September 18, 2012: Samrat, Next Role?

Jenny K:  The summer’s been slow for writing about film, but not, thank goodness, for the viewing.  Though I blench to admit it, I’ve succumbed to the national fascination with downloadable films.  I want to see it, and I want to see it NOW!!!  Patience is a thing of the past and Netflix is my main enabler.

I watched four films in an embarrassingly short amount of time, and though they were not all Indian language films, they were all linked by the presence of one desi actor, Samrat Chakrabarti, so I thought this week merited a full Samrat-centric post.

Julie M:  I’m afraid of Netflix.  I’m afraid that my life will no longer be my own if I had immediate access to anything I wanted to see!  But back to Samrat.

Jenny K:  Now I knew who he was.  I’d even met him before at a film festival in NYC when he was promoting one of his films.  But until I saw The Waiting City (2009) at my buddy Pat’s insistence, I had no idea how versatile an actor he was.  And he’s practically chameleon-like, he so disappears into any role he takes.  The Waiting City is about an Australian couple (played by Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton) who go to Kolkata to adopt a little girl, and hopefully in doing so save their marriage…though neither of them were admitting that they were on the edge of collapse when they left Oz.

The paperwork involved in the transferal of little Laxmi from the orphanage takes (shock!) longer than they had been led to believe, and the two are left in the capable hands of Krishna (Samrat) their cab-driver-and-jack-of-all-trades.  I couldn’t believe the credits; I didn’t even recognize Samrat as the same light comedian who deftly beat-boxed his way through Loins of Punjab Presents.  But it was  more than the obvious change of hair and wardrobe; Samrat slipped so easily into the cadences and mannerisms of a working-class guy in the city, filled with the gentle wisdom of a simple man, that he rapidly became the hero of the piece for me. This one’s definitely worth a watch.

Julie M:  I find it weird that the trailer doesn’t even credit him, and only really highlights his voice at the beginning, for all that you say he’s an important part of the film.  But I really enjoyed the way Kolkata becomes a character in the narrative…at least it seems so from the trailer.

Jenny K:  Well, he’s not, technically the focus of the story, but these two Aussies are babes in the woods in Kolkata, both in matters of bureaucracy and communication.  And I don’t mean just with the adoption board…he becomes the facilitator for many of the ways that these two people come to relate to each other.  Sort of their guru for this trip, in a way.

Julie M:  I meant to watch a film tonight, myself, since B is out of town, but got caught up mid-afternoon preparing a lecture and before I knew it, it was midnight and I still hadn’t finished. Darn! Well, once it gets cold out I will stop exercising outside and switch to the indoor bike, and will start watching films in 1/2-hour installments again to entertain myself. But I did see Kahaani  courtesy of my lovely library and LOVED it.  I’m a thriller nut anyway, and this was satisfyingly mysterious, thrilling and twisty.  Vidya Balan is my favorite leading actress right now and I can’t wait for her next release, which apparently is not until next year!

Jenny K:  Well, you’ll just have to go back and watch her in Parineeta with Saif, from 2005.  You haven’t seen that yet, have you?  It was her first film.

The Waiting City led me to IMDb to find out what else Samrat had done, which linked to his website and his show reel. Pretty cool…proves my observation that the performances are so different, that it looks like the work of different men!  Afterwards, I began to scour Netflix and Amazon download in earnest for more examples of Samrat’s work.

First up was one of the light comedies that he seems to specialize in…Kissing Cousins (2008) a ninety-eight-minute fluff piece that gives you a reverse Hitch, with Samrat playing a professional break-up guy on the LA scene, hireable by those too cowardly to break up with their significant others in person.

This job has soured him on romance in the extreme and his all too “coupled” friends think he will never get his own healthy dating life. He is rescued by accident on an impromptu trip home to visit his folks in SanFran that involves a reunion with his feisty cousin Zara from England (Rebecca Hazlewood of NBC’s late, occasionally lamented Outsourced) who goes home with him to sightsee in LA. Hilarity and confusion abound when she spontaneously steps in as his pretend girlfriend, allowing him to save face with his friends.

