January 9, 2013: Stand By Your Man

Julie M:  Clearing the decks from 2012, we found a few movies we watched but never discussed.  We’ll take them in logical groups…starting with this one, in which we compare two older movies and a more recent one, where women refuse to give up on their guys.

Jenny K:  Oooh, I feel all Tammy Wynette…got to preserve my objectivity…so, the question is, do the men deserve it?   Usually not.

Roja Movie PosterJulie M:  Let’s talk about that after we go over the films!  While riding the exercise bicycle this week I watched Roja (1992), with the charmingly innocent Madhoo at the tender age of 20. I found it sweet and old-fashioned, a story of stand-by-your-man-until-the-terrorists-return-him that we see so often. [snork]

Jenny K:  Nothing will carry you through the pedal-miles like a classic ransom movie, I always say…

Julie M:  Roja (Madhoo) is a naive and sheltered village girl, given to play and girlish plotting to marry off her older sister Lakshmi (Vaishnavi) to the eligible city bachelor Rishi (Arvind Swamy) who has come a’courting. But the best-laid plans go wrong… Lakshmi confesses her love for another, and to save her family’s honor Rishi pretends that she rejected him and proposes instead to Roja. Within a day she is married and must learn to live with this stranger and his mother in the big city.

Just as they have gotten used to each other and shyness is turning to love—i.e., in about a week–Rishi is sent to Kashmir on a secret government mission and takes Roja along. Unexpectedly, and before her very eyes, he is kidnapped by terrorists (aka Kashmiri freedom fighters), who want to use him as a hostage against the release of their brutal and imprisoned leader. The government’s policy of “no giving in to terrorists” is unacceptable to Roja, and she begins a campaign of pestering, weeping and going over everyone’s head to try and get them to effect the exchange.

Will Roja ever see her beloved husband again? Will the terrorists kill Rishi if their demands aren’t met?  I really enjoyed the fact that the whole “terrorist” definition was blurred.   This scene was a bit disturbing, though.

Jenny K:  This was the first movie I saw Pankaj Kapur in (Liquat).  He’s a given for any director who needs a multi-layered interpretation.

Julie M:  Mani Ratnam direction, lush scenery both in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, heart-thrilling music by AR Rahman before he became superfamous, and one absolutely superior song.

But I prefer the Tamil version.

Romance, drama, politics…everything one could want! After so many modern-kid romances it’s nice to see something with old-timey values, nationalism and a female star who isn’t size 0 and/or nipped and tucked beyond recognition (sorry Genelia, Priyanka and Deepika). Enjoyed it very much although I thought at first I wouldn’t, and I think I’d like the undubbed Tamil version better because of the language. Thanks for the recommend!

It’s available free on YouTube, subtitled,  in 13 parts. Here is Part One.

Jenny K:  I’d give odds that Rahman writes the music with the Tamil lyrics in his head.  They always “sound” better, if you know what I mean.  Not that I understand either well enough to really judge, but…I’m glad you liked Roja!  Early Mani Ratnam films are particularly nice. They, literally, don’t make ’em like that any more.

Julie M:  Even though the title was her name, they gave approximately equal screen time to the kidnapped Rishi and Roja’s efforts to get him back.

[a couple of weeks later…]

Parineeta Classic: Meena Kumari and Ashok KumarJulie M:  Old love stories are the best, aren’t they? I watched the Bimal Roy film Parineeta (The Fiancee, 1953) over the past few days, and somehow, even though it was from 1953, it felt fresh. And this was my first extended experience with the luminous Meena Kumari and the fabulous screen chemistry she had with Ashok Kumar.

Jenny K:  Didn’t I lend you Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet?  Guru Dutt directed her in one of her most iconic roles!  Lots of undeserved female devotion in this film, too.  It would fit right into this week’s theme, but, no spoilers!  Definitely in the next shipment, you’ll love her in that one.  It’s on Youtube for free, but the captions are really odd. 

Julie M: In Parineeta, Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphan living with her uncle and his large family of all daughters. The middle-class family has recently fallen on hard times, her uncle having mortgaged all he had in order to marry off his eldest daughter and now unable to pay back the loan. The loan is held by his wealthy next-door-neighbor, a professional moneylender, whose family is longtime friends with Lalita’s uncle’s brood. The moneylender secretly does not want the loan repaid, as he wants to collect on the house and give it to his recently returned son Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), who is of marriageable age (as is Lalita).

Lalita and Shekhar’s neighbor-friendship turns to love and a secret promise to marry.  Here’s a clip of the moment just after Shekhar playfully places the bridal garland around her neck; ironically, her little cousin is at the same time commanding all to participate in a mock bridal ceremony for her dolls. 

Jenny K:  Wow!  The lyrics to that song sort of sum up Lalita’s entire outlook on love and marriage, don’t they?

In the novella the movie is based on, by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, that little girl would have been a more likely Lalita than Meena.  The girl in the story was thirteen, whereas both Shekhar and Giren/Girish were schoolmates, both 24.  So when Shekhar drops the garland playfully around Lalita’s neck and then kissed her, would it be unreasonable for her to think she was married?  This was written in the early twentieth century when child marriage was still legal in India.

Julie M:  Oooh, good point.  Not having read the novella I didn’t know that. It did seem awfully weird that Lalita would assume that she was already married when even Shekhar didn’t think that.

Parineeta Updated: Vidya, Saif and SanjuJenny K:  Knowing that adds much more sense to the story than any of the adult behavior in these movies, yours and the 2005 version that I rewatched recently, starring Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan and Sanjay Dutt.  Even given its shift to the 1960’s, the plots are very similar.  Please continue.

Julie M: Just then another handsome and wealthy–but lower-caste–young man, Giren (Asit Baran), enters the picture. Giren falls in love with Lalita and offers to give Lalita’s uncle the money he needs to pay off his debt, then when Shekhar’s father becomes enraged at his plans being thwarted and cuts off contact, offers to move the entire family to one of his homes far away. Lalita’s uncle is grateful and half-promises Lalita to Giren in marriage. Lalita feels she cannot refuse, and Shekhar picks a fight with her, saying she has allowed herself to be sold. After they have left his marriage to another girl is fixed by his family while he pines for Lalita, realizing that his own actions have driven her away but seemingly helpless to do anything about it. 

Jenny K:  In the 2005 version, Lalita (Vidya) helps to confuse the matter by nobly/idiotically keeping most of her family turmoil away from sensitive musician Shekhar’s (Saif’s) tender ears.  She thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if he found out what a louse his father was. Seems Daddy Dear had hatched this major plot to turn the neighbor’s immense if neglected haveli into a “Heritage Hotel” when he foreclosed on the unsuspecting family.  Ignorance of her motives, plus confusion over her marital state,  makes Shekhar’s mistakes more forgivable… if still stupid.  And it does give them an excuse for a wonderfully poignant love song in the latter half of the film.

Julie M:  Will family honor and gratitude win out over true love? Will Lalita ever stand up for herself? Will Shekhar finally grow a pair and claim his original bride? You pretty much know the answer (no, not really and yes but not in the way you think) but how it plays out is heartfelt.  Giren is a real stand-up guy and under normal circumstances Lalita would have been perfectly happy to end up with him, and why she holds out for the volatile and coddled Maa’s-boy Shekhar is beyond me. Still, if you buy into the entire premise it’s a fascinating movie and provides a good look into Indian culture and values.

Jenny K:  Guess we’re just looking at things through today’s eyes, but am I wrong, or isn’t the ever-hesitating rich boy lover a staple in Bengali literature and film…can we say Devdas (same author)?

Julie M:  You know, the entire time I kept thinking Devdas but thought I was crazy.  Thank you for confirming my mania.

Jenny K:  And Rabindranath Tagore was full of stories of unappreciated, lonely wives/widows as in Choker Bali, put on film in a faithful if plodding version by Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai.  And how’bout  Paroma by Aparna Sen!  The beautiful melancholy must seep into the Bengali blood along with the humidity of the Hooghly River.

