January 9, 2013: Stand By Your Man

Julie M:  Clearing the decks from 2012, we found a few movies we watched but never discussed.  We’ll take them in logical groups…starting with this one, in which we compare two older movies and a more recent one, where women refuse to give up on their guys.

Jenny K:  Oooh, I feel all Tammy Wynette…got to preserve my objectivity…so, the question is, do the men deserve it?   Usually not.

Roja Movie PosterJulie M:  Let’s talk about that after we go over the films!  While riding the exercise bicycle this week I watched Roja (1992), with the charmingly innocent Madhoo at the tender age of 20. I found it sweet and old-fashioned, a story of stand-by-your-man-until-the-terrorists-return-him that we see so often. [snork]

Jenny K:  Nothing will carry you through the pedal-miles like a classic ransom movie, I always say…

Julie M:  Roja (Madhoo) is a naive and sheltered village girl, given to play and girlish plotting to marry off her older sister Lakshmi (Vaishnavi) to the eligible city bachelor Rishi (Arvind Swamy) who has come a’courting. But the best-laid plans go wrong… Lakshmi confesses her love for another, and to save her family’s honor Rishi pretends that she rejected him and proposes instead to Roja. Within a day she is married and must learn to live with this stranger and his mother in the big city.

Just as they have gotten used to each other and shyness is turning to love—i.e., in about a week–Rishi is sent to Kashmir on a secret government mission and takes Roja along. Unexpectedly, and before her very eyes, he is kidnapped by terrorists (aka Kashmiri freedom fighters), who want to use him as a hostage against the release of their brutal and imprisoned leader. The government’s policy of “no giving in to terrorists” is unacceptable to Roja, and she begins a campaign of pestering, weeping and going over everyone’s head to try and get them to effect the exchange.

Will Roja ever see her beloved husband again? Will the terrorists kill Rishi if their demands aren’t met?  I really enjoyed the fact that the whole “terrorist” definition was blurred.   This scene was a bit disturbing, though.

Jenny K:  This was the first movie I saw Pankaj Kapur in (Liquat).  He’s a given for any director who needs a multi-layered interpretation.

Julie M:  Mani Ratnam direction, lush scenery both in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, heart-thrilling music by AR Rahman before he became superfamous, and one absolutely superior song.

But I prefer the Tamil version.

Romance, drama, politics…everything one could want! After so many modern-kid romances it’s nice to see something with old-timey values, nationalism and a female star who isn’t size 0 and/or nipped and tucked beyond recognition (sorry Genelia, Priyanka and Deepika). Enjoyed it very much although I thought at first I wouldn’t, and I think I’d like the undubbed Tamil version better because of the language. Thanks for the recommend!

It’s available free on YouTube, subtitled,  in 13 parts. Here is Part One.

Jenny K:  I’d give odds that Rahman writes the music with the Tamil lyrics in his head.  They always “sound” better, if you know what I mean.  Not that I understand either well enough to really judge, but…I’m glad you liked Roja!  Early Mani Ratnam films are particularly nice. They, literally, don’t make ’em like that any more.

Julie M:  Even though the title was her name, they gave approximately equal screen time to the kidnapped Rishi and Roja’s efforts to get him back.

[a couple of weeks later…]

Parineeta Classic: Meena Kumari and Ashok KumarJulie M:  Old love stories are the best, aren’t they? I watched the Bimal Roy film Parineeta (The Fiancee, 1953) over the past few days, and somehow, even though it was from 1953, it felt fresh. And this was my first extended experience with the luminous Meena Kumari and the fabulous screen chemistry she had with Ashok Kumar.

Jenny K:  Didn’t I lend you Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, yet?  Guru Dutt directed her in one of her most iconic roles!  Lots of undeserved female devotion in this film, too.  It would fit right into this week’s theme, but, no spoilers!  Definitely in the next shipment, you’ll love her in that one.  It’s on Youtube for free, but the captions are really odd. 

Julie M: In Parineeta, Lalita (Meena Kumari) is an orphan living with her uncle and his large family of all daughters. The middle-class family has recently fallen on hard times, her uncle having mortgaged all he had in order to marry off his eldest daughter and now unable to pay back the loan. The loan is held by his wealthy next-door-neighbor, a professional moneylender, whose family is longtime friends with Lalita’s uncle’s brood. The moneylender secretly does not want the loan repaid, as he wants to collect on the house and give it to his recently returned son Shekhar (Ashok Kumar), who is of marriageable age (as is Lalita).

Lalita and Shekhar’s neighbor-friendship turns to love and a secret promise to marry.  Here’s a clip of the moment just after Shekhar playfully places the bridal garland around her neck; ironically, her little cousin is at the same time commanding all to participate in a mock bridal ceremony for her dolls. 

Jenny K:  Wow!  The lyrics to that song sort of sum up Lalita’s entire outlook on love and marriage, don’t they?

In the novella the movie is based on, by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, that little girl would have been a more likely Lalita than Meena.  The girl in the story was thirteen, whereas both Shekhar and Giren/Girish were schoolmates, both 24.  So when Shekhar drops the garland playfully around Lalita’s neck and then kissed her, would it be unreasonable for her to think she was married?  This was written in the early twentieth century when child marriage was still legal in India.

Julie M:  Oooh, good point.  Not having read the novella I didn’t know that. It did seem awfully weird that Lalita would assume that she was already married when even Shekhar didn’t think that.

Parineeta Updated: Vidya, Saif and SanjuJenny K:  Knowing that adds much more sense to the story than any of the adult behavior in these movies, yours and the 2005 version that I rewatched recently, starring Saif Ali Khan, Vidya Balan and Sanjay Dutt.  Even given its shift to the 1960’s, the plots are very similar.  Please continue.

Julie M: Just then another handsome and wealthy–but lower-caste–young man, Giren (Asit Baran), enters the picture. Giren falls in love with Lalita and offers to give Lalita’s uncle the money he needs to pay off his debt, then when Shekhar’s father becomes enraged at his plans being thwarted and cuts off contact, offers to move the entire family to one of his homes far away. Lalita’s uncle is grateful and half-promises Lalita to Giren in marriage. Lalita feels she cannot refuse, and Shekhar picks a fight with her, saying she has allowed herself to be sold. After they have left his marriage to another girl is fixed by his family while he pines for Lalita, realizing that his own actions have driven her away but seemingly helpless to do anything about it. 