Samrat’s acting is smooth here, with a nice light comedic touch, and a much more stylish avatar than in TWC.  Now, I realized, sort of after the fact that I should have been a bit shocked with the subject matter, at a drunken heavy groping session between relatives, et al, but, I wasn’t, perhaps due to the deftness of these actors’ portrayals.  Plus, the film itself wasn’t completely predictable.  It didn’t end in either the way the trailer teases you it will, or the way I expected it to.  So, verdict: nice timepass, albeit with a bit of crudeness here and there between the guy-pals that I could have done without. On Youtube, here.

Julie M:  Didn’t his redheaded friend look just like a white version of Samrat?  Or am I just tired? 

Jenny K: Hmmm…could be exhaustion, I didn’t pick up on that resemblance.

Kissing Cousins had a much better role for Samrat than the other comedy that I got from Amazon, The Wedding Weekend (2006), where he was certainly competent, but it was definitely not designed to be “his” picture. Just one of the attractive crowd, so I won’t bother to profile it here…I am going to hunt down more Reg Rogers movies because of that film, though. I have a definite weakness for cute Jewish guys who sing that well…oh, dear…

The final film in my Samrat Trifecta was Bombay Summer (2009).  We’re back in a serious mode again, with Samrat playing a young yuppie writer struggling to find his voice in his first grown-up apartment, away from his parents. However, he spends less time writing and more time canoodling with his girlfriend Tanishtha Chatterjee (finally in a film not set in the country!), who is just as compelling as I’ve come to expect. 

Julie M:  I’m a huge Tannishtha fan.  Loved her in Road, Movie and Brick Lane.  This film seems a bit self-indulgent for me to truly enjoy (a writer writing a film about a writer with personal problems…spare me!) but I’d watch it for her performance alone. 

Jenny K:  Don’t write it off on that impression, because it is definitely more than that.  And if it’s autobiographical, the writer in question (also the film’s director) Joseph Mathew doesn’t cut himself very much slack. His character, Jaidev, doesn’t come across as particularly endearing.  In fact, all of the characters in this film have their grey areas, and it gives layers to the film that really enrich it.

Tannishtha plays Geeta, a young woman who comes from a very affluent family, but who is supporting herself as a publisher…she is hiding her relationship with Jaidev from her father (or trying to) while Jaidev is doing the same thing with his parents. His mother is desperate to get him to come home to Mummy and Daddy who would love to smooth his way into authordom for him.

Meanwhile the spoke that is stuck into the wheel of their relationship is a lower-caste artist, Madan (a quite charismatic Jatin Gaswami) who applies for a job doing covers for her publishing firm. Tannishtha takes him under her wing, and the three of them start hanging out together, the Three Musketeers, visiting Madan’s idyllic village and his lovely mother, taking photos together, visiting inspiring ruins and beaches, etc…They get so close, in fact, that disaster must happen.

And it does…as in 2010’s Dhobi Ghat: Mumbai Diaries, Bombay Summer paints a very interesting and involving story of a city and three mismatched modern Mumbaikars, struggling with dreams of success and art, love and lust, philanthropy and patronism…and does it a bit more successfully than does the Aamir Khan starrer. Perhaps it’s just that the stories in this earlier film are more closely linked than in Dhobi Ghat which, at least in the first half of the film seem almost an anthology of separate life stories. More is spelled out here, except perhaps, in details at the very end…where it leaves some things hanging a bit more than I’d like.

Everyone involved in this one did a great job. As I mentioned before, Samrat played his character without vanity, not needing us to like him, just to understand him. Tannishtha gave a lovely, delicately emotional performance. And Jatin is someone that I’d like to see again. Very charismatic. This may motivate my next mini-filmfest! Only two films in his IMDb list…but the one that is coming up, Baromas, looks just up your alley…serious Cain and Abel thing goin’ on complete with politics and protests…and Seema Biswas! How can it miss? It’s coming out later this year.