Julie M:  I think you’re on to something with the Bengali cultural comments.  The 2005 version of Parineeta went to great extremes to locate the story in Bengal right from the first shot…with Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely voice…

Comparing Roja and Parineeta is fairly obvious.  Both of them have heroines who refuse to give up on their men, believing that they will come back to them.  Things don’t seem to have changed in India in the 40 years between these movies…women are given in marriage against their will, strangers fall in love, and so forth.  Financial difficulties in 1953 turn into terrorist threats in 1992, and Roja is more active in removing the obstacles between her and her true love while Lalita seems content to just wait things out, confident that eventually her love will return to her.  So I guess there has been some progress after all.

Roja Rescues Her Man
Jenny K:
  Well, I’d hope so, but professional victimization always seems to come back in fashion, even in today’s supposedly more modern times.  In my own life, I’ve seen too many women believe the fiction handed down to them that they can’t cope without a man.  Thank God for Bryn Mawr, and my parents, of course…that I was slower to feel that pressure, but you always have to keep telling yourself and your daughters that, to keep it fresh and in the forefront.

Poor little orphan Lalita didn’t have much of a chance to change her fate, and she just lucked into a happy ending at the last minute.  She had a better option with Sanjay’s Girish, but was already “wedded” to her choice by then.  Hope it worked out for her after the final reel.

But with all the inherent flaws of literary adaptation, I did like Saif and Vidya’s version.  It’s a lovely period piece, with great warm shots of Kolkata.  Plus the acting is uniformly good.  It was Vidya’s first film, and she more than held her own with Saif and Sanjay.  Sanju’s part was smallish, but his Girish is a lovely guy and is quite endearing in this, particularly at the “meet cute” as the supposed electrician.  And, though I have been notably tough on Saif Ali Khan in his attempts at assaying a romantic role, in this one he does very well.  Perhaps I just like him more in an angry role than as a callow youth or a funny Romeo.

Julie M: In the 1953 version I’m not sure she really “lucked” into anything.  She seemed to have a bit more agency than luck—in fact, there’s a very Roja-anticipatory scene at the end.  Spoiler alert:  Lalita actually refused Giren so he marries her sister/cousin.  We find that out at the same time that Shekhar does, and it’s a delicious twist that almost makes the whole film.  (end spoiler)  I tend to agree with you on Saif; his romantic roles are best when he’s not set up as the romantic hero but cast as the Giren-ish character.

Jenny K: Or in an all out villain role like the Iago role in Omkara…a Saif tour de force!

Ending on a non-sequitur…Version 2005 has an item number with Rekha in it, onstage at the Moulin Rouge (seems it’s a multi-city franchise), that still irritates me, eight years after I saw it in the theater. Another uncredited musical lift…this one from Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”  Why this is still happening?  Use it if you like, but why not credit it? Shame on you, Shantanu Moitra.

Rekha vs. Satchmo:  Compare

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.

January 28, 2012: You’re you, but you aren’t YOU. Are you?

This week, we at FilmiGoris had been talking about the all-too-common phenomenon of multiple identities in Hindi film.  From one character pretending to be entirely different people, to the same actor playing different characters, to two different plotlines involving the same character/actor, this meme has a number of forms.  There were too many to discuss in one post, so this one will cover two of the “justifiable-deception-disguise-for-romance’s-sake” type of plots that we enjoyed.

Julie M:  Anurodh (Request, 1977) is a romantic comedy/farce with a healthy dollop of melodrama, Indian-style. It is also the first Hindi movie I have seen where the romance aspect of the story is not tidily wrapped up in the end (more on that later). Still it was very entertaining, and I’d give it at least 3 stars out of 5. It might stretch to a solid 4 stars if I was in a sentimental mood. The film is available free online with English subtitles, on YouTube, in parts, starting here.

Arun (Rajesh Khanna) and his best friend Srikanth (Vinod Mehra), a singer and songwriter, respectively, are introduced in the credits song.

Arun is gaining some measure of fame, recording and performing live on radio under the name Sanjay–just Sanjay, like Cher–so as not to unduly annoy his father (Utpal Dutt), a wealthy and prominent businessman who disapproves of his son’s career. He also refuses to give live concerts or even have a publicity photo taken, lest someone see his face and connect him to his father. One day the tension between them blows up and Arun leaves home, regretfully leaving behind the poor-but-supremely-talented Srikanth and his widowed mother Radha (Nirupa Roy, who always played dramatic mother roles awesomely–she was famously Amitabh Bachchan’s character’s mother in both Deewar and Amar Akbar Anthony).

Jenny K:  A while back I went on a real binge of movies about playback singers, of which this plot reminds me.  The best of them were Tehzeeb with Shabana Azmi and Urmila Matondkar as famous singer and daughter, and Saaz, another with Shabana and Aruna Irani as a loosely disguised biopic of singing sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, and their fractious rise to the top of the playback heap.  Both are very interesting films, by the way.  It seems that life in the audio spotlight is no bed of roses.

Julie M:  Clearly, as we learned from Abhimaan…moving on, Arun arrives in Calcutta to stay with his merry mechanic friend Bishan Singh (Asrani) and his wife (an enchantingly bubbly Preeti Ganguli), and on one rainy night he fixes the car of a spoiled rich girl, Sumita (Simple Kapadia, in her debut role), with whom he falls in love. Adorable song occurs after the meeting, where in a radio performance the next day Sanjay tells the story of how he met a girl in the rain the night before, and all he has left of her is her handkerchief.

Jenny K:  The radio song reminds me of the scene in Dil Se where Shah Rukh tells the story of the meeting on the train on air, and then later attracts Manisha’s attention with the Ajnabee song. Could be an homage, but a bit more haunting, and less cute. And here it is, alas with no subtitles…but he scarcely needs it.

Julie M:  Nice catch! Could very well be an homage.  The car incident leads to her grandfather (Ashok Kumar) offering him a position as the family’s driver. In order to stay near Sumita Arun accepts, pretending to be a rather dull, talkative guy named Pritam. Arun then starts to lead a triple life, driving as Pritam by day, performing as Sanjay when he can and as himself, trying to remain in touch with Srikanth.

Things sometimes get comically hairy, particularly after he intercepts a letter from his father to Sumita’s grandfather that indicates that Sumita is the girl his father wants him to marry, and then he finds out that Sumita is a big Sanjay fan. There is a good Shammi-esque song/scene where he arranges to meet Sumita as Sanjay and serenades her, but never lets her see his face:

We also find out that the grandfather is a tragic figure, having lost his only son to violence during the Independence movement–he has built an orphanage in his honor and visits there frequently.

Then one day Srikanth and his mom Radha fetch up in Calcutta, Srikanth very ill with TB.  An operation can save him, but how to get the money? Arun proposes, against his better judgment, to give a live Sanjay concert to earn the funds, but this violation of his principle to conceal his true identity upsets Srikanth and he runs down to the river to commit suicide. Just as he is about to throw himself in he hears children singing a happy song–one of his own compositions–of course it is the children at Sumita’s grandfather’s orphanage, where he is leading them, so he wanders over.

Jenny K:  I know I may just be an old grinch, but the emotionally wrenching kids chorus thing never really moves me.  Not in Mann with Manisha or in the original, An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr…do you think you and I are changing places?

Julie M:  Maybe on this one issue…I actually liked the kids’ patriotic singing in Pardes and K3G…but it seems to work for Srikanth.  He learns how happy his music makes the world, gains a new lease on life, and tells Arun that he can go ahead and give the concert.  As everyone gathers at the hospital for what looks like will be Srikanth’s death, Sumita’s grandfather recognizes Radha as his dead son’s wife–which means Srikanth is his grandson. SHOCK!!

Arun’s parents and Sumita show up at the concert, and the identity deception is unveiled with far less melodrama than you’d think:  check out the flash of mild surprise on Sumita’s face in the beginning of the performance, and pretty much that’s all the reaction there is.  And of course Dad’s objections to Sonny Boy’s singing career instantly evaporate.

Srikanth’s operation is, of course, simultaneous with the concert—the video clip shows it—so Arun records his performance, and plays it back to an unconscious Srikanth in the presence of the rest of the gang, again, to not much drama from Sumita’s grandfather to find out his driver is a national singing sensation.  (clearly that family doesn’t surprise easily where Arun is concerned) Srikanth then opens his eyes, and cut to a final scene at the orphanage where everyone is hale, healthy and singing the same happy song with the kids that kept Srikanth from killing himself.

