Monday, July 30, 2012

Mr. Romeo

(Housekeeping note: I don't understand why Blogger does such weird things with image alignment these days, but I've tried to fix it and have only a headache to show for my efforts. Sorry!)

If you have ever heard anything about the apparently uncelebrated Mr. Romeo (1974), it's probably that R. D. Burman's soundtrack is super fly. Exhibit A:
Any movie that introduces Shashi Kapoor by having him drive his gang of friends in a red convertible to a nightclub, then get a hero's welcome by the whole crowd, then dance like a Muppet toddler on a sugar high (so...Elmo?) while three different skankily-clad women fight over him is a movie for me. 

A bit of plot summary: Shashi is the older son of a cranky Utpal Dutt—is Utpal Dutt ever not cranky in masala films?
—and is a bit of a cad, as the title suggests, partying all night and sneaking back home through the bathroom window. 
Scientific proof that no man looks good with bare legs and black socks. 
A surprisingly cute Kiran Kumar is the younger son, and he is a very good boy indeed.
His mother (Achala Sachdev) feeds him grapes while he rests his head in her lap. He is a university graduate. Indian mama's boys will be the death of me.
Utpal and his family are the mortal enemies of Rajan Haksar and Narendra Nath for reasons that do not remotely matter, and they decide to take revenge by tempting goody-goody Kiran into a life of debauchery by sending Narendra's moll (Sarita) to seduce him. (It is possible that she is one of the women in the big nightclub number above, but I'm not sure.) The seduction of this man-child, who cowers in fear after accidentally seeing the woman's bare shoulder and knees as she steps out of the bath in a little towel suit and then seems utterly panic-stricken when they go on a dinner date, is hilarious
but effective. 
Shashi, meanwhile, falls for Rinku Jaiswal, who at first mistakes him for a would-be rapist, tries to run him over with her car, feels sorry when she sees him pretending to be strung up in casts in a hospital bed, and then eventually falls for him (and he for her). 
This love story takes up a significant portion of the first...I don't know, 60% of the film, before we finally get to the villains' revenge and a mustachioed—and therefore morally bankrupt—Kiran
and Shashi's attempts to both make a nice little life with Rinku and save his brother. Basically, the brothers' roles reverse, and the older brother finally becomes the responsible clean-nosed householder (-ish) that he probably should have been all along. 

A momentary tangent about the film's morals: because I saw this without subtitles, I cannot speak with certainty about Shashi and Rinku's living arrangements and any subsequent moralizing or lack thereof. They live together in a little house but are not married, and I don't think anybody's parents said a word about it...or if they did, they didn't get terribly upset. We never see them in the same bed, which of course contrasts perfectly with Kiran and his girlfriend, who do sleep together and he thus instantly falls into a life of drug addiction and she is eventually murdered before he is reunited with his family. Because, you know, woman has sex before marriage= death; man has sex before marriage when tempted by aforementioned bad woman=all is forgiven. The fates of Shashi/Rinku and Kiran/Sarita seem to contradict one another starkly in a way that suggests the film isn't out to preach to anyone but also isn't making a huge departure from the typical vamp plot arc. If you have thoughts on this topic, please do share them in the comments. 

Moving on. If Shashi had been a good elder son all along, we wouldn't have gotten that fab nightclub song, so I'm definitely in favor of being shown both ends of his reformation. Shashi is aided in this quest to rescue Kiran by Ranjeet, of all people, who acts a bit like an adopted brother. 
They even do a qawwali in disguises.
And the film wraps up as you expect.

Like Kalicharan a few days ago, Mr. Romeo is nothing more and nothing less than an enjoyable timepass. This one, however, lacks any sense of masala rollicking, in my opinion, due largely to the overly long development of Shashi and Rinku's love story. The plot is weirdly paced, the performances are kind of meh (with the exception of Ranjeet), and no one demonstrates much heart, providing little other than the superficial to care about.

