January 18, 2012: Lies, Cries and Family Ties

Now that the festive time of year is good and over, it’s about time to turn away from the entertaining desserts of rom-coms and high adventure (bungeed villains flinging themselves off high-rises, indeed!) and settle in for a very hearty meal of Indian issue films. We found, from three different decades, three serious films and many amazing performances.  Bon Appétit!

 

Julie M:  Today’s feature was Rudaali (The Mourner, 1993). It was a fairly artsy film, directed by Kalpana Lajmi (niece of Guru Dutt) who also directed Chingaari, which I think you had recommended to me at one point.

Dimple Kapadia stars as Shanichari, a poor, low-caste village woman in Rajasthan with an extremely hard life. As the film opens, she is a youngish widow who is temporarily hosting Bikhni (Rakhee Gulzar), a professional mourner (or rudaali) called in to await the death of the local wealthy landowner or zamindar (Amjad Khan, most memorable as “Gabbar Singh” from Sholay, in one of his last film roles). She tells Bikhni her story: her mother abandoned her in infancy, her father died when she was young, she was married to a man who drank most of his wages and she has a retarded son. In flashbacks covering about 20 years she tells of the attraction between her and the zamindar‘s son, which turned into a job as maid to his mother and an illicit affair.  This haunting song, which is sung as Shanichari is remembering the affair, is probably what anyone knows about the film: 

When the zamindar first gets sick she is turned out of the house, and things go from bad to worse. Her mother-in-law dies, then her husband takes ill with the plague and dies, her home (a gift from her lover) is taken to pay the debt on his funeral rites and she and her son become indentured to the zamindari family for 15 years’ hard labor. Still she remains dry-eyed and resigned to her plight, even when her son (Raghuvir Yadav) impregnates a local whore (Sushmita Mukherjee) and marries her, then she aborts the baby. Her son runs away, and still she remains stoic. She asks Bikhni, who used to be an actress, how she can cry real tears for people she has never met when she can’t even cry for all the things she could cry about, namely, that everyone she’s ever loved has left her.

 

Jenny K:  That Raghuvir Yadav is a surprising one…he’s in practically everything, especially when they need an affecting performance from a smallish but pivotal role.  Does that in Salaam Bombay, too.  In that one he surprised me by being rather young and handsome…never had seen him that way before.  Just goes to show that we all have our day.

 

Julie M: I recognized him right off, but I didn’t get that he was supposed to be slow until later in the film when they talk about it.  I thought he was just ornery.  Anyway, while talking about all this stuff Shanichari and Bikhni grow close.  Here’s the song where Bikhni comforts Shanichari after hearing her story, and Shanichari learns what it is like to be taken care of.

Afterwards Bikhni is called away on a mourning job. Unfortunately, she catches plague while she is away and dies, sending Shanichari one last message: Bikhni is, in reality, Shanichari’s long-lost mother. This news releases Shanichari; she is finally able to mourn everything that has happened to her, and she takes Bikhni’s place as the rudaali, becoming famous for the sincerity of her tears and intensity of her wailing.

 

Jenny K:  Well, if she couldn’t mourn sincerely after getting a bombshell dropped on her like that, she would have to have been made of stone!  Poor thing.

 

Julie M: Dimple Kapadia is, in a word, AMAZING in this film. She convincingly plays a young woman, a slightly older widow, and a supremely beaten-down, old-before-her-time crone. It’s quite an emotional (but not melodramatic) film, and she proves herself up to the task. This film is not to be missed.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen Rudaali, yet, but it sounds great…not a light amusement, of course, but interesting. And Dimple will always be one of my favorites. She always puts all of herself into a role, like the one we discussed in Being Cyrus, she is just totally committed to her character, whether or not it’s a flattering one.

 

Julie M:  She was definitely the best thing about Hum Kaun Hai, for sure!  Can’t wait until I get hold of a copy of Bobby so I can catch her at the beginning of her career.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  I watched Fiza (2000) this afternoon. Compared to Rudaali it is not at all arty, but it is serious and highly melodramatic, which normally I get impatient with, but my jaw continually dropped at Karisma Kapoor’s fabulous performance. Whenever she was not onscreen my attention wandered… except, of course, in this “preparing for the action” scene, which I know was put in to please the ladies. Nice foreshadowing of Hrithik’s Dhoom 2 role–dead serious and focused.

