see it last night and it was very interesting, and not just for the surface action! He provides that, of course, but this added something different. I’m still mulling it over. Though knowing that you don’t really like Shah Rukh, maybe I shouldn’t recommend it, but I had some theories about it that I wanted to run past you, if you saw it. The house was packed (a regular multiplex, not a desi cinema) and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I liked it, but Pat and Kathy, die hard Rukhies, LOVED it. Here’s the trailer with subtitles that you can switch on.

Julie M: This one was the first film in a LOOOONG time to interest me even a little…I’m going right now!
[five hours later…]

Mind. Blown. Let’s talk tomorrow.
[Next day…]

OK—for the readers—brief plot overview, if I can do it without spoilers. Gaurav Chandna is a young man in Delhi who bears a striking physical resemblance to his hero, Aryan Khanna, an actor 30 years older; in fact, Gaurav calls himself Aryan’s “biggest fan” and has built his life around studying, admiring, and even imitating him. He calls himself “Aryan Khanna Junior” and longs to meet his hero in person, convinced that they would get along as good friends once “Senior” learns of his admiration. After Gaurav wins money in a performance contest he travels to Mumbai for Khanna’s annual birthday greeting to his fans to meet the star; but is rebuffed from getting close to him. This sets off a chain of events that both draw the pair together and separate them even further.

Reaction: Fan was SO GOOD. Plenty of “insider” SRK jokes, like the ring tone on Gaurav’s phone being the theme from DDLJ (I had to explain that to my companion, she hadn’t seen it), and how did they get him to look 30 years younger?! This is probably the best acting I’ve seen SRK do, bar none. Of course he had to try to top Aamir’s turn in Dhoom 3, but Aamir was better, I think, at doing two totally different characters.

Jenny K: I agree, though I thought Shah Rukh’s acting gave Aamir a very close run. He was using nuances of performance that I hadn’t seen for a very long time! And, it’s funny that we both thought immediately of

[spoiler alert] [spoiler alert] [spoiler alert] 

the final twins scene from Dhoom 3. What is it with the falling twin thing in Bollywood films? Showing us what a “leap” they’re attempting? Sorry, couldn’t help it.

[end spoiler alert]

Still, compared to all the cop/gangster mediocrities and misbegotten attempts at superhero films that have been emerging from Mumbai lately, Fan is close to groundbreaking!Fan: SRK as Gaurav

The de-aging effects were fascinating. His transformation was done for the most part with practical makeup effects, albeit done by Greg Cannom, Brad Pitt’s makeup designer from Benjamin Button.

The face I understand…latex pieces on the cheek and jaw, CGI narrowing the nose and taking out the lines and bags around the eyes, plus they spoke about a specific kind of contact lens that (I think) bulged out the eyes a bit, and a dental piece that changed and evened his teeth and added a slight lisp…plus the DDLJ era wig. What I don’t understand is how they got the doughy almost adolescent torso when he took his shirt off. Did they use a body double? Or did they just let him carb-out for a month and then CGI out any left-over body hair/extraneous texture? Final verdict, he still looks better to me as he is, at fifty, nose, wrinkles and all!

Fan: SRK as AryanJulie M: I noticed the teeth prosthesis–that was the only unconvincing aspect of the transformation. I also noticed the body differences–I suspected a body double with a CGI-enhanced head. But I also noticed that the 50-year-old SRK—I mean Aryan—looks way better on film than in real life (SRK’s real life), which I suspect is also due to some more-careful-than-usual special effects wizardry.

Flaws: the fight scenes went on too long (as usual, Indian film never knows when to quit on fight scenes), the of-course-he-did motorcycle chase, and the lack of a strong female lead–but I can excuse that last one because that’s not where the story really is. The other two, well, they are never my favorite parts of any film, Indian or American.

Jenny K: Actually, I saw in the credits that they were using Korean fight directors in this film for the first time. I think this is why Kathy liked it as much as she did…she’s been mega-binging on Korean films these days, and they’re luring her away from Mother India!

Julie M: Yeah, I noticed that the quality of the fighting was stepped up a little. Still too much of it, though.Fan 4

Jenny K: I liked the climbing out the window stunt, though.  Way vertiginous!

My main complaint with it, and it’s coming to be my universal gripe, is that there aren’t enough musical numbers for my song-loving palate. With all the backstage and onstage settings, all I got was snippets! And the big number, “Jabra,” which is a nice one and a big hit, is only available online, not present in the film, even over the end credits! What a waste! Here’s one with subtitles.

Julie M: But the “meta” aspect is the mind-blowing thing: an actor of incredible fame who always says he owes it all to his fans playing an actor of incredible fame who says he owes it all to his fans–but really can’t care about his fans because he would then have no time to act, which is what the fans like. There is one little speech in the film that approaches that last bit, which I think could have been done slightly more thoughtfully and REALLY blown me away.

Jenny K: I know when I first heard about Fan, and they hadn’t mentioned that it was a duplicate role, I thought how cool it was that SRK was fostering the stardom of a new young actor as the “fan.” But then I found out he was playing opposite himself, as he has done many times before, this time with the benefit of state-of-the-art CGI, and I was mildly appalled, and disappointed at the dashing of my hopes of his generosity of spirit.

Now, after seeing the finished product, I don’t believe I’ve given Shah Rukh enough credit. It actually isn’t the vanity piece I’d feared, and I left the cinema reading all sorts of things into his performance. He hasn’t put this out there as proof of his acting chops… I already knew that (Dil Se!). It seemed to me as if, with this film, Shah Rukh, as an actor, is giving us an intellectual musing on the fight within himself about what one loses when you become a star, on what comes with public acclaim and what you have to do to keep it. The character of Aryan, and by extension SRK himself, has lost his youth, his innocence, his capacity for spontaneous behavior and self-expression without self censoring, etc. He always has to “do what’s expected” or all will be taken away. I’m not left with the sense that either the actor or the character regrets the choices he’s made, but that he is always aware of them, and the costs involved. And instead of seeing him as stealing a role from a young actor, I ended up feeling that he had no choice but to act both sides of himself for us.

Julie M: Whoah. Well said, girl.

Jenny K: Thanks, glad you agree. You see some of the same thought processes involved in his two part behind-the-scenes documentaries by Nasreen Munni Kabir, The Inner/Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan (2006). My mother loved these, and trapped my father in the living room until he watched the Inner World with her. Nice memories!

[Ware! Ware! Spoilers ahead! Read on at your own peril!!!!!]Gaurav in the Crowd

Julie M: Final thing for now–about the end–I totally thought Aryan was going to apologize after he saw Gaurav lying dead on the sidewalk, and then when he didn’t I thought he was going to mouth an apology when he “saw” Gaurav in the birthday crowd at the very end. The fact that he didn’t meant that Aryan hasn’t grown from the experience, and in a way it means SRK is not as “humbled” by his fans as he pretends to be.

Jenny K: I didn’t think that Aryan had to apologize for anything except calling the police in on Gaurav at the beginning. That was “full-on heavy-handed star” mentality in action. But what he said was reasonable, and Gaurav would have been wiser to take what he said as a wakeup call. But he didn’t, and he actively chose to not let Aryan save him…he let go, didn’t he? At least that’s the impression I’m left with. But Gaurav was bat-shit crazy…so it probably would never have ended happily.

Julie M: Absolutely bat-shit crazy and I knew from the very moment he was introduced that he would die in the end. But I expected a bit of thaw, or at the very least some humanity, from the star…that didn’t really happen. I think SRK was taking some real risks with this, harking back to the early days when he did negative roles before he hit it big with romantic-hero stuff.

So, we’re both giving out two serious thumbs up for this unique departure for Mr. Movie Star Badshah Khan! Go out and catch this special picture, even if it doesn’t have enough music and dancing for Jenny the die-hard. Continue reading

November 21, 2015: Of Flights and Fancies

We love international travel. It’s so improving. Plus you get to watch cool movies on the plane. Julie saw not one, not two, but three recent Hindi releases courtesy of Lufthansa.

