October 25, 2014: A Commotion and a Verdict

Finally, in our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest, we come to Hulchul (Commotion, 2004), where Akshaye’s romantic heroism is blunted by slapstick comedy to the point where he becomes a caricature of the handsome leading man.  Akshaye plays Jai, the youngest son of virulently misogynist patriarch Angarchand (Amrish Puri at his eye-poppingly gruffest) at war with the family of Laxmidevi, a strong-minded matriarch (Laxmi).  The two wealthy families would do just about anything to ruin each other, and when Jai’s family disrupts the brilliant marriage scheduled for Laxmidevi’s granddaughter Anjali (Kareena Kapoor), her family vows to get even.

Jai and Anjali, college-mates and bitter enemies, are each instructed to pretend to love the other in order to cause rifts within the other family. Cue hilarious faux-romantic love ballad, which is pretty cute:

When they eventually realize that they are being used as pawns for everyone else’s revenge, they fall in love for real and want to marry.  Their only hope for happiness, it seems, lies in convincing at least one of Jai’s bachelor brothers to defy Angarchand’s strict “no women” dictum and get married first.  Will it be Shakti (Arbaaz Khan), ever loyal to his father?  Or Kishan (Paresh Rawal), a sworn celibate?  Or will it be Balram (Jackie Shroff), whose one attempt at marriage years ago started the whole feud to begin with?  Supporting performances by Arshad Warsi as Lucky, Jai’s hapless best friend, and Suniel Shetty as Anjali’s hotheaded but ultimately sympathetic uncle Veeru round out the all-star cast.

There are so many things to hate about this movie, starting with the fact that Anjali is introduced as the best law student at the college and then, after her engagement falls apart, she is turned into a bubblehead.  In typical Bollywood fashion, we are asked to believe that the 30-year-old, balding, heavy-faced Akshaye is an innocent college student.  (Kareena gets a pass—she was only 25 at the time)  Most of the slapstick is reserved for poor Lucky, who falls out of trees, gets dumped into a pot of boiling glue and is tossed around by tall, strong men as if he were a beach ball.  And—worst of all—the romance between Jai and Anjali comes flying out of nowhere, and their chemistry is so bad that Jai’s frequent uncomfortable looks seem perfectly justified.

Still, the story is cute enough not to stop watching, there is enough winking at comedy-drama tropes (can you say Weekend at Bernie’s?)

to cause smiles of recognition, and I can never get enough of Jackie Shroff.

Akshaye, sorry to say, is the unfunniest thing ever in this film; fortunately, he’s more often called upon to be the straight man than to provide the yuks.  Here’s an example of what passes for a funny scene:  Jai and Kishan infiltrating Anjali’s family compound in the guise of a cow.

If you insist on seeing it, at least it’s free and subtitled on YouTube:

Verdict on Akshaye:  C to C-.  Play your own age, buddy.

 

So what have I learned?  I admit to an adoration of Akshaye’s father Vinod Khanna, a frequent bromantic pairing with Amitabh Bachchan. But my opinion of Akshaye still stands:  his work is uneven (good = Border, Dil Chahta Hai and Tees Maar Khan; OK = Aa Ab Laut Chalen; not-so-good = everything else, including the otherwise excellent Taal, where he reminded me of a limp dishrag), his hair is mostly terrible, and for some reason he strikes me as an actor who doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, or with himself when he doesn’t have a line—there’s that unsure awkwardness about him that a better actor can turn to advantage and which he does not seem to be able to accomplish often enough.

I also find it funny that just as we were starting this challenge, one of our mutually favorite bloggers, Filmi Girl, wrote a post about Akshaye wherein she calls him a “terrible hero” and praises his TMK performance.  I love it when people agree with me.

October 22, 2014: More Chin, More Hair

We continue with our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest with another early one, thankfully this time with a FilmiGori’s favorite leading lady.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back”, 1999) has Akshaye as Rohan, a good-looking, educated, upstanding young man who leaves behind his widowed mother in India as he searches for gainful employment and riches in America. Dazzled by a cousin’s success, and then betrayed by the same cousin upon arrival, Rohan reluctantly takes a taxi-driving job, where he meets the shy, beautiful Pooja (Aishwarya Rai). Pooja has her own problems: arriving in the U.S. at the invitation of her brother, she finds out that his ulterior motive is to marry her off to his boss so he can get a promotion. Rohan gallantly swoops in to rescue her, takes her back to his rooming house, and finds her a job so she can earn a plane ticket back to India.

After a while Pooja falls in love with him, but to Rohan Pooja is just a friend. In fact, Rohan has made a number of friends of good character who love him, but he is blinded by his primary goal: to get a green card and get rich.

He figures he can do both by marrying Loveleen, a sexy, wealthy NRI of decidedly non-traditional outlook, and sets to courting her while Pooja does everything she can to quash the romance.

When his friends point out that he is neglecting both Pooja and his Indian values, Rohan angrily leaves to move in with Loveleen. The broken-hearted Pooja takes a job as companion to a sick, older and supremely wealthy man, Balraj (Rajesh Khanna), who comes to see her as a daughter. Will Rohan come to his senses, or is he forever ruined by the glitz and glamour of America? Can Pooja forget Rohan and honor her new “father” by marrying his son, as he wishes? And ultimately, what is the definition of “home” and “family” and is it possible to get everything you want without losing yourself?

