mini reviews for June 2015

Chhalia 1960 [Spoilers.]
Oof. If more of Manmohan Desai's early films are like this one, I'm never going to make it through his whole filmography. Chhalia focuses on one little Ram-Sita-y family, using them as a metaphor for Partition and its aftermath (which are the setting for the story): Nutan is the faithful, fertile, and wronged motherland, Rehman is the proud but misinformed father/patriarch in a suit who abandons her, their sad-eyed moppet is the ultimate innocent victim,
and Raj Kapoor is the scrappy common (Hanu)man who restores proper order.

Pran also serves as a refuge for Nutan in one wave of the story (and Raj in the other). For reasons not clear to me (I think a few scenes are missing from this print) they hate each other and have a big fight, which is hilarious because how are we supposed to think Pran would not win instantly?
That's all well and good—except for Raj Kapoor, who is creepy beyond belief in this role—but to get to that satisfying ending you have to sit through the chestnut of "through no fault of her own, wife is separated from husband and behaves nobly, but he doubts her and rejects her until she's almost burned to death."

The Desai symbolism I love so much in his 70s films isn't nearly as rampant here (and would be out of place), but he does show doubts embodied as a literal straw man—demon, actually—who goes down in flames as the family is reunited.
The director lights Nutan's face so lovingly but makes her say things like "My husband has spurned me but I am praying for his long life."
But frankly, this is not my kind of story, even when indebted almost entirely to Nutan's thoughtful, sympathetic performance. In addition to Rehman spurning Nutan when he wrongly assumes that she has cheated on him with Pran while they were separated by the chaos of Partition, her father and brother do too and disown her. So much talk of izzat gives me severe eye-roll sprains. There are some visually beautiful moments, but unfortunately they're offset by Raj Kapoor playing his knockabout fellow with too much sleaze. I assume a skeevy hero isn't the intended effect, but yikes.
There are also a few moments that are so jarring they disrupt the solemn, sad tone: not once but twice Raj Kapoor is put in front of posters for his own films.
Why? Why would you do this? There's nothing funny or sly about anything else in the film, and somehow the in-joke almost insults the story.

Chhalia isn't a bad film, really, but unless you just really want to wallow in misogyny, there's not much appealing in it. Maybe for Nutan, Desai, Partition, or Indian-films-based-on-Dostoyevsky's-"White Nights" completists only?

Jay Vijay (Jay-Veyaj: Part 2) 1977
(According to the film's own title card, its title is Jai Vijay: Part II, but I cannot find any trace of part I. Maybe it's a nod to the historical introductory material?) I couldn't find a subtitled version of this online, so I might be missing something, but it feels like a clip reel of mostly really, really good masala lunacy held together by a story we've more or less heard before. Two hundred years ago, three kingdoms hid their treasure underground and wrote the directions to the location on three necklaces;
the importance of the necklaces was then written on copper plates buried underground; the locations of the plates were written on palm leaves kept in each palace; omg this is like trying to come up with yet another password with more than eight characters including numbers and capital letters; then about a generation ago, somebody bad wanted to get the treasure and some royal babies were separated and yadda yadda yadda (in a good way).

The most consistently compelling part about it is the older members of the cast, who make a damn fine Who's Who of That Guys, so much so that I would rank it only just slightly after the 1973 Gaddaar in which Pran and Iftekhar lead a crew of bandits all portrayed by That Guys. Technically the hero of this film is probably Jeetendra, but he does not impress, even on someone who has a moderate tolerance for 70s Jeetendra. Prem Krishan tries but feels similarly marginal, Reena Roy is criminally underused with no chance for the sort of sass I enjoy so much in other films, and Bindiya Goswami basically gets the runoff of Reena's already blah part. HOWEVER. Look at this cast list for the non-hero generation: Om Shivpuri, Satyendra Kapoor, Urmila Bhat, Roopesh Kumar, Kamal Kapoor, Lalita Pawar, Paintal, Appi Umrani, Mohan Sherry, Ram P. Sethi...the list goes on! It's totally worth watching just for them, and if you like character actors from days of yore, Jay Vijay is not to be missed.

Please indulge me in some picspam for the remainder of what needs to be said about this film. For example, an item song dancer (Jayshree T) is paid by a golden egg laid by a goose who is also in attendance at the performance.
Dev Kumar looks vaguely Prussian.
The Bloefeld-esque royal cat has a bejeweled collar and leash.
Jagdeep is finally used properly in a film: his usual schtick is curtailed relatively early in the film when he deliberately opens a booby-trapped door to invaders so that the bomb will explode on the enemies, killing himself in the process. YES. THIS IS PROPER USE OF ODIOUS COMIC RELIEF UNCLES.
Reena Roy has a nice song in the pool of her pretty pastel palace.
There is competitive qawwali in disguises.