Julie M: Finally got to see three new-ish films, none of which ever made it to my local theaters. Two were worth it, one was not. Let’s dispense with the “not” first: Tanu Weds Manu Returns was a giant snooze-fest that made me actively hate characters I was not 100% fond of the first time around. We catch up with the nebbishy Manu and self-centered Tanu as they are making each other miserable in England four years after their marriage. She commits him to a mental institution and proceeds back to Kanpur to scandalize her family with her wild city ways; he gets released and takes up with a 19-year-old Tanu lookalike in Delhi, who happens to be half-promised to Tanu’s old boyfriend. Everything spirals down from there: an ill-advised engagement, a baby of secret parentage, and a snarky law student add up to a horrifyingly cringe-worthy series of events. By the time (spoiler alert, as if you needed one) Tanu and Manu reconcile, you really don’t care anymore whether those two crazy kids can make it—you just want it all to be over.

Jenny K: I am so jealous…about the international travel, and the leisurely watching of movies while in flight, even if they are mediocre. Sorry to hear it, though, as I usually like Kangana Ranaut (the charming actress from Queen) and R. Madhavan. However, I’d heard bad things about TWM and its apparently lamentable follow up, and have successfully avoided them.

Julie M: On the other hand, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a fun addition to the growing body of modern Hindi thrillers. It’s 1943 Calcutta, India has major problems with war, the British, and opium, and Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a very young, aspiring private detective. He talks his way into an assignment to find another young man’s missing father and stumbles into a complex situation involving spies, scientific discovery, international terrorism and (of course) murder. The plot involves double- and triple-crosses, a Mata Hari-like vamp, a helpful (or is he?) British military man, and a Watson-like sidekick/pal. The filmmaking is atmospheric and visually very detailed, Rajput is a very convincing wet-behind-the-ears detective, and the door is admirably left open for future adventures. And we know there will be more: the character, created by Bengali author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, was beloved in Indian popular literature from 1931-1970 and has been the protagonist of many other films and television serials, both based on the books and not. This movie (despite the liberties taken with the chronology) serves as both an origin story and a concept reboot and the character combines the coolest traits of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Sam Spade. I’m already hooked.

Jenny K: Now, I’m sorry I missed that one. You make it sound like a good bet…even if you may have enjoyed it strictly on the visuals of young Mr. Rajput. A favorite of yours, as I recall from earlier reviews.

Julie M: And then we come to the third film, Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I am not a huge Khan fan (the last few films of his I saw were horrendously bad and he seemed to be aging poorly), but I found this portrayal of an uncomplicated, not-especially-bright guy just trying to do the right thing to be quite entertaining although there was plenty of eye-rolling at the obvious tugs at the heartstrings.

Jenny K: Now, I did see this one! And in a theater, too! I have been, like you, not one of Sallubhai’s biggest supporters, but every so often he does pull off a winner, even for me. How can you resist the self-mocking Bodyguard and its crazy, shirt-phobic drainpipe? You have to see the scene to believe it! And Salman does get credit in my book for being one of the only stars who still supports the multi-song format any more. I really miss the seven songs per show days.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 2Julie M: Khan plays Pawan (nicknamed Bajrangi), a devotee of Hanuman who has recently lost his father (a hilarious backstory has him dropping dead of shock after Pawan finally passes his exams after eleven attempts) and is trying to make money to buy a house so he can marry his girlfriend Rasika (an underused Kareena Kapoor). Pawan’s happy life is turned upside-down when a lost, mute little girl (Harshaali Malhotra) attaches herself to him. He knows she belongs somewhere and as he gradually finds out more about her—much of which is disruptive to his simple and narrow world—he vows to return her to where she belongs. In the process he has to deal with completely unknown situations in the best way he knows how: by being himself in a world that seems not to know how to deal with him.

This tale, and the way Khan spins it out, seemed to me to be very old-fashioned. The story is in the traditional format of past-setup, present day, LONG flashback, and moving forward, with the post-interval action more serious and carrying the seeds of controversy. Pavan’s world is almost a fantasy, with bright colors, friendly people and traditional pastimes. His relationship with Rasika unfolds like the first half of every Bollywood movie, with a “meet cute” and hate turning to friendship and then love over a montage of scooter-riding and travel-photo Delhi adventures.

Jenny K: But aren’t those good feelings and the basic sweetness what’s been missing from Hindi films recently, with all their goondahs and drug lords? I know I’ve missed them, heck, the lack of heartwarming films and romantic musicals in western filmmaking is what made me turn to Bollywood in the first place.

Bajrangi BhaijaanJulie M: That’s what I mean! I was never bored and the director made me care about every character. Pawan takes the shocking revelations about “Munni” in stride (she can’t speak! she eats meat! she’s a…MUSLIM!!!), which is supposed to be a testament to his innocent nature, should have made me laugh out loud but given the setup seemed only natural. The trope of a small girl teaching lessons to a grown man about acceptance of difference, and then having him teach others, is standard in “film-festival” films but seemed fresh here. The reporter character played by Nawazudin Siddiqui (what is it about that guy—I love him in each and every one of his roles!) had a suspiciously fast turnaround from “get the spy” to “let’s help this guy,” but somehow it made sense. And the overall message of people being people, not countries or political beliefs, is just simple enough to work. And of course, I, along with everyone else (I assume—I was watching it on a small screen on the back of the airplane seat in front of me!), teared up at the end despite myself.

NawazuddinJenny K: Nawazuddin is one of my favorite actors working today, a dusky Jude Law with many more guns in his acting arsenal (sorry, Jude, you’re still delicious).   In the past five years, especially, he’s done a wide variety of characters. Dekh Indian Circus has him playing the mute farmer in a remote country village with poignancy in every silent glance. Kahaani turned the tables completely in a darkly edgy role as the driven police detective (is he complicit in the crime, or not?). Then in Talaash, he’s a haunted criminal who makes you sorry for him even while you thoroughly condemn his decisions. And in Dabba/The Lunchbox, his touch with light comedy brings a glow to this unlikely bromance with the equally wonderful Irrfan Khan. Truly unique performances in every role he attempts, an actor’s actor.

Julie M: An old friend unfamiliar with Bollywood but much involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saw this movie and crowed about how wonderful it was and how many lessons it had to teach us. I’m glad that this film had the intended effect on someone—but I also wish it was a less formulaic film.

Jenny K: At least someone out there is attempting to teach the lessons, I say. Even if it wasn’t completely successful, or was too heavy handed in places, I feel that this film touches more people than it turns off. My sometimes cynical pal, Pat, said it was the best film she’d seen all year and I chatted on IMDb with a woman in the Midwest somewhere who wandered into BB in her local multiplex, almost as an accident, as her first choice had sold out, and came out uplifted and with a budding love of Indian film! That’s a winner in my book.  Salman Khan, take a bow!

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 3

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.

January 6, 2014: Guns and Six-Packs, Part II

Continuing from yesterday’s musings on muscles and mindless fun in the movies, with…

Julie M:  Dhoom 3 (2013)…wherein my eyeballs were drawn to Aamir and I was thoroughly bored with any scene in which he did not appear.Dhoom 3 POSTER

Plot summary: Our top-cop “heroes” from Dhoom and Dhoom 2, ACP Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and his silly sidekick Ali (Uday Chopra) have been called to Chicago to help investigate a string of bank robberies at which inscriptions in Hindi have been found along with a clown mask.  They very quickly figure out who the robber is but they can’t understand how he does it and cannot manage to catch him.  Meanwhile, we learn the backstory of the robber:  he is Sahir Khan (Aamir Khan), who had grown up in his father’s (Jackie Shroff) Great Indian Circus in Chicago, but experienced personal tragedy when the circus was forced to close down for lack of funds, a situation exacerbated by the refusal of the Western Bank of Chicago to lend them any more money.  His plan involves robbing branches of that very bank to gain the funds to resurrect the Great Indian Circus and avenge his father’s ideas.  Aliyah (Katrina Kaif) is the dancer/heroine who is important to the success of the rebooted circus act.  The action of the film involves Jai and Ali tracking, chasing and outwitting Sahir in an attempt to bring him to justice, with a stunning revelation just before the interval that leads the second half into a completely different direction.  Take a look at the trailer. 

Jenny K:  I saw it with Pat on Christmas Day, and didn’t hate it!  Imagine!  And I was prepared to…after watching Dhoom (1), I figured that Dhoom 2 must have been some kind of fluke.

