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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

[Two weeks later, romantic comedy…]

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb. 7, 2012: Hravished by Hrithik, Part 2 – Mission Kashmir & Guzaarish

Having survived Super Sunday, we are back with two more do-not-miss experiences with this month’s favorite hero, Hrithik Roshan that just wouldn’t fit into the last post.  Think of this as a post-tailgate party…and excuse the Super Bowl allusions, because Julie seems to have caught the fever, seeing as her city of residence is hosting it this year.

 

Julie MMission Kashmir (2000) was…WOW. So well done, I almost didn’t notice the excessive violence.  Here’s the trailer.

Brief plot: Sanjay Dutt is Inayat Khan, a police officer in Kashmir, which has been torn by civil war for decades. An evil revolutionary leader (Puru Rajkumar) has forced the city’s doctors to stop treating injured police and their families, and this prohibition leads Khan’s son to die after an accident. In his grief, Khan leads his troops to massacre everyone in the home where the revolutionary is hiding out, except for one boy, Altaaf, who Khan reluctantly adopts to please his grieving wife (Sonali Kulkarni). The boy learns to love the Khans but eventually finds out that Khan murdered his family, and runs away only to fall in with, and be raised by, a SUPER evil terrorist (Jackie Shroff).

Ten years later Altaaf (Hrithik Roshan) returns to his former home town with his terrorist cell to complete an operation called “Mission Kashmir,” and coincidentally get revenge on Khan, preferably by killing him. As part of the mission he meets up with his childhood best friend (Preity Zinta) and falls in love with her, then must choose between continuing on with his missions and stepping off for the chance for the life he thought he could never have.  Khan, meanwhile, must figure out exactly what Mission Kashmir is and stop it, while saving himself from Altaaf’s murderous intentions.

Jenny K:  I almost didn’t recognize Jackie in this one…malicious, evil eyes.  He’s almost comic-book evil in MK, isn’t he?  Not nearly so sweet as he was in Devdas or Yaadein…his Coke-can friend in that film wouldn’t recognize him.

 

Julie M:  Yes—his snarly, filthy hair really hid him—but he doesn’t hold a candle to the over-the-top cartoonish performance of Sanjay Dutt in Agneepath.  But I admit that one of the attractions for seeing Agneepath was the opportunity to see Hrithik and SD reunited as enemies, because they had such great and multi-layered chemistry in MK.  Excellent performances all around.  Here’s a clip showing a particularly tense moment, showing the quality of Hrithik’s muscles…I mean, the quality of the lead actors’ performances.

I also found, and enjoyed, plenty of what I call “beautiful-terrible” filmmaking, which I often find in director Stanley Kubrick’s work.  This is when terrible things are happening, but they are filmed so beautifully that I’m feeling several emotions at once.  Example:  in MK, there was much shooting but very little blood.  Unrealistic, I know, but it makes the viewer focus on the reasons for the violence and its implications rather than on the violence itself.  Very effective.   Agneepath, unfortunately, had a lot of terrible things that the camera dwelled on almost gleefully for effect, with no eye to the potential beauty.  For those so inclined, a serious analysis of the film can be found here.

 

Jenny K:  Maybe your attraction to the Cinema of the B-T explains why you like Mani Ratnam films…well, why both of us like his work.  Some of his films are a visual ode to violence and devastation.  Not that he’s justifying it, at all, but he is always recording something visceral and memorable about war, and how it changes and heightens everything it touches.

 

Julie M:  Mission Kashmir also had, surprisingly, a couple of great musical numbers like this one, when Hrithik’s character shows up at this TV studio he wants to take over as part of the terrorist plan, and discovers that his old friend, now a well-known TV personality, is in mid-performance.  Of course he just joins right in.

You’d think the songs would be out of place in a bloodbath film like this, but they are so well-integrated into the plot that they make a certain kind of sense, unlike the random numbers in Agneepath.

 

Jenny K:  I’m glad you mentioned the “Bumbro” number where Preity meets up with Hrithik again, it’s a classic.  MK is not my favorite film, but has some wonderful visuals. Did you see Shankar, Eshaan and Loy, playing their song in “in person” no less, at the back of the big group number?  Looked like an ad for India Disney’s Small World Show, if there was such a thing.  

