November 21, 2015: Of Flights and Fancies

We love international travel. It’s so improving. Plus you get to watch cool movies on the plane. Julie saw not one, not two, but three recent Hindi releases courtesy of Lufthansa.

Julie M: Finally got to see three new-ish films, none of which ever made it to my local theaters. Two were worth it, one was not. Let’s dispense with the “not” first: Tanu Weds Manu Returns was a giant snooze-fest that made me actively hate characters I was not 100% fond of the first time around. We catch up with the nebbishy Manu and self-centered Tanu as they are making each other miserable in England four years after their marriage. She commits him to a mental institution and proceeds back to Kanpur to scandalize her family with her wild city ways; he gets released and takes up with a 19-year-old Tanu lookalike in Delhi, who happens to be half-promised to Tanu’s old boyfriend. Everything spirals down from there: an ill-advised engagement, a baby of secret parentage, and a snarky law student add up to a horrifyingly cringe-worthy series of events. By the time (spoiler alert, as if you needed one) Tanu and Manu reconcile, you really don’t care anymore whether those two crazy kids can make it—you just want it all to be over.

Jenny K: I am so jealous…about the international travel, and the leisurely watching of movies while in flight, even if they are mediocre. Sorry to hear it, though, as I usually like Kangana Ranaut (the charming actress from Queen) and R. Madhavan. However, I’d heard bad things about TWM and its apparently lamentable follow up, and have successfully avoided them.

Julie M: On the other hand, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! is a fun addition to the growing body of modern Hindi thrillers. It’s 1943 Calcutta, India has major problems with war, the British, and opium, and Bakshy (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a very young, aspiring private detective. He talks his way into an assignment to find another young man’s missing father and stumbles into a complex situation involving spies, scientific discovery, international terrorism and (of course) murder. The plot involves double- and triple-crosses, a Mata Hari-like vamp, a helpful (or is he?) British military man, and a Watson-like sidekick/pal. The filmmaking is atmospheric and visually very detailed, Rajput is a very convincing wet-behind-the-ears detective, and the door is admirably left open for future adventures. And we know there will be more: the character, created by Bengali author Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, was beloved in Indian popular literature from 1931-1970 and has been the protagonist of many other films and television serials, both based on the books and not. This movie (despite the liberties taken with the chronology) serves as both an origin story and a concept reboot and the character combines the coolest traits of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Sam Spade. I’m already hooked.

Jenny K: Now, I’m sorry I missed that one. You make it sound like a good bet…even if you may have enjoyed it strictly on the visuals of young Mr. Rajput. A favorite of yours, as I recall from earlier reviews.

Julie M: And then we come to the third film, Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I am not a huge Khan fan (the last few films of his I saw were horrendously bad and he seemed to be aging poorly), but I found this portrayal of an uncomplicated, not-especially-bright guy just trying to do the right thing to be quite entertaining although there was plenty of eye-rolling at the obvious tugs at the heartstrings.

Jenny K: Now, I did see this one! And in a theater, too! I have been, like you, not one of Sallubhai’s biggest supporters, but every so often he does pull off a winner, even for me. How can you resist the self-mocking Bodyguard and its crazy, shirt-phobic drainpipe? You have to see the scene to believe it! And Salman does get credit in my book for being one of the only stars who still supports the multi-song format any more. I really miss the seven songs per show days.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 2Julie M: Khan plays Pawan (nicknamed Bajrangi), a devotee of Hanuman who has recently lost his father (a hilarious backstory has him dropping dead of shock after Pawan finally passes his exams after eleven attempts) and is trying to make money to buy a house so he can marry his girlfriend Rasika (an underused Kareena Kapoor). Pawan’s happy life is turned upside-down when a lost, mute little girl (Harshaali Malhotra) attaches herself to him. He knows she belongs somewhere and as he gradually finds out more about her—much of which is disruptive to his simple and narrow world—he vows to return her to where she belongs. In the process he has to deal with completely unknown situations in the best way he knows how: by being himself in a world that seems not to know how to deal with him.

This tale, and the way Khan spins it out, seemed to me to be very old-fashioned. The story is in the traditional format of past-setup, present day, LONG flashback, and moving forward, with the post-interval action more serious and carrying the seeds of controversy. Pavan’s world is almost a fantasy, with bright colors, friendly people and traditional pastimes. His relationship with Rasika unfolds like the first half of every Bollywood movie, with a “meet cute” and hate turning to friendship and then love over a montage of scooter-riding and travel-photo Delhi adventures.

Jenny K: But aren’t those good feelings and the basic sweetness what’s been missing from Hindi films recently, with all their goondahs and drug lords? I know I’ve missed them, heck, the lack of heartwarming films and romantic musicals in western filmmaking is what made me turn to Bollywood in the first place.

Bajrangi BhaijaanJulie M: That’s what I mean! I was never bored and the director made me care about every character. Pawan takes the shocking revelations about “Munni” in stride (she can’t speak! she eats meat! she’s a…MUSLIM!!!), which is supposed to be a testament to his innocent nature, should have made me laugh out loud but given the setup seemed only natural. The trope of a small girl teaching lessons to a grown man about acceptance of difference, and then having him teach others, is standard in “film-festival” films but seemed fresh here. The reporter character played by Nawazudin Siddiqui (what is it about that guy—I love him in each and every one of his roles!) had a suspiciously fast turnaround from “get the spy” to “let’s help this guy,” but somehow it made sense. And the overall message of people being people, not countries or political beliefs, is just simple enough to work. And of course, I, along with everyone else (I assume—I was watching it on a small screen on the back of the airplane seat in front of me!), teared up at the end despite myself.

NawazuddinJenny K: Nawazuddin is one of my favorite actors working today, a dusky Jude Law with many more guns in his acting arsenal (sorry, Jude, you’re still delicious).   In the past five years, especially, he’s done a wide variety of characters. Dekh Indian Circus has him playing the mute farmer in a remote country village with poignancy in every silent glance. Kahaani turned the tables completely in a darkly edgy role as the driven police detective (is he complicit in the crime, or not?). Then in Talaash, he’s a haunted criminal who makes you sorry for him even while you thoroughly condemn his decisions. And in Dabba/The Lunchbox, his touch with light comedy brings a glow to this unlikely bromance with the equally wonderful Irrfan Khan. Truly unique performances in every role he attempts, an actor’s actor.

Julie M: An old friend unfamiliar with Bollywood but much involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict saw this movie and crowed about how wonderful it was and how many lessons it had to teach us. I’m glad that this film had the intended effect on someone—but I also wish it was a less formulaic film.

Jenny K: At least someone out there is attempting to teach the lessons, I say. Even if it wasn’t completely successful, or was too heavy handed in places, I feel that this film touches more people than it turns off. My sometimes cynical pal, Pat, said it was the best film she’d seen all year and I chatted on IMDb with a woman in the Midwest somewhere who wandered into BB in her local multiplex, almost as an accident, as her first choice had sold out, and came out uplifted and with a budding love of Indian film! That’s a winner in my book.  Salman Khan, take a bow!

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 3

Advertisements

November 11, 2014: Happy New Year (er, Veteran’s Day)!

So here it is:  the Happy New Year post!  Jenny and Julie both saw this one, and had some very different (and somewhat unpredictable) reactions.

