Monday, April 30, 2007

less than the sum of its parts: Fakira

This movie should have been better. It's got great ingredients: Shashi Kapoor in "a masala film he made with gusto" (so said Aspi when he told me about the movie, and I agree!), the always reliable Shabana Azmi, Amrish Puri's brother as the bad guy, Danny Denzongpa,

a comic sidekick who's not too annoying (Asrani), and lots of Recommended Masala Allowance features, like a drive-in lair,

quite possibly the inspiration for the Charlie's Angels logo,

a cool female bandit (Aruna Irani),

a Clapper prototype (used to awesome effect during a fight),


pigeons who deliver fire cracker-looking bombs,

murdered parents, flames, Dussehra effigies, long-lost brothers, treachery, an undercover female cop, revenge, a charity auction, and steamy bits.

Phew! Even with all of this, Fakira, except for the fun performances and the never-ending parade of delightful elements, didn't really do much for me. When I was reading Filmi Geek's review, which you should do too, and she mentioned that there's a corrupt politician, I thought "Oh, he was a politician?" That's how little I was grabbed. I wasn't inspired to pay equitable attention to everything that was going on. But I agree with Filmi Geek that it's a reliable timepass - don't go out of your way, but if you come across it, there's a lot to have fun with. Which, after all, is probably the major point of a movie like this.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

UIUC India Night...starring Hrithik Roshan?

You heard it right. The star of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Indian Student Association's annual cultural night was Hrithik Roshan.

The humor highlight of the night was the portrayal of Hrithik in Bollywood celebrity Jeopardy!. When he was introduced, he hopped out from behind his podium and did the wiggle. One of the game categories was "ten" and he got the answer "This is how many fingers you have" and he held out his hands and looked at them very carefully. Abby and I were the first people in our section of seating to get it, I think, and the laughter built in a slow wave. Hrithik also begged Alex for mercy on one of his answers, saying "Please? Dancing is all I have." Another contestant was Aishwarya, but all she did was talk about how beautiful she is and refuse to kiss Hrithik (so had they or had they not watched Dhoom 2?). The writers' knowledge of Aishwarya's physical features was lesser than that of Hrithik's: final Jeopardy! was to list your favorite color, and she listed "my brown," which Alex was set to give her, until she revealed the rest of her answer, "eyes are so very enchanting." Aishwarya famously does not have brown eyes, yo. But still.

Hrithik and his moves featured prominently throughout the show, with fantastic copies of sequences from "Ek Pal Ka Jeena" (complete with wiggle) and "Dhoom Again." A dancer was jokingly derided as thinking he was super-hot but actually being "about 100 pounds from Hrithik Roshan." There were many more Bollywood references, too: in addition to musical/dance groups performing (to) filmi music (including one with a violin who did "Woh Ladki Hai Kahan" and a really cool version of "Salaam-e-Ishq"!), there were skits about Bollywood boot camp and a sort of "condensed Bollywood" movie, a four-minute version of a typical film, complete with two clocks, one going at normal time and one going at frantic movie speed. Oh, and one in which feuding characters were united by "Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera" from Swades, at which point I leaned over to Abby and said "Shahrukh brings people together" and she nodded sagely in agreement.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

and now for the important event of the week

You know what? I like them both and wish them all the best. I like how happy she seems here, just grinning widely, not caring if she doesn't look her movie-star best. Good for them!

Update to post (April 22, 2007): apparently the photo was faked, so I've removed it. Sorry about that. Anyway, best wishes to the bride and groom! And after a week of no real movie content, I hope to have a review up soon of another great 70s Shashi masala film. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

next in the series of current events posts

Don't know about you, but I listen to a lot of music online, filmi and otherwise. Now that I think about it, I don't even know where my beloved originates, but I do know that if it and its fellows disappeared, I would be very, very sad and my office soundscape very, very dull. So click on the picture and sign a petition. Don't know if it will help, but it's worth a try

Monday, April 16, 2007

because other things happen too

This post has nothing to do with anything on this blog. But this is one of the places I feel happiest, and I am in need of some happiness today. My father teaches at Virginia Tech University, as did my mother, a cousin is a senior there, and various relatives are alumni. They are all safe, but they are all horrified beyond comprehension. I grew up in a college town (not in Virignia - I grew up in Illinois and my parents have retired to Blacksburg, which is in the area where my mother grew up), and I work at a university and live in a college town now, and that precious feeling of security and good-natured insularity that such communities often have is a big part of what makes things feel like home to me - so in some ways I can sort of imagine how thrown, how torn, how shaken my...what's the word? fellow gownies? neighbors by type? whatever, colleagues in Blacksburg are. But in other ways I cannot, it is unfathomable, it is horrible, that's not how one uses commas but even I don't really mind right now. Thank you so much to all of the people who have written me to ask or to extend sympathy. I'm undecided about whether the universe takes notice of wishes and sympathies and things like that, as everyone things why why why, but I'm hopeful just in case, and I'm grateful no matter what.

