May 1, 2012: Why 2007 Was a Good Year, Yaar

Julie M:  Tonight’s feature was Dharm (Religion, 2007). A very beautiful film, very reminiscent of Deepa Mehta’s work (particularly Water, and not just because Dharm also takes place in Benares). More on that later. Here’s a very quick trailer.

Here’s a longer one but worse picture quality.
 

Jenny K:  Someone has to explain the various meanings of dharm/dharma to me sometime.  Here it means “religion,” but I had always heard it used as “duty,” which, though it has similar qualities, is not the same thing.  Enlightenment, anyone?

 
Julie M:  Plot summary: Pandit Chaturvedi (Pankaj Kapur) is a Brahmin and the head of a temple, an extremely devout Hindu who is strict about ritual and “right thinking,” which often causes difficulties with his wife (Supriya Pathak) and daughter. He is the personal advisor to his patron, whose daughter is in love with a visiting gora journalist and whose son Shankar is drawn to a radical Hindu political organization.

 

Jenny K:  I love Pankaj Kapur…he’s always so real, if you know what I mean, never a false note in his performances. I also liked him in Raakh with Aamir and Sehar with Arshad Warsi. He is the best thing in Roja, a Mani Ratnam film that I’m sending you in this next package.

 

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, he was in Raakh.  I had forgotten. 

 

Jenny K:  That’s what’s so cool…he has a gift falling so deep into his characters that he even looks different.  Same quality Seema Biswas has.  I wonder if they’ve ever done a film together? Hmm….I’d buy tickets to that, in advance!

 

Julie M:  Anyway, Chaturvedi’s rigidness softens when his daughter brings home an abandoned baby boy, whom he and his family raise as their own. When the boy is about four his mother comes to claim him: surprisingly, she is Muslim. This conflict between traditional Brahmin and Hindu values, long-standing ethnopolitical prejudices and the desires of the heart forms the backdrop for the rest of the film.

I was absolutely fascinated all the way through, both for the amazing visuals, the human drama (without a drop of melodrama) and the pathos the director, Bhavna Talwar, drew from the storyline without falling into mush. I think that any Indian female director working in this vein can’t help but be influenced by Deepa’s work, and there were times that I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Deepa’s.

I had just seen Pankaj Kapoor as the crime boss in Maqbool and loved it, and this film sealed my opinion of him as one of India’s premier dramatic actors. He was also the old guy in The Blue Umbrella, another fave of mine.

 

Jenny K: Really? If I remember correctly, you weren’t so sold on The B.U. when you first saw it…had a few reservations.  At the end, here.  Not that there’s anything wrong with mellowing on a film.  I’ve done that more than once.

 

Julie M: If I had a criticism it was that Dharm was yet another film in the “Hindus and Muslims are enemies for no real reason” vein. You’d think that people would get the message by now, and this film brought no additional compelling arguments.

Dharm almost was India’s entry into the Academy Awards for 2007, but lost out to Eklavya: The Royal Guard. Having seen both I think Dharm got royally scr*wed–although I liked Eklavya a lot, Dharm was far better and more valid, and would have actually earned India the nomination that year.

 

Jenny K:  Dharm sounds interesting…but it may be hard getting used to seeing him without facial hair. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a beard!

 

Julie M:  You know, the penny JUST dropped for me that Pankaj is Shahid’s father.  Where have I been?  And that Mausam (which you saw and I’m waiting for it to appear on DVD) is somewhat autobiographically inspired (for writer/director Pankaj)? I still have to consult a scorecard (aka Wikipedia) to get all the relationships straight in Bollywood.

 [about two weeks later..film viewing seriously interrupted by life…]

Julie M:  Last night I watched Loins of Punjab Presents (2007), which to my surprise was an English language film although an Indian production. The premise was good and it had some very funny moments, but it sets itself up to a number of comparisons to which in my mind it did not measure up. Here’s the trailer.

