January 9, 2013: Stand By Your Man

Julie M:  Clearing the decks from 2012, we found a few movies we watched but never discussed.  We’ll take them in logical groups…starting with this one, in which we compare two older movies and a more recent one, where women refuse to give up on their guys.

Jenny K:  Oooh, I feel all Tammy Wynette…got to preserve my objectivity…so, the question is, do the men deserve it?   Usually not.

Roja Movie PosterJulie M:  Let’s talk about that after we go over the films!  While riding the exercise bicycle this week I watched Roja (1992), with the charmingly innocent Madhoo at the tender age of 20. I found it sweet and old-fashioned, a story of stand-by-your-man-until-the-terrorists-return-him that we see so often. [snork]

Jenny K:  Nothing will carry you through the pedal-miles like a classic ransom movie, I always say…

Julie M:  Roja (Madhoo) is a naive and sheltered village girl, given to play and girlish plotting to marry off her older sister Lakshmi (Vaishnavi) to the eligible city bachelor Rishi (Arvind Swamy) who has come a’courting. But the best-laid plans go wrong… Lakshmi confesses her love for another, and to save her family’s honor Rishi pretends that she rejected him and proposes instead to Roja. Within a day she is married and must learn to live with this stranger and his mother in the big city.

Just as they have gotten used to each other and shyness is turning to love—i.e., in about a week–Rishi is sent to Kashmir on a secret government mission and takes Roja along. Unexpectedly, and before her very eyes, he is kidnapped by terrorists (aka Kashmiri freedom fighters), who want to use him as a hostage against the release of their brutal and imprisoned leader. The government’s policy of “no giving in to terrorists” is unacceptable to Roja, and she begins a campaign of pestering, weeping and going over everyone’s head to try and get them to effect the exchange.

Will Roja ever see her beloved husband again? Will the terrorists kill Rishi if their demands aren’t met?  I really enjoyed the fact that the whole “terrorist” definition was blurred.   This scene was a bit disturbing, though.

Jenny K:  This was the first movie I saw Pankaj Kapur in (Liquat).  He’s a given for any director who needs a multi-layered interpretation.

Julie M:  Mani Ratnam direction, lush scenery both in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, heart-thrilling music by AR Rahman before he became superfamous, and one absolutely superior song.

But I prefer the Tamil version.

Romance, drama, politics…everything one could want! After so many modern-kid romances it’s nice to see something with old-timey values, nationalism and a female star who isn’t size 0 and/or nipped and tucked beyond recognition (sorry Genelia, Priyanka and Deepika). Enjoyed it very much although I thought at first I wouldn’t, and I think I’d like the undubbed Tamil version better because of the language. Thanks for the recommend!

It’s available free on YouTube, subtitled,  in 13 parts. Here is Part One.

Jenny K:  I’d give odds that Rahman writes the music with the Tamil lyrics in his head.  They always “sound” better, if you know what I mean.  Not that I understand either well enough to really judge, but…I’m glad you liked Roja!  Early Mani Ratnam films are particularly nice. They, literally, don’t make ’em like that any more.

Julie M:  Even though the title was her name, they gave approximately equal screen time to the kidnapped Rishi and Roja’s efforts to get him back.

[a couple of weeks later…]

Parineeta Classic: Meena Kumari and Ashok KumarJulie M:  Old love stories are the best, aren’t they? I watched the Bimal Roy film Parineeta (The Fiancee, 1953) over the past few days, and somehow, even though it was from 1953, it felt fresh. And this was my first extended experience with the luminous Meena Kumari and the fabulous screen chemistry she had with Ashok Kumar.

Jenny K:  Didn’t I lend you Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet?  Guru Dutt directed her in one of her most iconic roles!  Lots of undeserved female devotion in this film, too.  It would fit right into this week’s theme, but, no spoilers!  Definitely in the next shipment, you’ll love her in that one.  It’s on Youtube for free, but the captions are really odd. 

Julie M: In Parineeta, Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphan living with her uncle and his large family of all daughters. The middle-class family has recently fallen on hard times, her uncle having mortgaged all he had in order to marry off his eldest daughter and now unable to pay back the loan. The loan is held by his wealthy next-door-neighbor, a professional moneylender, whose family is longtime friends with Lalita’s uncle’s brood. The moneylender secretly does not want the loan repaid, as he wants to collect on the house and give it to his recently returned son Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), who is of marriageable age (as is Lalita).

Lalita and Shekhar’s neighbor-friendship turns to love and a secret promise to marry.  Here’s a clip of the moment just after Shekhar playfully places the bridal garland around her neck; ironically, her little cousin is at the same time commanding all to participate in a mock bridal ceremony for her dolls. 

Jenny K:  Wow!  The lyrics to that song sort of sum up Lalita’s entire outlook on love and marriage, don’t they?

In the novella the movie is based on, by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, that little girl would have been a more likely Lalita than Meena.  The girl in the story was thirteen, whereas both Shekhar and Giren/Girish were schoolmates, both 24.  So when Shekhar drops the garland playfully around Lalita’s neck and then kissed her, would it be unreasonable for her to think she was married?  This was written in the early twentieth century when child marriage was still legal in India.

Julie M:  Oooh, good point.  Not having read the novella I didn’t know that. It did seem awfully weird that Lalita would assume that she was already married when even Shekhar didn’t think that.

Parineeta Updated: Vidya, Saif and SanjuJenny K:  Knowing that adds much more sense to the story than any of the adult behavior in these movies, yours and the 2005 version that I rewatched recently, starring Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan and Sanjay Dutt.  Even given its shift to the 1960’s, the plots are very similar.  Please continue.

Julie M: Just then another handsome and wealthy–but lower-caste–young man, Giren (Asit Baran), enters the picture. Giren falls in love with Lalita and offers to give Lalita’s uncle the money he needs to pay off his debt, then when Shekhar’s father becomes enraged at his plans being thwarted and cuts off contact, offers to move the entire family to one of his homes far away. Lalita’s uncle is grateful and half-promises Lalita to Giren in marriage. Lalita feels she cannot refuse, and Shekhar picks a fight with her, saying she has allowed herself to be sold. After they have left his marriage to another girl is fixed by his family while he pines for Lalita, realizing that his own actions have driven her away but seemingly helpless to do anything about it. 

Jenny K:  In the 2005 version, Lalita (Vidya) helps to confuse the matter by nobly/idiotically keeping most of her family turmoil away from sensitive musician Shekhar’s (Saif’s) tender ears.  She thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if he found out what a louse his father was. Seems Daddy Dear had hatched this major plot to turn the neighbor’s immense if neglected haveli into a “Heritage Hotel” when he foreclosed on the unsuspecting family.  Ignorance of her motives, plus confusion over her marital state,  makes Shekhar’s mistakes more forgivable… if still stupid.  And it does give them an excuse for a wonderfully poignant love song in the latter half of the film.

Julie M:  Will family honor and gratitude win out over true love? Will Lalita ever stand up for herself? Will Shekhar finally grow a pair and claim his original bride? You pretty much know the answer (no, not really and yes but not in the way you think) but how it plays out is heartfelt.  Giren is a real stand-up guy and under normal circumstances Lalita would have been perfectly happy to end up with him, and why she holds out for the volatile and coddled Maa’s-boy Shekhar is beyond me. Still, if you buy into the entire premise it’s a fascinating movie and provides a good look into Indian culture and values.

Jenny K:  Guess we’re just looking at things through today’s eyes, but am I wrong, or isn’t the ever-hesitating rich boy lover a staple in Bengali literature and film…can we say Devdas (same author)?

Julie M:  You know, the entire time I kept thinking Devdas but thought I was crazy.  Thank you for confirming my mania.

Jenny K:  And Rabindranath Tagore was full of stories of unappreciated, lonely wives/widows as in Choker Bali, put on film in a faithful if plodding version by Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai.  And how’bout  Paroma by Aparna Sen!  The beautiful melancholy must seep into the Bengali blood along with the humidity of the Hooghly River.

Julie M:  I think you’re on to something with the Bengali cultural comments.  The 2005 version of Parineeta went to great extremes to locate the story in Bengal right from the first shot…with Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely voice…

Comparing Roja and Parineeta is fairly obvious.  Both of them have heroines who refuse to give up on their men, believing that they will come back to them.  Things don’t seem to have changed in India in the 40 years between these movies…women are given in marriage against their will, strangers fall in love, and so forth.  Financial difficulties in 1953 turn into terrorist threats in 1992, and Roja is more active in removing the obstacles between her and her true love while Lalita seems content to just wait things out, confident that eventually her love will return to her.  So I guess there has been some progress after all.

Roja Rescues Her Man
Jenny K:
  Well, I’d hope so, but professional victimization always seems to come back in fashion, even in today’s supposedly more modern times.  In my own life, I’ve seen too many women believe the fiction handed down to them that they can’t cope without a man.  Thank God for Bryn Mawr, and my parents, of course…that I was slower to feel that pressure, but you always have to keep telling yourself and your daughters that, to keep it fresh and in the forefront.

Poor little orphan Lalita didn’t have much of a chance to change her fate, and she just lucked into a happy ending at the last minute.  She had a better option with Sanjay’s Girish, but was already “wedded” to her choice by then.  Hope it worked out for her after the final reel.

But with all the inherent flaws of literary adaptation, I did like Saif and Vidya’s version.  It’s a lovely period piece, with great warm shots of Kolkata.  Plus the acting is uniformly good.  It was Vidya’s first film, and she more than held her own with Saif and Sanjay.  Sanju’s part was smallish, but his Girish is a lovely guy and is quite endearing in this, particularly at the “meet cute” as the supposed electrician.  And, though I have been notably tough on Saif Ali Khan in his attempts at assaying a romantic role, in this one he does very well.  Perhaps I just like him more in an angry role than as a callow youth or a funny Romeo.

Julie M: In the 1953 version I’m not sure she really “lucked” into anything.  She seemed to have a bit more agency than luck—in fact, there’s a very Roja-anticipatory scene at the end.  Spoiler alert:  Lalita actually refused Giren so he marries her sister/cousin.  We find that out at the same time that Shekhar does, and it’s a delicious twist that almost makes the whole film.  (end spoiler)  I tend to agree with you on Saif; his romantic roles are best when he’s not set up as the romantic hero but cast as the Giren-ish character.

Jenny K: Or in an all out villain role like the Iago role in Omkara…a Saif tour de force!

Ending on a non-sequitur…Version 2005 has an item number with Rekha in it, onstage at the Moulin Rouge (seems it’s a multi-city franchise), that still irritates me, eight years after I saw it in the theater. Another uncredited musical lift…this one from Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”  Why this is still happening?  Use it if you like, but why not credit it? Shame on you, Shantanu Moitra.

Rekha vs. Satchmo:  Compare

Nov. 29, 2012: Thanksgiving for the Parade of New Films — PART II

Okay, now that we’ve had a few days to digest our holiday film feast, Julie and I are back with Part II of the new reviews.  It seems like I’m spending an inordinate amount of time at the Loehmann’s Cinemas in Falls Church, VA, even for me!  I’m blaming it on Kathy and Pat for enabling me…and Shah Rukh for refusing to age, and continuing to ensnare us, year after year in those fathomless dimples of his.

