Saturday, May 26, 2012

Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja

This month, the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit are doing battle with HAIRY BEASTS. My contribution to the MOSS team project is the first unwatched film I could find in my collection featuring my favorite Bollywood hairy beast, Anil Kapoor, and you can see the other MOSS agents' projects here.
via Just Pazz
Sadly, he does not demonstrate his full hairy beastiness in this movie, and because I suspect this post will have more than the usual number of readers who aren't terribly familiar with Hindi films, I feel duty-bound to provide examples of why I chose Anil Kapoor for my hairy beast.
via Real Bollywood
via flickr
via To Each Its Own
via Shirtless Bollywood Men
No doubt some will say it is fortunate that you won't be seeing any images from RKRCKR* like those. If you need even more Anil Kapoor, go to the Post-Punk Cinema Club, where Anil was one of the house favorites. And now, on with the show!

I don't care how badly it tanked at its release in 1993. This movie is fantastic. I might even like it more than Mr. India, that other Javed Akhtar-written, Sridevi-and-Anil-Kapoor-starring film (and for all the Bollywood newbies who may have drifted over here from MOSS, that one was directed by Shekhar Kapur of Elizabeth fame). Though I know precious little about 90s films before the big hits of Shahrukh Khan later in the decade, I reckon this one seems as much like giddy 70s masala as I am likely to find fifteen years later than its heyday. While it is not fair to boil a film down to a checklist of ingredients, doing so for RKRCKR will help illustrate why I liked it so much.

the plot (for those of you who haven't seen the film)
Seema (Sridevi) was orphaned as a child when her father was killed by arch-villain Jugran (Anupam Kher) and her mother has some kind of psychotic episode upon seeing his corpse. In the orphanage, she is befriended by Ramesh (Anil Kapoor), whose father (Dalip Tahil), a customs officer investigating diamond smuggling, was also killed by Jugran when Ramesh and dad were out and about in downtown Bombay. I mention this detail only because of the great tragic poignancy of being orphaned in the maximum city, a location well-known for harboring familial near misses, especially among children who were separated as infants and thus cannot recognize their parents or each other. Ramesh is old enough to recognize his mother, sister, and brother (Ravi, a police officer played by Jackie Shroff when grown), but it takes awhile for him to encounter them. Fortunately, dad had given both brothers a special token, a lock and key, cementing their brotherhood by saying each was useless without the other. (Sucks to be the girl child, I guess.) Jugran, meanwhile, has been pretending to be his twin brother, the upstanding Manmohan, whom in reality he long ago killed, as a cover for his nefarious deeds. All of these threads come together exactly as you assume they would, with no one recognizing each other at first and all having their own reasons to use each other to get to Jugran.

the main characters and the people who play them
Sridevi is empathetic, intrepid, and funny as a thief and self-proclaimed "queen of beauty" in "the fashion and modeling world." (Why does she not include "music" among her credits when all we see her do is dance and sing—and, more importantly, act—rather than go to photo shoots?)
Anil Kapoor is smooth, tough, and clever as safe-cracker Romeo. They have good chemistry, no? It was hot and hilarious and affectionate and a million times more convincing than it was in the just-watched Lamhe.
At this point, Seema is trying to convince Romeo to do a job for Jugran in exchange for information about her father's killer. AND THE MULLET OMG THE MULLET.
Both of these actors can veer towards the hyper but were nicely in line here, and despite their frequent perkiness and swagger gave their characters a sadness befitting their backstories. Like many good Bollywood leads, they are very in tune with their inner mushiness, and their reunion, which is surprisingly early in the film, is very sweet. Seema and Romeo mean the world to each other, and the fact that they can join forces in a common cause is just icing on the cake.

Anupam Kher is not my favorite villain actor of this era, but I like what he did with Jugran. I also really like what he was given to work with—so hats are off to Javed Akhtar, as always—and he plays Jugran's eccentricities just this side of ridiculous, leaving him weird and unhinged but not completely laughable. For example, Jugran has a thing for turtles, so much so that one of the bars in his glitzy lair has turtles painted on the walls. Jugran also dresses like...I think he's supposed to be a fussy conductor, waving a baton around, and, like Mogambo before him, he has a multi-purpose catchphrase, "shaitan ki kasam," which he uses at every opportunity.

