Monday, August 27, 2012



Friends, his baggage weighs a ton.

If you have ever been...the word I want to use is "victim," but maybe that's unfair. If you have ever been the object of cowardice, the one most immediately left standing all alone by it, watching this film may feel like having your heart ripped out and thrown on the floor all over again.

But that sense of loss is not at all the only emotion at play in, or inspired by watching, Kapurush, which is one of the reasons it's so good. The meet-cute and early phase of Amitabh (Soumitra Chatterjee) and Karuna (Madhabi Mukherjee)'s romance are so cute, even as the issue of cowardice appears almost from the beginning. SO CUTE.
Based on my extremely limited sampling of Indian films outside of mainstream Hindi cinema, I am happy to cede the majority of subsequent attempts to depict actual emotional and/or physical intimacy to the Bengalis. Maybe I've just encountered an unusually wonderful sample so far, but there seems to be a maturity to these relationships that keeps the fun, connectedness, and heat but loses the stalking, grabbing, and silliness.

I wouldn't put money on it, but as far as I remember all the scenes of them touching or holding hands have his hand on the bottom, meaning he offered his first—hardly the mark of a coward, especially as he talks about how Indian society doesn't really let unmarried couples be brave or bold or outward in their declarations and explorations of love.

When I first read about Kapurush and Mahapurush, I decided to watch the latter first, simply based on my mood (assuming at that moment I wasn't up to having my heart ripped out and thrown on the floor), and I regret that decision. Not only is it far more satisfying to end with a comedy, I bet I'm overlooking some comparisons and themes that are more evident in close proximity. The most obvious one that has occurred to me so far, in thinking back over both of them, is that the titles (The Coward and The Great Man) are pointedly interlaced. Soumitra Chatterjee's coward is—eventually—much greater and more courageous than Charuprakash Ghosh's saint. Interestingly, the latter is more pragmatic; he knows when to fold 'em, while Soumitra only walks away because schedules, work commitments, and basic social decencies force him to.*

Then again, the coward is also wise: it seems to me that Ami really was at least as much not ready to take a leap with Karuna all those years ago as he was afraid to do it, and leaping into a marriage when the social and economic cards are stacked against you is a huge risk, so I cannot really fault him for not being willing to take it. There is a literal shadow of a doubt between them.
His apartment during that scene looks almost exactly like Apu's in Apur Sansar, and while we could hope that Ami and Karuna would have been as happy as Apu and Aparna were in that tiny, grungy flat, I just don't think Ami is ready for Karuna put a flower pot on his windowsill or leave a note under his pillow. He doesn't think he could raise anything, or even grow himself, and he isn't willing to try or to sacrifice her happiness (and comfort) in the attempt. Karuna rejects his statement about needing more time to make a decision because to her it seemed that what he needed more of was love. If he had had enough love, there wouldn't have been any need to make a decision. That is what is so tragic to me about this story and so often in real life, too: there are just so many factors in a successful relationship, and you can find someone, and love them, and understand them, and they you, and none of that is enough if an unconnected third party throws a wrench into the system you thought you had. Ami is too young, too unrooted to be flexible about such a big question. When the pressure comes, he snaps.

But look at him now. He's so brave—foolish? solipsistic? unseeing?—that he delves back into that relationship and its unfinished end while he is completely dependent on her husband. I love the contrast of his insistence now with his uncertainty in the past. When Karuna desperately needed an answer from him, he couldn't give her one; now, when he demands to know something about her life that feels critical to him, she won't tell him, probably because it's none of his business.
Later she finally answers "Perhaps I didn't want to be happy," and I am almost wild with curiosity about what that means. Has she made a very filmi character-type self-sarificing decision to resign herself to a life of unhappiness? Has she decided that her happiness is somehow irrelevant? Does she not value it? Does it seem impossible and therefore not worth even trying for? She's so...solid, so calm, that I have to think she has decided that happiness is a concept that neither applies to nor affects her. It's as though he might as well be asking her if she speaks Martian: of course she doesn't, and she doesn't have any need to. It's a much subtler version of the sort of angry, fiery response from wronged women we see in brasher stories: "You forfeited the right to even mention my happiness when you chose to break my heart."

