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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

November 1, 2011: An Aamir To Remember

Julie M:  Can’t get enough of Aamir!  Got Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke (We are Traveling on the Path of Love, 1993) from the library.  A very young Aamir takes on three orphans and falls in love with Juhi Chawla. I’ve never seen Juhi in a film before and I’m looking forward to this one.

Jenny K:  Aamir and Juhi are fun together, but that one doesn’t stick in the mind much.  All I recall are the plethora of kids, him having problems trying to control them, and also, a really goofy, though fun number with him as the boss at a factory. He looks a bit like a deer in the headlights (character choice, not actual fear) with all those love-crazed employees.

Also I think I remember a scene where she jumps out of her daddy’s yacht and swims to shore to escape his marriage plans for her. Three scenes, that’s it. I hope you can hang onto more of it.

IMDb tells me it’s a remake of Houseboat with Sophia Loren and Cary Grant, which I liked much more. I remember the film reminding me of another one, but Houseboat wasn’t it. Maybe I should watch it again with you and then I can clarify things for myself a bit.  Hmmm….they had songs and everything in Houseboat…maybe it is more of a remake than I thought.  Here’s a clip with Spanish subtitles, no less.

[a couple of days later]

Julie M:  HHRPK was something of a disappointment. I kept thinking I had seen it as a Disney film in the early 1960s: young uncle suddenly in charge of three wild kids, falls in love with the bubbly nanny, has business problems that the nanny helps solve… it’s the kind of thing that would star Brian Keith and Doris Day.  I found HHRPK similar to Houseboat but not an exact remake. Lots of running around and overly enthusiastic facial gestures, boing-boing sound effects and comically widened eyes. Just too much “comedy” for me.

Aamir as usual was great, so young, handsome and a stand-up guy, and we got to see his hobbit feet (which I always suspected he had). Lookin’ good in a long kurta. (hmm, wonder if I can get B to buy one of those?) Juhi Chawla was alternately adorable and annoying, as were the kids. The music was not very interesting to me–the background music was tinny and the female voice (sorry, Alka) was screechy.

I’ll give Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak a try as the last of the early Aamir films, and then I’ll give up. Love Aamir but sitting through the milieu of these early films is torturous.

Jenny K:  Before you give up on early Aamir completely…yes, QSQT is the one that put him on the map, but the one he did right afterwards, Raakh, is more up your alley, I think. He’s an anti-hero in it, a young man who watches a female friend of his get molested (he tries to help, at the time, but can’t) and wants the authorities to get her justice, but he finds out they are being paid off and won’t do anything. So he goes on his own search for justice.

Really roughly made, but very stark and intense (sort of like Aamir!). I can put them both in the next package, if you like. Dil with Madhuri has its charms, too, but I’m not sure enough of them to have you love it…they are rather spunky and look pretty good for being dressed ’90s, and all. One of my favorite scenes in it is a little silly/a little sexy bit at 7:03 on this clip when they’ve defied their parents, run away and set up a tiny shack for their first home. He’s cooking.

[about a week later…]

Julie M:  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (From Disaster to Disaster, 1988)…well. Yes. It grabbed me from the start–who can resist witnessing the beginning of a bitter family feud?–and I was hooked until the end. There were a couple of groan-worthy moments but overall just the right amount of drama, romance and humor.  I found it a highly faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with saris and item numbers. 

Plot summary: In the village of Dhanakpur there are two neighboring families, one the wealthy Singhs and the other the less-wealthy but still pretty well-off Singhs (gotta say, they throw a lot of men at you in the opening sequences and it’s difficult to understand, given the intense amount of emotion, who’s who).  Over the opening credits we see the start of a feud between the two families involving the pregnant daughter of one committing suicide and her lover from the other family being shot by her brother.

Cut to fourteen years later, when the brother is released from prison and comes home to his grown son Raj (Aamir Khan). Through a series of circumstances Raj meets Rashmi (Juhi Chawla), the daughter of the shot man’s brother, they get to know each other through the standard plot device of being stranded alone together, and they fall in love. He knows who she is but she doesn’t find out until much later who he is, but it doesn’t matter: they are irrevocably meant for each other. Of course the families find out and clash.

The two run away on the eve of her marriage to another man and very sweetly set up housekeeping in an abandoned shrine that looks curiously like the one in Sholay, rocky cactus landscape and all.

Her father hires thugs to track them down and do away with Raj while he takes Rashmi back to the city to marry this other dude. [Spoilers from here on] Raj fights the thugs and manages to subdue them, but not before Rashmi is fatally shot. He kneels by her side, takes out a knife that she had given him as a present earlier in the film and stabs himself in the stomach. They die in each others’ arms as the sun sets and their families look on in shock. [end]

Lots of opportunities for high drama in this film. Saving the honor of the family, children of bitter enemies falling in love, semi-secret identities, the visual theme of sunset throughout. I thought it was done very effectively with a minimum of cheesiness considering it was 1988. Aamir was so young and beautiful and romantic with his blow-dried hair and slim, muscular physique, and contrary to SRK, he can make fight scenes work. In other words, the man of anyone’s dreams.

