October 18, 2014: Akshaye Khanna Film Fest, part I: Introducing Chin and Hair

The FilmiGoris differ on their opinion of Akshaye Khanna, with Jenny continually trying to convince Julie of his swoonworthiness and Julie refusing to see him as someone other than an awkward, dimple-chinned hairpiece (although they both loved him in 1997’s Border and Julie loved his over-the-top performance as an Oscar-hungry actor in 2010’s Tees Maar Khan, which Jenny has not seen because it stars her “allergy” Akshay Kumar—another divisive actor in the FilmiGoris’ world).  So Jenny has challenged Julie to watch three previously unviewed Akshaye movies of her choice and cultivate an appreciation.

Julie:  Mohabbat (“Love,” 1997) starts a run of early films with Akshaye as the handsome hero—and I grudgingly admit that he really is handsome here, with his chiseled jaw, cleft chin and (in contrast to later years) well-behaved hair.  Actually, the pool scene kinda grossed me out with all the hair…

In the story, Rohit (Akshaye Khanna) rescues the young, wealthy industrialist Gaurav (Sanjay Kapoor) from a gang attack by beating up the gang leader.  The two strike up a bromance, with Gaurav offering Rohit a job in his company and the merry Rohit serving to unclench Gaurav’s somewhat stodgy nature.  Unbeknownst to each other, both are in love with Gaurav’s sister’s best friend Shweta (Madhuri Dixit), an aspiring young singer/dancer.

 

Gaurav’s move is to secretly support her career (yeah, that will get her to notice him), while Rohit sweeps her off her feet with drama, fun and romance.   For her part, Shweta treats Gaurav like an acquaintance (gee, wonder why?) but is completely infatuated with Rohit (duh), whom she agrees to marry.   Her inattention to Gaurav doesn’t keep him from fantasizing, though.

 

It’s only a matter of time before Gaurav learns (coincidentally, moments before he plans to reveal to her that he is her secret benefactor) that Shweta the one to whom his best friend is engaged.  Recognizing the depth of their feelings and wanting them both to be happy, Gaurav simply walks away rather than confront them.

The very same evening that Gaurav decides to back off, the gang finds Rohit and attacks him, stabbing him in the stomach and throwing him off a precipice right in front of Shweta.  Gaurav feels guilty, Shweta loses her voice with the shock, and Gaurav’s sister, learning of Gaurav’s feelings for Shweta, suggests their engagement to cheer up Shweta and make her brother happy. Shweta agrees to marry Gaurav and there is hope that she is finally getting over Rohit, although she still hasn’t spoken.  Trouble soon comes in the form of a handsome car mechanic named Tony Braganza (Akshaye Khanna), a Rohit lookalike whom Gaurav hires to try and shock Shweta back into speaking…but will the ruse actually work?  and why is Gaurav suddenly getting dizzy spells?

Madhuri and Akshaye are rarely paired on film and it is easy to see why.  There’s just no chemistry between them despite her fancy dancing and his good hair and smoldering glances.  And his supposedly “melting” glance left me cold—reminded me of a hurt puppy, and not in a good way.

However, the film is still fun to watch with its more or less even balance between comedy, romance and drama, and between Madhuri’s talent and Akshaye’s rather manic youth, the songs are energetically performed (if slightly generic).

 

The last third of the film is, unfortunately, so dramatic that it’s hilarious…and one of Shweta’s costumes in Gaurav’s dream-sequence song will make you giggle uncontrollably. Still, if you come across it, give it a try.  It’s available free on YouTube, with subtitles.

 

Verdict on Akshaye:  So-so.  Not as good a performance as in Border.  Fun to watch him dance, though.

Tune in later in the week for the next film in the mini-festival, Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back,” 1999).

Sept. 18, 2014: Women’s Rights, and Wrongs

Way back in March, in honor of International Women’s Day, I decided to get the girls together on several nights in the same week to see what the Indian cinema market had to offer on this theme, as it seemed they were making a particular effort.  It was a rather intrepid undertaking, going to see three films with women in the drivers seats, at three different venues within three days, and I thought I was up to it…but it may have been too much.

The first film we went to see was Queen at the Loehmann’s Cinema in Falls Church.  Pat and I went out in the cold snap and joined a faithful group of midweek theater-goers (it was a Tuesday) eager to find out what all the fuss was about.  I had never seen so many glowing reviews for a film, or more specifically, a performer as I had for Kangna Ranaut that week on Rediff.com, here’s an example.  I was really looking forward to watching it, and it didn’t disappoint.