Akshaye does very well as the innocent, well-bred young man and even as you roll your eyes at the message that comes crashing down on your head at every opportunity, he is quite mesmerizing whenever he is onscreen—and, again, he dances!

Rai, unfortunately, has very little to do except bat her eyes and serve as a pawn in the game of others; Pooja is so unworldly that she doesn’t claim her own desires until it is too late. However, her endearingly awkward (fake-awkward, of course—we know that she dances like a dream) moves as she tries to break up a beachside date between Rohan and Loveleen makes for such a classic scene that it can be lifted from its context and still work perfectly.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film borders on the predictable and obvious despite the attempted comic relief of the Sardar and Iqbal characters, Rohan’s landlords/roommates, who are nicknamed “Hindustan” and “Pakistan” because they are always at each others’ throats. Another 1999 pairing of Ash and Akshaye, Taal, is much more subtle in its messages and with real human drama in all its complexities—and therefore more successful as a film despite Akshaye’s reduced screen time and, as I noted before, blah performance.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen is available free on YouTube.

Verdict on Akshaye:  B.  Good job with mediocre material, and an almost-negative character somewhere in the middle.

Next time we will leap to the relative present with 2004’s Hulchul.

October 18, 2014: Akshaye Khanna Film Fest, part I: Introducing Chin and Hair

The FilmiGoris differ on their opinion of Akshaye Khanna, with Jenny continually trying to convince Julie of his swoonworthiness and Julie refusing to see him as someone other than an awkward, dimple-chinned hairpiece (although they both loved him in 1997’s Border and Julie loved his over-the-top performance as an Oscar-hungry actor in 2010’s Tees Maar Khan, which Jenny has not seen because it stars her “allergy” Akshay Kumar—another divisive actor in the FilmiGoris’ world).  So Jenny has challenged Julie to watch three previously unviewed Akshaye movies of her choice and cultivate an appreciation.

Julie:  Mohabbat (“Love,” 1997) starts a run of early films with Akshaye as the handsome hero—and I grudgingly admit that he really is handsome here, with his chiseled jaw, cleft chin and (in contrast to later years) well-behaved hair.  Actually, the pool scene kinda grossed me out with all the hair…

In the story, Rohit (Akshaye Khanna) rescues the young, wealthy industrialist Gaurav (Sanjay Kapoor) from a gang attack by beating up the gang leader.  The two strike up a bromance, with Gaurav offering Rohit a job in his company and the merry Rohit serving to unclench Gaurav’s somewhat stodgy nature.  Unbeknownst to each other, both are in love with Gaurav’s sister’s best friend Shweta (Madhuri Dixit), an aspiring young singer/dancer.

 

Gaurav’s move is to secretly support her career (yeah, that will get her to notice him), while Rohit sweeps her off her feet with drama, fun and romance.   For her part, Shweta treats Gaurav like an acquaintance (gee, wonder why?) but is completely infatuated with Rohit (duh), whom she agrees to marry.   Her inattention to Gaurav doesn’t keep him from fantasizing, though.

 

It’s only a matter of time before Gaurav learns (coincidentally, moments before he plans to reveal to her that he is her secret benefactor) that Shweta the one to whom his best friend is engaged.  Recognizing the depth of their feelings and wanting them both to be happy, Gaurav simply walks away rather than confront them.

The very same evening that Gaurav decides to back off, the gang finds Rohit and attacks him, stabbing him in the stomach and throwing him off a precipice right in front of Shweta.  Gaurav feels guilty, Shweta loses her voice with the shock, and Gaurav’s sister, learning of Gaurav’s feelings for Shweta, suggests their engagement to cheer up Shweta and make her brother happy. Shweta agrees to marry Gaurav and there is hope that she is finally getting over Rohit, although she still hasn’t spoken.  Trouble soon comes in the form of a handsome car mechanic named Tony Braganza (Akshaye Khanna), a Rohit lookalike whom Gaurav hires to try and shock Shweta back into speaking…but will the ruse actually work?  and why is Gaurav suddenly getting dizzy spells?

Madhuri and Akshaye are rarely paired on film and it is easy to see why.  There’s just no chemistry between them despite her fancy dancing and his good hair and smoldering glances.  And his supposedly “melting” glance left me cold—reminded me of a hurt puppy, and not in a good way.

However, the film is still fun to watch with its more or less even balance between comedy, romance and drama, and between Madhuri’s talent and Akshaye’s rather manic youth, the songs are energetically performed (if slightly generic).

 

The last third of the film is, unfortunately, so dramatic that it’s hilarious…and one of Shweta’s costumes in Gaurav’s dream-sequence song will make you giggle uncontrollably. Still, if you come across it, give it a try.  It’s available free on YouTube, with subtitles.

 

Verdict on Akshaye:  So-so.  Not as good a performance as in Border.  Fun to watch him dance, though.

Tune in later in the week for the next film in the mini-festival, Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back,” 1999).

Oct. 4 2011:Ranbir, Ajay & More Bhagat Singh…Deol With It!

Julie M: Finished Shaheed: 23rd March 1931, the Bobby Deol version of the Bhagat Singh story.   I saw it mostly for the story, which I fell in love with in The Legend of Bhagat Singh, and I hate to leave similar films uncompared, so here goes.

