Julie M: Tonight’s feature was Dharm (Religion, 2007). A very beautiful film, very reminiscent of Deepa Mehta’s work (particularly Water, and not just because Dharm also takes place in Benares). More on that later. Here’s a very quick trailer.
Here’s a longer one but worse picture quality.
Jenny K: Someone has to explain the various meanings of dharm/dharma to me sometime. Here it means “religion,” but I had always heard it used as “duty,” which, though it has similar qualities, is not the same thing. Enlightenment, anyone?
Julie M: Plot summary: Pandit Chaturvedi (Pankaj Kapur) is a Brahmin and the head of a temple, an extremely devout Hindu who is strict about ritual and “right thinking,” which often causes difficulties with his wife (Supriya Pathak) and daughter. He is the personal advisor to his patron, whose daughter is in love with a visiting gora journalist and whose son Shankar is drawn to a radical Hindu political organization.
Jenny K: I love Pankaj Kapur…he’s always so real, if you know what I mean, never a false note in his performances. I also liked him in Raakh with Aamir and Sehar with Arshad Warsi. He is the best thing in Roja, a Mani Ratnam film that I’m sending you in this next package.
Jenny K: That’s what’s so cool…he has a gift falling so deep into his characters that he even looks different. Same quality Seema Biswas has. I wonder if they’ve ever done a film together? Hmm….I’d buy tickets to that, in advance!
Julie M: Anyway, Chaturvedi’s rigidness softens when his daughter brings home an abandoned baby boy, whom he and his family raise as their own. When the boy is about four his mother comes to claim him: surprisingly, she is Muslim. This conflict between traditional Brahmin and Hindu values, long-standing ethnopolitical prejudices and the desires of the heart forms the backdrop for the rest of the film.
I was absolutely fascinated all the way through, both for the amazing visuals, the human drama (without a drop of melodrama) and the pathos the director, Bhavna Talwar, drew from the storyline without falling into mush. I think that any Indian female director working in this vein can’t help but be influenced by Deepa’s work, and there were times that I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Deepa’s.
I had just seen Pankaj Kapoor as the crime boss in Maqbool and loved it, and this film sealed my opinion of him as one of India’s premier dramatic actors. He was also the old guy in The Blue Umbrella, another fave of mine.
Jenny K: Really? If I remember correctly, you weren’t so sold on The B.U. when you first saw it…had a few reservations. At the end, here. Not that there’s anything wrong with mellowing on a film. I’ve done that more than once.
Julie M: If I had a criticism it was that Dharm was yet another film in the “Hindus and Muslims are enemies for no real reason” vein. You’d think that people would get the message by now, and this film brought no additional compelling arguments.
Dharm almost was India’s entry into the Academy Awards for 2007, but lost out to Eklavya: The Royal Guard. Having seen both I think Dharm got royally scr*wed–although I liked Eklavya a lot, Dharm was far better and more valid, and would have actually earned India the nomination that year.
Jenny K: Dharm sounds interesting…but it may be hard getting used to seeing him without facial hair. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a beard!
Julie M: You know, the penny JUST dropped for me that Pankaj is Shahid’s father. Where have I been? And that Mausam (which you saw and I’m waiting for it to appear on DVD) is somewhat autobiographically inspired (for writer/director Pankaj)? I still have to consult a scorecard (aka Wikipedia) to get all the relationships straight in Bollywood.
[about two weeks later..film viewing seriously interrupted by life…]
Julie M: Last night I watched Loins of Punjab Presents (2007), which to my surprise was an English language film although an Indian production. The premise was good and it had some very funny moments, but it sets itself up to a number of comparisons to which in my mind it did not measure up. Here’s the trailer.
Jenny K: I would talk about how long it took you to watch this, but I remember being appalled at the trailer myself for it’s sheer Priyadawanism [my own term for a particularly high level of slapstick] and held off watching it for three years, until it came my way for free on Hulu one day.
Julie M: Turn off your ad-blocker or you won’t get to see it.
Brief plot summary: Loins of Punjab is an Indian-owned pork processing company based in New Jersey, which needs some good PR among its countrymen. The owner decides to sponsor an “American Idol”-type, Bollywood-themed singing competition for NRIs, called Desi Idol, and give away a huge cash prize to the winner. A very motley crew turns up to audition, and over the course of the film’s running time we get to know a cross-section of them complete with motivations, quirks, joys and sorrows.
