Sunday, February 24, 2008

Packing. No time for movies.*

The suitcase is on the bed, the lists have been made, and the laundry is done, but the staring at piles of clothing continues. I am bad at packing, always worried I'm bringing the wrong things. But the second Pan-European International Bollywood Blogger Meeting waits for no one, least of all the Auslandskorrespondentin, an honorary title I have taken the liberty to bestow upon myself in order to feel slightly less guilty about my halting German. Updates from the field will begin by March 5 or so, and look for lots of coverage of the actual PEIBBM in Munich March 7-9 here, at Babasko's, and on the German-language blogs listed in the links. Many apologies to readers who are more interested in actual movies than in the socializing that occurs around them - can't blame you for that - because far-flung friends, museums, old buildings, and cakes will take precedence over computer time for the next few weeks.

I have, however, found the time to ask other people to write about movies. Behold Amrita's list of recommended Shashi films! Having just found out she's a high priestess in the cult of Shashi, I asked her to tell me some of her favorites, and she graciously replied in a jiffy. A preview:
And this is why Shashi Kapoor is so awesome. There aren’t a lot of actors out there who can bring out the amazing so consistently for so many years and do the movie star thing so well, especially when they’re asked to be a lean, mean, roller-skating machine.
Teehee. Brilliant.

* But "Lucky Lips" can be fun (and Salman-free) packing music, I've discovered, with its 60s girl-group choruses and Spice Girls-y choreography and outfits. (Although in real life, high school girls in tiny skirts and knee socks should probably not shimmy through a gauntlet of sailors.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

nice cape

(Toofan, 1989, by Ketan "son of Manmohan" Desai )

It's raining wacky Amitabh clips! Keep 'em comin'! This one came my way from the evil genius of Teleport City, who has no doubt already purchased a copy of it, which means we can all look forward to it getting the royal treatment. Right?!?

If you go by the comments on the youtube - which can be a dangerous strategy, as many of them tend to be racist, sexist, ignorant, and/or very badly spelled - this is a beloved childhood movie of many. I believe I've been told that Shashi got all sorts of flack for doing any ol' project that came his way (despite the admirable purpose of putting his paycheck towards the family theater), and I wonder if Amitabh faced similar criticism for some of these kinds of things? (Or maybe Toofan isn't nearly as bad as it looks based on this clip?) Did Amitabh get to do "Disco Bhangra" scot-free because of who he was (or had been, at that point)? Or did a significant portion of viewers snigger at the time?

So please, write in and discuss Amitabh's artistic slump - and tell me all about Toofan, too. The fact that I've never heard of it just shows how much I have to learn.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

So pretty! Jodhaa Akbar

As embarrassed as I am to admit it, and as quickly as I hope to remedy it, I know nothing about this time period. I took the filmmakers' disclaimer and just settled into this gorgeous movie and had a wonderful time watching it and following the probably oversimplified but very engaging story. And I hope to keep this correspondingly short: I enjoyed the movie very much and I thought everyone did a good job.*

A brief discussion of historical films: at some point I'll read up on the history, and I might change my mind about Jodhaa Akbar once I know what the real story is. Generally I don't appreciate people mucking about with true stories, which are very often are fascinating and instructive all on their own and don't need to be tweaked in order to make a compelling film - why not tell the story as it really happened? There are arguments to be made for taking real people or events and then doing something creative with them for other reasons, such as telling a story that has resonance with current audiences that the true story is too complex or rambling to tell efficiently, and in this case I don't have enough knowledge of the real story judge whether artistic license had any particular benefit. And for now, I'm happy to bask in the golden loveliness and not think too hard. I'll think later, but not just yet.

It is soooo pretty. Most overwhelmingly beautiful were the costumes and the locations...mindboggling lovely. The elephants! The fabrics! The weapons! And the ideas are beautiful too - religious tolerance! inclusivity! trust! And after all the sword-clashing and intrigue and punishments, justice and a true love of Hindustan prevail! Huzzah!

My favorite scenes: "Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah" (the only song I liked on its own before I saw the movie and also like most in context), with its cast of thousands "We Will Rock You"-ish stomp-stomp patriotism (and those huge drums! awesome!); Jalaluddin dancing with the Sufis; Jodhaa showing off her calligraphy and Jalaluddin's corresponding confession (which I hadn't seen coming at all); and their sword fight at Jodhaa's home. I don't know squat about sword fighting but I thought it rocked and I was delighted to see Aish swingin' her sword.

And OMG doesn't Sonu Sood look exactly like young Amitabh?!? Those deep, sleepy eyes, the big-ish nose....

