Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bombay to Goa to Los Angeles County

I had a jolly watchalong of Bombay to Goa with Memsaab today, and it's a wonderful, funny film - and a perfect stress release after four days of fretting about a rain-soaked basement. However, "O Mehki Mehki Thandi Hawa" tossed me a nasty surprise.

I don't know why I'm shocked anymore, after examples ranging from Pritam's "Yeh Ishq Hai" from Jab We Met/Angggun's "Être Une Femme" and Bappi Lahiri's "Koi Yahan Nache Nache" from Disco Dancer/the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." I guess I expect more from Burman, though clearly I shouldn't.* At least he copied it effectively - the bouncy, sunny Beach Boys sound fits in perfectly.

Okay, I had to get that out of my system. I loved the movie and have plenty of good things to say about it. Plus even this gripe hasn't been a total loss. Somehow in poking around youtube for song clips, I found this endearing video of two guys doing their own picturization on the Tube. Yes! That's what it's like in my head most of the time!

* Talk about not meeting your heroes - take a listen on the itwofs page to a song that came out before Sholay's "Mehbooba Mehbooba."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema by Madhu Jain

New Delhi: Penguin/Viking, 2005

Part of me loves this "bio lite" look at the Kapoor family. Author Madhu Jain is clearly a Shashi pagali of the highest order; her fondness for the baby of the second generation is evident from the very first page of the introduction, and, based on the frequency of his stories in the profiles of other family members, he seems to have enjoyed sharing stories with her. Jealous!

But mostly I wanted this book to be more substantial. Like an unsuccessful masala film that contains great ingredients but leaves them in fragments or assembles them carelessly, Jain fell short of creating portraits of both the Kapoor stars and their significance to Indian cinema (and fans thereof). I became uneasy in the introduction when the author said "I wanted to explore the terrain between the gossip and the academic analysis, essentially steering clear of both" (page xxiv). Maybe she and I mean different things by "academic" - to me, thinking critically about your sources and information and organizing them into thoughtful presentation to answer questions and raise interesting points is a good thing. What does she mean by those terms? The basic connotations I have are that "gossip" implies intriguing and juicy but fluffy and not always provable and "academic" means solidly written, if perhaps a bit dry. I don't want to be reductionistically dualist, but I wonder what she was aiming for, exactly, especially for over 350 pages? Sort of interesting without being shocking but better organized and with more named sources than Stardust?

My overall impression of this book is that is usually veers toward the "gossip" arena, though at least there are source notes for each chapter. Especially in her chapter on Rishi, Jain often latches on to particular common impressions of the figures (Shammi was wild! Shashi is a gentleman!) and reiterates them over and over, sometimes including films and performances as evidence (for which I'm grateful). I haven't seen enough of the films by or read enough about the non-Shashis among the Kapoors to know whether these are true traits/behaviors or if they're just commonly held ideas that are unsubstantiated, but I felt like she was just reinforcing one- or two-note sketches of these people, not actually illuminating their characters and not always letting the sketches arise naturally out of the information presented. "Biography deals with the events that throw light on a character. What goes into the forging of a character, however, tends to remain elusive," Jain says in the introduction (pages xxiv-xxv). That may well be - but if it's so elusive, then what did she have to fill 371 pages with? I wonder how this book struck any of you who grew up with a basic knowledge of the Kapoor family (or with impressions of them, anyway) - did it tell you much you didn't have a hunch about?

Some other problems that nudge The Kapoors away from "academic".... The wonderful family tree at the beginning of the book has no dates in it. With such a big time span being covered, dates would help the reader trace the influence of the Kapoors' careers and see how the family was growing. I went through and added what dates I could find; I also marked each generation with a different underline so I could remind myself of interesting little details like Shashi and Rishi, who technically are of different generations, are the same number of years apart as Shashi and Raj. There is also an egregious lack of photographs. These are people who are famous because of what they did on camera (or with film), and including some stills from the most-discussed films would have been a huge benefit. For example, there's a ton of ink spilled on Shammi's rebel/yahoo persona but no illustration of it. My final complaint is more vague, but it nagged at me throughout. The book is too often sloppily written, with little problems like inconsistent sentence structure, grammatical mistakes, and imprecise wording adding up to give me the impression I was reading a draft, not a finished work. Maybe it's just a matter of having needed one more read-through by a different pair of eyes before it went to press. There's a sketch of Jain's career on the book jacket, and she certainly seems like the kind of experienced writer who should know better. To her credit, Jain also has some wonderful turns of phrase and describes people and characters in remarkably evocative ways. I wish she had been as careful with all her words.