The remaining cast is pretty fun too. Jackie Shroff is dull but sufficiently likable as Ravi, and he gets in a good moment of ACT!ING! when he shares with Romeo why it's so important to catch Jugran.
There is little I find more satisfying in a film like this than actors who are so overwhelmed with melodrama that they have to grasp furniture or walls for support. Vah! Bob Christo is on hand as a random cheesy business associate of Jugran. 
As usual, his presence signals a fight and a chance for a hero to get in some good dishoom. I couldn't get a passable screencap** of it, but in the fight scene he bursts through a stack of cardboard boxes sounding all the world like a kid making noises (and facial expressions, for that matter) for a toy T-rex. RAWR! STOMP! This happens on screen in far less time than I've taken to describe it, but still. Even Johnny Lever is in top form. As an cop who works with Ravi, his main task is to be shown in the proximity of filmi ephemera and imitating the stars depicted.
I caught Raaj Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, and Ashok Kumar.
the pigeon
Jango the pigeon—who was seriously short-changed by not getting the standard filmi appellation "Wonder __[insert name of animal]___"—is incredible. He can carry messages, steal diamonds, memorize license plates and then repeat them to humans by pecking at numbers on a table, attack villains, and even save his people from certain death as Jugran dangles them over a vat of acid. He even has appropriate theme music, a little flute-y line that often accompanies his feats. (Romeo also has other birds, including ones named Mogambo and Gabbar, but they are shown only in passing.)
It is a great pity that Jango was not in Todd/Die Danger Die Die Kill's Animalympics back in the day, but on the other hand, it's just a testament to the treasures of Indian cinema that a blog could focus on animal characters with such intensity and still not find even all the major ones. Wonders truly will never cease.

If you like Bollywood anipals, be sure to read next Monday's installment of "Bollywood Journal" at the Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog, in which I interview Todd about anipals.

the comedy
Sridevi is really funny. Yes, she bugs out her eyes a lot
but somehow it works, I think because her character is portrayed as so competent, mature, and relatively complex. Her comedy is also usually part of a con, meaning that she's doing it as part of a way to one-up somebody—she only seems cutesy and ditzy.
That said, there is a scene in this film that I simply do not know what to do with. I recognize that every culture's context for racial stereotyping is unique for many reasons, among them incredibly complex histories of interactions (and not) with the rest of the world, and I know that India's relationship with African peoples over the centuries is not the same as America's, but whenever Bollywood uses blackface I cringe into a little ball. Here it's on Anil wearing animal furs and then coupled with Sridevi in some kind of geisha get-up with her eyes pulled back singing "ching chong" in "Chai Mein Chini" and the effect is...let's call it regrettable and move on with our lives.

the songs
The Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs are otherwise incredible and impressive, perhaps more visually than musically, but still. To name a few enticements: Sridevi falls out of a cake before singing with four other versions of herself, none of which are repeated in the song's many costume changes ("Main Hoon Roop Ki Rani"); Anil shakes a black pleather trouser-clad leg rather impressively (or at least relatively to what I've seen him do in other films) ("Romeo Naam Mera"); both leads do some romancing in the rain, thereby presenting an excuse for a wet sari ("Jaanewale Zara Ruk Ja"); and there's a giant golden Egyptian set for an angry dance of revenge ("Dushman Dil Ka"), in which Sridevi pouts and stomps impressively.
I especially love the rap under the titles, which mixes up visual elements from throughout the film into a James Bond-like song with lots of backlighting of women in spandex leaping around. The pictures below show you things like a an Egyptian statue (which the two thieves compete for), the separated brothers' lock and key, some of Sridevi's outfits from other songs, and even Jango. A bit of googling revealed that apparently Arshad Warsi choreographed and danced in this? Amazing. 
Even the regrettable racial-stereotype song contains a gem or two, like Sridevi casing the Egyptian statue while singing into what I am pretty sure is a stalk of cauliflower. 

