Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 30-Day Bollywood Song Challenge! part 2

11. A song that can be potentially used as a chat-up line
"Right Here Right Now" remix from Bluffmaster. "Yeah I'm a bad boy" / "But I'm a good girl." Nobody said it had to be a good pick-up line. I just have so much fun imagining Abhishek's hip-hop avatar sidling up to someone in a bar and saying that. Plus the woman gets a line too!

12. A song to express matters from the heart
I'm absolutely blanking on this one.

13. A song to express a broken heart 
"Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayee"  from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. If forced to pick a favorite Karan Johar film, it's this one, though there are elements of it I find offputting, namely Anjali's tomboy-to-glamorpuss makeover that happens before Rahul realizes how awesome she is. But this song, gah, it just stabs at me, largely because of the interludes by Manpreet Akhtar (and the sequences picturized on them).

14. Your favorite song ever or the closest thing to it
Slight qualification: this is my favorite song that works very well for me as a picturizaiton and straight-up musically—there are lots of songs I love very much on their own but not so much in their cinematic context and songs I love to watch but don't need to listen to outside of their films. "Woh Ladki Hai Kahan" from Dil Chahta Hai nails both. 

15. An English song that has been covered by Bollywood
I don't mean to be snarky, but is "covered" a polite way of saying "copied"? I can't think of a single entire English song I've heard on a film soundtrack—which is probably not saying a lot, given the thousands upon thousands of film soundtracks there are, so I do not claim to speak with authority beyond what I remember having heard—but I have certainly recognized plenty of hooks, melodies, and instrumentation from English songs. One that almost made me fall off the sofa in surprise the first time I heard it years ago and continues to delight me is "Koi Yahan Aha Nache Nache" from Disco Dancer. Side note: is this auditorium the same one in the narrative setup of the flashback in Deewaar? I've definitely seen it before. Time to add it to my vintage locations project!

16. A song that you would potentially have at your wedding as a first dance
If I ever get married, it will be in the most perfunctory and low-key way possible, and at any kind of subsequent festivities, dancing will be informal and unorganized but will probably include things like "Nain Mila Kar Chain Churana" from Aamne Samne becuase 1) how can you possibly sit still when it plays? 2) awkward, erratic, and/or uncoordinated moves are completely acceptable, and 3) it combines my biggest pop culture loves (Bollywood and the Beatles).

17. A song that you know all the words to
None of them! I can't even remember song lyrics in English, despite having been in choirs since I was eight years old! I'm pretty close on "Chale Jaise Hawaien" from Main Hoon Na, though.

18. A favorite patriotic song
Oh lord. Like chilling, patriotism does not move me. There must be some good ones in Dharmputra, and I have vague memories of happy villagers forming themselves into a map of India in Shankar Dada. In terms of sheer impressive-ness, how about the amazing wretch-inducing bit from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham? "Okay, England, you wanna rumble? We'll see your imperialist past and raise you the male offspring of Kajol and Shahrukh Khan! Backed by your own cherubic children! At one of your snobby private institutions of class and privilege! On your own turf! SUCK IT, UNITED KINGDOM! JAI HIND!"

19. A song that you are embarrassed to admit that you love 
I don't bother with getting embarrassed about Bollywood loves (and I suspect you don't either), but I do recognize that "Mr. Lova Lova" from Ishq is not very good, or at least has some highly suspect elements. I don't think all of it is even in tune. But still.

20. A song picturized on your favorite star 
I've written several times about "Kehne Ki Nahin Baat," a song so chock full of musical and visual delights that the fact that my favorite star of all time shines in it—and that too performing in a way that people often forget he can do so well—is merely icing on the cake. Here is what I wrote in a post devoted to the song back in 2008:
This song has everything! Big band brass! Surf music and Chuck Berry influences! Social protest lyrics! Groovy head-shaking choreography! Beatlesque harmonies! Animal noises! A marching band! Shashi-shimmy!

This is the most exuberant Shashi dancing I have ever seen, and it is a thing of beauty. He hops and skips barefoot down the sidewalk, leading a ramshackle conga-ish line of backup fellows, he twists again like I wish I did last summer, and he even gets his Elvis on for a moment, thrusting his hips this way and that. He gets his proto-SRK on too, eyebrows working overtime. He does not yet have his 70s masala curls, but his hair is long and loose enough that it dances too, easy breezy in the beachfront sunshine. In short, he is Shammi - yet with all his magical Shashi powers too.

