Sept. 22, 2012: Imraan/Ranbir ~ Glory & Hope for the Future

Jenny K:  What is wrong with most romantic comedy writers these days!  I find it hard to FIND any romance in them.  No lightness, and very little sweetness.  I feel old…”I remember when I was a youngster, and I walked fifteen miles, Uphill, IN THE SNOW! to see that cute little Meg Ryan or Kajol girl win over that adorable wisecracking goofball…they knew how to strum a viewer’s heartstrings…”  Harrrumph!

This mood started when I went back into the Netflix queue, and watched another stupid fluffy Indian themed English language romance today, When Harry Tries to Marry (2011)…completely useless. The two leads were tolerable, but the script was so bad, with so many holes in it, that it isn’t worth the effort. And in this one, not only were the lions-share of the gori actors completely wooden, as usual, but most of the desi ones were wooden, too! Bleh. Fooled by a pretty trailer, again! Actually, the film looks good…it just doesn’t deliver any sort of coherent plot, and so it’s a waste of time.

Julie M: Pass-adena.  Even the leads looked generic.  Bleah.

Jenny K: The mood continued, without my expecting much, but I bravely tried again, picking Break Ke Baad (2010), starring Deepika Padukone and my current favorite flavor of youngster eye candy, Imraan Khan. And then, just a few lines in, I remembered why he’s always able to cheer me up…he’s his uncle Aamir, back before he became Angry-Earnest-Man-with-a-MESSAGE.  And yes, with Aamir, message has to be in all caps (Taare Zameen Par, anyone?  Yes, we know he has a learning disability….Noble, but stop screaming at the boy’s parents, that won’t make them listen!).   Maybe Imraan will end up just like AK, but for now, he’s still got the innocence and sweetness in droves.  I could just watch him for hours!  Even if he doesn’t feel the need to try as many new things.

Julie M:  I don’t know, I like Imraan’s acting OK but for youthful sighs and decent acting I’m still going to stick with Ranbir Kapoor and Ranvir Singh.  And Prateik… not for acting because he’s so hit and miss, but just for looking at.  But Imraan has the heritage and the role model:  one to watch, for sure.

Jenny K:  Break Ke Baad takes the same format that we’ve seen Imraan shine in, in half a dozen films since his debut, but if Baad ain’t Broke, why fix it, na? The recipe is simple, take a bit of Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Naa, a touch of I Hate Luv Stories, a skosh of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and quite a bit of Ek Main aur Ekk Tu, and stir wildly. But basically he’s the good boy, the sweet kid, probably a bit mistaken in the degree of his devotion to a rather undeserving girlchild, but with no reason in the world that these vixens should overlook/undervalue such obvious hunkitude. They don’t deserve him!

Plotwise, it’s as follows: Abhay Gulati, also known as Gelato, also known as Sunita (these kids go too far on multiple nicknames for my ID-clarity) is played by Imraan. He’s been in love with Deepika’s character Aaliya Khan, alias Al, alias Shahrukh, since they met cute in a movie theater when they were roughly eight and ten. They bonded over love of films. She was to be a diva of the screen while he would run his father’s cinema chain. A perfect pair, so they both thought.

Until, Aaliya applies for a scholarship to a university in Australia’s Gold Coast, somewhere, and goes off for a year long “break” from her overprotective mother (Sharmila Tagore) and her boyfriend, both. Here’s a scene before she gets the idea to leave which shows their standard dynamic…she’s the goofball adventurer, always pushing the envelope, and he’s her anchor, keeping her safe. Very cute scene.

Julie M:  So weird, but when she said “I’m Shahrukh Khan” she actually looked like him a little. I’m sort-of impressed she can do the impression.

Jenny K:  OMG!  Did you forget OSO?   They must have spent a good length of time together on that one.  But you’re right, her acting chops are getting sharper.

However…when she goes off to Australia, her inner voice has her almost immediately jump the rails, taking acting classes against her mother’s wishes, moving out of her aunt’s house and into a beachfront playpen of a place with other kids, all of whom party way too much to be good for Aaliya’s already wild temperament. Abhay jumps on the next plane to be sure she’s alright, and just succeeds in fighting with her and forcing her to break up with him. Does he listen? Nope. He moves in to the beach front, too. Will they get back together? What do you think? Here’s the trailer, no subtitles to this one, however. Sorry, but you get the idea. 

I thought Deepika was much more competent than I usually find her, acting-wise. And she’s always breathtakingly beautiful (especially walking up from the ocean in her bathing suit). Perhaps she has a natural affinity for playing a stubborn B…h. I’m not sure why Abhay even wants her back, but he does, and I have no willpower to say no to this sweetie-pie, even if his heroines seem to have no problem doing just that. Check it out if you have a chance.

Julie M: I’ll keep it in the list…but lately these cute-kid romcoms just aren’t attracting me anymore.  It’s not that it’s a romance, which I don’t mind and actually even like, but they are so YOUNG.  And it’s clearly done for an audience that thinks they invented romance.  EMAET, which I have not seen yet but I’ve read all the reviews and seen all the trailers, is a bit more up my alley…

Jenny K:  Well, it was cute, except for Imraan’s second act haircut…in depth analysis, of that film, here.

Suffice it to say my will to live was so rejuvenated by BKB, that I even went out to see another of the young guns, Ranbir Kapoor in his new comedy, which is still in the local theatres.  I’m not going to give the title yet, just going to start with the trailer…I just can’t say it…because, for an American audience, it’s probably one of the worst titles ever chosen. 

Julie M:  ERGH.  But being that it’s Ranbir, I’m all ears!