the costumes
HOLY MOLY. Centering a film on two thieves who pull cons and perform large stage numbers is a great excuse to let the wardrobe department run wild, and, hoo boy, wild did they run. And that's all I need to say.

villain lair
You know how I love villain lairs, and RKRCKR does not disappoint.
Jugran really has two: as Manmohan, he has a glitzy mansion, but as Jugran he has something more in line with truly evil purposes. (The two might even be connected? Not sure.) It's very hard to see in these pictures, but there is a long striped tunnel whose mouth at one end includes a ring of little flames (imagine almost a live version of the Nataraja statue; you can just make it out center left in the top photo) and the other a gaudily decorated dressing room in which his big black cape hangs. The main room appears to be this multi-storey wonder that includes light-up stairs, horse busts, red waterfalls, and female guards in silver headbands and go-go boots. Unfortunately, there is no death trap; Jugran's method of dealing with those who disappoint him is much more direct.

to close
I don't know if the people responsible for this film were trying to make contemporary 70s-influenced masala, but that's sure how it seems to me. That they succeeded is one of the highest filmi-related (filmish?) compliments I can give. Plot intricacies, big dramas and ironies, dil-squish, appropriate acting, fun songs, humor, plenty to look at, and a heartfelt sense of WHEEEEE! underscoring pretty much everything in the film make RKRCKR one of the best films of the 1990s I've seen yet. 

oh, but also
Is this the same location that Vijay and Ravi run through in Deewaar right before the horrible fratricide?
Granted I don't hang out at churches, but I've never seen cross painted with two-dimensional images of bloody Jesus and nails.
I was about to say that this has nothing to do with the film, but in fact the guy in the background there is about to meet his maker because of the way he wants to help the heroine, so maybe there is a bit of a statement about sacrifice. Hmm.

* I have typed the name of this film so many times I want to shoot myself. Abbreviated it shall be!
** In fact, all the screencaps of this DVD turned out really dark! Boo!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a few thoughts in response to Firstpost's "My favourite bimbo: Why America loves brain-dead Bollywood"

