January 18, 2012: Lies, Cries and Family Ties

Now that the festive time of year is good and over, it’s about time to turn away from the entertaining desserts of rom-coms and high adventure (bungeed villains flinging themselves off high-rises, indeed!) and settle in for a very hearty meal of Indian issue films. We found, from three different decades, three serious films and many amazing performances.  Bon Appétit!

 

Julie M:  Today’s feature was Rudaali (The Mourner, 1993). It was a fairly artsy film, directed by Kalpana Lajmi (niece of Guru Dutt) who also directed Chingaari, which I think you had recommended to me at one point.

Dimple Kapadia stars as Shanichari, a poor, low-caste village woman in Rajasthan with an extremely hard life. As the film opens, she is a youngish widow who is temporarily hosting Bikhni (Rakhee Gulzar), a professional mourner (or rudaali) called in to await the death of the local wealthy landowner or zamindar (Amjad Khan, most memorable as “Gabbar Singh” from Sholay, in one of his last film roles). She tells Bikhni her story: her mother abandoned her in infancy, her father died when she was young, she was married to a man who drank most of his wages and she has a retarded son. In flashbacks covering about 20 years she tells of the attraction between her and the zamindar‘s son, which turned into a job as maid to his mother and an illicit affair.  This haunting song, which is sung as Shanichari is remembering the affair, is probably what anyone knows about the film: 

When the zamindar first gets sick she is turned out of the house, and things go from bad to worse. Her mother-in-law dies, then her husband takes ill with the plague and dies, her home (a gift from her lover) is taken to pay the debt on his funeral rites and she and her son become indentured to the zamindari family for 15 years’ hard labor. Still she remains dry-eyed and resigned to her plight, even when her son (Raghuvir Yadav) impregnates a local whore (Sushmita Mukherjee) and marries her, then she aborts the baby. Her son runs away, and still she remains stoic. She asks Bikhni, who used to be an actress, how she can cry real tears for people she has never met when she can’t even cry for all the things she could cry about, namely, that everyone she’s ever loved has left her.

 

Jenny K:  That Raghuvir Yadav is a surprising one…he’s in practically everything, especially when they need an affecting performance from a smallish but pivotal role.  Does that in Salaam Bombay, too.  In that one he surprised me by being rather young and handsome…never had seen him that way before.  Just goes to show that we all have our day.

 

Julie M: I recognized him right off, but I didn’t get that he was supposed to be slow until later in the film when they talk about it.  I thought he was just ornery.  Anyway, while talking about all this stuff Shanichari and Bikhni grow close.  Here’s the song where Bikhni comforts Shanichari after hearing her story, and Shanichari learns what it is like to be taken care of.

Afterwards Bikhni is called away on a mourning job. Unfortunately, she catches plague while she is away and dies, sending Shanichari one last message: Bikhni is, in reality, Shanichari’s long-lost mother. This news releases Shanichari; she is finally able to mourn everything that has happened to her, and she takes Bikhni’s place as the rudaali, becoming famous for the sincerity of her tears and intensity of her wailing.

 

Jenny K:  Well, if she couldn’t mourn sincerely after getting a bombshell dropped on her like that, she would have to have been made of stone!  Poor thing.

 

Julie M: Dimple Kapadia is, in a word, AMAZING in this film. She convincingly plays a young woman, a slightly older widow, and a supremely beaten-down, old-before-her-time crone. It’s quite an emotional (but not melodramatic) film, and she proves herself up to the task. This film is not to be missed.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen Rudaali, yet, but it sounds great…not a light amusement, of course, but interesting. And Dimple will always be one of my favorites. She always puts all of herself into a role, like the one we discussed in Being Cyrus, she is just totally committed to her character, whether or not it’s a flattering one.

 

Julie M:  She was definitely the best thing about Hum Kaun Hai, for sure!  Can’t wait until I get hold of a copy of Bobby so I can catch her at the beginning of her career.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  I watched Fiza (2000) this afternoon. Compared to Rudaali it is not at all arty, but it is serious and highly melodramatic, which normally I get impatient with, but my jaw continually dropped at Karisma Kapoor’s fabulous performance. Whenever she was not onscreen my attention wandered… except, of course, in this “preparing for the action” scene, which I know was put in to please the ladies. Nice foreshadowing of Hrithik’s Dhoom 2 role–dead serious and focused.

