Sunday, August 30, 2015

Khoobsurat (2014)

No one is more surprised than I am that I like this film so much. I am record repeatedly as loathing Sonam Kapoor as an actor and Manic Pixie Dream Girls in general; I'm no fan of the House of Mouse; I merely like (not love) the original but would never have chosen Sonam to do a Rekha role; I don't find Mr. Darcy/Grumpy Pants type characters easily attractive, and I don't even have Fawad Fever.

But here we are. Maybe I'm just in the mood for some dil-squish, but Khoobsurat's romance is delightful and resonant and believable despite trading in major tropes. As friend Vishal says, it earns all its filmy moments. It helps very much that the characters are actual adults: they're responding to innate desire and affection rather than unsettling passion or any non-self-determined need for a romantic partner, which cuts down the drama considerably. They are sad without each other, but nobody does anything self-destructive when they separate.
How unbelievably refreshing to have a buttoned-up, "respectable" man and a woman (any woman) express sexual desire without censure from outside!

I love that the film is willing to show the drawbacks and benefits of both of their personalities and temperaments and is harsh to neither. We viewers know Vikram and all the Rahtores need to lighten up and let go (and will do so), but we also see all sorts of signs of their success and, for the most part, functionality.
This is not the typical movie Rajput family of generations of enmity and violence (and the writers hilariously give the requisite line about "I'm a Rajput! I'm fierce!" to the quiet teenage girl). Their house is not dusty with the weight of history or dissipation, and their staff works efficiently and is part of the modern world. They're not bad people—they're just hurting.

Mili, for her part, definitely doesn't fit in, but she also doesn't give in. She appears to be a MPDG, but she's an actual woman (not girl) and it is her profession to help people, not her special mission just for one sad sack of a man; she will survive the film, not make his cure her swan song. The person she falls for is one level removed from the person she's most directly trying to serve—the romance is collateral benefit to her actual purpose. Mili also brings to bear the other great Bollywood regional stereotype without any literal balle balle, and her mother is blunt and loud without reverting to utter Punjabi Maa hysterics (given what we've seen Kiron Kher do elsewhere in roles of similar demographics, that's impressive).

Mili and Vikram are certain enough of themselves that they are well poised to collaborate as a couple. Yes, they're different, but they know it, and they also know how to navigate conflicts, at least in their professional lives, and they have learned how to compromise. The best part of the Bridget Jones's Diary movie for me has always been Mark Darcy telling Bridget he loves her just as she is, and Khoobsurat offers the same joy.
What a freedom that is, to be accepted for who you are, including your innate potential to improve and adjust within yourself. Love is not being identical to another person; love is understanding them. "Love is not just looking at each other, it's looking in the same direction" (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), and these two have the same desires, not just for each other but for the other people in their worlds. We also know that they listen to each other; he takes her advice after weighing it and finding it beneficial, and she is attuned to what other people feel and tries to act on it.

Mili actually says she'd prefer to be alone than deal with men who want her to be someone she isn't, and by the time we meet her in the story she seems to have stopped taking "we have nothing in common" as criticism. She is comfortable enough in her own skin to to just be her own, different self even when her oddness is remarked upon by a colleague and a high-powered client. That is an amazing feat for any human, especially women. A heroine who gives zero f*cks but is also a kind person, someone who wants to participate in things but doesn't let them drag her down. Perhaps that's because, as another twitter friend pointed out, Mili's family loves and respects her. Like in Queen, we see what women can do and how happy they can be when they have a genuinely supportive system behind them.

I think it could be argued that Vikram does (and, it is implied, will do) more changing, but I think we also don't know what Vikram was like before [spoiler backstory], so we don't know what his deep-down self is or prefers to be. Besides, Mili's influence and actual skills extend just as much to Vikram's family as to him as an individual. In both her professional and personal capacities, she helps the system of which he is (and wants to remain) a part and which he values.

There is so much Khoobsurat does in telling this admittedly predictable story that is special. First, SNEHA KHANWALKAR ZINDABAD! Her music is largely unexpected in this context, mirroring Mili herself, and I love it. Second, the film is just so beautiful to look at. The palatial architecture and interiors are just as gorgeous as they always are in films in Rajasthan, but somehow they seem a little more human-scale here, perhaps because we see them through Mili's undaunted eyes and she quickly makes them her own. Third, everyone's acting really is wonderful. I haven't seen any of Fawad Khan's tv work but here he is the type of actor who can probably have chemistry with a lamp post; by some miracle, Sonam Kapoor is expressive and exuberant without being ridiculous, even when her character feints that direction. They're a great pair. When he relaxes and she calms down, there is a space between them that feels so loving. Fourth, the clothes. He is all smooth surfaces and class; she is all color and chaos. I'm sure it's unrealistic that a doctor would dress as she does, especially when working in the already not-as-professional setting of someone's home, but it seems consistent with her character. (We know she can wear something more work-like; in the opening segment in the cricket match she's wearing a team shirt.) Fifth, the other characters are used very well, just enough to add useful context and texture without distracting. There really isn't a B plot in this film, and vah vah to a creative team for knowing it doesn't need one. Sixth, the inner monologue voiceovers by the lead characters are so funny and honest, and the contrast they create with what the characters actually say out loud to other people feels very, very real.

Reader, I bought the DVD. 2014 was a good year for rom-coms, what with this, Humpty SharmaHasee Toh Phasee and Happy Ending. I know a lot of you didn't care for it, but Khoobsurat
delights me. Shashanka Ghosh brings a performance out of Sonam Kapoor that is by leaps and bounds a career best. I almost want to call this film candy floss for how sweet it is, but don's sell Khoobsurat short: it actually has a lot of important things to say about self-knowledge, self-confidence, healing pain, and reserving judgment, and it says them with remarkable gentleness and fun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Badlapur

In yet another attempt to be safety buddies during movies we fear are too violent to watch on our own, last week Filmi Geek and I watched Badlapur. Just like Gangs of Wasseypur, neither of us expected the movie to be our cup of tea, but nevertheless we found other interesting things in it as it went along. I'm not too surprised about, given how much I like the director's other films and all of the leads. The performances may be what I take away from Badlapur (and casting too, for that matter, especially the contrasting-in-every-way Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Varun Dhawan); I would not change a thing about how this script was enacted and visualized.

