mini-reviews: Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Siddhartha

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all? Fine. I'll keep this short. Yesterday I saw both Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Siddhartha and have little praise for either despite my love of the male leads and historical topics.

Worst thing first: Siddhartha. Conrad Rooks's 1972 adaptation of the Herman Hesse novel of the same name (which I haven't read) is mind-numbingly boring and inelegant. The script seems to be nothing - and I mean nothing - but the Big Moments and Deep Thoughts of the title character, who is a solipsistic, egotistical whiner on a life-long search for meaning. The story bounces from one trite "life decision" to another, sprinkled with philosophies cribbed from Dove Promises wrappers (for my non-American readers, these are chocolates wrapped in foil printed with gems from the worst self-help advice book for the most pathetic stereotype of a middle-aged soccer mom you can imagine). I couldn't decide if I liked most of the sentiments behind the cheese Siddhartha spewed and it was just the phrasing that was the problem, but the language is so insultingly simplistic that I just gave into my anger. Maybe when the film came out in 1972 some of this seemed worth putting in a feature film; in 2010 it's nothing but mockable.

Overall the film has no real substance or texture, none of the small moments or details that make life what it is, at least not in the dialogue or events. Visually the film is rich, full of gorgeous sunsets, riverscapes, and (anachronistic) palaces, as well as different settings for each stage of Siddhartha's life, complete with different homes and household items, clothing, hairstyles, etc. (I should note I have a good friend who thinks it's little more than a western fetishistic view of India.)

Shashi Kapoor does the character no service whatsoever, using a stilted, pronouncement-from-on-high style of delivery that I've never heard him use in any of his many English roles in Merchant and Ivory films (let alone in Hindi films). He looks great in all the different trappings and versions of the character as we see him age across several decades of his life, but even for me, Shashi costume porn does not a movie make.

It is nice, though.

But at least there's a puppy! Shashi with a puppy! It's the best part of the film.

I have a few more compliments for Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Say, though not many. The most powerful part of the film, despite the very dramatic and important story at its foundation, is the final credits: the names and sometimes heart-wrenching photographs of the real-life participants in the Chittagong uprising accompany smaller pictures of the actors who played them. I loved this simple method of giving credit where credit is due, as well as a last hurrah to the many competent players in the film's solid cast (Sikander Kher and Maninder Singh are the standouts in my opinion - left and second from left below). The ensemble is very strong and I appreciated Gowariker's approach of trying to show the contributions of so many of the individuals involved in both the historical event and the current retelling.

But somehow the film did not cohere into anything for me. It's really slow throughout the first half, and I'm not even a person who needs "action" to be bombastic or fast. There must be a way to make recruiting, planning, and supply-procuring exciting, but this wasn't it. The pace picks up post-interval with the execution of the plans and their horrifying aftermath, but even these are hampered by too many furrowed brows and the biggest collection of the worst white extras you have ever seen, who are especially egregious in contrast to the screen filled with talented Indian teenagers as the youngest members of the revolutionary army. Where in the name of Tom Alter did they find these idiots? Were there no actual British people in Goa during the filming? Or native English speakers of any shade of pale? Usually there's little I enjoy more in a period film set in the British empire than the imperialists getting their arses handed to them in rounds of rickety musket fire from the locals and in rousing speeches about freedom infused with moral high ground, but in this depiction, nothing stirs, nothing cooks, and nothing boils over. My expression in the cinema probably mirrored the rebels' look of confusion and surprise when they find the armory filled to the gills with guns but no bullets: it seems like all the ingredients should have been there, so why are there no fireworks?

Also: really, Gowariker? Deepika plays badminton again? I really hope there is historical evidence for Kalpana Dutta enjoying that sport or I'm going to have to thump you on the head.

If you want more bite-sized portions of big thoughts on films, the master of the mini-review is decidedly ...So They Dance!


Filmi Girl said…
Nothing on Abhi and Deepika's performances? Inquiring minds want to know!
Rum said…
Siddhartha was so rubbish, I watched the first time and it was just such an empty adaptation of such a good novel. I think those sex scenes probably overtook all the deep moments and publicity in the media. But you can't deny that THE CURLS are out in full glory in this film, if not I'd recommend it for that and Shashi's odd dialogue delivery!
FG - They are both totally fine, I'd say. Nothing standout in any direction, and I think that might be because the cast is SOOOOO BIIIIIIG that no one person is on the screen in any kind of dominant way.

