Friday, May 30, 2008

Pyar Kiye Jaa

Things that are not utterly fab about Pyar Kiye Jaa:
  • There is a lot of pale facial makeup on three of the four leads (everyone but Shashi). This is un-fab for several reasons: it 1) supports racist notions of beauty, 2) must be uncomfortable to wear, 3) is sometimes so thick that people look like geishas, and 4) sometimes shows up with a strange greenish tinge, making people look like the un-dead.

  • Once again, we have the distasteful filmi notion that somehow harassing=flirting and should win heroines over rather than elicit a tight slap and/or a call to the police.

That's it. Everything else about this movie is superwow to the Nth degree. I love it. I can't explain why, either: it's not the most clever movie out there, or the most romantic or funny or interesting. It has a wacky scheme, a cocky hero, snotty heroines, and interfering parents, all things I don't normally love. But somehow instead of making me roll my eyes and hit FF, all these things work perfectly here. I don't know how it works, but it does, splendidly. The film's strengths, some of which I've already tried to name here and hint at here, are like that pink marshmallow fluff from the salad bar, incarnated in characters, music, wardrobe, dialogue, and overall look and feel. PyarKiye Jaa delivers the joys that only pegged pants and groovy tunes and and romps in sunny fields can bring. It's just fab.

Anyone want more photographic proof? I thought so!

The titles communicate a ton about the tone of this movie: bright, fun, and firmly rooted in sunny, swinging aesthetics.

(Don't you want to be billed like that? "Beth of Midwest.")

Tempestuous, good-hearted heroines who sigh and giggle and flirt in exactly the right ways for mid-60s comedy leads.

It probably goes without saying that their clothes are incredible and their eyelashes gigantic.
Mumtaaz conjures up Adelaide from Guys and Dolls and Lina Lamont from Singin' in the Rain for her sweet but stupid wannabe movie star Meena without going overboard. Part of me wishes she had more screen time, but part of me is grateful the director quit while he was ahead and didn't make me weary from her squeaking and blinking.

Speaking of which, the filmmaking subplot is a hoot, and there are many affectionate, Farah Khan-esque pokes at filminess, much to my delight.

Somehow Shashi transforms Ashok, whom I suspect I would not find terribly interesting on paper, into a cutey-pie extraordinaire whose silly schemes come across as adorable rather than deceitful.

No doubt Shashi's gleeful, unwavering performance as Ashok is the second reason I adore this movie so much. He seems to have flung himself into this role with complete abandon, and it's a treat to watch him build his character with every charm and device he's got in his actorly* repertoire that could possibly contribute to the role. (He's got others, of course, like burning smoldering holes in my heart with his lust and rage in Junoon, but those are obviously the wrong cards to play in this hand, so he wisely leaves them aside.) Maybe I'm biased, but to see someone perform to equal effect his roles in The Householder, Shakespeare-Wallah, and this within just four years, and whiel in his 20s at that, is to be impressed by the wisdom and skill of the actor. Shashi really brings it in this movie (is there a more intelligent way to say "bring it"?), wooing, protesting, dancing, and all-around-dreamboat-ing with equal, context-appropriate oomph. Somehow he's never too much and always juuuuust right. As always in a multi-starrer, Shashi knows when to step back and leave room for other people shine. He also manages to convey the slightest figurative wink throughout this movie, having a blast doing something so zany and is wholly in this role without losing a sense of his other capabilities. And because I'm 99% certain that I will ever again discover such a great Shashi dance number, here are some more stills from "Kehne Ki Nahin Baat."

As reader Todd says, what a great joy is this "strangely confrontational interpretation of the 'Mashed Potato.'" Did I ever think I would see Shashi wiggling his arse and mugging ferociously for the camera? Nay, indeed, I never thought such a day would dawn.

Oh. In case you were wondering, there are a bunch of other people in this movie as well, and they are also very good.

