Sunday, November 30, 2008

technical difficulties

Dear writers whose blogs/sites I read:

Blogger, Wordpress, or your host or blogging software of choice may have told you that I am no longer following your blog. Yeh jhoot hai!

I am still reading. I just can't deal with Blogger's new-ish Reading List function conspiring with Google Reader to duplicate all of the feeds and make my Google Reader page, which is where I read most things, say that I have 1,746 unread posts to get through when really it's just a mere 873.* The 95 feeds in my Blogger Reading List were imported from Google Reader to start with, so why the Reading List then says to Google Reader "Hey, make entries for all of these things hse said she's reading!", and Google Reader did so despite all of those blogs already having feed entries in Google Reader, I do not know. If anyone has a fix for this problem, other than deleting all feeds from Blogger's Reading List, which is what I have just done and hence the reason for my concern, I would be happy to know of it.



Update to post (later that day): TheBollywoodFan has saved the day! His solution is in the comments.

* Numbers made up. Apparently Google Reader won't count over 1,000.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Purana Mandir

Aaaah! That's more like it! This is so much better than Bandh Darwaza.

No one will be more surprised than I am that I enjoyed this movie. I wasn't particularly scared - which is noteworthy, because I scare very easily - but I had a good time. It's lively, it moves along at a good clip (I only refilled my coffee once), and the cast seems to be trying without going overboard. It also helped that my watching companion, The Horror!?, was totally in his element. It's best to have a guide, no?

I think the introductory text says it all, really.

Funny! There's something so resigned-sounding about "we were forced to conclude that this is all there is." You can hear the Mondo Macabro staff throwing their hands in the air. And if anybody wants to discuss the cultural significance of Purana Mandir, by all means, please get the conversation rolling in the comments. I'm sure there are many anthropological and film studies about what the monsters and threats in horror films imply about the cultural context of the movies. If we want to be literal about it, Purana Mandir teaches us that people in India dislike child-killing, body-snatching, corpse-eating rapist monsters.

That's Ajay (some sites say Anirudh) Agrawal as the the monster, Saamri, looking like the close cousin of the vampire in Bandh Darwaza.
If I put my thinking cap on a little bit, maybe I would propose that because this monster seems to prey on groups thought to be fairly defenseless (the young, the virginal, the dead), his terror is a threat to the power, and therefore dominance, of those members of society typically considered the protectors and/or owners of said groups, namely adult men. I will leave higher-level interpretation to others better versed in Ramsay films and 1980s Indian cinema. But I digress from the visuals - and without telling you about the effects of the monster (Saamri)'s evil powers! How thoughtless of me. Saamri's attacks cause your eyes to turn white and blood to stream from your cheekbones.

The plot is not dissimilar from Bandh Darwaza (and probably countless other movies I've never even heard of): in short, monster terrrorizes family, particularly college-aged daughter Suman. Suman, her boyfriend Sanjay, and their friends try to figure out how to break the curse and kill the monster with marginal involvement from villagers and religious powers.

One major difference: the kids in Purana Mandir are smart enough to bring flashlights when they investigate the trail of the monster through old ruins at night!

There is also some uttelry pointless and shlocky comic relief in the form of a riff on Sholay that is so bad and ill-considered that I said out loud to the screen "Rajendranath, you are by far too good for this role, and Jagdeep, the same might be said of you" and then stopped paying attention to them.

Idea! Perhaps this movie teaches us that one of India's most powerful collective fears is bad Sholay references! (This does not apply to everyone in India, obviously.)

Now for a pictorial roundup of a few of my favorite moments!

When the monster was first apprehended 200 yeares ago, the priest advised the Raja to burn the monster, but noooo, he had to go and cut off his head

and store it in a box walled up in his palace behind a portrait.

And now the head can talk to the Raja's descendants through waterfalls

and paintings. Duhr!

Want a joke about how hard it is to get ahead in the art world?

It is not the most enticing item girl who sings "thousands love me, yet I am lonely" and wears a golden Aztec go-go outfit with star glitter on her eyebrows.

To be fair, her set didn't do her any favors. It's just a few sofas and chairs scattered around a room with mirrored walls, and the only decor seems to be posters for the Bee Gees, Superman, and Thums Up cola in its pre-Akshay Kumar days.