Part 1 of this series is here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

mini-review: the continuing saga of MAHESHMATIZATION 2011: Dookudu

Subtitles? I don't need no stinkin' subtitles!

Okay, so maybe I do, since the mere presence of Prakash Raj seeming to do very good needs had me puzzled and I had no idea what the Brahmi and M. S. Narayana threads were about. (For those of you who are new-ish to Telugu films, as I am, there are in fact some visual clues to those threads that in retrospect are obvious, and I can only blame my obliviousness to them on being distracted by the lively cinema audience and the film's refreshingly non-garish interiors and, er, striking wardrobe choices.) Dookudu was a fun time full of slick and grabs-you action sequences, including a particularly Rube Goldberg machine-y chase through a shipping yard, very pleasing costumes and textiles, and enjoyable songs. I'm going to have to watch "Chulbuli Chulbuli" several more times just to take in all the feathers and weird sculptures and backup dancers doing all sorts of interesting things. And the Alpine song to point and laugh at the hair on the confused hipster gora backup dancers.

In their review (which contains a very useful basic plot summary), my favorite consultants on all things Tollywood Cinema Chaat mentioned that several players seemed underused, and though I do not know any of them by name I felt that I kept seeing people stand around or run away without actually contributing anything. Even Sonu Sood was wasted in a villain role that seemed to prefer brooding to despicable deeds. He did get one of the best villain deaths I have ever seen, though, and unlike Cinema Chaat I thought he looked dashingly silly in his multiple layers of neckwear, varying color sunglasses, and belt buckle bling.

And speaking of not doing anything, WHY DID THE WRITERS BOTHER TO SCRIPT ANY FEMALE CHARACTERS AT ALL SINCE NOT A ONE OF THEM DOES ANYTHING INTERESTING OR USEFUL? Mahesh's boss's wife brings him a cup of tea, but that is quite literally the only contribution I noticed a woman make in this film. I hope knowing the dialogue would prove me wrong. Poor Samantha as the love interest is the most perfunctory character, not even serving as hostage bait or property to be argued over by men with machetes. I'm not saying those are preferable roles, mind you, but at least they make a sort of sense in regressive filmi logic and morals. She doesn't even get an alluring dance!

Let's talk about Mr. Prince. My cinema hall crowd could not get enough of his heroic and comedic one-liners, tossing shredded paper in the air at his name on the screen and his eventual entry. I may never fully board the Mahesh train, but the kind of character he had here, which seemed like a full person and not just a killing machine, is so much more engaging to me. I certainly didn't catch all of the comedy or emotional exchanges with Prakash Raj, but I loved that they were incorporated into a hero who was already full-throttle action. I was quite amused that Mahesh spent almost as long dancing in the nightclub number (where I think he was under cover, but who knows) as he did romancing Samantha. I can imagine his character with a mental to-do list that goes something like
  1. seek revenge on my father's attackers and find ways for my father to extract that revenge without realizing it
  2. create elaborate fake-pretend tv show to make sure father never finds out the truth about what has happened since he went into the hospital (and return DVD of Goodbye Lenin!)
  3. police duties 
  4. dance! dance! dance! 
  5. stalk girl until she sasses me one too many times
  6. slap girl for her own good
  7. remember I am happy to see girl once her dad gets involved
For anyone who has seen this film (or just its songs), can you explain why Mahesh looked so very, very wrong all by himself in "Guruvaram", dancing/inching/thrusting around the streets of Istanbul (and possibly somewhere in Germany? or Switzlerand again?). Cinema Chaat suggests that a thrust is just a basic dance step and is perhaps default or filler, like bhangra shoulders sometimes are, but I found it very creepy in the context of a daylight city street with no one around. And on the shallow end of the viewer experience pool, whatever his stylists have done to his hair works really well. He actually looks like a grown-up now, so the cognitive dissonance of the violence is lessened a bit—and I don't feel so skeevy thinking he looked good while impaling people on metal spikes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 30-Day Bollywood Song Challenge! part 1

Entries 1 through 10 of the 30 Day Bollywood Song Challenge, brought to you via Bollystalgia and originating with the facebook group of the same name. Join the game on twitter with the hashtag #30daybollysongchallenge! Now that I'm caught up, I'll be putting my entries there, but I will also do summary posts like this with a lot more text. (Who me? Want more text? You don't say!)

