Friday, February 27, 2009

Huzzah! Sita Sings the Blues is available online!

Scurry over to PBS (WNET New York's "Reel 13") and watch Nina Paley's superwow animated film Sita Sings the Blues! "The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told" looks gorgeous, sounds delightful, and gives you a lot to think about.

From the official site. Images © Nina Paley 2008.
Some of my favorite parts: the discussant narrator puppets, musical Sita's hair, Hanuman's banana phone, the dancing moon and frogs, Laxman's tears, a peacock record player, and a riff very like Koi Mil Gaya's computer's "om" tones as a glittering Laxmi rises out of the waves in the opening credits.

Monday, February 23, 2009

yawn: Rock On

Yeah. What he said.

The thing about reactions to and opinions about art and stories and things like that is that they're so personal and tied to individual experiences. So there's no reason for me to try to convince someone who liked Rock On or found it moving that it was, objectively, facile and transparent and shallow, but that's sure how it came across to me. Instead of listing out what didn't work for me - and how none of this rocked me even remotely - and in fact my general philosophy in life is that if you have to put "rock" in the title, your work probably isn't successfully rocking for itself - maybe I should just say that my favorite song (or musical scene) in this movie was the jokingly, drunkenly karaoked version of "I Will Survive."

Purab Kohli, playing the most likable character, the very Ringo-y drummer.
That was the only one that felt genuine to me, true to the character and the moment. The rest of this was obvious and dull - even the flashbacks to the band's early days told me nothing about them that I couldn't have written myself. I've seen this movie a dozen times, though of course not in Hindi. Give me School of Rock any day. Cultural context may have just thrown up a huge wall for me here, and I am happy to accept that this movie has relationships to mainstream Indina cinema and to audiences who grew up primarily in that context that are very different from how it fits in with the western movies and tv I grew up with. There's little in Rock On that didn't happen a few seasons ago in Degrassi: The Next Generation, for example. And that's fine - there's nothing inherently wrong with different groups of people indulging in the same stories for different audiences or contexts - but it means that Rock On is not the movie for me.

I watched this with Memsaab and we made an ongoing checklist of all the standard rock band accessories, behaviors, and plot points we expected to find, and most of them turned up: leather wrist bands, iconic rock hero t-shirts/posters/CDs, pre-conflict frolicking, the lead singer diving into the crowd at a concert, fog machines and colored lasers (Magik [the band's name] [seriously] is Styx, apparently),

ego clashes, pressures to sell out.... I don't at all mind when movies (or novels, or songs, or whatever) dig into the barrel of narrative and emotional chestnuts, but if the story is uncreative, then I need the rest of the project to be imaginative and meaningful in its intent for and use of the chestnuts. Chake De India, for example, was mostly trite on paper but pushed all the right buttons for me and was utterly chock-full of heart. Rock On just didn't. I was so bored. A bunch of man-children upset that they're not able to wield their phallic symbols anymore? No thanks.

Boys, I've called you into my office to discuss how disappointed I am....

The list of various things that don't fit anywhere else:
  • What was up with Aditya and Sakshi's rain sculpture thingy? That's the most ludicrously excessive piece of set decor I've ever seen in a Hindi movie, and I'm including the sunken living room wrap-around sofas that seat thirty-seven in that comparison.
    I like to think of it as echoing the clouds and tears in Aditya's pre-band-reunion dil. Awww.
  • Adi is such a stud that you need to see him from two sides at once! Maybe Farhan and crew were just inspired the split-screen idea from co-star Arjun Rampal's Asambhav!
  • Arjun Rampal successfully channeled the look of circa 1972 George Harrison.

    Probably not the guitar chops, though. Out of fairness, I should also say that this was the best performance I've ever seen Arjun Rampal give.
  • Love the presence of Pepsi in a film that discussing selling out. Subtle and clever (relatively).
  • You can't quite see it here, but the famous people in the producer's desk and wall photos are Anu Malik, who appears as himself in the film, and Javed Akhtar, whose presence does not need explanation.