Julie M:  Oh, yeah, Baromas is definitely on the “anticipated” list now. Thanks for alerting me!  Too much to see, too little time…!!!

Jenny K:  And thank you Samrat Chakrabarti, for doing what you do so well with such skill, honesty and heart.  In any type of role he takes, he’s going to give us 110 %.  I will look forward to whatever comes up next.

March 31, 2012: Days of Whine and Reasons…to Procrastinate

We’ve been bad, bad bloggers.  No excuses other than work, and looking for work, getting in the way.  But we’re baaaaaaack!  Jenny went to a film festival in Pittsburgh, and Julie staged her own Naseeruddin Shah Mini-Fest. 

 

Jenny K: Well, not THAT bad…maybe only two aa’s worth.  I myself have gone to great lengths, of time and gasoline to bring forth this report.  Getting it written up, was, I must admit, much more prolonged than I’d have wished.  If I had known we were embarking on a Naseeruddin Shah-lebration, well, there would have been much less procrastination!

 

Julie M:  OK, so I saw Today’s Special (2009) tonight. I know it’s not technically an Indian film and it’s all in English, but it has three Indian actors (parallel and mainstream films) and an NRI actor/screenwriter, so I’ll count it as a win.  Here’s the trailer.

Jenny K: Finally!  I knew you’d like it…I talked about it quite a bit on my older blog when I first saw it in the theaters, but it’s great to get your perspective on it.  Needless to say, Naseerji had me with the first sight of him peeping at Aasif in the rear view mirror with such a knowing twinkle in his eyes.  Mmmm!  The man is definitely worth his own film fest.

 

Julie M:  To get the feeling of how great it is, here are the first scenes under the opening credits.

Plot summary:  Samir (Aasif Mandvi, of the Daily Show) is a sous-chef in a fancy New York restaurant, with dreams of running one of his celebrity-chef boss’s several establishments in the very near future.  When someone else is selected for the job he quits in frustration, intending to go to France to study with master chefs.  A family situation interrupts his plans and he offers to temporarily run his father’s (Harish Patel) restaurant, a greasy-spoon curry joint in Jackson Heights.  But he doesn’t speak any Indian languages well enough to communicate effectively with the kitchen staff, and he doesn’t know how to cook Indian food at all.  Friendly and quirky cabbie Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) proves to be Samir’s simultaneous undoing and redemption, and his feisty mother (Madhur Jaffrey) keeps him grounded.  Of course there is also a love interest (Jess Weixler).  In the process of juggling relatives and restaurants, Samir learns the true meaning of commitment, family and food.

 

Jenny K: Just the thought of Naseerji running about in that t shirt with feathers flying is enough to cheer me up for the day!

 

Julie M: What a sweet (if semi-predictable) film! Naseerji was AMAZING–I could have kissed him all over, what an awesome character and played to perfection by the master–and of course, the food was a star its own self. Harish and Madhur can always  be counted on for top work in whatever they do.  But what I liked the best was the absolute realism of the Indian elements–down to the music, slang and attitudes. Not fake-India, REAL Indian people. OK, it was Hollywood-ed up slightly, but it felt very honest. Mandvi’s original play translated well to the screen and it felt natural and very warm.  And this gem on the special features, featuring Aasif and Madhur cooking, was hokey but fun.

 

Jenny K:  Well, she was a gem, and is, of course a rather famous cook in her own right…when I watched it, I wanted him to back off a bit with the yuk yuks, and let her go to town. 

 

Julie M: Well done, great recommendation. Love it, love it, love it!  The whole film is available for $2.99 on YouTube.  [It’s on Netflix streaming, too.] And if you decide you can’t live without more Aasif, here’s a good interview.

 

Jenny K: My film outing was to beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA where The Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival was winding down it’s seventh annual showcase of films.  I was so sorry that I only had two days to dedicate to the festival, which runs for over a week…plus having numerous other events focusing on Asian-American culture during the year.  If you’re in the area, you should definitely check the group out.

