Saturday, August 25, 2007

see it for Vijay Raaz: Raghu Romeo

Raghu Romeo is an funny little film I stumbled across on Jaman. Despite having read a bit about its writer/director, Rajat Kapoor, somehow I'd never heard a thing about it - and I hope if any of you have seen it, you'll post in with your thoughts on it. Raghu (Vijay Raaz - yay!) is a waiter in a dance bar, where he quietly defends dancer Sweety (Saddiya Siddiqui) from over-attentive attentions from a bhai (Saurabh Shukla). But his energies are elsewhere - mainly channeled into staring at his tv dream girl, soap opera star Reshma (Maria Goretti). The paths of all four cross, and both wacky antics and commentary on fantasy and celebrity ensue.

While I'll give it a solid A for effort, for me this movie came off as lopsided. Sometimes it was clever and biting - a laughing club is the backdrop for an attempted assassination, an imaginary song-and-dance routine breaks out on a tv set - but other times it just went nowhere or had major plot elements that were inexplicable (and not in the fun way) - namely, once he gets his chance to be up close and personal with Reshma (whom he usually calls "Neeta," her character's name), Raghu switches from sweet and shy to domineering and teasing. I understand that Raghu is doing what he thinks he has to do to save his fantasy life and the central figure thereof, but it's an unattractive change that I don't think he really learns anything from.

When it works, the weaving of fancy with reality is quite funny, and the movie is strongest when it plays Raghu's imaginary life against his reality or the real drama in the lives of his friends against the scripted drama inside the soap opera. Like many movies, it's much stronger in the first part and begins to lose its oomph about two-thirds of the way through (it doesn't have an official intermission, but the plot provides a natural before/after dividing line). I was also very satisfied by all of the components of the sweet ending, some of which were quite a surprise.

The director's own website has a lot of great information about the making of the movie, much of which is as good a story as the movie itself. Kapoor also lists reasons to watch the movie, many of which I disagree with (he says it's about "real people" - how many bar dancers, mobsters, and tv stars do you know?), but it's always fun to read what the director hoped for the impact of the film.

Here's a clip with Raghu in full-on imaginary world.
Raghu Romeo

Saturday, August 18, 2007

wrong place, wrong time: Jab Jab Phool Khile

Update (November 16, 2007): Post-Punk Cinema Club has written exactly what I what I wish I had. In retrospect I really chickened out with what I wrote, and while I still find this movie very frustrating, I keep coming back to what PPCC said: "They always said the devil would be like this."

[spoilers ahead]

I am, that is, not the movie. There's a lot I dislike about this movie, but before you yell at me, understand that I realize that I'm not the audience it was made for. The intended setting, I assume, is India in 1965, not the US in 2007. (What sectors of the Indian film audience it was aimed at, I'd love to know.) I don't mean to use the differences in setting as an excuse for not trying to understand the movie on its own terms - but that's a different thing from me in my own context liking the message it holds in its own context.

Some background, in case you haven't seen the original (or its retelling, Raja Hindustani): rich, modern girl Rita (Nanda) arrives by plane back in Mumbai from America. Finding city life a bit too much, she takes a vacation to Kashmir, where she rents a houseboat from Raja (Shashi Kapoor). Raja instantly takes a fancy to Rita, and their affection blossoms over sight-seeing, boat-rowing, songs, him gazing at her while she dances, and her teaching him how to read Hindi.

On her next visit the following year, she arrives with suitor Kishore, who is much more keen on her than she is on him. Raja and Rita admit their feelings (and in a much funnier, livelier way than the sap-tastic method you might guess), and he follows her back to Mumbai. There he makes some changes to fit in with her world - new ways of dressing, eating, speaking, and dancing. And if the picture below is anything to go on, probably some new ways of flirting, too (though I think they're in essence engaged at this point, if not formally.)

However, there's one thing Raja won't do. When Rita teaches him how to dance some sort of box step but gets tired, trying to give him another partner, he says (read left to right, top to bottom):

Her reply is the last box there, acquiescing to his sense of propriety (and I think it's interesting that we never see her face in this exchange - just his, expressing concern and then happiness). The culture clash continues until a very fancy party and a very sad song, "Yahan Main Ajnabi Hoon." Feeling that the differences between their worlds will sink their love, Raja leaves for home. Rita, overhearing her father rejoicing over Raja's departure with Kishore, runs after him.

