March 5, 2012: Politics, Poetry, Prose ~ A Filmi World-Serious

Julie M:  Watched Hey Ram (2000) tonight. I am officially in love with Kamal Haasan, who although he is not as good looking as Aamir Khan, is, I think, the better actor. The film was gut-wrenching and absolutely excellent, the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times, doing things he thought he’d never do as he searches for his convictions. Supporting turns by SRK and Rani Mukherji were likewise excellent (although SRK really overplayed his character’s death scene, what a ham!), and it took me a while to recognize that it was Naseeruddin Shah playing Gandhi, he so completely inhabited the role.          

Jenny K: I know what you mean, but it’s hard to miss that highly identifiable nose.  He’s cute even creaky, old and in a dhoti…I’m so far gone…

 

Julie M:  Haasan plays Sakhet Ram, a Hindu archaeologist in the 1940s who gets along well with the British and is vehemently opposed to Partition and the idea of Pakistan.  Shah Rukh Khan is his friend and fellow archaeologist.  A personal tragedy involving Ram’s wife (Rani Mukherji) radicalizes his hatred towards Muslims, and he becomes an anti-Gandhi activist.  There’s quite a bit of violence and political back-and-forth, which was a little confusing, but a bit of research straightened things out for me.

This review/analysis does more than I ever could to unpack the layers of the film.  I had to read it several times and it only confirmed my opinion of Kamal Haasan’s incredible talent as writer, producer, director and actor.  And I really liked this German compilation of clips to music (not from the film).

Thanks for including this one in the box: amazing. You can tell how much I liked it by how speechless I am.

 

Jenny K:  I should read the article thoroughly and then watch it again… Glad you liked it, though Rani’s final scene gave me the heebie jeebies for a while afterwards the first time I saw it. If you like Kamal Haasan that much, I’ll send you VeluNayakan, that Godfather film the next time I send a package. I know you don’t like mob films much, but it really is one of the best of his that I have seen, plus, it has Mani Ratnam directing it.

 

Julie M:  So I watched the first hour of Pyaasa (Eternal Thirst, 1957) and was thoroughly bored. Unsuccessful poet Vijay (Guru Dutt—who also produced and directed the film, coincidentally like Kamal Haasan!) is turned out by his family, is appreciated only by a prostitute, and meets up with his ex-girlfriend who, as it turns out, is married to someone who can get his poems published.  What to do? Who to choose? Bleh. Snore. Great songs, though, and Mala Sinha is (was) so stunning as Meera, the ex. Didn’t find Waheeda Rehman (as the prostitute) particularly mesmerizing, though–but I understand her big part comes later in the film.  Worth continuing to plow through it?

 

Jenny K:  Wouldn’t have sent it if I didn’t think so…a different kettle of fish from Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, but just as well known, and also classic.  I think the tension builds as it goes on. It’s a bit more along the lines of Devdas in the tortured poet thing, but I found it easier to take. The last scene in the lecture hall is wonderful, and where he is silhouetted in the doorway, it’s almost messianic in its imagery…and the song is fabulous.

But, of course, you must decide for yourself.

[the next day]

Julie M:  I took your advice and finished Pyaasa. Thanks for encouraging me to push on; glad I did.  It actually made more sense to me than Devdas, maybe because I understand the artistic temperament more than I understand stupid boys too weak to claim their love for themselves. I understood why he rejected those who were only willing to acknowledge him once he proved himself financially desirable, because I would have done exactly the same thing. And about the messianic thing, I know it’s Hindu but I found lots of Christ-like imagery (hanging out with prostitutes, “you will deny me three times”, the Christ on the cover of the magazine Meena is reading when she learns that Vijay is dead, etc.) except, of course, this has a much happier ending, we are led to assume.

 

Jenny K:  Some things are universal in their appeal to the human psyche, aren’t they? Whatever your religious point of view.

 

Julie M: Wonderful music, very interesting and poetic lyrics.  I particularly liked this one, where Waheeda’s character is flirting with Vijay thinking he’s a potential customer, but all he wants is his poems back, which she had bought as scrap paper. 

This one was cute, too. The massage-wallah is talking about how great people will feel after he works on them. 

I also liked the call-back to Awaara‘s dream-sequence with the dream sequence in this film. 

At first I thought that Rehman, who played Meena’s evil husband, was Dev Anand–if you take off the glasses they have a similar look. Or maybe it’s just the period–a lot of male actors looked alike.