The film was billed as a satire, and I definitely got everything they were satirizing: dreams of fame, various NRI types found in the U.S., the nature of being Indian. Highlights include the large and voluble Patel clan, Shabana Azmi playing an evil socialite, and Ajay Naidu (whom audiences might remember as “the Indian guy” in Office Space, one of my all-time favorite comedies) as a tough, gay bhangra-rapper.
Jenny K: He was also that silent but loathesome cook in the first part of Today’s Special…look for Ajay when you see it. I thought LoPP was sweet. And it was obvious that Manish, the director put his whole being into it.
Julie M: Sweet? I wouldn’t go that far. Some moments were sweet, mainly about the Vikram-Sania jodi, but I thought they were mostly going for hilarity. For a film about a singing competition I thought there were frighteningly few musical numbers (I thought the “Bole Chudiyan” segment was the sweet part, but that may only be because K3G was the 2nd Hindi film I ever saw and the nostalgia factor was working), but that may have been the point. However, this scene really made me crack up.
Jenny K: Okay, okay…sweet at its center, and funny, as opposed to slapstick/vulgar through-and-through.
Julie M: Yes, it was funny and I enjoyed myself while watching it; however, my mind kept comparing it to the great Christopher Guest mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, and others (except For Your Consideration, ick), which I felt LoPP was trying to emulate and fell a bit short.
The short running time (less than 1 1/2 hours) made the film feel rushed. I would have adored to have it last 30 minutes longer and be filled with more background and depth on the main characters.
Jenny K: I agree that he could have lengthened it a bit and not lost his US audience, if that was what he was worried about. BTW, I really like Shabana as a villain. She should do it more often. And she looked wonderful!
Julie M: I liked her too, even though she was playing against type. I feel very bad expressing any criticism, since one of my favorite characters in it, the poor outsourced Vikram, was played by the film’s director (Manish Acharya), and he died in a riding accident a couple of years ago.
Jenny K: Vikram(Manish) was probably my favorite character, too. I think the Chris Guest similarities must be expected as Manish studied film at Tisch in NYC. He was probably steeped in that sort genre of film.
When I first saw LoPP, I wrote Manish on FB to tell him how much I liked it. He wrote back and we spoke on FB occasionally, and it was just too sad when he died a few months later. He had such a promising future.
On one post on his page he said he liked the funny parodies people made up for fake “Criterion Editions” of their favorite films, so I made him one for the fictional LoPP Criterion Edition. For the first time posted online. With thanks to Manish for the laughs he gave us (and with respectful parody, to Criterion).
Julie M: Overall, a fun watch, could have been more effective comedically but if you’re not familiar with the genre you’ll like it just fine.
[the next day]
Julie M: Saw Rock On! (2008) tonight. Wow–this is definitely one of my faves. It had me from the very first moment: I love that style of music (yes, I am a rock chick) and both Farhan and Arjun nailed their performances perfectly. Cannot believe that it was Farhan’s debut as an actor. And Arjun in super-long hair…it was all I could to do keep from swooning.
Jenny K: And I loved that Farhan did his own singing. He’s become quite the young recording/concert artist when he’s got the time…love that raspy quality, very sexy.
Julie M: I loved the setup—a rock band that broke up on the verge of making it reunites ten years later, told mostly in flashback—and of course the awesome musical numbers, particularly this opening one which had me up and dancing.
And clearly the director knew musicians, or consulted with musicians, or hung out with musicians, because this part illustrating their camaraderie and tendency to goof off felt completely unforced and totally real. A musical bromance, pitch-perfect and perfectly pitched. Three snaps up with a twist!
And what’s this I hear about a sequel? The film and story were perfect just the way it was. Don’t ruin it!! Shooting is supposed to start in June; let’s hope something falls through to stop it.
Jenny K: Thought you would like Rock On!! I saw it four times in the theaters, I think. I kept taking people to see it, and then the last time, as part of a local Indian film festival with the director visiting for commentary, so, of course, I had to go again. Abhishek Kapoor is a well spoken, talented fellow, and nice to talk to. I told him that his was one of the two rock and roll films that got me engrossed and made me feel like I was actually at the concert. The other was Stop Making Sense (1984) with the Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme. He said he hadn’t seen it…so I sent him a copy. Don’t know if he ever got it, but, maybe it will put him in the mood for this sequel.
Julie M: The entire film is available free on YouTube in superior quality.