Jenny K:  In the 2005 version, Lalita (Vidya) helps to confuse the matter by nobly/idiotically keeping most of her family turmoil away from sensitive musician Shekhar’s (Saif’s) tender ears.  She thought he wouldn’t be able to stand it if he found out what a louse his father was. Seems Daddy Dear had hatched this major plot to turn the neighbor’s immense if neglected haveli into a “Heritage Hotel” when he foreclosed on the unsuspecting family.  Ignorance of her motives, plus confusion over her marital state,  makes Shekhar’s mistakes more forgivable… if still stupid.  And it does give them an excuse for a wonderfully poignant love song in the latter half of the film.

Julie M:  Will family honor and gratitude win out over true love? Will Lalita ever stand up for herself? Will Shekhar finally grow a pair and claim his original bride? You pretty much know the answer (no, not really and yes but not in the way you think) but how it plays out is heartfelt.  Giren is a real stand-up guy and under normal circumstances Lalita would have been perfectly happy to end up with him, and why she holds out for the volatile and coddled Maa’s-boy Shekhar is beyond me. Still, if you buy into the entire premise it’s a fascinating movie and provides a good look into Indian culture and values.

Jenny K:  Guess we’re just looking at things through today’s eyes, but am I wrong, or isn’t the ever-hesitating rich boy lover a staple in Bengali literature and film…can we say Devdas (same author)?

Julie M:  You know, the entire time I kept thinking Devdas but thought I was crazy.  Thank you for confirming my mania.

Jenny K:  And Rabindranath Tagore was full of stories of unappreciated, lonely wives/widows as in Choker Bali, put on film in a faithful if plodding version by Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai.  And how’bout  Paroma by Aparna Sen!  The beautiful melancholy must seep into the Bengali blood along with the humidity of the Hooghly River.

Julie M:  I think you’re on to something with the Bengali cultural comments.  The 2005 version of Parineeta went to great extremes to locate the story in Bengal right from the first shot…with Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely voice…

Comparing Roja and Parineeta is fairly obvious.  Both of them have heroines who refuse to give up on their men, believing that they will come back to them.  Things don’t seem to have changed in India in the 40 years between these movies…women are given in marriage against their will, strangers fall in love, and so forth.  Financial difficulties in 1953 turn into terrorist threats in 1992, and Roja is more active in removing the obstacles between her and her true love while Lalita seems content to just wait things out, confident that eventually her love will return to her.  So I guess there has been some progress after all.

Roja Rescues Her Man
Jenny K:
  Well, I’d hope so, but professional victimization always seems to come back in fashion, even in today’s supposedly more modern times.  In my own life, I’ve seen too many women believe the fiction handed down to them that they can’t cope without a man.  Thank God for Bryn Mawr, and my parents, of course…that I was slower to feel that pressure, but you always have to keep telling yourself and your daughters that, to keep it fresh and in the forefront.

Poor little orphan Lalita didn’t have much of a chance to change her fate, and she just lucked into a happy ending at the last minute.  She had a better option with Sanjay’s Girish, but was already “wedded” to her choice by then.  Hope it worked out for her after the final reel.

But with all the inherent flaws of literary adaptation, I did like Saif and Vidya’s version.  It’s a lovely period piece, with great warm shots of Kolkata.  Plus the acting is uniformly good.  It was Vidya’s first film, and she more than held her own with Saif and Sanjay.  Sanju’s part was smallish, but his Girish is a lovely guy and is quite endearing in this, particularly at the “meet cute” as the supposed electrician.  And, though I have been notably tough on Saif Ali Khan in his attempts at assaying a romantic role, in this one he does very well.  Perhaps I just like him more in an angry role than as a callow youth or a funny Romeo.

Julie M: In the 1953 version I’m not sure she really “lucked” into anything.  She seemed to have a bit more agency than luck—in fact, there’s a very Roja-anticipatory scene at the end.  Spoiler alert:  Lalita actually refused Giren so he marries her sister/cousin.  We find that out at the same time that Shekhar does, and it’s a delicious twist that almost makes the whole film.  (end spoiler)  I tend to agree with you on Saif; his romantic roles are best when he’s not set up as the romantic hero but cast as the Giren-ish character.

Jenny K: Or in an all out villain role like the Iago role in Omkara…a Saif tour de force!

Ending on a non-sequitur…Version 2005 has an item number with Rekha in it, onstage at the Moulin Rouge (seems it’s a multi-city franchise), that still irritates me, eight years after I saw it in the theater. Another uncredited musical lift…this one from Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.”  Why this is still happening?  Use it if you like, but why not credit it? Shame on you, Shantanu Moitra.

Rekha vs. Satchmo:  Compare

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!

March 21, 2012…“A Fine Romance, and Two Hitmen…”

Julie M:  Your long post put me in the mood for a romance, so I went with Alaipayuthey (Pouncing Waves, 2000). Mani Ratnam and A.R. Rahman should always work together…even though the second half was WAY too overwrought for me, I thought overall it was pretty decent except for the music, which was AMAZING, and the visuals, which reminded me a lot of Dil Se (duh) and were therefore stunning.  Since this was the original Tamil film of which Saathiya (Life Partner, 2002) was a remake, and I’ve never seen Saathiya except for the number you indicated as one of your Valentine’s Day romance songs, you’ll have to clue me in on which you thought was better.

  

Jenny K: Oh, I’m always going to think that Mani Sir directing his own screenplay is going to be the better…not that I didn’t find loads of things to like about Saathiya (can you say Rani…so cute you could eat her up!) but I liked that not everyone in the Tamil version was so gosh-darned well known.  It felt like I was getting to peek in on someone telling their own love story…very intimate and endearing by not being  so slickly produced.  I also had a bit of a problem with Viveik bouncing around in the fields with his color-coordinated backup dancers…that was not as blatant in Alaipayuthey.  Just my opinion.

 

Julie M: Alaipayuthey is the story of two people who fall in love, get married and then wonder what happened. Karthik (Madhavan) sees Shakti (Shalini) at a wedding in her part of the city, and instantly decides she is the one for him, dreaming of her all the time.   

He woos her all over town, stalking her commuter train and professing his love for her until he eventually wears her down and she admits she loves him too. 