I’m afraid, as you probably could predict, that I leaned heavily Indian in my choices for viewing, with The Beetle Soldiers, an Indonesian offering, being my sole trip outside Mother India.  That film, and two others, Dekh Indian Circus and Shala, all became an unintentionally themed set, focusing on the lives of children in different parts of South Asia. 

Dekh Indian Circus (2011) was the first film I saw when I hit town, not even waiting to check in at my hotel before going to the Regent Square Theater, a cozy little art cinema just off exit 77 on 376.  The film was directed by Mangesh Hadawale in a very polished first attempt.  Aided by Laxman Utekar’s lush cinematography we take a very vivid look through the eyes of two village children as they see a traveling circus for the very first time.  Or, rather, try to see one.  What should have been a rather simple joy the parents (Tannishtha Chatterjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui) wanted to give their kids became a monumental challenge due to mingled issues of bad luck and the vagaries of the local political circus of Rajasthan’s (or any) election time.  A gorgeous film, very well acted by all involved, but a bit sad in tone and a mite confusing, as the circus/political parallels weren’t clear enough to me.

To continue through the murk of childhood memories, the second film I saw, Shala (2011), by Sujay Dahake was supposed to be a coming of age film of a group of ninth grade boys during Indira Ghandi’s political emergency of the 1970’s.  I hadn’t seen much on this era so far in my Indian film viewing, and I still don’t feel that I have.  A murky print didn’t help, but, again, the info the writer and director gave the viewer about the era wasn’t spelled out enough to give the uninitiated much enlightenment.  The children performed well, and I would have wished they had stuck more to that story and tied up some of the loose plot ends instead of spreading things too thin by covering (thinly) the historical context.  It could have been a classic boy’s first love of the “Unattainable She” film, and for me, at least, it wasn’t.

The next day, the first film was The Beetle Soldiers (2011), by Ari Sihasale.  It’s an Indonesian version of the same “boy comes of age” genre.  I was delighted to find that I was going to see one kids film this weekend where the children seemed to feel privileged going to school, and though it was often strict, not all the memories of school were harsh ones.  Our hero, Amek, played by Yudi Miftahudin with an open face and an honest expressiveness, has a talent for horses, and not as much for learning.  His life is also plagued by a cleft lip, but nothing stops his optimistic outlook…until the second half.  After that, not all the lovely cinematography in the world can stop the tsunami of bad luck that hits Amek and his family when his longed-for father finally comes home.  So much for a feel-good favorite.  Again, good performances, just not what I’d hoped for.  Sheesh.

Julie M:  The library finally yielded up The Dirty Picture (2011) and my schedule allowed me to see it in two short sessions.

I’m not going to rehash the plot because we’ve already talked about it here and our friend Carla on Filmi Geek did an extensive post on it, every word of which I agree with, except my tongue doesn’t hang out quite as much as hers does when I see Vidya. 

 

Jenny K:  Well, I don’t think anyone could match that much enthusiasm, even VB’s agent!  Wow!  And as good as some of Carla’s points are, some just missed me completely.  I got the feminist side of things, but I hadn’t seen the angle she found most obvious…with so much blatant hetero-ness goings on, it must have masked it, or it’s in the eye of the beholder.  Vidya has been a favorite of mine, acting-wise since the days of Lage Raho Munnabhai and Parineeta.  Way to go girl!

 

Julie M:  My opinion, outside of Vidya’s performance, which was of course jaw-droppingly fantastic, was that I didn’t think too much of it. I found it very dull in the few scenes she was not onscreen.  I was amused by Naseerji’s role as a Rajnikath-type South Indian actor (even anachronistically playing a college student at his age! So funny!) but he was oddly low-key and I felt he was underutilized.  The bad wig was just bad, not bad-hilarious. I think he could have hammed it up a bit more and not taken away from the film, and enhanced Vidya’s performance in the process.  A rare off note from an otherwise godlike figure in film, who turns everything he touches into gold.

