September 10, 2013: Kai Po Che! is not your usual 3-way bromance

Jenny K: When I read Julie’s reactions to her latest DVD, Kai Po Che!  (2013), I was flooded with waves of déjà vu…I know that sounded familiar to me, that plot…and it was!  I went to see Kai Po Che! at the theaters with my friend Pat back last February.  Julie was kind enough to dig up my original reactions so we can compare them…as follows.

Jenny K:  Sometimes I wish I research films more before I plunk down my hard-earned-paisa at the movie theater!  The trailers are right out there, but did I watch them?  No.  Check it out.

Not saying that I didn’t like parts of it, but I had skimmed the positive review in Rediff (planning to review it myself, so didn’t want to prejudice myself) and had seen the director’s name, Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On!) and the Chetan Bhagat tie-in…well, I went in expecting a Dil Chahta Hai/ZNMD buddy-comedy-drama about cricket, and didn’t get the sentimental feel-good film I expected.

What we expected

What we expected

Julie M:  I must say that I was expecting the same thing, based on that trailer which did seem to focus on the bromance aspect and the joyful title (a shout of triumph in Gujarati, from kite flying), and was a bit disappointed as well, but I still liked it for what it was…mostly.

What it's really like

What it’s really like

Plot summary: Omi (Amit Sadh), Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Govi (Raj Kumar Yadav) are best friends from childhood, now all grown up and out of college but going nowhere. Their dream is to open a cricket supply store/coaching school, but they have no money. Omi ends up borrowing what they need–twice–from his rich uncle Bittoo (Manav Kaul).  The boys open the shop and it goes very well, but ironically, they start to drift apart just as they have made their dream a reality.  Omi is guilted into assisting Bittoo in his political ambitions, and finds that he likes the work and believes in Bittoo’s ultra-conservative Hindu party beliefs.   Ishaan discovers Ali (Digvijay Deshmukh), a young Muslim cricket prodigy and the son of Bittoo’s political rival, and he spends more and more time coaching him on the field and befriending him and his family.  Govi secretly takes up with Ishaan’s sister and in order to feel less bad about deceiving him (and to avoid Ishaan’s wrath:  he is very protective about his sister), spends less time around his friend.  Things come to a head when political feuds turn personal, and a final confrontation turns their mutual lives into a tragedy.

 Jenny K:  I was very off-put with Ishaan’s short-fuse, touchy character, at least until he started teaching Ali.  He kept acting as if everything was owed to him, the shop, the money to start the shop, success, everything, when all he had going for him was playing talent (so he says) and the arrogance of the young.  When he snaps at outsiders, and also his partners, I found it very hard to sympathize with his problems, at least in the first half…and in the second, the change in him comes almost too late for me.

Julie M:  That didn’t bother me so much.  I felt it rang fairly true that this washed-up (at age, what, 22? 23?) cricketer would have intense amounts of anger and feel the world owed him.  It’s not made explicit what derailed his career, but it makes sense that once he finds a protégé he would mellow out and feel that his life had purpose again.  He’s even willing to risk his friendships to keep that relationship going:  witness this scene where Ishaan steals money from the business in order to help Ali’s family rebuild after a devastating earthquake:  

Jenny K:  When the film went very political about two thirds of the way through I, not knowing enough of the local political subtleties, was rather lost about who was affiliated with whom, and why things escalated so quickly. I got the Hindu versus Muslim part, but I wasn’t sure if any of the three guys was, in fact, Muslim. Didn’t think so, but it might have made things clearer for me.

Julie M:  None of the guys was Muslim, but Ishaan was protecting Ali and had come to love Ali’s family.  He was acting in the family’s interests and that’s how he ended up where he did.  I had the same problem you did:  I felt that this final premise tearing our trio irrevocably apart seemed overly contrived and almost TV-movie-ish:  set up for the purposes of this narrative. Yes, I know it was an actual historical event but the narrative seemed squeezed in around it.

Kai-Po-Che PosterJenny K:  The actors, all relative newcomers, gave very realistic, affecting performances (Raj Kumar Yadav had done a nice bit in Talaash) but I felt the plot of the three life-long friends pooling their talents to start their business had been done better for me in Shuttlecock Boys, even though this film is more polished. It seemed to me that in stretching his scope as a director, Mr. Kapoor may have left the clarity and focus that he had achieved so well in Rock On! a film that I have watched several times, each time liking it more. Too much diversity of theme and intention is not always the best thing, especially in the shorter two hour format. Everything felt a bit thin and unsatisfying for me. I’d be interested to know how desi audiences took to it, or fans of the book.

Julie M:  Yeah, I thought that the fact it was taken from a wildly popular (but critically panned) Chetan Bhagat book would speak well to it.  Not as bad as that horror Hello that Bhagat wrote the screenplay for.  At least he surrounded himself with a team this time.

Jenny K:  Have you read The 3 Mistakes of My Life, the book this film is based on?

Julie M:  No:  I couldn’t stand attempting another CB book.  Not my style.  But his books tend to be humorous on at least one level, and this film had zero humor at all.  Only one brief scene where they all smiled simultaneously, and that’s it.

Jenny K:  Though I haven’t read any of Bhagat’s books, I’d tend to agree, having seen 3 Idiots, that this interpretation was abnormally solemn.  The songs brought some lift to the spirits, but not enough.  I liked this song, but it felt like one from DCH and sounded like a Shankar-Eshaan-Loy one from ZNMD 

Julie M:  It’s almost becoming a trope, three guys “coming of age” and facing tragedy, to the strains of singer-songwriter music.  I liked Shuttlecock Boys better—it just felt less self-conscious about being a Message Movie.

Overall I felt that KPC had a lot of potential but in the end just left me cold.  Because the action of the film was a giant flashback you know the ending–most of it, anyway–and once the political situation comes to a head you’ve figured it all out, and the denouement is almost boring.  Except for the final scene, which I felt was tender and perfect and brought me almost to tears.

I agree with you that the cast was excellent and it is worth watching for their performances, and to me, for Sushant Singh Rajput alone. And it seems that he comes by the cricket knowledge honestly:  his sister is a state-level cricketer!  He’s definitely one to watch.

Jenny K:  He sure is the flavor of the month, these days.  Did you see…he has a new movie out, Shuddh Desi Romance, that has been getting pretty good reviews. I’m planning to go see it, soon. 

Julie M:  I noticed that one too—made a mental note to follow it up in a couple of months, because by the time I get the time to go out to the theater it is likely to have left.

February 13, 2013: Good cop, good cop

Our catching up continues…in the last months of 2012 we watched several films with good cops (two of them Aamir Khan!) and couldn’t help comparing them.

Julie M:  Finally finished Zanjeer (The Chain, 1973)…awesome film! Had everything: love, revenge, gangsters, fight scenes, and Amitabh Bachchan, looking hot in a police uniform. It doesn’t get much better…here’s the trailer, unfortunately not subtitled: 

Plot summary: Young Vijay (isn’t his name always Vijay in these things?) Khanna witnesses the murder of his parents one Diwali and as he grows to adulthood, his nightmares are haunted by an image of a man on a galloping white horse for some unfathomable (to him) reason. We know why, though…because the murderer was wearing a chain bracelet with a horse charm. Raised by a sympathetic cop, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a police officer, known among his peers for his unorthodox ways and steadfast dedication to wiping out crime in all its forms, which often gets him into trouble with his higher-ups. At a new posting he befriends, and reforms, the local gambling boss Sher Khan (Pran) and saves Mala, a damsel in distress (Jaya Bhaduri), although the actual amount of distress she was in is doubtful, since she’s pretty good at knife-handling. Here’s the meet-cute scene between Vijay and Sher Khan. 

Jenny K:  Did you ever see Amitabh in the film Dev? He and Om Puri have a great good cop/corrupt cop duel in that one, and it has the added benefit of being one of the few movies I couldn’t fault Kareena in!  BigB isn’t quite as young as in Zanjeer, but I think I prefer his older avatar in any case.

Julie M: I’ll take him any way I can get him…but so very handsome when young and that drunk scene in Satte pe Satta always cracks me up and makes me fall in love with him all over again…anyway, Vijay also receives anonymous phone calls alerting him to when shipments of tainted liquor are brought to town, and he becomes a local hero to all except for the criminals running the hooch, headed by a crime boss named Teja (Ajit).

After Teja menaces Mala and she barely escapes with her life, Vijay rescues her (again) and places her in protective custody with his brother, where she gradually loses her “street” ways and falls in love with Vijay. As the case against Teja grows, Vijay gets more and more determined to wipe him out…until the day he himself is framed for bribery, thrown in prison and gets kicked off the force. He knows Teja is behind it, and grudgingly accepts Sher Khan’s help to trap Teja into a final confrontation.

I love this scene where Sher Khan expresses undying bro-hood with Vijay:  Pran not being particularly graceful, it has that awkward yet mesmerizing improvisational quality of Tevye’s big number “If I Was a Rich Man” from Fiddler.

Despite some totally ridiculous hand-to-hand combat, Zanjeer is a mesmerizing picture of a man who must reconcile his past and present and somehow exorcise the bitterness from his soul in order to be truly happy. I highly recommend that people do a BigB marathon by watching (in this order) Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay (although I was not a fan of Sholay personally, it’s important to see); it’s a wonderful snapshot of what makes Amitji a star and how he defines a cinematic generation.

Since this was so perfect I’m not sure I want to see the upcoming remake, although seeing Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan would be terrific. Prakash Raj as Teja, Priyanka Chopra as Mala, and hunky Telegu actor Ram Charan Teja as Vijay (confusing) round out the remake cast. It looks like a very faithful update, down to the songs even, which makes me wonder why it even has to be done.

Zanjeer is available free on YouTube with subtitles here.

And speaking of squeaky-clean ACPs…

Julie MSarfarosh (Martyr, 1999) was definitely a treat! Great performances all around, with standout roles played by Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. I can see why you bought this one…combines your two boys into an irresistible experience.

Aamir Khan is Ajay Singh Rathod, a squeaky-clean ACP newly arrived in Mumbai with a tragic backstory that made him drop his dream of being a doctor to devote his life to wiping out crime, particularly terrorist-related activity. Rathod is good–too good–his reputation precedes him and the bad guys in town scramble to cover their tracks. Nevertheless, with luck and skill he manages to penetrate an international gun-smuggling ring that reaches deep into the ISI–Pakistan’s version of the CIA. Meanwhile Rathod is dealing with his higher-ups’ prejudice against his man Salim (Mukesh Rishi), a Muslim whom they suspect to be sympathetic to the terrorists, the sudden reappearance of his college crush Seema (Sonali Bendre), and an unexpected friendship with his ghazal-singing idol Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) facilitated by Seema, who is his agent in Mumbai.  The action of the film centers on Rathod’s outsmarting of the criminals and bringing them to justice, but rather than being about one guy’s quest it’s almost an ensemble piece with some really outstanding performances.  And the guy gets the girl in the end.