Jenny K:  Well…finally over my latest crazy costume deadline, and I decided to celebrate by going out to see the latest food comedy out there in Hindi Movieland, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012). It had me thinking two things…one, why does everyone in this film remind me of someone else (not necessarily in a bad way) and, two, where can I get some hot parathas after this movie lets out!!! Every third shot has someone flipping the bread over on the griddle, over an open flame and someone slathering ghee all over it!  It’s a crime they don’t have any Indian food at the concession stand…I’m hungry!  And that may be partly inspired by our star…Kunal Kapoor has his first solo starring hero role since his debut in Meenaxi.  Here’s the trailer, with optional subtitles.

Julie M:  Oooh, baby, food AND Kunal Kapoor?  Let me at it!!

Jenny K:  Kunal does a nice job in a slightly quiet role, and only falls short a bit in the dancing aspect (as exhibited in the final number over the credits, particularly). Madhuri must have been riding him like crazy in Aaja Naachle, because I didn’t notice a particular lack, in that one. He’s cut his long hair and shaved his beard, and though I thought I would miss them, he’s quite dishy in this new look. Sort of a cross between Aamir and Hrithik, if you can imagine that.

 

Julie M:  Mmmm…tasty…but I like Kunal’s long hair and slightly scruffy look he’s known for better than this, dishy or not.  It about killed me to see Don 2 and he had cut his locks for that one!

 

Jenny K:  Kunal plays Omi, a sad sack, would-be player who steals money from his family and goes off to make his fortune, supposedly, in London, but when the story starts he’s come back with his tail between his legs, and an NRI-Indian mob boss who he owes money to, hot on his trail. He tries to get more money from his family while making them think he’s changed his ways and become a hot young lawyer back in LimeyLand. His grandfather, played by Vinod Nagpal, who reminds me a bit of Pankaj Kapur for some reason, has had a stroke or something and no longer remembers his relatives or, more importantly, the recipe for his famous chicken khurana which made his restaurant thrive. Of course, Omi’s return is central to the rebirth of the family fortunes, but it takes a reaaaaaly long time to get there.
Kunal’s leading lady Huma Qureshi, has been in a few films lately,  (Gangs of Wasseypur, Trishna) but this seems to be her first try at romantic comedy.  She plays the role of Omi’s young love, Harman, who he left behind and she’s gone on to become a doctor.

Harman is now engaged to Omi’s adopted brother Jeet (Rahul Bhagga), but neither one of the engaged pair seem particularly enthused about this turn of events. Huma is a nicely rounded beauty, who oozes intelligence and a shy sex appeal that sort of harks back to the early Kajol charm, say in DDLJ. She depicts her resistance to Omi’s return and the gradual crumbling of her resolves in a very believable way. I look forward to seeing her again.  Here’s the video of the title song.

 

Julie M:  That’s kind of a big topic:  “Who is the Next Kajol?”  You like Huma, I like Genelia, and for a while there Anushka Sharma had some possibilities.  At least we know it’s not Priyanka Chopra, right?

 

Jenny K:  Kajol has a much more girl-next-door quality than most of the new girls have, and that Priyanka isn’t really shooting for, is she?  I sort of thought she was gunning for the Next Madhuri or the Next Aish, at best…however, her performance in Barfi! may be showing her aim for more substance over the glamour angle.

 

Julie M:  We’ll reserve judgment until we see her performance in the upcoming Zanjeer remake, where she plays the role made famous by the feisty Jaya Badhuri (Bachchan).  Although substance that’s not…more about that when we review the 1973 original.

 

Jenny K:  Where Luv Shuv’s concerned, I think that the plot had a few too many extra characters for clarity, and a few dead-end red herrings that made me go “Really?” too often.  Although the script could have benefited from at least twenty minutes off of it, I enjoyed the end result. Especially liked the pagal Uncle Titu played by Rajesh Sharma, who I feel like I’ve seen before, and I must have in The Dirty Picture, but can’t really place him. Here’s a nice article on him.  

When watching this sort of unfortunate final-credit item number, I just kept wishing that Javeed Jaffrey had played the gangster in this one…someone in the number should know how to dance.  Liked the soundtrack, though, by Amit Trivedi.

Julie M:  LSTCK looks very sweet, kind of Today’s Special vibe-y and very indie-feeling. EVERYTHING is at my local theater but I have no time to go!!! I don’t know about Jab Tak Hai Jaan, it’s gotten mixed reviews but it would be nice to see SRK in a Yash Chopra film again.

Jenny K:  I’m going to see JTHJ with Kathy and Pat tonight, I think. I’ll let you know where I stand.

[the next day…]

Jenny K:  Well, I survived the evening, and enjoyed Jab Tak Hai Jaan (As Long As I Live, 2012)…somewhat. Nice being out with the girls, but even they, who are the ultimate SRK fans, seemed a bit underwhelmed.  Paraphrasing Kathy’s verdict, “Good, of course, but I’ve seen it before, and done better.”  We all sort of felt that Veer Zaara had that thwarted love thing pretty well perfected for director Yash Chopra, and wondered why he wanted to have his last film seem like a slightly watercolor version of that earlier film.

SRK looked pretty good, but I think that his own personal digital effects company may have de-aged his face a bit for the first half when he was supposedly playing 28.

I liked the look in the second half, at “38,” almost better, though with the amount of gray hair in the stubble, I’d think that 38 was a kind estimate. He is in good shape, pretty buff, not too buff or too skinny, both of which we like him to avoid. His performance was the strongest in the movie, charming and touching without overacting.

Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma were both pretty and endearing leading ladies. Neither had the Kajol certain-something in the chemistry with him, but certainly not as bland as all the reviews have said.

Katrina sort of danced him off the floor in the following number, “Ishq Shava,”  though it has more impact during the actual scene.  This clip has been edited down from about three separate sections of the number, in the dance hall, on the ship and outside the dance hall on the dock. It’s a much longer number and has more drama, especially at the beginning where SRK is encouraging Katrina’s character to “let it all out” and finally be herself. She dances with at least three other guys before he joins her, and you can’t take your eyes off her. Kat may not be a flawless actress, but no one should say she can’t dance.  

Julie M:  I don’t think she’s as bad as everyone says.  Maybe because my first experience with her was in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which you said was an unusually good performance for her, but really, she’s no better or worse than any of the other beauty queens out there now.

Jenny K:  The thing that may bring the audience out in droves is Shah Rukh’s first on-screen kissing…yep, at the ripe old age of 47…he’s given in. Maybe not open mouth kissing, they still block those shots with the back of Katrina’s head, but definitely several lip on lip shots, where he seemed not to be able to get enough of Katrina.  Each time he made the plunge there was an audible “OOOOhhhhoooohhhhh!” from the audience.  Even the young college age guys were hooting and laughing a bit.

My main reaction was “Why, and why now?”…maybe it was a business decision. I can almost hear his wife, Gauri, who’s often an executive producer on his films, brainstorming with him, “What can we do to put people in the seats?…old fashioned romance, separated lovers, FABULOUS shots of Ladakh scenery, all sorts of visual reminders of DDLJ, a bit more skin, and, yes, Shah Rukh, you’re going to have to follow Hrithik’s lead and lay on the lips…I know it’s tough, but, heck, your lips are twice as big as HR’s so you should get twice the hoopla, hai na?”

Julie M:  !!!! OK, you’ve got me.  Gotta see this.

Jenny K:  The negatives are all on the writer’s side, I’m afraid: the plot…big holes, especially in the second half, and the length. Anushka (so cute in Band Baaja Baaraat, and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) did as much as she could, but the plot had her playing the “door-prize role” Preity Zinta rather perfected in Dil Se… and the writers chose to have him pine and whine, as usual, for his old “ideal” girl.  My hopes for a more healthy ending were dashed. In addition, my stand on three hour films is weakened when it doesn’t actually advance the story. Note to Aditya Chopra: you really needed to credit the writers of The Hurt Locker for a large chunk of this movie.

Julie M:  I didn’t see The Hurt Locker.  Can you expand on that…is it a direct rip-off, or did they actually write some of it?  Pardon my lack of currency here.

 

Jenny K:  Well, no, not a slavish copy, of course.  The original would have been too unrelievedly depressing for the audience SRK usually draws.  But both deal with a man who is so cavalier about his own life that he can defuse bombs with complete cool and apparent disregard for his own safety (no special suit, very little back-up, if any, etc.).  They both come on like Army Supermen…Shah Rukh, of course, does it with a tight black tee, dark shades and a cool motorcycle.  Bet Jeremy Renner wishes he wrote that last one into his contract!

Next time, we’ll see what Aamir Khan has up his sleeve with Talaash!

Nov. 27, 2012: Thanksgiving for the Parade of New Films – Part I

Since the Navratri/Diwali/Thanksgiving/Christmas rush of holidays is in full swing, we’ve thought it justified more trips to the theater, or at least a push to see more recent releases. Bollywood seems to be shaking itself out of some of its old stale tropes and harking back, nostalgically to some of the things we’ve missed.  Very appropriate for a post-Thanksgiving post, I’d think.  In fact, we’ve gotten so much watching done, that we’ll have to split these new film reviews into two parts, and leave Julie’s older, classic film voyaging for another post. 

Julie M:  Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (I Fell in Love With You, 2012), which I watched on DVD, was cute, somewhat. It’s not the type of film I would see if it were an American production, because it’s rather predictable, but there were some moments, mainly having to do with those funloving Punjabis.

Mini (Genelia D’Souza) is an educated and spirited girl stuck in a small Punjabi village, where her father Bhatti (Tinnu Anand) has gotten moderately wealthy running an autorickshaw business. She has also, somehow, gotten a Canadian passport, and between the wealth and the green card she is a very eligible young lady indeed. Bhatti wants her to marry the spoiled and lazy, but quite handsome, Sunny (Kartar Cheema), the son of a somewhat wealthier neighbor; however, Mini wants to have a bit of adventure before she settles down. She reluctantly agrees to the marriage to please her father but is all the while trying to hatch an escape plan.

Enter Viren (Riteish Deshmukh), one of Bhatti’s drivers and a hardworking young man whom Bhatti has just cheated out of both his dreams and his life savings. In a drunken fit, Viren crashes Mini and Sunny’s engagement party to give Bhatti a piece of his mind.  In the commotion Mini sees her chance:  she forces Viren to “kidnap” her, then phones Bhatti with a “ransom” demand, telling Viren that he can keep a share of the proceeds as repayment for what her father cheated him out of while she uses the rest of the money to escape.

Jenny K:  Sounds familiar but promising…I’ve liked Riteish more and more, especially since seeing him hold his own with Amitabh in Aladin a few years back.  And Genelia was very cute (almost too cute) in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na with Imraan.  And, I heard that Riteish and Genelia got married back in February….Perfect type-casting for a cute romance.

Julie M: I’m not sure whether the film release pre-dated or succeeded the wedding, but they’d been together for a very long time before they made the film, which makes the romance film something of a vehicle for both of them. 

Anyway, Viren, bowled over by her audacity, agrees and they find a vacant house to hide out in for a few days while Bhatti gathers the funds. Of course they start to fall in love while having adventures like crashing a wedding, scrounging for cash and going through the obligatory “who sleeps where” tamasha in their purloined residence. The wedding-crash scene was  predictable but still fun.

On the day of the ransom payment they go to the rendezvous point and…both of them get kidnapped for real! by the notorious kidnapper Chowdhary (Om Puri), who proceeds to demand additional ransom from Bhatti.

Is this enough adventure for Mini or has it gone too far? What will she, and everyone else, do when she finds out that Chowdhary, to everyone’s surprise, is Viren’s father?

Jenny K:  All this fake kidnapping stuff this year, this and Barfi!  What is it?  This year’s annual theme at the screenwriting college?

