March 5, 2012: Politics, Poetry, Prose ~ A Filmi World-Serious

Julie M:  Watched Hey Ram (2000) tonight. I am officially in love with Kamal Haasan, who although he is not as good looking as Aamir Khan, is, I think, the better actor. The film was gut-wrenching and absolutely excellent, the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times, doing things he thought he’d never do as he searches for his convictions. Supporting turns by SRK and Rani Mukherji were likewise excellent (although SRK really overplayed his character’s death scene, what a ham!), and it took me a while to recognize that it was Naseeruddin Shah playing Gandhi, he so completely inhabited the role.          

Jenny K: I know what you mean, but it’s hard to miss that highly identifiable nose.  He’s cute even creaky, old and in a dhoti…I’m so far gone…

 

Julie M:  Haasan plays Sakhet Ram, a Hindu archaeologist in the 1940s who gets along well with the British and is vehemently opposed to Partition and the idea of Pakistan.  Shah Rukh Khan is his friend and fellow archaeologist.  A personal tragedy involving Ram’s wife (Rani Mukherji) radicalizes his hatred towards Muslims, and he becomes an anti-Gandhi activist.  There’s quite a bit of violence and political back-and-forth, which was a little confusing, but a bit of research straightened things out for me.

This review/analysis does more than I ever could to unpack the layers of the film.  I had to read it several times and it only confirmed my opinion of Kamal Haasan’s incredible talent as writer, producer, director and actor.  And I really liked this German compilation of clips to music (not from the film).

Thanks for including this one in the box: amazing. You can tell how much I liked it by how speechless I am.

 

Jenny K:  I should read the article thoroughly and then watch it again… Glad you liked it, though Rani’s final scene gave me the heebie jeebies for a while afterwards the first time I saw it. If you like Kamal Haasan that much, I’ll send you VeluNayakan, that Godfather film the next time I send a package. I know you don’t like mob films much, but it really is one of the best of his that I have seen, plus, it has Mani Ratnam directing it.

 

Julie M:  So I watched the first hour of Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst, 1957) and was thoroughly bored. Unsuccessful poet Vijay (Guru Dutt—who also produced and directed the film, coincidentally like Kamal Haasan!) is turned out by his family, is appreciated only by a prostitute, and meets up with his ex-girlfriend who, as it turns out, is married to someone who can get his poems published.  What to do? Who to choose? Bleh. Snore. Great songs, though, and Mala Sinha is (was) so stunning as Meera, the ex. Didn’t find Waheeda Rehman (as the prostitute) particularly mesmerizing, though–but I understand her big part comes later in the film.  Worth continuing to plow through it?

 

Jenny K:  Wouldn’t have sent it if I didn’t think so…a different kettle of fish from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, but just as well known, and also classic.  I think the tension builds as it goes on. It’s a bit more along the lines of Devdas in the tortured poet thing, but I found it easier to take. The last scene in the lecture hall is wonderful, and where he is silhouetted in the doorway, it’s almost messianic in its imagery…and the song is fabulous.

But, of course, you must decide for yourself.

[the next day]

Julie M:  I took your advice and finished Pyaasa. Thanks for encouraging me to push on; glad I did.  It actually made more sense to me than Devdas, maybe because I understand the artistic temperament more than I understand stupid boys too weak to claim their love for themselves. I understood why he rejected those who were only willing to acknowledge him once he proved himself financially desirable, because I would have done exactly the same thing. And about the messianic thing, I know it’s Hindu but I found lots of Christ-like imagery (hanging out with prostitutes, “you will deny me three times”, the Christ on the cover of the magazine Meena is reading when she learns that Vijay is dead, etc.) except, of course, this has a much happier ending, we are led to assume.

 

Jenny K:  Some things are universal in their appeal to the human psyche, aren’t they? Whatever your religious point of view.

 

Julie M: Wonderful music, very interesting and poetic lyrics.  I particularly liked this one, where Waheeda’s character is flirting with Vijay thinking he’s a potential customer, but all he wants is his poems back, which she had bought as scrap paper. 