There are no big production numbers in this film. The costumes were actually rather tasteful for the era, even Simple’s bright-yellow pantsuit looking pretty good, but there was an unfortunate brown tam-and-poncho set worn by Sumita’s friend plus Rajesh Khanna had supremely bad hair throughout the entire thing. Oddly, also, Arun and Sumita are not shown as together in the end–no scene of fathers blessing them, no big shaadi celebration. They aren’t even standing anywhere near each other in the final scene. Kyaaa?

Jenny K:  No?!?!?  Who do they think they are, generating that little heat?  Aish and Viveik in Kyun! Ho Gaya Na…?

Julie M:  [sound of snorting] The point of this movie, despite the romantic farce scenes and the TRIPLE identity (we thought double-identity was bad!), seems to be the deep friendship and abiding loyalty between Arun and Srikanth. So deep, in fact, that after the first scene showing the friendship between the two of them and a succeeding scene with Arun’s insistence that he wasn’t ever going to marry, I could have sworn that there was going to be a very shocking gay plotline. Alas, this is still India in 1977 and clearly that was not going to happen. But it was weird not to see the couple end up happily in love by the end.

Jenny K:  Welcome to the home country of the film bromance!  It may be new and trendy here in the US, but all the real emotional connection of equals in love in Indian film are man on man.  Always have been.  No putting your arm around your girl in public, but your best male yaar, now that’s an altogether different prem kahani.  You can never sacrifice too much, or express it too clearly, either.  Akshaye Khanna hanging onto a freshly sharpened blade to defend his buddy Sanjay Kapoor in Mohabbat, comes to mind.

Julie M:  This one certainly fit that mold!  Anyway, it was fun for a film I knew nothing about, and I was introduced to the glories of Vinod Mehra, who for a supporting actor was surprisingly riveting. And even when he was deathly ill, coughing blood and sweating profusely, he still had great hair.  And isn’t that what really matters?

[a day or two later]

Jenny K:  When I was looking around on Youtube for something, I came across a mention of a Hrithik Roshan film that I hadn’t seen?!?! Imagine! It came out in 2002 and was called Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (Neither You Nor I Know).  Still early in Hrithik’s career, it was also Esha Deol’s second film…and wonder of wonders, I actually found her quite charming in this film! To add to the bargain, the third wheel in the show is, once again, the Official Bollywood Spare Male at the time, Saif Ali Khan.

The plot supposed to be a version of The Shop Around the Corner/Bells are Ringing/She Loves Me, etc. Boy and Girl have never met, but come to connect through a random letter found in a library book where the guy, Rahul (Hrithik) is writing to his hypothetical ideal woman (unlikely plot point #1, how often does that happen?). The college girl who finds the letter (Esha) sees herself in what Rahul’s looking for, and goes on a nationwide radio show on a dedications program to try to find him… which she does. UPP #2.

Esha then writes to him, saying she’s a good girl, who can’t go against her parents…at least not yet, and wants to get to know him by writing back and forth through PO boxes for over THREE YEARS. UPP #3. They then fall in love, long distance with the aid of letters, small gifts and chats with the full moon…and mysterious red-garbed back up dancers.


Well, if you can get past the various unlikelyhoods, and there are a couple of cute songs, etc to help you swallow them, you also have to get by the second roadblock in the way of true love…Rahul is the typical self-sacrificing best friend of Akshay (Saif) who is a playboy who his parents think will never settle down. Rahul promises Akshay’s mother that he’ll find the right girl for his friend, one that will make Akshay fall seriously in love.

So fate, and Saif’s aunt, throws Esha and Rahul together, when Esha’s family’s bridalwear company want to hire the best up-and-coming fashion photographer, Rahul, to come to their town to shoot the new ads.

Julie M:  Oh, I can see where this is going…

Jenny K:  Saif’s aunt has fortuitously set up a new girl for Akshay to match with, also Esha, and Akshay will only agree if his best friend vets her. Two birds with one trip, right? They even end up doing an impromptu music video together for the company. Not too unusual, but I do enoy watching HR move…I think Esha was there dancing, too, but I’m never quite sure when he’s onscreen tripping the light fantastic.

Will they fall in love? Which one will she choose? When will she/he/they find out that Esha and “Box Girl” are one and the same? What will Rahul do when he finds out Akshay’s really in love for the first time? These and other not-really-surprises, unfold at a leisurely pace with the typical Mohabbat/KHNH mix of songs, sniffles and shaadis. I liked it, not earthshakingly memorable, but sweet, and a fine indoor afternoon timepass.  Free on Youtube with subtitles but in fifteen parts.  Here’s Part I.

Julie M:  I’ll have to watch that one. The writing-back-and-forth is too similar to Mujhse Dosti Karoge (another 2002 Hrithik starrer, also involving fraudulent identities when he spends 10 years thinking he’s writing to hot Kareena when he’s actually been writing to, and falling in love with, nerdy Rani who’s been corresponding in Kareena’s name…big surprises all around when they get together in person!) to pass up a comparison, and I’ve liked nearly all of the Shop Around the Corner derivations that I’ve seen. She Loves Me and You’ve Got Mail are my favorites, although the radio dedication program in this seems suspiciously like the one in Sleepless in Seattle.

Jenny K:  And pulling from closer to home, the dedications program in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai … “Come home, Anjali!”  These shows must be more prevalent in India than we know.

January 8, 2012: Starting the New Year With a Bang

We just can’t escape action films, even though it was the HOLIDAYS, for gosh sake… and everywhere we turn,  people are shooting at us or each other (some in IMAX and 3D)!   So, rather than fight ’em, we decided we might as well join Messers Cruise, Craig and Downey and give in.  But Bollywood has it’s own take on hair-raising, guy-friendly escapism and we watched a bunch of them over our break, including Don 2.  Here’s our take on three, or toke, given the title of the first one!

 

Julie M:  Dum Maaro Dum (Puff, Take a Puff, 2011) is a violence-infused action/thriller about the attempts of one man to single-handedly clean up the contemporary drugs-and-gangsters scene in Goa. This trailer pretty much shows the visuals and style of the film.

The title/item song is a remake of this number from 1971’s Hare Ram Hare Krishna.

 
Jenny K:  It was funny…when I watched your trailer, I thought of the Hare Ram, Hare Krishna movie, but I didn’t recall at that time that that was the name of the song. It was one of Dev Anand’s first films as a director, and Zeenat Aman’s first big hit.  I believe it caused a big to-do with all the drug takin’and the implied free lovin’.

 
Julie M:  Abhishek Bachchan plays the one-man, ACP Vishnu Kamath, an ex-corrupt-cop with a new mission to set things right because his family (Vidya Balan, in a cameo appearance, plays his wife) was killed in a car crash with a drugged-out driver.

Vishnu chases various figures including a small-time player named Ricky (Gulshan Devaia), a reluctant “businessman” named Lorry (Prateik Babbar), an elusive capo-dei-tutti-capi named Michael Barbossa (hey, wasn’t he a pirate?) and, with perhaps the funniest criminal name in Indian film, Lorsa “The Biscuit” Biscuita (played by Aditya Pancholi).  There are the requisite scantily-clad females as well: Bipasha Basu plays Zoe, Biscuit’s second-in-command and girlfriend, there is a pass-around chickie named Rozana (Mariah Pucu Gantois Gomes), and Deepika Padukone steps in to gyrate as the item girl in the title song, which takes place at a rave about two thirds of the way through the film.  

 

Jenny K: I still think Zeenat Aman was much sexier than Deepika, even given how overtly sensual DP’s choreography was. Just my old-fashioned opinion.

 

Julie M:  Similar to Yuva, the main action starts with Lorry getting busted for carrying drugs at the Goa airport and then splits off into flashbacks showing how each of the characters got to that point, then picks back up and moves forward through to the end. It would have been interesting as a technique, except Yuva did it first, and DMD added some very headache-inducing half-time and double-time sequences as well as half-screen double-images (yikes) to heighten the sense that it was in the characters’ memories.  Supposed to be hip and cool, but seemed overly self-conscious to me.

There is one character common to all the stories: the singer Joki, yummily played by Rana Daggubati, check him out in this song.   He’s kind of like a visual narrator since he is the only one who seems to appear in all the various story threads, and he gets to have a hot love scene with Bipasha (thereby standing in for all the males in the audience…).