Things I loved:

1) you meet and get to know Ajay in a sweet homey setting, kissing his Maa, playing with his nephew and getting all excited about scoring tickets to see Gulfam perform, then flash back to his college relationship with Seema as “Ajay Singh”, all the while seeing scenes of brutal terrorism in the present day. You think, OK, this ordinary guy is somehow going to be involved, maybe he’ll get kidnapped by the terrorists and end up saving the day, when BOOM, in almost a throwaway scene you learn that he is in fact the feared “Rathod” that all the goondas have been discussing, and just like that, Aamir’s face suddenly gets more mature, more serious, and you just know that he is going to be the hero in more ways than one. This is his Raakh character, only with a badge.

2) They get Aamir wet–not just wet, but DRENCHED–in the obligatory erotic love song. I mean, wow. Aamir just doesn’t do that in his later films. You’ve already fallen in love with him because of his character, and now this? It’s almost too much to take. 

3) Naseeruddin Shah. He gets two great speeches, one in each half of the film, and delivers them perfectly. But why (spoiler alert) did his character have to bite the ear off a baby goat?! ew. (end spoiler)

4) Gritty realism without gratuitous violence. I read that they did a lot of research on the actual cross-border arms trade and many of the details are scarily accurate.

5) Mukesh Rishi. He overacts in one scene, but otherwise I liked the presence of this giant–or maybe relative giant, because Aamir is such an elf. Apparently he was in Koi…Mil Gaya and I didn’t notice him.  Here’s his big scene with a bit too much intensity: 

So I guess my overall opinion is YES YES YES! I understand a Sarfarosh 2 may be in the works…with or without Aamir…???

Sarfarosh is available free on YouTube, in 16 sections, with 1 commercial per section. (sorry)  Here’s part I:

 

Oh–and about the title–still trying to figure out who the martyr is. Is it Ajay, who destroys his youthful dreams in order to defend his country? (spoiler alert) Is it Gulfam, who kills himself in the end so as not to destroy his own reputation (which Ajay seems to have protected after his death anyway)? Is it Salim, who alienates himself from other Muslims to do what he thinks is right, which is protect Ajay and India? (end spoilers)  Lots of martyrs in this film.

Jenny K:  Perhaps the title is a more generic “Martyrdom”? With all those examples, I’d bet it is. Glad you liked it. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I’d have bought it, even if I hadn’t been trying to own all of Aamir’s films at that point in my mania.

I really think that Sonali Bendre is lovely in this one…a real vision. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more with her. I also love the cinematography, especially the shots of the camels in the desert.  (aside to readers:  we review two more films with Sonali Bendre in a future post)

Julie M:  “Martyrdom” would be “Sarfaroshi” or is that more like “Sacrifice”? patriotic song Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna from The Legend of Bhagat Singh and similar. Maybe the title is more like “Sacrifice,” then.  Ajay sacrificed his personal desire, Gulfam sacrificed his nationality (remember he was upset that in Pakistan he was always a refugee).

Jenny K:  Speaking of cops, I can’t believe that I haven’t reviewed Talaash yet!  What a delinquent I am!  I saw it the first weekend out, and it was a really effective piece of suspense film making.  Here’s the trailer.  

Julie M:  I know, I was supposed to see the same weekend as you, but sorry, I got sick!

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan plays another noble police inspector, Surjan Singh Shekhawat, who  is standing against all corruption.  Could we expect anything less?  But he’s suffused with an air of melancholy, that we discover is caused by the death of his young son in a boating accident.  Both he and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji) blame themselves for relaxing their vigilance and letting him die.

Work is the only thing that distracts Surjan at all, and it begins to put more and more distance between himself and Roshni, especially when he begins investigating the death of a famous movie star in a crazy, apparently drunken, car crash.  To Surjan, the details just don’t add up, and he begins digging into the sordid underbelly of the red light district, looking for clues.  He’s helped by the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, Rosie, (played by Kareena Kapoor) who nurses Surjan along the path to the right answers, and heals him, as well.  But things just aren’t as they seem…not at all.

Julie M:  She’s a hooker AGAIN?  Wasn’t Chameli enough for her? I guess she didn’t have a heart of gold there, but still.  

Jenny K:  The performances in the film are uniformly good, particularly Aamir’s and Kareena’s, who establish a palpable chemistry that I haven’t seen between them before…and I don’t see often with KK, at all.  Props to her, she knows just how to strut it and burn with a teasing warmth that captures Surjan and doesn’t let him drop the case, even when he knows he should, to keep his sanity and his marriage.  There’s a tangential plotline with a poor denizen of the brothels, Tehmur, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is in love with one of the whores, and he is determined to free her, at any cost.  Nawazuddin, as you know, is one of my favorites…though why he plays so many crippled characters, I’m not sure.  Got to get The Gangs of Wasseypur and see whether that one is a stronger personality.  I loved him in Kahaani as that semi-corrupt police inspector and he just burned up the screen.  He doesn’t, in my opinion, ever give a bad performance.

Julie M:  I don’t have enough experience with him to say whether he is one of my faves, but I loved him in Kahaani, so I will take your word for the rest!  Although Gangs of Wasseypur is not on my list.  Anything with “Gangs” in the title I avoid on principle.

Jenny K:  You definitely should see Talaash though. Even if I don’t like AK’s moustache in it, hides too much of his face for me, but it actually made Pat like him more. She says she can now see him more as a husband than as a boyfriend-type. I like him any way he comes, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem quite as angry as his more recent films have portrayed him. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rani on screen again. It’s been too long!

Julie M:  Found it on YouTube but without subtitles.

July 1, 2012: Charming con-men

Well, we’ve let another month go by without a post despite our best intentions.  Life has just gotten in the way. But we have been watching, just not discussing!  Here’s Part I of what we saw in June, which is without too many snarky back-and-forth comments because Jenny is caught in the East Coast power outage situation…both involving charming con-men doing what they do best.

 Julie M:  In my ongoing quest to see more of Abhay Deol, last night I watched Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008) Here’s the trailer:

There wasn’t much to the plot: Abhay plays Lucky, whom we first meet when he is caught despite being a very successful thief. We then flash back to his youth, where at 15 he started his life of crime, then work our way up to the present through more flashbacks, then we move forward again in “real” time.  A bit confusing but it works.  Here’s a great scene where the young Lucky is trying to convince his father to buy him a motorcycle, who pretends (up to a point) to go along with the idea:

All along we trace Lucky as he works for a crime boss (Paresh Rawal, in one of three roles he plays in this film), meets and romances a girl, and tries to go straight by funding a fledgling restaurant (restaurant owner also played by Paresh Rawal; the third role is as Lucky’s father). He moves around a lot, but his quest for respectability is thwarted at every turn.

A pattern develops: every time he is frustrated or feeling like things have gotten out of his control, he steals stuff. Not to fence or make money from (although he will sell a couple of things when in need), but mostly just to surround himself with. As the movie progresses you see his stash room getting more and more crowded, eventually pressing in on him until all he has is one chair (which he has also stolen) in the middle of towers and layers of STUFF. He gets caught a few times, manages to escape each time, and then the film abruptly ends after one escape with a montage of still images implying that he has married his girl and has gone straight…or has he?

OLLO has an indie feel in its plotting and cinematography, and resisted the impulse to go broad in its comedy, which I appreciated–but to me it never really got off the ground.  I kept thinking that there would be some defining moment for Lucky, some realization of why he steals that would cause him to stop, but although the reason is fairly obvious to us (a kind of crappy childhood with an overbearing father and a handsy stepmother, and a raging case of very low self-esteem, although he is handsome and charming as all get-out), he seems completely unaware. There are a few hilariously funny moments–like when he steals a tiny yappy little dog and then his face indicates that he immediately regrets it–but it’s not rollickingly funny, more of a “smart comedy.” His courting of his reluctant lady (Neetu Chandra) is sweet, though, and Abhay was the perfect choice to play Lucky. The best reason to see this film, though, is Paresh Rawal–three distinct characters, three looks, all fantastic.

There is music throughout as background, and its hip-hop feel works with the plot and action without seeming like a series of music videos, but this is probably the best song as a song:
   (sorry it’s a montage, they didn’t have the cut direct from the film)

So if you’re an Abhay Deol fan, put this on the “to watch” list.

Jenny K:  The things I do for Indian cinema promotion…Earlier this month I was looking for something to watch at the theater with Kathy and as I went through the list of my local Regal cinema, lo and behold, I saw a telltale title. Rowdy  Rathore. Now, it’s not a very promising title, I’ll grant you….I pictured lots of partying Punjabis dancing about to Daler Mendhi, which isn’t really my scene, but, I checked closer into it, and found the surprising fact that my local cinema was trying out Bollywood offerings once every two weeks. Hooray, I thought. I don’t have to go all the way to Falls Church for a fix! So even with Akshay in full-action mode, Kathy and I girded our lions for Punjab, metaphorically, and bought our tickets.

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that you would voluntarily go for an Akshay action movie, but it’s been a long, hot summer, Indian-film-wise, so I understand the urgency…

Jenny KRowdy Rathore was all I expected and a bit worse. A twin plot…never seen that before…where Akshay plays a conman, Shiva, and his non-related twin, policeman Vikram Singh Rathore. I kept hoping for a teary-eyed maa-ji to pop up with a story about how she lost one of them at a Diwali Mela and hoped against hope that little Shiva had found a home and someone to love him, but no luck.

Shiva’s talent is at conning money out of strangers and occasionally his friends, too. He often uses the hypnotic talent he has for conjuring up a drumming rhythm which gets everyone dancing, whether they will or no. Here’s the first big dance number showing it.

I was really excited that it was Prabhu Deva’s first big Hindi movie offering as a director, and you know how much I love his dancing and choreography. Well all through this number, he kept making little cameo appearances, and I even got a tiny dance duo with Akshay at the end, but sad to say, it just succeeded in showing AK up, dancing next to PD. His choreography just works better on long-leggedy guys like himself and Hrithik, and just makes all-torso guys like our hero look short and a bit clod-hoppy. Not that he wasn’t trying his darndest, but it didn’t really work for me.

