March 8, 2012: Goin’, Goin’…Gone on Prem Kahaniyan

Jenny K:  It seems all that I’m drawn to recently are prem kahaniyan, or in the gori vernacular, love stories…granted, not traditional romances, but in theaters or out, that’s what I’ve been watching. Here is my take on three of the most recent winners in the “luv stakes” races.

First was “in theater”…three weeks back, some of my Hindi Movie Pack and I went to see the latest Imraan Khan film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (One Me and One You, 2012). It was an almost sweet, not-quite-meet-cute, shot at romantic comedy that has Imraan depicted as an NRI “good boy” whose life ambition is to get along calmly and with as few disruptions to his life  (and his parents’ wishes) as he can deliver. He has gone into his parents’ chosen field for him, architecture (they own a construction company) and is now serving his lowly intro-level years at a prestigious firm in Las Vegas.

There he meets Quirky Free Spirit, hairstylist Kareena Kapoor at a shared psychiatrist’s office, and she disrupts his life plans (and ruins his haircut!) forever. In the course of trying too hard to prove himself “not boring,” they tie one on and wake up married in a handy Las Vegas wedding chapel! The rest is how they wend their way out of this mess.  This is the first anti-shaadi film I’ve ever seen.

I find it interesting that in the trailer they begin with those really early era graphics, because all through the film I kept being reminded of early Cary Grant films, you know, the ones with Kate Hepburn leading Cary around by the nose into one crazy scrape after another, and doing some of those almost patented double-takes, that Imraan seems to be born to wear, too. No, seriously, it’s also a physical resemblance…the height, the dark hair with the widow’s peak, the dimple in the chin…go check the old still pictures from the 1920’s and ‘30s!

Not that Kareena is quite a Kate Hepburn, but I found, as the film unrolled, that I was interested in how their lives would untangle and if, indeed, they would end up together. No, I won’t say. Just that I enjoyed the ending, and didn’t want to scream at the screenwriters. Nice change. Also liked this number, where the action has moved back to India and the whole family (hers) has gone out to an “old fashioned” New Years Eve celebration at “the club,”dragging him along. I’m still in mourning for his Cary Grant-ish haircut.

Julie M:  I love cute rom-coms too, and have been craving one.  Last one I saw and really liked, unequivocably, was a while back, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha.  And one of my favorite rom-com genres is “got married too soon,” (made famous on TV by Dharma and Greg). I missed it in the theater, but EMAET is one I will watch for as a library DVD. Kareena did not annoy me in the trailer–let’s hope it’s as enjoyable as Jab We Met (my fave Kareena rom-com). And was Farah Khan the choreographer for “Aunty Ji”? because it’s just her style.

 

Jenny K:  Not Farah…she’s really only directing now, and choreographs for her own films, and Shah Rukh’s occasionally. This one was a guy named Bosco Martis and another one named Rajeev Soorti is listed, too. Bosco is definitely in this making-of video.

 

Julie M:  My research reveals that one of the location shoots was in Pataudi…the home princeship of Kareena’s intended, Saif Ali Khan.  Hmm…

 

Jenny K:  So, next on my oddball romance mix, was Dil Bole Hadippa! (The Heart Says Hurray! 2009) which put the balls in oddball…cricket balls, that is. You wouldn’t think that a cricket romance would be too unusual in Hindi film, Lagaan, right? But this one adds a cross-dressing twist.  Rani Mukherji plays a cricket-mad Punjabi girl from Amritsar named Veera, who has always had a dream to be able to play on a national team but her gender stops her, despite her proven “mad skills” on the cricket field.

One day after being turned away from tryouts, yet again, she goes back to her home with the troupe of wandering players she lives with and has to do a “trouser role,” off the cuff, if you’ll pardon the pun, to stand in for an actor who is falling-down drunk. Translated lyrics are under the original Youtube post.

That she pulls this off successfully leads her to hope that with a little more work she can fool the newly arrived, London-bred son of the team owner who is now coaching his dad’s team. Shahid Kapoor plays Rohan, the tough-to-please coach who fails to recognize his newest phenom, “Veer” as the girl he’s both fighting with and romancing at the local fair; he thinks she’s “Veer’s” twin sister. Ah, the things we swallow for a fun romance with lovely big dance numbers like this one.