Jenny K:   I was sort of sorry when Karisma took a kind of backseat to her baby sis, Kareena.  Not that both don’t do good work, but I think that Karisma tends to be overshadowed sometime by Bebo’s gift for finding the limelight.  She isn’t always involved with lightweight fare as in Andaz Apna Apna [shudder] or Dil to Pagal Hai.

Karisma’s the best thing in Shakti, playing a distraught mother taking an active hand in saving her son from the influence of his psychopathic grandfather (Nana Patekar in full scene-chewing glory) and is quite wonderful in Zubeidaa, as a film actress in the ‘50s on her way to the top, who marries a prince and yet doesn’t live happily ever after.  Rekha and Manoj Bajpai are with her in that one; strong performances all around. Maybe a bit too weepy for you, not sure, but you will like the score, all Rahman!  

Julie M:  Well, never fear, she’s back!  In Fiza I really liked Karisma’s “girl power” dance number, taunting her boyfriend for not liking her the way she is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Brief plot summary: It is 1993.  Fiza (Karisma) and Aman (Hrithik) are Muslim teenagers living with their widowed Ammi (Jaya Bachchan) in Mumbai–they are a a very cute and close family. One evening Hindu-Muslim riots break out; Aman rushes out to see what’s going on and is not seen again. Six years later he is still missing. Fiza is sad but has grown accustomed to his loss; however, the distraught Ammi still visits the police station weekly hoping for news. While out on a job interview Fiza spots Aman in the city and hope is again rekindled: she pawns the family jewelry for bribe money, causes a ruckus in the press and with politicians, disrupts her relationship with her boyfriend, and eventually tracks him down on the India/Pakistan border, where he has become a jihadist. The story of what turned him in that direction and what happens next (and next and next) is the stuff of high drama and even higher melodrama. Yes, people die.

 

Jenny K: You sound so happy about that…so bloodthirsty!

 

Julie M:   Well, I thought I ought to warn people.  It’s quite unnerving, actually, and I think something like this would not have been possible in mainstream film until Dil Se’s paving the way a couple of years previous.

 

Jenny K:  It’s funny that they named it Fiza if it’s all about war and terrorism.  I looked about online, and it translates to variations on “a pure wind filled with love and romance” to “God’s Blessing”.  In either case, it seems a strange title.

 

Julie M:  Maybe it’s supposed to be ironic, since he’s a terrorist?  Hm.  Unfortunately the filmmakers kept breaking the mood by putting in item numbers like this one with Sushmita Sen, and this equally random, but depending on your orientation a much more interesting one, with Hrithik. 

I understand why they’re there–otherwise it would be an overly intense film–but they do not advance the plot or provide useful characterizations, and I found it difficult to get the mood back to the main action afterwards.  It could be for this reason that the film tanked a bit in the box office.  My favorites were the ones that added rather than distracted, like this one with music by A.R. Rahman.

 

Jenny K:  Weird…A Rahman song in the middle of an Anu Malik soundtrack.  Wonder what went on there.  Not at all usual, as they are more often competitors…story there, I daresay.

 

Julie M:  Well, it was a qawwali (Sufi devotional song), and seemed to call for a specialist, and they couldn’t get Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan?  All in all, it’s a great message film–“we are all Indian no matter our religion”, a message that even the jihadist Aman is fighting for–and fabulous performances by all three lead actors make this a win.   Even though it was only his 2nd film released (first one that he actually signed to, which is an interesting fact), Fiza showed Hrithik as much more than the chocolate hero he was in KNPH. Well, at least the second half of Fiza did.  The first half showed him to be too sweet, and I am not a fan of him in sweet parts.  All my thumbs and big toes are up for this one, which I think may make my Top Ten up near Dil Se.

 

Jenny K:  I may have to watch it again when it comes back in the returns…I don’t remember being quite that impressed by it. Not that I disliked it, or anything, but it was just so-so for me.

