July 1, 2013: Best Actor? Nasseer, By Far

Naseeruddin ShahThis week Julie is just brimming over with an accumulation of Naseeruddin Shah film magic.  I’m just going to get out of the way.  It’s a natural reaction, in my opinion…evidence of my own mania for the man, here.

Julie M:  I continue to be impressed with Naseeruddin Shah.  I’ve seen, what, eight or nine films with him now, and I want more!  [just counted, and actually I’ve seen him in 19 films!] The last two just reached out and slapped me across the face, they were that good.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for including Parzania in the latest box! I was totally gobsmacked by that film, and your man Naseerji was simply stunning in it. Trailer here. Wow.

Jenny K:  I did warn you…he can be quite habit-forming.  Ought to have some sort of label at the beginning of each film, or something.

Julie M:  Parzania (2007) is the story of a Parsi family caught up in the religious riots of 2002 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Cyrus (Naseeruddin Shah) is a middle-class, educated movie projectionist with a wife, Shernaz (Sarika), and two children, a daughter (Pearl Barsiwala) and a son named Parzan (Parzan Dastur). Parzan is a typical ten-year-old, fooling around and dreaming of a land he calls Parzania, where the buildings are made of chocolate and you can do whatever you want. They befriend a visiting American named Allan (Corin Nemec), who is escaping from a troubled life and is looking for answers by studying Gandhi’s teachings in India. The family is close and life is good.

One day while Cyrus is at work a joint action between a radical Hindu political party and the local police in retaliation for a Muslim leads to the majority Muslim population in the family’s neighborhood getting attacked by a gang of thugs while the police watch. Their housing block is torched and citizens are murdered; in the melee Parzan is separated from his mother and sister. Despite obstacles Cyrus eventually reunites with his wife and daughter but Parzan remains missing. Allan finds the family in a refugee camp and takes them in.

parzaniacover

The rest of the film is the family’s search both for meaning and their missing son, and the horror of being caught up in a brutal war between religio-political factions, neither of which they affiliate with. It is based on a true story.

This is not an easy film to watch. The riot scenes are graphic and horrific, and there is a courtroom scene at the end that had me spellbound while tears were welling up. As a parent I cannot imagine anything worse than being forcibly separated from my children with no knowledge of where they are or if they are even alive, and the pain was portrayed in an absolutely realistic, compelling and heart-rending way by the two lead actors. Best thing I’ve ever seen Naseerji do, and I was unfamiliar with Sarika (later looked her up–ex-wife of Kamal Hasan) but am suitably impressed.

The film is mostly in English, but the bits in Urdu and Hindi are about 15-20% of the film and are not subtitled. I would have liked to have gotten the full impact of the movie–I can figure out some Hindi but this must have been some kind of dialect because it just sped by me, and I have no Urdu at all. Nevertheless, even with only 85% of the dialogues in my language it still was a heart-stoppingly powerful film. No wonder it was banned in Gujarat when it came out: it’s not something the tourist board would want spread around, and it makes the police and politicians look corrupt, incompetent and heartless.

I could say so much more about the film’s pacing and cinematography, which are both perfect, but this has gotten too long already. Although obviously the true story has been dramatized, the historical facts are correct, heartbreakingly so. The damage and waste of humanity occasioned by these constant religious wars is really keeping India from any kind of progress. Gandhi must be spinning in his grave.

This is definitely one I will recommend to all–amazing piece of filmmaking. It is available free on YouTube here. 

Julie M:  The other film was 3 Deewarein (3 Walls, 2003)…and, true to Naseerji’s form, it was an excellent one. To me, possibly Naseeruddin Shah’s best performance of what I’ve seen so far (although he was really good in Sparsh as well).

Absolutely unbelievable character drama with four superior lead performances. Trailer here (subtitled).

Brief plot summary: Jaggu (Jackie Shroff) and Nagya (Nagesh Kukunoor) are both prison inmates, convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Jaggu freely admits to killing his wife in a jealous rage, but Nagya insists that the murder he is accused of (also his wife) was an accident. They are joined one day by a transfer prisoner, Ishaan (Naseeruddin Shah), who is also convicted of murder and is a serial escapee. His story is that he too killed accidentally, tripping during a bank robbery and the gun went off, killing a pregnant woman. The three men form a bond of friendship in this somewhat experimental prison where the goal of the warden (Gulshan Grover) is rehabilitation rather than warehousing.

Naseerji 70's ChicJenny K:  I think I first fell in love with Naseerji when he popped up with that silly curly wig! Oh, my…

Julie M:  Into this milieu walks Chandrika (Juhi Chawla), a documentary filmmaker who is doing a project on death row prison inmates. She asks to interview these three (the only ones in the prison set to die) for her film, to raise awareness about the true face of crime in India. Over the course of the interviews we learn more about these men, and about Chandrika as well, who we find out is undertaking the project as a way to escape her abusive husband. Meanwhile, Ishaan is planning yet another escape and Nagya is hoping for a pardon at the prison’s annual Republic Day celebration, while Jaggu is resigned to his ultimate fate.

The characterizations are sharp and the way stories unfold are unexpected. Naseeruddin Shah’s Ishaan is a charming con man whose brain you can almost see ticking away, while Jackie Shroff’s Jaggu is a sensitive cook and poet, who speaks almost entirely in English. Nagya’s twitchiness seemed a bit forced for the purpose of the character development, but it worked. Juhi Chawla ably breaks out of her Manic Pixie Dream Girl image to portray a very complex character on her own, not merely the vehicle for the exploration of the mens’ stories or a potential love interest for one of them. Here’s a key scene with her husband. 

Jenny K:  I was really impressed by Nagesh Kukunoor who was the writer and director of the film, too. I think it was his third film, and unlike most directors who put themselves in their own films, actually has reason to do so. Not your typical film hero, but gives a reasonably effective performance, when up against Jackie’s practiced film hero style and Naseer’s undeniable charm, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it of Nagesh.

Julie M:  Reasonably effective, but I thought his character was the least thought-through of all of the prisoners. Even Nasty Gautam had more to work with.

One thing that confused me: (spoilers) Was Ishaan really responsible for those other 2 murders, or did he just confess to them in order to avoid being shot by Chandrika? It was never really made clear.(end spoilers)

Jenny K:  I don’t know…been a while since I watched it…now where did I put my copy…

Julie M:  The prison itself, through the cinematography, becomes a character in the drama. Fully half the scenes are shot at night, and the moonlight effects are riveting. One of my favorite scenes is an interview between Chandrika and Ishaan that takes place in a workshop where the prisoners block-print designs on saris, and it is absolutely an authentic-looking studio for that kind of work; the bright colors of the saris hanging to dry contrast with the crumbling stone walls of the prison and are evocative on so many metaphorical levels. Just beautiful. The final shot of the film (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler), where you see an aerial view of the prison that previously you had only known from corners and courtyards, is absolutely spectacular and cleverly in keeping with the nature of the plot denouement. Stunning.

Just when you think you have this film figured out, something happens to totally upend your preconceived notions. In a good way, every time. All my thumbs (and you know I am ALL thumbs!) are up on this one, and I’ve even borrowed a few from other people so I can put them up too.  Available free on YouTube, albeit without subtitles. 

Julie M:  So let’s talk crossover potential.  Why has he not done many films in this country, or in Britain?  Is Irrfan Khan so much a better actor that he gets all those parts? (I’m thinking The Namesake and Life of Pi in particular, but also ones like Slumdog Millionaire and The Darjeeling Limited)  What does Naseerji get…The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (bad film:  I didn’t actually see him in that), Monsoon Wedding (OK, that was a good film and he rocked it) and Today’s Special, which, despite how good he was, was small and formulaic?  What gives?

Jenny K:  Irrfan’s got a better agent, maybe?  Or maybe chooses better directors to work with, or perhaps, better known directors…no, that doesn’t quite work as both have worked with Mira Nair, but maybe it’s “frequency equals recognizability”?  Irrfan has done three features with her, and one short, (The Namesake, Salaam Bombay, New York I Love You (where he successfully convinced me he was deeply in love with Natalie Portman, of all people!) and a short (Migration), against Naseerji only doing Monsoon Wedding with her…plus working with Ang Lee couldn’t have hurt Irrfan’s recognition factor, either.

