November 11, 2014: Happy New Year (er, Veteran’s Day)!

So here it is:  the Happy New Year post!  Jenny and Julie both saw this one, and had some very different (and somewhat unpredictable) reactions.

First, the trailer:

Julie’s plot summary:  The action begins in the glitz and glamour of Dubai (city of lights, apparently!), at the World Dance Championships, where the Indian team is mysteriously missing.  Then we zoom backwards in time about six months to a mud-wrestling pit, where, in glorious slo-mo, we watch a buffed and ripped small man and a large, bald and slightly blubbery man whale on each other, until, from the left and right, water comes in to spray the mud off the small man to reveal…Charlie (Shah Rukh Khan), our lead and narrator, and apparently a professional fighter (you can bet that will come in handy later).

Jenny K: Oh, I actually missed the first fifteen minutes, so I missed the mud wrestling scene…that must have been what Kathy was giggling about.  But nothing about Dubai attracted me…the film actually worked on me as an anti-travel plug for the city. Too darn prefabbed and uber-glitzy for me, by half.

Julie M: Out of context in the beginning—yeah, but I didn’t mind it so much later.  Anyway, Charlie has an axe to grind:  his father (Anupam Kher) was framed by Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff) for stealing a fortune in diamonds and is imprisoned, and after 8 years the opportunity to avenge him has presented itself. He gathers a handpicked team to pull off the caper of the millennium:  Tammy (Boman Irani), a lisping safecracker, irresistible to the ladies but with an unfortunate side effect of extreme stress; special effects expert Jag (Sonu Sood), who can go ab-to-ab with Charlie but is deaf in one ear and sensitive about his mother; Jag’s nephew Rohan (Vivaan Shah), a painfully shy, teenage hacker extraordinaire; and drunken simpleton Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), who seems to have no redeeming qualities except his physiognomy, which isn’t particularly handsome but is usefully familiar—a dead ringer for Grover’s son (double-role!).

Jenny K:  Oh, is that was Jag’s line of work was…must have missed that, too.  Thought he was just on board as “Ab Competitor” for SRK’s scary new torso.

Happy-New-Year-2014-Shahrukh-Khan-and-Sonu-Sood-300x250

Julie M: Despite their flaws (character and other) the team actually has the skills to pull off the heist, except the most important part: they need to learn how to dance, and fast.  Enter Nandu’s childhood friend Mohini (Deepika Padukone), a high-class bar dancer with a predilection for hearing men speak English, whom they engage to whip the boys into good enough shape to become a contender to represent India at the World Dance Championships in Dubai.

Why is this necessary?  Coincidentally, the contest is being held at the same hotel where the loot is being safeguarded and they need to be contestants to make the plan work.   Through a little hacker magic they end up where they need to be, but they immediately anger the reigning dance champions, the North Korean team (whaaaaa?), not to mention Charan, either of whom has the power to turn Charlie’s well-laid plans to vapor and take our little gang out for good.

Jenny K: I thought that North Korea was chosen, because it’s the only isolated power that isn’t currently in popularity with enough of the world to raise objection.  Who knows…Synopsis behind us, on to the reactions.  I was afraid that you, being the more serious minded of the two Filmi-Goris, would find it tediously frivolous and full of holes, plot-wise. Even I did, somewhat, and spent lots of time distracted as SRK’s blonde streak moved about his hair from scene to scene. Not to say that I found nothing interesting about it, but I could have missed it and not have been at all bereft.

Julie M:  Frivolous and full of holes, sure, but definitely not tedious.  I had a great time!

Jenny K:  SRK looks good, and is in top charming conman mode.  Deepika is lovely and a wonderful dancer, again. Boman is comedy pro, as usual, but I was distracted by the accent he chose, that one that I call the “paan-in-mouth” one. Abhi used it in Bunty aur Babli once or twice, but I don’t like a full movie of it. Jackie Shroff makes a smooth, if underused, villain, and I was glad to see him back. Abhi has the comedic double role that you mentioned, and he pulls it off pretty well, but it was really very slapstick, which, as you know, always leaves me rather cold. Sonu Sood is given the thankless role of comic muscle-bound sidekick, a la early Salman Khan…not much more to say about him than that, I’m afraid. Vivaan Shah was better in 7 Khoon Maaf, but didn’t fall on his face.

Julie M: I liked the way the direction played with Sonu Sood’s abs and the typical Salman Khan “oops, I’ve lost my shirt” bit that always seems to happen in his films.  I always find that the most charming part of a SK film.

Sonu-Sood

Jenny K:  I also didn’t like that they keep trying to mix their genres so much, trying to give all SRK fans what they want from him. You could see all Farah’s influences in there, having Shah Rukh be Tom Cruise in MI 4, Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven and Jackie Chan in multiple films, then putting bits of all of India’s favorite SRK classics in there, too. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi with its dance team competition, bits of the Don franchise, touches of the charm and romance of K3G and KKHH, but without Kajol to help pull it off. I just wish Farah had picked a genre and knocked it out of the park, as I know she can, rather than trying to give us thin multiples, none of which really succeed.

Julie M:  I see your point, and checked all the references too, but I read it as parody.  In fact, I found so much parody in the film that may or may not have been intentional, but it was still funny. The comedic bits (the repetition of “the two things you need to know about X”, for example, and the knowing wink about the “intro” numbers for each, including the intro of Abhi’s character which was way too much like the way Ranveer Singh’s characters have been introduced in his last couple of films) varied for me from slightly humorous to fall-on-the-floor laughing, but overall were pretty funny, particularly as the film went on. But Abhi did not handle the comedy as well as we know he can (Bunty aur Babli, Dostana), although it was OK for someone who doesn’t know how good he can be, and the dance numbers, although very glitzy, were uninspired until the very last one.

abhishek bachchan happy new year

Jenny K: Actually, you reminded me about that “two things” bit….I thought it sounded familiar to me at the time, what with BigB doing a lot of the intoning, and I think I’ve tracked it down to these quotes from Bunty aur Babli, that they are saluting in the HNY film. “There are two types of people in this world…”  I’d have to see the movie again to be sure, but I’d bet that they were very close to that pattern.

Julie M:  I bet you’re right—but to introduce the characters, it’s very effective.  We learned to expect hilarious character flaws. With all the setup, the possibilities for comedy are endless, and pretty much all of them are employed.  Gravity-defying and farce-filled fight scenes?  Check.  Fart jokes?  Check.  Pratfalls?  Check.  Awkward dance moves?  Definitely check. (Look for a brief but enthralling flash of Prabhu Deva as one of the dance teachers who give up on them before they find Mohini.)  In lesser hands this could have been wince-inducing, but I think Farah Khan excels at directing zany comedies filled with varying levels of parody and multiple winks at Bollywood (and SRK in particular) tropes old and new.  The result, I found, was hilarious.  I left the theater feeling happy and entertained and satisfied…for about three hours, until all the plot holes came home to roost and I started to realize that although there was a lot to like, and ultimately yes, I did like it, there were some issues as well.

Why bring Jag into the gang when there are absolutely no special effects aspects (aside from some really bad disguises) to the plan?  How can Mohini—admittedly poor and desperate for the money her bar dancing gig gives her—take 6 months off to train a bunch of losers, even if one of them has great abs and speaks fluent English?  Charan is clearly a smart, suave guy: how could he overlook the ONE detail that allows a plan like Charlie’s to work?  And why, oh why, is the music, peppy as it is, so freaking DERIVATIVE?

The key to enjoying a film like this, clearly, is not to think too hard about it. Leave your brain at the door and grab the popcorn.

