Saturday, September 27, 2008

lunchtime poll #7: critieria for and choices of Foundation Masala Films

Superwow! Thank you for all the great responses to the Foundation Masala question! (This concept merits capital letters, I think.) I kept starting to write up my response and then someone else would post something that gave me more to think about. Like Temple said in the comments, your responses remind me how much I have to learn and how many movies there are I need to get my hands on. The overwhelming top Foundation Masala Film in the comments of the last post was Amar Akbar Anthony. Unfortunately, I've only seen it once and don't feel I knew enough when I saw it to appreciate its full impact and to talk about it intelligently much further. It is most definitely going on the rewatch list pronto. Do aur Do Paanch, Duniya Meri Jeb Mein, Geeta Mera Naam, Mard, Naseeb, Sholay, Suhaag, and Yaadon Ki Baaraat also got multiple votes.

On whom can we rely to deliver the goods? Behind the camera, Shweta voted for Manmohan Desai, GP Sippy, and Subhash Ghai. Interestingly, readers don't seem to be partiuclarly particular about who acts out all of the many required/desired elements (more on them in a minute) - Sanket just wants stars and a lot of them, and who can blame him? - but Rum crowned Amitabh as king of masala. I'm certainly down with that. And if you don't have Amitabh, you'd better have Vinod Khanna or a Kapoor - preferably Shashi, of course, and preferably he is with Amitabh rather than without him, for Shashitabh is jodi #1 of Masala Pradesh. Oh, and if you can possibly manage it, you should have Helen. I'm a little sad that no one mentioned my pyaare heroine Neetu Singh, so I'm going to say it: Neetu is the queen of my masala heart, whether she's opposite Shashi, Rishi, or Amitabh.

Collectively, we came up with an impressive list of what plot and production elements a masala movie should contain.
  • convoluted plots/high WTF quota
  • comedy
  • family drama
  • buddies
  • lost/found; more specifically, misplaced family members
  • criminal intrigue,cops/robbers, and/or evil gangsters
  • dishoom dishoom
  • reunions
  • unrequited love
  • tears (in the words of Todd, something that can "smash through my usually steadfast wall of ironic detachment")
  • double role
  • orphans
  • children: either helping their filmi ma or being adorable but suffering tribulations
  • ditzy heroine - although personally, I think the best masala films have strong, bright, sunny, competent heroines
  • antics
  • disguises
  • qawwalis and disco
  • quaint villagers / token minority characters living in peace and harmony
  • gangster lair
  • cabaret
  • shiny shiny and/or otherwise outrageous sets
  • shiny shiny and/or otherwise outrageous costumes
  • great songs
I'm not entirely kidding when I propose that it'd be a really interesting experiment to print off this list and sit with it and a pencil next time I watch something that is generally considered masala. I'm curious how common these common elements actually are.

Memsaab asked a good question: "Why do some [films] just not deliver, while having essentially the same ingredients?" It's in the balance, I think. While the optimum mix of ingredients will vary from person to person and be specific to each film, it has to be there - somebody needs to have paid careful attention to how much of each ingredient was added, in what sequence, and its effect on all the others. Good masala is far greater than the sum of its many, many parts; maybe bad masala is that in which the overall product is swamped by a particular component (or components). Perhaps there are some complex mathematical formulas that directors can use, like:
duration of revenge-driven dishoom-dishoom ≤ [(20% total run time of movie) x (# of original victims of principal evil leader)
- or -
△Heroes, Heroines, and Associates ≅ △Idealized Population of India
- or -
rate of change in the moral heart of someone who withheld information in the past ∝ adorableness of wide-eyed children
- or -
true masala shall exist ⇔ the condition of Kapoor is met, where Kapoor={Shashi, Shammi, Rishi, or Neetu Singh}

Any way you figure it, you know it when you see it.

TheBollywoodFan commented that good masala is more than a checklist. He proposes that successful masala has "applicability and/or appeal to the masses, transcending a collection of particular cinematic elements." Hard to measure? Sure, but certainly an admirable goal if the film does something useful with whatever common experiences or emotions it has tapped into....well, maybe not; as I write this, I'm realizing something could probably be masala even if it isn't masala in a good way. Appealing to the masses can definitely go wrong or fuel dangerous or destructive ideas. I hope Rum will guard the borders of Masala Pradesh and give the ol' dishoom-dishoom to any such film that tries to sneak in!

