Oct. 4 2011:Ranbir, Ajay & More Bhagat Singh…Deol With It!

Julie M: Finished Shaheed: 23rd March 1931, the Bobby Deol version of the Bhagat Singh story.   I saw it mostly for the story, which I fell in love with in The Legend of Bhagat Singh, and I hate to leave similar films uncompared, so here goes.

It was way bloodier and more violent than the Ajay Devgan version, but Bobby did not play Bhagat as intensely as Ajay did. The production value was significantly lower and cheesier, and the early part of the story seemed rushed. The Ajay version spent a lot of time on the early years, while the Bobby version spent more time stressing the family-drama aspect of the story. Aishwarya had a cameo as the girl Bhagat refused to marry, which seemed jarring. The songs weren’t translated, and the subtitles generally were pretty bad (sometimes no subtitles at all!). The English were portrayed as complete idiots as well as evil in this version, whereas in the Ajay version they were just clueless and a bit scared. I was actually more impressed with Sunny Deol’s performance as Azad than I was with Bobby’s as Bhagat.

Comparison: here is the “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamaana” song as sung in the Bobby Deol version:

And in the Ajay version
Here is the “Mere Rang de Basanti Chola” number in the Bobby version:

And in the Ajay version.

 
So, Bobby Deol may have looked more like the real Bhagat Singh, but I liked the Ajay version better. In a nutshell: the Bobby-version of the story was hit-you-over-the-head whereas the Ajay-version was more subtle and actually more stirring for it.

 

Jenny K:  It may all come down to AR Rahman vs. Anand Raj Anand/ Surendra Singh Sodhi. Nobody beats the Rahm! And though I liked the Bhagat Singh version, I still think I like the Rang De Basanti version, just a tad better, as I said before… Aamir’s voice-over just gets me all shivery…what a guy!

Sunny Deol will always, sorry to say, beat out Bobby on acting talent whether or not he tries. He actually is very supportive of baby brother, but has, at least until recently, been the most visible star. His movie Gadar, holds the record for highest gross made for 2000-2009. He can really pull them in. Is that the first one you’ve seen him in? Have you watched Border yet?  Here’s one scene, the odds are against Sunny’s boys, 150 Hindustanis to 2000 Pakistanis but he’s going to give it all he’s got, attitude-wise.

And here’s a backround piece on the filming.

Border gives you the emotional side of “the women left behind” and also tells a real story about the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War where the Pakistani Air Force came in and surprise bombed 11 Indian air bases with no warning. Indira Ghandi sent her troops on all fronts, and beat them back so badly that the whole thing was over in 11 days with Pakistan ceding Bangladesh to independency. It’s the best of its kind in all ways, except, perhaps, for the “happy to go to war, dancing with my tank” song, which is catchy, if incongruous.

[next day]

Julie M:  Saw the first half of Border. I get that there’s some personal stuff there, but it’s still a war movie and I’m not a fan of war movies. Still, I’m enjoying Sunny Deol’s performance and Akshaye Khanna had one great scene where he blew the cr*p out of one guy, after having failed to do so at his first opportunity.  Tell me if it gets significantly better in the 2nd half, because I’m just about ready to quit.

  

Jenny K:  All I can say is that I liked Border…I found the performances good and I liked the personal back-stories. I think Sunny’s best scenes are in the second half, when things get toughest, but if you’re not liking it, you shouldn’t watch it.

Sonny doesn’t tend to do many comedies, so if you like him, you’d have to take him in some earnest, heroic drama, and this is one of the easiest to take, military-wise. Maybe you should see Gadar: Ek Prem Katha. Not my taste, but it was a Really Big Hit. Set during partition, about a Sikh guy falling for the Muslim girl he rescues and how they fight to stay together, despite religious differences. Sunny has played a lot of soldiers and sardars in his time.

He did one comedy recently, Yamla Pagla Deewana, with Bobby and their dad, Dharmendra, but it looked so PriyaDhawanish (my new term for unrelentingly slapstick) that I just couldn’t do it. Here’s the trailer, see what you think.

Julie M:  I’ll finish Border, then. So far the war aspect is overshadowing everything else, in my mind. B was very surprised when he saw me watching it, because he knows I don’t watch war movies.