Julie M:  Nyah, nyah, I saw it first!  Not by choice…I made the error of going to see it on the Saturday before Christmas, in a major mall cinema (aka something to avoid), as part of a Meetup group that didn’t quite meet up.  So I saw it alone.

Jenny K:  Aw…it’s amazing how many Meetup.com meetings end up as solo events…sorry, though.

Katrina decorating the stageJulie M: Given the nature of the Dhoom films (of which I vastly preferred Dhoom 2) I didn’t expect much more than a bunch of action scenes, some scantily clad lasses a la Bipasha Basu in Dhoom 2, a star-of-the-moment slimmed to nothingness as the lead actress, a big hunky male star as the villain and a bad rap song.  In some ways I was vindicated, but in other ways I was very much surprised…most of them having to do with Aamir.

Jenny K:  I’d be interested to know how much of the change in tone of this outing from the last two films is because of AK’s influence, or because of the directorial switch.  Sanjay Ghadvi did the first two in the series (ostensibly tied up, at the time, in a contract to TV 18 Television) and it was given over to Vijay Krishna Acharya who had done dialogue on the first two, but is less proven as a director.

Pat and I both thought that where Dhoom 2 was a much more “good old mindless eye-candy fun” film, D3 tried for more but didn’t reach it. Its plot was very thin, and what there was was a pilfered riff on Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which was a much more stylish movie.  Aamir seems drawn to Nolan’s projects, doesn’t he? The Ghajini/Memento treatment springs to mind. And once again, the inflating of the backstory doesn’t help the Indian version to skim along, at least I don’t think so.

Julie M:  I enjoyed the backstory much more than the front story.  Chicago was an unusual location for Bollywood to select, and it looked stunning in both the flashbacks and current timeline.  I found Jai and Ali dull to the extreme, not to mention the yawning plot holes about how they came to be called in and how they instantly figure out it’s Sahir who’s the villain.  And the ever-present motorcycles…gag me.  Although I did like when Sahir’s motorcycle turned into a jet ski.

Jet Ski TransformerJenny K:  Well, that stunt was right out of Jai’s first entrance in Dhoom 2, at least the shooting up from under the water part of it.  I found that bit really old hat.

The “yeah right” factor in the film, overall, is pretty high. Right up there with the “why bother” factor. Children aging twenty-plus years, while bankers don’t, at all. Adults holding personal grudges against impersonal institutions, in ways that don’t make sense. As you said, too many indistinguishable motorcycle chases for my taste. Why were Abhi and Uday even there? They didn’t do much good until the end, and then they didn’t foresee the literal cliff-hanger, and given the D2 end, you’d think it would be the first place his mind would go.

Julie M:  And they looked ridiculous in the opener, which was supposed to establish them as heroes.  Abhi and Uday more or less sleepwalked through their parts, to my mind.

Jenny K:  Aamir did a very nice job in his acting, as always…turning what could have been a cliché into a tour de force with the skills he displays. [spoiler] You almost never have a problem knowing which brother you’re looking at. Everything changes in his body language, his voice timbre, etc. to give us two completely different people. Not an easy thing to do. Has he done that before? I can’t remember, and I’ve seen most of his stuff. Better question, how has he avoided doing a twin flick this long?!? [end spoiler]

Julie M:  I figured that there had to be something about this role that made him agree to do it…he’s not the typical hero or villain, which meant there was a serious side to the entire story where he could do some real acting.  And we got it in spades in the 2nd half…I totally agree with all your observations and was mesmerized by what he was doing.

Sahir's disappearing apartmentI also like that he got to dance and be physical, which is not something he usually does these days. The scene at the beginning where he is buffed and waxed and wearing nothing but a derby hat, in this big empty apartment overlooking the great view of Chicago…what an entrance!  You knew he was not going to be the typical villain (although I did wonder where that apartment went, because we never saw it again through the whole movie).

Jenny K:  I also liked his musical and magic numbers, full-out, old-school
production numbers like this one.

You can see how hard he works to get just the right effect. He’s in great physical condition, pumped up to compete with the Salmans of his field, but thankfully, not so washboard-ab-like that he looked like a walking tank.  His physique seemed appropriate for the acrobatic work his job entailed.  He’s always been very graceful, and continues to show that here.

And though the chemistry with Katrina isn’t smouldering, as the Hrithik/Aishwarya version was, it worked where it was meant to.  I don’t even find the height difference between Katrina and AK that much of an obstacle. Tribute to his personal sang-froid.

Julie M:  Or lifts… Aamir’s tap dancing, while not technically accurate (yeah, they dubbed in the taps), definitely was energetic and he was committed to it.    It’s like he knew he couldn’t beat Hrithik’s dancing and decided to just be himself.

Jenny K:  Katrina’s skills weren’t really tested that much in this film. Her part is very small, and the numbers she does are good, but sort of easy thrills. She isn’t really there in the script other than that of “designated love interest”…even Jackie Shroff has a juicier role and he only does one real scene (even if it is done several times).

Julie M:  Yeah, but she was the requisite skinny babe, and even I could tell that there was a reason for her heavily accented Hindi, being as she is supposed to be quite Indo-American in this film.  I liked the ending, though…very female-empowerment, and really calls to mind some questions about her motivations throughout the film.  Did she know?  Was she manipulating?  Or was it some sort of homage/tribute?

I also enjoyed the updating and “flip” of the by-now traditional “Dhoom Machale” number.  In D2 it was Hrithik Roshan (the villain) in the opening credits, in D3 it was the girl (heroine-ish) in the closing credits. 

Jenny K:  So, overall, I’m not sorry I saw it, but wish they had gone a bit further to prop up the plot and be worthy of the painstaking work that Aamir put into it.  Oh, and I hope he burns that derby, very soon.  I find myself wanting River Song to make a visit with her six guns and fill the hat full of holes… “Derbies are cool, indeed…pow-pow-pow!”   Sorry about the Doctor Who non-sequitur.

Julie M:  It remains to be seen whether there will be a Dhoom 4, given the lukewarm (except for Aamir’s performance) critical response to D3.  Pity, because Dhoom 2 really was a lot of fun.

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I heard the box office reports, in India at least, were through the roof.  Sounded like that well ain’t dry yet.  Maybe GrandbabyB will do a cameo in the next one!

January 5, 2014: Guns and Six-Packs, Part I

Did you miss us?  In the flurry of holidays between Diwali and Christmas we saw two star hunks in two films…and not at home in front of our tvs, but in theaters, no less!  Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela and Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif in Dhoom 3.  They generated such a flurry of words, that we’ve had to split it into two parts!  Enjoy the festivities with us.

Jenny K:  Kathy and I saw Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (A Play of Bullets:  Ram-Leela, 2013), and if I had just left at the interval, I would have said that SLB had gotten it all back, all that lushness that made Devdas a standout. It’s complete sensory overload, and he can make it all palatable. The trailer gives you an idea. 

Julie M:  I saw it too, with my friend/former student Kristy, who just loves big spectacles.  Should we do a plot summary?  I promise I’ll be quick…Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela (Deepika Padukone) are denizens of longtime opposing gangland clans who have all but taken over a Gujarati village.  If this sounds like the setup of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is.  He sees her after he crashes a party at her house and falls instantly in love, they have a way cool balcony scene, they decide to run away together, her relative kills his friend, he kills her relative, and he becomes a wanted man.  And so on and so forth.  There are twists that make this film very Indian (her family’s don is her mother; he gets a masala-style, way overblown but very fun hero entry song a la Salman Khan,  and, true to form, the second half is almost a totally different story that takes Shakespeare to the “what if…” level.

Jenny K:  I wish I had known the translation of the title before I went into the theater…add to that, I was running a bit late and missed a ten minute chunk of the beginning, so I literally didn’t see the bullet-storm coming.  And so, for me, the second half just goes off on a violent tangent that changed my whole review of it. Now, I didn’t expect a happy ending or anything…it is a reworking and an updating of R&J, after all, but this overarching firestorm of violence is just too much.