But oh what superficials they are. While neither Shashi's initial personality nor his romance is handled as well as it could be, their telling gives us so many treasures, like this scarf, which is so froo-froo it seems to have come from another century,
romantic advice (here I believe he is demonstrating how to put one's arm around a girl, though it does look disturbingly like honking a car horn),
Note that the scarf looks fine when worn in a contextually appropriate manner.
Rinku's fantasy sequence that imagines Shashi in all sorts of silly situations, 
Shashi: I am so suave that you've already fainted.
Rinku: I am....Little Orphan Annie?
No Big Birds were harmed in the making of this film.
Other things: I can't remember if there's an actual Sari Turning Point in this film, but I do love what Rinku wears when Shashi's mom comes to visit. 
I watched this movie with Amrita and Antarra, and during the big fight at the end, Amrita said "I hope Ranjeet shows up to save the day! Wow, how often do you get to say that?" Here he is in the dishoom-dishoom, which occurs in a warehouse where the villains use dolls to smuggle drugs. He is basically giving this guy a look that says "You call that a pike?"
This scene also has a combat technique I haven't seen before: Kiran holds Shashi's legs around his waist and somehow spins him around parallel to the ground while Shashi punches henchmen, who obligingly stand in a circle. And look who's on the cover of Kiran's copy of Life magazine!
Will this be the closest I ever get to Shashi Kapoor and Paul McCartney in the same film?

If you don't need to see more pictures of prime vintage Shashi Kapoor, you may safely consider this post over. In fact, that criterion applies to the whole film: there is no real reason to watch Mr. Romeo unless you are a Shashi or Ranjeet completist. For those of us who fit the former description, it serves up moments of wild over-acting, good songs, and frequently incredible hair. Here are a few more completely gratuitous pictures to prove it. Mwah! 
You can enjoy in-motion, unsubtitled Shashi for yourself thanks to Rajshri here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 4: Kalicharan

Kalicharan shot to the top of my watch-right-now list when Ashwin Pande, trusted advisor in such matters, told me that I had overlooked it in my recent list of my favorite villain lairs at  the Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog. Once I investigated the film's provenance, I realized he was probably quite right to bring it to my attention. Subash Ghai's directorial debut and 1976 vintage and Reena Roy and a criminal mastermind named LION suggested that, indeed, something special might be lurking in its midst. 

Has it cracked my personal lair list? No. Am I delighted that there is a villain HQ that has a desk full of telephones, each of which starts ringing in succession as the film opens,
a canpoy bed, a clear glass holding-cell sort of chamber, an escape hatch that drops into a barn full of livestock, and beep-booping machines that, as Ashwin said, do nothing but beep-boop? Yes. Extremely. Obviously.

 have a vague memory of reading somewhere that "Shotgun" Sinha got his nickname because of his line delivery. Even if that isn't true, it certainly could be, if this film is anything to go by. To get a sense of what he does here, think of the barkiest dog you've ever heard from a neighbor's yard at 5 in the morning, then scale that sound to human bass voice with its effect amplified by the very presence and nature of a swaggering, mustachioed 70s Indian film star. It is so unpleasant to listen to. I tend to be a Shatrughan apologist, but I cannot defend his style here (or Ghai letting him indulge in it). Which is really too bad, because it's a fun role. Without giving too much a way, this film came out two years before Don but has a significant plot point in common in a way that gives Shatrughan a sort of triple role, but he dampens the fun of that by shouting in every character. Unrelated, but also very distracting, is the geisha/zombie makeup he wears throughout much of his time in his second character.
Not to mention the wig, which I think has a life of its own. Do not look directly at it. Do not disturb its slumber.
Otherwise, Kalicharan is the kind of masala I tend to like very much. There is little notable about it, really, but it is also perfectly enjoyable in the way the 70s films about criminal masterminds, police officers, and spunky love interests tend to be.