This one was cute, too. The massage-wallah is talking about how great people will feel after he works on them. 

I also liked the call-back to Awaara‘s dream-sequence with the dream sequence in this film. 

At first I thought that Rehman, who played Meena’s evil husband, was Dev Anand–if you take off the glasses they have a similar look. Or maybe it’s just the period–a lot of male actors looked alike.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rehman reminded me of Prithviraj Kapoor crossed with tiny bits of Shammi (in his quieter moments)…

 

Julie M:  My other weekend viewing was Aarakshan (Reservation, 2011), the one I missed in the theater. This was the film starring (sigh) Amitabh Bachchan as the principled principal Prabhakar Anand, staunchly defending his view that education should be available to anyone from any caste and a reservation (aka quota/affirmative action) system acts to ensure access.

Saif Ali Khan co-stars as Deepak Kumar, a member of one of the low castes whose education was facilitated by Anand’s beliefs and who regards Anand as a mentor. Deepika Padukone plays Poorbi, Anand’s daughter and Deepak’s girlfriend, and Prateik (sigh) is Sushant, a college student and Poorbi and Deepak’s good friend. The villain is Manoj Bajpai, and Yashpal Sharma is a helpful stable owner. Hema Malini makes a cameo appearance at the end, although her photo is seen throughout the first half.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I read reviews about this one and thought it sounded too dry to have me spend my hard-earned pesos on it, even given the good intentions of the theme, and Amitabh’s presence.  Was the story interesting?

 

Julie M:  The plot involves Anand, the longtime head of the renowned private college S.T.M., who has a practice of giving a “leg up” to lesser qualified but very promising applicants from backward castes. This enrages the trustees and the upper-caste parents whose children score higher but are rejected because there are no places. Things come to a head when a government minister’s son is rejected, and he installs the evil Mithilesh Singh first as a trustee, then as vice-principal, in an attempt to find a way to oust Anand.

Singh also runs a private coaching school for high-caste students as a very profitable side business. When the government formally adopts a 27% reservation system for public education and employment, the situation blows up both around the country and at S.T.M. Deepak (a S.T.M. instructor headed for the US for his doctorate) and Sushant are on opposite sides of the issue and have a violent confrontation; Anand fires Deepak and expels Sushant. Deepak flees to the US and Sushant disappears. Then Anand loses his job over some comments he made to the press and the family leaves town for a while.

When they return they find that their house has been taken over by Singh’s coaching school and they have no legal way to stop it. Anand puts his principles into action by starting a rival coaching school, for free, in the stable across the street, where he takes all comers, aided by Deepak and Sushant, who have since returned and are buddies again.  This school becomes so popular that Singh seeks to ruin it. You can pretty much guess that he fails; at the end Anand is vindicated and S.T.M.’s founder, played by Hema Malini, funds a new coaching academy with Anand as the principal and chief trustee.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, that Manoj Bajpai! He’s such a delicious villain…I’ve seen him in very few films that he wasn’t indulging in lots of moustache twirling fun. I remember first hearing of him when he was full of sour grapes that he hadn’t been asked to do Devdas rather than SRK. Not sure I can see it. My favorite one with him is still the very over-the-top-and-loving-it Aks with BigB. My winner for Best Psychopath Serial Killer in Hindi films…if not for accuracy, then for sheer audacity. Rather creepy, though…lots of rather unhealthy imagery. Can’t say it’s a true thumbs up.

 

Julie M:  The first half of the film is what you’d expect: plenty of dramatic speeches by various characters on both sides of the reservation system issue, with personality-developing scenes for the main characters. Some people would find the speeches tiresome, but my love for issue-driven film and lack of real knowledge of the issue made it fascinating for me. The second half delves into the family drama and exposes the true evilness of the villain, with inspirational scenes of Anand’s influence on his young students and a stirring climax where the scrappy stable school resists the might of the corrupt government and profiteering private school system. Although it was all somewhat predictable, I was nevertheless quite entertained.