 
Jenny K:  I would talk about how long it took you to watch this, but I remember being appalled at the trailer myself for it’s sheer Priyadawanism [my own term for a particularly high level of slapstick] and held off watching it for three years, until it came my way for free on Hulu one day. 

 

Julie M: Turn off your ad-blocker or you won’t get to see it.

Brief plot summary: Loins of Punjab is an Indian-owned pork processing company based in New Jersey, which needs some good PR among its countrymen. The owner decides to sponsor an “American Idol”-type, Bollywood-themed singing competition for NRIs, called Desi Idol, and give away a huge cash prize to the winner. A very motley crew turns up to audition, and over the course of the film’s running time we get to know a cross-section of them complete with motivations, quirks, joys and sorrows.

The film was billed as a satire, and I definitely got everything they were satirizing: dreams of fame, various NRI types found in the U.S., the nature of being Indian. Highlights include the large and voluble Patel clan, Shabana Azmi playing an evil socialite, and Ajay Naidu (whom audiences might remember as “the Indian guy” in Office Space, one of my all-time favorite comedies) as a tough, gay bhangra-rapper.

Jenny K:  He was also that silent but loathesome cook in the first part of Today’s Special…look for Ajay when you see it.  I thought LoPP was sweet. And it was obvious that Manish, the director put his whole being into it.

 

Julie M:  Sweet?  I wouldn’t go that far.  Some moments were sweet, mainly about the Vikram-Sania jodi, but I thought they were mostly going for hilarity.  For a film about a singing competition I thought there were frighteningly few musical numbers (I thought the “Bole Chudiyan” segment was the sweet part, but that may only be because K3G was the 2nd Hindi film I ever saw and the nostalgia factor was working), but that may have been the point. However, this scene really made me crack up.

Jenny K:  Okay, okay…sweet at its center, and funny, as opposed to slapstick/vulgar through-and-through.

 
Julie M: Yes, it was funny and I enjoyed myself while watching it; however, my mind kept comparing it to the great Christopher Guest mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, and others (except For Your Consideration, ick), which I felt LoPP was trying to emulate and fell a bit short.

 
The short running time (less than 1 1/2 hours) made the film feel rushed.  I would have adored to have it last 30 minutes longer and be filled with more background and depth on the main characters.

 

Jenny K:  I agree that he could have lengthened it a bit and not lost his US audience, if that was what he was worried about.  BTW, I really like Shabana as a villain. She should do it more often. And she looked wonderful!

 

Julie M:  I liked her too, even though she was playing against type.  I feel very bad expressing any criticism, since one of my favorite characters in it, the poor outsourced Vikram, was played by the film’s director (Manish Acharya), and he died in a riding accident a couple of years ago.  

 

Jenny K:  Vikram(Manish) was probably my favorite character, too. I think the Chris Guest similarities must be expected as Manish studied film at Tisch in NYC.  He was probably steeped in that sort genre of film.

When I first saw LoPP, I wrote Manish on FB to tell him how much I liked it. He wrote back and we spoke on FB occasionally, and it was just too sad when he died a few months later. He had such a promising future.

On one post on his page he said he liked the funny parodies people made up for fake “Criterion Editions” of their favorite films, so I made him one for the fictional LoPP Criterion Edition.  For the first time posted online.  With thanks to Manish for the laughs he gave us (and with respectful parody, to Criterion).

 

Julie M:  Overall, a fun watch, could have been more effective comedically but if you’re not familiar with the genre you’ll like it just fine. 

 [the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Rock On! (2008) tonight. Wow–this is definitely one of my faves. It had me from the very first moment: I love that style of music (yes, I am a rock chick) and both Farhan and Arjun nailed their performances perfectly. Cannot believe that it was Farhan’s debut as an actor.  And Arjun in super-long hair…it was all I could to do keep from swooning.

 

Jenny K:  And I loved that Farhan did his own singing.  He’s become quite the young recording/concert artist when he’s got the time…love that raspy quality, very sexy.