Kangana Rules in QueenTo give a short synopsis, Kangna plays Rani, a lovely, yet very girl-next-door Delhi girl, quiet, modest, soft spoken, who we meet in the first days of her wedding celebrations. Along with Rani we meet her parents and her funny younger brother, Chintu and the rest of her family, and are ready to jump right in and join the party.  But, unfortunately it doesn’t last long, as her fiancée, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), gets her to meet with him at a café, two days before the final ceremony…and calls it off!  Rani doesn’t rant, doesn’t rail at him, as one would expect, but she pleads with him, and when he still holds firm, sleepwalks through the next few days of the dismantling of her shaadi dreams.

The one thing she can’t let go of is her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam.  Lovingly planned to two of her favorite cities, taking that trip, even alone, is the only thing that might, she thinks, assuage the pain in her heart.  Her parents, helpless to do anything else for her, let her go.  The rest of the story is the adventures Rani has on this ten day voyage that has her discover a part of herself, find a strength that she never knew existed…a life without a man defining her.  This new freedom, while daunting at first, with practice, becomes a life-sustaining force for Rani.  She meets many new friends, sees new places and has volumes of new experiences along the way.

Lisa Haydon, Girl-WindPat and I both really enjoyed going along with her.  The performances were uniformly good, with Rajkummar being effectively swinish as the jilting boyfriend who comes to his senses, too late.  I’d seen him in sweet earnest performances in Talaash and Kai Po Che!  and had no idea that he could play scum so well… And the eye-opener of the evening for me was Lisa Haydon, who I hadn’t seen before, and she just captured focus in any scene she was in, blowing through Rani’s life in Paris like one of that city’s fabled April breezes.  She’s going to go places, I’m sure, and the resemblance to Angelina Jolie, doesn’t hurt.  But Kangna Ranaut captures our heart in every scene, whether crying after her first release of emotion with her first taste of alcohol, or dancing like a maniac on the club bar, or simply standing up to her louse of a fiancée.  She holds onto that girl at the center of the story and makes us feel it with her and root her on.  Two major thumbs up from us.  Sorry the trailer doesn’t have subtitles.  Couldn’t find one with them.

Continuing with India’s ongoing female empowerment theme, Kathy’s all jazzed up to see Juhi Chawlha opposite Madhuri in Gulaab Gang, about a woman (Mads) who fights for womens’ rights, literally and verbally!  So, off we went to Gaithersburg to catch this one.

Directed by Soumik Sen and pairing two of our favorite actresses, you’d think we would have loved this one.  I should have researched it more, though it’s been so long since we’ve had a good Juhi film, that we’d probably have gone to give her support, in any case.

Juhi Chawla the VillainessThe research would have shown me that what purported to be a based-on-real-life story had been drumming up lots of negative publicity and protesting by the purported heroine of the piece Sampat Pal Devi that didn’t bode well for the film.

A brief synopsis would tell you that Madhuri Dixit is playing Rajjo, a woman who is moved to establish an ashram in Uttar Pradesh to teach young local women how to read, support themselves and even defend themselves.  They live and work together in unity and peace (unless you count the fits of physical justice they deal out that have all the men in the area wary of the sight of pink saris coming at them), and Rajjo is encouraged by their future when an ambitious local woman politician Sumitra Devi (Juhi Chawla) comes to their ashram looking for the Gulaab Gang’s support in the upcoming election.  But Sumitra should have known that her less than noble goals would come out and you just don’t cross Rajjo’s gals, as any of the locals could have told her.  Juhi is fabulous, by the way…I’ll never take her at face value again…pretty can play devious and crafty, as well!  Brava!

Madhuri in FlightGulaab Gang dancingMadhuri is lithe and agile and suitably tough in her role, but I didn’t know how to take the film, as a protest or a comedy?  In the midst of a fight, here comes a musical number stopping all the drama.  And those sticks they are wielding are not dandia sticks, either.  They pack quite a punch, complete with martial arts style slo-mo.  I’m afraid the music didn’t make their message any more palatable to me.  I’d agree that women shouldn’t sit still and take all the abuse given them, but should they take action that make them just as brutal as the guys?  What with this and the equally iffy Dedh Ishqiya from January (Sorry, Nasseerji, you know I wanted to love it!) Left us with a sour taste in our mouths.  Thank goodness we’ve still got Irrfan to look forward to.

That would be Irrfan Khan, in The Lunchbox (Dabba – 2013). The “little crossover film that could” has Irrfan trading notes for food with an under-appreciated wife, not his, played by Nimrat Kaur.  But this slow-burning foodie favorite has been worth the wait for audiences and investors alike as it’s slowly earned it’s money back and is still playing at four theaters here in the US 29 weeks after it’s opening!  It’s an art house darling to die for.