First, the trailer:

Julie’s plot summary:  The action begins in the glitz and glamour of Dubai (city of lights, apparently!), at the World Dance Championships, where the Indian team is mysteriously missing.  Then we zoom backwards in time about six months to a mud-wrestling pit, where, in glorious slo-mo, we watch a buffed and ripped small man and a large, bald and slightly blubbery man whale on each other, until, from the left and right, water comes in to spray the mud off the small man to reveal…Charlie (Shah Rukh Khan), our lead and narrator, and apparently a professional fighter (you can bet that will come in handy later).

Jenny K: Oh, I actually missed the first fifteen minutes, so I missed the mud wrestling scene…that must have been what Kathy was giggling about.  But nothing about Dubai attracted me…the film actually worked on me as an anti-travel plug for the city. Too darn prefabbed and uber-glitzy for me, by half.

Julie M: Out of context in the beginning—yeah, but I didn’t mind it so much later.  Anyway, Charlie has an axe to grind:  his father (Anupam Kher) was framed by Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff) for stealing a fortune in diamonds and is imprisoned, and after 8 years the opportunity to avenge him has presented itself. He gathers a handpicked team to pull off the caper of the millennium:  Tammy (Boman Irani), a lisping safecracker, irresistible to the ladies but with an unfortunate side effect of extreme stress; special effects expert Jag (Sonu Sood), who can go ab-to-ab with Charlie but is deaf in one ear and sensitive about his mother; Jag’s nephew Rohan (Vivaan Shah), a painfully shy, teenage hacker extraordinaire; and drunken simpleton Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), who seems to have no redeeming qualities except his physiognomy, which isn’t particularly handsome but is usefully familiar—a dead ringer for Grover’s son (double-role!).

Jenny K:  Oh, is that was Jag’s line of work was…must have missed that, too.  Thought he was just on board as “Ab Competitor” for SRK’s scary new torso.

Happy-New-Year-2014-Shahrukh-Khan-and-Sonu-Sood-300x250

Julie M: Despite their flaws (character and other) the team actually has the skills to pull off the heist, except the most important part: they need to learn how to dance, and fast.  Enter Nandu’s childhood friend Mohini (Deepika Padukone), a high-class bar dancer with a predilection for hearing men speak English, whom they engage to whip the boys into good enough shape to become a contender to represent India at the World Dance Championships in Dubai.

Why is this necessary?  Coincidentally, the contest is being held at the same hotel where the loot is being safeguarded and they need to be contestants to make the plan work.   Through a little hacker magic they end up where they need to be, but they immediately anger the reigning dance champions, the North Korean team (whaaaaa?), not to mention Charan, either of whom has the power to turn Charlie’s well-laid plans to vapor and take our little gang out for good.

Jenny K: I thought that North Korea was chosen, because it’s the only isolated power that isn’t currently in popularity with enough of the world to raise objection.  Who knows…Synopsis behind us, on to the reactions.  I was afraid that you, being the more serious minded of the two Filmi-Goris, would find it tediously frivolous and full of holes, plot-wise. Even I did, somewhat, and spent lots of time distracted as SRK’s blonde streak moved about his hair from scene to scene. Not to say that I found nothing interesting about it, but I could have missed it and not have been at all bereft.

Julie M:  Frivolous and full of holes, sure, but definitely not tedious.  I had a great time!

Jenny K:  SRK looks good, and is in top charming conman mode.  Deepika is lovely and a wonderful dancer, again. Boman is comedy pro, as usual, but I was distracted by the accent he chose, that one that I call the “paan-in-mouth” one. Abhi used it in Bunty aur Babli once or twice, but I don’t like a full movie of it. Jackie Shroff makes a smooth, if underused, villain, and I was glad to see him back. Abhi has the comedic double role that you mentioned, and he pulls it off pretty well, but it was really very slapstick, which, as you know, always leaves me rather cold. Sonu Sood is given the thankless role of comic muscle-bound sidekick, a la early Salman Khan…not much more to say about him than that, I’m afraid. Vivaan Shah was better in 7 Khoon Maaf, but didn’t fall on his face.

Julie M: I liked the way the direction played with Sonu Sood’s abs and the typical Salman Khan “oops, I’ve lost my shirt” bit that always seems to happen in his films.  I always find that the most charming part of a SK film.

Sonu-Sood

Jenny K:  I also didn’t like that they keep trying to mix their genres so much, trying to give all SRK fans what they want from him. You could see all Farah’s influences in there, having Shah Rukh be Tom Cruise in MI 4, Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven and Jackie Chan in multiple films, then putting bits of all of India’s favorite SRK classics in there, too. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi with its dance team competition, bits of the Don franchise, touches of the charm and romance of K3G and KKHH, but without Kajol to help pull it off. I just wish Farah had picked a genre and knocked it out of the park, as I know she can, rather than trying to give us thin multiples, none of which really succeed.

Julie M:  I see your point, and checked all the references too, but I read it as parody.  In fact, I found so much parody in the film that may or may not have been intentional, but it was still funny. The comedic bits (the repetition of “the two things you need to know about X”, for example, and the knowing wink about the “intro” numbers for each, including the intro of Abhi’s character which was way too much like the way Ranveer Singh’s characters have been introduced in his last couple of films) varied for me from slightly humorous to fall-on-the-floor laughing, but overall were pretty funny, particularly as the film went on. But Abhi did not handle the comedy as well as we know he can (Bunty aur Babli, Dostana), although it was OK for someone who doesn’t know how good he can be, and the dance numbers, although very glitzy, were uninspired until the very last one.

abhishek bachchan happy new year

Jenny K: Actually, you reminded me about that “two things” bit….I thought it sounded familiar to me at the time, what with BigB doing a lot of the intoning, and I think I’ve tracked it down to these quotes from Bunty aur Babli, that they are saluting in the HNY film. “There are two types of people in this world…”  I’d have to see the movie again to be sure, but I’d bet that they were very close to that pattern.

Julie M:  I bet you’re right—but to introduce the characters, it’s very effective.  We learned to expect hilarious character flaws. With all the setup, the possibilities for comedy are endless, and pretty much all of them are employed.  Gravity-defying and farce-filled fight scenes?  Check.  Fart jokes?  Check.  Pratfalls?  Check.  Awkward dance moves?  Definitely check. (Look for a brief but enthralling flash of Prabhu Deva as one of the dance teachers who give up on them before they find Mohini.)  In lesser hands this could have been wince-inducing, but I think Farah Khan excels at directing zany comedies filled with varying levels of parody and multiple winks at Bollywood (and SRK in particular) tropes old and new.  The result, I found, was hilarious.  I left the theater feeling happy and entertained and satisfied…for about three hours, until all the plot holes came home to roost and I started to realize that although there was a lot to like, and ultimately yes, I did like it, there were some issues as well.

Why bring Jag into the gang when there are absolutely no special effects aspects (aside from some really bad disguises) to the plan?  How can Mohini—admittedly poor and desperate for the money her bar dancing gig gives her—take 6 months off to train a bunch of losers, even if one of them has great abs and speaks fluent English?  Charan is clearly a smart, suave guy: how could he overlook the ONE detail that allows a plan like Charlie’s to work?  And why, oh why, is the music, peppy as it is, so freaking DERIVATIVE?