Julie M:  PINK PANTS??!! Really? (although after Akshay’s yellow outfit in Bhool Bhulaiyaa I shouldn’t be too surprised, the man does look kinda awesome in bright colors)

Jenny K:  Also, his leading lady Sonakshi Sinha was lovely, but seemed to be too young for our Shiva, especially at the beginning. She grew on me a bit as the long, long, long chop-socky fest went on. The plot had to do with Shiva being mistaken by one and all for the straight arrow lawman Vikram, who is being persecuted by the goondah element in his village for his stringent restrictions on their larceny. Even Vikram’s extremely adorable daughter, whose name I’ve forgotten already, thinks Shiva is her daddy. Shiva is saddled with the pint-sized charmer and must protect her from the onslaughts of the dacoits until the real daddy shows up to thrash the ever-lovin’ heck out of them. Lots of blood, lots of tears, lots of thwarted villainous gnashing of teeth.

Julie M:  Much as I love Akshay, that trailer would have totally turned me off.  Not a fan of endless thwacking of villains.  If I hadn’t heard your plot summary, I would have vowed never to see it.

Jenny K:  He uses that “mental rewind” thing really too often to be funny. Also, what’s with that horrible haircut and moustache?? Makes him look like Hitler on steroids! Well, Kathy and I have done our duty, and since then, the theater doesn’t seem to be making good on their promise of a new Hindi film every two weeks. Sad, but to be expected, when all they offer the general public is crazy, tongue-in-cheek slapstick fighting. I would have hoped they’d start with a popular masala film to get others hooked, but those are getting few and far between, these days, aren’t they? Oh, dear…

Julie M:  Nevertheless, I’m hoping RR comes out on DVD and into my library, because Akshay’s smile just gets me. True, he’s not the “dancing hero” type, but he has other charms that are not lost on me.

So, here are our bad-boy heroes together:  which would you rather have conning YOU?

April 25, 2012: India saves publishing?

I haven’t done a book review for a while, mainly because I’ve been working through Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown in order to determine if I want to make The Raj Quartet my summer reading project.  I’m halfway through and still haven’t made a decision.

Meanwhile, I came across this article, by Neha Thirani of the New York Times, about the huge growth in English-language publishing in India.

A bookstore in Mumbai

“With the printed word considered an endangered species in much of a rapidly digitizing world, India now represents one of the best English-language book markets in the world…As the India publishing industry matures, a rising number of literary agencies are emerging that are cultivating a new generation of writers in a wide range of genres.”

I find that exciting, since some of my favorite English-language writers are Indian, and I would love to discover new ones.

But the article then throws a bit of cold water on this rosy picture, mentioning by name the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon and ending with this:

“If anything, the industry’s biggest problem may be producing mediocre books in the race to feed such a fast-growing market. ‘There are some publishers who are happy with the growth in the market, but some are concerned about what this will mean for literary writing,’ said Ms. Malhotra of Full Circle Publications. ‘Is it all really about the sales and figures?’ ”

Check out the article and be sure to read the comments.

Feb. 18, 2012: Smacking it Over the Net

Jenny K:  Recently Julie and I got the rare treat of watching an Indian film…

Julie M:  Not SO rare, since we do it several times a week around here!

Jenny K:  Well, let me finish…the rare treat of watching an Indian film, not in our local cinema, but getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a new filmmaker, Hemant Gaba, and his first feature film, Shuttlecock Boys, before it reaches the multiplexes.

Filmmaker Hemant Gaba

Julie M:  And we didn’t have to eat one kernel of stale popcorn to do it.

Jenny KShuttlecock Boys is quietly making its way around the international filmfest circuit, hitting New York, Chicago and Seattle along with home festival venues in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi and Shimla, finding its audience city by city.  I found it through Facebook…of course, where else?

I home in like a guided missile on anything on the net tagged India and Cinema, and when browsing one day, I found mention of Shuttlecock Boys and was delighted by the sweetness of the trailer.

The difficulties that they faced getting it made at all, as chronicled in an article on dearcinema.com, were daunting.  I was won over by this “Little Engine That Could” style of film promotion, and was determined to catch the film when it was shown in New York last fall at the Gotham Screen International Film Festival…until work got in the way, again.

Thankfully, Hemant didn’t let it rest there.  When I wrote to ask where there would be other chances to see it, he wrote back and told me that he could let me, and Julie, too, check it out for ourselves…

Julie M:  So glad we were too, because it was a real treat to feel like such a film insider, at least for me, who rarely goes to film festivals.

Jenny K:  The premise of the film, not to give anything away that’s not in their trailer, is a classic dilemma with a unique solution.  Four friends who have grown up together sharing their hopes and dreams, usually while batting a badminton shuttlecock around in their neighborhood streets, decide that their only hope to escape their uninspiring, middle-class fate is to become a team off the court as well.

All of their individual strengths are needed to achieve their seemingly hopeless dream of opening a corporate catering company.  One of the young men is a talented, if currently unemployed cook; another is a student accountant with no interest in passing his CPA exam, but who manages to keep the group’s finances balanced.  One is the “face,” handsome with quite a gift for dealing with the public due to his full-time call center job.  And the fourth, the man behind the plan, can’t see himself selling credit cards for the rest of his life, so decides to take the plunge into his future, dragging the rest of his dosti with him for the ride of their lives.

It is a quiet film, as I’ve said, almost too quiet on occasion, and the lack of a continuous soundtrack disoriented me a bit and made me think it was too rough, but as the film rolled out its story, the very lack of so-called polish gave it a bit of the cinéma vérité feel of the director’s background with documentary work.  The same is true of the young, unknown actors.  Without traditional star pull, the story had to stand on its own, no item numbers, no high gloss, on just the heartfelt performances of these young men.

Julie M:  The characters are supremely engaging, particularly so when we get glimpses of each of their individual lives and tribulations without going into too much backstory. Contrary to my co-blogger, I thought that the folk-rock background music, used very judiciously, was absolutely pitch-perfect in creating the mood.  Wouldn’t have wanted any more.

Jenny K:  The mainstream and highly entertaining rom-com Today’s Special, starring Aasif Mandvi and Naseeruddin Shah (my DVD finally came!), flaunts polish and charm galore while giving us a restaurant success story that glosses over the actual work that goes into this kind of project.  In contrast, Shuttlecock Boys paints the trajectory of the boys’ almost painfully naive business plan with heartbreaking detail.  What were they thinking of?  How could they have gone into this with no preparation, on a wing and a prayer?  No one would expect them to succeed…and so you’re held on pins and needles as to what the outcome will be. Happy ending or cold reality?  Perhaps a bit of both.

Julie M:   And the ending was perfect given all that went before.

Jenny K:  We all know how hard it is to get a film launched, particularly in an industry like India’s where there is such a tradition of “Filmi-Family only” membership, that it’s a huge wall to climb to get your picture seen.  However, with new filmmakers like Mr. Gaba and his compadres at Pennywise Films in the picture, if they are all as engaging as Shuttlecock Boys there may be reason to be hopeful that more and more new independent films will find a home. Check out the audience reactions at the festivals.

Julie M: In short, if you have the chance, go see it.  And if you feel inclined, “like” them on Facebook and check out their web page.  Write them a note of support as well.

February 17, 2012: Your Chetan Heart

“I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok.”  — author Chetan Bhagat

A few weeks back I was reading all the news about His Awesomeness Salman Rushdie’s absence from the Jaipur Literary Festival (in person and virtually) and I came upon this article about the fiction writer Chetan Bhagat, India’s best-selling author writing in English.  He’s a literary rock star in India, and apparently the more popular he gets among the country’s readers, the more critics and other writers hate him.  I figured it had to be more than just sour grapes, so I set out on a quest to learn why.  I opted to read his first two (of five) books because both had inspired mainstream Bollywood movies, one of them being one of my favorites.

Five point someone:  what not to do at IIT was Bhagat’s first book, published in 2004 when he was just 30 and after years of writing on the sly.  Bhagat had attended IIT Delhi from 1991 to 1995 and majored in mechanical engineering, just like the three protagonists of FPS, Hari, Ryan and Alok. They meet on their first day at IIT and instantly bond.  IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology—a national series of independent institutions, each specializing in specific curricula) is a pressure-cooker where grades are everything–they literally determine your future. The closer your grade point average is to a full 10 points, the more success you will find in life. Or so goes the common wisdom. Our anti-heroes find, to their horror, that after topping all their high school curricula and mugging (grinding) as much as is palatable, at IIT they can manage no better than a five-point-something. So they decide to roll with it, and proceed to have as good a time as possible in their college years without flunking out. Although there are some amusing incidents, overall things go from bad to worse as they cut classes, drink on the roof, pick up a girlfriend (Hari), ignore their homework in favor of a personal research project (Ryan) and prioritize their family’s happiness over their studies (Alok).  They fight with each other and have repeated run-ins with their department head. Will the guys pull things out by graduation with their friendship intact? Or will their eagerness to have a good time ruin their lives forever?

The book is written in a breezy, colloquial style with a slang-y Indo-English flair that I found charming, and I thought the characters of the three heroes were well-drawn.  I learned a lot about IIT’s place in India’s cultural consciousness.  However, I found it lacked that certain out-of-control-ness that makes popular fiction truly fun (American authors who have mastered this are Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich), and at times the wackiness he seemed to be striving for came across as forced. Several entire segments of the boys’ lives were skipped over—whether as a deliberate literary device or because he didn’t feel like making up more story, we’ll never know—but I really felt the interruption.  And the novel’s technique did nothing more than just get the action from scene to scene; it was strictly utilitarian. Apparently FPS was rejected by the first nine publishers to whom Bhagat submitted it, and judging by the immense amount of money the book is earning for the publisher who accepted it, they are likely kicking themselves and looking hard for an appropriate copycat author.

Five Point Someone was the inspiration for the phenomenally popular (and one of my personal favorite films) 3 Idiots (2009) which had the same basic premise—three slackers at IIT—but went far beyond it, turning it from a college-antics novel into a strong bromance with a rom-com thread and megawatt star power.  Aamir Khan played the Ryan-analogue character, called Rancho, an unconventional thinker with surprising technical gifts.  Kareena Kapoor played his out-of-reach love interest.  Sharman Joshi and R. Madhavan also starred, with Boman Irani playing the nemesis-professor and a fun cameo by Javed Jaffrey.  The book was not followed closely although certain key events in the novel did reach the screen more or less intact, and each 3 Idiots character seemed to have attributes of all three of the FPS protagonists as well as quite a few original aspects.  Suffice it to say that one can safely read the book without spoiling the movie, and vice versa.  For a point-by-point comparison, check out this article.

