Tuesday, August 30, 2005

take this job and shove it: Aa Ab Laut Chalen

Shocker to find out this was made in 1999. Looked waaaaaay older. I guess that's what "low production values" means. I wonder if, as an American, it's fundamentally a little harder to appreciate stories about people moving here from other countries, facing western temptations, losing themselves in cash and booze and loose morals, then realizing their mistakes when they hit the bottom, finding a nice girl from the old country, and going back. Part of me thinks that if the only reason you want to move to a country is to make a quick buck, you're gonna end up associating with the wrong people and aren't seeing the real value of that place. Let me clarify that there's a difference between taking opportunities where they come because you want to do better for your family, etc., and milking innocent people or formulating grand plans and schemes, such as, in this case, marrying someone for a greencard. You sort of deserve what you get if you try to be shifty.

That said, I'm glad the boy ended up with the nice girl, because she really was nice - and smart and sassy too. Long-lost father disappearing out of nowhere was a pleasant surprise too.

The subtitles were awful on this DVD. They came up about halfway through someone speaking and carried over into another actor's reply, so it was a little hard to sort out who said what. And the songs weren't subtitled at all. They were also done by people who didn't seem to know English well and said things like "the Seaside Hides Hotel," which I assume was either Hideaway or Heights, and "I am your friend long time."

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's a bad sign when not even a dog can save a movie for me: Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon

People on Bollywhat have said so many funny things about this movie that there really isn't any need for me to post about it, but here goes nothing.

The main thing to keep in mind if you ever want to see this is that there is a lot of hyperactivity in this movie, from at least nine human characters (heroine, her friends, her mother, family servant, secretary, and hero) (more on the non-humans later), which is all counterbalanced by the energy-sucking placidity of one of the other characters. The placid guy doesn't show up until halfway through so the first hour+ is like when the bad boys who sit in the back row of music class are snorting pixie sticks. Just as sugary, too, so it's not really a bad thing necessarily - it's just rEaLlY ReAlLy LiKe OhMyGoD WoOoHoOo SuPeRwOW eyes bugging out bouncing dancing weird animation rollicking craziness that I guess the filmmakers thought might somehow be attractive or compelling.

I don't usually write out plot summaries to this extent, but I couldn't think of a shorter way to describe what goes on here. So, the plot:
Feisty, free-spirited daddy's girl and her gang of friends have just graduated from college, seeming to have majored in Spice Girls. They sing a big song about their feelings on marriage, which are that they will choose, thank you very much. And that they are their daddies' angels. Girl's sister in the US phones to say a boy her family does business with, Prem K, is coming to their town in India and she thinks they'd be a great match. Boy shows up and girl, after initally being hostile to boy due to her mother's monney-grubbing match-making, grows to love boy and is completely swept off her feet by his grand pronouncements and goofball hysterics. Her parents and friends approve, especially as he early and easily passes the friends' four-part test, which involves a lot of clothing being removed and close inspection of body parts. Really.

Another email from sister in US says boy never made it to India yet because he had to go to Japan suddenly, and that he will arrive tomorrow. So who is this first boy? Turns out his name is also Prem K., and he works for the same company - owned by (and named after) boy 2. Boy 1 has to go out of town for business but, hearing his good buddy boy 2 ("Boss") will be arriving, asks girl to show him around. They have a jolly time and boy 2 falls for girl, as they have much more in common, on paper, than girl and boy 1. Boy 2's mother is also around and is smitten with girl, and a proposal is made. Girl distraught to find out that boy 2 is really the person she was set up with. Mother, who has become a complete nightmare, puts much pressure on the match with boy 2 (the originally intended suitor) and takes great pains to spurn boy 1. Father is distressed for his daughter's and boy 1's suffering, reassures boy 1 that daughter loves him, and tells his beeee-yatch wife to step off.

Girl tells boy 1 she loves him and he agrees to come back by a certain time on the day of her engagement to boy 2, in time to stop it. But he doesn't show - he's on a train, speeding away, unable to break his best friend's heart. Girl and boy 2 get engaged; boy 1 comes in the room; girl stares at him crazily; and then slaps him and finally collapses in tears at his feet. Mother of boy 2, moved boy the love of girl and boy 1, says girl is released and is delighted that she loves her "other son" and that he is a good boy. Boy 1 and girl marry (offscreen) and girl and boy 2 are firm friends. The end.

I'm so glad people on the forum pointed out the the movie's director is Barjatya - I've hated both of the other movies of his I've seen (HAHK and HSSH), so I'm feeling a lot better about being so underwhelmed and agitated by this one.

Must also mention that rounding out the cast are a computer animated talking parrot, who speaks in movie titles that are not accurately translated into English, and a dog whose head becomes a cartoon when he is angry. Worst animals in a movie ever. Couldn't they at least have had an animatronic parrot?

In addition to the hyperactivity and aforementioned critters, you should be warned about Hrithik's bizarro voice, Kareena's hair (for the love of non-stripe-y-ness, have someone touch up your roots!), and more than usual sexual innuendoes, which are actually fairly funny. There is little redeeming about this story or performances for me other than the dad, although somehow girl and boy 1's general personalities and total spaziness suit one another. As Melina would say, they've done us all a favor by taking themselves off the market.