Carla: As you know, this is a genre I normally don't expect to like much. I decided to watch Badlapur, though, because I found this year's other revenge drama, NH10, startlingly affecting. Going outside of my comfort zone for NH10 was rewarding in a way I hadn't expected. So that, combined with the great praise Badlapur had received from many, made me curious enough to give it a look.
Beth: And what had led you to watch NH10?
Carla: I have to laugh a little, because the answer is: some folks from my Hindi practice group were going, so I decided to go along with them, I'd probably watch almost anything with friends.
Beth: Watching with friends makes almost anything bearable. Except Dance Dance, as we learned the hard way.
Carla: Haha, I was just thinking about that Dance Dance day too. What made you want to watch Badlapur?
Beth: I wanted to watch it because 1) I'm trying harder to keep up with new releases this year (I have some more momentum now that we get most of the big releases in the regular multiplex), 2) I like Varun and Nawaz, 3) I like the director's other films, and 4) ditto hearing good things.
Carla: All very good reasons. I want to talk about your expectations going in, because I have been having a hard time thinking about Badlapur as the film it is, rather than the film I expected or wanted it to be.
Beth: I was in India when it came out, so I heard quite a bit about it, including from Amrita and other friends who saw it. I knew about the revenge rape and I remember there being some discussion about its treatment of women overall. So I knew it wasn't necessarily going to be a film for me, really, but I was intrigued.

Carla: I want to talk about that rape, but I also want to hear your thoughts on the broader question, the treatment of women in general in the movie.
Beth: I was saying to another friend who has also seen it that I have cautiously semi-arrived at the idea that the film is just flat-out anti-humanity in many ways, women being a subset of that.
Carla: Yes, I agree, it is very, very bleak.
Beth: I'm not sure it does much to women that it doesn't do to anyone else, with the exception of sexual violence, because of @*&%$ course it has that. And it does actually have a man sexually menace a man, sort of, doesn't it? (Note: not the same as rape.) But still, the writers made that choice, and I don't know why. It's not like they did it to be titillating as some other films do. It was just a mark of the lead's descent, I guess. But unnecessary.
Carla: I'm not convinced that they didn't put it in there just to be titillating.  On the one hand, the movie is, in some ways, about male violence, about toxic masculinity. And male violence, when turned toward women, more often than not takes on the dimension of sexual violence. So the movie maybe has plausible deniability to say it's merely documenting what toxic masculinity does.
Beth: Like we don't already know! Badlapur=#YesAllMen.
Carla: On the other hand, yes, we all know this about male violence—we don't need a film to document it for us.
Beth: Just read a newspaper.
Carla:  And it happens so early in the film, that I question whether it's legitimately showing descent. Indeed, my main difficulty with the film as a whole is that it never shows any descent.
Beth: So there's descent and then there's snap. The further I get from the discomfort of watching the film, the more I am willing to give it "snap."
Carla: Yes, I think that's more what it is going for—snap rather than slow burn or spiral.
Beth: It's not like this was a super upstanding man with tons of community connections etc etc. (For example, the famous commercial that he’s saying is his idea—I’m not sure if that’s just a fun pop culture reference or if the writers are setting him up as a [time-traveling] plagiarist.) He was a dudebro. And I'm not saying it's easier for dudebros to snap, but he had less far to fall on a matrix of movie heroics.
You pointed out his immediate isolation after the crime; maybe that's when it happened. He can't even look at other people.
Carla: Not just that he can't—but no one steps up to force him to.
Beth: This is not someone weeping into comforting arms (which were there for him). He is not helped by humanity.
Carla: I was shocked by that when we were watching—everyone just says "sorry, bro" and files out. His family and friends abandon him to his grief.
And I think I said to you, wow, I would not leave my friend alone at home the evening of the day he loses his wife and kid. I just would not.
Beth: Although I guess we don't know if those people are actually gone or if he just doesn't interact with them?
Carla: I suppose I'd have to watch it again, but the impression I was left with on first watch is of a lot of people patting him on the shoulder on their way out the door. Next he's alone in the kitchen with the leftovers.
Beth: Oh the leftovers—that was so sad. His parents and in-laws are around somewhere, but the result is: he has no one.

Carla: And later he voluntarily isolates himself. For 15 years. In "revengetown".
Beth: I think we discussed while watching that it's kind of too bad we don't know what happens to him in those 15 years, whether he tries to put his life back together. But again, the result is: nope, he's a wreck.
Carla:I'd say there is no evidence that he made any effort. He did nothing but stew in his own juices for that whole time. I rather wish the film had shown us some of that time. The isolation seems to have allowed him to fester and get angrier, rather than healing and gaining any distance. But we are left to speculate about it based on very little.
Beth: I assume we're not supposed to see him as particularly human either, and this stalling and isolation helps make him seem that way? Or is it a cautionary tale—if this happens to you, DO NOT CLOSE OFF or else!
Carla: He's clearly unsympathetic and, as a result at least to me, not particularly relatable.
Beth: He's awful and somehow allowed to stay that way. People who should help him do not. On this point, I reeeeeally hated Divya's character. It was interesting to write such a tone-deaf person who supposed to be kind of a care-giver, an NGO do-gooder type is actually destructive.
Carla: That is an interesting point. I had seen her through the lens of being a victim of his psychopathic manipulation.
Beth: That too. I just think that one conversation with this man is enough to show you that he is in no place to issue any mercy, and she most definitely provoked him. Not that that means she deserves to be his pawn. But he was her pawn too (for less awful purposes, obviously).
Carla: I don't agree that he was a pawn to Divya's character. To use someone as a pawn you have to have some power, and she has none.
Beth: Ok. But she sure tries. She tries to guilt him.
Carla: She is naive, and too focused on her do-gooding to think through his responses to her and what they mean. But she has no power. To the extent she can manipulate him, it's only through that application of conscience—guilt as you say. That's a very weak hand.
Beth: If she had been _his_ social worker, that would have been an utterly different scenario. As is, she waltzes in and asks him for something incredibly difficult without knowing the first thing about him. So he's her tool, not her pawn, maybe?
Carla: Sure, that's a better way to put it. She is naive and idealistic in a way that makes her insensitive.
Beth: And pushy too.
Carla: And it also makes her too trusting, which gives him the opening he needs to play her.

Beth: Let's talk about the performances. I thought they were across the board really quite good.
Even if just for that, I'm glad I saw the film.
Carla: I have to say, I could watch Huma and Nawaz as a couple in anything, despite neither this nor Gangs of Wasseypur being a favorite of mine.
Beth: No age difference yuck for you? She’s 12 years younger.
Carla: Not especially; perhaps because she has a maturity about her or because he manages a certain boyish demeanor even when playing these deeply sociopathic character. Perhaps 12 years by itself would only be yuck when the woman is so young as seem girlish or ingenue-type?
Beth: I don't know. I'm not really on board with them as a concept but neither of these relationships is at all...nice or good.
Carla: No that's for sure. I just find them compelling to watch.
Beth: Totally. Both of them are great. But e.g. Deepika is the same age as Huma, and Deepika with Nawaz would just be BIZARRE. I don't know why.
Carla: That's interesting. I can't say I disagree. But Deepika has (cultivated?) a more girlish demeanor.
I have said about her before and continue to say that I am interested in her as an actor but really want to see what she does on the other side of 30. Also Deepika has a more refined quality, even when she's playing rougher-hewn women, that doesn't match well with Nawaz's physicality, maybe?