3 Idiots was, like the book, monstrously successful in India; unlike the book, which took a while to circle the globe, 3 Idiots was even more of a juggernaut abroad and they’re now talking a Hollywood remake.   Bhagat was upset after its release that the credit to him and FPS appeared in the end credits rather than the opening ones, and expressed shock that so much of the book was used in the film, which he was led to believe contained mainly original material.  My feeling is that although 3 Idiots acknowledges FPS as its source, and Bhagat was paid for the film rights to his book as if it was to be a faithful adaptation, the film is completely different in tone and intent.  No matter—to my mind the film has rightly become a cultural touchstone and, as Bhagat is the first to admit publicly, so has the novel it was based on. Nobody should be unhappy here, but Bhagat remains bitter.

At this point I moved on to Bhagat’s second book, One Night @ the Call Center (2005).  As can be expected from the title, the novel’s entire action takes place in the course of one night shift, and all the characters work in the same group at a call center in Gurgaon.  All are in their early-to-mid 20s and each has unhappy aspects to his or her life, which they all feel they are powerless to change.  Numerous flashbacks illuminate the backstory of the romantic relationship between two of the characters, and pop-culture references abound in the exposition during the first two-thirds of the novel.  Amid all of this young-person rhona-dhona a “defining incident” happens, and the Voice of God (!!) comes to the characters, inspiring them to believe in themselves in order to change their fates.  The last third of the book has them doing just that.

In contrast to Five Point Someone, which I at least enjoyed despite its flaws, I found little to enjoy in One Night…  I thought it was more than a little boring, and Bhagat’s attempts at philosophy failed preachily for me. The vociferous anti-American sentiments were cute at first, but then got vicious and lost my sympathies.   Nevertheless, it remains as popular a read in India as Five Point Someone, if not more so because of the call-center setting.

If Bhagat’s goal at the start was, as many say, to create books that Bollywood movies could be based on, he succeeded.  In 2008 the film Hello* was released–before 3 Idiots, it should be noted–and Bhagat wrote the screenplay.  Not surprisingly, the film follows the book almost exactly and even has the same 3 Idiots actor, Sharman Joshi, as the narrator/main character.  I found Hello equally as boring as I found the novel, with low production values, comatose acting (with the exception of Sohail Khan as the volatile Vroom; Joshi’s valiant attempts at main character Shyam were obviously hampered by the inadequate script) and cheesy pseudo-philosophy. Obviously lots of people agreed with me, because it did terrible box office and was uniformly panned by critics who called attention to its weak script. Everyone learned something, particularly that writing a novel and writing a screenplay are two very different things.  Maybe that’s why 3 Idiots was the bigger hit—Bhagat’s role was limited to script approval, which he gave wholeheartedly, and I think having that emotional remove allowed the professionals to do their job.

Chetan Bhagat—a former investment banker based in Hong Kong, now a full-time author living in Mumbai—is not as terrible a writer in English as the critics would have us believe, although he certainly isn’t literary. But that’s beside the point.  People like me are not Bhagat’s target audience, and neither are the literary critics. He does a good job writing for those for whom he is writing–the youth of modern India–and they respond. The critics are used to dealing with someone who is writing for them, and writing also for older people educated in a different time when the use of English was a social marker. Bhagat is not out to improve everybody’s English literacy, he is out to reflect what’s going on now.  I have satisfied my goal of figuring out why they are so popular:  they incorporate the lives and experiences of the vast majority of India’s young people who are fluent English speakers and enjoy the toys and values of a very contemporary lifestyle.  If theirs is the “New India,” Bhagat is both their mirror and their standard-bearer.

So if Bhagat has aspirations to penetrate the youth consciousness of India (and if you read interviews with him, he clearly has those aspirations), he should continue to write his immensely popular books and the shorter newspaper commentaries and do his college lecture tours, and let someone else make them into films that people will go to see. Last year’s Rascals paid tribute to his cultural impact by naming its comic lead characters Chetan (played by Sanjay Dutt) and Bhagat (played by Ajay Devgn).  And audiences will likely get at least two more opportunities to see a novel of his adapted to film:  his fourth novel, 2 States:  The Story of My Marriage, is in the works with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, and his fifth, Revolution 2020, has been picked up by UTV.

*Hello is available free on Daily Motion, in parts, with very confusing English subtitles

January 28, 2012: You’re you, but you aren’t YOU. Are you?

This week, we at FilmiGoris had been talking about the all-too-common phenomenon of multiple identities in Hindi film.  From one character pretending to be entirely different people, to the same actor playing different characters, to two different plotlines involving the same character/actor, this meme has a number of forms.  There were too many to discuss in one post, so this one will cover two of the “justifiable-deception-disguise-for-romance’s-sake” type of plots that we enjoyed.

Julie M:  Anurodh (Request, 1977) is a romantic comedy/farce with a healthy dollop of melodrama, Indian-style. It is also the first Hindi movie I have seen where the romance aspect of the story is not tidily wrapped up in the end (more on that later). Still it was very entertaining, and I’d give it at least 3 stars out of 5. It might stretch to a solid 4 stars if I was in a sentimental mood. The film is available free online with English subtitles, on YouTube, in parts, starting here.

Arun (Rajesh Khanna) and his best friend Srikanth (Vinod Mehra), a singer and songwriter, respectively, are introduced in the credits song.

Arun is gaining some measure of fame, recording and performing live on radio under the name Sanjay–just Sanjay, like Cher–so as not to unduly annoy his father (Utpal Dutt), a wealthy and prominent businessman who disapproves of his son’s career. He also refuses to give live concerts or even have a publicity photo taken, lest someone see his face and connect him to his father. One day the tension between them blows up and Arun leaves home, regretfully leaving behind the poor-but-supremely-talented Srikanth and his widowed mother Radha (Nirupa Roy, who always played dramatic mother roles awesomely–she was famously Amitabh Bachchan’s character’s mother in both Deewar and Amar Akbar Anthony).

Jenny K:  A while back I went on a real binge of movies about playback singers, of which this plot reminds me.  The best of them were Tehzeeb with Shabana Azmi and Urmila Matondkar as famous singer and daughter, and Saaz, another with Shabana and Aruna Irani as a loosely disguised biopic of singing sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, and their fractious rise to the top of the playback heap.  Both are very interesting films, by the way.  It seems that life in the audio spotlight is no bed of roses.

Julie M:  Clearly, as we learned from Abhimaan…moving on, Arun arrives in Calcutta to stay with his merry mechanic friend Bishan Singh (Asrani) and his wife (an enchantingly bubbly Preeti Ganguli), and on one rainy night he fixes the car of a spoiled rich girl, Sumita (Simple Kapadia, in her debut role), with whom he falls in love. Adorable song occurs after the meeting, where in a radio performance the next day Sanjay tells the story of how he met a girl in the rain the night before, and all he has left of her is her handkerchief.

Jenny K:  The radio song reminds me of the scene in Dil Se where Shah Rukh tells the story of the meeting on the train on air, and then later attracts Manisha’s attention with the Ajnabee song. Could be an homage, but a bit more haunting, and less cute. And here it is, alas with no subtitles…but he scarcely needs it.

Julie M:  Nice catch! Could very well be an homage.  The car incident leads to her grandfather (Ashok Kumar) offering him a position as the family’s driver. In order to stay near Sumita Arun accepts, pretending to be a rather dull, talkative guy named Pritam. Arun then starts to lead a triple life, driving as Pritam by day, performing as Sanjay when he can and as himself, trying to remain in touch with Srikanth.

Things sometimes get comically hairy, particularly after he intercepts a letter from his father to Sumita’s grandfather that indicates that Sumita is the girl his father wants him to marry, and then he finds out that Sumita is a big Sanjay fan. There is a good Shammi-esque song/scene where he arranges to meet Sumita as Sanjay and serenades her, but never lets her see his face:

We also find out that the grandfather is a tragic figure, having lost his only son to violence during the Independence movement–he has built an orphanage in his honor and visits there frequently.

Then one day Srikanth and his mom Radha fetch up in Calcutta, Srikanth very ill with TB.  An operation can save him, but how to get the money? Arun proposes, against his better judgment, to give a live Sanjay concert to earn the funds, but this violation of his principle to conceal his true identity upsets Srikanth and he runs down to the river to commit suicide. Just as he is about to throw himself in he hears children singing a happy song–one of his own compositions–of course it is the children at Sumita’s grandfather’s orphanage, where he is leading them, so he wanders over.

Jenny K:  I know I may just be an old grinch, but the emotionally wrenching kids chorus thing never really moves me.  Not in Mann with Manisha or in the original, An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr…do you think you and I are changing places?

Julie M:  Maybe on this one issue…I actually liked the kids’ patriotic singing in Pardes and K3G…but it seems to work for Srikanth.  He learns how happy his music makes the world, gains a new lease on life, and tells Arun that he can go ahead and give the concert.  As everyone gathers at the hospital for what looks like will be Srikanth’s death, Sumita’s grandfather recognizes Radha as his dead son’s wife–which means Srikanth is his grandson. SHOCK!!

Arun’s parents and Sumita show up at the concert, and the identity deception is unveiled with far less melodrama than you’d think:  check out the flash of mild surprise on Sumita’s face in the beginning of the performance, and pretty much that’s all the reaction there is.  And of course Dad’s objections to Sonny Boy’s singing career instantly evaporate.

Srikanth’s operation is, of course, simultaneous with the concert—the video clip shows it—so Arun records his performance, and plays it back to an unconscious Srikanth in the presence of the rest of the gang, again, to not much drama from Sumita’s grandfather to find out his driver is a national singing sensation.  (clearly that family doesn’t surprise easily where Arun is concerned) Srikanth then opens his eyes, and cut to a final scene at the orphanage where everyone is hale, healthy and singing the same happy song with the kids that kept Srikanth from killing himself.

There are no big production numbers in this film. The costumes were actually rather tasteful for the era, even Simple’s bright-yellow pantsuit looking pretty good, but there was an unfortunate brown tam-and-poncho set worn by Sumita’s friend plus Rajesh Khanna had supremely bad hair throughout the entire thing. Oddly, also, Arun and Sumita are not shown as together in the end–no scene of fathers blessing them, no big shaadi celebration. They aren’t even standing anywhere near each other in the final scene. Kyaaa?

Jenny K:  No?!?!?  Who do they think they are, generating that little heat?  Aish and Viveik in Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…?