 

Julie M:  I loved the setup—a rock band that broke up on the verge of making it reunites ten years later, told mostly in flashback—and of course the awesome musical numbers, particularly this opening one which had me up and dancing. 

And clearly the director knew musicians, or consulted with musicians, or hung out with musicians, because this part illustrating their camaraderie and tendency to goof off felt completely unforced and totally real. A musical bromance, pitch-perfect and perfectly pitched.  Three snaps up with a twist! 

 
And what’s this I hear about a sequel?  The film and story were perfect just the way it was. Don’t ruin it!! Shooting is supposed to start in June; let’s hope something falls through to stop it.

 

Jenny K: Thought you would like Rock On!!  I saw it four times in the theaters, I think. I kept taking people to see it, and then the last time, as part of a local Indian film festival with the director visiting for commentary, so, of course, I had to go again. Abhishek Kapoor is a well spoken, talented fellow, and nice to talk to. I told him that his was one of the two rock and roll films that got me engrossed and made me feel like I was actually at the concert. The other was Stop Making Sense (1984) with the Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme. He said he hadn’t seen it…so I sent him a copy. Don’t know if he ever got it, but, maybe it will put him in the mood for this sequel.

Julie M:  The entire film is available free on YouTube in superior quality. 

November 1, 2011: An Aamir To Remember

Julie M:  Can’t get enough of Aamir!  Got Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke (We are Traveling on the Path of Love, 1993) from the library.  A very young Aamir takes on three orphans and falls in love with Juhi Chawla. I’ve never seen Juhi in a film before and I’m looking forward to this one.

Jenny K:  Aamir and Juhi are fun together, but that one doesn’t stick in the mind much.  All I recall are the plethora of kids, him having problems trying to control them, and also, a really goofy, though fun number with him as the boss at a factory. He looks a bit like a deer in the headlights (character choice, not actual fear) with all those love-crazed employees.

Also I think I remember a scene where she jumps out of her daddy’s yacht and swims to shore to escape his marriage plans for her. Three scenes, that’s it. I hope you can hang onto more of it.

IMDb tells me it’s a remake of Houseboat with Sophia Loren and Cary Grant, which I liked much more. I remember the film reminding me of another one, but Houseboat wasn’t it. Maybe I should watch it again with you and then I can clarify things for myself a bit.  Hmmm….they had songs and everything in Houseboat…maybe it is more of a remake than I thought.  Here’s a clip with Spanish subtitles, no less.

[a couple of days later]

Julie M:  HHRPK was something of a disappointment. I kept thinking I had seen it as a Disney film in the early 1960s: young uncle suddenly in charge of three wild kids, falls in love with the bubbly nanny, has business problems that the nanny helps solve… it’s the kind of thing that would star Brian Keith and Doris Day.  I found HHRPK similar to Houseboat but not an exact remake. Lots of running around and overly enthusiastic facial gestures, boing-boing sound effects and comically widened eyes. Just too much “comedy” for me.

Aamir as usual was great, so young, handsome and a stand-up guy, and we got to see his hobbit feet (which I always suspected he had). Lookin’ good in a long kurta. (hmm, wonder if I can get B to buy one of those?) Juhi Chawla was alternately adorable and annoying, as were the kids. The music was not very interesting to me–the background music was tinny and the female voice (sorry, Alka) was screechy.

I’ll give Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak a try as the last of the early Aamir films, and then I’ll give up. Love Aamir but sitting through the milieu of these early films is torturous.

Jenny K:  Before you give up on early Aamir completely…yes, QSQT is the one that put him on the map, but the one he did right afterwards, Raakh, is more up your alley, I think. He’s an anti-hero in it, a young man who watches a female friend of his get molested (he tries to help, at the time, but can’t) and wants the authorities to get her justice, but he finds out they are being paid off and won’t do anything. So he goes on his own search for justice.

