August 5, 2011: Scaling the Heights of Hindi Cinema

Julie M:  This evening’s feature in my living room was Mangal Pandey: The Rising. I really enjoyed it, all the while understanding that HUGE liberties were likely taken with history (the Rani-character subplot, for example). Aamir was great (as usual), and the music–Rahman, of course–was fantastic. Same vibe as the music for Lagaan: extremely well integrated with the story. The only song I thought might have been gratuitous was the Holi one. Overall: 4 stars, would recommend it to anyone.


Jenny K:  Glad you liked Mangal Pandey. It had some fine moments (can you say Toby Stevens!) and a brave attempt by Aamir of making what felt like historical verismilitude out of a paragraph and a half of concrete character reference. I ruined it for myself by researching it too thoroughly when it was coming out. I should have known better.

It was sort of fun following the production while it was shooting.  A few of the people I chatted with on the Bollywhat Forum had decided that as they were touring India at the time, they would volunteer as extras on the shoot, as well as giving us all ongoing posts from the set.  It was very cool, and we got to see them both when they didn’t get cut out in the editing room.  They were trying to lure me to come over, too, but I chickened out.  Lost chances…

And even though the Rani scenes were imagined, I really liked them.  The Holi scene was fun, I thought…and it’s so traditional.  Not sure I was groovin’ on her pink dress, though.  Not really her color.

[the next day…]

Julie M:   OK, watched A Wednesday this evening and had enough time (it was less than 2 hrs long!) to start Virasat.

A Wednesday was very good–excellent performance by Naseeruddin Shah–and more Hollywood than Bollywood. American-style thriller with a good twist at the end. B watched it with me for a while (he saw NS and said “Hey, it’s THAT guy again!”) and seemed to like it. I thought it was good but not particularly Indian.

Virasat, on the other hand, is shaping up to be quite satisfyingly traditional. Anil Kapoor in the hero role (with a 12″ mullet–hilarious) is weird to see. Some cheesiness and dad/son melodrama, and a terrifically done flood scene that just happened. Don’t think I’ll make it through the whole thing tonight–it’s just too long–will finish it tomorrow and quickly return it to the library.

Jenny K:  Haven’t seen either of them yet, but I have A Wednesday in my queue at Netflix.  It will be interesting to see how it compares with another film he did the year before called Shoot On Sight.  Could be an interesting flip side.  In SOS, Naseerji plays a commander on the London police force as it tries to track down suicide bombers.  He has to deal with profiling both against the suspects and also towards himself.  Why was he given this high profile case?  Was it because he deserves it, or that  because he’s a Muslim, it makes the Department look colorblind?  Nice performances, and some good suspense.

I look forward to seeing Virasat sometime.  I like me a good Anil movie, especially pre-thinning shears “do”.  Though the mullet is now gone, it was so a part of his head, for so long, that I imagine it sadly rolling along behind him in his shadow, a lonely tumbleweed hairball. Removing the famous Kapoor Mullet was, I imagine, almost as traumatic as shaving his moustache would be!  Sacrilege!!

[another day goes by]

Julie M:  Finished Virasat. It’s the kind of movie that is cheesy when you watch it, but there are scenes you just can’t get out of your head. Anil was GREAT in what ended up ultimately as a tragic role. He did it all–melodrama, fights, romance, dancing (although not much)–and only looked uncomfortable a couple of times. Great character to portray, too. Tabu looked very young and sweet and didn’t seem to have enough to do. The music was not bad–this particular song reminded me a lot of Rahman:

(quality could be better but at least it has subtitles)

The whole movie is available on YouTube.

[Jenny K’s Note: Sadly, none of the three that I found had subtitles…The composer of Virasat, BTW is Anu Malik, who works even more extensively than Rahman, with twice as many scores, including Main Hoon Na, Munnabhai MBBS and Bride & Prejudice.  He’s everywhere, even as a judge on Indian Idol…which you never see Rahman do.]