Jenny K:  I know, I shouldn’t have let a few little letters set me against a film, but what with the vomitous title and the prospect of an evening with slapstick and silent movie shenanigans galore, I hadn’t started out the evening wanting to see it.  The film I went to the theater to see, Ustad Hotel, a Malayalam film, chose to come into my local theater with, you’ve guessed it, NO SUBTITLES! Too bad. So, regretfully, Kathy and I chose to go see B****! which I still can’t type out, and what do I get?…over two hours in a dark theater with almost no subtitles, because we didn’t need them! Go figure.

Awash in all the good feeling that The Artist spread over the international cinemascape, India has dropped this little gem into our laps. It has Ranbir Kapoor channeling his granddad, Raj Kapoor in full “Little Tramp” mode, plus Roberto Benigni, and perhaps a bit of vintage Jimmy Stewart, to give us our rather adorable deaf -mute hero.  He was originally named Murphy by his parents, but due to his inability to pronounce his own name, he’s saddled with…with…the name you saw in the trailer. I can’t say it…maybe I’ll get over it by the end of this critique. What I will say is that Ranbir has a definite gift for physical comedy. Doesn’t say anything throughout the whole film, yet you almost always know exactly what he is trying to say to the people in his life. Extraordinary job, and I tend to hate silent movie shtick.

Julie M:  He does move spectacularly, doesn’t he? Sigh.

Jenny K:  He plays a young man from Darjeeling who has few visible aims in life and he falls for a lovely girl, Shruti (Ileana D’cruz turning in a delightful performance in, I believe, her first Hindi film) who is, unfortunately already engaged to a run of the mill cute rich guy from Kolkata. Now, she’s a bit bored by her absentee fiancee who says all the right things and could give her everything her parents could want for her, but Bbb…Ranbir, a man of no words, gives her spontaneity, adventure and a single minded focus on her that wins Shruti’s heart eventually. Yet despite all of this charm and good-heartedness, she eventually gives in to her parents’ practical view of love vs. marriage, and goes back to Kolkata to marry.

Brf! is heartbroken, and to top it all off, his father is laid off of his job as a chauffeur to the rich Singh family who live in the mansion up the hill. He has known the family and their autistic daughter, Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra) practically all his life. When his dad falls ill and needs an operation, and Mr. Singh won’t agree to a loan, well what’s our literally tongue-tied hero to do but try to arrange to kidnap Jhilmil and hold her for ransom…but plan as he might, it’s no good at all kidnapping someone who’s been already kidnapped an hour beforehand. SO…thwarted as a kidnapper, he tries to rob a bank…now try doing that without being able to say “stick ’em up” or being able to hear the cops behind you. Hilarious.

Well, nothing goes as he’d hoped, and somehow he can’t seem to get the money or give the girl back…he and Jhilmil are thrown together time and again, and a lasting bond ensues. Priyanka does a wonderful job playing Jhilmil in an understated, yet eloquent portrayal of autism. She looks distracted, about 14 years old, yet still manages to be fetchingly gamin under that crazy curly mop. Here’s a song showing a bit of their developing relationship. 

Julie M:  I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that Priyanka seems to have done this competently. . ..The last few movies I’ve seen her in (cough-AGNEEPATH-cough), she really stunk up the place.  Not accurately autistic though—more like she’s playing developmentally disabled, to my eyes.  Directorial discretion, I suppose.

Jenny K:  Awww…I thought you liked her in 7 Khoon Maaf?  Remember?   I thought there was progress there, too.

But, summing up, in spite of my predisposition to pooh-pooh, I really rather liked B…b…Barfi! The only thing I could wish is that writer/director Anurag Basu had dispensed with the older age framing story. It just added a layer of confusion that I didn’t need. When you’re not going to spell things out with lots of words, then simpler is better. But I do predict there will be quite a number of best acting nominations at the next Filmfare awards, and maybe a few wins.

And all I can do is thank the Second Gen Twosome for rescuing me from my “Why-Don’t-They-Make-‘Em-Anymore” Blues.  It seems the future has a much brighter aspect than I had hoped.  I’m even looking forward to the Diwali film releases, again!

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November 28, 2011: Thankful for Guilty Pleasures!

Here we are, still in Thanksgiving Week, and what are we doing?  We’re dodging Black Friday and Cyber Monday by watching our favorite Guilty Pleasures Bollywood films.  Come join us! 

 

Julie M:  Got Jaan-e-Mann (Darling, 2006) from the library.  Preity, Salman and Akshay…how can it miss?

 

Jenny K:  Tell me if it’s worth seeing. It was being filmed in NYC almost simultaneously with Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and there were lots of reports on Bollywhat.com’s forum on the sightings around the city. Lots of fun reading about it, but I remember seeing references to Salman in drag as Marilyn in the Seven Year Itch white dress looking not very fetching, and I recall references to Anupam Kher playing a Toulouse-Lautrec-ish style dwarf, completely on his knees for the shoot. I just gave up at that point and didn’t go to see it.  Here’s a link to a Rediff article on what Anupam went through doing it.

 

Julie M:  Despite my general aversion to Salman, I really enjoyed Jaan-e-Mann. On a number of levels it is a typical love story, but there were staging devices that made it interesting and the first half was unrelentingly funny.

In the opening we are introduced to Agastya (Akshay Kumar), an astronaut in a space vehicle with a blonde astro-companion, telling her a flashback story of his friend Suhan (Salman Khan). Suhan is an out-of-work actor with a favorite uncle, who happens to be a dwarf (occasioning a run of puns that I’m sure in Hindi are hilarious but I just didn’t get in translation). He gets a letter from his ex-wife Piya (Preity Zinta) stating that since he has not paid alimony for the past many-X months, she will accept a one-time settlement of 50 lakhs and he has no further obligation to her. We learn through a flashback number (it’s a flashback within a flashback, if you are keeping track) that Piya left him after he was forced by his agent to separate from her as a positive career move (heroes can’t be married, doncha know). This is actually a very cool and surreal number and I love how it’s done.  As the flashbacks nest the dance numbers get crazier and crazier.