Sanket demands "a story that must be layered on top of several other stories but not to the point of being incomprehensible." "Incomprehensible," like "appealing to the masses" is another subjective concept; I probably agree with him most of the time, but my reliance on subtitles means that I don't understand dialogues that Hindi-speakers can, so I'm not the best judge of this quality. (Related to this is the comedy factor; I was relieved when theBollywoodFan said that Andaz Apna Apna probably doens't translate very well, because that movie left me completely underwhelmed.) Others prefer a lot of WTF in their masala. If the wackadoo, antics, and/or complications make me laugh, I'm all for them; if they make me confused to the point of distraction, then I'm unhappy.

PPCC describes masala as only PPCC can. "Messy, emotionally epic, telenovela, shambolic and dizzy and fun. Like a roller coaster that hasn't cleared any sanitary American safety regulations." I'll have to take the PPCC word on that one, since roller coasters, even the ones designed for little children, make me really queasy. But masala that makes me throw my hands in the air and shout "Wheeeeeeeeeee!!!!" with glee is definitely a success in my book.

My most favorite of favorite wheeeeee!!!!-inducing masala movies is...Manmohan Desai's Parvarish. I've watched it over and over and over again, and I always find something new to enjoy in it. The elements are orchestrated in thoughtful balance and sequence, with multiple reveals and backstories looping together, identities changing, and ultimate dil-pleasing reunions and luuuuurve. Many of the aforementioned elements are here, plus fake blindness, diamond smuggling, Kader Khan in a silly wig, and a qawwali with famous Indian landmarks, tons of guns, and a giant barrel. Parvarish also has some of the best heroines I've seen in any Bollywood movie, masala or not. Though Neetu and Shabana Azmi (in another fun masala component, "What the hell is this person doing in this movie?!?") do play love interests to the two heroes, they're also key to the plot all on their own, and they have their own arc and plans. The Laxmikant Pyarelal songs are super, illuminating the characters' thoughts and plans, and the picturizations are a treat. Scampy Neetu and Shabana bring their petty thieving socialism to the streets ("Sab Janta Ka Hai")! Amitabh and Vinod stamp in figurative and literal black and white, bellbottomed glory, all the while eyeing each other with sharpened perception as enemies (and the first 25 seconds of "Hum Premi Prem Karna Jaane" is some of my favorite Amitabh dancing ever). All four sing a sarcastic love song ("Jaate Ho Jaane Jaana"), with the girls threatening suicide and the boys egging them on, then walking off in a huff to make ever more dramatic attempts until the fellas capitulate and show their true affections. Plus the submarines! If you've seen Parvarish, you've pretty much seen it all. The movie should start with "Behold the dazzling variety, cinematic splendor, wacked out disguises, and the grooviesti villain lair ever made*!" If only it had Shashi and some lessons of religious or cultural pluralism, it'd be perfect.

Others at the top of my list are Teesri Manzil, Sharmeelee, Kaala Patthar, Don, Do aur Do Paanch, and Bunty aur Babli (you betcha I'm callin' it masala!).

Some subcategories inspired by your suggestions and by through my list of watched films:
socialist masala
Kaala Patthar, Roti Kapada aur Makhan
reform masala
Chor Sipahee, Imaan Dharam
grudge/revenge masala
Trishul, Duniya Meri Jeb Mein
yeh jhoot hai! misinformation masala
Aa Gale Lag Jaa

double your fun masala
Sharmeelee, Seeta aur Geeta, Don
Hollywood homage masala
Satte Pe Satta
disco masala
I hope to heaven there's at least one other example.
masala madness extravaganza (name courtesy of reader Temple)
decline and fall masala, a.k.a. teetering towards embarrassingly debauched and past its prime (possibly very similar to the above category)
Namak Halaal
, Shaan, Ajooba
There's a distressing Shashi thread here. Quick, somebody think of something that fits this category but he wasn't in!
modern masala
Bunty aur Babli, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