Their last exchange is over her sleeping pills that he inadvertently packed in his bags. This is, of course, miles from what he hopes has brought her to the train station. The fact that it's sleeping pills has to be significant: it's not aspirin she wants, but something that knocks her out, dulls her, lets her find some hours of peace. When I think that the ending of Kapurush is sad because Karuna and Ami are clearly never going to reunite, I keep coming back to these pills. She needs her peace back from him—and you don't need sleeping pills if you can rest, if you are well. She is still agitated by him. Whether in a good way, a loving way, a parted but still romantic way, we do not know. What we do know is that what seems like resolution to Ami (her running away with him) seems like an intolerable disruption to Karuna, and therefore it does not happen. Yet she calls him "dear one" again (at least in the subtitles), their hands touch again, giving me the sense that there is still a connection between them, even if nothing further is ever built on it.

...Which almost makes me sad all over again. That's the worst part about dealing with a coward: they tend to leave things unfinished.

* Do we think this is the first public juxtaposition of Kenny Rogers and Satyajit Ray?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Zakhmee madlib!

Poptique brought this movie to my attention earlier in the year, and I'm so glad. It's so 70s wackadoodle masala fun. In fact, I enjoyed watching it so much that it's only fair you have some fun with it too. Let's recreate Zakhmee together, shall we? Write down your most creative, masalsariffic choices for words in the following list, then add them to the main text as you read. 
  1. family member
  2. occupation
  3. mythological figure
  4. adjective
  5. Christmas carol
  6. derogatory term
  7. event
  8. kitchen implement
  9. municipal building
  10. animal (plural)
  11. piece of household furniture
  12. English-language song often heard at sporting events
  13. common household object
  14. item often used on Diwali
  15. ancient culture
  16. mode of transportation
  17. body part
  18. another body part (plural)
  19. yet another body part (plural)
  20. set often seen in 1970s masala movies
  21. noun (plural)
  22. a different mode of transport
Got your list? Read on!

Zakhemee opens with Sunil Dutt retrieving his ___1___ from the mountains. He is late to arrive, but she has been in the capable, caring hands of Asha Parekh, her ___2___. They have, for a reason I cannot intuit, made a snowman of Santa Claus that looks a lot more like ___3___ wearing a crocheted sun hat and umbrella.
Asha joins them on their drive back to the airport but they are snowed in overnight; fortunately Sunil had packed his  ___4___ lungi, 
which I'd like to think is an integral factor in Asha's burgeoning love for him. She sings a really strange song about it, blending a fantasy lunar snowscape with a weird version of ___5___.
The little sister actually thinks Santa lives on the moon. This causes me distress for the Indian educational system. The North Pole and outer space are not the same thing.

Back in Bombay, Sunil's younger brothers Rakesh Roshan and Tariq are total ___6___. It's an interesting move to have the hero's brothers play the comic relief, most notably because it gives that arc waaaay more presence than usual, though they are also given other things to do, so it's not all bad. On the eve of Sunil and Asha's ___7___, Sunil gets a frantic phone call from his business partner, so he races to their office only to witness his partner's murder at the hands of Imtiaz (whose character's name is Tiger, which is much more fun to say, so I will use that instead). Tiger escapes after threatening to kill all of Sunil's family if Sunil tells the police anything other than that he himself committed the murder. Sunil then kneels over his friend's body and makes the classic film move of touching the ___8___ and literally getting the blood on his hands to boot. Nice of him to back up the villain's story so willingly, especially since the killer did not have gloves on when wielding he knife and he could have been cleared right away.

Sunil is locked in ___9___, Asha yells "NAHIIIIN!" when she hears the news and then drops the phone into a goldfish tank, sending the ___ 10___ tumbling helplessly to the floor. DO YOU SEE THE ANALOGY? WOW! Tiger, meanwhile imbibes in celebration while his moll, Helen, bounces gleefully on the ___11___ to a synthesizer version of ___12___.

Rakesh and Tariq decide to try to bribe to the judge on Sunil's case. They are idiots. The judge is played by Iftekhar, and it is only just and fair that we pause for a moment to reflect on why Iftekhar is always so incredibly boss in everything he does. A friend on twitter suggested it is because he so often conveys a slight sense of disdain for the foolishness of us mere mortals, and I'd have to say I agree.
See? Not amused.
When this—surprise surprise—doesn't work, their new master plan is inspired by a ___13___ they see in the living room.
Too bad they didn't use Esquire Party Book or Biggles Takes a Hand instead.
Kidnapping a judge's daughter (Reena Roy) sounds like a great idea to me. Reena is what I think can safely be called a "___14___" or "pistol"
and is completely underwhelmed by their attempt to woo her during the truly fantastic song "Nothing Is Impossible," which takes place at a disco-___15___-themed club that even features a girl band.