Suhan and his uncle decide that since he doesn’t have the money, the best way to get out of paying the sum is to find someone to marry her. Enter Agastya, Piya’s formerly nerdy college acquaintance, who is looking to hook back up with her, and not recognizing Suhan as her ex-husband. Brainstorm: put Agastya with Piya and have him marry her!  Here’s the number where Suhan and his uncle convince Agastya that his destiny lies with Piya (warning—this is a moderately offensive, all-dwarf dance number):

The guy in the purple suit is Salman as Agastya’s nerdy self in college. Love the cardboard cutout representing Piya (in college-age getup), and then the dwarf dressing up as Piya.

 

Jenny K:  It still looks a bit scary, especially in the dwarf number, but I’ll take your word for it. All those nods to KHNH and DCH (NY bridge shots, tilted just that way and the surprise red rose in the park) are sort of cute but also odd. And from the clips you have here it looks as if Preity is doing an extended cameo and never actually speaks! Funny!

 

Julie M:  Actually Preity does speak, quite a bit, but it’s true, you do go through the first, oh, hour or more without actually seeing Preity’s character in live action, only in flashback montages, and so when the real person shows up you have to get re-introduced to her through her own actions instead of filtered through everyone else’s years-old perceptions of her. And she’s very different in “person” from how the other two have portrayed her in the montages. I told you that there were some narrative devices that elevate this film above the typical crazy-comedy-romance genre.

 

Jenny K:  With all the numbers condensing through montages, is the movie shorter than normal Bollywood, or do they just pack three times as much in it?

 

Julie M:  It’s a full three hours—but you don’t notice.  It’s kind of strange how the montages tell the back stories very quickly and concisely, since Bollywood movies usually linger lovingly on back stories, but it leaves more time for the main action which consists of the developing friendship between Suhan and Agastya (Salman kind of channels SRK’s typical Raj-Rahul character in this), Suhan’s letting go of his longtime anger against Piya and the Piya/Agastya romance which has some very fun scenes. But all of these are typical rom-com-melodrama fare.

  

Jenny K:  With Salman it’s a Prem-Raj/Suraj type.  Only one Rahul that I can remember…but I get what you mean. 

 
Julie M: The rest of the film is controlled chaos as Suhan and his uncle make over the nerdy Agastya in Suhan’s trendy image and then drag him to New York to throw him in Piya’s path. Complication: Agastya is painfully shy and Suhan must stay within 100 meters of him with a transmitter to feed him lines without Piya recognizing him, occasioning many ridiculous but funny costumes. In the process Suhan learns the real reason(s) Piya left him and has to make a decision: continue with the ruse and let Piya be happy with Agastya, or try to get back together with her himself?

  

Jenny K:  And you found all of that funny?  The chaos sounds like it was not in the least controlled…but maybe that’s just me.  Put Salman and Akshay together and my hulchul-meter just goes spinning out of control.

 

Julie M: Overall the first half was crazy-hilarious, with the second half toned down and more romantic without the melodrama.  The ending comes fast and funny.

This setup had the potential to be really awful, and there are indeed some cringeworthy moments. There is even the obligatory senseless dual role, this time for Anupam Kher as the dwarf uncle in Mumbai and a look-alike but non-dwarf cafe manager in New York. But Akshay makes such a fetching nerd with his tiny glasses, and his smile is so adorable, and he and Salman make such a good buddy team, that I forgave the flaws. It’s much more fun to see them working together than at odds like in Mujse Shaadi Karogi. And Preity and Salman have excellent chemistry even though it’s seen only in flashbacks until the last 30 minutes. Sallu was actually rather engaging and almost like a real person.  He only opened up one small can of dishoom in the whole film, showing admirable restraint there if not for going shirtless, which he did early and often, and in one scene he 97% convinced me that he has some actual acting talent.

One of the best scenes was the introduction of the Suhan character via a dream sequence where he’s accepting a Filmfare Best Lead Actor award…in the 70s! Cool B/W footage of older stars with Salman inserted into the clip.

So…Jaan-e-Mann could have been awful but wasn’t. I might have hated it if I was in a really foul mood, but this is the kind of film that is so goofily good-natured that all its flaws can be forgiven.  It’s easily skip-able story-wise and actor-wise (no new ground for any of the leads) but it really is cool how they tried to do something different with the montages reflecting the layered flashbacks. And for that it’s worth seeing.

 

Jenny K:  The director, Shirish Kunder, is Farah Khan’s husband. He was her editor first and they fell in love working on Main Hoon Na, I think. He seems to have absorbed all her love of color and raucous energy and translated it in his own way. She choreographed for him, of course. Good to keep it all in the family!

 [a few weeks later]

Julie M:  So I was taking it easy this afternoon, and thought I’d watch a funny film from your box, so I selected Marigold (2007), anticipating a gleeful Hollywood/Bollywood fusion and Salman Khan acting entirely in English.

At first glance it was full of possibilities for an American-made film meant to introduce American audiences to the joys of Bollywood films without the offputting length and subtitles. Here’s the trailer.

American C-grade actress Marigold Lexton (played by real-life C-grade actress Ali Larter) with a bad attitude finds herself stuck in India and gets a part in a Bollywood film, where Prem Rajput (Salman Khan) is the choreographer, and love ensues. Complications arise in the form of Prem’s disapproving royal family and longtime-arranged fiancee, and Marigold’s boyfriend who arrives on the scene, but all ends well and the characters grow as people. Add sweet love songs, big dance numbers, music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, lyrics by Javed Akhtar, and location shooting in Goa, and it couldn’t miss, right?