For your shopping cart, here are the Foundation Masala Films mentioned by readers in the previous post:
Aa Gale Lag Jaa
Amar Akbar Anthony
The Burning Train
Chor Sipahee
Dil Hai Tumhaara
Do aur Do Paanch
Don (1978)
Duniya Meri Jeb Mein
Evening In Paris
Geeta Mere Naam
Hera Pheri (1976)
Hum Kisise Kum Nahin
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (or not? not enough tears)
Kasme Vaade
Mister India (or not? no ma)
Muqaddar ka Sikander
Namak Halaal
Om Shanti Om
Roti Kapada aur Makan
Sholay (or not? too serious and samurai-y)
Teesri Manzil
Waqt (1965)
Yaadon Ki Baaraat

Many thanks to everyone who wrote in! This has been so much fun to think about, and I can't wait to add all these other things to my stack to be watched.

Oh! Blogger tells me this is my 500th post. There couldn't possibly be a better subject to write about on such a momentous day. Thanks, Indian cinema, for making so many things to think and talk about!

* As suggested by Todd, villain lairs will be the subject of the next luchtime poll.

Update to post (February 22, 2009, 11:00 pm ish CST): Should we add Slumdog Millionaire to this list? Oscar-winning classic-formula masala - who'dve thought it!

Friday, September 19, 2008

lunchtime poll #7: foundation masala films

Inspired by Temple's concept of "foundation masala" (in the comments on Karz) and Rum's very excellent essay on the various states within the new nation of Masala Pradesh, here's a question for anyone who wants to take it up: what's on your Superwow Masala list and why? What do you consider essential viewing? (Those two descriptors might not always overlap.) Which films define or exemplify the idea of a masala movie? And spinning off of the core list, which films do you love or admire for their variations on the theme (e.g. disco masala)?

I don't want to flat-out ask "What makes a movie masala?" - I'd rather let that arise out of everyone's answers. There are many other masala -related quesitons to explore, and no doubt many other sites and authors and cinema studies graduate students have done so; if this experiment works the way I hope, we'll take a stab at them too. The kind of stab you take at the man who ruined your father/humiliated your mother/kidnapped your sibling/committed another atrocity that you accidentally witnessed as a child and now cannot escape.

I'm still mulling mine over, and I hope to have a list up by Monday. Something tells me I'll end up putting Parvarish near the top.

In this one shot alone, we have a location whose exterior is a badly done model, wacky outfits, not one but two pairs of lost fathers and sons, a police officer, a gun, a Kapoor, a classic villain actor, a time bomb, and the king of them all. Its only flaw, as a snapshot of the greatness that is Parvarish, is that it doens't show Neetu, Shabana, a song, or evidence of faked blindness. But you can't have everything.... Oh wait, yes you can: you watch masala!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rishi-licious disco masala: Karz

My favorite thing about Karz just might be that it helped bring about Om Shanti Om. I don't know how exaclty OSO came about or how strong the ties are in Farah Khan's mind between the two films (and I don't mean to overstate them), but I think she did some great work with what she found in Karz. Personally, I think OSO is the stronger and more enjoyable film - it's a lot sharper and funnier, and that's what I tend to like.* That's probably not a very fair assessment ot make, though (but might be a good discussion for later: what responsibilities does an original work have for what later people do based on it or how they interpret it?) So let's pretend for a minute that we live in a terrible world in which Farah never saw Karz - nahiiiin! - or, more easily, that I saw this movie about a year ago, before Om Shanti Om came out. In that case, I'd have to say the best, self-contained thing about the movie is Rishi. I'm sort of surprised to hear myself say that; I've liked Rishi in other things, but I would never have called him the greatest strength of any of the movies I've seen him in so far. In an impromptu North American Karz watch-along, Apni East India Company, Old Is Gold, Filmi Girl Bol!, and I all agreed that Rishi was workin' it really well in this film, playing all his masala-required faces with equal starry appeal. Pop star Rishi (named Monty, as the back of his silver sequined jacket helpfully tells us)!

Violin-playing, emo Rishi!

O Rishi, you're so fine! You're so fine you blow my mind!
Manic, weird, flashbacking, stalking Rishi!

Jacket-without-shirt Rishi! And most of all, disco-dancing Rishi! I'd really like to assemble the songs and funny segments from this with the best moments of Disco Dancer and create one fantastically groovy disco-laden movie that puts too much emphasis on electric guitars...and just ignore the parts about going bonkers while avenging historic wrongs done to one's mother.