Juhi was cute and sweet, so charming and lovable. Adorable together. I did not really enjoy the music very much, particularly the cheesy college-auditorium guitar number in the beginning, but the number seems to have been very influential in the soundtracks of later movies so I guess I’m forced to show it.  The song really reminded me of the end of Grease.
Jenny K:  Why?  I saw no spandex pants anywhere!  And no Fun Fair or carnival rides…

I haven’t watched this for a while but I do remember liking it quite a lot. One of the gang on Bollywhat mentioned that Aamir’s first wife Reena Dutta made a cameo in that “Papa Kahte Hain” number in the red dress at about the 5:00 mark. Very early on in their marriage, and they had a similar cross-religion marriage, if I recall correctly. He used to see her across the apartment complex on another balcony, and they fell in love, in spite of their differences in faith.  Sooo Sweet! I’m sorry it didn’t work out in the end.

Julie M:  I had predicted that this film would go another way: she would come up pregnant, but he would marry her, thereby reversing a generation’s worth of bitterness. But I guess this was still influenced by the days of noble tragedies rather than happy endings. Still, I liked this one much better than the Aamir/Juhi pairing in HHRPK five years later, when in retrospect she was getting a little old for cutesy-poo. And any day that I get to see Aamir bare-chested and in denim short-shorts (not at the same time, because that would surely kill me) is a good one.

Just for fun I did a “parallels” chart between QSQT and R&J. Amazing when I thought about it how exactly alike they are, from how they first see each other (party at her house) and the final death blow given by a dagger (although in R&J she stabs herself; in QSQT he stabs himself). And in both stories there is an unwanted arranged marriage for the girl: Paris in R&J and Roop Singh in QSQT. The difference is mainly time: the Indian version detailed the beginning of the feud between the families, gave the lovers time to get to know each other and time together once they ran away. And in R&J the tragedy inspires the families to set aside their feud, whereas in QSQT we don’t know what happens after the tragedy because the film ends too quickly.

But there is no good line in QSQT like this one of Juliet’s: “My only love, sprung from my only hate/Too early seen unknown, and known too late.” Or maybe there is, but it’s in Hindi.

Another one of the “25 best” crossed off the list!

[the next day]

Julie M:  Rushed to see Raakh (Ashes to Ashes, 1989) while I was still in an Aamir mood.  I could only see the first half because your disk had lots of schmutz on it and I couldn’t get past Scene 9. Maybe I’ll try to clean it well and attempt again later this week.  But from what I saw, I liked it a lot.

You already gave a plot summary but let me elaborate:  Amir Hussain is a somewhat wealthy but disaffected 21-year-old, done with college but with no idea what to do next.  He is also still somewhat obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, Neeta.  After a party, where he tried to get her back, they are intercepted by members of a local gang.  Amir tries to fight his way out of the confrontation, but they beat him up and he can only watch while they rape Neeta. 

Amir blames himself and slips into a depression, convincing himself that he owes it to Neeta to retaliate and takes steps in that direction by stealing money from his parents, buying a gun and trying to track down the gang members.  He approaches a local policeman, who (unknown to Amir) is familiar with the gang from a previous run-in and has in fact witnessed Neeta’s rape.  With the officer’s help he tracks down the gang, but the officer is suspended for assisting Amir in his vigilante vendetta.  The two of them then spiral into near-madness in their mutual obsession.

This is probably the film that showed Aamir as someone capable of more than the typical chocolate hero stuff. Only his 2nd film, and WOW.  First, he spends most of the movie unshaven, sweaty and brooding. Second, he does very non-hero things, like buy a gun and go out for revenge. Finally, there are no dance numbers or love scenes, both of which he had done well in QSQT.  Still, my eyes were riveted on Aamir (and wandered when he wasn’t in frame).

Warning to all: this movie is slow. Lots of time goes by with nobody saying anything. Most of the scenes take place in the dark. Everyone sweats. It’s very, very serious. If you are new to Aamir, my advice is to watch Lagaan and a couple of his later non-funny, non-romantic films before coming back to this, or you may be turned off.

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry there were some problems with Raakh…I don’t remember there being problems the last time I watched it, but you never know…the cheaper the video, the more likely the disc rot. The director, Aditya Bhattacharya, actually re-packaged and hopefully cleaned up the film for a re-release last year on the filmfest circut. Raakh Redux. Here’s the promo.

I had meant to order it…if it’s out on DVD yet.  I should look out for it, else my Aamir collection will be incomplete.

I remember really liking Pankaj Kapur in this…Shahid’s dad. He was the renagade cop that was advising Aamir’s character. Also, I thought it was interesting that he used a version of his own name in this film. Aamir’s father’s last name is Hussain, and the character name was Amir Hussain. I always thought that it was an indicator as to how strongly AK felt about the issue of police corruption and the protection of women.

  

Julie M:  Great point!! That makes this so much more personal and really indicates that Aamir, even back then, was more than just another actor in the great Bollywood machine. I also love that he can do these serious films and also the popular ones, with equal skill and acclaim.  But back then it was a huge gamble:  I read online that they only made six prints and released it in three cities.  And—can’t believe you didn’t point this out, you who know the inside scoop—his sister Nuzhat (Imraan’s mother) wrote the dialogues.

September 23, 2011: Chocolate Heroes a la Mode: 90’s Style

Summer’s over now, but there’s still a bit of heat in the old Bollywood favorites, especially in the World of the Chocolate Heroes.  What?  You haven’t been there?  Haven’t met a few of them?  Yet, if you’ve wandered through the emotional rollercoaster of the gloriously overdone 1990’s, you’ve met them.  I’d like to quote fellow Bollyfan, Filmigirl (who has a wonderful site at filmigirl.blogspot.com), who gives quite a helpful definition:

A young, fresh-faced hero who specializes in romantic roles is called a chocolate hero (or sometimes chocolate boy).  The term comes from a time when handsome pictures of men used to decorate boxes of chocolate and there is a bit of a negative implication to it.  A chocolate hero may be popular with the ladies but he is usually seen as nothing more than a pretty face and any film starring a chocolate hero is going to have a heavy romance focus.