Julie M:  Was that really them? I noticed that the camera spent an unusual amount of time focusing on the band and wondered if maybe it was some famous pop star, but this makes more sense. I thought that number was kind of odious and Hrithik looked sappy in it. (I also thought it was stupid the way his character was able to crash not one, but TWO dance numbers without anyone noticing.)  But I let it go, because it’s so wonderful to watch him dance.  And during the film he is often sweaty and flexy.  

I’d rate this a 4 star experience as a film, and a 5+ star experience with Hrithik.  If you’re following his career, this makes THREE films he starred in his debut year.  Between Fiza and MK, 2000 was a pretty intense year for a guy who debuted in something as silly as Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai, which was a crowd-pleaser and may have made his name but doesn’t really show what he can do as an actor.

[the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Guzaarish (Request, 2010) tonight. Visually quite luscious, and as has also been my experience with all of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali films I’ve seen so far, a little on the slow side. Not as stylized and deathly boring as Saawariya, though.

The plot involves former illusionist (I refuse to use the term magician) and now quadriplegic Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), who, on the 14th anniversary of the stage accident that crippled him, has decided he wants to end his life.

 

Jenny K:  Fourteenth?  News to me.  If you went by the flashbacks, I’d have said he hadn’t aged more than two or three years…testament to the anti-aging effects of Goan weather, I guess…hydration, ya know.

 

Julie M:  His announcement shocks everyone, particularly his nurse Sofia (Aishwarya Rai), because he has always been so lively, positive and inspirational through his popular radio program and his speaking engagements. Trouble is, euthanasia is illegal in India, so he engages his best friend (Shernaz Patel), an attorney, to argue the case for him. While the case proceeds, he also becomes mentor to a manic young man (Aditya Roy Kapoor) who wants to carry forward Ethan’s stage performances.

Aside from the beauty of the film, Hrithik’s performance (conducted easily half or more in English, and I read that more was performed in English but Hindi was dubbed into the final film for political reasons) was astonishing. And not just because he convincingly plays a quadriplegic, which I imagine is extremely difficult. No, for the first time I felt that he had really thought this character through and wasn’t just projecting a series of “types.” He was thoroughly natural, and as the character has a great sense of humor and wit, I felt that we were seeing Hrithik let go of being a movie star and finally become a real actor.

 

Jenny K:  When I first watched it, I had read it was a remake of Whose Life Is It Anyway? the stage play and later the film with Richard Dreyfuss in the lead as the paralized sculptor who can no longer practice his art.  Guzaarish definitely addresses a lot of the same issues, but of course, Bhansali feels the need to dress things up, extend them and take them out of the decidedly unglamorous location of the hospital room. 

Again, it’s disappointing that, in an Indian film, they couldn’t have the woman that Hrithik bonds with be his doctor, as Dreyfuss does with Christine Lahti in WLIIA?  The woman, in this case Aish, is demoted to his faithful nurse.  She’s also made the hypothetical love interest, unlike in the American film, where it’s compassion not love.  I don’t mean to detract from Guzaarish, I rather liked it, and as you said, it was much better than Saawariya, but I can’t help noticing this trend.

 

Julie M:  As usual, Aish and Hrithik have excellent chemistry.   This scene (no subtitles, but it’s half in English anyway) comes at the point where Sofia finds out that Ethan has petitioned for euthanasia but has not told her:  she gets all huffy and tells him that clearly he doesn’t think enough of her to tell her personally, so from this point forward she will be just his nurse, not his friend. 

Her clearly passionate Sofia, in love with Ethan but unable to express it except through her professional care for him, is finally released in this scene where she has a couple of drinks and is moved to dance.

And we also get to see Hrithik move and dance as Ethan flashes back to moments in his stage career, particularly in this dream sequence.

Jenny K:  I felt there was too little dancing and too much floating by HR.  But that may be just me wanting more of a good thing, when he’s trying so hard, and successfully, to do a dramatic role here.  Is it just me, or is Aish channeling her inner Rekha in this film?

 

Julie M:  Aditya Kapoor also does a nice job as the apprentice illusionist, although he could have used more screen time.  The DVD I saw had some deleted scenes that included a really nice one between him and Sofia, that I have no idea why it was cut because it’s greatly character-developing for them both. 