Unfortunately, their parents do not hit it off due to class issues so their desired marriage is forbidden—of course they get married secretly, and vow to tell their parents “when the time is right.”  Shortly thereafter Shakti’s older sister Poorni (Swarnamalya) gets an excellent proposal and the groom’s father offers his younger son to Shakti; panicked, she spills the beans about the secret marriage and the groom’s family calls off the match.  The couple’s parents kick them out and they take up illegal residence in a partially-demolished, charmingly decrepit apartment building that they fix up and are blissfully happy in…for a while.  This number (the original from the “Aye Udi Udi” one in Saathiya) is so cute, and I really love the backwards-film trick.

  

Jenny K:  I wonder if it’s a Ratnam thing, or if it’s his cinematographers preference for this backwards filmwork?  Not that I don’t like it, but he seems to use it a lot. Dil Se had it, too in “Satrangi Re” (yellow dress at2:50 in this video).

 

Julie M:  Then they start to fight about little things, and when Shakti’s father dies before she can reach him she blames Karthik.  Eventually they become strangers to one another, and to keep some type of contact with her Karthik arranges to bring Poorni and her ex-groom-to-be back together.  Shakti sees Poorni and Karthik together and misunderstands Poorni’s grateful embrace, and she runs off.  [Spoilers follow. Highlight to reveal.] Once Poorni explains the truth to her she tries to get back to Karthik, but on the way to the train station is hit by a car.  As he waits for her train, then roams the city looking for her, he flashes back to how it all began and how much he loves her.  He eventually finds her in the hospital where she is unknown and unconscious:  his presence rouses her and she professes her love for him too.  They realize that although marriage is hard, their mature love will help them make it through. [end of spoilers]

The movie had me in the palm of its hand right from the opening number, where Shakti and her family are getting ready for the wedding: 

Like I said, the second half was overly dramatic for me, but the first half was sweet and the music (with the lovely picturizations) totally made it all worthwhile.  And this was Madhavan in his debut film, after already being known for TV work. I really like burly-ish men and he’s so cuddly and sweet in this.  He really is one of my filmi crushes. I read online that he re-watched this film and was amazed at how skinny he was back in 2000—to me, he’s only gotten more handsome (he was great as the dad in Kannathil Muthammittal, too)!

 

Jenny K:  And didn’t you love Arvind Swamy’s guest appearance at the end there? His scene with his wife was so moving.  He seems to have been one of Mani Ratnam’s go-to guys, using him in Roja and Bombay, and even in early ones like Thalapathi (that I haven’t seen yet…no subtitles).  He was even in that Kajol/Prabhu Deva film, Minsaara Kanavu (Hindi dub – Sapnay).  This one was his last screen performance, though, unless he’ll be doing Mani Ratnam’s next film, as rumored.  He gave up films and went into business.  A loss for us, he really had a gentle presence. 

 

Julie M:  I love the fact that in Tamil films, they cast actresses who look like human beings rather than pretty models.  I was not a huge fan of Shalini, or, rather, her character Shakti, who was pouty and hard to please even though she was supposedly in love with Karthik. And totally no backbone for standing up to her family even though she was supposedly spunky. Sorry, didn’t work for me.

I also didn’t like this number, a beach party with friends where Shakti expresses her displeasure with Karthik.  I thought it was too much pandering to pop culture, although it’s not as bad as the Saathiya analogue song, “Chori Pe Chori”. Eccch.  

 

Jenny K:  Then we’ll just link to them, rather than showcase them.  No need to needlessly distress the readers.  Warning: Go further at Risk of Exposure to Pandering!  LOL

 

Julie M: My final peeve was [Spoiler] the assumption that an accident will instantly bring about mature wedded love. [End] We all know (well, those of us who’ve been married for two decades) that it’s the day in, day out of being with someone and relying on them that makes it happen.  But, it’s a movie, and overall I thought it was pretty good although Saathiya won all the awards.

 

Jenny K:  Now do you know that for sure?  The Filmfare Awards have a separate show, entirely, for the Southern film entries…I know Rahman won one of them for his score, and it didn’t win best picture that year, but, it did pretty darned well from what I can tell on the international filmfest circuit.  Mumbai isn’t everything, after all.

 
Julie M:  So, which is better: Alaipayuthey or Saathiya? I can tell you, I’d much rather watch R. Madhevan than Viveik Oberoi, and Rani Mukherjee than Shalini. But otherwise they seem nearly identical. So why remake? To gather the Hindi audience who doesn’t speak Tamil?

 

Jenny K:  You hit it on the head…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with desi audience members who speak Hindi (or Punjabi or Bengali) who tell me they will never go to see Tamil films because they’d have to read subtitles (assuming they have them!).

Nowadays, Mani Ratnam tends to film both films simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil to combine, save money and still retain creative control (Yuva, Raavan, etc). And almost without exception, I prefer the Tamil versions. Less polish, more grit always makes it seem more realistic, even if they do keep bursting into song.  And though it’s a close thing, I think the Tamil lyrics “fit” the Rahman music better than almost any Hindi they put to it (sorry Gulzar, no disrespect intended). It just seems to flow a bit easier, as if it’s written with the Tamil in mind and then the Hindi is made to fit, and so it’s a touch more awkward. Could be just me, but I’d bet money the Tamil lyric always comes first.

[a day or so later]

Jenny K:  New Vidya Balan flick out this weekend…Kahaani (Story, 2012)…looks like an eerie psychological thriller…sounds just up your alley! The last shot…very creepy….

Julie M:  Oooooh. It’s here in my local, too. Unfortunately, spending $10 at the movies at this time is not in the cards. I’ll have to wait for the DVD or online streaming version.

 [Later in the week]

Jenny K:  Gosh, I’m sorry you won’t be able to see this on the big screen.  Kahaani is what Hindi cinema has been aiming at for a long time, in that it’s as polished as any Western suspense film, but maintains a very vivid, convincing sense of itself and the country that it springs from.  I was completely drawn in.…It’s sort of  a Hitchcock suspense film, with bits of John le Carré or Graham Greene thrown in for the politics and paranoia.  Who’s the villain?…I mean, are the villains??….Wait, are there villains?  Or am I crazy?  Where’s Kim Novak in all of this?  Or Jimmy Stewart?  This feels like a classic in the making, full of ambiguous motives and danger galore.  And the ending succeeded in surprising me!  Imagine that…Wonderful.