* I have one little criticism: I got annoyed by a jarring musical theme that popped up whenever Hrithik was about to do something dramatic. To get technical, it was a major seventh (hear one here), played on a battle horn-sounding brass. It would have worked fine if it had been used judiciously. Oh, and I was all set to be miffed that Jalaluddin seems to notice Jodhaa when she's petting bunnies and cooking for him, but she notices him when he's sweaty and half-naked practicing with his sword. I mean, who wouldn't notice a half-naked Hrithik - but it bothered me a little that she was attractive when being domestic and docile and he was attractive being aggressive. But then I got over it as their relationship developed and became much more equitable and their attractions/affections more rich and nuanced.

Update to post (February 20, 2008): Sanket raises a point about the casting of Akbar that I can't stop thinking about. He also makes me wonder what one agrees to when one enters a movie theater - is your ticket a contract between you and the filmmaker (and cast, crew, theater owners etc.)? If so, what are its terms? Is it a promise that you will at least suspend your preconceptions or prejudices while the movie rolls? It certainly doesn't mean you have to turn off your brain (but you can if you want to; see above), but does it imply that you'll do your best to give the finished product a fair shake until you've consumed all that it offers? Hmmm....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

All the best people from Kabhi Kabhi - now with more fossil fuels! Kaalaa Patthar

In case you couldn't guess what the message of a 1970s Yash Chopra movie about coal miners would be, let me just fill you in: "service and selflessness are the necessary and desired stars of communal good, and greed, short-sightedness, and inertia have no place here." A fine message, no?

I am very much in favor of socialist-ish Bollywood as long as it doesn't get too heavy and trite, and Kaalaa Patthar* generally avoids those don'ts, despite its very predictable characters and plot. It's a little more subtle than last week's Roti Kapada aur Makaan, but not much. I bet you could accurately predict the plot just from the picture on the menu screen.

Most tellingly, all three leads are in the mines, in front of but with all the other workers. But let's break it down further. Amitabh = brooder who lashes out as he tries to oppress tortured memories...will he finally break through with the love of a good woman?

I should add that Amitabh was heart-breaking in this role. He played the broken, compensating Vijay so well, mixing bravery and fear in realistic way (well, relatively). Shashi = white collar, emotion-showing, well-spoken pretty boy who wins the hearts of the workers and media...but is he willing to get his hands dirty and really fight the good fight?

Shatrughan (whose laze and swagger steal the show) = outlaw non-participant...will he learn to care for anyone or anything other than himself?

There are some women too, though they don't get to do much, surprise surprise. Rakhee is the mine's service-minded doctor, and despite her sad face, she is very effective as a caretaker.

Parveen Babi plays a famous journalist after the inside scoop on what's really going on in the mines and back office.

(nice movie-star grin, there, Shashi)
My favorite Neetu Singh romps around the town as free-spirited peddler/dancer who trades in opinions, information, and 1-rupee magic rings.

(Whenever I see Ranbir, I am amazed at how much he looks like his mom.)

From the moment each character is introduced, you know what their arc is going to be, but it doesn't really matter, because the movie chugs along in a very satisfying way, with people learning what they're supposed to and things generally turning out for the best, but not without the Recommend Masala Allowance of sacrifice and tears. And fear not - without giving away the details, rest assured it's the criminals, those who take what isn't theirs, who suffer, and you should have known they had it coming, even if they aren't incredibly bad. Watch out where you place that heart of gold, Neetu!

Let me share two little funny details, both from a scene of Mac Mohan, the local gambler, cheating at cards with some of the other miners. We hear "Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui" from Baazi (otherwise known as the oldie in Bluffmaster's "Destiny Remix") playing on a radio in the background, which I have learned is about a (male) gambler who falls in love with a (female) doctor. Very cute, since Kaalaa Patthar has both. Later in the scene, we see Shatrughan looking at his cards. Are those, or are those not, the fingernails of an escaped criminal and miner?

Tee hee. Overall Kaalaa Patthar is by no means a funny movie, but it has its lighter moments, which in my opinion kept it from getting bogged down in its own nobility.

What I liked most was the repeated emphasis on community and roots: people come to the coal-mining settlement but they don't leave, except for the villain (mine owner and uber-capitalist Prem Chopra), whom we don't want around anyway. Nobody song-teleports to the mountains, because all of life, including romance, can be right here. Meet cute, marriage, children, and death are here. The source of progress is here.