This was far from my ideal book on the Kapoors, but I still enjoyed reading it. I underlined a ton of interesting tidbits: Neetu Singh quitting acting was her own decision (I hope that's true)! the only rumor of an affair that stuck to Shashi was with Shabana Azmi! Shashi's taste in films as a kid mirrors his own multi-genre career! I just didn't walk away with much that matters. It's only fair to state up front that a significant frustration with this book was actually in what I learned - or what was suggested - about the subjects themselves, and there's no way I can pin that on the author as long as she was being honest, fair, and diligent in her research and presentation. I kept thinking of that old warning about meeting your heroes. Now that I've read it, I wish I didn't know what philandering jackasses Raj and Shammi were, what a horrific alcoholic Rishi has been, how little education seems to have mattered to the earlier generations. Maybe I should have applied to this book my general principle of avoiding interviews with movie stars - who, after all, are usually known for what they do with other people's words and ideas, not for creating them on their own. Nothing in this book made me like a Kapoor less as a performer, but...yeah, even though it really doesn't matter, I like them, or the idea of them, less as people.

Writing about living people - and depending on them for your information about the deceased - plus the author's affection for her subject probably means that some questions went unasked and a few punches were pulled here and there. One thing I thought for sure I'd learn about, but didn't, is Shammi and Shashi's relationship, especially given that both contributed heavily to the book. Does that mean they didn't want to talk about it? Or maybe there isn't much to tell? Or maybe Jain didn't ask? Who knows! I don't get the impression that she consistently followed the advice she says Shashi gave her when she began writing the book: "be 'honest,' which I suppose in some way was a carte blanche to look at the less flattering side of the Kapoors as well as their achievements" (page xxvi). Maybe I need to cut her some slack: after all, looking at the less flattering sides is not the same as asking questions about them or trying to understand them, so maybe she didn't set out to write the book I wish she had written.

Now that I say that, I realize I wish Jain had taken the approach Anupama Chopra used in King of Bollywood: SRK and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, looking at what was going on in Indian history and culture and wondering how her subject fit into, and was influenced by, those things. Gossip and public personas definitely have something to say about these questions, but I don't think Jain's book provides the information or tools to address the meanings of celebrities "in our collective memory" (page xxiv), nor does she offer much of her own opinion on them. When I finished The Kapoors, I thought "So what?" That may say more about me and what I want to learn than it does about Jain, her work, and what she wanted to share. What I want to know is what films and their makers mean, what they say about their context and culture. Maybe one of the dozen or so "academic" books on Indian cinema sitting on my bedside table will do the trick.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is Arjun coming round next time I drink some ginger ale?

"What did you expect?" A plot, maybe, not just some Raj-y styled mystical eastern carbonated wisdom? This reminds me of the cringingly bad bits of the song in Lagaan that I call "Memsaab's Love Theme" (properly, the English parts of "O Rey Chhori," sung by my beloved Vasundhara Das) gone horribly, horribly wrong (-er).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bollywood on Hulu?

This might be old news, but I've had a houseguest since Monday and am way behind on the internet in general: looking to see if I missed a new episode of Bones last week, I noticed that Deewana is now available on So are Hera Pheri, Sarkar, Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke (which I've never even heard of), and Hulchul (a movie whose number one fan might well be me). Wow! Or do I mean "Huh?" It strikes me as a weird collection: one SRK before he was SRK, a wackadoodle comedy the average hulu viewer will probably be totally confused by, a Bachchan duo version of a story very familiar to the average hulu viewer, an Abhi-Aish (let's be honest, probaby more an Aish-Abhi), and a wackadoodle family feud. Three have Amrish Puri. I'm wildly curious about the selection criteria. Does anyone know the story beyond this?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare madlib!

Bring the noise!

I've seen this movie twice in the last six months and I can hardly remember a thing about it. Maybe Nanda (Nishad) and Shashi Kapoor (Anwar) are from different social groups but fall in love anyway? Maybe somebody's parents don't like it? Maybe there's a wacky friend with relationship troubles of his own? (Yes; see above.) I have vaguely pleasant recollections of some mid-60s styles, a very cool tawaif duet,

These ladies were wonderful in "Saqia Ek Jaam"!
and confusion about why Nanda is so pretty in salwar suits but is so unflattered by tennis/riding/ski outfits.