I feel like SLB locked himself in a screening room, watching an endless loop of Gangajaal and Shakti and no one let him out for months! It’s changed his whole list of emotional colors in his paintbox…with all the problems I’ve had with him over the years, I’d always complain of overdoing the emotional and individual tragedy element.  He’d never be the director giving us those village-wide breast-beating, hair tearing revenge fantasies that I hate.  Yet it seems he’s into it now, and, true to Bhansali’s tendency to needless excess, he’s given us a film so relentless in its symphony of slo-mo jewels of shattering glass and varying liquids, that it overwhelmed the splendor he had worked so hard to get back.

Julie M:  It is super-violent, right from the first scene.  I wasn’t happy about that.  But I disagree that it was relentless. I found it to be very SLB-splendid even with the violence:  a visual treat.  I was totally satisfied, and having Ranveer and Deepika to look at for nearly 3 hours was just like the old days.

Jenny K:  The performances were definitely fun. Ranveer and Deepika generate some real heat onscreen, and have lots of loveliness of body, and often of face (on her part). Deepika is finally finding her groove in a big way. By the way, I ended up seeing it again, the whole of it this time, with Pat.

Julie M:  Totally agree.  Gotta say, it was the hottest, sexiest love story I’d seen in a while…talk about chemistry! And KISSING!!! I was shocked, but intrigued.  I would have preferred that he not have been bearded because I really wanted to see his lips. I’m still fanning myself lest I get the vapors. I’m still thinking about how Ranveer buffed up for this. He should do commercials for whatever program he followed, because…whew.

Jenny K:  Ranveer’s buffing was almost overdone for me. He reminded me of those weightlifters who can’t quite recognize their biceps and thighs as their own and so move very carefully and self-consciously. I actually found Khanji (Sharad Kelkar), Leela’s brother, more attractive in his bedroom scene with his wife…especially with that voice! I was quite impressed with Sharad throughout, and am definitely going to find more of his films. But I agree with you about the beard having to go…had a sort of Amish effect of flattening his chin out.  I, too, found their chemistry together to be very hot. Surprisingly so. Pat thought that Leela’s writhing on the bed in various scenes to be way too vulgar and western for her tastes. I didn’t like it so much in the “balcony scene” (a bit “too much, too soon”, there) but thought it was okay on the wedding night.

A big problem for me would have been eliminaed if SLB hadn’t felt the need to stick the “R&J Rework” tag on it. As a lifelong Bardmonger (literally one who sells the Bard for a living) that sort of challenge has me immediately poking holes in weak parallels…”Shouldn’t Juliet, at least, be just a bit more sheltered and innocent, and not quite so drenched in ‘Eau de Slut?'” And our Ram-eo, why the heck is he portrayed as an arrogant pornographer?

Julie M:  Well, we are talking the criminal underworld here. He’s an arms and porn dealer, she’s a don’s princess daughter who’s grown up with guns, seen her mother undertake all kinds of illicit activities and not batted an eye–plus her mother seems to have ignored her and allowed her to run wild in her gilded palace. And as for Eau de Slut…nobody is an innocent 14-year-old here: these are fully developed hormones running rampant in adults (well, maybe 20/25-year-olds).

Jenny K:  Just shows the weakness of trying to make it an R&J comparison in the first place, if all they can think of (I’m talking to both SLB and Vishal Bhardwaj, who does it a bit better) is making a transition between the moneyed upper classes of Renaissance Verona and a severely fictionalized whup-ass crazy blood-lusting Rajasthani underworld. Both may try to keep their princesses pure, both will probably fail (in a search for drama) but in R-L it seemed doomed from the git-go.

Julie M:  I find it interesting to compare Deepika’s two organized-crime-princess turns this year, Chennai Express and Ram-Leela. She wasn’t allowed to get horny in CE, only feisty, so she really turned it on here. I read that she was extremely embarrassed about the kinds of things she had to say and do in R-L, but man, it was like she was born to do them. Both characters were total fantasy and it worked.

Supriya Pathak as the don in Ram-LeelaJenny K: I like her turn in Chennai Express a lot better, even though in R-L she is an electrically visual presence.  In CE she was more likeable and sweet…I guess I just go for the safe in my heroines and sexy in my villainesses.  How predictable of me!

Speaking of deliciously evil, Supriya Pathak (Pankaj Kapur’s wife) is absolutely the perfect villainess…and mafia don. Revenge personified. But the inter-village hatred and plotting gets sort of confusing after a while.

Julie M:  I too got confused about the clan-warfare machinations midway through the 2nd half, and I’m not really sure how Ram and Leela decided [spoilers] that the only way to end it all was to kill each other, because that seemed a bit drastic to me. Still, it was R&J and they had to die. [end spoilers] And  for once I was mesmerized during every song. Not just the big dance numbers (of which there were THREE!) but even the slower ones. Just fascinated. I nearly fainted with all of those ladies during Tattad Tattad, and I loved how they used a variety of styles for the dance numbers (South, and Punjabi, and Bollywood). Priyanka Chopra Ram Leela Hot Item Song Photos

About the only thing that disappointed me–and I knew it would–was Priyanka Chopra’s item number, which only displayed how bad a dancer she was compared to Deepika and how plastic and bleached her face looked.

Jenny K: Poor Priyanka!  She dances better than I do (I haven’t seen her mambo, though, and mine’s pretty good!), and her acting is usually better than Deepika’s, at least so far.  Loved her in Barfi!, for example.  And Tattad Tattad was fun, but I think the person who nicknamed it “the dandruff song” had it right, seriously odd choreography!

All in all, I’d say, worth seeing, but if you’re gun-shy, I’d consider leaving at the break…who needs the extra hour and a half, anyway!  But for the other point of view, Pat said something along the lines of “three hours of my life wasted” and/or “I’d rather have my eyes gouged out than watch that again”.

Julie M:  I say stay.  I LOVED the entire thing, simply adored it, and felt that it worked, really WORKED. My friend liked it too—her first Bollywood film. I think I may have converted someone.

Nothing says Love like a Revolver

Aug. 19, 2013: 2JPK’s Party on the Chennai Express

Julie M:  OK…This was a special Filmi-Goris x 4 outing, with the much-storied Pat and Kathy joining Jenny and Julie IN PERSON for the opening weekend of Shah Rukh Khan’s latest, Chennai Express (2013).

In short: if you are a die-hard SRK fan this is something you will definitely enjoy. If you aren’t…well…

Jenny K: You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Chennai-ExpressJulie M: Plot summary: Rahul (SRK) is a 40-year-old working in his grandfather’s Mumbai sweet shop, the grandfather who raised him after his parents died when he was a young boy. He’s not been allowed to go out on his own or get married, and he is the apple of Grandpa’s eye, so he’s been in a sort of prolonged adolescence his whole adult life. In fact, he and his two boyhood buddies are planning a secret bro’s vacation to Goa to scope out the lay-deez when Grandfather suddenly passes away. Grandmother tasks Rahul with taking the ashes ALL the way to southeast India–to G’pa’s ancestral village, it seems–in the exact opposite direction from Goa. He and the gang hatch an alternative plan that involves throwing Grandma off the trail by SEEMING to board a southward train–the Chennai Express–while in reality escaping at the next station to turn right around and go beachward.

Well, life throws Rahul a curve and he ends up “rescuing” Meena (Deepika Padukone), a Tamil don’s daughter, who is being dragged back to Daddy after escaping a forced engagement, only to find himself also dragged southward with her and her captors. Escape is impossible, as is Meena, so Rahul has only his charm and his wits (both in short supply) to try and get himself out of a number of scrapes, including a looming fight to the death with the seriously large dude Meena is engaged to, all the while accompanied by a very large urn containing Grandpa’s mortal remains.

Running for the trainThis is one slapstick film complete with mud-dunkings, comic car chases and misunderstandings arising from language barriers. SRK mugs his way through situation after situation with his trademark babble-banter that to me seemed to work better when he was younger, all the while somehow making the girl fall in love with him. Too slapstick for me in the first half; luckily the 2nd half finds Rahul eating some hero pills offstage and finally sacking up.

Jenny K:  Mud-dunkings and comic car chases are director Rohit Shetty’s oeuvre, as I understand it (Golmaal…need I say more?). Should we expect it to make sense?

Kathy K:  Yes, the plot is ridiculous and its 30 minutes too long (especially when they are beating SRK to a pulp), but as a die-hard SRK fan, he once again saved the show for me.