Things really get going after the drug bust, as Kamath and his team work into the organization and go after Barbossa. Lots of people die, some spectacularly, some gruesomely. And while the end is a perfect revenge fantasy, you get the feeling that it is only a temporary lull in the permanent party-and-kill scene.  No wonder this film aroused the ire of the Goa tourism people.  [youtube-http://movies.ndtv.com/movie_Story.aspx?id=ENTEN20110173562&keyword=&subcatg=]

Abhi does OK in his role, a little wooden though, and as the film started I thought to myself, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t rap in this movie.” Alas, he does, talking about how good it is to be a corrupt cop (ugh). This video intersperses scenes from the movie with scenes of the song, because nobody should see the rap video in its entirety.

 

Jenny K: His dad still does it better, of course, example from Aladin.  Sorry, Abhi…

 

Julie M:  Overall, Dum Maaro Dum is a stylishly made, but ultimately not very interesting, gangster movie that caters to the under-30 set (although if that’s true, why Abhi was chosen as the star completely defeats me). I thought it was merely OK.

[a day or two later]

Jenny K:  Well, I finally got to see Don 2 today…and I’m not sure that you should see it. You always complain when there is too much dishoom, and this film is dishoom to the max.

This is the sequel to Farhan Akhtar’s popular remake Don (2006) [Amitabh starred in the original] in which Shah Rukh Khan essays the double roles of the South Asian Kingpin of Crime, the titular Don, and his simple but sincere doppleganger Vijay. In this follow-up film, I am really missing Vijay, because there’s no simple or sincere focus in the entire movie, and I, for one, had no one to root for.

 

Julie M:  True, I sincerely dislike pointless and gratuitous dishoom…although our holiday entertainment has been a complete re-watch of the four Die Hard movies, which I love. Maybe it’s just Bruce Willis.  But I liked the Vijay character, particularly in the original 1978 Don, and if this film has gone another direction then I question the wisdom of even going.  And my common complaint about most Indian action films is that so few of the stars can dish out a punch without my wanting to laugh hysterically at its awkwardness.

  

Jenny K:  I will agree with Kathy, my co-viewer that day, that the fight choreography looks much more convincingly done, even making it seem plausible when the often physically smaller SRK gets the drop on his larger combatants, however, it is pretty much relentless. I’m hoping Shah Rukh has finally exorcised his Jackie Chan fantasy, and can get it out of his system.

The thumbnail synopsis has Don being singled out by the European drug tsars for a hit, because he’s so dangerous to their business…so Don develops a very convoluted plan to turn himself in to protect himself from their reach and secure himself with immunity for his past crimes by providing the authorities with names, dates, etc. in their quest for these other drug dealers. Seems he’s “tired of his life of crime”…oddly, the powers that be (returning in their roles as the police investigators, Om Puri and Priyanka Chopra) don’t really buy it and toss him in prison.

Ah, but that’s all part of the plan…Don always has a plan…far-fetched or not…and always assayed with consummate style.  SRK is at the top of his game in style, slickness, suavity and any other S-ettes you can think of, but I find I’m hard pressed to be engrossed in a caper film of almost three hours long, when the “hero” is so enormously ethically challenged. He’s ruthless, he’s a player with girls and lives, a major egomaniac, and he has the largest custom fitted designer wardrobe ever sported by a recently released jailbird.

 

Julie M:  Since I’m still recovering from a cold, and it’s snowing like crazy, and I’m back to work tomorrow, and this seems like a typical Hollywood-style action crap-fest, I will skip an attempt to see Don 2 in the theater today. If it’s still around over the weekend I’ll consider it, but if I don’t get there, I’ll just wait until it’s out on DVD. I’ll get my SRK fix another way.

 

Jenny K:  Definitely not a “crap-fest” but… He’s The King, as everyone in and out of the film constantly tells us.   And HE’s BACK!  And THE CHASE CONTINUES…and continues…and continues…as I dozed…once…in the seemingly endless set up to the caper in the bank. Which wasn’t too bad, given the sheer lack of sleep I’ve had for the past two weeks of holiday run-up. Needless to say, Kathy disagrees with me on almost every point of this assessment. She loved it. Eh, it may just not be my type of film.

However, the most fun I had with Don 2 was watching this promo reworking one of the songs from the earlier film to get us into the theater for the new “adventure”. Shah Rukh looks amazing in it, and looks like he’s having a great time…and is a bit tongue-in-cheek in his swaggering here, which is something the movie as a whole could have used more of, as does Robert Downey, Jr. in almost any of his genre films.

 

Julie M:  WOW.  So ishtylish. If the whole movie were like that I’d go, but since you say it isn’t, I’ll wait for the DVD and I can fast-forward through the dishoomiest parts.   SRK looks kinda gaunt underneath the perfectly-fitted leather jacket, though. If he looks that skeletal in the entire film, ugh. Get that man some parathas, stat.

 

Jenny K:  If you fast forward through all the dishoom in Don 2, you ‘ll have about 22 minutes left…hehehe… and as to his look, almost all the outfits were stylin’. Lots of leather. And no odd tie/shirt combos like in the last Don film. Priyanka and Boman looked very well groomed, too.

All my style issues were with Shah Rukh’s hair. In about two thirds of the movie, I think he looked pretty good, even with occasional “leftover Ra.One hair moments”, Kathy’s phrase. The long hair phase was about twenty minutes or so, and was too girly for him, especially pulled back at the top  (even with the shotgun)…however, I liked the facial hair that went with it, and thought he should have kept it for a transitional phase, but he didn’t.  At the end, he rides off on a motorcycle with his Ra.One  “South Indian” curly locks blowing in the breeze.  Very fetching.  End of SRK Hairscaping. Glad you liked the video clip…I had to watch it more than once, myself.

 

Julie M:  And did you notice that in all the Don 2 publicity shots, Farhan’s muscles have gotten way out of control?

 

Jenny K:  Haven’t seen any of them…show me what you meant. Would be a shame if he wasted that sexy boy-next door thing he has going.

 

Julie M:  Oh, gosh. Here’s one.   And another.  And here’s a possibility as to why the new physique.

 

Jenny K:  Hmmm.  Here’s the older article about Mehra’s casting ideas on this film.  Farhan’s pushing it a bit playing 22, and he’s much better looking than Milkha Singh, but, if they’ve decided to not go with an unknown…Farhan is better than most, but I think I might go with that kid from Udaan first, Rajat Barmecha. He’d be almost the right age now and had quite a lot of potential in that film.

 

Julie M:  Whoops, so much for an unknown. Oh, well, something else to watch Farhan in.  By the way, you need to send me Rock On! and Karthik Calling Karthik.  Because I just did my first official Indian film re-watch, of ZNMD, and I need more Farhan, and I know you can hook me up.

 

Jenny K:  Now, I don’t buy everything he’s in…almost, but not everything.  I can send you Rock On! but I don’t think I bought KCK.  It was good, but spoiled itself a bit with an added-on, unnecessary happy ending, IMO.

[a couple of days on]

Julie M:  While lying around today trying not to be sick, I watched Kachche Dhaage (Raw Threads, 1999). I thought it was a decent action movie with a gratuitous couple of love stories, without which it could have been a great action movie. Check out this “making of” feature, which does not spoil the film but serves as a good trailer.

 
Aftab (Ajay Devgan) is a minor criminal in a Rajasthan village, engaging for his living in a bit of cross-border smuggling of goods, occasionally including arms, from India to Pakistan. He is trying to marry Rukhsana (Manisha Koirala), whose parents won’t agree because he is illegitimate. Dhananjay (Saif Ali Khan) is a citified yuppie, a broker of financial deals with a contemporary lifestyle and a knockout wife, Ragini (Namrata Shirodkar). The two find out that they are half-brothers over their father’s deathbed and instantly hate each other, exacerbated by the fact that one is Moslem and the other is Hindu.

When a circumstance forces Aftab to call on Dhananjay for a favor, it sets off a series of events involving the both of them escaping from arrest while chained together, corrupt border enforcement officers, a clueless attorney, a runaway train and lots and lots of shooting of various weapons. While on the run together the two of them learn to rely on each other for their lives, and by the end they have forged a true brotherly bond as they collaborate to bring the bad guys to justice.