Nasserji’s choice of The Great New Wonderful doesn’t stand up quite as universally appealing a crossover vehicle as Irrfan’s choices.  Not that I mean to insult that film’s director, Danny Leiner.  It was an interesting small film with a nice ensemble, and I loved the chemistry he established between our boy and Sharat Saxena, though as almost all of those scenes were subtitled, the two of them, as a pair, didn’t make it into this trailer.  Either way, both are fabulous actors and deserve to be American household names…but considering the basis of US media fame these days, without their own reality shows, this probably won’t be likely.  Sigh.  I don’t really want to have my favorites sell out that way, in any case.

Except a teeny tiny part of me that wants to see Hrithik Roshan blow the socks off of the rest of the celebs on Dancing with the Stars.

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February 13, 2013: Good cop, good cop

Our catching up continues…in the last months of 2012 we watched several films with good cops (two of them Aamir Khan!) and couldn’t help comparing them.

Julie M:  Finally finished Zanjeer (The Chain, 1973)…awesome film! Had everything: love, revenge, gangsters, fight scenes, and Amitabh Bachchan, looking hot in a police uniform. It doesn’t get much better…here’s the trailer, unfortunately not subtitled: 

Plot summary: Young Vijay (isn’t his name always Vijay in these things?) Khanna witnesses the murder of his parents one Diwali and as he grows to adulthood, his nightmares are haunted by an image of a man on a galloping white horse for some unfathomable (to him) reason. We know why, though…because the murderer was wearing a chain bracelet with a horse charm. Raised by a sympathetic cop, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a police officer, known among his peers for his unorthodox ways and steadfast dedication to wiping out crime in all its forms, which often gets him into trouble with his higher-ups. At a new posting he befriends, and reforms, the local gambling boss Sher Khan (Pran) and saves Mala, a damsel in distress (Jaya Bhaduri), although the actual amount of distress she was in is doubtful, since she’s pretty good at knife-handling. Here’s the meet-cute scene between Vijay and Sher Khan. 

Jenny K:  Did you ever see Amitabh in the film Dev? He and Om Puri have a great good cop/corrupt cop duel in that one, and it has the added benefit of being one of the few movies I couldn’t fault Kareena in!  BigB isn’t quite as young as in Zanjeer, but I think I prefer his older avatar in any case.

Julie M: I’ll take him any way I can get him…but so very handsome when young and that drunk scene in Satte pe Satta always cracks me up and makes me fall in love with him all over again…anyway, Vijay also receives anonymous phone calls alerting him to when shipments of tainted liquor are brought to town, and he becomes a local hero to all except for the criminals running the hooch, headed by a crime boss named Teja (Ajit).

After Teja menaces Mala and she barely escapes with her life, Vijay rescues her (again) and places her in protective custody with his brother, where she gradually loses her “street” ways and falls in love with Vijay. As the case against Teja grows, Vijay gets more and more determined to wipe him out…until the day he himself is framed for bribery, thrown in prison and gets kicked off the force. He knows Teja is behind it, and grudgingly accepts Sher Khan’s help to trap Teja into a final confrontation.

I love this scene where Sher Khan expresses undying bro-hood with Vijay:  Pran not being particularly graceful, it has that awkward yet mesmerizing improvisational quality of Tevye’s big number “If I Was a Rich Man” from Fiddler.

Despite some totally ridiculous hand-to-hand combat, Zanjeer is a mesmerizing picture of a man who must reconcile his past and present and somehow exorcise the bitterness from his soul in order to be truly happy. I highly recommend that people do a BigB marathon by watching (in this order) Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay (although I was not a fan of Sholay personally, it’s important to see); it’s a wonderful snapshot of what makes Amitji a star and how he defines a cinematic generation.

Since this was so perfect I’m not sure I want to see the upcoming remake, although seeing Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan would be terrific. Prakash Raj as Teja, Priyanka Chopra as Mala, and hunky Telegu actor Ram Charan Teja as Vijay (confusing) round out the remake cast. It looks like a very faithful update, down to the songs even, which makes me wonder why it even has to be done.

Zanjeer is available free on YouTube with subtitles here.

And speaking of squeaky-clean ACPs…

Julie MSarfarosh (Martyr, 1999) was definitely a treat! Great performances all around, with standout roles played by Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. I can see why you bought this one…combines your two boys into an irresistible experience.

Aamir Khan is Ajay Singh Rathod, a squeaky-clean ACP newly arrived in Mumbai with a tragic backstory that made him drop his dream of being a doctor to devote his life to wiping out crime, particularly terrorist-related activity. Rathod is good–too good–his reputation precedes him and the bad guys in town scramble to cover their tracks. Nevertheless, with luck and skill he manages to penetrate an international gun-smuggling ring that reaches deep into the ISI–Pakistan’s version of the CIA. Meanwhile Rathod is dealing with his higher-ups’ prejudice against his man Salim (Mukesh Rishi), a Muslim whom they suspect to be sympathetic to the terrorists, the sudden reappearance of his college crush Seema (Sonali Bendre), and an unexpected friendship with his ghazal-singing idol Gulfam Hassan (Naseeruddin Shah) facilitated by Seema, who is his agent in Mumbai.  The action of the film centers on Rathod’s outsmarting of the criminals and bringing them to justice, but rather than being about one guy’s quest it’s almost an ensemble piece with some really outstanding performances.  And the guy gets the girl in the end.

Things I loved:

1) you meet and get to know Ajay in a sweet homey setting, kissing his Maa, playing with his nephew and getting all excited about scoring tickets to see Gulfam perform, then flash back to his college relationship with Seema as “Ajay Singh”, all the while seeing scenes of brutal terrorism in the present day. You think, OK, this ordinary guy is somehow going to be involved, maybe he’ll get kidnapped by the terrorists and end up saving the day, when BOOM, in almost a throwaway scene you learn that he is in fact the feared “Rathod” that all the goondas have been discussing, and just like that, Aamir’s face suddenly gets more mature, more serious, and you just know that he is going to be the hero in more ways than one. This is his Raakh character, only with a badge.

2) They get Aamir wet–not just wet, but DRENCHED–in the obligatory erotic love song. I mean, wow. Aamir just doesn’t do that in his later films. You’ve already fallen in love with him because of his character, and now this? It’s almost too much to take. 

3) Naseeruddin Shah. He gets two great speeches, one in each half of the film, and delivers them perfectly. But why (spoiler alert) did his character have to bite the ear off a baby goat?! ew. (end spoiler)

4) Gritty realism without gratuitous violence. I read that they did a lot of research on the actual cross-border arms trade and many of the details are scarily accurate.

5) Mukesh Rishi. He overacts in one scene, but otherwise I liked the presence of this giant–or maybe relative giant, because Aamir is such an elf. Apparently he was in Koi…Mil Gaya and I didn’t notice him.  Here’s his big scene with a bit too much intensity: 

So I guess my overall opinion is YES YES YES! I understand a Sarfarosh 2 may be in the works…with or without Aamir…???

Sarfarosh is available free on YouTube, in 16 sections, with 1 commercial per section. (sorry)  Here’s part I:

 

Oh–and about the title–still trying to figure out who the martyr is. Is it Ajay, who destroys his youthful dreams in order to defend his country? (spoiler alert) Is it Gulfam, who kills himself in the end so as not to destroy his own reputation (which Ajay seems to have protected after his death anyway)? Is it Salim, who alienates himself from other Muslims to do what he thinks is right, which is protect Ajay and India? (end spoilers)  Lots of martyrs in this film.

Jenny K:  Perhaps the title is a more generic “Martyrdom”? With all those examples, I’d bet it is. Glad you liked it. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I’d have bought it, even if I hadn’t been trying to own all of Aamir’s films at that point in my mania.