It's another film that exemplifies what has come to be my favorite thing about Hindi cinema, which is that it creates a world in which we simultaneously know exactly what is going to happen and have no idea what to expect, accepting almost any variation of the unfolding and revealing of typical plot elements within certain values and parameters. For example, we know the good guy will figure out who the bad guy is, but did we suspect the aha moment would come at a New Year's Eve party at a swanky hotel as someone gazes at spinning illuminated decorations? No, we did not, but neither are we completely surprised to learn these things. All things are possible except for the great immutables. As long as certain requirements are met—e.g. there will be an item number, quite possibly with Helen—anything else is up for grabs—her backing dancers will be both mariachis and Santa Claus, and the audience will wear creepy masks.
Don has something else to answer for!
What a wondrous dichotomoy this is.*

Prem Nath, as Shatrughan's boss, manages to be even more irritating every time he speaks than Shatrughan is, and his character is somehow a complete idiot yet not really played for laughs. Ajit does the villain thing we've all seen him do a million times, though the scene where he catches a mole among his gang in a lie is delicious. Reena Roy is underused, but she swears a lot (at least according to the subtitles) and gets to don a disguise, carry a knife in her knee-high boots, and punch a baddie in the warehouse brawl.
She also has a song that reminds me quite a bit of "Choli Ke Peeche" (but given the space-time continuum, that should be the other way around, of course) and includes a nice little snowfall.
Reena is quickly becoming one of my career-total fashion favorites. This film's wardrobe is nothing on, say, Nagin's (then again, what is), but there are moments of pure glee, like her wild and sparkly "bad girl" outfit above, several pairs of leather gloves, a Barbie-pink evening gown with boa, 
and a cape worn over a dress with white lacy collar and cuffs.
Prem Nath: "The wardrobe department hates me."
Alka: "I think my jumpsuit is printed with cars."
Reena: "Cape, black gloves, and riding crop FTW!"
Adding distinctive notes to this particular masala: Shetty and company set up bombs that don't explode. 
But mostly I wanted to show you that shirt.
Maybe it's totally normal to have three hood ornaments, but I'd sure never noticed it before.
There are several views of a library.
And best of all, Shatrugan fights Danny Dengzonpa with a trishul. Danny's character has only one functional leg, so Shatrughan, honorable guy that he is, ties a scarf around one knee so that his foot is kept off the ground. It's probably the most Monty Python-esque moment I have seen yet in Bollywood, a sort of mix of Silly Walks and the Black Knight. Surely this is not meant to be funny, but equally surely it is hilarious

If you're in the right mood, Kalicharan will do you a masala solid. Find out for yourself: Rajshri has put it online for free with subtitles here!

 Maybe resident physicist Filmi Geek can express this as a formula? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend may have reached the end of his rope with YRF ladies

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

Meet Pooja from Lamhe. She is in love with Viren.
Viren is old enough to be her father and was, in fact, in love with her mother—and still is, almost 20 years later. 
This fate could've been avoided if she'd had a Sassy Gay Friend—or any competent adults around her at all, really!
POOJA (lying on her bed, cuddling a giant teddy bear)

Flounces into her room in full maharaja getup,
adjusting his turban before perching delicately on the edge of her bed
while admiring the curly toes on his shoes.
Pooja, doll, why are you so hung up on this guy? Viren is a miserable SOB who has smiled exactly once post the death of his true love—who, I might add, was YOUR MOTHER.

POOJA (sighing) 
Poor Viren.

He's obsessed. For, like, 18 years. 


SGF (continuing)
With a dead woman. 

So sad....

SGF (working up a full head of steam)
Who never loved him. 

Oh my heart just breaks....

SGF (visibly irritated)

I did try to point that out to him.

SGF (snatching away her teddy bear) 
And yet you insist on piling on the cray-cray. That's right, I've seen your scrapbook, missy! He's even kind of your...I don't know what, patron? benefactor? guardian? I know it's the done thing in novels and all, but, girl, this is 1991. Ew!

But he was hardly ever around! It's Dai Jaa who raised me!

Who also raised him, I might add. That kinda makes him your brother, n'est-ce pas?

POOJA (scrunching her face in thought)

SGF (making a dismissive gesture)
Let's not even go there. One note of incestuous stench is more than enough, thank you very much. So to recap the pragmatics, he voluntarily shouldered the responsibility of raising you and then weaseled out of it in all but the most perfunctory of ways. In fact, he seems to avoid you deliberately. 

He's such an important businessman.

SGF (throwing the teddy bear at her)
Oh don't even! Don't make excuses for this dead-inside, delusional Splenda-daddy! He's even told you he's in love with a dead woman, YOUR MOTHER. This is what we call a full set of matching Louis Vuitton steamer trunks of baggage.