Jenny K:   I was sort of sorry when Karisma took a kind of backseat to her baby sis, Kareena.  Not that both don’t do good work, but I think that Karisma tends to be overshadowed sometime by Bebo’s gift for finding the limelight.  She isn’t always involved with lightweight fare as in Andaz Apna Apna [shudder] or Dil to Pagal Hai.

Karisma’s the best thing in Shakti, playing a distraught mother taking an active hand in saving her son from the influence of his psychopathic grandfather (Nana Patekar in full scene-chewing glory) and is quite wonderful in Zubeidaa, as a film actress in the ‘50s on her way to the top, who marries a prince and yet doesn’t live happily ever after.  Rekha and Manoj Bajpai are with her in that one; strong performances all around. Maybe a bit too weepy for you, not sure, but you will like the score, all Rahman!  

Julie M:  Well, never fear, she’s back!  In Fiza I really liked Karisma’s “girl power” dance number, taunting her boyfriend for not liking her the way she is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brief plot summary: It is 1993.  Fiza (Karisma) and Aman (Hrithik) are Muslim teenagers living with their widowed Ammi (Jaya Bachchan) in Mumbai–they are a a very cute and close family. One evening Hindu-Muslim riots break out; Aman rushes out to see what’s going on and is not seen again. Six years later he is still missing. Fiza is sad but has grown accustomed to his loss; however, the distraught Ammi still visits the police station weekly hoping for news. While out on a job interview Fiza spots Aman in the city and hope is again rekindled: she pawns the family jewelry for bribe money, causes a ruckus in the press and with politicians, disrupts her relationship with her boyfriend, and eventually tracks him down on the India/Pakistan border, where he has become a jihadist. The story of what turned him in that direction and what happens next (and next and next) is the stuff of high drama and even higher melodrama. Yes, people die.

 

Jenny K: You sound so happy about that…so bloodthirsty!

 

Julie M:   Well, I thought I ought to warn people.  It’s quite unnerving, actually, and I think something like this would not have been possible in mainstream film until Dil Se’s paving the way a couple of years previous.

 

Jenny K:  It’s funny that they named it Fiza if it’s all about war and terrorism.  I looked about online, and it translates to variations on “a pure wind filled with love and romance” to “God’s Blessing”.  In either case, it seems a strange title.

 

Julie M:  Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic, since he’s a terrorist?  Hm.  Unfortunately the filmmakers kept breaking the mood by putting in item numbers like this one with Sushmita Sen, and this equally random, but depending on your orientation a much more interesting one, with Hrithik. 

I understand why they’re there–otherwise it would be an overly intense film–but they do not advance the plot or provide useful characterizations, and I found it difficult to get the mood back to the main action afterwards.  It could be for this reason that the film tanked a bit in the box office.  My favorites were the ones that added rather than distracted, like this one with music by A.R. Rahman.

 

Jenny K:  Weird…A Rahman song in the middle of an Anu Malik soundtrack.  Wonder what went on there.  Not at all usual, as they are more often competitors…story there, I daresay.

 

Julie M:  Well, it was a qawwali (Sufi devotional song), and seemed to call for a specialist, and they couldn’t get Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?  All in all, it’s a great message film–“we are all Indian no matter our religion”, a message that even the jihadist Aman is fighting for–and fabulous performances by all three lead actors make this a win.   Even though it was only his 2nd film released (first one that he actually signed to, which is an interesting fact), Fiza showed Hrithik as much more than the chocolate hero he was in KNPH. Well, at least the second half of Fiza did.  The first half showed him to be too sweet, and I am not a fan of him in sweet parts.  All my thumbs and big toes are up for this one, which I think may make my Top Ten up near Dil Se.

 

Jenny K:  I may have to watch it again when it comes back in the returns…I don’t remember being quite that impressed by it. Not that I disliked it, or anything, but it was just so-so for me.

[the next week]

Julie M:  I really loved Salaam Bombay (1988). Mira Nair is a genius. Much like I did with Deepa Mehta’s Water, I loved how the film was unafraid to portray the gritty and unpleasant reality that Bollywood likes to cover up–the street kids, the prostitutes, the drugs, the poverty and the dirt. You mentioned Nana Patekar’s performance–while I liked it, I thought that Raghuvir Yadav was the stronger actor in this film as the drugged-out older best friend of the street boy Krishna. No wonder this is ranked among one of the best films ever made, and why it didn’t win the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar in 1989 is a mystery.  (oh, yeah, because it was some Scandinavian film, urk)

 

Jenny K:  I know!  No accounting for taste.  It was more impressive, still, when you realize that SB was Mira Nair’s first full feature film.  I watched it again last night, first time since I started all this Bolly-madness, and it is even more deeply affecting, now.   She certainly knows how to spot good talent.  As to Nana, I liked his performance, but in this film I’m remarking more on his presence…just electric.   I’m glad you pointed out Irrfan Khan as the scribe or I might not have noticed.

