January 5, 2014: Guns and Six-Packs, Part I

Did you miss us?  In the flurry of holidays between Diwali and Christmas we saw two star hunks in two films…and not at home in front of our tvs, but in theaters, no less!  Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela and Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif in Dhoom 3.  They generated such a flurry of words, that we’ve had to split it into two parts!  Enjoy the festivities with us.

Jenny K:  Kathy and I saw Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (A Play of Bullets:  Ram-Leela, 2013), and if I had just left at the interval, I would have said that SLB had gotten it all back, all that lushness that made Devdas a standout. It’s complete sensory overload, and he can make it all palatable. The trailer gives you an idea. 

Julie M:  I saw it too, with my friend/former student Kristy, who just loves big spectacles.  Should we do a plot summary?  I promise I’ll be quick…Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela (Deepika Padukone) are denizens of longtime opposing gangland clans who have all but taken over a Gujarati village.  If this sounds like the setup of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it is.  He sees her after he crashes a party at her house and falls instantly in love, they have a way cool balcony scene, they decide to run away together, her relative kills his friend, he kills her relative, and he becomes a wanted man.  And so on and so forth.  There are twists that make this film very Indian (her family’s don is her mother; he gets a masala-style, way overblown but very fun hero entry song a la Salman Khan,  and, true to form, the second half is almost a totally different story that takes Shakespeare to the “what if…” level.

Jenny K:  I wish I had known the translation of the title before I went into the theater…add to that, I was running a bit late and missed a ten minute chunk of the beginning, so I literally didn’t see the bullet-storm coming.  And so, for me, the second half just goes off on a violent tangent that changed my whole review of it. Now, I didn’t expect a happy ending or anything…it is a reworking and an updating of R&J, after all, but this overarching firestorm of violence is just too much.

I feel like SLB locked himself in a screening room, watching an endless loop of Gangajaal and Shakti and no one let him out for months! It’s changed his whole list of emotional colors in his paintbox…with all the problems I’ve had with him over the years, I’d always complain of overdoing the emotional and individual tragedy element.  He’d never be the director giving us those village-wide breast-beating, hair tearing revenge fantasies that I hate.  Yet it seems he’s into it now, and, true to Bhansali’s tendency to needless excess, he’s given us a film so relentless in its symphony of slo-mo jewels of shattering glass and varying liquids, that it overwhelmed the splendor he had worked so hard to get back.

Julie M:  It is super-violent, right from the first scene.  I wasn’t happy about that.  But I disagree that it was relentless. I found it to be very SLB-splendid even with the violence:  a visual treat.  I was totally satisfied, and having Ranveer and Deepika to look at for nearly 3 hours was just like the old days.

Jenny K:  The performances were definitely fun. Ranveer and Deepika generate some real heat onscreen, and have lots of loveliness of body, and often of face (on her part). Deepika is finally finding her groove in a big way. By the way, I ended up seeing it again, the whole of it this time, with Pat.

Julie M:  Totally agree.  Gotta say, it was the hottest, sexiest love story I’d seen in a while…talk about chemistry! And KISSING!!! I was shocked, but intrigued.  I would have preferred that he not have been bearded because I really wanted to see his lips. I’m still fanning myself lest I get the vapors. I’m still thinking about how Ranveer buffed up for this. He should do commercials for whatever program he followed, because…whew.

Jenny K:  Ranveer’s buffing was almost overdone for me. He reminded me of those weightlifters who can’t quite recognize their biceps and thighs as their own and so move very carefully and self-consciously. I actually found Khanji (Sharad Kelkar), Leela’s brother, more attractive in his bedroom scene with his wife…especially with that voice! I was quite impressed with Sharad throughout, and am definitely going to find more of his films. But I agree with you about the beard having to go…had a sort of Amish effect of flattening his chin out.  I, too, found their chemistry together to be very hot. Surprisingly so. Pat thought that Leela’s writhing on the bed in various scenes to be way too vulgar and western for her tastes. I didn’t like it so much in the “balcony scene” (a bit “too much, too soon”, there) but thought it was okay on the wedding night.

