September 23, 2011: Chocolate Heroes a la Mode: 90’s Style

Summer’s over now, but there’s still a bit of heat in the old Bollywood favorites, especially in the World of the Chocolate Heroes.  What?  You haven’t been there?  Haven’t met a few of them?  Yet, if you’ve wandered through the emotional rollercoaster of the gloriously overdone 1990’s, you’ve met them.  I’d like to quote fellow Bollyfan, Filmigirl (who has a wonderful site at filmigirl.blogspot.com), who gives quite a helpful definition:

A young, fresh-faced hero who specializes in romantic roles is called a chocolate hero (or sometimes chocolate boy).  The term comes from a time when handsome pictures of men used to decorate boxes of chocolate and there is a bit of a negative implication to it.  A chocolate hero may be popular with the ladies but he is usually seen as nothing more than a pretty face and any film starring a chocolate hero is going to have a heavy romance focus.

Earlier this month Filmigoris had fun critiquing some of the current crop of Chocolate Boys, but this week we jumped into the Bollywood Dessert Cart of Days Gone By with a pair of delicious (mmm) CB’s more of our own age;  one who became HUGE and the other, well, has not been as fortunate.  Julie watched Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, and Jenny continued her Kumar Gaurav film festival with Phool.

 

Julie M: Watching Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (He Who Wins Will Be the Conquerer, 1992).  It’s so juvenile but I’m irresistibly drawn to Aamir and the cute Farah Khan choreography.

The setting is beautiful Dehradun in the Himalayas, where there are 12 colleges and scads of pretty young people who go there, and hang out at Mall Road, a filmi-strip-mall on the street that ties the colleges together. (I swear it is the same set used for the village in Koi…Mil Gaya) No malt shoppe, but there might as well be…the kids love ‘50s pop music, which tells you the general tone of the film.  All of the colleges are rivals and at the end of the year have a multi-sports competition including a bicycle race, with the honor of their college and personal accolades to the winner at stake. (Figured out the ending yet?)

 

Jenny K:  It’s about the race, not about the ending, Jule…who cares how it ends as long as  you look stylin’ gettin’ there!  They do look stylish, right?

 

Julie M:  Our yummy heroes:  Ratan (Mamik Singh, in his debut film…of five) and Sanjay (Aamir) are brothers, students at the lowest-class college and the sons of a cafe owner on the Mall Road. Ratan is an athlete, and at the beginning of the film just barely misses winning the big sports competition to Shekhar (Deepak Tijori—a chocolate villain, if you will), a very rich and popular, but not very nice, Rajput College boy.

Sanjay, on the other hand, is a slacker, interested only in fun and pranks and is the bane of his father’s life.  His best friend is tomboy Anjali (Ayesha Jhulka), the daughter of the owner of the mechanic shop across the road. She is awesome and fixes cars and bikes like nobody’s business. (Why are cute, fun, bubbly, tomboy girls always named Anjali in these movies?)  She is also in love with Sanjay (did I really need to say that?) and trying to find a way to tell him.  This number, which comes during the village Diwali celebration, sums up their relationship, where her friend is coaching her to play hard-to-get: [Sorry no subtitles available on this song.]

What happens next is 100% something out of John Hughes.  The new hot girl from Queens College, Devika (Pooja Bedi), meets both Shekhar and Sanjay. Shakar chats her up and she is interested, but it is Sanjay who, by pretending to be wealthy and applying a combination of lies, humor and pranks, wins her heart. However, to keep it, he steals money from his father to upgrade his wardrobe and buy her expensive gifts. Check out this pretty number, “Pehla Nasha”, where he is silly in love with Devika, and Anjali is silly in love with Sanjay: [full video starts twenty-some seconds in]

Then comes the big inter-school dance competition featuring about the most boring dance numbers ever with oh-so-subtle subtext (NOT) –check them all out starting at 5:19  here,  and continuing here, where Devika finds out the truth about Sanjay, dumps his a** and takes up with Shekhar. (At this point Jenny’s disk quit working and I had to finish the movie via YouTube with no subtitles…so I’m fuzzy on the nuances of any dialogue)  To top it off, Sanjay’s father figures out the stolen money situation and banishes him from the house.  Things are not looking good for our boy.