    More meta - apparently that's the theme of the month!
  • Requisite struggling rock band wear: Doors shirt, camouflage, lots of metal jewelry, soul patch.
  • (My screen capturing software did some funny things during this movie, so these shots don't do this scene justice, but let's proceed anyway.) At their first rock competition, Magik is preceded on stage by some sort of metal group,

    and Memsaab and I both thought it would have been brilliant to have this shaved-head lead singer be a cameo by someone who is decidedly not a shaved-head lead singer of a metal band, like Shahrukh or Abhishek. Or OMG Preity! Ha!
What I might dislike most about Rock On is that while I was watching it, my annoyance growing, I had a nagging feeling that maybe I wouldn't like Dil Chahta Hai as much anymore. The two films do share some significant similarities: male friendship (which in theory I'm delighted to see star in a film) among young men of financial and social privilege, the moping of yuppies, illness and death, conflict among friends, "What am I doing with my life?" and "What does my life mean?" questions, a female partner who feels shut out, even heavy use of flashback (though mercifully Dil Chahta Hai has only one, and it tells us a lot about the characters, unlike Rock On's, which built on no imagination whatsoever). On the up side, maybe it will make me grateful that the DCH boys sorted out their issues while they were still in their early 20s and didn't drag out their gloomy dissatisfaction for a whole decade. I'm with Ultrabrown: forget it. And just be glad you were spared an even worse band name than Magik - as Manish Vij says, perhaps "Poseur McCheeseball was already in use."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shash-buckler: Amar Shakti

Since this will be at least the third blog post on Amar Shakti in as many months (first Antarra, then Memsaab), I really don't have much to add to the conversation, even in screencaps. These two intrepid gals have comparative cast discussions, plot summary, and actual analysis covered - but even with all of those things accomplished elsewhere, how can a person not write about this film, at least a little bit?

Amar Shakti
may be "Dharam Veer Light," but because "light" only has meaning relative to each original product's nutritional information, not against some fixed standard of measured intake, it's still a feast of R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) ingredients, and watching it leaves you feeling like a happily dazed glutton, blissed out on Shashi and swordfighting. Alternately, you might call Amar Shakti a poor woman's Dharam Veer, but it's "poor" only in the sense that Wall Street execs are poor with their new TARP $500,000 salary cap.

For starters, it has the sweet, delicious, fattening, life-sustaining chocolate curls of one Shashi Kapoor (Amar), with his powers at full blast,

and the swaggering, saucy goodness of Shatrughan Sinha (Shakti),

first as royal guard/rebellious gypsy enemies, then as "Bhai?" "BHAI?" "BHAI?!?" "BHAI?!?!?!?!?!?" "MAAAA!!!!" (Indrani Mukherjee)

It also has a few of those moments that catch even semi-seasoned masala fans like myself by surprise. Wannabe leader Hameera (Ranjeet) and Shakti agree to fight over "The Well of Fire," a lair-type structure that is somehow a physically established component of their gypsy-ish "caravan" lifestyle.

I love that they actually have a proper name for it and such a wondrous structure does not go unremarked upon. The caravan has fantabulous textiles on their magnificent tents and covered wagons!

An evil character repents and learns his lesson - and survives to act on it! Symbolic juxtaposition of good and evil, true and false, through portraiture!

Maa gives Amar a slap both physical and metaphorical as he saunters home drunk in his Napoleonic ice capades outfit. (It was less the slapping and more the outfit that surprised me, of course.)

That's the sting of truth, my son!
A bubbling well in an underground dungeon leads to a princess's bathing pool!

I know it isn't fair to blame Sulakshana Pandit for not being Neetu Singh, but I never get over my disappointment that she isn't.
Magically morphing hairdos!

You say continuity error, I say pretty pretty princess powers!
Best bedroom ever!

Almost everyone wears fringe and/or looks like an elf, and Amar introduces the world to the shirt-coordinated wrist scarf.

And, one of best things I have ever seen on film, a papier-maché fire-breathing Trojan elephant is introduced in song by Shakti and the gypsies to a packed arena awaiting an execution!

Let Amar Shakti remind us all to beware of our Desai & Co.-fueled hubris in thinking "Well now I've seen everything." We haven't - and, Helen be praised, we probably never will. Masala zindabad!

Now, how about an extra sprinkling of chocolate curls before you go?



Saturday, February 21, 2009


My ability to write anything fair or intelligent about this movie is seriously impaired by my apparent inability to read an email announcing that the movie was starting at 3:00, not 3:30. So I missed the beginning of the film - nahiiiiiin! I knew something was fishy when I pulled up to the theater and not a soul was outside or in the lobby. I'm not sure how much of the set-up of the story I missed and how that impacted my understanding of the rest of it. For example, I have no idea what the problem was between the two families who shared the brick wall. Anyway.