There was one big dance number that was very out of place, however, I liked much better this number from early in the film, introducing the Deepak/Poorbi romance.

This was about as romantic as it got, since they ended up fighting and then separated for most of the rest of the film, never really getting back together.

 

Jenny K:  Were you really expecting romance in such a blatant issue film?  Well, with your favorite, Saif in it, you probably had your fingers crossed.

 

Julie M:  I hated Saif’s mustache and the fact that he was OBVIOUSLY way too old for Deepika’s character (he was supposed to be a recent college grad, she was a college student who somehow had all day-every day free to hang out at her dad’s school). I kept rooting for Poorbi to throw Deepak over and get together with Sushant, because they were a much cuter couple. Alas, she fought with Sushant, too, and after they were out of the action she had nothing else to do except throw tantrums at her parents and narrow her eyes when she was in the presence of the evil Singh.

Overall I liked it–good issue and decent writing and drama. Three stars, would have been 3-1/2 had it not been so darned predictable.

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Part 10: The Directors, Cut, or Not to Cut?

Jenny K:  Okay, as promised.  The directors list, based on what you’ve liked and not liked so far.  Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and these guys may throw you a quite atypical movie every so often, too. But here goes.

The weepy ones that you don’t like are usually by Karan Johar (warning signs, he always had multiple K’s in his titles, for Karan, I’d assume), Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra, his son. Probably won’t like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge ( DDLJ) which is the first SRK/Kajol pairing and is considered a classic for that. I have problems with the amount of slapstick in the first half and the really overplayed fight scene near the end, but I like other bits of it quite a lot. Their chemistry is great and she’s lovely.  But they must have gotten something right, because it has been playing at the same theater in Mumbai, the Maratha Mandir, since the film opened, and hit its 800th week last February, still on the charts that week at Number 8! Really! Veer Zaara should probably be skipped, too. Lots of weeping in the framing story and much bad aging makeup and hair.

Large amounts of slapstick are usually found in the works of David Dawan and Priyadarshan. I avoid them almost completely except, occasionally when Akshaye Khanna is involved. He was in two for Priyadarshan that I actually liked Mere Baap Phele Aap, and one called Hulchul which, honest to God has the funniest wedding sequence in Indian movies…hilarious, mostly because of one actor Paresh Rawal who is perfection itself in almost every genre.  Huh, he’s in MBPA, too!

You’ve had mixed reactions to Sanjay Leela Bhansali who did Devdas (bleh) and Black (thumbs up). You might like, as I said before, Khamosh, the Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and even Guzaarish which is his newest and has Hrithik in it, a remake of Whose Life is it Anyway? But probably should skip Saawariya which is supposed to be an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s White Nights, but gets very bogged down in its own atmosphere and blueness (Devdas was victim of too much redness, among other problems).

Ram Gopal Varma is their urban violence/gangsta director. Loves the seedy underbelly of city life. Some are good like Company that I sent you, others, mostly his most recent ones, I find highly missable. He also has one bright twinkly musical from early in his career, Rangeela, which I have a fondness for because Aamir does some wonderful acting and dancing in it, and for its Rahman score. It is a bit silly at times but the weepiness is confined to one scene that I remember, and Aamir is restrained about it. Touching. Let me know if I should send it in a future batch.

Vishal Bhardwaj seems to be becoming another gangland portrait artist, but he likes to draw from classical themes and so transcends mere thuginess.  He’s usually a safe bet for good ideas and interesting adaptations.  And GREAT music. Omkara, you’ve seen, Maqbool (a Macbeth adaptation) and The Blue Umbrella (a sweet, almost childhood fable) should be safe options.