The Lunchbox PosterThe short story: Nimrat’s character, Ila, is an unhappy housewife, trying to recapture her husband’s attention by her cooking, to not much avail. She gets advice on how to spice up her life as well as her food from the unseen “Auntie” upstairs (voiced by Bharati Achrekar). When Ila sends the newly flavorful dishes off to her hubby via the tiffin-wallah delivery boys, she waits hopefully for a change in his demeanor, but doesn’t get one. However, the next time she tries, she gets a thank you note, of sorts, from the man who actually received the food, Saajan Fernandes, widower and impending retiree (Irrfan, yummy, as usual, even when trying to hide his light behind the “moustache of middle age”).  The continuing errors of the tiffin guys give her the outlet they need for their unexciting lives.  The will she/won’t she tension of his appreciation and her need of it, keeps you nicely on the edge of your seat until the end.  Here’s a trailer.

Now, the SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen it, and intend to, don’t read the paragraph below.

As much as I liked the performances (Nawazuddin Siddiqui was adorable in this! So many faces this man has!), this film doesn’t merit the high degree of adoration the public seems to be giving it. The biggest problem I have with it would perhaps be solved by putting back in some of the length it feels like was there at one time. I’m all for women’s empowerment, but I don’t think that her character would have left her marriage with so little cause, in such a short span of time. She convinces herself that her marriage is over because her husband doesn’t like her lunches, and perhaps is having an affair? And she doesn’t even confront him about it, not once? Seems horribly abrupt, or perhaps we’ve missed a scene or two of spousal abuse. Never thought I’d be asking for that, but a cause like that would make more sense of her drastic solution, especially taking her child with her. I certainly wasn’t expecting a “make yourself happy, no matter who it hurts” ending worthy of Hollywood at its shallowest.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

[Two weeks later, romantic comedy…]

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov. 20, 2011: Wives, Widows and Wanton Women

Recently we’ve been watching a number of Indian films that center around women, ones that show them as fully rounded characters in situations that are far from the romance-movie norm. Please come along with us and join in on a fascinating subject for conversation.  It’s a long one, but well worth the time.

 

Julie M:  Tonight’s feature was Deepa Mehta’s Water (2006). What a film–so beautifully shot, yet so sad and made me angry at the same time. You know I love “issue” films, and this film raised enough issues to keep me musing for days.

Set in 1938, Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam) is a rural girl, age 8 and recently widowed–according to tradition her parents take her toVaranasi to live in a widows’ ashram. Chuyia must adapt to a life of faith, austerity and begging with her new “family” of much older women. She doesn’t fit in at all, but she does befriend Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful young widow who is shunned by the other widows because she is routinely sent out as a prostitute to make money for the ashram. Another widow, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), takes Chuyia under her wing. Chuyia and Kalyani meet Narayan (John Abraham), a wealthy recent graduate and a Gandhi follower.  Narayan and Kalyani fall in love and plan to marry, but there is a major roadblock that leads to tragedy. Chuyia is next in line for “the life,” but Shakuntala intervenes and in a very nice parallel, Chuyia’s chances for a better future end up linked with the Gandhian political movement.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this movie more than once in the movie theater, and once I was lucky enough to see it with the director there to talk about it.  I got a much better feel as to what went on with the original filming, and how it was stopped due to protests over her controversial subject matter.  What perseverance! 

The elements of the plot reminded me a lot of Gloria Whelan’s book, Homeless Bird which won the National Book Award in 2000.  It details the life of a thirteen year old child bride as she is widowed and left in Varanasi to die, but who gets a second chance making her own way in the world.  Lovely book, don’t let the children’s book status warn you off.

 

 

Julie M:  I read that the original cast, before the film was shut down for five years because of the protests, was supposed to have Nandita Das as Kalyani, Akshay Kumar as Narayan and Shabana Azmi as Shakuntala: my mind reels at the thought of that combination!!  But this cast was awesome too.  John Abraham was excellent (and hot hot hot in a dhoti!), best I’ve seen him, and Sarala was fantastic as Chuyia. Seema…well, Seema is always wonderful, but her portrait of a woman caught between tradition and common sense is heart-rending.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, my gosh!  Seema blew me away.  I cried like a baby just from the expression on her face at the end of the film as she puts Chuyia on the train.  Actually, hers is the only performance that I cry at, every time.    Didn’t you like Raghuvir’s performance, too?  What a hoot!

