October 25, 2014: A Commotion and a Verdict

Finally, in our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest, we come to Hulchul (Commotion, 2004), where Akshaye’s romantic heroism is blunted by slapstick comedy to the point where he becomes a caricature of the handsome leading man.  Akshaye plays Jai, the youngest son of virulently misogynist patriarch Angarchand (Amrish Puri at his eye-poppingly gruffest) at war with the family of Laxmidevi, a strong-minded matriarch (Laxmi).  The two wealthy families would do just about anything to ruin each other, and when Jai’s family disrupts the brilliant marriage scheduled for Laxmidevi’s granddaughter Anjali (Kareena Kapoor), her family vows to get even.

Jai and Anjali, college-mates and bitter enemies, are each instructed to pretend to love the other in order to cause rifts within the other family. Cue hilarious faux-romantic love ballad, which is pretty cute:

When they eventually realize that they are being used as pawns for everyone else’s revenge, they fall in love for real and want to marry.  Their only hope for happiness, it seems, lies in convincing at least one of Jai’s bachelor brothers to defy Angarchand’s strict “no women” dictum and get married first.  Will it be Shakti (Arbaaz Khan), ever loyal to his father?  Or Kishan (Paresh Rawal), a sworn celibate?  Or will it be Balram (Jackie Shroff), whose one attempt at marriage years ago started the whole feud to begin with?  Supporting performances by Arshad Warsi as Lucky, Jai’s hapless best friend, and Suniel Shetty as Anjali’s hotheaded but ultimately sympathetic uncle Veeru round out the all-star cast.

There are so many things to hate about this movie, starting with the fact that Anjali is introduced as the best law student at the college and then, after her engagement falls apart, she is turned into a bubblehead.  In typical Bollywood fashion, we are asked to believe that the 30-year-old, balding, heavy-faced Akshaye is an innocent college student.  (Kareena gets a pass—she was only 25 at the time)  Most of the slapstick is reserved for poor Lucky, who falls out of trees, gets dumped into a pot of boiling glue and is tossed around by tall, strong men as if he were a beach ball.  And—worst of all—the romance between Jai and Anjali comes flying out of nowhere, and their chemistry is so bad that Jai’s frequent uncomfortable looks seem perfectly justified.

Still, the story is cute enough not to stop watching, there is enough winking at comedy-drama tropes (can you say Weekend at Bernie’s?)

to cause smiles of recognition, and I can never get enough of Jackie Shroff.

Akshaye, sorry to say, is the unfunniest thing ever in this film; fortunately, he’s more often called upon to be the straight man than to provide the yuks.  Here’s an example of what passes for a funny scene:  Jai and Kishan infiltrating Anjali’s family compound in the guise of a cow.

If you insist on seeing it, at least it’s free and subtitled on YouTube:

Verdict on Akshaye:  C to C-.  Play your own age, buddy.

 

So what have I learned?  I admit to an adoration of Akshaye’s father Vinod Khanna, a frequent bromantic pairing with Amitabh Bachchan. But my opinion of Akshaye still stands:  his work is uneven (good = Border, Dil Chahta Hai and Tees Maar Khan; OK = Aa Ab Laut Chalen; not-so-good = everything else, including the otherwise excellent Taal, where he reminded me of a limp dishrag), his hair is mostly terrible, and for some reason he strikes me as an actor who doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands, or with himself when he doesn’t have a line—there’s that unsure awkwardness about him that a better actor can turn to advantage and which he does not seem to be able to accomplish often enough.

I also find it funny that just as we were starting this challenge, one of our mutually favorite bloggers, Filmi Girl, wrote a post about Akshaye wherein she calls him a “terrible hero” and praises his TMK performance.  I love it when people agree with me.

October 22, 2014: More Chin, More Hair

We continue with our Akshaye Khanna mini-film-fest with another early one, thankfully this time with a FilmiGori’s favorite leading lady.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen (“Come, Let’s Go Back”, 1999) has Akshaye as Rohan, a good-looking, educated, upstanding young man who leaves behind his widowed mother in India as he searches for gainful employment and riches in America. Dazzled by a cousin’s success, and then betrayed by the same cousin upon arrival, Rohan reluctantly takes a taxi-driving job, where he meets the shy, beautiful Pooja (Aishwarya Rai). Pooja has her own problems: arriving in the U.S. at the invitation of her brother, she finds out that his ulterior motive is to marry her off to his boss so he can get a promotion. Rohan gallantly swoops in to rescue her, takes her back to his rooming house, and finds her a job so she can earn a plane ticket back to India.

After a while Pooja falls in love with him, but to Rohan Pooja is just a friend. In fact, Rohan has made a number of friends of good character who love him, but he is blinded by his primary goal: to get a green card and get rich.

He figures he can do both by marrying Loveleen, a sexy, wealthy NRI of decidedly non-traditional outlook, and sets to courting her while Pooja does everything she can to quash the romance.