Julie M: Genelia D’Souza has the rubber face, cute mannerisms and mischievous grin made famous by Kajol and is the perfect bubbly girl. Riteish Deshmukh does an excellent “confused” face, which he deploys with regularity over the course of the first third of the film. Their couplehood is inevitable but it’s fun to watch it come together, and who could hate two such pretty people. Not one, not two, but THREE love songs that are mainstream and predictable fill the soundtrack, and there is a glitzy and obligatory-feeling item number with Veena Malik.

There are plot holes all over the place (for example, it’s never explained how she got her Canadian passport, and Chowdhary’s gang is too bumbling for it to make any sense how he got so wealthy; not to mention an absolutely inane turnabout in the last 15 minutes due to a pretty stupid “serious” speech by Chowdhary) but what do you expect from such an obvious vehicle for these two stars. Om Puri’s talent is wasted in his role, which I hate to see.

All in all, not a terrible way to pass the time if you happen to come across it, but it doesn’t break any new ground and you may find yourself checking your watch somewhere in the middle of the second half. Cute date movie if you’re 17, and for us oldsters, Riteish takes his shirt off which is always fun. I give it about a third of a thumbs-up. There is a completely illegal DVD rip on Daily Motion, with Part I, here.

P.S.  I thought the Sunny character seemed familiar…according to what I read, Punjabi actor Kartar Cheema (making his Bollywood debut in TNLHG) modeled his character on the Kajol character’s spoiled and mean fiance in DDLJ. Except in this one he’s not mean, just lazy and not very bright.

Jenny K:  They could do worse than copying DDLJ, except that stupid item number with the fat opera singer in “Paris”…shudder

The first of my string of movie outings was for the long-awaited comeback film for Sridevi, English Vinglish (2012). Kathy, Pat and I hit the local cinema to catch it the first week. Well, all I can say is, what a great way to come back! I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since her last major film! She’s 49 this year, but is still so lovely. Raising a family seems to agree with her. Here’s the trailer.

It’s a bit of a one joke plot with Sridevi cast as Shashi, the long suffering Indian wife, who, through one thing and another (life, mostly), hasn’t pursued her knowledge of English past the rudimentary stages in school, and her family taunts her with it almost daily. A joke, as they see it, quite hilarious, but she becomes more and more depressed that even her husband and kids don’t give her the respect she deserves.

Shashi’s trepidation becomes greater when she has to go to New York City for her niece’s wedding, reuniting with her older sister who is raising her daughters in America all on her own after her husband’s death. Shashi’s in NYC with three weeks to kill before the wedding and decides that enough is enough…she’s going to take a crash English course and surprise everyone. The scenes in the classroom, filled with a multi-culti mix of misfits is not particularly subtle, or believeable from an educational aspect, but the camaraderie and charm of the characters learning together and from each other is rather nice. You can see some of it in the “making of” clip, here.

Julie M:  Did you see Educating Rita?  Sounds somewhat like that one.

 

Jenny K:  Same genre, of course.  I loved Educating Rita, especially as it introduced me to Julie Walters.  But this plot wasn’t about falling in love with her teacher…in this film, an impossibility, as the teacher here was the worst performed role in the film.  And her education doesn’t break up her marriage as in ER, it strengthens it, in a traditionally happy ending at the wedding in NYC with her family.  

Well, happy for everyone except her fellow student, Laurent, from France, who has developed quite a serious crush on Shashi. Poor boy. I’d love to comfort him, myself, if I were given half a chance. He’s played by an actor named Mehdi Nebbou…half Algerian, half German, but all adorable. Definitely a thumbs up film, see it if you can.

AND, I went off tonight on the spur of the moment jaunt with Pat after work to catch Life of Pi (2012).  Not to tempt you out of your vow of complete home video supremacy, Jule, but Irrfan Khan has a much larger part in it as the Adult Pi, lots more face time for him than I’d expected…and what a face, sigh….Pat and I debated (but not for long) about the extra expenditure for 3D.  Worth it!  No, not just for Irrfan-gazing at seeming-finger-tip-reach, though that may have been enough, I grant you, but with tigers menacing, zebras charging, whales leaping overhead and flying fish flinging themselves at our hero willy-nilly, it was well worth the extra few dollars for the heavenly view on a big screen.  Not officially an Indian film, but with all the scenes set there, and some very fine Indian actors (Tabu! and Ang Lee’s new find, Suraj Sharma, as Young Pi does a phenomenal job in his debut role), I thought that it is a necessary mention here.  And a trailer.  

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7WBfntqUoA]
 

In a day or two, we’ll be back with two more of our recent viewings, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, and Shah Rukh’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, so, stay tuned, we’ll be back!

October 9, 2012: A Midlife Catharsis

Jenny K:  I know I’ve been on a jag recently, touting the charms of the almost-thirty set of heroes, so now I want to put on the brakes and celebrate the possibility of age appropriate (read “Over 40”) romances.  They are out there, one just has to hunt for them a bit…and some of them are worth the extra trouble.

First on my list of Netflix “Meant-2-Watch” films, was Main Aurr Mrs Khanna (2009). I remember hearing about this film in connection with Aamir and Kareena, something about Aamir dropping it for reasons unreported.  Having now watched it…I don’t blame him at all.  Here’s the trailer. 

Now, our hero in this one, Salman Khan, is definitely over 40, deny it as he will, but his heroine, Kareena Kapoor…not exactly an equal match, shall we say.  Salman plays Samir Khanna, who falls in love with an un-surnamed orphan, Raina (Kareena) and in the unexplainable attraction of woman to goofy-man-child, she marries him. Maybe it’s just because he offers her his last name for her missing one. Almost immediately we cut from their “idyllic” married life, to the effects of job-loss on Samir’s ego. He tells her she must go back to live with his parents in India (why?), and leave their home in Melbourne, because the only place he can get a job now is in Singapore, and his ego can’t seem to bear her sticking by him and watching him struggle.

She, of course, resents his settling her fate without a word to her, and she digs in her heels at the airport and just doesn’t get on the plane. She vows to stay in Australia and wait for him, and somewhere, somehow, she’ll get a job and support herself. Brave girl…sniff sniff…With Salman all but out for the middle three-fifths of the film, Raina must find another savior, and turns to a random cafe-wallah, played by Sohail Khan (who also directed this fiasco) who falls instantly in love with her and vows to win her confidence and love. Even though he knows she’s married and in love with her husband. Creep.

Julie M:  Salman and Kareena.  Hmm, an odd couple indeed.  I never thought they went well together, even in the superhit Bodyguard.  Well, probably a good thing that they spend most of the film apart, then.

Jenny K:  The rest of the plot doesn’t really need to be summarized. You’ve seen it all before, yet I must remark on how calm Salman/Samir seems when he gets the news that in order to stay in Australia without him…

Stupidity Alert…..I mean spoiler alert…spoiler alert…yeah right….

Raina agrees with her new friends that she must lie to her host country and all concerned and marry Sohail so she has her valid work visa. Never mind that she’s ALREADY MARRIED?!?!? Not that they “did anything” of course…even though we’ve established that Sohail’s character has very sketchy morals in the first place.

A few good looks for Salman after he gets over being a goofy kid and dons a saintly mystique along with his bad luck…and a nice song…by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are pretty much all that recommend it. Skip.

Julie M: Sohail Khan…that’s Salman’s brother, right, the one whom you hate and whom I didn’t think was so bad in Hello, an otherwise execrable movie? Maybe he just looked good in comparison to the drivel that was the rest of it.

Jenny K:  No, I definitely don’t recommend Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna. Yes, Sohail is Salman’s brother, but if I have to watch one of them, Arbaaz is always more watchable, though he seems to specialize in psychopaths. The only film that I’ve enjoyed Sohail in was an extended cameo he and Arbaaz did in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, which if you haven’t watched, you should. Imraan Khan’s first film. Sweet. Youtube here.

Julie M: Salman with a ponytail…LIKE. Like a LOT.

[a few days later]

Julie M: I’m back! Because I could not get out to see either Rowdy Rathore or Joker, I decided to get a silly Akshay Kumar comedy fix with Singh Is Kinng (2008). It actually was pretty good–escapist, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. As a taste…here’s the fantastic number in the beginning of the film that reaffirms how wonderful Akshay’s movies can be.

Punjabi villager Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a sweet, helpful, well-meaning man around whom things tend to go horribly wrong, to everyone’s dismay and Happy’s obliviousness. Here’s the opening scene that establishes Happy’s character as a disaster in a kurta. 

After a number of years of Happy’s causing (comic) mayhem and destruction the villagers decide to move him along, and concoct a ruse to send him to Australia (what is it about Australia?) to retrieve the long-absent son of the village headman. Trouble is, this son is Lucky “The King” Singh, a notorious and brutal don (played by Sonu Sood, whom we see far too little of past the first third of the film), and Happy would be lucky to get away with his life. Problem solved, the villagers think.

So Happy departs with his friend Rangeela (Om Puri), whose only value to the endeavor is that he knows English, only there’s a mixup at the airport and they end up in Egypt, not Australia. While they are waiting for their correct flight Happy wanders off to sightsee and ends up saving a young woman Sonia (Katrina Kaif) from a robbery, and spends the day with her. Of course he falls in love with her, but since they are off to Australia he will never meet her again. Or will he?

Jenny K:  Same gender/age scenario, again!   I know it is almost a given in today’s Bollywood (and the rest of filmdom), that our forty-something hero is immediately irresistible to any and all twenty-something females, but can’t there be (somewhere!) a similarly-aged female object of their desire?  It’s getting more and more frustrating from my point of view.  Sorrry, baaack to the Kinng.

Julie M: May I point you to a little movie you sent to me called Cheeni Kum…anyway…

Jenny K:  [backpedaling] Heck, Jule, the rules don’t apply to Amitabh!  It’s a given that he is still attractive to any and all female age groups, as is Naseerji…sigh…okay, okay, go on with the synopsis.

Julie M: Upon arrival in Australia they look up Lucky and go to convince him to come back to see his dying (so they think) father. Lucky and his entourage give them the brush-off and that is that…Happy and Rangeela again find themselves in a foreign country with no luggage and waiting for their plane home. They get separated and Happy meets Rosie (Kirron Kher), a down-on-her luck florist originally from a village near his, who takes him in, feeds him and gives him a job to earn his meals. Enjoy this clip of the meeting between Happy and Rosie: Kirron Kher is the best “cool mom” in Bollywood. 

During his first task he runs into Lucky and the gang, and through typical Happy circumstances a skirmish with a rival gang breaks out and Lucky becomes paralyzed. Another mix-up or two later and Happy ends up taking the kingpin’s place as the head of the organization. More mix-ups, and it turns out that Sonia is Rosie’s daughter, Rosie has to pretend she’s wealthy to impress Sonia’s fiance (Ranvir Shorey), and they all move into Lucky’s mansion where the gang members (including Lucky’s nearsighted and half-deaf brother Mika, played by Javed Jaffrey, and hanger-on Udaas, played by Yashpal Sharma) have to pretend to be servants.

Suffice it to say that the pretenses lead to hilarity, character development ensues, there is an attempted coup and Happy spreads his happy sweet magic over everyone. The climactic scene (yes, there is a chase) is actually pretty funny, not too overdone as tends to happen in Indian comedies.

Jenny K:  Ah, well, I knew someone had to like this film.  It was a pretty big hit when it came out.  I saw it in the theater.  And though it didn’t bug me as much as, say Bewaafa or Waqt, SIK left me pretty cold, as per usual.  Glad you got something from it.