Meanwhile, Ratan is training for the next competition. One day he is ambushed by Shekhar’s crew, beaten senseless and accidentally slips down a cliff; he is rushed to the hospital in a coma. Sanjay (in admittedly the best acting job by Aamir in the film) realizes that he has been a bad brother and bad son, and vows to clean up his act and get revenge on Rajput by winning the bike race.

OMG, this is supposed to be a remake of Breaking Away?! Well, I guess I can see it in the “snobby college boys vs. townies” plus a bicycle race.  But nothing else.  I just wish they’d stop calling it a “remake” if so much is different. It’s “borrowing.”

 

Jenny K:  In the classical world they call it “Variations on a Theme” and it’s perfectly acceptable.  Go figure.  But you realize that this was well before Aamir had enough clout to demand and get original plots…nowadays he does…yet still he did Ghajini.

 

Julie M:  Cue typical ’80s training montage to kicky music (amazingly Sanjay does not wear an ’80s sweatband, but he does wear very short and tight white shorts, mmm), where Anjali helps him and he finally realizes that she is the right girl for him.  Then comes the big bicycle race and you can pretty much figure out what happens from there—winning, redemption, accolades, proud dad, blah blah blah.

My review:  The first half of the movie was completely, idiotically derivative, besides being a hair and fashion disaster.

Hey, JJWS!  1985 called you in 1992 and wanted their decade back!

And was there a ‘50s-filtered-through-the-’80s trope that was NOT used in this film? Poor Aamir, he did his best but couldn’t overcome a bad script and rip-off storyline. NOT Breaking Away, not even close. Phoo on you, Internet, for spreading that vicious untruth. Here’s what was common: bicycles, rich college jerks vs. townies, a couple of fistfights, and a guy pretending to be what he isn’t in order to impress a girl. But that covers, oh, EVERY ’80s MOVIE EVER MADE.

In the last third–pretty much the part I didn’t have the subtitles for–things seemed to improve significantly. Aamir, Mamik, and the dad did some real acting and there were some good moments (I can’t speak for the script, but emotionally and plot-wise it seemed original). There was a very touching song where Aamir remembered his and his brother’s growing up years—with the young Sanjay played by none other than Imraan Khan.

Jenny K:  The nephew’s screen debut!  So Shweet!  Destined for Dessert Status.

 

Julie M:  And then, just when I got to thinking, hey, this could really turn into something, came the obligatory training montage, the discovery of true love for the tomboy best friend, the chance-for-revenge-and-redemption bicycle race, and the inevitable ending. Yawn. I also noticed that nobody seemed to have a Ma in this, which seemed weird for an Indian movie, but then again, thinking about 1980s American movies it’s like parents didn’t exist in those either.

 

Jenny K: I’m sorry you didn’t like it more.  I always thought it was better than most of his early romance films…heck, there wasn’t even a snake goddess in this one [Tum Mere Ho (1990)] which was somewhat hard to swallow…er, follow.

 

Julie M:  I liked Aamir (as always), looking young and very cute, dancing and moving like a dream (less elfin, and so good looking in tight jeans, but he rolled up his jacket sleeves, urgh).  I can see how this was a superhit back in the day, especially since from what I understand the 90s were a filmi wasteland. But it didn’t do much for me.

  

Jenny K: Well, cycling on…I’m two movies into my Kumar Gaurav film festival. While Kaante was…ummm, eventful…it wasn’t a good enough showcase for my hero of choice.  Phool (The Flower –1993) was a much better vehicle to display him. Costarring Madhuri Dixit in her scintillating youth, Kumar couldn’t have asked for a better “flower.” These two were destined for one another, pledged by doting parents, and were practically living in each other’s pockets. Young Raju (Kumar) was all but raised by Guddi’s (Madhuri’s) folks when his mother died early on. They all lived happily enough in scenic Ramnagar, in the hills of Southern India, until Raju’s dad, Dharamraaj (Rajendra Kumar) got a taste for City Gold that took him, and his little boy away to the metropolis.