Julie M:  [sound of snorting] The point of this movie, despite the romantic farce scenes and the TRIPLE identity (we thought double-identity was bad!), seems to be the deep friendship and abiding loyalty between Arun and Srikanth. So deep, in fact, that after the first scene showing the friendship between the two of them and a succeeding scene with Arun’s insistence that he wasn’t ever going to marry, I could have sworn that there was going to be a very shocking gay plotline. Alas, this is still India in 1977 and clearly that was not going to happen. But it was weird not to see the couple end up happily in love by the end.

Jenny K:  Welcome to the home country of the film bromance!  It may be new and trendy here in the US, but all the real emotional connection of equals in love in Indian film are man on man.  Always have been.  No putting your arm around your girl in public, but your best male yaar, now that’s an altogether different prem kahani.  You can never sacrifice too much, or express it too clearly, either.  Akshaye Khanna hanging onto a freshly sharpened blade to defend his buddy Sanjay Kapoor in Mohabbat, comes to mind.

Julie M:  This one certainly fit that mold!  Anyway, it was fun for a film I knew nothing about, and I was introduced to the glories of Vinod Mehra, who for a supporting actor was surprisingly riveting. And even when he was deathly ill, coughing blood and sweating profusely, he still had great hair.  And isn’t that what really matters?

[a day or two later]

Jenny K:  When I was looking around on Youtube for something, I came across a mention of a Hrithik Roshan film that I hadn’t seen?!?! Imagine! It came out in 2002 and was called Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (Neither You Nor I Know).  Still early in Hrithik’s career, it was also Esha Deol’s second film…and wonder of wonders, I actually found her quite charming in this film! To add to the bargain, the third wheel in the show is, once again, the Official Bollywood Spare Male at the time, Saif Ali Khan.

The plot supposed to be a version of The Shop Around the Corner/Bells are Ringing/She Loves Me, etc. Boy and Girl have never met, but come to connect through a random letter found in a library book where the guy, Rahul (Hrithik) is writing to his hypothetical ideal woman (unlikely plot point #1, how often does that happen?). The college girl who finds the letter (Esha) sees herself in what Rahul’s looking for, and goes on a nationwide radio show on a dedications program to try to find him… which she does. UPP #2.

Esha then writes to him, saying she’s a good girl, who can’t go against her parents…at least not yet, and wants to get to know him by writing back and forth through PO boxes for over THREE YEARS. UPP #3. They then fall in love, long distance with the aid of letters, small gifts and chats with the full moon…and mysterious red-garbed back up dancers.


Well, if you can get past the various unlikelyhoods, and there are a couple of cute songs, etc to help you swallow them, you also have to get by the second roadblock in the way of true love…Rahul is the typical self-sacrificing best friend of Akshay (Saif) who is a playboy who his parents think will never settle down. Rahul promises Akshay’s mother that he’ll find the right girl for his friend, one that will make Akshay fall seriously in love.

So fate, and Saif’s aunt, throws Esha and Rahul together, when Esha’s family’s bridalwear company want to hire the best up-and-coming fashion photographer, Rahul, to come to their town to shoot the new ads.

Julie M:  Oh, I can see where this is going…

Jenny K:  Saif’s aunt has fortuitously set up a new girl for Akshay to match with, also Esha, and Akshay will only agree if his best friend vets her. Two birds with one trip, right? They even end up doing an impromptu music video together for the company. Not too unusual, but I do enoy watching HR move…I think Esha was there dancing, too, but I’m never quite sure when he’s onscreen tripping the light fantastic.

Will they fall in love? Which one will she choose? When will she/he/they find out that Esha and “Box Girl” are one and the same? What will Rahul do when he finds out Akshay’s really in love for the first time? These and other not-really-surprises, unfold at a leisurely pace with the typical Mohabbat/KHNH mix of songs, sniffles and shaadis. I liked it, not earthshakingly memorable, but sweet, and a fine indoor afternoon timepass.  Free on Youtube with subtitles but in fifteen parts.  Here’s Part I.

Julie M:  I’ll have to watch that one. The writing-back-and-forth is too similar to Mujhse Dosti Karoge (another 2002 Hrithik starrer, also involving fraudulent identities when he spends 10 years thinking he’s writing to hot Kareena when he’s actually been writing to, and falling in love with, nerdy Rani who’s been corresponding in Kareena’s name…big surprises all around when they get together in person!) to pass up a comparison, and I’ve liked nearly all of the Shop Around the Corner derivations that I’ve seen. She Loves Me and You’ve Got Mail are my favorites, although the radio dedication program in this seems suspiciously like the one in Sleepless in Seattle.

Jenny K:  And pulling from closer to home, the dedications program in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai … “Come home, Anjali!”  These shows must be more prevalent in India than we know.

Jan. 27, 2011: Doubles Trouble…Disguised and Confused

Julie M:  Okay, I’ve got a question.  Why are fraudulent and duplicate identities such a popular theme in Indian film? American films don’t do it so often–well, maybe they do in stupid farces I don’t watch–so what’s so attractive about the theme to Indian audiences? Maybe a secret wish to pretend to be someone that has a different kind of life? To experience a kind of reincarnation without forgetting previous lives?

Jenny K:  They certainly do use the theme more than we do, but it is a classic back to Shakespearean plays and beyond. Of the ones we’ve done already, there’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which I watched again last night on Netflix (liked it better this time), Don 1&2, the second half of DDLJ, etc. Lots of others we haven’t talked about, like Shah Rukh in Duplicate. SRK doesn’t seem to want to be himself very often, does he? Or some say, he’s always being himself. Oh well, it worked for Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn…

 

Julie M:  Is there an Indian actor of major status who has NOT done a double role like this?

 

Jenny K:  A double role or a disguised role? But I think for the men it’s a no to either question. I think there are a few of the women who have done one or the other, and a few that have done neither. Women, I guess are supposed to be dumb enough to be fooled but not men…

Julie M:  Well, I guess you can count Rani’s second identity as the prostitute in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, but it’s not like she was trying to deceive anyone, just protecting her own honor, somewhat.

Jenny K:  It’s just not as often that you see the women do this kind of thing. Rani and Abhishek both did lots of identity shifting in Bunty Aur Babli, but that isn’t quite the same thing.

Julie M:  No, it’s not…the whole plot of BaB is the crime spree:  the alternate identities just helped them pull it off.  Although, the reason they did the crime spree in the first place is because they wanted to distance themselves from their failures as their actual selves…so it does make a weird kind of sense.

Jenny K:  Kajol has had at least one twin role that I remember, in Dushman.  Never seen Aish do either, to my recollection. Preity and Ajay pretend to be rich players in Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, that also ends up with Ajay playing a twin role. Then there is Khal Nayak where Madhuri takes on a false identity.

Julie M:  Duh, Khal Nayak. I just saw that.

Jenny K:  I’m sure there’s more…Wait. Haven’t watched it yet, but Rani pretends to be a man in Dil Bole Hadippa! so she can play cricket, but then falls for Shahid. Got it in my queue at Netflix. She must have been the tiniest Sikh guy to ever wear the beard.

Julie M:  Maybe women-pretending-to-be-men, a la DBH!, in order to achieve something that is denied to women by the culture is a different issue? DBH! is very Shakespearean as well. Like Twelfth Night, recently made into the delightful-ish 2006 teen comedy She’s the Man, where a girl pretends to be her twin brother so she can play soccer and falls for a guy on her team.

Jenny K:  That’s really loosely Twelfth Night, isn’t it? Viola pretended to be a boy to save her own life…a woman alone in the world back then was in desperate straights…she wasn’t doing it to achieve something she couldn’t have as a woman. She thought her brother was dead, too, not that that is a particular issue, but it adds to the pathos. In the US we tend to do more body-switching or regressing films to “show how the other half lives,”  films like 17 Again (which I loved)/Back to the Future/Freaky Friday and that more recent one with Ryan Reynolds and Paul Rudd that seemed too crass to watch, so I didn’t. We seem to like it better when the characters have little or no control over the switching. I wonder why that is?

Julie M:  The Change-up, and it’s Jason Bateman, not Paul Rudd.

Jenny K:  Six of Juan, half a dozen of his brother… 🙂

Julie M:  Nah, Bateman is a much better actor…and technically B to the F is time travel with the characters playing themselves in the past/future, but I see what you mean. To me, body-switching plots in American movies tend to be for the purpose of learning how to empathize. (except for the action movie Face/Off—where it’s for evil—but that’s not body-switching, just face-switching) Maybe it’s a Christian thing–walk a mile in another person’s shoes etc., but what do I know from that, I’m Jewish–and I think that is culturally more attractive to Americans particularly when it’s a switch between generations. Adults always say they want to go back to high school, knowing what they know now, right?

Whereas dual- or alternate-identity plots in Indian film seem to be for the purpose of trying to cram two different lives into one normal lifespan, and may be more attractive in Indian culture.  But here’s a rare Indian body-switching AND gender-switching plot—Mr. Ya Miss—sounds a lot like the awful Rob Schneider film The Hot Chick.

But all this is very different from dual-role movies, where one character is the visual double of another, generally an opposite-personality type, both played by the same actor, and that is the basis of the plotline.  Sometimes one dies and the other replaces him (Kaho Na Pyaar Hai).  Sometimes they turn out to be actual twins but separated, so that one is unaware of the other’s existence (in which case, the purpose seems to be to heighten the story’s melodrama). That, I think, plays with the popular notion/fantasy that everyone has a doppelganger somewhere, and what would happen if they came into the same life-space at the same time.  I found a fun slideshow of recent and famous dual roles.

It’s also a way to get hot or new starlets some extra screen time, particularly when one of the characters is evil or likes to wear revealing clothes (or both):  I refer you to Bipasha Basu in Dhoom 2 and Deepika Padukone (ick) in Om Shanti Om and Chandni Chowk to China (ick) as two examples. So, women seem to get these kinds of roles although they don’t typically play characters with alternate identities.

(warning:  my inner nerd comes out here)  I thought this was pretty cool about why superheroes have been popular as alter egos á la Ra.One, and also sheds light on why dual identities are popular:

“Reincarnation is par for the course. It can be a cosmic pathway for attaining an alternate identity, sense of self, or supreme liberation… Women, who can often be powerless in the real world, can channel the divine female energy to break social convention and triumph over evil.”

Jenny K:  I still stand by my statement that the girls do the double roles much less frequently than the guys do.  My theory may have something to do with watching Pat and Kathy go crazy at every version of SRK that they can possibly watch, the more the better.  Cases in point:  Ra.One and Don 2, every different identity and/or disguise, and even every different makeover elicits hours of post-show dissection. The girls, not so much.