Could he be any more "no means no"? It's like you're just waiting to be hit in the face with the evidence.
Hops off the bed to give Pooja the full view of his hand-on-hip stance of disbelief.
OH WAIT, HE DID THAT. Literally!

POOJA (dreamily)
I saw stars.

Starts to walk away from Pooja
but is momentarily distracted by his many rings.
Oooh, this job has the best accessories. J'adore!
Remembers the task at hand and turns back to Pooja.
Right. That's it. He ignores you, smacks you, and loves your mother? I am so done with you. May you get what you wish for, you pathetic little freak.  
To audience.
She really is a stupid bitch.
Flips the end of his silk shawl over his shoulder.
Seriously, not to be all girl who cried wolf, but she might just be the stupidest bitch I've ever met, and I've known quite a few, let me tell you.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mighty Girl Funbrain!

A few weeks ago, the university where I work sent out a very vague, and therefore very worrying, note over our emergency alert system: "Hazardous materials released at Institute for Genomic Biology. Escape area if safe to do so. Otherwise seek shelter.""Materials"? WHAT MATERIALS? HOW HAZARDOUS? Smallpox? Killer bees? Some new mutant strain of anthropomorphic soybeans? How do we seek shelter from something unidentified? Does "escape" mean "Good citizens, walk quickly but calmly to your vehicles, then drive as fast and as far as you can?"

Turns out it was just an itsy-bitsy chemical spill and no one was seriously injured, but we didn't know that until after we'd had a few hours to ponder the most important question: is everyone in the micro-urban area of Champaign-Urbana about to turn into superheroes? Is this going to be Turbulence* on the prairie? As someone who spent much of her childhood running around in a mom-made Batman cape, I couldn't help but hope the answer was "yes." What with Superman of Malegaon and The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man and all this summer, now seems like a fun time to indulge in some bombastic fantastic and imagine what we might be able to do if we became even more super than we already are.
My superhero alias would be Mighty Girl Funbrain, which is a snippet of text from a long and rambly spam comment that recently showed up on this blog. All the spam comments I have ever had, or will ever get, are probably worth it just for this one phrase, which is better than anything I could ever have come up with for myself. It's like the bot knew I love both fun AND thinking! 

My list of new abilities might look something like this:

  • freezing any moment as it happens and giving it a paagal subtitle. White text will scroll across the ground and contain a humorous misspelling or pun.
  • flouncing off in a huff will cause everyone else to stop whatever they're doing and scurry into an elaborate formation and cooperatively break into a song of appeasement. Fortunately, this can be directed at whichever minor troublemaker or impeding body who needs appeasing, not just at me. 
  • turning any scenario into a disco number simply by wishing for this to happen. Other, participants will often enter a sort of dream state while the song happens and then find themselves  much more cheerful than they were ten minutes ago but confused about their silver jackets or platform boots.  
  • I'm not known for my dancing, but with a very particular flick of my hips I will be able to jolt the people in my immediate surroundings into an alternate reality. This will take a lot of concentration and will not always place people into a context that makes any sense regarding what they were just experiencing or where they were experiencing it, and it is not to be used just on a lark or for self-benefit. It's sort of the serious, conflict-avoidant woman's version of song-teleporting.** 
  • in return for decades of films decried in some camps as deadly boring, the masala-based Mighty Girl Funbrain will sometimes inadvertently cause Bengali film writers to drop instantly to sleep, even pausing mid-argument or -poem. The universe is a playful thing, after all, and popular Hindi cinema does love irony and revenge. The question for MGF is how to use this soporific effect for good instead of evil...or at least minimal harm. This is an uncontrollable power with limited scope and is thus of negligible pragmatic value, but hey, we can't choose these things. Kismat! 

What would your Bollypowers be?

