Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A memo from the "too good to be true" files?

Alert reader Joyce sent me a website from iTalkies offering free DVD rentals. Forever. Does anyone know anything about this or how it might work? Here's the CEO's blog post about the idea. The comments on the blog are pretty funny and sum up my own sense: how on earth is this sustainable? And why does it sound so dodgy?

I am very much in favor of more legitimate avenues for accessing Indian movies (by which I mean completely legal, the filmmakers/musicians/actors/distributors/rights holders are compensated for their works and product, no file sharing, no pirating, no hosting of videos, etc. - this whole "I should be able to watch movies for free" attitude is ridiculous), but this one puzzles me. Then again, I stayed as far away from possible from the business school in college, so what do I know?

There's a (so far) small conversation rolling on Bollywhat.

Friday, January 25, 2008


(Warning: there are some badly written sentences in here, but this movie was so hard to write about that after two hours I had to let go and press publish.)

As with Gandhi, My Father last week, I feel really bad saying anything unflattering about Amu. Its ultimate aims (as I interpret the film, these are to get viewers to question what they do and don't know about the 1984 Delhi riots - and why - and to turn that approach inward as well) are noble, the big and small parts of the story are tragic, and the acting is great (my favorites were Konkana Sen Sharma [no surprise], Brinda Karat, Yashpal Sharma, and Loveleen Mishra). There's an great, unnerving scene early on that nutshells the whole movie for me. While walking across some train tracks with new Delhi friends, Kaju (Konkana Sen Sharma) has a vision of a train hurtling by, and in between the cars she sees a woman on the other side of the train. (We learn more about her and the train yard later.)

I'd seen Amu a few months ago and not been able to process what I wanted to say about it, but I just watched it again, and this scene just reached up and smacked me in the face. I loved the imagery of the trains and their tracks. Trains are fast, powerful, rattling, lethal...all the things that the historical events were - and all the things that Kaju's emerging knowledge and discoveries are too. Yet trains also link us, bring us closer together, their tracks going forward but touching backwards too. Ultimately we hope that's what her new knowledge will do for her, to bring together her sense of self - and that the movie will do, too. Shake us up and bring us together.

But sometimes I felt like I was being read to out of a sixth grader's history textbook. Ignorance and stupidity are different, and it's a fine line between not having information and not having the ability to understand it. Both main character Kaju and the audience occasionally got treated as though we were the latter in each pair. Only occasionally, but that was too much for me. The example that struck me most is at a party at Khabir's home, when Kaju is asking various older-generation adults about the riots and says "I just have a simple question: why couldn't the police stop the riots for three days?" For a girl who grew up in Los Angeles and has already referenced its darker sides, it would be incredibly naive to think such a question is simple.

Additionally, the notion of Kaju's mom not being truthful with her about her history, at least at the level of a very basic sketch, seems belabored. I wish another route had been taken into the questions about the riots. Why not just have Kaju go to India in search of her roots already knowing the key bits of information? She could have done her documentary interviewing survivors and witnesses, unearthing the smaller stories that instead served as unbelievably serendipitous threads of research.

It's very hard to get my head around how educated 20somethings could be ignorant of such an important chunk of recent history - and, worse, that various power holders have been able to create and maintain this ignorance.* But the comments I've read on articles about this movie say that indeed some people are ignorant and that those who aren't hold that, in addition to engineering the riots in the first place, the government and police (and no doubt others) have perpetuated the crimes and the... anti-knowledge, let's call it. So troubling, horrifying. Also shocking is the treatment the film received from the censor board in India, which you can read in director/writer Shonali Bose's press materials. As Bose says, the official refusal to let characters implicate the government speaks volumes about the history in question.

Amu is interesting, distressing, and effective, even if it's a little clunky in parts. I mean it no disrespect, especially because it seems to be creating good conversation and getting people to ask questions and to think. That's what the well-lived life is all about, in my opinion.

You can read Filmiholic (also an interview with the director) and Ultrabrown for some more good discussions.

Watch Amu at Jaman.com

* On my travels around India I got to meet with many history teachers and some national-level curriculum staff, and I wish I had asked them about how schools treat this topic. Do they cover it at all?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I spy an automated feed

I'm getting dizzy from the meta: a post about a post about people stealing posts.