I am a big fan of good action films and buddy comedies. This is a buddy action film that hinges on the audience believing in the growing relationship between the two heroes, which only truly comes into play in the last quarter of the film. Ajay is suitably glowering as the resentful Aftab and Saif is a proper angrezi [English/Westernized] figure, which means his effete mannerisms are laughable and his wardrobe completely inappropriate. The roles were not particularly challenging for them, and they pulled them off competently.

The love stories are completely irrelevant to the film and to my mind could have been ignored without affecting the storyline. Some other device could have been introduced to reinforce Aftab’s illegitimate status, and another kind of deus ex machina introduced to effect their escape from the runaway train–it didn’t have to be Ragini driving up in a jeep. But it does lead to this amazing stunt sequence, done entirely by Ajay.

 

Jenny K:  Of course Ajay’s stunt scene would be good. His father is a stunt man and Ajay got his start by doing crazy far-out stunts.  Someone has collected some clips of his best “entrances” on Youtube.

 

Julie M:  The love songs were merely OK, nothing special. The big dance numbers were 100% gratuitous, although fun, particularly this item number, which occurs at the point where the two escapees have lodged for the night at a small village. Despite its flaws the movie is a lot of fun and a good one to see on DVD.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen it in a while, but most of your remarks had me going “yeah, I thought so, too”. I did like their eventual chemistry together, and watching it grow. It sort of felt to me a bit like a lesser version of Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin’s chemistry as they trekked across country, handcuffed together in Midnight Run (1988).

 

Julie M:  I had forgotten about Midnight Run: I’ll have to watch it again. It was probably deliberate on the filmmakers’ part, the allusion to the earlier film, with the typical Indian twist that they are not just opposite character types, but also half-brothers.  Here are some cute clips. 

[Editor’s Note: Lots of use of the “F” word…very New Yawk.  Be warned.]

 

Jenny K:  I don’t think it’s close enough to be a copy, what with the bail jumper/bondsman pairing that it is. It’s at best an homage thing…I just thought the feeling was similar. MR still has the best helicopter stunt ever done, in my opinion, when DeNiro’s character shoots the rotor out of the pursuing copter’s tail and so it spirals out of control and into the hillside, exploding. First believable use of handgun vs. big flying object I’ve ever seen in the movies. Stuck with me ever since…gives all those action directors (from both countries) something to shoot for, literally!

September 28, 2011: Amitabh ~ Changes and The Guard

Julie M:  Eklavya:  The Royal Guard…the only thing I can say is thankfully it was short (only 108 minutes), otherwise I don’t think I could have taken the high emotional level–unbroken by levity of any kind–much longer. This film plumbed just about every dramatic trick in the canon: death and mourning, secrets, loyalty and duty, father- and mother-love, admiration, jealousy, romantic love, intrigue, suspense, conspiracy, and, oddly, marksmanship. And beautiful countryside, stunning traditional costumes and jewelry (in a film set in contemporary times), and the coolest old fort ever.  Here’s the 60-second (non-subtitled, but you get the emotion) trailer:  Exciting, yeah?

Jenny K:  I liked Eklavya when I saw it in the theaters… a period visual treat.  Not that I remember that much, except for the “surprise” reveal toward the end. BigB was good, and as you said, and the cast is great, with Saif and his mother playing royalty (such a stretch!) but they did it well.  Vidya was good, as per usual, and you got to love a cast that has Boman, Sanjay, Jackie Shroff and Jimmy Shergill, who I usually like, even though he WAS in Mohabbatein. The producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra is often associated with quality productions, 3 Idiots among them.

 

Julie M:  I’d do a plot summary but there would be too many spoilers, so I’ll skip it.   The fact that the film started with a Shakespeare sonnet should have been the tip-off that the action would be very Shakespearean in its layers of plot and emotion. And it was, in spades. Amitabh Bachchan’s performance as Eklavya, the man torn between love and duty to his royal employers, was mesmerizing–I literally could not take my eyes off him. Saif Ali Khan as the young Prince was likewise excellent and mostly kept his shirt on. Vidya Balan as Saif’s almost offhand love interest did not have much to do except moon after Saif and lip-synch a pretty song, and her most dramatic speech was given as a voice-over, which I thought was a waste of a perfectly good actress.

Here’s Vidya’s song, “Chanda Re”: 

Even if you don’t understand Hindi, you can tell how dramatic and loaded the film is.  Lots packed into a short running time.

Sanjay Dutt had an all-too-brief role as the police chief who admired Eklavya at the same time he was resentful of how his family had been historically mistreated by the royal family. I think more could have been wrung out of that situation. Boman Irani was a little over-the-top, but still excellent, as the vengeful king, and Jimmy Shergill could have amped up the acting a little more as his jealous nephew–I know he’s up to it.

Normally I am not a fan of EFD, but that’s mostly because it usually takes a tiny bit of normal and perfectly understandable emotion and spins it out endlessly to no real point–we get it already. This was crazy-unusual emotion–the kind that nobody ever has to contend with in real life because, come on, who is ever in the position of having [spoiler alert]your son whom you can never acknowledge murder your beloved royal employer, and have it be your sworn duty to kill him in return? This is what movies are for, actually.

And I have to put this in even though there are no subtitles, because Saif is shirtless and for once it’s not gratuitous: 

 

Jenny K:  Not sure about that…Never seen the main celebrant shirtless in a Rajasthani funeral.  Only in the South.  Maybe it’s a Brahmin thing. 

Well, I’m glad to see you can handle Eklavya‘s EFD if given the right encouragement!   It’s occasionally worth the effort.

Julie M:  This one definitely was.  If Shakespeare would have decided to set a tragedy in India, he would have come up with something very similar to this, except in Shakespeare Eklavya would have killed himself in confusion, Saif would have been driven insane with remorse and Vidya’s character would have wailed over the end credits.

As it was, the ending was almost uplifting: [spoiler alert again] Eklavya declares his duty to be wrong (!!!), Vidya’s character forgives Saif’s character for killing his own father (!!!!!!) and Saif, throwing custom, tradition and royal protocol to the winds, publicly acknowledges Eklavya, a commoner, as his father (!!!!!). I mean, sure, it was set up that Saif felt stifled by all the tradition and custom of his homeland and position and had escaped to London to avoid it, but in that situation doesn’t the typical Indian film end with the son coming back, assuming his royal duty and realizing with pride that the old ways are there for a reason?  And the ending also seemed wrong for Sanjay’s police chief character. If he was so resentful, why would he be so happy to [spoilerscover up the misdeeds of the family who did his family bad? [end]

But despite all that, my verdict: Excellent–one of my faves.  It’s available on YouTube with English subtitles.

I couldn’t find any clips with English subtitles, and the dialogue is so important to this film—you’ll just have to watch the whole thing!

And to balance it out…as an older BigB movie, I really liked Abhimaan (Arrogance, 1973). It was weird (as always) to see Amitabh in a romantic role, but then as the film went on it all made more sense why he was cast. And he and Jaya have huge chemistry together.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this film in 2005 when Amitabh picked it as one of his twelve favorite films when Lincoln Center wanted to do a retrospective of his work. As I couldn’t go, I chose a few of them to watch and liked this one best. IMDb says that Jaya and Amitabh liked this film so much that they helped bankroll it…which must have been quite a stretch, as they had only been working in film for about five years, at most, and Zanjeer was the most famous film he’d done to date. Sholay and Deewaar hadn’t happened yet. Here’s the whole movie with subtitles for those who haven’t seen it.

 

Julie M:  Plot summary: Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is a well-known pop singer with tons of fans, nice house, doting manager/companion, and a hip wardrobe (for 1973). One day he decides to visit the aunt who raised him in the small village she lives in, and meets Uma Devi (Jaya [Bhaduri] Bachchan), the neighbor’s daughter, who also sings, albeit shyly. They fall in love, marry in the village and he takes her back to Mumbai. At their wedding celebration they sing a duet, and although Subir’s manager is excited to have them start singing together, a well-known musician warns against it. Then, of course, they are blissfully happy for a while afterwards. 

Jenny K:  I especially like the scenes with them together in the bedroom. Very sexy, without actually seeing anything. Wah, wah!  What chemistry! Lovely to see them young and in love.