 

Julie M:  It took half the movie before I recognized him as the eunuch/cross-dresser Gulabi, who assists the ashram by pimping out the widows.  Great performance but wrapping my head around what he (she?) was doing was hard.  The nature of the time period, the status of widows in Indian society (somehow I feel that not much has improved in the rural areas since 1938), the clash between the educated/literate and the not-so-educated, class and caste differences, and the attribution of misogyny to religion when it’s simply a product of ignorance…  But this film was so atmospheric, and the Rahman music so stunningly integrated, that it’s entirely possible to just enjoy it without thinking about its more serious side.  Truly one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Even though it was a bit slow in spots, and didn’t have Aamir, I think I liked it better than Earth.

 

Jenny K:  I can see how you’d say that, but I think that, for me, Earth still had the most impact, if only for the scene where Aamir meets his sister’s train.  Shudder…made me feel a bit more identification with Ice Candy Man’s situation.  In Water, except for Seema, I watched them, but didn’t really connect.  Perhaps Lisa Ray was just too cool for me.  She was, however, much better than she was in Bollywood/Hollywood, if that can actually be compared.  Deepa’s never been that good with comedies, if you ask me.

 

Julie M:  Well, just look at her.  I’ve never seen Deepa laugh, even in an interview.  She’s just so intense and focused.

 [a few days later]

Julie M:  Saw Chameli (2004) last night. Plot-wise it falls into the genre of “guy gets caught up with the denizens of the night where he is a fish out of water” film. I have not seen the type in English as anything other than a comedy, or something that purports to be a comedy, most recently Date Night which, although I love Tina Fey and Steve Carel individually, I could not bring myself to see. My favorite was 1985’s After Hours, less comic than most, probably due to the direction by Martin Scorsese.

 

Jenny K:  Maybe, I’ve just not seen enough of this genre in our films.  Can’t think of any I’d compare it to…certainly not Pretty Woman, which is the only “pro/john” kind of film that jumps to mind.  And non-sequitur, you should give Date Night a chance; it’s fun!

 
Julie M:  I will if you give Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle a chance—I thought it would be dumb but it’s hysterically funny. 

 

Jenny K:  Ooof…that might be too steep a cost, even for Kal Penn.

 

Julie M:  Anway. The plot revolves around Aman Kapoor (Rahul Bose), a successful Mumbai businessman whom we meet over the opening credits schmoozing at a cocktail party. Nice suit on him. We are also simultaneously introduced to Chameli (“Jasmine,” Kareena Kapoor), a prostitute, getting ready for a night of work. Aman leaves the party and finds himself stranded in the red-light district in a heavy downpour, which has literally flooded his car. It is, of course, Chameli’s corner where his car breaks down. Here’s the scene where they first encounter each other.

They talk for a while, get to know one another, and he becomes involved in her typical working night. We also learn that Aman has a tragedy in his past that rainy nights like this make him think about. Chameli’s matter-of-fact outlook on life (and apparently very salty language–occasioning the only bleeps that I can recall in a Hindi film) causes Aman to brood a bit less on his own troubles.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, you don’t hear things bleeped much in Hindi cinema, do you?  Though I do remember that people said that the dialogues in Omkara was considered very vernacular and quite uncouth; it caused a good bit of scandal at the time it came out.

Julie M: She also displays a softer side, seen in the pretty number, above. Then events transpire that get Aman and Chameli into some trouble with the police, which he uses personal connections and not an insignificant amount of cash to get out of, and as dawn breaks Chameli goes back to her dump of an apartment and he goes back to his life. You see a quick but very nice scene that indicates her influence on him, then in the last scene (the next evening?) he shows up at Chameli’s corner, and there is a quick scene indicating his influence on her.

Rahul Bose displays his typical low-key, indie-film style to portray the brooding Aman, but the true star of the film is Kareena Kapoor. Having only seen her in ingenue roles that do not require nuanced performances, I thought she was marvelous as the hoarse-voiced, ribald Chameli, slouching up and down the street in her bright sari, dozens of bangles and overly made-up face.

She speaks of her business very casually and explicitly, sometimes to shock Aman but more often, it seems, to remind herself that she can have no other hopes and dreams than what her life actually is.  And she teases Aman by displaying herself and saying (paraphrased), “we’re not all Umrao Jaans and Chandramukhis.” But she tries her best to help others, and we find out that her connection to her pimp has a strong element of genuine friendship rather than purely his exploitation of her. So while she is not exactly the “hooker with the heart of gold” of more fantasy-like films, we definitely get a more complete picture of her as a woman than we do with portrayals of prostitutes in other films, like the character played by Preity Zinta in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. And as a romance, much more satisfying than films like Pretty Woman, which was a fantasy all the way.

