Monday, June 30, 2008

for the love of Feroz Khan; or, link likes for other movies that I probably won't watch but am glad somebody is on top of

After a good wallow in the vast landscape of yesterday's tomorrow, today I call to your attention the sites Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!, and The Lucha Diaries, written by Todd, another hepcap from Teleport City. So at home in the serene pools of Shashi-esque gentility and dandiness am I that I think it's best not to jump into the shark-infested waters of 70s machismo and open shirts all alone. Thus Todd has been designated as my safety buddy for all things fists, Feroz, and ferociously hairy. By this last phrase I also mean monster and horror movies; things around here tend to be pretty non-werewolf-y, because even though in my experience Bollywood gore usually looks more like grocery store sheet cake red icing than actual blood, I scare easily enough that I've called the whole genre off-limits. (I was even scared during Dhund: The Fog, okay? Leave me alone.) More good investigation of the spooky, grisly, and otherwise dark-ish can be found at October.

Before the driver starts the bus, does everyone have their buddy? Okay, good. We're departing to the murkiness of swarthy robbers and even more morally questionable vigilante cops in Chor Sipahee. Vinod is the crook but Shashi is the one with questionable ethics? Shashi is the Christ figure but Vinod bleeds from the hand? Yes. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kashmir Ki Kali

Of the four Shammi Kapoor movies I've seen, the only one I've been able to write about (and extensively, at that) is Parvarish, where he 1) is not the star, 2) plays the dad rather than the lover-boy, 3) has his hair unyieldingly slicked back, and 4) doesn't dance.

Does this mean I lack the Shammi Appreciation Gene? Surely not! How can this be? I really do like Teesri Manzil even though I can never figure out what to write about it; I've even used it as a gateway movie for two different friends who both want to learn about Bollywood, figuring it's so fantastic that no one could possibly not enjoy it. Rajkumar was fun too - bunnies! Katrin loves Shammi. Greta loves Shammi. What is wrong with me? Kashmir Ki Kali (do not abbreviate!) started out okay, and it was full of general good cheer and pretty things to look at, but its second-half decline took it to the land of tiresome and silly and I just wasn't willing to go with it. I don't know why. There's nothing wrong with it, really:
  • Shammi is fun (though a few of those mad cackles were enough for me - that shtick repeated too many times), and who doesn't love a good Shammi-shimmy from time to time?
  • Sharmila is cute (though distractingly young-looking - I kept thinking she looked about 12 [and like a boy at that - baby Saif in a wig!] and therefore far too young to be in a love story with a 33-year-old).
  • Pran is deliciously oily, and his attempts at manipulating other characters elicited much boo-hissing.
  • So basically, the three major players are all in good control of their talents, which is always nice, especially when the story is no great shakes.
  • The songs are luscious, especially "Subhanallah Haseen Chehra," when I kept saying "This is GREAT" out loud, and "Yeh Chaand Sa Roshan Chehra," when I wanted to move into the song and hang out with Sharmila's friends, giggling on their boats in the background.
  • Many people pretend to be something they aren't; off the top of my head, only Sharmila's ingenue is without a secret or ulterior motive.
  • The family melodrama in the second part careens among coincidences yet leaves one major question unaddressed (at least, as far as I could tell based on subtitles).
  • Shammi and Pran's fight scene at the end is excessive, and then the movie just stops with zero resolution.
I realize those are nitpicky, unreasonable concerns given the subject at hand - my grumbling makes it sound as though I haven't seen one of these things before! So why don't I like this more? The featured review on imdb (the one titled "Fantastic") gets at my ambivalence with this movie. The author says it "has lost none of its charm even to this day" and "ranks as one of the greatest achievements of the commercial cinema genre," yet "the storyline, the plot, and the rest of the stuff about this movie [are] just about average as can be expected in a commercial potboiler." So is it charming and successful or average? Both. Parts of it are truly cute and lovely to watch. Parts of it are dumb, standard in the "enh" way, and eye-rolly. Maybe if I had been in a different mood or had more energy, I would've gone along for the sun-soaked, sweetie-pie boat ride in the fresh mountain air. But, you know, enh. Pass the Pyar Kiye Jaa.

Update to post (June 23, 2008): Oops! Apparently I should not write at 2:00 in the morning, because the feedback in the comments on this post so far indicates that I wasn't being clear. Somehow I expressed that I do not like Shammi, but that is not what I meant. I do like Shammi, or at least non-old Shammi, in the three things I've seen him in. He's totally fun; his energy is amazing, his dancing vivacious, his vocal stylings creative, and his commitment to his portrayals admirable. (I have yet to see him in "you say lover boy, I say stalker" mode, though I've heard about it from various people, and I can't imagine I'd like it.) This movie may even be a worthy showcase of his talents - it's got dancing and fighting and wooing and tenderness and all that. However, the whole package of this movie did nothing for me, and in fact I found it tiresome towards the end, even though it is not notably different from lots of other Hindi films that I find enjoyable or even adore, particularly 70s masala, as Filmi Geek points out in her comment. [Shrugs.] I think Filmi Girl's and Memsaab's comments may hold the answer - that Sharmila's character here is not a sturdy enough foil for him in this particular setting.