So if all of that about Shashi is only the second reason I love this movie so, what could possibly be first? The songs. Musically, visually, choreographically, textually, whatever, they are all brilliant from start to finish and they all add immeasurably to the movie. You want lovey-dovey among the flowers and fountain? Shashi and Rajasree make super-cute in "Phool Ban Jaoonga." You want a head-wobbling, foot-tapping, synchronized clapping quartet? "Sunle." "Kisne Pukara Mujhe" swings with the nighttime longing between two young lovers separated by only a window. With bongos! Kishore Kumar and Kalpana frolic on the beach in "Dil Humne Lay Liya." Shashi flirts with the sisters over a flat tire and Mohammed Rafi's breathless pleading in "Gori Hathon Par." Kishore pretends to be a dirty old man in "Din Jawani Ke Char." And Mumtaz and Mehmood do every mod dance move you can think of in "O Meri Maina" while the rest of the cast looks on appreciatively. GAH. THEY ARE ALL SO GOOD.

S U P E R W O W.

Throw the bucket on me. I'm done.

* Term courtesy of PPCC.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pyar Kiye Jaa-inspired to-do list

  • Rummage through closet and dig out stirrup pants and gold shoes.

  • Perfect Mohammed Rafi-esque animal noises.
  • Call Mehmood re: employment as subtitle proofreader for Vah Vah Productions.
  • Find way to work helpful dialogue into day-to-day speech.

    Hmmm.... Disguise kit and big car potentially useful for getting out of staff meeting? Contact Shashi and Kishore for plotting if necessary.
  • Write post on movie when finally tear self away from endlessly re-watching it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aaja Nachle

Maybe my powers of suspending disbelief are just wiped out after my weekend viewing of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Gosh This Movie Was Such a Letdown (but Not Because of Harrison Ford, Let's Be Perfectly Clear about That) and Oh My God Could You Believe That Ridiculous Vine-Swinging Bit?, but most of Aaja Nachle just did not work for me. As Filmi Geek says, it shies away from taking a stance on some ideas that it teases us with - what it means to be a member of a community, what is the relationship between hometown and exile, what the role of art is in contemporary economic conditions - and I kept wanting it to do more with that kind of content than it did. Like in Indiana Jones, I kept saying "Really?" at the screen, not sarcastically à la Seth and Amy but with genuine disappointed surprise. We have to make the feisty, strong woman tone down her personality

and conventionalize her appearance and behavior

in order to get her man?

Really? He can't just love her for who and how she is? Sigh. We're going to ask the woman who really wants to be in the show to step aside so her bullying, dishrag husband can be in it instead? Really? Can't they just both be in the show? You panic about having only 30 days to put on the big show, but then the finished product has at least seven different elaborate sets, a zillion backup artists, and a last-minute actor substitution that goes flawlessly?

Really? Any group that can pull all this together clearly has the heart for art. So what were you all fretting about, exactly?

It delivers on the dance, I'll give it that, and doesn't even make us wait for it. I've seen only two other Madhuri movies, so I didn't have anything invested in her comeback, though I can easily see why people felt her absence. But as much as I love dancing in movies - and I was duly impressed by Madhuri and crew here - that's not all I wanted. Before you accuse me of being an unfeeling robot, know that the argument about people needing artistic expression and participation to be whole and happy resonates with me deeply, and I believe it to be utterly true. But as Akshaye's fabulous devil's advocate asks, what happens after the big show? Then what? And the movie never really tells us. Sure, people dance around the town as the credits roll, but what about the economic implications brought up before? The MP had said at the beginning that the day the town can make a living with cultural heritage, he'll be happy to to keep Ajanta; I guess by tearing up its demolition order, he is satisfied that the town's reality can/does include Ajanta, but we don't see it happen. It's a really interesting question that the movie raises and then lets drop. And no, I don't expect reality or practical answers from most movies, but the filmmakers raised my hopes by raising the questions. They started it!