On the truly up side of things, yesterday my beloved postal carrier brought me a big padded envelope of superwow - seven Shashi movies! Duniya Meri Jeb Mein (1979), Haseena Maan Jayegi (1968), Kaala Patthar (1979), Pyar Kiye Jaa (1966), Roti Kapada aur Makaan (1974), Shankar Dadda (1976), and Waqt (1965). How's a girl to choose?

Also: love Ultrabrown's Brown Oscars.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Knock it off!

This post has nothing to do with movies, and I'm sorry about that, but I've got a bee in my bonnet and this is the only way I can think of to do something about it.

There's a website out there, Apna Nukkad dot com, that's been copying entire posts from this site without my knowledge, without my permission, and without even crediting me directly. My name is there as author, with a link to a list of my pieces that they've posted on their site, as though I have set up an account there to contribute. I'd write them to ask them to stop, but the "contact information" section said "temporarily disabled." Nice. Classy. They even put Creative Commons material on some of the articles on their site.

I wonder if they'll copy this one?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bhagam Bhag and Partner

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...and apparently I get a Govinda/Lara Dutta/Rajpal Yadav double header. Yes, these movies helped a little with my occasional investigation into the all-important question "What is with Govinda?": I enjoyed his dancing very much in Partner and can see how he and Salman were appropriate counterparts of the cast of Hitch. Govinda projects a bumbling, eager sweetness, and Salman is more than believable as someone who thinks he knows all about women but doesn't have the skills to make his own relationship work. Partner made me think that I might have to add another question to my investigations: "Why does Katrina Kaif keep getting work?"

I should include the usual caveat that I realize that not knowing Hindi is a hindrance in comedies, especially frantic ones like Bhagam Bhag, so I'll happily accept that I'm missing a skill needed to enjoy either of these. I have at best an inconsistent track record with Priyadarshan and David Dhawan, so I really should have known better than to watch these, no matter how glad I am someone made good on the potential of the heroin/heroine joke.

I've been trying to think of a clever way to write about these movies, such as an advice column based on what I learned about relationships from Partner...or maybe a Bhagam Bhag-inspired mad lib to show that anything you could put in an outline of the plot makes as much sense as the movie they actually made. And then I realized the less brain power I wasted on these forgettable movies, the better.

However, that's not a very hospitable way to run a blog. Kaddele and I spent a long time chatting while I was watching the movie, and some selected portions of our conversation are available for your enjoyment by clicking here.

Gandhi, My Father

The beautiful and depressing Gandhi, My Father was close to being very good. The performances were great, and of the four leads I can't even single out which was the most touching. The visuals (locations, sets, props, costumes) were rich and nuanced and felt very real. But there's just no sense of connection in the story. Over and over we are given evidence of the tragic irony that Gandhi was father to the nation but painfully mistreated his own son, but we never get any explanation or context. That Harilal is a repeated failure is all we know about Harilal; maybe there isn't historical evidence to tell us any more, but it leaves a hole in the center of the story. There's no real discussion of the revisited tension over MK not allowing Harilal to study to be a lawyer, but we see its effects in Akshaye Khanna's big, sad eyes throughout the film. We never understand why Harilal is unable to make good on the repeated offers of support from various communities. Some depiction of Gandhi's relationship with his other children would have helped give a sense of whether Gandhi was more broadly and uniformly not able to be a parent to his own offspring or whether there was something especially difficult in Harilal's own personality or especially troubled in the relationship between a very driven father and firstborn.*

I think it is much to his credit that Akshaye Khanna does so much with a script that leaves his character largely incomplete. As his physicality changes (so many hairstyles!), Harilal's sadness is constant but unfixed. There's no rigidity in his performance, no calcified bitterness. The character may sink overall, but he injects glimmers and wobbles along the way, suggesting that the story is more complex than just failure and that Harilal was at least sometimes connected to the people and world around him and able to participate in occasional joys and interests. He's really, really good - I'd say he's at his finest since Dil Chahta Hai.

Other than the one critical omission, the components of this movie really are excellent,** and I have no doubt it was made with care and love. Unfortunately the lack of why and how renders much of the movie almost pointless. For a more professional take on this problem, read Baradwaj Rangan.

A note on the DVD: I watched the "making of" section and could hardly keep from giggling at Anil Kapoor's stagey, meaningful-pause-filled commentary. This segment wasn't subtitled so I don't know what he said, but his expressions and posture came across as mock humble.