I think that this is the most attractive persona that I’ve seen Shahid wear yet. Maybe because he’s not trying so hard to please, as Rohan’s natural disposition tends toward cranky. He sure can dance, though, and even delivers a convincing performance throughout the culminating cricket match where he gets to exercise those impressive biceps, and even does a creditably cute DDLJ Raj impression for Veera.

Julie M:  Again, another difference between us.  I don’t mind Shahid at all, and he’s proven he can do Punjabi-milieu, dance, comedy and romance, in Jab We Met (a seriously underrated film in this genre).  Dil Bole Hadippa! is another on my list of “to watch” given my insane fangirl admiration for Rani; however, since it hasn’t hit my library yet it’s not gonna. Guess I’d better find a place I can pay $3 to stream it. And you know you got me with Shahid’s dancing, and all the bhangra beats.

 

Jenny K:  Well, you don’t have to look far…Yashraj Channel at Youtube, $1.99…

The final leg of my romance trifecta, is an old one, Aandhi (Storm) from 1975. My pal Jayesh loaned me two films, and this was the first one that I got to, and boy was it unexpected. One of lyricist Gulzar’s directorial efforts, this must be his best to date. I’d seen his atmospheric ghost story with Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, Lekin… but haven’t actually finished it. I always thought that it was a bit too lyrical for my non-poetic soul. This one, on the other hand, was delightfully mater-of-fact for a romance. And it is telling the tale of a mature couple, Suchitra Sen and Sanjeev Kumar, who find each other again after years apart, all wrapped up in a story of political aspiration and machination. Extra bonus!

The story begins with Artidevi (Suchitra in her second to last film) as a political force who is facing a troubled reelection campaign. Her campaign managers don’t know how she, a Ghandian pacifist, is going to fight her rivals who control the newspapers and the funding of the business elites if she insists on fighting a clean, honest campaign. She goes to another town where a rally is to be held and moves her headquarters to a hotel there. She feels oddly at home there, and finds that the manager of the hotel is none other than her estranged husband.  She left him years ago when her desire for political office couldn’t be sated with a simple home life as a wife and…egad…mother! Surprise number one.

Aarti has lots of trouble fighting her growing attraction to her ex, J.K. (Sanjeev Kumar, who I just loved as the Thakur in Sholay) and more trouble winning back her troubled constituency, especially as they are spurred on to discontent by the opposition, headed by Chandrasen (a deceptively mild-looking villain played by Om Shivpuri). Here’s that scene, with one of the best songs in the R.D. Burman score.  No subtitles, but the main lyric is a tongue in cheek refrain paraphrased as “Here come the high-muckety-mucks carting along their many blessings for us. Let’s see what they’ve got.”

The story goes on unfolding slowly in both the present and the past, letting us know the history of our couple, how they met (the best meeting I’ve seen in any Hindi film, surprise number two), how they married against the wishes of her wealthy, powerful father, and how they came to a decision that they couldn’t stay together. Surprise number three, no one is truly happy, but politics is a stern bedfellow, and asks a lot of one.

 

Julie M:  Wow, a romance with grownups. Or, rather, grownup actors playing their age, in a world that somewhat resembles reality.  God bless the 1970s.

 

Jenny K:  Supposedly loosely based on the life and troubled marriage of Indira Ghandi, this film was banned for a year or two, until her death allowed the clearance to come through. Available, free from Shemaroo, on Youtube, with subtitles you can turn on, I’d highly recommend it.

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March 5, 2012: Politics, Poetry, Prose ~ A Filmi World-Serious

Julie M:  Watched Hey Ram (2000) tonight. I am officially in love with Kamal Haasan, who although he is not as good looking as Aamir Khan, is, I think, the better actor. The film was gut-wrenching and absolutely excellent, the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times, doing things he thought he’d never do as he searches for his convictions. Supporting turns by SRK and Rani Mukherji were likewise excellent (although SRK really overplayed his character’s death scene, what a ham!), and it took me a while to recognize that it was Naseeruddin Shah playing Gandhi, he so completely inhabited the role.          