Beth: What other strengths does Badlapur have for you?
Carla: Well, we did have a little talk about forgiveness while we were watching, and as you said it's interesting that the film provoked those thoughts. Do you want to talk about that a bit more?
Beth: Sure! It's something that I have been thinking about as a result of all the just horrendous news we've had in the last few years. I really do not know what we are supposed to do at a societal or even individual level with some of the evil in the world. And for me that is what made this movie more interesting than just "BTW revenge is hollow, did you know?" To be a successful human do you have to be able to hold the concept of evil in one hand and not let it shape you to much with the other?
You do not have to forgive, but you cannot give in, either? The movie ends before we know how Varun will deal with that. Revenge as a concept is less interesting to me but forgiveness is something we all have to deal with even if just in little ways.
Carla: That's true. I'm going to speculate that he deals with it badly.
Beth: I assume so. I would not be surprised if he committed suicide, actually.
Carla: Yeah, I was thinking the same. Although that song over the closing credits (tone lurchy though it was) showed him continuing in his anger and defiance.
Beth: It's pretty fascinating that a mainstream film is unafraid to have its hero left on a moral knife's edge like that. But that song is so out of place. Maybe he'll dance it out.
Carla: Haha!
Beth: Debbie Allen is in the corner tapping her cane on the floor.
WE GET IT.
Carla: You raise a great point, though. I often like it when movies end with something other than facile resolution, like when a story of a troubled marriage ends on a note of hope but with implicit acknowledgement that there is a still work to be done. It's not all that common in mainstream films (of any industry).
Beth: Yeah, or all those 70s films we love where the hero actually has taken revenge and the bad guy is in handcuffs and then everyone literally lines up in a row, as though they're on stage and are taking a bow.
Carla: And so there is no resolution for him, and no note of hope either. The only constant is utter bleakness.
Beth: I tend not to like it when movies  just stop rather than conclude, but it made sense here.
Carla: It was not a conclusion, but also not a mere stop either—it was a turning point, a change in his world.
Beth: It also underscores that taking revenge does not make you a better person, which is another thing movie heroes tend to sort of swim in.
Carla: There's nothing honorable about this revenge.
Beth: No.
Carla: That was true in NH10 as well. The revenge is not so much satisfying as horrifying.
Beth: Even though he is utterly blameless in the tragedy—it's not like he was aligned with the wrong politician or even tried to save a friend who had gone off the straight and narrow and got sucked in—and it had zero meaning. Maybe that's why the revenge has no meaning? The thing it is avenging had no meaning. Hmmmm.
Carla: Well that brings us back to the Gangs of Wasseypur, the-cycle-of-violence-is-pointless idea. Everyone blind and toothless, etc.
Beth: And there it's armies, more or less, and here it's just...nothing.

Carla: The thing about Varun's character's spree is that it is not merely revenge.
Beth: More of a dismantling and erasing?
Carla: His violence extends beyond hurting the people who hurt him; he hurts the people they love, too. Yes, it's an obliteration. And that is part of what makes it totally anti-righteous, the complete opposite of classic filmi hero revenge. By coincidence I recently watched another revenge drama, an older one that is much more in the righteous revenge mode. That was Anjaam, in which Shah Rukh Khan ruins Madhuri Dixit's life after she rejects his advances, murdering her husband and framing her for the crime.
Beth: Does she take him down?
Carla: She snaps, about three-quarters of the way through the film, after enduring and enduring and enduring (with lots of talk about how enduring injustice is women's superpower)
Beth: Eyeroll.
Carla: Yes, a whole tray of them.
Beth: I was just thinking "I bet this movie was made ca. 1994" and sure enough.
Carla: She kills the (female) prison warden who had been pimping out the prisoners, she kills her brother-in-law who had just been horrible from the very beginning and eventually she also gets Shah Rukh Khan—she finds him catatonic in a hospital, and actually nurses him back to health and makes him think she has fallen in love with him just for the pleasure of knowing he has full awareness of her hatred when she kills him.
Beth: Whoa!
Carla: It's actually a pretty interesting dovetailing of nurturer-type womanhood with death-goddess-type womanhood.
Beth: What could be more terrifying to a Bollywood hero than a woman being maa-like and then killing him instead?
Carla: That's what is so interesting about it. She lulls him by playing into his own fantasy of how a woman, and especially this particular woman, should treat him.
Beth: That sounds pretty interesting. I like evil SRK performances a lot.
Carla: I've gotten a bit off topic talking about Anjaam but I've been thinking about how it compares to Badlapur and NH10 in its statements about revenge, especially. As it occupies that classical (for lack of a better word) space in which revenge is pure and righteous, it is a very different story from the revenge dramas of 2015, which are all about bleakness and damage. But like NH10, Anjaam shows how a good and ordinary and relatable person can turn into a bloodthirsty force, when pressed hard enough and forced to endure enough extreme suffering.
Beth: I did not see Ek Villain last year, which I mention only because it's the other recent revenge film I can think of.
Carla: I also did not. How about the end of Mardaani?
Beth: Ooooh which I liked, against my beliefs about how the real world should work.
Carla: Yes, I can see that—one of those satisfying in the movies even though it's morally wrong sorts of things.
Beth: And it to me felt very much like something 70s Amitabh would have done. Speaking of, sort of, another recent revenge movie is the Agneepath remake, which I also didn’t care for story-wise.
Carla: Another one I did not watch.
Beth: It is not a type that appeals to either of us, really. Our next movie should be something that DOES appeal to us.
Carla: AMEN. We have broadened our horizons together quite enough lately.
Beth: Indeed.

Carla:  Anything else to say about Badlapur, to wrap?
Beth: I love that the sketch artist is led to draw Ranjeet.
Carla: That was a great moment. I don't think I can top that.












Friday, July 31, 2015

two bloggers who don't like violent movies manage to get through Gangs of Wasseypur three years late

Carla of Filmi Geek and I watch-along-ed both parts of Gangs of Wasseypur earlier this week and then had a chat. She put a lot of other thoughts at the beginning of her post, whereas I have mostly grown weary of these movies—not out of dislike but more out of "I get it already" and "this is just generally not my bag, though I do think the films are pretty well made for what I understand them to be"—and don't have much else to say. Oh, except that I love love love the soundtracks to these films and think Sneha Khanwalkar is an absolute genius. It's so rare that I think a film's songs work as well and matter as much on their own as they do in situ, but hers always do.