* I'd also like to know more about Harilal and Gulab's children (were there five, I think?). What happened to them? They're sent off to the Ahmedabad ashram, but that's the last we see of them. Do they also suffer from having a father who really isn't one?
** I'm not sure where else to put this comment, so I'll stick it here: I didn't like the music. It matched the subject but not the tone of the story - it was appropriately sad and thoughtful but just too heavy. It reminded me of the kind of music Hollywood uses for movies that are labeled "epic" and "sweeping," but one of the saddest parts of Harilal's particular tragedy was that he didn't have an epic and wasn't part of his father's - his life was mostly small and dirty and forgotten.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beth aur Babli

Aspi has just written a post about what movie character he would like to play, and now Amrita has written a post about why none of the female role types are worthwhile and she'd rather play the hero, thank you very much. It's pointed and thoughtful and sharp and bang on.

So let's hear it. What movie character would you like to play? I had to think about that question very hard for about ten minutes, and then it came to me in a flash of brilliance: Vimmi/Babli from Bunty aur Babli.

She's smart. She's funny. She schemes, she laughs, she loves. She enjoys life. She knows when to let her emotions show and isn't afraid to be herself. Despite running away, acting out all sorts of brassy and bold roles, and being a criminal, Vimmi/Babli escapes the typical melodramatic horrors, punishments, and subjugations Amrita outlines. And in the very end, she doesn't have to sacrifice her individual talents and interests for husband, child, parents, or home. In my ideal script, there never would have been a baby, and Babli and Bunty could have just continued their work, either with or without the police. But given the massive amounts of crap female characters in Hindi films often have to burden, a baby that is eventually integrated into the character's life and personality as they have been developed throughout the film is no small feat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

there are maybe three readers who will be as interested in this as I was, but too bad

So I'm watching Partner, and in the middle of "You're My Love," I spy Katrina Kaif wearing what appears to be a strategically sliced (and be-whaleboned) U of I t-shirt.

We've all heard of Harvards and Oxford University London*, but I never thought Bollywood's incorporation of non-Indian universities would extend to Urbana-Champaign.

But then when I took the disc out of the DVD player and put it in my computer to get screen captures, I was able to see that in fact it isn't a U of I t-shirt. It's a t-shirt for the fictional (or very unknown) Illinois Lions basketball team.

Oh well. The song is still really catchy and chock full of fug potential.

* Update to post: an email from a reader made me realize I should indicate that I do indeed know the proper names and locations of these universities - what I have written here is a reference to what I have heard them called in some (by no means all) movies. I don't remember where "Harvards" popped up, but I'm pretty sure "Oxford University London" is used in K3G.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

the 2nd Annual (right?!?) Pan-European/International Bollywood Blogger Meetup

The Europeans are at it again. This year's mostly-German-language* Bollywood meetup is scheduled for Munich, March 7-9. I'm going to put the N(orth) A(merican) in "InternatioNAl" and I think others should join me. Chale chalo! All are invited, and, once you make it to Munich, there is a promise of help finding a cheap place to stay (someone's couch, a shared hotel room, etc.) - and a superwow time, of course. The weekend is being planned by Michael, Kaddele, Marco, Maini, Maria, and Babasko. They've already done a ton of work - and I already have very high expectations.

the preliminary schedule
- Friday, March 7th: meet in the afternoon to hang out, blog, chat, do silly stuff, eat, drink. One idea is to catch a Bollywood flick in a Munich cinema in the evening (which might be a problem, since Babasko et al. still have to convince one of the local distributors to play an Indian film, but I have faith they'll come up with something).
- Saturday, March 8: the "Big Day": Typical Bavarian "Weisswurst" breakfast in the morning (my vegetarianism is going on hold), watching (and liveblogging, for those so inclined) a movie during the afternoon, and in the evening the 5th Annual Central European Bollywood Awards (voting will start early February), leading straight to festivities.
- Sunday, March 9: another joint breakfast and then...well, that's it. (But I bet if we asked reeeeally nicely and didn't have planes until later, we could do some sight-seeing, beer-garden visiting, etc.)

The crew has intimated that they have a lot ("and I mean a whole lot," Babasko says) of surprises in store and that this year is going to be even bigger and better than last. I had such fun last year, and the more the merrier. What could be better than a get-together with like-minded souls? Movies are great, but it's people that really make life special.

To folks in my hemisphere, there is again rumbling of a North American meetup. If you're interested in attending or helping plan such a thing, let me know. Wagons ho!

* Fluency in German not required. Friendliness and willingness to be goofy definitely required.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008