Rum - IT's TOTAL rubbish! But yes, good curls! I was so disappointed in his performance, though - this is by far and away the worst I've ever seen him do.
bollyviewer said…
For the record, Siddhartha the movie sticks to the word but not the spirit of Siddhartha the book. The book basically follows the journey of a young man looking for the greater truth and through his actions and thoughts, explains the essence of Buddha's philosophy. The language of the novel (at least in the English translation) is very simple, but the prose has a certain depth and beauty which the film's dialogues conspicuously lack. So Conrad Rooks' Siddhartha basically follows the fictional Siddhartha's actions to the letter, but substitutes Hesse's lovely prose with sweeping shots of (admittedly lovely) Indian countryside - pretty much stripping Siddhartha of anything meaningful!
Sharmi Adhikary said…
I have nothing to say about Siddhartha. It was seriously rubbish :(
MinaiMinai said…
Wow, when I first looked at those Shashi stills, I thought I was looking at his pics from Junoon! "Shashi costume porn does not a movie make." :)
Anonymous said…
Awww...Siddhartha.... bad ; I was looking forward to watching that one still i will and will only do for the CURLLZZZZ...As an ardent fan of Shashi feel disappointed bout his filmzzz

KHLLS.... May be I ll get shot for this I dont find Gowarikar 's films so good ; He still falls short at some point in telling a good story; Sorry guys JodhaAkbar didnt work for me nor did KHJJS.
I feel while making a historical u need to give some character to ur cast and not rant it like a history lesson;A lot of depth is required Thats why may be indian filmakers fall short when making historicals.
Still we live in hope....:)
Vishal said…
Scattered thoughts:

~ Yours is perhaps the first review I've read that even mentions Deepika Padukone is in this movie.

~ I have to date not seen any footage of KHJJS, nor have any interest in seeing the film at all, what with the name Gowarikar being all over it (Jodha-Akbar, you stole far too many hours of my life). Also, my very staunch political views (Slacker) mean that I just don't see why it is my patriotic duty that I must pay money to a movie company for an event over a hundred years ago, just because I have the same passport. But that's an issue for another day.

~ Siddhartha seems like exactly the kind of art movie someone would have made in the 70s/80s, on a fairly low budget with mood dictating form more than story or narrative velocity.

~ The anachronistic palaces (did they use the standard ones from Rajasthan?) are understandable given the fact that nobody save for Santosh Sivan knows how to shoot the stone buildings they would have had, and the general India = elephants, fantasy castles look that serves as a shorthand for most of the rest of the world.

~ Simi Garewal as his wife, yes? Good grief, no wonder the guy left to renounce the world.

Anonymous said…
@vishal I dont think it oos ones patriotic duty to watch a period film.
the bottom line is entertainment and how well the story is told.
The film is supposed to induce patriotism which it certainly lacks in doing.
I do love period films but correct characterization should be given to the role; Sadly no such thing was given to'suriya sen' .We dont see why he has the views ,motivation that he has.
Thats where the director fails; he needs to get a good story writer.
(Ditto with SLB too)
Bollyviewer - It feels like that! It feels very much like bullet points of "greatest hits" from another source. Sigh. I do realize I should give this film a bit of a break for being 38 years old - maybe some of its appeal at the time was simplicity that now feels like simplistic-ness?

Sharmi - Ha! :)

Minai - I keep thinking Junoon during BOTH these films, actually! :) That one deserves a re-watch - it has plenty of, but does not rely on, Shashi costume porn :)

Anon - I think that for the Shashi completist OR curl-lover, it's tolerable :) I am quite serious about how bad he is in it, though - I'm surprised at what a rotten performance it is because I (like to?) think of him as usually putting out good effort and material even in movies that are bad around him.

As for Gowariker, I loved Swades and I like Lagaan quite a bit, but this one does definitely feel like a lesson rather than a story. Which is a real shame, because obviously it IS a great story!