The key to enjoying a film like this, clearly, is not to think too hard about it. Leave your brain at the door and grab the popcorn.

October 9, 2012: A Midlife Catharsis

Jenny K:  I know I’ve been on a jag recently, touting the charms of the almost-thirty set of heroes, so now I want to put on the brakes and celebrate the possibility of age appropriate (read “Over 40”) romances.  They are out there, one just has to hunt for them a bit…and some of them are worth the extra trouble.

First on my list of Netflix “Meant-2-Watch” films, was Main Aurr Mrs Khanna (2009). I remember hearing about this film in connection with Aamir and Kareena, something about Aamir dropping it for reasons unreported.  Having now watched it…I don’t blame him at all.  Here’s the trailer. 

Now, our hero in this one, Salman Khan, is definitely over 40, deny it as he will, but his heroine, Kareena Kapoor…not exactly an equal match, shall we say.  Salman plays Samir Khanna, who falls in love with an un-surnamed orphan, Raina (Kareena) and in the unexplainable attraction of woman to goofy-man-child, she marries him. Maybe it’s just because he offers her his last name for her missing one. Almost immediately we cut from their “idyllic” married life, to the effects of job-loss on Samir’s ego. He tells her she must go back to live with his parents in India (why?), and leave their home in Melbourne, because the only place he can get a job now is in Singapore, and his ego can’t seem to bear her sticking by him and watching him struggle.

She, of course, resents his settling her fate without a word to her, and she digs in her heels at the airport and just doesn’t get on the plane. She vows to stay in Australia and wait for him, and somewhere, somehow, she’ll get a job and support herself. Brave girl…sniff sniff…With Salman all but out for the middle three-fifths of the film, Raina must find another savior, and turns to a random cafe-wallah, played by Sohail Khan (who also directed this fiasco) who falls instantly in love with her and vows to win her confidence and love. Even though he knows she’s married and in love with her husband. Creep.

Julie M:  Salman and Kareena.  Hmm, an odd couple indeed.  I never thought they went well together, even in the superhit Bodyguard.  Well, probably a good thing that they spend most of the film apart, then.

Jenny K:  The rest of the plot doesn’t really need to be summarized. You’ve seen it all before, yet I must remark on how calm Salman/Samir seems when he gets the news that in order to stay in Australia without him…

Stupidity Alert…..I mean spoiler alert…spoiler alert…yeah right….

Raina agrees with her new friends that she must lie to her host country and all concerned and marry Sohail so she has her valid work visa. Never mind that she’s ALREADY MARRIED?!?!? Not that they “did anything” of course…even though we’ve established that Sohail’s character has very sketchy morals in the first place.

A few good looks for Salman after he gets over being a goofy kid and dons a saintly mystique along with his bad luck…and a nice song…by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are pretty much all that recommend it. Skip.

Julie M: Sohail Khan…that’s Salman’s brother, right, the one whom you hate and whom I didn’t think was so bad in Hello, an otherwise execrable movie? Maybe he just looked good in comparison to the drivel that was the rest of it.

Jenny K:  No, I definitely don’t recommend Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna. Yes, Sohail is Salman’s brother, but if I have to watch one of them, Arbaaz is always more watchable, though he seems to specialize in psychopaths. The only film that I’ve enjoyed Sohail in was an extended cameo he and Arbaaz did in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, which if you haven’t watched, you should. Imraan Khan’s first film. Sweet. Youtube here.

Julie M: Salman with a ponytail…LIKE. Like a LOT.

[a few days later]

Julie M: I’m back! Because I could not get out to see either Rowdy Rathore or Joker, I decided to get a silly Akshay Kumar comedy fix with Singh Is Kinng (2008). It actually was pretty good–escapist, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. As a taste…here’s the fantastic number in the beginning of the film that reaffirms how wonderful Akshay’s movies can be.

Punjabi villager Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar) is a sweet, helpful, well-meaning man around whom things tend to go horribly wrong, to everyone’s dismay and Happy’s obliviousness. Here’s the opening scene that establishes Happy’s character as a disaster in a kurta. 

After a number of years of Happy’s causing (comic) mayhem and destruction the villagers decide to move him along, and concoct a ruse to send him to Australia (what is it about Australia?) to retrieve the long-absent son of the village headman. Trouble is, this son is Lucky “The King” Singh, a notorious and brutal don (played by Sonu Sood, whom we see far too little of past the first third of the film), and Happy would be lucky to get away with his life. Problem solved, the villagers think.

So Happy departs with his friend Rangeela (Om Puri), whose only value to the endeavor is that he knows English, only there’s a mixup at the airport and they end up in Egypt, not Australia. While they are waiting for their correct flight Happy wanders off to sightsee and ends up saving a young woman Sonia (Katrina Kaif) from a robbery, and spends the day with her. Of course he falls in love with her, but since they are off to Australia he will never meet her again. Or will he?

Jenny K:  Same gender/age scenario, again!   I know it is almost a given in today’s Bollywood (and the rest of filmdom), that our forty-something hero is immediately irresistible to any and all twenty-something females, but can’t there be (somewhere!) a similarly-aged female object of their desire?  It’s getting more and more frustrating from my point of view.  Sorrry, baaack to the Kinng.

Julie M: May I point you to a little movie you sent to me called Cheeni Kum…anyway…

Jenny K:  [backpedaling] Heck, Jule, the rules don’t apply to Amitabh!  It’s a given that he is still attractive to any and all female age groups, as is Naseerji…sigh…okay, okay, go on with the synopsis.

Julie M: Upon arrival in Australia they look up Lucky and go to convince him to come back to see his dying (so they think) father. Lucky and his entourage give them the brush-off and that is that…Happy and Rangeela again find themselves in a foreign country with no luggage and waiting for their plane home. They get separated and Happy meets Rosie (Kirron Kher), a down-on-her luck florist originally from a village near his, who takes him in, feeds him and gives him a job to earn his meals. Enjoy this clip of the meeting between Happy and Rosie: Kirron Kher is the best “cool mom” in Bollywood. 

During his first task he runs into Lucky and the gang, and through typical Happy circumstances a skirmish with a rival gang breaks out and Lucky becomes paralyzed. Another mix-up or two later and Happy ends up taking the kingpin’s place as the head of the organization. More mix-ups, and it turns out that Sonia is Rosie’s daughter, Rosie has to pretend she’s wealthy to impress Sonia’s fiance (Ranvir Shorey), and they all move into Lucky’s mansion where the gang members (including Lucky’s nearsighted and half-deaf brother Mika, played by Javed Jaffrey, and hanger-on Udaas, played by Yashpal Sharma) have to pretend to be servants.

Suffice it to say that the pretenses lead to hilarity, character development ensues, there is an attempted coup and Happy spreads his happy sweet magic over everyone. The climactic scene (yes, there is a chase) is actually pretty funny, not too overdone as tends to happen in Indian comedies.

Jenny K:  Ah, well, I knew someone had to like this film.  It was a pretty big hit when it came out.  I saw it in the theater.  And though it didn’t bug me as much as, say Bewaafa or Waqt, SIK left me pretty cold, as per usual.  Glad you got something from it.

Julie M: I think I was just in the right mood.  Akshay Kumar flashes his winning smile all over this one, which of course I loved, and looks great in a turban. Heck, in this he looks great in everything: in both Punjabi village clothes (which on him look like designer duds) and the actual designer clothing he wears when he assumes the King role.