I'm not sure whether Kaalaa Patthar's town is a snapshot of just one place or an exemplary representative of India; either way, the focus on the set of people in this one place keeps the story fairly tight while still allowing sufficient drama.

For Shashi fans, this movie is a particular treat in terms of his character (Ravi, the engineer just arrived at the mine), who gets to be book smart, vigilante street smart, tough, loving, and endlessly caring for others.

(I am certainly not pro-violence, even in fiction, but in the community system presented in the movie, it's clearly the language that this particular trouble-maker understands.) Ravi is a fan of striving for justice and order, whether they stem from ethics, pragmatics, or physics. He's confident but never arrogant, turning all of his many skills outward to take care of people. Mmmm. Maybe this shows a shallowness on my part, but Ravi just might be the level on which this movie worked best for me. It's always so satisfying to meet a character that is very appealing in many ways, and it's even better when the character is played by your favorite. Here's a perfect Ravi moment.

After beating up the local bully (two photos above) and sending a baddie flying over the balcony, Ravi retrieves his hard hat and ducks under the low-hanging roof and emerges, upright (with camera angles making him look rather taller than he actually is) and whistling, facing the sun, striding off to lobby for wage bonuses of the miners, to try to convince the boss to stop drilling a tunnel that is perilously close to water, or to comfort the son of a miner killed in an accident. (Yes, he does all these things!) "GOLDEN BOY," the shot screams. And I ate it right up. PBS's recent Jane Austen marathon has had me thinking about the 2004 poll that found that Mr. Darcy ranks as the fictional character women would most like to go on a date with (and invite to a dinner party).** If I played this game with Bollywood characters, I think caring, personable, forward-thinking, community-minded Ravi - o noble Ravi! - would rank very high for me, although he would need to stop wearing this outfit on his motorcycle.

Gah. It's like they ripped it off of Rishi in Doosra Aadmi

and shoved it on Shashi. Bad. Very bad.

* This is off topic, but it's a small quirk that pops up when researching Hindi film titles. Nobody seems to agree on how to spell Hindi in the roman alphabet. Understandable, but occasionally causing delays in finding the information you're after. In the transliteration system used in the Snell Teach Yourself Hindi books, this

becomes k aa l aa pa t tha r. So that's why I'm spelling it like that. (I don't always remember to look for film titles in Devanagari, but when I find them, it's time for reading practice.) And don't you love how the Devanagari and roman letters in the title (which you can see in the first picture) get the same graphic treatment? So cool!
** Like the author of this article, I have never related to the love for Darcy. He's an arse who broods, grumbles, and worries over secrets. No thanks.

But wait! There's more!

(Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, a 1988 Manmohan Desai movie I clearly must see)

I can see it now: it's a quiet morning around the Bachchan family parlor in 1987, and Amitabh wonders out loud, "How should I go about rebuilding my dignity in the public eye after leaving political office in disgrace for corrupt dealings with an arms manufacturer?" 14-year-old Shweta, with a finely honed teenaged taste for sarcasm and finding one's parents hopelessly lame, quips "Well dad, all of my classmates are really into disco and Michael Jackson's Thriller." Add to that a little Manmohan Desai nationalism and taste for pan-India melding, and voilĂ : "Disco Bhangra" with the must-have accessory of 1983.

Wonderful Katrin has given me much in the time I've known her - pink and yellow Shashi pins, a copy of Teesri Manzil, an invitation to Bavaria - but the news of the existence of "Disco Bhangra" may be the best of all.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

low-key and loveable: Chashme Buddoor

This movie is super-duper cute. "Cute" gets a bad rap, I think; to me, it means endearing, appealing, and engaging. Chashme Buddoor is all those things without being gooey, and it's chilled out (like its lazy-day-loving trio of friends) without being dull. It's nicely paced and funny with likable, well-acted characters who indulge their imaginations and hopes in non-ridiculous ways. It has a good plot about friends, which I always like. Its filminess is winking and welcoming. "C'mon," it says, "you know you've always wanted to make up a rhyming love song with your crush while lying in the sunshine in the park." (That's not just me, right?) It feels so real. There's a nice writeup over at Alternate Movies, who rightly points out that a significant part of this movie's appeal is that the events and people are relatable - life is full of funny moments that don't need to be exaggerated or amplified to make us laugh.

Chashme Buddoor is so simply good - uncomplicated and fun - that just maybe the above comments will suffice. Instead, pictures! So cute! So charming! Cho chweet!
Farooq Shaikh, Rakesh Bedi, and Ravi Baswani are all great.

From the fab song of the three friends, "Pyaar Lagwat."