[the next week]

Julie M:  I really loved Salaam Bombay (1988). Mira Nair is a genius. Much like I did with Deepa Mehta’s Water, I loved how the film was unafraid to portray the gritty and unpleasant reality that Bollywood likes to cover up–the street kids, the prostitutes, the drugs, the poverty and the dirt. You mentioned Nana Patekar’s performance–while I liked it, I thought that Raghuvir Yadav was the stronger actor in this film as the drugged-out older best friend of the street boy Krishna. No wonder this is ranked among one of the best films ever made, and why it didn’t win the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar in 1989 is a mystery.  (oh, yeah, because it was some Scandinavian film, urk)

 

Jenny K:  I know!  No accounting for taste.  It was more impressive, still, when you realize that SB was Mira Nair’s first full feature film.  I watched it again last night, first time since I started all this Bolly-madness, and it is even more deeply affecting, now.   She certainly knows how to spot good talent.  As to Nana, I liked his performance, but in this film I’m remarking more on his presence…just electric.   I’m glad you pointed out Irrfan Khan as the scribe or I might not have noticed.

 

Julie M:  Although this film is relatively plotless, the episodic narrative concerns Krishna, a young boy who ran away from his village home after a misunderstanding and makes his way to Bombay, where he lives on the street, selling tea, plucking chickens and even turning to crime as he tries to earn enough money to return home and make up for what everyone thought he did wrong. It’s just heartbreaking.  The adults in his new life include Baba (Patekar), a drug kingpin and a pimp; Rekha (Anita Kanwar), Baba’s prostitute-girlfriend and mother of young Manju who has a crush on Krishna; and Chillum (Yadav), whom we understand to be a grown-up street kid who is also an addict and a runner for Baba.

 

Jenny K:  This was only Raghuvir’s second film.  Can you believe it?  So talented even at that inexperienced stage.  He’s done so many things since then.  Did you know that last year he even played Hitler?  Yep. 

Julie M:  Here’s the beginning of the film, where the runaway Krishna has joined a traveling circus and is abandoned by them, occasioning his relocation to Bombay.  

Jenny K:  The kid who played Krishna, Safiq Syed, was wonderful, too.  Won an award for best child actor that year, but only managed one other film in his career, one called Patang, about four years later with Shabana and Om Puri.  The plot sounded similar from a description I found…small group of thieves that worked the trains for food and loot, mostly children, led by a Fagin-esque Om, who was in love with Shabana’s character, yet another prostitute with a heart of gold…her son, Shafiq, bears the burden of Om’s interest.  I can’t find it available anywhere.  Well, Safiq’s now repairing and driving autorickshaws for a living.  The fickle hand of fate.

 

Julie M:  My understanding is that he wasn’t really an actor, he was just a street kid that Nair found.  She also filmed the brothel scenes in a real brothel, and the madam in the film was the actual madam of that brothel.  How she got such amazing performances out of non-actor people…it was more like a cross between a fiction-film and a documentary.  If you want to catch it, most of  Salaam Bombay seems to be on YouTube, subtitled in English, but in a lesser resolution. Here’s part 1 (of 12).

I would rate this a MUST WATCH, not just for fans of Indian film but for fans of any kind of film, in any language.

September 9, 2011: Two Bs: Big and Little/Past and Present

Julie M:  For the long weekend, I only got three Hindi films: Sarkar, Dhoom and another BigB one from the olden days, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat.

Sarkar was pretty good. Amitabh showed his age, which was appropriate for the story, and the film was an interesting mix of EFD and gangsters, a combination I hadn’t seen done well to this point. Abhishek was sufficiently intense and you could see his internal conflict race across his face when the time came to decide whether it was more important to him to build a life for himself or to continue his father’s brand of justice. KayKay Menon was also excellent as the bad son. I know there is a sequel, Sarkar Raj, but although it too is supposed to be good I don’t feel I need to pursue watching it.  In fact, I did see The Godfather, upon which this was modeled, and I thought Sarkar was better. 

I can’t find any scenes with English subtitles, and posting an all-Hindi clip doesn’t do justice to the excellent dialogue, so we will have to go with just  images. Very intense.

Jenny K:  My heavens!  Better than The Godfather!?!  What praise!  Being the only person in the Northern Hemisphere who hasn’t seen the Francis Ford Coppola Gangster Masterpiece, I can’t confirm or pooh pooh this statement, but I know I wasn’t quite as enamored of  Sarkar as you seem to be.  Not that I found it bad, in any way, just a bit average, and I thought the B’s, father and son were a bit cold and non-emotional in this film, for an EGFD (Emotional Gangster Family Drama – new hybrid category). 