As with Rang De Basanti, many of the messages of Delhi-6 were moving, but the symbolism and delivery were a bit much for me. The police officer was so slimy, the village idiot and garbage cleaner were treated so badly, that it was hard to get on board with the "people of Delhi are so big-hearted" idea, as much as I may want to believe such a thing, or to take them as anything other agents of broad, stock ideas. Overall, the whole thing was just too much like being hit on the head with a brick - and no, I can't explain why sometimes I don't mind being hit on the head with a brick (especially by Desai) and sometimes it annoys me and leaves me wishing for something a little more complex or thoughtful.

There was much I loved in Delhi-6, though. Cities as characters provide rich context and meaning in every lane or building or view. The sort of jumbly plot and big cast, with things just happening here and there and not always cohering very well, running into each other, crowding around, echoed my small-town self's feeling of what it's like to navigate a big city. And it works well to meet that character through an outsider's arrival and process of orientation. I appreciated Roshan's genial confusion and awestruck-wonder-out-of-nowhere as he explored and tried to understand how life happens in that remarkable city; I had some of those same expressions on my face when I went to Delhi and first saw kites swirling over rooftops or was instructed by a brave friend that the only way to cross the street was to say a prayer and just boldly step off the curb. (This last experience was quickly followed by sheer panic when she grabbed my hand and pulled us into the path of at least three autos). I also really liked that some of the characters were allowed to disagree, criticize, and be confused by each other and were given room to change their minds and reconnect. They learned from their Black Monkeys. That's a nice life lesson.

I'd really like to see this again, from the beginning, not only so I can be sure I've given the movie a fair shake but also so I can try to take in more of the story. I got distracted by being amazed at the overall look and trying to soak up all of the beautiful details of sets and streets and scenery - and yes, alright, by an ever-growing soft spot for dear Roshan, whom Abhishek filled with wonder and thinking and responsiveness. Maybe I was just snowed by the visual spectacle and music and Abhishek, but I get the feeling something vaguely noble was being attempted, and I liked enough of the raw materials that I'm willing to try again with the finished product.

For discussion:
  • It's kind of ironic that Abhishek's character here is so much more heroic than poor Drona ever managed to be, eh?
  • If one fused Roshan with Bunty aur Babli's Rakesh and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom's Rakesh from the teleporting/growing old love song, would one have the perfect fake-pretend filmi man? (Beth Loves Bollywood answer: yes, and I am working on that technology right this minute.)
  • Does the Black Monkey owe a cinematic conceptual debt to KANK's Black Beast (in addition to the Monkey Man of Delhi)?
  • What does the Taj Mahal usually represent in films? Does it tend to signal the same thing as it did here and The Namesake and Jhoom Barbar Jhoom - that is, a character recognizing or having an epiphany about love and/or beauty?
  • Did anyone else's grip on filmi reality lapse momentarily when Bittu was clearly lip-synching her Indian Idol audition? Shouldn't characters who are singers be even more convincing at selling playback as their own?
  • Should Suresh have followed Coco Chanel's advice about his too-cool-for-school wardrobe and removed one item before he left the house? (BLB position: yes, preferably the belt buckle.)
  • Should Amitabh Bachchan embrace letting his hair match his beard?
  • Will 2009 go down in filmi history as the Year of Heart-Tugging Use of Mirror Symbolism?
  • Will screenwriters keep creating female characters who do little but shriek and giggle?
  • Should Sonam Kapoor keep getting work? (BLB answer: quite possibly not, especially if the answer to the previous question is yes.)
  • How many times can I hit repeat on"Genda Phool" before I get sick of it? (At least eight, and that's just today.) Related: should whoever choreographed "Genda Phool" do all of Abhishek's songs henceforward? (BLB answer: clearly!)
  • How fantastic is it to see Atul Kulkarni? (BLB answer: very!)
  • What would an anthropologist make of the fact that the only time I've ever experienced the much-ballyhooed report of Bollywood audiences dancing in the aisles of the cinema hall was in Leroy, Illinois, population approximately 3,300? There were a few young men in the house who really liked "Masakali." It was fabulous.
  • Should Abhishek and Rishi be cast together again? (BLB answer: yes! The world needs more Bachchan + Kapoor! Plus a heartfelt vah vah to the intergenerational twist on the jodi!)


Get off the sofa!