Earlier this month Filmigoris had fun critiquing some of the current crop of Chocolate Boys, but this week we jumped into the Bollywood Dessert Cart of Days Gone By with a pair of delicious (mmm) CB’s more of our own age;  one who became HUGE and the other, well, has not been as fortunate.  Julie watched Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, and Jenny continued her Kumar Gaurav film festival with Phool.

 

Julie M: Watching Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (He Who Wins Will Be the Conquerer, 1992).  It’s so juvenile but I’m irresistibly drawn to Aamir and the cute Farah Khan choreography.

The setting is beautiful Dehradun in the Himalayas, where there are 12 colleges and scads of pretty young people who go there, and hang out at Mall Road, a filmi-strip-mall on the street that ties the colleges together. (I swear it is the same set used for the village in Koi…Mil Gaya) No malt shoppe, but there might as well be…the kids love ‘50s pop music, which tells you the general tone of the film.  All of the colleges are rivals and at the end of the year have a multi-sports competition including a bicycle race, with the honor of their college and personal accolades to the winner at stake. (Figured out the ending yet?)

 

Jenny K:  It’s about the race, not about the ending, Jule…who cares how it ends as long as  you look stylin’ gettin’ there!  They do look stylish, right?

 

Julie M:  Our yummy heroes:  Ratan (Mamik Singh, in his debut film…of five) and Sanjay (Aamir) are brothers, students at the lowest-class college and the sons of a cafe owner on the Mall Road. Ratan is an athlete, and at the beginning of the film just barely misses winning the big sports competition to Shekhar (Deepak Tijori—a chocolate villain, if you will), a very rich and popular, but not very nice, Rajput College boy.

Sanjay, on the other hand, is a slacker, interested only in fun and pranks and is the bane of his father’s life.  His best friend is tomboy Anjali (Ayesha Jhulka), the daughter of the owner of the mechanic shop across the road. She is awesome and fixes cars and bikes like nobody’s business. (Why are cute, fun, bubbly, tomboy girls always named Anjali in these movies?)  She is also in love with Sanjay (did I really need to say that?) and trying to find a way to tell him.  This number, which comes during the village Diwali celebration, sums up their relationship, where her friend is coaching her to play hard-to-get:

What happens next is 100% something out of John Hughes.  The new hot girl from Queens College, Devika (Pooja Bedi), meets both Shekhar and Sanjay. Shakar chats her up and she is interested, but it is Sanjay who, by pretending to be wealthy and applying a combination of lies, humor and pranks, wins her heart. However, to keep it, he steals money from his father to upgrade his wardrobe and buy her expensive gifts. Check out this pretty number, “Pehla Nasha”, where he is silly in love with Devika, and Anjali is silly in love with Sanjay:

Then comes the big inter-school dance competition featuring about the most boring dance numbers ever with oh-so-subtle subtext (NOT) –check them all out starting at 5:19  here,  and continuing here, where Devika finds out the truth about Sanjay, dumps his a** and takes up with Shekhar. (At this point Jenny’s disk quit working and I had to finish the movie via YouTube with no subtitles…so I’m fuzzy on the nuances of any dialogue)  To top it off, Sanjay’s father figures out the stolen money situation and banishes him from the house.  Things are not looking good for our boy.

Meanwhile, Ratan is training for the next competition. One day he is ambushed by Shekhar’s crew, beaten senseless and accidentally slips down a cliff; he is rushed to the hospital in a coma. Sanjay (in admittedly the best acting job by Aamir in the film) realizes that he has been a bad brother and bad son, and vows to clean up his act and get revenge on Rajput by winning the bike race.

OMG, this is supposed to be a remake of Breaking Away?! Well, I guess I can see it in the “snobby college boys vs. townies” plus a bicycle race.  But nothing else.  I just wish they’d stop calling it a “remake” if so much is different. It’s “borrowing.”

 

Jenny K:  In the classical world they call it “Variations on a Theme” and it’s perfectly acceptable.  Go figure.  But you realize that this was well before Aamir had enough clout to demand and get original plots…nowadays he does…yet still he did Ghajini.

 

Julie M:  Cue typical ’80s training montage to kicky music (amazingly Sanjay does not wear an ’80s sweatband, but he does wear very short and tight white shorts, mmm), where Anjali helps him and he finally realizes that she is the right girl for him.  Then comes the big bicycle race and you can pretty much figure out what happens from there—winning, redemption, accolades, proud dad, blah blah blah. 

My review:  The first half of the movie was completely, idiotically derivative, besides being a hair and fashion disaster.

Hey, JJWS!  1985 called you in 1992 and wanted their decade back!

And was there a ‘50s-filtered-through-the-’80s trope that was NOT used in this film? Poor Aamir, he did his best but couldn’t overcome a bad script and rip-off storyline. NOT Breaking Away, not even close. Phoo on you, Internet, for spreading that vicious untruth. Here’s what was common: bicycles, rich college jerks vs. townies, a couple of fistfights, and a guy pretending to be what he isn’t in order to impress a girl. But that covers, oh, EVERY ’80s MOVIE EVER MADE.