WRONG. I found the film a series of misses, although in some areas they were near misses. Salman Khan, locked into amused-smile “romantic” mode, was curiously low-key, displaying very little of the good-natured manic charm that makes him such a huge star in India. Ali Larter (and she was cast exactly why?) lacked the necessary comic timing to successfully pull off the b*tchy-cum-lovestruck Marigold. The story did not adequately build the case for Prem’s and Marigold’s attraction to each other, and the complications were not intense enough to make the audience feel that they could possibly be insurmountable and hence the stuff of dramatic tension.

I did like this number, which was the last scene in the film and very typical of an Indian-made Bollywood spectacle:

Maybe I’ve been watching REAL Bollywood, but the whole thing seemed rushed and some key scenes seemed to be missing–particularly, scenes where choreographer Prem takes the decidedly non-graceful Marigold in hand and teaches her how to dance, which would have given them a very nice and logical foundation for romance.

 

Jenny K:  Is this the same woman who was defending Bride and Prejudice so staunchly?  Well, I’ll agree that it was more effective than Marigold, but I wonder how you’d review B&P now?

 

Julie M:  I much preferred Bride and Prejudice as a film all in English, with a major Bollywood star, as one to introduce the genre to Western audiences and actually convince them that it’s worth a second look. All in all, if this was supposed to be a “crossover” film it didn’t do either Hollywood or Bollywood any favors.

This number, where Marigold supposedly proves her mettle as an actress and dancer, fell flat with me; it’s as if the entire dance troupe was infected with Ali Larter’s chronic stiffness despite the energetic choreography.

And the movie took itself too seriously: to my mind, romantic comedies (in any language) succeed because the characters know it’s a story and have fun with it. Finally, Salman only displays one bad shirt choice, which I have to admit despite my snarkiness I always look forward to in his films.

  

Jenny K:  I loved the white jacket with the fringe on the arms!  Very cool.  Who would have thought I’d have been approving his sartorial choices?!?

 

Julie M:  The sets and costumes were stunning, and I did enjoy a couple of the dance numbers, above, which were clearly given a lot of thought. In this beachside number, Marigold is introduced to the concept of dance numbers as integral to Bollywood filmmaking, and it’s a pretty awesome song too. 

Jenny K:  I felt much like you the first time I saw it. Ali was much too b*tchy to be at all endearing, and Salman being fully clothed and always charming didn’t seem to be at all believable to me. However, I sent it on because I watched it again recently on Netflix (It had been a two year gap, I think, since I saw it first) and I had really mellowed on it. Thought it did much better on second viewing, and I saw many more funny bits in Ali’s performance and much more sweetness in SK’s.

 [about a week later]

 Jenny K:  Went to see Rockstar with Pat and a friend of hers on the day it opened, after I got off work. Mid-week, how decadent! 

My main comment is: best Rahman Score since Meenaxi….some of the songs were just wonderful! Odd, though. I went through some of the clips of the videos on YouTube, and it must be that the numbers are very integrated into the plot, because the song that moved me the most is very generic looking here.

Admittedly, this is edited to pull out, I think, five minutes of build-up, and so that may have a lot to do with it. This one is the lead couple of Ranbir and Nargis reunited in Prague during an international music festival. In context it’s permeated with a bittersweet quality of remembrance of their time together two years past, of the fun they had before she was married. Their chemistry really built up in the longer version.

Basically, I liked it. Without too many specifics, I’ll say it was a nice performance by Ranbir, if you ignore the first, say, quarter of the film. They needed to just take ten minutes and say, “Jordan is a nice boy but is too bland and has no real drive and focus for his musical inspiration, and so he fixated on a random beauty to try to give him one.” See, there I saved us a good forty-five minutes of tedious exposition in one sentence.

The film only got rolling when things got darker, and this qawwali number marks where the slow first quarter finally picks up.  I’m always a sucker for a good qawwali…nice boy Jordan (Ranbir) is finally getting the more troubled life he wants to make his music more gritty…he tells his dad he won’t ever work in the family business and they kick him to the curb, and he winds up sleeping in the Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque, where he begins to find enlightenment and deepen his music with worship. Nice segment.

Drama, angst, sturm und drang continue as the film progresses…Ranbir’s hair gets even longer, and his facial hair more scruffy, and he gets much more physically attractive…though the look they gave him in this last big number went too far…Ranbir as Yanni in his Sgt. Pepper Phase…shudder. Angst is one thing but fashion masochism is something else again.

Julie M:  You know, that look isn’t so bad.  Maybe it’s just that it’s Ranbir, but I think it’s kind of cute.

 

Jenny K:  You are a hopeless case,  Jules. 

Newcomer Nargis Fakhri does alright, if a bit of an emotional, turn-on-a-dime shuttlecock in the first half, and she looks too much like Katrina Kaif. There’s a lovely cameo by Shammi Kapoor, in his last appearance. And the film looks wonderful with typically great cinematography by Anil Mehta (Lagaan, KHNH, Marigold). Don’t know if you’d consider it worth seeing on a big screen or not.

 

Julie M:  I’m so mad at the theater here, it’ll be a cold day in h*ll when I try to see a movie that isn’t action-based, because it’s impossible to tell when something is going to be subtitled.  But I’ll report back if I go. 

Meanwhile, your report got me into such a Ranbir mood that I actually PAID to see Bachna Ae Haseeno (Lucky Boy—not a literal translation—2008) through YouTube.  Here’s the trailer.