I really think that Sonali Bendre is lovely in this one…a real vision. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more with her. I also love the cinematography, especially the shots of the camels in the desert.  (aside to readers:  we review two more films with Sonali Bendre in a future post)

Julie M:  “Martyrdom” would be “Sarfaroshi” or is that more like “Sacrifice”? patriotic song Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna from The Legend of Bhagat Singh and similar. Maybe the title is more like “Sacrifice,” then.  Ajay sacrificed his personal desire, Gulfam sacrificed his nationality (remember he was upset that in Pakistan he was always a refugee).

Jenny K:  Speaking of cops, I can’t believe that I haven’t reviewed Talaash yet!  What a delinquent I am!  I saw it the first weekend out, and it was a really effective piece of suspense film making.  Here’s the trailer.  

Julie M:  I know, I was supposed to see the same weekend as you, but sorry, I got sick!

Jenny K:  Aamir Khan plays another noble police inspector, Surjan Singh Shekhawat, who  is standing against all corruption.  Could we expect anything less?  But he’s suffused with an air of melancholy, that we discover is caused by the death of his young son in a boating accident.  Both he and his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherji) blame themselves for relaxing their vigilance and letting him die.

Work is the only thing that distracts Surjan at all, and it begins to put more and more distance between himself and Roshni, especially when he begins investigating the death of a famous movie star in a crazy, apparently drunken, car crash.  To Surjan, the details just don’t add up, and he begins digging into the sordid underbelly of the red light district, looking for clues.  He’s helped by the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold, Rosie, (played by Kareena Kapoor) who nurses Surjan along the path to the right answers, and heals him, as well.  But things just aren’t as they seem…not at all.

Julie M:  She’s a hooker AGAIN?  Wasn’t Chameli enough for her? I guess she didn’t have a heart of gold there, but still.  

Jenny K:  The performances in the film are uniformly good, particularly Aamir’s and Kareena’s, who establish a palpable chemistry that I haven’t seen between them before…and I don’t see often with KK, at all.  Props to her, she knows just how to strut it and burn with a teasing warmth that captures Surjan and doesn’t let him drop the case, even when he knows he should, to keep his sanity and his marriage.  There’s a tangential plotline with a poor denizen of the brothels, Tehmur, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who is in love with one of the whores, and he is determined to free her, at any cost.  Nawazuddin, as you know, is one of my favorites…though why he plays so many crippled characters, I’m not sure.  Got to get The Gangs of Wasseypur and see whether that one is a stronger personality.  I loved him in Kahaani as that semi-corrupt police inspector and he just burned up the screen.  He doesn’t, in my opinion, ever give a bad performance.

Julie M:  I don’t have enough experience with him to say whether he is one of my faves, but I loved him in Kahaani, so I will take your word for the rest!  Although Gangs of Wasseypur is not on my list.  Anything with “Gangs” in the title I avoid on principle.

Jenny K:  You definitely should see Talaash though. Even if I don’t like AK’s moustache in it, hides too much of his face for me, but it actually made Pat like him more. She says she can now see him more as a husband than as a boyfriend-type. I like him any way he comes, and it’s nice that he doesn’t seem quite as angry as his more recent films have portrayed him. I particularly enjoyed seeing Rani on screen again. It’s been too long!

Julie M:  Found it on YouTube but without subtitles.

March 31, 2012: Days of Whine and Reasons…to Procrastinate

We’ve been bad, bad bloggers.  No excuses other than work, and looking for work, getting in the way.  But we’re baaaaaaack!  Jenny went to a film festival in Pittsburgh, and Julie staged her own Naseeruddin Shah Mini-Fest. 

 

Jenny K: Well, not THAT bad…maybe only two aa’s worth.  I myself have gone to great lengths, of time and gasoline to bring forth this report.  Getting it written up, was, I must admit, much more prolonged than I’d have wished.  If I had known we were embarking on a Naseeruddin Shah-lebration, well, there would have been much less procrastination!

 

Julie M:  OK, so I saw Today’s Special (2009) tonight. I know it’s not technically an Indian film and it’s all in English, but it has three Indian actors (parallel and mainstream films) and an NRI actor/screenwriter, so I’ll count it as a win.  Here’s the trailer.

Jenny K: Finally!  I knew you’d like it…I talked about it quite a bit on my older blog when I first saw it in the theaters, but it’s great to get your perspective on it.  Needless to say, Naseerji had me with the first sight of him peeping at Aasif in the rear view mirror with such a knowing twinkle in his eyes.  Mmmm!  The man is definitely worth his own film fest.

 

Julie M:  To get the feeling of how great it is, here are the first scenes under the opening credits.

Plot summary:  Samir (Aasif Mandvi, of the Daily Show) is a sous-chef in a fancy New York restaurant, with dreams of running one of his celebrity-chef boss’s several establishments in the very near future.  When someone else is selected for the job he quits in frustration, intending to go to France to study with master chefs.  A family situation interrupts his plans and he offers to temporarily run his father’s (Harish Patel) restaurant, a greasy-spoon curry joint in Jackson Heights.  But he doesn’t speak any Indian languages well enough to communicate effectively with the kitchen staff, and he doesn’t know how to cook Indian food at all.  Friendly and quirky cabbie Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) proves to be Samir’s simultaneous undoing and redemption, and his feisty mother (Madhur Jaffrey) keeps him grounded.  Of course there is also a love interest (Jess Weixler).  In the process of juggling relatives and restaurants, Samir learns the true meaning of commitment, family and food.

 

Jenny K: Just the thought of Naseerji running about in that t shirt with feathers flying is enough to cheer me up for the day!

 

Julie M: What a sweet (if semi-predictable) film! Naseerji was AMAZING–I could have kissed him all over, what an awesome character and played to perfection by the master–and of course, the food was a star its own self. Harish and Madhur can always  be counted on for top work in whatever they do.  But what I liked the best was the absolute realism of the Indian elements–down to the music, slang and attitudes. Not fake-India, REAL Indian people. OK, it was Hollywood-ed up slightly, but it felt very honest. Mandvi’s original play translated well to the screen and it felt natural and very warm.  And this gem on the special features, featuring Aasif and Madhur cooking, was hokey but fun.

 

Jenny K:  Well, she was a gem, and is, of course a rather famous cook in her own right…when I watched it, I wanted him to back off a bit with the yuk yuks, and let her go to town. 

 

Julie M: Well done, great recommendation. Love it, love it, love it!  The whole film is available for $2.99 on YouTube.  [It’s on Netflix streaming, too.] And if you decide you can’t live without more Aasif, here’s a good interview.

 

Jenny K: My film outing was to beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA where The Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival was winding down it’s seventh annual showcase of films.  I was so sorry that I only had two days to dedicate to the festival, which runs for over a week…plus having numerous other events focusing on Asian-American culture during the year.  If you’re in the area, you should definitely check the group out.

I’m afraid, as you probably could predict, that I leaned heavily Indian in my choices for viewing, with The Beetle Soldiers, an Indonesian offering, being my sole trip outside Mother India.  That film, and two others, Dekh Indian Circus and Shala, all became an unintentionally themed set, focusing on the lives of children in different parts of South Asia. 

Dekh Indian Circus (2011) was the first film I saw when I hit town, not even waiting to check in at my hotel before going to the Regent Square Theater, a cozy little art cinema just off exit 77 on 376.  The film was directed by Mangesh Hadawale in a very polished first attempt.  Aided by Laxman Utekar’s lush cinematography we take a very vivid look through the eyes of two village children as they see a traveling circus for the very first time.  Or, rather, try to see one.  What should have been a rather simple joy the parents (Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wanted to give their kids became a monumental challenge due to mingled issues of bad luck and the vagaries of the local political circus of Rajasthan’s (or any) election time.  A gorgeous film, very well acted by all involved, but a bit sad in tone and a mite confusing, as the circus/political parallels weren’t clear enough to me.

To continue through the murk of childhood memories, the second film I saw, Shala (2011), by Sujay Dahake was supposed to be a coming of age film of a group of ninth grade boys during Indira Ghandi’s political emergency of the 1970’s.  I hadn’t seen much on this era so far in my Indian film viewing, and I still don’t feel that I have.  A murky print didn’t help, but, again, the info the writer and director gave the viewer about the era wasn’t spelled out enough to give the uninitiated much enlightenment.  The children performed well, and I would have wished they had stuck more to that story and tied up some of the loose plot ends instead of spreading things too thin by covering (thinly) the historical context.  It could have been a classic boy’s first love of the “Unattainable She” film, and for me, at least, it wasn’t.