Jenny K: I know what you mean, but it’s hard to miss that highly identifiable nose.  He’s cute even creaky, old and in a dhoti…I’m so far gone…

 

Julie M:  Haasan plays Sakhet Ram, a Hindu archaeologist in the 1940s who gets along well with the British and is vehemently opposed to Partition and the idea of Pakistan.  Shah Rukh Khan is his friend and fellow archaeologist.  A personal tragedy involving Ram’s wife (Rani Mukherji) radicalizes his hatred towards Muslims, and he becomes an anti-Gandhi activist.  There’s quite a bit of violence and political back-and-forth, which was a little confusing, but a bit of research straightened things out for me.

This review/analysis does more than I ever could to unpack the layers of the film.  I had to read it several times and it only confirmed my opinion of Kamal Haasan’s incredible talent as writer, producer, director and actor.  And I really liked this German compilation of clips to music (not from the film).

Thanks for including this one in the box: amazing. You can tell how much I liked it by how speechless I am.

 

Jenny K:  I should read the article thoroughly and then watch it again… Glad you liked it, though Rani’s final scene gave me the heebie jeebies for a while afterwards the first time I saw it. If you like Kamal Haasan that much, I’ll send you VeluNayakan, that Godfather film the next time I send a package. I know you don’t like mob films much, but it really is one of the best of his that I have seen, plus, it has Mani Ratnam directing it.

 

Julie M:  So I watched the first hour of Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst, 1957) and was thoroughly bored. Unsuccessful poet Vijay (Guru Dutt—who also produced and directed the film, coincidentally like Kamal Haasan!) is turned out by his family, is appreciated only by a prostitute, and meets up with his ex-girlfriend who, as it turns out, is married to someone who can get his poems published.  What to do? Who to choose? Bleh. Snore. Great songs, though, and Mala Sinha is (was) so stunning as Meera, the ex. Didn’t find Waheeda Rehman (as the prostitute) particularly mesmerizing, though–but I understand her big part comes later in the film.  Worth continuing to plow through it?

 

Jenny K:  Wouldn’t have sent it if I didn’t think so…a different kettle of fish from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, but just as well known, and also classic.  I think the tension builds as it goes on. It’s a bit more along the lines of Devdas in the tortured poet thing, but I found it easier to take. The last scene in the lecture hall is wonderful, and where he is silhouetted in the doorway, it’s almost messianic in its imagery…and the song is fabulous.

But, of course, you must decide for yourself.

[the next day]

Julie M:  I took your advice and finished Pyaasa. Thanks for encouraging me to push on; glad I did.  It actually made more sense to me than Devdas, maybe because I understand the artistic temperament more than I understand stupid boys too weak to claim their love for themselves. I understood why he rejected those who were only willing to acknowledge him once he proved himself financially desirable, because I would have done exactly the same thing. And about the messianic thing, I know it’s Hindu but I found lots of Christ-like imagery (hanging out with prostitutes, “you will deny me three times”, the Christ on the cover of the magazine Meena is reading when she learns that Vijay is dead, etc.) except, of course, this has a much happier ending, we are led to assume.

 

Jenny K:  Some things are universal in their appeal to the human psyche, aren’t they? Whatever your religious point of view.

 

Julie M: Wonderful music, very interesting and poetic lyrics.  I particularly liked this one, where Waheeda’s character is flirting with Vijay thinking he’s a potential customer, but all he wants is his poems back, which she had bought as scrap paper. 

This one was cute, too. The massage-wallah is talking about how great people will feel after he works on them. 

I also liked the call-back to Awaara‘s dream-sequence with the dream sequence in this film. 

At first I thought that Rehman, who played Meena’s evil husband, was Dev Anand–if you take off the glasses they have a similar look. Or maybe it’s just the period–a lot of male actors looked alike.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rehman reminded me of Prithviraj Kapoor crossed with tiny bits of Shammi (in his quieter moments)…

 

Julie M:  My other weekend viewing was Aarakshan (Reservation, 2011), the one I missed in the theater. This was the film starring (sigh) Amitabh Bachchan as the principled principal Prabhakar Anand, staunchly defending his view that education should be available to anyone from any caste and a reservation (aka quota/affirmative action) system acts to ensure access.