 

Jenny K:  The last film of the festival for me, Trishna (2011), was an updating of Tess of the D’Urburvilles, the Thomas Hardy classic, by director Michael Winterbottom.  This one was also primarily in English, but with the setting moved to India (Rajasthan and Mumbai) and primarily Indian stars, it felt like a full-out Indian offering.  But one that will never see the light of day in the Motherland, I fear.  As faithful as Winterbottom was to the source material, the portrayal of the troubled Tess, I mean Trishna, is way too graphic in its sex scenes to ever make it past the Indian sensor board.  Heck, for a moment or two there I thought I was going to get up and leave, or grab Trishna’s knife and wield it myself, if she didn’t!  Ooof!  It’s not that I haven’t seen more blatant scenes in western films, but somehow the brutality of the scenes (while being a great indicator of Trishna’s motivation) were just this side of merciless to the audience, especially to me as a female.  Once again, good performances, especially by Frida Pinto of Slumdog fame, and great scenery, but definitely the depressing cap to a rather opressive film weekend.  Well, I chose my own schedule!

 

Julie M:  It took me three sessions, but I finished Sparsh (Touch, 1980) tonight. My faith in The Man is back:  I was completely blown away by NS’s performance!!

Plot:  Anirudh Parmar (Naseeruddin Shah) is the principal of a school for blind children, and is himself blind. While looking for an address one day he meets Kavita (Shabana Azmi), a young widow still overcome by grief after three years. They become friends, and he invites her to the school to help by teaching the children stories and songs. The distraction is just what she needs and she begins to come out of her self-imposed solitude.  Friendship turns to love and then an engagement, but after hearing the story of a fellow teacher’s (Om Puri, looking quite slim and dashing) similar marriage Anirudh becomes fearful that he will end up too dependent on her sightedness, and that she is somehow punishing herself by marrying him out of pity. Is their romance doomed by the cultural dissonance between the worlds of the blind and the sighted? Must each of them sacrifice something of themselves in order to be together?

 Here’s a quick, unsubtitled compilation of some key scenes. 
It is always a joy to watch each of the lead actors, and watching them together just put me over the top. Naseerji’s turn as the fiercely independent and crusading principal was astonishing, and it was a treat seeing him so young and handsome (not that he’s a troll now, by any means!). Example.

Shabani Azmi’s performance, while excellent all along, really hit the heights in the last 30 minutes or so as she tries to understand Anirudh’s abrupt change of feelings and his rejection of her and her world. The students at the school were all played very naturally by blind children—I doubt any of them were professional actors but they sure seemed like it.

My main criticism is that it started abruptly and ended abruptly (although not confusingly so), which really destroyed the flow of the story. The songs were incorporated so naturally into the storyline I hardly noticed them–still trying to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.  I felt it was a little heavy-handed on the “blind people aren’t helpless” theme, but I put that down to being filmed in 1980 when India probably still harbored serious cultural prejudices against handicapped people of any kind and needed to hear this socially progressive message.  And it has a kind of “deus ex machina” aspect near the end when Kavita’s best friend (Sudha Chopra) explains Kavita’s personality to Anirudh.

Sparsh is available for $0.99 on YouTube here.  Don’t know if it’s subtitled or not—seems not to be.  It’s free, in multiple parts starting here, albeit not subtitled and in a very bad print.  

Jenny K:  We’ll try not to be so behindhand next month!

April 23, 2012: Silk Screenings Galore!

It’s that time of year again in Western Pennsylvania to wallow in a superabundance of amazing Asian American film offerings.  Harish Saluja and his friends, in the know on all things cinematic, especially of the international variety, are putting on a very friendly event called the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival this May in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh, PA.

I had a chance to attend the first year of this program, six years ago, and even in it’s infancy, the films were great, the guest speakers were wonderful, and the crowd attending was particularly warm and friendly to out-of-towners like myself.  I particularly remember enjoying the chance to chat a bit with Konkona Sen Sharma when she was presenting her film Amu, what an enjoyable film!  And also, getting to dance at the opening night party with the star of Man Push Cart, Ahmad Razvi…guaranteed to give even the most jaded of us “aunties” a girlish thrill!  If you haven’t seen the film, you definitely should, here.  Enough said about past glories…here’s what’s on for this year!