 

Jenny K:  I keep meaning to see Sushmita Sen’s film about the life of a village girl of questionable morals, Chingaari (2006) which got very mixed reviews.  I love her presence on screen and wish she’d get more lead roles.  No subtitles in this confrontation scene with the village priest (Mithun Chakraborty) but you get the gist…she reminds me so much of Shabana in this scene.

 

Julie M:  Chameli was kind of a cross-over film–not quite a realistic Aparna Sen-style film but definitely not mainstream Bollywood despite three song numbers and very high production quality. Having seen Tabu gloriously portray the life of a pay dancer in the gritty Chandni Bar, I was derisive of this overly glamorized number showing a Mumbai dance bar.

The writer/director, Sudhir Mishra, also directed one of my favorite films Haazaron Khwaishein Aisi, and bravo to him for getting more out of Kareena than I thought possible. I enjoyed Chameli, but only because it was an attempt to get a real female character into the Bollywood mainstream. Overall it was kind of slow and I am not enough of a Rahul Bose fan to see this much of him without being surrounded by extra characters to take the edge off his blandness.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm…I thought she brought quite a lively quality to the film and I liked their chemistry.  Not as much as I liked his chemistry with Konkona in Mr and Mrs. Iyer, another Aparna Sen film that I will send in the next big shipment.  Now that I think of it, Rahul seems to gravitate to films where he doesn’t really interact physically with his lead actresses, here and in The Japanese Bride and M&M Iyer.  Curious.

 [about a week later]

Julie M:  Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (My Veil is Stained, 2007) is a fairly old-fashioned potboiler about honor, duty and sin–with the “modern” twist that the main characters are all female. “Modern” I say in quotes, because although it is set in contemporary Mumbai, it seems to have always been that women bear the brunt of whatever actions are deemed sinful at the time.  Here’s the trailer.

The plot involves a pair of happy sisters, Vibya (Rani Mukherji) and Shubya, called Chutki (Konkona Sen Sharma), who spend their time skipping around Varanasi (yes, the same Varanasi where the widows of Water live, except 70 years later) and raising heck..

They live with their parents (Jaya Bachchan and Anupam Kher) in a grand but decaying old mansion and we find out that they are quite poor.  Things go from bad to worse, and in order to save the family Vibya decides to take drastic actions that also lead her into a life of sin. She lies to her family (sin #1) that she has a job offer in Mumbai and leaves Varanasi, but finds nothing.  Desperate, she sleeps with a prospective employer (sin #2), who then flings money at her and denies her the job. She realizes that the only way she can make enough money to send home is to sell her body (sin #3), and she transforms herself into an alter ego, Natasha, a high-class, high-priced “escort.” This song indicates her state of mind as she practices walking in high heels and divorcing herself from her occupation as she thinks of home.

Of course she is deeply shamed and stressed, despite the fact that she becomes very wealthy and in demand.  Trying not to blow her cover while she falls in love with a nice man (Abhishek Bachchan), pays blackmail to her evil cousin (sin #4), and supports her executive-trainee sister (who has moved to Mumbai and also fallen in love with a nice man (Kunal Kapoor, mmm) stresses her out even more.

All seems lost when Chutki figures out her Natasha identity.  Then it is revealed that Abhi and Kunal are brothers.  I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that at the end the truth is revealed, and the fallout is not what Vibya expects. And there’s a cute final dance number (here, with German subtitles).

Great performance by Rani Mukherji as the torn Vibya, albeit a bit overblown.  The sisterly love between Rani and Konkona was very sweet and natural.  And Rani and Abhishek have great chemistry together:  nice to see them again after Bunty aur Babli.  Plot-wise, amid all her moaning and groaning about the “stain” she brings to the family, it seems that all is in Vibya’s head. Also, a plot point is that Vibya and Chutki are friends with a “courtesan” (Hema Malini, in a wonderful cameo role), an Umrao Jaan-like mother-figure whom they admire for her artistic skill despite the fact that she sleeps with men for money.

So why doesn’t anyone care that Vibya is selling her body?  Maybe ultimately it’s the difference between being a streetwalker like Chameli and being an escort like Natasha–i.e., the amount of cash changing hands. Or maybe it’s because did it all to support her family, which makes it okay.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this film in the theater when it came out, and though I liked all the performances, I didn’t have much of a fondness for it.  Maybe it was how easily Rani got to the top of her “profession”.  I think in real life, she’d have had a more depressing life path.