This article in Firstpost is probably upsetting a lot of people. Normally I see little good in joining the fracas, but this's personal. So here are a few thoughts about the piece—not a full rebuttal, because I agree with some facets of it, and not even particularly well-organized, because it is only 8:30 in the morning. Also, I am talking about what is in the article itself, not in the comments, where, last time I checked, there were some great points being made on a variety of finer aspects of the piece. Also important to add is that I very rarely read any of the American critics named in the piece, so I do not have my own informed opinion of what they do and don't tend to like or value.
  • If only the title had said "some mainstream American critics in some big mainstream publications" instead of just "America." Because that's who seems to be the actual subject. And curiously absent in the article is Roger Ebert, surely one of our best-known critics for decades, who likes mainstream Bollywood so much he profiled it at his "overlooked" festival in 2005—"overlooked" because he feels popular Indian cinema is not widely enough known or experienced in the US— with a showing of Taal, at which director Subash Ghai was present and participated in a panel discussion. (I have written at length about my experience of seeing Taal at Ebertfest here.)
  • Of course, saying "Americans" is almost as silly as saying "Indians." What does that even mean? The kinds of Americans who read film reviews in mainstream publications? The kinds of Americans who have ever felt that foreign cinema is something they can/should try out? The kinds of Americans who have actual pragmatic access to Bollywood at all? 
  • Take a gander down my sidebar of links, and you will see many Americans who publicly, and with thought and care, express their love, understanding, appreciation of and questions about  Bollywood. It's just that most of us don't write on those topics for newspapers or magazines.
  • Assuming that Americans like "the circus" aspect of Bollywood is an odd critique and probably dismissive both of the circus and of viewers' tastes and abilities. Much of Hollywood is the same, and we Americans go to those movies and love them and discuss them etc. We have our own gargantuan indigenous "entertainment machine set to dazzle," so would it be too surprising that we respond to those of other cultures as well?
  • There's a great point in the quote from Sandip Roy that while some of the larger, louder, more visually-based charms of Bollywood are more easily discerned and enjoyed by the American audience he's watching a film with, "The heart stays behind, lost in the subtitles." Short of every potential Bollywood viewer in the world becoming fluent in Hindi, I'm not sure what can be done about that. Those of us who don't speak Hindi and love Bollywood anyway are working on it, and if we ever come up with an easy solution, we'll be sure to package it along with DVDs in which someone has actually bothered to proofread the subtitles. Is this problem more endangering of appreciation of Bollywood than it is of, say, Hong Kong action films or Italian spaghetti westerns or French new wave? I have no idea, but I can't really imagine so. Surely one can like, appreciate, and engage with cinema without having a particularly deep understanding of the culture that made it. It is a way to begin building that very understanding. However, not knowing the culture intimately does of course mean that that viewer isn't getting everything out of the movie that they might (even things the filmmakers didn't necessary intend). That is the risk taken by any person—gasp!—engaging with cultures other than their own.
  • I feel like there's a dilemma in here, which is not the author's fault at all and that she is hinting at for discussion, that Americans liking Bollywood for the same reason that millions of Indians and other people around the world like it is problematic. Why is it somehow wrong for us to like Indian candyfloss? Why is it a scorn-worthy hipster-y stance labeled "kitsch is cool" when critics do it? Maybe these critics genuinely like SRK hamminess and bright colors. Is that not their right as thinking participants in cinema?
  • What is wrong, of course, is for anyone, American, Indian, or otherwise, to assume all cinema from India (or America or anywhere else) is monolithic. Nobody gets to do that, but keeping your mind open to differences is hard, especially in the face of popular culture machines, and it requires work, which it seems lots of people don't want to do. Professional critics of course have an obligation to keep their brains on while they watch, and I think most of the ones I read do, even if they don't consider every single scrap of relevant history/context/opinion that we may want them to in every single, no doubt word-limit-imposed, review.
  • I do agree that Bollywood abroad, or at least in the US, does probably generally suffer from "the soft bigotry of low expectations." How to change that? The mainstream, widely-read critics could play a role here, that's for sure, by expressing to American readers what they love and value and find interesting about Bollywood. And isn't that one of the things they they do do by getting excited about some of the mass entertainers? 
  • I really resent the last paragraph that says that the underlying message of some of these American reviews that love Ra.One but are unimpressed by Peepli Live is that "'serious' cinema is best left to those who know how—in Hollywood, France, even Iran. Our [India's] job on the international cinema stage is simple: look pretty and play dumb." That's unfair to Bollywood and other Indian cinemas, and it's unfair to international audiences. It's also unfair to the need to allow for variation in taste. Rachel Saltz doesn't like "Jesus Aamir"*'s Peepli Live? So what? I'm sure she's not the only one. I don't particularly like some of the "serious" or "message" Hindi films I've seen either (for example, Amu and Bawandar), not because razzle-dazzle and heroic arm-flings are absent but because they are laborious, pedantic, obvious, and boring.
  • I'm glad the article ends with a jab at the reputation of Pamela Anderson. That's exactly what I'm talking about. Americans get pegged as blonde and shallow and artificial and facade-oriented all the time. And guess what. She's Canadian—or at least, as my Canadian friends like to say, "Born in Canada, made in the USA."
* Term courtesy of Indiequill


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend investigates Officer Rana from Kahaani

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the real Sassy Gay Friend on the Second City Network!)


The idea for this week's Sassy Gay Friend is courtesy of Totally Filmi with creative assists from Filmi Geek and s3rioussam.

Meet Inspector Rana from Kahaani.
He is struggling with a burgeoning love for Mrs. Bagchi, the pregnant, possibly widowed woman whose husband's disappearance he is investigating.
This fate could have been avoided if he'd had a Sassy Gay Friend.
Get your own at the Sassy Gay Friend Meme Generator!
Kolkata. Night. Inspector Rana is riding the tram home from work at the end of a very long, emotionally confusing day.

RANA (staring out the window) 

Enters at the next stop in blue makeup and wearing pieces of the costume for his Bengali regional drag act, Good Golly Miss Kali. Accidentally bumps other passengers with his extra arms as he makes his way to where Rana is sitting.
(to other passengers)
Oops! My bad!