Julie M:  Aha!  Then this probably explains it:

“Audiences have always loved to see their favourite hero in two viable characters where one is shy and the other is daring at an exciting price of single ticket.”

And if the hero is hot…well, who can blame them?!

Speaking of alternate identities, I recently had fun with the comedy Chachi 420 (Aunty Fraud, 1998) despite its being a direct rip-off of Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). The basic plotline of the two movies is identical: a man, faced with losing the right to see his kid(s) as he and his wife divorce bitterly, disguises himself as a woman so he can get a job as their nanny and stay in their lives. Both characters face complications trying to maintain their dual identities. The differences in details and ending, though, are emblematic of the vast differences between Indian and American culture, and where the comedy comes from is likewise wildly variant.  I think may help shed light on why alternate-identity films are so popular.

To start with, the basis of the separation of the men from their children is very different. Jai (Kamal Haasan—who also directed the film), the dad in Chachi 420, has very limited visitation with his young daughter because the divorce was granted on the basis of fairly minor “cruelty” to his wife Janki (Tabu).  Not much chance for comedy there. In the American version, a culture where joint custody is pretty much the default in divorce judgments except in extreme circumstances, dad Daniel (Robin Williams) was refused joint custody and given only weekly visitation with his 3 children because he was an unemployed voice actor and generally an irresponsible person.  Voice actor=funny.  Irresponsible=funny.

The relationship of the father to the ex-wife is different, as well.  Jai still loves Janki dearly and hopes for reconciliation (another motive for trying to get closer to the family), but Daniel understands that his relationship with his wife (Sally Field) is at an end–for him, it’s all about the kids.

Both films have comedic love sub-plots. Daniel’s wife has a boyfriend that Daniel works to crowd out of the picture, as he doesn’t think he’s good for the kids (and he’s a bit jealous as well)–how he undermines the boyfriend is very funny but is not the main source of the film’s comedy, which derives from Robin Williams dealing with being in a dress, learning to cook and clean, and having to switch identities in seconds to keep from being found out.

But in Chachi 420, Janki’s widower father falls in love with Chachi, as does Jai’s landlord, and a good portion of the Indian film’s comedy is in Chachi trying to evade their advances. That, and seeing how Chachi beats people up: there is an extended fight scene in a marketplace that is pretty funny, done in South Indian filmi fashion with Chachi standing in for the character normally played by Rajnikanth, but it goes on way too long. Sorry, I can’t find a clip of that scene, but trust me, it’s hilarious.

Jenny K:  So they combined Mrs. Doubtfire with Tootsie, it seems, with the older suitors thing, and doubled it, just to make sure we got the joke!

Julie M:  The reveal scenes where the dual identities are discovered are also very different. In Mrs. Doubtfire, the reveal takes place in public, in a restaurant, where Daniel has to go back and forth between two tables in his different personas and ultimately slips up–and is absolutely hilarious. In Chachi 420, it’s much more serious.  Jai (as Chachi) saves his wife from drowning herself in a river once she realizes how she drove Jai away and that she still loves him; he reveals his true self to her (and her alone) to keep her from continuing suicide attempts.  They reconcile and reunite the family, inventing a tragic death for Chachi.  Mrs. Doubtfire‘s Daniel and his wife never reconcile, but he does end up with a new job hosting a kids’ TV program in the persona of Mrs. Doubtfire, which proves he is responsible enough for a joint custody arrangement.

Jenny K:  You can usually see where the “homage” directors are drawing from the originals, and that’s part of the fun.  I’m, in most cases, pretty good at it…but the suicide on the bridge thing has got me stumped.  Where did that come from?

Julie M:  Oh, that was totally out of the blue. She sees Jai (who has been promoted from choreographer’s assistant to head choreographer on his current film) on TV giving an interview. Jai goes into detail about how he has two children, his 5-year-old daughter and his ex-wife who acts just as childish, and this triggers an extensive flashback as to how they met–very cute, she hit him with her car on a film set–fell in love, eloped and had their daughter.

She realizes how great Jai really is, and she runs to his house to find him, only to find a bunch of Chachi’s clothes and Jai’s dance assistant. (the assistant thinks Chachi is Jai’s housekeeper) Janki leaps to the conclusion that Jai is seeing both the assistant and Chachi, and this prompts her to throw herself off a bridge instead of, hm, I don’t know, leaving him a NOTE??!!!

Jenny K:  You and I obviously don’t feel things deeply enough.  I’ll try to do better.

Julie M:  It’s also a testament to Kamal Haasan’s acting talent that he makes a really good woman. Robin Williams does not–and that’s the funny part of Mrs. Doubtfire.  Here’s the first public appearance of Jai as Chachi.

Jenny K:  I see what you mean…he does look nice…only his forearms give him away. I don’t think I would have recognized him. He is a wonderful actor, though I think I’ve pretty much only seen him in his dramas and not seen his comic side before.

Julie M:   What I thought was funny is that as Chachi, he tucks the front of his sari back between his legs like he is wearing a dhoti, and nobody seems to notice. And throughout the film his fake boobs get bigger and bigger–he is positively svelte in that first reveal scene compared to later in the movie.

It’s also telling that Kamal, in the Jai persona, is a complete straight-man, while as Chachi he’s doing the comedy. It’s like he doesn’t want to pollute peoples’ visions of him as a dramatic actor.

January 18, 2012: Lies, Cries and Family Ties

Now that the festive time of year is good and over, it’s about time to turn away from the entertaining desserts of rom-coms and high adventure (bungeed villains flinging themselves off high-rises, indeed!) and settle in for a very hearty meal of Indian issue films. We found, from three different decades, three serious films and many amazing performances.  Bon Appétit!

 

Julie M:  Today’s feature was Rudaali (The Mourner, 1993). It was a fairly artsy film, directed by Kalpana Lajmi (niece of Guru Dutt) who also directed Chingaari, which I think you had recommended to me at one point.

Dimple Kapadia stars as Shanichari, a poor, low-caste village woman in Rajasthan with an extremely hard life. As the film opens, she is a youngish widow who is temporarily hosting Bikhni (Rakhee Gulzar), a professional mourner (or rudaali) called in to await the death of the local wealthy landowner or zamindar (Amjad Khan, most memorable as “Gabbar Singh” from Sholay, in one of his last film roles). She tells Bikhni her story: her mother abandoned her in infancy, her father died when she was young, she was married to a man who drank most of his wages and she has a retarded son. In flashbacks covering about 20 years she tells of the attraction between her and the zamindar‘s son, which turned into a job as maid to his mother and an illicit affair.  This haunting song, which is sung as Shanichari is remembering the affair, is probably what anyone knows about the film: 

When the zamindar first gets sick she is turned out of the house, and things go from bad to worse. Her mother-in-law dies, then her husband takes ill with the plague and dies, her home (a gift from her lover) is taken to pay the debt on his funeral rites and she and her son become indentured to the zamindari family for 15 years’ hard labor. Still she remains dry-eyed and resigned to her plight, even when her son (Raghuvir Yadav) impregnates a local whore (Sushmita Mukherjee) and marries her, then she aborts the baby. Her son runs away, and still she remains stoic. She asks Bikhni, who used to be an actress, how she can cry real tears for people she has never met when she can’t even cry for all the things she could cry about, namely, that everyone she’s ever loved has left her.

 

Jenny K:  That Raghuvir Yadav is a surprising one…he’s in practically everything, especially when they need an affecting performance from a smallish but pivotal role.  Does that in Salaam Bombay, too.  In that one he surprised me by being rather young and handsome…never had seen him that way before.  Just goes to show that we all have our day.

 

Julie M: I recognized him right off, but I didn’t get that he was supposed to be slow until later in the film when they talk about it.  I thought he was just ornery.  Anyway, while talking about all this stuff Shanichari and Bikhni grow close.  Here’s the song where Bikhni comforts Shanichari after hearing her story, and Shanichari learns what it is like to be taken care of.

Afterwards Bikhni is called away on a mourning job. Unfortunately, she catches plague while she is away and dies, sending Shanichari one last message: Bikhni is, in reality, Shanichari’s long-lost mother. This news releases Shanichari; she is finally able to mourn everything that has happened to her, and she takes Bikhni’s place as the rudaali, becoming famous for the sincerity of her tears and intensity of her wailing.

 

Jenny K:  Well, if she couldn’t mourn sincerely after getting a bombshell dropped on her like that, she would have to have been made of stone!  Poor thing.

 

Julie M: Dimple Kapadia is, in a word, AMAZING in this film. She convincingly plays a young woman, a slightly older widow, and a supremely beaten-down, old-before-her-time crone. It’s quite an emotional (but not melodramatic) film, and she proves herself up to the task. This film is not to be missed.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen Rudaali, yet, but it sounds great…not a light amusement, of course, but interesting. And Dimple will always be one of my favorites. She always puts all of herself into a role, like the one we discussed in Being Cyrus, she is just totally committed to her character, whether or not it’s a flattering one.

 

Julie M:  She was definitely the best thing about Hum Kaun Hai, for sure!  Can’t wait until I get hold of a copy of Bobby so I can catch her at the beginning of her career.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  I watched Fiza (2000) this afternoon. Compared to Rudaali it is not at all arty, but it is serious and highly melodramatic, which normally I get impatient with, but my jaw continually dropped at Karisma Kapoor’s fabulous performance. Whenever she was not onscreen my attention wandered… except, of course, in this “preparing for the action” scene, which I know was put in to please the ladies. Nice foreshadowing of Hrithik’s Dhoom 2 role–dead serious and focused.

Jenny K:   I was sort of sorry when Karisma took a kind of backseat to her baby sis, Kareena.  Not that both don’t do good work, but I think that Karisma tends to be overshadowed sometime by Bebo’s gift for finding the limelight.  She isn’t always involved with lightweight fare as in Andaz Apna Apna [shudder] or Dil to Pagal Hai.

Karisma’s the best thing in Shakti, playing a distraught mother taking an active hand in saving her son from the influence of his psychopathic grandfather (Nana Patekar in full scene-chewing glory) and is quite wonderful in Zubeidaa, as a film actress in the ‘50s on her way to the top, who marries a prince and yet doesn’t live happily ever after.  Rekha and Manoj Bajpai are with her in that one; strong performances all around. Maybe a bit too weepy for you, not sure, but you will like the score, all Rahman!  