Aaaaand scene.

So what's my problem? My problem is that it's the educated woman who makes all the sacrifices. She leaves home. She says she's wrong, not "we'll need to make compromises together." She takes on a name he picked out for her (Rajju). Admittedly until this point she's done very little to adjust to his concerns or worldviews while he tried to make some changes for her. It's also a little troubling to me that Raja sometimes seems to like her modern, educated ways - like when he asks her to teach him to read (something that will make him fit into her world more but will also serve him well in general) (and if you click on the top collage and get a bigger version, you'll see that she's actually reading Lolita when he comes to ask her for help - she's that unconventional) or dances around outside in her nightie - and to support their class difference - like calling her "memsaab" all the time or sitting at her feet for reading lessons despite her inviting him to a chair. Heck, he's smitten the first time he sees her, when she shows up looking like this:

(On the subject of her clothing, it's very interesting that we never see her in traditional clothing. I thought for sure this movie would have the "sari switching point," when she ditches her sleeveless mod tops and short skirts either right before or right after they admit their love.) The movie ends with Rita no longer jet-set but train-tracked, on the ground with a man who will probably treat her very well and love her truly but by default keep her in a life less open than the one she has known. (His life isn't less open because it's rural and northern - it's less open because he's uneducated.) At least in this case she chooses it, I guess. And despite my griping, I do wish these fictional people from forty-two years ago the very best; I hope they both learn to compromise and that their life together comprises the values and experiences that are important for both of them. I don't think their odds are good, though, and the relationship seems to me to be unequal, inequitable, already.

I'm sure the message is more complex than "women should give up their lives in order to get married." I'm sure there are layers I didn't pick up on. I'm further frustrated by the characters in general: Rita is a whiny, fairly spoiled, silly person, while Raja comes off as having more depth and more heart. Raja also has time - or takes time? - to think through the implications of giving up (part of?) his culture, and decides it's a sacrifice he won't/can't make, but Rita just rushes off and hops on a train. I'm very curious which of these two worlds the filmmakers' own lives resembled. If they were mod Mumbai city-slickers, does that make the story hypocritical? "Do as we say, not as we do?" Or a cautionary tale: "We've learned that the modern life sucks your soul! Go back to the village!"

Or am I over-thinking it and it's just a movie?

There were many things I enjoyed. The songs are excellent, especially the lovely "Humko Tum Pe Pyar Aaya," with Raja frolicking in the mountains rejoicing in love, and the fun "Na Na Karke Pyar Tumhi Se Kar Baithe," in which Rita teaches Raja how to shimmy around the city (and it didn't look like he needed much instruction, if you know what I mean). The scenery is gorgeous, some exchanges early in their romance are very cute, and Shashi's performance is nuanced and sweet. (Nanda's is good, except it's hard to tell if she's following scripted whiny pouting or if she's doing that on her own. Also, like her later counterpart Karisma Kapoor, she's got a terribly grating, fake-sounding laugh that drove me bonkers.)

I have to warn against the version of the DVD I rented - Indo American Video Corporation Classic Collector's Series, with no subtitles in the songs and some pretty sparse ones elsewhere. Avoid, yaar!

In closing, a teaser: I watched this movie with Filmi Geek, and she and I read some parts of this movie differently. I'm looking forward to what she has to say, and you should too. (She also made a very good joke about one of Nanda's outfits, which I do hope she'll post. Hint hint.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Kabhi Kabhie

Yash Chopra
adjective (Yash Chopra-ier, so much of Yash Chopra)
• beautiful and stylish; romantic and dreamy; indulgent of emotion; using dramatic elements without going overboard: This film is delightfully Yash Chopra, as it maintains a delicate balance among its potentially ridiculous plot elements, such as a poet with unrequited love, an adoption, and an endangered engagement.*
And that would just about describe it. Kabhi Kabhie is all of the above - and everything I hope for in a Yash Chopra movie.

