March 30, 2012: Deliver Me from March Madness!

Julie’s been somewhat of a basketball widow this past couple of weeks, which gave her lots and lots of time to catch up on films!

 

Julie M:  B was working and watching basketball tonight, so I took the opportunity to watch Kashmir Ki Kali (Kali of Kashmir, 1964). It started out like a typical Shammi romp, where he is a wealthy, irresponsible playboy goofily chasing a shy, beautiful village girl, whom he almost gets until an impossible amount of drama in the last 30 minutes threatens their happy future together.

  

Jenny K:  Yes, I liked that one, too…it’s always been touted as one of his best. And of course, set in Kashmir…how can you resist?!?

 

Julie M:  Rajiv (Shammi Kapoor) is the reckless heir to a wealthyDelhi industrialist. One day Maa decides to pick him a bride so he’ll settle down; he rejects all the choices and flees to the family’s other home in scenic Kashmir, where he meets Champa (Sharmila Tagore), a poor flower-seller with a blind father. So as not to scare her off he pretends to be the homeowner’s driver (hm…where have I seen THAT before?) and chats her up, then finds numerous occasions to be with her and pitch adorable woo, mostly in song. This one was my favorite.

A particularly hilarious scene has him dressing up in a burkha so he can ride with her and her friends as they travel to a village fair, and there is a crazy sub-plot involving three comely lasses who have rented rooms in his home and are chasing his wealth (that part could have lifted right out as far as I was concerned). There’s also a wonderful dance number at the above-mentioned fair, full of ethnic goodness, although what a Punjabi folk dance is doing in a Kashmiri village is beyond me.

Since I had already seen the disarmingly similar, An Evening in Paris (1967), also with hammy Shammi and Sharmila, I kept having flashbacks–or flash-forwards considering it’s a later film. Though clearly typecast, Shammi is so silly and sweet that I forgave almost everything. Also, this film is worth watching because of the elaborate jewelry, second only to Paheli in films I’ve seen. Overall: fluffy, fun, a thrilling scene near the end with Shammi getting all dishoom on the bad guy and wrestling with him on an elevated rock transport system…what more do you want?

Kashmir Ki Kali available free on YouTube, with English subtitles.

 

Jenny K:  I, who never let basketball bother me, watched Bikini Beach today while getting some housework done. Ah, that Frankie Avalon, winning the fair Annette in a double role, as both himself and, as his own rival, Potato Bug, a goofy British hearthrob of a singer (a Chad and Jeremy type), who also drag races.  I just watch it for Eric Von Zipper. When EVZ likes someone, they STAY liked! In no way deep, but I’m a sucker for fluff, every so often. This may be why I was predisposed to like masalas.

 

Julie M:  I think the 1960s are the 1960s no matter where. I love how Indian films reflect the music of the time, all the while staying true to Indian mores and values.

[the next day…still during the basketball tournament…]

Julie M:  Saw Morning Raga (2004) tonight. LOVED it. It had everything–fantastic music, dramatic storyline (but not too), fabulous performances. Prakash…what a hottie, too bad he didn’t do more work. And Shabana “sang”! I loved that it wasn’t “mainstream,” that the pacing was perfect, visually stunning…I can’t say enough. Just my kind of film. Thank you, thank you for sending it.

Brief plot summary:  Swarnalata (Shabana Azmi) and Vaishnavi (Ranjani Ramakrishnan) are best friends and musical partners, singing traditional carnatic (South Indian) pieces in the privacy of their homes (this piece is the opening of the film).

Swarnalata convinces Vaishnavi to perform publicly with her, but a tragedy en route changes the lives of both families.  Twenty years later Vaishnavi’s son Abhinay (Prakash Rao), an aspiring musician, returns to the village and encounters Swarnalatha, and wants to incorporate her and her music into his band.   Swarnalatha, still blaming herself for the tragedy, refuses.  Can their mutual passion for music overcome the horrors of the past?  And what role does Pinky, Abhinay’s new girlfriend, play in the story?   Click on the Youtube logo, bottom right, if it doesn’t play.

 

Jenny K:  Morning Raga was all part of my minifest “movies about playback, and concert, singers”.  It was a nice little movie…but, Shabana didn’t sing any of it herself, you know. However, all the reviews I have read said they thought she had studied a lot to get the whole set of performance mannerisms right and the lip synch just so. Quite a feat!

 

Julie M:  Yes, apparently she did study, for months, as did Prakash learning to play the violin (even though it wasn’t his playing in the film). I admire that kind of commitment.

And…I was listening to a library CD on my walk this morning and a fusion song came on that had long bits of carnatic music in it, and now I know what it is! 