Here's what I liked. The supporting cast was really fun, and I was warmed by the shy and overlooked people finding...their inner Madhuri, their guts, their joy.

They were all sweet and compelling, and I was so glad both the characters and actors got to shine. The title's invitation to dance is extended within the movie, which I thought was a really nice touch. The generosity of the spotlight on the supporting cast, particularly during the big show, is a delight. Much to its credit, the story is more well-rounded than I thought it would be.

Oh my gosh, wasn't he great?

Akshaye's MP is a small but rich character and he seems to have fun with it, filling it with spark but not going overboard. He gets a lot of the best lines and the most reasonable (if not entirely sympathetic) outlook, resisting corruption, giving people a chance, and emphasizing the role of the community in the issue at stake. Despite the juicy "I'm the bad guy" scene, he really isn't.

Last but not least, the big show is visually and emotionally fantastic. I loved every second of the unrealistically but satisfyingly slick production, and I teared up a little at the fate of Laila and Manju. The device of a play showcasing its participants' unknown but real selves hits all the right notes with me - who wouldn't want a rare chance to shine and to be rewarded with people loving you more? And dancing in the streets! Spoon, please! I have some heart-warming, glittery syrup to eat up! Oh geeze, now I'm all worked up. The end is great; the rest, not so much. Good thing the end is what it ends with, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

the greatest song in the world

"Kehne Ki Nahi Baat" (
Mohammed Rafi singing Laxmikant-Pyarelal) from Pyar Kiye Jaa, 1966

This song has everything! Big band brass! Surf music and Chuck Berry influences! Social protest lyrics! Groovy head-shaking choreography! Beatlesque harmonies! Animal noises! A marching band! Shashi-shimmy!

This is the most exuberant Shashi dancing I have ever seen, and it is a thing of beauty. He hops and skips barefoot down the sidewalk, leading a ramshackle conga-ish line of backup fellows, he twists again like I wish I did last summer, and he even gets his Elvis on for a moment, thrusting his hips this way and that. He gets his proto-SRK on too, eyebrows working overtime. He does not yet have his 70s masala curls, but his hair is long and loose enough that it dances too, easy breezy in the beachfront sunshine. In short, he is Shammi - yet with all his magical Shashi powers too.


Update to post (May 27, 2008): Thanks to reader Sumanth, I've just learned of the Tamil version of this movie - or rather, the Tamil original (if imdb's date for Kadalikka Neramillai is to be trusted). Watch that movie's version of this song here and be amazed at how much the Hindi version copied! Same location! Some of the same dance moves and props! Whoa.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Householder

[Warning: contains spoilers of the general arc of the story.]

Merchant and Ivory's first joint production, The Householder, has all the calm pacing and quiet expression you'd expect. Two years before my beloved Shakespeare-Wallah, IM + JI + Ruth Prawer Jhabvala + Shashi Kapoor already equaled wow. I found this movie sad and thoughtful and funny (often at the same time), and it left me passionately hoping that, forty-five years later, society has changed enough that the roles these characters find themselves restricted by are much easier to overcome.

Prem (Shashi Kapoor) and Indu (Leela Naidu) are very new newlyweds and have no idea what to make of each other. "How can I like her?" Prem wonders to another new groom. "I don't even know her."

Prem is also lost on the job as a college instructor, unable to control his classroom, stand up to a rude colleague, or work up the guts to ask his principal for the raise he and Indu need.

Indu, meanwhile, stays at home, bored and lonely,

but Prem nags at her constantly, criticizing her cooking and housekeeping in comparison to his mother's, calling her stupid. When Prem finds out Indu is pregnant (from a neighbor rather than from Indu herself, interestingly), he flips out about money without thinking to ask her how she feels or to express any kind of excitement. Later, shamed by her silent non-reaction to his dither-spaz*,

Prem meekly scampers away to begin a search for counsel that leads him to one ridiculous piece of advice after another. Prem eventually figures things out, though, and he and Indu find smiles and sweetness creeping in.