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October 9, 2012: A Midlife Catharsis

Jenny K:  I know I’ve been on a jag recently, touting the charms of the almost-thirty set of heroes, so now I want to put on the brakes and celebrate the possibility of age appropriate (read “Over 40”) romances.  They are out there, one just has to hunt for them a bit…and some of them are worth the extra trouble.

First on my list of Netflix “Meant-2-Watch” films, was Main Aurr Mrs Khanna (2009). I remember hearing about this film in connection with Aamir and Kareena, something about Aamir dropping it for reasons unreported.  Having now watched it…I don’t blame him at all.  Here’s the trailer. 

Now, our hero in this one, Salman Khan, is definitely over 40, deny it as he will, but his heroine, Kareena Kapoor…not exactly an equal match, shall we say.  Salman plays Samir Khanna, who falls in love with an un-surnamed orphan, Raina (Kareena) and in the unexplainable attraction of woman to goofy-man-child, she marries him. Maybe it’s just because he offers her his last name for her missing one. Almost immediately we cut from their “idyllic” married life, to the effects of job-loss on Samir’s ego. He tells her she must go back to live with his parents in India (why?), and leave their home in Melbourne, because the only place he can get a job now is in Singapore, and his ego can’t seem to bear her sticking by him and watching him struggle.

She, of course, resents his settling her fate without a word to her, and she digs in her heels at the airport and just doesn’t get on the plane. She vows to stay in Australia and wait for him, and somewhere, somehow, she’ll get a job and support herself. Brave girl…sniff sniff…With Salman all but out for the middle three-fifths of the film, Raina must find another savior, and turns to a random cafe-wallah, played by Sohail Khan (who also directed this fiasco) who falls instantly in love with her and vows to win her confidence and love. Even though he knows she’s married and in love with her husband. Creep.

Julie M:  Salman and Kareena.  Hmm, an odd couple indeed.  I never thought they went well together, even in the superhit Bodyguard.  Well, probably a good thing that they spend most of the film apart, then.

Jenny K:  The rest of the plot doesn’t really need to be summarized. You’ve seen it all before, yet I must remark on how calm Salman/Samir seems when he gets the news that in order to stay in Australia without him…

Stupidity Alert…..I mean spoiler alert…spoiler alert…yeah right….

Raina agrees with her new friends that she must lie to her host country and all concerned and marry Sohail so she has her valid work visa. Never mind that she’s ALREADY MARRIED?!?!? Not that they “did anything” of course…even though we’ve established that Sohail’s character has very sketchy morals in the first place.

A few good looks for Salman after he gets over being a goofy kid and dons a saintly mystique along with his bad luck…and a nice song…by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are pretty much all that recommend it. Skip.

Julie M: Sohail Khan…that’s Salman’s brother, right, the one whom you hate and whom I didn’t think was so bad in Hello, an otherwise execrable movie? Maybe he just looked good in comparison to the drivel that was the rest of it.

Jenny K:  No, I definitely don’t recommend Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna. Yes, Sohail is Salman’s brother, but if I have to watch one of them, Arbaaz is always more watchable, though he seems to specialize in psychopaths. The only film that I’ve enjoyed Sohail in was an extended cameo he and Arbaaz did in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, which if you haven’t watched, you should. Imraan Khan’s first film. Sweet. Youtube here.

Julie M: Salman with a ponytail…LIKE. Like a LOT.

[a few days later]

Julie M: I’m back! Because I could not get out to see either Rowdy Rathore or Joker, I decided to get a silly Akshay Kumar comedy fix with Singh Is Kinng (2008). It actually was pretty good–escapist, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. As a taste…here’s the fantastic number in the beginning of the film that reaffirms how wonderful Akshay’s movies can be.

Punjabi villager Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a sweet, helpful, well-meaning man around whom things tend to go horribly wrong, to everyone’s dismay and Happy’s obliviousness. Here’s the opening scene that establishes Happy’s character as a disaster in a kurta. 

After a number of years of Happy’s causing (comic) mayhem and destruction the villagers decide to move him along, and concoct a ruse to send him to Australia (what is it about Australia?) to retrieve the long-absent son of the village headman. Trouble is, this son is Lucky “The King” Singh, a notorious and brutal don (played by Sonu Sood, whom we see far too little of past the first third of the film), and Happy would be lucky to get away with his life. Problem solved, the villagers think.

So Happy departs with his friend Rangeela (Om Puri), whose only value to the endeavor is that he knows English, only there’s a mixup at the airport and they end up in Egypt, not Australia. While they are waiting for their correct flight Happy wanders off to sightsee and ends up saving a young woman Sonia (Katrina Kaif) from a robbery, and spends the day with her. Of course he falls in love with her, but since they are off to Australia he will never meet her again. Or will he?

Jenny K:  Same gender/age scenario, again!   I know it is almost a given in today’s Bollywood (and the rest of filmdom), that our forty-something hero is immediately irresistible to any and all twenty-something females, but can’t there be (somewhere!) a similarly-aged female object of their desire?  It’s getting more and more frustrating from my point of view.  Sorrry, baaack to the Kinng.

Julie M: May I point you to a little movie you sent to me called Cheeni Kum…anyway…

Jenny K:  [backpedaling] Heck, Jule, the rules don’t apply to Amitabh!  It’s a given that he is still attractive to any and all female age groups, as is Naseerji…sigh…okay, okay, go on with the synopsis.

Julie M: Upon arrival in Australia they look up Lucky and go to convince him to come back to see his dying (so they think) father. Lucky and his entourage give them the brush-off and that is that…Happy and Rangeela again find themselves in a foreign country with no luggage and waiting for their plane home. They get separated and Happy meets Rosie (Kirron Kher), a down-on-her luck florist originally from a village near his, who takes him in, feeds him and gives him a job to earn his meals. Enjoy this clip of the meeting between Happy and Rosie: Kirron Kher is the best “cool mom” in Bollywood. 

During his first task he runs into Lucky and the gang, and through typical Happy circumstances a skirmish with a rival gang breaks out and Lucky becomes paralyzed. Another mix-up or two later and Happy ends up taking the kingpin’s place as the head of the organization. More mix-ups, and it turns out that Sonia is Rosie’s daughter, Rosie has to pretend she’s wealthy to impress Sonia’s fiance (Ranvir Shorey), and they all move into Lucky’s mansion where the gang members (including Lucky’s nearsighted and half-deaf brother Mika, played by Javed Jaffrey, and hanger-on Udaas, played by Yashpal Sharma) have to pretend to be servants.

Suffice it to say that the pretenses lead to hilarity, character development ensues, there is an attempted coup and Happy spreads his happy sweet magic over everyone. The climactic scene (yes, there is a chase) is actually pretty funny, not too overdone as tends to happen in Indian comedies.

Jenny K:  Ah, well, I knew someone had to like this film.  It was a pretty big hit when it came out.  I saw it in the theater.  And though it didn’t bug me as much as, say Bewaafa or Waqt, SIK left me pretty cold, as per usual.  Glad you got something from it.

Julie M: I think I was just in the right mood.  Akshay Kumar flashes his winning smile all over this one, which of course I loved, and looks great in a turban. Heck, in this he looks great in everything: in both Punjabi village clothes (which on him look like designer duds) and the actual designer clothing he wears when he assumes the King role.