The combination of comedy and action is, if not perfect, at least proportional with no comic-action scene lasting too long, as is often the case with this type of film. Katrina Kaif’s bad Hindi is excused by having her character grow up in Australia, and her two item numbers are pleasant enough if generic–nothing smashing, she looks cute, let’s move on. Beautiful scenery in Egypt and Australia, and for once the requisite love-among-the-ruins song actually makes sense. Best thing about it is that they are dancing in front of Deir El-Bahri, my favorite Egyptian mortuary temple, and in the Karnak temple. Doesn’t make any sense since they were supposed to have landed in Cairo and Luxor/Valley of the Kings is like 300 miles away, but I give them credit for at least not randomly zooming over to Switzerland.

Javed Jaffrey plays a double role as Mika and as Sonia’s fiance’s father; in a clever nod to the dual-role trope, all of the characters recognize the resemblance but it does not become part of the actual plot. A rap duet between Akshay and Snoop Dogg over the closing credits is mediocre at best, but Javed is his own playback singer in one number, which is unfortunately rap-based but not at all annoying for that.

Verdict: an extremely pleasant time-pass if you are in the mood for silliness, with a great cast, and nothing for Akshay to be embarrassed about.

Jenny K:  Finally!  Relief for my complaints is here!  I recently got to the theaters to see the Boman Irani/Farah Khan love story Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012). I went just for pure curiosity to see how Farah Khan would do in her acting debut, and darned if she didn’t surprise me!  She came off pretty well. The trailer is really broad humor, and so is a bit misleading.  It’s not as slapstick as it looks when you view the whole movie.

I went to see SFLTNP with my Hindi film buddies, Pat and Kathy. We’re all over 40 and so we’re really eager to support any film that shows there is life after that “extreme age” hits us. And I thought it was a rather sweet love story, while still having the slightly jaundiced view of the mature couple’s outlook on things. Pretty funny, too.

The story is of a lonely 45 year old Parsi guy, Farhad (Boman Irani) who can’t seem to find the love of his life to settle down with. He lives with his widowed mother (Daisy Irani, who steals every scene she’s in) and his grandmother (Shammi Aunty) who both dote on him. They can’t figure out why he’s still single…unless it has to do with his working as a salesman in a women’s lingerie store “the Tam Tam Bra and Panty Store” as Farhad repeatedly states to all who ask. Ya Think??  He certainly doesn’t seem too happy there. He has dreams of opening his own shop someday, and calling it UNDERWORLD. Funny guy.

Julie M:  I can just imagine Boman surrounded by ladies’ undergarments.  But go on…

Jenny K:  He meets Shirin (Farah) one day at his store when she’s there shopping, and he likes her sarcastic sense of humor and spunkiness. His mother likes her too, until it is revealed that Shirin is a Parsi official who has been targeting the illegal water tank that Farhan’s father built for them before he died. Didn’t get the permit, it seems. But when Shirin’s “cover” is blown, Mama draws the line in the sand, it’s either “THAT WOMAN” or your mother? What to do, what to do? Sneak around Mama, of course, and lots of singing and dancing.

It’s fun to see Farah dance to some of her own choreography…in “Ramba Mein Samba”, she and Boman spoof many of the Shahrukh/Kajol/Madhuri numbers that made her the choreographer to get. Very sweet…especially love the KKHH/DDLJ train scenes. Here’s that number.  and here’s the number with the slingshot that they’re spoofing from Hum Aapke Hain Koun with Madhuri and Salman, if you haven’t seen it.

On the whole, a very favorable experience, and I’m going to pooh pooh the nay-sayers who find Farah’s acting wooden. She’s more laid back than Boman (who wouldn’t be?), but I think that’s just her own personality, and it certainly felt real to me. A few plot issues, but not too bad.

A brave attempt by all concerned, and multiple chins-up, I mean thumbs-up, from this over-40 reviewer.  We ain’t dead yet, so let’s see more examples of it!

Julie M:  Hear, hear.  And as I am about to dip a toe into young love again with Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya, I will remember that not so young love is pretty awesome too.

November 28, 2011: Thankful for Guilty Pleasures!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

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

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

  

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 [a few weeks later]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

  

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

 

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

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

 [about a week later]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jenny K:  You are a hopeless case,  Jules. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

September 17, 2011: I Remember Nana…Patekar


Julie M:  Finally finished Khamoshi: The Musical. Took me three sessions, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it. It was very rhona-dhona, which I don’t like, but Nana Patekar and Manisha Koirala were amazing in their roles. The songs were not translated, and since easily half the movie was sung (and the rest completely backgrounded–it felt like an opera), I think that I missed a lot.

But the real surprise was that I liked, actually liked, a young Salman Khan, and I realize this is the earliest movie I’ve seen him in. Pre-bulbous-muscles and with good hair, and a wonderfully refreshing youthful sweetness, I now see why he’s so beloved. People must see him and keep remembering him in his prime. Even in this film, though, he displays that weird sartorial sense. His costumers must ask him what he wants to wear, because some of the ensembles looked very odd and similar to his “civilian” clothes.

See what I mean in this number: 

Jenny K:  You’re so funny…”remembering Salman in his prime”…he’s a bigger money maker now than he ever was back then. But I agree, he’s too muscular now.  That musclebound walk in Bodyguard, with biceps so big the arms wouldn’t go down was a joke, but I can’t deny that he looked sweeter and more vulnerable back in Khamoshi.

 

Julie M:  Prime LOOKS. I don’t doubt that he’s big box office now, but his rep had to come from somewhere. ICK on his muscles, though. Also, I recalled seeing Nana Patekar in something and liking him, not an Indian film though, but his filmography isn’t helping me figure that out.

I also liked this song from Khamoshi, since Manisha is usually so serious:

But man, overall this movie was such a bummer. Just when you thought things were OK, someone dies or disappoints someone else and cue the sighing and gnashing of teeth.

So: liked a couple of the performances, hated the bulk of the storyline, missed the point of most of the songs, and as usual I liked the look of a SLB-directed film whereas most everything else did not live up for me.

 

Jenny K:  Well, I am sorry that your 100th movie wasn’t more of a thumbs up. Congratulations, by the way!

 

Julie M:  Thanks for the congrats! 100, wow. Glad you’re keeping count because I’m not.

 

Jenny K:  Khamoshi is a very unusual film for what was going on at the time, not very many films made at all about the deaf, and then making it a full-out musical! The casting was very non-traditional, too with Nana and Seema in the leads. It was very early in both of their careers, and they always give wonderful performances.

Seema always plays tough women, either mentally or physically. She was the best part of Water, the only one who made me cry, and you can’t have a tougher debut than playing Phoolan Devi in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen! It’s based on a true story about a woman who was abducted by bandits and ended up becoming one, herself, lived a violent life, went to prison and after she got out, became a politician! I haven’t seen the film, but have heard it was very controversial when it came out. Phoolan Devi, herself, said that it wasn’t accurate, but it made her very famous. It’s on Youtube, but only in pieces.

Nana Patekar, too, doesn’t tend to do nice guys. I remember finding his role in Salaam Bombay by Mira Nair as very animal, very sensual, and rather sick. Always gives a very layered performance, even in films like Shakti (bad movie, good performance) and Bluffmaster!