 

Julie M:  Overall, I thought that this film was much ado about nothing considering it is the 21st century already. All the drama seemed to be a relic of the past, and people were upset because they thought they were supposed to be.  A plot like this might have been impressive in the 1950s, but considering the family in all other ways seemed to be quite modern, the quandary Vibya was in rang hollow.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  Mrityudand (Death Sentence, 1997) is an interesting take on woman-power, Hindi-style. Not what you’d expect from a mainstream film.

Plot:  the (fictional) village of Bilaspur holds traditional values, particularly when it comes to their women, who are expected to remain chaste, keep their place and allow the men to run roughshod over them. Town-bred Ketki (a surprisingly unglamorous Madhuri Dixit), arrives as the bride of Vinay (Ayub Khan), a young businessman. She is quickly absorbed into his family, consisting of his father, brother and brother’s wife Chandravati (Shabana Azmi). Shortly after her arrival, Vinay’s brother leaves Chandravati, who is barren, to head up the local monastery. Tradition demands that Chandravati act like a widow; however, a deep depression combined with the intense pressure to conform to social norms makes her gravely ill. Then Vinay falls into business problems with the local bully, Tirpat Singh (Mohan Joshi)–he as well cracks under pressure and starts to drink and beat Ketki. Here’s a scene as he deteriorates. 

 

Jenny K: Madhuri’s wonderfully tough in this, and almost almost as surprising as she is in Lajja, but I never recommend that one unless you speak Hindi, because the subtitles are almost non-existent.

 

Julie M: Ketki leaves Vinay but after he apologizes and quits drinking she returns home and figures out a way to solve his business problems. Chandravati finds true love with an old family friend (Om Puri) and becomes pregnant, proving that her infertility was not her fault; however, a pregnant widow is in a difficult situation socially so she hides in the house. Meanwhile, their servant girl is having money problems with Tirpat Singh, and he forces her to sleep with him to pay off the debt. Ketki learns of the situation and convinces the girl to refuse Tirpat; when she does, Tirpat comes after her and beats her, but the village women under Ketki’s leadership save her, driving Tirpat away.

Ketki’s ideas turn Vinay’s business around and he starts to best Tirpat. Tirpat, upset with his loss of power, contrives to have Vinay’s motorcycle explode and the troublemaking Ketki is now a “defenseless” widow.  Then Tirpat rounds up Chandravati’s monk-husband and blackmails him into accusing his wife of adultery.  [Spoilers, highlight to read] The village men arrive to hound Ketki and Chandravati out of the village (and kill them en route); however, the women come to their defense and attack the men. In the ensuing melee Ketki grabs Vinay’s rifle, drives Tirpat out of the house and shoots him dead.[end]

Madhuri Dixit was stellar as the smart, fiery Ketki, and Shabana Azmi was softer than I’ve ever seen her as the depressed, then joyful Chandravati. Om Puri was great as Chandravati’s savior-turned-lover—this was the first time I saw him in a romantic role.

 

Jenny K:  He can do it, if he sets his mind to it…and he’s often cast as a protector of women. I recently saw him as the old factory manager, Chowkidar Abu Miya, in Mirch Masala (1987) where he barricades himself with all the female factory workers to keep Smita Patil safe from the evil, lecherous local boss, played with moustache twirling glee by Naseeruddin Shah.

 

Julie M:  What I liked was how under Ketki’s influence the attitude of the village women changed from the early “this is how men are, it’s the women’s role to shut up and take it” to one of self-empowerment, realizing the importance of sticking together and not letting men’s’ ideas of what is appropriate female behavior rule their lives. And, in an interesting cinematic turnabout, the female characters in the film display complexity and depth while the male characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. It was an excellent combination of a typical “entertainment” film (the love story between Vinay and Ketki is explored with the usual array of songs) and a realistic treatment of an important social issue.

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:

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:

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),

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: 

 
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.

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. It is online 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 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).

Part 15: All About Dancing, and Playing it Saif

Julie M:  Thanks for pointing out the actors in Bawandar! I did notice that the lead actress was the same as the birth mom in KM, but the familiarity of the other actors escaped me. I guess that means they’ve disappeared into their roles, which makes them good actors.

Actually one of my friends got back to me this morning and wants to go tonight. I think dangling Hrithik in front of her did the trick.

 

Jenny K:  Yay! A taker! I knew something would pan out! Enjoy, and tell me what you think! As to your next shipment, I’ll try to send you something more soon.

 

Julie M:  OK, saw Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara this evening. Really great: funny, great buddy moments, amazing scenery, perfect pacing. I’m not sure it was necessary to see on the big screen but it definitely made a difference, although we were sitting a little too close. Hrithik’s face should always be 10 ft. tall…and you are right, he needed to dance more. Theater was about 85% full (6pm show), mostly Indians, mostly younger couples apparently on dates, only 1 granny that I saw and a couple of entire families. My friend got kind of excited about Indian movies (ok, she got really excited about Hrithik) so I recommended a couple to her.