The festival runs from the opening gala on May 11th through the closing on May 20th.  The films they showcase span many nations and cultures, all of Asian American heritage.  The films listed in the Festival Guide cover the cinematic globe from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and, of course, a few from India!  I’m in heaven! 

Those of you who have heard us rhapsodizing over Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Peepli Live, Kahaani) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (Road, Movie and Brick Lane), knows I’ll be there for Mangesh Hadewale’s Dekh Indian Circus, the story of a mother’s love for her children and the struggle to get them a rare trip to the circus.  And I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to attend Prashant Bhargava’s Patang, as well. 

Trishna is director Michael Winterbottom’s (A Mighty Heart, The Trip–a hysterical film with Steve Coogan) update of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” into the contemporary Rajasthani countryside.  It’s a story of two lovers torn between different castes, plus a conflict of tradition versus the newly educated poor.  Frida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire stars.

Another one that intrigues me is Shala from director Sujay Dahake.  It looks like a very cute coming of age story set in the 1970’s during the Emergency.  School crushes rule destinies, in every country, it seems.

Delhi in a Day looks intriguing, too…though it’s not on a good day for me.  Starring Lillete Dubey (KHNH, Monsoon Wedding) and Kulbushan Kharbanda (Lagaan, Monsoon Wedding) as the heads of a very wealthy nouveau-riche Indian family who rule over their household of very disorderly servants.  Their world is turned upside down when the money of a naive British visitor (Lee Williams) disappears and they have to replace it. Directed by Prashant Nair.

And there are so many others…I wish I could catch them all.  Hope I see some of you there, as well!

April 11, 2012: Abhay, Aisha, and Crap, on the Road

Jenny K:  I don’t know…the world must be coming to an end. I watched Delhi Belly the other day and didn’t hate it near as much as I thought I would.  Yes, it’s disgusting and gross, just like I thought…practically a Hindi Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest. However, it was pretty tightly scripted for one of those things, and the cameo appearances were good. I especially liked Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding) as Cowboy the thwarted drug baron. He was really evil in a very charming way.  And, even covered with plaster dust, Imraan is always Imraan.

Short synopsis. Three slacker friends live in one incredibly dirty apartment in Delhi. Taashi (Imraan Khan), the semi-normal one, has a very rich girly fiancee, Sonia (Shenaaz Treasury). Sonia smuggles something into the country, as a favor for a friend. She has no idea what she’s carrying. She passes the delivery on to Taashi, who is very busy trying to be a “real reporter” not just a gossip journo, and passes it to his photographer and roommate, Nitin (Kunal Roy Kapoor), who has eaten something dangerously bad (any roach-riddled thing in their kitchen!) and is nursing the worst case of Delhi Belly on record. His bowels play the actual soundtrack to the film. Almost not kidding.

Due to his frequent emergency dashes to the loo, Nitin passes the delivery on to their other roommate, Arup (Vir Das) an unassuming cartoonist, silently seething in incipient anarchy against his boor of a boss. At the same time, he’s to deliver Nitin’s stool sample to the doctor’s office, and, of course, mixes up the two packages and delivers the crap to the drug baron. The whole rest of the movie is the plotting that goes on, trying to trade the drugs for hostages, money, etc. And it’s pretty fun, if gross, to watch. And yes, Aamir’s cameo at the end in “Return of the Disco Fighter” is fun, but not really necessary.

Julie M:  I’ll watch for it at my library but the out-and-out Indian comedies tend to make me squirm, and I’m not a fan of extended poo jokes. I can barely stand the comic-relief characters in more serious movies. Yes, I’m looking at you, fat guy from Bodyguard. But having said that, the trailer looks fun. Unless it’s one of those situations when the trailer shows all the good parts and the rest is just bad.  Like almost every Judd Apatow movie.