The plot is fairly simple, Vidya Balan plays Vidya Bagchi, a talented computer programmer who has come to Kolkata to find her husband, Arnab, who’s gone missing after two weeks of working there on another computer project.  Vidya is very, very pregnant, and is determined to not let the red tape of Bengali police and politics keep her from finding her man.  She’s a tough lady under her everpresent maternal glow, and no police official can ignore her, or if he does, it’s very unwise.  She’s befriended by one particular officer,  Inspector Satyoki Rana (an endearing Parambrata Chattopadhyay) who aids her search, even at the risk of losing his job…and his heart to her.

Vidya seems to be going as quickly backwards as forwards in her search.  No one seems to even know her husband was there.  One person thinks that Arnab looks just like one of her ex-employees…but why is he “ex”?  No one knows who or where he is, either.   If Vidya finds a lead, the next thing she knows, that person is dead.  Who is killing them?  It can’t be that harmless looking man from India Insurance, can it?  Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee) looks too much like Jim Broadbent to be evil, surely?  Is it the master manipulator A. Khan, who is so mysterious that he has no first name?  Or might the big boss, Dhritiman Chatterjee, (ooh, I loved him in 36 Chowringhee Lane, and Black, too) be blocking her hunt for political reasons? Well, let’s just say that the red herrings flow as fast and furious as color on Holi.

Kahaani is a sensual experience.  The cinematography envelops you in the city of Kolkata, so that you can almost taste it.  The shots of the Durga Pooja alone are worth the ticket price.  The music by Vishal/Shekhar is interesting, diverse and juxtaposes the past and the present seamlessly.  No real production numbers, yet the edgy quality carries the plot very well, as in this song. 

Vidya’s performance is masterful, as expected.  She plays with the camera like a virtuoso, and keeps all her mysteries to herself while making her character very identifiable at the same time.  How does she do that?

But the newsmaker in this film is Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays A. Khan, a government higher-up who really steals your attention every time he’s on screen. He was good as the young reporter in Peepli Live, too, but I didn’t recognize him from it until I looked him up. I may now have to find a copy of Patang, as well, to watch him in it. Sigh, it’s an indie film, it’s going to be a difficult “get”. Here are two short articles on him, in the Times of India and the Deccan Chronicle, the latter is better.   

 

Julie M:  Peepli Live is on my list of recent movies to find and watch.  The very LONG list!

 

Jenny K:  You might even call it…wait for it…a Hit List!  But please don’t.  I’m still looking over my shoulder….I may never sleep quietly again, at least not in Kolkata.

February 21, 2012: Of Variety and Spice, Part 1

Jenny K: One of the things that so enchants me about watching Indian film is their sheer variety, how sometimes you are enthralled by romance, spectacle and melodrama, and then other times you’re falling out of your chair at the hilarious antics and timing of some of cinema’s best comedians.  Yes, I mean you, Paresh Rawal…you even make slapstick palatable for me, you jadugar, you.  And the most delightful thing, for me, is that sometimes you get all of that rolled up into one film!  Oh, masala, how I miss your spice in your current fall from popularity.

When we went through the few loose end reviews that we had yet to post, I began to see the gamut itself as being worthy of a theme.  The films resonate, even when they are serving up touchy issues, offering deliciously spicy biographies, or even are sublimely ridiculous, like Khalnayak, in our in Part 2…you just can’t take your eyes off Hindi film.

 

Julie M:  Finally saw Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996). I appreciated the performances of both Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das and how controversial it was because of the subject matter–not just the lesbian relationship but how much it brought long-ignored women’s issues to the forefront–and it was great to have so much exposure to Jaaved Jaffrey (even though his character was an *ss), but overall, not as great film-wise as either Water (still my fave of the three) or Earth.

Basically I saw it as the story of two lonely and bordering-on-abused (not physically but emotionally) women finding solace in each other and that solace leading to a physical relationship. I didn’t see it as a “lesbian” film, just one about how punishing Indian culture can be on individualism and women in particular, especially less educated ones.

I don’t think either of the characters were actually lesbian–well, maybe the Nandita Das character slightly leaned that way at the beginning–but she was not so much lesbian as wanting more out of life than being a woman in that society and upbringing offered her, and the only way she could translate it into action in her head is to occasionally dress up as and act like a man. Both of them were incredibly physically frustrated in their marital relationships and found an outlet where they could. 

 

Jenny K:  Might be interesting to compare it to Albert Nobbs, the way you describe it here.  Sounds like some of the same issues are addressed, even if Nandita’s character wasn’t in male dress for as long. 

 

Julie M: It didn’t go far enough, to my mind, in illuminating the underlying social problem nor did it suggest any solutions except getting away. I actually felt that a film like Mrituydand, despite the extra drama, does more to resolve those issues than a film like Fire–which can be written off as a “foreigner” view of India since Deepa Mehta is an NRI. Along those lines I thought this interview was great.

Jenny K:  That is an interesting interview with Deepa…I’m sorry she had so much trouble with the Hollywood studio system. But it makes me want to see Camilla. I’m still torn about whether I want to see Fire, but your review makes me consider it more seriously.

  

Julie M:  I think you should see it, if only to complete the trilogy. I should warn you, though, that there is one explicit sex scene. It’s very brief, though–two minutes maximum.

  

Jenny K:  That in itself doesn’t faze me, especially when it’s germane to the plot, which I can’t imagine it not being in a Deepa Mehta film.  She always manages to tread the line delicately, telling hard truths and showing painful or controversial scenes with just enough discretion that you don’t feel it’s gratuitous…unlike, say, Rituparno Ghosh’s Antarmahal.  No, I’m not going to dignify that one  even with a description.  Just don’t ever watch it.

[about a week later]

Jenny K:  Despite the slap-in-the-face title, The Dirty Picture, this one looks like fun… [Whoever chose the title, did the film a disservice, I think,  turning away some who would have probably enjoyed it].  Vidya Balan has all the good roles these days, and she keeps getting love scenes with my man, Naseerji!!!  The nerve…I’m quite jealous.

It’s supposed to be a biopic about a South Indian sex symbol named Silk, back in the Wild and Crazy Eighties.  Here’s the trailer… Love Naseer’s bad hair dye… this looks like an homage to bad taste in a really hilarious way.  I hope the whole thing is like this.  Maybe the masala is coming back, in context of an older film world, fingers crossed.

 [a week later]

As to my trip to see The Dirty Picture…Naseer or no Naseer, I almost wish I hadn’t seen it. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting, but it’s so darned negative…  First it starts out on a high energy note with Vidya Balan’s Reshma, a poor woman possessed with the idea that she’ll be a big star in pictures and willing to do almost anything to get in.