In the last third–pretty much the part I didn’t have the subtitles for–things seemed to improve significantly. Aamir, Mamik, and the dad did some real acting and there were some good moments (I can’t speak for the script, but emotionally and plot-wise it seemed original). There was a very touching song where Aamir remembered his and his brother’s growing up years—with the young Sanjay played by none other than Imraan Khan.

Jenny K:  The nephew’s screen debut!  So Shweet!  Destined for Dessert Status.

 

Julie M:  And then, just when I got to thinking, hey, this could really turn into something, came the obligatory training montage, the discovery of true love for the tomboy best friend, the chance-for-revenge-and-redemption bicycle race, and the inevitable ending. Yawn. I also noticed that nobody seemed to have a Ma in this, which seemed weird for an Indian movie, but then again, thinking about 1980s American movies it’s like parents didn’t exist in those either.

 

Jenny K: I’m sorry you didn’t like it more.  I always thought it was better than most of his early romance films…heck, there wasn’t even a snake goddess in this one [Tum Mere Ho (1990)] which was somewhat hard to swallow…er, follow.

 

Julie M:  I liked Aamir (as always), looking young and very cute, dancing and moving like a dream (less elfin, and so good looking in tight jeans, but he rolled up his jacket sleeves, urgh).  I can see how this was a superhit back in the day, especially since from what I understand the 90s were a filmi wasteland. But it didn’t do much for me.

  

Jenny K: Well, cycling on…I’m two movies into my Kumar Gaurav film festival. While Kaante was…ummm, eventful…it wasn’t a good enough showcase for my hero of choice.  Phool (The Flower –1993) was a much better vehicle to display him. Costarring Madhuri Dixit in her scintillating youth, Kumar couldn’t have asked for a better “flower.” These two were destined for one another, pledged by doting parents, and were practically living in each other’s pockets. Young Raju (Kumar) was all but raised by Guddi’s (Madhuri’s) folks when his mother died early on. They all lived happily enough in scenic Ramnagar, in the hills of Southern India, until Raju’s dad, Dharamraaj (Rajendra Kumar) got a taste for City Gold that took him, and his little boy away to the metropolis.

Our story begins with the kids grown up, not really remembering each other well, but Guddi’s parents still believing that the betrothal will take place when Raju comes back from his schooling in America. Well, wedding banns are announced, but Dharamraaj surprises the recently returned Raju with a shaadi-accompli…Whooops! “Welcome home, beta, but before you unpack, here’s your fiancée, Kitty, my business partner’s only daughter and heir!” And what does Raju say? Like any good Indian boy…”If you’re okay with it, Dad, and Dadima’s okay with it, and Kitty’s okay with it, than all I can say is ‘Okay-Okay’ by me!”

Not Okay by me, except for the dancing…Kumar and the girls mambo very well, or perhaps I should say “mambo-twist hybridize,” given it’s a rather dated multi-style number.

Dadima (the ever feisty Dina Pathak), isn’t okay with it, either. She’s just biding her time, before she spills the beans to Raju about his pre-pubescent promises, about how Guddi’s dad, Balram (Sunil Dutt), came a few weeks back to set the date for the long-awaited wedding and Dharamraaj made excuses and broke everything off…and into the bargain, broke the hearts of Balram’s womenfolk back home. Unbeknownst to Raju’s family, Guddi’s mom, when she heard the news, keeled over, dying with her daughter’s wedding bangles piteously poised in her palsied hands. Guddi and her father vow vengeance on Raju’s family, and when Raju writes to try to suss out the situation, she verbally rips into him. Raju determines he will go to Ramnagar and win her back (blithely forgetting Kitty)…come hell or high water!

And this is all within the first twenty minutes of the almost three hour drama. Yes, Julie, a very Emotional Family Drama, indeed, dressed up with gor-ge-ous scenery, lovely ladies dancing in waterfalls and in temples (almost worthy of a Raj Kapoor seal of sexiness…though Madhuri is more chastely clothed than Raj K would have considered strictly necessary),

and then there’s identity switching (worthy of the Bard himself), lots of local baddies (headed by a youngish Shakti Kapoor, channeling BigB’s ‘tude and wardrobe) who Eve-tease at the drop of a fetching eyelid, and even a damsel-in-distress-runaway-jeep scene! What more could you ask? Mads to pop out of a giant lotus flower? Well she does that in this title track: 

 
As for my verdict on Kumar Gaurav…as the typical Chocolate Hero of the era, I’d say he was Godiva. He had the looks, the delicious rich speaking voice, a great head of hair (if a bit too long) and he has height, too, no typical thing! Add to that, for three quarters of the film he seemed rational, reasonable and romantic, too. Maybe that’s what doomed him with the Indian public. Mature, stable, a catch, in fact…but perhaps, he just wasn’t a wild card enough for the masses; no hair-trigger hotshot, He! 

 

Julie M:  What is it about that era of Indian film that attracts you so? I mean, here I’ve just watched Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, of the same vintage, and if I have to see any more fluffy mullets (yes, even the girls) through a highly Vaselined camera lens I think I will vomit. But I will admit that Kumar Gaurav is quite good looking, although I like his looks better in Kaante where I can see them better. And Madhuri is clearly the 90s queen of pastel garments and sparkly skin.