The combination of comedy and action is, if not perfect, at least proportional with no comic-action scene lasting too long, as is often the case with this type of film. Katrina Kaif’s bad Hindi is excused by having her character grow up in Australia, and her two item numbers are pleasant enough if generic–nothing smashing, she looks cute, let’s move on. Beautiful scenery in Egypt and Australia, and for once the requisite love-among-the-ruins song actually makes sense. Best thing about it is that they are dancing in front of Deir El-Bahri, my favorite Egyptian mortuary temple, and in the Karnak temple. Doesn’t make any sense since they were supposed to have landed in Cairo and Luxor/Valley of the Kings is like 300 miles away, but I give them credit for at least not randomly zooming over to Switzerland.

Javed Jaffrey plays a double role as Mika and as Sonia’s fiance’s father; in a clever nod to the dual-role trope, all of the characters recognize the resemblance but it does not become part of the actual plot. A rap duet between Akshay and Snoop Dogg over the closing credits is mediocre at best, but Javed is his own playback singer in one number, which is unfortunately rap-based but not at all annoying for that.

Verdict: an extremely pleasant time-pass if you are in the mood for silliness, with a great cast, and nothing for Akshay to be embarrassed about.

Jenny K:  Finally!  Relief for my complaints is here!  I recently got to the theaters to see the Boman Irani/Farah Khan love story Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012). I went just for pure curiosity to see how Farah Khan would do in her acting debut, and darned if she didn’t surprise me!  She came off pretty well. The trailer is really broad humor, and so is a bit misleading.  It’s not as slapstick as it looks when you view the whole movie.

I went to see SFLTNP with my Hindi film buddies, Pat and Kathy. We’re all over 40 and so we’re really eager to support any film that shows there is life after that “extreme age” hits us. And I thought it was a rather sweet love story, while still having the slightly jaundiced view of the mature couple’s outlook on things. Pretty funny, too.

The story is of a lonely 45 year old Parsi guy, Farhad (Boman Irani) who can’t seem to find the love of his life to settle down with. He lives with his widowed mother (Daisy Irani, who steals every scene she’s in) and his grandmother (Shammi Aunty) who both dote on him. They can’t figure out why he’s still single…unless it has to do with his working as a salesman in a women’s lingerie store “the Tam Tam Bra and Panty Store” as Farhad repeatedly states to all who ask. Ya Think??  He certainly doesn’t seem too happy there. He has dreams of opening his own shop someday, and calling it UNDERWORLD. Funny guy.

Julie M:  I can just imagine Boman surrounded by ladies’ undergarments.  But go on…

Jenny K:  He meets Shirin (Farah) one day at his store when she’s there shopping, and he likes her sarcastic sense of humor and spunkiness. His mother likes her too, until it is revealed that Shirin is a Parsi official who has been targeting the illegal water tank that Farhan’s father built for them before he died. Didn’t get the permit, it seems. But when Shirin’s “cover” is blown, Mama draws the line in the sand, it’s either “THAT WOMAN” or your mother? What to do, what to do? Sneak around Mama, of course, and lots of singing and dancing.

It’s fun to see Farah dance to some of her own choreography…in “Ramba Mein Samba”, she and Boman spoof many of the Shahrukh/Kajol/Madhuri numbers that made her the choreographer to get. Very sweet…especially love the KKHH/DDLJ train scenes. Here’s that number.  and here’s the number with the slingshot that they’re spoofing from Hum Aapke Hain Koun with Madhuri and Salman, if you haven’t seen it.

On the whole, a very favorable experience, and I’m going to pooh pooh the nay-sayers who find Farah’s acting wooden. She’s more laid back than Boman (who wouldn’t be?), but I think that’s just her own personality, and it certainly felt real to me. A few plot issues, but not too bad.

A brave attempt by all concerned, and multiple chins-up, I mean thumbs-up, from this over-40 reviewer.  We ain’t dead yet, so let’s see more examples of it!

Julie M:  Hear, hear.  And as I am about to dip a toe into young love again with Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya, I will remember that not so young love is pretty awesome too.

February 23, 2012: Of Variety and Spice, Part 2

Jenny K: Continuing our progression through the wonderful variables of Hindi film, we now veer into the comedies.  I had been twisting between curiosity and dread as to what Julie would think of Khalnayak, with Sanjay Dutt at the height of his long-hair glory, paired with Madhuri Dixit in one of her least predictable and most varied roles to date.  No sweet domestic goddess here.

But to justify myself a bit…even with all the positive things I said about some of the performances, the dancing and the amazing music, I never whole-heartedly recommended it.  The film is all over the place stylistically, and I didn’t think it was in Julie’s preferred genres in any case, yet, I’ve been wrong before in second-guessing her…Pardes for example?

 

Julie M:  Per your suggestion I watched Khalnayak…love love love the “Choli Ke Peeche” number, both the original and the male gangster parody!

But overall Khalnayak struck me as a very old-fashioned film–even though it was released in 1993 it has a 1950s vibe. Through a series of circumstances a boy goes bad and turns into a gangster (Sanjay); a police commissioner (Jackie Shroff) becomes obsessed with catching him; the commissioner’s girlfriend (Madhuri), also a police officer, goes undercover to track the villain and bring him in; a mother’s heartbreak; a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to up the drama quotient; and the villain redeems himself in the end. Too melodramatic for me. I don’t know, maybe in black and white with other stars that aren’t Sanjay Dutt in bad hair it would have been better. And Anupam Kher plays the fool, which I never like to see.  Overall: meh. Madhuri Dixit was the best thing about it.

 

Jenny K:  Like I said in an earlier post, Sanjay’s sex appeal, especially with the long hair is an acquired taste.  And the film, itself is a mixed bag. You are right;  the main reason I remember Khalnayak fondly is Madhuri.  I loved her dance numbers, and I loved her spunkiness while she was “in character” as the bad-girl-dancer-on the run.

I’d love to show a clip of that scene in the restaurant where she was playing that song lyric game while trying to enthrall Sanjay’s goondah cohorts. (I can’t remember its name…Pat loves to play it. You sing a song that starts with the letter of the first letter of the last song sung, or something like that. Looks like fun if I spoke more Hindi.) But what I was saying was that I wouldn’t have even recognized Madhuri in that scene if I had seen it out of context. So different from her usual persona. And aside from the bad hair I liked Sanjay in it. The odd long stretches with him all but chest-butting Jackie in the prison were all but intolerable in an uncut form.

 

Julie M:  Yeah–two LONG fight scenes with Jackie/Sanjay were too much. And I got tired of Sanjay looking out with one eye from greasy bangs. Eccch. Eventually I just watched it on double-speed and slowed down when Madhuri came on the scene.

[Two weeks later, romantic comedy…]

Julie MMujhse Dosti Karoge? (Will You Be My Friend?, 2002) was a tear-jerker of a romance film that doesn’t break any new ground. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t a satisfying film for those who like the genre.

Here is part one of the “making of” featurette that introduces the characters.

Raj, Tina and Pooja are childhood friends (about 8 or 9 years old) when Raj moves to Englandwith his parents. Raj has a kiddie crush on Tina. They promise to write through the “new” medium of email (more on this later), but since Tina doesn’t have a computer, he addresses his letters to her in care of Pooja. Tina is immediately bored with the prospect of a long-distance friendship, so for the next 15 years Raj (Hrithik Roshan) and Pooja (Rani Mukherji), in Tina’s name, correspond and fall in love. When Raj comes back for a visit, he starts wooing Tina (Kareena Kapoor) in person while Pooja looks on in hurt disappointment. Although eventually Raj realizes that Pooja really wrote the letters, he has already started an important relationship with Tina.  A tragedy and a couple of engagements bring the situation to a head.