 

Julie M:  Although this film is relatively plotless, the episodic narrative concerns Krishna, a young boy who ran away from his village home after a misunderstanding and makes his way to Bombay, where he lives on the street, selling tea, plucking chickens and even turning to crime as he tries to earn enough money to return home and make up for what everyone thought he did wrong. It’s just heartbreaking.  The adults in his new life include Baba (Patekar), a drug kingpin and a pimp; Rekha (Anita Kanwar), Baba’s prostitute-girlfriend and mother of young Manju who has a crush on Krishna; and Chillum (Yadav), whom we understand to be a grown-up street kid who is also an addict and a runner for Baba.

 

Jenny K:  This was only Raghuvir’s second film.  Can you believe it?  So talented even at that inexperienced stage.  He’s done so many things since then.  Did you know that last year he even played Hitler?  Yep. 

Julie M:  Here’s the beginning of the film, where the runaway Krishna has joined a traveling circus and is abandoned by them, occasioning his relocation to Bombay.  

Jenny K:  The kid who played Krishna, Safiq Syed, was wonderful, too.  Won an award for best child actor that year, but only managed one other film in his career, one called Patang, about four years later with Shabana and Om Puri.  The plot sounded similar from a description I found…small group of thieves that worked the trains for food and loot, mostly children, led by a Fagin-esque Om, who was in love with Shabana’s character, yet another prostitute with a heart of gold…her son, Shafiq, bears the burden of Om’s interest.  I can’t find it available anywhere.  Well, Safiq’s now repairing and driving autorickshaws for a living.  The fickle hand of fate.

 

Julie M:  My understanding is that he wasn’t really an actor, he was just a street kid that Nair found.  She also filmed the brothel scenes in a real brothel, and the madam in the film was the actual madam of that brothel.  How she got such amazing performances out of non-actor people…it was more like a cross between a fiction-film and a documentary.  If you want to catch it, most of  Salaam Bombay seems to be on YouTube, subtitled in English, but in a lesser resolution. Here’s part 1 (of 12).

I would rate this a MUST WATCH, not just for fans of Indian film but for fans of any kind of film, in any language.

December 27, 2011: Déjà Vu All Over Again

We are back (somewhat) from our holiday break, and we’ve been puzzling lately on one of our favorite filmi topics:  Hindi remakes of American films.  So far we’ve brought you quite a few, like Kaante and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.  Tune in to our latest discussion of three more…

 

Julia M:  My weekend library haul this time includes Shaurya (Valor, 2008) with Rahul Bose.  I am determined to try and like him!  If you’ve not seen it, you can catch Shaurya free on YouTube with English subtitles:

 

Jenny K:  I keep trying to think of a film of Rahul’s that has the other, more manic side of his personality, but the two that I am thinking of are so bad that I can’t recommend them. I’ll keep trying.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Shaurya was clearly inspired by A Few Good Men. More than, since it’s the same plot with a couple of twists. But it’s not as interesting as the original, not even close. Rahul Bose displays an actual personality, though, and some animation, so it’s worth watching. And Jaaved Jaffrey is pretty good as the prosecutor/Rahul’s best friend (love his deep sexy voice).

Jenny K:  Does anyone say “Such…you can’t handle Such” [ Such “truth” hai]?  Now, who is it who plays the Jack Nicholson anyway?

 

Julie M:  Yes indeed–KK Menon plays the Jack Nicholson character’s analogue in Shaurya and he does say that. It’s not translated very well, and he doesn’t yell it like Nicholson did, but it’s said. I was looking for it and was very proud that my rudimentary Hindi skills overcame the inexact subtitles in that instance–enough so that I recognized the quote.  Here’s that scene (start at about 6:00 in for the full effect).

And KK was really good as Brig. Gen. Pratap. It’s more of an extended cameo appearance rather than a role, just two or three scenes, but he totally nailed it without Jack’s histrionics.  Here’s the scene where he’s first introduced.  No subtitles, but he’s doing some golf practice at the border and knocks one into enemy territory, then makes an underling go and retrieve it.  Totally creepy. 