And learn the ending dance from Slumdog Millionaire! Video here. My favorite thing about this, other than giving me a chance to look slightly less idiotic, is how teacher Marshie Perera Rajakumar puts the moves in terms of a Bollywood hero - which is how I imagine Sunny Deol learning his choreography, especially that stomp-dance thing he does in Jeet. "Sunny, now, imagine you're a Bollywood hero...yes, you can imagine you are your a lumberjack squashing a bug that is threatening to ruin your picnic with Karisma."

Does anyone else remember the late-night tv ads for an instructional dance video during the Back Street Boys era called Darren's Dance Grooves, for which one of the promotional points was "I [Darren] break it down, so you can dance along"?

Courtesy of alert and awesome reader Temple.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Holiday in Bombay

The title tells us everything we need to know:

We're on vacation in the big city - where anything can happen - and the happily askew font is a promise that jolly times lie ahead!

In our cinematic suitcase:

Old friends (or half-brothers, or cousins - I couldn't pin down what their relationship is) Nath (Shashi Kapoor) and Gautam (Rajendra Nath), who are super excited to be in Bombay.

Their friend Shambunath, who has a good job and great apartment in the city. When Shambunath tries to tell them that he's also added another good thing to the list, they leap to very reasonable conclusions:

"Yes, boys, I got a rocket. That makes sense."

Actually, he's acquired a wife, the funny and spunky Sharda. Sharda likes her husband's friends, and she gets her aunt to help them find a place to stay in the city.

New digs in a chawl, managed by the mean and meddlesome Mr. Hanuman (Dhumal).

Love interests!

Gautam's is Seema (Naseem Banu), whose father, a boxing enthusiast, will only let her marry a tough guy.

Nath's is Vijaya (Vijaya Choudhury),

whose guardian, her creepy uncle (Rajan Haksar), has secretly arranged to marry her off to some really age-inappropriate guy so he can take over the inheritance she will gain when she marries.

Of course neither boy knows of these impediments, so they quickly fall in love.

That's Gautam and Seema on the balcony, being adorable in the park.

Nath loves Vijaya in a library - or so I infer from the subtitles, because my DVD had a weird skip in it and missed what was surely a cute scene. Shashi in a library!

Plenty of fake beards, which are necessary components of the disguise-based schemes to work around the impediments to the romances.

Don't worry - we get good mileage out of our disguise kits, because bad guys later use them on to try to undo the romances.

You're going to need an extra checked bag for all the cuteness in Narayan Dutta's songs! The best one is "Yeh Hasin Bombay," in which Nath and Gautam frolic around Bombay and cavort carelessly on a variety of modes of transportation.

Nath manages woos Vijaya on the beach in "Aaj Yeh Aanchal" despite his ill-fitting polo shirt.

Not one but two songs serenade the chawl: Gautam entertains on the balcony with "Lanat Hai Aisi Mohabbat Pe," and later both boys sing a qawwali ("Raswaare Matwaare Kajraare Nainwa Tihaare") for the youth club.

The girls have their own song too - the sad, post-disguise-and-deception-fuelled romantic separation "Pihu Pihu Papihe Na," complete with giant peacock.

Side note: the only other giant peacock in a song set that I can think of is the gorgeous "Kannamoochi" in Kandoukondain Kandoukondain, and I love it! Can anyone name some more?
Update to post (March 10, 2009): here's one from Tananam Tananam!
There's even one of those classic "couples go sight-seeing" songs with famous landmarks overlaid with footage of people walking, pointing, and loooking really happy.

Ooh, I remember that movie theater! Too bad my photo doesn't have a ghost-Shashi in it.

And making its debut appearance in my personal catalog of Hindi films, "The Limbo Song" complete with cow bell and Rajendra Nath in drag!

On the itinerary:

A boatload of cute, that's what! If I hadn't just put "Squeee!" in the title of a post, I'd do it here. To be honest, there's nothing noteworthy in this film except the songs, but the whole thing is adorable and it doesn't really matter what does or doesn't happen. Shashi Kapoor and Rajendra Nath make a really jolly pair, as they did in Raja Saab, and they manage to pull off acting like doofuses without being annoying. The movie feels a lot like you're watching someone's home video of their 1963 trip to Bombay - the print is fuzzy, the camera goes in and out of focus, and the sound occaisonally disappears. But again, that doesn't matter, because the characters we're supposed to like are funny and sweet, the affectionate relationships (both friends and romantic) are breezy and fun, the bad guys get what they deserve, there's a gigantic rambling fight at the end in which Nath dishooms and Seema accidentally hits Gautam on the head, and all is put right at the end.

Pack your bag and go romp around with Shashi!