I still prefer the Mani Ratnam Godfather tribute, Velu Nayakan with Kamal Hassan starring.  It’s sort of early Mani (1987, eleven years before Dil Se…), so it’s a bit rough around the edges, with nowhere near as much polish, but a lot of gut energy about it.  Most of it due to Hassan’s transformation from young upwardly mobile thug underling to the old patriarch…though his Marlon Brando homage, complete with cheek padding makes me giggle a little when I watch it.  Check out this clip and see what I mean, best at 1:39-ish. 

The whole movie is here on Youtube in ten pieces, with subtitles, but it’s the original Tamil, which I know you still have a problem listening to…so you might want to wait until I send you the Hindi dubbed version. 

Back to Sarkar, she segues…I do remember liking Tanisha’s debut.  She isn’t quite as electric as her sister, Kajol is, at least not yet, but she has a quiet sweetness in her.  I also enjoyed KayKay Menon, as you did.  Also, thought that Amitabh looked rather good in the film, as usual these days.  But, unless they are doing comedy together, I find when Amitabh and Abhishek work together, LittleB comes off a bit muted by the Very Big shadow of his sire.  However, in comedy, they bounce off each other delightfully.  I felt the same as you did and skipped Sarkar Raj as seeming a bit “been there.”

 

Julie M:  Dhoom was refreshingly mindless, although not as stylish (or decorative! No Hrithik!) as Dhoom 2. John Abraham was thoroughly unbelievable as a master thief–too baby-faced and did not give off the smart-planner vibe. Uday Chopra was funny and can he dance! LittleB’s best scenes were the comic ones, like when he was faking drunk. I got a little tired of all the motorcycle chases, which went on too long. Esha Deol was cute and looked just like her mom. Overall a fun late-night treat for a holiday weekend while it was playing, but afterwards I felt that Dhoom 2 was overall more successful and more fun.

Here is a clip showing Uday’s twinkle-toed talent, and it’s a “wet scene” to boot: 

And this is pretty much the sexiest I’ve seen LittleB: 

Jenny K:  Now, I can’t comment on Dhoom directly, because I haven’t seen it, either.  I’ll agree that LittleB is attractive in that video, but from the two clips you gave here, may I say just three words…Daisy Duke Distopia!!!!  Horrible, Horrible Costumes!  Gag.  It may be why I have an almost allergic reaction to Esha Deol (except in Yuva/Ayitha Ezhuthu, where she did quite well with her roles in both languages, and was disarmingly wholesome).  Just before they began shooting Dhoom, Esha had hit the gym and lost her baby fat and was most annoyingly aware of her svelte-ness in all the clips that I have seen.

And though Uday can certainly dance and that clip did show it (of the generation, I think I still prefer Viveik) , I still find him insupportable.  I’m sure this is solely due to severe over exposure to one of his early films, Mohabbatein.  See if you can even get through this clip, much less 216 minutes of it. 

Julie M:  Finally, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat (A Rainy Night) was pretty good, not the best but entertaining enough. It pits BigB against Amjad Khan (“Gabbar Singh” from Sholay) again, one of their more successful pairings, and unlike in Sholay, he gets a real reciprocated love interest. It is refreshing for once to see Amitabh sweetly in love, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t kick some bad guy butt along the way. And we revisit the beautiful scenery of the Himalayas, last seen in Professor.  It’s kind of an obscure one in BigB’s catalogue, and although it feels formulaic it is nevertheless charming, so I’m going to do a spoiler-ful summary.  I won’t put in all the songs, just the ones I thought were particularly interesting.

The setting is a rural village, where there is a corrupt merchant-smuggler and his hotheaded son, Kaaliram (Khan), who takes pleasure in bullying the locals and kidnapping whatever girl takes his fancy, and a police officer whom they have paid off to ignore their antics. There is also a tea plantation, whose manager is an honest man with a blind daughter Rajni (Rakhee Gulzar). One day a tall stranger (BigB) wearing a rockin’ green leisure suit and floppy hat rides into town on a mule, humiliating Kaaliram en route, and does a deal with the merchant for some contraband gold bars—we are to understand that he is a rakish rule-breaker.

Over the next few days the stranger and Kaaliram clash again and again, with the stranger winning and leaving Kaaliram fuming. Here’s a cute song that occurs after the stranger and Kaaliram have a drumming contest and Kaaliram loses (one of many humiliations Kaaliram suffers): the stranger and the entire village make fun of him. And BigB dances, after a fashion.