[and one more day…]

Julie M: One more tonight…saw Chori Chori. Sweet, a bit melodramatic and mushy at the end (required judicious use of the fast-forward button). Ajay was super-hot but barely cracked a smile, and that in-love-weepy look is not a good one for him. I much prefer him slightly dangerous. First filmi wedding I’ve seen where the bride did not wear a red and gold sari, but Rani looked beautiful anyway. And the scenery! I so want to go to Shimla now.

[Jenny K’s Note: Spoilers in the video, skip if you don’t want to know that there’s a happy ending 🙂 ]

Jenny K: Yeah, Shimla is in Himachal Pradesh, where they shot Taal, too. Oooh, oooh, and Darjeeling, where they shot Black, and also Main Hoon Na, I believe.  Also, while we’re establishing the Fantasy Highlands of India Tour, let’s add all of Jammu and Kashmir, like Srinagar where they shot Mission Kashmir (one of Hrithik’s films, with Preity and Sanjay Dutt, that I haven’t sent you, yet because it melds themes of  terrorism and romance in an occasionally awkward way.  Dil Se was much smoother).  The houseboats on Dal Lake are really fascinating.  My friend, Pat rented one to stay on when she was there.  And we also should visit Ladakh where they shot some of Dil Se and lots of Lakshya.  We’ve got to go, even if it’s dangerous, politically.  Hmmm.  Wonder whether we could get Ajay to guard us?

Check out this video by a company called Contemporary Nomad.  Lovely footage of Srinagar.

Julie M: Got some good ones waiting for this weekend too, which promises to be excellent for Hindi movies since B is out of town for 3 days.

Atithi tum kab jaoge?
Minsarakanavu
Saawariya (I know you said I might not like it, but I’m trying it anyway)
Sholay (because it’s a classic)
U Me aur Hum (I loves me my Ajay)

How I’ll fit 5 films into 3 days, I don’t know. SNL is in reruns, right?

Speaking of Ajay…

Ajay gets experimental, signs Priyadarshan’s film

If I remember correctly, Virasat was a Priyadarshan film, right? Cool.

Jenny K: Yes, I do admit to occasional Priyadarshan films that I like, but his touch with comedies is a bit, …um…, broad, shall we say.  I think I like his family-centered comedies better.  They are warmer, with a squishy emotional center, and are very feel-good and reassuringly traditional.  Mere Baap, Pehle Aap, and Hulchul, at it’s root, are both like this.

As to the other films you got from the library, I’ve seen all of them this time!  I was fooled by the Tamil title for Minsarakanavu, because I knew it with the Hindi title Sapnay.  Kajol is, of course, very cute in it, though I don’t believe her wanting to be a nun in it, but, whatever.  Arvind Swamy is sweet, but seems a bit old for her.  Rajiv Menon, the director, also did Kandukondain, Kandukondain (I Have Found It) which had similar pairings and so maybe that’s to be expected.  And I always like Prabhu Deva’s dancing.  Not sure he’s a better match for Kajol, than Arvind, either.  Where’s Aamir when you need him?

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?  I did like, enough to review it on the other blog, here.  I was comparing it to contemporary US comedies like Hot Tub Time Machine which I saw the same weekend.  ATKJ won, needless to say.  How could it lose with Ajay, Konkonal and Paresh Rawal, at least for me.

Saawariya, I reconsidered my “meh” when you said you liked Devdas, sort of, and when I thought you might like Ranbir.  It’s an odd film, but not horrible or anything.  Same director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, as Devdas, Khamoshi, HDDCS, Black (which you liked) and Guzaarish.

Sholay (because it’s a classic)… you said it all.  Amitabh, Dharmendra, stylish masala western.  Some slapsticky bits, but as you said, there is always FFwd.