She has no offers for films, is constantly rejected, but is often offered money to sell herself.  Reshma figures that she just has to hold on until she can tap this effect she has on men and put it up there on screen where she can get a better price for it. Eventually she pushes herself forward enough so that she gets a bit part in a dance number with a bullwhip as her dance partner. And the ferociousness of her gaze, her defiance, along with some rather suggestive moves with the handle of said whip, finally gets her noticed, for better or worse.

Next thing Reshma knows, now named “Silk,” has got a hot item number with her favorite movie icon, Superstar Suryakant, an overaged lothario with a suspicious head of hair (sound like anyone in Chennai films? No? RK’s fans seem to think so and are a bit annoyed with the filmmakers). Naseeruddin Shah does a great job as usual, carrying off the loud fashions of the Eighties with panache and humor, but I miss the salt and pepper hair of Today’s Special. I found him much sexier in that one. Perhaps he was going for the slightly ridiculous side of the character and must not have been going for convincing chemistry with Vidya, because it wasn’t really there.

 Her chemistry was much better with Emraan Hashmi as the arty director who hates Silk and the kind of films she makes, but who becomes obsessed with her fate toward the end. Nice to see that Emraan can be compelling on screen, because I haven’t found him so in the past. Tusshar Kapoor as Naseer’s younger brother (very, very younger…almost as unbelievable as “Suryakant’s” hair) is very innocent and occasionally quite hilarious as in his deliriously wacky re-do of an earlier Silk and Surya dance number “Oooh La La”, after she kisses him for the first time. I keep remembering him as the very serious young police officer in Khakee, and am glad to see he can kick up his heels effectively. Here’s the trailer of the number he’s copying, couldn’t find Tusshar’s.

Vidya is as wonderful as everyone says…definite award winner for the next Filmfare go-around. If you wanted to read more about the real-life woman, Silk Smitha, here’s an article on her life.    

As Silk, Vidya glitters, but the script is so chopped up, even at 144 minutes, that you feel like there isn’t enough background shown to detail any of why her life turned out the way it did, how the relationships in her life progressed and how they ultimately failed her. I especially wanted more story with her mother. People were introduced into her storyline and then just disappeared without explanation…or brought back, too late, still without explanation. Both Vidya and Silk deserved better support.

 

Julie M:  Despite your negative review I still want to see it on DVD when it comes out. Vidya is practically unrecognizable as herself, but she seems like she did a great job.  I’ll watch her in anything, after seeing her fantastic performance in Bhool Bhulaiyaa.   And I would like to draw comparisons to a fabulous American film I saw a while back, The Notorious Bettie Page, biopic of the 1950s pinup model known for doing pretty much anything in her photos while still retaining the look of wholesome chastity. 

 

Jenny K:  So…next post, we continue with our salute to the spice of variety…Come on back, and if you like, let us know your favorites.

September 28, 2011: Amitabh ~ Changes and The Guard

Julie M:  Eklavya:  The Royal Guard…the only thing I can say is thankfully it was short (only 108 minutes), otherwise I don’t think I could have taken the high emotional level–unbroken by levity of any kind–much longer. This film plumbed just about every dramatic trick in the canon: death and mourning, secrets, loyalty and duty, father- and mother-love, admiration, jealousy, romantic love, intrigue, suspense, conspiracy, and, oddly, marksmanship. And beautiful countryside, stunning traditional costumes and jewelry (in a film set in contemporary times), and the coolest old fort ever.  Here’s the 60-second (non-subtitled, but you get the emotion) trailer:  Exciting, yeah?

Jenny K:  I liked Eklavya when I saw it in the theaters… a period visual treat.  Not that I remember that much, except for the “surprise” reveal toward the end. BigB was good, and as you said, and the cast is great, with Saif and his mother playing royalty (such a stretch!) but they did it well.  Vidya was good, as per usual, and you got to love a cast that has Boman, Sanjay, Jackie Shroff and Jimmy Shergill, who I usually like, even though he WAS in Mohabbatein. The producer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra is often associated with quality productions, 3 Idiots among them.

 

Julie M:  I’d do a plot summary but there would be too many spoilers, so I’ll skip it.   The fact that the film started with a Shakespeare sonnet should have been the tip-off that the action would be very Shakespearean in its layers of plot and emotion. And it was, in spades. Amitabh Bachchan’s performance as Eklavya, the man torn between love and duty to his royal employers, was mesmerizing–I literally could not take my eyes off him. Saif Ali Khan as the young Prince was likewise excellent and mostly kept his shirt on. Vidya Balan as Saif’s almost offhand love interest did not have much to do except moon after Saif and lip-synch a pretty song, and her most dramatic speech was given as a voice-over, which I thought was a waste of a perfectly good actress.

Here’s Vidya’s song, “Chanda Re”: 

Even if you don’t understand Hindi, you can tell how dramatic and loaded the film is.  Lots packed into a short running time.

Sanjay Dutt had an all-too-brief role as the police chief who admired Eklavya at the same time he was resentful of how his family had been historically mistreated by the royal family. I think more could have been wrung out of that situation. Boman Irani was a little over-the-top, but still excellent, as the vengeful king, and Jimmy Shergill could have amped up the acting a little more as his jealous nephew–I know he’s up to it.

Normally I am not a fan of EFD, but that’s mostly because it usually takes a tiny bit of normal and perfectly understandable emotion and spins it out endlessly to no real point–we get it already. This was crazy-unusual emotion–the kind that nobody ever has to contend with in real life because, come on, who is ever in the position of having [spoiler alert]your son whom you can never acknowledge murder your beloved royal employer, and have it be your sworn duty to kill him in return? This is what movies are for, actually.

And I have to put this in even though there are no subtitles, because Saif is shirtless and for once it’s not gratuitous: 

 

Jenny K:  Not sure about that…Never seen the main celebrant shirtless in a Rajasthani funeral.  Only in the South.  Maybe it’s a Brahmin thing. 

Well, I’m glad to see you can handle Eklavya‘s EFD if given the right encouragement!   It’s occasionally worth the effort.

Julie M:  This one definitely was.  If Shakespeare would have decided to set a tragedy in India, he would have come up with something very similar to this, except in Shakespeare Eklavya would have killed himself in confusion, Saif would have been driven insane with remorse and Vidya’s character would have wailed over the end credits.