They eventually kidnap Reena by pretending to help fix her ___16___. Reena gets on board with the scheme when it occurs to her that being kidnapped might bring her instant fame and that the whole enterprise will be a fantastic adventure. I appreciate her can-do spirit. In a convenient outbreak of Stockholm Syndrome, Reena falls for Rakesh when he tries to...whatever the medical value is of sucking blood from a wound on her ___17___ that couldn't possibly have included any venom. 
If I had to see it, so do you.
I agree with Tariq's statement that "this girl is a bit crack" as Reena swoons. She also seems to really like it when he later gets drunk and slaps her during an argument. Ew.

Meanwhile, Sunil has managed go get out of jail and head back to Asha and his sister, helped by digusing himself during a Holi song whose subtitled lyrics hint at a festival zombie invasion,
but Tiger's and his goons are after him. The appearance of these goons deserves special note: one of them wears one of Bollywood's worst-ever attempts at blackface (which is really saying something)
and others sport sleeveless black shirts with giant cut-outs exposing their ___18___ and ___19___.
From here out, Zakhmee follow standard 70s masalsa operating procedures, with one interesting exception: there is a mole in Tiger's crew who has been helping Sunil exact revenge, and for this serious oversight in management, Tiger is made to answer to the big boss, Chief. The way this scene is set up is very cool, and I actually felt bad for Tiger, standing all alone as he meets his maker.
All the other characters play by the book and participate in the big brawl in the ___20___ in the climax.
Helen and Reena rip each other's ___21___ off but also have some proper blows, so at least it's not just a flesh show.
Reena also does some damage with her ___22___, which in my book almost makes up for the disgusting "I knew it was true love when he slapped me" nonsense earlier. All the baddies are defeated,  the reunited couples happily drive away in a huge American convertible, and a body pops out of the trunk. Really!

In the US, you can purchase a 30-day pass to Zakhmee (with subtitles!) on youtube for $.99 through Bolly N Beyond (which seems to be a Shemaroo channel). I'm not sure of its availability in other countries; Indie Quill reported that this option does not exist in India. WTF, SHEMAROO? You don't want to let people in the country from which this movie comes to have reasonable, feasible access to it? Maybe you do deserve all the piracy you suffer from.

Blog equivalent of the funny footage that runs under the end credits: a collage of my favorite outfits from this film. Helen above, was it hard to choose.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Bengali Films Attack! Nayak and Mahapurush

Call it the seven-year itch. A few weeks ago, I reached the point in my Indian film-watching journey when I suddenly needed to see the Apu Trilogy right now. So I did, and Apur Sansar floored me (even if the rest of the film were dull, the ten minutes or so surrounding the wedding were so thrilling, so moving, that the entire thing could rest on them alone), so thus I have continued. My Bengali Cinema Advisory Team is really knocking it out of the park with recommendations.

Nayak (1966)
When I think of Indian films about the worlds of Indian film industries, the ones that come to mind are more focused their respective industry as a whole, or at least various players in it, than about a particular and very solitary figure within it. Nayak focuses on the hero (Uttam Kumar),
and the movie works beautifully as a portrait of the seemingly successful, cool, and breezy man who finally cannot contain all his loneliness and failures. That sounds trite the way I'm saying it, but it's beautiful in the film, I think because the hero in fact is not all alone with his demons and has companions throughout his self-exploration, at least for the duration of the train ride that comprises most of the film (and seems ready to face the future at its end), most notably the journalist (Sharmila Tagore) 
who surreptitiously takes notes on their conversation. With most of the other passengers on the train, he has mostly brief but endearingly normal interactions. They may seek an autograph or an industry connection, but none of them is obnoxious to him, unlike the people outside this journey, who seem frenzied by comparison. 

It is these other people on the train, their lives, their problems, that really make this film so special. They give context to the life of the hero, both as contrast, which I expected, and as similarity and familial-ness, which I did not. Everyone shares their cabin or row of seats; everyone has to squeeze past each other in the hallway; everyone has their troubles. The mother with a sick daughter, the holy man, the journalist's jolly friends: they're all on this ride, this life, together. It's as though the hero is the most extraordinary of them only because his is the story we learn the most of. For example, there's clearly something fishy about the advertiser and the businessman he preys upon, but we never learn what.* Following the hero gives us a way in to their stories too; we probably wouldn't otherwise be with these ordinary people on their train ride to Delhi, but they are interesting absolutely in their own right, not as reflected light of the hero.