(to Rana)
What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

RANA (looks up, surprised)
Why are you dressed...never mind. 

Seriously, what is all this moaning about Vidya-Bidya? 

RANA (going all soft and dreamy-eyed)
Isn't she wonderful?

SGF (rolling his eyes)
She fills out those cardigans nicely, if that's what you mean. And don't pretend with me: I've seen you reach over her chair to get to the keyboard. Smooth, real smooth.

RANA (blushing)
No no...I mean, yes, but she's so vulnerable

Since when is vulnerable what starches your uniform?

RANA (sighing)
I just want to protect her from all these horrible things she's determined to find out. 

SGF (rolling his eyes)
I've got news for you, babes, she does not need your protection. 

RANA (frowning)
What do you mean?

I mean she's killer, and not just because of the doe eyes. I get a distinct whiff of eau d'ulterior motive from that woman.

RANA (thinking)
She is surprisingly good at picking locks, and she never believes me when I say her husband was never here, even when I triple-check....

Besides, is there any louder and clearer way to say "I'm just not that into you" than being preggers?

But I don't care about....

Oh easy to say that now, before you're knee-deep in diapers.

But...but I think I'm in lo.... 

Swats Rana over the head with one of Good Golly Miss Kali's arms.
In love with her? Right. This woman who breezes into town, almost literally right into your arms, and to whose side you've been glued almost nonstop ever since? Yeah, that's healthy.

RANA (confused)
But I....

SGF (getting worked up)
I mean seriously, Ra-Ra, you're literally carrying her baggage. It's just all a little too easy for her, dontcha think?

I have been doing an awful lot of work on her case. And boy did she flip out when she found out I've been working for Deputy Khan. What was that about? He's on our side!

Does a sassy gay finger-snap to the audience. 
I'm on a roll! Should I get into his screaming mommy issues, or is that just too cruel?
Looks fondly at Rana, then back at audience. 
I mean, just look at that face. Those cheeks. Besides, he might have a gun, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that you do not bring up the subject of mommy dearest with an Indian man unless your ass is ready to cash that check.
To Rana.
Think of it this way: if you move on from someone else's Mrs. Bagchi, that's one less thing for Khan to berate you about.

RANA (shuddering)
He's so intense!

Steals Rana's police hat and places it on his own head at a jaunty angle.
Here's what we're going to do. You're going to have one last cry with your mother and then write some sad poems in your journal—oh, Kolkata. And then we're giving you a makeoverrrrrrr! Time to rough up that good boy image of yours a little bit. Here's what I'm thinking: 
Claps his hands and squealing with delight.
J'adore a makeover!
They get off the tram. 
Oh and PS, you know what ladies—and certain boys—think the size of your nose implies, right?

RANA (raising an eyebrow)
And they wouldn't be wrong.

Feigns shock and makes a clawing gesture.
Rawr! You saucy thing! The girls are going to eat you up!

Fast forward a few months to an evening on a lively Kolkata street, where Rana struts along twirling his nightstick as a bevy of Bengali beauties calls after him at every corner, giggling and flirting. Flashing his badge, he makes several successful attempts at his signature "pretend to need to reach something just past their shoulders" maneuver. 
Sigh. Well, at least I fixed his hair.
To audience.
He really is a stupid bitch.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Baishe Srabon

I may have just made a tactical error in re-watching Baishe Srabon, a 2011 Bengali mystery, before writing about it. In my experience, it's a relatively rare mystery film (or tv episode) that holds up to repeated viewings, particularly if it is not part of a series that has over-arching character development, multi-episode/big-picture plot arcs, a well-formed internal culture, or other established and familiar elements to hook viewers. On my second viewing, when I knew what was going to happen and had a sense of why, Baishe Srabon just did not strike me as a particularly good movie. Not awful by any means, but not great either. The identity of the serial killer seems straight out of Manmohan Desai, there is a completely unnecessary and uninteresting romance (featuring the film's lone female character with more than three lines of dialogue), a pedantic detour about Bengali poetry derails the pacing of the mystery, and Parambrata Chatterjee's performance evokes the John Abraham Conundrum (i.e. in films like Water or Dostana, is he being stoic or is he incapable of expressing much other than blankness?). 