1. A song that makes you happy 
"Tera Mujhse Hai Pahle Ka Naata Koi" from Aa Gale Lag Jaa. Shashi in loverboy mode with a  dopey scarf draped over his head. Sharmila with sparkle and fun and the good sense to stop resisting his charms. Wintery Simla. ROLLER SKATES. It is very silly and I adore it.

2. A song that makes you sad 
"Ek Ladki Ko Dekha" from 1942 A Love Story often makes a few tiny tears well up. I think it's the reminder that my life is wildly un-filmi. When you surround yourself with filminess every day, it's hard not to notice the lack in your own life, even if you, like I, don't actually want to be like a movie character or live their unrealistic and dramatic lives most of the time.

Even though I don't particularly care for or about poetry and would probably giggle if someone said these things to me in real life—or worse, sang them—this is a gorgeous melody and the lyrics make the singer seem so full of thought, so open to considering his love in many different ways. Who doesn't want to be a huge string of lovely or life-giving things? The comparisons that pang my dil are "winter sunshine" and "a slowly growing feeling of intoxication" (if you trust this translation).

3. A song that you like driving to
These days it's pretty much any filmi disco song. "Om Shanti Om" from Karz gets repeated a lot on my ipod, partly because I a harbor a silly hope that some day a passer-by desi will hear it from my open window, flash me a big thumbs-up, and sing along. And then we'll start a dance party right there on the street and the whole university will join along. What? I work on a campus with a 2,000-member Indian student association. It could happen! [Editor self: weren't you just saying you didn't want real life to be filmi?]

4. A song that you like walking to
Trickbaby's "Sabse Bada Rupaiya" from Bluffmaster. No contest. STRUT!

5. A song that reminds you of someone
Ooooh this is hard. Most everything reminds me someone. These days it's fun to think how "Main To Beghar Hoon Apne Ghar Le Chalo" from Suhaag reminds me of Post-Punk Cinema Club and Indie Quill and our shared love of hilarious Shashi Kapoor and Parveen Babi (and our admiration of her Shashi-getting techniques).

6. A song you can chill to
"Chill" isn't really in my nature—I'm happiest when I'm doing things—but the very concept makes me think of the (literal) breeziness and vacation attitude of the title track of Dil Chahta Hai.

7. A song you like dancing to
Three of my favorite dance-along songs are in Kal Ho Na Ho, a movie I don't actually like that much. Mine is a crazy heart, so "It's the Time to Disco" at my house anytime (look out when the bookish girl demonstrably cuts loose, especially with imitable moves like these). My friend Abby and I saw this film pretty early in our descent into filmi madness and kicked ourselves out of glum moods quite regularly with "Maahi Ve". And resistance is utterly futile in the presence of the ebullient "Pretty Woman" with its over-the-top KJo-ified version of modern urban America in song. Hit it!

And yes, Shahrukh is a sure-fire, though not essential, ingredient that inspires me onto my feet.

8. Favorite item number
"Kajra Re" from Bunty aur Babli: it may not be the sexiest picturization in the world, but hiii hiiiiii is it fun to watch—and join in. A tragi-comic love triangle, zillions of sparkles, and a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. I do find this song harder to watch now that all the participants are family—there's something a little squicky about pretending to lust after your father-in-law, understandable as it may be in the case in question. 

9. Favorite song from a Yash Raj movie
"Dhadak Dhadak" from Bunty aur Babli:  I love the song on its own, I love how it works within in the movie, I love how well it introduces the main characters and tells us a lot about them, I love the colors, the energy, the train, the locations, the bystanders and backup dancers, Abhishek's in-character goofy movies, Rani's zest and sparkle, and the reference to Fearless Nadia. It's a mini-movie! Not to mention that bit when Rani twirls in a petal-coated pool to unfurl a huge blue skirt spangled with mirrors like she's the night sky (4:08 in the link).