Julie M:  Well, never fear, she’s back!  In Fiza I really liked Karisma’s “girl power” dance number, taunting her boyfriend for not liking her the way she is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brief plot summary: It is 1993.  Fiza (Karisma) and Aman (Hrithik) are Muslim teenagers living with their widowed Ammi (Jaya Bachchan) in Mumbai–they are a a very cute and close family. One evening Hindu-Muslim riots break out; Aman rushes out to see what’s going on and is not seen again. Six years later he is still missing. Fiza is sad but has grown accustomed to his loss; however, the distraught Ammi still visits the police station weekly hoping for news. While out on a job interview Fiza spots Aman in the city and hope is again rekindled: she pawns the family jewelry for bribe money, causes a ruckus in the press and with politicians, disrupts her relationship with her boyfriend, and eventually tracks him down on the India/Pakistan border, where he has become a jihadist. The story of what turned him in that direction and what happens next (and next and next) is the stuff of high drama and even higher melodrama. Yes, people die.

 

Jenny K: You sound so happy about that…so bloodthirsty!

 

Julie M:   Well, I thought I ought to warn people.  It’s quite unnerving, actually, and I think something like this would not have been possible in mainstream film until Dil Se’s paving the way a couple of years previous.

 

Jenny K:  It’s funny that they named it Fiza if it’s all about war and terrorism.  I looked about online, and it translates to variations on “a pure wind filled with love and romance” to “God’s Blessing”.  In either case, it seems a strange title.

 

Julie M:  Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic, since he’s a terrorist?  Hm.  Unfortunately the filmmakers kept breaking the mood by putting in item numbers like this one with Sushmita Sen, and this equally random, but depending on your orientation a much more interesting one, with Hrithik. 

I understand why they’re there–otherwise it would be an overly intense film–but they do not advance the plot or provide useful characterizations, and I found it difficult to get the mood back to the main action afterwards.  It could be for this reason that the film tanked a bit in the box office.  My favorites were the ones that added rather than distracted, like this one with music by A.R. Rahman.

 

Jenny K:  Weird…A Rahman song in the middle of an Anu Malik soundtrack.  Wonder what went on there.  Not at all usual, as they are more often competitors…story there, I daresay.

 

Julie M:  Well, it was a qawwali (Sufi devotional song), and seemed to call for a specialist, and they couldn’t get Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?  All in all, it’s a great message film–“we are all Indian no matter our religion”, a message that even the jihadist Aman is fighting for–and fabulous performances by all three lead actors make this a win.   Even though it was only his 2nd film released (first one that he actually signed to, which is an interesting fact), Fiza showed Hrithik as much more than the chocolate hero he was in KNPH. Well, at least the second half of Fiza did.  The first half showed him to be too sweet, and I am not a fan of him in sweet parts.  All my thumbs and big toes are up for this one, which I think may make my Top Ten up near Dil Se.

 

Jenny K:  I may have to watch it again when it comes back in the returns…I don’t remember being quite that impressed by it. Not that I disliked it, or anything, but it was just so-so for me.

[the next week]

Julie M:  I really loved Salaam Bombay (1988). Mira Nair is a genius. Much like I did with Deepa Mehta’s Water, I loved how the film was unafraid to portray the gritty and unpleasant reality that Bollywood likes to cover up–the street kids, the prostitutes, the drugs, the poverty and the dirt. You mentioned Nana Patekar’s performance–while I liked it, I thought that Raghuvir Yadav was the stronger actor in this film as the drugged-out older best friend of the street boy Krishna. No wonder this is ranked among one of the best films ever made, and why it didn’t win the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar in 1989 is a mystery.  (oh, yeah, because it was some Scandinavian film, urk)

 

Jenny K:  I know!  No accounting for taste.  It was more impressive, still, when you realize that SB was Mira Nair’s first full feature film.  I watched it again last night, first time since I started all this Bolly-madness, and it is even more deeply affecting, now.   She certainly knows how to spot good talent.  As to Nana, I liked his performance, but in this film I’m remarking more on his presence…just electric.   I’m glad you pointed out Irrfan Khan as the scribe or I might not have noticed.

 

Julie M:  Although this film is relatively plotless, the episodic narrative concerns Krishna, a young boy who ran away from his village home after a misunderstanding and makes his way to Bombay, where he lives on the street, selling tea, plucking chickens and even turning to crime as he tries to earn enough money to return home and make up for what everyone thought he did wrong. It’s just heartbreaking.  The adults in his new life include Baba (Patekar), a drug kingpin and a pimp; Rekha (Anita Kanwar), Baba’s prostitute-girlfriend and mother of young Manju who has a crush on Krishna; and Chillum (Yadav), whom we understand to be a grown-up street kid who is also an addict and a runner for Baba.

 

Jenny K:  This was only Raghuvir’s second film.  Can you believe it?  So talented even at that inexperienced stage.  He’s done so many things since then.  Did you know that last year he even played Hitler?  Yep. 

Julie M:  Here’s the beginning of the film, where the runaway Krishna has joined a traveling circus and is abandoned by them, occasioning his relocation to Bombay.  

Jenny K:  The kid who played Krishna, Safiq Syed, was wonderful, too.  Won an award for best child actor that year, but only managed one other film in his career, one called Patang, about four years later with Shabana and Om Puri.  The plot sounded similar from a description I found…small group of thieves that worked the trains for food and loot, mostly children, led by a Fagin-esque Om, who was in love with Shabana’s character, yet another prostitute with a heart of gold…her son, Shafiq, bears the burden of Om’s interest.  I can’t find it available anywhere.  Well, Safiq’s now repairing and driving autorickshaws for a living.  The fickle hand of fate.

 

Julie M:  My understanding is that he wasn’t really an actor, he was just a street kid that Nair found.  She also filmed the brothel scenes in a real brothel, and the madam in the film was the actual madam of that brothel.  How she got such amazing performances out of non-actor people…it was more like a cross between a fiction-film and a documentary.  If you want to catch it, most of  Salaam Bombay seems to be on YouTube, subtitled in English, but in a lesser resolution. Here’s part 1 (of 12).

I would rate this a MUST WATCH, not just for fans of Indian film but for fans of any kind of film, in any language.

December 27, 2011: Déjà Vu All Over Again

We are back (somewhat) from our holiday break, and we’ve been puzzling lately on one of our favorite filmi topics:  Hindi remakes of American films.  So far we’ve brought you quite a few, like Kaante and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.  Tune in to our latest discussion of three more…

 

Julia M:  My weekend library haul this time includes Shaurya (Valor, 2008) with Rahul Bose.  I am determined to try and like him!  If you’ve not seen it, you can catch Shaurya free on YouTube with English subtitles:

 

Jenny K:  I keep trying to think of a film of Rahul’s that has the other, more manic side of his personality, but the two that I am thinking of are so bad that I can’t recommend them. I’ll keep trying.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Shaurya was clearly inspired by A Few Good Men. More than, since it’s the same plot with a couple of twists. But it’s not as interesting as the original, not even close. Rahul Bose displays an actual personality, though, and some animation, so it’s worth watching. And Jaaved Jaffrey is pretty good as the prosecutor/Rahul’s best friend (love his deep sexy voice).

Jenny K:  Does anyone say “Such…you can’t handle Such” [ Such “truth” hai]?  Now, who is it who plays the Jack Nicholson anyway?

 

Julie M:  Yes indeed–KK Menon plays the Jack Nicholson character’s analogue in Shaurya and he does say that. It’s not translated very well, and he doesn’t yell it like Nicholson did, but it’s said. I was looking for it and was very proud that my rudimentary Hindi skills overcame the inexact subtitles in that instance–enough so that I recognized the quote.  Here’s that scene (start at about 6:00 in for the full effect).

And KK was really good as Brig. Gen. Pratap. It’s more of an extended cameo appearance rather than a role, just two or three scenes, but he totally nailed it without Jack’s histrionics.  Here’s the scene where he’s first introduced.  No subtitles, but he’s doing some golf practice at the border and knocks one into enemy territory, then makes an underling go and retrieve it.  Totally creepy. 

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Okay, I’ve now watched Shaurya and then A Few Good Men again after, and am ready to voice a more informed opinion. The director of the former definitely used the Aaron Sorkin/Rob Reiner film as a template, no doubt about it. The basic plot of the maverick outsider lawyer in the military played by Rahul in Shaurya is, of course Tom Cruise in the earlier film, and KK Menon takes on the Nicholson role. Once again the bad guy is a superior officer with aims at a high office and a feeling of absolute godlike correctness in anything he chooses to do. They meet in a semi-friendly fashion at the Brigadier’s base, over a meal and discuss the case. There are in both films an innocent victim murdered and an innocent murderer, depending on your side in the argument. There’s lots of researching done by Rahul’s helpful co-workers, and a nifty if unlikely courtroom triumph for the underdog at the end, where Rahul, like Tom Cruise, is up against his best friend as prosecutor. Even the courtrooms look vaguely the same…old fashioned military decorum with lovely big windows. But there is definitely more than a few differences that make the Indian film its own take on the shared themes.

The first thing that I find different is that Rahul’s co-investigators are outsiders, journalists, and would in no way be allowed or even encouraged to help with a military case. Rahul’s job was to keep all of this out of the press, and he even got in trouble for it…yet here’s Minissha, practically in the next scene being let in on all the dirt…yet she doesn’t feel the need to print it. All her earlier ambition chucked out the window, it seems. Highly unbelievable on all fronts. I guess things couldn’t be stretched so far as to allow a mere woman to be an equal legal partner as Demi Moore was in AFGM.

 

Julie M:  And yet, Nargis was a lawyer, on her own, 60 years ago in Awaara…no problem there…nouvelle prudery?

 

Jenny K:  And then, there is the change in motive for the case. Instead of pondering the nature of power and how a bad job can make a military hero a villain by what he’s asked to do (Jack’s Colonel truly believes he’s doing right by his men and the country by defying the orders of his higher ups about Code Red prohibition), the Hindi film has to make all the bad guys explainable in their motives and much more sympathetic. With ethnic bigotry as the focus of the piece, the defendant was perfectly justified shooting his superior, who was about to kill a local child. He was also right to take his punishment, as he saw it. Further justification is needed when you learn that the Brigadier isn’t an out and out rotter…his wife, child and, don’t say it, his mother have all been killed by a native boy who he took into his home and trusted. Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy! He’s going to wipe out the whole race, so this kind of thing can’t happen to anyone else. Makes Nicholson look downright simple in his monomania..”I’m right and everyone else can just fall in line or get out!”