U Me aur Hum, I think I recommended this earlier as the one of two films that I liked Kajol’s chemistry with her hubby.  I think he does better in the second half than the first half.  Second half is definitely more of a weepie.  Hope you survive it. 🙂

[next day…]

Julie M: And to continue the Ajay theme…saw Deewangee this evening. First half–totally predictable and almost insulting in its obviousness. (What tipped me off? Ajay playing a mild-mannered stammerer. Could have been quirky casting, but I knew better) Second half, equally obvious but the action made up for it. Overall, Ajay was fairly brilliant if a teeny tiny bit over the top, Akshaye was…ok, Urmila was busty and danced well. 2.5-3 stars. (I guess I asked for it when I said I liked Ajay when he is a bit dangerous)

[Jenny K’s NoteIt’s on Youtube, in two parts.  Hit the CC red button on the bottom of the screen to give yourself subtitles.  Here’s the second part.]

Jenny K:  I think I liked this one so much because I had not seen Ajay much before it, perhaps HDDCS, where he’s sweet and noble, and so the second half surprised me quite a bit. Urmila being busty did not surprise me. If you like Ajay being dangerous, you have to get Khakee. I looked to see if I owned it, and I can’t find it, so maybe I didn’t buy it. That or his version of Bhagat Singh (one of the martyrs that the kids were making the movie about in Rang de Basanti).

Oh, and Ajay has done that mild-mannered stammerer kinda role, and straight, too.  He did a remake of I am Sam, that Sean Penn as a mentally retarded man raising a smart little girl in Main Aisa Hi Hoon.  Don’t know if I actually made it through that one.  I like him better “bad,” too.

I liked your clip from Virasat. Odd, Anil almost didn’t look like himself. Don’t know what it was. Maybe he’d put on a bit of weight for the film to look less moviestarish, but his face was a lot rounder than it is normally. Nice look on him. I think you may be ready for Nayak with him paired with Rani and the kookiest videos ever. Rahman score! Here’s the loopiest clip for a taste. Don’t ask me to explain, I can’t.

I don’t remember what the lyrics meant, but after listening again, I think with all that “jootha” stuff, which is Hindi for liar, maybe it’s just a case of the “Black” girl calling the kettle pot?  🙂

Julie M:    That clip is so weird it’s scary!!!

So you have not seen Virasat? If not, definitely see it. Anil starts out the film as a typical young-Indian-educated-in-England with Western clothes, scruffy facial hair and oh! that mullet (he looks the way we typically know him in this part), then as the story moves on he becomes more and more traditional in dress, manner and thinking patterns, mostly because he has to, [spoiler] his dad dies and he takes on the role of the landowner/village-protector, but also because he grows up a bit. Also the movie is a bit older and Anil is younger. I had no idea he was as old as he is–born in 1959–so he was in his late 30s when he did Virasat but looked like he was 25.

Part 13: Fifty Films into Bollywood Paheli

[Jenny K’s Note: Paheli means puzzle.  Also one of our films this post.]

Julie M:  Got your package!!! Thanks for the necklace! Has it really been 50 films? It arrived slightly damaged (a few beads loose in the envelope and the dangly part had detached) but I think B can repair most of it. And thanks for the films. I think this weekend the library haul will include Paheli and Umrao Jaan. I won’t request any others because I got 3 from you.

Next week I have vacation (duh, you know that) so I think I might try to see a movie in the theater, since they only show them in the afternoons. This week my Indian theater is showing Delhi Belly (Aamir!) at a very convenient 2pm show time and Double Dhamaal with your crush Arshad Warsi at a less civilized 5pm; hope it’s still there next week!

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry that the necklace was damaged. I should have wrapped it better, but I was running out of room in the box, and it wedged in rather tightly, so I thought it would be okay. Hate to give a gift that has to be fixed first, thrift store find, or no.

And yes, according to my list, whatever you see next will be your fiftieth film. If you have seen either of the last batch of freebies (I Hate Luv Stories, or Loins of Punjab Presents) then you’ve already gone past that. They do accumulate fast, don’t they? Congrats!