* Buy and read this book. It is very good.
** This idea courtesy of a noted subject expert. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 3: Players

Sweet Bindu on a biscuit—you know, like "Christ on a cracker!" but filmier!— this is a terrible, terrible movie. Its only substantial benefits are: 1) that it dresses Vinod Khanna like a nerdy professor (and, to my surprise, gives him top billing)
and 2) it has an excellent villain lair, which I plan to discuss in greater detail in a later post. [SPOILER] However, when Vinod is gunned down in the middle of the film, his death scene is embarrassing. I have every faith in him as a thespian but he was either really out to lunch in that scene or playing it for laughs in a way that had so little to do with anything else that it fell flat on its face. [END SPOILER] 

Admittedly, it is at times howlariously bad, and therefore it might have some comedic so-bad-it's-good value at a slumber party or similarly jolly gathering if everyone is loopy from Doritos or box wine or crack. But mostly it is just plain bad. Because this movie is not worth any brainpower devoted to constructing sentences about it, here's my quick list of why it sucks. 
  • You can only pull so many twists and turns before they render the entire story and, more importantly, any audience investment in it irrelevant. It doesn't matter whose allegiance is where once it is established that the writers are just going to change things willy-nilly, jerking you back and forth and back again, and possibly forth and then back once more. I stopped caring about two-thirds the way through this because I couldn't rely on anything that had happened to actually matter. It's not suspenseful, it's indecisive and sloppy. I felt this way about Abbas-Mustan's last film, Race, too. Enough. 
  • Sonam Kapoor cannot act and she most definitely cannot dance, so giving her not one but two come-hither songs was utterly laughable. That "Charlie's Angels" song ("Ladki Hai Nadaan") is so ill-advised, even as a stand-alone component, but when coupled with the sort of elder brother vibe Abhishek's character had towards Sonam's character at that point in the film, and him strongly established as in a solid couple with Bipasha, it became creepy and pathetic too. And that thing she did with NNM in his villain lair ("Jhoom Jhoom Ta Tu")...words fail me. She cannot even walk and snap her fingers at the same time, let alone lip-synch with any kind of appropriate facial expression and move the rest of her body with anything approaching allure. 
  • There are way too many people who don't matter. The smidge of emotional heart this film tries to create is too thinly dispersed, and I felt like the makers are relying on our memory of better films with similar character motivations—avenging a parent, avenging a friend, risking it all for a child—rather than creating a reason to give a flying fig in this one. 
  • Most of the characters flail around in tone and fail to give the impression of either particular competence or particular engagement in the insanely complex situation they're in. They don't seem to care very much, so why should we?
  • Once again I find myself thinking this would be better if Manmohan Desai had done it (a sentiment last expressed in print in my piece on Jhinder Bandi but that exists in my head almost all the time). Esteemed colleague Shahrukh Is Love has many things in her writeup that were also in my head, but the elements she named were somehow much more fun for her than they were for me. That makes me a little sad, because on paper the idea of a film with "nonsensical convoluted plots involving prosthetic faces and illusions and cranes and chutes," as she says, sounds like a very good time indeed, but all I could think about was how many resources were wasted on this that could have gone to a much better version of the same basic concept. 
  • Master criminals cannot find someone in Wellington, New Zealand, without major technological assist, while their fictional brethren run into exactly the right people in MUMBAI all the damn  time? I don't think so.
  • Next time, putting at least one action star in the action film might be a good idea. The most competent action star in Players is almost 66 years old. 

Oh PS, does anyone else find Sikander Kher oddly magnetic, even though he hardly had anything to do? Is it the curls?


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend does the international film circuit

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

This week's episode is for the Bolly-Toronto-fabulous Melanie!

Meet everyone from the cast of Merchant and Ivory's Bombay Talkie. Vikram, a movie star, is married to Mala, a sweet little doormat. 
Vikram and his friend Hari, a screenwriter, are both infatuated with Lucia, an English novelist. 
They are all foolish, completely miserable, and, save Mala, hateful human beings. This fate could have been avoided if they'd had a Sassy Gay Friend.
Get your own at the Sassy Gay Friend Meme Generator!
Bombay. Evening. Sitting together at a posh restaurant, the protagonists ponder their sad fates in awkward silence, except for Lucia, who admires her reflection in a mirror and twirls a blonde lock around her finger in the general direction of a a young nawab dining with his coterie. 

Enters wearing bright yellow bellbottom pants and mumbling choreography instructions to himself. 
"Typewriter" and shimmy, "Tip tip tip tip " and kick-2-3-4, "zindagi ki har kaahani" and twiiiirl...
Reaches their table and plops himself down while beckoning a waiter for champagne.
I suppose you're all wondering why I've called you here today.