I had a lot of fun with it. Ranbir was absolutely winning as Raj Sharma, the handsome, successful cad (aka “killer”) who, 8 years apart, loves and then leaves two women (Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu) when they start to get serious about him, only to himself be dumped after he falls head-over-heels a few years later for a third (Deepika Padukone).

 

Jenny K:  Hah!  I thought you’d like BaH! Just the right mix of heartfelt and cheeky. And I remember the wonderful dancing, too. He’s right up there, though I am much more likely to have Imraan Khan as my menu-topper for guilty pleasure viewing, Ranbir does have his good points.

 

Julie M: I also liked this bhangra number, where Ranbir crashes a wedding so he can approach Minissha and apologize to her:

He realizes that he needs to redeem himself, and the journey he takes to apologize to his former lovers and atone for the impact his caddishness has taken on their lives is alternately funny and sweet.

The music was fun and Ranbir can dance, and dance well. Check out the number that appears over the opening credits: 

I thought the quick costume changes towards the end of the song were particularly interesting.  I was tickled to learn that it was a remake of/homage to this 1977 number, starring Ranbir’s dad Rishi Kapoor.  How much do you love the fluffy white suit and matching hat!!

Jenny K:  Fluffy!?!  Them there are industrial-grade full-on white paillettes!  Huge wonkin’ flat sequins that dangle and flip with each twitch of Rishi’s swivelin’ hips.  Gotta love it, as you say…though I’m not sure that paillettes should ever grace a man’s cap.  Sets a bad precedent.

 

Julie M:  The film had a “friendly appearance” by Kunal Kapoor, which I was not expecting, was a bonus (yum). And the first love story is inspired by DDLJ (not ripping it off–the Minissha character is a fan of the film, leading Raj to woo her using the film as a key to her heart), which made me giggle for the entire first half-hour of the film.  Here’s the entire song:

Granted, it was not a perfect film. It was overrun with anachronisms, which always bug me (example: the first story supposedly took place in 1996, but the cars and fashions were all wrong and there were modern cell phones; later, at a party, they dance to music from films that had not yet been released). The best friend character (“comedically” played by Hiten Paintal) was an *ss but Raj never seems to notice.

I remain bewildered as to why Deepika is given parts where she is expected to act, because clearly she is best suited for eye-candy roles (even Bipasha out-acted her, and that’s saying something, because I’m not a Bipasha fan either).  Ranbir spends too much time alternating between wearing obvious-branded Abercrombie clothing and wandering around inexplicably shirtless, although I’m not really complaining about the latter.

Finally, I liked this number, where, in order to obtain her forgiveness, Bipasha is making Ranbir dance (literally) attendance on her and he parodies the dancing styles of major Bollywood stars.

Ranbir’s acting in BAH redeemed him from the weird and confusing Saawariya and gives a hint as to how amazing he would be in Raajneeti. All in all, it was a nice Friday treat and a “guilty pleasure” to admit that I enjoyed greatly.

 

Jenny K:  I give thanks and hope the rest of the holiday season goes as well!  God Bless Us, Everyone!

Oct. 4 2011:Ranbir, Ajay & More Bhagat Singh…Deol With It!

Julie M: Finished Shaheed: 23rd March 1931, the Bobby Deol version of the Bhagat Singh story.   I saw it mostly for the story, which I fell in love with in The Legend of Bhagat Singh, and I hate to leave similar films uncompared, so here goes.

It was way bloodier and more violent than the Ajay Devgan version, but Bobby did not play Bhagat as intensely as Ajay did. The production value was significantly lower and cheesier, and the early part of the story seemed rushed. The Ajay version spent a lot of time on the early years, while the Bobby version spent more time stressing the family-drama aspect of the story. Aishwarya had a cameo as the girl Bhagat refused to marry, which seemed jarring. The songs weren’t translated, and the subtitles generally were pretty bad (sometimes no subtitles at all!). The English were portrayed as complete idiots as well as evil in this version, whereas in the Ajay version they were just clueless and a bit scared. I was actually more impressed with Sunny Deol’s performance as Azad than I was with Bobby’s as Bhagat.

Comparison: here is the “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamaana” song as sung in the Bobby Deol version:

And in the Ajay version
Here is the “Mere Rang de Basanti Chola” number in the Bobby version:

And in the Ajay version.

 
So, Bobby Deol may have looked more like the real Bhagat Singh, but I liked the Ajay version better. In a nutshell: the Bobby-version of the story was hit-you-over-the-head whereas the Ajay-version was more subtle and actually more stirring for it.

 

Jenny K:  It may all come down to AR Rahman vs. Anand Raj Anand/ Surendra Singh Sodhi. Nobody beats the Rahm! And though I liked the Bhagat Singh version, I still think I like the Rang De Basanti version, just a tad better, as I said before… Aamir’s voice-over just gets me all shivery…what a guy!

Sunny Deol will always, sorry to say, beat out Bobby on acting talent whether or not he tries. He actually is very supportive of baby brother, but has, at least until recently, been the most visible star. His movie Gadar, holds the record for highest gross made for 2000-2009. He can really pull them in. Is that the first one you’ve seen him in? Have you watched Border yet?  Here’s one scene, the odds are against Sunny’s boys, 150 Hindustanis to 2000 Pakistanis but he’s going to give it all he’s got, attitude-wise.

And here’s a backround piece on the filming.

Border gives you the emotional side of “the women left behind” and also tells a real story about the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War where the Pakistani Air Force came in and surprise bombed 11 Indian air bases with no warning. Indira Ghandi sent her troops on all fronts, and beat them back so badly that the whole thing was over in 11 days with Pakistan ceding Bangladesh to independency. It’s the best of its kind in all ways, except, perhaps, for the “happy to go to war, dancing with my tank” song, which is catchy, if incongruous.