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Okay, I’ve now watched Shaurya and then A Few Good Men again after, and am ready to voice a more informed opinion. The director of the former definitely used the Aaron Sorkin/Rob Reiner film as a template, no doubt about it. The basic plot of the maverick outsider lawyer in the military played by Rahul in Shaurya is, of course Tom Cruise in the earlier film, and KK Menon takes on the Nicholson role. Once again the bad guy is a superior officer with aims at a high office and a feeling of absolute godlike correctness in anything he chooses to do. They meet in a semi-friendly fashion at the Brigadier’s base, over a meal and discuss the case. There are in both films an innocent victim murdered and an innocent murderer, depending on your side in the argument. There’s lots of researching done by Rahul’s helpful co-workers, and a nifty if unlikely courtroom triumph for the underdog at the end, where Rahul, like Tom Cruise, is up against his best friend as prosecutor. Even the courtrooms look vaguely the same…old fashioned military decorum with lovely big windows. But there is definitely more than a few differences that make the Indian film its own take on the shared themes.

The first thing that I find different is that Rahul’s co-investigators are outsiders, journalists, and would in no way be allowed or even encouraged to help with a military case. Rahul’s job was to keep all of this out of the press, and he even got in trouble for it…yet here’s Minissha, practically in the next scene being let in on all the dirt…yet she doesn’t feel the need to print it. All her earlier ambition chucked out the window, it seems. Highly unbelievable on all fronts. I guess things couldn’t be stretched so far as to allow a mere woman to be an equal legal partner as Demi Moore was in AFGM.

 

Julie M:  And yet, Nargis was a lawyer, on her own, 60 years ago in Awaara…no problem there…nouvelle prudery?

 

Jenny K:  And then, there is the change in motive for the case. Instead of pondering the nature of power and how a bad job can make a military hero a villain by what he’s asked to do (Jack’s Colonel truly believes he’s doing right by his men and the country by defying the orders of his higher ups about Code Red prohibition), the Hindi film has to make all the bad guys explainable in their motives and much more sympathetic. With ethnic bigotry as the focus of the piece, the defendant was perfectly justified shooting his superior, who was about to kill a local child. He was also right to take his punishment, as he saw it. Further justification is needed when you learn that the Brigadier isn’t an out and out rotter…his wife, child and, don’t say it, his mother have all been killed by a native boy who he took into his home and trusted. Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy! He’s going to wipe out the whole race, so this kind of thing can’t happen to anyone else. Makes Nicholson look downright simple in his monomania..”I’m right and everyone else can just fall in line or get out!”

All in all, though Shaurya had some nice moments and some nice performances from Rahul, Jaaved and KK, I’m always going to choose the Reiner film, because it’s an almost perfect film. Stands up and salutes as well today as it did when it came out in ’92. Hoo-Rah!

 

Julie M:  You expressed almost perfectly my sentiments about Shaurya vs AFGM, right down to the ridiculousness of Minissha’s character Kaavya being able to be as much help as she was (although truly, how much investigating did she actually do?).  I too felt that the racial/ethnic/religious angle was uniquely Indian–maybe because they don’t at bottom believe their public fiction, like we do, that race (or caste, in their case) no longer matters, they can get away with it in a film whereas we can’t here, not in big-budget Hollywood films anyway. My big surprise at this film was that Rahul was so much less low-key than he usually is–almost manic–and his character is given a simplistic, yet highly effective reason for all the high-danger sporting activity. Since Indian films don’t get into the dark side of psychology very much, I found it refreshing.

[several weeks later]

Julie M:  Hum Kaun Hai (Who Are We? 2004) is an almost identical remake of The Others (2001), except without the atmosphere and with very weird, wholly Indian “explanation” scenes tacked in that inexplicably reunite Amitabh Bachchan (as the main character’s missing husband) and Dharmendra (as a totally new character not in the original).

First, the similarities. Basically, everything is the same. Dimple Kapadia takes on the role that Nicole Kidman portrayed in the original film, and does an excellent portrayal of a deeply religious (Catholic) woman trying to deal with a beloved husband missing in the war while faced with circumstances which seem to indicate that her house is haunted, or that her servants for some reason are making her think it is. Two cute kids (Hansika Motwani aka Baby Hansika, Master Aman) with a disease that renders them unable to be in bright light; three servants who appear out of nowhere to take care of them; the need to lock doors and keep curtains drawn to keep the kids from inadvertently stumbling into daylight; a mom plagued with migraines. Photos of dead people in a creepy album. All the same from start to finish. In fact, if you squint you could swear that Fionnula Flanagan, who played the matronly servant in the original, had reappeared in the remake and was speaking Hindi.