Yes, actually.

...What? Did somebody say something?

I've got just one teensy-tiny little question for you all. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT, WHAT, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

(to Vikram)
Starting with you, Mr. Dainty-Ego Cheats-A-Lot. This woman could not be waving more red flags if she were Chairman Mao.

But I....

But what? She is obviously using you to prop up her own feeble existence.

But we're great together! A romantic and a realist!

You are nothing of the kind, mon cher. She's a parasite and you're a selfish bastard.

She is a little distant sometimes.

That is because she is a solipsistic drain on society.
Gestures up and down Vikram's torso.
Though PS, love this look. 

But just because you can attract honeys while treating them like dirt doesn't mean you should. Be pretty on the inside, you horrible, horrible man.
Turning to Mala. 
Now, sweetie, I have a bit of advice for you too.

MALA (sniffling)
Keep waiting until he comes home?

Hells no! Dump his ass pronto and go find yourself a nice industrialist or something. Or, better yet, go move in with Asha Parekh or Nanda. You girls will have the wildest sleepovers!
Turning to Hari. 
Now. You. Your addiction to suffering is downright Byronic. You may think people like that kind of thing, but take a glance at his bio next time you feel like getting yourself involved in all this drama-o-rama.

But at least they'll pay attention to me if I help out in their affair.

SGF (rolling his eyes)
Yeah, but so what? They'd lavish attention to the chai boy if he was passing their notes. You need to attend to what you love, not what they love. You're a writer? Then write!

All the screenplays I'm proud of get rejected.

Oh boo-hoo! Nobody said it's easy to make it big in Bollywood. You surround yourself with nonsense, you're going to write nonsense.

HARI (brightening)
I hear Calcutta makes serious films...ooh, and their poetry!

There you go!

HARI (getting up from the table)
Philistines, I bid you adieu. I have a train to catch.

Now. Lucia.

LUCIA (still making eyes at the nawab)

SGF (stealing her cigarette and stubbing it out angrily)

LUCIA (defensively)
What do you mean? My life is fabulous.

Oh cut the crap, lady. You are, to put it delicately, a megabitch of the first order who should be quarantined in a kindergarten until you learn some basic human decency.

LUCIA (huffy)
I hardly think....

SGF (interrupting)
No, you damn well don't. You need to take that blonde bouffant of yours back to England where people don't put up with your melodrama.

LUCIA (beginning to cry)

I can't believe you're being so horrible! I've suffered so much for so long....

Those tears are as fake as that so-called YSL you're wearing. 


Oh hush, I can totally tell it's a knockoff. Anyway, no one here cares about your midlife crisis. Oh, and on the plane ride home, try to be less loathsome human being for a few hours.
Gives Lucia a not-so-gentle nudge towards the door. 
Spies Helen just finishing a cabaret number in the corner of the restaurant.
Helen, my love! You are the only ray of deliciously spangly sunshine in this toxic psychological waste dump. What say we vamoose?

HELEN (thrilled to be appreciated without being groped)
I thought you'd never ask!

To audience, over his shoulder, 
while linking arms with Helen and turning to skip away.
They really are all stupid bitches. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 2: Bollywood/Hollywood

When I first saw Deepa Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood many years ago, I was absolutely blown away by it, convinced that I had stumbled upon a movie made just for me. And no, not for the reason you're all assuming. 
Though that does not impede my enjoyment, obviously.
Bollywood/Hollywood ripped into me because it is a story about loving someone who turns out to be someone other than you wanted and expected, which happened to happen to me in the very city that this film is set in. I have written briefly before about the second major heartbreak of my life in my reflections on, of all things, Bachna Ae Haseeno (and echoes throughout Shakespeare-Wallah as well); Bollywood/Hollywood has become the filmi reference for the first one, which happened years before I ever saw an Indian movie. (And believe me, I never thought I'd be a person who found cinematic references for her life, especially in Bollywood, but there we have it.) The experience left a huge scar: it was the saddest and loneliest I have ever been, the most helpless and distraught, the furthest away I have ever felt from understanding my life—or from anything that made sense at all. By now it has become a scar I usually wear with comfort, so much so that last summer I stayed several days with the fellow in question in Montreal and had a gay old time, but it is a big part of who I am, why I often fear that I do not understand how people think or feel about me, why I don't trust my own perceptions of love.