Carla:
If I had to summarize Gangs of Wasseypur in one sentence, I'd say that it demands more attention than it rewards. What do you think, Beth?

Beth:
I think that would probably be my averaged-out assessment – there were parts I found boring and parts that were great, parts that were too complicated and others that were really satisfying.

Carla:
Yes, I agree with all of that. What did you find most satisfying?

Beth:
Two things. One, thinking about what kinds of choices and power the (very, very few) women had/chose to exercise. Two, all the direct conversation about movies and their role in the lives of the characters. For example, the big baddie says that as long as India has movies, people will be fooled. But in the end it's one of the biggest movie nuts who triumphs – or two of them, depending on how you define "triumph."

Carla:
Yes, or none of them, depending upon how you define “triumph.”

Beth:
What were the high points for you, if any?

Carla:
I am trying to think about the times when I felt most engaged, because much of it did not engage me especially well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui's character, Faizal Khan, has the most arc, the most complexity – the most conflicting desires and goals. And so the parts that worked the best, for me, are some parts of his story.

Beth:
Based on how many times we said "Oh FAIJAL" while watching, he was more sympathetic to us than anyone else.

Carla:
Yes, and given how removed the lives being portrayed are from the lives of most viewers – certainly from yours and mine – Faizal being sympathetic is essential.

Beth:
I've been trying to figure out how much of his sympathetic-ness is the written character, and how much is just pure Nawaz, who elevates, if not flat-out saves, so many things he's in.

Carla:
As you know, I don't generally get a lot out of stories that are primarily about men expressing masculinity in its most toxic and destructive forms, for its own sake. There's only so much uninterrupted dick-waving I can take without throwing up my hands and saying “Good God, I just don't care what happens to these people!”

So yeah, there is definitely something in the way Faizal Khan is written and/or the way Nawaz performs him that, sometimes, can overcome that reaction for me – those moments when the movie is not just about the dick-waving itself, but about something else, of which dick-waving is a part.

Beth:
As much as I...liked? Faizal, I was not sad at the end. Because, DUH.

Carla:
Well, it's inevitable.

Beth:
But he came off as someone who tried, at least sometimes, in his own way. And he knew it.  That little speech he has with his wife on the balcony.

Carla:
One of the points of the film is the pointlessness of that cycle of violence – Faizal expresses that explicitly in that speech you just mentioned.

Beth:
Pointlessness yet LET'S SHOW A WHOLE LOT OF IT ANYWAY!!!!!!

Carla:
That's why I said earlier that maybe no one triumphs, because what is triumph in this context? Just that you get to be the top guy on the other team's hit list for a while, until they get you.

And yes, a whole, WHOLE lot of it. I think I said to you while we were watching that it don't think one needs five hours to make the point that the cycle of revenge is pointless.

Beth:
For viewers like we are, who don't want to see splatter and gore and suffering, this felt a little bit like a bait and switch, because at the end of Part 1 we thought "Yeah, okay, we can do this," but then preeeeetty soon into Part 2 it got gross. So at first I thought maybe Kashyap was going to make some points about the futility of it all without showing it, but no.

Carla:

There is a notable uptick in the grossness when Faizal takes over, when he beheads the friend who set up his father. And that uptick itself means something – Faizal is a new generation, and the rules change a little when he takes over. Everyone becomes more ruthless.

Beth:
And he's shown to be quite different from his father or older brother and man I feel like I'm talking about The Godfather.

Carla:
Surely Kashyap knows that you will think these thoughts while pondering his film.

Beth:
Oh of course. Faizal is at first kind of pleasingly weird. But then we see it manifest itself as psychotically violent at times instead. Whereas his dad was mostly...efficient? Rather than with a flourish?

Carla:

For Faizal's grandfather, violence was a means to an end – he used it for survival. For his father, it was all in the service of revenge. For Faizal, it is still revenge, but there's something else, too, isn't there?

Beth:
For Faizal and Definite it's for their moms. In different ways, but still for their moms.

Carla:
Yes, that's a good way to put it. And, it's a good segue to talk about the women in the film.

Beth:
After we finished Part 2, it occurred to me that I don't think we really see the women parlay any social power, do we? It's not as though they choose to be with these men – and I do think the younger generation chose pretty freely – because they gain a lot that we can see. They're not leading cliques of aunties or anything. They still do housework. Etc.

Carla:
Another comment I made while we were watching is that half of the lines spoken by women are turning down men's requests for sex. That is one power that they have.

Beth:
But even that doesn't seem to add up to much does it? I mean one of them STILL has four kids.

Carla:
Indeed, despite her best efforts. But I think you're right, we also talked about why a woman would want to be married to a man like Faizal, and there must be some social cachet to it.

Beth:
I don't know what social power would look like in their world but I don't think we saw it, either. They do get refrigerators? And TVs? But Huma's character had a TV in her room before she got married.

Carla:
Even in a mad patriarchal society, there are spheres where women can wield power in different ways, and there are occasionally stories that are about that – but Gangs of Wasseypur isn't one of them.

Beth:
No, it's not.

Carla:
It is about a wholly male set of interactions, and the women are marginal at best. I guess the social cachet in being Faizal's wife, for Huma Qureishi's character, Mohsina, wouldn't necessarily be in the form of things, but in the form of regard and respect of other people in the community. But that is speculation, because Gangs of Wasseypur didn't find a way to squeeze any of that into its five hours.

Beth:
No, there's pretty much no sense of community in this, except for perhaps before the weddings and at the funeral. But that's special occasion community, not everyday. They don't even give birth to women. There is no place in the family for them.

Carla:
That's right, I noticed that too – no daughters, at least none that we get introduced to.

Beth:
Yeah only the enemy family has girls, don't they? And one of the few female characters, Durga, has to be set up as the enemy of one of the others, Nagma.

Carla:
Of course. Pit women against each other, in competition for what? A man – Sardar Khan, Faizal's father. A man who, incidentally, doesn't treat either of them with a ton of respect. Remember the scene where he tells them he wants them all to live in one house, and he can't even fathom what the objection would be?

Beth:
He's one of those "well, he doesn't literally beat his wives, so I guess he's a catch" kind of characters – though at least the women seem to know it.

Carla:
That dynamic around the first and second wife is probably the only thing Gangs of Wasseypur has to say about how women's lived are damaged by the norms of the society they live in. The rest is all about the damage inflicted on men.

Beth:
I think the last scene between Mohsina and Faizal shows some. Or, implies it, anyway.