So maybe I'll end up agreeing with Naseeruddin Shah - Shammi is great, but he never made a great movie. Teesri Manzil still ranks very high with me, and at this point in my Indian movie education, I'll gladly call it great. And to me that would be the litmus test Shammi movie (as evidenced by me loaning it out to people who are unfamiliar with Indian movies) - Shammi and almost everything/one else work really well, not just Shammi himself. That is, if you don't like Shammi when he is surrounded by a great cast, super music, and a pretty tight story, then quite possibly you won't like him anywhere. And anyway, as Memsaab says in her comment, differences are what make life interesting.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

almost felled by the dreaded Curse of the Second Half*: Haseena Maan Jayegi

* term courtesy of Aspi

Cute, right? You can tell from the get-go.
So cute! Until just before the intermission, that is. And then it's a real let-down.

Just so you know which Haseena Maan Jayegi we're discussing, it's the 1968 one with Shashi in a dual role, Babita, and entirely too much Johny Walker (most of which is in isolated scenes and can be skipped easily).
Shashi plays Rakesh (left), the campus Romeo, and Kamal (right), an all-around good boy. It is very, very difficult to tell them apart; Archana (Babita) is harassed by one and attracted to the other, and even she gets them mixed up. She spends a lot of time in the first chunk of the movie making faces like this
trying to figure out which one is which. Rakesh is a real schemer and tries to impersonate Kamal whenever possible in order to get to Archana, even after she and Kamal get engaged. And that's where things start to tank. Moments before the marriage, we see this
but the movie cuts to intermission before we find out if the person being held is indeed Kamal, meaning that Rakesh is about to rape Archana on her wedding night. Yeah, I know. I los tmy patience right there. Without giving away the remaining arc, just know that identities continue to be mixed up, and many easy opportunities to identify whom Archana actually married are bypassed in favor of wild staring, tragic letters, and courtroom antics, all set against the extra-dramatic backdrop of a war with China.**

This may be the most egregious example of the Curse of the Second Half I've seen, not so much because the second half is horribly violent or regressive or boring or anything like that, but because the first part is so good and has so much going for it that what follows is a colossal disappointment. I knew little about Haseena Maan Jayegi before I watched it other than that it had an extra serving of Shashi, and based on the light-hearted, fab fun of the first hour, I figured I was in for some major cuteness along the lines of Pyaar Kiye Jaa. But no. Promise was not met. Promise was sent to its room, denied dessert, and forbidden to go out to play with the costumes, set design, and music. It's a real waste. At least the acting doesn't go flying out the window; Babita and Shashi manage to keep things relatively under control. Relatively. There's still some nahiiiiin-ing, and to demonstrate that he suffers mental anguish whenever he is reminded of blood, one of the Shashis is occasionally bathed in red light and makes tortured-looking expressions.
I should also say the plot kept moving along pretty well, even though what happens is stupid and unnecessary; I lost track of who was Rakesh and who was Kamal at one point (which is probably sort of embarrassing to admit, isn't it?) and was not sure how things were going to be tied up. But while Haseena Maan Jayegi could have been worse, I'm still not going let it off the hook because it squandered a lot of good potential.

I thought about calling this post "a surfeit of Shashi," but there's really no such thing here at BLB. There is a ton of Shashi in this movie, and there are many varieties on the menu. Shammi-like! In uniform! Thoughtful! Anguished! In leather! On horseback! Studious! Flirtatious! Bare-chested! In wedding finery! Transparent! Under water!

There's something for everyone. The major challenge of a dual role like this one is to create and maintain truly separate characters who behave, respond, and communicate in different ways, and Shashi meets that goal, no problem. He and the writer take their time in showing us which of the characters is going to be our hero, and because Shashi makes each one attractive but not initially perfect, it was fun to look for hints before it became clear how the romance would be paired. He's great in the first three songs (more on that in a minute), and even in the much more serious and trauma-drama-spiked second part, he's histrionics-free.

Babita too is quite good. This is my first movie with her, and I liked her very much. Her feisty and besotted Archana is a treat to watch. The costume designer and makeup artist for Babita, Meena Shivdasani and Belchar Pereira, deserve special mention for creating such a great style (except for the inexplicable blue Santa Claus suit she wears in one of the love songs); the visual impact of her character's look and her physical expression of Archana's personality are a major part of the film's appeal.