And at the very end we all go "awwww."

The actors nail their roles. It's really too bad Leela Naidu did so few films - I thought she was great here, calm but strong and feeling. Durga Khote is enjoyable as Prem's coddling and completely overbearing mother, but I thought Indu Lele as Prem's school principal's wife was even more giddily fierce and farcical. (She's in the second picture from the top.) Shashi is both funny and sad as the completely befuddled, whiny, selfish, childish Prem, a man who needs to grow up pronto. By only eight minutes in, I told PPCC that I wanted to smack the crap out of him and tell him he can clean up after his damn self. Given how much I adore Shashi, that's some good acting.

It's too bad I just indulged in an image-only post, because this story too lends itself to a visual recap. In the DVD extras, director Ivory says the film is rough (despite the editing by Satyajit Ray), but if you ask me, it's beautiful and perfectly evocative of the characters' thoughts and situations. Here are a few shots I especially liked:
  • Prem consults his friend Raj about marriage because Raj has been married for three years and Prem therefore thinks he knows everything. I think Raj's wife, in the window, would disagree.

  • Indu and Prem plot to get mother-in-law to cut her visit short. Here Prem contains a gloat when their scheme works.
  • Sharing a happy moment on the bus ride home from a wedding. Look how close together they are, no space between them, a nice contrast to earlier scenes in which the curtain hangs between them.

A further note on the DVD itself (from the Merchant Ivory Collection): the audio is surprisingly bad. I don't know diddly about making films or transferring them to DVD, but DVD Verdict Review perfectly describes the problems with this one. I had to turn the volume pretty far down to be able to understand the words - in the dialogue and the music, there was way more sound than actual information, if that makes sense.

It's been awhile since I did a List of Stuff I Noticed That Doesn't Fit Anywhere Else in this Post, so here you go!
  • Note to self: do not become crazy, yoga-advising memsaab shacked up in Delhi with a bunch of annoying proto-hippies.

  • Here's one of the nonsense-spouting Americans, running around in the Ram Yantra, becoming one with the universe or some such.

    Fab, right? The Jantar Mantar structures are stunning on their own, and the effect here is really cool - you hear the slap of his sandals as he hops from surface to surface.
  • This one doesn't relate to the story, really. Prem's students don't pay him the least bit of respect, and here they read Filmfare and ape movie stars while Prem stares out the window.

    Is he being Dev Anand, do you think? The collar and hair....
  • As if to make up for the lousy sound, the DVD had some fun extras: an interview with the filmmakers (and Shashi too), Merchant's first film The Creation of Woman (which was Oscar-nominated), Ivory's second piece The Sword and the Flute (both of these are very worth the watch, by the way), and some great archival photos of Shashi at the time of shooting.

    To quote Filmi Geek, guh.
* I borrowed this term from the excellent young adult lit series by Louise Rennison about English teenager Georgia Nicholson. Rennison invents addictive slang like you wouldn't believe.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Duniya Meri Jeb Mein

As promised: an LOLcat-inspired piece on this 1979 Kapoor/Kapoor masala-licious vehicle. It's not so much a discussion as it is an attempt to capture the essence and/or spirit of a fun but basically silly movie. Even if it you haven't seen it or don't know the precise story, I think you'll follow along if you remember that DMJM is full of money tensions, an evil guy, questions about revenge, and brotherly love. Lots of spoilerz ahead!

Update to post (May 19, 2008): While link-hopping just now, I found the most amazing thing. It seems that the LOLcat Bollywood article has already been done, on an Asian film site I've never encountered before tonight. Although not identical in form, it's only fair to point out that Steamed Prawn Buns/Kickin' Tikka Masala included a few LOL pictures in their pieces on Disco Dancer (imagine the possibilities! "fashion cat sayz: no black sockz w pink capes after Memorial Day") and Don (and maybe others as well - I haven't gone through the whole site). My hat is duly off.