Why do people not like Katrina Kaif? I thought she was adorable. Is it because they think she’s taking work away from “real” Indian actresses?

 

Jenny K: I was sitting in the second row, too and to the side. They had us in a smaller theater at the multiplex and it was completely full at the 8:40 show. There were seven of us and so we had to break into twos and threes around the house. You’re right, Hrithik is a sight to see that close. Which ones did you recommend to your friend? After you’re well and truly hooked on Hrithik, you have to see the following two scenes from his first movie Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, that sent all the Indian girls over the edge. No one knew anything about him before this, had just been a 2nd AD on a few of his father’s films. He wasn’t his father’s first choice for this role, I believe, but Hrithik sure picked it up and ran with it. On the first clip, just have to watch about 3 1/2 minutes. Sorry there are no subtitles, but they had the best video quality and these are for unabashed ogling, not worrying about the plot.

As to the Katrina thing…I’ll tell you, I’ve seen her in a few films with Akshay Kumar and also a few with her boyfriend Salman Khan and she’s never been as warm and attractive before this film. Usually she’s sort of cold and wooden, like a mannequin. If she keeps up this way, I won’t have any problems with her.

 

Julie M:  Nice clips! I liked the “Club Indiana” in the 2nd one…Indiana Jones…remember how we saw that together the first weekend it came out? You also had a nice clip in your blog, the one that’s a more “arty” dance number, “Main Aisa Kyun Hoon”. I’m going to forward that entire Hrithik blog post to her.

I recommended Dhoom 2 (!!!), Koi…Mil Gaya and Krrish. I know Dhoom 2 isn’t very intellectual but he is all over it, and it’s fun. That’s all I could think of off the top of my head, plus she is in the same library system as I am so I made sure to recommend films I knew she could get easily. She is also a big indie movie fan with the same basic taste as me so I gave her the names of 4 SRK movies I knew she would like, My Name is Khan, Paheli, Swades and Chak De India. I told her that if she wanted to experience full-on Bollywood she could go for Devdas or KKKG but I warned her what she might not like about them, and told her that I couldn’t get through Devdas myself.

If you have KNPH please send it…you know how I love looking at him…

Jenny K:  Funny, when I saw the club name, I thought, “Club India-na?” Chee! Bad pun, with Na? being the Hindi equivalent of saying “right?” I, loving bad puns, jumped to that right away.  It’s all in how you look at it.

Side bit of nostalgia.  Do you know, your dad told me my favorite pun, ever.  History based, it is as follows:  One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.  Still makes me giggle, funny guy, your dad.

I do have quite a few other HR films, but I had hesitated to send them because most are too melodramatic and/or too cheesy. Do you want them all, and if so, do you want them in a lump or rationed out so they last longer (and so B doesn’t realize how far into HrithikMania you’re going)?

Julie M:  The club in the clip was DEFINITELY decked out like the cave in the beginning of Raiders. Obvious to me.

If the HR films are very cheesy don’t send them because I don’t have time to waste on them, but a little cheese is OK (I have a fast-forward button). I’ll trust your judgment.

Late last night, after getting back from the theater and before B got home from Michigan at 1AM (urk), I watched Love Aaj Kal. Meh. Saif was somewhat watchable in the dual role (yikes, he is overdoing the body building!) but frankly, neither story was very interesting. Story 1: Girl and boy are together for 2 years, break up to lead different professional lives, then find out in the absence that they are soulmates. Big deal. Story 2: 45 years ago boy sees girl, instant love, cannot declare his love so he stalks her until she falls in love with him, he declares himself to her family on the eve of her wedding to someone else, he gets her. Also, big deal. Popular in India but I cannot see why. Hope the other 2 I got are better.

Jenny K:  Love Aaj Kal is an odd thing…when I saw the trailer, I said, I think I saw this. When I read the synopsis on IMDb and later, with your description I said, yeah, I must have seen this in the theaters when it came out. Bad sign when I really don’t remember much about it at all except vague images of Saif in a Sikh turban and Rishi Kapoor in it, I think as the modern day version of that guy Saif was playing in the past. I didn’t even remember it long enough to put it on my list. Maybe I did just read a few reviews and look at a few trailers and then decided not to go…that thing I have about not “getting” Saif as a romantic lead. Though he was okay in Parineeta, as I recall. Sort of an exception to my rule.

Julie M:  But Saif was really cute as the romantic lead in Hum Tum. Better direction, maybe. Also with Rishi Kapoor.