 

Jenny K:  Every time someone refers to this film, I’m not sure I have seen it before…then I look at the clips and say, “oh yeah, I did see it…I must have forgotten.”  Sort of sums it all up for me, I’m afraid.  More of the same-old same-old.

Julie M:  The three big stars all do their jobs well (Kareena being her typical annoying self), and it’s clear that the Yash Raj producers wanted this to be an emotionally-equivalent follow-up to K3G (2001), which had included all of them. Hrithik doesn’t dance as much in this as one would want, but there are lingering shots on his handsome face and he definitely brings the moves. The action was definitely soap-opera-ish and the songs fairly forgettable, and even bringing Uday Chopra in for an extended cameo as Rohan, Pooja’s intended, doesn’t revive it. But, again, for fans of long, drawn-out, post-interval melodrama, it works.

 

Jenny K:  Now, let me get this straight…you think of Uday’s appearance as a film-saver?  Have you been spending time with Kathy behind my back???  Finding him endearing is really the exception to the rule, for me.

 

Julie M:  Well, he is a filmi-child…but I don’t think as badly of him as you do.  He was a cute comic sidekick in Dhoom and Dhoom 2, and he really can dance.  He can’t help who his family is. Give the poor guy a break! (But still, not upset that he’s retiring.)

The high point is definitely the song medley performed at Pooja and Rohan’s engagement party, featuring classic film numbers that have lyric subtexts appropriate to the MDK plot and reproducing the original choreography (in so much as was possible).

Hrithik’s aping of the “dance” stylings of Amitabh Bachchan in the “Pardesia” number was spot-on, and the medley shamelessly called back to the defining songs of each of the star couple’s breakout films: Kaho Na…Pyaar Hai (Hrithik) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Rani). It was so good that I returned to it after the film to re-watch it–no kidding–four times.

I also thought it was a crazy inside joke the way they named the characters. Calling Rani, who played the Tina character in KKHH, Pooja and calling Kareena, who played the Pooja character in K3G, Tina, was bound to elicit either squeals of joy or, in my case, groans of disgust, from fans. And this song, which introduces the grown-up Raj character, starts out JUSTLIKE his entrance in KNPH:

Finally, here’s my rant on the email plot device.  The film takes place in 2002, right? Which means, the first scene, when they’re kids, takes place 15 years prior, in 1987. Email in 1987 was very rudimentary and, unless you were a government professional or included in a business network, practically unavailable. Eudora, the first mass-market email program that made email easy to read and send over PCs regardless of what network they were on, was not introduced until 1988. So unless the families were extremely cutting-edge (Raj’s father seems to have been, because the reason for them moving away was to start a high-tech company in the West, but the others make fun of him for jumping on what is essentially unproven “fad” technology), they really would not be emailing to each other. But when does reality matter in these films?

 

Jenny K:  Oh, dear…didn’t I warn you about slamming your head against continuity/reality issues in Bollywood films?  You’ll just give yourself a headache and ranter’s cramp in your typing digits.

 

Julie M:  Verdict: watch MDK if you like the actors, appreciate cute inside jokes and love dramatic true-love-with-obstacles film plots. It wasn’t a waste of my time (watching Hrithik never is!) but it wasn’t necessarily a prime use of it either. The film is available for $2.99 on-demand on YouTube.

[and to wind us up, the next week…back to a sweet surrender, sorta…]

Julie MSorry, Bhai! (Sorry, Brother! 2008) is a pretty and low-key family drama with an unexpected ending. Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi play the modern parents of a small, close-knit family that includes two sons, stockbroker Harsh (Sanjay Suri) and scientist Siddharth (Sharman Joshi). As the story begins it is Siddharth’s wedding day, which occasions a flashback to 11 years previous when the family has traveled to attend the imminent marriage of Harsh to Aaliyah (Chitrangada Singh) on the island of Mauritius, where they both live.

As preparations are being made Harsh is involved in a work crisis, which throws Aaliyah together with his family, particularly Siddharth. As Mom struggles to learn to like her future daughter-in-law, Siddharth and Aaliyah fall in love. Once the triangle is out in the open, how the family deals with the revelation is the true heart of the film. The ending is warm and emotional without being maudlin (yes, I did mist up).  This song from the film serves as a good teaser. 

While I am not generally a fan of this type of story, I found myself gradually falling under its spell. It’s slow to start (I was nearly comatose during the first 45 minutes), but the depth of feeling between the characters builds to just the right amount, and the gorgeous Mauritius scenery was perfect for the winter blahs. The best part of the film, however, is the charming marital jodi of Boman and Shabani. They are completely adorable together and make the perfect couple. I couldn’t decide if I wanted Irani’s character more as my life partner or my dad.

If you like not-very-dramatic, realistic stories about sweet, romantic love, you’ll enjoy this film. I liked it well enough—2/5 for me.

December 1, 2011: A Suitable Boy suits me fine

I just spent the last month reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, 1400+ pages long, ten years in its writing and finally published in 1993.  I selected it because a) although not an award-winner it’s an English language classic  b) I love epic novels and c) it’s about India.  As a piece of literature it is unparalleled for both its scope and characterizations, and for Bollywood addicts it will seem both familiar and highly explanatory.  A novel like this can provide insights into culturally-driven motivations that no film, even the most melodramatic ones, could handle.  I simply adored it.

The time period is 1951-52 and the setting is (primarily) the fictional state of Purva Pradesh, in the the fictional city of Brahmpur, a large university town along the Ganges that seems to be a couple of days’ train ride to both Lucknow and the “big city” of Calcutta.  The story centers on three extended and interrelated upper-middle-class families–the Mehras, the Kapoors and the Chatterjis–and their friends, the family of the Nawab of Baitar (the Khans).  Every character in every family, as well as several of their friends, acquaintances and bosses, gets a narrative arc.  Some of the tales are poignant, such as feckless and citified Maan Kapoor’s sojourn in a rural village where he learns some key life lessons, and a tragedy that befalls a young character during a religious festival.  Some are joyful–I loved the story of Savita Mehra Kapoor’s pregnancy and birth experience.  And, frankly, some of the narratives, particularly those discussing finance, verge on boring.   Seth even inserts himself, as a character writing a very long and meandering novel.

Although the thread tying the novel together is Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s search for a suitable boy for her youngest child, Lata, to marry, it

Author Vikram Seth

actually ranges very widely from city to rural village, from politics to academia to industry, to religion and cultural customs, to fashion and movies and literature and food and gardening and law enforcement and astrology and…you get the picture.  In fact, I can’t think of anything that isn’t addressed in some form in the novel.  Love, or rather, marriage, is the book’s central theme, with Lata accumulating no less than three suitors and proposals and trenchantly observing several other marriages for clues as to which choice will be best for the life which she intends to lead.  (interestingly–the choice of no-choice does not occur to her despite several unmarried-woman role models)  Who will she choose?  Will it be Amit Chatterji, the published writer ten years her senior but with whom she has so much in common?  Or will her mother’s preference prevail–the up-and-coming shoe executive Haresh Khanna who has not a few personality flaws?  Or will Lata follow her heart and marry Kabir Durrani, a fellow college student who is the one boy her family has deemed completely off-limits to her because of his religion?

Calcutta, c. 1950

Even though translating this novel to the silver screen would be absolutely impossible, I could see it done on television as a mini-series.  In fact, it was released as an episodic, five-hour  BBC radio play in 2002 with some actors Bollywood fans might recognize:  Boman Irani, Roshan Seth, Rahul Bose and Ayesha Dharkar.