 

Jenny K:  Oh heavens…don’t make out like all I watch is nineties love stories! I have watched them, because I liked Aamir’s work so much that I wanted to see where he came from, film-wise. I also thought they were kinda sweet, if definitely cheesy. I like them nostalgically, in small doses, just like I can still turn on occasional Annette and Frankie beach movies and enjoy them, especially if Erich Von Zipper is involved. I love me some Harvey Lembeck. “When Erich Von Zipper likes you…you STAY LIKED!”

 

Julie M:  Well, for Aamir anyway, this seems to be the best of his early films, although unaccountably people seem to like Andaz Apna Apna, which just from the clips I’ve seen I plan to see only when there is literally nothing else available.  LITERALLY.

 

Jenny K:  I will make my final assessment on Kumar Gaurav with GANG, to see if he can bring any Chocolate Hero-dom with him into a multi-starrer comic crime caper (man, I’m alliterating all over the place here, aren’t I?).  But if anyone is up to it, KG may be the man. He seems to be an actor who is aging well, charm intact, but, unfortunately now that his age has caught up with his maturity, he might not be of the first appeal to the younger audiences.  Too bad, if so, because so far, I think he’s worth the wait.

August 24, 2011 Earth, Stars, and “Like Stars on Earth”

Julie M: Watched Earth tonight. Wow. Beautifully done and yet very hard to watch. Nandita Das was fabulous, as was Aamir. Rahul Khanna…so hot and sweet, he could be a Krispy Kreme donut. Music was excellent.

I guess because it was an “art” film they could get away with a lot, but a sex scene in a Hindi movie?!  I actually found it very soft and romantic, and part of why I found Rahul so sexy, but it was shocking to see it at all. Even B mentioned it. (yes, he watched most of the film with me)

 

Jenny K:  I thought that the sex scene was essential to the story and handled very beautifully. But yes, it was rather shocking to Indian audiences. And actually, though it’s an Indian story, Deepa Mehta is seen more as a Canadian director.  I believe she had a hard time getting the local permits to clear the script and to shoot because of this scene and the fact that it showed India in a “less that favorable light.” Maybe not as much resistance as she got for Fire and later Water, but still, tough. I’m not even sure that it released in India, commercially, though I did see a note that India’s censors demanded six cuts to release it, including cutting the sex scene completely.

An indication of how artsy this film was…I had bought a copy of some film at one of my local Indian stores, and it was defective, so I took it back. They didn’t really want to give me a refund, so were trying to get me to pick something else in exchange. Well, by that time I had already found out that Nehaflix (sniff…sniff…I’m still in mourning) was the cheaper and more reliable way to go, so I was hesitating.

Then I saw Earth up on a shelf over the salesperson’s head. I said, “How about that one…Aamir Khan” She seemed flustered, almost determined to have me change my mind…”You know, it’s not nice, it’s not happy. I’m not sure you’ll like it.” I had to convince her that I knew it wasn’t a comedy and that I had, in fact, seen it before. I thought it was funny then, but, now that I think about it, maybe I branded myself a Jaded Westerner to her by admitting that I’d seen that “blue” film in the theaters! Oh dear…

 

Julie M:   Several things I didn’t get. Was it the Aamir character who [spoilerskilled Hassan? If so, what a sh*t, using the cover of the Partition stuff to act out his own jealousy.  [End of spoilers]

 

Jenny K:  I don’t remember exactly who killed Rahul’s character. I’d check but someone has my copy.  I’m left with the impression that he didn’t do it, himself, but he set it up so that he would be beaten, probably killed so that Nandita would have no choice but to turn to him, so she could become Muslim by marriage (or whatever) and he would be her only hope for protection. Definitely, he was not the same nice guy by the end of the film that he seemed at the beginning, before his hopes had been dashed, and his sisters killed[End of spoilers] . Fate conspiring to warp him for life.

 

Julie M:  And the Madame’s husband sure didn’t look Parsi–was he a convert?

 

Jenny K:  What do you mean by looking Parsi, exactly? I had always heard that the Parsi community was the most integrated into the western styles of dress and mannerisms. They were good businessmen, always well educated in English and considered more religiously neutral. They weren’t hamstrung from dealing with the British by as many dietary laws, and not being able to eat with foreigners, etc, as the Muslims and the Hindus were. Perhaps, I’m misinformed, but that’s what I thought.

 

Julie M:  I was thinking that the husband looked very Hindu, compared to Parsis who tend to look very Caucasian, and the wife who looked traditionally Parsi. Parsis were known for rarely intermarrying and could be recognized at a glance, which is why they could stay so neutral and people could respect them.

 

Jenny K:  That LennyBaby (wonderfully played by Maia Sethna) was a really odd kid. She’s almost as much the villain of the piece, if only passively so, as Aamir is. She’s a child though, and he’s an adult and should know better, but LB was supposed to love Nandita’s character and so her betrayal of the lovers [End of spoilers] was even more shocking to me, the first time I saw it.

 

Julie M: You see her as the villain? I see her as a confused kid, trying to control what she could in a tumultuous period of life and history. She could be mean in small ways, but she was also very scared. And I think she only accidentally revealed where Shanti was hiding: She was taken in by her favorite older friend and as far as she knew, she thought he was really going to save her. [End of spoilers]

 

Jenny K:  Now, I did say “almost as much a villain”…and I haven’t seen it for several years…not the kind of film I’d watch as a casual fun after dinner film. I just remember feeling that she acted a bit maliciously, as if she was punishing Shanti for something…but it could be just the distance from it that puts that in my head. I’ll have to re-watch it later.