As it was, the ending was almost uplifting: [spoiler alert again] Eklavya declares his duty to be wrong (!!!), Vidya’s character forgives Saif’s character for killing his own father (!!!!!!) and Saif, throwing custom, tradition and royal protocol to the winds, publicly acknowledges Eklavya, a commoner, as his father (!!!!!). I mean, sure, it was set up that Saif felt stifled by all the tradition and custom of his homeland and position and had escaped to London to avoid it, but in that situation doesn’t the typical Indian film end with the son coming back, assuming his royal duty and realizing with pride that the old ways are there for a reason?  And the ending also seemed wrong for Sanjay’s police chief character. If he was so resentful, why would he be so happy to [spoilerscover up the misdeeds of the family who did his family bad? [end]

But despite all that, my verdict: Excellent–one of my faves.  It’s available on YouTube with English subtitles.

I couldn’t find any clips with English subtitles, and the dialogue is so important to this film—you’ll just have to watch the whole thing!

And to balance it out…as an older BigB movie, I really liked Abhimaan (Arrogance, 1973). It was weird (as always) to see Amitabh in a romantic role, but then as the film went on it all made more sense why he was cast. And he and Jaya have huge chemistry together.

 

Jenny K:  I saw this film in 2005 when Amitabh picked it as one of his twelve favorite films when Lincoln Center wanted to do a retrospective of his work. As I couldn’t go, I chose a few of them to watch and liked this one best. IMDb says that Jaya and Amitabh liked this film so much that they helped bankroll it…which must have been quite a stretch, as they had only been working in film for about five years, at most, and Zanjeer was the most famous film he’d done to date. Sholay and Deewaar hadn’t happened yet. Here’s the whole movie with subtitles for those who haven’t seen it.

 

Julie M:  Plot summary: Subir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is a well-known pop singer with tons of fans, nice house, doting manager/companion, and a hip wardrobe (for 1973). One day he decides to visit the aunt who raised him in the small village she lives in, and meets Uma Devi (Jaya [Bhaduri] Bachchan), the neighbor’s daughter, who also sings, albeit shyly. They fall in love, marry in the village and he takes her back to Mumbai. At their wedding celebration they sing a duet, and although Subir’s manager is excited to have them start singing together, a well-known musician warns against it. Then, of course, they are blissfully happy for a while afterwards. 

Jenny K:  I especially like the scenes with them together in the bedroom. Very sexy, without actually seeing anything. Wah, wah!  What chemistry! Lovely to see them young and in love.

Julie M:  They record a song, and it is an instant hit. They are hired together for concerts and playback, but slowly she becomes more popular than he is. Subir starts resenting her, drinking heavily and spending increasing amounts of time with his friend Chitra (Bindu), who adores him. He also quits singing in a fit of pique, but doesn’t tell her. Uma eventually realizes what’s going on and can’t watch him throw his talent away; she quits singing too and returns to her village, where she finds out she is pregnant. Ultimately she suffers a miscarriage and sinks into a deep depression, which finally rouses Subir to go and bring her home, where she doesn’t get any better.

Subir finally understands that she blames herself for his unhappiness, and realizes that the only thing that will make her happy is if he starts singing again. He hires a hall and schedules a concert–she perks up while he is on stage alone but when he starts singing their duet she bursts into tears. He brings her on stage, they finish it together, Chitra (sitting in the front row) realizes that he and Uma are made for each other, and the film ends with the audience’s applause. Here’s that final scene:

 Jenny K:  This film always reminded me of an Indian version of A Star is Born…the young wife gradually surpassing the older established husband… but with more of the religious aspect to it…and, of course, a happier ending, which actually, seemed more realistic than ASIB‘s. Beaucoup melodramatic, with James Mason walking into the waves and Judy Garland singing her solo to him onstage…”I am Mrs. Norman Maine!” Applause…Tears…Applause… I can’t believe that Karan Johar hasn’t remade this one with the genders flipped and SRK quavering that teary statement at the end of the film. Can’t you see it?

 

Julie M:  Oh, I can TOTALLY see KJ remaking ASIB. There was a whiff of that in Taal, perhaps, but to go whole hog…yes. SRK plus…who? Madhuri? Rekha?

  

Jenny K:  Would have to be someone like Rekha, who is older than SRK, if we were to do the whole gender flip thing…but I really think Dimple would be better for him…more sympathetic and believable. Madhuri is actually younger than SRK.

 

Julie M:  Anyway, I really liked this portrait of a man with a gigantic ego getting knocked down and finally learning to put that ego aside for the sake of his marriage.  Very moving—and unconventional for a man of that era—yet he is utterly convincing in all the emotions he is called upon to portray. And, as I’ve said before, ’70s fashions were made for his body type: even the most hideous shirt patterns look good on him. At one point he wears a beautiful rust-colored silk kurta over white pants that almost made me swoon.  

Have to say that this is quite the negative role for him. He is a spoiled brat, his manager is an enabler, and even though it’s part of Indian culture for men to assume women will keep the males’ needs as primary in the family, his character really fell apart when she started winning all the awards and getting the attention. One could read this as a frustrated diatribe against women’s liberation by the male establishment, but the ending is a realistic portrait of the compromises that everyone has to make in a marriage and how personal pride has to be put aside sometimes.

Also, this is only the 2nd film I’ve seen “young” Jaya in, and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that both times she played very shy and subdued characters, or if it’s the kind of role she is drawn to. Just once I would like to see her doing a character who is happy. When she wasn’t in the frame with BigB she was very flat; again, can’t tell if that’s the character she was playing (a woman who only comes alive in the presence of her husband, in which case, ick) or if it’s her normal mien.

 

Jenny K:  I haven’t seen that many of her films, but she always seems to find roles with gravitas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in a light role, unlike Shabana, who takes time out from angst to do a comedy every so often. And Jaya took a good amount of time off to raise the kids. As I’ve said before, she’s always the one who can make me cry, no matter how many times I’ve seen the scene…”He just made a mistake, Naina…he was a good man!” Sniff, sniff…just thinking about the church scene in KHNH…I get all teary.

 

Julie M:  Gravitas is one thing–Shabana and Manisha do gravitas–but making a name for oneself out of absolute stoicism and blank expression, particularly in one’s youth, is completely different and kind of a risky career choice.   I read that it was doing this film that tipped Jaya towards taking that many-years-long acting break when she started having kids–to avoid the breakdown of the marriage.