Suman's friend Sapna is so enamored of her boyfriend Anand (Puneet Issar, aka Vimmi/Babli's dad! whoa!) working out

- and frankly, who wouldn't be - that she slips into an eyebrow-raising fantasy roll in the hay.


The Asambhav split screen in embryonic form! Eeeeeevil!


Satish Shah!

Suman (Arti Gupta) and Sanjay (Mohnish Bahl) have one of those charming, young-love relationships that can be best described as CREEPY. We meet him as he leers at her in a swimming pool and tries to take pictures of parts of her body that clearly make her uncomfortable, and he really ought not to be doing any of this in public in broad daylight, especially after she tells him not to - but what's a horror film without a little skeevy leering at young women?

Beth Loves Bollywood screenwriting rule #37: if a boyfriend character is introduced in a way that makes the viewer think he's actually a stalker, that character needs to be rewritten.

It takes a really weird setting of a song to shock me out of my love and readiness for musical numbers, but Purana Mandir tossed me a curveball with the varyingly menacing and chipper "Hum Jispe Marte The" (look out for its horrible 80s instrumentation, too), which pops up just as Suman and Sanjay are about to become a blood sacrifice. The victims are chained up, torches are brandished, and knives are drawn - then SONG!

I said "Oh christ, a musical number?" just as The Horror!? was saying "the hell!?" Yeah.

And tomorrow I plan to fug the living daylights out of this movie, so stay tuned. Here's a preview.

Update to post (December 9, 2008): There might be more to my "fear of Sholay remakes" idea than I initially thought. Turns out the director of Shaitani Dracula, Harinam Singh, also made "an out and out comedy and takeoff on Sholay" called Basanti Ki Shaadi Honeymoon Gabbar Ka. Click here for details.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bandh Darwaza

rich family with a shameful past
untastefully appointed mansion
societal pressure to have a male heir
untrustworthy servant
villain who extracts outrageous payment in return for aid
sacrificing mother
secret identity
love triangle
rain song
waterfall song
mountaintop with mist song
awful choices by the wardrobe department*
tragic deaths of family members
revenge (spurred by one of the above)
gang of henchmen
dishoom dishoom in various locales, including a warehouse
religious pluralism used to fight villains
+ vampire, black magic, and an old ruin that's always dark

= Bandh Darwaza

Once again, a ballyhooed "Ooooh, it's sooo bad! It's sooo ridiculous!" movie turned to be basically masala-ish with an unusual slant on one of the elements. Like Ajooba - in which the approach was to set the whole fandango in a fairy tale-ish fake-pretend world where magic and masked heroes are taken as commonplace - Bandh Darwaza had a lot in it that was totally familiar to me, only done with less talent and liveliness and more monsters. Its blend of masala-ish elements is heavily seasoned towards drama; (intentional) comedy is very limited (and thank heavens for that, given that the comic bits are provided by Johnny Lever doing his bug-eyed, unsophisticated servant thing), musical numbers are few and without consequence or emphasis (if you don't count the typically filmi horribly off-key rendition by principal cast members of "Happy Birthday" - why does no director ever want this song to sound good?), and the male romantic lead (Hashmat Khan) is an utterly dull dumb dud of a chest hair and acid-washed denim.