Salaam Bombay is online, too.

Not sure which “not Indian” films Nana would have been in. I saw Salaam Bombay years before I started watching Indian films as an alternative vocation…Mira Nair’s first big film. I saw it in a standard theater. Much later I realized that Nana was “that same guy, but much younger.” I saw a clip from it on YouTube and Irfaan Khan had a tiny role in it too, as a sidewalk letter-writer-for-hire.

Nana also did a film called The Pool, which had an American director, Chris Smith, but I still think I saw it at a film festival, because it didn’t release wide. It made inroads at Sundance, too. Nice quiet little film.   Oh, and I remember you did say something about his performance in Bluffmaster! That’s the only one I remember you commenting on.

 

Julie M:  Maybe that was it. But I could have sworn it was a non-Indian film…Irfaan Khan, I definitely remembered from The Namesake, also Tabu. And the actors from Bend It Like Beckham were all NRI except for the dad, Anupam Kher, right?

 

Jenny K:  I think all the actors from BILB have careers in American television serials… Parminder Nagra in ER, Archie Panjabi winning Emmys for The Good Wife, Jonathan Rhys Myers on The Tudors, and one could argue for Keira Knightley’s Pirates of the Caribbean films as being serialistic.  End of non-sequitur.

As far as I can tell Nana has never been in an English language film, though occasionally I hear him speak English, but as far as I remember, he seems to get the majority of his roles in Hindi or another dialect. And he does a lot of “country” roles like Disha that I sent you. It’s a bleak but interesting story about a family (husband-Om Puri, wife-Shabana Azmi, his brother-Raghuvir Yadav) who run out of work in the country, and send their younger family members to work in the city…Nana is another local who follows Raghuvir to work in a city factory…and then they find that the urban promised land is no better than the poverty they left…just more crowded. Very good cast and performances.

[a few days later]

Julie M:  OK, so I watched Disha (The Uprooted, 1990) tonight. I liked Raghuvir Yadav’s performance better than Nana Patekar’s, actually, although Nana’s was pretty good too. Shabana Azmi (yes! who I remembered from 15 Park Avenue—I’m not totally  hopeless) had maybe one good scene and otherwise spent the whole film in the kitchen, alternately cooking and sniping at Om Puri.  Overall I felt the film could have been better. It was a hyper-realistic look at a certain and largely invisible segment of Mumbai’s masses and how they came to be there (immigration into the big city because of lack of work in the countryside), and so was worth seeing from a cultural perspective, but it seemed to me to have been rendered in a monotone. There were joyful moments but they seemed devoid of real joy, even the celebration near the end, and the potentially dramatic moments seemed flattened as well.

I kept waiting for something to really happen to these people, but it never did—it was mostly a collection of low-key interactions, many without any dialogue—and then it ended.  Suddenly.  Even the two songs were a bit on the pathetic side (as in, evoking pathos) even though they were supposed to be celebratory. I came away very depressed.  B watched the first half (or so) with me and said that it was more like a documentary than a fiction film.

And what happened at the end? The only thing I can figure out is that [spoiler alert] Phoolwanti had started sleeping with her boss from the beedi factory to keep her job, and that’s why Nana’s character suddenly came back. [end spoilers] Too bad: he was a bit of a romantic optimist through the whole movie, and you could tell that his life was shattered. And you said Nana didn’t play nice guys: he was definitely a nice guy in this.

 

Jenny K:  No, he just doesn’t specialize in nice guys. I bet he’d say the bad guys are more interesting. I’m not sure about the ending to this one. It has been a long time since I watched it. It was sad, I grant you. I don’t even remember songs being in there. It just had such a good cast, and good performances, and it’s an example of a type of Indian film that should be checked out from time to time. It balances out the overly filmi side of Bollywood. Do Bigha Zameen by Bimal Roy is I think the best of the genre of poor farmer being taken advantage of by fate/The Man/etc. films. It’s sort of cleansing in its aesthetic. Here’s the opening number of the film. From the look of it, I’d say that Aamir drew a lot of Lagaan‘s look from it.

And if you wanted it, this is the whole movie with subtitles.

 

Julie M:  I’ll have to watch that one, since it’s free online and all…

There were only two songs in Disha.  One was early on, at Nana’s character’s wedding, and it was kind of weird—the female singer had an outwardly happy face and the music was bright, but the lyrics were double-entendre about how awful life is.  The other one was in the men’s dorm where they used the click-clack of the machines to inspire a clapping/syncopated rhythm song/dance (a pretty long one). The latter song really seemed like a desperate attempt to inject levity into what is a horrible existence–not a life, existence is the correct word.   So basically—the songs made you feel worse instead of better.

 

Jenny K: Dear me, sounds even more dismal than I remembered.  But, I have some interesting news on the book to film front which looks rather exciting.  Don’t know why I haven’t heard of it so far.

I couldn’t believe I had only sent you two films with Shabana Azmi in it, as she’s sort of the Arts & Literature Queen of Indian cinema (in multiple dialects, of course) and she’s been in over one hundred of them.  So, I checked on IMDb to be certain and there it was!  She’s in the new Deepa Mehta film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children!  Holy Caroley…the cast list looks good, with Shabana and Seema, wonderful character actors like Rahul Bose, Rajat Kapoor (the uncle in DCH and Monsoon Wedding) and Ronit Roy (Udaan) plus newcomers like Siddarth and Soha Ali Khan from Rang De Basanti, and even the little kid from Taare Zameen Par, Darsheel Safary.

Here’s a short clip of Salman Rushdie speaking of adapting the book.

And there’s also a longer, more film-scholarly interview with the director, Deepa Mehta, and later in it Mr. Rushdie, if you have a spare hour. 

You’ve probably read Midnight’s Children, with your love of Indian literature, but I was wondering if, with the film coming up, maybe I should finally read it and we do our first literature post.  What do you think?

 

Julie M:   I most certainly HAVE read Midnight’s Children and now have got to keep from piddling with excitement  for more than a year until the film releases.   I have a stack of other Indian books to read (sitting on my bedside table at this very moment is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, and I’m trying to clear some time so I can finally dive into Vikram Seth’s lengthy A Suitable Boy–I guess that’s what winter is for!), but will excavate my copy and re-read it so I can discuss it semi-intelligently with you.  Let’s do it!

The Inna Cinema & Outta Cinema of Salman Khan, Part II

Jenny K:  So, continuing this series, Julie and I each go abroad to beard the Sallu-Man in his domain, the cinema.  I got the jump on seeing Bodyguard, Salman Khan’s latest instant superhit, as it opened here, midweek.  I wasn’t one for the opening night crowds on Wednesday, but Thursday night, my friend Kathy and I were there…but running late as usual, I missed the first ten minutes.  Note:  We’re doing this two part posting as a synopsis with comments review.  Spoilers will be legion and continuous

 

Julie M:  And I’ll preface my remarks by stating that due to a quirk of fate, the Saturday afternoon screening I attended in Indianapolis had been sponsored by an Indian cultural organization and therefore was not subtitled. We did not find this out until we were buying our tickets, and my friend Marcia and I looked at each other, shrugged and decided to go with it anyway.  So I missed the nuances of virtually every long spate of dialogue, although I could absorb the general idea.  Looking back, I think that may have spared me some eye-rolling.