  

Jenny K:  No, it’s definitely better than those…trust me.  I’m not a full-out slapstick fan, either.

 

Julie M:  My recent film was Road, Movie (2009) with (sigh) Abhay Deol, who I had wanted to see more of every since Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, my first experience with him.  Road is a great “film festival” type film, full of finely drawn characters and beautiful cinematography, a main character who finds himself during a journey, and plenty of heart. Here’s the trailer.

Vishnu (Abhay) is a young, middle-class city dweller who yearns for more out of life than slotting into his father’s barely-there hair-oil business. When his uncle needs to transport his old mobile-cinema truck to a museum on the other side of the country, Vishnu jumps at the chance for a solo road trip and maybe some adventure along the way.

He picks up a young runaway (Mohammad Faizal) who is his complete personality opposite, and when the truck breaks down an elderly mechanic (Satish Kaushik) bails him out for the price of a ride through the Rajasthan landscape. They get lost and wander without food or water, get picked up by the cops for having no papers, meet a gypsy woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) on the run from an evil water-lord (Yashpal Sharma), conjure up a carnival and, like Sheherezade, find that they constantly have to show films in order to live for another day. By the end Vishnu learns to appreciate friendship offered with no strings and realizes what being a man really means.

In addition to lovely, quiet performances from the stellar ensemble cast and constant, very lush visuals (including Abhay Deol), Road, Movie has some great stuff to offer the Bollywood film fan. I counted clips from no less than five classic films I had seen including Deewar, Umrao Jaan and Pyaasa plus many others I have not yet seen. In fact, hair oil as a theme and metaphor pops up throughout the film, not in the least of which is through the wonderful song “Sar Jo Tera Chakraye” from Pyaasa, which gets a pop remix in addition to showing the original number. Here’s the music video.

The film moves fairly slowly and the camera lingers on the landscape and Deol’s sweaty, dusty frame far too often—I mean, often enough for me but maybe too much for someone else—however, I would recommend it for a nice change of pace away from romantic comedies and gangster shoot-em-ups. And it’s only about an hour and a half investment of one’s time.

Road, Movie is available free on Youtube, unfortunately without subtitles.  

 

Jenny K:  I watched Road, Movie on Netflix and it was an unusual one.  I loved the dreamy, almost surrealistic quality of the road trip, with the women with the water pots on their heads appearing every so often, from nowhere without notice.  I liked Abhay Deol and all the leads, especially Satish Kaushik as Om, were very good at their roles.  The visuals were mesmerizing, with the director, Dev Benegal and the cinematographer, Michel Amathieu painting color-drenched murals behind the silhouetted truck.  Remind me never to go to that endless plate of sun-parched salt where the mela “appeared”…I shuddered just looking at it.  Why would I want to go there?  Why would they? 

That is, in a nutshell, what the problem with this film is for me…dreamy as it is to look at, it didn’t make much sense.  And the nonsensical quality wasn’t whimsically charming, as perhaps what they were going for, it just interrupted my “suspension of disbelief,” so often it became mildly annoying.  

Why was Abhay’s character so clueless?  He didn’t seem actually stupid, yet seemed set on alienating all of those best placed to help him on his trip.  Why, if he’s so self-absorbed, would he agree to keep driving for what seemed like days at a time, aimlessly into the desert, until they were all but dead from dehydration?  And in the middle of nowhere…where did those carnival folk come from, and go to?    Were they there at all?  Who knows?  Oh, dear.  I’ve never liked magic realism much…

Julie M:  I guess that’s another difference between us.  I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the scenery (including Abhay), and let the possibilities wash over me.  I’m not even 100% sure the carnival was real—it might well have been a thirst-induced hallucination—and I felt that the dry, endless desert represented how Vishnu perceived his life, dull and devoid of joy, and these other characters were personifications of lessons he had to learn in order to bring himself back into balance…the filmmaking technique certainly could lead one to think in that direction.