If you would like a plot summary, read this next paragraph. If not, you can skip ahead. The local thakur and his wife are unable to have a child. They live near "Black Mountain," a mysterious locale where evil happenings are rumored to occur. The monster who dwells there is a vampire, "The Master," with a cult following of handmaiden Mahua (Aruna Irani, in what might well be the most regrettable role in her career of 350 movies - she doesn't even get to dance!), a very mannish woman who always wears a tiger-print coat, a guy who should have been Bob Christo but was shorter and in worse shape and not actually bald, and a bunch of other priest and henchman types. Seeing the thakur's wife's desperation as an opportunity to serve the Master, Aruna Irani convinces her to go to Black Mountain and visit the monster there, who will give (in the biblical sense) her a child. The deal is that if the child is a boy, he can stay with the thakur's family, but if it is a girl, she will "belong to the mountain." When the baby is a born a girl, Ma refuses to give up the child (Kaamya), so Aruna poisons her, but not before Ma can spill her secret to her husband. The thakur goes on a rampage of revenge, bursting into the depths of the lair on Black Mountain and plunging a knife into the Master. This all happens before the credits. Jump ahead 18 years to present day, as servant Johnny Lever leers at grown-up Kaamya while she works out in a shiny 80s leotard. (Kunika Lal, who plays Kaamya, looks closer to 40 than to 18, though that could be because of her troweled-on makeup.) Whether this sequence is to designed to prove that Kaamya is sex on wheels, and therefore dangerous and likely up to no good, or to use the presence of Mr. Lever as a barometer of the grip of evil in the thakur's household, I do not know. When she's not aerobicizing, Kaamya is in love with her best friend Kumar, but Kumar is in love with his best friend's sister, Sapna. Kumar spurns Kaamya repeatedly, so she turns to the black magic of the mountain to get her man. In exchange for this power, she has to find the Master more victims. The body count rises as Kumar, Sapna, Sapna's brother and sister-in-law, and the thakur try to figure out what's going on and stop the monster.

Swap out vampire for corrupt landlord, and black magic for money, and this movie becomes utterly unremarkable. The Master just as easily could have been any number of seedy, corrupt, and wealthy or powerful men in various movies, like Ranjeet in his rapist role from Suhaag or the leering grain merchants in Roti Kapada aur Makhan. Or Rumplestiltskin. If he'd been something more ordinary than a vampire, and the means for his control over other characters just simple extortion, this film surely would have sunk without a trace from public consciousness and no one would have bothered to release it on DVD barring the assemblage of a Johnny Lever retrospective collection. This movie just is not interesting without its monster and magic components.

Black Mountain and its rituals and inhabitants are definitely the more noteworthy aspects of the movie. The temple-like entrance to the lair creates lots of good shadows and nooks and crannies, and the Master himself is nowhere near the lamest-looking vampire I've ever seen. His eyes glow red and he has these weird lightnight bolt-shaped ridges over his eyebrows. He's often filmed from below, making him look taller than everyone else, and he does the typical movie monster soulless stomp...stomp...stomp. As mentioned, his crew looks very rag-tag, though in a funny way. There's also an interesting eeeeevil artifact at play, a notebook of Black Mountain rites kept by one of the cult members (the woman in the tiger print). Not only is this notebook Kaamya's route in to the world of black magic, it's also a visual treat for us: its cover is red velvet bedazzled with a skull and multi-colored feathers, and inside are copies of random astrological and medieval European-ish drawings complete with Latin text. (It reminds me of Anil Kapoor's mistress's notebook in Salaam-e-Ishq.) That's the only thing that could possibly tempt me to go back and get screen captures of this movie - the notebook is a hoot and completely incongruous with the set design of the lair and its accoutrements.

When the movie's focus shifts to Sapna and Kumar and their attempts to figure out the mystery of Kaamya's weird behavior, it's less interesting, and their crappy acting doesn't have the excuse of that of the cult members, who are at least under some sort of evil spell or entangled in creepy rites. Khan and Lal are awful. The woman who plays Sapna is a little better, but her character is also more sympathetic. She also gets to do a bit of ass-kicking in some of fights against the monter's minions.

A word on my Bandh Darwaza viewing event, which really influenced how much fun I had watching it and helped me think thorugh it. My wonderful, wacky workplace has begun a sporadic tradition of watching bad movies on days when it feels acceptable to indulge in the desire to be together as colleagues but not actually do any work. We also have an auditorium with a blingin' new projection system, so we were ready for "Turkey Movie Tuesday" this Thanksgiving week (when campus feels semi-closed because there are no classes). Somehow Bandh Darwaza did not make our initial cull of choices on Tuesday - "Bollywood vampire!" turned out to be a harder sell than I thought - so we ended up having two turkey movie days, with more people turning out for Tuesday's double bill of Monsters Crash the Pajama Party and Dollman and just four of us brave enough to try the Ramsay Brothers on Wednesday. Our IT director, who is the owner of the other films, was really intrigued by the idea of a Bollywood vampire, and about 15 minutes into the movie he leaned over and said "So, is this movie the way it is because it's Bollywood, or because it's a horror film, or because it's just plain and simple a low-budget, junky film?" A very astute question! As soon as he asked it, I realized that I had been assuming this would be mainly a scary movie with a few Bollywood-ish elements, like a song or two and some odious comic relief. But as I explained to him how many filmi elements I had already observed in the film, I began to realize that what I was watching seemed to be simply an extremely unengaging Bollywood movie with a red-eyed vampire in it. Then again, I can count the number of horror, or even scary, movies I've seen on two hands, so maybe I don't know enough about those types to recognize their trademarks. (Bandh Darwaza does have a trope even I know about: the most sexually forward woman is killed.)