Now, the differences. First, the quality of the film stock was very bad—or maybe it was just the print that the DVD was taken from—it had color problems, jarring jump-cuts and bad sound. Looked very low-budget. (OK, had to get that off my chest) Where the original took place on a dim, misty remote island where the viewer could really believe that the house was haunted (and there was some meaning to the fog as well), HKH takes place in a sunny, park-like estate with the merest wisps of fog floating in and out, and it looked at times as if the fog was digitally added. The dimness of the original is replaced throughout by bright light, even in the “candlelit” scenes, which was jarring. The original took place in the 1940s, whereas the remake takes place in the present day (there are mentions of television, for example), removing the otherworldly quality that made the original so creepy. Dimple Kapadia seems very strong and capable, in dramatic contrast to Nicole Kidman’s ethereal fragility, which actually made her descent into screaming panic so much more scary (you kind of expect Kidman to fall apart, based on her looks). HKH had multiple flashbacks to the married couple’s love for each other, setting up the totally weird ending where we get an explanation of the husband’s strange reappearance that is totally different from the original film’s. (won’t go into details because it’s a major spoiler) And a final scene that is just really, really stupid.

In general the 2nd half was much, much better than the first half, which unfolded at a breakneck pace and with as much drama as reading the newspaper. And I was just as freaked out with what was the second-to-last scene in the original (but ended up as perhaps the third- or fourth-to-last scene in the remake). But then they had to ruin it with the last two scenes.

If you’ve not seen The Others, you will like Hum Kaun Hai just fine as it represents a genre rarely seen in Indian film (a creepy psychological story with ghosts—but maybe this is a growing trend, because 2007’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa entered into that genre as well). But if you have seen and loved the original, you’ll spend a lot of time rolling your eyes at Hum Kaun Hai.

 

Jenny K:  You make Hum Kaun Hai sound like a fun watch. I had seen The Others, but just when it originally came out, and I don’t have many clear memories about it, so I may be safe. And I love Dimple.

 

Julie M:  Well, I’ll make it easy for you to see it.  The film is available free on YouTube. I saw it on DVD where the running time was just over 120 minutes; online the running time is about 106 minutes, so there may be some missing scenes.  But I checked—the “added” scenes are all there, in all their ridiculous glory.

[a week or so later]

Julie M:  As a follow-up to many discussions, I’m finally watching Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (Love Had to Happen, 1998), even though I know it’s a remake of French Kiss (1995), but since I haven’t seen FK I figure I’m safe.  I’ll watch FK after, in order to give this one a fair chance. After a disastrously farcical first half, it’s settling down into a decent movie.  Here’s Part 1: 

It’s nice to see Ajay help the girl he loves connect with the boy SHE loves, just like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (although this is an earlier film). And he and Kajol have nice chemistry in this. Not as much as in U, Me Aur Hum, but they are cute. She more than he, although he got much cuter once he shaved off his mustache.

Oh, and BTW, what is UP with Indian movies and the first half/second half dichotomy?

 

Jenny K:  You know, until this past year, I’d have said that it was always a first half strong/second half fizzle out tendency. This year, not so much. And I always felt that Ajay and Kajol’s chemistry in this was much stronger than in U Me Aur Hum. In that one, he was such a conceited guy in the first half, and then he was so concerned in her care and worried, that chemistry didn’t enter into it, at least in the traditional way. Interesting that you got it completely differently.

 

Julie M:  Here’s my take. (it only applies to masala or romances) If the first half is really stupid, the second half is strong. If the first half is great, the second half falls flat. Examples that come to mind right away are K3G and KHNH. Great first half, overly melodramatic 2nd half.

 

Jenny K:  But we must note that that’s coming from the point of view of a die hard non-sentimentalist.  I will grant you that K3G goes a bit too far in it’s emotional histrionics in the second half, but there are enough good moments in it (especially that dance number with Hrithik and Co. in those GORGEOUS sherwanis!) that I still enjoy it.  And KHNH is supposed to be an emotional love smorgasbord…so you must be prepared to eat a full gut-wrenching load, or you just skip it altogether.  I love it.