Runners up:
"Kiss of Love" from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: it's fun to sing and has those snazzy Chicago-ish outfits and I miss the good ol' days when Preity Zinta was in movies. And when presented with it right in my face, I cannot deny the joy of Bobby Deol's silver velvet suits.

"Ainvayi Ainvayi" from Band Baaja Baaraat: duh.

10. A favorite song that is often played at Indian weddings
Ummmm.... Having never been to an Indian wedding, I have no idea. I do love the "girls vs boys" choreography and vocals that happen a lot in wedding-related scenes in films, like "Number 1 Punjabi" from Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

late summer mini-reviews

Before the mini-reviews begin:  any film history lovers might really like reading about the fantastic exhibit Bollywood Showcards at the Royal Ontario Museum (through October 2). I interviewed the curator in my most recent "Bollywood Journal" column for the Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog. Museums + Bollywood + history + Toronto = one of the best topics Beth could ever be lucky enough to write about.

On to some films!

Dhobi Ghat
I really liked Dhobi Ghat even though it ends without the kind of unrealistic, filmi resolution that I always crave even in inappropriate settings like this one. Its slightly weary feel that stems from the un-met hopes and dreams of all the principal characters is offset by the power of creativity, communication, and connection that each of them participates in. It's actually more than participation, I think: each person is making contributions to others, whether they know it or not. They are all artists in some way, the women tending towards documentary projects while trying to reach other people and the men towards taking what was inside them and turning it outwards. The reciprocal pair of the painter and sad diarist is so touching. Her past story inspires his work, and by listening to her story all the way to the end he gives gives her a presence she seems not to have felt she had. I recently discovered the song "Mr. Lova Lova" from Ishq (and I cannot emphasize enough how immediately you should watch this if you've never seen it), and as much as I love Aamir Khan in that kind of performance, I thought he nailed the confused personality and emotions of the painter. In fact, I think everyone excelled in their roles; Kiran Rao gave them a lot to work with, having created rich and effective characters and story. 

No One Killed Jessica
This is not an entirely successful mix of truth and fiction, but oh how I loved that the film is driven by two female characters who are neither mothers nor romantic characters and make no convoluted sacrifices on the behalf of other people. These are women with missions—even better, successful ones. Oh how I recoiled at the perpetrator's horrible mother, who seemed to acknowledge nothing of the evil and loss her son had created other than that he was in danger. For once a film shows us what can happen when spoiled young men are allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences. And oh how I cheered at the trapping and shaming of the cowardly "friend" who refused to do the right thing and at the brave friend who refused to let older men shame her in public and spoke the truth.

The pacing of this film really drags it down. There is far too much time spent on the early phase of the case compared to the developments after the journalist takes it up as a cause. I don't need the total run time to be longer, but the effect is a bit deus ex NDTV for my taste. However, I'll happily forgive it since it had such strong and interesting women, especially as they contrasted with each other. When faced with tragedy and injustice, the two women responded very differently, though each with her own kind of doggedness and courage.

I watched both this and Dhobi Ghat on Netflix instant, which has only a handful of Indian films. It's an interesting selection: The Blue Umbrella, Peepli Live, Harishchandrachi Factory, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Life in a Metro, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Thank You, Life Partner, My Name Is Khan.... I've often wondered how they decide what films to make available this way—the variety in style and talent is nice, though I wish they had more things from different eras and languages—and how long to make them available.

I doubt that I would have enjoyed Wanted as much if I hadn't already seen Pokiri and Dabangg, and I really don't have anything to say about it that isn't already in my writeups of those other films. Violent, semi-sarcastic, southie-inspired Salman works better for me than other versions of him, for whatever reason. And I don't care how much he hams his death scenes: I'll take whatever Vinod Khanna I can get.

This is my favorite film so far in MAHESHMATIZATION 2011, I think simply because it does not have as exaggerated a role and story as the rest of what I've seen him do. He's still a baby-faced killer, but it didn't feel like the same scale, and he even has a full life outside all the killing. I also appreciate Bhumika's heroine getting in a few good points about women's free will against Prakash Raj's psychopathic villain. The dreamy shots and sets of the Charminar are a lovely treat,

and who doesn't want to see giant puppets (try 3:11) or a fleet of tough guys dancing against happy backdrops of communal diversity? The visual effects of Prakash Raj's fu, let's call it, are not to be missed.