The next day, the first film was The Beetle Soldiers (2011), by Ari Sihasale.  It’s an Indonesian version of the same “boy comes of age” genre.  I was delighted to find that I was going to see one kids film this weekend where the children seemed to feel privileged going to school, and though it was often strict, not all the memories of school were harsh ones.  Our hero, Amek, played by Yudi Miftahudin with an open face and an honest expressiveness, has a talent for horses, and not as much for learning.  His life is also plagued by a cleft lip, but nothing stops his optimistic outlook…until the second half.  After that, not all the lovely cinematography in the world can stop the tsunami of bad luck that hits Amek and his family when his longed-for father finally comes home.  So much for a feel-good favorite.  Again, good performances, just not what I’d hoped for.  Sheesh.

Julie M:  The library finally yielded up The Dirty Picture (2011) and my schedule allowed me to see it in two short sessions.

I’m not going to rehash the plot because we’ve already talked about it here and our friend Carla on Filmi Geek did an extensive post on it, every word of which I agree with, except my tongue doesn’t hang out quite as much as hers does when I see Vidya. 

 

Jenny K:  Well, I don’t think anyone could match that much enthusiasm, even VB’s agent!  Wow!  And as good as some of Carla’s points are, some just missed me completely.  I got the feminist side of things, but I hadn’t seen the angle she found most obvious…with so much blatant hetero-ness goings on, it must have masked it, or it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Vidya has been a favorite of mine, acting-wise since the days of Lage Raho Munnabhai and Parineeta.  Way to go girl!

 

Julie M:  My opinion, outside of Vidya’s performance, which was of course jaw-droppingly fantastic, was that I didn’t think too much of it. I found it very dull in the few scenes she was not onscreen.  I was amused by Naseerji’s role as a Rajnikath-type South Indian actor (even anachronistically playing a college student at his age! So funny!) but he was oddly low-key and I felt he was underutilized.  The bad wig was just bad, not bad-hilarious. I think he could have hammed it up a bit more and not taken away from the film, and enhanced Vidya’s performance in the process.  A rare off note from an otherwise godlike figure in film, who turns everything he touches into gold.

 

Jenny K:  The last film of the festival for me, Trishna (2011), was an updating of Tess of the D’Urburvilles, the Thomas Hardy classic, by director Michael Winterbottom.  This one was also primarily in English, but with the setting moved to India (Rajasthan and Mumbai) and primarily Indian stars, it felt like a full-out Indian offering.  But one that will never see the light of day in the Motherland, I fear.  As faithful as Winterbottom was to the source material, the portrayal of the troubled Tess, I mean Trishna, is way too graphic in its sex scenes to ever make it past the Indian sensor board.  Heck, for a moment or two there I thought I was going to get up and leave, or grab Trishna’s knife and wield it myself, if she didn’t!  Ooof!  It’s not that I haven’t seen more blatant scenes in western films, but somehow the brutality of the scenes (while being a great indicator of Trishna’s motivation) were just this side of merciless to the audience, especially to me as a female.  Once again, good performances, especially by Frida Pinto of Slumdog fame, and great scenery, but definitely the depressing cap to a rather opressive film weekend.  Well, I chose my own schedule!

 

Julie M:  It took me three sessions, but I finished Sparsh (Touch, 1980) tonight. My faith in The Man is back:  I was completely blown away by NS’s performance!!

Plot:  Anirudh Parmar (Naseeruddin Shah) is the principal of a school for blind children, and is himself blind. While looking for an address one day he meets Kavita (Shabana Azmi), a young widow still overcome by grief after three years. They become friends, and he invites her to the school to help by teaching the children stories and songs. The distraction is just what she needs and she begins to come out of her self-imposed solitude.  Friendship turns to love and then an engagement, but after hearing the story of a fellow teacher’s (Om Puri, looking quite slim and dashing) similar marriage Anirudh becomes fearful that he will end up too dependent on her sightedness, and that she is somehow punishing herself by marrying him out of pity. Is their romance doomed by the cultural dissonance between the worlds of the blind and the sighted? Must each of them sacrifice something of themselves in order to be together?

 Here’s a quick, unsubtitled compilation of some key scenes. 
It is always a joy to watch each of the lead actors, and watching them together just put me over the top. Naseerji’s turn as the fiercely independent and crusading principal was astonishing, and it was a treat seeing him so young and handsome (not that he’s a troll now, by any means!). Example.

Shabani Azmi’s performance, while excellent all along, really hit the heights in the last 30 minutes or so as she tries to understand Anirudh’s abrupt change of feelings and his rejection of her and her world. The students at the school were all played very naturally by blind children—I doubt any of them were professional actors but they sure seemed like it.

My main criticism is that it started abruptly and ended abruptly (although not confusingly so), which really destroyed the flow of the story. The songs were incorporated so naturally into the storyline I hardly noticed them–still trying to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.  I felt it was a little heavy-handed on the “blind people aren’t helpless” theme, but I put that down to being filmed in 1980 when India probably still harbored serious cultural prejudices against handicapped people of any kind and needed to hear this socially progressive message.  And it has a kind of “deus ex machina” aspect near the end when Kavita’s best friend (Sudha Chopra) explains Kavita’s personality to Anirudh.

Sparsh is available for $0.99 on YouTube here.  Don’t know if it’s subtitled or not—seems not to be.  It’s free, in multiple parts starting here, albeit not subtitled and in a very bad print.  

Jenny K:  We’ll try not to be so behindhand next month!

February 21, 2012: Of Variety and Spice, Part 1

Jenny K: One of the things that so enchants me about watching Indian film is their sheer variety, how sometimes you are enthralled by romance, spectacle and melodrama, and then other times you’re falling out of your chair at the hilarious antics and timing of some of cinema’s best comedians.  Yes, I mean you, Paresh Rawal…you even make slapstick palatable for me, you jadugar, you.  And the most delightful thing, for me, is that sometimes you get all of that rolled up into one film!  Oh, masala, how I miss your spice in your current fall from popularity.

When we went through the few loose end reviews that we had yet to post, I began to see the gamut itself as being worthy of a theme.  The films resonate, even when they are serving up touchy issues, offering deliciously spicy biographies, or even are sublimely ridiculous, like Khalnayak, in our in Part 2…you just can’t take your eyes off Hindi film.

 

Julie M:  Finally saw Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996). I appreciated the performances of both Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das and how controversial it was because of the subject matter–not just the lesbian relationship but how much it brought long-ignored women’s issues to the forefront–and it was great to have so much exposure to Jaaved Jaffrey (even though his character was an *ss), but overall, not as great film-wise as either Water (still my fave of the three) or Earth.

Basically I saw it as the story of two lonely and bordering-on-abused (not physically but emotionally) women finding solace in each other and that solace leading to a physical relationship. I didn’t see it as a “lesbian” film, just one about how punishing Indian culture can be on individualism and women in particular, especially less educated ones.

I don’t think either of the characters were actually lesbian–well, maybe the Nandita Das character slightly leaned that way at the beginning–but she was not so much lesbian as wanting more out of life than being a woman in that society and upbringing offered her, and the only way she could translate it into action in her head is to occasionally dress up as and act like a man. Both of them were incredibly physically frustrated in their marital relationships and found an outlet where they could. 

 

Jenny K:  Might be interesting to compare it to Albert Nobbs, the way you describe it here.  Sounds like some of the same issues are addressed, even if Nandita’s character wasn’t in male dress for as long. 

 

Julie M: It didn’t go far enough, to my mind, in illuminating the underlying social problem nor did it suggest any solutions except getting away. I actually felt that a film like Mrituydand, despite the extra drama, does more to resolve those issues than a film like Fire–which can be written off as a “foreigner” view of India since Deepa Mehta is an NRI. Along those lines I thought this interview was great.