[next day]

Julie M:  Saw the first half of Border. I get that there’s some personal stuff there, but it’s still a war movie and I’m not a fan of war movies. Still, I’m enjoying Sunny Deol’s performance and Akshaye Khanna had one great scene where he blew the cr*p out of one guy, after having failed to do so at his first opportunity.  Tell me if it gets significantly better in the 2nd half, because I’m just about ready to quit.

  

Jenny K:  All I can say is that I liked Border…I found the performances good and I liked the personal back-stories. I think Sunny’s best scenes are in the second half, when things get toughest, but if you’re not liking it, you shouldn’t watch it.

Sonny doesn’t tend to do many comedies, so if you like him, you’d have to take him in some earnest, heroic drama, and this is one of the easiest to take, military-wise. Maybe you should see Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Not my taste, but it was a Really Big Hit. Set during partition, about a Sikh guy falling for the Muslim girl he rescues and how they fight to stay together, despite religious differences. Sunny has played a lot of soldiers and sardars in his time.

He did one comedy recently, Yamla Pagla Deewana, with Bobby and their dad, Dharmendra, but it looked so PriyaDhawanish (my new term for unrelentingly slapstick) that I just couldn’t do it. Here’s the trailer, see what you think.

Julie M:  I’ll finish Border, then. So far the war aspect is overshadowing everything else, in my mind. B was very surprised when he saw me watching it, because he knows I don’t watch war movies.

 [the next day] 

 So I finished Border, finally, and you were right, it did get better. (I should always, always finish Indian films before I pass judgment on them!!)  The dyad of the characters played by Sunny and Akshaye was brilliantly done, and although a minor role, I enjoyed Jackie Shroff’s air force commander, as well. It was a treat to see Suniel Shetty portraying a young, idealistic soldier, given that previously I’ve only seen him in villain or criminal roles with a hard-etched face. Each of the characters who died (no spoilers here — given that it’s a war movie) performed acts of supreme heroism in defense of Mother India, and the scene where the Sunny Deol character got misty over the death of an enemy soldier was heart-wrenching.

However, I was unprepared for the absolute bloodiness and sheer length (probably close to 45 very intense minutes) of the final battle scene. War sure is hell, and the realism of it in Full Technicolor was probably quite shocking to audiences because it completely unhinged me–yet I had to keep watching. Here’s one of those scenes.

I have to credit the filmmakers for resisting the temptation to do the battle in slow motion, and if I have one criticism it is the maudlin nature of the very final scenes where they intercut images of the battle aftermath with tear-jerking impressions of the families at home — including one character’s cancer-stricken wife, who was previously only alluded to but never seen in flashback. Oh, and the truly annoying cry/chant of “Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan” at the peak of the action disturbed the mood — obvious pandering patriotism is never my thing.

Here is the stirring scene at daybreak where the Air Force can finally come to rescue our boys.

[Bringing the political theme to the present day, we both watched Raajneeti (Politics, 2010).]

Julie M:  Raajneeti is one of those films where a plot summary reveals too many spoilers, so I’ll make it brief:  This is the story of the ins and outs of one Indian election as we follow a political family and their associates.  After a bit of backstory on the mother of the political family and how she married into it, we are introduced to the younger-generation Pratap brothers and their families as well as to Indu, a young woman from outside the family with some political ambitions.  One brother, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is handsome and politically ambitious, while his younger brother, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) has just come back from his PhD studies in the U.S.  A family tragedy catapults Prithvi into electoral (and familial) competition with his cousin Veeru (Manoj Bajpai), and Samar reluctantly takes a role after a second tragedy.  Here’s the trailer:

Jenny K:  Raajneeti doles out its own style of gunfighter justice which seems to be the predominant way to run a government in India, if Bollywood filmmakers are to be believed. Yuva, RDB, and other similar films of the past decade paint the picture of ultimate corruption by a group of morally bankrupt would-be contenders for office who are willing to do anything and everything to get their man (or woman) in power.  If that’s true, all I can say, is run out of the polling places, and straight for the airport… Just don’t stop and roll down your taxi window on the way there. You may get blown away. I certainly was. 

Julie M:  Although I felt the film had crazy, over-the-top dramatic tension–I kept thinking the level and volume was more appropriate to a TV miniseries rather than a feature film–I really enjoyed Ranbir ‘s performance as the reluctant-cum-ruthless political strategist. Ajay Devgan–love him–was a little disappointing as the outsider behind the opposing campaign, as it seemed to be a role he could do with his eyes closed rather than a creative challenge. Katrina Kaif was OK as Indu, Nana Patekar was perfect as the older political mentor, and what is it about Indian movies, where they choose American actors to be the least convincing possible to avoid upstaging the Indian actors?  The Ranbir character’s girlfriend was horrible, just horrible.

Jenny K: While you’re right about the lack of effective white actors in Indian films, this girl isn’t at all the weakest…trust me.  Her character was meant to be a quiet reproach to Samar, and not someone to steal focus…and she did that reasonably well.  She reminded me of Jennifer Garner, favorably, more than once.

Otherwise, the performances were uniformly pretty darned good. Nana Patekar was, as usual, a true artist, layering his portrayal with so many degrees of gray that he could have hidden among the newspaper clippings of his great reviews.