Sharmila, Shashi, and skates: Aa Gale Lag Jaa

My first post at Desicritics is up, so if you'd like to know how much brain power I devoted to trying to figure out the exact circumstances in which Sharmila and Shashi got busy, you know where to go. I'm so excited about it that I'm writing this at work, which means I don't have access to my many, many screen captures at the moment, so I'll add them here tonight. You should definitely check back for those, because there are some great visual moments in this movie.

(Note: I was thinking about re-posting the article here, but I wanted all the comments to be in one place. Let me know if it's annoying to hop around too much.)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

high on the list of unfortunate film titles: Love 86

I'll give the movie this: it helped with my occasional investigation into the all-important question, "What is with Govinda?" Here's what I learned. When he was younger, here not even 30, he was cute and spry and a spirited dancer. In any of the songs in which all four leads were dancing, he's the one to watch.

Look how bad Neelam's got it for Govinda! Dang!

But the rest of the time...zzzzz. I suppose the frequent mentions of the year the movie was set (1986, of course) are meant to emphasize modernity or youthfulness or generational identity, but the movie is dull enough that it's hard to imagine it did much to bond people to any ideas or feelings. We don't get to know our leads very well. They're depicted only superficially, and the little bit of interest I had in their story was owed to them being the focus of the story rather than me being grabbed by any kind of meaningful conflict or emotions. The various plot elements feel perfunctory, especially the completely predictable romances; the good cheer of the lead actors gives this movie whatever sparkle it has. It tries to be dramatic, with Tanuja as a cartoonily stern and protective mother and the boys learning a few things about life from a mysterious stranger, and at the end there is a barrage of "We're young and free and you can't keep us down!" exclamations hurled at a priest and a government official. It tries to be funny here and there, with Johny Lever offering his standard eye-bulging side character, the girls trying to out-maneuver the boys, and the boys pulling tricks on some bumbling cops (Satish Shah and Ravi Baswani).

This movie doesn't really do anything for me one way or the other. Maybe it was aiming for masala goodness, but it missed that, too, because none of the components of comedy, family, romance, and social commentary was substantial on its own, and the collection never cohered. It's just not an interesting movie, with the the exception of some of the songs, and Govinda gets most of the credit for that. His entrance scene (featured in the previous post) combines Michael Jackson moves, breakdancing, and West Side Story with a bar brawl, in the kind of scene that makes even your non-Bollywood-watching friends clap their hands in delight. Said friends might like the title song, too, which features leg warmers, studded arm bands, and robot costumes.

The 80s nostalgia works in the movie’s favor now, and several people have emailed me to say “Oh my gosh, I watched that all the time as a kid, you’ve got to see it!” I can imagine that if I had grown up with this movie I’d be happy to encounter it on cable, flipping channels back and forth hoping to catch a few of the songs.

I don't know if "to eighty-six" is an expression in Indian English, but for those of us for who already have a meaning associated with that number...well, this movie had a lot working against it from the get-go, let’s just say that.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Namesake

I don't remember the book making me feel or think any of the following: that we might never know people as well as we think we do, that we might never be as close as we want to be; that things and people and bonds disappear with no notice; that parts of the world are closer than we thought, maybe; that the Gangulis' house looks so much like the split-level on my block growing up that was the fun house, where the 8-bottle packs of strawberry Crush were, where we could set up the Matchbox car tracks all over the basement, where we safety-pinned towels around our necks and leaped down the stairs like superheroes, where before I was even in high school the parents had divorced and the fun house wasn't safe anymore; that saying "no big deal" can be restorative and hopeful; that the older you get the more you can hurt; that something moving and meaningful and a little amazing happened the day I went to the Taj Mahal (and what Gogol experienced there is what my own beloved father experienced at Coliseum, at nearly the same age, and then decades later he took me there, and I too began to understand something that has remained important to me), but when I don't necessarily want to be reminded of that day, the Taj Mahal is everywhere, I'd never noticed how ubiquitous it is.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'm just a girl who cain't say no.

When a mysterious man named Armando asks you to review Love in Tokyo, you go along for the ride.

And when the crew of Desicritics asks you to write about movies there, well, it's such an honor to be asked that you decide you'll give it your best, even though you aren't desi and don't really know if you count as a critic.

