Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quid Pro Quo: Adventures in £1 DVDs

When I was in Oxford last month, the wonderful Celi, one of the officers of the (Somewhat Un)official Shashi Kapoor Fan Club on Facebook, took a break from working on her PhD to hang out with me for a day. She sent me home with five DVDs she purchased at Poundland, a chain of "everything costs £1" shops that must be truly magical if you can find foreign films there (I don't think I've ever seen anything from a country other than China at the $1 stores I've been to). We agreed that such a boon provided a great opportunity to discuss whether price and easy availability relate at all to the quality of a film - and before you answer, note that last year she also got me a copy of my beloved Merchant-Ivory Shakespeare-Wallah at Poundland. That should also answer your question about whether these are legal/official DVDs. I'm also curious if there's any rhyme or reason to what ends up in the £1 bin. On the surface, Poonam Dhillon appears to be a factor, as she is in two of the films Celi found.

Along these same lines, please do enjoy Die Danger Die Die Kill's series "I'll Buy That for a Dollar." Same idea, different currency.

On to the premiere feature in Quid Pro Quo: Khel Mohabbat Ka. This is a terrible movie. The title is very misleading, there is massively bad parenting and decision-making, Shakti Kapoor out-acts Farooq "what am I doing in this movie?" Shaikh, and the whole thing is far more a collection of bits than it is an actual story. On the bright side, there is also one of those big wallpaper murals of a nature scene, and the whole thing is so poorly constructed that there is plenty of room for some unexpected elements to slip in and provide a notable amount of genuine entertainment.

* * *

Really important update to post (July 25, 2010): I now know with certainty that my copy of this DVD is missing scenes, which not only explains why I found the film confusing but might well also make irrelevant some of my criticisms, because for all I know, the things I complain about are addressed in the scenes I didn't get to see. I found a plot summary at India Weekly that makes clear several important elements of both the backstory to the film and some of the "current" action. The film apparently outlines at the beginning that there are twins separated at birth, one (Lily) to remain with her actual parents, who become a wealthy family, and one to be raised by a poor but loving singer (I call this one "twin" because I forgot her name and she's not in the action as much, but it's Shyamli). It also explains that the Lily's very bland love interest, Amit, is an undercover officer trying to catch a serial killer. The version I watched does mention that things are dangerous for young women these days, and it's pretty clear even with missing scenes who the killer is. Of course, this summary gets some of the other details wrong, so I probably shouldn't trust it about the parts I can't see, but I'm desperate enough for explanations that I'll take it.

To summarize: when I wrote this post, I did not have some important information about the story because the scenes weren't in the version of the DVD I watched. So please think of my post as a review of the DVD itself, rather than of the film as it was created and intended to be seen. Some of my criticisms wouldn't be valid if I had seen the whole film. However, even knowing all this, I stand by my position that that Farooq Shaikh does a relatively lousy job in his role.

* * *

Let's start with the title. This movie is not about love games. It is about an oppressive father, an emotionally manipulative mother, and a rapist/murderer. The link among these elements, as you might expect, is the weakly portrayed romance between carefree Lily (Poonam Dhillon) and barely present Amit (Farooq Shaikh). Her parents, the oppressor and manipulator mentioned above, want her to marry the appropriately-named rapist/murder Ranjeet (Shakti Kapoor). Lily actually meets Amit first. She has taken the bus at night to a temple to pray for her mother's health, and her stop is in the middle of nowhere. Sensing she is being followed by some creepy guys on the bus, she whispers an aside to passer-by Amit to please pretend to be meeting her so the guys will leave her alone.

After Amit scurries off to get her some tea (not sure why she didn't just go seek help at the well-lit tea stall in the first place, but whatever), she hitches a ride to her hotel with second passer-by Ranjeet,

then goes into his room there with him and takes a shower in his bathroom.

Lily is not what we would call the sharpest tack in the box, though she does not know, as we do, that in the first four minutes of the movie Ranjeet abducted, raped, and strangled a nice Jesus-loving woman.

Quite a big deal is made, visually, of her Catholicism. Not sure why. Are we supposed to be glad he's an equal opportunity rapist? While Lily is in the bathroom, Ranjeet gets drunk and increasingly crazy with lust for her, demonstrated by flicking his lighter and eventually sticking its flame into his mouth.

See? See what kind of start this movie is off to? Yech. Additionally, early in the film, we learn that Lily doesn't always seem to remember the people she's met. For instance, when she bumps into Amit after the bus stop incident, her lack of recognition strikes him as odd:

Perhaps by "kinky" the subtitlers meant "screwy"? Her mental blanks happen with Ranjeet too

and it is at this point I should have realized Lily has a twin who happens to have the same basic daily paths as she does. I did not realize this, though; due to how lurchy the rest of the film had been, I figured I had just missed a scene of Lily getting konked on the head and having some short-term amnesia. Sigh. It's a Hindi film - of course there's a twin. Nobody had mentioned it, though, nor had we seen any flashbacks to their childhood showing one of them being stolen at the hospital by Ranjeet's father, etc. Later in the film, Lily runs into her twin and we are treated to this exchange:
Twin: "You look just like me!"
Lily: "Mom always said I had a twin!"