I think I should arm you with my favorite review site at Rediff. Their reviews seem to be evenly balance between the Mumbai point of view and the US India fan base. I usually agree with them, more or less, though the people who respond to the reviews seem to be wildly offended when any negative opinions are voiced. Judging on their responses to your two films, I’d go with Delhi Belly over Double Dhamaal, even with Arshad. As much as I like him, he seems to be picked more often for his talent for mugging than his talented feet.

Julie M:  I have not yet dipped into the freebies. I’m saving those for when the library supply has dried up and I’ve seen the ones you’ve sent in the current box!

Jenny K:  Sounds like a nice weekend. Either Paheli or Umrao Jaan would merit wearing the necklace for “atmosphere” 🙂 Though I think I like Umrao Jaan a bit better. Paheli is very atmospheric, though. Costumes and sets from Rajasthan are lovely. Plot a bit weak toward the end, but that seems to be standard, more and more. What I call SNL Syndrome. Have some good ideas, fun execution and performances, but they don’t know how to end them.

Julie M:  FYI, I tried to watch I Hate Luv Storys. Had to quit because the sound and subtitles were so bad. I’ll try again when I’m in a more charitable mood. It seemed to start out fairly cute, though.

Jenny K: Yeah, my copy of that film is like that, too. What I get for digging in the Previously Viewed bin. If you can’t get through it, dump it. Not a problem. I’m sure it will be in the library chain pretty soon. I have it in my queue at Netflix, so it’s going pretty mainstream. It is cute, but not a “must see”. Of Imraan Khan’s films I think Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na is much better, but it wasn’t in the bin 🙂

Julie M:  Saw Kandukondain Kandukondain last night. Great Rahman music! typical plot–kind of threw a lot in there from movie making/playback singing to family drama to romance–but not too heavy on the melodrama, so it was OK. Good costumes too, and Tabu was good. I liked the song set in Egypt and the medieval castle one–cool dream sequences.

I can see where Jane Austen and that ilk (Brontes, too) would inspire Indian filmmakers [Jenny K’s Note:  Kandukondain, Kandukondain is a South Indian adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.] because of the focus on traditions and cultural mores combined with dramatic moments. Did they ever do a Jane Eyre version in India? because that would be interesting to see. I saw Bride and Prejudice although technically that’s an English film by an Anglo-Indian director.

[the next day…]

Julie M:  Saw Chandni Bar last night. Really good! Would not have found that one on my own, so thank you for sending it.

This weekend my library haul is Paheli, Umrao Jaan (I caught an Umrao Jaan reference in Chandni Bar!) and Munnabhai MBBS. Don’t know what to start with…maybe Umrao Jaan to continue the dancer theme I seem to have going.

Jenny K:  Nach, ladki…. yeah, go with a theme…Glad you liked Chandni Bar. Thought you would. Tabu was great in it…and her awful lover was played by Atul Kulkarni, that guy in Rang de Basanti that was with the radical hindu party who got “converted” via the gospel according to film.

I checked into your Jane Eyre question…seems there was one very loose adaptation, Sangdil, in the fifties with Dilip Kumar, who was very famous, but I find him a very cold fish. Here’s the IMDb write up.  And here’s a bit of the film on youtube, but no subtitles.

[Jenny K’s Note: After much trial and tribulation and an overnight stranding at the US Air Phoenix hub, I have made it to Vancouver.]

Jenny K: Went to see Meenaxi at the festival last night and it was a DVD projection…sigh. Didn’t maintain the original proportions of the film either, so it was a bit “cramped” in the screen, if you know what I mean. I also keep forgetting how weak Tabu’s English is in this film. Sheesh! She’s so good in Hindi that I forget that. Hoping better for 3 Idiots.

Julie M:  I did not think Tabu was bad in The Namesake…thought it was appropriate to the character.

Anyway, I liked Umrao Jaan except that to me it ended quite suddenly. [Spoilers]  She got turned away from her family and then went back to the bordello, which had been trashed and abandoned. She looked at herself in the mirror, and…??? then what? did not feel resolved. (you mentioned that) I liked seeing a young Naseruddin Shah, too, in that film.