Saif Ali Khan co-stars as Deepak Kumar, a member of one of the low castes whose education was facilitated by Anand’s beliefs and who regards Anand as a mentor. Deepika Padukone plays Poorbi, Anand’s daughter and Deepak’s girlfriend, and Prateik (sigh) is Sushant, a college student and Poorbi and Deepak’s good friend. The villain is Manoj Bajpai, and Yashpal Sharma is a helpful stable owner. Hema Malini makes a cameo appearance at the end, although her photo is seen throughout the first half.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I read reviews about this one and thought it sounded too dry to have me spend my hard-earned pesos on it, even given the good intentions of the theme, and Amitabh’s presence.  Was the story interesting?

 

Julie M:  The plot involves Anand, the longtime head of the renowned private college S.T.M., who has a practice of giving a “leg up” to lesser qualified but very promising applicants from backward castes. This enrages the trustees and the upper-caste parents whose children score higher but are rejected because there are no places. Things come to a head when a government minister’s son is rejected, and he installs the evil Mithilesh Singh first as a trustee, then as vice-principal, in an attempt to find a way to oust Anand.

Singh also runs a private coaching school for high-caste students as a very profitable side business. When the government formally adopts a 27% reservation system for public education and employment, the situation blows up both around the country and at S.T.M. Deepak (a S.T.M. instructor headed for the US for his doctorate) and Sushant are on opposite sides of the issue and have a violent confrontation; Anand fires Deepak and expels Sushant. Deepak flees to the US and Sushant disappears. Then Anand loses his job over some comments he made to the press and the family leaves town for a while.

When they return they find that their house has been taken over by Singh’s coaching school and they have no legal way to stop it. Anand puts his principles into action by starting a rival coaching school, for free, in the stable across the street, where he takes all comers, aided by Deepak and Sushant, who have since returned and are buddies again.  This school becomes so popular that Singh seeks to ruin it. You can pretty much guess that he fails; at the end Anand is vindicated and S.T.M.’s founder, played by Hema Malini, funds a new coaching academy with Anand as the principal and chief trustee.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, that Manoj Bajpai! He’s such a delicious villain…I’ve seen him in very few films that he wasn’t indulging in lots of moustache twirling fun. I remember first hearing of him when he was full of sour grapes that he hadn’t been asked to do Devdas rather than SRK. Not sure I can see it. My favorite one with him is still the very over-the-top-and-loving-it Aks with BigB. My winner for Best Psychopath Serial Killer in Hindi films…if not for accuracy, then for sheer audacity. Rather creepy, though…lots of rather unhealthy imagery. Can’t say it’s a true thumbs up.

 

Julie M:  The first half of the film is what you’d expect: plenty of dramatic speeches by various characters on both sides of the reservation system issue, with personality-developing scenes for the main characters. Some people would find the speeches tiresome, but my love for issue-driven film and lack of real knowledge of the issue made it fascinating for me. The second half delves into the family drama and exposes the true evilness of the villain, with inspirational scenes of Anand’s influence on his young students and a stirring climax where the scrappy stable school resists the might of the corrupt government and profiteering private school system. Although it was all somewhat predictable, I was nevertheless quite entertained.

There was one big dance number that was very out of place, however, I liked much better this number from early in the film, introducing the Deepak/Poorbi romance.

This was about as romantic as it got, since they ended up fighting and then separated for most of the rest of the film, never really getting back together.

 

Jenny K:  Were you really expecting romance in such a blatant issue film?  Well, with your favorite, Saif in it, you probably had your fingers crossed.

 

Julie M:  I hated Saif’s mustache and the fact that he was OBVIOUSLY way too old for Deepika’s character (he was supposed to be a recent college grad, she was a college student who somehow had all day-every day free to hang out at her dad’s school). I kept rooting for Poorbi to throw Deepak over and get together with Sushant, because they were a much cuter couple. Alas, she fought with Sushant, too, and after they were out of the action she had nothing else to do except throw tantrums at her parents and narrow her eyes when she was in the presence of the evil Singh.

Overall I liked it–good issue and decent writing and drama. Three stars, would have been 3-1/2 had it not been so darned predictable.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

[Two weeks later, romantic comedy…]

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 [a few days later]

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 [about a week later]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

[a few days later]

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

August 5, 2011: Scaling the Heights of Hindi Cinema

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


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

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

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

[the next day…]

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

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

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

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

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

[another day goes by]

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

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

The whole movie is available on YouTube.