 

Julie M: I am still very mad at Aamir’s character but as an actor, I think he needed to do this part. It was early enough in his career that he needed to show he could do other things than the dancing hero. And I think his performance in this set him up for great success in Lagaan.   I tried to find a decent clip but nothing subtitled in English (found some subtitled in Spanish, though, which amazingly I understood), and the rest were clips of the scandalous sex scene. Found a good compilation of Aamir stills from the movie set to one of the songs, but it is just too fangirly to post.  I guess I’ll have to post the kite scene, no subtitles but with plenty of Aamir:  “Ruth Aa Gayi Re”

I feel this scene showed Ice Candy Man’s propensity to cruelty when he cut the other guy’s kite and it wasn’t even a kite competition, just fun.  Kind of foreshadows the end of the film. [End of spoilers]

 [the next day…]

Julie M:  Saw Chalte Chalte tonight. I’m sorry to say this, because you sent it to me thinking I would like it, but all in all I didn’t like it much. The first half was fairly cute, and the scenes in Greece were fun, but I got bored with all the bickering and when it turned to real fighting it was just not fun. Raj/SRK wasn’t cute enough to make him worth all the drama. So, meh. Best thing about it was this number:

 I thought it was funny that the drunk guy on the street kept singing “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” Not that I’ve watched it yet, but I recognized it as another SRK movie.

 

Jenny K:  You certainly don’t have to apologize. Chalte Chalte isn’t my favorite movie, by a long stretch. That’s Dil Se…., and you liked it…or Kannathil Muthamittal, and you liked that. And you like Aamir and Ajay. All and all, we’re doing pretty well in the sympatico department.  I like “Gumshuda”, too… my friend Kathy says that if she gets in a traffic jam in Bombay and people don’t dance on the taxi cabs, she’ll be terribly disappointed.

Aamir was the first Indian actor that I obsessively viewed and collected. Still one of my favorites. SRK, I like more as a lovely dessert vs. Aamir’s filling main course. That’s probably why I don’t usually like Aamir’s comedies, at all…Andaz Apna Apna (though everyone says that it’s the funniest movie ever, especially with all the inside film jokes) I just don’t get it. Also Ishq, one he did with Ajay is singularly painful to watch. And don’t get me started on Mela, the film he did with his brother Faisal! Oh, My, Gosh, how boring, except in a watching a traffic accident kind of way.

And this one, bad quality video, but it really says it all for Ishq

My theory as to why his comedies don’t work for me, has to do with the Angry Young Man Factor. Aamir has a real fire of anger that comes out of him at the least provocation. It’s either real, or it’s just something in his background that he taps very easily. He’s just an intense kinda guy, nothing easy about him, at all. He’s got a good sense of humor, but it tends to be at it’s funniest in a negative kind of way, making fun of others, etc. When he’s doing goofy comedy, Aamir just seems forced and a bit fake. The only reason 3 Idiots worked as well as it did was that the humor was spread out through three characters, and his had serious issues that superceded the farce elements…and then Aamir/Rancho left the scene, entirely for a while. That helped.

So, for me he’ll be always be better at dramas and slightly edgy dangerous romances, like Fanaa. Always rings more true. And, though I love all the intensity, afterwards,  I do appreciate a light, refreshing dose of Shah Rukh to release the tension. As SRK puts it, himself: “Let’s just say Aamir’s got the range and I’ve got the height…”

 [a few days later…]

Julie M:  Got Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) in my library batch, Aamir as an art teacher (!!) mentoring a dyslexic boy (scenes from this were in the background on TV in Dostana). I’m a little scared because it’s co-distributed by Disney, but Aamir as producer/director/star reassures me.

 

Jenny K:  It is okay, but the first half dealing with the misdiagnosis of dyslexia goes on FOREVER. Dyslexia is such a known quantity here in the US, and so “tv movie of the week” that I found myself very impatient with the parents not understanding. “Move on, please, Move ON!!!” Then, as if he wasn’t sure of his directorial footsteps, Aamir injects his own presence in the second half as a “teacher with a mission”, frustrated with the system to the point of anger and borderline parental abuse. Aamir is doing a good thing getting the message out, but the style in which he did it detracted for me.

 

Julie M:  [after watching TZP] HATED the first half, just hated it–in fact, everything prior to Aamir showing up was awful except for the kid actor, [Darsheel Safary] who was fabulous. And everything after he shows up is predictable. In fact, I just settled in during the 2nd half (watched most of the first half at double speed) and watched Aamir move and grin, which always makes me happy.

As the mother of a “different” kid myself, it just seems obvious to me that if a child displays out-of-the-box thinking it naturally goes with certain difficulties that have to be thought about and accommodated. But you were right–India must not be as aware of this as we are–and it was very difficult to watch his parents and all adults around him blowing him off, and being outright mean to him. So sad.

But then Mr. Pied Piper Manic Pixie Dream Boy shows up and, like Dead Poet’s Society except with art and much younger kids, makes everyone Know Better. My issues:  a) there’s no teacher as 100% wonderful as he is, especially to the point of TRAVELING TO THE KID’S HOUSE to talk to the parents; b) from what I saw he would have had to have YEARS of special ed training to know to use the teaching techniques he did to get the kid to learn (are we supposed to believe it was all just instinctive because he was a dyslexic kid himself?); and c) there was way too much touching of the kids than would have been acceptable in this country. But I liked his faux-hawk, and of course I have seen how art can turn people around.