But the real star is the film’s look. The setting is Goa and 90% of the action takes place in a decaying old Portuguese mansion–a character in itself–lushly appointed with centuries of antiques, greenery and family portraits. Every time of day is captured at some point in the film–even the moments just before and at dawn–and the famous Goa beaches are also represented in a very moving scene where Ethan’s overwhelming stillness is brilliantly compensated for by juxtaposing a wide shot of him in his wheelchair with crashing ocean waves lapping at his feet. SLB is the master of gorgeous filmmaking and even if you aren’t a fan of heartstring-tuggers (and this one is definitely a weeper, albeit an upbeat one), you can easily distract yourself by admiring all the lovely cinematic technique: scenery, costumes, props, locations…and, of course, Hrithik.  A solid 3 stars from me.

And luckily it’s available free on YouTube here.  Sit back with your left-over Super Noshes, kick back and Hrelish it!

September 15, 2011: Kaante, My Eyes Off of You!

Jenny K:  I know you’re over gangster films right now, but how do you feel about heist/caper films? I’m very intrigued by this one actor I had never heard about Kumar Gaurav that I found in this clip when I was looking for Jaaved Jaffrey films. The guy with the glasses. “Who is he? Why haven’t I seen him before?”

I ordered it on Amazon, and decided I’d watch one film of his earlier films, Phool, with Madhuri Dixit, then the multi-starrer Kaante which is a remake of Reservoir Dogs/Usual Suspects with BigB, Sanjay, Sunil Shetty, and Kumar Gaurav. Since Kaante is such a big starrer, thought you might like to give it a whirl, too.

Julie M:  I LOVE caper films. I’ll watch it. I’ve got the afternoon + evening free anyway.

The library is officially a filmi desert. Shelves were thin today–lots of Satyajit Ray and Bengali/Punjabi films, but not much else that I hadn’t already seen or had passed up as looking too much like yet another tale of thwarted love (please). I did find Eklavya: The Royal Guard on the shelf, and couldn’t resist it (Vidya + Saif + BigB = joy).

[later that evening]

Kaante is a complete testosterone-fest. Lots of shooting, lots of blood, lots of men standing up to each other and daring the other to blink. There is one scene where they all practically make love to their guns, in slow motion, yet. There is lots of slo-mo throughout, many scenes where time just stops and the screen goes monochrome, and at the end there is perhaps the longest freeze-frame I have ever seen. I thought my laptop had crashed! And an item number choreographed around, and using, stripper poles. Chee!

I have not seen Reservoir Dogs (I was warned away) but I did see The Usual Suspects and even though it was hard to follow, I liked it (mainly because of Kevin Spacey, whom I love in anything). I think Kaante is just another take on the same themes as RD and TUS, not strictly a remake. After you see it I will go into detail with you–don’t want to spoil it.

But I will say that this is definitely Sanjay Dutt’s film, even though it’s an excellent ensemble cast. Amitabh was good but he was one-dimensional. Sanjay was superior to him in all ways. Your boy Kumar Gaurav was pretty good too–as good as anyone–and I’d like to see more of him.

Did I like it, overall? Well, I don’t like super-violent films as a rule and this is definitely super-violent. From that angle plus the very over-male-ness of it all, I would say that I didn’t like it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate aspects of it, which I very much did.  I’ll say more after you’ve seen it.

 

Jenny K:  Glad you thought Kaante was worth watching…I have a vague recollection that it was panned a bit by the critics when it came out, but I wasn’t watching Bollywood then, and so I must have read that. I haven’t watched it yet, but I saw about the first 8 minutes or so before I had to leave, and I knew it was Sanjay’s film…any man who can wear that much jewelry and still look cool…well, he has to be the focus.


Kathy has always linked him with Salman as very similar guys in type, but I find Sanjay less, how do I say it…maybe self-conscious says it best. He seems more genuine and I find him more sexy than Salman almost every time. Salman can be more funny, though. Sanjay’s attempts at humor usually become more dorky, like laughing at his own jokes, so I’d say he’s more passively funny, like a good straight man, with things happening to him, rather than actively witty.

I have a very hard time explaining why I find Sanjay sexy, when he is sexy, in films. He isn’t always…and not as much lately. My favorite one for that quality is one I can’t even recommend, Khalnayak, though it has many things to recommend it. Primarily, it’s the best performance, or at least the most varied performance I have seen to date for Madhuri Dixit.