There's a powerful scene in which the train pulls into a station for a short stop, and the journalist tries to shut the blind over wild fans on the platform. The hero insists on the window being unobstructed. She seems so uncomfortable having witnesses to the false pretext under which she is sitting at a table with the hero, to the transgression of his trust in her. He, of course, is used to this kind of madness (he sees it on the platform in Calcutta at the beginning of the journey and will face it in Delhi when he disembarks), and he refuses to sever a tie with an aspect of his life that is familiar—and maybe even comfortable in its familiarity—as he sets off on his unfamiliar and painful introspection. Stranger in a Strange Land has written about this scene in relation to her trip to see shooting for My Name Is Khan, and I was tickled at how similar her reaction to her experience seems to my reaction to being in an SRK-fevered crowd in Chicago a few years ago. I'd shut the blind too.

I suppose I should wait and write about this after I've seen its pair Kapurush as well, but frankly that looked too depressing to squeeze into a really busy week. Mahapurush is hilarious. Like Nayak, this works on a few different levels; it focuses on poking at the gullible, the tricks they fall for, and the shysters who, er, "inspire" them, 
but it also has fun with a lovelorn fellow who fills his love letters with quotes from famous poets. Basically, it nips at anyone who takes a shortcut to personal gain. 
His girlfriend has to endure both his letters and the aforementioned shyster, and she is unimpressed. This may be the best facial expression I have ever seen on a young heroine in any Indian movie ever.
This is such a light-hearted movie, and you don't mind laughing at everything it gives you because everyone in it is just a little bit ridiculous in their own way, but they're also a little bit relatable. The holy man's assistant (Rabi Ghosh) plays the part of his master's unblinking disciple/servant perfectly, yet he cannot resist breaking character to wink at the ladies listening from just outside the room where the men are fawning all over his master. There's a different group of men, all marked as learned by their stacks of books, laboratory equipment, and chess board, who are determined to expose the holy man as a fraud, but even they are intrigued by the befuddling little gesture he uses to illustrate his theory of the cycles of time. 
Use your right pointy finger to trace a circle away from you ("the future") while using your left one to trace a circle towards you ("the past"). I have had years and years of piano lessons and do not find this hard at all.
I didn't catch whether our skeptics identified as spiritual/faithful/religious in any way, but I have never seen a movie that depicts religion in such an "opiate of the masses" sort of light. In this story, the people who believe are fools, and the people who do the fooling, if they believe in any morals at all, happily put their own pockets first. Neither my inner atheist nor the part of me that poo-poos Romantic poetry ever expected to find a soul mate in an Indian film from the 1960s, which probably just shows how much I have to learn about things that aren't mainstream Hindi. Love.

* At least those of us dependent on subtitles don't. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne

The world may not need more people raving about how wonderful Satyajit Ray's films are—particularly educationally- and socially-privileged white people in the western hemisphere, whose opinions on the subject seem to cause particular consternation in some quarters—but this film made me smile from ear to ear and head to toe, so rave about it I must.

(If you haven't seen it, Dusted Off has a nice summary in her post here.)

With one caveat: there are no women who speak in this film. There are only two women of any stripe, and they appear in the last few minutes only to serve as wish-fulfillment (i.e. pretty, royal wives) for the two heroes. In the week since I saw this film, I have not been able to come to terms with this aspect of the script. Whatever justification is offered—namely that the original story (by Ray's grandfather) has no women in it—I am unsatisfied, although it has been very interesting thinking about what responsibilities one has to one's own time and/or culture when selecting a base story from another. There is no particular reason evident in the film itself why some of the characters couldn't be female, and I cannot accept the idea that "of course royal advisors and soldiers couldn't be female" in a film that has dancing ghosts, boons, and @(#*&^! magical shoes.

You can read more on this issue in the comments on Dusted Off's post on the film and even more in a mighty essay at the Journal of the Moving Image (Jadavpur University) called "Conditions of Visibility: People's Imagination and Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne" by Professor Mihir Bhattacharya. There is a ton of interesting stuff in there, but this sentence is heavy with the feeling of fundamental truth: "This exaggerated depopulation...constitutes no mystery, for it is customary to hold that boys have more interesting lives, that the majority of the readers will be boys, and that boys constitue the more precious half of the child population."

