Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

a parallel cinema "avoid, yaar!": Ijaazat


A sculpture in a hospital shows my mood while watching this stereotype-indulging, slow movie about clueless, unthinking people. Bored and in pain, though at least Memsaab kept me company.

Only the too-brief apperance of Shashi - who magically burst through a door just as I was saying "Where iiiiiiiiiiiis he?!?" -

and two scenes of Shammi provided any relief. And I include in that R. D. Burman/Gulzar/Asha Bhosle's award-winning music, which hit my ear as overly synthesized and cheesy.

The bulk of Gulzar's Ijaazat, based on a story by Subodh Ghosh, is a flashback of the story of Sudha (Rekha) and Mahinder (Naseeruddin Shah), who meet unexpectedly in a train station waiting room one rainy night.

This long-suffering, bad-decision-making doormat and self-centered, wishy-washy, spoiled brat were married years ago, set up by her family friend/his grandfather, played by a kindly, prayer-spouting Shammi Kapoor sporting a truly excellent beard.

They liked each other well enough, but Mahinder was actually in love with the appropriately-named Maya (Anuradha Patel), a manic (-depressive) pixie dream girl the likes of which I have not yet seen in Indian cinema.

See how free-spirited she is? So unconventional! So intimate! So darling! Vomit!
Mahinder loves his grandfather too much to upset him, though, so even when asked point-blank if he loves someone other than Sudha, Mahinder denies it, then frantically searches for Maya, who, showing her true colors from the get-go, is nowhere to be found, leaving notes and poems in her wake. Maya continues to reappear throughout the early days of Sudha and Mahinder's marriage, causing pain to everyone. Sudha is distraught that her husband so clearly loves somebody else but tries to put on a brave face and behaves far more charitably towards Maya's physical and emotional baggage than anyone should ever be expected to do. Mahinder can't make up his mind whether he is through with Maya or not and masochistically refuses to extricate himself from her clutches, answering her calls and rushing to her side when she pulls attention-getting trauma-drama. Maya pouts and giggles like a thirteen-year-old, even writing her romance on her t-shirt.

It says "I love Mahinder" in pink script. RUN AWAY!
She might as well just write "I'm a fractured little doll, and I know you'll fall over yourself to protect me from my demons." Why Mahinder is attracted to this, I do not know, but then again, I'm also baffled in real life when people value unpredictability and brokenness over smarts, humor, and stability. The film overstates Sudha's perfection, but she's clearly a good, affectionate person who uses her brain and her heart.

I'm none too pleased about what this movie seems to say about women: they're shown to be mostly doormats (Sudha), unthinking flakes (Maya), or despondent criers (Sudha's mother Parvati, played by Sulabha Deshpande). Though they are not catty or cruel to each other, as women are too often portrayed, they are either self-damagingly (is that a word?) forgiving (Sudha) or inappropriately familiar (Maya, who refers to Sudha as "didi," as though she's a member of the family). Even the title - "leave; permission to depart; sanction," according to my Oxford Hindi-English dictionary - is maddening. Mahinder has made it all too clear that he does not really value Sudha or their marriage, certainly not in the way she wants/needs, so why on earth should she be concerned about what he thinks of her decisions? Like Suhaag, this movie takes long-suffering idealized wifeliness to a new level. Unlike Suhaag (and probaly many others), here a woman finally does make the decision to leave, and she does with a refreshing lack of drama or fanfare. "I'm done here," her actions seem to say. And thankfully she remains done, even after the train station confessional in which Mahinder spills out all that happened with Maya after Sudha had left.* She is not unfeeling toward him, but she does not re-engage with him for more than a few seconds. I like that she is still warm and thoughtful but sure of her own path, rather than just shutting him down and walling herself off (even though that's such a tempting option when someone has treated you like crap).

On the plus side for the movie, it is the women who cause most of the movement - it might be giving Maya too much credit to say she really has much volition and actually makes deicisions, but her...behavior, let's call it, and the things she says send Mahinder reeling and jigging to her tune; he mostly reacts throughout life, even ignoring opportunities to simplify or disengage from dangerous or complicated situations. I don't agree with most of Sudha's decisions (or the unspoken rationale she appears to be operating by), but she does seem to make them. Just look at Sudha and Mahinder's belongings in the train station: she is controlled and neat and out of the way (like a good little wife, the movie might be saying); his stuff is in a jumble, right in the center of things. In fact, Mahinder couldn't find his suitcase key and had to borrow one from Sudha, whose bag was by the same manufacturer. He's such a mess that he still needs her reliability, years after their separation.