But you know what? My tummy is full of homemade rolls and sweet potatoes and cranberry nut pie, so I can be charitable. There seem to be quite a few people out there who really enjoyed Bandh Darwaza in some way or other, and you should go read them (and look at their screen captures). For example, Cinema Strikes Back also offers a much more positive review (with pictures!); The Horror!? had a lot more fun with this movie than I did, and his writeup is a lot more fun to read than this one. His list of all the silly elements in the movie is definitely accurate and makes a good checklist for how to approach this movie with a positive mindset. I giggled a lot while watching the movie, but that's the beauty of having good-humored people with you when you undertake something like this, especially when they're brand new to Hindi films and you could share in their shock at the heroine writhing around in a rain song or their confusion as to why an om symbol, a Koran, and a crucifix might all suddenly show up in the same location in the climax of the action. Anyway, both of these sources have tons more experience with pulp and horror movies than I do, so they probably knew how to have fun with things that didn't particularly impress - or interest - me. But will this experience stop me from watching Purana Mandir tomorrow? Heck no! I learn things the hard way!

Note: Just before we were scheduled to start watching the movie Wednesday, I noticed my friend Rajan in Mumbai's chat status was "gang war in Mumbai; I am safe." Frantic googling and talking with Filmiholic, who was online with friends witnessing the events. A Bollywood horror film seemed especially stupid in the light of actual horror in Bombay; on the other hand, escapism felt really good too.

* When I first wrote about planning to dive into the Ramsay pool, alert reader Thalia left me this comment: "I can't remember whether it's Purana Mandir or Bandh Darwaza (I got them on the same disc) where the costume designer obviously got a great deal on bolts of this very early-'90s sparkly, tufty, kind of chenillish fabric. The heroines of the movie in question have at least two different complete ensembles made of this stuff, in both white and fire-engine red." Dead on! The sister-in-law has a white nightie ensemble made of this stuff, and Sapna has a red party dress of the same fabric. Neither purpose seems to be well-served by this material - I think this is the kind of stuff you'd want far, far away from your skin. We had a hard time deciding if the fuzzy edges were because of bad DVD quality or were actually in the fabric. Fortunately Thalia's comment set me straight! There are also some 90s filmi atrocities in costuming here, some because they are from fads that feel so long gone (like big hair or pants with tapered legs) and some because they are garish and unflattering. But again, nothing you probably can't find poor Karisma Kapoor wearing somewhere.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shashi gets his Steven Tyler on, so it's not a complete waste: Ganga aur Suraj

[Spoilers ahead, but it's masala-ish, so nothing you wouldn't expect.]

When Old Is Gold reviewed Ganga aur Suraj last summer, almost everyone who commented said it was bad, but somehow I felt drawn to it anyway. Now I know why.

Hai hai mirchi*, the man is smokin' (if agin') in this movie as dacoit Vijay, despite the weapons, generally questionable ethics, and stupid mustache - once again the crown princes of Bollywood, by which I mean Shashi and Abhishek and occasionally Shahrukh, have tested my long-held anti-facial hair position and come out victorious. (You can read more about filmi facial hair over at Rum's.)

Your love is like a shotgun - BANG!
Blinding Shashi-pyaar is the only reason I can think of to recommend this movie. It's got some standard masala plot elements - namely lost and found family members and plenty of bandits - but very little of the joy and wackadoo that most of us seem to like in our movie mix.