Our story begins with the kids grown up, not really remembering each other well, but Guddi’s parents still believing that the betrothal will take place when Raju comes back from his schooling in America. Well, wedding banns are announced, but Dharamraaj surprises the recently returned Raju with a shaadi-accompli…Whooops! “Welcome home, beta, but before you unpack, here’s your fiancée, Kitty, my business partner’s only daughter and heir!” And what does Raju say? Like any good Indian boy…”If you’re okay with it, Dad, and Dadima’s okay with it, and Kitty’s okay with it, than all I can say is ‘Okay-Okay’ by me!”

Not Okay by me, except for the dancing…Kumar and the girls mambo very well, or perhaps I should say “mambo-twist hybridize,” given it’s a rather dated multi-style number.

Dadima (the ever feisty Dina Pathak), isn’t okay with it, either. She’s just biding her time, before she spills the beans to Raju about his pre-pubescent promises, about how Guddi’s dad, Balram (Sunil Dutt), came a few weeks back to set the date for the long-awaited wedding and Dharamraaj made excuses and broke everything off…and into the bargain, broke the hearts of Balram’s womenfolk back home. Unbeknownst to Raju’s family, Guddi’s mom, when she heard the news, keeled over, dying with her daughter’s wedding bangles piteously poised in her palsied hands. Guddi and her father vow vengeance on Raju’s family, and when Raju writes to try to suss out the situation, she verbally rips into him. Raju determines he will go to Ramnagar and win her back (blithely forgetting Kitty)…come hell or high water!

And this is all within the first twenty minutes of the almost three hour drama. Yes, Julie, a very Emotional Family Drama, indeed, dressed up with gor-ge-ous scenery, lovely ladies dancing in waterfalls and in temples (almost worthy of a Raj Kapoor seal of sexiness…though Madhuri is more chastely clothed than Raj K would have considered strictly necessary),

[Sorry, no subtitles available.] and then there’s identity switching (worthy of the Bard himself), lots of local baddies (headed by a youngish Shakti Kapoor, channeling BigB’s ‘tude and wardrobe) who Eve-tease at the drop of a fetching eyelid, and even a damsel-in-distress-runaway-jeep scene! What more could you ask? Mads to pop out of a giant lotus flower? Well she does that in this title track:  [Sorry, no subtitles.]  

As for my verdict on Kumar Gaurav…as the typical Chocolate Hero of the era, I’d say he was Godiva. He had the looks, the delicious rich speaking voice, a great head of hair (if a bit too long) and he has height, too, no typical thing! Add to that, for three quarters of the film he seemed rational, reasonable and romantic, too. Maybe that’s what doomed him with the Indian public. Mature, stable, a catch, in fact…but perhaps, he just wasn’t a wild card enough for the masses; no hair-trigger hotshot, He!

 

Julie M:  What is it about that era of Indian film that attracts you so? I mean, here I’ve just watched Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, of the same vintage, and if I have to see any more fluffy mullets (yes, even the girls) through a highly Vaselined camera lens I think I will vomit. But I will admit that Kumar Gaurav is quite good looking, although I like his looks better in Kaante where I can see them better. And Madhuri is clearly the 90s queen of pastel garments and sparkly skin.

 

Jenny K:  Oh heavens…don’t make out like all I watch is nineties love stories! I have watched them, because I liked Aamir’s work so much that I wanted to see where he came from, film-wise. I also thought they were kinda sweet, if definitely cheesy. I like them nostalgically, in small doses, just like I can still turn on occasional Annette and Frankie beach movies and enjoy them, especially if Erich Von Zipper is involved. I love me some Harvey Lembeck. “When Erich Von Zipper likes you…you STAY LIKED!”

 

Julie M:  Well, for Aamir anyway, this seems to be the best of his early films, although unaccountably people seem to like Andaz Apna Apna, which just from the clips I’ve seen I plan to see only when there is literally nothing else available.  LITERALLY.