Carla:
Yes, Faizal's wife tells him she is pregnant, and he says, "say hello to my kid," and you know they both know he isn't coming back.

Beth:
I don't know how they managed to convey so much there, but they really did. But of course we knew the run time of the film too.

Carla:
They both do a lot with their faces, as actors. But all that interaction does for me is reinforce the question, what does Mohsina get out of being married to him?

Beth:
I think perhaps they're just genuinely attracted to each other. He's clearly amazed by her in the cinema. And then she's so flirtatious at the...engagement party, I think it is. Maybe she likes having him dance to her tune. Actually maybe she just finds the whole thing filmi, and we know she likes that.

Carla:
Oh yes, that is definitely true. They really dig each other. That's what makes the scene on the balcony work, even though it's a bit heavy-handed – he is imagining a different life in which he could just enjoy his amazing wife, without having to worry about killing and revenge and which family member he's going to lose next.

Beth:
A rare moment of clarity for Faizal when he's not high on drugs or killing.

Carla:
Yes.

Do you want to talk about those filmi connections some more?

Beth:
Sure! For example, the flat-out outlining of generational heroes by Ramadhir is kind of funny.  And how he tells his son, "You just can't hack it as a gangster because you're too busy watching DDLJ, you dope."

Carla:
It's clunky and clueless, which is very funny – he doesn't follow them himself, and doesn't remember them all.

Beth:
He remembers enough as sort of cultural signposts, but yeah, he does not connect with them. And we get different people identifying with different heroes. Faizal likes Mithun, right?

Carla:
Aww, yeahh. (But Faizal also does a Travis Bickle sort of thing in the mirror.)

Beth:
So I guess by default Sardar likes Amitabh but I can't recall if he says so. Oh and there's that GREAT moment where Faizal turns around in his chair and it looks like the start of the warehouse scene in Deewaar. And Mohsina likesMaine Pyaar Kiya, and also Amitabh – she's a cool girl that way, maybe even a Cool Girl.

Carla:
Perpendicular and Tangent are also big Sanjay Dutt fans. They are engrossed in an almost homoerotic fantasy about him when they are set upon by the goons who kill Perpendicular.

And Mohsina is definitely a Cool Girl. She can afford to be, because she knows Faizal digs her.

Beth:
And the whole family likes the TV serials apparently. There were like 20 people watching that!

Carla:
"Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi" ... that one line of melody is repeated so many times and gets stuck in one's head.

Beth:
And to open with it and then repeat it in the second film.

Carla:
So, when the ultimate male explosion happens, this huge raid on the Khan house with automatic weapons and bombs, all the women of the house are gathered watching some saas-bahu serial, and the repeated line is all about the relationships of household women. Everything the movie is NOT about.

Beth:
True. Many of the men are watching it too, interestingly. Maybe it's a reiteration of Ramadhir's point: If you just sit around watching movies/TV, your house is NOT in order and it makes you stupid.

Carla:
That's very bleak, though, because most of these people are collateral damage. They are not responsible for this war, just because they are watching TV.

Beth:
(Also a marker of changing technology, I would think, which the film likes to do.) Collateral damage is always part of stories like this though.

Carla:
Yes, it is. What I am saying is that it is very bleak if Ramadhir's critique that TV and movies makes people weak gets taken out on folks who aren't directly involved in the war at all. It's one thing for him to harass his son for watching movies; he'd rather have raised a son who is a strong general in his army and a worthy successor. It's a very different thing to apply that criticism to people whose only crime is being part of the enemy household.

Beth:
His soldier actually says that, remember? Kill them all, even the cook, the washer boy, the pets (or something like that).

Carla:
Yes. By that time, after Ramadhir's sister and Nagma have been killed, the rules of engagement (such as they were) are out the window. This is no longer an honorable conflict.

Beth:
The scope of the violence expands with technology, too. Sardar's dad starts out mostly hitting people, I think, and burning their property.

Carla:
Very true.

Beth:
And then Sardar has...knives and swords, etc., and then guns come in, and then bombs.

Carla:
The first time Sardar's father sees a gun up close, it is used on him. It's all downhill from there.

Beth:
And somebody, maybe him, has a line about "Wow, now every Tom Dick and Harry has a gun."

Carla:
Ah, interesting.

Beth:
So here are two questions to wrap up: 1) Why did we watch this and 2) do we think those rationales will actually be met or pay off?

Carla:
What are your answers?

Beth:
For me, this was a movie I felt like I Should See, capital letters – that somehow it's an Important Film from an Important Filmmaker. And I will admit that after Bombay Velvet was SO disliked by so many people but I loved it, I was more intrigued to see this one, even though I'd tried once and been turned off instantly by the violence.

I don't know the answer to my second question yet. If Gangs of Wasseypur keeps showing up in conversations, I'll be able to participate more than I would without having seen it, and I like that feeling. But honestly, do I see it come up all that much now? I'm not sure I do.

Carla:
I don't think I see it talked about much either, and there may be a bit of a backlash against Kashyap because of Bombay Velvet (which I also did not think was as bad as all that), that will make people stop talking about Gangs of Wasseypur for a while.

However, my answers are very similar to yours. When I write, I put myself out there, and the more I have seen of the works that are significant and interesting, the less likely I am to make a complete idiot of myself. Also, while I don't like gangster films as a rule, I generally do like films about political machinations in India. And films that focus on areas other than the big cosmopolitan cities are also of great interest to me.

Beth:
I have definitely had enough of hinterlands assholes at this point.

Carla:
I would very happily watch more movies about how the machinations of hinterlands assholes affect women.

Beth:
If I had to watch hinterlands assholes, that would be the slant I would appreciate, I guess. But I'd rather not watch any at all, at least not for a while.

Carla:
Give me more Mrityudands, more Revolver Ranis, more Godmothers. Even more Gulab Gangs, if not that exact film over again.

I definitely don't regret watching Gangs of Wasseypur, even if I didn't find it thoroughly engrossing. It's a five-hour investment in the big picture and I do think it will pay returns.

Beth:
I don't want those hours of my life back, but I don't think I'd be particularly missing out in ways or arenas that I personally car a lot about if I had not decided to watch it. "Timepass" isn't quite the right word for me for this film, but it's somewhere in that general neck of the woods.

Carla:
And with those ringing endorsements...

Beth:
Carla, nobody cares what we think about these movies three years after they came out.

Carla:
WHAT????

This was really fun and interesting, Beth. With this chat, Gangs of Wasseypur is already returning on the investment.