Karz is masala-y - and we can all agree that "disco masala" is a concept with a lot of potential, no? - but its balance of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) ingredients was not my favorite. Too little comedy and romance, too much revenge and convenient coincidence. I think what nudged it over the edge for me was the reincarnation storyline. When a masala hero finds his long-lost family and discovers that all the other people in his life are relevant to his previously unknown true identity, that's pretty convenient. But when a masala hero finds his long-lost family and learns that all the other people in his life are connected to his true identity only after he has deciphered mysterious flashbacks to figure out that in fact he is the reincarnation of a different person who was murdered by his wife 21 years ago as part of an evil plan to control a tea estate, that's really convenient. (So many italics are necessary to explain these things!) Convenient - yet so convoluted and complicated. It's meta-masala! Reincarnation is more difficult for me to get on board with than plain ol' ordinary mistaken identity or unknown past. Here is where I have to admit that I was really confused at the beginning of the movie, and had it not been for the others watching with me, it might have taken me a long time to realize that the actor playing the man Simi Garewal (evil Kamini) ran over with her jeep (Raj Kiran, playing Ravi Verma) was not in fact just Rishi with an icky mustache.

The casting of Raj and Rishi as reflections of each other was smart - they definitely work as relatives.

Now that I've thought about Karz some more, my bigger complaint is that there was no explanation of how the reincarnation was supposed to have happened or why Ravi's soul ended up in Monty in particular. If you want me to accept that Monty is actually dead Ravi, give me some documentation of how (and preferably why) Ravi got into baby Monty (whom we never see) - like the way the link is set up in Om Shanti Om. I don't think the filmmakers were trying to be subtle about it - "subtle" is not really a part of this film - so I'm left thinking maybe they just didn't want to bother.

Long story short: Karz never fully inspired me to suspend disbelief. But apart from no explanation as to how Ravi became Monty, the story fit their lives together well. One loved his mother and sister; the other felt the bitter sting of not having any family. One was duped by his beloved; the other dished out deceit as payback. One talked about learning to play guitar; the other was a...I was going to say "virtuoso" but let's settle for "pop star who is presented as adept with at least three instruments."

Aside on set design: speaking of instruments, what is with the guitars all over the place? If they meant something other than reminding us of Monty's musicality, I missed it. Also, there are repeated visual references to mothers and mother's milk (or else somebody had a breast fetish); I'll leave it to Filmi Girl analyze that one, since she pointed it out, but in the meantime here are some bits of evidence (or maybe they're all references to Kali from the pre-reincarnation scenes?).

Just in case we didn't get the live mother/child pairing, the painting in the background clues us in.

This one is in Kamini's bedroom, and the only time I noticed it was when the camera swirls around her bed as she is attacked and almost raped by this guy,

who turns out to be someone hired by Monty to mess with her head. Personally, I don't think there's anything particularly maternal about that image, and I resent the movie linking female sexuality with sexual assault. And speaking of incongruous home decor, in the hallway outside Kamini's room, there's a poster of a bunch of kittens in a basket; we see it as Rishi collapses against the door frame and fires a gun at the creepy man. Weird!

Second best thing about Karz: songs! "Paisa Yeh Paisa" is a wonderful way to introduce the main character! Its outfits are inexplicably Euro-ish (see second image from top)! I kept wanting Rishi to do some of those Russian squatting kicks. The way the credits are integrated into the set is so clever!

Plus it adds another great Bollywood counting song to my repertoire in case I ever get tired of tired of "Ek Do Teen" from Tezaab. "Dard-e-Dil Dard-e-Jigar" gets stuck in my head all the time, and Rishi looks like he's having a great time performing it. "Om Shanti Om" is one of the best sets I've ever seen. I like its oversized record player even better than the oversized typewriter in Bombay Talkie, its Shashilessness notwithstanding.

The title theme is worked throughout the movie really well, even when potentially oveshadowed by giant drums, chimes, thunderclaps, and aesthetically displeasing disco riffs. Teeny downside about the songs: my viewing companions and I are not sure this movie sufficiently showed off Rishi's dancing skills.

Third best: Pran! In earrings! Being helpful! Dressing up in fun disguises!