And Kalyanji Anandji's music! Oh! So! Good! Better in the first hour, of course, but still fabbity fab. Look at the album cover! You can tell! The dancing that accompanies is also superb to my untrained eye. And now we must mention "Suno Suno," in which Shashi plays five different characters, four of which are women. I don't ordinarily find drag particularly amusing; it's the lyrics and Shashi's delivery that make the scene funny.
Everyone I show these pictures to has said something along the lines of "He's oddly unattractive as a woman, given how pretty he is as a man." "Dilbar Dilbar Kehte Kehte" is the standout song for me; it's been stuck in my head for a week, and the Shashi vs. self dance-off accopmanied by Babita's confused, cheerful shimmying (see third and fourth pictures from the top) are the stuff that superwow is made of.

My advice: do watch this movie, and do stop it at 1:26:47, and you'll have all the ingredients required to enjoy it thoroughly. Repeat songs and Shashi/Shashi scenes as needed. Perfection.

Update to post (June 26, 2008): I just saw a blog post about great filmi villains, and Shashi's evil Rakesh makes the cut!

** I'm not sure if this is supposed to be the 1962 war with China or a fictional conflict - I didn't catch any references to the date.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sarkar Raj in haiku

interesting, tight;
Bachchan family does well,
other actors too

very final scene
made me really quite intrigued -
hope that goes somewhere

bad things happen but
all are part of mobster life -
you reap what you sow

but violence and
treachery are hard to see -
I'd not watch again



Thursday, June 05, 2008

Govinda ≠ Shashi

In between the tornado warnings and mopping up the storm water from my basement, yesterday I started watching Haseena Maan Jayegi and can hardly believe my good fortune. While nothing so far is quite at the "Kehne Ki Nahin Baat" level of superwow, "Suno Suno,""Oh Dilbar Janye," and "Dilbar Dilbar Kehte" are all really dang close. For example, so fab is this last one that Shashi has a dance-off against himself. Have you ever heard of anything so fantastic? These, plus the movie's really cool animated opening credits, have all happened within the first fifty minutes - it's fast and furiously fab, a parade of Shashi-shimmying, head-wobbling, twisting, white convertibles, and babe-alicious sassy Babita and her slew of super outfits.

I hesitate to ask, in case the answer is "no": are there more Shashi movies like this? It seems greedy to ask for more on top of this and Pyar Kiye Jaa, but equally it seems imperative to get to any others as soon as humanly possible.

photo courtesy of Paint It Pink

To explain the title of the post, this morning I went looking for a video of any of these three songs to send to Filmi Geek to illustrate why I was in such a good mood, but all I got was the cruel lesson that there are far more clips online for the 1999 movie of the same name, which stars Karisma Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, and Govinda.

[dismissive wave] Pffft. [/dismissive wave]

That's an unpleasant surprise, to have your heart set on Shashi but instead get Govinda. Each may be great and beloved in his own way, but interchangeable they are not. (And now I have the giggles imagining Govinda in Junoon and 60s-style Shashi in Partner. Actually, he could probably do it, but the idea of him with Salman is just too funny.) (And now that the idea has come up, anyone who would like to propose a Govinda/Shashi role switcheroo for either humorous or "hmmm"-inducing effect is encouraged to do so.)

Monday, June 02, 2008


[Contains spoilers!]

Disclaimer: I watched Raj Kapoor's Barsaat with fellow blogger and owner of our single brain, Post-Punk Cinema Club. As a result, I was a bit distracted by the fun chatting and I spent a lot of time laughing at how funny PPCC is and then wondeirng "Oh wait, was that something Very Important and Artistic that I should be thinking Serious Thoughts about?" Fortunately, despite the shared brain, PPCC and I do not always agree about everything, most notably the attractiveness of Byronic heroes and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (PPCC is pro both, whereas I say "blech"), so I was not waylaid further by the additional distraction of swooning. Good thing, too, as it turns out I would need all the supply of swoon I could find for watching Pyar Kiya Jaa a few days later.

Barsaat is my first Nargis movie, as well as my first with Raj Kapoor as an actor (and only third as director, the others being Bobby and Satyam Shivam Sundaram). A week mulling it over has not really given me any particular insight, except that I think it's really interesting that the title means "monsoon" or "rainfall" but there isn't any rain in the movie. It seems to me that the story's meaning is laid bare by the characters' dialogues and behaviors - love is powerful and not always sunny, and that to stave off its darkness, you need to treat the people you love carefully and with respect and affection.

Oh! Maybe that's the title reference? That loves brings storms and tears as well as sunshine and joy?