Ajay Devgan looked fetching with his dark, simple wardrobe, gold earrings and now patented scowl, but on the whole I wish he had more to do. He had only two really good scenes, the one at the very end with his mentor Veeru on the roadside, where he showed some grace even when losing, and then the scene on the hillside with his mother. Wonderful expressive looks flew across his face as he reacted to her admissions. Frankly, as much as I love Ajay, I didn’t know he had that much subtlety in him. Bravo!  Here’s the director Prakash Jha and Ajay talking about their history together. 

This Making of Raajneeti video is interesting, too.

Arjun Rampal is shaping up as a rather tasty villain/psychopath these days. Always elegant, a killer with style. Much more interesting than his sweet, sensitive victim roles like his banker-turned-robber in Don or his edge-of-slacker musician in Rock On! And Manoj Bajpai turns in another slick moustache twirling version of the ultimate single-focus campaigner, Veeru. He showed us all the layers of Veeru’s insecurities, that drove him and tripped him, simultaneously…very nice. And Ranbir Kapoor, did his turn as the youngest Corleone brother…oh, I meant Pratap brother…easy mistake with all that ruthless mayhem and the schmaltzy pseudo-Sicilian soundtrack going on…with a degree of underplaying that I wasn’t expecting from the Saawariya Song and Dance Man.

 Only the women in the film seemed a bit muted in Raajneeti…Mom, Indu and Sarah, the gori girlfriend were scarcely there.  I wondered whether some of the girls scenes got left on the cutting room floor, but if this example is anything to go by, probably not…window-dressing.

Here’s the full movie with subtitles on YouTube.  But it’s in pieces.

Julie M:   Not only was it a political thriller, it was the tense story of a political family where there are secrets, jealousies, alliances and emotions equal to the best soap opera. This was a film that could have gone either way for me, but I actually liked it. Critics seemed to hate it, it was highly popular, but I thought it was a pretty good catharsis. I found myself cheering people and then in the next breath booing them, rolling my eyes at one thing and holding my breath at the next. A bit bloody for my taste but it fit the action. The only problem was that I ended up not really liking any of the characters, and waiting for each of them to get what they deserved. And each one of them did, except for Nana Patekar, who got off scot-free.

Jenny K:  Cheering and booing…becoming a real typical filmi-girl audience member, aren’t you? 
But while Nana got off without having to get his come-uppance, but the real crime to me was [spoilers] letting Samar off on his flight back to the US with only a weak token of a mea culpa “Gosh, Indu, I never wanted to be a politician…I knew I wouldn’t like who I’d become”…Understatement of the Year! What about a scene where he tried to take his mother back to NYC, and she turns her back on him and leaves? Or Indu finally donning a backbone with her robes of office and arresting him as her first official act? [end of spoilers] Would have been appropriate…What was his doctoral thesis again? “Sublimated Violence in Victorian Literature”? A natural!

 

Julie M:  Nice analysis. The only thing I’ll take issue with is your characterization of Prithvi as a villain. I’d call him obsessed and ruthless — and pretty dumb — but I think he genuinely wanted (!) to get into politics for more than just personal power or family pressure, and eventually he came to realize that the cost was starting to mount up but by then it was too late, he had to push on.

I agree that Veeru was the most interesting character to watch, outside of Samar, who actually got a bit boring towards the end with his sheer villainy. You could almost see Veeru’s head splitting with all the conflicting emotions.  And Indu was just a cipher from the start.

 

Jenny K:  Manoj Bajpai is always a great character actor…you love to hate him. Though, in this film, that’s so full of questionable ethics and downright villainy…you can’t throw a stone without hitting a baddie. It’s harder to decide who you should identify with…even mom is a liar.

 

Julie M:  That’s why I said earlier that I came away not liking anyone. But I think Prithvi was the closest to sympathetic, except Indu, who ended up being used by everyone. Even though Prithvi was not clean, he did realize that it had all gotten out of control. And then [spoiler alert] he was blown up, so… Veeru was more psychotic than Prithvi—he had the crazy eyes from minute one!

 

Jenny K: I was looking for a clip of Manoj Bajpai with subtitles and found one that looks as if it belongs in this article…another historical uprising film called Chittagong.  Not out yet, though it was made last year.  There’s always a new one coming out…hope it’s as good as it looks!

August 9, 2011: Lovers and Other Burning Subjects

Julie M: Watched Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge [Revered Guest, When Will You Leave?]…somewhat funny, mainly due to Paresh Rawal. Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma were serviceable, but as primarily dramatic actors I felt they were wasted in the comic aspect of their roles. A few genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Why why why do they have to insert those stupid boing-boing noises?? Would have been funny enough without them. And from the beginning I knew what the very end would be. Overall–I don’t generally watch this kind of farce-comedy in English (OK, I admit to watching and enjoying Hot Tub Time Machine but deeply regretted saying OK to The Hangover and Are We There Yet) and probably won’t watch more in Hindi either.

Here’s the trailer with English subs.

I think the fact that it was backed by Warner Brothers tells us a lot. This song is probably the best part of the movie:

No subtitles but you get the idea from the action that they are frustrated with this guest and want him to leave.

[Next day]

Julie M: Saw Sholay [Embers] last night. Two things I wish I’d known going in: that it was 3-1/2 hours long, and that it was a WESTERN. I Hate Westerns. From the first plot intimations I kept flashing back to The Magnificent Seven, except the village-protectors were somewhat-comedic crooks instead of professional gunmen (now picturing in my head The Three Amigos, who, despite being actors rather than crooks, were comedic), and there were songs and dances. It seemed only vaguely Indian…in my mind I kept calling it a “curry western”…everything was there: riding around on horseback, the dusty landscape complete with cactus, the rich rancher, the thirst for revenge, gun battles, the innocent townspeople, gun skirmishes before the Final Stand, etc. Even a train robbery. So this is an Indian classic? Hmph.