But is it fair—or relevant—to judge a work whose attraction may significantly derive from its potential to offer confusion, tension, and surprise after you know what to expect? My answer, after thinking about it for a few days, is a tentative "yes." If it's well done, it will probably recreate that intrigue for you, perhaps through different angles or in different voices than it did the first time. Or it might re-inspire you to create it for yourself by having layers of clues or previously-unobserved routes to follow through the story. 

The film has a solid if familiar skeleton: a serial killer has terrified Kolkata with a string of killings peppered with poetry-laced clues, and the only police officer in all of India who has any chance of figuring it out is the disgraced, abusive, foul-tempered, my-way-or-the-highway, and very probably alcoholic Probir Roy Chowdhury (Prosenjit Chatterjee).
After sufficient groveling by the city police, led by his old colleague, Probir takes the dweebish and self-righteous investigating officer, Abhijit (Parambrata Chatterjee), under his wing, and once they learn to work together they make some progress on the case. Abhijit's girlfriend, Amrita (Raima Sen), gets tired of his shtick and moves out, leaving her plenty of energy for her job with a tv channel doing a program about serial killers, aided by her long-time friend and sometimes-almost-love-interest Shurjo (Abir Chatterjee [irrelevant side note: hello, my new fake-pretend movie boyfriend]). And that's probably all of the plot you should have, since it's a mystery.

This thread of Amrita and Shurjo is such a waste, especially when somehow that pairing has a million times more chemistry and, more importantly on my scale, actual affection than Amrita and Abhijit. I'm pretty sure we're supposed to hope for Abhijit's reunion with Amrita, but he just isn't a very pleasant or interesting person. He is...gosh, what can I say about him? dutiful? willing to memorize facts? tall? I don't think it's fair to call him "nerdy" because I'm not convinced he's terribly smart, and he doesn't even have the tenacity that often gets assigned to "dull but hard-working" stock cop types. Maybe it's the writing, because Parambrata Chatterjee made Kahaani's inspector Rana into such a quietly emotional and empathetic dream. But Rana is kind, careful, and engaged, whereas Abhijit comes off more like a half-heartedly motivated teenager. This is where the John Abraham Conundrum enters. At least half the time he is on screen, Parambrata makes a mostly blank, vaguely negative expression that could indicate any number of unhappy states: depression, confusion, ignorance, inebriation, annoyance, failure, loneliness, etc.

The script has Probir say out loud that Abhijit is the staple dal-rice, in contrast to Shurjo as the indulgent biryani, but I'm not convinced this analogy works the way the film wants it to. If Amrita could choose  biryani every day and be happy and healthy with it, why wouldn't she? Her life is cheerier and more comfortable with Shurjo, who is bright, lively, expressive, funny, and overall super yummy, and she seems more genuinely fond of him. I wonder if Amrita is supposed to feel sorry for Abhijit, and he does have a little bit of lost child about him, but the film does not give us a sense of why that would be attractive to her. Does need necessarily trump want in romance?
In a flashback to happier times, Abhijit and Amrita try to frolic on a snowy mountainside, but when he does the hero arm-fling gesture, he accidentally smacks her in the face. LOL.
It would help if Amrita's character were further developed. Heck, I wonder if we are supposed to feel sorry for Abhijit, but he's not interesting enough in any dimension to stir that in me. And if I am unmoved by your bookish Bengali man in funky glasses, you know there's a problem.
Shurjo is tired of waiting for Amrita to finish holding Abhijit's hair while he pukes.  I agree with his attitude 100%. C'mon, Shurjo, I've got something better for you to do.
This whole plot does not need to exist. Its only contributions are 1) the lovely romantic ideal that Shurjo embodies and the corresponding daydream-man-candy of Abir Chatterjee and 2) the bonding between the two cops when Abhijit shows up distraught at Probir's door after he thinks Amrita has hooked up with Shurjo. As much as I enjoyed 1, the film didn't need it; as nice as 2 is at establishing Abhijit's submission to Probir's methodology and persona and Probir's fatherly feelings towards Abjijit, the film couples that conversation with one about Abhijit's father walking out on his family when he was a child, and that one sob story is plenty to set up the Abhijit-Probir relationship.