Ah, university.

Imagining life as a film. And Deepti Naval is of course great too.

Falling in fragrant, foamy lurve over a box of soap.

If anyone can point me to another great Sai Paranjape film, say the word. Many thanks to Filmi Geek for loaning me this one!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Put down that copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Symbolism! You'll spoil your dinner! Roti Kapada aur Makaan

If we didn't already know it, Om Shanti Om made sure that filmi fans associated Manoj Kumar with covering part of his face with his hand. I don't know why on earth this should be, do you?

And if the rumors of him talking about suing are true, then he needs to get a sense of humor about himself pronto.

Now that I've seen Roti Kapada aur Makaan, what I want to know is whether one of his other major traits is indecision. Why should he wear one hat when five will do? He's the writer, director, editor, producer, and hero. He makes it an ensemble full of other stars: Shashi, Amitabh, Zeenat, Moushumi Chatterjee, and Aruna Irani. He divvies out the threads of the story among many interesting characters. When I started the movie, I figured these would all add up to excess, but I have to admit that I found RKM to be a mostly entertaining take on a straightforward story, using all these resources to support its admirable message. The number of characters and their various back stories came together well to show a picture of an interconnected community in which everyone suffers when any one component becomes selfish. It doesn't take Manoj's character being named "Bharat" for you to figure out that the collection of characters and their plight represent India, a socialist-ish version of India in which we, the people, must care for each other and keep the nation pure and noble. Its use of teary or steely self-sacrifice is too heavy for my taste, but I'll assume that that's a concept that has importance and resonance to the movie's original audiences and times and move on.

Let me put it this way. If RKM were an elevator - a patriotic elevator in Delhi, ridden and operated by representatives of every corner and population of the country, working together to reach a better life - it may be rising, but it's at maximum capacity. The addition of any other element to this about-to-burst film would have exceeded the load limit and sent it crashing to the ground.

Now for the aspect of the movie that I found truly mind-blowing: the non-stop barrage of image- and story-based symbolism. "Why imply something if you can show it in diamonds and fake blood?" seems to be the school of thought. Some examples:
Will Zeenat be involved in heartbreak?

Whose blood might that be in the part of her hair?

What do you think happens to the woman in this sari?

She couldn't possibly be raped by the local flour merchant, could she?

Oh no! Do I sense someone feels confused out of sorts with what's going on in his life?

We couldn't just have the "bad" son reform. He had to become a soldier who lost an arm while sneaking behind enemy lines to stop an evil plot.

To make matters even more distracting, there were a lot of weird visuals too. Sometimes they amplified the already thick symbolism, and though I found them completely unnecessary, I could understand why they were there. But at other times they seemed to be just for kicks.
We're in looooooooove!

But how will our future turn out?

For whom does Aruna dance?

Guess which one is the good girl!

Returning to that decision-making problem I alluded to earlier, it's as though when Manoj got around to working out the visuals of his movie, he was a kid in a candy shop. No camera trick too devoid of nutrition, no filter too sugary-colored, no symbolic imagery too indulgent. It's good to try new things when you make a movie, and to have some fun, but not to the point of distracting attention from your message. Maybe I'm just too 2008 on the other side of the world to connect to this, but I found it all to be waaaaaay too much. "We get it!" I kept screaming at the screen.

Roti Kapada aur Makaan also disappointed me by squandering its potential for Shashitabh. I know Sakshay is the pair of the day, what with us all waiting for Tashan, but give me some Shashitabh any day. (Shashitabh fans, please note: I'm planning a piece exploring Shashi-Amitabh pairings and what makes them so very great. After I watch Deewaar, of course. Contributions and collaborations welcome.) Both have enjoyable characters who help the hero, but this is all we got, even though it wouldn't have been a stretch to let them interact more, especially in the rambling fight scene at the end.

What a shame.

Anyway. If you like heavy-handed, sometimes obvious, sometimes trippy symbolism in a serious, usually well-acted movie with a message, then Roti Kapada aur Makaan is the movie for you! Other appeals include: Amitabh being patriotic and heroic but not mired down in jingoism, one-armed Amitabh on a motorcycle vs. ten bad guys, Moushumi as a strong, non-schmaltzy female character*, Aruna as a stumbling drunk, and the token Sikh character beating up people in a sewer.

Oh, and Shashi in white suits. I guess he's supposed to be spotlessly noble?

Fine by me!

* I have some questions about this character and what the movie was saying about her, but I can't raise them without spoilers, so if anyone wants to chat about this, email me.