I divulge all this to help explain why I had such a strong and empathetic reaction to the story of confused and faltering Rahul Seth (Rahul Khanna). I could imagine nothing more devastating than falling for someone who keeps lying to you, even if they have good (if selfish) reasons. Toss in my life-long attraction to stories with cultural conflicts within immigrant experiences, the Akshaye Khanna cameo ("Sona Sona Roop Hai"), familiar glimpses of downtown Toronto, and the hilariously underplayed Jeeves-like Ranjit Chowdhry in the comic version of Rahul's tragic love interest, and I was sunk.

I still think the film has some solid achievements: the story is inherently interesting, some of its jokes about Bollywood tropes are nicely integrated, and Dina Pathak is very crisp and funny as the Shakespeare-spewing grandmother who is nowhere near as conservative at heart as she likes to pretend when Rahul's first girlfriend, a white pop star (played by none other than Jessica ParĂ©, aka Mrs. Don Draper from recent episodes of Mad Men), comes to visit. do I say this...[sigh] Lisa Ray (as Sue, Rahul's primary love interest) is just not very good. Hardly any of her dialogues come out in anything approaching natural speech—or even more filmi speech, which wouldn't have suited her character anyway. She is, however, strikingly pretty, and there is good interplay between her physical traits and aspects of the script that question her ethnicity and the issue of belonging and passing in particular communities. Sue is a complicated character and I wonder if Ray just didn't know what to do with all the different facets of her in all the different contexts Sue is in (with Rahul on his own in various stages of familiarity and love, with his family, being a friend to his little brother, with her own worrying mother and more traditional and unsupportive father). She comes off as lost rather than complicated or layered, though in a few scenes that sense of bewilderment actually suits what's going on, since Sue too is taken by surprise by her emotions for Rahul. It's probably a flaw in the script that Sue is in fact a liar; it's her right to be one, of course, but it does not make her somebody we root for.

In some films, it's enough to like one character enough that you just go along with whatever the film says about romance, willing to accept person A's love for person B because A is so compelling. This is not one of those films, and as endearing as Rahul is as the rug is continually pulled out from under him, he's a person that things happen to rather than one who engages interest. It's Sue who bears the heart of this film, and Lisa Ray cannot support it. She does much better with director Mehta in Water a few years later. When Sue and Rahul are the center of the action, the film too often feels like an awkward community theater production. But when the elder generation is the focus, things click. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is effective at a sort of Amrish-Puri-in-DDLJ Punjab-nostalgic father who sings film songs under his breath and learns to cherish his daughter's happiness. Moushumi Chatterjee is a little bit one-note, but so is her character, Rahul's loooong-suffering mother who loves to wail about how unlucky she is.

Those are two of the nods to Bollywood throughout the film, and I cannot imagine I picked up on most of them when I saw the film the first time. Film songs are constantly playing on tvs in the background of people's homes and restaurants, and there's a Pretty Woman-esque scene with Sue singing and dancing around the guest bedroom in the Seth family home as Urmila Matondkar gyrates on her tv (to "Tanha Tanha," I think?). I love the realness of the dancing in Bollywood/Hollywood and how the film clearly approves of people having fun with song and dance even when most of us aren't very good. There's a sweet—or, again, real-ish—anti-hero feel to Rahul, who, yes, is the male romantic lead but who is definitely not confident, bold, Maa-worshipping, or prone to big pronouncements. Even the Seth house is filmi, with a huge staircase, a swimming pool to brood by, and some questionably gaudy decor. And I love the little scribbled comments that appear at the bottom of the screen throughout, nudging our responses or making sure we know the significance of what's going on. They put into words what filmi conventions do in actions or music.