I have to interject at this point, briefly, that after Road, Movie I saw Brick Lane (2007), also with Satish Kaushik and Tannishtha Chatterjee, this time as a Bangladeshi immigrant couple living in London with their children.  Here’s the trailer.

Brick Lane was a dazzling showcase for Tannishtha’s talents, and both of them acted extremely well and almost entirely in English. Overall, though, I found it not nearly as fascinating as the book.  A.O. Scott from the NYT agrees with me.    And that’s all I’m going to say on that.  It’s available online, for $2.99 on YouTube.  

[after a few more days]

Jenny K:  Pat and Kathy and I tiptoed through my Netflix queue the other day and gave into Pat’s not-so-secret crush on Shahid…we put in Kismat Konnection (2008), and only lasted about fifteen minutes before she herself was screaming for a change. Part of it was, I will admit, the Netflix subtitle cut-off problem on my tv. However, the plot was so weak, that I’ve blocked the whole thing out of my mind.

  

Julie M:  I found it on YouTube, free, subtitled, in parts.  Maybe this will solve your subtitle issue, but not the screamingly bad issue. So you’re saying that I should nix my own Shahid leanings and avoid it, eh?  Pity.

Jenny K:  Well, you seem to be willing to overlook his weaker movies, if he’s cute enough…so, you might still like it.  We ended up ditching Shahid in favor of Aisha (2010) also starring our boy, Abhay Deol. It’s an adaptation of Emma, the novel by Jane Austen…or rather, it’s a remake of Clueless (1995) which was a better adaptation of Emma.

The star, Sonam Kapoor, was less absent than she was in Mausam (but still as giraffe-like) as our rich girl Emma, I mean Aisha, gleefully filling her idle hours as a matchmaker to her shy, lower caste friend Shefali. It wasn’t obvious to a non-desi like me what was so low-caste about her; Shefali seemed nicer and prettier than our Emma’s crabby best friend Pinky (Ira Dubey), and so we lost a critical bit of the plot motivator, IMO. And because her father was not a stay-at-home recluse, why didn’t Aisha want to get married herself? No clue. 

Abhay played their version of Mr. Knightley quite well, but wasn’t really old enough to convey the “surprise” element of their romance. He wasn’t any kind of guiding/restraining hand for Aisha as Knightley was in Emma. They still fought cute, but you were mighty good and ready for them to realize their mutual affection, well before the end. Most of the supporting cast members were interesting, if not earthshakingly so. I particularly liked Arunoday Singh as Druv (the putative Frank Churchill) who was not nearly as reprehensible in his behavior as FC in the novel. Arunoday was quite buff and dapper with his red shirt and the spiffy Panama hat he wears in the dance number below. He has a better looking Gregory Hines thing going on.

So, I liked Aisha, on the whole, as I like most BollyAusten remakes (Bride and Prejudice, Kandukondain Kandukondain), but thought it could have made the connections a bit tighter and therefore clearer. I can’t even fathom how a plan to fix up Shefali with her “Mr. Elton,” Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar, who isn’t as big a dud as he should be), could consist of stranding the two of them alone at a hotel and making overnight reservations for them…in INDIA? WTHeck was Aisha thinking would happen???? Nice kids, they walked home, understandably tired and grumpy about her treatment of them. Clueless, indeed…

  

Julie M:  I have to come clean and admit here that I am SO not an Austen fan and have never read Emma. I did see Clueless, though, so am somewhat familiar with the story. I have tried to get through P&P at least four times and not made it past the first few chapters, and perish the thought of anything else like Sense and Sensibility (although the recent version that adds sea-monsters might be more to my liking). So anything Austen, or twists on Austen, whoosh right over my head at least in their comparison to the original.  I loved B&P, loved KK, and maybe I loved them more because I had absolutely no expectations.

  

Jenny K:  Not like Austen? Are you sure you’re a girl??  Does B know???  That sea-monsters comment is a dead give-away, BTW.  Next you’ll be asking for zombies in Devdas!

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