I fancy myself at least moderately sensitive to gender issues, especially blatant ones like "Where—literally where—the frack are the women in this film?!?", but GGBB is so delightful that even I did not notice any of this until about three-fourths the way through the film when one of the heroes spots a princess far up on the balcony of a palace tower. That is how wonderful this movie is. It's so full of charm and interest and humor that you don't even notice your pet peeve howling at you through its entire run time.

Like most great children's films, it works on multiple levels simultaneously and has as much to offer adults as children (or so I imagine, not having seen it until just last week and not in the company of a child): not only some commentary on being an imperfect human, but also basic cinematic assets like characterization, music, and visuals. This just may be a film that falls into the elite category of "If you don't like this, there is something seriously wrong with you."

It is also, like many children's films, weird—and very effectively so, too. Most famously there is the ghost dance, which is eerie and a little unnerving and raises a ton of questions I had no idea what to do with, like why forest ghosts are dressed like Raj-era Weeble/Teletubby hybrids and what, precisely, about Goopy and Bagha's pathetic attempts at music enchanted the black-faced ghost king (who wears a prototype of the Yaarana light-up jacket)
so much that he gives them boons of food and clothing, teleporting (oh yes!), and enrapturing musical talent. I know very little about Ray and have seen only six of his films so can offer no intelligent guess as to what he's up to here, but somehow I can equally believe that it's all just for fun or that there is socio-historical commentary lurking toothily under the riveting dance, costumes, and special effects. At other times the creative decisions read much more strongly as simply deliberately playful, like the good king's whimsical tiger-faced scepter, a motif repeated in the evil king's stationery.
I mean, why not have a round scroll? Why not write in pictograms?
"In three days, bring five horses and meet me at the pyramid. We will cross swords in the mountains. At least one royal personnage will be very unhappy, for collapsed is the body that wears the crown and eats the donut."
A quick detour deeper into the visuals reveals that not only is the tiger motif repeated, the whole look of stencil-like animals and other patterns continues throughout the palaces.
Am I crazy or is this headboard based on rangoli? Isn't that the coolest thing you've ever seen?
I have so much respect for Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and the people who made it. It is so thoughtful and warm and fun. Even the one thing I disliked about it made me ask questions and go off and do some research. The film bubbles over with beautiful or clever things to see and interesting things to think about. And I do mean bubbles: there's something very light and bouncing and shiny about GGBB, even when it is commenting on fundamental aspects of humanity like aggression (which you should overcome by raining bucketfuls of sweets on your enemies),
diving into more masala-y dramatic conventions* of twin brothers who almost go to war with one another, or designing the magician's costume out of a geometry classroom prop bin (which I mean as a compliment—all the costumes, which were designed by Ray, are really fantastic).
I love that it is mostly good to its protagonists once somebody understands and appreciates them and lets them make good on the talents they so desperately wish they had. It's so nice to be surrounded by kindness for a change. It's so nice to use fantasy and imagination to be better than we are in real life. 

Read more at Thank you, Samit, for encouraging me to watch this. You were so right.

* As I delve into Ray's films, I am struck by how filmi some of them are, at least in aspects of plot if not in the way things are depicted and told. I don't know why this has surprised me so much—probably simple ignorance about his work —but a result of this realization is that his films seem far more accessible and far less stodgy and/or numbingly depressing than I had ever thought they would. This, my friends, is why we must see movies for ourselves and not go by stereotypes. * sage nod *

Thursday, August 09, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 6: assorted

A handful of things I've watched, briefly presented in unimaginative chronological order:

Ab Kya Hoga (1977)
Watching a mystery without subtitles is''s a dumb idea, is what it is. Fortunately, Ness has seen it with subtitles and could help me out, and I enjoyed it for the Neetu Singa/Shatrughan Sinha jodi. It's not my favorite for her (Amitabh Bachchan is, believe it or not—I know, sacrilege) but it is my favorite for him, and for whatever reason I often like his brand of swaggering, shouty ridiculousness. Features of this film include Neetu being as good as always but in a different, more brooding and ghosty sort of way; a fantastic rip-off-mask-to-reveal-true-identity moment; helpful Ranjeet lounging on a circular bed as his shirt strains open at the buttons*;
Mac Mohan as an art gallery curator**;
Shatrughan as a zombie;
and Bindu doing an excellent "Nahiiiiiiin!" 
Sometimes that's all I need.