Lockets.

STATUES WITH LASER BEAMS.
Thanks to being raised by a good-hearted daku, Jeetendra can, and I swear I am not making this up, get out of chains by wriggle-exploding. I don't know how this is justified, but there you have it.
There's a melee of the highest order. I love that they not only packed this scene with extras but they also actually staged it so you can see everyone at the same time. Smart.
Every time Viju Khote is hit in the brawl, there is a quack sound effect. Look, don't question these things, okay? Just rejoice in them.
If you look very hard, near the top right of this photo you will see Jeetendra (in brown) swinging from a rope holding one of the baddies (also in brown) in a scissor grip between his legs. In no way will this lead to a shot of a fantastically fake dummy falling to the ground. Nope.
The chief bad guy falls over a balcony and on to the goddess's sword and it is EPIC.
Thank you to pal Shivani for recommending it!

Sanjhbatir Roopkathara 2002
A story about a father-daughter relationship in which the father is a painter and the daughter a serious student should be right up my alley,
but this is essentially just Pretentious Bengali Movie Men Behaving Slappably. They are put upon because they are entitled, selfish, predatory jagweeds who mistreat the women in their lives.
Creative block is fundamentally boring to me, partly because the older I get the more I know that you just have to Do The Thing and partly because the writer-iest writers I know have never once complained about it, which sure does hint at some kind of connection to competence.
This guy with his book and cigarette and stole, amirite?
No. He was not different. He was an entitled jagweed as previously discussed.
The daughter, played by a wide-eyed and appropriately rattled Indrani Haldar (who is also Chandramukhi in the 2002 Bengali Devdas starring Prosenjit) (why haven't I seen that yet?) (oh right, because Devdas), is an interesting role. I can't think of many other films in which a daughter has to work so hard to figure out whether and how to repair her relationship with her father. In response to his sins that aren't even directly about her yet upset her deeply, on screen she does almost as much listening as she does stewing, which is a very mature way to handle things. She doesn't stamp out her own feelings but is also open to additional input and decides that moving forward is as important a value as the ones that were wounded.

Badshahi Angti
2014
For those who don't follow contemporary Bengali films, this is the newest incarnation of the legendary Feluda character, played by Abir Chatterjee, who has also been playing Byomkesh Bakshi in Bengali movies (and whom you know from a few scenes in Kahaani).
I would assume there have been massive outcries over the idea of Bakshi and Feluda being played by the same actor, but Bengali knicker-twisting over beloved literary characters is low on my list of priorities, so I haven't paid attention. And anyway, the real problem here is that Sandip Ray (son of Satyajit) is a terrible director and really should not be allowed to make any more movies, maybe especially not ones based on his father's work simply because inviting so direct a comparison is disastrous for junior. The only reason I could give you to watch this movie is to see all the location filming in Lucknow (including plenty of eating),
which is true of the last Sandip Ray Feluda film I saw too. This one also gets in a few fun chases, and I am impressed at whatever logistical wrangling it took to make that happen in Lucknow streets and crowds. I didn't find much interesting in this film otherwise, and it continues the weird and utterly disappointing Ray tradition of nullifying women from the world of stories aimed at younger readers/viewers (I don't think any even speak in this entire film). Almost an "avoid yaar"...or, as I was told to say in Bengali, "Ekdom dekhben na. Jaachetai."
Unless you like bad CGI rattlesnakes.
Hawaizaada 2015
Does it make any sense to say that this film moved me as a human but wearied me as a viewer? Does it make even less sense to say that I would have liked it more if it had been performed by the Muppets?
WHY IS MITHUN'S AERONAUTICS LAB ON A GIGANTIC SHIP?
The story has solid, worthwhile bones—in 1895 Bombay, the quest by an eccentric (of course) inventor and his equally eccentric protege to design and build an airplane becomes a metaphor for the freedom struggle—but is poorly served by the Bhansali-ish visuals, a too-fanciful tone, and a love story whose irrelevance rivals Special 26's.

Despite finding the major characters tiresome and wishing Mithun Chakraborty and Ayushmann Khurrana would dial back their manic pixie dream chasers from 11 to about 7,
I caught myself tearing up a few times. I'm a sucker for stories that explore the nobility of science and human intellectual endeavor (e.g. Kinsey and The Dish), and while Hawaizaada is otherwise largely unsuccessful, I'm delighted that Bollywood attempted at a story like this. Design-wise, the human-scale elements like clothes and homes are gorgeous, if hyper prettified in an un-real teal palette,
but the machinery they endlessly labor over does nothing to help us believe it will soar—ironically, a story about flight is hampered by the plasticy-looking steampunk nonsense that looks far more like a prop than anything that could conceivably work.