It was way bloodier and more violent than the Ajay Devgan version, but Bobby did not play Bhagat as intensely as Ajay did. The production value was significantly lower and cheesier, and the early part of the story seemed rushed. The Ajay version spent a lot of time on the early years, while the Bobby version spent more time stressing the family-drama aspect of the story. Aishwarya had a cameo as the girl Bhagat refused to marry, which seemed jarring. The songs weren’t translated, and the subtitles generally were pretty bad (sometimes no subtitles at all!). The English were portrayed as complete idiots as well as evil in this version, whereas in the Ajay version they were just clueless and a bit scared. I was actually more impressed with Sunny Deol’s performance as Azad than I was with Bobby’s as Bhagat.

Comparison: here is the “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamaana” song as sung in the Bobby Deol version:

And in the Ajay version
Here is the “Mere Rang de Basanti Chola” number in the Bobby version:

And in the Ajay version.

 
So, Bobby Deol may have looked more like the real Bhagat Singh, but I liked the Ajay version better. In a nutshell: the Bobby-version of the story was hit-you-over-the-head whereas the Ajay-version was more subtle and actually more stirring for it.

 

Jenny K:  It may all come down to AR Rahman vs. Anand Raj Anand/ Surendra Singh Sodhi. Nobody beats the Rahm! And though I liked the Bhagat Singh version, I still think I like the Rang De Basanti version, just a tad better, as I said before… Aamir’s voice-over just gets me all shivery…what a guy!

Sunny Deol will always, sorry to say, beat out Bobby on acting talent whether or not he tries. He actually is very supportive of baby brother, but has, at least until recently, been the most visible star. His movie Gadar, holds the record for highest gross made for 2000-2009. He can really pull them in. Is that the first one you’ve seen him in? Have you watched Border yet?  Here’s one scene, the odds are against Sunny’s boys, 150 Hindustanis to 2000 Pakistanis but he’s going to give it all he’s got, attitude-wise.

And here’s a backround piece on the filming.

Border gives you the emotional side of “the women left behind” and also tells a real story about the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War where the Pakistani Air Force came in and surprise bombed 11 Indian air bases with no warning. Indira Ghandi sent her troops on all fronts, and beat them back so badly that the whole thing was over in 11 days with Pakistan ceding Bangladesh to independency. It’s the best of its kind in all ways, except, perhaps, for the “happy to go to war, dancing with my tank” song, which is catchy, if incongruous.

[next day]

Julie M:  Saw the first half of Border. I get that there’s some personal stuff there, but it’s still a war movie and I’m not a fan of war movies. Still, I’m enjoying Sunny Deol’s performance and Akshaye Khanna had one great scene where he blew the cr*p out of one guy, after having failed to do so at his first opportunity.  Tell me if it gets significantly better in the 2nd half, because I’m just about ready to quit.

  

Jenny K:  All I can say is that I liked Border…I found the performances good and I liked the personal back-stories. I think Sunny’s best scenes are in the second half, when things get toughest, but if you’re not liking it, you shouldn’t watch it.

Sonny doesn’t tend to do many comedies, so if you like him, you’d have to take him in some earnest, heroic drama, and this is one of the easiest to take, military-wise. Maybe you should see Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Not my taste, but it was a Really Big Hit. Set during partition, about a Sikh guy falling for the Muslim girl he rescues and how they fight to stay together, despite religious differences. Sunny has played a lot of soldiers and sardars in his time.

He did one comedy recently, Yamla Pagla Deewana, with Bobby and their dad, Dharmendra, but it looked so PriyaDhawanish (my new term for unrelentingly slapstick) that I just couldn’t do it. Here’s the trailer, see what you think.

Julie M:  I’ll finish Border, then. So far the war aspect is overshadowing everything else, in my mind. B was very surprised when he saw me watching it, because he knows I don’t watch war movies.

 [the next day] 

 So I finished Border, finally, and you were right, it did get better. (I should always, always finish Indian films before I pass judgment on them!!)  The dyad of the characters played by Sunny and Akshaye was brilliantly done, and although a minor role, I enjoyed Jackie Shroff’s air force commander, as well. It was a treat to see Suniel Shetty portraying a young, idealistic soldier, given that previously I’ve only seen him in villain or criminal roles with a hard-etched face. Each of the characters who died (no spoilers here — given that it’s a war movie) performed acts of supreme heroism in defense of Mother India, and the scene where the Sunny Deol character got misty over the death of an enemy soldier was heart-wrenching.

However, I was unprepared for the absolute bloodiness and sheer length (probably close to 45 very intense minutes) of the final battle scene. War sure is hell, and the realism of it in Full Technicolor was probably quite shocking to audiences because it completely unhinged me–yet I had to keep watching. Here’s one of those scenes.

I have to credit the filmmakers for resisting the temptation to do the battle in slow motion, and if I have one criticism it is the maudlin nature of the very final scenes where they intercut images of the battle aftermath with tear-jerking impressions of the families at home — including one character’s cancer-stricken wife, who was previously only alluded to but never seen in flashback. Oh, and the truly annoying cry/chant of “Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan” at the peak of the action disturbed the mood — obvious pandering patriotism is never my thing.

