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

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

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

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

Author Javeen Akhtar

September 11, 2014: Krrish? KRUSHED.

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

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

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

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

June 21, 2014: Amitav Ghosh’s “The Ibis Trilogy” (or the first two-thirds of it)

Summer is the time when I go on reading jags, sucking in mainly historical fiction involving India that I don’t dare tackle during the year lest I lose control of my daily obligations.  It’s so pleasant to spend long days stretched out on the wicker sofa on my screened porch, drinking iced chai and imagining myself elsewhere and elsewhen.

 

Amitav Ghosh was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for the first book of the tsea_of_poppies2rilogy, Sea of Poppies.  Ghosh’s 2000 blockbuster The Glass Palace had not been on my radar because it is set in Burma, a country and region that does not interest me; however, I have fallen so in love with Ghosh’s approach and style that I will also suck in Palace before the summer is out.

 

SoP is set in 1838 and is, as you might expect, about seafaring and opium and the wide variety of people involved in one or the other (and sometimes both) just before the First Opium War (1839-42).   The range of action is the well-traveled route between China, India and Mauritius, which at the time was a relatively new territory gained by the British from the French as a result of the Napoleonic wars and mostly consisted of sugar cane plantations worked by convicts and indentured servants from India.  However, the strength of the book is not its history (although it is impeccably researched and evocatively presented), but the characters who bring it to life.  Make no mistake:  despite what seems like  soap-opera plot twists this is not a potboiler—it is Literature.

 

We meet Deeti, an illiterate sharecropper in the poppy fields of Bihar; Zachary Reid, a mixed-race American ship’s carpenter promoted by necessity to second mate of an incomparable long-journey vessel, the Ibis; Neel Rattan Halder of Raskali, a Calcutta raja/zamindar made wealthy by acting as a middleman in the opium trade; Paulette Lambert, a French orphan raised in Calcutta by her botanist father; Jodu, her childhood brother-friend; Ah Fatt, half-Indian, half-Chinese and condemned to death; and my favorite character, Serang Ali, a crafty lascar (Indian sailor) who is the benevolent puppetmaster to all the other characters.  The importance—and, according to the evil British characters, the necessity—of the opium trade with China is what binds these characters together, and as their individual stories come together we get a holistic view of history that nobody learns in school.   An un-put-downable narrative ends with a cliffhanger of an action sequence; I recommend that you waste as little time between Sea of Poppies and the next installment, River of Smoke (2011), as possible; this is only so that you can successfully stay in the idiom and milieu of the period and not because the action is continuous in any way.

map_OpRoutes

In reading SoP I got an entirely new perspective on the region.  The first thing that comes out is that the early 19th century merchant culture was remarkably ethnically mixed and polyglot.  People in SoP converse in a mashup of Indian languages with French, English, Chinese and Portuguese thrown in the mix, and everything from food to clothing to ship parts has at least four different names, all used interchangeably depending on who is speaking. Ghosh even includes a glossary to help us figure it all out, and simply reading it from A to Z is worth an hour of your time.  Second, social position is everything to everyone in all cultures, always has been and always will be.  Ghosh is excellent at teasing out the nuances of who can talk to whom in what tone of voice in a way that goes beyond mere caste indications, and brings in details of everyone’s backstories to precisely place each character in their proper relationship to one another as a way to explain why things happen the way they do. Finally, why India meant so much to the British finally dawned on me:  probably because it’s an episode most historians of the 1970s and 1980s wished to skip over, it was never much talked about that opium truly financed the entire British Empire—India was turned into its (pardon the pun) cash cow.

River-of-Smoke-cover-682x1024

This theme was brought out even further in River of Smoke, which annoyingly ignores 90% of the characters so brilliantly drawn in SoP in favor of new characters who are, sadly, more one-dimensional for all that they are largely historically documented.  The action shifts to China, to the environs of Canton (including Hong Kong and Macau), from where the opium is smuggled into China and sold at exorbitant prices.  (oh, yeah, opium is illegal in China, as it is in the British empire as well)  Only two main characters from SoP reappear in RoS—Paulette and Neel, whose stories don’t overlap—but we meet an engaging new main character in Seth Bahram Modi, a wealthy Parsi trader from Bombay and Ah Fatt’s secret father.  Neel becomes his munshi (secretary) and through the pair we see the horrid (and rather dull) politicking among the British, who have been stopped from transporting their opium by the Chinese and are wracked with worry about the end of their world.  Good and evil are more carefully delineated in RoS but they are the inverse of traditional history:  the British and other Europeans are evil, Bahram is good, and Paulette’s sassy gay half-British artist friend Robin Chinnery is the only one who has any respect for the Chinese who, by the way, OWN THE FREAKING CONTINENT.  (sorry)

 

RoS is a story of men—it has to be, because China has prohibited any non-Chinese woman from setting foot on the mainland and keeps the fanqui (foreigners) penned up in a small ghetto in Canton, where they squabble and pose endlessly to the point where I hated them all and begged for their come-uppance.  Paulette, after showing herself to be a satisfyingly sparky heroine in SoP, is distressingly given very little to do in RoS and the female voice in this volume belongs to Chinnery’s stereotypically breathless manner.  A good half of the story’s unspooling is provided in the form of exhaustive letters from him to Paulette, which contrivance quickly grows annoying.  The only three-dimensional man in RoS is Bahram:  he is a man of strong Zoroastrian faith, looking for clear definitions of good and evil to guide him and not finding them; torn between his duty to his Bombay wife—knowing that all he is he owes to her family—and the freedom of living among men on the other side of the world; loving his half-Chinese son but ashamed to publicly claim him, to tell him or even find him; a shrewd businessman nevertheless socially beholden to the British, who are unaware of how much they owe to him and others like him, and scrambling for the smallest indication of their respect despite his immense wealth and indispensability.  Bahram is a metaphor for India itself.

 

Fort William, Calcutta, 1735

Fort William, Calcutta, 1735

I didn’t find RoS nearly as fascinating as SoP, but as a bridge volume to what I hope will reunite SoP’s characters and tell us how they manage in Mauritius (another locale that was never on my radar but is now fascinating me), it is still engaging.  The British get theirs (temporarily), at the beginning and end we get a peek into some of the original characters’ futures, and we continue to gain a much more nuanced understanding of global trade and its effect on ordinary people.  And once the trilogy is finished and if someone decides to approach filming it…hoo boy, with the right team it would be the accomplishment of a lifetime.

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.

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