In short, I don't know why anyone would want to make a story about these three people - or watch it, since people did actually bother to make it. Like Bombay Talkie, there's little but misery here, and I couldn't even feel sorry for the characters, since Sudha and Mahinder both had the ability to stop the flow of drama and suffering they felt, and Maya was just too irritating and foolish to feel anything towards whatsoever. The performances are good - quite strong in moments, especially in the few bursts of humor - but you can see good performances from these people elsewhere. A note on production: I almost forgot to mention how horrible the sound is - footsteps in particular are way too loud.

Gratuitous handsome almost-fifty Shashi picture!

Upgrade! That's a gentlemanly "in yo' face" to all the man-children out there. I love how the presence of Shashi immediately demonstrates how living well is the best revenge. If this movie had been half as long, it might have been worth sitting through just for Shashi; as is, that's a tough call, even with such an effective little role.

More favorable takes on Ijaazat can be found at Old Is Gold, A Walk in the Clouds, Bobby Talks Cinema, and Sen's Spot (by the author of the Alternate Movies blog). I have to state for the record that I completely disagree with the latter's statement that "This is a must see for all the women folks"; I guess the last few minutes serve as hope that people can learn from their mistakes and move on to better things, but surely that's a lesson for both genders. Plus the ending scene seems a little too close to "knight in shining armor" for my liking, and as we all know, heartbroken and sad as you may be, Shashi Kapoor is not going to burst through your front door and whisk you off to your new, improved life.



This is the first of my new stash of twenty movies from Si, who has been doing archival research in India and graciously sends me treats. My collection is now chock-full of Dharmendra! Woohoo!

Also, I think someone with the skills (ahem) should make a video of Rekha dancing to "Single Ladies."

* Other bloggers have interpreted the final scene differently.

** Kidding! Man-(even-Shashi!)-saves-woman is an "avoid, yaar!" for sure 'round these parts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

fun on a shoestring: Kaala Pani (or Kala Pani, or Kaalaa Paani, or however many As you want to use)

Don't be confused by the titles. Babita is not in this movie, but Bindu, whose item-number headwear you see under the image of Babita, is.

This has got to be one of the cheapest movies ever made to star such big names. The sound is spotty and the color leaps all over the place (and not in the "illustrating disturbing emotions" sort of way just seen in Salaakhen) (as in these two pairs of images, in which the halves are less than a second apart).

I don't think any money at all was spent on a script, or even ideas for a script, because characters, back stories, plot development, and progress of action are frequently shorthanded. For example, the leads - incorruptible officer Dharamveer (Shashi Kapoor) and feisty popsicle stand-owner and vigilante feminist Geeta (Neetu Singh) - are introduced individually, and there is no indication that they know each other or have even met previously. The first time we see them together, they cross paths at the police station, greet each other with "Oh hello," and he asks her in for a cup of tea. As they wait for the tea, they sit pensively and each voices over how much they love the other and tries to work up the courage to share their feelings.

Huh? I thought my DVD has skipped several scenes, but no, that's just how it is. In another moment of audacious telescoping, bad guy Shera (Amjad Khan) is put in jail, and his associates discuss how important it is that they bust him out. The next scene is a wall, presumably that of his cell, having a hole smashed in it, and then we cut to Shera lying on a lounge chair at a fancy swimming pool being massaged by a group of women in swimsuits. Most of the budget must have gone to salaries - and fight scenes in which piles of big objects (crates, barrels, cans of kerosene) are knocked over and people crash through walls. The one below unfolds lovingly in a few seconds of slow motion, as though the producers wanted to caress it for all it was worth.

(And because I can't figure out where else to put this but it needs to be mentioned, let me tell you what happens next: Shera drives the jeep all the way through the wall and over the pile of bricks and stops, looking for adversary Dharamveer, who has been hiding underneath the jeep. Dharamveer then drops to the ground, apparently unharmed by being crunched between the jeep and all those bricks, runs after Shera, and the dishooming continues. Props in this rambling brawl include an electric drills, chickens, and Shashi swinging on a rope over spilling boxes of what looks like those fake blue rocks you put in the bottom of fish tanks [except bigger].)

Gebruss has already covered the plot sufficiently; it's a combination of the standard mixed-up family members, unknown pasts, cops/robbers, and appropriate redemption and sacrifice, though heavily slanted towards scheming and action, with less romance and friendship-celebrating than I prefer. Apart from shockingly poor quality scattered throughout, I found Kaala Pani notable on two fronts. One, Neetu has not one, not two, but three dishoom scenes, two of them completely independent of the hero and primary bad guys. Her opening scene sees her raining down vigilante justice on a drunken wife abuser and his goonish friends.

"Your wife won't go with you until you give up drink!" she rages. It's a fun scene if you can overlook the irony of her real life. Later, a disgusting store owner tries to take advantage of her when he realizes she doesn't have enough money to buy much-needed medicine for her Maa. She sends him head over teakettle into a stack of cans of fuel that pour onto his head, then menacingly holds out a lit match while asking him what he thinks of his behavior.