This film would have been stronger with a different female lead. I don't know who, though. I think it's important that Sue is (or at least sounds) like a native of the new world so she better contrasts with the values of the more recently-arrived Seth family and her life choices are slightly more normal in impetus, if not in detail, than the Seths are initially willing to think. Lisa Ray reminds me physically of Rani Mukherji, who of course would have been brilliant, but I think she might have been "too Indian" for a role like this. Maybe Rishma Malik, who was quietly solid in her very small role as Rahul's younger sister?

Anyway. This review is well past mini. I'd love to know what you thought about this film and whether it has ever made any particular impact on you. Though I wouldn't quite slot Bollywood/Hollywood into the following category, sometimes revisiting movies you haven't seen for years can be more interesting than the movies ever were in the first place. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 1: Pyaasi Bhootni

Truth in advertising. 
I do not remember what possessed me—possibly one of the monsters you will see in the images below—to buy a 3-in-1 horror DVD. I frighten very easily, but somehow Bollywood horror, at least the B-grade and below kinds, don't scare me and instead I can focus on the always delightfully awful acting, sound design, and costumes. 

Allow me to attempt to narrate the story of Pyaasi Bhootni—my first-ever Kanti Shah film, by the way (no, I haven't seen Gunda, and yes, I want to see Gunda)—which of course does not have subtitles, so we'll just play along. It is a dark and stormy night, and this girl is sitting around her  mansion in some kind of boobariffic top (as one does) when she is attacked by a sort of skeleton monster in a black brocade coat. Somehow in the struggle she rips off his mask
but he manages to kill her anyway. He cackles on about being the head of the estate.

But what's this?
She's back for revenge (or possibly some other dead woman is out for revenge on her behalf)? Awesome! She can strangle you so hard your eyes bleed? 
Awesomer! Later, her sister (?) (played by Sapna, I think) runs into some guy (?) in the graveyard filled with crosses (are we in Goa?). She brings him inside,
they cuddle, and he drugs her drink and rapes her. He is in cahoots with this other guy (guy 1 is on the right, guy 2 is on the left, and my goodness don't they look like innocent little lambs), I guess because they want the house? Shrug.
Sister does not seem to be wary of this guy, and even Helen herself does not know why, because he is clearly a creep of the first order. I mean, look at his shirt. Avenging ghosty lady (AGL) likes to watch the date rape, which gives her an extra layer of freakiness.
The guys eventually kill the sister and bury her in the same graveyard, which is probably not a good idea.

Guy 2 has a bunch of friends who also come to the mansion, and, for reasons that are unclear to me, AGL takes them out one by one as well, though not before I get to admire their ishtyle. If you were not already smitten with this specimen of oiled-up masculinity because of his hair, I will ask you to pay special attention to his tough-guy bandana wrap on his right hand. He's also sporting overalls, if that fans your flames any. 
One of this crew is wearing red shorts, red garters, and red...I can't tell if they're thigh-high boots or socks or what, but they are tacky to the nth degree, and I love them.
In addition to strangling people, AGL throws a lot of punches, sometimes from very, very far across the room.
She kills all of them, including date rapist, whose demise is accompanied by satisfying irony.

This is the kind of thing I would expect to read about on Teleport City or The Horror!?. The latter was very helpful when I was writing about the similarly amazing films of Harinam Singh a few months ago, and what he said to me then is, I think, applicable here: there are at least a few of the standard elements of low-budget horror from almost anywhere in the world, namely female skin, horribly-dubbed sex scenes, and violence. I don't know what it says about Shah that he seems to love to film his wife being licked, groped, and molested by such disgusting characters.

Bizarrely, I find myself wishing that this movie were as...I don't know, weird? obsessive? energetically but still very shoddily made? as, say,
Shaitani Dracula, a film I am always trying to get people to watch just so they too can witness something I'm still not convinced I actually experienced. I cannot believe I want something to be more like a Harinam Singh film, but there you have it. It started off well, with two awesome monster get-ups in the first few minutes, but it was all downhill from there and is really quite dull after the first few rounds of ghostly killing. While a punching bhootni is pretty cool, and I would not be at all sad to have a miniature plastic version of her, I didn't need to see quite so many repetitions. Pyaasi Bhootni is not fun-trashy. This is not so bad it's good. It's just...bad. 
If you need to see for yourself, I have every confidence it's on the internet for the taking.