 

Jenny K:  I will make my final assessment on Kumar Gaurav with GANG, to see if he can bring any Chocolate Hero-dom with him into a multi-starrer comic crime caper (man, I’m alliterating all over the place here, aren’t I?).  But if anyone is up to it, KG may be the man. He seems to be an actor who is aging well, charm intact, but, unfortunately now that his age has caught up with his maturity, he might not be of the first appeal to the younger audiences.  Too bad, if so, because so far, I think he’s worth the wait.

September 15, 2011: Kaante, My Eyes Off of You!

Jenny K:  I know you’re over gangster films right now, but how do you feel about heist/caper films? I’m very intrigued by this one actor I had never heard about Kumar Gaurav that I found in this clip when I was looking for Jaaved Jaffrey films. The guy with the glasses. “Who is he? Why haven’t I seen him before?”

I ordered it on Amazon, and decided I’d watch one film of his earlier films, Phool, with Madhuri Dixit, then the multi-starrer Kaante which is a remake of Reservoir Dogs/Usual Suspects with BigB, Sanjay, Sunil Shetty, and Kumar Gaurav. Since Kaante is such a big starrer, thought you might like to give it a whirl, too.

Julie M:  I LOVE caper films. I’ll watch it. I’ve got the afternoon + evening free anyway.

The library is officially a filmi desert. Shelves were thin today–lots of Satyajit Ray and Bengali/Punjabi films, but not much else that I hadn’t already seen or had passed up as looking too much like yet another tale of thwarted love (please). I did find Eklavya: The Royal Guard on the shelf, and couldn’t resist it (Vidya + Saif + BigB = joy).

[later that evening]

Kaante is a complete testosterone-fest. Lots of shooting, lots of blood, lots of men standing up to each other and daring the other to blink. There is one scene where they all practically make love to their guns, in slow motion, yet. There is lots of slo-mo throughout, many scenes where time just stops and the screen goes monochrome, and at the end there is perhaps the longest freeze-frame I have ever seen. I thought my laptop had crashed! And an item number choreographed around, and using, stripper poles. Chee!

I have not seen Reservoir Dogs (I was warned away) but I did see The Usual Suspects and even though it was hard to follow, I liked it (mainly because of Kevin Spacey, whom I love in anything). I think Kaante is just another take on the same themes as RD and TUS, not strictly a remake. After you see it I will go into detail with you–don’t want to spoil it.

But I will say that this is definitely Sanjay Dutt’s film, even though it’s an excellent ensemble cast. Amitabh was good but he was one-dimensional. Sanjay was superior to him in all ways. Your boy Kumar Gaurav was pretty good too–as good as anyone–and I’d like to see more of him.

Did I like it, overall? Well, I don’t like super-violent films as a rule and this is definitely super-violent. From that angle plus the very over-male-ness of it all, I would say that I didn’t like it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate aspects of it, which I very much did.  I’ll say more after you’ve seen it.

 

Jenny K:  Glad you thought Kaante was worth watching…I have a vague recollection that it was panned a bit by the critics when it came out, but I wasn’t watching Bollywood then, and so I must have read that. I haven’t watched it yet, but I saw about the first 8 minutes or so before I had to leave, and I knew it was Sanjay’s film…any man who can wear that much jewelry and still look cool…well, he has to be the focus.


Kathy has always linked him with Salman as very similar guys in type, but I find Sanjay less, how do I say it…maybe self-conscious says it best. He seems more genuine and I find him more sexy than Salman almost every time. Salman can be more funny, though. Sanjay’s attempts at humor usually become more dorky, like laughing at his own jokes, so I’d say he’s more passively funny, like a good straight man, with things happening to him, rather than actively witty.

I have a very hard time explaining why I find Sanjay sexy, when he is sexy, in films. He isn’t always…and not as much lately. My favorite one for that quality is one I can’t even recommend, Khalnayak, though it has many things to recommend it. Primarily, it’s the best performance, or at least the most varied performance I have seen to date for Madhuri Dixit.