Here is the stirring scene at daybreak where the Air Force can finally come to rescue our boys.

[Bringing the political theme to the present day, we both watched Raajneeti (Politics, 2010).]

Julie M:  Raajneeti is one of those films where a plot summary reveals too many spoilers, so I’ll make it brief:  This is the story of the ins and outs of one Indian election as we follow a political family and their associates.  After a bit of backstory on the mother of the political family and how she married into it, we are introduced to the younger-generation Pratap brothers and their families as well as to Indu, a young woman from outside the family with some political ambitions.  One brother, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is handsome and politically ambitious, while his younger brother, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) has just come back from his PhD studies in the U.S.  A family tragedy catapults Prithvi into electoral (and familial) competition with his cousin Veeru (Manoj Bajpai), and Samar reluctantly takes a role after a second tragedy.  Here’s the trailer:

Jenny K:  Raajneeti doles out its own style of gunfighter justice which seems to be the predominant way to run a government in India, if Bollywood filmmakers are to be believed. Yuva, RDB, and other similar films of the past decade paint the picture of ultimate corruption by a group of morally bankrupt would-be contenders for office who are willing to do anything and everything to get their man (or woman) in power.  If that’s true, all I can say, is run out of the polling places, and straight for the airport… Just don’t stop and roll down your taxi window on the way there. You may get blown away. I certainly was. 

Julie M:  Although I felt the film had crazy, over-the-top dramatic tension–I kept thinking the level and volume was more appropriate to a TV miniseries rather than a feature film–I really enjoyed Ranbir ‘s performance as the reluctant-cum-ruthless political strategist. Ajay Devgan–love him–was a little disappointing as the outsider behind the opposing campaign, as it seemed to be a role he could do with his eyes closed rather than a creative challenge. Katrina Kaif was OK as Indu, Nana Patekar was perfect as the older political mentor, and what is it about Indian movies, where they choose American actors to be the least convincing possible to avoid upstaging the Indian actors?  The Ranbir character’s girlfriend was horrible, just horrible.

Jenny K: While you’re right about the lack of effective white actors in Indian films, this girl isn’t at all the weakest…trust me.  Her character was meant to be a quiet reproach to Samar, and not someone to steal focus…and she did that reasonably well.  She reminded me of Jennifer Garner, favorably, more than once.

Otherwise, the performances were uniformly pretty darned good. Nana Patekar was, as usual, a true artist, layering his portrayal with so many degrees of gray that he could have hidden among the newspaper clippings of his great reviews.

Ajay Devgan looked fetching with his dark, simple wardrobe, gold earrings and now patented scowl, but on the whole I wish he had more to do. He had only two really good scenes, the one at the very end with his mentor Veeru on the roadside, where he showed some grace even when losing, and then the scene on the hillside with his mother. Wonderful expressive looks flew across his face as he reacted to her admissions. Frankly, as much as I love Ajay, I didn’t know he had that much subtlety in him. Bravo!  Here’s the director Prakash Jha and Ajay talking about their history together. 

This Making of Raajneeti video is interesting, too.

Arjun Rampal is shaping up as a rather tasty villain/psychopath these days. Always elegant, a killer with style. Much more interesting than his sweet, sensitive victim roles like his banker-turned-robber in Don or his edge-of-slacker musician in Rock On! And Manoj Bajpai turns in another slick moustache twirling version of the ultimate single-focus campaigner, Veeru. He showed us all the layers of Veeru’s insecurities, that drove him and tripped him, simultaneously…very nice. And Ranbir Kapoor, did his turn as the youngest Corleone brother…oh, I meant Pratap brother…easy mistake with all that ruthless mayhem and the schmaltzy pseudo-Sicilian soundtrack going on…with a degree of underplaying that I wasn’t expecting from the Saawariya Song and Dance Man.

 Only the women in the film seemed a bit muted in Raajneeti…Mom, Indu and Sarah, the gori girlfriend were scarcely there.  I wondered whether some of the girls scenes got left on the cutting room floor, but if this example is anything to go by, probably not…window-dressing.

Here’s the full movie with subtitles on YouTube.  But it’s in pieces.

Julie M:   Not only was it a political thriller, it was the tense story of a political family where there are secrets, jealousies, alliances and emotions equal to the best soap opera. This was a film that could have gone either way for me, but I actually liked it. Critics seemed to hate it, it was highly popular, but I thought it was a pretty good catharsis. I found myself cheering people and then in the next breath booing them, rolling my eyes at one thing and holding my breath at the next. A bit bloody for my taste but it fit the action. The only problem was that I ended up not really liking any of the characters, and waiting for each of them to get what they deserved. And each one of them did, except for Nana Patekar, who got off scot-free.

Jenny K:  Cheering and booing…becoming a real typical filmi-girl audience member, aren’t you? 
But while Nana got off without having to get his come-uppance, but the real crime to me was [spoilers] letting Samar off on his flight back to the US with only a weak token of a mea culpa “Gosh, Indu, I never wanted to be a politician…I knew I wouldn’t like who I’d become”…Understatement of the Year! What about a scene where he tried to take his mother back to NYC, and she turns her back on him and leaves? Or Indu finally donning a backbone with her robes of office and arresting him as her first official act? [end of spoilers] Would have been appropriate…What was his doctoral thesis again? “Sublimated Violence in Victorian Literature”? A natural!