She plays the girlfriend of Jackie Shroff, a warden of a prison that Sanjay breaks out of. Jackie is mortified, and his girlfriend, also a warden of a woman’s prison, decided she’ll go under cover to find Sanjay for him. Under cover, she has disguised herself as a loose woman, a nautch girl, who tries to seduce him in her stage show. He’s trying to be unobtrusive…yeah right, the eyepatch and the old salt’s cap isn’t at all noticeable…and he’s caught by her and takes her along on an amazing ride, where she falls for him against her will…she keeps thinking of him instead of Jackie.

She’s very sexy in this one too.  Here’s the closest I’ve come to their chemistry in this song, but most of the chemistry is in the dialogue scenes, not the songs. Right before this he’s decided to clean up to impress her…I think she told him he was dirty, or something. Seems to have worked for him. I love the scenery, too.

Julie M:  Sanjay’s hairstyle does not leave one with the “sexy hero” impression, I must say. It’s more like “doofy outsider.” And Madhuri is definitely the best dancer in Bollywood.

 

Jenny K:  Well, the hair is very much “of the era” and it was either this or very fluffy mullet-land for most of the eighties and nineties.  I liked him better with the scruffy look in this earlier song, and I think Madhuri’s character did, too.  This is the famous “Choli Ke Peeche” where she’s trying to seduce him. The score was so good for this one, by Laxmikant/Pyarelal(lyrics quite scandalous and caused a ruckus), that Danny Elfman, no mean composer himself, went all the way to India to talk with BW music industry insiders and find out how they layered the percussion.  The article is here. Yet still, the weirdo costumes and the Jackie/Sanjay prison scenes where they all but chest butt each other in their competitiveness, make this a non-recommend film, in general. Another Subhash Ghai connundrum.

Watching the number back over, I just got to say…back then he had the best bedroom eyes in the business…oh, I mean bedroom eye, singular Stupid disguise. It is online if you felt in a silly-tolerant mood sometime.

 

Julie M:  I need to see more Sanjay before I can comment knowledgeably on his sexiness. My experience is just with the two Munnabhai movies (not sexy, but he has a cheerful teddy-bear-like attractiveness) and Kaante, where he is definitely sexy in a crazy-dangerous way despite the skull rings that scream “douchey poser.” There is one scene towards the end where…oh, let’s talk about it after you’ve seen it. 

But Parineeta seems to be the film to see, since it has him plus performances by others that you think I might enjoy. And it looks as if he has another Munnabhai film coming up–Munnabhai Chale Amerika (Munnabhai Goes to America). I didn’t like the first one, liked the second one, and if they seem to be getting better I might check out the third one on DVD eventually. And he’s got a cameo in Ra.one, which is on my list to see, not for him though.

 

Jenny K:  You liked the Ghandi one better than MBBS? In my notes I had that you were “meh” on both of them. I would say that was my order of preference, too. Though Sanjay does fewer sexy performances as he gets older, he relaxes into his likeability (and/or fists) to sell a film now.

 

Julie M:  I was indeed “meh” on both, but the Gandhi one, I thought, was better. He couldn’t bribe his way into expertise, he had to acquire a certain amount himself, and I think the character truly earned Vidya’s character’s love by the end. I didn’t like the contrived old-folks-house plot element but I thought as a character Munna was more likable in the 2nd one.

 

Jenny K:  Parineeta, as I recall it, is much more centered on the Saif/Vidya jodi, not with Sanjay. He’s the nice guy outsider who Vidya’s slated to marry, if she hadn’t fallen madly in love with Saif’s character. EFD ensues, but in a rather period, atmospheric way that mutes it a bit. Feels to me in my memory more like a lower-budget, lower-angst Devdas…a tale of secret love. You know, I don’t even remember if they end up together or not. Let me know!

 [the next day]

Jenny K:  I don’t know what to say about Kaante…I finally got through it. Wasn’t sure I would last night, around part 9/15… Man, were these guys the worst criminals, or what?