Pat B: I have to go with Julie on this one. There were a few humorous moments like when Meena makes the comment about Rahul being fifty (the look on his face was worth it)

Jenny K:  She actually said “having no mother for fifty years” right after he had said she died when he was eight…so I don’t blame him for looking aghast when she was saying he must be fifty-EIGHT!  It was funny.

Pat B:  And the DDLJ music playing while she is running for the train (and then the others running for the train)…I smiled and chuckled. But, the other overdone mugging stuff made me uncomfortable and I felt it was done for lack of a better script and more clever scenes.

Julie M: SRK was my least favorite part of the film; but there was plenty of other stuff to like. The scenery, for example, was fabulous. The two big dance numbers showcase all that is fun about Bollywood from about 10-15 years ago, particularly this one.

Pat B: Oddly, I wasn’t that taken by the big dance scenes. I liked the old style grandeur of them, but I just was less than impressed by the dance choreography. The one scene I did fall for was the beautiful romantic scene with the song, “Titli”, between the lovers. Stunning! (The one where Kathy tapped me on the shoulder and nodded her head….yeah, Shah Rukh was totally gorgeous in that scene).

Jenny K: You probably like “Titli” better because Farah Khan choreographed it, and it’s more Bolly-Traditional.  The “1-2-3-4 (Booty Shake)” number [at the bottom of the post] is Kolly-Traditonal, the whole way  — from the item girl, Priyamani (who I thought was fabulous!) to the choreographer, Raju Sundaram, who is Prabhu Deva’s brother.

The cinematography was really lush, I was especially seduced by the vistas at the top of the temple stairs in the scene right before Pat’s song begins (nice scene, acting-wise, as well) and the scenes of the tea plantations, almost as lovingly shot as in last month’s Paradesi. Despite the “Kashmir” title of Julie’s song, I’d bet they were the same fields in Paradesi, which were supposed to be in Tamil Nadu…if anyone bothered to report on locations. Bother.

But just like cotton candy, this movie has faded from my consciousness along with its fairly shallow sweetness. Nothing too offensive about it, except some of SRK’s wardrobe (what is it with all those spray painted waistcoats in the final number?!? Yuck!), yet nothing too memorable.

Pat B: Gone for me too, Jenny, except that one beautiful song and scene. I am so happy I saw that on the big screen. And the lushness does make me want to go to South India…great travel promo.

Kathy K:  What would have completed this vintage trip down masala lane would have been one or two more full songs.  Have you noticed how the new movies are getting away from these?  Sigh.  The film had a good item number, but the other songs could have been placed better.  It seemed end-loaded with dance numbers.

Julie M: I didn’t even mind the now-obligatory rap song over the ending credits.

I also liked a running gag wherein the two leads must communicate in Hindi through song to throw off the bad guys, who only spoke Tamil, allowed the audience to have fun recognizing classic Bollywood tunes. And I was impressed with Deepika Padukone, despite her casting as the typical feisty love interest that might have been played by Kajol back in the day, actually showed some acting talent.

Jenny K:  I agree. I think Deepika has matured in her performances quite a bit. Shah Rukh was charming in the second half but the first half’s humor, as I expected, was too broad for me and had a slightly annoying aftertaste to all of it. While I laughed at the “Now you have annoyed me so much that I have to go sit down” bits, when they kept repeating, I found myself thinking that this stuttering buffoon before me was an incarnation that Shah Rukh had left behind him long ago. Why did he feel the need to revisit it?

Chennai-Express OutfitsJulie M: I did not hate it and found plenty to like, but the ending and the EXCRUCIATINGLY LONG AND BLOODY fight scene ruined all my goodwill for this film.  Plus, I found the ending full of mixed messages. “Give your daughters agency, but let me have her only after I’ve successfully fought for her.” WTF? It would have made much more sense if Rahul had foregone the “we’re modern now” speech, fought the big scary dude for his own reasons [self-respect, etc.], won, and then said “By the way, Dad, I shouldn’t have had to do this to win your daughter if I was who she wanted all along.” I also feel that they did not sufficiently set up Rahul as an arrested-adolescent early in the film, which would have made the 2nd half make WAY more sense narratively (stepping up to be the next generation of manliness once Grandpa has died).

Pat B: I think it was a bad redo of the end of DDLJ.

Jenny K: But, as Pat would agree, half the enjoyment of the film was getting the audience to reference old SRK nostalgic classics like DDLJ in the first place (his last line of the movie before the credits was that title, wasn’t it?). But I go along with consensus that  the end fight could have been shortened or skipped altogether…I know the guys like that sort of thing, but I really felt that I’d seen it all before, substituting sticks for shovels. Check that scene out and see what I mean.

Plus, cinematically, there were some very odd effects.  Perhaps it’s just loaded with Tamil film references that I don’t know yet…like the credit song’s homage to Rajinikanth. I mean, those multiple shots of our hero from the feet up, as he is walking on glass…look awfully similar to this one, yes? Look at 1:00 and 1:20. All that slo-mo circular pan on RK, with him frozen in mid kick, just makes me wonder if his martial arts are, shall we say, augmented, a good percent of the time. Sacreligious, I know…

Julie M: I did like the “walking on glass” bit. It was so contrived and in such an obvious way that it tickled me, because they knew they were working with a trope.

So, all in all, it all added up to a meh-plus for me. Not something to search out, particularly, but fun if you have the opportunity. Wait for the DVD version; a big screen is not necessary for this one.

Kathy K: On a final note, just go to relax and listen to the wonderful audience laugh at the inside language, jokes and applaud when SRK comes on screen.

Pat B: It gave me great dreams that night. Move over, Gauri.

Kathy K: Of course, there are his eyes, lashes, nose, lips…… Ouch! Jenny just slapped me!

Jenny K:  Sorry…sometimes drastic measures are necessary.

When we began this, I thought we were all grown women….but, I guess, Shah Rukh can make women of all ages forget for a while.

By the way, don’t click the video if you don’t want to be singing the chorus for the next week.

 

July 1, 2013: Best Actor? Nasseer, By Far

Naseeruddin ShahThis week Julie is just brimming over with an accumulation of Naseeruddin Shah film magic.  I’m just going to get out of the way.  It’s a natural reaction, in my opinion…evidence of my own mania for the man, here.

Julie M:  I continue to be impressed with Naseeruddin Shah.  I’ve seen, what, eight or nine films with him now, and I want more!  [just counted, and actually I’ve seen him in 19 films!] The last two just reached out and slapped me across the face, they were that good.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for including Parzania in the latest box! I was totally gobsmacked by that film, and your man Naseerji was simply stunning in it. Trailer here. Wow.

Jenny K:  I did warn you…he can be quite habit-forming.  Ought to have some sort of label at the beginning of each film, or something.

Julie M:  Parzania (2007) is the story of a Parsi family caught up in the religious riots of 2002 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Cyrus (Naseeruddin Shah) is a middle-class, educated movie projectionist with a wife, Shernaz (Sarika), and two children, a daughter (Pearl Barsiwala) and a son named Parzan (Parzan Dastur). Parzan is a typical ten-year-old, fooling around and dreaming of a land he calls Parzania, where the buildings are made of chocolate and you can do whatever you want. They befriend a visiting American named Allan (Corin Nemec), who is escaping from a troubled life and is looking for answers by studying Gandhi’s teachings in India. The family is close and life is good.

One day while Cyrus is at work a joint action between a radical Hindu political party and the local police in retaliation for a Muslim leads to the majority Muslim population in the family’s neighborhood getting attacked by a gang of thugs while the police watch. Their housing block is torched and citizens are murdered; in the melee Parzan is separated from his mother and sister. Despite obstacles Cyrus eventually reunites with his wife and daughter but Parzan remains missing. Allan finds the family in a refugee camp and takes them in.

parzaniacover

The rest of the film is the family’s search both for meaning and their missing son, and the horror of being caught up in a brutal war between religio-political factions, neither of which they affiliate with. It is based on a true story.

This is not an easy film to watch. The riot scenes are graphic and horrific, and there is a courtroom scene at the end that had me spellbound while tears were welling up. As a parent I cannot imagine anything worse than being forcibly separated from my children with no knowledge of where they are or if they are even alive, and the pain was portrayed in an absolutely realistic, compelling and heart-rending way by the two lead actors. Best thing I’ve ever seen Naseerji do, and I was unfamiliar with Sarika (later looked her up–ex-wife of Kamal Hasan) but am suitably impressed.

