January 9, 2013: Stand By Your Man

Julie M:  Clearing the decks from 2012, we found a few movies we watched but never discussed.  We’ll take them in logical groups…starting with this one, in which we compare two older movies and a more recent one, where women refuse to give up on their guys.

Jenny K:  Oooh, I feel all Tammy Wynette…got to preserve my objectivity…so, the question is, do the men deserve it?   Usually not.

Roja Movie PosterJulie M:  Let’s talk about that after we go over the films!  While riding the exercise bicycle this week I watched Roja (1992), with the charmingly innocent Madhoo at the tender age of 20. I found it sweet and old-fashioned, a story of stand-by-your-man-until-the-terrorists-return-him that we see so often. [snork]

Jenny K:  Nothing will carry you through the pedal-miles like a classic ransom movie, I always say…

Julie M:  Roja (Madhoo) is a naive and sheltered village girl, given to play and girlish plotting to marry off her older sister Lakshmi (Vaishnavi) to the eligible city bachelor Rishi (Arvind Swamy) who has come a’courting. But the best-laid plans go wrong… Lakshmi confesses her love for another, and to save her family’s honor Rishi pretends that she rejected him and proposes instead to Roja. Within a day she is married and must learn to live with this stranger and his mother in the big city.

Just as they have gotten used to each other and shyness is turning to love—i.e., in about a week–Rishi is sent to Kashmir on a secret government mission and takes Roja along. Unexpectedly, and before her very eyes, he is kidnapped by terrorists (aka Kashmiri freedom fighters), who want to use him as a hostage against the release of their brutal and imprisoned leader. The government’s policy of “no giving in to terrorists” is unacceptable to Roja, and she begins a campaign of pestering, weeping and going over everyone’s head to try and get them to effect the exchange.

Will Roja ever see her beloved husband again? Will the terrorists kill Rishi if their demands aren’t met?  I really enjoyed the fact that the whole “terrorist” definition was blurred.   This scene was a bit disturbing, though.

Jenny K:  This was the first movie I saw Pankaj Kapur in (Liquat).  He’s a given for any director who needs a multi-layered interpretation.

Julie M:  Mani Ratnam direction, lush scenery both in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, heart-thrilling music by AR Rahman before he became superfamous, and one absolutely superior song.

But I prefer the Tamil version.

Romance, drama, politics…everything one could want! After so many modern-kid romances it’s nice to see something with old-timey values, nationalism and a female star who isn’t size 0 and/or nipped and tucked beyond recognition (sorry Genelia, Priyanka and Deepika). Enjoyed it very much although I thought at first I wouldn’t, and I think I’d like the undubbed Tamil version better because of the language. Thanks for the recommend!

It’s available free on YouTube, subtitled,  in 13 parts. Here is Part One.

Jenny K:  I’d give odds that Rahman writes the music with the Tamil lyrics in his head.  They always “sound” better, if you know what I mean.  Not that I understand either well enough to really judge, but…I’m glad you liked Roja!  Early Mani Ratnam films are particularly nice. They, literally, don’t make ’em like that any more.

Julie M:  Even though the title was her name, they gave approximately equal screen time to the kidnapped Rishi and Roja’s efforts to get him back.

[a couple of weeks later…]

Parineeta Classic: Meena Kumari and Ashok KumarJulie M:  Old love stories are the best, aren’t they? I watched the Bimal Roy film Parineeta (The Fiancee, 1953) over the past few days, and somehow, even though it was from 1953, it felt fresh. And this was my first extended experience with the luminous Meena Kumari and the fabulous screen chemistry she had with Ashok Kumar.

Jenny K:  Didn’t I lend you Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet?  Guru Dutt directed her in one of her most iconic roles!  Lots of undeserved female devotion in this film, too.  It would fit right into this week’s theme, but, no spoilers!  Definitely in the next shipment, you’ll love her in that one.  It’s on Youtube for free, but the captions are really odd. 

Julie M: In Parineeta, Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphan living with her uncle and his large family of all daughters. The middle-class family has recently fallen on hard times, her uncle having mortgaged all he had in order to marry off his eldest daughter and now unable to pay back the loan. The loan is held by his wealthy next-door-neighbor, a professional moneylender, whose family is longtime friends with Lalita’s uncle’s brood. The moneylender secretly does not want the loan repaid, as he wants to collect on the house and give it to his recently returned son Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), who is of marriageable age (as is Lalita).

Lalita and Shekhar’s neighbor-friendship turns to love and a secret promise to marry.  Here’s a clip of the moment just after Shekhar playfully places the bridal garland around her neck; ironically, her little cousin is at the same time commanding all to participate in a mock bridal ceremony for her dolls. 

Jenny K:  Wow!  The lyrics to that song sort of sum up Lalita’s entire outlook on love and marriage, don’t they?

In the novella the movie is based on, by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, that little girl would have been a more likely Lalita than Meena.  The girl in the story was thirteen, whereas both Shekhar and Giren/Girish were schoolmates, both 24.  So when Shekhar drops the garland playfully around Lalita’s neck and then kissed her, would it be unreasonable for her to think she was married?  This was written in the early twentieth century when child marriage was still legal in India.

Julie M:  Oooh, good point.  Not having read the novella I didn’t know that. It did seem awfully weird that Lalita would assume that she was already married when even Shekhar didn’t think that.