Overall, I found it just slightly better than OK and at long stretches EXTREMELY BORING. If it wasn’t Aamir I would have given up. So many people seem to love this movie, but I think it’s just a matter of people getting overly ooky about kids.

Here’s my favorite song (can’t find with English subtitles; basically it’s all variations on “do what you like to do and you’ll find what you’re best at, don’t let anyone hold you back”).  To me it has the same happy, hopeful vibe as “Give Me Some Sunshine” in 3 Idiots.

 

Jenny K:  You must be very far gone on Aamir if you liked the faux-hawk…makes his ears soooo prominent. Not his best look, to my mind. Oh, well, I didn’t like Taaare Zameen Par very much when I saw it, particularly because of the really goofy number at the beginning of the second half. Way too manic for me.  Sorrry Aamir.

 

Julie M:  I thought the faux-hawk made him look elfin. Being as he’s so short, elfin is a compliment, although with that crazy-manic number he took elfin a step (leap) too far. And he is definitely good with kids, so that’s a plus too.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t be too hard on Aamir, this was his first directing project, at least on a large scale, and he wanted to tackle a major issue…I just thought that his character was much more angry at the kid’s parents than was merited, or politic. No teacher would be telling a set of parents off that way without losing his job. Also, a good teacher wouldn’t do it, because it doesn’t help the kid if the parents go ballistic and take him out of the teacher’s hands. My verdict was, noble intent, not quite there.

August 16, 2011:Crying, Courage & Climbing the Khan Tower

Julie M:  This weekend’s movie schedule (starting Saturday) is:

Baabul
The Legend of Bhagat Singh
Dil To Pagal Hai

 

Jenny K:  I think you’ll find Baabul touching but slight, Rani cute, John and Salman acceptably restrained and Amitabh and Hema Malini, the mainstays as usual. I think that you, with your Ajay fixation, will like Bhagat Singh fairly well, but it may play a bit long. Dil To Pagal Hai is silly, and you’ll probably hate it, but promise me you’ll watch the song in the rain with Shah Rukh, Madhuri Dixit and the kids [Koi Ladki Hai]…fabulous. One of my favorites…

[the next day…]

Julie M:  Inquilab Zindabad! The Legend of Bhagat Singh was fantastic and seemed to be quite historically accurate. Music was amazing–one of Rahman’s best. Ajay was perfect (could he be anything else?). Can’t see why it didn’t do better with the public; maybe it was too serious a topic? Anyway, I didn’t think it was too long. Now I want to see Rang De Basanti again, and the Bobby Deol version. What a charismatic character. 

This moving scene is where Bhagat Singh and his group are in jail and are on a hunger strike to force better prisoner conditions. Instead of giving them water their jailers try to give them milk to get them to take nourishment. Leads to a beautiful patriotic song and a rare excellent lip-sync performance by Ajay.

Jenny K:  I liked your clip from The Legend of Bhagat Singh, but I think I like the way they used the poem a bit better in Rang de Basanti, just with voice with percussion behind. Aamir Khan’s voice, particularly (not to put down Atul Kulkarni, by any means), was fabulous in his rendition of it. Wikipedia has a nice short article on the poem with the translation. Very interesting.

The best thing about the video, except how fine Ajay looked (“starving” suits him, I guess, but isn’t his hair is exceptionally well groomed for a no-mirror-or-comb environment?) was that it reminded me Sushant Singh was in it playing Sukhdev.  I adore Sushant, he always gives a note of clarity and truthfulness to a role.  He was really busy around that time, 2003-ish, especially in films with Sushmita Sen. Whether or not the film was good, Sushant always is: Samay, Paisa Vasool, Lakshya, Sehar…to name a few. Cute and talented. Sigh. The guy playing Chandrashekar Azad (Akhilendra Mishra) is good, too (loved him in Lagaan as the blacksmith) but, gosh, gosh, and I repeat, gosh…who among these guys was even close to 24 years old?!?!?!

[the next day]

Julie M:  Dil To Pagal Hai was definitely silly and I did hate most of it. Two good things: I loved the Ajay character, thought he was cute and sweet, and any scene that he was in was excellent. (okay, you can move me over to the Akshay Kumar-fan column if only for his smile in this movie) The other was the rain dance scene (“Koi Ladki Hai”) with the kids–awesome, thanks for pointing it out. For the rest…meh to eccchhh. I am surprised that SRK ended up such a big star and got offered juicy parts after this kind of predictable nonsense.

(and is it just me, or do Karisma Kapoor and Urmila Matondkar look a lot alike? Maybe not now, but in the films of, say, the mid-to-late 1990s; this one vs Rangeela, for example.)

Had to put this song in as a clip. Best one I could find with English subtitles. Akshay’s face at 2:44 is just the best.

“Koi Ladki Hai” is here: (sorry, no subtitles–lyrics are basically “I’m in love with a girl who makes it rain”)

[Note: If you want HD you have to manually set it to 720 or up, and you can also activate the subtitles by hitting CC. Both are on the toolbar, but only on the Youtube site, proper.]

 

Jenny K:  Well, all I’m going to say about Dil To Pagal Hai, is that I didn’t send it to you in the A to K box for a reason. Also, I will allow that Akshay Kumar was good in it, but please don’t tell me you’re going over to the Khiladi Side…(a series of kinda-sorta-James-Bondish films he’s done. You know…girls, danger, stunts, more girls, etc). I don’t know if I can take it. I’m very glad you like Koi Ladki Hai…it’s one of my top 20 favorite videos, I think.