All in all, though Shaurya had some nice moments and some nice performances from Rahul, Jaaved and KK, I’m always going to choose the Reiner film, because it’s an almost perfect film. Stands up and salutes as well today as it did when it came out in ’92. Hoo-Rah!

 

Julie M:  You expressed almost perfectly my sentiments about Shaurya vs AFGM, right down to the ridiculousness of Minissha’s character Kaavya being able to be as much help as she was (although truly, how much investigating did she actually do?).  I too felt that the racial/ethnic/religious angle was uniquely Indian–maybe because they don’t at bottom believe their public fiction, like we do, that race (or caste, in their case) no longer matters, they can get away with it in a film whereas we can’t here, not in big-budget Hollywood films anyway. My big surprise at this film was that Rahul was so much less low-key than he usually is–almost manic–and his character is given a simplistic, yet highly effective reason for all the high-danger sporting activity. Since Indian films don’t get into the dark side of psychology very much, I found it refreshing.

[several weeks later]

Julie M:  Hum Kaun Hai (Who Are We? 2004) is an almost identical remake of The Others (2001), except without the atmosphere and with very weird, wholly Indian “explanation” scenes tacked in that inexplicably reunite Amitabh Bachchan (as the main character’s missing husband) and Dharmendra (as a totally new character not in the original).

First, the similarities. Basically, everything is the same. Dimple Kapadia takes on the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in the original film, and does an excellent portrayal of a deeply religious (Catholic) woman trying to deal with a beloved husband missing in the war while faced with circumstances which seem to indicate that her house is haunted, or that her servants for some reason are making her think it is. Two cute kids (Hansika Motwani aka Baby Hansika, Master Aman) with a disease that renders them unable to be in bright light; three servants who appear out of nowhere to take care of them; the need to lock doors and keep curtains drawn to keep the kids from inadvertently stumbling into daylight; a mom plagued with migraines. Photos of dead people in a creepy album. All the same from start to finish. In fact, if you squint you could swear that Fionnula Flanagan, who played the matronly servant in the original, had reappeared in the remake and was speaking Hindi.

Now, the differences. First, the quality of the film stock was very bad—or maybe it was just the print that the DVD was taken from—it had color problems, jarring jump-cuts and bad sound. Looked very low-budget. (OK, had to get that off my chest) Where the original took place on a dim, misty remote island where the viewer could really believe that the house was haunted (and there was some meaning to the fog as well), HKH takes place in a sunny, park-like estate with the merest wisps of fog floating in and out, and it looked at times as if the fog was digitally added. The dimness of the original is replaced throughout by bright light, even in the “candlelit” scenes, which was jarring. The original took place in the 1940s, whereas the remake takes place in the present day (there are mentions of television, for example), removing the otherworldly quality that made the original so creepy. Dimple Kapadia seems very strong and capable, in dramatic contrast to Nicole Kidman’s ethereal fragility, which actually made her descent into screaming panic so much more scary (you kind of expect Kidman to fall apart, based on her looks). HKH had multiple flashbacks to the married couple’s love for each other, setting up the totally weird ending where we get an explanation of the husband’s strange reappearance that is totally different from the original film’s. (won’t go into details because it’s a major spoiler) And a final scene that is just really, really stupid.

In general the 2nd half was much, much better than the first half, which unfolded at a breakneck pace and with as much drama as reading the newspaper. And I was just as freaked out with what was the second-to-last scene in the original (but ended up as perhaps the third- or fourth-to-last scene in the remake). But then they had to ruin it with the last two scenes.

If you’ve not seen The Others, you will like Hum Kaun Hai just fine as it represents a genre rarely seen in Indian film (a creepy psychological story with ghosts—but maybe this is a growing trend, because 2007’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa entered into that genre as well). But if you have seen and loved the original, you’ll spend a lot of time rolling your eyes at Hum Kaun Hai.

 

Jenny K:  You make Hum Kaun Hai sound like a fun watch. I had seen The Others, but just when it originally came out, and I don’t have many clear memories about it, so I may be safe. And I love Dimple.

 

Julie M:  Well, I’ll make it easy for you to see it.  The film is available free on YouTube. I saw it on DVD where the running time was just over 120 minutes; online the running time is about 106 minutes, so there may be some missing scenes.  But I checked—the “added” scenes are all there, in all their ridiculous glory.

[a week or so later]

Julie M:  As a follow-up to many discussions, I’m finally watching Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (Love Had to Happen, 1998), even though I know it’s a remake of French Kiss (1995), but since I haven’t seen FK I figure I’m safe.  I’ll watch FK after, in order to give this one a fair chance. After a disastrously farcical first half, it’s settling down into a decent movie.  Here’s Part 1: 

It’s nice to see Ajay help the girl he loves connect with the boy SHE loves, just like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (although this is an earlier film). And he and Kajol have nice chemistry in this. Not as much as in U, Me Aur Hum, but they are cute. She more than he, although he got much cuter once he shaved off his mustache.

Oh, and BTW, what is UP with Indian movies and the first half/second half dichotomy?

 

Jenny K:  You know, until this past year, I’d have said that it was always a first half strong/second half fizzle out tendency. This year, not so much. And I always felt that Ajay and Kajol’s chemistry in this was much stronger than in U Me Aur Hum. In that one, he was such a conceited guy in the first half, and then he was so concerned in her care and worried, that chemistry didn’t enter into it, at least in the traditional way. Interesting that you got it completely differently.

 

Julie M:  Here’s my take. (it only applies to masala or romances) If the first half is really stupid, the second half is strong. If the first half is great, the second half falls flat. Examples that come to mind right away are K3G and KHNH. Great first half, overly melodramatic 2nd half.

 

Jenny K:  But we must note that that’s coming from the point of view of a die hard non-sentimentalist.  I will grant you that K3G goes a bit too far in it’s emotional histrionics in the second half, but there are enough good moments in it (especially that dance number with Hrithik and Co. in those GORGEOUS sherwanis!) that I still enjoy it.  And KHNH is supposed to be an emotional love smorgasbord…so you must be prepared to eat a full gut-wrenching load, or you just skip it altogether.  I love it.

Oooh…that reminds me.  I just watched Affair to Remember, that transatlantic smorgasbord with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Wish I had put in the Indian match-up of this one, Mann with Aamir and Manisha.  It takes all the emotional fluffery and pads it out to double its length with much anguish and gnashing of teeth and even more silly songs than the original, which were very silly in the first place “Tomorrowland” being the most unlikely choice for a nightclub song that one could think of.  It’s free on Youtube as well, with subtitles.  Aamir is young and peppy, and Manisha smiles more than once or twice, Rani does a cute item number early on, but I can’t even go into the grandmother’s shawl scene at the end because the translation of that one into an “Indian version” had me rolling on the floor with it’s unintentional hilarity.  You just have to see it.

 

Julie M:  But back to the films at hand.  The setup is standard rom-com fare: the male half of an engaged couple leaves for a business trip to a different country and falls for another woman, prompting the female half to follow and try to win him back. En route she meets a native of the country she’s going to, and circumstances force them to be together unexpectedly. They get to know each other, become friends, and he helps her with a plan to win back her fiance by pretending they are lovers. Pretense turns to reality, and at the end the fiance is overthrown in favor of the new romance.

The plots of the two movies were, with the exception of a couple of added scenes in the Indian version and a slight adaptation to make it more desi (changing the setting from Toronto/Paris to Paris/India; and some details, because I somehow don’t think India is big on vineyards) exactly the same, with key scenes absolutely shot-for-shot identical–down to the female character’s wardrobe. The Indian version adds terminal clumsiness to the female character who is already afraid to fly, occasioning much (to my mind, unnecessary) slapstick in the first half of PTHHT; but that’s balanced by the FK subplot where the female character is American trying to get Canadian citizenship, which is jeopardized by the trip. In FK there is a language barrier, which is very funny, and is absent in PTHHT. And of course, the Indian version adds musical numbers, only one of which was at all memorable.

I think Ajay made a better Luc/Shekhar than Kevin Kline, and, much as I love Kajol, I think Meg Ryan made a better Kate/Sanjana. I could believe Ajay as both a thief and an ordinary village boy with dreams of land, but Kevin always had the thief about him–the vineyard scenes fell a little flat. Meg Ryan…well, she pretty much invented, for the late-80s and 90s, the cute-and-bewildered rom-com heroine with questionable taste in men, and even Kajol can’t compete.

 

Jenny K:  I’d agree that Meg slightly edges Kajol out, as she is the prototype and does that type of role (cranky/cute) almost better than anyone. I’m sorry she’s sworn off. I have always described Kajol to people as a sort of Meg Ryan type…even physically, with those big eyes and killer smile…and the coloring differences just give you great variety. I do agree with you that the clumsiness thing was rather unnecessary.

 

Julie M:  Frequently the reasons for remaking a Hollywood movie for Bollywood audiences are unclear, and the remake falls flat. FK was a great choice for an Indian remake: it has all the elements of comedy, romance and drama built right in, and obvious points at which a song would underscore the plot or action. Comparing these two versions is also instructive, for newbies, in the differences in pacing between American and Indian movies. American films move right along, with no wasted plotlines or introduction, whereas Indian films take more time on the setup and draw out the denouement, sometimes excruciatingly long, to wring out every drop of drama and sentiment.

 

Jenny K:  I actually liked the longer format for PTHHT, and think it works well for the story. The ninety minute format for French Kiss always left me wondering why, in that short a time, Kate fell for Luc…Kevin Kline or no Kevin Kline, who has always been a favorite of mine. So, with the longer time spent at Ajay’s home, etc, that all makes more sense to me.

 

Julie M:  Me too, having seen FK second.  But if I had only seen FK, then I’d put it down to “movie convention.”  Of COURSE she’ll fall in love with him once he demonstrates his knowledge of wine, because THAT’s what’s important in a relationship.  Oh, and that he knows his diamonds.  But in PTHHT I must tip a hat to this song,  which shows to best advantage the chemistry between Ajay and Kajol in this film  (sorry for the bad quality and no subtitles).

Overall, I’d say that if one hadn’t seen FK then PTHHT would be 100% satisfying, adorable, and stand-alone excellent—ranking among the best of Indian romance films. But for American audiences, FK is going to win out, if you like that kind of thing (I’ve seen way too many and am jaded on the genre).

PTHHT is available in one link, free on YouTube, with subtitles.

  • Categories

  • Blog Stats

    • 68,568 visits
  • September 2021
    S M T W T F S
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    2627282930  
  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 24 other followers