Oooh…that reminds me.  I just watched Affair to Remember, that transatlantic smorgasbord with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Wish I had put in the Indian match-up of this one, Mann with Aamir and Manisha.  It takes all the emotional fluffery and pads it out to double its length with much anguish and gnashing of teeth and even more silly songs than the original, which were very silly in the first place “Tomorrowland” being the most unlikely choice for a nightclub song that one could think of.  It’s free on Youtube as well, with subtitles.  Aamir is young and peppy, and Manisha smiles more than once or twice, Rani does a cute item number early on, but I can’t even go into the grandmother’s shawl scene at the end because the translation of that one into an “Indian version” had me rolling on the floor with it’s unintentional hilarity.  You just have to see it.

 

Julie M:  But back to the films at hand.  The setup is standard rom-com fare: the male half of an engaged couple leaves for a business trip to a different country and falls for another woman, prompting the female half to follow and try to win him back. En route she meets a native of the country she’s going to, and circumstances force them to be together unexpectedly. They get to know each other, become friends, and he helps her with a plan to win back her fiance by pretending they are lovers. Pretense turns to reality, and at the end the fiance is overthrown in favor of the new romance.

The plots of the two movies were, with the exception of a couple of added scenes in the Indian version and a slight adaptation to make it more desi (changing the setting from Toronto/Paris to Paris/India; and some details, because I somehow don’t think India is big on vineyards) exactly the same, with key scenes absolutely shot-for-shot identical–down to the female character’s wardrobe. The Indian version adds terminal clumsiness to the female character who is already afraid to fly, occasioning much (to my mind, unnecessary) slapstick in the first half of PTHHT; but that’s balanced by the FK subplot where the female character is American trying to get Canadian citizenship, which is jeopardized by the trip. In FK there is a language barrier, which is very funny, and is absent in PTHHT. And of course, the Indian version adds musical numbers, only one of which was at all memorable.

I think Ajay made a better Luc/Shekhar than Kevin Kline, and, much as I love Kajol, I think Meg Ryan made a better Kate/Sanjana. I could believe Ajay as both a thief and an ordinary village boy with dreams of land, but Kevin always had the thief about him–the vineyard scenes fell a little flat. Meg Ryan…well, she pretty much invented, for the late-80s and 90s, the cute-and-bewildered rom-com heroine with questionable taste in men, and even Kajol can’t compete.

 

Jenny K:  I’d agree that Meg slightly edges Kajol out, as she is the prototype and does that type of role (cranky/cute) almost better than anyone. I’m sorry she’s sworn off. I have always described Kajol to people as a sort of Meg Ryan type…even physically, with those big eyes and killer smile…and the coloring differences just give you great variety. I do agree with you that the clumsiness thing was rather unnecessary.

 

Julie M:  Frequently the reasons for remaking a Hollywood movie for Bollywood audiences are unclear, and the remake falls flat. FK was a great choice for an Indian remake: it has all the elements of comedy, romance and drama built right in, and obvious points at which a song would underscore the plot or action. Comparing these two versions is also instructive, for newbies, in the differences in pacing between American and Indian movies. American films move right along, with no wasted plotlines or introduction, whereas Indian films take more time on the setup and draw out the denouement, sometimes excruciatingly long, to wring out every drop of drama and sentiment.

 

Jenny K:  I actually liked the longer format for PTHHT, and think it works well for the story. The ninety minute format for French Kiss always left me wondering why, in that short a time, Kate fell for Luc…Kevin Kline or no Kevin Kline, who has always been a favorite of mine. So, with the longer time spent at Ajay’s home, etc, that all makes more sense to me.

 

Julie M:  Me too, having seen FK second.  But if I had only seen FK, then I’d put it down to “movie convention.”  Of COURSE she’ll fall in love with him once he demonstrates his knowledge of wine, because THAT’s what’s important in a relationship.  Oh, and that he knows his diamonds.  But in PTHHT I must tip a hat to this song,  which shows to best advantage the chemistry between Ajay and Kajol in this film  (sorry for the bad quality and no subtitles).

Overall, I’d say that if one hadn’t seen FK then PTHHT would be 100% satisfying, adorable, and stand-alone excellent—ranking among the best of Indian romance films. But for American audiences, FK is going to win out, if you like that kind of thing (I’ve seen way too many and am jaded on the genre).

PTHHT is available in one link, free on YouTube, with subtitles.

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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