The next three films fall into the loose category of "sort of scary," and for all the zombies, hands rising from graves, knives, and blood of Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche and Red Rose, Madhumati is by far the most creepy. Through no fault of its own, the effect of its finale is a bit diminished by me having already seen Om Shanti Om, but overall its stormy nights, animal noises, and weird paintings give me more chills than either the surprisingly boring 1972 offering by the Ramsay Brothers (one of their earliest) or the misogynist "psychological thriller" featuring Rajesh Khanna doing some serious ACT!ING! in a role that screams FREAK from the get-go and Poonam Dhillon's character making some seriously "stupid, stupid woman in a horror film"-style bad decisions.
Women who eat apples are eeevil? Someone remembers his Sunday school lessons.

Hmm. On second thought, a cat who drinks blood and Rajesh Khanna showing all that chest hair are really scary. I will say for Red Rose that at least the set and costume departments (wait til you see what the killer wears when he's out for blood—the stuff of nightmares!) probably had some fun creating the off-kilter, clue-laden environment the killer inhabits, right down to a wind-up toy lion and literal skeletons in a closet. More ink has been spilled discussing this film on Memsaab's post than I would ever have imagined possible, so if you want to read more, I suggest heading over there. (And in case you can't tell, I agree with her.)

Ayee Milan Ki Bela

This 1964 film about a good person (Rajendra Kumar as Shyam) who loves a kind of bratty person (Saira Banu as Barkha) and is thwarted by two villains of varying badness is notable for two reasons. First: from what I have read, it is the only film in which Dharmendra has played a villain (Ranjeet) (depending on whether you count his brief appearance in Johnny Gaddar), and indeed he has turned quite bad by the end of the film, though in a petulant spoiled baby way rather than as a traitor/rapist/serial killer, and the person he seeks to harm has himself gone off the deep end. And he looks mighty fine doing it.
Second: the animals! Set in a rural community, there are some great farm animals (mostly these lovely speckled cows), horses, a tiger attack, a person in a leopard outfit, and Shyam's dog Raja, a true anipal.
He may not be a wonder dog, but he's pretty endearing. 

He's generally helpful, bringing his master bags and radios, but much to my surprise he basically takes the place of the heroine in the film's first song, "Main Pyaar Ka Deewana." As Shyam romps through the Kashmiri countryside, Raja is right there with him in the fields of flowers, along the crystal-clear stream, and down the winding paths. And for those of you who share my sensitivity to how animals seem to be treated in films, do not worry: nothing bad happens to Raja. (I'm not sure I can say the same for the black cat in Red Rose, whom I desperately hope was a non-living stunt double in a particular scene.)

After watching this film, I still don't get the massive appeal of Rajendra Kumar. He's certainly inoffensive and serviceable, but I don't see any qualities that would have supported his massive box office draw. His character here does not lend itself to a stellar performance: Shyam is mostly a nice guy who makes good choices and leads his community well, but he's also not going to be pushed around and instead goes a little bit bonkers in self-defense when he is falsely accused of various crimes by evil Madan Puri, who has a major bone to pick. Rajendra's swing from pleasant and smiley to shouting with rage felt very uneven, like he was in fact two different people rather than a good man pushed too far.

The success of this film at the Filmfare awards for 1964 is also puzzling, with Rajendra, Dharmendra, and Shashikala all being nominated for best acting awards, even though Shashikala generally turns in this sort of performance:
A very special "Nahiiiin!"

I will also give Rajendra Kumar points for dancing spiritedly in the one song that calls for him to do so. The title track is, at least visually, a glorious celebration of modern agriculture, which is a major piece of the setting of this film that the characters don't particularly remark on. I was expecting the community's shift from traditional farming methods to mechanized ones to lead to at least one flood/ fire/gory injury in a combine, but no, everything is hunky-dory, the sun is shining, the fields are yielding, and people get wealthier. Huh.
You know how I love hand-drawn title sequences!
In the song, performed at a harvest festival, Saira and Rajendra dance with dozens of backup dancers on a stage decorated with imagery that seems straight out of Mother India: fields, a tractor, and a statue of a man holding a sickle looking confidently towards the horizon. Is this film commenting on the Green Revolution (or the groundwork for it)?