Really roughly made, but very stark and intense (sort of like Aamir!). I can put them both in the next package, if you like. Dil with Madhuri has its charms, too, but I’m not sure enough of them to have you love it…they are rather spunky and look pretty good for being dressed ’90s, and all. One of my favorite scenes in it is a little silly/a little sexy bit at 7:03 on this clip when they’ve defied their parents, run away and set up a tiny shack for their first home. He’s cooking.

[about a week later…]

Julie M:  Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (From Disaster to Disaster, 1988)…well. Yes. It grabbed me from the start–who can resist witnessing the beginning of a bitter family feud?–and I was hooked until the end. There were a couple of groan-worthy moments but overall just the right amount of drama, romance and humor.  I found it a highly faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with saris and item numbers. 

Plot summary: In the village of Dhanakpur there are two neighboring families, one the wealthy Singhs and the other the less-wealthy but still pretty well-off Singhs (gotta say, they throw a lot of men at you in the opening sequences and it’s difficult to understand, given the intense amount of emotion, who’s who).  Over the opening credits we see the start of a feud between the two families involving the pregnant daughter of one committing suicide and her lover from the other family being shot by her brother.

Cut to fourteen years later, when the brother is released from prison and comes home to his grown son Raj (Aamir Khan). Through a series of circumstances Raj meets Rashmi (Juhi Chawla), the daughter of the shot man’s brother, they get to know each other through the standard plot device of being stranded alone together, and they fall in love. He knows who she is but she doesn’t find out until much later who he is, but it doesn’t matter: they are irrevocably meant for each other. Of course the families find out and clash.

The two run away on the eve of her marriage to another man and very sweetly set up housekeeping in an abandoned shrine that looks curiously like the one in Sholay, rocky cactus landscape and all.

Her father hires thugs to track them down and do away with Raj while he takes Rashmi back to the city to marry this other dude. [Spoilers from here on] Raj fights the thugs and manages to subdue them, but not before Rashmi is fatally shot. He kneels by her side, takes out a knife that she had given him as a present earlier in the film and stabs himself in the stomach. They die in each others’ arms as the sun sets and their families look on in shock. [end]

Lots of opportunities for high drama in this film. Saving the honor of the family, children of bitter enemies falling in love, semi-secret identities, the visual theme of sunset throughout. I thought it was done very effectively with a minimum of cheesiness considering it was 1988. Aamir was so young and beautiful and romantic with his blow-dried hair and slim, muscular physique, and contrary to SRK, he can make fight scenes work. In other words, the man of anyone’s dreams.

Juhi was cute and sweet, so charming and lovable. Adorable together. I did not really enjoy the music very much, particularly the cheesy college-auditorium guitar number in the beginning, but the number seems to have been very influential in the soundtracks of later movies so I guess I’m forced to show it.  The song really reminded me of the end of Grease.
Jenny K:  Why?  I saw no spandex pants anywhere!  And no Fun Fair or carnival rides…

I haven’t watched this for a while but I do remember liking it quite a lot. One of the gang on Bollywhat mentioned that Aamir’s first wife Reena Dutta made a cameo in that “Papa Kahte Hain” number in the red dress at about the 5:00 mark. Very early on in their marriage, and they had a similar cross-religion marriage, if I recall correctly. He used to see her across the apartment complex on another balcony, and they fell in love, in spite of their differences in faith.  Sooo Sweet! I’m sorry it didn’t work out in the end.

Julie M:  I had predicted that this film would go another way: she would come up pregnant, but he would marry her, thereby reversing a generation’s worth of bitterness. But I guess this was still influenced by the days of noble tragedies rather than happy endings. Still, I liked this one much better than the Aamir/Juhi pairing in HHRPK five years later, when in retrospect she was getting a little old for cutesy-poo. And any day that I get to see Aamir bare-chested and in denim short-shorts (not at the same time, because that would surely kill me) is a good one.