 

Jenny K:  I thought Rehman reminded me of Prithviraj Kapoor crossed with tiny bits of Shammi (in his quieter moments)…

 

Julie M:  My other weekend viewing was Aarakshan (Reservation, 2011), the one I missed in the theater. This was the film starring (sigh) Amitabh Bachchan as the principled principal Prabhakar Anand, staunchly defending his view that education should be available to anyone from any caste and a reservation (aka quota/affirmative action) system acts to ensure access.

Saif Ali Khan co-stars as Deepak Kumar, a member of one of the low castes whose education was facilitated by Anand’s beliefs and who regards Anand as a mentor. Deepika Padukone plays Poorbi, Anand’s daughter and Deepak’s girlfriend, and Prateik (sigh) is Sushant, a college student and Poorbi and Deepak’s good friend. The villain is Manoj Bajpai, and Yashpal Sharma is a helpful stable owner. Hema Malini makes a cameo appearance at the end, although her photo is seen throughout the first half.

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I read reviews about this one and thought it sounded too dry to have me spend my hard-earned pesos on it, even given the good intentions of the theme, and Amitabh’s presence.  Was the story interesting?

 

Julie M:  The plot involves Anand, the longtime head of the renowned private college S.T.M., who has a practice of giving a “leg up” to lesser qualified but very promising applicants from backward castes. This enrages the trustees and the upper-caste parents whose children score higher but are rejected because there are no places. Things come to a head when a government minister’s son is rejected, and he installs the evil Mithilesh Singh first as a trustee, then as vice-principal, in an attempt to find a way to oust Anand.

Singh also runs a private coaching school for high-caste students as a very profitable side business. When the government formally adopts a 27% reservation system for public education and employment, the situation blows up both around the country and at S.T.M. Deepak (a S.T.M. instructor headed for the US for his doctorate) and Sushant are on opposite sides of the issue and have a violent confrontation; Anand fires Deepak and expels Sushant. Deepak flees to the US and Sushant disappears. Then Anand loses his job over some comments he made to the press and the family leaves town for a while.

When they return they find that their house has been taken over by Singh’s coaching school and they have no legal way to stop it. Anand puts his principles into action by starting a rival coaching school, for free, in the stable across the street, where he takes all comers, aided by Deepak and Sushant, who have since returned and are buddies again.  This school becomes so popular that Singh seeks to ruin it. You can pretty much guess that he fails; at the end Anand is vindicated and S.T.M.’s founder, played by Hema Malini, funds a new coaching academy with Anand as the principal and chief trustee.

 

Jenny K:  Oh, that Manoj Bajpai! He’s such a delicious villain…I’ve seen him in very few films that he wasn’t indulging in lots of moustache twirling fun. I remember first hearing of him when he was full of sour grapes that he hadn’t been asked to do Devdas rather than SRK. Not sure I can see it. My favorite one with him is still the very over-the-top-and-loving-it Aks with BigB. My winner for Best Psychopath Serial Killer in Hindi films…if not for accuracy, then for sheer audacity. Rather creepy, though…lots of rather unhealthy imagery. Can’t say it’s a true thumbs up.

 

Julie M:  The first half of the film is what you’d expect: plenty of dramatic speeches by various characters on both sides of the reservation system issue, with personality-developing scenes for the main characters. Some people would find the speeches tiresome, but my love for issue-driven film and lack of real knowledge of the issue made it fascinating for me. The second half delves into the family drama and exposes the true evilness of the villain, with inspirational scenes of Anand’s influence on his young students and a stirring climax where the scrappy stable school resists the might of the corrupt government and profiteering private school system. Although it was all somewhat predictable, I was nevertheless quite entertained.

There was one big dance number that was very out of place, however, I liked much better this number from early in the film, introducing the Deepak/Poorbi romance.

This was about as romantic as it got, since they ended up fighting and then separated for most of the rest of the film, never really getting back together.

 

Jenny K:  Were you really expecting romance in such a blatant issue film?  Well, with your favorite, Saif in it, you probably had your fingers crossed.

 

Julie M:  I hated Saif’s mustache and the fact that he was OBVIOUSLY way too old for Deepika’s character (he was supposed to be a recent college grad, she was a college student who somehow had all day-every day free to hang out at her dad’s school). I kept rooting for Poorbi to throw Deepak over and get together with Sushant, because they were a much cuter couple. Alas, she fought with Sushant, too, and after they were out of the action she had nothing else to do except throw tantrums at her parents and narrow her eyes when she was in the presence of the evil Singh.

Overall I liked it–good issue and decent writing and drama. Three stars, would have been 3-1/2 had it not been so darned predictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May I entice you with this campy number?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

[A week or so later]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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