But before you offend the whole SRK fanbase, (which is legion, BTW) keep it in mind that you are still approaching Dil To Pagal Hai with an American mindset. I double checked my recollection, and according to boxofficeindia.com, DTPH was the second biggest grosser in India in 1997. Very popular, indeed. Behind only Border, which you have, and I quite like, and just ahead of Pardes, another SRK starrer, and one you’d also probably hate. To give you an idea, since his first film in 1992, he’s put out 69 films and had 18 of them hit in the top five for their year. Different cinematic strokes for different folks…even though we (and many others) love what he does in movies like Dil Se…a lot of people like the Rukhster to be silly and charming. It can make for a phenomenal career.

 

Julie M:  No Khiladi for me, thanks. I just thought Akshay was cute and funny in DTPH, and seemed to me to be the best thing in it. Plus I liked him in Tashan and Bhool Bulaiyya. If you tell me to avoid the Khiladi movies I will. (I haven’t yielded to temptation to try Golmaal 2 and 3, even though they are on the shelves at the library all the time)

And don’t get me wrong…SRK was good at what he was called upon to do in DTPH, but given his popularity in this (and other similar films around the same time where he seems to play the same type of role) it seems, well, unconventional that he was allowed to move beyond it to do some real acting work. Which he does well. What would you say was his “breakthrough” film, the one that got him to be taken seriously and allowed by the box office to do things like, say, Swades and MNIK and Don? Was it Dil Se… or something later?

 

Jenny K:  What you’re not getting here is that SRK wasn’t “allowed” to do the serious films…he’s had to fight to do them. The audiences don’t seem to want to see him do serious at all.  But because he draws so well at the non-serious movies, and is so beloved, that the producers will sometimes “humor” him and let him do a film (or he produces it himself) which they consider a box office risk. Dil Se… and Swades were in no way box office superhits, and My Name is Khan was only a moderate one in the homeland (only squeaking in to number five for 2010). Salman’s hit Dabaang was the winner last year, in terms of grosses.

So, if the Indian audience had their way, Shah Rukh would solely do romantic heroes until the age of 75. He’s pretty stubborn, though, and will insist on doing something else every so often to “keep his hand in,” as it were.

 

Julie M:  I guess I can’t blame audiences for pigeonholing actors, and I also understand that actors need to fight for better parts. Money makes the world go ’round, and the tried-and-true will always sell (n.b. sequels). I suppose that’s why so many actors form their own production companies (like SRK and Red Chillies)–so they can do what they want to do and help other actors do the same.  I cannot understand why Dabangg was so popular (based solely on the trailer). Or rather, I can understand, since it was clearly designed to appeal to 14-to-22-year-old boys. But I don’t have to like it.

 

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan seems to be the only one to be able to fight the pigeonholing trend, as far as I’ve seen, and still be number one at the box office.  He’s up there at the top spot these days just as often as SRK and Salman are…Let the Khan Wars khantinue…

 [later]

Julie M:  Oh. My. God. Was Baabul EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOW or what? The plotlines were somewhat intriguing–albeit with a WQ [Weepiness Quotient] off the charts that left me cold, it was so much–but did they have to drag it out so long? It’s almost as if they were trying for the K3G factor.

[Note: Spoilerish bits in the clip, especially at the end.]

Rani was the best thing about it. I truly coveted her character’s wardrobe, and the jewelry…well, the family in the story owned a jewelry manufacturing company, so it made sense to have it so elaborate. Hema was believable and I didn’t feel that she was as over-the-top as BigB was. John Abraham looked good in the longer hair and less obviously buffed body–nice understated performance, whereas I could have used a bit more charm from Salman to make it believable that Rani would fall for him. BigB’s rug was obvious–even B noticed and asked whether it was real hair or not. Overall…2 stars.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I thought Salman was much more charming in Baabul than he usually is. It almost worked on me in this film. I particularly liked his vibe with BigB. Drag racing your elders…perhaps unwise, but fun.  I also liked Hema and Amitabh’s chemistry, as I always do, they’ve worked together for so long, it just plays really well. They were the best thing in Veer-Zaara for me, too.

(Though I’m not recommending much more than that number and Main Yahaan Hoon in V-Z. It’s not one of my favorites; too already-seen-that plus very bad aging makeup and wigs).  John was inoffensive, but rather bland for me, again. And as to the length of the film, that is sort of the standard pacing for “emotional family drama” in India. People don’t feel like they’re getting full-impact catharsis without at least two hours of emotional sumo wrestling   I’ve grown to agree, for the most part, over the years.  Bah, 90 minute formats…  Kid-stuff!

 

Julie M:  Emotional family drama…I’d better avoid those in the future, no matter who’s in it. It’s just not my style. Warn me, OK? Put the code letters EFD and I’ll know. I’ll be working on next weekend’s library list soon and will run it by you to catch any clunkers.

 

JennyK:  I know Julie and I, both, were very sad to hear of the passing of Shammi Kapoor, and as neither of us have seen enough of his older films, we’ll probably pre-empt our next film glut with a review of one of his.  We mourn with the rest of the Indian film public at the passing of a classic comedian and, from what I’m told (and have seen in interviews), a very classy fellow.

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