Runners-up: Simi Garewal's wigs,

the many hats of dubious taste,

I don't know if you can see it, but in addition to Rishi's little furry cap, the women have flowers all over their heads and the men are wearing fedoras with plumes and one side of the brim pinned up (à la an unfortunate marching band).
and the skeleton suits that managed to convince Kamini she saw ghosts. What about these says "BHOOOOOOT!" to you?

The one on the right has glasses on over his mask. Oooh, scary.

Unless you're dealing with something along the lines of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (recently excellently reviewed by Todd over at Teleport City), guys in skeleton leotards with glasses should be a sign that you've got nothing worthwhile left to say about a movie. So I'll stop and sum up. For all its wacky bits and excellent songs, Karz didn't do much for me, and I'm really glad it reincarnated into Shahrukhy, affectionately satirical Om Shanti Om. The upcoming Himmesh version, though...yech.

* To my mind, OSO is at its worst once the revenge plot really kicks in, with Om terrorizing Mukesh and staging the elaborate reenactment, and that's when it's most directly comparable to the action in Karz. When OSO lost its sense of fun towards the end, that's when I got unhappy with it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

more on Heyy Babyy

It could've been worse, but it could've been a lot better. The baby and the camaraderie of the three male leads make it watchable, but I had trouble making its pieces add up into anything coherent and reasonable in either story or message.

Let's investigate. First, the things I liked:
  • As noted, cutest baby evah (Angel, played by little Juanna Sanghvi).

    All movie children now have a new, impossibly high standard of charm to live up to. I thought the clips of her were very well integrated into the movie. They must have had a camera on her for aaaages to capture all those different expressions and gestures while wearing the proper outfit for the scene. I never felt like she was just on a sound stage away from the shoot - she always looked right for what was going on. The Angel's-eye view of the dads leaning over her and goofing around was fun too. I have to give the filmmakers many points for their handling of the baby, both as a character in the story and as a logistical concern. Update to post (September 11, 2008): Thanks to commenter Pessimissimo for reminding me about the "baby abandoned in the rain" scene, which made me totally ill. I think there were other, less horrifying, more realistic ways to show that the guys are stupid. I cried during it too, so not only was my intelligence insulted, I also had to admit that I am a giant softie who is easily emotionally manipulated. Rrrr! [Shakes fist at filmmakers and takes back some of the points previously awarded!]
  • Some energy was given to exploring and supporting the idea that non-traditional family structures 1) can be perfectly good environments to raise children and 2) can be full of fun and love. Fab!
  • It has two very satisfying songs (the title track and "Mast Kalandar," whose flappy stompy dance moves I also quite like).
  • Chupke Chupke reference!
  • If you have these three clowns as dads, at least they'll sing and dance for you!

  • They also seem to spare no embarrassment trying to amuse you. That's pretty endearing, and I chuckled a few times.
  • I don't even like babies (and in college I never had that black-and-white poster of the shirtless man holding an infant), but even to me this scene was a-dor-a-ble.

    Similarly, Al (Fardeen Khan) tucks Angel in and says "Good night, not-my-daughter, good night." That's what I'm going to say next time I get to hold a baby for three minutes and then happily return it to its rightful owners.

  • Friendship is valued and delighted in! Right on!
  • No one makes a big deal about people having sex before they're married.
  • Al yells at the sports heroes who make commercials but don't deliver in their primary career.

    Cute, you former Mr. Provogue, you.
  • The rich Indians in Australia have white servants!

  • Contextless cheerleaders! It's been awhile since I saw any of them.
  • How'd they do the lean in the title song?

The things I most definitely did not like:
  • It's a Christmas miracle!