Parineeta Updated: Vidya, Saif and SanjuJenny K:  Knowing that adds much more sense to the story than any of the adult behavior in these movies, yours and the 2005 version that I rewatched recently, starring Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan and Sanjay Dutt.  Even given its shift to the 1960’s, the plots are very similar.  Please continue.

Julie M: Just then another handsome and wealthy–but lower-caste–young man, Giren (Asit Baran), enters the picture. Giren falls in love with Lalita and offers to give Lalita’s uncle the money he needs to pay off his debt, then when Shekhar’s father becomes enraged at his plans being thwarted and cuts off contact, offers to move the entire family to one of his homes far away. Lalita’s uncle is grateful and half-promises Lalita to Giren in marriage. Lalita feels she cannot refuse, and Shekhar picks a fight with her, saying she has allowed herself to be sold. After they have left his marriage to another girl is fixed by his family while he pines for Lalita, realizing that his own actions have driven her away but seemingly helpless to do anything about it. 

Jenny K:  In the 2005 version, Lalita (Vidya) helps to confuse the matter by nobly/idiotically keeping most of her family turmoil away from sensitive musician Shekhar’s (Saif’s) tender ears.  She thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if he found out what a louse his father was. Seems Daddy Dear had hatched this major plot to turn the neighbor’s immense if neglected haveli into a “Heritage Hotel” when he foreclosed on the unsuspecting family.  Ignorance of her motives, plus confusion over her marital state,  makes Shekhar’s mistakes more forgivable… if still stupid.  And it does give them an excuse for a wonderfully poignant love song in the latter half of the film.

Julie M:  Will family honor and gratitude win out over true love? Will Lalita ever stand up for herself? Will Shekhar finally grow a pair and claim his original bride? You pretty much know the answer (no, not really and yes but not in the way you think) but how it plays out is heartfelt.  Giren is a real stand-up guy and under normal circumstances Lalita would have been perfectly happy to end up with him, and why she holds out for the volatile and coddled Maa’s-boy Shekhar is beyond me. Still, if you buy into the entire premise it’s a fascinating movie and provides a good look into Indian culture and values.

Jenny K:  Guess we’re just looking at things through today’s eyes, but am I wrong, or isn’t the ever-hesitating rich boy lover a staple in Bengali literature and film…can we say Devdas (same author)?

Julie M:  You know, the entire time I kept thinking Devdas but thought I was crazy.  Thank you for confirming my mania.

Jenny K:  And Rabindranath Tagore was full of stories of unappreciated, lonely wives/widows as in Choker Bali, put on film in a faithful if plodding version by Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai.  And how’bout  Paroma by Aparna Sen!  The beautiful melancholy must seep into the Bengali blood along with the humidity of the Hooghly River.

Julie M:  I think you’re on to something with the Bengali cultural comments.  The 2005 version of Parineeta went to great extremes to locate the story in Bengal right from the first shot…with Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely voice…

Comparing Roja and Parineeta is fairly obvious.  Both of them have heroines who refuse to give up on their men, believing that they will come back to them.  Things don’t seem to have changed in India in the 40 years between these movies…women are given in marriage against their will, strangers fall in love, and so forth.  Financial difficulties in 1953 turn into terrorist threats in 1992, and Roja is more active in removing the obstacles between her and her true love while Lalita seems content to just wait things out, confident that eventually her love will return to her.  So I guess there has been some progress after all.

Roja Rescues Her Man
Jenny K:
  Well, I’d hope so, but professional victimization always seems to come back in fashion, even in today’s supposedly more modern times.  In my own life, I’ve seen too many women believe the fiction handed down to them that they can’t cope without a man.  Thank God for Bryn Mawr, and my parents, of course…that I was slower to feel that pressure, but you always have to keep telling yourself and your daughters that, to keep it fresh and in the forefront.

Poor little orphan Lalita didn’t have much of a chance to change her fate, and she just lucked into a happy ending at the last minute.  She had a better option with Sanjay’s Girish, but was already “wedded” to her choice by then.  Hope it worked out for her after the final reel.

But with all the inherent flaws of literary adaptation, I did like Saif and Vidya’s version.  It’s a lovely period piece, with great warm shots of Kolkata.  Plus the acting is uniformly good.  It was Vidya’s first film, and she more than held her own with Saif and Sanjay.  Sanju’s part was smallish, but his Girish is a lovely guy and is quite endearing in this, particularly at the “meet cute” as the supposed electrician.  And, though I have been notably tough on Saif Ali Khan in his attempts at assaying a romantic role, in this one he does very well.  Perhaps I just like him more in an angry role than as a callow youth or a funny Romeo.

Julie M: In the 1953 version I’m not sure she really “lucked” into anything.  She seemed to have a bit more agency than luck—in fact, there’s a very Roja-anticipatory scene at the end.  Spoiler alert:  Lalita actually refused Giren so he marries her sister/cousin.  We find that out at the same time that Shekhar does, and it’s a delicious twist that almost makes the whole film.  (end spoiler)  I tend to agree with you on Saif; his romantic roles are best when he’s not set up as the romantic hero but cast as the Giren-ish character.

Jenny K: Or in an all out villain role like the Iago role in Omkara…a Saif tour de force!

Ending on a non-sequitur…Version 2005 has an item number with Rekha in it, onstage at the Moulin Rouge (seems it’s a multi-city franchise), that still irritates me, eight years after I saw it in the theater. Another uncredited musical lift…this one from Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”  Why this is still happening?  Use it if you like, but why not credit it? Shame on you, Shantanu Moitra.

Rekha vs. Satchmo:  Compare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[a day or two later]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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