 

Julie M:  Nice analysis. The only thing I’ll take issue with is your characterization of Prithvi as a villain. I’d call him obsessed and ruthless — and pretty dumb — but I think he genuinely wanted (!) to get into politics for more than just personal power or family pressure, and eventually he came to realize that the cost was starting to mount up but by then it was too late, he had to push on.

I agree that Veeru was the most interesting character to watch, outside of Samar, who actually got a bit boring towards the end with his sheer villainy. You could almost see Veeru’s head splitting with all the conflicting emotions.  And Indu was just a cipher from the start.

 

Jenny K:  Manoj Bajpai is always a great character actor…you love to hate him. Though, in this film, that’s so full of questionable ethics and downright villainy…you can’t throw a stone without hitting a baddie. It’s harder to decide who you should identify with…even mom is a liar.

 

Julie M:  That’s why I said earlier that I came away not liking anyone. But I think Prithvi was the closest to sympathetic, except Indu, who ended up being used by everyone. Even though Prithvi was not clean, he did realize that it had all gotten out of control. And then [spoiler alert] he was blown up, so… Veeru was more psychotic than Prithvi—he had the crazy eyes from minute one!

 

Jenny K: I was looking for a clip of Manoj Bajpai with subtitles and found one that looks as if it belongs in this article…another historical uprising film called Chittagong.  Not out yet, though it was made last year.  There’s always a new one coming out…hope it’s as good as it looks!

Part 15: All About Dancing, and Playing it Saif

Julie M:  Thanks for pointing out the actors in Bawandar! I did notice that the lead actress was the same as the birth mom in KM, but the familiarity of the other actors escaped me. I guess that means they’ve disappeared into their roles, which makes them good actors.

Actually one of my friends got back to me this morning and wants to go tonight. I think dangling Hrithik in front of her did the trick.

 

Jenny K:  Yay! A taker! I knew something would pan out! Enjoy, and tell me what you think! As to your next shipment, I’ll try to send you something more soon.

 

Julie M:  OK, saw Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara this evening. Really great: funny, great buddy moments, amazing scenery, perfect pacing. I’m not sure it was necessary to see on the big screen but it definitely made a difference, although we were sitting a little too close. Hrithik’s face should always be 10 ft. tall…and you are right, he needed to dance more. Theater was about 85% full (6pm show), mostly Indians, mostly younger couples apparently on dates, only 1 granny that I saw and a couple of entire families. My friend got kind of excited about Indian movies (ok, she got really excited about Hrithik) so I recommended a couple to her.

Why do people not like Katrina Kaif? I thought she was adorable. Is it because they think she’s taking work away from “real” Indian actresses?

 

Jenny K: I was sitting in the second row, too and to the side. They had us in a smaller theater at the multiplex and it was completely full at the 8:40 show. There were seven of us and so we had to break into twos and threes around the house. You’re right, Hrithik is a sight to see that close. Which ones did you recommend to your friend? After you’re well and truly hooked on Hrithik, you have to see the following two scenes from his first movie Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, that sent all the Indian girls over the edge. No one knew anything about him before this, had just been a 2nd AD on a few of his father’s films. He wasn’t his father’s first choice for this role, I believe, but Hrithik sure picked it up and ran with it. On the first clip, just have to watch about 3 1/2 minutes. Sorry there are no subtitles, but they had the best video quality and these are for unabashed ogling, not worrying about the plot.

As to the Katrina thing…I’ll tell you, I’ve seen her in a few films with Akshay Kumar and also a few with her boyfriend Salman Khan and she’s never been as warm and attractive before this film. Usually she’s sort of cold and wooden, like a mannequin. If she keeps up this way, I won’t have any problems with her.

 

Julie M:  Nice clips! I liked the “Club Indiana” in the 2nd one…Indiana Jones…remember how we saw that together the first weekend it came out? You also had a nice clip in your blog, the one that’s a more “arty” dance number, “Main Aisa Kyun Hoon”. I’m going to forward that entire Hrithik blog post to her.

I recommended Dhoom 2 (!!!), Koi…Mil Gaya and Krrish. I know Dhoom 2 isn’t very intellectual but he is all over it, and it’s fun. That’s all I could think of off the top of my head, plus she is in the same library system as I am so I made sure to recommend films I knew she could get easily. She is also a big indie movie fan with the same basic taste as me so I gave her the names of 4 SRK movies I knew she would like, My Name is Khan, Paheli, Swades and Chak De India. I told her that if she wanted to experience full-on Bollywood she could go for Devdas or KKKG but I warned her what she might not like about them, and told her that I couldn’t get through Devdas myself.

If you have KNPH please send it…you know how I love looking at him…

Jenny K:  Funny, when I saw the club name, I thought, “Club India-na?” Chee! Bad pun, with Na? being the Hindi equivalent of saying “right?” I, loving bad puns, jumped to that right away.  It’s all in how you look at it.

Side bit of nostalgia.  Do you know, your dad told me my favorite pun, ever.  History based, it is as follows:  One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.  Still makes me giggle, funny guy, your dad.

I do have quite a few other HR films, but I had hesitated to send them because most are too melodramatic and/or too cheesy. Do you want them all, and if so, do you want them in a lump or rationed out so they last longer (and so B doesn’t realize how far into HrithikMania you’re going)?