We're supposed to believe and invest in their struggle, their dream, but there's too little grease and dirt and too many wistful looks and "Eureka!" moments (inspired by the Vedas, no less).

Somewhere I read that the original title of this film was Bombay Fairytale, and that's certainly more evocative of how this film feels. It's not nearly as successful at it as Bombay Velvet; probably the earnest but overly spelled-out freedom-fighting talk keeps this from working more smoothly as a parable. A lighter touch with less whimsy and less emotionally manipulative background music would help so much. That said, Hawaizaada is an interesting experiment, especially in a year with high-profile period pieces that function in different ways (Bombay Velvet, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!)
This intersection reminds me a lot of the front of the nightclub in Bombay Velvet, actually. Same set?
Ek Paheli Leela 2015
If this film had been made in 1975 instead of 2015 with Aruna Irani or Reena Roy or Helen instead of Sunny Leone, I'd gobble it up without a second thought. It isn't good, exactly, but it is certainly chock full of favorite features: gratuitous Rajasthani locations and caricatures,
Is there any film that just lets Rajasthani characters be Rajasthani without having them remark upon how proud and/or violent they are due to being Rajasthani? Ditto Pathans (as in Chhalia above).
eye-popping costume and set design,
terrible but quotable dialogue,
and great, gleeful reveling in tropes of creativity, love, fate, reincarnation, and revenge.
It's kind of a B-grade Magadheera that hits a bunch of familiar notes yet also handles the reincarnation angle in a way I've never seen before. This last bit is spoiler-y, so I can't discuss it further, which is too bad, because it's significant to the film and demonstrates some great creativity among the writers, first-time director Bobby Khan and frequent choreographer Jojo Khan.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend reading Paromita Vohra's piece in The Ladies Finger about Sunny Leone's career in India and how she works the media by being unapologetic about her earlier porn career while also demonstrating certain traditional values. That's basically how the titular Leela behaves as well: she's not ashamed of desires and deeds, and she refuses to be shamed by anyone else either. True love and fidelity, which are more or less the family values of the world of this film, are upheld in both the flashback and present-day arcs. Leela is not perfect, but she is hard-working, kind, and slightly unsettlingly child-like, and her sweet nature is basically rewarded despite the outer trappings of her life in the fast lane of modeling. Say what you want about this film, it soars through the Bechdel Test immediately when "artier" stuff like Sulemani Keeda fails; it shows that women can be professional and ambitious without also being emotional and psychological train wrecks, an idea completely foreign to higher-profile "woman-centered" films like Fashion and Heroine. This seems like a great kind of project for a star who is new-ish to the industry and unlikely to hit it big in mainstream movies. And I think it is critical to point out that she is absolutely not any worse than Katrina Kaif still is after so many more opportunities. If the amazing last few years of Deepika Padukone's trajectory have taught us anything, it's that genuine improvement as an actor is possible, and if she can find a director willing to take a chance on her in a higher-profile project, she might just stand a chance. I'm not invested in whether she succeeds or not, but with your sociologist hat on, it'd be absolutely fascinating to watch.


Comments

Nikina Maqsood said…
It's a while since I last saw Chhalia, but as far as I can recall the reason for the insta-hatred between Raj Kapoor and Pran is that they both think the other has bad intentions towards Nutan, and they're both terribly protective of her. I'm fairly sure there's a scene explaining that, but I may have simply made up an explanation while watching.
mandy said…
I have part one on VHS and it's made a little different than part two, there's a whole lot of scenes in part two which aren't in part one. And some scenes are done differently. For example in part one the villain goes crazy (because he sees the treasure and can't have it) so his harem girls come and drag him away while his theme song/music plays in the background. Also the senapati is thrown to the ground when Jeetendra is holding him. Also the CGI of jeetendra that was used in Om shanti Om was from this movie from the goose song! I have no idea why there two versions of this film....I feel like we should get to the bottom of this mystery!
Beth Watkins said…
Nikina - Your explanation makes sense! I think Raj is also a thief of some sorts, so maybe that offends Pran's Pathan honor or whatever? I absolutely appreciate the urge to make up explanations while viewing - sometimes it's very necessary!

mandy - Someone told me that while I was watching and I hadn't recognized him under the fake mustache etc!

That's very interesting about the differences between part 1 and part 2. I wonder why they called them "part" if what seems to be more accurate is "version"? It's a fun movie but I wouldn't have thought it needed remaking...