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

[and one more day…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Ajay…

Ajay gets experimental, signs Priyadarshan’s film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[next day…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 13: Fifty Films into Bollywood Paheli

[Jenny K’s Note: Paheli means puzzle.  Also one of our films this post.]

Julie M:  Got your package!!! Thanks for the necklace! Has it really been 50 films? It arrived slightly damaged (a few beads loose in the envelope and the dangly part had detached) but I think B can repair most of it. And thanks for the films. I think this weekend the library haul will include Paheli and Umrao Jaan. I won’t request any others because I got 3 from you.

Next week I have vacation (duh, you know that) so I think I might try to see a movie in the theater, since they only show them in the afternoons. This week my Indian theater is showing Delhi Belly (Aamir!) at a very convenient 2pm show time and Double Dhamaal with your crush Arshad Warsi at a less civilized 5pm; hope it’s still there next week!

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry that the necklace was damaged. I should have wrapped it better, but I was running out of room in the box, and it wedged in rather tightly, so I thought it would be okay. Hate to give a gift that has to be fixed first, thrift store find, or no.

And yes, according to my list, whatever you see next will be your fiftieth film. If you have seen either of the last batch of freebies (I Hate Luv Stories, or Loins of Punjab Presents) then you’ve already gone past that. They do accumulate fast, don’t they? Congrats!

I think I should arm you with my favorite review site at Rediff. Their reviews seem to be evenly balance between the Mumbai point of view and the US India fan base. I usually agree with them, more or less, though the people who respond to the reviews seem to be wildly offended when any negative opinions are voiced. Judging on their responses to your two films, I’d go with Delhi Belly over Double Dhamaal, even with Arshad. As much as I like him, he seems to be picked more often for his talent for mugging than his talented feet.

Julie M:  I have not yet dipped into the freebies. I’m saving those for when the library supply has dried up and I’ve seen the ones you’ve sent in the current box!

Jenny K:  Sounds like a nice weekend. Either Paheli or Umrao Jaan would merit wearing the necklace for “atmosphere” 🙂 Though I think I like Umrao Jaan a bit better. Paheli is very atmospheric, though. Costumes and sets from Rajasthan are lovely. Plot a bit weak toward the end, but that seems to be standard, more and more. What I call SNL Syndrome. Have some good ideas, fun execution and performances, but they don’t know how to end them.

Julie M:  FYI, I tried to watch I Hate Luv Storys. Had to quit because the sound and subtitles were so bad. I’ll try again when I’m in a more charitable mood. It seemed to start out fairly cute, though.

Jenny K: Yeah, my copy of that film is like that, too. What I get for digging in the Previously Viewed bin. If you can’t get through it, dump it. Not a problem. I’m sure it will be in the library chain pretty soon. I have it in my queue at Netflix, so it’s going pretty mainstream. It is cute, but not a “must see”. Of Imraan Khan’s films I think Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na is much better, but it wasn’t in the bin 🙂

Julie M:  Saw Kandukondain Kandukondain last night. Great Rahman music! typical plot–kind of threw a lot in there from movie making/playback singing to family drama to romance–but not too heavy on the melodrama, so it was OK. Good costumes too, and Tabu was good. I liked the song set in Egypt and the medieval castle one–cool dream sequences.

I can see where Jane Austen and that ilk (Brontes, too) would inspire Indian filmmakers [Jenny K’s Note:  Kandukondain, Kandukondain is a South Indian adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.] because of the focus on traditions and cultural mores combined with dramatic moments. Did they ever do a Jane Eyre version in India? because that would be interesting to see. I saw Bride and Prejudice although technically that’s an English film by an Anglo-Indian director.

[the next day…]

Julie M:  Saw Chandni Bar last night. Really good! Would not have found that one on my own, so thank you for sending it.

This weekend my library haul is Paheli, Umrao Jaan (I caught an Umrao Jaan reference in Chandni Bar!) and Munnabhai MBBS. Don’t know what to start with…maybe Umrao Jaan to continue the dancer theme I seem to have going.

Jenny K:  Nach, ladki…. yeah, go with a theme…Glad you liked Chandni Bar. Thought you would. Tabu was great in it…and her awful lover was played by Atul Kulkarni, that guy in Rang de Basanti that was with the radical hindu party who got “converted” via the gospel according to film.