Beth:
Good! We always make our own fun, don't we?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan

#toohotforparagraphs


most adorable, expressive, squooshy-cheeked, heart-tugging moppet since Stanley Ka Dabba

+ a female with plenty of agency despite being very young, a foreigner, unspeaking, and an in-context minority

+ "holy fool" type* (un-, even anti-conventional, charitable, simple, humble) gently enacted by Salman Khan

+ "Chicken Song"

+ girls getting to be interested in sports

 + no egregious beating up of people by the hero

+ emotionally (not logically) (duh) pleasing conclusion of the human trafficking element

+ mention, however brief, that dividing humankind by religion and caste is silly

+ illustration of challenges resulting from strictly, literally following a moral code

+ soldiers, officials, and everyday folks who do what is right

+ Nawazuddin Siddiqui doing anything**, especially rapid-fire line delivery

+ spin on the road trip formula

+ fuzzy lammies

+ Delhi food

-  like Baahubali, no need for a woman to go on a quest too, even though she is, you know, someone who works with children for a profession

- large number of adults who are really quite bad at keeping track of a child

- border officials who don't radio/call in to HQ to check the story about a lost Pakistani girl, whose had in fact been registered with authorities right away

- last three minutes, which are quite overdone and have shoddy CGI, including the classic mistake of physical objects with no shadow on a sunny day

? meaning of head scarf flying off as she gets stranded in India

? overly simplistic but perhaps in a kind, forgiving way

? echoes of moments of Highway with the happy times on the verdant mountainside

? why didn't they ask their Muslim next-door neighbors, who were already a known source of comfort to Munni, for some help in caring for her/providing her with a bigger competent adult community once they realized her religious identity, even just to get her out of the way of Blowhard Conservative Uncle for a few hours

entertained, satisfied, and slightly teary Beth



Note: I do think this film has the capacity to serve as a powerful piece of PR about Salman's real-life character among anyone who is prone to confusing (whether deliberately or not) actors with their characters. I don't know enough to speculate whether the director meant it as such, but surely the star realized the value. However, will that lesson fall on ears that aren't likely to be convinced already of his good-boy-ness? I doubt it. Uday Bhatia discusses the film's portrayal of its hero well in his review. 

* definition by Oxford dictionaries: "A person who appears unintelligent and unsophisticated but who has other redeeming qualities."

** Maybe more than any other performer, if I had to name a favorite performance of his, I would be very hard pressed indeed.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Baahubali: The Beginning

Baahubali is an incredible, awesome film...except when it isn't.

Its CGI work is varyingly glorious, adequate, and really bad. Its props are lush and evocative except for all the armor that looks like bargain bin plastic. It is racist: shoe-polish black-skinned evil army uses a click language and rough-hewn wooden shields (the good guys have metal) while putting innocent villagers in front of its soldiers and is described in the legend that precedes their onslaught as barbaric rapists and thieves. It is sexist: its rebel warrior heroine becomes useless when the hero shows up. He physically brands her as his own property; gives her a forced, almost rape-y makeover that removes her armor and lots of other protective, sensible layers of clothing, exposing her in every possible way, while adding cosmetics and untying her hair; and distracts her from her self-stated life's work by pointing out to her that she is conventionally pretty, a value that is also stated as antithetical to her chosen life. Some of that happens in a dream sequence, but once reality returns, she is soon snared in a net and twists an ankle, apparently unable to continue walking on her quest (even though we've already seen a different woman go on an arduous journey with an arrow sticking out of her back). I guess you cannot be capable and self-directed;once some completely random yahoo tells you you're pretty. Brains or looks, ladies! Earlier in the film she explains that tears are not a sign of weakness but of her boiling blood; now she says she's torn between him and her mission (her two loves in life). In what may be the worst of this whole simplistic, insulting arc, he actually decides for her by saying "You are mine, and thus all of your life is mine, so if rescuing the princess was your mission, now it's mine" and just walks off without her.

Neither racism nor sexism are a particular surprise, but the extremity of the first and the about-face of the latter shocked me. Based on the end of this film, I do fully expect her to be back and in warrior form in the conclusion, and I hope she will fight side by side with the hero—this is clearly a world with more than enough baddies for several heroes to come forward without any of them seeming less than divine in comparison. There's enough opportunity to grunt and impale and decapitate in slow-motion to go around.

Update to post (July 18, 2015): I just read two really good pieces on the rape of Avantika in this film, one by Anna Vetticad at The Hindu and one by Vivekananda Nemana on The Ladies Finger.

Back to the incredible, the awesome. I love basically everything else about Baahubali. There are so many moments that made me clap with delight in the theater. It's the only film I can think of whose second half not only is not worse than the first but also improves upon it so drastically (and the first half was no chopped liver, either). I tend not to care about fighting in films very much, but the huuuuuuuge battle is my favorite part, joining a short list of films whose battle scenes I would re-watch even out of context of the rest of the film (Asoka, Sikander). It is handled with such drama and creativity. The low tech demanded by the historical setting results in some of the most enjoyable weaponry and defenses I've ever seen. The political machinations are no less impressive, with Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami fierce and frightening in her philosophies and leadership. She's the hero of this film, in my opinion (okay, either Sivagami or art director Sabu Cyril), and that's one reason the decline and fall of guerrilla Avantika is so upsetting: these writers know how to make a no-nonsense, super -capable woman, but it's as though having created one they figured their quota was met and stopped caring. The clothes, SWEET HELEN ABOVE THE CLOTHES: small-scale metalwork (mainly jewelry, though a guardian's chain mail shirt and a prisoner's clanking chains are effective too) and fabrics are simply glorious. Exteriors, interiors, and architecture add reinforce the scale appropriately and beautifully. My favorite visuals include:
  • princely jewel-toned dhoti and flowing hair
  • a metal-tipped shoe (Kattapa's, I think?) standing on the head of a prisoner
  • the rebels' stone bracelets (even when Avantika's magically changes wrists and back mid-song)
  • Sivagami's entire wardrobe, down to the puff-sleeve sari blouses
  • Devasena's tattered dupatta, which...does not bode well for what we may find out about her, does it?
  • Mahishmati throne room (parliament hall?), which somehow looks like what Frank Lloyd Wright or Ron Thom would do if he only worked in stone
  • just the sheer crowdedness of the architectural facades in Mahishmati. How is this whole city not rendered immobile from over-stimulation?
  • the goat-emblazoned battle formation
  • the imagery of the fuchsia clothes sailing through the sky (and the opponents' reactions to them)
  • horse-mounted rotary blades
  • flaming hay bales
  • the whole snow sequence, which is an incredibly brilliant choice to make since we see snow in Indian films rarely and as a setting of suspense, aggression, or peril even less often. The tinkling of the ice coating every branch is just perfect. To me this loses its magic once the sledding starts because that portion is much less well done, but hours after leaving the theater I'm still enchanted by the ice.
I will never tell you not to bring your brain to a film—that's always your choice, and you should make it as you see fit, no matter what the rabid twitter rabble says—but I do think that aspects of Baahubali crumble under certain expectations or scrutiny. I somehow thought that a huge budget also meant absolute dedication to all detail and execution, but it doesn't, and it's probably unfair to hope so. All the budget in the world doesn't guarantee better writing, and I wonder if some ideas in story or characterization suffer from neglect when other, showier (and maybe more marketable) ones are distracting. I also won't tell you that the stupendous visuals, scale, and overall orchestration of so many wonders make up for my disappointments, because those are entirely separate concerns, all of them worthy of consideration. So while it isn't perfect (and sometimes stumbles in unexpectedly simplistic ways), Baahubali has so much to appreciate and revel in. Go see it, right now while it's on the big screen. It's extremely fun, wildly creative, and very, very cinematic.