A big problem for me would have been eliminaed if SLB hadn’t felt the need to stick the “R&J Rework” tag on it. As a lifelong Bardmonger (literally one who sells the Bard for a living) that sort of challenge has me immediately poking holes in weak parallels…”Shouldn’t Juliet, at least, be just a bit more sheltered and innocent, and not quite so drenched in ‘Eau de Slut?'” And our Ram-eo, why the heck is he portrayed as an arrogant pornographer?

Julie M:  Well, we are talking the criminal underworld here. He’s an arms and porn dealer, she’s a don’s princess daughter who’s grown up with guns, seen her mother undertake all kinds of illicit activities and not batted an eye–plus her mother seems to have ignored her and allowed her to run wild in her gilded palace. And as for Eau de Slut…nobody is an innocent 14-year-old here: these are fully developed hormones running rampant in adults (well, maybe 20/25-year-olds).

Jenny K:  Just shows the weakness of trying to make it an R&J comparison in the first place, if all they can think of (I’m talking to both SLB and Vishal Bhardwaj, who does it a bit better) is making a transition between the moneyed upper classes of Renaissance Verona and a severely fictionalized whup-ass crazy blood-lusting Rajasthani underworld. Both may try to keep their princesses pure, both will probably fail (in a search for drama) but in R-L it seemed doomed from the git-go.

Julie M:  I find it interesting to compare Deepika’s two organized-crime-princess turns this year, Chennai Express and Ram-Leela. She wasn’t allowed to get horny in CE, only feisty, so she really turned it on here. I read that she was extremely embarrassed about the kinds of things she had to say and do in R-L, but man, it was like she was born to do them. Both characters were total fantasy and it worked.

Supriya Pathak as the don in Ram-LeelaJenny K: I like her turn in Chennai Express a lot better, even though in R-L she is an electrically visual presence.  In CE she was more likeable and sweet…I guess I just go for the safe in my heroines and sexy in my villainesses.  How predictable of me!

Speaking of deliciously evil, Supriya Pathak (Pankaj Kapur’s wife) is absolutely the perfect villainess…and mafia don. Revenge personified. But the inter-village hatred and plotting gets sort of confusing after a while.

Julie M:  I too got confused about the clan-warfare machinations midway through the 2nd half, and I’m not really sure how Ram and Leela decided [spoilers] that the only way to end it all was to kill each other, because that seemed a bit drastic to me. Still, it was R&J and they had to die. [end spoilers] And  for once I was mesmerized during every song. Not just the big dance numbers (of which there were THREE!) but even the slower ones. Just fascinated. I nearly fainted with all of those ladies during Tattad Tattad, and I loved how they used a variety of styles for the dance numbers (South, and Punjabi, and Bollywood). Priyanka Chopra Ram Leela Hot Item Song Photos

About the only thing that disappointed me–and I knew it would–was Priyanka Chopra’s item number, which only displayed how bad a dancer she was compared to Deepika and how plastic and bleached her face looked.

Jenny K: Poor Priyanka!  She dances better than I do (I haven’t seen her mambo, though, and mine’s pretty good!), and her acting is usually better than Deepika’s, at least so far.  Loved her in Barfi!, for example.  And Tattad Tattad was fun, but I think the person who nicknamed it “the dandruff song” had it right, seriously odd choreography!

All in all, I’d say, worth seeing, but if you’re gun-shy, I’d consider leaving at the break…who needs the extra hour and a half, anyway!  But for the other point of view, Pat said something along the lines of “three hours of my life wasted” and/or “I’d rather have my eyes gouged out than watch that again”.

Julie M:  I say stay.  I LOVED the entire thing, simply adored it, and felt that it worked, really WORKED. My friend liked it too—her first Bollywood film. I think I may have converted someone.

Nothing says Love like a Revolver

Sept. 14, 2011:The New POPular Stars: Pretty On Parade

As it happens, this weekend we both watched recent, cute and fun romantic comedies headed by talented young newcomers, the men, especially, made us look twice.  Julie selected Band Baaja Baaraat (Band, Horns, Revelry — 2010) on DVD, while Jenny opted for Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (My Brother’s Bride, 2011) in the theater.  Here’s how the party went down:

Julie MBand Baaja Baaraat is a typical romantic comedy–and is entirely predictable — although well done and with very likable leads.