She plays the girlfriend of Jackie Shroff, a warden of a prison that Sanjay breaks out of. Jackie is mortified, and his girlfriend, also a warden of a woman’s prison, decided she’ll go under cover to find Sanjay for him. Under cover, she has disguised herself as a loose woman, a nautch girl, who tries to seduce him in her stage show. He’s trying to be unobtrusive…yeah right, the eyepatch and the old salt’s cap isn’t at all noticeable…and he’s caught by her and takes her along on an amazing ride, where she falls for him against her will…she keeps thinking of him instead of Jackie.

She’s very sexy in this one too.  Here’s the closest I’ve come to their chemistry in this song, but most of the chemistry is in the dialogue scenes, not the songs. Right before this he’s decided to clean up to impress her…I think she told him he was dirty, or something. Seems to have worked for him. I love the scenery, too.

Julie M:  Sanjay’s hairstyle does not leave one with the “sexy hero” impression, I must say. It’s more like “doofy outsider.” And Madhuri is definitely the best dancer in Bollywood.

 

Jenny K:  Well, the hair is very much “of the era” and it was either this or very fluffy mullet-land for most of the eighties and nineties.  I liked him better with the scruffy look in this earlier song, and I think Madhuri’s character did, too.  This is the famous “Choli Ke Peeche” where she’s trying to seduce him. The score was so good for this one, by Laxmikant/Pyarelal(lyrics quite scandalous and caused a ruckus), that Danny Elfman, no mean composer himself, went all the way to India to talk with BW music industry insiders and find out how they layered the percussion.  The article is here. Yet still, the weirdo costumes and the Jackie/Sanjay prison scenes where they all but chest butt each other in their competitiveness, make this a non-recommend film, in general. Another Subhash Ghai connundrum. [No subtitles available, sorry.]

Watching the number back over, I just got to say…back then he had the best bedroom eyes in the business…oh, I mean bedroom eye, singular. Stupid disguise. All I can say is, watch it if you felt in a silly-tolerant mood sometime.

 

Julie M:  I need to see more Sanjay before I can comment knowledgeably on his sexiness. My experience is just with the two Munnabhai movies (not sexy, but he has a cheerful teddy-bear-like attractiveness) and Kaante, where he is definitely sexy in a crazy-dangerous way despite the skull rings that scream “douchey poser.” There is one scene towards the end where…oh, let’s talk about it after you’ve seen it.

But Parineeta seems to be the film to see, since it has him plus performances by others that you think I might enjoy. And it looks as if he has another Munnabhai film coming up–Munnabhai Chale Amerika (Munnabhai Goes to America). I didn’t like the first one, liked the second one, and if they seem to be getting better I might check out the third one on DVD eventually. And he’s got a cameo in Ra.one, which is on my list to see, not for him though.

 

Jenny K:  You liked the Ghandi one better than MBBS? In my notes I had that you were “meh” on both of them. I would say that was my order of preference, too. Though Sanjay does fewer sexy performances as he gets older, he relaxes into his likeability (and/or fists) to sell a film now.

 

Julie M:  I was indeed “meh” on both, but the Gandhi one, I thought, was better. He couldn’t bribe his way into expertise, he had to acquire a certain amount himself, and I think the character truly earned Vidya’s character’s love by the end. I didn’t like the contrived old-folks-house plot element but I thought as a character Munna was more likable in the 2nd one.

 

Jenny K:  Parineeta, as I recall it, is much more centered on the Saif/Vidya jodi, not with Sanjay. He’s the nice guy outsider who Vidya’s slated to marry, if she hadn’t fallen madly in love with Saif’s character. EFD ensues, but in a rather period, atmospheric way that mutes it a bit. Feels to me in my memory more like a lower-budget, lower-angst Devdas…a tale of secret love. You know, I don’t even remember if they end up together or not. Let me know!

[the next day]

Jenny K:  I don’t know what to say about Kaante…I finally got through it. Wasn’t sure I would last night, around part 9/15… Man, were these guys the worst criminals, or what?

You can try to blame it on Tarantino, the Father/Creator of Style-Over-Substance crime dramas, but even he would hesitate before taking every visible guiding hand out of his story. In Reservoir Dogs, that Kaante is based on, the members of the gang are put into the plot and taught the ropes by an old hand, Joe Cabot who bankrolls everything and calls all the shots down to the silly aliases used to preserve gang anonymity.