 

Jenny K:  I see what you’re saying about Jaya, but only seeing five of her films, I don’t want to make that assumption that she let herself be pigeon-holed. She was the top actor in her graduating class, over the men, even… Hey, found this article on Amitabh’s appeal by the fabulous David Chute who says if we want to see Jaya as a “diminutive firecracker” and a “headstrong teenager” we should look for Guddi and Mili, both by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. 

 

Julie M:  I have to say, for a story that has music at its core, I really wasn’t all that moved by the songs. They all sounded very similar and were quite slow, and although I know she’s a national treasure, something about the quality of Lata Mangeshkar’s voice in these songs really grated on me.

All in all, both Eklavya and Abhimaan amply show what star power BigB has, and has always been.

 

Jenny K:  Just goes to show that whether you swathe him in lurid polyesther or bury his magnetic mug in birds-nest-crazy facial hair, Amitabh Bachchan will always emerge the quintessential star…some things about him will never change.

August 25, 2011: Martyrs and Heroes and Villains! Oh My!

Julie M:  Found Raavan free online at YouTube, English subtitles. Watched the first hour+ (parts 1-7; 5 is missing). Beautifully set and shot, rich colors, plot promising (outlaw bandit kidnaps police chief’s wife in revenge for death of bandit’s sister). LittleB is not convincingly psychotic, though he is good at glowering and being intense. (that’s pretty much all he does, and snarl) Aish is pretty, dances well (she plays a dance teacher), but as the kidnap victim is so far called upon only to alternately sob, look defiant and screech. A little chemistry between them but not much. (I expect her to succumb to Stockholm Syndrome any moment, maybe there will be better chemistry later) Action unfolds in fits and starts, relying on a lot of confusing flashbacks. Everyone is wet and muddy. Despite it being a Ratnam/Rahman film, it’s fairly boring. I think I’ll stop watching–I’m not caring much how it turns out. Pretty, but draggy.

Jenny K:   If you wanted to give it another chance, I’d suggest that you watch the Tamil version, called Villain, which was filmed simultaneously, but switched Veeras…Abhishek, who I agree was the weak link in the Hindi production (sorry to say) was replaced by South Indian star, Vikram, who played Aishwarya’s husband in the Hindi version.  I haven’t seen it yet, but all reports say that he was a much stronger presence in the role.

I thought Aishwarya’s performance in Raavan was rather better than her usual performances opposite her hubby….they just have no screen chemistry, at all, do they? I’ll be interested to see how it is opposite Vikram in Villain. She’s hardly ever onscreen with him in the Hindi version, as she’s kidnapped right from the start. Her character’s choices toward the end of this film, are close to unpalatable, as the script is following a piece of mythology where Sita has to prove her purity to her husband…”noble long-suffering wife” may be something to strive for, as long as it doesn’t cross into dishrag status. I also really remember liking Govinda’s Hanuman-styled performance with all that tree climbing, etc. Again, he was excellent.  He’s certainly surprising me with his film choices as he gets older!

[later that day…]

Julie M:  Watched Ishqiya from your box. Good drama/thriller. I am continually impressed with Vidya Balan. Liked the Arshad/Naseerji “frenemy” vibe. I don’t yet know which was my favorite scene…probably the one where they learn that Verma is alive and realize how screwed they really are. Even though it was gangster-related, it had a lot of heart and interest.

I liked this song and the NS character dreaming of love with Vidya’s character:

This one was cute too, even though it was over the opening credits.  Basically they are on the lam and trying to find a place to hide, and nobody will help them (probably because they wore out their welcome long ago), and decide to go to Verma’s house.

Jenny K:  It was an interesting film, of course, with Naseerji and Arshad together in the same film.  Both gave very strong performances. And I agree, Vidya gets better and better with each film. Parineeta with Saif was her first film, and she was lovely from the get-go. She seems to have a knack for getting attached to prestige projects. Smart girl.

One of her next films is called The Dirty Picture, about a South Indian movie star and her affair with an older director (played by Nasseerji, again…this time without Arshad for competition…though Emraan Hashmi, this generation’s kissing bandit is listed as a co-star….booo!). It should be coming out around Christmas, and looks like it might be interesting.

[the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Podokkhep (Footsteps, Bengali film) this afternoon, another library choice.  A bit slow, but interesting. The DVD box said the movie was about how the very young and the very old have similar problems, but I didn’t really see that in this movie. I saw it as a film about the generation gap between 20-somethings and their parents, and expectations. The Nandita Das character was very frustrated that she couldn’t get away from her dad because of his declining health, and seemed upset that she even wanted to, because of honoring the elders. I couldn’t really figure out the neighbors’ relationship (I got that they moved back to India because he lost his job in the US; ironic). And was Maashi the housekeeper? At first I thought she was the mother, but then I understood that the mother had passed away from a car accident due to dad’s growing confusion. Overall pretty good, not among the best I’ve seen though.

Jenny K:  I saw Podokkhep at a film festival, don’t remember which one, and liked it as a quiet relationship piece, exploring the relationships between different age groups. The old man playing Nandita’s father, Soumitra Chatterjee,  has a wonderful onscreen relationship with his next door neighbor’s little girl. It seemed to me as if he was taking the time to know this little one as he had never had the chance to know his daughter (Nandita) when she was growing up, due to work, etc. Sad, occasionally, and touching, often. Also, short.

 [the next day]

Julie M:  Saw Gangaajal from my weekly library haul and really liked it. There were a few flaws–for example, Ajay’s completely inept fistfighting and the random item number–but overall a strong and well-done “statement” movie, which as you know I am drawn to.

Jenny K:  I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I hated this movie, particularly because of the things the scriptwriters had Ajay do toward the end of the film. It had nothing to do with Ajay’s acting, which was fine…and I chose the film because I like him, but it wasn’t enough for me.

Julie M:  I can see where you wouldn’t like the ending, you who generally like your favorite actors to stay true to the characters that made them stars, but I think it shows the Amit character as only human. And the subtitles were singularly unhelpful in the voice-over epilogue where the fate of the case is disclosed. I wish I knew more Hindi so I could figure it out: “Amit Kumar stuck to his story” (or the same thing in different words) but I’m not sure exactly what his story was. Did he continue the values he disclosed in his grand speech and admit to killing the two? In which case what happened to him? Or did he let the villagers cover for him? Or is it supposed to be ambiguous?