    And we'll name the baby Angel! Gag me.
  • The idea that an unconventional family structure can work is dropped in favor of a baby needing both her parents to be happy and both parents needing to present for a family to be "complete," as I believe Boman Irani's character phrases it. Apparently neither a man nor a woman should raise a child on their own, and god help any child who is raised that way.
  • I might be wrong about this, but I think that the movie implies that Vidya's character (Isha) should want to 1) forgive Akshay's character (Arush) for his utter lies and duplicitousness in Delhi (or wherever they were - I thought I heard "Dilli" but saw the Taj Mahal in the background, but whatever) and 2) want him heavily involved in their daughter's upbringing. I'd say she's quite justified in declining both of those options, at least while she gets to know the actual Arush. If someone creates a whole alternate personality just to get you to sleep with them, you get to be mad at them, and you also get to make a judgment about the workings of their moral compass. I'm not saying Arush should have no rights to the child, but I think we viewers were supposed to want Isha to forgive him really quickly and accept him into her daughter's life right away. Why shouldn't she get to have time to learn about him and his qualities before she's excited about him being back in her life and trying to be a part of Angel's? She also does not deserve his taunting in that song in which he follows her around Sydney making puppy-dog eyes and singing "Your anger is artificial, you're being rude." What do you expect, jerk?
  • Speaking of which, Boman Irani's character, Isha's dad, is such a nitwit. "Hahaha, I'll just pretend your child died and leave it on someone's doorstep! That'll fix everything!" However, it's a great nod to Aa Gale Lag Jaa, in which Om Prakash does something very similar to Sharmila and Shashi.

  • NO. You wouldn't get to say that even if you had been an ideal partner.
  • It is not cool to call your daughter or her mother "bitch."
  • I'm going to skip over the poo jokes and talk about sexual conquests. You heard them. You know.
  • There is no chemistry between Vidya and Akshay, and I'm not convinced their characters loved each other at the end. It was convenient and "right" for them to be together, so they were. The best pair in the movie is Al and Tanmay (Riteish Deshmukh). Vidya's character is neither interesting nor pleasant, and I didn't care about her at all. And, sadly, Boman was unable to save the film (not his fault). Anupam Kher's character did not help matters any, and the DDLJ jokes were too clunky.
Final verdict: a luke-warm mess. As most commenters on my previous post have said, Heyy Babyy has a few enjoyable bits, but overall it's dumb. Much of it was stupid in that "let's not bother with logic or reasonable behavior - or legal codes" way and made me feel sort of juvenile. And more importantly, I was really disappointed that it didn't follow through with full support of some of its more unconventional and very refreshing depictions of family and love.

One more of squooshy-wooshy baby cheeks?


Sunday, September 07, 2008

livebloggyy/FFyy Heyy Babyy

Aaaah work is really busy and stuff so I haven't written up Waqt or Pyar Ka Mausam from two weeks ago despite Asha Parekh's giant fish-shaped hair accessory! Aaah! I didn't have enough energy to face those projects today (and there's also the slight chance that last week I fell into a black hole of old tv shows starring Rob Morrow), so instead I started watching Heyy Babyy. Until I can write something better, here's a selection from my notes. By the way, the responsibility for me watching this movie belongs to Riteish Deshmukh, because I wanted to know if he was as good in it as he was in the Unforgettable Tour, and Shahrukh Khan. (Sorry for the capital letters. They're easier to type than italics when I'm trying to keep up with the movie.)
0:07:14 FOR REAL with the spraying white stuff on women?

0:08:00 Aw, the girl in Fardeen's bed is white (and blonde). Riteish's girl is white (and blonde). Aw, Akshay's is too. Awwww. White women are trampy. Yet most of the women they were dancing with in the club were INDIAN STARS. Hmmmm.

0:09:38 This girl is CUTE!!! SUPER CUTE!

0:013:00 That baby is NOT six days old. She has teeth.

0:31:10 Haha men can't be dogs because dogs are faithful.

0:37:40 Oh my god, this is so annoying.

0:38:33 I just want to get to SRK's song.

0:40:16 I'm stopping here and finding SRK's song.

while fast-forwarding: I see Boman! I had forgotten he was in this. Dear Boman: please come and save this movie.

still fast-forwarding: Anupam Kher. [Momentarily play at normal speed.] His phone rings to the song from DDLJ and then he says something about "Raj Malhotra." HAR DEE HAR HAR.

2:02:30 FINALLY the song. It seems to me that Ritesh is not as good a dancer as
Akshay (he seems to be doing fewer and scaled-down moves), but he's selling it.


2:05:25 Is this him? Everyone's looking.

2:05:27 Yes it is, because I've seen this clip.

2:05:43 Finally actual facial confirmation. THANK GOD even though he has the ponytail.

Actual review of something to arrive later this week, I promise.