The film is mostly in English, but the bits in Urdu and Hindi are about 15-20% of the film and are not subtitled. I would have liked to have gotten the full impact of the movie–I can figure out some Hindi but this must have been some kind of dialect because it just sped by me, and I have no Urdu at all. Nevertheless, even with only 85% of the dialogues in my language it still was a heart-stoppingly powerful film. No wonder it was banned in Gujarat when it came out: it’s not something the tourist board would want spread around, and it makes the police and politicians look corrupt, incompetent and heartless.

I could say so much more about the film’s pacing and cinematography, which are both perfect, but this has gotten too long already. Although obviously the true story has been dramatized, the historical facts are correct, heartbreakingly so. The damage and waste of humanity occasioned by these constant religious wars is really keeping India from any kind of progress. Gandhi must be spinning in his grave.

This is definitely one I will recommend to all–amazing piece of filmmaking. It is available free on YouTube here. 

Julie M:  The other film was 3 Deewarein (3 Walls, 2003)…and, true to Naseerji’s form, it was an excellent one. To me, possibly Naseeruddin Shah’s best performance of what I’ve seen so far (although he was really good in Sparsh as well).

Absolutely unbelievable character drama with four superior lead performances. Trailer here (subtitled).

Brief plot summary: Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) and Nagya (Nagesh Kukunoor) are both prison inmates, convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Jaggu freely admits to killing his wife in a jealous rage, but Nagya insists that the murder he is accused of (also his wife) was an accident. They are joined one day by a transfer prisoner, Ishaan (Naseeruddin Shah), who is also convicted of murder and is a serial escapee. His story is that he too killed accidentally, tripping during a bank robbery and the gun went off, killing a pregnant woman. The three men form a bond of friendship in this somewhat experimental prison where the goal of the warden (Gulshan Grover) is rehabilitation rather than warehousing.

Naseerji 70's ChicJenny K:  I think I first fell in love with Naseerji when he popped up with that silly curly wig! Oh, my…

Julie M:  Into this milieu walks Chandrika (Juhi Chawla), a documentary filmmaker who is doing a project on death row prison inmates. She asks to interview these three (the only ones in the prison set to die) for her film, to raise awareness about the true face of crime in India. Over the course of the interviews we learn more about these men, and about Chandrika as well, who we find out is undertaking the project as a way to escape her abusive husband. Meanwhile, Ishaan is planning yet another escape and Nagya is hoping for a pardon at the prison’s annual Republic Day celebration, while Jaggu is resigned to his ultimate fate.

The characterizations are sharp and the way stories unfold are unexpected. Naseeruddin Shah’s Ishaan is a charming con man whose brain you can almost see ticking away, while Jackie Shroff’s Jaggu is a sensitive cook and poet, who speaks almost entirely in English. Nagya’s twitchiness seemed a bit forced for the purpose of the character development, but it worked. Juhi Chawla ably breaks out of her Manic Pixie Dream Girl image to portray a very complex character on her own, not merely the vehicle for the exploration of the mens’ stories or a potential love interest for one of them. Here’s a key scene with her husband. 

Jenny K:  I was really impressed by Nagesh Kukunoor who was the writer and director of the film, too. I think it was his third film, and unlike most directors who put themselves in their own films, actually has reason to do so. Not your typical film hero, but gives a reasonably effective performance, when up against Jackie’s practiced film hero style and Naseer’s undeniable charm, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it of Nagesh.

Julie M:  Reasonably effective, but I thought his character was the least thought-through of all of the prisoners. Even Nasty Gautam had more to work with.

One thing that confused me: (spoilers) Was Ishaan really responsible for those other 2 murders, or did he just confess to them in order to avoid being shot by Chandrika? It was never really made clear.(end spoilers)

Jenny K:  I don’t know…been a while since I watched it…now where did I put my copy…

Julie M:  The prison itself, through the cinematography, becomes a character in the drama. Fully half the scenes are shot at night, and the moonlight effects are riveting. One of my favorite scenes is an interview between Chandrika and Ishaan that takes place in a workshop where the prisoners block-print designs on saris, and it is absolutely an authentic-looking studio for that kind of work; the bright colors of the saris hanging to dry contrast with the crumbling stone walls of the prison and are evocative on so many metaphorical levels. Just beautiful. The final shot of the film (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler), where you see an aerial view of the prison that previously you had only known from corners and courtyards, is absolutely spectacular and cleverly in keeping with the nature of the plot denouement. Stunning.

Just when you think you have this film figured out, something happens to totally upend your preconceived notions. In a good way, every time. All my thumbs (and you know I am ALL thumbs!) are up on this one, and I’ve even borrowed a few from other people so I can put them up too.  Available free on YouTube, albeit without subtitles. 

Julie M:  So let’s talk crossover potential.  Why has he not done many films in this country, or in Britain?  Is Irrfan Khan so much a better actor that he gets all those parts? (I’m thinking The Namesake and Life of Pi in particular, but also ones like Slumdog Millionaire and The Darjeeling Limited)  What does Naseerji get…The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (bad film:  I didn’t actually see him in that), Monsoon Wedding (OK, that was a good film and he rocked it) and Today’s Special, which, despite how good he was, was small and formulaic?  What gives?

Jenny K:  Irrfan’s got a better agent, maybe?  Or maybe chooses better directors to work with, or perhaps, better known directors…no, that doesn’t quite work as both have worked with Mira Nair, but maybe it’s “frequency equals recognizability”?  Irrfan has done three features with her, and one short, (The Namesake, Salaam Bombay, New York I Love You (where he successfully convinced me he was deeply in love with Natalie Portman, of all people!) and a short (Migration), against Naseerji only doing Monsoon Wedding with her…plus working with Ang Lee couldn’t have hurt Irrfan’s recognition factor, either.

Nasserji’s choice of The Great New Wonderful doesn’t stand up quite as universally appealing a crossover vehicle as Irrfan’s choices.  Not that I mean to insult that film’s director, Danny Leiner.  It was an interesting small film with a nice ensemble, and I loved the chemistry he established between our boy and Sharat Saxena, though as almost all of those scenes were subtitled, the two of them, as a pair, didn’t make it into this trailer.  Either way, both are fabulous actors and deserve to be American household names…but considering the basis of US media fame these days, without their own reality shows, this probably won’t be likely.  Sigh.  I don’t really want to have my favorites sell out that way, in any case.

Except a teeny tiny part of me that wants to see Hrithik Roshan blow the socks off of the rest of the celebs on Dancing with the Stars.

May 29, 2013: Two from Tamil Nadu: One Old, One New

NayakanJulie M:  Finished Nayakan (The Godfather, 1987).  WOW.   A “godfather” movie with heart. I have not seen the American Godfather series but if they are anything like this I will have to go right out and see at least the first one.

Jenny K: You and I may be the only two film buffs around who haven’t seen  Coppola’s The Godfather!  I always heard it was the inspiration for Nayakan, but I’m reading Baradwaj Rangan’s series of interviews with Mani Ratnam, the director, and in the chapter on this film, he says that it isn’t strictly so.  When asked by Kamal Haasan what kind of film he’d like to make if they worked together, Mani said, off the top of his head, that he’d do a film based on the life of real life Mumbai don, Varadaraja Mudaliar.  Of course, every filmmaker alive in the Eighties has been influenced by Coppola’s film, in some way or other, but the only scene that everyone seems to agree was a direct homage, was having a scene of enemy gang members being killed while the godfather is performing a religious ritual…of course, I have no way of citing this as gospel, as I haven’t seen both.   Yeah, yeah…I’ll remedy it.  Soon.

Here’s a link to the info on Baradwaj Rangan’s book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam.  I’m really enjoying it.  And his blog and reviews are wonderful, too.   The book is available on Amazon.  Enough interruption by me.  Back to the synopsis.