But as a novel it’s as entertaining and diverting as Bollywood’s best.  Described by most readers as “Jane Austen meets Tolstoy,” A Suitable Boy will likely excite devotees of the Yash Raj imprimateur, stuffed as it is with cultural mores, wicked characterizations (Meenakshi Chatterji Mehra is hilarious in her social-climbing vacuousness, a perfect match for her husband Arun Mehra’s Anglified snob), oh-no-she-didn’t gossip, affairs, secret identities and several instances of unrequited love (some of them hideously tragic) before the inevitable happy ending.  There are even song interludes–or rather, poetry interludes that serve the same purpose as filmi songs.  One can have a great deal of fun casting the novel as a film from among current stars, and in fact I would encourage it to make the book come even more alive.  There is even a bit of film fandom:  the characters are obsessed with the current film release, the Nargis/Dilip Kumar starrer Deedar, which has been showing to packed audiences for months and its songs are on everyone’s lips.  This movie is described in the novel as being so emotional that it makes grown men sob uncontrollably, and has “…an unusually tragic ending, but one which did not make one wish to tear the screen apart or set fire to the theater.”  In fact, it is so popular that the ticket-buying queue retaliates on an annoying woman by blurting out the ending, spoiling it for her.   In short–it’s the perfect movie. (watch it online free here, unfortunately without subtitles)

And for those who completely fall in love with A Suitable Boy and want more, rest assured that Seth is working on a sequel called A Suitable Girl, set in modern-day India and nominally concerned with 80-year-old Lata’s search for a match for her grandson.  Even though it’s set to publish in 2013, look for it in…oh…2020 or so.  (I’m so mean)

Calcutta beauties, c. 1950

Oct. 20, 2011: On The Table ~ The Middle Age Spread

Jenny K:  Since we had been talking literature adaptations recently, I ran across and decided to watch Such a Long Journey (1998) on Netflix the other day, an adaptation of Rohinton Mistry’s (author of A Delicate Balance) 1991 novel. Frankly, I picked it out for the cast; Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Roshan Seth. Even a young Ranjeet Chawdhry (The Last Holiday, Bollywood/Hollywood) has a great cameo as a talented street artist. Yet with all that talent, the actors seemed to have been encouraged not to shine, to be as ordinary as possible.  Here’s a typical scene, with Roshan Seth and his family not really relating.   

If they wanted to show the dark and dismal everyday side of contemporary Indian life…this movie has it in spades. Poor Gustad (Roshan Seth). His life is one long frustration. He works at a drab bank, with drab people, they have ordinary drab conversations. He and most of his friends have everyday hopes and dreams for their families and lives, but none of them seem to come true. His wife, Dilnavaz (yes, the Ice Candy Man’s name in Earth…which kept throwing me off… I thought it was a man’s name), played by Soni Razdan is faded and almost drab, too.  She’s worn out by how hard they have to work for so little…and her husband’s optimism just irks her when it shows up, as in the episode where he brings home a live chicken, so she can cook it “fresh” like his grandmother used to do. His son, Sohrab (Vrajesh Hirjee) hates his life and how his family is pushing him to be an engineer…and that’s the upbeat part of the film. Really, here’s another typical clip…at least he’s getting out a bit with a co-worker.

Julie M:  From what I know about Mistry as a writer, he idles at dark and dismal.  There are particular political backdrops in his books that are important to know about, and the whole point of his books seems to be the extra chaos politics causes on regular people who are just trying to live their lives amid all the other non-politics-related stuff that happens.  Such a Long Journey is from the time period of the big India-Pakistan war—same war as in Border—and although I’ve not read it (I’m going to have to now, though) I can bet it’s a similar “you are there” total-immersion experience like A Fine Balance was for the Emergency period.  The clips at least show it to be highly realistic.

Jenny K:  Yeah, he’s a one-man antidote to the Bollywood feel-good film glut.  But the way films are going these days, there’s a shortage of those films now.  Pessimism is the new Peppy in film USPs. 

But back to the film, to put a cherry on the top of my disappointment, Naseerji’s character (my main reason for watching) is just there peripherally.  He’s an almost mythical character who rescued Gustad from a car accident (that we see in flashbacks) and involves him with Om and some probably fictional espionage dealing with the Bengali Resistance, Indira Ghandi and the Pakistani problems of the 1970’s.  So, the big guns are there for so few scenes (except Mr. Seth, of course) that it scarcely merits their being in the credits. The plot twists about this resistance movement are really convoluted, too and neither Pat (my co-pilot in tedium) nor I really understood all the nuances of it in the first place. So, in spite of the cast, and the atmospheric cinematography, I can’t really recommend it…even if Roger Ebert really liked it.

Julie M:  Actually, from your description and the clips this seems like something I might like.  It’s a Canadian production, so it seems designed for Western audiences.  The big question is:  book or movie first? I probably shouldn’t have looked at the clips…now I’ll imagine Roshan Seth instead of whoever my brain chooses to put there…

Weird that while you were watching Such a Long Journey, I also watched a film about a drab man, but mine was much more uplifting than yours seems to have been.  Khosla ka Ghosla (“Khosla’s Nest”, 2006) is a low-key, low-budget dramedy about working together as a family to achieve your dreams.

K.K. Khosla (Anupam Kher) is a fairly milquetoast, middle-classDelhi salaryman, close to retirement, who has just spent his life savings to buy a plot of land on which to build a dream house for his family. His family is a tad dysfunctional—I would say more disconnected than an actively bad family—the film opens with K.K.’s dream sequence that he has died and his family barely notices, being tied up in their own concerns literally over his white-wrapped and flower-bedecked corpse.  But they grudgingly humor him in his obsession with the plot and the dream house.  His family is his wife, older son Bunty (Ranvir Shorey), younger son Cherry (Parvin Dabas), and an unmarried adult daughter. Bunty is of an entrepreneurial temperament but hasn’t seemed to actually start a business yet, while Cherry is a gainfully employed software engineer who, unbeknownst to his family, has arranged a new job in New York and is about to emigrate.

Jenny K:  This is a complete non-sequitur, and I don’t expect an answer, but…was Anupam Kher ever young?  I’ve been watching for almost ten years now, and have gone a ‘fer piece back in my viewing, and he’s always looked the same.  Villain or nice guy, lawyer or teacher…always with the balding head and the lovely warm, weary eyes.  The portrait of perennial middle-age.  I wonder if he regrets never being thought of as a bankable romantic lead in a film?  I mean, without it being a comedy riff, like in KKHH.  He’s such a good actor; he could probably pull it off creditably.

Julie M:  On the day the plot is to be consecrated, the family discovers that a squatter has walled it off and claimed it as his own. Here is that scene, which beautifully shows the characters of K.K. and his sons (no subtitles, sorry):

[The writing on the wall means “Don’t pee on the wall!”]

The squatter is Kishan Khurana (Boman Irani), a wealthy and powerful developer. K.K. returns to the property agent, who encourages them to visit Khurana to clear up the “misunderstanding.” Khurana offers to vacate the land upon payment of half the Khoslas’ purchase price, which the Khoslas cannot afford. They complain to the police, who are in Khurana’s pocket and merely laugh off the complaint. Trying to resolve the situation through the legal system only leads to more frustration. 

Having exhausted standard methods to resolve the situation, the family turns to more creative ideas. Bunty’s brute-force plan ultimately lands K.K. in jail, so Cherry (on very short time due to the impending emigration) reluctantly gets involved. He comes up with an idea featuring his friend Meghna (Tara Sharma) and her theater troupe: con Khurana with a fake land deal and use the mobster’s own money to pay him off. There are of course complications, mainly resulting from the nervousness of the con’s star character who must play a wealthy and sophisticated NRI. Here’s a clip of one of many moments where the con almost falls apart:

I’m not going to spoil the ending but, since it’s billed as a comedy, you can generally assume that things don’t end up worse than they started out.