I also watched Paheli. SO CUTE! Rani was adorable (she’s looks adorable even when she cries), SRK was fun and sexy. The jewelry was amazing–I want all of it!! Of course I have nowhere to wear it, but it’s still stunning.

Munnabhai MBBS…some cute scenes, overall merely 2 stars. Liked seeing Sunil and Sanjay Dutt act together. Trying to understand your crush on Arshad Warsi. Confused as to how Munna could get married and live happily ever after in MBBS and also in the sequel but to a different woman.

Jenny K:  I wasn’t complaining about her delivery in The Namesake, but just her line readings in “Prague” in Meenaxi. I guess, now that I think of it, since Namesake didn’t bother me and it came afterwards, perhaps she noticed how she came across and worked on it after Meenaxi.

I’m not sure just why Arshad hits me, but he often does. If you like Nasseruddin Shah, and who doesn’t, then see if you find Ishqiya in your library. Might be right up your alley. Nasserji and Arshad in a buddy flick, conmen on the lam from other gangsters who hide out with the widow of another old friend. She’s Vidya Balan, the DJ from Lage Raho Munnabhai. It has funny bits, but I don’t think of it as a comedy.

Julie M: My library has Golmaal Returns and Golmaal 3 but not the original Golmaal. Is it worth tracking it down?

Jenny K: Stay away from the Golmaal films, COMPLETELY, you’ll hate them. Very, very slapstick, and despite the cast, it should be atrocious. I haven’t been able to bring myself to see them.

Julie M:  Speaking of which: this weekend’s haul is Tashan (fun with Akshay), Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (arty) and Om Shanti Om (SRK).

Jenny K:  I’ve only seen OSO of the ones you have listed for this weekend. Let me know what you think, and maybe I’ll pick a few up. I think I bought OSO just for the scene where SRK is pretending to be a South Indian film star to impress the girl. Crazy cowboy outfit and huge mustache is a real hoot and, alarmingly, not that much of an exaggeration. Well, you’ve seen Rajni, so you know 🙂

I liked the one I saw last night at the festival, West is West. Almost all in English. I liked it better than it’s predecessor, East is East, which was funny but ultimately depressing, because the father was such a negative character in it. He has sort of seen the light in the ten years since the first film…a bit…he’s still a bit of a pretentious jack***. but I love Om Puri. He is one of the best character actors they have. In Maqbool, he and Naseeruddin play the “witches” in the Macbeth plot, commenting on everything, playing two corrupt cops with the ugliest collective wardrobes I’ve ever seen. Wonderful…wah, wah, wah, as the saying goes.

Julie M:  Just finished watching Tashan. Action/comedy with a little romance (not too much or too gushy) and kind of a road story as well. Saif Ali Khan is a cool-dude call center worker in Mumbai who moonlights as an English teacher, and he gets mixed up with Anil Kapoor, a don, through Kareena Kapoor, Anil’s employee. Through his infatuation with Kareena he ends up stealing tons of money from Anil, only to have Kareena steal it from him and vanish. Anil calls in Akshay Khanna [Kumar], a petty thug/enforcer in Kanpur, to rough up Saif and then take him to track Kareena and the money down. And the fun goes on from there.

Some flashbacks and back stories, everyone narrates the story at some point and Saif speaks to the camera all the time, for no real reason. But overall it was not bad–I like good action films and the gangster element was more comedic than serious, until the end, which was quite bloody. Probably too much Akshay for you, but I enjoyed it. B caught most of the 2nd half with me and he kind of liked it too. Anil is hilarious as the don who loves to speak English–but he does it all wrong and with a heavy Sean Connery impression. Made me laugh out loud. The musical numbers are forgettable.

I’ll give you a report on the others after I see them.

Jenny K:  Thanks for the update. I’ll remember it when I’m stuck…maybe it’s on Netflix, most of Akshay’s films are. I do think Anil’s a funny guy, even when he’s not trying to be. You should have seen him on the Martha Stewart show when he was plugging Slumdog.

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