In the introductory flashback, a switcheroo of babies sets the stage for decades of enmity and an ill-fated romance. Dacoit leader Vikram (Kader Khan) thinks the police (led by Iftekhar as Inspector Shekhar) killed his daughter during a botched arrest, but actually she was rescued by Shekhar's older son Ganga (Sunil Dutt when grown up) and taken in by Shekhar's family (and named Sarita, played by Sulakshana Pandit as an adult).

I kept wanting Sarita to be played by Neetu Singh. Where's my Neetu?!?
Vikram then takes revenge by kidnapping Shekhar's younger son Suraj as Ganga looks on. Suraj, now named Vijay, grows up in the gang and becomes an outlaw too. In addition to the loose family ends, there has to be some romance in here. Sarita and Vijay fall in lurve without realizing that her father and brother are his mortal enemies (let alone that their parents aren't who they think).

The filter of luuuuurve!

I'm not sure how I feel about mustachioed Shashi romping in fields. He seems a little old for that.
Ganga finds love too, in the form of feisty Poonam (Reena Roy), whom he meets while he's undercover trying to infiltrate Vijay and Vikram's gang. The Vijay/Sarita and Ganga/Poonam romances are cute enough, but they take up a displeasingly small amount of the run time, which is otherwise filled with shootings and Ganga's espionage.

Vijay and undercover Ganga get to bond as criminal brothers-in-arms, also unaware of their biological relationship.

Fakest blood ever. It's pink.
Then there's a big shootout in the rocky hills,

truth is revealed, bad guys admit their wrongs, and everything works out.

While I won't go quite as far as to call Ganga aur Suraj "the suck to the extreme," as Indie Quill did over at Old Is Gold's post (though I am definitely in favor of this terminology), it's not good. Two of Laxmikant-Pyarelal's songs - the qawwali "Pada Tumhaara Kabhi Bijliyon Se," in which Vijay and Sarita meet cute, and "Jali Hai Nafrat Ki Aag Dil Mein," in which Poonam hurls knives at Ganga -

are very enjoyable, and Ganga and Poonam have some some cute chemistry, but that's about it.

So let's cut to the chase, shall we? ¡Mas Shashi! His performance in the party qawwali alone was worth the purchase price of this DVD. He is hilarious, shimmying around with his bright red scarf and very tight flared corduroys.

Savvy costuming once again, Jennifer K!
There are passages in his handful of dance steps that are almost as good as Pyaar Kiye Jaa's "Kehne Ki Nahin Baat," but this time they're all grown up, if you know what I mean (and I think you do).

Here are a few other things that caught my fancy.
  • When his cover is threatened, Ganga has to fight off four boats full of bandits single-handedly, and somehow he does it. I'm not sure I've ever seen a boat fight before, and I dug it.
  • There's a really sweet (well, relatively) and compassionate gang member who serves as a father figure to Vijay, whose relationship with Vikram is very unesay. Here he bows his head in dismay as kidnapped baby Suraj is brought into the gang's hideout.

    Keep your eye on him. He's interesting.
  • Aruna Irani is in the film too, but she doesn't get to do much. She's in love with Vijay but he doesn't pay her any attention despite all her heart-felt dancing.
    She does, however, get to deliver a self-referential line, savoring how much she loves Vijay: "How do I forget him? His lovely face is so alluring. His complexion is so attractive. His lips are so red. He is a hero for me. Like Shashi Kapoooooooor!" flinging her head back and forth and wriggling, unable to contain herself. She should be our fan club president.

    See Shatrughan doing jazz hands in the background?
  • During the lost-and-found/revenge setup at the beginning, Shekhar's family is in the middle of celebrating little Suraj's birthday. See this cake?

    It soon gets upturned in the chaos of the kidnapping, but not before we see its happy smiling face. How cute is that! Smiley cake!
I hate to end on a down note, but I have to share how sad I was for the little actors who played baby Suraj and Vikram's daughter (no idea what her original name was) during the messy and violent scenes in the introduction. Smoke, gunshots, bombs, trampling horses, and scary guys grabbing them.

They look really upset, don't they? And surely they're too young to understand that what they're experiencing is all fake. I sure hope these little ones grew up unscarred - or at least as unscarred as one can be after experiencing Kader Khan in a bad wig.

* This song, and how much fun its title is to say, is one of three good things (all musical) about the abominable Biwi No. 1.