When his friends point out that he is neglecting both Pooja and his Indian values, Rohan angrily leaves to move in with Loveleen. The broken-hearted Pooja takes a job as companion to a sick, older and supremely wealthy man, Balraj (Rajesh Khanna), who comes to see her as a daughter. Will Rohan come to his senses, or is he forever ruined by the glitz and glamour of America? Can Pooja forget Rohan and honor her new “father” by marrying his son, as he wishes? And ultimately, what is the definition of “home” and “family” and is it possible to get everything you want without losing yourself?

Akshaye does very well as the innocent, well-bred young man and even as you roll your eyes at the message that comes crashing down on your head at every opportunity, he is quite mesmerizing whenever he is onscreen—and, again, he dances!

Rai, unfortunately, has very little to do except bat her eyes and serve as a pawn in the game of others; Pooja is so unworldly that she doesn’t claim her own desires until it is too late. However, her endearingly awkward (fake-awkward, of course—we know that she dances like a dream) moves as she tries to break up a beachside date between Rohan and Loveleen makes for such a classic scene that it can be lifted from its context and still work perfectly.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film borders on the predictable and obvious despite the attempted comic relief of the Sardar and Iqbal characters, Rohan’s landlords/roommates, who are nicknamed “Hindustan” and “Pakistan” because they are always at each others’ throats. Another 1999 pairing of Ash and Akshaye, Taal, is much more subtle in its messages and with real human drama in all its complexities—and therefore more successful as a film despite Akshaye’s reduced screen time and, as I noted before, blah performance.

Aa Ab Laut Chalen is available free on YouTube.

Verdict on Akshaye:  B.  Good job with mediocre material, and an almost-negative character somewhere in the middle.

Next time we will leap to the relative present with 2004’s Hulchul.

Part 2: Rahman Recommendations and HrithikMania

Julie M:  OK, I got Taal out of the library a couple of days ago because I knew that yesterday I was going to be flat out on the couch recuperating from minor surgery. I know you said it was melodramatic, but you also said the music was great, so…I actually liked this one a lot. I couldn’t stand the Manav character (he was such a blah) but the music really was fabulous. Pretty much a standout soundtrack all the way around, and the choreography was fantastic starting right from the opening credits. I re-ran all the songs numerous times after I finished the film.  You are right: A.R. Rahman is The Man. Any more recommendations for his films?

Jenny K: Okay, recommendations. The first five are good films that have especially good AR Rahman sound tracks.

Lagaan, I mentioned before. A must-see. The only Bollywood film that the numbers are so integrated into the plot that you can’t show them without the movie, really.

Nayak, a serious social commentary in the most over the top, goofy slapstick style you’ll ever see. I love it, but you have to be in the right mood for it…maybe you need to be on hallucinogens to truly get everything out of it…hehehehe. Shakalaka Baby!

Meenaxi is sort of Bollywood meets Pirandello…sort of Six Characters in Search of An Author, though a bit wandery, plot-wise. Great visuals, and some of Rahman’s best music. You’ll find yourself buying the CD’s too. For buying things, I always suggest using Nehaflix.com.  Their website has a good selection, fairly easy to use and is very good at reliability and returns, if anything goes wrong. [JK’s Note:  I’m in mourning…Nehaflix got sued and lost.  Trying to reform under the name The Khan Store at Amazon.com.  Not a great selection yet, but they’re working on it.]

Swades is another film by the director of Lagaan, but this one isn’t period. It’s a modern day story of an Indian scientist from NASA who is pulled back home to find the nurse who raised him.  He finds her and make her life, and that of the whole village, better. Very sweet earnest film. A much quieter Rahman score.

I’d say again, Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek), merits a viewing. Harder to find, as it’s South Indian and not as much call for it in local markets.  Often they don’t have subtitles, check it out first.  It’s worth the hunt, though, it’s very moving.

Now a few in the Non-Rahman film category.

Lots of folks like Devdas, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s retelling of the Bengali classic story. The visual style is lavish, lush, and the music is good, not Rahman, but good. Great costumes, but the sets are so over the top and the lighting is overall so red in tone that it’s not my favorite, a bit too melodramatic, and I thought SRK’s hero was really self indulgent.  Even though it’s a classic, but it’s hard to feel that sorry for his problems when he caused them himself…but the numbers are so fun, pull up “SRK in Devdas songs” on Youtube and judge for yourself. “Chalak chalak” has the black dress that I’m going to make for myself once my diet kicks in. Also catch Dola Re Dola. Richard Corliss, the Time.com critic doesn’t agree with my criticisms. He’s a full-on convert. Check it out, here.  Funny, funny, albeit accurate article about his descent into BollyMania…closely resembling my fall. For the Devdas bit, scan down to “Deaf to Devdas“.

If you’re in the mood for a comedy, get Lage Raho Munna Bhai which tells of a local good-hearted mob boss who in trying to impress a lovely radio DJ, by saying he’s a Ghandi scholar and then has to study up to prove it…and Ghandi “arrives” to help him. Every one I’ve shown this to loves it. The earlier film Munnabhai MBBS is very popular, too.