I checked into your Jane Eyre question…seems there was one very loose adaptation, Sangdil, in the fifties with Dilip Kumar, who was very famous, but I find him a very cold fish. Here’s the IMDb write up.  And here’s a bit of the film on youtube, but no subtitles.

[Jenny K’s Note: After much trial and tribulation and an overnight stranding at the US Air Phoenix hub, I have made it to Vancouver.]

Jenny K: Went to see Meenaxi at the festival last night and it was a DVD projection…sigh. Didn’t maintain the original proportions of the film either, so it was a bit “cramped” in the screen, if you know what I mean. I also keep forgetting how weak Tabu’s English is in this film. Sheesh! She’s so good in Hindi that I forget that. Hoping better for 3 Idiots.

Julie M:  I did not think Tabu was bad in The Namesake…thought it was appropriate to the character.

Anyway, I liked Umrao Jaan except that to me it ended quite suddenly. [Spoilers]  She got turned away from her family and then went back to the bordello, which had been trashed and abandoned. She looked at herself in the mirror, and…??? then what? did not feel resolved. (you mentioned that) I liked seeing a young Naseruddin Shah, too, in that film.

I also watched Paheli. SO CUTE! Rani was adorable (she’s looks adorable even when she cries), SRK was fun and sexy. The jewelry was amazing–I want all of it!! Of course I have nowhere to wear it, but it’s still stunning.

Munnabhai MBBS…some cute scenes, overall merely 2 stars. Liked seeing Sunil and Sanjay Dutt act together. Trying to understand your crush on Arshad Warsi. Confused as to how Munna could get married and live happily ever after in MBBS and also in the sequel but to a different woman.

Jenny K:  I wasn’t complaining about her delivery in The Namesake, but just her line readings in “Prague” in Meenaxi. I guess, now that I think of it, since Namesake didn’t bother me and it came afterwards, perhaps she noticed how she came across and worked on it after Meenaxi.

I’m not sure just why Arshad hits me, but he often does. If you like Nasseruddin Shah, and who doesn’t, then see if you find Ishqiya in your library. Might be right up your alley. Nasserji and Arshad in a buddy flick, conmen on the lam from other gangsters who hide out with the widow of another old friend. She’s Vidya Balan, the DJ from Lage Raho Munnabhai. It has funny bits, but I don’t think of it as a comedy.

Julie M: My library has Golmaal Returns and Golmaal 3 but not the original Golmaal. Is it worth tracking it down?

Jenny K: Stay away from the Golmaal films, COMPLETELY, you’ll hate them. Very, very slapstick, and despite the cast, it should be atrocious. I haven’t been able to bring myself to see them.

Julie M:  Speaking of which: this weekend’s haul is Tashan (fun with Akshay), Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (arty) and Om Shanti Om (SRK).

Jenny K:  I’ve only seen OSO of the ones you have listed for this weekend. Let me know what you think, and maybe I’ll pick a few up. I think I bought OSO just for the scene where SRK is pretending to be a South Indian film star to impress the girl. Crazy cowboy outfit and huge mustache is a real hoot and, alarmingly, not that much of an exaggeration. Well, you’ve seen Rajni, so you know 🙂

I liked the one I saw last night at the festival, West is West. Almost all in English. I liked it better than it’s predecessor, East is East, which was funny but ultimately depressing, because the father was such a negative character in it. He has sort of seen the light in the ten years since the first film…a bit…he’s still a bit of a pretentious jack***. but I love Om Puri. He is one of the best character actors they have. In Maqbool, he and Naseeruddin play the “witches” in the Macbeth plot, commenting on everything, playing two corrupt cops with the ugliest collective wardrobes I’ve ever seen. Wonderful…wah, wah, wah, as the saying goes.

Julie M:  Just finished watching Tashan. Action/comedy with a little romance (not too much or too gushy) and kind of a road story as well. Saif Ali Khan is a cool-dude call center worker in Mumbai who moonlights as an English teacher, and he gets mixed up with Anil Kapoor, a don, through Kareena Kapoor, Anil’s employee. Through his infatuation with Kareena he ends up stealing tons of money from Anil, only to have Kareena steal it from him and vanish. Anil calls in Akshay Khanna [Kumar], a petty thug/enforcer in Kanpur, to rough up Saif and then take him to track Kareena and the money down. And the fun goes on from there.