Julie M:  The club in the clip was DEFINITELY decked out like the cave in the beginning of Raiders. Obvious to me.

If the HR films are very cheesy don’t send them because I don’t have time to waste on them, but a little cheese is OK (I have a fast-forward button). I’ll trust your judgment.

Late last night, after getting back from the theater and before B got home from Michigan at 1AM (urk), I watched Love Aaj Kal. Meh. Saif was somewhat watchable in the dual role (yikes, he is overdoing the body building!) but frankly, neither story was very interesting. Story 1: Girl and boy are together for 2 years, break up to lead different professional lives, then find out in the absence that they are soulmates. Big deal. Story 2: 45 years ago boy sees girl, instant love, cannot declare his love so he stalks her until she falls in love with him, he declares himself to her family on the eve of her wedding to someone else, he gets her. Also, big deal. Popular in India but I cannot see why. Hope the other 2 I got are better.

Jenny K:  Love Aaj Kal is an odd thing…when I saw the trailer, I said, I think I saw this. When I read the synopsis on IMDb and later, with your description I said, yeah, I must have seen this in the theaters when it came out. Bad sign when I really don’t remember much about it at all except vague images of Saif in a Sikh turban and Rishi Kapoor in it, I think as the modern day version of that guy Saif was playing in the past. I didn’t even remember it long enough to put it on my list. Maybe I did just read a few reviews and look at a few trailers and then decided not to go…that thing I have about not “getting” Saif as a romantic lead. Though he was okay in Parineeta, as I recall. Sort of an exception to my rule.

Julie M:  But Saif was really cute as the romantic lead in Hum Tum. Better direction, maybe. Also with Rishi Kapoor.

Jenny K:  Ah, we must agree to disagree. I saw that and Salaam Namaste and thought he just tried too hard to do the SRK charming thing and it just didn’t fit comfortably on him. He spoke too fast, then his voice got higher and squeakier, (In other things like KHNH, I’d have said that his voice was his most attractive feature) and he never knew when to pull back from the humor with his heroine and just get serious, and therefore sexy. Yes, it can be formulaic, but SRK has that timing down in his sleep, and I haven’t found Saif able to get it, or, alternatively, to find his own rhythms as a romantic lead, at least not yet. But put him into quirky or dark roles, and something else happens with him…completely convincing. I’m going to send you Being Cyrus.

Julie M:  Saw Aaja Nachle this evening. I could have sworn the plot was lifted from a 1940s Judy Garland movie–“let’s put on a play to save the auditorium from being torn down.” Hated the first half (so formulaic and boring) but it got much better in the 2nd half, and the final play was so beautifully done. [Jenny K’s Note: I’d have put the clip on of the finale play, Laila-Majnu, but there are no good copies of a letterboxed version on YouTube…and it’s over 20 minutes long!]

I finally understand why India loves dramatic love stories. We only have Shakespeare (and in the USA it’s not even ours, and he ripped off a lot too), they have 1000+ years of epic poetry and fable and legend about couples and love and honor and duty and all. Our culture is pretty weak that way. Maybe that’s why the Bible plays so well here–it contains some really great stories that are required to fill the soul-gap that the Puritans created when they banned whatever was magical and beautiful about religion.

Jenny K:  But the “Let’s put on a show” genre is almost completely new for Indian audiences, at least from what I’ve seen… so there is some positive aspects of their stealing from Judy:-)  Seriously, Indian popular cinema has never needed a framework for the musical numbers, like a backyard show, they put it in wherever emotional clarity is needed. 

I also love anything that gives Madhuri the chance to dance until she drops. She can really grab your attention…and I’ll agree that I bought the video just to be able to see the full Laila Majnu show whenever I wanted to. You practically didn’t need the subtitles. I didn’t like the New York scenes as much, felt very dated, except Akshaye giving Madhuri a Starbucks coffee at the end, so you figure he’ll visit her there. A small role for him here, but a lighthearted one, I particularly liked his making pizza and asking the daughter for gum and telling her “I’m the bad guy”.

I agree with your points for the love of drama, but I think I’d add that a good portion of Indian audiences find an outlet for the range of emotions that they often don’t express in real life. They are not encouraged in PDAs or love matches, etc., and like most of us, spend the good portion of their lives doing ordinary, undramatic things.  Why not  indulge in travel, riches, true love and epic tragedy on screen whenever you can?

Julie M: “New York scenes…”?? did I miss something? all I can recall is she’s rehearsing her company in the dance studio, she’s on the phone hearing bad news, then she’s on the plane with her daughter. Maybe a brief visual flashback when she’s telling the story of the failed marriage to the American photographer? I admit that I did not have time to watch the bonus DVD last night, but I will flip through that for deleted scenes tonight before I have to return the library DVDs tomorrow.

OK–last movie review–saw Bhool Bhulaiyaa. Very odd. Starred Shiney Ahuja, the actor I liked from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, and Akshay Kumar. Akshay was very likable in this–no martial arts–he played a goofy but ultimately smart psychiatrist. Even though it ended up being somewhat interesting, the plot felt contrived and there were too many irrelevant and farce-like aspects in the first half for me to say I truly liked the whole thing although there were some really good moments. Vidya Balan was great as the female lead although she overacted near the end. There was a lot of opportunity to make this movie something special, that I felt was wasted.