The cast deserves special note. We've all seen big movies packed with big names and they disappoint, either because they're under-used or the actors turn in uninteresting (or even bad) performances. That is very much not the case in Kabhi Kabhie. This movie has three of my most favorite people from past decades - Shashi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, and Rakhee Gulzar - and they and everyone else do a fantastic job. Shashi is smiling and breezy but not careless or unfeeling. Amitabh is brooding but repentant. Rakhee is funny and sweet but mindful. Even Rishi Kapoor, whom I don't necessarily enjoy, was a treat, very physical in his gestures and expressions. I wasn't actually fond of his character, but I liked his performance. I read that Neetu and Rishi fell in love during the filming, and I hope that's true, because I feel like I saw it in their performances. Very cute and very endearing - not just the lovebirds but the whole cast.

There were also some sweet touches of everyday life (very welcome in the movie world of mega-houses, horse racing, poetry, and tv studios) that made me like the characters even more: the funky wooden table in Amitabh and Waheeda's daughter's teen hangout room in the basement, Rakhee sitting on the floor working at the coffee table, Rishi trying to take his phonecall from Neetu as far away from his father as he could, limited to the reach of the cord (if you're my age or oler, you might even remember doing such a today, with their mobile this and their wireless that, they have no idea...).

For me, Kabhi Kabhie was no more - and no less, it's important to stress - than an exceptionally well-executed example of the Yash Chopra type. Like the parents in the story, it is generous and indulges us but keeps us in check. There were zero surprises, but no matter. A well-worn path can be amazing when it's blanketed in flowers and poetry, populated by interesting, charming people, and given a classic soundtrack.**

Let's see some of that pretty, shall we?

My computer did not like this DVD and it got really spazzy about halfway through the movie, so my screen captures are limited. But I just had to have this scene, so I resorted to taking a picture of the tv screen. Just look at the mustache and shades!

* While I don't think the movie would have been less without the adoption plot line (I read somewhere that the story originally focused on the adults and that arc was added later), it was handled nicely, and every time I found myself about to get tired of the kids, the movie shifted to the Amitabh/Rakhee/Shashi story. Can anyone confirm that the story was indeed originally proposed without the Neetu/Waheeda story?

** I know a lot of people adore this soundtrack. I don't. My verdict is that the songs are wonderful in the movie but I don't feel the need to listen to them on their own (a few of them appear on various compilation albums I have, and I never choose these - but I listen to them if they come up on shuffle).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

fun with curly-haired girls

From a watch-along of "O Hasina Zulfonwali" (starring Shammi and Helen) with Filmi Geek....

BLB: Look at these ladies' awesome hairdos!!!

FG: Isn't it faboo?

BLB: most certainly
BLB: one of those ladies looks a bit like a drag queen
BLB: in a good way
BLB: lots of makeup
BLB: oh the shiny jacket

FG: It was when Helen started coming down the stairs that I exclaimed "the 60s are awesome"

BLB: There's very little to dislike about the 60s.
BLB: this girl lying on the curve - that's funny and random
BLB: Is he playing THE SPOONS?
BLB: Does that say ROCKY?
BLB: Does she have giant tulle pants?

FG: Shammi's character's name is Rocky

BLB: of course it is
BLB: I should have guessed.

FG: look at the mariachis
FG: so random

BLB: look at the eyeliner

FG: It's at least eight kinds of awesome, this song

BLB: look at the girls in red and green with pink hats
BLB: at least
BLB: oh em gee
BLB: is that a giant eye?

FG: I think we've identified ten or twelve kinds already

BLB: yes, I see some senorita type shirts here
BLB: Helen is in the eye?
BLB: "So, Priya, what did you do on the film shoot today?" "I was an eyelash!"
BLB: I like how the glass and the spoons made the same noise.

FG: look at the flamenco dress!

BLB: I'm getting Bill Clinton flashbacks.


BLB: I'm hypnotized by the swirling

FG: Swing!

BLB: It's like Shashi and Elvis had a kid.
BLB: and not necessarily in the good way

FG: ew

BLB: Yes, but isn't it?
BLB: Lamps!
BLB: Paper maché weird sculpture thing!
BLB: More lamps!
BLB: What IS this?