[Update to post (later the same day I wrote it)]: upon further consideration, it's seeming increasingly likely that it was in fact twin whom Amit saved at the bus stop and whom Ranjeet picked up in his car. When I look at the pictures, it seems twin always wears a braid, and twin's outfit for the temple journey is different from what Lily was wearing when we last saw her. But if that were true, twin should have recognized Amit the next day. I don't know. Unless both Lily and twin showed up at the temple in the exact same outfit and hairstyle, one of them should have recognized Amit. That's one of the troubles with the magical power of film songs to make people's outfits change - a different hairstyle and outfit could just as easily mean someone is in love as it could that they are in fact a twin of the character we already met. I hate when I feel too stupid to understand bad movies! If anyone has seen this film and remembers what's going on, please enlighten me!]

Lily and Amit continue to meet cute and eventually fall for each other despite their social differences (she's rich, he's poor and for some reason pretending to be Muslim - I'm not sure if the movie didn't explain why or if that bit didn't make it into the £1 version of the DVD),

but thanks to some mysteriously unconvincing acting from Farooq Shaikh, I had a hard time buying their love.

This is the expression he makes most of the time. I know from other films that he's a much better actor than he demonstrates here, and I have no idea what why he's phoning it in so pathetically. I talked this over with parallel cinema lover Filmi Geek, and we agreed that either he had a horrendously expensive mortgage or the producers had proof that he did something unspeakable. It doesn't help that he has to do silly things like slo-mo running through nature in one of the love songs. Anyone who has seen Chashme Buddor knows how sweetly he can play romance, but he just isn't doing it here. To their credit, Poonam Dhillon and Shakti Kapoor make the best of what they were given, particularly Shakti, who is so disgusting in this - sweaty, bulgy-eyed, shifty - that I'll be temped to look away next time I see him cross the screen. (Or maybe this is just his true self, as demonstrated in the casting couch incident? Ew.)

Anyway. While Lily and Amit fall for each other, Ranjeet continues to demonstrate how disgusting he is.

While interviewing a new secretary, Chitra, he grabs her hand and tells her her fate line says she is going to expect his baby. She protests that that was not the kind of job she was looking for, even when he waves a stack of cash in her face, and he then chases her around his house, rapes her, and kills her.

Please note the red scarf. All of Ranjeet's victims have red scarves. Like the whole twin thing, I don't know if this is is a (relatively) subtle visual touch or if someone just forgot to make mention of him being driven crazy by the color red or something. Shrug. Either way, it does not bode well for Lily that he sees her again wearing this.

Meanwhile, Lily's father decides she should marry Ranjeet, and when she objects (without even having seen him - at this point she doesn't realize who he is), her mother really puts the screws on. "If you don't marry him, I'll die unhappy and unfulfilled."

I call bullsh*t on that not being threat. Later, her father actually hits her. Greeeeeat.

Eventually Lily tries to elope with Amit, but Ranjeet pursues her into the forest. Prema (didn't catch her character's name) helped Lily along the way, and very sadly Ranjeet catches up with her and, as she pleads with him to marry her as he promised, especially now that she's carrying his child, crushes her repeatedly with his car door. Lily gets away and happens to cross paths with her twin. You can probably guess what will happen with a combination of two Lilies and a very violent Ranjeet, especially when Lilies are prone to hiding like this:

See that piece of cloth behind you, Lily/twin? Hide behind that. HIDE BEHIND THE OPAQUE THING. Lily/twin eventually confronts Ranjeet and he tries the "It's not my fault I'm a killer! It's lust's fault" defense, and thankfully she will have none of it.

I hope you will agree with me that the filmmakers made a huge error by setting the final physical struggle with the villain in a hallway full of actual weapons and many other heavy objects that could be used to bash rapists/killers but not directing any of the actors to use them.

I see an axe and two swords, for starters, but they stay on the wall. It's just lame punches (I won't be turning to Farooq for dishoom dishoom anytime soon) and high balconies. Director Satish Duggal, this was your only film: why do you squander such good opportunities? and why must you vex me so? Things basically end as we all expect, but please take a look at Poonam's facial expression in the final frame.

That is not Conclusion Face. That is uncertain. Bewildered. A phone ringing somewhere off camera. They couldn't even get this part right.