Farhan Akhtar and his sister, Zoya Akhtar (Dil Chahta Hai and Luck by Chance) are almost a quality guarantee. They usually do things with a more modern emotional level.  Zoya has the new one coming out, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, that looks like a lot of fun.  Farhan produces films more now than directs, and acts a lot, too. For his acting, check out Rock On! (a sort of buddy film a la DCH with a “whatever happened to our band” format) which I quite liked and Karthik Calling Karthik (which slips only in the final scene for a good suspense film). 

For films Farhan directed, most people like Don, a slick gangster film set in Malaysia, which has SRK in a dual role playing both hero and villain in a mostly convincing way. Boman’s in this one, too. BigB did the original Don, which most say was superior, though, again, his suits scare me. Farhan’s Lakshya is mixed for me. Good performances by Hrithik and Preity, better than Koi.. Mil Gaya (which HR & PZ did together, Farhan didn’t direct it), but the first and second half are very, very, very different, almost schizophrenic. Didn’t like part two much.  The dance number “Main Aisa Kyon Hoon”, coreographed by Prabhu Deva, is perfection, and almost makes up for the schizzyness.

Skip, Skip, Skip most of Subhash Ghai‘s films. Taal was a fluke. Pardes is the only one which has something to recommend, because SRK’s performance is good, but may be a bit too weepy for you. But he wears many a stupid outfit in it (aaak, that big white hat; ew, those overalls!)  and I’ve blocked most of it out. Skip Kisna, even with the splendid visuals a la Taal, Viveik looking pretty and tons of money thrown at it, it’s basically a boring film. Ghai’s early films are way way too old fashioned melodrama for you. You’d hate them.

Mani Ratnam (Dil Se, Yuva and Kannathil Muthamittal) as you’ve seen, I can’t get enough of his films. Own most of them…if they have subtitles. Tendency to use old formats and throw the odd unpleasantness in to spice things up for the Indian audiences to make them think, whether they want to or not. Likes explosions,  a lot.  Loves working with Rahman. Yay! They both are from the South, and he sometimes does versions in both Tamil and Hindi simultaneously. First Tier: The ones you have [Yuva and Kannathil Muthamittal] and Dil Se, also  Alai Payuthey(Waves), which is a more direct love story (remade, with his permission, with Rani and Viveik as Saathiya, but Waves is better) and Nayakan (or Vellu Nayakan) which is his tribute to The Godfather (tough but very good). Second Tier: Guru and Raavan(both with Little B and Aish), Bombay and Roja. Skip: Iruvar (Aish’s first film) for too much South Indian politics, that you have to know to get the full gist, and Thiruda Thiruda which is just too odd, even for me.

Aparna Sen, Konkona Sen Sharma’s mother. Much more of a serious issues director. Lot of films about women. Very influenced by the Bengali school of Satyajit Ray. I’ve liked almost everything I’ve seen. In chronological order, 36 Chowringee Lane, Paroma, Sati, House of Memories and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and 15 Park Avenue (both starring Konkona). Hardly a song and dance in them.

Rituparno Ghosh, “art film director” who is popular among filmfest circuits, I find rather pretentious and wouldn’t recommend anything except Raincoat which is a sort of tribute to O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, starring Aish and Ajay Devgan in rather quietly affecting mode. Flee Antarmahal with LittleB, like the plague. I’d suggest burning any copies you find, unless your library objects.

As to the older films, for the most part I skip the 70’s and the 80’s as they went completely disco for a while, though there are some exceptions. I find I like Hrishikesh Mukherjee (another Bengali) especially his film Abhimaan with BigB and his wife Jaya. Lovely quiet film and she almost acts him off the screen. Sorta kinda like A Star is Born. I like the 50’s and the 60’s more. Guru Dutt has a lovely, sort of dreamy style, especially in Pyaasa and Kagaz Ka Phool. Sort of sad, but transcendant.