 [the next day] 

 So I finished Border, finally, and you were right, it did get better. (I should always, always finish Indian films before I pass judgment on them!!)  The dyad of the characters played by Sunny and Akshaye was brilliantly done, and although a minor role, I enjoyed Jackie Shroff’s air force commander, as well. It was a treat to see Suniel Shetty portraying a young, idealistic soldier, given that previously I’ve only seen him in villain or criminal roles with a hard-etched face. Each of the characters who died (no spoilers here — given that it’s a war movie) performed acts of supreme heroism in defense of Mother India, and the scene where the Sunny Deol character got misty over the death of an enemy soldier was heart-wrenching.

However, I was unprepared for the absolute bloodiness and sheer length (probably close to 45 very intense minutes) of the final battle scene. War sure is hell, and the realism of it in Full Technicolor was probably quite shocking to audiences because it completely unhinged me–yet I had to keep watching. Here’s one of those scenes.

I have to credit the filmmakers for resisting the temptation to do the battle in slow motion, and if I have one criticism it is the maudlin nature of the very final scenes where they intercut images of the battle aftermath with tear-jerking impressions of the families at home — including one character’s cancer-stricken wife, who was previously only alluded to but never seen in flashback. Oh, and the truly annoying cry/chant of “Hindustan, Hindustan, Hindustan” at the peak of the action disturbed the mood — obvious pandering patriotism is never my thing.

Here is the stirring scene at daybreak where the Air Force can finally come to rescue our boys.

[Bringing the political theme to the present day, we both watched Raajneeti (Politics, 2010).]

Julie M:  Raajneeti is one of those films where a plot summary reveals too many spoilers, so I’ll make it brief:  This is the story of the ins and outs of one Indian election as we follow a political family and their associates.  After a bit of backstory on the mother of the political family and how she married into it, we are introduced to the younger-generation Pratap brothers and their families as well as to Indu, a young woman from outside the family with some political ambitions.  One brother, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is handsome and politically ambitious, while his younger brother, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) has just come back from his PhD studies in the U.S.  A family tragedy catapults Prithvi into electoral (and familial) competition with his cousin Veeru (Manoj Bajpai), and Samar reluctantly takes a role after a second tragedy.  Here’s the trailer:

Jenny K:  Raajneeti doles out its own style of gunfighter justice which seems to be the predominant way to run a government in India, if Bollywood filmmakers are to be believed. Yuva, RDB, and other similar films of the past decade paint the picture of ultimate corruption by a group of morally bankrupt would-be contenders for office who are willing to do anything and everything to get their man (or woman) in power.  If that’s true, all I can say, is run out of the polling places, and straight for the airport… Just don’t stop and roll down your taxi window on the way there. You may get blown away. I certainly was. 

Julie M:  Although I felt the film had crazy, over-the-top dramatic tension–I kept thinking the level and volume was more appropriate to a TV miniseries rather than a feature film–I really enjoyed Ranbir ‘s performance as the reluctant-cum-ruthless political strategist. Ajay Devgan–love him–was a little disappointing as the outsider behind the opposing campaign, as it seemed to be a role he could do with his eyes closed rather than a creative challenge. Katrina Kaif was OK as Indu, Nana Patekar was perfect as the older political mentor, and what is it about Indian movies, where they choose American actors to be the least convincing possible to avoid upstaging the Indian actors?  The Ranbir character’s girlfriend was horrible, just horrible.

Jenny K: While you’re right about the lack of effective white actors in Indian films, this girl isn’t at all the weakest…trust me.  Her character was meant to be a quiet reproach to Samar, and not someone to steal focus…and she did that reasonably well.  She reminded me of Jennifer Garner, favorably, more than once.

Otherwise, the performances were uniformly pretty darned good. Nana Patekar was, as usual, a true artist, layering his portrayal with so many degrees of gray that he could have hidden among the newspaper clippings of his great reviews.