Julie M: I think I was just in the right mood.  Akshay Kumar flashes his winning smile all over this one, which of course I loved, and looks great in a turban. Heck, in this he looks great in everything: in both Punjabi village clothes (which on him look like designer duds) and the actual designer clothing he wears when he assumes the King role.

The combination of comedy and action is, if not perfect, at least proportional with no comic-action scene lasting too long, as is often the case with this type of film. Katrina Kaif’s bad Hindi is excused by having her character grow up in Australia, and her two item numbers are pleasant enough if generic–nothing smashing, she looks cute, let’s move on. Beautiful scenery in Egypt and Australia, and for once the requisite love-among-the-ruins song actually makes sense. Best thing about it is that they are dancing in front of Deir El-Bahri, my favorite Egyptian mortuary temple, and in the Karnak temple. Doesn’t make any sense since they were supposed to have landed in Cairo and Luxor/Valley of the Kings is like 300 miles away, but I give them credit for at least not randomly zooming over to Switzerland.

Javed Jaffrey plays a double role as Mika and as Sonia’s fiance’s father; in a clever nod to the dual-role trope, all of the characters recognize the resemblance but it does not become part of the actual plot. A rap duet between Akshay and Snoop Dogg over the closing credits is mediocre at best, but Javed is his own playback singer in one number, which is unfortunately rap-based but not at all annoying for that.

Verdict: an extremely pleasant time-pass if you are in the mood for silliness, with a great cast, and nothing for Akshay to be embarrassed about.

Jenny K:  Finally!  Relief for my complaints is here!  I recently got to the theaters to see the Boman Irani/Farah Khan love story Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012). I went just for pure curiosity to see how Farah Khan would do in her acting debut, and darned if she didn’t surprise me!  She came off pretty well. The trailer is really broad humor, and so is a bit misleading.  It’s not as slapstick as it looks when you view the whole movie.

I went to see SFLTNP with my Hindi film buddies, Pat and Kathy. We’re all over 40 and so we’re really eager to support any film that shows there is life after that “extreme age” hits us. And I thought it was a rather sweet love story, while still having the slightly jaundiced view of the mature couple’s outlook on things. Pretty funny, too.

The story is of a lonely 45 year old Parsi guy, Farhad (Boman Irani) who can’t seem to find the love of his life to settle down with. He lives with his widowed mother (Daisy Irani, who steals every scene she’s in) and his grandmother (Shammi Aunty) who both dote on him. They can’t figure out why he’s still single…unless it has to do with his working as a salesman in a women’s lingerie store “the Tam Tam Bra and Panty Store” as Farhad repeatedly states to all who ask. Ya Think??  He certainly doesn’t seem too happy there. He has dreams of opening his own shop someday, and calling it UNDERWORLD. Funny guy.

Julie M:  I can just imagine Boman surrounded by ladies’ undergarments.  But go on…

Jenny K:  He meets Shirin (Farah) one day at his store when she’s there shopping, and he likes her sarcastic sense of humor and spunkiness. His mother likes her too, until it is revealed that Shirin is a Parsi official who has been targeting the illegal water tank that Farhan’s father built for them before he died. Didn’t get the permit, it seems. But when Shirin’s “cover” is blown, Mama draws the line in the sand, it’s either “THAT WOMAN” or your mother? What to do, what to do? Sneak around Mama, of course, and lots of singing and dancing.

It’s fun to see Farah dance to some of her own choreography…in “Ramba Mein Samba”, she and Boman spoof many of the Shahrukh/Kajol/Madhuri numbers that made her the choreographer to get. Very sweet…especially love the KKHH/DDLJ train scenes. Here’s that number.  and here’s the number with the slingshot that they’re spoofing from Hum Aapke Hain Koun with Madhuri and Salman, if you haven’t seen it.

On the whole, a very favorable experience, and I’m going to pooh pooh the nay-sayers who find Farah’s acting wooden. She’s more laid back than Boman (who wouldn’t be?), but I think that’s just her own personality, and it certainly felt real to me. A few plot issues, but not too bad.

A brave attempt by all concerned, and multiple chins-up, I mean thumbs-up, from this over-40 reviewer.  We ain’t dead yet, so let’s see more examples of it!

Julie M:  Hear, hear.  And as I am about to dip a toe into young love again with Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya, I will remember that not so young love is pretty awesome too.

Sept. 22, 2012: Imraan/Ranbir ~ Glory & Hope for the Future

Jenny K:  What is wrong with most romantic comedy writers these days!  I find it hard to FIND any romance in them.  No lightness, and very little sweetness.  I feel old…”I remember when I was a youngster, and I walked fifteen miles, Uphill, IN THE SNOW! to see that cute little Meg Ryan or Kajol girl win over that adorable wisecracking goofball…they knew how to strum a viewer’s heartstrings…”  Harrrumph!

This mood started when I went back into the Netflix queue, and watched another stupid fluffy Indian themed English language romance today, When Harry Tries to Marry (2011)…completely useless. The two leads were tolerable, but the script was so bad, with so many holes in it, that it isn’t worth the effort. And in this one, not only were the lions-share of the gori actors completely wooden, as usual, but most of the desi ones were wooden, too! Bleh. Fooled by a pretty trailer, again! Actually, the film looks good…it just doesn’t deliver any sort of coherent plot, and so it’s a waste of time.

Julie M: Pass-adena.  Even the leads looked generic.  Bleah.

Jenny K: The mood continued, without my expecting much, but I bravely tried again, picking Break Ke Baad (2010), starring Deepika Padukone and my current favorite flavor of youngster eye candy, Imraan Khan. And then, just a few lines in, I remembered why he’s always able to cheer me up…he’s his uncle Aamir, back before he became Angry-Earnest-Man-with-a-MESSAGE.  And yes, with Aamir, message has to be in all caps (Taare Zameen Par, anyone?  Yes, we know he has a learning disability….Noble, but stop screaming at the boy’s parents, that won’t make them listen!).   Maybe Imraan will end up just like AK, but for now, he’s still got the innocence and sweetness in droves.  I could just watch him for hours!  Even if he doesn’t feel the need to try as many new things.

Julie M:  I don’t know, I like Imraan’s acting OK but for youthful sighs and decent acting I’m still going to stick with Ranbir Kapoor and Ranvir Singh.  And Prateik… not for acting because he’s so hit and miss, but just for looking at.  But Imraan has the heritage and the role model:  one to watch, for sure.

Jenny K:  Break Ke Baad takes the same format that we’ve seen Imraan shine in, in half a dozen films since his debut, but if Baad ain’t Broke, why fix it, na? The recipe is simple, take a bit of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Naa, a touch of I Hate Luv Stories, a skosh of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and quite a bit of Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, and stir wildly. But basically he’s the good boy, the sweet kid, probably a bit mistaken in the degree of his devotion to a rather undeserving girlchild, but with no reason in the world that these vixens should overlook/undervalue such obvious hunkitude. They don’t deserve him!

Plotwise, it’s as follows: Abhay Gulati, also known as Gelato, also known as Sunita (these kids go too far on multiple nicknames for my ID-clarity) is played by Imraan. He’s been in love with Deepika’s character Aaliya Khan, alias Al, alias Shahrukh, since they met cute in a movie theater when they were roughly eight and ten. They bonded over love of films. She was to be a diva of the screen while he would run his father’s cinema chain. A perfect pair, so they both thought.

Until, Aaliya applies for a scholarship to a university in Australia’s Gold Coast, somewhere, and goes off for a year long “break” from her overprotective mother (Sharmila Tagore) and her boyfriend, both. Here’s a scene before she gets the idea to leave which shows their standard dynamic…she’s the goofball adventurer, always pushing the envelope, and he’s her anchor, keeping her safe. Very cute scene.

Julie M:  So weird, but when she said “I’m Shahrukh Khan” she actually looked like him a little. I’m sort-of impressed she can do the impression.

Jenny K:  OMG!  Did you forget OSO?   They must have spent a good length of time together on that one.  But you’re right, her acting chops are getting sharper.

However…when she goes off to Australia, her inner voice has her almost immediately jump the rails, taking acting classes against her mother’s wishes, moving out of her aunt’s house and into a beachfront playpen of a place with other kids, all of whom party way too much to be good for Aaliya’s already wild temperament. Abhay jumps on the next plane to be sure she’s alright, and just succeeds in fighting with her and forcing her to break up with him. Does he listen? Nope. He moves in to the beach front, too. Will they get back together? What do you think? Here’s the trailer, no subtitles to this one, however. Sorry, but you get the idea. 

I thought Deepika was much more competent than I usually find her, acting-wise. And she’s always breathtakingly beautiful (especially walking up from the ocean in her bathing suit). Perhaps she has a natural affinity for playing a stubborn B…h. I’m not sure why Abhay even wants her back, but he does, and I have no willpower to say no to this sweetie-pie, even if his heroines seem to have no problem doing just that. Check it out if you have a chance.

Julie M: I’ll keep it in the list…but lately these cute-kid romcoms just aren’t attracting me anymore.  It’s not that it’s a romance, which I don’t mind and actually even like, but they are so YOUNG.  And it’s clearly done for an audience that thinks they invented romance.  EMAET, which I have not seen yet but I’ve read all the reviews and seen all the trailers, is a bit more up my alley…

Jenny K:  Well, it was cute, except for Imraan’s second act haircut…in depth analysis, of that film, here.

Suffice it to say my will to live was so rejuvenated by BKB, that I even went out to see another of the young guns, Ranbir Kapoor in his new comedy, which is still in the local theatres.  I’m not going to give the title yet, just going to start with the trailer…I just can’t say it…because, for an American audience, it’s probably one of the worst titles ever chosen. 

Julie M:  ERGH.  But being that it’s Ranbir, I’m all ears!

Jenny K:  I know, I shouldn’t have let a few little letters set me against a film, but what with the vomitous title and the prospect of an evening with slapstick and silent movie shenanigans galore, I hadn’t started out the evening wanting to see it.  The film I went to the theater to see, Ustad Hotel, a Malayalam film, chose to come into my local theater with, you’ve guessed it, NO SUBTITLES! Too bad. So, regretfully, Kathy and I chose to go see B****! which I still can’t type out, and what do I get?…over two hours in a dark theater with almost no subtitles, because we didn’t need them! Go figure.

Awash in all the good feeling that The Artist spread over the international cinemascape, India has dropped this little gem into our laps. It has Ranbir Kapoor channeling his granddad, Raj Kapoor in full “Little Tramp” mode, plus Roberto Benigni, and perhaps a bit of vintage Jimmy Stewart, to give us our rather adorable deaf -mute hero.  He was originally named Murphy by his parents, but due to his inability to pronounce his own name, he’s saddled with…with…the name you saw in the trailer. I can’t say it…maybe I’ll get over it by the end of this critique. What I will say is that Ranbir has a definite gift for physical comedy. Doesn’t say anything throughout the whole film, yet you almost always know exactly what he is trying to say to the people in his life. Extraordinary job, and I tend to hate silent movie shtick.

Julie M:  He does move spectacularly, doesn’t he? Sigh.