Anushka Sharma (last seen as Taani in Rab ne Bana di Jodi) plays Shruti, a “together” young Punjabi woman from Delhi with an ambitious life goal–she wants to be the most in-demand wedding planner in the world–and through a series of circumstances she ends up business partners with Bittoo (Ranveer Singh), an irresponsible cut-up trying to get out of working on his father’s rural sugar cane farm for the rest of his life. She has only one rule: don’t mix business with romance. Bittoo agrees, reluctantly because he is half in love with her already. They get along great, complement each other’s style, and become incredibly successful over the course of the next two years. 

[SPOILERS, kinda…if you didn’t see them coming already.…]

One late night, partying after their first super-duper expensive wedding job, they end up in bed together, occasioning a fairly explicit (although not really showing anything) naked scene.  The next day she realizes she is in love with him, while he makes it clear to her that he thinks of it as just a casual hook-up.  The first half ends with the Big Reveal of this conflict.  I’m not going to go into more plot details but you can probably figure out how it ends up. The business is affected, more circumstances throw them together again, and I don’t have to say more except there is a very romantic kiss that made me wish I was 22 again.

Anushka is cute and fiery, and channels Kajol all the way in manner, facial expressions and dancing style. Ranveer is charming and very good-looking (VERY!), and is more than competent in the role although to my mind he is much better at being the offhand wisecracking kook–he falls flat in the last 20 minutes as he takes on a more romantic persona. Their chemistry is excellent, and that, in addition to the high production value, is the key to the film’s success.

The plot does not give over to slapstick and moves along with virtually no sub-plots. Costumes and sets are exceedingly colorful and exuberant–a plot point is that their business is known for “kitschy” weddings rather than the classy affairs a rival planner specializes in, no doubt occasioning much merriment in the office of the set dresser because they clearly had fun with it.

Lots of highly visual, high-energy and danceable songs that are well-integrated into the plot and action. One song in particular “Ainvayi Ainvayi Lut Gaya” becomes their company’s “signature” number, which they perform at all the weddings they coordinate. Tons of English words, and both the songs and the dialogue is packed with pop-culture slang and references that give it a fresher feel than the tired plot would ordinarily signal.

Here is “Ainvayi Ainvayi”, as performed at their first wedding job together, in which you see her starting out exasperated with him because he has booked this lame college band (his slacker friends) and then getting into the spirit of the song. No wonder their partnership and business take off.  And it’s a total earworm as well—I’ve been humming it for three days.


This song, “Dum Dum Mast Hai”, comes in the 2nd half at their biggest wedding job yet, where they have arranged for Shah Rukh Khan to perform but he has broken his ankle and they have to quickly, and of course absolutely unbelievably, pull together this massive dance number on 24 hours’ notice with themselves as the lead dancers.

Jenny K:  I never saw Band Baaja Baaraat, but the clips make it look fun. Ranbeer Singh is new to me…actually IMDb says it’s his first film. Looks like he did a good job.

 

Julie M:  After further research I noticed that Ranveer Singh got his B.A. from Indiana University just a few years ago. IU is only 60 miles from me.  Given how totally adorable he is, you would have thought I would have felt the heat all the way up here in Indy…ok, I’ll stop now.  But he really is cute and I predict a career path for him doing roles that SRK did at that age.

 

Jenny K:  In that second number, he’s even wearing a very SRK choice in wardrobe!  The designers would seem to agree with you…as I do.  But in truth, the films that Shah Rukh did at that age submerged him in plots either psychopathic, seriously slapstick or revenge oriented.  Let’s not wish that on these boys.

 

Julie M: I think this movie is perfect for young people who have not yet become jaded on rom-com conventions. I thought it was pleasantly diverting and at times highly enjoyable, but I called pretty much every plot development within the first 10 minutes and spent the rest of the movie watching my predictions come to life.  Man, I hate when that happens.

 

Jenny K:  Well, there is such a thing as RomCom Comfort Food, that some of us never get jaded by…so as long as there are attractive lead characters amidst beautiful scenery and a happy ending that will do until the next wonder-hit comes along. Somehow you don’t mind the predictability, it is actually reassuring.