I'm not sure whether the movie's non-impression on me says more about it (unimaginative! unremarkable! forgettable!) or me (flake! scatterbrain! so hopped up on Shashi that she can't keep them all straight!). Instead of worrying about assigning blame, I see this blank slate as an opportunity for a new game. Because I can't really tell you anything about the movie (and thus what I think of it), why don't you tell me? Grab a scrap of paper and a pencil and get ready to write your own film! Fill out this list, then proceed to the illustrated discussion of the film below. No cheating by looking ahead!

1. adjective
2. noun
3. school/academic subject
4. adjective
5. verb, 3rd person singular
6. transitive verb, infinitive
7. verb
8. transitive verb, 3rd person singular
9. verb, infinitive
10. adjective
11. name of a Hindi sports movie
12. noun or noun phrase naming a type of scene typically found in Hindi films
13. adjective
14. noun
15. adjective
16. dramatic noun or noun phrase
17. noun
18. adjective
19. cold place
20. adjective
21. noun or noun phrase expressing something sad, pitiful, and/or undesirable
22. noun
23. adverb
24. transitive verb, 3rd person singular
25. unit of time
26. verb 7 in -ing form
27. onomatopoeic verb, 3rd person singular
28. plural noun

Anwar's parents (Nawab Ajmutullah Khan/Om Prakash and Begum Ajmutullah Farooqui/Manorama) are newely ___1___.

His father tries to impress his new social ___2___, but his mother remains embarrassingly rough around the edges, despite her attempts to learn ___3___. Nishad is a ___4___ young woman. Her dad (Khan Bahadur/Balraj Sahni) agrees with her lifestyle and choices, but her mother (Begum Khan Bahadur/Nirupa Roy) ___5___.

Nisha's father wants ___6___ her to a fellow with questionable morals (see his girly pics in the background) and facial hair (Nawab Shaukat/Manmohan).

Nishad and Anwar meet cute during a near-miss in their cars, demonstrating once again that Shashi cannot ___7___.

Shaukat schemes to get Nishad, but as Nishad continues to cross paths with Anwar, her dislike fades to affection, especially after he ___8___ her life. Anwar really wins her over by pretending ___9___ in the pool at the club, even though it's just a ruse to embrace her and see her ___10___.

___11___, Anwar!
A ___12___ in a flower-filled park cinches it

and they run off hand-in-hand across the horizon.

But alas! When Nishad wants their parents to meet, Anwar has to find a way to stall -

his mother is so ___13___,

and his family's whole identity is a ___14___! He and his father plan to say she is ___15___ so she won't be a part of the visit. But as happens with many wacky schemes, things don't go according to plan,

and Begum Farooqi has a very mixed-up conversation with Begum Bahadur, who manages to handle Begum Farooqi's seeming nonsense with grace.

Meanwhile, another obstacle has appeared! Begum Farooqi wants ___6___ Anwar to one of her relatives, but Nawab Ajmutullah Khan wants Anwar to be with Nishad. The tension causes him to have a ___16___!

The lovebirds remain blissful. Nishad comes over to Anwar's house early one morning

for a ___12___, also outside with lots of flowers.

Awwwwww! They're so happeeeee! But Nishad still doesn't know about Anwar's ___17___, and she makes some disparaging comments without realizing she's insulting him and aggravating the primary threat to their relationship: their ___18___ differences.

If all those weren't enough, yet another stumbling block enters the scene! Nishad's mother wants ___6___ her to a distant relative, Shibbu (Rajendra Nath).

But clearly this will never work, because his hats indicate that he's the comic relief. He has a great line while talking to Nishad about all his marriage proposals that he's issued via letters to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Nanda. He realizes needs a new love interest, and he takes a shine to Begum Farooqi's ___3___ teacher, Ms. Paul.

Based on their amazing athletic prowess, Nishad and Anwar are selected to represent the club at the ___19___ sports festival! For reasons not entirely clear to me other than that she's dressed for it, Nishad takes the occasion of a swanky party with jazzy music to try to work her wiles on Anwar, ushering in a ___20___ song on the terrace under a starry sky. But he's too worried to submit and remains stoic as she slinks and wriggles around him.

Or maybe it's her hair that's causing his reserve.
Nishad's mother is furious that her daughter might go off to ___19___ with a man. She responds by placing Nishad under house arrest, which is quite convenient for Shaukat, who is still trying to separate Nishad from Anwar. Khan Bahadur, ever the modern man, declares that Nishad can go with a chaperone, especially because "Anwar is a decent boy and more than that I trust my daughter. She'll never take a wrong step." Hurrah for progressive parenting and attitudes towards young women! And then he takes her shopping. Boooo for trivilalizing love for women by expressing it through materialism!