Sigh. Khel Mohabba Ka is just so bad. So very, very bad. It's confusing, inelegant, unenergetic, and populated by only one character I cared the teensiest bit about and half a dozen I wanted to slap or at least give a stern talking-to. It is not, however, a complete and utter waste: it has a few random treasures thrown in, and I really do not know if the were purposeful additions designed to delight or they are merely there by accident. But I certainly enjoyed them enough to mention them, so here you go.

Apparently it wasn't enough for Ranjeet to be super disgusting. Oh no. His business also needs to be weird, so he's a toy salesman (manufacturer? something like that). TOYS. And in a completely random scene, we meet his secretary (Prema Narayan), who is 1) in love with him (WHY GIRL WHY?) and 2) sits at her desk cradling the creepy-eyed musical dolls.

I laughed out loud at this. You couldn't just have the props be toy cars, could you, set design crew, like when we find out Ranjeet works in the toy industry - you had to use freaky dolls. And you had to put them front and center and have her cradle them and sing with them. I can't really tell you why I thought this was so hilariously odd other than it came out of absolutely nowhere, at least as far as this particular DVD indicated. When you're dealing with a movie this bad, random freaky musical dolls somehow seem a significant, delicoius treat.

There's also a song on which no one except Lily is on roller skates.

I'd give you a link, but I couldn't find any of this film's songs online. That says something, don't you think?
I could understand having a whole room full of people on skates - in fact, it works really well in Aa Gale Lag Jaa - but I couldn't understand why only Lily was skating. Fortunately, trying to work through this nagging mystery with Filmi Geek led to the invention of a really fun movie game, which is to mentally insert roller skating into other Hindi films and see whether they improve things. The answer most of the time is going to be "yes," I assure you. Just imagine "Mere paas Maa hai" with Shashi then skating away indignantly. GOLD. Of course, the more easily/less disruptively skates can be added and the more situations into which they will fit are directly proportional to a film's Desai-esque masala goodness.

A bit late for Die Danger Die Die Kill's Animalympics, I have finally met a cat in an Hindi film! It goes unnamed, but I'll call it Fluffy.

Fluffy is awesome. Fluffy freaks the bejeezus out of Ranjeet in several satisfying ways.

Fluffy leaps out of the back seat of Ranjeet's car while he's driving, leads Ranjeet to the grave of that nice Catholic girl he killed, and looms menacingly in the home decor.

Aaaaaand now you don't need to watch Khel Mohabbat Ka! Fluffy is going to sit on top of the DVD case to make sure you heed my warning.

Thanks to my friend Kate H for the Quid Pro Quo series title - and to everyone else who left funny suggestions on Facebook! Other really good options included Pound Strays, Expounding, Pound Pundit, and An Ounce of Prevention.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Aan Milo Sajna

My thoughts on this fashion-fantastic 1970 romance/comedy/drama basically go like this:
  • Vinod Khanna (Anil) is sooooooo handsome

    and his clothes are incredible.

    And sooooooo baaaaaaaaaad.

    His desk drawer. And his character is introduced with gambling, smoking, and whoring with white prostitutes!
    Anil is so bad he doesn't care about his mother! !!! !!!!! I'm not sure I've yet met a Hindi film character who proclaims he does not care if his mother lives or dies! This is interesting!
  • Asha Parekh (Varsha/Dipali) is so adorable! What is it about this vintage of heroine that I love so much? I don't know beyond "stylish and funny and smart and not self-sacrificing, whimpering lame-brains," but I sure do eat them up with a spoon.

  • Rajesh Khanna (Ajit) sure is good. Saintly amounts of good.

    But, fortunately, not in a cardboard way. Ajit has a sense of humor and is even the teensiest bit saucy sometimes - and also, despite his angelic community-serving ways, seems to have very little ethical dilemma canoodling with a woman who is trying to pretend she is engaged to someone else.

  • With an unsustainably bad villain - there were very few ways he might actually make it out of this film alive - and such an unflinchingly good hero, how was anything actually going to happen in this movie? The story was just progressing in parallel lines with no real room for interaction or entanglement - and thus very little conflict (of any kind) needed to keep momentum going. By interval things were shaping up to be simply very pretty, with some great songs (all of them, actually!), but dull.
  • But then! Oh boy, but then! Enter Anil's maa, Savitri (Nirupa Roy, of course). She will blow. Your. Mind.

    This is the most interesting character I've seen Nirupa Roy get to play, and she is simply wonderful! In turns angry and bitter, thawing and kind, dramatic and secretive, this was a complicated character and Nirupa nailed it. Savitri becomes the center of the drama that made the final third of the film unexpectedly compelling enough to keep me up past bedtime. Without giving anything away, here's a taste of the level of complication in Savitri's character: Nirupa Roy lies in court after swearing on the Gita to tell the truth. NIRUPA ROY LIES ON THE GITA. I can't put my finger on why the backstory that launches when Nirupa's secret is revealed had me so intrigued, but I really found the typical masala coincidences that spiral out from her flashback much more emotionally involving here than I usually do. The characters all react in pleasingly sensible ways, even though some of the actual plot in the backstory is eye-rolling-ly filmi, and, with the possible exception of Anil's extreme moral decrepitude, everyone's quirks and relationships are explained and contextualized. It's all just so very satisfying, especially after an unengaging, but pleasant, beginning.