 

The stranger also meets Rajni in the village and saves her from tumbling over a cliff, and falls in love with her.  He goes to find Rajni’s house and stalks her a bit as she sings of how much she loves him:

Back to the action:  Kaaliram and his father clash with Rajni’s father, whom they feel owes them money, and Kaaliram becomes so irate (and drunk, and filled with lust) that he breaks into their house one rainy night and tries to rape Rajni. Luckily the stranger arrives in time to save her, and after a failed attempt at justice with the local police, the stranger (who, as you remember, has set himself up as a shady character) reveals himself to be Abhijeet, a regional police inspector sent to clean up the cross-border smuggling activity.  Kaaliram is arrested, convicted and sent up the river for five years, and the corrupt police officer is fired. Rajni’s father is distraught over his daughter’s dishonor and Abhijeet offers to marry her, clearly no great sacrifice on his part, but Dad is grateful and relieved. Abhijeet is promoted and transferred to a different sector.

Five years pass and Abhijeet and Rajni are blissfully happy, awaiting the birth of their first child. Cue sappy song about how much they love each other; I’m leaving that one out. Kaaliram is released from prison and vows revenge, which he takes as soon as he finds out where they are living. He decoys Abhijeet away and on another rainy night, abducts Rajni but leaves her lying by the road when he hears Abhijeet coming back. Rajni is OK but loses the baby because of the shock. Abhijeet vows revenge on whoever did it (vowing revenge is a common theme in this film) and, after finding a clue indicating the perp, goes after Kaaliram, who runs him off the road in a jeep crash from which Abhijeet is thrown from the car. Kaaliram thinks he has killed Abhijeet and relaxes his guard. The locals find the unconscious Abhijeet, fix him up and smuggle him back into the village in disguise as a member of their folk dancing troupe.  Here’s the number, and (since he’s the tallest person around this tiny village) you can see it’s not much of a disguise.  I love the Tibetan costumes and drums.

Jenny K: Sorry to interrupt your synopsis, but, the costumer in me must comment.  Colorful the dancers’ garb may be, but like the denizens of the similar scene in Professor, the hybridization with the Bollywood ideal of female desirability definitely fractures them.  Do a Google image search for “Tibetan National Dress” and paint half of me black and call me a penguin, if there is one example of midriff or arms bared amongst them.  Heck, you’d think that it’s cold in Tibet or something!  End of rant.  Back to you, Julie…

 

Julie M: Kaaliram, who is a bully but no dummy, recognizes the drumming talent that totally schooled him five years ago, and there is a confrontation after the show.  After a scary and exciting fight/chase scene involving a very high rope tram, a jeep and a river, Abhijeet apprehends and then drags Kaaliram back to the plantation display him to Rajni (blind though she is), roughing him up in front of her and her father. Kaaliram’s father, attempting to shoot Abhijeet as he’s smacking Kaaliram around, kills Kaaliram instead. Abhijeet and Rajni embrace and there is a sudden long shot of them taking a scenic walk along the river. GOOD PREVAILS OVER EVIL; AAL IZWELL.

The whole movie is on YouTube, albeit without English subtitles. Here is Part I, with the green leisure suit.  

Jenny K:  Wait…someone tell Bette Davis, I just found her hat!  Fasten your seatbelts, etc.

 

Julie M: My only real unhappiness with this film was that, similar to other older Bollywood movies I’ve seen, it ended rather abruptly once the villain was foiled.  I kind of like a story to wind down and wrap up a little.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like you had fun with it, though. I love Amitabh in any era. Especially the one I just sent you, Abhimaan, with Jaya, his wife. Hrishikesh Mukherjee is the director and he is much more realistic in style than most of the other directors working in the 70s. And there is one scene with the two of them as newlyweds in the bedroom (Egad!) that is the hottest scene I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film without actually seeing anything, except in their facial reactions…fade to ecstasy. I’ll be interested to see how you like it.

Amitabh did almost as many movies with Rakhee back then as he has since done with Jaya or Hema. Not to say I always understood why they cast her, but in BKER she looks sweet, not insipid, which she sometimes can appear.  Though that may be caused by having Rekha as a rival (Muqaddar Ka Sikandar) in many of them.  La Rekha would blunt any mere mortal’s impact. In any case, I’ve always felt that Jaya was the better actress, perhaps of all three, and she sometimes outdoes her hubby.

It’s always best to end on a Semi-Sacrilege, isn’t it?

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