Early in the movie, while galavanting through the countryside en route to a summer getaway, Gopal (Prem Nath) and Pran (Raj) debate: "Is there a universal scale to measure good and bad" wonders Gopal. "Yes," says Pran. "The greatest scale is you wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings. That is the difference between the good and bad." Gopal teases Pran for being such a poet and wallowing in melancholy, and Pran criticizes Gopal's id-based behavior: "That's the difference between us. You only see the sparkle. You don't see that to light the sparkler you require fire."

That sums it up, really; Barsaat is a cause/effect lesson in playboy contrasted with poet. The story gives exemplars of both approaches: a lesser version of love, based on baser instincts and refusal to accept responsibility for other people's feelings, and a fuller, wiser concept of love that is more real and true because includes a wider range of experiences (not just instant gratification) and is responsive to how both people feel. Raj and Nargis (Reshma) are the solidly cohering couple who show compassion for each other and weather the storms, inseparable even by class difference, disapproving fathers and friends, aggressive suitors, and major physical traumas.

Prem Nath's character learns the importance of valuing people too late. (And yet another female character who has sex outside of marriage is punished severely. Great.)

This is certainly an approach to love that I can support; it's much more realistic and firmly rooted - and ultimately sweeter - the consequence-free method lived and suffered by Gopal and his tragic love Neela (the sweet-faced Nimmi in her first movie).

And while the film's lesson in responsibility and joy is straightforward and simple, the movie is very rich in effect, thanks to lovely visuals and strong performances. So enamored am I of bright color palettes that I forget how beautiful black and white can be, and Barsaat was a great reminder. There are many visually striking scenes, but I never felt jarred (something I cannot say for Raj's used of striped filters in Satyam Shivam Sundaram). Subtext-wise, too, things are mostly kept under control; while the characters may talk about love, they're also clearly thinking about sex, but the effect is generally one of passion rather than lecherousness (also something I cannot say for SSS). There is too much brooding for my liking, but it struck me as mostly working in service of the admirable aim of knowing yourself and those you love. Certainly according to the dichotomy set up by the movie, 'tis better to brood than not, so I made it through with minimal eye-rolling. The self-sacrifices of Reshma, Pran, and Neela do not sit as well with me, but that's one of those areas that Hindi films and I rarely agree on, so I'll just move on. PPCC describes Raj's performance here as 60% amazing/40% over-the-top performance, and that's not at all my preferred balance for almost any actor. I've read other opinions that feel Raj became OTT and self-indulgent far too often in his films, but I didn't really see much of that here. What I did see I can mostly chalk up to his character being painted as poet, and, much to my satisfaciton, Gopal voices some of the same critiques of Pran's moping that I was tempted to yell at the screen.

Forgive me for not saying more about Nargis.

She is fantastic in this and I can't wait to see more of her films. Her portrayal of Reshma is adorable and lively and fun, and Nargis's huge, generous grin suits her perfectly. She makes Reshma believably gorgeous, despite the occasional trauma-drama behavior of the character. I loved her constant sniffing - such a cute little quirk.

Some miscellaneous thoughts:
  • I wonder what Lo Spinario is doing in the living room of the fellows' rental house?
  • There's a great scene of Pran and Gopal at a swanky club, rich in 40s elegance
    contrasted with the chaotic streets outside, where Reshma has been taken by her loutish fiance to buy bangles.

    Also note the wavy lines and arcs in the club and then the coil of wire and Reshma's big earrings! Visual symmetry! Or something! Cool!
  • Another nifty visual.
  • I really liked the depiction of friendship, both between Pran and Gopal and later between Reshma and Gopal, who develop a sibling-like bond as they wait for Pran's recovery.
  • Throughout the movie, I wondered why there were so many shots of sources of light. And then I remembered Pran's line about needing fire to light a sparkler.

    Maybe that's it. Maybe Raj is trying to remind us that a source of power - heat, light, both necessary and potentially painful - is required to fuel love? I don't know. Whatever the reason, the constant imagery of light sources is a very neat effect, visually, even if I don't understand it.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of Raj Kapoor's death, and I'm only beginning to know anything about this important figure in Indian cinema. I hope people will post their suggestions about what I should watch next (other than Awaara and Shree 420, which are already on my list). The DVD of Barsaat I rented included a short feature on the importance and impact of Raj Kapoor, and one of his relatives (I think one of his sons, I forget who) said that when you worked with Raj, he inspired in you belief in what you were doing, belief in the characters. That was basically the effect I felt from this movie, and my hat is off to him for creating characters I found compelling despite their wobbles across my line of tolerance for trauma-drama and for forwarding the idea that we should treat the people we love carefully.