Having said that, I loved Amitabh’s character and the interplay he had with Dharmendra’s character. Even though he only wore one outfit in the entire movie he looked awesome in it (those legs! those hands! that hair!). And I thought it was funny that I had just seen ATKJ where there was an extended Sholay reference, and then I saw Sholay and viewed the source of the reference. And even though I Hate Westerns, I tried really hard to get past the conventions to see the life lessons: not giving in to bullies, grabbing some fun while you can, and the true meaning of friendship. (I could have done without the slapstick Hitler-parody jailer, though)

Here’s the opening scene:

My favorite song (probably everyone’s favorite too):

Note the orchestration sounds like the old Westerns too…

And if you want to see the scene they refer to in ATKJ, here it is.

I couldn’t find it with English subtitles, but essentially the villain (Gabbar Singh, the one with the beard) is berating his crew for letting two (how many? TWO! how many? TWO!!) strangers get the better of them, and exacts punishment. The guy on the right is the older actor that Chachaji pesters on the film set in ATKJ.

Anyway, I’m glad I watched it but will be sure to warn people that if they don’t like Westerns they will likely not enjoy this film. I can’t say that I entirely enjoyed it although there were moments that I recognized as “classic”.

 

Jenny K:  Sorry about that, I thought I had mentioned that Sholay was a Western, but maybe not. My mom had just the same reaction to the Hitlerized Jailer, too. “Speed up past that bit, let’s get back to Amitabh!” She didn’t like the “silly stuff”. And on the whole, I agree.

I thought Paresh Rawal was wonderful in ATKJ. He’s so versatile in things, hilarious, then touching, sometimes even in the same scene.  Though he does do more in comedy than anything else, I know he’s done a good bit of drama as well. He says he’s most proud of a movie he did last year, Road to Sangam, about a mechanic charged with delivering Ghandi’s ashes back home

and Sardar, a bio-pic he did a few years earlier, about Vallabhbhai “Sardar” Patel, a compatriot of Ghandi and Nehru who fought to keep all religions safe during partition. The movie’s on YouTube (in 16 parts, with subtitles) I haven’t watched it yet.

Julie M:  One of the movies I reserved from the library for this weekend is The Legend of Bhagat Singh. Can’t wait!

 

Jenny K:  As I remember it, Ajay did a good job, of course, but he seemed a tad old for the role. Bhagat Singh was 24 when he died. But that doesn’t seem to stop anyone in film these days, if they want a role. There was at least one other version of the story being filmed at the same time. This one with Bobby Deol in the lead…yet another over-thirty trying it on for size. I think Ajay’s beat Bobby’s to the cinemas, and I believe did better at the box office. I think it was a bit slow for my taste, but Ajay was very heroic.

The multiple Bhagat Singh films explains a joke in KHNH, I think, where Preity’s suitor came to the house with lots of kids in turbans, and when they are introduced to the family all are named Bhagat Singh, of course a very popular Sikh name, but not usually in multiples. When the family looks confused the father says something like “You can never have too many Bhagat Singhs!” This was just the time the other films were in the pipeline and making lots of press.

Though I will say, not having seen the Bobby Deol version…he looks a bit more like the pictures of Bhagat Singh that have come down to us in the papers of the day.  Both too old though.

[the next day]

 

Julie M:  Well, Saawariya [My Beloved] was a bust. The library DVD was all scratched up and it won’t work for more than 20 minutes at a time on any of my players or computers. I got a bit more than halfway through, watching in bits and pieces, and gave up. But from what I saw it is stunningly beautiful visually, and I loved how it was done kind of like a staged play. Not the least of the stunning visuals was Ranbir…this number just about made me faint, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

But then his hair inexplicably turned Beatle-esque (Ringo, I believe) and the bloom came off the rose a little. Still, he’s adorable and I could definitely stand to see more of him (but not THAT way—more of his acting! Acting!!).

This number was cute too:

Overall, too gushy of a story for me to exert the effort to finish the DVD (you know me, I am not the gushy romantic type) and I cheated online to see how it ended. Meh, for the storyline. If it were not directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali it would have been ordinary and boring.

 

Jenny K:  I may have a copy of it if you wanted to see the ending. Not sure, I think I picked it up in a discount bin somewhere. Blockbuster, not the pirated ones. That scene with Ranbir and the towel was a BIG scandal when it came out, but I remember thinking at the time when I saw it on the big screen that it wasn’t worth all the furor. They spoke in the reviews as if he were completely naked, but unless you were his neighbors across the street, you didn’t see it all…and it wasn’t necessary. I think that when he fell off the chair and was seated on the floor that I saw a pair of shorts on him past the edge of the towel in one shot. Still and all, he is a cutie. Yes, you definitely should pick up a copy of Bachna Ae Haseeno. I think it’s his best so far.

 

Julie M:  I’ll try to find BAH. It’s not at the library, so I guess I’ll have to get it another way. Sigh.

[Pusher’s Note: It’s available for rental at YouTube… ]

On another, and seriously disappointing note, it seems as if the my local theater here has stopped showing Indian movies, just since I saw ZMND there a couple of weeks ago. That means my closest first-run theater is now in Chicago. Grrr.

 

Jenny K: Don’t give up hope.  A lot of the theaters that carry Hindi films can’t afford to show them without the big crowds, so they only book them for a week, or at the most, two weeks so the locals learn to come early or miss out.  Then the theaters go back to programming American films in between.  It’s especially true at multiplexes, where only one or at most two theaters are dedicated to the South Asian community’s films.  Check again in late October.   Don 2 is coming out for Diwali… your theater will book SRK.  And I’ve heard a rumor that Hrithik is doing a cameo in it.

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