Julie M: Young Shakti Velu, a Tamil, is accidentally responsible for the police killing his father, a labor leader.  After killing the policeman who killed his father the boy runs away to Mumbai, where he is taken in by a poverty-stricken but kindly slum dweller and hangs around with other Tamil street kids who become his lifelong associates. Velu (Kamal Haasan) grows up hotheaded, distrustful of police and fiercely protective of the community that took him in. He also turns to committing petty crimes in order to bring in some money, even challenging local crime bosses, but also performs good deeds on behalf of individuals in the community. When his father-substitute dies at the hands of police he kills the inspector who killed him; his local community, used to his goodness, refuses to identify him and he goes free. He then suffers an attack of remorse and protects the inspector’s family with kindnesses and cash.

Velu and NeelaAs he ages, Velu grows into the role of “Nayakan,” or godfather, of his community, never hesitating to use violence when necessary but it doesn’t seem to be necessary very often, and helping his people with favors. He falls in love with a young prostitut, Neela, (Saranya Ponvannan) and marries her, and they have a son and daughter as he continues to solidify his position as the don with the heart of gold. Unfortunately, he also sucks up all the criminal enterprises and as time goes on, his enemies start to move in ever closer.

The film is mostly about the personal trials and tribulations of an ordinary man who happens to be in the crime business, and I can see how every subsequent “godfather” movie in India looks to this one as its wellspring. He almost makes crime not so criminal. He loves a girl, loves his children, suffers heartache and loss, seeks redemption and grows old, just like all of us. I appreciated that the film did not dwell on his criminal enterprises and instead focused on the man himself; Kamal Hasan is AMAZING as he “ages” from a young man of 20 or so to about age 70. Unfortunately he succumbed to “Marlon Brando Disease” and stuffed cotton in his cheeks to signify aging–ew–and mumbled a lot at the end; thank heavens for subtitles!  [Ed. note: but, alas, not in this clip!]

Jenny K: Nope…not cotton.  The interview tells me that Kamal Haasan is wearing a pair of dentures cast to give him that lovely jowly look.  “We didn’t want to do too much; otherwise it might have become another Marlon Brando.  It was done subtly.” Obviously didn’t work on us…my reaction was the same as yours.

Julie M: Mani Ratnam’s direction and highly realistic settings–even the one dance number seemed natural–added to the storytelling. This retrospective article by Kamal Haasan gives some great insight into the process of making the film and its lasting impact.

Highly recommended all around; thank you so much for sending it!

[Editor’s Note:  Available, in full, here, but with no subtitles.

Available here, with subtitles, but the first fifteen minute segment has been removed.  Or, go get it from your library…your choice!]

Jenny K:  Glad you liked it as much as I always have.  Mani Ratnam is my favorite director, as I’ve said many a time before.    I haven’t seen it for quite a long time, but Nayakan and Kamal Haasan’s own directorial offering, Hey Ram are two of only a handful of street violence films that I truly enjoyed.  Company, by Ram Gopal Varma, comes to mind, but that may be heightened by the Ajay-factor.

But on a more “down” note, I think you’ve had a lot more friendly visit to Tamil film-land than I have…Went to the theater the other day to catch the highly touted Paradesi (Wanderers), the new Tamil film by national award winning director Bala. Well, I haven’t seen any of his other films, so I can’t truly judge, but I’m inclined not to see anything else. Here’s the trailer.

I really wanted to like this film, as it has high aims. It’s based on the novel Red Tea by Paul Harris Daniel, which I haven’t read (and I’d have to go to the Library of Congress to get a copy) but deals with the terrible experience of naive Tamil villagers who get tricked into working on the southern tea plantations during the last two decades of the Raj. It shows their suffering and I’m sure it’s an issue which deserves to be known, but the execution, especially in the second half of the two hour film, has gaping holes, which to a non-Indian audience are almost unbridgeable.

The first half of the film introduces you to the pre-tea existence of the villagers, as our hero, Rasa, the somewhat simple-minded town crier goes from home to home announcing the upcoming wedding of two of the local young folk. Everyone is supposed to attend, and to feed the town crier, it seems. Rasa lives, and supports his grandmother, on the kindness of his neighbors and seems to have no ambition for anything further than the next meal. Arthavaa Murali, who plays Rasa, is a handsome young man, veteran of only about three films, but makes a good impression with a mix of cheeky sweetness and naivety that reminds me a bit of a Fresh Prince era Will Smith. His abs don’t do badly by comparison, either.

Rasa and Angamma of ParadesiHowever, Bala is always directing Rasa to erupt into floods of tears from all sorts of causes from the death of his uncle to as little as “I’ve worked hard all day and no one will give me any rice!” It may be a cultural thing, with American audiences traditionally uncomfortable with men crying, but I’ve been watching Indian films for quite a while now, and he still seems way too weepy for your traditional hero. It doesn’t help me to identify with him. The lady that catches his eye, Angamma, played by Vedika, is similarly childlike in her teasing ways…it comes across as half K3G Kajol and half Pippi Longstocking. She, in love with Rasa, feels the need to tease him often and ceaselessly until, of course, Rasa breaks down in tears. This brings them together. 

Angamma’s mother puts her foot down against any marriage between the kids, because Rasa is just too much of a “Bin-Picker” (his nickname, the Tamil equivalent of “dumpster diver,” I guess) and has no way to support a wife. So Rasa goes out of the village, determined to succeed or die trying. Rasa brings back a tea plantation recruiter who may just help him achieve the latter end, for himself and a good portion of the village. The recruiter spins stories of easy profit and waves cash advances at anyone who will sign his contracts and go to work on the plantations for a mere year. Many accept, packing their few belongings and head off on a two month walk to their new home. Almost as soon as they leave, Angamma’s mother finds out she’s pregnant and as she’s not married, Mom tosses her out. Rasa’s grandmother, also alone, is happy to take her in. Here falls the intermission, on the body of one of the would-be workers, prone and dying in the path, left where he has fallen as the body of workers are prodded on and over his body, left as worthless. Not a good sign for anyone.

The second half only gets more appalling, on almost every level. First you get the treatment of the poor workers who are tricked into the traditional “owing the company store more than they are paid” scenario. They can’t get away by work or flight, which is punished by mutilation of varying sorts. Of course, the white owner of the plantation is a rapist, and worse still, a bad actor with a very American accent for an officer of the British Raj. This follows in the tradition in many Indian films that all the white actors are at a skill level that suggest they were dragged off their beach chairs and asked if it wouldn’t be fun to be in a movie for a day. Fun for them, not for us. Uniformly bad work by all non-Indian performers.

Rasa finds out after a year, in a letter that gets through, that he’s a father, and is tortured by thoughts of them, as well as overjoyed by the news itself. That’s until the plague hits and reduces the workers by half…then they get a severe attack of the missionaries, too. Can’t these poor coolies get a break?

The missionary doctor and his sexy white wife do a really bad evangelical song and dance to try to bring the relief of Jesus to the poor, downtrodden masses, those of them that are left, anyway. Many accept and join in the dance, primarily because of the bread thrown into the audience during the choruses. I don’t know if I’ve ever before seen an Indian film so openly disrespectful of other religions as in this number. I was tempted to walk out, but it was over fairly quickly, however it left a very bad taste in this Christian mouth. Yes, I know that not all missionaries were welcomed, or pure-hearted in their intentions, but this seemed like a completely out of context cheap laugh cultural slam, and it put me off charity with the filmmakers immediately.

For the plusses: the acting by the principal trio of Arthavaa, Vedika and Dhansika (who played a mother in the camp, deserted by her husband) were uniformly affecting. I’d like to see them in other films. The lovely music by GV Prakash Kumar was very lyrical and atmospheric. The lyrics, by Vairamuthu, at least as translated, seemed almost seamlessly tied to the images that they portrayed, adding depth and poignancy to all the emotional montages they accompanied, especially the climax song. But mostly, I want to applaud the fabulous cinematography of Chezhiyan which is stellar in almost every shot. Very haunting, gorgeous shots of the tea fields and the mountains, especially.

I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend this film with as much enthusiasm as the director and actors had in making it. Their intentions were good, and they achieved some of their aims, but the second half missteps killed my recommendation. If you have the time, threaded through this special promoting the film, are quite a number of nice clips of Paradesi. I wish Arthavaa had kept his short haircut… 

Julie M:  OK, so this begs the question: what is the purpose? Yes, the Raj was bad. Yes, the scenery is lovely; nothing new there. Acting and music excellent–but does not overcome a bad plot and huge cultural stereotyping. Sorry, just in a grumpy mood today.