And PS, the journalist who was at the Vienna blogger meetup has published her article about it (thanks to Filmi Geek and Babasko for sending me the link). I don't remember saying that about KJo, but I'm sure I did - it sounds like the kind of goofy thing I would say.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beth Loves Various Kinds of Popular Indian Cinema: Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana

Back in March, Babasko sat me down and we watched Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, my first Telugu film. It's been a month, but what I remember is roughly as follows:
  • both Babasko and me nearly collapsing in squeals and giggles because it was so delightfully cute* and funny
  • ohhhhhh that Siddharth
  • the mean girl entering a scene while we hear "Oh Baby Baby"
  • "something something"
  • cow song! cow song!
Foggy as I may be, I still definitely recommend it. Good times. A little bit like Maine Pyar Kiya but not so much that I found it at all redundant or derivative. Definitely its own fun thing. Definitely, as Babasko says, a coconut with a flower inside.

Aside re: Bollywood in the title of my blog: I happen to mostly watch Hindi films. When I started watching popular Indian films about two years ago, I relied on my local video store, and with just a tiny handful of exceptions, Hindi is the language of the movies they have, so that is what I watched. Now that I know about the Indian grocery store's collections, I could definitely branch out. I admit that I think my exploration and learning are aided by having a focus, but it's important that people know I didn't choose this particular focus out of a feeling that northern culture is better or anything absurd like that. The focus was sort of there for me as I started and I've never worked to change it. It's like being at your favorite restaurant: do you go with the thing you usually get because you know you love it, or do you order something else that you assume you'll like because everything else you've ordered has been so good? That's how I feel about choosing a movie. If you want to send me recommendations for non-Hindi films I should watch, please feel free to do so.

* Cute gets a bad rap. I know it can imply that the thing so named is trivial or dismissible, but I try to employ it carefully to connote positive traits like "endearing" or "inviting" or "sweet yet substantial."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

almost "Avoid, yaar!": Kudrat

Let's be honest: I watched this movie so I could review it for Jaman - and, more importantly, for Akshaye. And all of a sudden I felt a new, if flimsily-based, appreciation for Roger Ebert and the like who sit through mountains of crap because they have to.

I should have known, right?

Yikes. This shifts in tone of this movie are very, very awkward, and it is littered with both contextualized and completely random violence far beyond what even its basic plot entails. The "We hate each other! No wait, we love each other!" buildup of the love story has its cute moments, but Urmila's character Madhu is completely irritating and it's very hard to understand why Akshaye's Vijay likes her - or even gives her the time of day. The second part of the film is a bog of history (which explains why Vijay's parents have such fake-looking gray hair) and revenge, and despite all of the action sequences, complete with waaaaaay overdone punching sound effects, it's dull.

Even if you're as Akshaye pagali as I am, Humraaz and Deewangee (also with Urmila and greatly aided by Ajay Devgan) are better, less annoying ways to get your fix of Akshaye in action-star-ish mode. And although I can't think of any off the top of my head, I'm sure there are far better examples of romantic comedy + revenge drama out there. That is, should you want such a thing as either Akshaye in action-star-ish mode or a movie that combines romantic comedy with revenge drama.

I will give it this: Kudrat features a truly great example of the girls vs. boys engagement party song, "Ab Tak Hai Puri Azadi," which is probably my favorite type of standard Bollywood picturization. What made this song great for me is a little twist of the intergenerational and interfamilial dancing, which I don't recall having seen before.

You could do some very fine dance-along-ing to this song - or you could just sit and stare Akshaye.*

Speaking of which, this is a jackpot of wavy-haired wooing, smiling, and dancing Akshaye (when he isn't being beaten up or beating other people up), and I've got the screen captures to prove it. He does a lot of arm-flings, walks dreamily around trees as Urmila shimmies about, and even rides a tractor, reminding me of Footloose in a really good way. His carefree rich boy character enables him set loose the slighty cocky, good-natured, "I sure am having a great time making this movie, check me out!" vibe of his dad, and that was really fun to watch. He has most certainly had more interesting and more empathetic roles, but as usual he does his best with what he was given. With one exception: I believe I have previously aluded to my dislike of Akshaye's tendency to follow the Al Pacino method of expressing anger, which is to talk at a normal tone and then all of a sudden start yelling. Loud = full of rage. Got it. He's angry a lot in this movie, and it got old fast.

There's nothing exciting about either the role or his performance. There's nothing special about this movie at all (yet note how long I can talk about it - sorry about that). It's not the most horrible thing ever, and the ways in which it is bad are neither interesting nor entertaining. It's dangerously close to an "avoid, yaar!", the lowest of the low. It's saved by the song mentioned above (which I would tell you to watch online but I couldn't find it) and adequate performances by all the leads. Isn't it sad that "adequate" is saving a movie from being a complete waste of time? That's what we're dealing with here.

* See? So much to stare at.

As someone who frequents Chicago, I was delighted by this one. And it matches his sunglasses!

Somebody do something with this subtitle, please. The best entry gets a prize.

And a mullet!

The movie must have been made in various stages, because here he has what might be his best hair ever. Ever.