Jenny K:  That is an interesting interview with Deepa…I’m sorry she had so much trouble with the Hollywood studio system. But it makes me want to see Camilla. I’m still torn about whether I want to see Fire, but your review makes me consider it more seriously.

  

Julie M:  I think you should see it, if only to complete the trilogy. I should warn you, though, that there is one explicit sex scene. It’s very brief, though–two minutes maximum.

  

Jenny K:  That in itself doesn’t faze me, especially when it’s germane to the plot, which I can’t imagine it not being in a Deepa Mehta film.  She always manages to tread the line delicately, telling hard truths and showing painful or controversial scenes with just enough discretion that you don’t feel it’s gratuitous…unlike, say, Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal.  No, I’m not going to dignify that one  even with a description.  Just don’t ever watch it.

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Despite the slap-in-the-face title, The Dirty Picture, this one looks like fun… [Whoever chose the title, did the film a disservice, I think,  turning away some who would have probably enjoyed it].  Vidya Balan has all the good roles these days, and she keeps getting love scenes with my man, Naseerji!!!  The nerve…I’m quite jealous.

It’s supposed to be a biopic about a South Indian sex symbol named Silk, back in the Wild and Crazy Eighties.  Here’s the trailer… Love Naseer’s bad hair dye… this looks like an homage to bad taste in a really hilarious way.  I hope the whole thing is like this.  Maybe the masala is coming back, in context of an older film world, fingers crossed.

 [a week later]

As to my trip to see The Dirty Picture…Naseer or no Naseer, I almost wish I hadn’t seen it. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting, but it’s so darned negative…  First it starts out on a high energy note with Vidya Balan’s Reshma, a poor woman possessed with the idea that she’ll be a big star in pictures and willing to do almost anything to get in.

She has no offers for films, is constantly rejected, but is often offered money to sell herself.  Reshma figures that she just has to hold on until she can tap this effect she has on men and put it up there on screen where she can get a better price for it. Eventually she pushes herself forward enough so that she gets a bit part in a dance number with a bullwhip as her dance partner. And the ferociousness of her gaze, her defiance, along with some rather suggestive moves with the handle of said whip, finally gets her noticed, for better or worse.

Next thing Reshma knows, now named “Silk,” has got a hot item number with her favorite movie icon, Superstar Suryakant, an overaged lothario with a suspicious head of hair (sound like anyone in Chennai films? No? RK’s fans seem to think so and are a bit annoyed with the filmmakers). Naseeruddin Shah does a great job as usual, carrying off the loud fashions of the Eighties with panache and humor, but I miss the salt and pepper hair of Today’s Special. I found him much sexier in that one. Perhaps he was going for the slightly ridiculous side of the character and must not have been going for convincing chemistry with Vidya, because it wasn’t really there.

 Her chemistry was much better with Emraan Hashmi as the arty director who hates Silk and the kind of films she makes, but who becomes obsessed with her fate toward the end. Nice to see that Emraan can be compelling on screen, because I haven’t found him so in the past. Tusshar Kapoor as Naseer’s younger brother (very, very younger…almost as unbelievable as “Suryakant’s” hair) is very innocent and occasionally quite hilarious as in his deliriously wacky re-do of an earlier Silk and Surya dance number “Oooh La La”, after she kisses him for the first time. I keep remembering him as the very serious young police officer in Khakee, and am glad to see he can kick up his heels effectively. Here’s the trailer of the number he’s copying, couldn’t find Tusshar’s.

Vidya is as wonderful as everyone says…definite award winner for the next Filmfare go-around. If you wanted to read more about the real-life woman, Silk Smitha, here’s an article on her life.    

As Silk, Vidya glitters, but the script is so chopped up, even at 144 minutes, that you feel like there isn’t enough background shown to detail any of why her life turned out the way it did, how the relationships in her life progressed and how they ultimately failed her. I especially wanted more story with her mother. People were introduced into her storyline and then just disappeared without explanation…or brought back, too late, still without explanation. Both Vidya and Silk deserved better support.

 

Julie M:  Despite your negative review I still want to see it on DVD when it comes out. Vidya is practically unrecognizable as herself, but she seems like she did a great job.  I’ll watch her in anything, after seeing her fantastic performance in Bhool Bhulaiyaa.   And I would like to draw comparisons to a fabulous American film I saw a while back, The Notorious Bettie Page, biopic of the 1950s pinup model known for doing pretty much anything in her photos while still retaining the look of wholesome chastity. 

 

Jenny K:  So…next post, we continue with our salute to the spice of variety…Come on back, and if you like, let us know your favorites.

September 7, 2011 Lost in Bombay, Boys…Naveen & Rahul

Julie M:  Saw Bombay Boys this evening. Awesome and hilarious. NRIs in India experiencing the REAL India. Great satire of filmmaking, fabulous performance by Naseeruddin Shah, and Naveen Andrews is always excellent and adorable. Nice one in the “bromance” genre, but I guess this would be called the “anti-DCH,” right? I read that it is considered a cult film…I loved it. I think my favorite scene was when Naveen was trying to speak Hindi and act at the same time, the one where the girl was tied up. I also love that this scene makes fun of product placement in films.  A definite recommend.

Jenny K:  Hmmm….I don’t really know how I felt about Bombay Boys. Definitely some funny bits, particularly when Naseeruddin Shah was trying to threaten the boys while stabbing the table. The look on his face…priceless. And you don’t see a thing, that’s what gets me. Who needs graphic violence?  One look, one laugh, he says it all. 

The performances had some very nice moments. I didn’t even wince once at Rahul Bose’s acting. Don’t get me wrong, I love him in films like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, and 15 Park Avenue, but he has been known, on occasion, to shall we say, chew the scenery (can you say Thakshak?? and worse still Everybody Says I’m Fine!!!).

Perhaps it has something to do with the right director, like Aparna Sen. Tara Deshpande who played Dolly had some nice moments, too. It’s almost a shame that she hasn’t acted since 2002. Got married, moved to Boston, it looks like. “Beantown Killed the Bollywood Star” is running in my head. I have to get more sleep.

But even given the good points, I kept feeling that this film was all over the place. I didn’t know what kind of film I was watching. The funny bits were funny, but not as funny as they thought they were. Perhaps I’d just heard and seen all the bad dancing and singing jokes before, and done better. Maybe it was just watching Nasseerji spin on a dime between really inspired bits of humor and very sadistic violence. Rahul’s doing prat falls, but being beaten senseless all the same…while his girlfriend is trying to slit her wrists. Hysterical…? Are we doing comedy or commentary? It’s takes a very delicate balancing act to try to do both at the same time and I don’t think the director, Kaizad Gustad, had it down pat, at least not in 1997. Nice effort, though…But not enough Jaaved Jaffrey!

 [JK’s Note: When we first posted about this movie, (Aug. 31, Dancing, Down Under and the Dons) we were sucked in by Jaaved Jaffrey’s music video “Mumbhai” which we supposed was an item number, or at least a credit-roller in the film…sadly not.  Do go back and check it out.  Very funny. There’s also a link to the whole film on YouTube.]

 

Julie M:  So aside from the music at the end: which character was Javed Jaffery? The film’s lighting was so dim, I could barely recognize anyone. Oh–and I noticed, watching the credits (looking for Javed!) that Zoya Akhtar was listed as the 2nd AD. Nice.

 

Jenny K:  I didn’t see him anywhere in the film, though I did see Vinay Pathak as the Spot Boy who was promoted to the director. He was wonderful as SRK’s hairdresser friend in RNDBJ, and the businessman who didn’t want to be so boring in Aaja Nachle. I read online that it was a surprise hit in India after it was dubbed into Hindi. I wonder if they did the video to pad the length of the film? I read two reviews, one from the UK which quoted a 105 running time and one from an Indian reviewer that said “the two hour film”. What was in the other 15 minutes? Jaaved-Bhai???

A number of blurbs on Youtube and elsewhere swore that Naveen’s voice was dubbed. I know everyone would have been in the Hindi version, but in the English? His voice was really oddly New Yawky, and a bit higher key than you’re used to hearing him use as Sayid on LOST, but I’ve heard him do lots of different accents and I wouldn’t think a US accent would be too hard for him. Check this one out, a bit of the Brit sliding in at the sides, but pretty good. What do you think?