Julie M:  They record a song, and it is an instant hit. They are hired together for concerts and playback, but slowly she becomes more popular than he is. Subir starts resenting her, drinking heavily and spending increasing amounts of time with his friend Chitra (Bindu), who adores him. He also quits singing in a fit of pique, but doesn’t tell her. Uma eventually realizes what’s going on and can’t watch him throw his talent away; she quits singing too and returns to her village, where she finds out she is pregnant. Ultimately she suffers a miscarriage and sinks into a deep depression, which finally rouses Subir to go and bring her home, where she doesn’t get any better.

Subir finally understands that she blames herself for his unhappiness, and realizes that the only thing that will make her happy is if he starts singing again. He hires a hall and schedules a concert–she perks up while he is on stage alone but when he starts singing their duet she bursts into tears. He brings her on stage, they finish it together, Chitra (sitting in the front row) realizes that he and Uma are made for each other, and the film ends with the audience’s applause. Here’s that final scene:

 Jenny K:  This film always reminded me of an Indian version of A Star is Born…the young wife gradually surpassing the older established husband… but with more of the religious aspect to it…and, of course, a happier ending, which actually, seemed more realistic than ASIB‘s. Beaucoup melodramatic, with James Mason walking into the waves and Judy Garland singing her solo to him onstage…”I am Mrs. Norman Maine!” Applause…Tears…Applause… I can’t believe that Karan Johar hasn’t remade this one with the genders flipped and SRK quavering that teary statement at the end of the film. Can’t you see it?

 

Julie M:  Oh, I can TOTALLY see KJ remaking ASIB. There was a whiff of that in Taal, perhaps, but to go whole hog…yes. SRK plus…who? Madhuri? Rekha?

  

Jenny K:  Would have to be someone like Rekha, who is older than SRK, if we were to do the whole gender flip thing…but I really think Dimple would be better for him…more sympathetic and believable. Madhuri is actually younger than SRK.

 

Julie M:  Anyway, I really liked this portrait of a man with a gigantic ego getting knocked down and finally learning to put that ego aside for the sake of his marriage.  Very moving—and unconventional for a man of that era—yet he is utterly convincing in all the emotions he is called upon to portray. And, as I’ve said before, ’70s fashions were made for his body type: even the most hideous shirt patterns look good on him. At one point he wears a beautiful rust-colored silk kurta over white pants that almost made me swoon.  

Have to say that this is quite the negative role for him. He is a spoiled brat, his manager is an enabler, and even though it’s part of Indian culture for men to assume women will keep the males’ needs as primary in the family, his character really fell apart when she started winning all the awards and getting the attention. One could read this as a frustrated diatribe against women’s liberation by the male establishment, but the ending is a realistic portrait of the compromises that everyone has to make in a marriage and how personal pride has to be put aside sometimes.

Also, this is only the 2nd film I’ve seen “young” Jaya in, and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that both times she played very shy and subdued characters, or if it’s the kind of role she is drawn to. Just once I would like to see her doing a character who is happy. When she wasn’t in the frame with BigB she was very flat; again, can’t tell if that’s the character she was playing (a woman who only comes alive in the presence of her husband, in which case, ick) or if it’s her normal mien.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen that many of her films, but she always seems to find roles with gravitas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a light role, unlike Shabana, who takes time out from angst to do a comedy every so often. And Jaya took a good amount of time off to raise the kids. As I’ve said before, she’s always the one who can make me cry, no matter how many times I’ve seen the scene…”He just made a mistake, Naina…he was a good man!” Sniff, sniff…just thinking about the church scene in KHNH…I get all teary.

 

Julie M:  Gravitas is one thing–Shabana and Manisha do gravitas–but making a name for oneself out of absolute stoicism and blank expression, particularly in one’s youth, is completely different and kind of a risky career choice.   I read that it was doing this film that tipped Jaya towards taking that many-years-long acting break when she started having kids–to avoid the breakdown of the marriage.

 

Jenny K:  I see what you’re saying about Jaya, but only seeing five of her films, I don’t want to make that assumption that she let herself be pigeon-holed. She was the top actor in her graduating class, over the men, even… Hey, found this article on Amitabh’s appeal by the fabulous David Chute who says if we want to see Jaya as a “diminutive firecracker” and a “headstrong teenager” we should look for Guddi and Mili, both by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. 

 

Julie M:  I have to say, for a story that has music at its core, I really wasn’t all that moved by the songs. They all sounded very similar and were quite slow, and although I know she’s a national treasure, something about the quality of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in these songs really grated on me.

All in all, both Eklavya and Abhimaan amply show what star power BigB has, and has always been.

 

Jenny K:  Just goes to show that whether you swathe him in lurid polyesther or bury his magnetic mug in birds-nest-crazy facial hair, Amitabh Bachchan will always emerge the quintessential star…some things about him will never change.

August 31, 2011: Dancing, Down Under and the Dons

Julie M:  I have no library movies reserved for this weekend–I’ll have to trust the luck of the shelves, and I will probably only get one film because I have other things I need to do around the house–films will only be a distraction! For next weekend I reserved Dhoom, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (for a new-ish Salman Khan performance), and Sarkar (supposed to be an Indian take on The Godfather). Someday–after I watch Sarkar and Don–we will have to have a conversation about why Indian film is so obsessed with gangsters.

 

Jenny K:  Do you think that they are that much more obsessed with gangsters than we are? Maybe we don’t do that many specific mob films as in the seventies, early eighties, but if you add drug trafficking films, thugs-in-the-hood films, and the like, it’s always has been and always will be a mine-able genre for films.

Of the three movies you’ve reserved I’ve only seen Sarkar, which is okay; good performances, especially by KayKay Menon (HKA),  Amitabh and a nice debut by Tanisha, Kajol’s sister.  However, I still think Mani Ratnam’s Velunayakan is a better tribute to The Godfather

Mujhse Shaadi Karogi I never saw because Salman and Akshay Kumar fighting over Priyanka didn’t appeal. Plus one of the plot descriptions has Salman as being a hothead who gets into fights a lot and is in trouble with the authorities about it. Sounds a lot too much like art imitating life.  It’s on Youtube with subtitles, too if you wanted to check it out before you picked it up.

Mujhse Dosti Karogewith Hrithik, Rani and Kareena, is online, too, which is a more popular watch, but may be too sweet for your taste. Don’t know. The best part in it is a sangeet (the musical evening before the actual wedding day) song where the three do numbers in a medley from famous movies of the past. Here is the first of two parts.

MDK is a Yash Raj Youtube Rental. $2.99 Haven’t rented from them, but don’t trust anyone who can’t get the screen ratio right on their Youtube clips…everything they put up is squashed into a 4:3 and so they all look tall and skinny…bleh. I own it and could send it to you.

[JM note:  Stay tuned for a special FilmiGoris feature inspired by Mujhse Shaadi Karogi]

[the next day…]

Julie M:  So here’s the actual Hindi haul for this weekend. Salaam Namaste (Preity and Saif, irresistible once I saw their little faces on the DVD cover), Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (Ajay, ditto), and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (Akshay and Salman)—I got it early. 

 

Jenny K:  Haven’t seen Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, but isn’t it about gangsters again? You gowan like this, they gonna tink youwa “made” woman?!?!   

 

Julie M: Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, I had to get even though it’s about gangsters, because it’s Ajay and, despite my lack of interest in gangsters, he makes a good one.

 

Jenny K: True, true…a delicious bad boy.  Back to your haul: I remember being annoyed by Salaam Namaste, even with Arshad in it. Partially because of Arshad, or rather, because every time they had a dance number with him in it, the dance editing was so choppy that they would never stay on him long enough for me to actually watch him “move”. Sigh. It’s seldom he gets a dance number these days and Saif can’t really touch him. SN is a lot more Western in tone because of it being set in Australia. I think there is a “daring” plot element in that Saif and Preity actually move in together. Egad!

(later that night…)

Julie M:  All right…Salaam Namaste. The “meet cute” part was predictably silly, but the rest of the film was OK. Not great, but OK, watchable. I can tell why they made the couple live in Australia: they did some social shenanigans that would definitely not fly in Mother India. Oh, and plus they could get lots of shots of hardbodies in bathing suits on the beach.