Morning Raga is available free on YouTube. It’s mostly in English, and the small bits that aren’t English are subtitled.  Part I is here.

 [a few days later..still more basketball…]

Julie M:  Saw Maqbool (2004) tonight. I was really leery of seeing it because of the gangland setting and I kind of wish I had listened to myself, because despite the excellent performances (Irrfan was fantastic!) it was really bloody and violent.

I like how it played with the parallel characters from MacBeth: instead of two sons Abbaji (the King Duncan character) has a daughter, which set up a whole other dynamic re the succession. Lady MacB is not a wife but a mistress, the mistress of both the King and Maqbool, again upping the drama quotient and changing her motivation from ambition for her husband to simply getting rid of a lover she does not love to exchange for one she does love, while still keeping her position. This scene, where she holds a gun to Maqbool’s head and forces him to call her “my love,” is key to her twisted psyche.

Jenny K:  That’s what bothers me the most about Maqbool, when they make Lady MacBeth the mistress, then in this film, Maqbool’s whole motivator is sex, not power and greed as in MacBeth. That bothered me more than, say having “Emilia” [spoilers] not die in Omkara, but in the end, flip the Shakespeare on his head and have her kill her Iago. Shocking, but less fundamentally a change to the plot.

 

Julie M:  I also loved this quwwali song at the gangland funeral.

And I loved how the “witches” are brought together in the single person of the soothsaying cop (Om Puri) and his jovial sidekick (your boy Naseeruddin Shah).

The visuals were good and I suspect would have been better if the DVD had not been mastered from a bad VHS original. Still, all that blood and shooting really soured what could have been a really satisfying drama. Overboard, to my tastes. 

This was a welcome light moment, at the engagement-party festivities for Abbaji’s daughter.

Jenny K:  I’ve always liked Omkara better than Maqbool of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare adaptations, primarily because Maqbool is soooo dark.  I thought as you like Irrfan so much, it was important that you see it. It may not have been his first film, but it was one of the first two that really put him on the map, cinematically. The first was The Warrior by Asif Kapadia. I haven’t seen it, but it has great reviews.  I can’t believe that he didn’t “hit” until he was about 40. He still looks so great and as busy as ever at 50!

Julie M:  Omkara certainly gets my vote, too, for the better of the two. It  was nice to see Irrfan and Tabu act together again. I loved the two of them in The Namesake (2007), which I saw first, but I can’t help but think that their casting in Namesake was inspired by their undeniable chemistry in Maqbool. Excellent, mature actors serious about their craft. LOVE to see that!

 [the next night…isn’t that tournament over yet?]

Julie M:  Saw Kairee (Raw Mango, 2000) tonight. Very indie, very good.

A young city girl (Yogita Deshmukh) arrives in a rural Marathi village to live with her beloved aunt Taani (Shilpa Navalkar) after the tragic death of her parents. At first she is happy in her new life, since she gets to spend a lot of time with her aunt in the beautiful setting. But soon she must go to school, which is taught by an incompetent master and where she is the only girl. She is made to feel bad but is cheered by her aunt’s standing up to the master and getting her transferred to another school where the education is better, the master  is friendlier (a stuttering Atul Kulkarni) and there are more girls. But, gradually she finds out that things are not what they seem in her idyllic new life.   [Sorry, no subtitles.]

It was a very beautiful movie visually, with excellent performances by Shilpa (such an expressive face, especially when she laughs!)  and Atul (good to see him NOT be a villain for a change), and a cameo by Sonali Kulkarni (of Mission Kashmir and Dil Chahta Hai) as the grown-up girl. 

Lots of cryptic references to finding the local peacocks (which the girl never gets to see:  I’m not quite sure what the symbolism is, maybe happiness?) and eating raw mangoes fresh from the tree (which I believe represents perfection), a favorite treat of Taani’s which the girl also never gets to experience.  

 

Jenny K:  Atul is one of my favorite character actors.  He’s given some great performances in Rang De Basante, Chandni Bar, Khakee and this one.  And all so different.  Amazing.  He never just “phones it in” as they say.  Definitely you’ve picked some wonderful basketball distractions. Two points…swooosh!  Into the hoop!

Dec. 13, 2011: Sham & Dev: The ‘60s — Mod to Mysticism

Julie M:  In memory of the great Dev Anand, who passed away recently, we should talk about one of his films that we both liked, Guide (1965).

Jenny K:  I’d be happy to—I like it without reservation. I’d also like to talk about the latest in our foray into Shammi Kapoor’s video vault, An Evening in Paris (1967), as he’s so recently left us, and both Dev and Shammi were such a focus in that era of Hindi cinema.

Let’s start with Paris, shall we, so as to go from the ridiculous to the sublime, for a change.