Nice little made-for-cable film, My Own Country. He sings in it, too.  Sorry about the sound quality.

 

Julie M:  Naveen’s Hindi in the English version might have been dubbed. I was wondering about that. But his fake New York accent was all him, I’m sure of it. (not entirely accurate and slipped a bit in spots, but not as bad as Rahul’s Australian accent which was only there in half a dozen scenes, then it vanished completely.)  I thought the balance of comedy (not really comedy, but satire) and comment was very good. But then again, maybe I just don’t know enough about what they were satirizing.

About stars who sing…I only recently learned that Hrithik, Farhan and Abhay were lip-synching to their own voices in ZMND. Abhay’s voice is really good–a little training and he could be a playback singer. (well, not like Sonu Nigam, but still pretty good)

 

Jenny K:  Don’t get all excited about Abhay’s voice…except for that one song, “Senorita,” all the songs in that film were done with playback singers as usual. Primarily Shankhar Madevan, the composer. Abhay was very nervous about singing in the first place. Don’t think he’ll ever do it regularly. Farhan likes to sing, and did practically the whole Rock On! soundtrack himself, whenever he was pictured singing.

 

Julie M:  Oh, I understood that about “Senorita” being the only one in their own voices, but what a treat. Hrithik’s voice was on key but very thin and tentative, and Farhan’s was OK like a normal guy who can sing, but Abhay had the power and tone. If he only gained more confidence…

[the next day]

Julie M:  Saw 15 Park Avenue tonight. Wow–absolutely stunning performance by Konkona Sen Sharma and a powerful portrait of the toll that schizophrenia takes on a family.  The end was really freaky and it took me a while to figure out what happened. Here’s my take: she simply wandered off, literally wandered off the street but also wandered mentally into the world that made her happy. I think the bag lady seen at the beginning was a foreshadowing of Konkona’s character’s eventual fate. I liked how desperation to find the character made her sister echo Konkona’s urgency of finding “15 Park Avenue” so that she sounded just as crazy as the schizophrenic one. So sad. 

Here’s the scene where her former fiance (Rahul) runs into her while both are on vacation in Bhutan(the only thing I found completely unbelievable–so deus ex machina!) and starts reminiscing about their relationship:

 

Jenny K:  I like almost everything Aparna Sen directs. She’s Konkona’s mother, and she has a nice touch with actors because she was a very popular actress back in the seventies and the eighties. I went to an event locally, where Konkona was using 15 Park Avenue to promote greater mental health care for NRIs. It seems that it’s considered such a stigma that it’s often neglected. 

Konkona said, if I remember correctly, that her mother left the ending intentionally vague because she wanted the audience to end it the way they wanted it. I wondered, when I saw it, if Shabana Azmi’s character had been so worried about Konkona for so long, and pulled in so many different ways, that when she lost her, she began to go a bit crazy herself and began to imagine that Konkona had found her lost happiness. Doesn’t really matter. In this kind of film, I sort of like a dreamlike ending.

 

Julie M: I was mesmerized. Not so much with Rahul Bose–he was way too low-key and underplaying the emotional tone of the character–but Konkona really shone. Felt he was phoning it in.

 

Jenny K:  I don’t know what it is with Rahul Bose. Either he’s so subtle he’s almost textureless, or his acting is way over the top. There seems to be no in between for him. I liked him in 15, but it really wasn’t his film, wasn’t focused on him. I just watched him in another Aparna Sen film, The Japanese Wife, where he was playing a very shy Bengali school teacher who only lets his emotions out through letters to his Japanese pen pal. A very quiet film. Rather unique, I thought, and sad. Beautiful cinematography.

Almost all of the voice-over of the letters is in English, though the accents were so thick that I needed the subtitles anyway to be sure of what I was hearing. I thought I wasn’t going to like it, but it drew me in. Aparna seems to love drawing portraits of unusual relationships between lonely people. She doesn’t always have them “go anywhere” in the classic storytelling sense, but she takes you inside their lives in such exquisite detail that you feel like you’ve lived with them for a while.

[later]

Julie M:  Check out today’s Daily Chutney from Samosapedia:

The word for today is “DDLJ.” http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=0946bdaaa4aa27dae7d0ecccb&id=6faa213dce&e=c2b1d08c62

I still haven’t seen it. I do want to, but there are so many others to see!

 

Jenny K:  Everything in its time…I like the Samosapedia site, but will never subscribe to DChut because it always pulls me in with the embedded links and click, click, oh…click…it’s twenty minutes later….it’s  IST, only, yaar.  Adjust madi!

August 15, 2011: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Julie M:  Saw Being Cyrus tonight. Loved it, with qualifications: I am addicted to the genre (noir thrillers), I loved this particular story, and the cinematography and set were perfect. Standout acting by Dimple Kapadia in particular and also Boman Irani (a little histrionic); Saif was very good too but I felt he was a little reserved. You could really tell the difference in craft between the older and younger actors, and the difference between creating a character and saying lines emotively.

For all that it was in English, I felt that I missed a lot of the texture of the dialogue when they would break into Hindi (unsubtitled) and the subtitles, which I put on because there was a lot of mumbling and slurring of the English lines, were pretty badly rendered and also missed a lot.

And–carrying on from the Sholay discussion–I felt that this genre may not have been particularly native to India, but a particular obsession of the filmmaker and made to be palatable to Western audiences (the English, and the brevity of the film in general).

But overall–great film, very glad I saw it and it adds to my “art film” mental library. Here’s a scene:

Jenny K: I thought you’d like it. Very stylish, and great performances all around. I bought it because of Dimple and Naseeruddin Shah, of course. He has all these little details that seem like they are derailing the character, and actually, they create it. His character is so “out of it” with the drugs and his artistic eye (“I was trying to get the flowers, but they were too far down”) that he lives in a fog the whole movie. Dimple is so brave as an actor, being that unsympathetic and not worrying a fig if she’s not at full beauty. She can’t help being beautiful, even so, but is a very credible shrew.

Boman is in full-crotchety mode, and I completely believed it, except when I look at his hands. They are so sensitive and beautiful, physically, that you know they are the hands of an artist, not a low-life landlord. Saif’s character is low key, yes, but very layered. Quiet Crazy he does quite well. There’s this little bit he does in a rather meh film, Darna Mana Hai, with Boman again, that is quite quietly creepy. Actually that movie has a number of “short story” kind of scenes with great actors, Nana Patekar, Raghuvir Yadav, Rajpal Yadav and Viveik Oberoi doing a very unusual turn. The framing story is weak though:  kids alone in the woods, sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories…until they are picked off, one by one by invisible stalkers.

I’d much rather watch the old guard in movies like Being Cyrus, even if they are seen as “not Indian enough”. I wish they had told us a bit more about Saif’s past, at the end. You understood the basics, but I could have done with more details. And more Naseeruddin…he just disappeared as the Boman story line amped up.

Speaking of  “more Naseeruddin”, I can’t wait for Today’s Special to be out on DVD. They keep pushing it back. Naseerji is fabulous in it. I did a profile on him and TS on AW a few months back, and I want to be able to watch it whenever I want!  Aasif Mandvi, the writer and star of the film was just as wonderful, if not quite as much the apple of my eye as is Naseerji.  Who could be?

Julie M: I think we got plenty on the Cyrus/Xerxes character’s background. [Spoilers. Highlight to view.] Abused child, foster care system, looked to his older sister for love and protection and this pattern kept up to the point where she could enlist him in her scams, where he couldn’t say no. Plus he is just enough of a sociopath himself not to care what it involved, as long as it gained him the security he needed. Until this last job, when he seemed to come to his senses and at the end opt out. But you know what? He’s not done. He’ll go back to her, because he’s immature and the world can’t give him what he’s seeking. It would have been good, in the story, if something about the Sethna family relationship brought him to his senses, but I didn’t get an idea of what made him leave her. [end of spoilers]

And where where where can I see Today’s Special? The trailer was so engaging that I have to see the entire thing. Tried to find it online but no dice…it’s also not on Icefilms (strange, because they have mostly everything).