Jenny K:  Ah, we must agree to disagree. I saw that and Salaam Namaste and thought he just tried too hard to do the SRK charming thing and it just didn’t fit comfortably on him. He spoke too fast, then his voice got higher and squeakier, (In other things like KHNH, I’d have said that his voice was his most attractive feature) and he never knew when to pull back from the humor with his heroine and just get serious, and therefore sexy. Yes, it can be formulaic, but SRK has that timing down in his sleep, and I haven’t found Saif able to get it, or, alternatively, to find his own rhythms as a romantic lead, at least not yet. But put him into quirky or dark roles, and something else happens with him…completely convincing. I’m going to send you Being Cyrus.

Julie M:  Saw Aaja Nachle this evening. I could have sworn the plot was lifted from a 1940s Judy Garland movie–“let’s put on a play to save the auditorium from being torn down.” Hated the first half (so formulaic and boring) but it got much better in the 2nd half, and the final play was so beautifully done. [Jenny K’s Note: I’d have put the clip on of the finale play, Laila-Majnu, but there are no good copies of a letterboxed version on YouTube…and it’s over 20 minutes long!]

I finally understand why India loves dramatic love stories. We only have Shakespeare (and in the USA it’s not even ours, and he ripped off a lot too), they have 1000+ years of epic poetry and fable and legend about couples and love and honor and duty and all. Our culture is pretty weak that way. Maybe that’s why the Bible plays so well here–it contains some really great stories that are required to fill the soul-gap that the Puritans created when they banned whatever was magical and beautiful about religion.

Jenny K:  But the “Let’s put on a show” genre is almost completely new for Indian audiences, at least from what I’ve seen… so there is some positive aspects of their stealing from Judy:-)  Seriously, Indian popular cinema has never needed a framework for the musical numbers, like a backyard show, they put it in wherever emotional clarity is needed. 

I also love anything that gives Madhuri the chance to dance until she drops. She can really grab your attention…and I’ll agree that I bought the video just to be able to see the full Laila Majnu show whenever I wanted to. You practically didn’t need the subtitles. I didn’t like the New York scenes as much, felt very dated, except Akshaye giving Madhuri a Starbucks coffee at the end, so you figure he’ll visit her there. A small role for him here, but a lighthearted one, I particularly liked his making pizza and asking the daughter for gum and telling her “I’m the bad guy”.

I agree with your points for the love of drama, but I think I’d add that a good portion of Indian audiences find an outlet for the range of emotions that they often don’t express in real life. They are not encouraged in PDAs or love matches, etc., and like most of us, spend the good portion of their lives doing ordinary, undramatic things.  Why not  indulge in travel, riches, true love and epic tragedy on screen whenever you can?

Julie M: “New York scenes…”?? did I miss something? all I can recall is she’s rehearsing her company in the dance studio, she’s on the phone hearing bad news, then she’s on the plane with her daughter. Maybe a brief visual flashback when she’s telling the story of the failed marriage to the American photographer? I admit that I did not have time to watch the bonus DVD last night, but I will flip through that for deleted scenes tonight before I have to return the library DVDs tomorrow.

OK–last movie review–saw Bhool Bhulaiyaa. Very odd. Starred Shiney Ahuja, the actor I liked from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, and Akshay Kumar. Akshay was very likable in this–no martial arts–he played a goofy but ultimately smart psychiatrist. Even though it ended up being somewhat interesting, the plot felt contrived and there were too many irrelevant and farce-like aspects in the first half for me to say I truly liked the whole thing although there were some really good moments. Vidya Balan was great as the female lead although she overacted near the end. There was a lot of opportunity to make this movie something special, that I felt was wasted.

Funny, when looking it up I learned that it was a re-re-re-remake of Chandramukhi–or, rather, it and Chandramukhi had the same original source–with our buddy Rajinikanth as the psychiatrist. Aha!

So, overall, thumbs up for Akshay and Shiney, so-so for the rest, and man, did I love the beauty of the haunted house.

Jenny K:  So that’s an “Okay” for BB or did you actually like it overall? Can’t quite tell. 🙂 As to the “New York scenes” question, the couple of times I’ve seen Aaja Nachle, I thought someone referred to her studio as being in New York, or some subscript said it. Perhaps I just imagined it, but I don’t think so. There was only the scene at the beginning and one over the credits, so two had to be plural. Didn’t mean to imply you’d missed anything.

Julie M:  BB was merely OK.  2.5 stars out of 5.  Don’t go out of your way to find it, because it’s not that good, but if you come across it you would probably enjoy it.

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