Khooni Murdaa (1989)
The internet tells me this is a re-hash of Nightmare on Elm Street, which I have never seen because it sounds way, way, way too scary. I'm kind of grateful for Indian low-budget horror movies because I don't find them way, way, way too scary, so I can watch them without covering my eyes and thus begin to learn a little bit about the vast world of international horror films.
Anyway, I suspect that most of what I found impressive about this movie, namely the interesting and/or creative ways in which people are killed, are likely copied. Still, it's entertaining enough. Kiran Kumar plays the stalker/monster—and for once a stalker is clearly marked as psychotic! Thank you, movie—and it was so weird to see him just a few weeks later in Mr. Romeo, a role that could hardly be more different. My favorite death in the film is the monster inhabiting someone's girlfriend and then luring the boyfriend on to a bed and making out with him before the monster/girl bites his tongue and stretches it out of his mouth, using it to tie the guy to the bed and throwing him out a window. You can learn more about Khooni Murdaa at the site of my Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit colleague Ninja Dixon.

Pyasi Chudail (1998?)
This is my favorite of the 3-in-1 horror DVD that I purchased for reasons I no longer remember (the others being Khooni Murdaa and Pyaasi Bhootni). It's the Hindi dub of a Tamil film, apparently, and has the chestnut storyline of a witch possessing an innocent bystander and using the victim to take revenge for some long-ago wrong. But no matter—it's totally entertaining for the same sort of "collection of small delights and treasures" reason that Ab Kya Hoga? is. That's a good thing, too, since the basic plot is so predictable. Look at this credit sequence. How can you not enjoy this?
The little skulls bounce around, including popping out of what seems like maybe a bloody (or flaming?) tabla? Wow. One of the songs features a screen split between the couple on the beach and other inexplicable (at least without subtitles) elements like the skylines of various world cities, including Chicago.
I can't remember if What's Your Rashee? includes the Chicago skyline, but if not, this film gets the honor of being the first Indian film I've seen with the Hancock Tower in it. Also, Oprah's building is the tall wavy black one on the right, so you all know where to throw eggs.
There is a helpful anipal (who meets a tragic, self-sacrificing end, please be warned),
somewhat non-crappy care of artifacts at a museum (well, they call it a museum—I call it a bunch of stuff on shelves),
She should probably have gloves on, but at least she's cleaning the magical amulet with a tiny paint brush instead of bleach or something.
 and witchy possession that looks like this.
I'm going to make a horror film called Khooni Scrunchie.
Read a plot summary and see more pictures at Badnaam.

Bombaiyer Bombete (2003) (Bengali)
Now, finally, we will have some truly mini reviews. I was just typing "This is a terrible film" when I realized that it didn't even make enough of an impression on me for that to be fair...unless you count lack of impact as terrible, which is a legitimate approach, I'd say. I have a vague recollection of thinking most of the actors didn't really seem very engaged and that the overall effect was sloppy. The plot, which loosely deals with navigating mysteries and crimes in the film world of Bombay, has no teeth.

Ekdom dekhben na. Jaachetai. Which I'm told by a top advisor is the Bengali equivalent of "Avoid, yaar," my lowest rating for a film.

A special note to those still suffering from Inspector-Rana-from-Kahaani hangovers and happy to see Parambrata Chatterjee in a Bengali film on DVD with subtitles: this is still not worth watching. He hardly speaks. Bhooter Bhobishyot is oodles better than this. Heck, even Baishe Srabon, which cured me of said hangover, is better than this, even disregarding all factors other than Parambrata.

Mirch (2010)
When I realized that the writer/director of this, Vinay Shukla, was also the writer/director of Godmother, a little lightbulb went off in my head and I was able to see in Mirch some interesting commentary on women as possessing—and even enjoying—self-directed, autonomous sexuality. Before that, though, I kept thinking of Mixed Doubles and other films that try so hard to be sexy or erotic or bold or "modern" but just end up being soooo clunky. It's like the sex in the films is a bowling ball that they insist on lugging around but repeatedly drop, barely missing your toes. There are a few moments in Mirch that are alluring, but mostly it's silly. Maybe it's supposed to be? Also, it is a catastrophic mistake to cast Arunoday Singh, whom I hear is howlarious in Jism 2, in not one but four roles, all of them supposedly as attractive and three of them as a maha studmuffin. Laughable.