Jenny K: Today’s Special is a lovely, lovely film, and I’d love to tell you where to watch it, but aside from checking with it’s website to see if any local showings are scheduled (and I think those listed are all for last year), it’s pretty much unavailable until the DVD comes out, they are thinking in the fall, maybe September. I’ve pre-ordered it on Amazon, but it was originally scheduled for release in April and was postponed. I do not feel secure yet. After I watch it, if it’s not in the library collection, I may lend it to you, if you promise to be very, very careful…it’s Nasserji!

[later that week…]

Julie M:  Found Dostana on YouTube–English subs and good quality–watching. So silly but fun to see Abhishek putting on the gay act…he’s way too good at it. And Kirron Kher playing another mom. She always gets the “cool mom” parts. I don’t normally watch this kind of movie but I admit to having a good time with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which this sort-of resembles. 

 [after a while…] 

Julie M: Very cute and fun. Didn’t end the way I thought it might, but after all, it’s an Indian film. Great soundtrack. Loved LittleB’s performance most of all. Great bad fashions when they were dressing Bobby Deol up (striped pants? chee!)  I also loved the scene where they’re all dancing to the “Beedi” song from Omkara. I’m proud that I could identify that song: also the iPod Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham number and later, the background scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.  And when Sameer starts listing classic Bollywood characters who are “obviously” gay (Gabbar Singh from Sholay!), I laughed so hard because I had seen all those films.

This was the funniest scene. No subtitles, but the visuals are evocative enough that you don’t need them. Here’s the backstory: Neha (Priyanka Chopra) asks Sameer (LittleB ) and Kunal (John Abraham), whom she thinks are a gay couple, how they met, and LittleB makes up this romantic story of how they met in Venice and how their “love” grew. I adore the rainbow half-gloves.

Jenny K:  Never saw Dostana, thought it might be that John Abraham shirt off kinda comedy that I’d hate. But you make it sound rather good, especially free, online. May have to make a reassessment. I like LittleB’s comic timing, as well. He’s better with comedy than romance, I think.  Don’t think it’s a co-inky-dink that KKHH and K3G are conspicuously referenced…tells you right up front that it’s a “Karan Johar presents…” production.  Saves on royalties, after all.  Practicalities are king.

Julie M: Since you’ve not seen it, I have to warn you that the opening credits and the first 5-10 minutes are simply awful. Teeny-tiny bikinis on Miami Beach with a truly dumb background song, and a John Abraham butt shot. I nearly turned it off. Just power through them and know that it gets much, much better. JA does spend most of the movie with an exposed chest but it makes a weird kind of sense given his character, both the straight and “gay” version.

One other note. I can see where the scene I posted could offend gay people if taken out of context–but because it’s a very straight character’s telling of what he thinks a gay meet-cute might be like, it’s clear that the character is speaking from a point of ignorance and it can be excused. The movie overall is not insulting to gay people although it does play on a few stereotypes.

Jenny K: Well, we’ll just have to see what I think…I’m dubious…thoat clip looks pretty silly to me. I’ll try to reserve judgment, but to paraphrase a friend of mine, I don’t watch that kind of film much in the US, why should I give it a chance in another language? Does a need for translation push it into acceptability? We’ll see.  I’m going to try to watch Dostana, now…[straghtens shoulders]. Off I go…

Julie M: Just try it and don’t forget that the first 10 minutes are supremely bad. I thought it would be stupid too but I got hooked, and watching it in 10-minute segments online was easy–I could quit anytime, but for some reason I just didn’t. It all kind of combines into something very cute, especially LittleB’s role. And sometimes bad-stupid is fun.

Jenny K:  I’m going to remind you that you said that…

[later on]

Jenny K: Hey! I survived Dostana and didn’t even need to gouge my eyes out or anything!?! It was even cute at times. Go figure! Waaay too much ritualized ogling of John’s torso, though. He even seemed bored with the attention in some of the numbers. I know he can act. I’ve seen Water. But I guess they have to give the audience what they want!

It’s really odd…I can look at John Abraham and agree that he’s really handsome, but he just doesn’t register on my personality meter. Other than in Deepa Mehta’s Water, when I look back on what he’s done, I mostly go, “Oh yeah, he was in that film!” but I hadn’t remembered it until I read it on IMDb. Same with Bobby Deol. Played almost the same role, handsome, sympathetic richguy, in Humraaz, and I just didn’t care about whether he ended up with the girl or not. Might his middle name be “Meh”?

Abhishek’s timing was as usual, very good, as you said. Though I think I liked Boman’s gay parody a tad better. He’s such a hoot. And I thought Priaynka was beautiful and winsome, was sweet and always in character, danced well when she was required to…what else can you ask for? Why do people pick on her, I ask you? Yet, they do.

The script was predictable, I’d seen it all before, but that lack of brain-engagement with an actual plot left me time to ponder those burning questions, like: heiress or not, why would Neha ever buy an apartment large enough to shoot the Mumbai edition of Big Brother House? Was the lonely gay soldier the same actor as the INS agent, and if so, why didn’t he blow their cover? Why were there so many runway shows in this film? Neha worked for a magazine not a fashion house! But most crucially, why did no one on the production staff cringe when the writer suggested having “our boys” toy with the kid’s psyche like that? Chee?!? My vote for Most Disgusting Plot Device. I think I may just have to skip Dostana 2 when it comes out, but thanks for getting me past my trepigaytion about it .

Julie M: I admit to being a Priyanka-doubter. She’s just too skinny and plastic-looking to take seriously given all the not-perfect but still gorgeous and talented Indian women in films. But she does OK, and for this movie whatever she’s got goin’ on works. This movie was my first exposure ;0 to John Abraham and I wasn’t impressed either.  Dostana 2 will just have to live without either of us.

August 5, 2011: Scaling the Heights of Hindi Cinema

Julie M:  This evening’s feature in my living room was Mangal Pandey: The Rising. I really enjoyed it, all the while understanding that HUGE liberties were likely taken with history (the Rani-character subplot, for example). Aamir was great (as usual), and the music–Rahman, of course–was fantastic. Same vibe as the music for Lagaan: extremely well integrated with the story. The only song I thought might have been gratuitous was the Holi one. Overall: 4 stars, would recommend it to anyone.


Jenny K:  Glad you liked Mangal Pandey. It had some fine moments (can you say Toby Stevens!) and a brave attempt by Aamir of making what felt like historical verismilitude out of a paragraph and a half of concrete character reference. I ruined it for myself by researching it too thoroughly when it was coming out. I should have known better.

It was sort of fun following the production while it was shooting.  A few of the people I chatted with on the Bollywhat Forum had decided that as they were touring India at the time, they would volunteer as extras on the shoot, as well as giving us all ongoing posts from the set.  It was very cool, and we got to see them both when they didn’t get cut out in the editing room.  They were trying to lure me to come over, too, but I chickened out.  Lost chances…

And even though the Rani scenes were imagined, I really liked them.  The Holi scene was fun, I thought…and it’s so traditional.  Not sure I was groovin’ on her pink dress, though.  Not really her color.

[the next day…]

Julie M:   OK, watched A Wednesday this evening and had enough time (it was less than 2 hrs long!) to start Virasat.

A Wednesday was very good–excellent performance by Naseeruddin Shah–and more Hollywood than Bollywood. American-style thriller with a good twist at the end. B watched it with me for a while (he saw NS and said “Hey, it’s THAT guy again!”) and seemed to like it. I thought it was good but not particularly Indian.

Virasat, on the other hand, is shaping up to be quite satisfyingly traditional. Anil Kapoor in the hero role (with a 12″ mullet–hilarious) is weird to see. Some cheesiness and dad/son melodrama, and a terrifically done flood scene that just happened. Don’t think I’ll make it through the whole thing tonight–it’s just too long–will finish it tomorrow and quickly return it to the library.