 

Jenny K:  From what I could glean, those first ten minutes may have introduced us to a young boy, who is reading a story in a diary, told in a woman’s voice about Lovely Singh (Salman Khan), son of Balwant Singh, both men, fearsome fighters.   Lovely is an employee of a bodyguard firm, founded by his father’s old boss, Sartaj Rana (Raj Babbar) who gave the son a job after the father gave his life to protect Sartaj.  Lovely is dedicated to his Malik (Boss) and would do anything he asks. 

 

Julie M:  You missed a little piece of backstory about Lovely’s birth:  his pregnant mother was found lying by the side of the road after having had a car accident, and you see that Rana was the person that saved her life (and also the life of Lovely).

 

Jenny K: When the film opens, Lovely has the daunting task of guarding the body of movie star Katrina Kaif, while onstage doing a dance number.  Muscles and dance moves, what a man!   What? Is he whistling and winking at his own biceps???   

 

Julie M:  You betcha he is!  The biceps get choreography throughout the number.  And I think, if you listen closely, you will hear their own very tiny playback singer.  All that was missing was a costume for them.

 

Jenny K: But then they would have been covered up…duh!   After this, we find out that the Malik needs a special guy to guard his beloved daughter Divya (Kareena Kapoor) as she goes to college, when he and his family are threatened by a particularly vengeful gang of thugs.  A claassic scenario.

Lovely’s got his hands full for the moment, in full-throttle thug-bashing mode as viewed in an extended chase/fight sequence involving trains, overpasses, thrilling gravity-defying bridge leaps, and an extended dishoom session in a warehouse, one against throngs of evildoers.  He triumphs, of course, and foils a large scale prostitution ring, which the baddies add to their list of grievances against Lovely and Rana.  Aditya Pancholi does a very nice, highly-kajaled psychopath.  But Lovely loses them as he travels by bus to his boss’s home.

 

Julie M:   I agree that Pancholi did a good, if slightly over the top, job as the crazy thug boss.   I have to say, this was one of the most ludicrous fight scenes ever, although it started in a relatively cool way with him on a train going in one direction and then getting out and swinging his way onto the roof of the train going the other direction. 

 

Jenny K:  On the bus he gets tangled up with a very large young man,  Tsunami Singh (Rajat Rawail), who wreaks so much havoc, socially and physically, on the bus passengers, that they could legitimately apply for disaster relief.  Tsunami works for Sartaj Rana, too (as court jester?), and when he sees a picture of his boss’ daughter in Lovely’s wallet, he reports him as the hired killer they are expecting. 

Arriving at the estate, havoc ensues, but Lovely, thinking the attack on Divya has started, incapacitates two thirds of the household staff.  Divya is appalled that her father has saddled her with a bodyguard, and from the outset she and her roommate, Maya, try to find ways to ditch him, or at least have him remain completely out of sight.  Not really possible, as a bodyguard, in black or not, doesn’t blend in well in the classroom (case: Main Hoon Na).

 

Julie M:  I thought Tsunami’s T-shirt wardrobe was frat-boy stupid.  “Beer instructions” indeed!  Yet I couldn’t wait to see what the next one he had on would be.  The girls play some idiotic pranks on Lovely, like ruining his uniform, which only resulted in his wearing an even tighter partial uniform.  Trust Salman to shed his suit as soon as possible. 

 

Jenny K:  Lovely is the perfect bodyguard.  He can’t be bought, he can’t even be distracted from his duty.  As per the Boss’ orders, he gets the girls up daily at 4am to work on self-defense techniques. Imagine!  Divya thinks up a plan using crank calls to redirect Lovely’s attention.   Divya disguises her voice, substituting a sexy tone that Lovely won’t recognize (IMDb says, of Kareena’s sister Karisma…I couldn’t tell any difference) and verbally seduces him into believing he has a secret admirer at the college.  Eventually he succumbs to Divya’s telephonic charms, and though he can’t express it and maintain peak professionalism, his mind wanders toward the mysterious “Chaya.”

 

Julie M:  Aren’t bodyguards supposed to be observant?  The voice was not disguised all that well.  All that admiring himself in the mirror, in his non-uniform clothes, must also be distracting him.  Save us.

 

Jenny K:  Here we get the cute, “I Love You” song.  Lovely has just realized he can fall in love, a first for him, even though his job doesn’t allow him to express it.  Explains why he’s always dancing his way past “himself” in these scenes. 

And although his fall into raptures seems a bit quick, and too complete for such a hardened guy, it is fiction after all.  Divya is determined to lead as normal a college life as possible.  She doesn’t believe she’s really in danger…until…the killers come after her.  Lovely leaps into action, disarming (or killing) all the thugs and stealing Divya’s heart in the bargain. 

 

Julie M:  This fight scene takes place in a bar/nightclub, accompanied by much breaking of glassware.  In one sequence Lovely controls his glass-bashing to the point that he makes a splinter fly towards one of the bad guys and slash his wrist.  Again, puh-leeze.

 

Jenny K:  After the intermission, Lovely uses his spare time (wouldn’t think he had any, if there is imminent danger lurking around every corner, but…) to try to track down his mysterious Chaya at the college with the help of Tsunami.  To get into the girl’s dorms for further “research” Tsunami disguises himself as a college co-ed (or Macy’s Parade float) and “subtly” tries to infiltrate and find Chaya.  The girls blow his cover immediately, pummeling him, stripping him and tossing him out, battered and beleaguered in “hilarious” style.  Yeah, right.  I could have done without this whole interlude of rotund humor.

 

Julie M:  Me too.  All in all there are far too many fat jokes, plus one very wince-inducing homophobic joke early on.

 

Jenny K:  Salman goes into another full-dance love song at this point,  that shows him off to very good sartorial advantage, even in red leather pants.  Kathy observed that Salman seems to be dedicated to preserving the tradition of dance numbers in masala films by updating them for a modern audience.  I think I agree.  It’s wonderful to see this many song and dance numbers in a film these days, and I realized how much I miss them.  Here’s a promo clip of it, shortened, but you get the gist.

As Divya mulls about how to get herself out of the predicament she is in, she falls further and further in love with Lovely and can’t tell him the truth, especially when he shares more of his developing feelings for “Chaya” with her.  She then goes into her own fantasy number, “Tere Mere” which conveys her forlorn feeling that their love can never be.  It’s a very lovely, dark and stormy number with many a flash of pec on his part

Julie M:  I disagree that it was wonderful.  I was bored silly with this one.  Too many wind machines in the studio and Salman’s shirt fluttering in the resultant breeze.  He had done pretty well at keeping his shirt on up till now and this marked a turning point in the movie to where he had to work hard not to have his shirt fly off if anyone so much looked at him.   And Kareena, whom I was not hating as much as I usually do, was simply awful with simpering looks and pursed lips.  And really bad eye makeup.  I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

 

Jenny K:  Divya then arranges to go with him to his “secret rendez-vous” with “Chaya” so that a) she can rehearse his meeting with the mystery girl and get closer to him, and b) so that she can (as Chaya) break up with him later, by phone, for bringing Divya along on their date.