Jenny K:  He plays a young man from Darjeeling who has few visible aims in life and he falls for a lovely girl, Shruti (Ileana D’cruz turning in a delightful performance in, I believe, her first Hindi film) who is, unfortunately already engaged to a run of the mill cute rich guy from Kolkata. Now, she’s a bit bored by her absentee fiancee who says all the right things and could give her everything her parents could want for her, but Bbb…Ranbir, a man of no words, gives her spontaneity, adventure and a single minded focus on her that wins Shruti’s heart eventually. Yet despite all of this charm and good-heartedness, she eventually gives in to her parents’ practical view of love vs. marriage, and goes back to Kolkata to marry.

Brf! is heartbroken, and to top it all off, his father is laid off of his job as a chauffeur to the rich Singh family who live in the mansion up the hill. He has known the family and their autistic daughter, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) practically all his life. When his dad falls ill and needs an operation, and Mr. Singh won’t agree to a loan, well what’s our literally tongue-tied hero to do but try to arrange to kidnap Jhilmil and hold her for ransom…but plan as he might, it’s no good at all kidnapping someone who’s been already kidnapped an hour beforehand. SO…thwarted as a kidnapper, he tries to rob a bank…now try doing that without being able to say “stick ’em up” or being able to hear the cops behind you. Hilarious.

Well, nothing goes as he’d hoped, and somehow he can’t seem to get the money or give the girl back…he and Jhilmil are thrown together time and again, and a lasting bond ensues. Priyanka does a wonderful job playing Jhilmil in an understated, yet eloquent portrayal of autism. She looks distracted, about 14 years old, yet still manages to be fetchingly gamin under that crazy curly mop. Here’s a song showing a bit of their developing relationship. 

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that Priyanka seems to have done this competently. . ..The last few movies I’ve seen her in (cough-AGNEEPATH-cough), she really stunk up the place.  Not accurately autistic though—more like she’s playing developmentally disabled, to my eyes.  Directorial discretion, I suppose.

Jenny K:  Awww…I thought you liked her in 7 Khoon Maaf?  Remember?   I thought there was progress there, too.

But, summing up, in spite of my predisposition to pooh-pooh, I really rather liked B…b…Barfi! The only thing I could wish is that writer/director Anurag Basu had dispensed with the older age framing story. It just added a layer of confusion that I didn’t need. When you’re not going to spell things out with lots of words, then simpler is better. But I do predict there will be quite a number of best acting nominations at the next Filmfare awards, and maybe a few wins.

And all I can do is thank the Second Gen Twosome for rescuing me from my “Why-Don’t-They-Make-‘Em-Anymore” Blues.  It seems the future has a much brighter aspect than I had hoped.  I’m even looking forward to the Diwali film releases, again!

September 18, 2012: Samrat, Next Role?

Jenny K:  The summer’s been slow for writing about film, but not, thank goodness, for the viewing.  Though I blench to admit it, I’ve succumbed to the national fascination with downloadable films.  I want to see it, and I want to see it NOW!!!  Patience is a thing of the past and Netflix is my main enabler.

I watched four films in an embarrassingly short amount of time, and though they were not all Indian language films, they were all linked by the presence of one desi actor, Samrat Chakrabarti, so I thought this week merited a full Samrat-centric post.

Julie M:  I’m afraid of Netflix.  I’m afraid that my life will no longer be my own if I had immediate access to anything I wanted to see!  But back to Samrat.

Jenny K:  Now I knew who he was.  I’d even met him before at a film festival in NYC when he was promoting one of his films.  But until I saw The Waiting City (2009) at my buddy Pat’s insistence, I had no idea how versatile an actor he was.  And he’s practically chameleon-like, he so disappears into any role he takes.  The Waiting City is about an Australian couple (played by Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton) who go to Kolkata to adopt a little girl, and hopefully in doing so save their marriage…though neither of them were admitting that they were on the edge of collapse when they left Oz.

The paperwork involved in the transferal of little Laxmi from the orphanage takes (shock!) longer than they had been led to believe, and the two are left in the capable hands of Krishna (Samrat) their cab-driver-and-jack-of-all-trades.  I couldn’t believe the credits; I didn’t even recognize Samrat as the same light comedian who deftly beat-boxed his way through Loins of Punjab Presents.  But it was  more than the obvious change of hair and wardrobe; Samrat slipped so easily into the cadences and mannerisms of a working-class guy in the city, filled with the gentle wisdom of a simple man, that he rapidly became the hero of the piece for me. This one’s definitely worth a watch.

Julie M:  I find it weird that the trailer doesn’t even credit him, and only really highlights his voice at the beginning, for all that you say he’s an important part of the film.  But I really enjoyed the way Kolkata becomes a character in the narrative…at least it seems so from the trailer.

Jenny K:  Well, he’s not, technically the focus of the story, but these two Aussies are babes in the woods in Kolkata, both in matters of bureaucracy and communication.  And I don’t mean just with the adoption board…he becomes the facilitator for many of the ways that these two people come to relate to each other.  Sort of their guru for this trip, in a way.

Julie M:  I meant to watch a film tonight, myself, since B is out of town, but got caught up mid-afternoon preparing a lecture and before I knew it, it was midnight and I still hadn’t finished. Darn! Well, once it gets cold out I will stop exercising outside and switch to the indoor bike, and will start watching films in 1/2-hour installments again to entertain myself. But I did see Kahaani  courtesy of my lovely library and LOVED it.  I’m a thriller nut anyway, and this was satisfyingly mysterious, thrilling and twisty.  Vidya Balan is my favorite leading actress right now and I can’t wait for her next release, which apparently is not until next year!

Jenny K:  Well, you’ll just have to go back and watch her in Parineeta with Saif, from 2005.  You haven’t seen that yet, have you?  It was her first film.

The Waiting City led me to IMDb to find out what else Samrat had done, which linked to his website and his show reel. Pretty cool…proves my observation that the performances are so different, that it looks like the work of different men!  Afterwards, I began to scour Netflix and Amazon download in earnest for more examples of Samrat’s work.

First up was one of the light comedies that he seems to specialize in…Kissing Cousins (2008) a ninety-eight-minute fluff piece that gives you a reverse Hitch, with Samrat playing a professional break-up guy on the LA scene, hireable by those too cowardly to break up with their significant others in person.

This job has soured him on romance in the extreme and his all too “coupled” friends think he will never get his own healthy dating life. He is rescued by accident on an impromptu trip home to visit his folks in SanFran that involves a reunion with his feisty cousin Zara from England (Rebecca Hazlewood of NBC’s late, occasionally lamented Outsourced) who goes home with him to sightsee in LA. Hilarity and confusion abound when she spontaneously steps in as his pretend girlfriend, allowing him to save face with his friends.

Samrat’s acting is smooth here, with a nice light comedic touch, and a much more stylish avatar than in TWC.  Now, I realized, sort of after the fact that I should have been a bit shocked with the subject matter, at a drunken heavy groping session between relatives, et al, but, I wasn’t, perhaps due to the deftness of these actors’ portrayals.  Plus, the film itself wasn’t completely predictable.  It didn’t end in either the way the trailer teases you it will, or the way I expected it to.  So, verdict: nice timepass, albeit with a bit of crudeness here and there between the guy-pals that I could have done without. On Youtube, here.

Julie M:  Didn’t his redheaded friend look just like a white version of Samrat?  Or am I just tired? 

Jenny K: Hmmm…could be exhaustion, I didn’t pick up on that resemblance.

Kissing Cousins had a much better role for Samrat than the other comedy that I got from Amazon, The Wedding Weekend (2006), where he was certainly competent, but it was definitely not designed to be “his” picture. Just one of the attractive crowd, so I won’t bother to profile it here…I am going to hunt down more Reg Rogers movies because of that film, though. I have a definite weakness for cute Jewish guys who sing that well…oh, dear…

The final film in my Samrat Trifecta was Bombay Summer (2009).  We’re back in a serious mode again, with Samrat playing a young yuppie writer struggling to find his voice in his first grown-up apartment, away from his parents. However, he spends less time writing and more time canoodling with his girlfriend Tanishtha Chatterjee (finally in a film not set in the country!), who is just as compelling as I’ve come to expect. 

Julie M:  I’m a huge Tannishtha fan.  Loved her in Road, Movie and Brick Lane.  This film seems a bit self-indulgent for me to truly enjoy (a writer writing a film about a writer with personal problems…spare me!) but I’d watch it for her performance alone. 

Jenny K:  Don’t write it off on that impression, because it is definitely more than that.  And if it’s autobiographical, the writer in question (also the film’s director) Joseph Mathew doesn’t cut himself very much slack. His character, Jaidev, doesn’t come across as particularly endearing.  In fact, all of the characters in this film have their grey areas, and it gives layers to the film that really enrich it.

Tannishtha plays Geeta, a young woman who comes from a very affluent family, but who is supporting herself as a publisher…she is hiding her relationship with Jaidev from her father (or trying to) while Jaidev is doing the same thing with his parents. His mother is desperate to get him to come home to Mummy and Daddy who would love to smooth his way into authordom for him.

Meanwhile the spoke that is stuck into the wheel of their relationship is a lower-caste artist, Madan (a quite charismatic Jatin Gaswami) who applies for a job doing covers for her publishing firm. Tannishtha takes him under her wing, and the three of them start hanging out together, the Three Musketeers, visiting Madan’s idyllic village and his lovely mother, taking photos together, visiting inspiring ruins and beaches, etc…They get so close, in fact, that disaster must happen.

And it does…as in 2010’s Dhobi Ghat: Mumbai Diaries, Bombay Summer paints a very interesting and involving story of a city and three mismatched modern Mumbaikars, struggling with dreams of success and art, love and lust, philanthropy and patronism…and does it a bit more successfully than does the Aamir Khan starrer. Perhaps it’s just that the stories in this earlier film are more closely linked than in Dhobi Ghat which, at least in the first half of the film seem almost an anthology of separate life stories. More is spelled out here, except perhaps, in details at the very end…where it leaves some things hanging a bit more than I’d like.

Everyone involved in this one did a great job. As I mentioned before, Samrat played his character without vanity, not needing us to like him, just to understand him. Tannishtha gave a lovely, delicately emotional performance. And Jatin is someone that I’d like to see again. Very charismatic. This may motivate my next mini-filmfest! Only two films in his IMDb list…but the one that is coming up, Baromas, looks just up your alley…serious Cain and Abel thing goin’ on complete with politics and protests…and Seema Biswas! How can it miss? It’s coming out later this year.

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, Baromas is definitely on the “anticipated” list now. Thanks for alerting me!  Too much to see, too little time…!!!

Jenny K:  And thank you Samrat Chakrabarti, for doing what you do so well with such skill, honesty and heart.  In any type of role he takes, he’s going to give us 110 %.  I will look forward to whatever comes up next.

July 25, 2012: Farewell, Kaka

Julie M:  As a fitting tribute to the romantic heartthrob of Bollywood…we chose Rajesh Khanna in his award winning role, Anand (1971).

 

Jenny K:  His passing last week leaves a large empty place in the Bollywood pantheon that will take a lot to fill.  His work in this film garnered him the Filmfare Best Actor award for that year, and it was really deserved.

Julie M: Anand is not a romantic role for him; although there is a somewhat tragic romance in the back story, it gives Khanna the chance to show his dramatic range and boy-next-door good looks to advantage.  For a 15-minute overview (sorry, no subtitles), check this out. 

Plot summary: After winning an award for writing a novel, Dr. Baskhar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan, in his debut lead role) tells, in flashback, the true story of the man who inspired the book. Banerjee is an oncologist, a very serious man, and is disillusioned about how little he can do to cure people who live in poverty and can barely afford food, much less expensive medicines. At a visit to a fellow doctor to discuss a case he meets the doctor’s old friend, Anand (Rajesh Khanna), a jovial and chatty fellow who has recently arrived in Mumbai from Delhi. Banerjee is first overwhelmed, then charmed, by Anand’s energy and unflagging good spirits, particularly when he learns that Anand is in the final stages of an incurable cancer.