Some flashbacks and back stories, everyone narrates the story at some point and Saif speaks to the camera all the time, for no real reason. But overall it was not bad–I like good action films and the gangster element was more comedic than serious, until the end, which was quite bloody. Probably too much Akshay for you, but I enjoyed it. B caught most of the 2nd half with me and he kind of liked it too. Anil is hilarious as the don who loves to speak English–but he does it all wrong and with a heavy Sean Connery impression. Made me laugh out loud. The musical numbers are forgettable.

I’ll give you a report on the others after I see them.

Jenny K:  Thanks for the update. I’ll remember it when I’m stuck…maybe it’s on Netflix, most of Akshay’s films are. I do think Anil’s a funny guy, even when he’s not trying to be. You should have seen him on the Martha Stewart show when he was plugging Slumdog.

Part 9: The Many Facets of Rani

Julie M:  WOW!!! You sent so much great stuff! Thanks for the freebies, too!

We must be on the same wavelength because I JUST got Kannathil Muthamittal from the library. I’ll have to check it out and then just dump it into the return bin. Also on my library shelf are Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Black. But I can’t get the DVDs from the library until Saturday, so your stuff will fill the gap tonight and tomorrow.

Thanks again!! (you are so my dealer now)

Jenny K:  Now, I must warn you about both of those library films…they have some good points, but when I saw them, I was left wondering why I bothered. Never bought them. Or, you could just find out for yourself.

Black is a direct copy of The Miracle Worker, in the first half, anyway…with BigB playing Annie Sullivan as an ex-alcoholic, no less. Oh, yeah, I told you this in an earlier post.  I will say, Ayesha Kapoor, the child actress who plays the young “Helen” is fabulous in this role. But, even with Rani and BigB trying their darndest, it just left an odd taste in my mouth.

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna…otherwise known as KANK, [Spoilers: highlight to view] deals with adultery in an almost acceptable way, which doesn’t work at all for me. SRK and Rani are married to two completely reasonable choices, Preity and Little B, who are there for them, are attractive, no bad treatment whatsoever, aside from Preity whining a bit, SRK has a kid, too. So, here we are, Preity spends a bit too much time at work and SRK who is very negative for the first third of the movie, at least, meets Rani before her wedding, but doesn’t try to stop her, and then they get to be best friends afterward. Then when that’s not enough, at one point they decide to change it to love. Premeditated. Without splitting from their spouses first. BLECH…And it’s set in NYC, too. So, it can’t be because “divorce isn’t done here, in old Mother India”. BLECH. So all the lovely scenes, lovely songs, beautiful words don’t amount to a hill of beans for me. It may be more “realistic” than most Indian films, but I don’t like seeing my favorite actors endorsing such a line of bad behavior. [End of spoilers] If I wanted that from my films, I’d have stayed with US films. Moral codes have been out of fashion here for years, I don’t have to go to India for it.  End of Rant.   Oh, plus, BigB is having style trauma trying to be an aging Warren Beatty in this film…unforgivable.

Julie M: OK…I’ve been warned. I’ve gotten used to Indian films selectively ripping off other films/plays, and it might be interesting to see bad behavior in an Indian film.

So you like the Indian film moral code with respect to sex and fidelity…but the gangster films are all pretty violent and you don’t really seem to mind. I don’t mind sex in a movie but I hate violence. ???

Jenny K:  Nah…it’s not [more spoilers, I guess the rant’s not over.] the sex, it’s the cheating. And if it’s an out and out bad couple doing it, I wouldn’t mind it so much, it would be in context. What I don’t like is the film’s writers and directors setting up a scenario where they are supposed to be the “good guys” and when someone better comes along, they just walk out, without even a pretense of their being out of control or unable to help their lust. They just go…oh well, we’re going to go this route, regardless of how we’ll hurt our spouses, kids, etc. Just hit me the wrong way, bigtime.

As to the violence, I don’t particularly like it, but it’s part of the masala format, like the melodrama…you just sort of expect the obligatory fight scenes for the guys (they call them dashoom dashoom scenes, don’t know why exactly, descriptive noises? ), and when it’s part of the storyline, I’m basically okay with it, when it’s gratuitous, I just fast forward or go for popcorn, or something. I’d much rather a direct sex scene, but there isn’t much chance of that except occasionally in indie cinema. There is a lot of more realistic films out there in Indian film now that I find much more disturbing…Udaan, for one, which won a bunch of awards last year for its realistic portrayal of a father’s child abuse (beatings, not sexual) which I thought was very well done, was unpleasant in the extreme to watch. Made me miss my mindless escapism and fabulous dance numbers.