However, this is a very important and nicely done scene (even if it could have been founded on a different emotional problem) that embodies the ethical crux of the story. Abhijit is clearly a supplicant, and as the film's primary representative of law, order, protocol, the dimness of the common man, and probably even basic human decency, it's important to the rest of the story that those values and truths have submitted themselves to an unpredictable, violent man who holds court in a disordered, decaying mansion. The power dynamic of people and ideals is firmly cemented now.
Chess as a motif of power struggles and brainpower again? Srsly?
Probir is by far the most interesting character, and Prosenjit Chatterjee is clearly more than capable of carrying this whole film. This is probably where I should call him "veteran actor," but I've only seen him in one other film (Chokher Bali), so what do I know?* The whole "wild card but valuable cop who carries secret pain" trope is old news (though I cannot claim to have seen it in many Indian films),
but he makes Probir weird and dangerous in interesting ways. This is a complicated character who truly hates crime (though why, we do not know: does it offend his sense of order? right? humanity?) but also harbors a pathological need to be needed and to demonstrate his own cleverness.

My other major problem with Baishe Srabon is that while it has great bones—a mystery that also contains a psychological portrait of Probir and some rich, if brief, sketches of a few other minor characters and throws a few lights on issues in contemporary Kolkata (hyperactive media, no true sense of democracy, the dumbing down of society)—it stumbles a few times as it tries to flesh them out. The love triangle, the tv story, and a short but MIND-NUMBINGLY PEDANTIC Wikipedia-style lesson on Hungrealist/Hungry Movement poetry. As Probir and Abhijit start off on their daily investigations after their big bonding moment, the subtitles go like this:
Probir: How is the Hungrealist movement related to Bengali poetry?
Abhijit: Through history. In 1960 this Hungrealist or Hungry Generation movement was launched. It's [sic] propounders were [list of names] Their poetry challenged the stability of the establishment. Very hard hitting poetic language...that declared war against corruption and the system. A lot of their work was banned on grounds of obscenity. The state filed a case against them. Some of the famous poets were involved in it as state witnesses. 
Was this less dry and more naturalistic in Bengali? There are other poetry lessons too, most notably voiced by the off-balance, funny disgruntled poet Nibaron Chakraborty (Goutam Ghose), who by his vocation actually has a reason to expound on what poetry can mean to society and how powerful it can be (and has been).
Even Probir and Abhijit discussing the snippets of poetry left at crime scenes by the serial killer is more substantial and relevant than them sitting at a cafĂ© as Abhijit rattles off facts that magically and amazingly lead directly to the serial killer's strategy and likely next move. If the love triangle were dropped, there'd be more time to lay out these things elegantly. The music is at times problematic too. The actual songs don't grab me one way or the other but the background score is interesting and varied, though sometimes it gets so caught up in experimenting and mixing that it distracts. There's a clip of swirly symphonic sounds with sort of scatting vocals as Nibaron freaks out over news of his book not getting published, and it's so "HEY THIS GUY IS SO MANIC AND UNSTABLE!" that I had to laugh.

However, there are many details in Baishe Srabon that I just loved. It looks gorgeous, showing the beauty and darkness (architectural, visual, psychological) of Kolkata just as well as Kahaani.
It also has its share of jokes, mostly quiet and focused on stereotypes of Bengali culture.
This isn't the best movie I saw in April, but you could do worse than enjoying Prosenjit Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee, the lanes of Kolkata, and some digs at cultural stereotypes and contemporary societal problems. I can't figure out how to comment on the mystery itself without giving things away, but it worked well enough on this easily-confused viewer the first time around but seemed borderline ridiculous, especially as reasons for the crimes were given, the second time.

Admittedly I have not searched extensively, but I know of very few blogs (in English) that discuss any Bengali films that aren't by Satyajit Ray. Upper Stall and Totally Filmi have seen Baishe Srabon too, and I recommend both posts if you want to read reactions by someone who seems to have managed not to muddle herself thoroughly before writing. Paayaliya and I watched this movie together, so maybe she will post on it too? Hint hint!