Preity is getting a bit too old for this kind of part but she was good at what they had her do. Saif was likewise good in the romantic lead part (you don’t like him in romantic leads but I do), although he had some unfortunate wardrobe choices: the first time you see him he is in Superman boxers that are loose in the crotch and tight in the thighs, not a good look combined with the overdeveloped “glamour” muscles up top, and that’s not the last underwear shot you get to see. And he wore far too many knit caps for maximum tastefulness, and all those shirts with words on them? Puh-leeze.

Arshad was pretty cute (loved the tiny glasses) but as the comic relief mugged too much. Great comic guest turn by Jaaved Jaffrey as the NRI-turned-Crocodile-Dundee landlord, and the cameo by LittleB near the end was slapstick-predictable given the situation, but funny. (He really should stick to comedy, he has a gift for it.)  Here’s the Jaaved Jaffrey scene. Sorry, poor quality video and no subtitles but you don’t need them to see how hilarious he is.

Jenny K:  Yeah, I loved Jaaved Jaffrey in that, too. I thought he kept me in stitches; the best thing in the movie (sorry, Arshad!). Watching it again, now, I kept thinking of the “Mister Da-Dubey” speech from ZNMD. He hit it dead-on, plus the pseudo-Aussie speak.

 

Julie M:  I thought of that ZMND scene too!!! But the Crocodile Dundee outfit is what sold it for me. 

 

Jenny K:  And hearing the horse whinnies, every time he tipped his hat or put his hands on his hips. And Jaaved saying, “Wife, what is it I always am a sayin’?” Wife saying,  “Sorry?” Delicious!

Jaaved’s just another case in point of the old Bollywood rule…if you have a good dancer,  bury him in comedy roles so deep that no one knows he can even put one foot in front of the other. He was the best thing in Akshay Kumar’s Singh is Kinng, too.

And in this one, do you think he was Hrithik’s role model? Bombay Boys (1998)…I think he sings his own stuff!…Jaaved, Naseerji, Naveen Andrews, all in the same film…guess what I’m going to watch tonight?!

[JK’s Note: The video “Mum-bhai” is not in the film, sadly, but seems to just be promoting Bombay Boys.  Jaaved’s vocals run over the end credits, but, at least in the English version, we still can’t watch him dance…It’s a PLOT!!!]

Here’s the whole film in 11 pieces with subs.

Finally, very early Jaaved, pretty silly…but, gotta love the tin-foiled musical instruments that make up the sets in this one. This one’s for Beth.

 

Julie M:  I’ll have to watch Bombay Boys too. I love all the gangsters he does. I read that he specializes in funny gangster impressions. He is definitely talented…Hrithik wishes he was this funny!  Good looking, too.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, but not quite good looking enough to be a mainstream star when he was younger. Now that he’s built up his muscles so nicely, and the rest of his generation’s stars are middle-aging into a more even playing field, he’d have more of a chance, if he weren’t such a bankable comedian. Oh, well, can’t have everything.

 

Julie M:  I thought of one Western comparison to Jaaved. Maybe Sacha Baron Cohen? Humor very similar, same emphasis on creating character types.

Things that bugged me about SN: the unbelievably lush beach house that miraculously a chef and a DJ/med student could afford; Saif wearing an open shirt or cut-off sleeves in EVERY FRICKIN’ SCENE; overuse of the stupid plot device where people see things and jump to wrong conclusions (man, does that bug me in films no matter what nationality); and the scene where everyone stripped after the beach wedding, possibly excused because most of the wedding guests were those Fosters-addled, fun-loving Aussies, but really. And very marginal music for how much of it there was.

A thing that was cool: in the “My Dil Goes Hmmm” number, where Preity is dancing on the bridge, I actually know the architect who designed that bridge. I mean, I personally met him and worked with him on a project. It’s a very cool bridge. It’s a highly trafficked vehicle bridge, by the way, so they had to have closed it to shoot the scene and that must have caused some problems.


Jenny K: Well, that’s got to be cool…I’d love to visit Australia.

[the next day…]

 

Julie M:  Watching Once Upon a Time… now. Ajay looks good in the longer ’70s hair.  But he’s the only one who does.

[later that evening…]

Julie M:  OK–Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. I think in order to accept this movie you have to also accept that there once was a time when there were honest and moral gangsters. (No wonder it starts like a fairy tale.)

In the 1970s (like 1975-78 or so) Sultan Mirza (Ajay) is not so much a mobster as a savvy businessman–over the opening credits he divides up Mumbai among various gangsters, earning their trust and creating mutually respected territories, while he takes control of the shoreline and the international smuggling trade. All is calm and everyone gets rich. He brings in illegal stuff but he has his limits: he doesn’t handle drugs or alcohol, and he is never seen using a gun or murdering people (although he does beat people up, or have it done). He also supports the poor and does favors for the common man without asking repayment, earning their trust and love, and even a grudging kind of respect from the police.

His selfish, angry and ambitious protege Shoaib has no such scruples, and first as an admirer and then as an arrogant usurper continually amps up the violence and bad activities until Sultan has to smack him down. This enrages Shoaib, who plots revenge and (spoiler alert) finally assassinates Sultan just as he (Sultan) seems to be “going straight” and entering politics. This movie portrays the moment when Shoaib takes over as the end of the “golden age” of organized crime, which is nostalgically looked back on by the police-officer-narrator, and we are to assume that the dons now are evil and violent because Shoaib is setting the tone.

I found this movie slow and just barely interesting, except for Ajay, who turned in a great performance as the don with the heart of gold. The look of the piece was fairly stylish but just not realistic, as if it was some kind of sanitized dream of the 1970s (with the obligatory disco number, Parda). There was one nice love song, seen here:

I have to wonder what’s going on where they feel they have to make the gangland world look so…normal.

 

Jenny K:  Sounds like the description, with a few changes, that I would have given of Company…Ajay as practical businessman gangster. Doesn’t he get tired of them?

 

Julie M:  Oh, the Ajay character in Company was much more brutal and interesting (not because of the brutality, though). In OUATIM he is portrayed as almost a gentleman, albeit one that makes money from an illegal business. He is haunted by his past as an abandoned child, he always wears white and surrounds himself with white furniture as if he is in mourning for a happy-go-lucky past he never had, and he has this pathetic sense of honor that allows him to overlook Shoaib’s bad nature, and ultimately causes his own downfall. So I guess he’s supposed to be a tragic hero.

He is in love with a famous actress and she with him, they are planning to get married, and there is one touching scene where she has a medical emergency and he breaks his own rule about roughing people up in order to get her to the hospital. (This is compared to Shoaib’s relationship with his girlfriend, which is erratic and really kind of damaged–don’t let the “Pee Loon” song fool you). In fact, the cops get along really well with Sultan, he kind of helps them out of their problems, and there is one honest cop who at first decides he has to get Sultan but eventually realizes that Sultan is not a bad guy, it is Shoaib who’s the loose cannon. In fact, the whole movie is narrated by that cop, who at the beginning is found to have attempted suicide because Mumbai is now so corrupt and he blames himself for not taking stronger action to stop Sultan and, ultimately, Shoaib.

So it seems Ajay specializes in honest cops or gentleman gangsters. Typecast much?  (I still love you, Ajay!!)

August 15, 2011: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Julie M:  Saw Being Cyrus tonight. Loved it, with qualifications: I am addicted to the genre (noir thrillers), I loved this particular story, and the cinematography and set were perfect. Standout acting by Dimple Kapadia in particular and also Boman Irani (a little histrionic); Saif was very good too but I felt he was a little reserved. You could really tell the difference in craft between the older and younger actors, and the difference between creating a character and saying lines emotively.

For all that it was in English, I felt that I missed a lot of the texture of the dialogue when they would break into Hindi (unsubtitled) and the subtitles, which I put on because there was a lot of mumbling and slurring of the English lines, were pretty badly rendered and also missed a lot.

And–carrying on from the Sholay discussion–I felt that this genre may not have been particularly native to India, but a particular obsession of the filmmaker and made to be palatable to Western audiences (the English, and the brevity of the film in general).