Funny, when looking it up I learned that it was a re-re-re-remake of Chandramukhi–or, rather, it and Chandramukhi had the same original source–with our buddy Rajinikanth as the psychiatrist. Aha!

So, overall, thumbs up for Akshay and Shiney, so-so for the rest, and man, did I love the beauty of the haunted house.

Jenny K:  So that’s an “Okay” for BB or did you actually like it overall? Can’t quite tell. 🙂 As to the “New York scenes” question, the couple of times I’ve seen Aaja Nachle, I thought someone referred to her studio as being in New York, or some subscript said it. Perhaps I just imagined it, but I don’t think so. There was only the scene at the beginning and one over the credits, so two had to be plural. Didn’t mean to imply you’d missed anything.

Julie M:  BB was merely OK.  2.5 stars out of 5.  Don’t go out of your way to find it, because it’s not that good, but if you come across it you would probably enjoy it.

Part 14: More Modern Views of India, Various

Jenny K: I just got back from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara; I skipped out on the “art stuff” at the film festival. Wonderful evening…lovely show. Good music, have to get the soundtrack. Just the shots of Hrithik alone are worth the price of admission, and then you have Farhan, who even with an atrocious haircut manages to touch me, yet again. Abhay Deol who is the third lead, the groom to be, I hadn’t seen but quite liked. AND I have now officially seen Katrina Kaif in a movie that she registered in as an actual personality and not just pretty fashion model! I, dare I say it, liked her quite a lot in it. Go figure.

So, you must go see it at the theater, and let me know what you think! If the Saturday night crowd here is any indication, it may not be there long. Slow, small crowd, but Indian crowds gather late, and the 9:30 bunch may not have gotten there when I left at 9. I hope, fingers crossed. Hrithik did dance in this one, and not as many numbers as I’d have liked, but better than the last one or two.

Julie M:  Haazaron Khwaishein Aisi…I think I would have appreciated it more if I knew more about Indian politics in the 1970s. Very serious movie, very realistic, definitely the kind of “issue” movie I like even though I missed a lot of nuances through my ignorance. It’s the story of 3 friends in college in Calcutta–Vikram (a middle-class youth from a politically involved family), Geeta (a richMadrasgirl schooled inEngland) and Sidharth (a rich local boy)–who are casually involved on the intellectual side of revolutionary politics while in school in 1969.

Most of the movie is what happens to them over the next 10 years, during a period of political upheaval that strikes both the urban areas and the countryside and involves all 3 of them to varying degrees. The performances were very good, understated yet moving. It won a Filmfare “best story” award, and several “best male debut” awards for the actor who played Vikram (Shiney Ahuja). He’s the closest thing to a big star in the movie. I’d say it’s worth seeing if you are in the mood to see a realistic Indian movie, but it’s kind of sad throughout and kind of bloody at the end.

Om Shanti Om…such a cute movie! Great music, too. I laughed myself silly because I recognized the Rajni parody, and I laughed at the “pain of disco” number because SRK was so over-buffed and the number was way over the top. (was that even him? or did they paste his face on another actor’s body?) And the Filmfare scene–LittleB and Akshay–so freaking funny!! the party scene was great too with the actors playing themselves in sort-of parody. Just a lot of fun all around.

Jenny K:  Glad you liked OSO…I liked it too, but I got a bit tired of the melodrama in the second half. I kept going, alright, already, wind it up! Not a good sign. I liked the first half much better. Deepika was pretty, but she really doesn’t hold my attention like Kajol or Madhuri would.

And that is SRK’s real body in the video, at least at that time. He pumped like crazy and did lots of goofy stuff to look liike that when he knew it was needed to do what he wanted for that character (shallow, self-adoring, etc.) The director said that he even dehydrated himself on the shooting days and did some special diet so that he looked particularly cut. I don’t think that he could, or intends to maintain that level. Almost impossible, without total concentration on it…and he’s way too busy for that.

Julie M:  I agree about Deepika, and the other current “it” girl, Priyanka Chopra. So bland and generic, just pretty. No character. Prefer Konkona.

Jenny K: Priyanka has been getting better as she goes along.  Best so far is 7 Khoon Maaf, where she plays a black widow of sorts…or is she??  Not a great performance, but definitely more varied.  Oh, when I was rereading you HKA review, it remindied me of the description, a bit, of one called New York, which you should look for. I don’t think I own it, but it’s another two boys and a girl triangle, set in the apple, right after 9-11, so it’s got profilin’ goin’ on and angry zealots and good guys who do bad things for good reasons, and also…all the early college scenes at “New York College” were filmed at Bryn Mawr! The school looks fabulous!

Julie M:  I also realized I made a mistake in my review of  Tashan. It’s not Akshay Khanna in the movie, it’s Akshay Kumar. Sorry about that. (too many actors with similar names!!)

Jenny K:  Khanna always spells himself with an “e” at the end of Akshaye to help us along 🙂 Though I never confuse them, because Akshaye is a nicely brought up young man who answers his fanmail, even if it is by email. I still keep it, but it’s not as fun as a real autograph would be. Sigh.

Julie M:  If only he would let his hair grow.