On the other hand, it was great fun to ask twitter what "major studmuffin" would be in Hindi. "Chutiyatic," suggested one friend/author (get his book!). "Maha stud-bhai," said another very erudite young man.

Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
I hate to end on a downer, but all I have to say about this is that 1) Irrfan Khan has again proven himself through and through and 2) the futility of PST's story (at least as presented in the film) is so overwhelming that by the end of the film all I could do was bang my head (gently) on the wall. The character himself is at least not so depressed that he was unable to try to progress—that's quite significant, I think, his maintenance of a sort of not-entirely-thought-out and very simple effort while recognizing that life is wildly unfair, yet also somehow never being defeated by that injustice—but that's sure how I felt. If you saw this film and were left with anything other than a sense of bleakness, please tell me about your experience in the comments.

* I'm sorry the pictures are so bad. Believe me, this particular Ranjeet would make anyone's day. On that subject, when I tweeted this picture while watching the film, I was accused of being under the influence of too much Ranjeet. As if there could be such a thing.
** I can now die happy.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 5: Caravan

Unlike Filmi Geek, who said she thought she maybe shouldn't like this film as much as she does, I grumbled throughout it and worried that my criticisms will sound unfounded. The songs are uniformly fantastic—there's the rightfully mega-famous "Piya Tu," of course, but many more, including the work of Sanjana and person-I-would-love-to-be-for-a-day Aruna Irani—but I am of the mind that songs alone do not a fillum make, nor should they be expected to (hence DVD song compilations, now that we have the technology to easily isolate, combine, and distribute clips from films). Most of Caravan feels like a generally pleasant film about nothing, à la Seinfeld, when it isn't being cruel to all its major female characters. This anti-woman vibe that runs throughout and pops up at some odd places seems all the more egregious because of the film's otherwise entertaining and occasionally insightful froth.

Asha Parekh's character is treated like garbage by everyone except for a father figure who is killed for his concern and, eventually, of course, the moronic and utterly useless hero (Jeetendra) who is too caught up in his own delusions of grandeur to notice that the woman right in front of him is classy and clever. Aruna Irani, whom I am always thrilled to see in an actual role, is equally delusional, then smothered with a coating of rage and violence that is probably supposed to be read as "feisty" but I think is more accurately labeled "insane"—and because she expresses desire and flaunts sexuality, she takes a bullet for the hero and the woman he loves. As soon as she picked up a gun, I thought "She's a goner," even as I was a strange sort of impressed that a woman was actually going to do something in a typical rambling finale brawl. Helen is duped and physically harmed by the man she loves; even comic player Manorama is beaten by her husband over a trivial matter (Madan Puri, who is the otherwise very decent and reasonable leader of the gypsy musical troupe).

However, this being prime vintage masala, there are a handful of things I liked quite a bit, in addition to the overall candyfloss gloss. Most noably:
1) I agree with Filmi Geek that there is something a little "Jab Jab Phool Khile lite" about this story. It is no small thing for me to be invoking JJPK as a compliment, and Caravan just goes to show that it's possible to make a romance between an uneducated man (who in this case does not even have the sort of insight into human nature and his own limitations that JJPK's hero does) and a more sophisticated, learned woman without it being completely objectionable. I still don't love the way Caravan ends and I don't see anything love-worthy about Jeetendra's character, but it doesn't enrage me, either.
2) "Dayia Re Main" is hilarious. I like it even more than "Piya Tu." Both Asha and Jeetendra work their comic chops really well; the costuming is a hoot; the choreography is exuberant and creative.
That hat and Jeetendra's moves at around 0:20 are seriously funny.
Watch Jeetendra flap around uselessly as he tries to egg Asha on to perform an actual song, then keep an eye on her face as she swings over the crowd. For the first time in the film, Asha tastes freedom. It's such a perfect metaphor, this moment of soaring, of delighted solitude, that still dangles her by a chain over shark-infested waters. Brilliant!

I'm tempted to put Caravan on the "watch again later when I've had more sleep" pile. The evidence within the text suggests it has a lot more going on than some of its surface style and elements suggest. Whether I'd have any respect for what I find if I dig is less clear.