Two warnings. First, Indrani Mukherjee's character, Sita, who is one of Ajit's friends, meets a very nasty end, and there is neither any substantial discussion of why that happened the way it did nor any remorse from the perpetrator. This made me very upset, and if anyone wants to offer some insight on either of these omissions, I'd love to know your thoughts. [So if you haven't seen this, know that there might be spoilers in the comments.] Second, the DVD I got from Netflix seems to have been made from a poor-quality print, but I could not find any information on the DVD itself or in the menu about who made this one (There are no ads for DVD company! Imagine!), so I can't give you any specific warnings. The actual DVD is pink, if that helps any. (The Netflix envelope also refers to Vinod's character as "Anit." Heehee.)

There isn't much else I can say about this film without ruining all the surprises or just gushing about Asha and Vinod's clothes, but just know that I would definitely rate it worth sitting through the slow start. The songs are wonderful, the performances good to great, and the filminess mostly in service of interesting, even exciting, ends. Head over to Bollywood Deewana's review for more details of the story and many more fabulous pictures!


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's here! "The Voltron of Bollywood podcasts," featuring Filmi Girl, Totally Filmi, Upodcast co-host Asim Burney, and me discussing 2010 so far, is now available. It's long, it's a little bit unorganized - you know how passionate conversations go - and two of us have hardly seen any of the films released this year. Still.

(And yes, I hate hearing my voice in recordings. I sound 14.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

just another day at the bubble factory: Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani

A film that opens with an extended crotch joke - one in which people, including the hero, are yelling for over 50 seconds - is already on my bad side. But even in that aggravating minute, there were things to like: the colors of the shops on the street, the lovely billowing sari, the bunch of cheerful balloons. And so Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani continued all the way through its run time, full of colors and light and even a totally appropriate brawl among bubbles - but also way too much loudness, wackadoodle scrambling around,

and an air-headed heroine. The boisterous comic book spirit implied by the promotional graphics

was used consistently, sweeping up sound effects, sped-up action, interesting wipes between scenes, the story, and even the acting into a colorful but very lightweight package. But even when it was screaming in my face or being just plain ol' dumb, I couldn't possibly turn it off, thanks entirely to Ranbir Kapoor.

Couldn't agree more.

Guh. I consider myself warned.

Let us pause a moment to bask in the awesomeness that is Ranbir Kapoor as Prem in this movie. Great character, great performance. He's Ducky from Pretty in Pink!

He rocks the over-the-top "cool"!

He really looks like he's in luuuuuruve, lighting up when he sees Jenny, and cares about what she thinks of him.

And at other times genuinely sad.

He fills Prem's everyday gestures with such sweetness or humor at a nice, normal level even when the film itself goes overboard or surrounds him with total duds.

Also, he is yumsicle.

That jalebi-making hip-swivel is hot.

Now for Katrina...wet noodle.

Heehee. My thoughts exactly.
She seemed to be trying, at least some of the time, waving her hands around for ages to express worry or making her eyes really, really big. Yet at others she just stood still doing nothing, as though she wasn't really even in the scene. Gotta blame some of that on director Rajkumar Santoshi, of course. She was not at all aided by a role in which she had to dress and act like a thirteen-year-old who was happy to take advantage of Prem's good nature and risk-taking when it suited her. Also, this movie deserves as severe a smackdown as Striker for its horrendously out-of-context and fairly casual threat of rape. The incident is made all the more bizarre because the threat is issued not by the would-be attacker but by his father, who tells poor Jenny that his son will rape her if she won't agree to marry him.

No. No, movie, NO. On the other hand, I liked the indulgence in Katrina's real-life past: of course Katrina knows what Salman Khan's body looks like, right?

I have very little else to say about Ajab Prem.... Apart from Ranbir, whose presence is the whole reason I decided to watch this in the first place,

it did nothing for me and I suspect I won't remember it a week from now. I haven't talked about much of the plot or any of the side characters because they don't matter and left no impression. Overall, the film seemed 90s-y in ways I don't like and I found it only occasionally funny or interesting. Similarly, apart from the meaningless rape bit, I also found nothing to hate in it either. It's just not at all my cup of tea...or maybe, to fit more in the flavor of this film, a fluorescent pink strawberry milkshake sprinkled with pop rocks: fizzy, bubbly, loud, sweet, a bad combination, and nothing I'll ever order again.