Julie M:  Saw Evening in Paris (Shammi Kapoor, 1967) this afternoon, free on YouTube. A cute rom-com romp in the first half and kind of a thriller in the 2nd half when Shammi has to rescue Sharmila Tagore from the bad guys who have kidnapped her. Lots of fun and 60s music. Also, lots of ridiculous plot lines to mock.

Jenny K:  Ooof…don’t want to read this yet…I have it in the pile on my dvd player. Perhaps I can see it and then comment… eyes closed, eyes closed.  Don’t get too far ahead of me…

Julie M: Brief plot: Deepa (Sharmila) is spoiled, rich, lonely and bored. Her dad wants her to get married, but all the Indian boys are only interested in her money, so she goes to Paris to try and pretend she’s poor and hook someone who’s interested in her as a person. Enter Sam (Shammi), whom she instantly hates, but then he very sweetly and comically pursues her all over the world and hate turns to love. As it happens, Shankar (Pran) is an evil retainer of her father’s who is in money trouble and schemes to marry Deepa for her riches; this turns into a kidnap/ransom plot by the mob to whom he owes the money.

Jenny K: Oh yeah, Pran is a professional villain.  299 films on IMDb, and all of them various layers of slimy, from nasty to pure evil.  His orange wig is very oddly hypnotic, though, “poisonously permanent waved” might be an apt descriptor of Pran in this film.

Julie, I think I’m losing my touch…I tried again to finish Paris last night and fell asleep again. I think it’s the plot. Why does Shammi seek Deepa out? Just because his friend wanted her? Doesn’t seem enough impetus. Chase-chase-chase, nahi-nahi-nahi, sing-sing-sing, maybe-maybe-maybe, chase-chase-chase again…blah-blah-blah. I’m rapidly losing interest in Paris, even with the kidnapping.

Julie M:  I think he went to meet her first to see if he could help his friend, and then his eyes went BOINGGGG and he fell in love with her himself, and basically stole her away.

The mob boss has a moll, a cabaret singer named Suzy who is Deepa’s double (yes, the obligatory dual role for Sharmila), so Shankar plots a switch to hide the fact that Deepa is kidnapped. It goes on from there.

May I entice you with this campy number?

Jenny K:  Why, may I ask, does Suzy make her entrance on a Webber kettle grill rack?  Is being presented as a tasty morsel or is she just being roasted??? Or are we?

Julie M:  There’s also lots of beautiful Paris, Switzerland, Niagara Falls and Beirut (Beirut? yes, the Paris of the Middle East in 1967) scenery.

Jenny K:  I am finding all this “oh, by the way, meet me tomorrow evening on another continent” stuff rather, shall we say, implausable, and highly “yeah, right!” if you know what I mean.  Too distracting outside a fantasy item number, IMO (example, “Suraj Hua Madham” from K3G, not exactly necessary, highly unlikely, but deliciously “right” because it was a fantasy scene).

Julie M:  Here’s another number, where Sharmila looks like Kareena Kapoor? (hey, maybe that’s why Saif likes Bebo!)

Did you get to the part yet where the fact that he stole her from his friend bites him in the butt?

Jenny K: I did finally finish Paris this morning, (Paris in the Morning…sounds like a song title) but I must have missed the part where he got bit in the butt?? Lot of odd stuff going on in the film but I didn’t pick up on that.

Julie M:  She finds out that he stole her from his friend, and she pouted at him for a while (this was just after she admitted that she loved him), but it disappeared quickly in the kidnapping plot.

Jenny K:  Ah, yes, but all complications to romance cannot last longer than the next love song…or subsequent kidnapping by thugs from your backstory.  It’s in the masala handbook.

And though I have just finished complaining about the needless side trips from France, I did like all the nice camera work on actual location on Luna Island? at the top of the Falls, even if the handy security railing made it a bit less imminently dangerous.

So, I guess, my final verdict is okay but not as charming as some of Shammi’s other vehicles, say, Professor which we reviewed earlier, or Kashmir Ki Kali, also with Sharmila…they were both better in that one.

 

Julie M:  I agree.  The cute first half is just not cute enough, and the action-y second half not exciting enough.  Maybe if her clothes were better it would have distracted me.

 

[A week or so later]

Jenny K:  And now, for the more serious part of our double feature…Guide with Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman.

Julie M:  I never read the novel that it’s taken from, The Guide by R. K. Narayan (but it’s on my list now!) as it struck me as something I might not like, but Dev Sahib’s version got me interested.  It’s a long, complex story about sacrifice and fulfilling one’s destiny. A number of commentators rank it as Dev Anand’s lifetime masterpiece–he produced and starred in it, and it was an early example of an Indo-American co-production, shot in both English and Hindi, with the Hindi version directed by his younger brother Vijay (who also directed another favorite of ours, Teesri Manzil).