Early Raj Kapoor is very nice, too, and you can see what western films he’s drawing from, in influence, not copying directly. A good time for exploration in Indian film. Awaara, his most famous, feels like Orson Welles in its cinematography, like he’d just finished watching Citizen Kane, and in Shree 420, he’s definitely pulling from Charlie Chaplin and maybe Douglas Fairbanks a bit. Indian films’ influences always seem about fifteen or so years behind the current vogue in Western films. But they always make their own “take” on them, and they are narrowing the gap quickly, closer each year.  I’m not sure I want them to “catch up” to international cinema.  Most of it isn’t a worthy role model these days.

Julie M:  WOW. Thanks!! I’ll have to run the lists through my library search facility and see if any are owned by the system.

I have to clarify that although overall I didn’t like Devdas, I didn’t hate the LOOK of Devdas. I loved the look and thought it was very beautiful, richly done and evocative. I thought the story was ridiculous, the melodrama over-the-top and the character of Devdas mewly (although SRK seemed to do a good job portraying it, at least in the first half, the only bit that I saw). But it was lovely and I would definitely see more by the same director if the look of the film is important and of high quality.

[a couple of days later]

Julie M:  Got Rang De Basanti from the library and, because I wanted something fun, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Saw JBJ this evening–funny and charming. Complete mindless enjoyment.

 Jenny K:  I bought JBJ just for that number with Big B and the wig.  I had a feeling that BigB in that avatar could be the Father of Indian Flash Mobs if he put his mind to it.  I know I’d follow him 🙂 

Howsoever, I didn’t like the film that much, though it wasn’t awful or anything. I have a problem with Bobby Deol. He’s handsome and all, but I like his “less handsome” older brother, Sunny, much better. Remind me to send you Border the next time. He’s not the sole focus, but it’s a good role for him. Their father, Dharmendra, was even more handsome. Dad did Sholay with BigB and it is sort of considered the classic Masala “Western”. Cons on the run kinda film. Was Amitabh’s first big break. I played it for my mom once and she made me fast forward through all the “ridiculous stuff” with the comic side characters, but “thought Amitabh had something”. You really couldn’t take your eyes off him, even though he wasn’t classically handsome.

[at this point Jenny tries yet again to tempt Julie into going toVancouver, and fails…]

 Jenny K:  Maybe the two of us could skip out of the Festival to one of the local Hindi cinemas on Saturday and go see something “crassly commercial” and not a bit “art house” like Hrithik and Farhan’s new movie that opens that weekend. Hmmm?

Come on, it was directed by Zoya Akhtar who did Luck By Chance, you liked that…[no response from Julie…I can sense she’s torn, but...] Oh, off the subject, sort of…I saw that they used  the “Baware” music from LBC on So You Think You Can Dance on Wednesday.

Julie M:  What…the circus number music was on Dance? I don’t watch that program, but under what circumstances does Bollywood music end up in an American reality show? Spill!!

Jenny K:  It’s primarily found a niche on SYTYCD, not realitiy shows in general. Some are nice enough, but some like the Baware number was rather weak, even though the main female dancer, Iveta, is a world champion in the ten main divisions of ballroom dance.  The songs are much too short and  usually only use two dancers, so they don’t really have a chance to duplicate the Bollywood experience.  I also think the choreographer is too influenced by Farah Khan, Saroj Khan and Vaibhavi Merchant to do anything particularly innovative on his own.  Check some out on Youtube.
 

Julie M:  I notice that most of the videos are from the British version–this makes sense because of the large Indian or Indian-heritage population there–but here it probably draws a big “huh?” from most of the viewing audience.

Jenny K:  Actually, most of the ones I saw were from the American version. Of course, I only looked at the top, say two pages of them. The among the ones I looked at from the US version were::
Nick and Iveta  
Mollee and Nathan  
Katee and Joshua  
Caitlin and Jason  
Kathryn and Jose  
Kent and Lauren  
Billy and Robert (in yellow!)  
a group number set to Jhoom Bharabar Jhoom  
And a girls group number to Dholna from Pyar Ke Geet

I’m sure you’re right that the London audience is much more familiar with it, but the American kids doing it has proved much more popular with our audienes than say the Russian folk dancing they tried… BO-ring…

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