FG: And chalk lines on the ground like someone died there?

BLB: I was just wondering that.
BLB: Maybe it's a map?

FG: maybe
FG: trombone!

BLB: Is there even any trombone playing right now?
BLB: Maybe it's supposed to be veins in marble?
BLB: Mariachi!
BLB: and now as suddenly as it began, it's over

FG: this is such an acid trip

Update to post (August 15, 2007 [happy Indian Independence Day]): after this we watched "Aaja Aaja" from the same movie and coined the term "ShammiShimmy" to describe some of the dancing. ShammiShimmying is an instant mood enhancer.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

random assortment

1) Today I went to my local Indian grocery store in search of Shashi Kapoor movies, and the nice owner even offered to let me search his database if I had titles in mind (I didn't, other than Junoon, which he doesn't have). The down side of this story is that because I was going in to work this afternoon and needed cheering, I decided to wear my "I'm famous in Bollywood" t-shirt (a gift from my BFF). So I pull up to the grocery store and then realize what a moron I look like, so I had to do all my browsing with my arms crossed. Classy.

2) I got an update from Jo of Ganesha about her chat with SRK (first mentioned here)

So, we met King Khan yesterday. He’s small + sweet and quite human really - if not more pussycat than tiger! I thought I would be too too terrified, but actually, I was in a state of zen calm. When the presenter invited us to get a bit closer, I even managed a bit of cheek + asked "how close are we allowed?" Despite the cheek + the moment where we were all giggling like girls, Shah Rukh was very sweet to us, quite formal + gracious. He pretended to be impressed by our very bad Hindi, which the presenter made us do, like a pushy parent at a party ("look what the kids have learnt!") and he raised a sceptical eyebrow when we told him Hindi films are educational. I asked him a question about where he sees Indian cinema in 5 years and he looked at me as he spoke. At this point, I began to feel slightly, uh, swoony. He has the most amazing eyes - a sort of liquid amber, like cognac or something. They are mesmerising. I could feel my critical faculties ebbing away as they were directed at me. My friend then managed to put her arm around Him and have a feel of His midriff at the last minute group photo. Can you believe it?! She says there’s a definite naughty benefit to being a more mature woman. I gather he was very firm, and there was nothing spare. (I would like to feed him aloo paratha though). Soon we were out of the door, but our mission was accomplished and we were happy (and quite high!) I am sorry I couldn't ask any other questions, btw - we'll have to start on a next time, no?!

3) Mini Khan is about to leave me to begin his adventure. You can see what we did today over at Bollywoodbloggers.

4) Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is on in the background and I just saw the angels sneak into a warehouse of stolen goods disguised as a sculptural frieze. That makes me much less delighted with the similar scene in Dhoom 2.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Aaja aaja!

Courtesy of the superwow Pardon My Hindi, I just learned that in her song "Jimmy," M.I.A. samples "Jimmy Jimmy" from Disco Dancer - and, even better, the video is...well, even better, complete with 80s graphics, a Bollywood backup dancer army, shiny lycra dresses, pouting, and what I take to be nods to Charlie's Angels and classical sculpture kitsch.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

pretty pretty please

Bollywood or not, I luuuuuurve Monsoon Wedding. It's one of my favorite movies of any type, any language, any story, any whatever. Now I'm in desperate need of the text of the lyrics to "Mehndi / Madhorama Pencha" - I'm in a women's choir that does music from around the world and we'd really love to arrange that piece for our group. I loaned my director the movie awhile ago and she fell in love with the song too. If you can help, you can put them in the the comments of this post, email me (bethlovesbollywood at gmail dot com), or post them on the BollyWHAT lyrics forum here. If the song is in Hindi, which I'm not sure of, you can send the lyrics in Devanagari, even, and I'll work through them slowly but surely.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

research question #4

Our friend Jo at Ganesha has just informed me that she has secured an interview slot with one Mr. Shahrukh Khan at the Chak De India festivities in London. She has graciously invited questions from readers of this very blog. away - maybe your words will fall upon the eyebrows nose ears!

Jo, if you're at a loss for words, you could always tell him about Mini Khan...or would that be creepy as hell? It's a fine line, really.