And to end, if you're as much of a novice in Bengali films and as distracted by "Where have I seen that guy before?" as I am, here are the people I recognized. 

* Though OMG he's the son of Biswajeet? Whoa!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend talks to a Sassy Gay Faux

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the real Sassy Gay Friend on the Second City Network!)

Meet Sameer from Dostana.
He is about to profess his love for his female roommate, Neha, 
after spending months trying to convince her he's gay and in a relationship with their third roommate, Kunal.
This fate could have been avoided if Bollywood were brave enough to show actual gay characters if he'd had a Sassy Gay Friend.

Get your own at the Sassy Gay Friend Meme Generator! 

Miami Beach. Sameer is eating a foot-long hotdog while practicing his declaration of love to Neha, reciting bits of it out loud and determinedly scribbling in a notebook. Sassy Gay Friend lounges under an umbrella nearby.

SAMEER (talking to himself) 
"Neha, I have something to tell you...." Too clinical. "Neha, for months I have been pretending...." No, too creepy.

Overhears and marches up to Sameer while fussing with the knot of his hot pink sarong.
What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

SAMEER (looks up, surprised)
It's time I told Neha the truth, don't you think?

SGF (aghast)
The truth. The truth. Seriously? Why now?

I think she's falling for some other guy! If I don't act fast, I may lose her forever!

Who's the competition? 


Abhimanyu? Isn't he her boss? That is so last century.

He's got that whole tragic abandoned single dad thing going on. I don't know how I can compete with that unless I do something really grand.  

SGF (rolling his eyes)
Breeders, ew. Why do you want to be with someone who likes kids? Little monsters, always spilling things on your furniture and making you come home early.

SAMEER (frowning)
I hadn't thought about that. If she wants kids....

And have you seen his suits? Frankly, I question her taste level.

SAMEER (thinking)
Yeah, I don't really get what she sees in him.

Besides, have you thought about how furious she'll be when she finds out you and Kunal have been tricking her all this time?

But if I tell her how much I...

Love her? Love her? Because it speaks so well of your respect for her that you've been lying for ages—not to mention what it says about your intelligence that you insisted on a farce that, by its very definition, meant she should never consider you romantically?  

SAMEER (confused)

SGF (getting worked up)
I mean seriously, Sammikins, if she finds out you're straight, you'll be lucky to get out of that apartment alive.

She does go to a lot of kickboxing classes, and she has a pretty fierce army of gays at the magazine offices....

SGF (eyes wide)
You do not want to be on the wrong end of a Louboutin and an eyelash curler, believe me. And if you're not afraid of Neha, at least think about what aunty will do to you.

SAMEER (shuddering)
Now that is scary.

Stealing Sameer's scarf and tossing it around his own neck.
Think of it this way: if you keep up the scam until Neha moves in with Abhimanyu, you get to stay in that faaaabuous apartment. And with Neha busy falling for Abhimanyu and babysitting his little rug-rat, you'll have more time to actually, you know, sleep with women. Remember when you did that? It's not my Birkin bag, obviously, but I hear some fellas like it.

SAMEER (pumping fist in the air)

Here's what we're going to do. You're going to burn that scrapbook, let Neha toddle off to her ho-hum nuclear family life with Abhimansnooze, go get a facial, and show some shorties at the hospital what bedside manner and a sponge bath are all about.

They hop in Sam's not-at-all-phallic giant pink convertible, with SGF sitting in the back on the folded-down convertible top, waving to friendly passers-by like a homecoming queen.
Oh and PS, the straighter you act out of the house, the better a wingman you make. When all the boys at Club Sugar see you, they come a-running for a big juicy taste of honey-roasted Sam, and then there I am ready to console them when they realize you're only interested in their beards.  

Cut to the bar of a dark, crowded, pulsing nightclub. A dozen men in pleather pants flock around Sam as he puffs suggestively on a cigar and winks conspiratorially at SGF.
SGF (winking back)
He really is a stupid bitch.