Just for fun I did a “parallels” chart between QSQT and R&J. Amazing when I thought about it how exactly alike they are, from how they first see each other (party at her house) and the final death blow given by a dagger (although in R&J she stabs herself; in QSQT he stabs himself). And in both stories there is an unwanted arranged marriage for the girl: Paris in R&J and Roop Singh in QSQT. The difference is mainly time: the Indian version detailed the beginning of the feud between the families, gave the lovers time to get to know each other and time together once they ran away. And in R&J the tragedy inspires the families to set aside their feud, whereas in QSQT we don’t know what happens after the tragedy because the film ends too quickly.

But there is no good line in QSQT like this one of Juliet’s: “My only love, sprung from my only hate/Too early seen unknown, and known too late.” Or maybe there is, but it’s in Hindi.

Another one of the “25 best” crossed off the list!

[the next day]

Julie M:  Rushed to see Raakh (Ashes to Ashes, 1989) while I was still in an Aamir mood.  I could only see the first half because your disk had lots of schmutz on it and I couldn’t get past Scene 9. Maybe I’ll try to clean it well and attempt again later this week.  But from what I saw, I liked it a lot.

You already gave a plot summary but let me elaborate:  Amir Hussain is a somewhat wealthy but disaffected 21-year-old, done with college but with no idea what to do next.  He is also still somewhat obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, Neeta.  After a party, where he tried to get her back, they are intercepted by members of a local gang.  Amir tries to fight his way out of the confrontation, but they beat him up and he can only watch while they rape Neeta. 

Amir blames himself and slips into a depression, convincing himself that he owes it to Neeta to retaliate and takes steps in that direction by stealing money from his parents, buying a gun and trying to track down the gang members.  He approaches a local policeman, who (unknown to Amir) is familiar with the gang from a previous run-in and has in fact witnessed Neeta’s rape.  With the officer’s help he tracks down the gang, but the officer is suspended for assisting Amir in his vigilante vendetta.  The two of them then spiral into near-madness in their mutual obsession.

This is probably the film that showed Aamir as someone capable of more than the typical chocolate hero stuff. Only his 2nd film, and WOW.  First, he spends most of the movie unshaven, sweaty and brooding. Second, he does very non-hero things, like buy a gun and go out for revenge. Finally, there are no dance numbers or love scenes, both of which he had done well in QSQT.  Still, my eyes were riveted on Aamir (and wandered when he wasn’t in frame).

Warning to all: this movie is slow. Lots of time goes by with nobody saying anything. Most of the scenes take place in the dark. Everyone sweats. It’s very, very serious. If you are new to Aamir, my advice is to watch Lagaan and a couple of his later non-funny, non-romantic films before coming back to this, or you may be turned off.

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry there were some problems with Raakh…I don’t remember there being problems the last time I watched it, but you never know…the cheaper the video, the more likely the disc rot. The director, Aditya Bhattacharya, actually re-packaged and hopefully cleaned up the film for a re-release last year on the filmfest circut. Raakh Redux. Here’s the promo.

I had meant to order it…if it’s out on DVD yet.  I should look out for it, else my Aamir collection will be incomplete.

I remember really liking Pankaj Kapur in this…Shahid’s dad. He was the renagade cop that was advising Aamir’s character. Also, I thought it was interesting that he used a version of his own name in this film. Aamir’s father’s last name is Hussain, and the character name was Amir Hussain. I always thought that it was an indicator as to how strongly AK felt about the issue of police corruption and the protection of women.

  

Julie M:  Great point!! That makes this so much more personal and really indicates that Aamir, even back then, was more than just another actor in the great Bollywood machine. I also love that he can do these serious films and also the popular ones, with equal skill and acclaim.  But back then it was a huge gamble:  I read online that they only made six prints and released it in three cities.  And—can’t believe you didn’t point this out, you who know the inside scoop—his sister Nuzhat (Imraan’s mother) wrote the dialogues.

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