Friday, July 03, 2015

mini reviews for June 2015

Chhalia 1960 [Spoilers.]
Oof. If more of Manmohan Desai's early films are like this one, I'm never going to make it through his whole filmography. Chhalia focuses on one little Ram-Sita-y family, using them as a metaphor for Partition and its aftermath (which are the setting for the story): Nutan is the faithful, fertile, and wronged motherland, Rehman is the proud but misinformed father/patriarch in a suit who abandons her, their sad-eyed moppet is the ultimate innocent victim,
and Raj Kapoor is the scrappy common (Hanu)man who restores proper order.

Pran also serves as a refuge for Nutan in one wave of the story (and Raj in the other). For reasons not clear to me (I think a few scenes are missing from this print) they hate each other and have a big fight, which is hilarious because how are we supposed to think Pran would not win instantly?
That's all well and good—except for Raj Kapoor, who is creepy beyond belief in this role—but to get to that satisfying ending you have to sit through the chestnut of "through no fault of her own, wife is separated from husband and behaves nobly, but he doubts her and rejects her until she's almost burned to death."

The Desai symbolism I love so much in his 70s films isn't nearly as rampant here (and would be out of place), but he does show doubts embodied as a literal straw man—demon, actually—who goes down in flames as the family is reunited.
The director lights Nutan's face so lovingly but makes her say things like "My husband has spurned me but I am praying for his long life."
But frankly, this is not my kind of story, even when indebted almost entirely to Nutan's thoughtful, sympathetic performance. In addition to Rehman spurning Nutan when he wrongly assumes that she has cheated on him with Pran while they were separated by the chaos of Partition, her father and brother do too and disown her. So much talk of izzat gives me severe eye-roll sprains. There are some visually beautiful moments, but unfortunately they're offset by Raj Kapoor playing his knockabout fellow with too much sleaze. I assume a skeevy hero isn't the intended effect, but yikes.
There are also a few moments that are so jarring they disrupt the solemn, sad tone: not once but twice Raj Kapoor is put in front of posters for his own films.
Why? Why would you do this? There's nothing funny or sly about anything else in the film, and somehow the in-joke almost insults the story.

Chhalia isn't a bad film, really, but unless you just really want to wallow in misogyny, there's not much appealing in it. Maybe for Nutan, Desai, Partition, or Indian-films-based-on-Dostoyevsky's-"White Nights" completists only?

Jay Vijay (Jay-Veyaj: Part 2) 1977
(According to the film's own title card, its title is Jai Vijay: Part II, but I cannot find any trace of part I. Maybe it's a nod to the historical introductory material?) I couldn't find a subtitled version of this online, so I might be missing something, but it feels like a clip reel of mostly really, really good masala lunacy held together by a story we've more or less heard before. Two hundred years ago, three kingdoms hid their treasure underground and wrote the directions to the location on three necklaces;
the importance of the necklaces was then written on copper plates buried underground; the locations of the plates were written on palm leaves kept in each palace; omg this is like trying to come up with yet another password with more than eight characters including numbers and capital letters; then about a generation ago, somebody bad wanted to get the treasure and some royal babies were separated and yadda yadda yadda (in a good way).

The most consistently compelling part about it is the older members of the cast, who make a damn fine Who's Who of That Guys, so much so that I would rank it only just slightly after the 1973 Gaddaar in which Pran and Iftekhar lead a crew of bandits all portrayed by That Guys. Technically the hero of this film is probably Jeetendra, but he does not impress, even on someone who has a moderate tolerance for 70s Jeetendra. Prem Krishan tries but feels similarly marginal, Reena Roy is criminally underused with no chance for the sort of sass I enjoy so much in other films, and Bindiya Goswami basically gets the runoff of Reena's already blah part. HOWEVER. Look at this cast list for the non-hero generation: Om Shivpuri, Satyendra Kapoor, Urmila Bhat, Roopesh Kumar, Kamal Kapoor, Lalita Pawar, Paintal, Appi Umrani, Mohan Sherry, Ram P. Sethi...the list goes on! It's totally worth watching just for them, and if you like character actors from days of yore, Jay Vijay is not to be missed.

Please indulge me in some picspam for the remainder of what needs to be said about this film. For example, an item song dancer (Jayshree T) is paid by a golden egg laid by a goose who is also in attendance at the performance.
Dev Kumar looks vaguely Prussian.
The Bloefeld-esque royal cat has a bejeweled collar and leash.
Jagdeep is finally used properly in a film: his usual schtick is curtailed relatively early in the film when he deliberately opens a booby-trapped door to invaders so that the bomb will explode on the enemies, killing himself in the process. YES. THIS IS PROPER USE OF ODIOUS COMIC RELIEF UNCLES.
Reena Roy has a nice song in the pool of her pretty pastel palace.
There is competitive qawwali in disguises.

Lockets.

STATUES WITH LASER BEAMS.
Thanks to being raised by a good-hearted daku, Jeetendra can, and I swear I am not making this up, get out of chains by wriggle-exploding. I don't know how this is justified, but there you have it.
There's a melee of the highest order. I love that they not only packed this scene with extras but they also actually staged it so you can see everyone at the same time. Smart.
Every time Viju Khote is hit in the brawl, there is a quack sound effect. Look, don't question these things, okay? Just rejoice in them.
If you look very hard, near the top right of this photo you will see Jeetendra (in brown) swinging from a rope holding one of the baddies (also in brown) in a scissor grip between his legs. In no way will this lead to a shot of a fantastically fake dummy falling to the ground. Nope.
The chief bad guy falls over a balcony and on to the goddess's sword and it is EPIC.
Thank you to pal Shivani for recommending it!