Jenny K:  Unlike his father Vinod (worked with Amitabh a lot in the 70’s) and his brother Rahul (Bollywood/Hollywood and Earth), Akshaye is severely follicularly challenged these days, and I think he keeps it short so he’s not reduced to plugs or comb-over syndrome, of which I approve.

To prove my point, here’s the “meet-DEFINITELY-cute” scene in essentially his debut film, Mohabbat, back in ’97 with Madhuri. Set up, her car has broken down in the rain, of course, and she can’t get anyone on the pay phone, it’s broken, and she runs for shelter into a nearby stable where Akshaye appears like a well-dressed hunky stable boy, or something. He’s not a stable boy in the film…don’t know why he was there, he works in an office in this one. Not the greatest movie, but I like him in it. Sorry no subtitles.

Julie M:  Much better than he looked in Taal.

Jenny K:  I find Akshaye attractive, hair or no, but that’s because of a nice face and fine, expressive eyes.

Wish I didn’t think that expression sounds like I nicked it from some lost Jane Austen description. “Not Mr. Bingley, Jane…the tall one, past Mr. Malhotra, with the pleasant face and fine eyes.  Do you know him and has he been long in these parts?”

[Later in the week…]

Julie M:  A rare Bollywood movie review in the New York Times, with my buddy Ajay.   ‘Singham,’ a Bollywood Cop Film – Review

Singham is about a super-tough village-born cop named Bajirao Singham, with bulging muscles and rock-hard morals.”

Jenny K: I’m probably going to give that one a pass…sounds too much like Gangajaal which pissed me off so much…honest cop in a corrupt world, my a**. This sounds no different. Even Ajay probably won’t get me in unless I read some stellar Indian reveiws about how good it is. I’m going to drag some more friends here to see ZNMD one more time. They haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been singing that darned Senorita song all day.  Hrithik says he’s not a natural dancer, that he just works at it until he gets it right.  Hard to believe when he does it like that.

Julie M:  Well, he can sure move, even in a normal day-to-day way, and he obviously takes direction well, so I’ll live with the fantasy for a while. And he’s a decent actor, not just a pretty face. (although acting-wise I still like Aamir and Ajay) In fact, I am trying to entice a couple of my movie buddies here–we like to go to art films together, mainly the British ones–to branch out into Indian films, at least for ZNMD, and my persuasive ace in the hole was the chance to watch Hrithik, with whom they are not familiar but I gave them links to introduce them to him, on the big screen for over 2 hours. They are so far not biting. Sigh.

I watched Bawandar yesterday. Powerful and made me angry at India, the backwardness and corruption, even in the so-called social service NGOs (those Delhi women were horrible). I also found myself mentally comparing the slick Bollywood version of rural Rajasthan in Paheli to the more realistic depiction in Bawandar. Similar turbans, but that’s about it.

Today I am picking up my weekly haul at the library, which consists of Aaja Nachle (haven’t seen Madhuri lead in a film since I saw Devdas, or half of Devdas), Bhool Bhulaiya and Love Aaj Kal. Yes, pickings are getting pretty slim. I’m not exactly sure how many films are in the library system, but it’s not very many and they don’t add new ones often because of budget cuts.

Jenny K:  I’m glad you liked Bawandar. I think it is one of the strongest films I’ve seen, and Nandita and Raghuvir are both wonderful in it. Raghuvir is a very versatile actor and can really make me cry, like here, [Spoilers]when he stands up for his wife, no matter what, and how he reacts as he can’t help when she’s being raped. You recognize the actors in this one? Nandita Das was the birth mother in Kannathil Muthamittal, the head thug was Yashpal Sharma who played the judas, Lakha, in Lagaan, and Raghuvir Yadav was the chicken guy in Lagaan, SRK’s best friend at the radio station in Dil Se, the writer in Meenaxi, and he’s in Aaja Nachle, too. He only does about one or two films a year, but they are always good solid acting jobs. He’s a musician and does some of his own singing, sometimes.

I’m glad you got Aaja Nachle, I was thinking about sending it to you in the next package (are you finished with the last one now?), so this saves space. Madhuri is one of the few women that Bollywood has let do a lead, essentially by herself. And this one didn’t do well enough at the Indian box office to merit giving her another, but I quite liked it, enough to buy it 🙂 The dancing is fabulous! She looks great (first movie after having a baby), except the appearing and disappearing hair thing, which shouldn’t bother me by now, but it still does. Her hair changes length as much as my Growing Hair Chrissy Doll did when I played with her as a kid…do you think Madhuri has a knob in the middle of her back? I also like Konkona and Kunal as the second couple in this one.

Sorry your friends aren’t biting yet. It’s fun to have a cohort to enable one in movie binging. I usually resort to the “first movie free, on me” gambit, so that if they hate it I don’t feel guilty. Usually they agree…and get sucked in. However, I want to encourage you to brave it out and go alone to ZNMD by yourself if you have to. It’s good enough to see on a big screen, and, if you are there by yourself, you have the added benefit of the Indian ladies there end up chatting with you at the intermission or as you walk out. They are curious as to why you are there, and what you think. If you drop a few names, of people you like, they’ll love it… “You know our movies?!? Ah, Sanjay, she watches more than we do! Are you married to an Indian?” It’s fun, and they are tickled to death.

Good luck, intrepid viewer.

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