You can try to blame it on Tarantino, the Father/Creator of Style-Over-Substance crime dramas, but even he would hesitate before taking every visible guiding hand out of his story. In Reservoir Dogs, that Kaante is based on, the members of the gang are put into the plot and taught the ropes by an old hand, Joe Cabot who bankrolls everything and calls all the shots down to the silly aliases used to preserve gang anonymity.

The boys in Kaante, on the other hand, seem determined to have everyone know who they are. They meet in jail, supposedly as the Usual Suspects. Then they boil and fume with rage until they decide they’ll punish The Police for such a major piece of disrespect and so, within audible range of the coppers, the Major (BigB) concocts a plan. Let’s empty all their bank accounts! “Okay, Major, what a good idea! That’ll show ‘em. Teach them not to mess with us! Woo-Hoo!” Cue hysterical tough-guy laughter. Lots of that.

Geez, they should have renamed this pot-boiler BAKWAS, Hindi for nonsense, because it doesn’t make much more sense than that.  First, we should be laying low, and plotting…no, we’re doing target practice with semi-automatic weapons on our Downtown LA roof!   Secondly, we’ll go into the bank in nice, spiffy suits (well, they do look very good, I’ll agree) so we blend in with the customers…oh, then we’ll put on our ski masks after everyone’s already seen us! And, thirdly, didn’t anyone plan for an escape route better than just saying “Down on the floor!” and then walking out the FRONT DOOR! Well, it did make for another stunning shot of BigB, Sanjay and the boys in their lovely suits. There are an embarrassing number of those shots.  Literal overkill.

What’s so hot about Kaante?  So, it’s stylish. I got my fill of that very fast, especially the yellow filter shots. Sheesh. Has your cinematographer been hanging out with Sanjay Leela Bhansali lately? Red, Blue, Yellow…who’s got dibs on Green, I wonder? And the two item numbers seemed almost identical from the pole dance choreography to Malaika’s costumes. The other songs were all montage songs, often with Sanjay moaning his way through the lyrics.

 

Julie M:  I didn’t even think Kaante was so stylish–or if it was, I didn’t like the style. I thought it was terribly affected and trying too hard to be Hollywood. I liked none of the characters and only some of the performances.

 

Jenny K:  Don’t get me wrong, I looked at this cast list and was pleased to see some of my favorites listed here, but there really wasn’t much acting in it…just posing, like live ad campaigns for smoking and Ray-Bans. Everyone looked so cool, and laughed so cool, that my interest soon cooled, right down to sub-zero.

I did like Kumar Gaurav, but I’m going to have to watch him in something else, Kaante didn’t give him much to shine in.  The only real acting on display was, perhaps, in one scene between Amitabh and Sanjay when they were alone in the warehouse with that oversized Smurf in a Ricky Schroder wig, Mahesh Manjrekar, who played Baali. Boy, was he annoying. I almost cheered when Lucky Ali shot him. But, like that dangling cop, it was far too late to save my good opinion of this film.

 

Julie M:  That’s what I wanted to tell you: it was very easy to divorce performance from actor in this film. I could respect Sanjay’s acting ability while not liking the performance. I was so unimpressed with both Major as a character (bland) and BigB’s performance (phoning it in), and MM was awful, simply awful. And what was up with Sunil Shetty? For a guy who makes his living playing gangsters and terrorists very well, he was so very lame in this. And all the talking…so much talking.

 

Jenny K: Now that, you may be able to blame on Tarantino…they copied some scenes word for word.  So cool…yeah, right.   Or maybe we should go further back and see who QT stole it from.  You learn so much from YouTube surfing. 

But there were some interesting moments, if I’m being fair.  This song, “Chhod Na Re”, was the only song I really liked. It was funny, with everyone mugging like crazy.

Julie M:  I liked the song too, but in retrospect it seemed a bit random.  Like they had to remind everyone that it is, in fact, an Indian film and not a Hollywood production.  Kaante is SO not a masala film!

 
Jenny K:  I’m also depressed that Sanjay and a lot of the original cast is signed to do Kaante 2 next year! Oh dear, so much to look forward to. 

 

Julie M:  Wait…a sequel?  [spoiler alertDidn’t they all shoot each other dead at the end of the first one?  [end spoilers]  So this one would either be a prequel (ay yi yi) or something from the Other Side. 

 

Jenny K:  Yup…Night of the Living Goondas!

 

Julie M:  Can’t wait (NOT).

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