By now everyone is miserable.  Divya can’t help herself from becoming Chaya for one last phone call to Lovely.  Unfortunately, her maid overhears her talking about meeting him at the railway station and reports the supposed elopement to her father.  To add to the chaos, the thug gang finally finds Lovely and Divya alone and launches their deadly attack…with a murderous toy helicopter…no, I’m not kidding…with sharpened rotor blades that chop down every houseplant in the place while chasing her.  Lots of gunfire and glass breaking ensue.

 

Julie M:  I thought this sequence was pretty cool, but Divya forgot the number one rule when being chased by a murderous toy helicopter:  hit the ground and crawl in the direction the murderous toy helicopter came from.

 

Jenny K:  Ah, but she was trying to lead it away from Lovely.  Self-sacrifice!  Eventually, they both end up escaping into the back yard where there’s a convenient ancient ruin, flooded with water for the hero and the thugs to duke it out in.  Lovely also gets temporarily blinded by debris and fights against multiple men, by hearing alone, for a time.  And, per usual, he is rendered shirtless early on, this time by a rogue, almost lecherous, drain pipe.  I am still not kidding.

 

Julie M:  Our theater screamed with laughter at that one.  Or maybe it was just us.  No, it was everybody.

 

Jenny K:  Well, Salman’s known and loved for his tongue in cheek humor, they say.  The fight is beautifully shot, mildly suspenseful, but has way too much slo-mo for my taste.  Then, he beats the baddies, just to be threatened  by Divya’s dad.  She denies her elopement plans (and her love, anguished sigh) and sends Lovely off to meet Chaya at the railway station.  Dad doesn’t believe her, and has a henchman follow Lovely, to kill him if there’s no girl.  Divya sends her friend Maya to warn Lovely, but Maya throws all instruction to the winds and takes Salman away from all this drama by claiming to be Chaya.

Here’s that whole sequence, already on Youtube.  How do they do that?  Don’t click on it if you want anything left for your visit to the theater. 

Julie M:  Here’s another instance where having no subtitles confused me. When Divya’s dad showed up, I thought he was actually part of the bad guys.  And I thought Maya was secretly in love with Lovely herself and took it upon herself to meet him at the railway station and pretend she was Chaya, thereby screwing over her best friend.  And the reason for the diary was that it was some kind of last confession before she committed suicide, filled with remorse.  I kind of like my scenario better.

 

Jenny K: Well, it was a confessional, you’re right. We find out the boy on the train is Maya and Lovely’s child Sartaj, Jr., who is reading the diary of his dying mother (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai??) and they all reunite with Divya and Dad at the old family estate.  Seems Divya has opted for a noble spinsterhood rather than not marry her true love.  Finally at Sartaj, Jr.’s suggestion, Divya’s Dad begs a clueless Lovely to take his daughter as his new wife.  Happy Ending.

 

Julie M:  I thought that Lovely and the boy were journeying to see Rana because he was dying and had summoned them.  Again, no subtitles, but that’s the story I made up in my head and it went with the EFD tone of those scenes. And so Rana was eager to see his daughter married off before he went, and who better than Lovely, whom he sees as a surrogate son?  (and by the way, what is it in Indian film about foster-sons or foster-daughters forced by gratitude to become engaged to what is essentially their sister or brother?  The first time I saw that, I think it was in Dil Chahta Hai, I nearly barfed in horror).

 

Jenny K:  Then there’s a whole gaggle of films with sisters who marry their dead sibling’s fiancés…try them on.  Direct from Bible-era law.   

All in all, though not the best of masala films, I did find Bodyguard a pleasant pass-time, which, given it was a Salman film, was a surprise to me.  For me, Kareena gave her sweetest spunky heroine performance since Asoka.  I still appreciate the traditonal genres, and though I could do without some of the fights, looking at Salman’s torso every so often is a small price to pay for more song and dance, IMO.

 

Julie M:  I found it more entertaining than I ever thought I would, given that I don’t like most Salman films and I really don’t like Kareena in anything.  He did not look like an old fart (kudos to the makeup crew) and she was actually somewhat believable as a college-age ladki.  Salman seems to be at his best in physical scenes–the muscles actually make more sense here than when he is doing a romantic role, which I really REALLY do not like to see him in.   And her character grew over the course of the film from being a shallow rich girl to a mature woman.  I liked three of the musical numbers (the opening one that Jenny missed was wonderfully visual once you got over the romance between Salman and his biceps; and the later one with the silver Hammer pants, was less so.  I also liked, despite myself, the “I Love You” one) and the romance, drama and comedy parts were not so extreme that they canceled each other out.  Bottom line:  worth a watch, and maybe 10 or 15 years from now it will become a classic of sorts.

The Inna Cinema & The Outta Cinema of Salman Khan, Part I

Julie M: Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, supposed to be a “zany” comedy, is so far very stupid but I can’t stop watching it…let’s try a liveblog, shall we?

 

Jenny K:  The things you ask me to do… Salman and Akshay together. Yeesh. I may request something in return…Kathy is asking that I go to see a new Salman film, Bodyguard, that’s opening on Wednesday. I owe her one, because she didn’t like Crazy, Stupid, Love when I talked her into it. So, why don’t you go see Bodyguard, too, and we’ll make this a two-parter.  I have to put up with Akshay, and you get to put up with Kareena. You up to the challenge?

 

Julie M: Oh, I didn’t mean you and I should liveblog MSK. I was doing it myself, mainly to distract myself from the mindlessness that was that movie. But I am up for Bodyguard if it’s playing at the cinema. I’ll endure Salman if you’ll endure Akshay.  MSK is available free online on YouTube. This one online is much better quality than the video I got from the library.

 

Jenny K: Okay, it’s a go!  I’ll head off to watch MSK, and leave you with the trailer for Bodyguard that I found.

]

Julie M: Oh, good Lord, that trailer is insane. What did I agree to?

[Later on, Julie’s up first with Mujhse Shaadi Karogi’s play-by-play. Spoilers abound.]

Julie M: Salman Khan is Sameer, a kind, serious and moral young man albeit with a terrible temper that gets him into trouble. He decides he needs a change of luck and scenery, and gets a job as a lifeguard captain in Goa. Since he doesn’t have enough money to rent a whole room, he pays his landlord half rent with the understanding that he will share his room. Upon arrival he meets, and instantly falls in love with, Rani (Priyanka Chopra), his neighbor, who has a very strict father (Amrish Puri) whom Sameer instantly (though accidentally) alienates along with Rani.

 

Jenny K: I know Priyanka’s character, Rani is supposed to be a fashion designer, but isn’t she posing in the mirror and dancing rather provocatively in full view of any passerby, really too often to have it not be on purpose?  Not the behaviour of your average nice Indian damsel.  And I’m very curious to see if Goan lifeguards really look Baywatch perfect down to the red suits and floatation devices they carry…I think I saw Pam Anderson in the background once.

Julie M: The Baywatch thing got to me too.  In fact, the entire Goan scene was too SoCal and not enough India.  I’m sure it’s not like that in real life…clearly aiming at a NRI audience? 

Anyway, back to the action.  While Sameer (who has a very active and elaborate fantasy life, seen in numerous songs) is pondering how to turn the situation around, enter Sunny (Akshay Kumar), a charming and fun-loving drifter who is also a bit of a con artist and is the complete opposite personality type from Sameer. Sunny gets a room at the same boardinghouse as Sameer and of course ends up as Sameer’s roommate. He likewise meets and falls in love with Rani, to somewhat better results since he takes the time early on to suck up to her father, and her father’s little smush-faced dog, which impresses Rani.