That should keep you for a while 🙂

[after a couple of days]

Julie M:  Have to bring you up to date…I watched Kal Ho Naa Ho this weekend along with Bride and Prejudice. Yes, I know B&P is not really Bollywood, but it was still fun, in the Bollywood spirit and I didn’t have to read subtitles! I liked the entire first half of KHNH but after the intermission it took a very weird turn. Started like a rom-com farce but then got way too melodramatic. Still, some nice performances particularly the Rohit character’s actor (I forget the name now) [note:  Saif Ali Khan]. I was so proud of myself for recognizing something…there is a brief moment during the wedding dance scene where SRK’s character is dancing right next to a random girl, and it was Kajol from K3G–wearing the same costume as she did in that film–and they exchanged a brief grinning glance. I had to reverse the DVD to make sure I wasn’t seeing things…it was awesome and thanks to you I caught the reference!!

I also saw an entirely horrible movie, The Mistress of Spices, which if you have not seen I recommend that you avoid unless you are a total Aishwarya Rai or Dylan McDermott fan. I read the book a while ago and it was good, but the movie version was AWFUL.

I have Lagaan on reserve from my library (it is on order so I’ll have to wait a while) and the system does not have Meenaxi, so will have to find that elsewhere. There’s also a film that is always on the library’s video shelves–can’t recall the title but it’s about a blind girl and a guy who loves her. ???familiar to you? is it good?

Anyway, thank you so much for introducing me to this wonderful (if time-consuming) hobby!

Jenny K:  Hey, I’m proud of you too…When you see Lagaan you’ll see another “inside joke” scene that you’ll recognize. When they were redoing the restaurant, they were playing a song “Chale Chalo” which is from Lagaan and is choreographed to remind you of it. Made me laugh. I agree that the second half of the movie changed tone after his disease was revealed, and the plot became more of a Lifetime Channel one, with him trying to find a happy life for Naina. Not very believeable, but I liked it anyway, in spite. Loved some of the big dance numbers and the scene where SRK barks at Rohit pretending to be Laila the Dog is oddly sexy. What does that say about me?!?!?

Hey, if you’re tired of reading subtitles, see if your library has one called Being Cyrus. It stars Saif Ali Khan (aka Rohit) in a non-comedy and he does a really good job of it, and the lion’s share of the dialogue is in English. It’s definitely not a feel-good musical (actually, not a song in it, as I recall), but more of a western style moody thriller. He’s also in the Iago role in Omkara (the Othello adaptation). His best role yet, I think.

The one about the blind girl is probably Black. I can’t really recommend that one, as it’s a direct rip off (in the first half) of The Miracle Worker, with the dad from K3G playing Annie Sullivan. Really odd transposition…when a 6′ 4″ Amitabh barks at the little blind kid and pushes her around to “tame her,” it’s just…different, and not in a good way. Then the second half gets all “I’m falling in love with you” when the girl grows up which adds an extra level of weird, even if he doesn’t give in to the temptation offered to him. I really like Amitabh, but this is NOT one of the ones I like him in, though I do admire the effort he was putting into it.  For an unadulterated dose of Bachchan at his recent best, try Bunty aur Babli, the first picture that he and his son Abhishek did together…sort of a benevolent Bonnie and Clyde caper picture with Amitabh (or BigB as we call him in Bollybiz) playing an amalgam of all the tough cops he’s ever done on screen with his tongue firmly in cheek. He’s especially hilarious in a fake music video over the end credits. He is so cool, even at 68.

Glad you’re enjoying it. Did you ever see Dhoom 2? Don’t worry about telling me if you didn’t like it. The only way that would bother me is if I recommended it, you BOUGHT it and you hated it. However, I’ve done a good bit of that, myself and am constantly glad that getting DVDs at under ten dollars is easy to do. You don’t mind the missteps as much.

Julie M:  I did see Dhoom 2–I thought it was a lot of fun, and Hrithik Roshan was so gorgeous in every single scene I felt like I was going to swoon. They really buffed him up for that one. And there was actual kissing in a Bollywood movie–the horror!! (kidding) Completely fluffy and escapist. Sometimes I’m just in that kind of mood.

Jenny K:  Ah, HrithikMania… don’t I know it. Met him once and spoke to him, he smiled right at me alone. Just as handsome in person, too, darn his perfection. Next time you are in that fluffy and escapist mood you could check out his first movie, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, from 2000. Not a particularly good movie (part of a long tradition of “Identical Twin” movies in Indian cinema) but it has some great dance numbers, “Ek Pal Jeena” in particular, in the second half, and of course he’s absolutely gorgeous in it. 

For other “gorgeous options” from him I’d say Kites and Guzaarish but the first is complete fluff set inLas Vegas and most of it in English. Only one dance number. Criminal shame. Guzaarish is an Indian remake of Whose Life Is It Anyway? that old Richard Dreyfus film on the euthanasia debate, blown up with flashbacks of Hrithik’s show-biz past to get him out of his wheelchair occasionally. Hrithik does nicely, but he still doesn’t dance much.

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