There is lots of cute new talent around these days. I went to see Mere Brother Ki Dulhan last night to see the now tried and true Imraan Khan. That young man  just has a face that I can’t stop looking at.  May be the Aamir resemblance, I just don’t know…maybe the moustache, here.  Click for a close up. 

But the surprise was the young man starring as his brother, Ali Zafar, who does quite well for himself in his second film. I read that he’s quite a popular singer, especially in his home country of Pakistan.  From his showing in this movie, I can say that Ali handled the comedy as deftly as the dancing, held his own with Imraan and Katrina, has a seductively rich speaking voice, and a recurring resemblance to a young John Stamos, that didn’t hurt him in my book. Check out the comparison shots and see what I mean….do you think John Stamos is actually Hindustani, not Greek?

 

Given that this film was a time-pass, I quite liked it.  The lead couple, Imraan and Katrina, meet cute in a 5 year old flashback, where she’s a Free Spirited Rock Chick (has to be capitalized, she’s definitely an Archetype),

and he’s a calm, steady, nice guy that she doesn’t truly value at the time. Flash forward to where Kush (Imraan) is standing-in for his brother, Luv (Ali) who lives in London and wants Kush to find him a nice, non-NRI Indian bride.  After much fruitless searching, Kush finally decides on Dimple (Katrina) as Luv’s perfect bride.  But the way these stories go, lo-and-behold, in three short song medleys they realize they are in love with each other, and Bhaisaab is a distant, but ever nearing, memory… Egad! How will this turn out? 

Well, of course, we know…but I think its fun how they get there. My friend Pat thought the leading ladies were both “annoying,” but I didn’t agree.  Katrina has scored another endearing portrayal, and yet it’s still distinct from her role in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the love songs. The movie is shot in and around the Taj Mahal, which is, of course, gorgeous and yet somehow never too much of a good thing.

My favorite song is one that took place when they all get a bit drunk on bhang (a local mixture of milk, almonds, sugar and spices with marijuana, delicious and potent!) at a roadside inn and the sing a song in tribute to Madhubala, who starred in the classic romance Mughal-e-Azam, and that poster is conveniently on the billboard next to their table?!?  Unlikely, yes;  lots of raucous fun, definitely.

Pointless Nitpicking: I don’t get why no one thinks of the problem inherent in comparing an upbeat modern love story to Shah Jahan’s memorial to his dead wife, and also to M-e-A which details a doomed, albeit richly bejeweled, love story in another royal setting, neither of which have happy endings.

 

Julie M:  I bet they are anticipating a huge, young, NRI audience for this film, who are not as sensitive to such nuances.  I think the Taj Mahal is marketed to foreigners primarily on the love aspect and not so much on the death/tomb aspect.

 
Jenny K:  Also weird that though Ali supposedly sings so well in real life, they didn’t use his voice, or his built-in audience to boost the soundtrack sales. Strange. IMDb says that Ritesh Deshmukh was originally offered Ali’s role. Maybe the score was already recorded when he was cast, but it still seems a wasted opportunity. Ah, I found a clip of him singing in a video ad for Lux soap. Cute, but looks like he needs to take Cowboy Hat Wrangling 101.  [JK’s Note: DustDevil pointed out that “Madhubala” is sung by Ali.  Well, see…it did make sense…I was right, and blind at the same time! Thanks, DD!]

Julie M:  What does all that have to do with Lux soap, in the video? And do they really have 4 1/2 minute commercials in Pakistan?  He is adorable, though.  Someone to watch.

 

Jenny K: Lux has a history of doing ads with Bollywood stars. Here it is, in brief:

Then afterwards the men got in the act…Mr. Metrosexual SRK being the first. Very tongue in cheek.

And then Aish and Abhi:

Now it looks like they are going with even longer videos with the youngsters like Ali Zafar which you have, above.  The three girls on the billboard become the three girls in the western, the pirate story and the “man on the street” bit, respectively.

 

Julie M: That’s making sense now. Kind of like how makeup companies in this country use stars as models: Drew Barrymore and Taylor Swift for Cover Girl.

 

Jenny K: And Beyonce and Aishwarya for L’Oreal…that girl is certainly the crossover queen, isn’t she.  Workin’ all the angles!

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