The other thing I didn’t understand is why he was transferred to Tejpur in the first place by the corrupt state (?) police chief. Did he expect that the gangsters would slice him to bits and therefore he would be rid of the do-gooder? Or did he expect him to succumb to the atmosphere and become corrupt as well?

But overall I thought it was fantastic. Great (and probably very accurate and daring in its accuracy) portrayal of the situation “on the ground” vis a vis police corruption and gangland terrorism in India, sparing no violence (ew) and even giving a picture of what the “good guys” would do if they overcame their fear and let their hatred drive them, including the police and the main character himself. Ajay acted well and looked darn fine (no cop ever has had so well-fitting a uniform!). Put me down as a fan of this film.

Jenny K: When I saw it the first time I was really annoyed by our supposedly squeaky clean cop letting himself get corrupted by the guys he was trying to catch. Throwing battery acid on them…nice!  He had been so clean, that he couldn’t be controlled by the usual bribes, etc. that his superiors stuck him in the sticks to get him out of the way, at least that’s how I remember it…or is it just the plot of Hot Fuzz getting in there…hmmm.

And, BTW, it’s not that I “like my favorite actors to stay true to the characters that made them stars,” not at all. I appreciate variety in performances, especially when they’re good at it.  Ajay in particular.  I love his villains even more than his heroes, and especially adore it when he can do both at the same time like in Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke.  He’s practically perfected the smouldering, conflicted conman/hero. 

I just feel that unless they are telling a historical tale (which ends the way it ended in life) filmmakers have a responsibility to weigh the lessons that they are putting out there for public consumption.  Whether or not they like it, their heroes and heroines are role models, and they should consider, very carefully, what effect they have.

Julie M:  I don’t think he actually threw battery acid himself. He took the battery AWAY from townspeople who were going to throw the acid, and cheering each other on, and threw it into the crowd on the ground instead, to shock people into listening to him. Then he made the big speech. And at the end, he was chasing the bad guys and they kind of impaled themselves in the face, skewering their eyes anyway. He just beat bad guys up in the 2nd half of the movie, and said nothing when the townspeople (and his officers) attacked the bad guys, kind of an “end justifies the means” thing. Until he decided that that wouldn’t fly anymore.

Jenny K:  So I watched the last ten minutes again (all I could handle) and I couldn’t believe how much gratuitous violence was in such a small space! [spoilers] I watched from the girl committing harakiri (now an international favorite) through his beating them up in the water scene with the crowd watching, and on into his noble-sounding speech about not taking justice into your own hands…just to see that the director was going to give his audience what they wanted…an excuse to kill the villains (“They threatened an innocent woman, I had to beat them to death!”) without officially getting his hands dirty…all with a completely white cardigan.  Well, he is the hero.  Right.  Judge for yourselves.

I guess you’ll have to do for the Gangajaal fan club at Filmigoris. Unless Ajay, himself, cared to try to convince me. I’d be open to that.

[couple of days later]

Julie M:  Saw 7 Khoon Maaf, last movie from my weekend batch, with B this evening. It was OK, actually good in some spots but not all. First time I’ve seen Priyanka actually try some real acting, and she sort-of succeeded in the scenes where she was going quietly mad. Story was moderately interesting, but got repetitive as you waited for how each husband was going to be bumped off. And I liked the misdirection at the beginning, and the surprise 7th husband (dancing with Jesus?! chee!!).

But it was clear to me from the start that she was very involved with all of the deaths, pulling them off with the assistance of her loyal employees, and then after she tried to kill herself not even caring abut trying to hide it, so the “explanation” was not news to me.  And there was not enough Konkona Sen Sharma, who is the much better actress and one who could have pulled the role off with much more skill and success. But I guess they needed someone young and lovely in the fair-skin big-eyes way, hence the choice of Priyanka.  Overall…2.5-3 stars (of five), mostly due to the beauty of the filming.  Certainly not the songs.

Jenny K:  That one was the most enjoyable of your library haul,  in my view. Priyanka did a nice job doing a more nuanced character than normal and kept you guessing as to the amount of her involvement in the questionable proceedings. I watched it for Nasserji, but his part was late and rather small. Priyanka’s young friend in the film is NS’s younger son, and he does a nice job, even if he doesn’t have dad’s charm, at least not yet. It’s unusual having a woman’s role being the central focus of an Indian mainstream film. The men are just incidental.

Julie M:  I was confused about the timeline: if the kid was about 10 or 12 when the story starts, and is about 35 when the story ends, that means about 25 years passed. If Susanna was, say, 18 when the story started (because the narrative said that she wasn’t yet an adult when her dad died, and the first marriage seemed to be very shortly after that), then she was about 43 when she married Naseeruddin Shah. But how can that be? She wasn’t married to any of her husbands all that long–a few years at most and one of them seemed to be only days, and there was no indication of how much time had passed between husbands–even at an average of 3 years per husband that means only 18 years had passed. She looked WAY older than that, or was made to look way older. And what was that about her skin getting darker as she got older? And at the end, when she was supposed to be “old”, she actually looked younger but with the silver wig.

Jenny K:  You just have to give up on logical time lines in this kind of film. They seem to use what I call (BSOC) Basic Soap Opera Chronology where either kids grow up very quickly, or their lovely moms (and dads) refuse to age. So there can be twice or thrice as many optimal romantic couples. In soaps, even inter-generational couples…but that probably won’t happen in Indian films, until, say next month, at the earliest. As soon as I say “never,” that’s  just when they’ll do it.  Sigh.

Oddly, I wasn’t sure she was telling the servants to knock off her husbands, at least not the early ones…I thought that they just did it for her, seeing she was so unhappy. After a few, however, maybe she did see it as a handy way out,  but I do think the film makers left it open enough to make either interpretation viable. IMO The skin darkening thing was an optical illusion brought on by the light wig and, as I recall, her light colored shirt.  And you’re right; she was the most youthful senior citizen I’d ever seen. At one point I remember wondering if she was wearing a wig, as a character, trying to lure older rich men into her toils…then I found out it was God. Boy, she sets her sights high, doesn’t she?

The “Darling” song was very catchy, and I was singing it (or humming it, to be precise) for days afterwards. It’s adapted from a famous Russian tune, “Kalinka”.  A friend, who grew up in Russia, told me that Bollywood is a big favorite there. I’m assuming that this number was directly for the fans there. I wonder how many other Moscow-aimed item numbers there are?

The history of the Kalinka number is below, in the Youtube description, if that sort of thing interests you. 

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