The acting in Khosla Ka Ghosla is wonderfully underplayed. The comedy aspect is gentle and subtle where it could have been played for huge laughs, and is the result of the viewer’s knowing people in their own lives exactly like the characters in the film. Relationships are developed in such a way that the viewer ends up loving all the characters equally, making it a true ensemble piece although the Cherry character is pretty much the focus. The family drama aspect derives from typical intergenerational conflicts: Cherry is embarrassed of his given name and his father’s traditional values, hence his desire to emigrate to a more “modern” culture (it is telling that he cuts his face out of a family portrait to use it for his US visa application), and K.K. is reluctant to rock the boat or do anything shady despite the insistence of his family that he shouldn’t stand by and be taken advantage of. Watching this family eventually pull together in the face of corruption on every level to make the patriarch’s dream come true is exceedingly charming.

Jenny K:  That last bit with Cherry’s situation reminds me a bit of the father/son dynamic in The Namesake, down to the name issue.  A universal theme, I guess.

Julie M: If I had any complaint, it is a typical one: the female characters are heartbreakingly undeveloped. We never even learn the names of K.K.’s wife and daughter, they are used so little. Meghna fares better as a character, probably due to the need for a love interest (it IS an Indian film, after all!) but given that she is supposedly an accomplished actress, it is strange that they do not think to use her at all in the con, falling back on her nervous director-boss as the ruse’s central figure.

Jenny K:  It was the same with the female characters in Such a Long Journey!  Dilnavaz was a one-emotion portrait, almost, and the only other female characters, the sweet little daughter, the sexy co-worker, the cranky upstairs neighbor, all were drawn with a very hasty brush, there only to convey their points through visual shorthand.  And don’t get me started on the little girl’s missing doll…there’s a symbol that I can’t even begin to translate, or even think about. Shudder.

Julie M:  Anupam Kher and Boman Irani turn in typically excellent performances, with Irani’s tendency to go overboard nicely held in check by the director. Parvin Dabas’ performance as Cherry was beautifully nuanced–you could tell the moment when he decided to throw his lot in with the family he thought he hated. It took me a while to place him, but eventually I recalled that loved him as the handsome NRI groom in Monsoon Wedding.

Verdict: if you love small indie American and British movies you will love this.  I sure did.

Khosla Ka Ghosla is available on YouTube with English subtitles:

Jenny K:  And Such a Long Journey will be much harder to find, unless you have Netflix, it’s only on VHS, I think…but, now that I think about it, maybe some Journeys are better left untraveled.

September 28, 2011: Amitabh ~ Changes and The Guard

Julie M:  Eklavya:  The Royal Guard…the only thing I can say is thankfully it was short (only 108 minutes), otherwise I don’t think I could have taken the high emotional level–unbroken by levity of any kind–much longer. This film plumbed just about every dramatic trick in the canon: death and mourning, secrets, loyalty and duty, father- and mother-love, admiration, jealousy, romantic love, intrigue, suspense, conspiracy, and, oddly, marksmanship. And beautiful countryside, stunning traditional costumes and jewelry (in a film set in contemporary times), and the coolest old fort ever.  Here’s the 60-second (non-subtitled, but you get the emotion) trailer:  Exciting, yeah?

Jenny K:  I liked Eklavya when I saw it in the theaters… a period visual treat.  Not that I remember that much, except for the “surprise” reveal toward the end. BigB was good, and as you said, and the cast is great, with Saif and his mother playing royalty (such a stretch!) but they did it well.  Vidya was good, as per usual, and you got to love a cast that has Boman, Sanjay, Jackie Shroff and Jimmy Shergill, who I usually like, even though he WAS in Mohabbatein. The producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra is often associated with quality productions, 3 Idiots among them.

 

Julie M:  I’d do a plot summary but there would be too many spoilers, so I’ll skip it.   The fact that the film started with a Shakespeare sonnet should have been the tip-off that the action would be very Shakespearean in its layers of plot and emotion. And it was, in spades. Amitabh Bachchan’s performance as Eklavya, the man torn between love and duty to his royal employers, was mesmerizing–I literally could not take my eyes off him. Saif Ali Khan as the young Prince was likewise excellent and mostly kept his shirt on. Vidya Balan as Saif’s almost offhand love interest did not have much to do except moon after Saif and lip-synch a pretty song, and her most dramatic speech was given as a voice-over, which I thought was a waste of a perfectly good actress.

Here’s Vidya’s song, “Chanda Re”: 

Even if you don’t understand Hindi, you can tell how dramatic and loaded the film is.  Lots packed into a short running time.

Sanjay Dutt had an all-too-brief role as the police chief who admired Eklavya at the same time he was resentful of how his family had been historically mistreated by the royal family. I think more could have been wrung out of that situation. Boman Irani was a little over-the-top, but still excellent, as the vengeful king, and Jimmy Shergill could have amped up the acting a little more as his jealous nephew–I know he’s up to it.

Normally I am not a fan of EFD, but that’s mostly because it usually takes a tiny bit of normal and perfectly understandable emotion and spins it out endlessly to no real point–we get it already. This was crazy-unusual emotion–the kind that nobody ever has to contend with in real life because, come on, who is ever in the position of having [spoiler alert]your son whom you can never acknowledge murder your beloved royal employer, and have it be your sworn duty to kill him in return? This is what movies are for, actually.

And I have to put this in even though there are no subtitles, because Saif is shirtless and for once it’s not gratuitous: 

 

Jenny K:  Not sure about that…Never seen the main celebrant shirtless in a Rajasthani funeral.  Only in the South.  Maybe it’s a Brahmin thing. 

Well, I’m glad to see you can handle Eklavya‘s EFD if given the right encouragement!   It’s occasionally worth the effort.

Julie M:  This one definitely was.  If Shakespeare would have decided to set a tragedy in India, he would have come up with something very similar to this, except in Shakespeare Eklavya would have killed himself in confusion, Saif would have been driven insane with remorse and Vidya’s character would have wailed over the end credits.

As it was, the ending was almost uplifting: [spoiler alert again] Eklavya declares his duty to be wrong (!!!), Vidya’s character forgives Saif’s character for killing his own father (!!!!!!) and Saif, throwing custom, tradition and royal protocol to the winds, publicly acknowledges Eklavya, a commoner, as his father (!!!!!). I mean, sure, it was set up that Saif felt stifled by all the tradition and custom of his homeland and position and had escaped to London to avoid it, but in that situation doesn’t the typical Indian film end with the son coming back, assuming his royal duty and realizing with pride that the old ways are there for a reason?  And the ending also seemed wrong for Sanjay’s police chief character. If he was so resentful, why would he be so happy to [spoilerscover up the misdeeds of the family who did his family bad? [end]

But despite all that, my verdict: Excellent–one of my faves.  It’s available on YouTube with English subtitles.

I couldn’t find any clips with English subtitles, and the dialogue is so important to this film—you’ll just have to watch the whole thing!

And to balance it out…as an older BigB movie, I really liked Abhimaan (Arrogance, 1973). It was weird (as always) to see Amitabh in a romantic role, but then as the film went on it all made more sense why he was cast. And he and Jaya have huge chemistry together.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this film in 2005 when Amitabh picked it as one of his twelve favorite films when Lincoln Center wanted to do a retrospective of his work. As I couldn’t go, I chose a few of them to watch and liked this one best. IMDb says that Jaya and Amitabh liked this film so much that they helped bankroll it…which must have been quite a stretch, as they had only been working in film for about five years, at most, and Zanjeer was the most famous film he’d done to date. Sholay and Deewaar hadn’t happened yet. Here’s the whole movie with subtitles for those who haven’t seen it.