Anwar is worried as his relaitonship with Nishad becomes closer - he knows he can't ___6 (minus "to")___ her while keeping up his family's façade. "I'd rather have her enmity than love her by deceit." Shashi expresses angst. It seems he can't possibly tell the truth and stay with her - even if her family doesn't mind the class difference, they'll be disappointed that Anwar's family lied. But his father insists he proceed with the lie - he didn't struggle just for his son to revert to their ___21___. And at that, he has another ___16___! Anwar discusses his father's health with a family friend, Dr. Rana, who says his father suffers from a ___22___ complex and that Anwar needn't take that on as his problem as well and should just enjoy being a modern youth and make both Nishad and himself happy by embracing his love for Nishad.

So Anwar, ever the dutiful son but racked with guilt, goes off to ___19___ with Nishad after Dr. Rana promises to deal with her family. Nishad and Anwar win the sports thingy; Khan Bahadur shows his wife the picture of the kids in the paper, and she flips out. "I'm sad. I don't approve of my daughter clicking pictures with strangers!" He laughs at her outdated attitude. She begs him to get Nishad married ASAP so that this sort of sporty, picture-clicking behavior doesn't damage her marriagability further. He says "Hmmm..." but insists on acquiring a prestigious match.

Fortunately, Nawab Ajmutullah Khan's son seems to be just such a match!

Cut to another ___12___! Ahhhh, ___19___! So bracing! So scenic! So conducive to romping in the snow and wearing dorky knitwear!

Though we do not see the pair being told that their marriage has been approved by the two fathers, they seem very celebratory. Perhaps they're just enjoying their sweaters. But as soon as they finish romping, Anwar's doubts creep back, and he pesters Nishad with questions about what "rich" means to her. She doesn't understand why he's concerned with such matters. He frets over the power of love to overcome obstacles; she pouts at his inexplicable negativity and distant brooding. There's another ___12___ in a Mughal garden. At this point I realized that all of Nishad and Anwar's ___12 (pluralized)___ are outside - perhaps their love is so great it cannot be contained by walls?

Anwar comes clean (off-camera, apparently - he says "We're not who you think we are," then there's a pause, then we see the back of his head and he turns around to face her). Nishad is sad that he thought she would be so petty as to care about wealth. It's as though Nishad hasn't seen any Nanda/Shashi movies before, or else she'd know Nanda characters often care about wealth, or at least so they appear, based on all their snobby and dismissive comments about status. She wipes away tears of relief. "Earlier I only loved you, but now I want to worship you," she says. Blurgh. Now it sounds like she's seen Nanda/Shashi movies. "Love is above all this." Oh, that's better. She assures Anwar she'll handle her father, saying he's sure to acquiesce because she'll kill herself if he doesn't. However, Khan Bahadur is upset, and he starts thinking that Shaukat is a much better option, since Shaukat's family is indeed sufficiently prestigious.

The various remaining obstacles, including the father of the woman Begum Ajmutullah wants Anwar ___6___, all continue to threaten the marriage, which is approaching rapidly. Anwar's father schemes while Anwar frets.

In his distracted state, Anwar ___23___ forgets about the connection between smoking and heart disease. You'd think he'd be more savvy, given his father's condition.
The marriage is all set to go until Shaukat ___24___ Nishad, preventing her from getting an important note from Anwar about arrangements for getting to the ceremony. Back at home, Nishad's father is now the one to freak out, enraged about Anwar's family's lie, but her mother is the voice of reason, saying that Anwar is a decent boy and that religion does not teach us to make such exclusive distinctions among people. Once everyone realizes Nishad is missing and Shaukat offers to go find her and bring her back within the ___25___, Dr. Rana puts two and two together.

Anwar takes the opportunity to spout some nonsense about honor, demonstrate how evil Shaukat is, and prove he's not just a pretty, funny, sensitive boy. He rushes off in his car (for once, Shashi's erratic ___26___ is appropriate!), ___27___ Shaukat, and saves Nishad.

They return to the wedding, bearing physical marks of the ordeal. Khan Bahadur is ashamed for ever thinking Shaukat was a worthy man, Nawab Ajmutullah Khan is relieved that his son is okay and that the kids are together, and Begum Khan Bahadur further waxes favorably about Anwar, who has proven himself good and just and wise despite his common ___28___. The union is secure and everyone is happy!

The end!

Share your favorite creations in the comments!