Anyway. It's a pleasant timepass, if a bit uneven in tone and performances, but I can't say anything particularly compelling about it. It had been sitting next to my tv in its Netflix envelope since March (I think I ordered it for Deol Dhamaka), and I'm not sorry that I let it wait so long or that it will soon be going back whence it came. Even if that does mean this might be the last time I see anyone in a Jackson Pollack-inspired sari, which 1) I desperately want and 2) is probably the best thing about Saira Banu in this film.
Let's end with something more solidly fun. How about Raja doing another trick?

"WHEEEEEEE!" says Raja! I could watch this all day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quid Pro Quo: Adventures in £1 DVDs part 3

[Housekeeping note: Blogger has a new post editor that makes it very difficult to arrange images the way I usually do, so I think from here out posts are going to look a little different.]

Even after watching Do Badan twice, I'm not sure why I don't like it...or even what's wrong with it. Asha Parekh is probably my favorite heroine of the era;

Pran is orange-haired, selfish, and evil;
characters talk of duty, fate, social status, and the role of women; 
"The jars of feelings have been crushed under the feet of fate."
and there is occasional visual interest in lighting, angles, and interior decor.

For starters, I might be falling into the camp of people who find Manoj Kumar irritating no matter what film he's in. This one is directed by Raj Khosla, whose Mera Gaon Mera Desh I loved, and it is not in the least patriotic. He has moments of genuine expression of a variety of appropriate emotions or states of being (optimism, distraction, despair), but I just don't find him pleasing or interesting to watch. His character here is an uphill battle, to be sure: tragic, full of resignation, and struck with filmi blindness.
Long-suffering can be hard to sell, and he doesn't succeed. 
Really, though, the problem is the script by G. R. Kamath (with story by Masood Mashhadi), who also did Mera Gaon Mera Desh. I am not a person who seeks out films to provide "a good cry." There's no such thing in my book; crying makes me dehydrated, exhausted, and headache-y. After a solid meet-cute, the story of Do Badan is determined to wallow in misery. Hero, heroine, heroine's awful father, heroine's mildly helpful uncle (Manmohan Krishna), hero's sympathetic doctor (Simi Garewal), 
and even the villain all weep and wail over various wrongs and misfortunes. As I write this, I'm realizing that the risk of having a villain reform after it's too late to do anything to correct the problems already caused is that it just brings more sadness without any resolution or improvement for the people involved. In the case of Do Badan, the only people who can actually use what they've been through aren't the people we're supposed to care about. Nobody in this film gets what they deserve. Usually I am happy to see characters who learn and grow and change for the better, but, in this case, the powerless apology that came out of that knowledge did nothing for me. Apparently what I'm looking for is a villain to reform and do something useful and awesome, like blow up his own lair or turn himself in to the police or donate his eyes to the long-lost son he accidentally blinded. Here the villain realizes the error of his ways and then just stands around with everyone else being sad. How unsatisfying!

That's about all I have to say. If you're looking to Nahiiiiiiiiiiiiin! yourself into a frenzy over the injustice of the world, this film could probably fuel you for an hour or so. If, like me, you'd rather have an ending that is happy, or at least hopeful, look elsewhere.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

new column: "Bollywood Journal" on The Wall Street Journal's India Real Time blog

I am absolutely over the moon to announce that I am a new columnist for the India Real Time blog of The Wall Street Journal! My column, "Bollywood Journal," appears Tuesdays and covers...well, basically whatever filmi topic I want to write about in under 1,000 words that isn't gossip or movie reviews. Squeeeeeeeeee! The first one was published this morning and discusses a handful of foreign films that I think Bollywood should take a crack at.* Read it here and tell me what you think! Regular readers of this blog are probably already laughing at the idea of me trying to keep a piece to just 1,000 words. Editor Self has her work cut out for her, that's for sure.


* After the column was published, a friend told me that one of the films I suggest actually has been given the filmi treatment but I hadn't found it in my research, which clearly wasn't as thorough as it should have been! Gah!