V - And look what an important part of her role I pointed out! :) In all fairness, she is not bad, but she also has very little to do other than stand around and look confused or a bit angry, which she does well, given her eyebrows. Also, as one of my favorite Filmfare reviews ever once said, "Deepika is tall." That she is.

re: duty: that's an interesting point. I have never felt it my duty to see, say, Independence Day, probably because that is so far from the type of US films I like that nothing could convince me to. And I don't think of myself as very patriotic, either. You should write about this!

While viewing, I repeatedly thought that Siddhartha is the kind of art movie that encapsulates why people hate art movies. As for mood, perhaps there isn't much you can do with pampered navel-gazing?

Yes, that's what they used. I don't remember any elephants or peacocks - too bad, as they would have jazzed things up.

Simi is merely his luuuuuuuurve. Though I do not recall him saying so, I suspect this character has no patience for societal norms like marriage. Just lots of sex.

Anon 2 - I think you've nailed part of the problem with KHJJS: we know very little about why any of these people are freedom fighters. On one hand, it's obvious - we all know why the raj is bad - but some better contemplation of that would have helped a lot.
Anonymous said…
I also watched, or tried to watch Siddhartha (netlfix instant) but switched to Rocket Singh, since I was feeling too shallow to process Siddhartha sufficiently, translation: it put me to sleep. But I shall finish it, since there' something to be said for viewing an actor's complete filmography, right?

LOL at "Where in the name of Tom Alter did they find these idiots? Were there no actual British people in Goa during the filming? Or native English speakers of any shade of pale?" This is where we fit in Beth, we need to start the Anupam Kher sponsored school of Gora/Gorii extras, Bollywood needs us! And speaking of Anupam, and KHJJS, I know we share a liking for Anupam's step son's performance and dashing good looks in the film, so you may like to know that I'm in the process of asking Sikandar Kher, via twitter to pay for my headband I lost during the movie: "@mynameissuzy (suzy m / sita-ji)
@sikandarbk Saw #KHJJS on cold winter eve; so taken w/ your performance I left headband @ theater ( U owe me $8 sirji!"

I'll let you know if he sends me some paisa.

All the best!
I'm almost glad to hear everyone's comments on Siddhartha- I'd been berating myself for not having seen it, but it seems just as well! On "Khelein.."- I know I will watch it eventually, just not too soon. At least Abhishek looks like he had a shower, for once. Am very curious about the rest of the ensemble in that movie tho, and u do seem to like that too.
Vidya said…
I feel so disappointed in some of Shashi's performances ; when I knw he had the capacity for good acting.
I was waaaiting ardently to catch up with Siddhartha but will give it a miss.
Sometimes with some of his films I feel what a waste of time and money.
His GEMS got lost in a tag of mediocrity....
Dhruvi Shah said…
Hey Beth,

Yep, something in Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey just didn't stir. Except of course, the little kids who were adorable.

The credits were delightfully done, for sure!

The actors who were supposed to play English were really bad. It can't be that difficult. Some of them had an anglicized accent and the others a confused one. The anger they were supposed to incite was instead replaced with laughter.

Well, I guess, the badminton will never leave Deepika. :)

On that note, I shall leave my feedback though. :)
Sita-ji - It's not you! It's them! Please to be abandoning Siddhartha! You have better things to do!

Re: gora training: I think our friend Steve (aka @bollywoodgora) should be able to take care of that!

And personally, I would take payment ONLY in face time. Who needs cash when there is staring to be had? Demand it!

Shweta - I know, I was so relieved to find out others hated it as well.

As for KHJJS, I do think watching it for the ensemble is a good approach, and there are some scenes that are pretty and/or otherwise well done. It's just...uninspiring.

Viyda - Isn't that sad? I've never seen him perform so badly, even in things that were plenty stinky around him.

Dhruvi - Oh good, so it's not just me! :)
Anonymous said…
Phas Gaye Re a must watch .....if u still havnt ...plz do
Briyanshu said…
The return of Sikander Kher...what else in the film matters? :)
Anonymous said…
@ Briyanshu:
I know, right!?

All the best!
Mette said…
How was Deepika's acting - poor as always?

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