Sanjhbatir Roopkathara 2002
A story about a father-daughter relationship in which the father is a painter and the daughter a serious student should be right up my alley,
but this is essentially just Pretentious Bengali Movie Men Behaving Slappably. They are put upon because they are entitled, selfish, predatory jagweeds who mistreat the women in their lives.
Creative block is fundamentally boring to me, partly because the older I get the more I know that you just have to Do The Thing and partly because the writer-iest writers I know has never once complained about it, which sure does hint at some kind of connection to competence.
This guy with his book and cigarette and stole, amirite?
No. He was not different. He was an entitled jagweed as previously discussed.
The daughter, played by a wide-eyed and appropriately rattled Indrani Haldar (who is also Chandramukhi in the 2002 Bengali Devdas starring Prosenjit) (why haven't I seen that yet?) (oh right, because Devdas), is an interesting role. I can't think of many other films in which a daughter has to work so hard to figure out whether and how to repair her relationship with her father. In response to his sins that aren't even directly about her yet upset her deeply, on screen she does almost as much listening as she does stewing, which is a very mature way to handle things. She doesn't stamp out her own feelings but is also open to additional input and decides that moving forward is as important a value as the ones that were wounded.

Badshahi Angti
2014
For those who don't follow contemporary Bengali films, this is the newest incarnation of the legendary Feluda character, played by Abir Chatterjee, who has also been playing Byomkesh Bakshi in Bengali movies (and whom you know from a few scenes in Kahaani).
I would assume there have been massive outcries over the idea of Bakshi and Feluda being played by the same actor, but Bengali knicker-twisting over beloved literary characters is low on my list of priorities, so I haven't paid attention. And anyway, the real problem here is that Sandip Ray (son of Satyajit) is a terrible director and really should not be allowed to make any more movies, maybe especially not ones based on his father's work simply because inviting so direct a comparison is disastrous for junior. The only reason I could give you to watch this movie is to see all the location filming in Lucknow (including plenty of eating),
which is true of the last Sandip Ray Feluda film I saw too. This one also gets in a few fun chases, and I am impressed at whatever logistical wrangling it took to make that happen in Lucknow streets and crowds. I didn't find much interesting in this film otherwise, and it continues the weird and utterly disappointing Ray tradition of nullifying women from the world of stories aimed at younger readers/viewers (I don't think any even speak in this entire film). Almost an "avoid yaar"...or, as I was told to say in Bengali, "Ekdom dekhben na. Jaachetai."
Unless you like bad CGI rattlesnakes.
Hawaizaada 2015
Does it make any sense to say that this film moved me as a human but wearied me as a viewer? Does it make even less sense to say that I would have liked it more if it had been performed by the Muppets?
WHY IS MITHUN'S AERONAUTICS LAB ON A GIGANTIC SHIP?
The story has solid, worthwhile bones—in 1895 Bombay, the quest by an eccentric (of course) inventor and his equally eccentric protege to design and build an airplane becomes a metaphor for the freedom struggle—but is poorly served by the Bhansali-ish visuals, a too-fanciful tone, and a love story whose irrelevance rivals Special 26's.

Despite finding the major characters tiresome and wishing Mithun Chakraborty and Ayushmann Khurrana would dial back their manic pixie dream chasers from 11 to about 7,
I caught myself tearing up a few times. I'm a sucker for stories that explore the nobility of science and human intellectual endeavor (e.g. Kinsey and The Dish), and while Hawaizaada is otherwise largely unsuccessful, I'm delighted that Bollywood attempted at a story like this. Design-wise, the human-scale elements like clothes and homes are gorgeous, if hyper prettified in an un-real teal palette,
but the machinery they endlessly labor over does nothing to help us believe it will soar—ironically, a story about flight is hampered by the plasticy-looking steampunk nonsense that looks far more like a prop than anything that could conceivably work.

We're supposed to believe and invest in their struggle, their dream, but there's too little grease and dirt and too many wistful looks and "Eureka!" moments (inspired by the Vedas, no less).

Somewhere I read that the original title of this film was Bombay Fairytale, and that's certainly more evocative of how this film feels. It's not nearly as successful at it as Bombay Velvet; probably the earnest but overly spelled-out freedom-fighting talk keeps this from working more smoothly as a parable. A lighter touch with less whimsy and less emotionally manipulative background music would help so much. That said, Hawaizaada is an interesting experiment, especially in a year with high-profile period pieces that function in different ways (Bombay Velvet, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!)
This intersection reminds me a lot of the front of the nightclub in Bombay Velvet, actually. Same set?
Ek Paheli Leela 2015
If this film had been made in 1975 instead of 2015 with Aruna Irani or Reena Roy or Helen instead of Sunny Leone, I'd gobble it up without a second thought. It isn't good, exactly, but it is certainly chock full of favorite features: gratuitous Rajasthani locations and caricatures,
Is there any film that just lets Rajasthani characters be Rajasthani without having them remark upon how proud and/or violent they are due to being Rajasthani? Ditto Pathans (as in Chhalia above).
eye-popping costume and set design,
terrible but quotable dialogue,
and great, gleeful reveling in tropes of creativity, love, fate, reincarnation, and revenge.
It's kind of a B-grade Magadheera that hits a bunch of familiar notes yet also handles the reincarnation angle in a way I've never seen before. This last bit is spoiler-y, so I can't discuss it further, which is too bad, because it's significant to the film and demonstrates some great creativity among the writers, first-time director Bobby Khan and frequent choreographer Jojo Khan.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend reading Paromita Vohra's piece in The Ladies Finger about Sunny Leone's career in India and how she works the media by being unapologetic about her earlier porn career while also demonstrating certain traditional values. That's basically how the titular Leela behaves as well: she's not ashamed of desires and deeds, and she refuses to be shamed by anyone else either. True love and fidelity, which are more or less the family values of the world of this film, are upheld in both the flashback and present-day arcs. Leela is not perfect, but she is hard-working, kind, and slightly unsettlingly child-like, and her sweet nature is basically rewarded despite the outer trappings of her life in the fast lane of modeling. Say what you want about this film, it soars through the Bechdel Test immediately when "artier" stuff like Sulemani Keeda fails; it shows that women can be professional and ambitious without also being emotional and psychological train wrecks, an idea completely foreign to higher-profile "woman-centered" films like Fashion and Heroine. This seems like a great kind of project for a star who is new-ish to the industry and unlikely to hit it big in mainstream movies. And I think it is critical to point out that she is absolutely not any worse than Katrina Kaif still is after so many more opportunities. If the amazing last few years of Deepika Padukone's trajectory have taught us anything, it's that genuine improvement as an actor is possible, and if she can find a director willing to take a chance on her in a higher-profile project, she might just stand a chance. I'm not invested in whether she succeeds or not, but with your sociologist hat on, it'd be absolutely fascinating to watch.