 

Julie M:  Plot summary: Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is a well-known pop singer with tons of fans, nice house, doting manager/companion, and a hip wardrobe (for 1973). One day he decides to visit the aunt who raised him in the small village she lives in, and meets Uma Devi (Jaya [Bhaduri] Bachchan), the neighbor’s daughter, who also sings, albeit shyly. They fall in love, marry in the village and he takes her back to Mumbai. At their wedding celebration they sing a duet, and although Subir’s manager is excited to have them start singing together, a well-known musician warns against it. Then, of course, they are blissfully happy for a while afterwards. 

Jenny K:  I especially like the scenes with them together in the bedroom. Very sexy, without actually seeing anything. Wah, wah!  What chemistry! Lovely to see them young and in love.

Julie M:  They record a song, and it is an instant hit. They are hired together for concerts and playback, but slowly she becomes more popular than he is. Subir starts resenting her, drinking heavily and spending increasing amounts of time with his friend Chitra (Bindu), who adores him. He also quits singing in a fit of pique, but doesn’t tell her. Uma eventually realizes what’s going on and can’t watch him throw his talent away; she quits singing too and returns to her village, where she finds out she is pregnant. Ultimately she suffers a miscarriage and sinks into a deep depression, which finally rouses Subir to go and bring her home, where she doesn’t get any better.

Subir finally understands that she blames herself for his unhappiness, and realizes that the only thing that will make her happy is if he starts singing again. He hires a hall and schedules a concert–she perks up while he is on stage alone but when he starts singing their duet she bursts into tears. He brings her on stage, they finish it together, Chitra (sitting in the front row) realizes that he and Uma are made for each other, and the film ends with the audience’s applause. Here’s that final scene:

 Jenny K:  This film always reminded me of an Indian version of A Star is Born…the young wife gradually surpassing the older established husband… but with more of the religious aspect to it…and, of course, a happier ending, which actually, seemed more realistic than ASIB‘s. Beaucoup melodramatic, with James Mason walking into the waves and Judy Garland singing her solo to him onstage…”I am Mrs. Norman Maine!” Applause…Tears…Applause… I can’t believe that Karan Johar hasn’t remade this one with the genders flipped and SRK quavering that teary statement at the end of the film. Can’t you see it?

 

Julie M:  Oh, I can TOTALLY see KJ remaking ASIB. There was a whiff of that in Taal, perhaps, but to go whole hog…yes. SRK plus…who? Madhuri? Rekha?

  

Jenny K:  Would have to be someone like Rekha, who is older than SRK, if we were to do the whole gender flip thing…but I really think Dimple would be better for him…more sympathetic and believable. Madhuri is actually younger than SRK.

 

Julie M:  Anyway, I really liked this portrait of a man with a gigantic ego getting knocked down and finally learning to put that ego aside for the sake of his marriage.  Very moving—and unconventional for a man of that era—yet he is utterly convincing in all the emotions he is called upon to portray. And, as I’ve said before, ’70s fashions were made for his body type: even the most hideous shirt patterns look good on him. At one point he wears a beautiful rust-colored silk kurta over white pants that almost made me swoon.  

Have to say that this is quite the negative role for him. He is a spoiled brat, his manager is an enabler, and even though it’s part of Indian culture for men to assume women will keep the males’ needs as primary in the family, his character really fell apart when she started winning all the awards and getting the attention. One could read this as a frustrated diatribe against women’s liberation by the male establishment, but the ending is a realistic portrait of the compromises that everyone has to make in a marriage and how personal pride has to be put aside sometimes.

Also, this is only the 2nd film I’ve seen “young” Jaya in, and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that both times she played very shy and subdued characters, or if it’s the kind of role she is drawn to. Just once I would like to see her doing a character who is happy. When she wasn’t in the frame with BigB she was very flat; again, can’t tell if that’s the character she was playing (a woman who only comes alive in the presence of her husband, in which case, ick) or if it’s her normal mien.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen that many of her films, but she always seems to find roles with gravitas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a light role, unlike Shabana, who takes time out from angst to do a comedy every so often. And Jaya took a good amount of time off to raise the kids. As I’ve said before, she’s always the one who can make me cry, no matter how many times I’ve seen the scene…”He just made a mistake, Naina…he was a good man!” Sniff, sniff…just thinking about the church scene in KHNH…I get all teary.

 

Julie M:  Gravitas is one thing–Shabana and Manisha do gravitas–but making a name for oneself out of absolute stoicism and blank expression, particularly in one’s youth, is completely different and kind of a risky career choice.   I read that it was doing this film that tipped Jaya towards taking that many-years-long acting break when she started having kids–to avoid the breakdown of the marriage.

 

Jenny K:  I see what you’re saying about Jaya, but only seeing five of her films, I don’t want to make that assumption that she let herself be pigeon-holed. She was the top actor in her graduating class, over the men, even… Hey, found this article on Amitabh’s appeal by the fabulous David Chute who says if we want to see Jaya as a “diminutive firecracker” and a “headstrong teenager” we should look for Guddi and Mili, both by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. 

 

Julie M:  I have to say, for a story that has music at its core, I really wasn’t all that moved by the songs. They all sounded very similar and were quite slow, and although I know she’s a national treasure, something about the quality of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in these songs really grated on me.

All in all, both Eklavya and Abhimaan amply show what star power BigB has, and has always been.

 

Jenny K:  Just goes to show that whether you swathe him in lurid polyesther or bury his magnetic mug in birds-nest-crazy facial hair, Amitabh Bachchan will always emerge the quintessential star…some things about him will never change.

August 15, 2011: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Julie M:  Saw Being Cyrus tonight. Loved it, with qualifications: I am addicted to the genre (noir thrillers), I loved this particular story, and the cinematography and set were perfect. Standout acting by Dimple Kapadia in particular and also Boman Irani (a little histrionic); Saif was very good too but I felt he was a little reserved. You could really tell the difference in craft between the older and younger actors, and the difference between creating a character and saying lines emotively.

For all that it was in English, I felt that I missed a lot of the texture of the dialogue when they would break into Hindi (unsubtitled) and the subtitles, which I put on because there was a lot of mumbling and slurring of the English lines, were pretty badly rendered and also missed a lot.

And–carrying on from the Sholay discussion–I felt that this genre may not have been particularly native to India, but a particular obsession of the filmmaker and made to be palatable to Western audiences (the English, and the brevity of the film in general).

But overall–great film, very glad I saw it and it adds to my “art film” mental library. Here’s a scene:

Jenny K: I thought you’d like it. Very stylish, and great performances all around. I bought it because of Dimple and Naseeruddin Shah, of course. He has all these little details that seem like they are derailing the character, and actually, they create it. His character is so “out of it” with the drugs and his artistic eye (“I was trying to get the flowers, but they were too far down”) that he lives in a fog the whole movie. Dimple is so brave as an actor, being that unsympathetic and not worrying a fig if she’s not at full beauty. She can’t help being beautiful, even so, but is a very credible shrew.