This reminded me of Amitabh's dangerous cigarette-lighting technique in Trishul.
Maybe it's because I just came from a film festival screening of Sita Sings the Blues, but I found this sort of lowest common denominator style of communication and refusal to submit really satisfying. Geeta's third round of fighting is in the all-hands-on-deck brawl in the finale.

Sadly, after she lands a few good punches, she is captured by Shera and eventually has to be rescued by Dharamveer; things being as they are, I feel lucky to have had two scenes in which a woman saved herself.

The other element I really enjoyed was the songs. In "Garmi Karta Hai Nuksaan," Neetu romps around the beach singing about popsicles, and that's just about the greatest thing I've ever heard. "Heat is injurious," she says, "so come to my shop."

I don't care if this is a for-profit song - I love it! Especially because Geeta gets to have one too - she hops on the merry-go-round with her berry-hued treat (though clearly this one tastes like red, not like actual fruit) and tips her head back with glee. It's so summery and wonderful.

The other standout, "Shama Jalti Hai," features Bindu and a troupe of backup dancers who are very literally costumed, perhaps by my grade school art teacher, to complement the lyrics' moth/flame analogy.

Another clue that this was probably a low-budget film is that there are only four songs. "Koi Roko" is a preditable "lovers in a park" thing; the only notable detail is that Neetu's hair is mysteirously about a foot shorter than it is in the rest of the movie.

I think I also caught stolen James Bond music during a scene of criminal activity.

There are many other little nuggets of fun in this film. Raza Murad has a nice side role as Dharamveer and Geeta's friend Abdul, who despite being legless is always in the right place at the right time to overhear the villains' plans. He and Dharamveer have a particularly snuggly relationship.

His makeup looks green. It's really freaky.
The relationships between Dharamveer and his fathers - yes! there are two! - and Geeta and her mother make a refreshing change of emotional focus after countless films about Maas and their sons. Geeta seems pretty independent, earning a living through honest work, and she seems to be as active in the romance as Dharamveer is. An eye-scarring interior from Shankar Dada reappears, giving me hope that this is a real place and not just a set.

The villains use an unnecessarily complicated piece of machinery to crack a safe. No idea why a mini cassette is useful in this device, whose effect I've seen achieved with a simple stethoscope in less loony films.

A question for the ages: is Shera's bomb is labeled with skull and crossbones to mislead people into thinking it's poison but safe to, say, throw out of a window, or is this just a new application of an appropriate basic message to avoid the item?

It being 1980, there is some fun fashion, but almost all of it goes to criminal head honcho L. K. (Ajit), who wears exuberant patterns in jarring combinations.

At least a dancing girl at the lair gets to shimmy in red sequins and fishnets.

I've seen museums in filmi heists (Dhoom 2), mentioned in dialogue (Hum Tum), and as settings for songs (Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic), but I've never heard an outright mention of people who work in them. Finally (if ethically bankrupt)!

Not only does a car chase make use of a model to show a perilous bridge over a ravine, but as Dharamveer leaps it, he magically transports from a sea-level road along the beach to well above the water and in a forested mountain range.

And despite all the action sequences, blood splattering across a windshield took me totally by surprise.


Kaala Pani is less an actual movie than it is a loose collection of fun ideas, plenty of dishoom, and two good songs. It's as though the filmmakers could only pay attention to about half of the things they chose to include, leaving some of the story woefully undeveloped and sloppily executed, with other elements and scenes constructed with real zest. I don't think there's any reasonable way to call it "good," as it languishes so often at the sketch stage of development, but I certainly enjoyed watching it when I wasn't distracted by wondering what they could have made if they had saved a bit of the budget for something other than fake brick walls and a helicopter that never takes off.

Shashi wonders too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Whenever PPCC loves a movie, particularly a Shashi movie, and I don't, I start to wonder if either I've missed something important and/or meaningful or I've just inexplicably and momentarily turned to stone, unmoved by Shashilicious powers and masala dil-squish. I don't know exactly what happened with Salaakhen and me, but in thinking about it, I've realized something: I think I expected this to be something it wasn't, namely a romp, superwow, masalavaganza, etc. It is an enjoyable, sweet film, but it is not the fun-fest I was anticipating. When a movie starts out with a fiery action sequence (neatly closed when the camera pulls out and you realize you've been watching not a preview of the scenes to come but the same film that the characters in the movie you're watching are watching),

an orphan fighting The Man, Mehmood playing a jovial Muslim caricature, someone's dad stealing diamonds, and children suffering cruel fates - and one of said children grows up to be Shashi Kapoor -

you figure it's going to kick into high gear of masala formula-charged excitement. I had thought these traits automatically signaled vivacious silliness and gleeful over-the-top-ness, but in this case they did not, and I felt a little disappointed with what seemed like a bait and switch in tone. Lots of familiar ingredients are here, proportioned for effective storytelling, and things end up just as you'd assume - but there's no "Wheeee!" None of my disappointment is Salaakhen's fault; after all, I've never seen it written anywhere that certain R(ecommended) M(asala) A(llowance) components invariably and absolutely must add up to Parvarish or Shaan. Sigh. If only things were so simple.