Anand gravitates to Banerjee, and Banerjee invites Anand to leave his nursing home and move in with him. Over the course of the next hour or so of story we watch the friendship grow, and Anand’s philosophy of making as many friends as possible, finding poetry in the everyday and living life to the fullest grows on Banerjee. Anand plays matchmaker between Banerjee and a former patient that he has a crush on, and delights in the budding romance; but he occasionally lets his more pensive side slip out. 

By the end of the film Banerjee has learned to love and to let go, and reluctantly bids Anand goodbye.

Rajesh Khanna is perfect as the bubbly Anand, and his small round form contrasts visually with Bachchan’s tall sober angularities. The bromance works because of this dichotomy, and Khanna’s beaming face totally charmed me.  And the songs are supposed to be among the most poetic and heartfelt of its era. 

Jenny K:  I agree that Rajesh Khanna lights up the screen in every scene.  He certainly put everything into it…and how young Amitabh looks! Soooo schweet, as the saying goes. Ah, Indian filmmakers do know how to do the male friendship right, don’t they? They always give us the most touching emotional scenes, and depict honest affection between guys, even if they aren’t relatives.  It’s nice to see that kind of relationship put out there without worrying about how it might come across.  Hint:  America…you could take a lesson or two! 

Julie M:  My feeling about RK is that he’s so innocent, his eyes are so soulful, and his forte seemed so much to be the “earnest romantic guy,” that seeing him in this bromance was a bit unexpected. I was kind of bowled over by the energy. He didn’t get to play off a leading lady here, and what was so wonderful about him was his chemistry with the best romantic leads of the day: Sharmila, Zeenat, even Simple Kapadia. We’ve talked about that side of him here in Anurodh and here in Ajnabee.

 

Jenny K:  Before I watched Anand I started to watch his first big hit Aradhana(Worship) (1969) with Sharmila Tagore that I had sitting in the pile near my DVD player for some reason. By the way, what is it with all his “A” titles? You’d think it was his lucky letter, like “K” is for Karan Johar! 

In any case, Rajesh was much more romantic and charming in Aradhana, blithely singing to his yet-undiscovered love, Sharmila, while she gazes from a train as he drives in his car next to it. The archetypal filmi hero.  I’ll update the post when I’ve finished the film, but it is chugging along, delightfully.

 

Julie M:  And in Anand, RK had great hair. That was what was so weird about him—in 90% of his films he had bad hair, and spotty skin, and a chubby face, and supremely bad clothes, yet the combination was irresistible.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rajesh looked wonderful all through, different from BigB (always one of our favorite guys) but still quite attractive. He aged well, too, rather elder statesman-esque.  I enjoyed his cameo playing Akshaye Khanna’s estranged father in Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999). 

I also liked some of our old standby character actors…Lalita Pawar playing the easily thawed hospital Matron cum Ma, who we saw as the principal in Shammi’s Professor. And Johnny Walker of all those Guru Dutt films, doing, for him, almost a straight dramatic role as Issabhai. Almost didn’t recognize him!

 

Julie M:  Didn’t you get kind of a reverse Kal Ho Naa Ho vibe off Anand? You know, cute charming dying guy puts best friend together with life partner before passing away? And the death scene was SO reminiscent of this one in KHNH. Is that a trope in Indian film or was KHNH deliberately calling back Anand?

Jenny K:  I don’t know if it was on purpose, but with the dying man changing the life of the ones he loves, though the sex is changed (Preity taking the Amitabh role, sort of), it really feels intentional. All the behind the scenes matchmaking, to get his friends and family taken care of before he goes, then little things, like the scenes in the kitchens, with Anand/Aman (note the similar names, too?!?) cutting onions, etc. cooking for the family, talking a blue streak, so much that it almost seems annoying as much as charming. And the late Dara Singh showing up in both films, too. Dara was very handsome in a large, oversized way, wasn’t he?

 

Julie M:  I’m sure it’s on purpose.  Too close not to be.

 

Jenny K:  Also, you have a few of the unfortunate parallels, too…like how healthy both of them look until moments before they die, actually, unbelievably so. And how they linger on until they have their last words with everyone concerned (either live, or on tape) and then check out, messiah-like, having taken care of everyone, he/they can now rest in peace. Yep, you’re right, both of those last scenes are weep-fests. 

Julie M:  Just for fun, here is the “chatty dying man has pensive moment” song from KHNH that parallels the one in Anand 

Jenny K: Though it isn’t my favorite Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, it was a nice one with good performances. It did a very thorough job letting us linger over the lesson Anand leaves us with…it’s not how early you go out, it’s how you live your life, and the grace with which you leave it.

 

Julie M:  Anand is available in whole form, free, with subtitles, on YouTube.    RIP, Kaka.

Gone but never forgotten!!

July 6, 2012: Raincoat, Running and Rampal

Julie M:  It took many sessions on the exercise bike, but I finally finished Raincoat (2004). Such a pleasure to see Ajay out of action-hero mode, and amazing chemistry between him and Aishwarya Rai. Good performances all around and well-integrated music in the background. She managed to look lovely and sad and beaten all at once, and the performance seemed to foreshadow her role in Guzaarish.  A+, all around.

Plot summary:  Manu (Ajay Devgan) is an out-of-work millworker from a rural area who has come to the big city of Kolkata to try and drum up investments from friends to fund a new business venture.  On a whim he decides to visit Neeru (Aishwarya Rai), a former girlfriend who had dumped him six years previously to marry a wealthier man more acceptable to her family.  They spend a rainy afternoon together, discussing old times and their current lives (during which they shamelessly lie to each other without the other knowing), and a surprise ending recalls the famous O. Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”

 

Jenny K:  I loved their reminiscences of their past.  And Ajay was very good playing against type. No toughguy here, until the end, maybe.

 

Julie M:  Funny, but the way it was performed I thought it was originally a stage play, because it’s basically a one-scene piece. The part at the beginning and end with Manu’s friends seemed tacked-on; I could have done with just the two characters, but I guess there had to be a way to explain his life otherwise we would not have known.

 

Jenny K:  You’re right, it’s very suitable for the theater.  This was close on the heels of Choker Bali, both directed by Rituparno Ghosh, and was at the height of Aish’s “I can prove that I’m not just a pretty face” campaign.  Raincoat works much better for me than Choker Bali, which was glacially slow, if earnestly played.

 

Julie M: Raincoat is available free on YouTube, in parts.  Here’s Part 1.

 

Jenny K:  I had a productive (for the blog) night, last night…I ran an Irrfan Double Header! Thank God for art films, because it made a twofer possible, not often feasible in Indianfilmland, without a mid-afternoon start and serious munchie fortification.

First up was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2010) which I have been trying to see for quite some time, but it never made it to any of my local theaters. But now it’s on Netflix streaming!

As a film, you feel as if you’ve seen it before…familiar, yet with such odd mash-ups that the results are unique. At times it feels like Chariots of Fire, but set in the military…then there are bits of Sholay‘s Gabbar Singh in a rather Robin Hood kinda mood. Also strong Bimal Roy tinges of “what’s a poor self respecting farmer to do when life gives you a rotten roti?” And the answer seems to have been cribbed from the Bhagat Singh Handbook. Here’s the trailer.

The film is extremely watchable. Irrfan has such an expressive face, it’s a pleasure just to have him on screen. The story begins with a disclaimer that the plot is based on true people and incidents, but is a work of fiction and any similarities to real people are coincidental??? Is it just me, or doesn’t the first half of that statement preclude the second? Oh well…

The story is that of a peaceful, unremarkable young man from a village, who joins the military as his only escape. He was born under a wandering star, says his wife’s fortuneteller. But she knows that he’ll always come back to her, no matter how long the walkabout. While in the army, he signs up for the athletic program because he loves to run, and to get more food. He does have quite the appetite, does Paan Singh Tomar, and boy, can he run. All the way to being National Champion of the steeplechase,  and all over the world.

He seems completely happy with his military life, his racing and the occasional visits home to see his wife and kids…until…his cousin, Bahwar Singh (Jahangir Khan) steals his sugarcane crop. It seems Bahwar resents the local running celebrity just showing up infrequently and not doing any of the work around the village fields, so he takes what he wants from Paan Singh’s fields, too, which he regards as his due for not being the prodigal son.

When PST  asks for recompense, his cousin ignores him. PST goes to the police. They ignore him. He tries to call in favors from his army bosses…heck, he’s a national sports hero, after all! Well, they send in a mediator to try the case, and find in Paan Singh’s favor, but aren’t willing to enforce anything. Seems his clippings and medals get him only so much, and no more. Bahwar Singh just laughs and burns the cane, sends PST’s wife and kids running for cover, beats up his mother who stays to defend the house, and then destroys said house. What’s a law abiding man to do when the authorities don’t care? Become a dacoit, of course!

The plot sort of goes where you expect it to after that, however, the trip is well worth the taking. Irrfan and his supporting cast are wonderful, the atmosphere evocative, and the mood is increasingly more oppressive as the film unfolds. You know why Paan Singh does what he does.  He’s a rebel, not a dacoit, as he says, repeatedly, to any who will listen. If the following interview with surviving relatives is anything to go by, he did have no choice.

This film is on YouTube, too. In parts, here.

 

Julie M:  I love anything Irrfan Khan does.  You had me interested by just saying his name!

 

Jenny K:  The second part of the twofer was The Warrior (2001). Directing his first feature film, Asif Kapadia hits one out of the park on this film. A short film (about 90 minutes) this film is long on impact. It’s shot with practically no conversation, all in vibrant visuals. Taken from a tiny mention of a story of samurai life, writers Kapadia and Tim Miller along with DP Roman Osin, weave a mesmerizing story of a warrior who gives up his life as an official kingdom assassin, tired of what his liege lord asks him to do. Unfortunately, that decision costs him his home and everything dear to him. Here’s the trailer.

Lacfadia, the warrior, flees from his fellow enforcers who are sent after him to stop his escape, and having taken a vow to never raise a weapon against defenseless people again, his flight is a desperate one. Irrfan, practically silent, is even more expressive than he normally is with words. He takes up a few wanderers he meets on his seemingly aimless quest for spiritual peace. One of which, a petty thief named Riaz, played by Noor Mani, does an equally impressive job. Noor posted excerpts from his own performance here on Youtube, but it gives a nice cross section of the film’s tone.

This young man had been living a life on the street before he found an acting school set up by Mira Nair’s people when Salaam, Bombay! needed non-professional actors. Actually, most of the actors in this film were non-professionals, and the director, Mr. Kapadia, got some amazing performances from them. Great behind the scenes pieces on the DVD…almost as much footage as the film itself!

This one is definitely worth the watch. It felt a lot like Tarsem Singh’s The Fall with its eloquent silences and beautiful scenery, and also a bit like Road, Movie in the collection of oddly assorted travellers, that we reviewed earlier in our Abhay Deol Fest. The intimate interaction between relative strangers is there in all three films. Get it if you can…probably is a library choice as it won the BAFTA in 2003 for best picture.

 

Julie M:  WOW. I’m speechless with the quality of both of these films and of course with Irrfan Khan as the lead performer. I’ve got to get hold of them!  Library has neither. Bummer!