Boman is in full-crotchety mode, and I completely believed it, except when I look at his hands. They are so sensitive and beautiful, physically, that you know they are the hands of an artist, not a low-life landlord. Saif’s character is low key, yes, but very layered. Quiet Crazy he does quite well. There’s this little bit he does in a rather meh film, Darna Mana Hai, with Boman again, that is quite quietly creepy. Actually that movie has a number of “short story” kind of scenes with great actors, Nana Patekar, Raghuvir Yadav, Rajpal Yadav and Viveik Oberoi doing a very unusual turn. The framing story is weak though:  kids alone in the woods, sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories…until they are picked off, one by one by invisible stalkers.

I’d much rather watch the old guard in movies like Being Cyrus, even if they are seen as “not Indian enough”. I wish they had told us a bit more about Saif’s past, at the end. You understood the basics, but I could have done with more details. And more Naseeruddin…he just disappeared as the Boman story line amped up.

Speaking of  “more Naseeruddin”, I can’t wait for Today’s Special to be out on DVD. They keep pushing it back. Naseerji is fabulous in it. I did a profile on him and TS on AW a few months back, and I want to be able to watch it whenever I want!  Aasif Mandvi, the writer and star of the film was just as wonderful, if not quite as much the apple of my eye as is Naseerji.  Who could be?

Julie M: I think we got plenty on the Cyrus/Xerxes character’s background. [Spoilers. Highlight to view.] Abused child, foster care system, looked to his older sister for love and protection and this pattern kept up to the point where she could enlist him in her scams, where he couldn’t say no. Plus he is just enough of a sociopath himself not to care what it involved, as long as it gained him the security he needed. Until this last job, when he seemed to come to his senses and at the end opt out. But you know what? He’s not done. He’ll go back to her, because he’s immature and the world can’t give him what he’s seeking. It would have been good, in the story, if something about the Sethna family relationship brought him to his senses, but I didn’t get an idea of what made him leave her. [end of spoilers]

And where where where can I see Today’s Special? The trailer was so engaging that I have to see the entire thing. Tried to find it online but no dice…it’s also not on Icefilms (strange, because they have mostly everything).

Jenny K: Today’s Special is a lovely, lovely film, and I’d love to tell you where to watch it, but aside from checking with it’s website to see if any local showings are scheduled (and I think those listed are all for last year), it’s pretty much unavailable until the DVD comes out, they are thinking in the fall, maybe September. I’ve pre-ordered it on Amazon, but it was originally scheduled for release in April and was postponed. I do not feel secure yet. After I watch it, if it’s not in the library collection, I may lend it to you, if you promise to be very, very careful…it’s Nasserji!

[later that week…]

Julie M:  Found Dostana on YouTube–English subs and good quality–watching. So silly but fun to see Abhishek putting on the gay act…he’s way too good at it. And Kirron Kher playing another mom. She always gets the “cool mom” parts. I don’t normally watch this kind of movie but I admit to having a good time with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which this sort-of resembles. 

 [after a while…] 

Julie M: Very cute and fun. Didn’t end the way I thought it might, but after all, it’s an Indian film. Great soundtrack. Loved LittleB’s performance most of all. Great bad fashions when they were dressing Bobby Deol up (striped pants? chee!)  I also loved the scene where they’re all dancing to the “Beedi” song from Omkara. I’m proud that I could identify that song: also the iPod Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham number and later, the background scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.  And when Sameer starts listing classic Bollywood characters who are “obviously” gay (Gabbar Singh from Sholay!), I laughed so hard because I had seen all those films.

This was the funniest scene. No subtitles, but the visuals are evocative enough that you don’t need them. Here’s the backstory: Neha (Priyanka Chopra) asks Sameer (LittleB ) and Kunal (John Abraham), whom she thinks are a gay couple, how they met, and LittleB makes up this romantic story of how they met in Venice and how their “love” grew. I adore the rainbow half-gloves.

Jenny K:  Never saw Dostana, thought it might be that John Abraham shirt off kinda comedy that I’d hate. But you make it sound rather good, especially free, online. May have to make a reassessment. I like LittleB’s comic timing, as well. He’s better with comedy than romance, I think.  Don’t think it’s a co-inky-dink that KKHH and K3G are conspicuously referenced…tells you right up front that it’s a “Karan Johar presents…” production.  Saves on royalties, after all.  Practicalities are king.

Julie M: Since you’ve not seen it, I have to warn you that the opening credits and the first 5-10 minutes are simply awful. Teeny-tiny bikinis on Miami Beach with a truly dumb background song, and a John Abraham butt shot. I nearly turned it off. Just power through them and know that it gets much, much better. JA does spend most of the movie with an exposed chest but it makes a weird kind of sense given his character, both the straight and “gay” version.

One other note. I can see where the scene I posted could offend gay people if taken out of context–but because it’s a very straight character’s telling of what he thinks a gay meet-cute might be like, it’s clear that the character is speaking from a point of ignorance and it can be excused. The movie overall is not insulting to gay people although it does play on a few stereotypes.

Jenny K: Well, we’ll just have to see what I think…I’m dubious…thoat clip looks pretty silly to me. I’ll try to reserve judgment, but to paraphrase a friend of mine, I don’t watch that kind of film much in the US, why should I give it a chance in another language? Does a need for translation push it into acceptability? We’ll see.  I’m going to try to watch Dostana, now…[straghtens shoulders]. Off I go…

Julie M: Just try it and don’t forget that the first 10 minutes are supremely bad. I thought it would be stupid too but I got hooked, and watching it in 10-minute segments online was easy–I could quit anytime, but for some reason I just didn’t. It all kind of combines into something very cute, especially LittleB’s role. And sometimes bad-stupid is fun.

Jenny K:  I’m going to remind you that you said that…

[later on]

Jenny K: Hey! I survived Dostana and didn’t even need to gouge my eyes out or anything!?! It was even cute at times. Go figure! Waaay too much ritualized ogling of John’s torso, though. He even seemed bored with the attention in some of the numbers. I know he can act. I’ve seen Water. But I guess they have to give the audience what they want!

It’s really odd…I can look at John Abraham and agree that he’s really handsome, but he just doesn’t register on my personality meter. Other than in Deepa Mehta’s Water, when I look back on what he’s done, I mostly go, “Oh yeah, he was in that film!” but I hadn’t remembered it until I read it on IMDb. Same with Bobby Deol. Played almost the same role, handsome, sympathetic richguy, in Humraaz, and I just didn’t care about whether he ended up with the girl or not. Might his middle name be “Meh”?

Abhishek’s timing was as usual, very good, as you said. Though I think I liked Boman’s gay parody a tad better. He’s such a hoot. And I thought Priaynka was beautiful and winsome, was sweet and always in character, danced well when she was required to…what else can you ask for? Why do people pick on her, I ask you? Yet, they do.

The script was predictable, I’d seen it all before, but that lack of brain-engagement with an actual plot left me time to ponder those burning questions, like: heiress or not, why would Neha ever buy an apartment large enough to shoot the Mumbai edition of Big Brother House? Was the lonely gay soldier the same actor as the INS agent, and if so, why didn’t he blow their cover? Why were there so many runway shows in this film? Neha worked for a magazine not a fashion house! But most crucially, why did no one on the production staff cringe when the writer suggested having “our boys” toy with the kid’s psyche like that? Chee?!? My vote for Most Disgusting Plot Device. I think I may just have to skip Dostana 2 when it comes out, but thanks for getting me past my trepigaytion about it .

Julie M: I admit to being a Priyanka-doubter. She’s just too skinny and plastic-looking to take seriously given all the not-perfect but still gorgeous and talented Indian women in films. But she does OK, and for this movie whatever she’s got goin’ on works. This movie was my first exposure ;0 to John Abraham and I wasn’t impressed either.  Dostana 2 will just have to live without either of us.

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