The boys in Kaante, on the other hand, seem determined to have everyone know who they are. They meet in jail, supposedly as the Usual Suspects. Then they boil and fume with rage until they decide they’ll punish The Police for such a major piece of disrespect and so, within audible range of the coppers, the Major (BigB) concocts a plan. Let’s empty all their bank accounts! “Okay, Major, what a good idea! That’ll show ‘em. Teach them not to mess with us! Woo-Hoo!” Cue hysterical tough-guy laughter. Lots of that.

Geez, they should have renamed this pot-boiler BAKWAS, Hindi for nonsense, because it doesn’t make much more sense than that.  First, we should be laying low, and plotting…no, we’re doing target practice with semi-automatic weapons on our Downtown LA roof!   Secondly, we’ll go into the bank in nice, spiffy suits (well, they do look very good, I’ll agree) so we blend in with the customers…oh, then we’ll put on our ski masks after everyone’s already seen us! And, thirdly, didn’t anyone plan for an escape route better than just saying “Down on the floor!” and then walking out the FRONT DOOR! Well, it did make for another stunning shot of BigB, Sanjay and the boys in their lovely suits. There are an embarrassing number of those shots.  Literal overkill.

What’s so hot about Kaante?  So, it’s stylish. I got my fill of that very fast, especially the yellow filter shots. Sheesh. Has your cinematographer been hanging out with Sanjay Leela Bhansali lately? Red, Blue, Yellow…who’s got dibs on Green, I wonder? And the two item numbers seemed almost identical from the pole dance choreography to Malaika’s costumes. The other songs were all montage songs, often with Sanjay moaning his way through the lyrics.

 

Julie M:  I didn’t even think Kaante was so stylish–or if it was, I didn’t like the style. I thought it was terribly affected and trying too hard to be Hollywood. I liked none of the characters and only some of the performances.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t get me wrong, I looked at this cast list and was pleased to see some of my favorites listed here, but there really wasn’t much acting in it…just posing, like live ad campaigns for smoking and Ray-Bans. Everyone looked so cool, and laughed so cool, that my interest soon cooled, right down to sub-zero.

I did like Kumar Gaurav, but I’m going to have to watch him in something else, Kaante didn’t give him much to shine in.  The only real acting on display was, perhaps, in one scene between Amitabh and Sanjay when they were alone in the warehouse with that oversized Smurf in a Ricky Schroder wig, Mahesh Manjrekar, who played Baali. Boy, was he annoying. I almost cheered when Lucky Ali shot him. But, like that dangling cop, it was far too late to save my good opinion of this film.

 

Julie M:  That’s what I wanted to tell you: it was very easy to divorce performance from actor in this film. I could respect Sanjay’s acting ability while not liking the performance. I was so unimpressed with both Major as a character (bland) and BigB’s performance (phoning it in), and MM was awful, simply awful. And what was up with Sunil Shetty? For a guy who makes his living playing gangsters and terrorists very well, he was so very lame in this. And all the talking…so much talking.

 

Jenny K: Now that, you may be able to blame on Tarantino…they copied some scenes word for word.  So cool…yeah, right.   Or maybe we should go further back and see who QT stole it from.  You can learn so much from YouTube surfing.

But there were some interesting moments, if I’m being fair.  This song, “Chhod Na Re”, was the only song I really liked. It was funny, with everyone mugging like crazy.

Julie M:  I liked the song too, but in retrospect it seemed a bit random.  Like they had to remind everyone that it is, in fact, an Indian film and not a Hollywood production.  Kaante is SO not a masala film!

Jenny K:  I’m also depressed that Sanjay and a lot of the original cast is signed to do Kaante 2 next year! Oh dear, so much to look forward to.

 

Julie M:  Wait…a sequel?  [spoiler alertDidn’t they all shoot each other dead at the end of the first one?  [end spoilers]  So this one would either be a prequel (ay yi yi) or something from the Other Side.

 

Jenny K:  Yup…Night of the Living Goondas!

 

Julie M:  Can’t wait (NOT).

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