Jenny K:  No one else has mentioned the missionary scene as bad in the reviews I’ve read, except tangentially. However, all the reviewers were desi, so, perhaps it just hit them as a throw away item number. No biggie. All depends on the audience; the one that the director was aiming at, anyway.

April 6, 2013: A Devgan Duet ~ Ajay and Sonali

Finally digging to the bottom of our cinematic leftovers, Julie looks at two titles pairing Ajay Devgan and Sonali Bendre, both serious films in which Sonali looks stunning and Ajay is sensitive.  We’ll see which one is better…

Julie M:  Finished Zakhm (Wound, 1998). A political weeper, if there is such a thing!

Jenny K:  Well, what would you call the last Republican run at the White House?

Julie M:  Plot summary: Ajay (Ajay Devgan) is a successful songwriter with a beautiful wife, Sonia (Sonali Bendre). There are numerous religious riots going on. Sonia is pregnant and is preparing to leave India and return to London to raise their child in what she perceives to be a safer environment, while Ajay is committed to India and wants her to stay. As she packs to leave Ajay checks in with his brother Anand (Akshay Anand). He is worried that their mother, who lives with them, has not returned from the temple. Anand is a ranking member of a fundamentalist Hindu political party led by Subodh (Ashutosh Rana). Just then there is a news report that an elderly Hindu woman has been attacked by a Moslem youth mob and set on fire outside of a temple: on a hunch Ajay finds the hospital and yes, it is indeed his mother.

Jenny K:  Oh, yeah, I remember that scene now…made me cringe, very painful.

Julie M:  While he waits on news of her condition he flashes back to his youth–he seems to be around 12 or so–and we learn that his mother (Pooja Bhatt) was the beloved mistress of a well-known film producer Raman Desai (Nagarjuna Akkaneni), who cannot marry her because of his mother’s strenuous objections–she threatens to set herself on fire whenever he mentions it. Nevertheless, they still find time to be together, as is shown in this lovely number.

When Raman’s mother forces him to marry another woman, it sets off a chain of events leading to the exposure of a secret that rocks young Ajay’s world and directs the course of not only his life, but that of his mother and brother as well.

Back in the present, Subodh, with the help of a corrupt and compliant police officer, is plotting to use the imminent death as a political tool while Anand keeps trying to kill the one member of the mob that has been taken into custody. When the mother does pass away, the hospital is the scene of both family and political drama as Anand learns of this secret and has a decision to make about his mother’s final journey.

A heavily dramatized and unabashedly heart-tugging story of the impact of hatred and bigotry on individuals, Zakhm nevertheless is mesmerizing to watch. Ajay Devgan is great at being stoic and emotional at the same time.

Jenny K:  Absolutely…I miss the days when he used to do strong and relatively silent, you’re mesmerized by his eyes and his intensity, even when he’s crazy, like in Deewangee(2002).  He can even have that effect on the viewer, when he does moody and silent in films like Qayamat: City Under Threat (2003), which I can’t recommend for anything (it was pretty darned bad in oh, so many ways), but his almost totally silent portrayal had me frequently in stitches as an ex-con who is broken out of prison against his will, and is doing a job for some other criminals, just so that they will leave him alone!  Wish I could find a clip…ah well, looking back through it (youtube has it unsubtitled, in parts) I’m not sure what, exactly I found funny, except in overdramatic scenes like Neha Dupia, Ajay’s old flame, calling him back from the brink of death. . Basically, I just miss Ajay Serio-Tragedy Man, over his more recent avatar as Zany-Comedy-King.  Bleh.  His comedy talents have almost always seemed more effective as straight man, to me.  Oh, well, what do I know?

Julie M: Anyways, back to Zakhm, Sonali Bendre is stunningly beautiful but really only has two scenes, neither of which she particularly shines in–the whole sub-plot involving her could easily have been left out, as the impact of the film would still have worked if Ajay had been single. I understand that this film was a personal tribute from director Mahesh Bhatt to his own mother, whose story parallels that of the plot of the movie.

Zakhm is available free on YouTube, although without subtitles.

Jenny K:  Aside from that mother in the hospital scene, but it’s not really coming back to me.  I watched it quite a few years back. Maybe I have a four hundred movie ceiling, and now they are starting to push the older ones out as the new ones come in! I like Pooja Bhatt…particularly in Border with Akshaye Khanna. In your clip she reminded me a bit of Shabana Azmi.

Julie M:  Pooja was AMAZING in this. Just perfect.

[a week later]

Julie M:  Finished our second Ajay Devgan/Sonali Bendre pairing, Tera Mera Saath Rahen (You and I Will Stay Together, 2001). I must say, I ended up surprised at the ending because I would have predicted something else entirely. Here’s the trailer.  

Plot summary: Raj (Ajay Devgan) is your basic nice guy in his late 30s, hardworking and single, whose life centers around taking care of his severely disabled younger brother, Rahul (don’t know who played him, sorry). Rahul has cerebral palsy, and although he is 15 he is the size of an 8-year-old with the mental age of a 3-4 year old: needless to say he is completely dependent on Raj, and they make a great pair

We are not told the circumstances of how Raj inherited this duty, but basically parents are out of the picture. They live in a close-knit apartment community, all of whom love Rahul, and they are particularly friendly with the next-door neighbors, the crazy and dramatic Guptas. Suman Gupta, the grown daughter, has a significant crush on Raj but he just considers her a friend.

Jenny K: Starting to come back to me now…for some reason I thought that this was a remake of something, but I can’t find any reference to that.  Maybe I’m thinking of that Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) from I Am Sam (2001) remake, with Ajay, Sushmita Sen and Esha Deol.

Julie M:  One day Raj’s ex-boss introduces Raj to his niece, Madhuri (Sonali Bendre), with a view to the two of them marrying. They hit it off and Madhuri gets along well with Rahul, so they do a lot of stuff together. Love grows, but when Madhuri suggests that Rahul is getting too big and strong for Raj to handle and might be better off in an institution Raj breaks off their friendship. Meanwhile, Suman takes off with another boy, of whom her family does not approve; she ends up pregnant and back at home after he leaves her.

Raj and Madhuri are miserable without each other. When she plans on returning to Delhi, he realizes he wants to marry her and places Rahul in a rehab institution for both his own good and according to Madhuri’s preference. Whether this is the best thing for everyone is the subject of the rest of the story.

Spoilers (highlight to read): I knew that putting Rahul in an institution would not work–not just from Rahul’s perspective but from Raj’s. In the film it comes out that Raj is dependent on Rahul for his own sense of identity; also, it makes sense that once Rahul is out of the picture Madhuri would realize that everything she loves about Raj stems from his relationship with Rahul. What surprised me, though, was that after Raj told Madhuri that he was taking Rahul out of the institution and therefore could not marry her under her draconian conditions, Madhuri came back to Raj and agreed to take them as a package deal. I could have sworn that the beautiful and worldly Madhuri would fade into the sunset and Raj would end up with the goodhearted, but pregnant and tragically abandoned, Suman, who had already proven that she was up to the task of dealing with Rahul. Their families would take down the wall between their apartments and be one big happy clan. But no: Suman stays fallen, because apparently in India it is not allowed for someone who got pregnant out of wedlock to have a happy ending with the man she loves. And I guess in 2001 it highlighted the “new” condition of families taking care of and loving disabled children, where in an earlier era they would have gone right into an institution from birth. [end spoilers]

Ajay Devgan was great as the torn Raj. Sonali Bendre was gorgeous as usual and thankfully had a better role in this than in Zakhm, but still was called upon to do little more than look beautiful and appear in two romantic song picturizations. It was so weird to see AD as a romantic hero in the songs when he is far from it in the rest of the film…  

Anyway, yet another movie where Ajay puts someone he loves in an institution but regrets the decision and decides to put his own life aside to take care of the loved one. The other one was You Me aur Hum with his wife Kajol as the victim of early-onset Alzheimers. Only he could pull it off without it looking ridiculous or maudlin. I give it a Meh+: overly melodramatic for me, but for someone else it is probably OK and they would even enjoy it.

Jenny K:  Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting on this post Julie…not that you minded much when it was Ajay, I think.  I promise I’ll do more active watching for the next one!

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