Aamir’s Rang de Basanti pushed my “honor code” buttons too. Found myself all but jumping up out of my seat, 45 minutes from the end, going “What? What? They did WHAT? That’s a completely wrong message to put out there!” When I asked some of my Indian friends about their take on it, they almost universally said, “You don’t understand, you’re thinking about it with the legal system here in the US as a reference, but it’s the only way things change in India”… rassafrassa-crimanentlies…that and Gangaajal both had completely out of line endings, in my opinion. RDB has a great score and some wonderful performances though, and has some positive points, before the Great Schism at the end, that may merit a viewing.

Julie M:  Instead of KM, at my library I found Well Done Abba! and watched it tonight. Very funny and sweet. B watched part of it with me and immediately recognized the actor playing the main character as the college principal from 3 Idiots, whereas I had failed to do so. (He really liked 3 Idiots–he said it was his favorite so far)  I’m still going to watch KANK and Black and will report back to you.

[JK Note:  They really need to do some trailers with English subtitles, IMO]

Jenny K:  Ah, I haven’t seen it yet, but the director Shyam Benegal is usually very good. I’ll have to look for it. I love Boman Irani, the guy you mentioned. I think he’s one of the best character actors they have. He was also the principal in Main Hoon Na and he was the Sikh “villain” in Lage Raho Munnabhai…the best friend who shafted Munna and tried to steal his girlfriend’s house. He has a tendency to disappear into his roles and can do comedy as well as drama flawlessly.

Julie M:  OH, I had no idea those were all him! I guess he really does disappear into his roles, whereas SRK is always SRK.

Jenny K:  SRK is a constant, a fixed point of delicious in the universe.

Wanted to check something about Boman online and stumbled into his website…seems he’s a late bloomer in a major way. Started his photography career at age 32, then began a major theater career at 34 and did his first film at the age of 44 about ten years ago…made a success in all of them. I am very humbled.  

Julie M:  REALLY liked Black. I didn’t find it unsettling at all except for the part where [spoilers] she asked him to kiss her (and that’s understandable under the circumstances, even though I believe she regarded him as a father figure for the entire previous time) and he did (which was totally weird). A rare kiss in an Indian movie and it’s freaky. But excellent performances all around, particularly Rani. BigB did some overacting but mostly was good too. B was not familiar with The Miracle Worker so he thought the entire thing was pretty good, if a bit overly dramatic. Ranks up there for me.

[Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director, speaks about the making of Black, in Hindi and English. Part 1 of 3, I believe.]

Jenny K:  Hmmm…well, good, it’s certainly a stylish film. Same director as Devdas and he’s all about the visuals. Perhaps if I had seen it earlier, I would have liked it more. My favorite films by Bhansali are Khamoshi, the Musical (Khamosh means Silence 🙂 about a hearing woman and her deaf parents, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, both with Salman Khan, oddly enough…but that can’t be helped, he is popular, him and his overdone pecs…

Julie M:  KANK…well, I didn’t much like it but not for the same reasons you didn’t. It was clear to me that [spoilersboth of them were in bad marriages. Maya never loved Rishi but married him out of duty (and they had wildly mismatched personalities), and Dev was cranky due to his life sucking after the accident, which Rhea had zero sympathy for. So why not grab love when you can? And it seemed to really be love, not just fooling around.[end sp.]

No, the reason I didn’t like it was the soap-opera quality of it, the crazy drama/melodrama and extreme weepiness. SRK kept making that face of his that I hate, the half-crying super-emotional weird face. I don’t watch that kind of movie out ofHollywood, why would I watch it out of Bollywood? So, warn me before I see any more of those, ok?

Jenny K:  Well I will, if I can, but they are pretty entrenched in Indian films. Hard to avoid completely.  And you are well into “the going your own route” phase now, you’ll find out what you like and don’t like very fast. I’ll put together a directors list, as they are usually a good indicator of what you’ll get.

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