Jenny K:  Haven’t seen either of them yet, but I have A Wednesday in my queue at Netflix.  It will be interesting to see how it compares with another film he did the year before called Shoot On Sight.  Could be an interesting flip side.  In SOS, Naseerji plays a commander on the London police force as it tries to track down suicide bombers.  He has to deal with profiling both against the suspects and also towards himself.  Why was he given this high profile case?  Was it because he deserves it, or that  because he’s a Muslim, it makes the Department look colorblind?  Nice performances, and some good suspense.

I look forward to seeing Virasat sometime.  I like me a good Anil movie, especially pre-thinning shears “do”.  Though the mullet is now gone, it was so a part of his head, for so long, that I imagine it sadly rolling along behind him in his shadow, a lonely tumbleweed hairball. Removing the famous Kapoor Mullet was, I imagine, almost as traumatic as shaving his moustache would be!  Sacrilege!!

[another day goes by]

Julie M:  Finished Virasat. It’s the kind of movie that is cheesy when you watch it, but there are scenes you just can’t get out of your head. Anil was GREAT in what ended up ultimately as a tragic role. He did it all–melodrama, fights, romance, dancing (although not much)–and only looked uncomfortable a couple of times. Great character to portray, too. Tabu looked very young and sweet and didn’t seem to have enough to do. The music was not bad–this particular song reminded me a lot of Rahman:

(quality could be better but at least it has subtitles)

The whole movie is available on YouTube.

[Jenny K’s Note: Sadly, none of the three that I found had subtitles…The composer of Virasat, BTW is Anu Malik, who works even more extensively than Rahman, with twice as many scores, including Main Hoon Na, Munnabhai MBBS and Bride & Prejudice.  He’s everywhere, even as a judge on Indian Idol…which you never see Rahman do.]

[and one more day…]

Julie M: One more tonight…saw Chori Chori. Sweet, a bit melodramatic and mushy at the end (required judicious use of the fast-forward button). Ajay was super-hot but barely cracked a smile, and that in-love-weepy look is not a good one for him. I much prefer him slightly dangerous. First filmi wedding I’ve seen where the bride did not wear a red and gold sari, but Rani looked beautiful anyway. And the scenery! I so want to go to Shimla now.

[Jenny K’s Note: Spoilers in the video, skip if you don’t want to know that there’s a happy ending 🙂 ]

Jenny K: Yeah, Shimla is in Himachal Pradesh, where they shot Taal, too. Oooh, oooh, and Darjeeling, where they shot Black, and also Main Hoon Na, I believe.  Also, while we’re establishing the Fantasy Highlands of India Tour, let’s add all of Jammu and Kashmir, like Srinagar where they shot Mission Kashmir (one of Hrithik’s films, with Preity and Sanjay Dutt, that I haven’t sent you, yet because it melds themes of  terrorism and romance in an occasionally awkward way.  Dil Se was much smoother).  The houseboats on Dal Lake are really fascinating.  My friend, Pat rented one to stay on when she was there.  And we also should visit Ladakh where they shot some of Dil Se and lots of Lakshya.  We’ve got to go, even if it’s dangerous, politically.  Hmmm.  Wonder whether we could get Ajay to guard us?

Check out this video by a company called Contemporary Nomad.  Lovely footage of Srinagar.

Julie M: Got some good ones waiting for this weekend too, which promises to be excellent for Hindi movies since B is out of town for 3 days.

Atithi tum kab jaoge?
Minsarakanavu
Saawariya (I know you said I might not like it, but I’m trying it anyway)
Sholay (because it’s a classic)
U Me aur Hum (I loves me my Ajay)

How I’ll fit 5 films into 3 days, I don’t know. SNL is in reruns, right?

Speaking of Ajay…

Ajay gets experimental, signs Priyadarshan’s film

If I remember correctly, Virasat was a Priyadarshan film, right? Cool.

Jenny K: Yes, I do admit to occasional Priyadarshan films that I like, but his touch with comedies is a bit, …um…, broad, shall we say.  I think I like his family-centered comedies better.  They are warmer, with a squishy emotional center, and are very feel-good and reassuringly traditional.  Mere Baap, Pehle Aap, and Hulchul, at it’s root, are both like this.

As to the other films you got from the library, I’ve seen all of them this time!  I was fooled by the Tamil title for Minsarakanavu, because I knew it with the Hindi title Sapnay.  Kajol is, of course, very cute in it, though I don’t believe her wanting to be a nun in it, but, whatever.  Arvind Swamy is sweet, but seems a bit old for her.  Rajiv Menon, the director, also did Kandukondain, Kandukondain (I Have Found It) which had similar pairings and so maybe that’s to be expected.  And I always like Prabhu Deva’s dancing.  Not sure he’s a better match for Kajol, than Arvind, either.  Where’s Aamir when you need him?

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?  I did like, enough to review it on the other blog, here.  I was comparing it to contemporary US comedies like Hot Tub Time Machine which I saw the same weekend.  ATKJ won, needless to say.  How could it lose with Ajay, Konkonal and Paresh Rawal, at least for me.

Saawariya, I reconsidered my “meh” when you said you liked Devdas, sort of, and when I thought you might like Ranbir.  It’s an odd film, but not horrible or anything.  Same director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, as Devdas, Khamoshi, HDDCS, Black (which you liked) and Guzaarish.

Sholay (because it’s a classic)… you said it all.  Amitabh, Dharmendra, stylish masala western.  Some slapsticky bits, but as you said, there is always FFwd.

U Me aur Hum, I think I recommended this earlier as the one of two films that I liked Kajol’s chemistry with her hubby.  I think he does better in the second half than the first half.  Second half is definitely more of a weepie.  Hope you survive it. 🙂

[next day…]

Julie M: And to continue the Ajay theme…saw Deewangee this evening. First half–totally predictable and almost insulting in its obviousness. (What tipped me off? Ajay playing a mild-mannered stammerer. Could have been quirky casting, but I knew better) Second half, equally obvious but the action made up for it. Overall, Ajay was fairly brilliant if a teeny tiny bit over the top, Akshaye was…ok, Urmila was busty and danced well. 2.5-3 stars. (I guess I asked for it when I said I liked Ajay when he is a bit dangerous)

[Jenny K’s NoteIt’s on Youtube, in two parts.  Hit the CC red button on the bottom of the screen to give yourself subtitles.  Here’s the second part.]

Jenny K:  I think I liked this one so much because I had not seen Ajay much before it, perhaps HDDCS, where he’s sweet and noble, and so the second half surprised me quite a bit. Urmila being busty did not surprise me. If you like Ajay being dangerous, you have to get Khakee. I looked to see if I owned it, and I can’t find it, so maybe I didn’t buy it. That or his version of Bhagat Singh (one of the martyrs that the kids were making the movie about in Rang de Basanti).

Oh, and Ajay has done that mild-mannered stammerer kinda role, and straight, too.  He did a remake of I am Sam, that Sean Penn as a mentally retarded man raising a smart little girl in Main Aisa Hi Hoon.  Don’t know if I actually made it through that one.  I like him better “bad,” too.

I liked your clip from Virasat. Odd, Anil almost didn’t look like himself. Don’t know what it was. Maybe he’d put on a bit of weight for the film to look less moviestarish, but his face was a lot rounder than it is normally. Nice look on him. I think you may be ready for Nayak with him paired with Rani and the kookiest videos ever. Rahman score! Here’s the loopiest clip for a taste. Don’t ask me to explain, I can’t.

I don’t remember what the lyrics meant, but after listening again, I think with all that “jootha” stuff, which is Hindi for liar, maybe it’s just a case of the “Black” girl calling the kettle pot?  🙂

Julie M:    That clip is so weird it’s scary!!!

So you have not seen Virasat? If not, definitely see it. Anil starts out the film as a typical young-Indian-educated-in-England with Western clothes, scruffy facial hair and oh! that mullet (he looks the way we typically know him in this part), then as the story moves on he becomes more and more traditional in dress, manner and thinking patterns, mostly because he has to, [spoiler] his dad dies and he takes on the role of the landowner/village-protector, but also because he grows up a bit. Also the movie is a bit older and Anil is younger. I had no idea he was as old as he is–born in 1959–so he was in his late 30s when he did Virasat but looked like he was 25.

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