 

Jenny K:  Well, it is on YouTube, but no subtitles…I’ve watched some like that, but it can be frustrating…

 

Julie M:  Whew, finally finished Tehzeeb (Etiquette, 2003). Major EFD (emotional family drama)!  I’m still recovering.

Brief plot summary: Tehzeeb (Urmila Matondkar) grew up as the lonely daughter of famous singer Rukhsana (Shabana Azmi). Her character has been shaped by the witnessing, at age 10 or so, the murder of her beloved father (excellent cameo appearance by Rishi Kapoor) by her mother, a crime for which Rukhsana was acquitted; however, despite years of suppressed horror and rage, she still admires her mother and she is still the emotional center of Tehzeeb’s life. Tehzeeb, once an aspiring singer but now a housewife, is married to romance novelist Salim (Arjun Rampal, sigh), and they live with and care for her developmentally disabled sister, Nazneen (Dia Mirza). Here’s their great meet-cute scene.

 

Jenny K:  Actually, this is the first movie where I found Arjun attractive.  He does grow on you.

 

Julie M: One day Rukhsana announces that she is coming for a visit for the first time since Tehzeeb and Salim married five years ago; the prospect of this throws Tehzeeb for a loop. The next few weeks expose buried feelings and contradictions, rub raw nerve endings and lead to confrontations, disclosures and more.

It’s rare that I get to see an Indian movie that centers so strongly on complex female relationships. You’d think, with Bollywood’s preference to avoid niche marketing, that such a project would never be greenlighted unless it was liberally sprinkled with dishoom, or at least some scantily clad gori dancers. But all this female bonding, to me, was treated too superficially.

The schmaltzy background music was more suited to TV soap operas than a mainstream movie, and the requisite hospital scene near the end had me rolling my eyes.  Nevertheless, I appreciated the character conflicts even if they were handled in a daytime-drama way (from sets, costumes and staging through action and significant glances…is this Mumbai or Pine Valley?). “Tehzeeb,” in addition to being the name of the lead character, also means “etiquette,” and ultimately it is etiquette that kept Tehzeeb all these years from confronting her mother with her feelings, which could have avoided all this intense drama.

Yes, there were dance numbers, but they felt tacked on and gratuitous, particularly Arjun’s, seen here. It was completely wrong for the character, as he played kind of a combination of narrator, comic relief and token useless male (but he was gorgeous, especially in that black turtleneck sweater, and if I were to have a slightly cowed but very romantic husband I’d like him to be Salim).

Urmila, a decent enough actress, should never be allowed to dance. Everything I see her in she is clunky and robotic and looks like she is slightly in pain.

 

Jenny K:  Now, to give Urmila her due, I ought to put up one of her more acclaimed dance performances from China Gate.  Now, I’m not saying she’s going to threaten Madhuri’s queen-of-the-gypsy-numbers status or anything, but she does hold her own, here.

 

Julie M: And WHAT was up with the “creative” dance number for Dia Mirza??!!  The “move the action along” music was much better, except when it was intrusive, which was, oh, about half the time. The slow songs were lovely. And my favorite part was when Tehzeeb, entertaining her mother and sister, parodied famous movie numbers. Can’t find the scene online, though.

 

Jenny K:  That was always the scene that stuck in my mind, too.  She was really funny, and on-the-nose in her imitations.  Hidden talents!

 

Julie M: Overall…a solid B film, worth seeing if you come across it but nothing to go out of your way to find.

March 31, 2012: Days of Whine and Reasons…to Procrastinate

We’ve been bad, bad bloggers.  No excuses other than work, and looking for work, getting in the way.  But we’re baaaaaaack!  Jenny went to a film festival in Pittsburgh, and Julie staged her own Naseeruddin Shah Mini-Fest. 

 

Jenny K: Well, not THAT bad…maybe only two aa’s worth.  I myself have gone to great lengths, of time and gasoline to bring forth this report.  Getting it written up, was, I must admit, much more prolonged than I’d have wished.  If I had known we were embarking on a Naseeruddin Shah-lebration, well, there would have been much less procrastination!

 

Julie M:  OK, so I saw Today’s Special (2009) tonight. I know it’s not technically an Indian film and it’s all in English, but it has three Indian actors (parallel and mainstream films) and an NRI actor/screenwriter, so I’ll count it as a win.  Here’s the trailer.

Jenny K: Finally!  I knew you’d like it…I talked about it quite a bit on my older blog when I first saw it in the theaters, but it’s great to get your perspective on it.  Needless to say, Naseerji had me with the first sight of him peeping at Aasif in the rear view mirror with such a knowing twinkle in his eyes.  Mmmm!  The man is definitely worth his own film fest.

 

Julie M:  To get the feeling of how great it is, here are the first scenes under the opening credits.

Plot summary:  Samir (Aasif Mandvi, of the Daily Show) is a sous-chef in a fancy New York restaurant, with dreams of running one of his celebrity-chef boss’s several establishments in the very near future.  When someone else is selected for the job he quits in frustration, intending to go to France to study with master chefs.  A family situation interrupts his plans and he offers to temporarily run his father’s (Harish Patel) restaurant, a greasy-spoon curry joint in Jackson Heights.  But he doesn’t speak any Indian languages well enough to communicate effectively with the kitchen staff, and he doesn’t know how to cook Indian food at all.  Friendly and quirky cabbie Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) proves to be Samir’s simultaneous undoing and redemption, and his feisty mother (Madhur Jaffrey) keeps him grounded.  Of course there is also a love interest (Jess Weixler).  In the process of juggling relatives and restaurants, Samir learns the true meaning of commitment, family and food.

 

Jenny K: Just the thought of Naseerji running about in that t shirt with feathers flying is enough to cheer me up for the day!

 

Julie M: What a sweet (if semi-predictable) film! Naseerji was AMAZING–I could have kissed him all over, what an awesome character and played to perfection by the master–and of course, the food was a star its own self. Harish and Madhur can always  be counted on for top work in whatever they do.  But what I liked the best was the absolute realism of the Indian elements–down to the music, slang and attitudes. Not fake-India, REAL Indian people. OK, it was Hollywood-ed up slightly, but it felt very honest. Mandvi’s original play translated well to the screen and it felt natural and very warm.  And this gem on the special features, featuring Aasif and Madhur cooking, was hokey but fun.

 

Jenny K:  Well, she was a gem, and is, of course a rather famous cook in her own right…when I watched it, I wanted him to back off a bit with the yuk yuks, and let her go to town. 

 

Julie M: Well done, great recommendation. Love it, love it, love it!  The whole film is available for $2.99 on YouTube.  [It’s on Netflix streaming, too.] And if you decide you can’t live without more Aasif, here’s a good interview.

 

Jenny K: My film outing was to beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA where The Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival was winding down it’s seventh annual showcase of films.  I was so sorry that I only had two days to dedicate to the festival, which runs for over a week…plus having numerous other events focusing on Asian-American culture during the year.  If you’re in the area, you should definitely check the group out.

I’m afraid, as you probably could predict, that I leaned heavily Indian in my choices for viewing, with The Beetle Soldiers, an Indonesian offering, being my sole trip outside Mother India.  That film, and two others, Dekh Indian Circus and Shala, all became an unintentionally themed set, focusing on the lives of children in different parts of South Asia. 

Dekh Indian Circus (2011) was the first film I saw when I hit town, not even waiting to check in at my hotel before going to the Regent Square Theater, a cozy little art cinema just off exit 77 on 376.  The film was directed by Mangesh Hadawale in a very polished first attempt.  Aided by Laxman Utekar’s lush cinematography we take a very vivid look through the eyes of two village children as they see a traveling circus for the very first time.  Or, rather, try to see one.  What should have been a rather simple joy the parents (Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wanted to give their kids became a monumental challenge due to mingled issues of bad luck and the vagaries of the local political circus of Rajasthan’s (or any) election time.  A gorgeous film, very well acted by all involved, but a bit sad in tone and a mite confusing, as the circus/political parallels weren’t clear enough to me.

To continue through the murk of childhood memories, the second film I saw, Shala (2011), by Sujay Dahake was supposed to be a coming of age film of a group of ninth grade boys during Indira Ghandi’s political emergency of the 1970’s.  I hadn’t seen much on this era so far in my Indian film viewing, and I still don’t feel that I have.  A murky print didn’t help, but, again, the info the writer and director gave the viewer about the era wasn’t spelled out enough to give the uninitiated much enlightenment.  The children performed well, and I would have wished they had stuck more to that story and tied up some of the loose plot ends instead of spreading things too thin by covering (thinly) the historical context.  It could have been a classic boy’s first love of the “Unattainable She” film, and for me, at least, it wasn’t.

The next day, the first film was The Beetle Soldiers (2011), by Ari Sihasale.  It’s an Indonesian version of the same “boy comes of age” genre.  I was delighted to find that I was going to see one kids film this weekend where the children seemed to feel privileged going to school, and though it was often strict, not all the memories of school were harsh ones.  Our hero, Amek, played by Yudi Miftahudin with an open face and an honest expressiveness, has a talent for horses, and not as much for learning.  His life is also plagued by a cleft lip, but nothing stops his optimistic outlook…until the second half.  After that, not all the lovely cinematography in the world can stop the tsunami of bad luck that hits Amek and his family when his longed-for father finally comes home.  So much for a feel-good favorite.  Again, good performances, just not what I’d hoped for.  Sheesh.

Julie M:  The library finally yielded up The Dirty Picture (2011) and my schedule allowed me to see it in two short sessions.

I’m not going to rehash the plot because we’ve already talked about it here and our friend Carla on Filmi Geek did an extensive post on it, every word of which I agree with, except my tongue doesn’t hang out quite as much as hers does when I see Vidya. 

 

Jenny K:  Well, I don’t think anyone could match that much enthusiasm, even VB’s agent!  Wow!  And as good as some of Carla’s points are, some just missed me completely.  I got the feminist side of things, but I hadn’t seen the angle she found most obvious…with so much blatant hetero-ness goings on, it must have masked it, or it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Vidya has been a favorite of mine, acting-wise since the days of Lage Raho Munnabhai and Parineeta.  Way to go girl!

 

Julie M:  My opinion, outside of Vidya’s performance, which was of course jaw-droppingly fantastic, was that I didn’t think too much of it. I found it very dull in the few scenes she was not onscreen.  I was amused by Naseerji’s role as a Rajnikath-type South Indian actor (even anachronistically playing a college student at his age! So funny!) but he was oddly low-key and I felt he was underutilized.  The bad wig was just bad, not bad-hilarious. I think he could have hammed it up a bit more and not taken away from the film, and enhanced Vidya’s performance in the process.  A rare off note from an otherwise godlike figure in film, who turns everything he touches into gold.

 

Jenny K:  The last film of the festival for me, Trishna (2011), was an updating of Tess of the D’Urburvilles, the Thomas Hardy classic, by director Michael Winterbottom.  This one was also primarily in English, but with the setting moved to India (Rajasthan and Mumbai) and primarily Indian stars, it felt like a full-out Indian offering.  But one that will never see the light of day in the Motherland, I fear.  As faithful as Winterbottom was to the source material, the portrayal of the troubled Tess, I mean Trishna, is way too graphic in its sex scenes to ever make it past the Indian sensor board.  Heck, for a moment or two there I thought I was going to get up and leave, or grab Trishna’s knife and wield it myself, if she didn’t!  Ooof!  It’s not that I haven’t seen more blatant scenes in western films, but somehow the brutality of the scenes (while being a great indicator of Trishna’s motivation) were just this side of merciless to the audience, especially to me as a female.  Once again, good performances, especially by Frida Pinto of Slumdog fame, and great scenery, but definitely the depressing cap to a rather opressive film weekend.  Well, I chose my own schedule!