As in life, expectation management may be key to satisfying experiences with films.

So what can one reasonably expect form Salaakhen? For starters, a healthy dose of 70s fly style, as much in interiors as in costuming.

Alright, so there's nothing particularly 70s about this one. But so much of yum!

Her dress camouflages with the sofa!

Look at those orange- and yellow-tipped shoes with a violet sparkly gown!

A bad guy hangout bar with (and made out of) a tree (and stained glass windows and diagnoal panneling, but who's counting?)!
The romantic leads have a very satsifying, if predictable, re-introduciton. Childhood friends Raju and Guddi

Love that sari with giant flowers.
enter the film as adults in contrasting elements (Shashi Kapoor in fire/smoke and Sulakshana Pandit in rain)

and have a funny and veiled re-meet-cute during a blackout (though in classic masala fashion, they are not yet aware of who the other is).

Once Raju and Guddi join forces to con the bad guy, conveniently named Master and even more conveniently played by Amrish Puri in a ridiculous wig and supported by Mac Mohan being Mac Mohan,

the capers begin: double-crossing, under-covering, and pretend drunking. Please note that Guddi's booze sparkles as it pours out of the bottle in her vamp song.

All of the heist and re-heist and un-heist plotlines made sense to me at the time, but even after seeing the movie twice I can't remember the details (alright, or the basic set-up, either). Here's what I think I recall: Raju is in bad with some gamblers because he won all their money, and while he's on the run from them he bumps into Guddi. She helps him keep running, and somehow he takes a job for Master, but I think he only does so to get closer to some other, bigger, or more important/personally meaningful crime, being the good-natured gold-hearted small-time crook that Shashi tends to be. Further proof: he needs that gambling money to pay for his adoptive sister's wedding - that's the kind of bhai he is. Also, the diamond theft I mentioned a few paragraphs ago is revisited, and Shammi Kapoor has a cameo as an annoying Sikh/Santa Claus stereotype (sorry, Memsaab). That's probably all you really need to know of the plot; it's not complicated in situ.

Let's see...what else.... The songs are unmemorable except for a stage show in which grown-up Guddi romps through regions of India.

While in jail, Raju picks up some sidekicks and a comic side plot that's actually amusing.

If you've seen Veer-Zaara, you can guess his prisoner #.
Shashi doesn't get to dance but does have some fight scenes, including a rambling brawl in the gambling club, in which he dishooms a guy in a really horrible open-neck fringed velvet shirt.

Director A. Salaam experiments with some interesting shots,

The wheel of life, how it turns!
although I gotta say that having about ten minutes of the climax in a nighttime exterior this dark (a visual bookend to the meet-cute in the blackout, perhaps?) is a bit rude to your audience.

Here a few things in Salaakhen that made a lasting impression on me:
1) Even though she was only slightly too chirpy in this movie, I still wish Sulakshana Pandit had been Neetu Singh.
2) The eventual truth-is-revealed full-blown reunion between Guddi and Raju is very sweet, echoing a happy memory from their childhood. PPCC will tell you more about that one.
3) My Shemaroo DVD had spells of whooshing sounds - like there was a fan on on the set - and occasional bits of fuzz dancing around the top of the frame.
4) The movie must have had some funny and/or WTF moments, because when Gebruss and I met up for a watchalong of it one afternoon, my chat transcript contained lines like:
- "That is an impressively fake beard" and "This bald, wow, so fake."
- "Two religious stereotypes for the price of one."
- "I see more of Shashi's spread legs than I wanted to"
- "That's the world's most threatening bar stool."
- "WHAT was that woman wearing - that sparkly suit thing?" "Black cling film?"
- "Oh dear, pretending to be a rapist."
5) In certain scenes, Shashi looks divine.

6) In other moments, he has a pulsating multi-color freakout.

I rate Salaakhen a solid but forgettable timepass. Nothing more - unless you really like Sulakshana, who has at least four songs and wears a lot of rather fetching pink - and nothing less - unless you are so desperate for masala wackadoo that you breeze past my warnings, put this in expecting cracked-out greatness, then have a pulsating multi-color facepalm of your own, distraught by its relative normalness.