 

Jenny K: Ah, this is beginning to come back to me.  I think I saw this in the cinema when it came out…I definitely remember Tommy the Dog.  And those skin tight jeans on Salman…actually, he looks better in them than I remember.  And his voice is always quite caressing, as I now recall… I didn’t remember Akshay’s arrival, “copter-skiing” would  you call it?  Sad, that boy just doesn’t know how to make an entrance. 

 

Julie M:  Clearly the Akshay-bashing has begun early!  I thought it was a fun entrance that defined his character, but his teeth looked very fake in that scene.  Onward… Sameer decides to take the tack of becoming Rani’s “secret admirer,” even to the point of anonymously bailing out her failing business, all of which backfires when Rani thinks Sunny is behind all of the thoughtful acts and Sunny doesn’t correct her. Meanwhile, Sunny takes opportunities to sabotage Sameer whenever he can, and takes credit for what is actually Sameer’s talents in music and painting to impress Rani. Sameer tries very hard to control his temper when he finds out abut Sunny’s shenanigans. Rani and Sunny spend increasing amounts of time together and Rani thinks Sameer is a jerk.

 

Jenny K: Don’t get your dhoti in a twist… I’m not bashing your boy, I was reacting to his character!  And in any case, I actually liked his entrance;  in an over the top Khiladi/Evel Knievel kinda way.

 

Julie M: I’m sure eventually it will all get straightened out, Sameer’s true love and endearing qualities will win out over Sunny’s misdirection and charm, and Rani will realize who really loves her. But not before Sameer gets pushed to the breaking point and dukes it out mano-a-mano with Sunny. (You can’t have action heroes like Salman and Akshay in the same movie without pitting them against each other, right?)

 

Jenny K: Sunny…Wicked Sunny…(got to have the invisible chorus with every mention of him) is really beginning to grate on me, and it’s working in Salman’s favor.  I just found myself thinking that he looked very nice in that gold tie-dyed kurta, and how cute his voice was when he dropped grandma’s jar on the floor and almost cooed “All that money!”  Oh, dear…I cannot be warming to him after all these years…Wicked Sunny!

 

Julie M: I admit that his character is pure evil, but I just can’t get mad at Akshay, he’s so cute.  But the invisible chorus and the boing-boing noises are simply heinous.  There are also numerous silly and farcical subplots and comic characters, including a hapless astrologer with a twin brother who is a motorcycle thug (can’t wait to see how that comes into play:(), a landlord who is blind and mute on alternating days, and an insomniac security guard. Lots of dumb random exclamations and noises and effects meant to underscore the “craziness” of various situations.

Jenny K: Well the twin brother thing may just be there to give Rajpal Yadav something to do.  Maybe the director couldn’t decide whether he should play it sweet or sour, so just split his persona (and his name) in half and came up with Raj and Paul.  Just a theory.  I also like Kader Khan (Duggal the Landlord) popping up drunk from under the table.  Funny visual.

 

Julie M: I never thought of that.  Kind of an inside joke…Wait…here’s the Sameer vs Sunny fistfight but it’s not occurring in the way I thought it might. Sunny has drugged Sameer by telling him Rani brought him some juice, and Sameer is hallucinating that the motorcycle thug gang is a pack of Sunnys that he has to pummel. This boy DEFINITELY has a wild fantasy life. So he beats all of the thugs up, thinking they’re Sunny.

 

Jenny K: Wicked Sunny…I’ll stop now…

 

Julie M: Oh, and Salman wears the most ridiculous clothes in this. that is, when he is called upon to wear clothes–as a lifeguard he’s half-naked while on the job and at every opportunity they have him shirtless. In one scene they have him running down the street in pajama pants and bare chest. Now he has on a blue-green tie-dyed, well, blouse (it’s more than a shirt!) that will cause me nightmares.  Enjoy this musical number, which is one of Sameer’s fantasies early in the movie. Skip ahead to 2:50 where you see Salman and Akshay in perhaps the pinnacle of both of their sartorial careers. And the choreography will make you howl. After 30 seconds you can stop.

 

Jenny K:  I agree, the blue-green shirt isn’t his best look, but it’s not as bad as the primary color-blocked shirt that reads like a Mondrian, at the beginning, complete with headband, if I remember correctly.  And the miniscule grass skirts in the title song.  Though, if that’s a contest, even though Akshay is taller, somehow Salman looks better in them.  Not that those hula-gans should be encouraged.

 

Julie M:  I noticed the Mondrian shirt too, and hated it.  Salman should never wear round-necked shirts, they make his head look like a tiny little piece of fruit up there. 

 OK, it’s all over now. Somehow Rani and Sameer ended up friends despite all of Sunny’s meddling. Sunny and Sameer had a big blowup that resulted in a chase, ending up at a cricket field where Rani and her parents were attending a big match. Sameer (whom Sunny had earlier taunted that he was too much of a chicken to confess his feelings to Rani) saw an open microphone and used the opportunity to tell her how he felt and ask her to marry him. Rani’s dad said that he approved and Rani said yes.

 

Jenny K: I think Rani was just scared away by Sunny’s scary hand painted pinstripe suit.  I was.

  [Really.   Click on the pic to the left and take a good, long look at it.  If you DARE.]

Julie M: Yeah, that one goes down in the annals of bad clothing choices.  Along with the yellow outfit from Bhool Bhulaiyya.  BACK TO THE FILM.  At this point Sunny confesses that he is really Sameer’s childhood friend Arun, who was the only person who understood Sameer’s temper, encouraged him to find a way to express his feelings less violently, and could calm him down. Arun had emigrated to America as a child and as an adult, came back to find Sameer. He found out from Sameer’s grandmother that Sameer had gone to Goa to start a new life and try to control his temper. Arun decided to follow him to Goa, enter his life and help him realize that he could own his feelings without having to fight all the time. Sameer and Arun hug and the movie ends at Sameer and Rani’s beachside wedding with Sunny/Arun as the best man.

 

Jenny K: Actually Sameer and Sunny’s chemistry was better at the end (and in the outtakes over the end credits, too) than either of them with Rani.  But that seems to be true in many Indian films, I find..  However, I did like Sameer and Rani’s vibe in “Aaja Soniye.”

 

Julie M: Final opinion: the main story had possibilities but there was a lot of very stupid extras that ruined it. Salman left me cold (as he often does) but I love Akshay’s smile and the way he moves. So I spent most of the movie just enjoying him.

 

Jenny K: And my last observation is that rewatching Mujhse Shaadi Karogi shows me that if Salman is robbed of his usual expression of complacency due to his character’s well-meaning bumblings, he can be quite endearing in a film.  I enjoyed him more than I’d like to admit.

[Since the Salman Outta The Cinema experience engendered such a lengthy filmi-critical wrangle, we’ll break it into two pieces. Look for Salman’s Inna The Cinema to post later in the week, when Bodyguard comes out.]

  • Categories

  • Blog Stats

    • 56,892 visits
  • October 2017
    S M T W T F S
    « Jan    
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    293031  
  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 21 other followers