Jenny K:  I haven’t watched very many of Dev Anand’s films, but this one struck me as very atmospheric, almost something out of time, especially as Dev’s character progresses toward the climax.

Julie M: Dev plays Raju, a tour guide in the historic city of Udaipur, who initially protects a histrionic client (Waheeda Rehman) from her distant and borderline abusive husband, then falls in love with her himself, encourages her to divorce her husband (!) and helps her achieve her goal of international dance stardom despite the rather unsavory reputation of her art. They move in together (!!) but just when he ought to be happiest his life starts to fall apart as he self-sabotages spectacularly (!!!). Ultimately he finds redemption in a peculiarly Indian way, and proves himself to be a “guide” in several senses of the word.

Anand gets to do everything in this film. He’s a handsome romancer, a dutiful son, a savvy business manager, and a spiritual leader (albeit reluctantly). The camera loves his good looks, and I fell in love with his easy patter and jokey demeanor (he never crosses the line into sliminess). I’m sure there’s a lot more to the philosophical angle of things that one who was raised in Hindu tradition would understand, but most of that whooshed right over my head.  And Waheeda Rehman, a frequent co-star, was simply brilliant in what I consider a fairly negative role.

Jenny K: I found this film after having seen Waheeda in a couple of Guru Dutt films, Pyaasa and Kagaaz Ke Phool, specifically.  She was so luminous in them, that I had to find out if it was just working with Guru Dutt or if  it was a quality she had in all of her movies.  Needless to say, I found she had it in almost every film, and still has it, today, evident in Delhi 6 and Rang de BasantiKagaaz Ke Phool is an interesting one to compare Guide to, as it’s also set in a showbiz arena with managers and stars, etc, though that one is more about actors and directors than this foray into the dance world.  Guide is almost a better showcase for her, as she’s the fulcrum the whole film winds around.

Julie M: Oh, yeah, that WAS her in Delhi-6 as the grandmother.  I loved that character. Interestingly, the soundtrack for Guide ranks #11 on this list of the 100 Best Movie Soundtracks  (although I don’t know how reliable it is…Dil Se… only ranked #46, and it is my absolute favorite; your favorite, Lagaan, was #34)  I wasn’t really enamored with the music.  Unfortunately the videos of the Guide songs available online are such bad quality I’m not sure it’s worth posting them…but “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tammana Hai” was my favorite.

Jenny K:  Nah…that list doesn’t have any of my favorite three albums on it, Taal and Meenaxi by Rahman and Omkara by Vishal Bhardwaj.  It is rather skewed toward “classic” Bollywood.  To each era, their own, I guess.

My favorite number in Guide was always the snake dance…I had seen the parodies like the one the sister does in Bride and Prejudice, but hadn’t seen the real thing, as it were, until this one. She just totally wowed me. 

Julie M:  I liked the snake dance too…her face while she was doing it was amazing to watch.  I should have said that Raju was a CHATTY tour guide. I mean, he never stopped talking!!

I was curious to see if the English version was as good so I went hunting.  Difficult to listen to, but here’s a clip of the beginning where he’s doing his guide patter.    It’s not a shot-for-shot duplicate, which is odd.  Pearl S. Buck wrote the dialogues.  I wish the sound was better so I could compare better.

Jenny K: It’s odd…sounds a bit like his patter is written in verse…but not.  Made me think of Shakespeare for some reason.  Waheeda’s so lovely, even when she’s severe like in this scene.  Always reminded me a bit of Jean Simmons.  Here’s a clip of Jean around the same time in Spartacus, to show what I mean. That whole era of film in the ‘60s could be so iconic.

When the film started, I didn’t want to like Raju, with all the advice and help he was giving Rosie to dissolve all her traditonal ties to her old life and husband.  Becoming Nalini was important to her self image, but was it important to her true self?  Maybe that’s why Raju finally chucked it all in for a new path, maybe he saw that he had been leading them both away from deeper truths.  Devsaab managed in this film to show all the layers of bravado, doubt and self sacrifice that made it a really nuanced performance.  Perhaps the best I’ve ever seen him do. Wish this had subtitles, but it was not to be.  Don’t watch if you don’t want spoilers.

Julie M:  I found this clip of an interview with Dev Sahib where he talks about his long history in film:  No wonder they call him “evergreen.”  I also couldn’t resist watching this clip of Aamir Khan’s remarks   about him  (it’s about half in Hindi, half in English).

I hope nobody succumbs to the temptation to remake this classic film, as they did with Devdas. It’s perfect just as it is.  And Dev Anand…what a star.

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