 

Julie M:  It took me three sessions, but I finished Sparsh (Touch, 1980) tonight. My faith in The Man is back:  I was completely blown away by NS’s performance!!

Plot:  Anirudh Parmar (Naseeruddin Shah) is the principal of a school for blind children, and is himself blind. While looking for an address one day he meets Kavita (Shabana Azmi), a young widow still overcome by grief after three years. They become friends, and he invites her to the school to help by teaching the children stories and songs. The distraction is just what she needs and she begins to come out of her self-imposed solitude.  Friendship turns to love and then an engagement, but after hearing the story of a fellow teacher’s (Om Puri, looking quite slim and dashing) similar marriage Anirudh becomes fearful that he will end up too dependent on her sightedness, and that she is somehow punishing herself by marrying him out of pity. Is their romance doomed by the cultural dissonance between the worlds of the blind and the sighted? Must each of them sacrifice something of themselves in order to be together?

 Here’s a quick, unsubtitled compilation of some key scenes. 
It is always a joy to watch each of the lead actors, and watching them together just put me over the top. Naseerji’s turn as the fiercely independent and crusading principal was astonishing, and it was a treat seeing him so young and handsome (not that he’s a troll now, by any means!). Example.

Shabani Azmi’s performance, while excellent all along, really hit the heights in the last 30 minutes or so as she tries to understand Anirudh’s abrupt change of feelings and his rejection of her and her world. The students at the school were all played very naturally by blind children—I doubt any of them were professional actors but they sure seemed like it.

My main criticism is that it started abruptly and ended abruptly (although not confusingly so), which really destroyed the flow of the story. The songs were incorporated so naturally into the storyline I hardly noticed them–still trying to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.  I felt it was a little heavy-handed on the “blind people aren’t helpless” theme, but I put that down to being filmed in 1980 when India probably still harbored serious cultural prejudices against handicapped people of any kind and needed to hear this socially progressive message.  And it has a kind of “deus ex machina” aspect near the end when Kavita’s best friend (Sudha Chopra) explains Kavita’s personality to Anirudh.

Sparsh is available for $0.99 on YouTube here.  Don’t know if it’s subtitled or not—seems not to be.  It’s free, in multiple parts starting here, albeit not subtitled and in a very bad print.  

Jenny K:  We’ll try not to be so behindhand next month!

May 1, 2012: Why 2007 Was a Good Year, Yaar

Julie M:  Tonight’s feature was Dharm (Religion, 2007). A very beautiful film, very reminiscent of Deepa Mehta’s work (particularly Water, and not just because Dharm also takes place in Benares). More on that later. Here’s a very quick trailer.

Here’s a longer one but worse picture quality.
 

Jenny K:  Someone has to explain the various meanings of dharm/dharma to me sometime.  Here it means “religion,” but I had always heard it used as “duty,” which, though it has similar qualities, is not the same thing.  Enlightenment, anyone?

 
Julie M:  Plot summary: Pandit Chaturvedi (Pankaj Kapur) is a Brahmin and the head of a temple, an extremely devout Hindu who is strict about ritual and “right thinking,” which often causes difficulties with his wife (Supriya Pathak) and daughter. He is the personal advisor to his patron, whose daughter is in love with a visiting gora journalist and whose son Shankar is drawn to a radical Hindu political organization.

 

Jenny K:  I love Pankaj Kapur…he’s always so real, if you know what I mean, never a false note in his performances. I also liked him in Raakh with Aamir and Sehar with Arshad Warsi. He is the best thing in Roja, a Mani Ratnam film that I’m sending you in this next package.

 

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, he was in Raakh.  I had forgotten. 

 

Jenny K:  That’s what’s so cool…he has a gift falling so deep into his characters that he even looks different.  Same quality Seema Biswas has.  I wonder if they’ve ever done a film together? Hmm….I’d buy tickets to that, in advance!

 

Julie M:  Anyway, Chaturvedi’s rigidness softens when his daughter brings home an abandoned baby boy, whom he and his family raise as their own. When the boy is about four his mother comes to claim him: surprisingly, she is Muslim. This conflict between traditional Brahmin and Hindu values, long-standing ethnopolitical prejudices and the desires of the heart forms the backdrop for the rest of the film.

I was absolutely fascinated all the way through, both for the amazing visuals, the human drama (without a drop of melodrama) and the pathos the director, Bhavna Talwar, drew from the storyline without falling into mush. I think that any Indian female director working in this vein can’t help but be influenced by Deepa’s work, and there were times that I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Deepa’s.

I had just seen Pankaj Kapoor as the crime boss in Maqbool and loved it, and this film sealed my opinion of him as one of India’s premier dramatic actors. He was also the old guy in The Blue Umbrella, another fave of mine.

 

Jenny K: Really? If I remember correctly, you weren’t so sold on The B.U. when you first saw it…had a few reservations.  At the end, here.  Not that there’s anything wrong with mellowing on a film.  I’ve done that more than once.

 

Julie M: If I had a criticism it was that Dharm was yet another film in the “Hindus and Muslims are enemies for no real reason” vein. You’d think that people would get the message by now, and this film brought no additional compelling arguments.

Dharm almost was India’s entry into the Academy Awards for 2007, but lost out to Eklavya: The Royal Guard. Having seen both I think Dharm got royally scr*wed–although I liked Eklavya a lot, Dharm was far better and more valid, and would have actually earned India the nomination that year.

 

Jenny K:  Dharm sounds interesting…but it may be hard getting used to seeing him without facial hair. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a beard!

 

Julie M:  You know, the penny JUST dropped for me that Pankaj is Shahid’s father.  Where have I been?  And that Mausam (which you saw and I’m waiting for it to appear on DVD) is somewhat autobiographically inspired (for writer/director Pankaj)? I still have to consult a scorecard (aka Wikipedia) to get all the relationships straight in Bollywood.

 [about two weeks later..film viewing seriously interrupted by life…]

Julie M:  Last night I watched Loins of Punjab Presents (2007), which to my surprise was an English language film although an Indian production. The premise was good and it had some very funny moments, but it sets itself up to a number of comparisons to which in my mind it did not measure up. Here’s the trailer.

 
Jenny K:  I would talk about how long it took you to watch this, but I remember being appalled at the trailer myself for it’s sheer Priyadawanism [my own term for a particularly high level of slapstick] and held off watching it for three years, until it came my way for free on Hulu one day. 

 

Julie M: Turn off your ad-blocker or you won’t get to see it.

Brief plot summary: Loins of Punjab is an Indian-owned pork processing company based in New Jersey, which needs some good PR among its countrymen. The owner decides to sponsor an “American Idol”-type, Bollywood-themed singing competition for NRIs, called Desi Idol, and give away a huge cash prize to the winner. A very motley crew turns up to audition, and over the course of the film’s running time we get to know a cross-section of them complete with motivations, quirks, joys and sorrows.

The film was billed as a satire, and I definitely got everything they were satirizing: dreams of fame, various NRI types found in the U.S., the nature of being Indian. Highlights include the large and voluble Patel clan, Shabana Azmi playing an evil socialite, and Ajay Naidu (whom audiences might remember as “the Indian guy” in Office Space, one of my all-time favorite comedies) as a tough, gay bhangra-rapper.

Jenny K:  He was also that silent but loathesome cook in the first part of Today’s Special…look for Ajay when you see it.  I thought LoPP was sweet. And it was obvious that Manish, the director put his whole being into it.

 

Julie M:  Sweet?  I wouldn’t go that far.  Some moments were sweet, mainly about the Vikram-Sania jodi, but I thought they were mostly going for hilarity.  For a film about a singing competition I thought there were frighteningly few musical numbers (I thought the “Bole Chudiyan” segment was the sweet part, but that may only be because K3G was the 2nd Hindi film I ever saw and the nostalgia factor was working), but that may have been the point. However, this scene really made me crack up.

Jenny K:  Okay, okay…sweet at its center, and funny, as opposed to slapstick/vulgar through-and-through.

 
Julie M: Yes, it was funny and I enjoyed myself while watching it; however, my mind kept comparing it to the great Christopher Guest mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, and others (except For Your Consideration, ick), which I felt LoPP was trying to emulate and fell a bit short.

 
The short running time (less than 1 1/2 hours) made the film feel rushed.  I would have adored to have it last 30 minutes longer and be filled with more background and depth on the main characters.

 

Jenny K:  I agree that he could have lengthened it a bit and not lost his US audience, if that was what he was worried about.  BTW, I really like Shabana as a villain. She should do it more often. And she looked wonderful!

 

Julie M:  I liked her too, even though she was playing against type.  I feel very bad expressing any criticism, since one of my favorite characters in it, the poor outsourced Vikram, was played by the film’s director (Manish Acharya), and he died in a riding accident a couple of years ago.  

 

Jenny K:  Vikram(Manish) was probably my favorite character, too. I think the Chris Guest similarities must be expected as Manish studied film at Tisch in NYC.  He was probably steeped in that sort genre of film.

When I first saw LoPP, I wrote Manish on FB to tell him how much I liked it. He wrote back and we spoke on FB occasionally, and it was just too sad when he died a few months later. He had such a promising future.

On one post on his page he said he liked the funny parodies people made up for fake “Criterion Editions” of their favorite films, so I made him one for the fictional LoPP Criterion Edition.  For the first time posted online.  With thanks to Manish for the laughs he gave us (and with respectful parody, to Criterion).

 

Julie M:  Overall, a fun watch, could have been more effective comedically but if you’re not familiar with the genre you’ll like it just fine. 

 [the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Rock On! (2008) tonight. Wow–this is definitely one of my faves. It had me from the very first moment: I love that style of music (yes, I am a rock chick) and both Farhan and Arjun nailed their performances perfectly. Cannot believe that it was Farhan’s debut as an actor.  And Arjun in super-long hair…it was all I could to do keep from swooning.

 

Jenny K:  And I loved that Farhan did his own singing.  He’s become quite the young recording/concert artist when he’s got the time…love that raspy quality, very sexy.

 

Julie M:  I loved the setup—a rock band that broke up on the verge of making it reunites ten years later, told mostly in flashback—and of course the awesome musical numbers, particularly this opening one which had me up and dancing. 

And clearly the director knew musicians, or consulted with musicians, or hung out with musicians, because this part illustrating their camaraderie and tendency to goof off felt completely unforced and totally real. A musical bromance, pitch-perfect and perfectly pitched.  Three snaps up with a twist! 

 
And what’s this I hear about a sequel?  The film and story were perfect just the way it was. Don’t ruin it!! Shooting is supposed to start in June; let’s hope something falls through to stop it.

 

Jenny K: Thought you would like Rock On!!  I saw it four times in the theaters, I think. I kept taking people to see it, and then the last time, as part of a local Indian film festival with the director visiting for commentary, so, of course, I had to go again. Abhishek Kapoor is a well spoken, talented fellow, and nice to talk to. I told him that his was one of the two rock and roll films that got me engrossed and made me feel like I was actually at the concert. The other was Stop Making Sense (1984) with the Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme. He said he hadn’t seen it…so I sent him a copy. Don’t know if he ever got it, but, maybe it will put him in the mood for this sequel.

Julie M:  The entire film is available free on YouTube in superior quality. 

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