Friday, August 19, 2005

all the vibrations in the universe were bound to have some sort of interesting effect: Koi... Mil Gaya

Even after reading in my favorite Bollywood forum (Bollywhat) about this movie, I still have no idea what to make of it. At all. Is it a heart-warming sci-fi tale for 7-year-olds? A love story? A Coke commercial? A male fashion before-and-after nightmare? Advocacy for disability rights? An underdog sports story with some action sequences chucked in for good measure? Or is it simply a hodge-podge of every warm, fuzzy movie cliche ever made?

Basically, our hero, a mentally disabled man who has the mind (and heart, the subtitles point out) of a child, accidentally signals outer space with an old computer that had been created by his "space scientist" (not astronomer, apparently, thank you subtitles) but now deceased father (played by the actor's actual father, who is also the director, ha ha). The aliens land in an idyllic little town in the foothills of the Himalayas (Kasauli), and one of them gets left behind as the others are all running back to their ship while being chased by elephants, and our hero finds him and hides him in an old barn. The hero, his girlfriend, and their gang of friends (all actual children) have some fun adventures and the alien gives our hero some powers that make him "normal," advancing him to the highest grade in his school, giving him super dancing abilities (although to me he still comes off a cross between Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor), and freakish, special-effects strength. Which I think was just an excuse to show off the actor's insanely large, veiny biceps.

Meanwhile the police or army or something, I don't know, some men with blue berets and guns, have figured out one of the aliens is still here and they look for it, and they are clued in to its location by the unusual antics of the new-and-improved main character, who in turn protects the little alien from the baddies with a series of ridiculous punches, kicks, and other stunts, all fuelled by his new strength but also his heart of gold. This includes putting him in a bag and riding with him on a razor scooter and a bicycle, jumping across a big ditch or something, flying against the night sky - sound familiar? Alien goes home, boy keeps girl, boy keeps new powers - all ends well. So well, in fact, that there is a sequel in the works (Krrish). Why not - it was the biggest grosser of 2003?

I would be fascinated to know how this movie was received among people who have experiencne with and/or are advocates of the mentally disabled. My intial reaction to this character was that just because someone has brain damage, they are not necessarily a cartoon character. But many of the reviews I read said this was a thoughtful, touching performance, so who knows. Despite laughing out loud a few times at how absurd this movie is, as usual I got over it after an hour or so and just settled in to enjoy the romance and dancing and triumph of decent humanity.

Speaking of which, a quick word about the dancing. A lot of our hero's moves just looked weird - not impressive, not sexy, just weird - the leaps a little too high, the toes a little too pointed, and the flung-out arms and spread-finger hands a little too much. Think rhythmic gymnastics. Maybe part of this had to do with costumes - the actor is relatively tall and I think putting him in super-tight bell-bottom pants and pirate-type sleeves just accentuated the distance from his feet and arms to the rest of him. The geometry was all off. Of course, he was supposed to be a child most of the time, so maybe that's why the moves were so jerky.

It is amazing what a bad hairstyle, strained facial expressions of bugged-out eyes and clenched jaw, a shirt buttoned to its top button, and a sweater vest

can do to one of the world's most physically perfect specimens, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sexy period-piece-off, yo! Asoka and The Rising.

This weekend I saw both Asoka and, much to my delight, in my local art theater, The Rising: The Ballad of Mangal Pandey. Uplifting, we-can-change-the-world goodness with dancing to boot.

some points of comparison:

compare/contrastAsokaThe Rising
hero(es) Genius. Tempestuous second son, goo-goo-eyed lover, bloodthirsty conqueror, and pacifist, all in three hours. Shahrukh at his shirtless, intensely smoldering best. Not someone I'd want to be friends with, though. In DVD extra features, Asoka interestingly described by SRK as childlike in all his phases: he's innocently vengeful, innocently greedy, innocently in love, etc. Whatever. He does certainly come off as mostly, if not all, id. Also genius. Spirited underdog and his equally spirited but more tentative friend who amounts to more than he seems. Aamir Khan as a hero with a sense of humor and friendship. I'm sure every reviewer is saying this, but it seems to me that short of being a real person and dealing with the larger picture of the same basic issue, this is the same character as in Lagaan. Toby Stephens as conflicted company man who does the right thing in the end.
heroine(s) One of the most enjoyable I've seen. I have not been impressed with Kareena Kapoor until now but she was v g in this, swinging her sword, being flirty and mysterious, and sticking up for beliefs. Warrior princess indeed. Not prominent. Only three female characters of any consequence: a dancing girl (feisty but loving, blithe but insightful), a servant (jittery but joyful), and a madame (jaded and in charge). Chorus of prostitutes gets in good line, when coaxing Mangal Pandey to stay at the brothel: "We'll pay you! We've never tasted a hero!"
villain(s) Enh. Neither resonant nor a selling point for me, as my Indian history is ignorant at best. In films dealing with armed conflict before the twentieth century, there is no better enemy than the corrupt, snotty, bigoted colonial forces personified by the British.
love story - hard to contrast, since both principal couples have weddings of the small, intimate, meaningful typeSort of like An Affair to Remember but with swords and dust. All about being truly simpatico, about truly understanding. Asoka and Kurwaki are a fit because they are both warriors for principles - and both grow up enough to know what principles are most important. The sweet little Buddhist girl never stood a chance.Two love stories. Not sure quite what to make of the servant and Colonel Gordon, since she was crying when they got together, but then she seemed happy later. A little bit heavy on the "don't worry, I'll protect you!" side for my taste. Mangal Pandey and Heera didn't get much of a go, but they clearly understood each other also, the sadness that comes with sacrifice even when it's truly important.
musicEdgy but also perfectly reasonably historical, since I have no idea what third-century BCE Indian music sounded like. A little spooky, a little ethereal, definitely up to the mythical proportions of the story.Can't beat A. R. Rahman. Songs stuck in head for 30 hours immediately following film (and counting!).
overall cinematic loveliness - both dramatic and edgy, rather than lush and pretty - v appropriate to storiesFunky tattoos, fancy swords, fantastic architecture, and love scene underwater and in a dark fairy-tale woods. Effective but not as bright as most other movies.Any movie that shows a Holi festival is going to win my heart. Wish it were acceptable to chuck fistfuls of pigment and squirt people with dye, then swirl around with the passionate, principled, funny, decent man who loves me.... Oh, wait, where was I?
dancingClearly the winner. Underwater scene as mentioned, plus complicated-looking moves that made the best of the this-got-shredded-in-the-dryer "historical" clothing. Idea of Buddhist evangelist who can shake it v delightful.Wasted opportunity. My eyes are glued to the screen whenever Aamir Khan dances but he had no opportunity here. Don't know why - perhaps not dancing makes his character carry more weight? Pish posh. What, pray tell, is wrong with a freedom-fighting funky bunch? Nothing!

See them both! It's almost 2,000 years between the stories, but if you want a movie-fied story (although with a disclaimer right up front about being mostly made up!) about principles that are important to think about in your own life, in the world we have here and now, and you'd like a side of dancing and costume changes to go with that, you can't go wrong.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

six degrees of Shahrukh Khan

When I was in graduate school in Toronto, I lived in a residence college with 59 other graduate students. One late night, instead of writing theses, a bunch of us sprawled out on the floor with pieces of paper and crayons and made a big chart of how everyone in the college was connected to everyone else. A red line was for established couples, a pink line for people who were rumored to have hooked up temporarily, a green line for people in the same program or doing research together. After counting how many Hindi movies I have seen, I now want to do the same, but just tracking actors and movies. I made a big spreadsheet late last night, writing down what I have seen and who stars in each. The overlap is freaking me out.

Obv could do this with US, British, Australian, whatever movies too, but somehow that doesn't sound fun to me. Anyway, we already have a system for that, thank you Kevin Bacon.

Here he comes to save the day!

I'm sitting there, watching this standard romance, Saathiya, while sorting through some CDs, and I look up and see this silhouette coming out of the shadows, and I gasp. Even in the darkness I can realize, thanks to the profile, who it is. It's Shahrukh! I was thrilled. The nose appears and the movie took a turn for the more interesting and more compelling. (Really. He has a unique nose. You'll grow to love it.)

Something about the lead actor, Vivek Oberoi, had been bothering me for the whole film but I couldn't place my finger on it. Then all of a sudden, when faced with SRK (and Tabu, too, whom I love from Kandukondain Kandukondain!), I realized what it was: he's a child. He seems like a teenager earnestly but not effectively trying to be a mac daddy at the mall. Maybe it's his character here, who is supposed to be good-natured but sort of immature. Plus he has no eyebrows. What's up with that? He seems perfectly capable in the dance department but I have nothing else to say. When SRK arrives, he fills up the screen, he takes over, even in this little cameo that does nothing to forward the plot and seems completely irrelevant. (Maybe bad subtitling? Maybe his character was referred to earlier and I didn't catch it?) I do love Rani Mukherjee, though, being feisty and fun, as I have seen her several times before.

Maybe I have reached some sort of saturation point - say it ain't so! - but I can't think of anything in this movie that I haven't seen before. Young love blooming out of nowhere, between rich lazeabout boy and middle-class hardworking girl? Parents disapproving? Passion-fuelled romance floundering under pressures of work and home? Threats to move out? Reconciliation? All of the above.

What I haven't seen before: this one has a secret marriage, and so far wins the prize for the most outright references to sex, which are notable only because they are unusual - sweetly handled, to be sure, with lots of laughing, embracing, candles, and opaque bedding. Oh, at one point, the female lead starts to do a pole dance with a lamp, but then the character comes to her senses, giggles, and just breaks into goofy running around instead. Mostly these scenes were cute and charming, but they just make the contrast of the "Whose fault is it we never see your parents?"-"Are you saying you're tired of me?"-"Why are your friends coming over tonight?" spats more incongruous.