Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bahu Rani

This is my first Guru Dutt movie and I'm delighted to have seen it. Though communicating a clear message of justice and compassion, the movie refrained from being preachy and saccharine - thank goodness, because it less capable hands it could have gone horribly wrong. The visuals are similarly straightforward, yet they're full and beautiful too. The film is meaningful without being heavy, and I think much of this is owed to the sparky performances by the two leads (Mala Sinha as the titular daughter-in-law, Padma, and Guru Dutt as her simpleton husband, Raghu). They're fantastic - lively but subtle. The rest of the cast is also strong. Nasir Hussain nails the "stern but loving patriarch" type with real feeling (take note, Big B), Lalita Pawar* is convincingly icy as the scheming stepmother, and Feroz Khan creates a villain whose comeuppance is a treat to cheer for .

I watched this at Jaman and was interested to read a post on its discussion board about Mala Sinha's insistence on quality roles, because this was a role that seemed to suit her perfectly - and I'd like to see more examples of such writing for women in today's Hindi films. I'm interested to know if other viewers see this movie as feminist - I do, because for me feminism is about women getting to make choices, and Padma makes several bold choices, ones that benefit other people and uphold admirable values as well.

The music is lovely, and I found them really communicative even without subtitles. One of my favorite moments in the movie was the first song. (I'd tell you the title, but I have no idea.) Raghu arranges little animals in a table-top setting, and he seems almost one with the inhabitants of the happy world he has created. Such a joyful, cute song, but also with a tinge of sadness if we think of Raghu as being like his toys, placed in a world but without much to do or abilities of their own. Just one of many lovely scenes in this powerful, gentle film.

Bahu Rani

* imdb lists Lalita Pawar as having appeared in a staggering 338 movies in a career of almost 70 years, by far the most I've ever seen in a bio. Can anyone tell me anything about her career or best-known roles?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

note to self: no more David Dhawan movies: Biwi No. 1

"I know I have my moments of slumming it, but why am I in this movie?"

"Why am I playing myself in this movie, lending my star power and gravitas to this piece of crap? Didn't I have anything better to do?

And why did I start doing the black hair white beard thing? I look just fine like this, here at Parents' Day, about to listen to two very annoying movie children in a song so schmaltzy Beth will FF through it."

"Why are we in this movie?"

Why is anyone in this movie? It's so stupid. Its message - or plot points, if you prefer not to give it credit for having a message - is that cheated-on spouses should use whatever means necessary to win back their wayward partners and then forgive them. Children, other relatives, sex appeal, and business profit can all be used to try to woo your husband back from a money-grubbing model. While there may be situations in real life in which forgiveness may be a good idea, it's a different story when actions, motives, and emotions are as broad as in Biwi No. 1. Only a brain-dead dishrag would take this jerk back. Brain-dead dishrag and jerk? Coming right up!

They do the kinds of thing you expect them to do in late 1990s movies. Neither is exceptional in any way, and they have nothing to work with. Sushmita Sen inexplicably won four awards for her performance here, but I don't have anything nice to say about her either. The rest of the cast, though...poor things. At least Tiger, the family dog, is on hand to help, preventing Sushmita from completing her Karva Chauth rituals for the philandering Salman.

Way to go, Tiger! Way to behave better than any of your human owners!

Before I started watching Bollywood, I discovered that no movie (or book or tv show) was a complete waste of time if it gave you a quotable quote. Now I've expanded that a bit to include singable song or danceable dance, and Biwi No. 1 is saved from the dustbin of "avoid, yaar!" by three songs. First, "Chunari Chunari," which I already knew and loved from Monsoon Wedding. Second, there's "Mehboob Mere," a fun-sounding song in which Tabu and Anil dance around Switzerland with a fleet of backup dancers in a variety of folkloric regalia, winter gloves and boots, and weird 90s fashions.

And finally, "Hai Hai Mirchi," which I cannot for the life of me explain why I like. Among the clapping and shouting, Karisma is dressed to kill, phasers set on still-straying Salman, and Anil is dressed like this.

The first is better in Monsoon Wedding, and if the latter two were online anywhere, I'd say don't even bother with the movie.

But you know what? I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. I did. I enjoyed laughing at the stagy 90s gear. I enjoyed being outraged at the insulting implications about what wives should suffer through for horrible husbands. I enjoyed Tabu, Anil, and Saif trying to make the best of muck. I enjoyed Amitabh in his cameo mired in paterfamilias celebrity. I enjoyed the whole movie with a smug sense of knowing full well how crappy it would be and being proven correct. Maybe I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy fashion magazines - laugh-and-point brain candy. It's good to feel smarter than fictional characters in made-up, broadly drawn stories, isn't it? Yeah!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mini Khan update

If you haven't been reading the Mini Khan Experience on Bollywoodbloggers lately, you might want to check in. He's left North America after six cities in the US and is now in Europe, starting off at European Headquarters (a.k.a. Liebling Michael). What do you have planned, I inquired, both excited and worried for MK, whose safety and enjoyment are ultimately my responsibilities. Michael replied, "Mini will stay here for 14 days. It was hard for him all this time with girls. Now it's a men time." He would not discuss the matter any further, although this picture might give us a hint:

I guess we'll all just have to stay tuned - and hope they manage to work in a few adventures among all the hours spent shooting fictional characters. Maybe they'll do a "Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe"-style boys' night out after shopping for the appropriate outfits. On the other hand, MK probably needs to rest up before Kaddele and the Viennese get their hands on him....