Ajay Devgan looked fetching with his dark, simple wardrobe, gold earrings and now patented scowl, but on the whole I wish he had more to do. He had only two really good scenes, the one at the very end with his mentor Veeru on the roadside, where he showed some grace even when losing, and then the scene on the hillside with his mother. Wonderful expressive looks flew across his face as he reacted to her admissions. Frankly, as much as I love Ajay, I didn’t know he had that much subtlety in him. Bravo!  Here’s the director Prakash Jha and Ajay talking about their history together. 

This Making of Raajneeti video is interesting, too.

Arjun Rampal is shaping up as a rather tasty villain/psychopath these days. Always elegant, a killer with style. Much more interesting than his sweet, sensitive victim roles like his banker-turned-robber in Don or his edge-of-slacker musician in Rock On! And Manoj Bajpai turns in another slick moustache twirling version of the ultimate single-focus campaigner, Veeru. He showed us all the layers of Veeru’s insecurities, that drove him and tripped him, simultaneously…very nice. And Ranbir Kapoor, did his turn as the youngest Corleone brother…oh, I meant Pratap brother…easy mistake with all that ruthless mayhem and the schmaltzy pseudo-Sicilian soundtrack going on…with a degree of underplaying that I wasn’t expecting from the Saawariya Song and Dance Man.

 Only the women in the film seemed a bit muted in Raajneeti…Mom, Indu and Sarah, the gori girlfriend were scarcely there.  I wondered whether some of the girls scenes got left on the cutting room floor, but if this example is anything to go by, probably not…window-dressing.

Here’s the full movie with subtitles on YouTube.  But it’s in pieces.

Julie M:   Not only was it a political thriller, it was the tense story of a political family where there are secrets, jealousies, alliances and emotions equal to the best soap opera. This was a film that could have gone either way for me, but I actually liked it. Critics seemed to hate it, it was highly popular, but I thought it was a pretty good catharsis. I found myself cheering people and then in the next breath booing them, rolling my eyes at one thing and holding my breath at the next. A bit bloody for my taste but it fit the action. The only problem was that I ended up not really liking any of the characters, and waiting for each of them to get what they deserved. And each one of them did, except for Nana Patekar, who got off scot-free.

Jenny K:  Cheering and booing…becoming a real typical filmi-girl audience member, aren’t you? 
But while Nana got off without having to get his come-uppance, but the real crime to me was [spoilers] letting Samar off on his flight back to the US with only a weak token of a mea culpa “Gosh, Indu, I never wanted to be a politician…I knew I wouldn’t like who I’d become”…Understatement of the Year! What about a scene where he tried to take his mother back to NYC, and she turns her back on him and leaves? Or Indu finally donning a backbone with her robes of office and arresting him as her first official act? [end of spoilers] Would have been appropriate…What was his doctoral thesis again? “Sublimated Violence in Victorian Literature”? A natural!

 

Julie M:  Nice analysis. The only thing I’ll take issue with is your characterization of Prithvi as a villain. I’d call him obsessed and ruthless — and pretty dumb — but I think he genuinely wanted (!) to get into politics for more than just personal power or family pressure, and eventually he came to realize that the cost was starting to mount up but by then it was too late, he had to push on.

I agree that Veeru was the most interesting character to watch, outside of Samar, who actually got a bit boring towards the end with his sheer villainy. You could almost see Veeru’s head splitting with all the conflicting emotions.  And Indu was just a cipher from the start.

 

Jenny K:  Manoj Bajpai is always a great character actor…you love to hate him. Though, in this film, that’s so full of questionable ethics and downright villainy…you can’t throw a stone without hitting a baddie. It’s harder to decide who you should identify with…even mom is a liar.

 

Julie M:  That’s why I said earlier that I came away not liking anyone. But I think Prithvi was the closest to sympathetic, except Indu, who ended up being used by everyone. Even though Prithvi was not clean, he did realize that it had all gotten out of control. And then [spoiler alert] he was blown up, so… Veeru was more psychotic than Prithvi—he had the crazy eyes from minute one!

 

Jenny K: I was looking for a clip of Manoj Bajpai with subtitles and found one that looks as if it belongs in this article…another historical uprising film called Chittagong.  Not out yet, though it was made last year.  There’s always a new one coming out…hope it’s as good as it looks!

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. [No subtitles available, sorry.]

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. All I can say is, watch it 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 can 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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