But overall–great film, very glad I saw it and it adds to my “art film” mental library. Here’s a scene:

Jenny K: I thought you’d like it. Very stylish, and great performances all around. I bought it because of Dimple and Naseeruddin Shah, of course. He has all these little details that seem like they are derailing the character, and actually, they create it. His character is so “out of it” with the drugs and his artistic eye (“I was trying to get the flowers, but they were too far down”) that he lives in a fog the whole movie. Dimple is so brave as an actor, being that unsympathetic and not worrying a fig if she’s not at full beauty. She can’t help being beautiful, even so, but is a very credible shrew.

Boman is in full-crotchety mode, and I completely believed it, except when I look at his hands. They are so sensitive and beautiful, physically, that you know they are the hands of an artist, not a low-life landlord. Saif’s character is low key, yes, but very layered. Quiet Crazy he does quite well. There’s this little bit he does in a rather meh film, Darna Mana Hai, with Boman again, that is quite quietly creepy. Actually that movie has a number of “short story” kind of scenes with great actors, Nana Patekar, Raghuvir Yadav, Rajpal Yadav and Viveik Oberoi doing a very unusual turn. The framing story is weak though:  kids alone in the woods, sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories…until they are picked off, one by one by invisible stalkers.

I’d much rather watch the old guard in movies like Being Cyrus, even if they are seen as “not Indian enough”. I wish they had told us a bit more about Saif’s past, at the end. You understood the basics, but I could have done with more details. And more Naseeruddin…he just disappeared as the Boman story line amped up.

Speaking of  “more Naseeruddin”, I can’t wait for Today’s Special to be out on DVD. They keep pushing it back. Naseerji is fabulous in it. I did a profile on him and TS on AW a few months back, and I want to be able to watch it whenever I want!  Aasif Mandvi, the writer and star of the film was just as wonderful, if not quite as much the apple of my eye as is Naseerji.  Who could be?

Julie M: I think we got plenty on the Cyrus/Xerxes character’s background. [Spoilers. Highlight to view.] Abused child, foster care system, looked to his older sister for love and protection and this pattern kept up to the point where she could enlist him in her scams, where he couldn’t say no. Plus he is just enough of a sociopath himself not to care what it involved, as long as it gained him the security he needed. Until this last job, when he seemed to come to his senses and at the end opt out. But you know what? He’s not done. He’ll go back to her, because he’s immature and the world can’t give him what he’s seeking. It would have been good, in the story, if something about the Sethna family relationship brought him to his senses, but I didn’t get an idea of what made him leave her. [end of spoilers]

And where where where can I see Today’s Special? The trailer was so engaging that I have to see the entire thing. Tried to find it online but no dice…it’s also not on Icefilms (strange, because they have mostly everything).

Jenny K: Today’s Special is a lovely, lovely film, and I’d love to tell you where to watch it, but aside from checking with it’s website to see if any local showings are scheduled (and I think those listed are all for last year), it’s pretty much unavailable until the DVD comes out, they are thinking in the fall, maybe September. I’ve pre-ordered it on Amazon, but it was originally scheduled for release in April and was postponed. I do not feel secure yet. After I watch it, if it’s not in the library collection, I may lend it to you, if you promise to be very, very careful…it’s Nasserji!

[later that week…]

Julie M:  Found Dostana on YouTube–English subs and good quality–watching. So silly but fun to see Abhishek putting on the gay act…he’s way too good at it. And Kirron Kher playing another mom. She always gets the “cool mom” parts. I don’t normally watch this kind of movie but I admit to having a good time with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, which this sort-of resembles. 

 [after a while…] 

Julie M: Very cute and fun. Didn’t end the way I thought it might, but after all, it’s an Indian film. Great soundtrack. Loved LittleB’s performance most of all. Great bad fashions when they were dressing Bobby Deol up (striped pants? chee!)  I also loved the scene where they’re all dancing to the “Beedi” song from Omkara. I’m proud that I could identify that song: also the iPod Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham number and later, the background scene from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.  And when Sameer starts listing classic Bollywood characters who are “obviously” gay (Gabbar Singh from Sholay!), I laughed so hard because I had seen all those films.

This was the funniest scene. No subtitles, but the visuals are evocative enough that you don’t need them. Here’s the backstory: Neha (Priyanka Chopra) asks Sameer (LittleB ) and Kunal (John Abraham), whom she thinks are a gay couple, how they met, and LittleB makes up this romantic story of how they met in Venice and how their “love” grew. I adore the rainbow half-gloves.

Jenny K:  Never saw Dostana, thought it might be that John Abraham shirt off kinda comedy that I’d hate. But you make it sound rather good, especially free, online. May have to make a reassessment. I like LittleB’s comic timing, as well. He’s better with comedy than romance, I think.  Don’t think it’s a co-inky-dink that KKHH and K3G are conspicuously referenced…tells you right up front that it’s a “Karan Johar presents…” production.  Saves on royalties, after all.  Practicalities are king.

Julie M: Since you’ve not seen it, I have to warn you that the opening credits and the first 5-10 minutes are simply awful. Teeny-tiny bikinis on Miami Beach with a truly dumb background song, and a John Abraham butt shot. I nearly turned it off. Just power through them and know that it gets much, much better. JA does spend most of the movie with an exposed chest but it makes a weird kind of sense given his character, both the straight and “gay” version.

One other note. I can see where the scene I posted could offend gay people if taken out of context–but because it’s a very straight character’s telling of what he thinks a gay meet-cute might be like, it’s clear that the character is speaking from a point of ignorance and it can be excused. The movie overall is not insulting to gay people although it does play on a few stereotypes.

Jenny K: Well, we’ll just have to see what I think…I’m dubious…thoat clip looks pretty silly to me. I’ll try to reserve judgment, but to paraphrase a friend of mine, I don’t watch that kind of film much in the US, why should I give it a chance in another language? Does a need for translation push it into acceptability? We’ll see.  I’m going to try to watch Dostana, now…[straghtens shoulders]. Off I go…

Julie M: Just try it and don’t forget that the first 10 minutes are supremely bad. I thought it would be stupid too but I got hooked, and watching it in 10-minute segments online was easy–I could quit anytime, but for some reason I just didn’t. It all kind of combines into something very cute, especially LittleB’s role. And sometimes bad-stupid is fun.

Jenny K:  I’m going to remind you that you said that…

[later on]

Jenny K: Hey! I survived Dostana and didn’t even need to gouge my eyes out or anything!?! It was even cute at times. Go figure! Waaay too much ritualized ogling of John’s torso, though. He even seemed bored with the attention in some of the numbers. I know he can act. I’ve seen Water. But I guess they have to give the audience what they want!

It’s really odd…I can look at John Abraham and agree that he’s really handsome, but he just doesn’t register on my personality meter. Other than in Deepa Mehta’s Water, when I look back on what he’s done, I mostly go, “Oh yeah, he was in that film!” but I hadn’t remembered it until I read it on IMDb. Same with Bobby Deol. Played almost the same role, handsome, sympathetic richguy, in Humraaz, and I just didn’t care about whether he ended up with the girl or not. Might his middle name be “Meh”?

Abhishek’s timing was as usual, very good, as you said. Though I think I liked Boman’s gay parody a tad better. He’s such a hoot. And I thought Priaynka was beautiful and winsome, was sweet and always in character, danced well when she was required to…what else can you ask for? Why do people pick on her, I ask you? Yet, they do.

The script was predictable, I’d seen it all before, but that lack of brain-engagement with an actual plot left me time to ponder those burning questions, like: heiress or not, why would Neha ever buy an apartment large enough to shoot the Mumbai edition of Big Brother House? Was the lonely gay soldier the same actor as the INS agent, and if so, why didn’t he blow their cover? Why were there so many runway shows in this film? Neha worked for a magazine not a fashion house! But most crucially, why did no one on the production staff cringe when the writer suggested having “our boys” toy with the kid’s psyche like that? Chee?!? My vote for Most Disgusting Plot Device. I think I may just have to skip Dostana 2 when it comes out, but thanks for getting me past my trepigaytion about it .

Julie M: I admit to being a Priyanka-doubter. She’s just too skinny and plastic-looking to take seriously given all the not-perfect but still gorgeous and talented Indian women in films. But she does OK, and for this movie whatever she’s got goin’ on works. This movie was my first exposure ;0 to John Abraham and I wasn’t impressed either.  Dostana 2 will just have to live without either of us.

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