Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Indian Film Advent Calendar #2: The Accidental Marathon.

This is a story of a marathon gone either incredibly right, or incredibly wrong. I had a friend over once. The friend is female, around my age, and Finnish, but for the sake of maximum confusion, I shall call them Steve. Steve's seen quite a lot of Bollywood, all sorts, and even if she doesn't actively look up new films, she definitely likes them. It'd been a while since I'd shown her anything new, so I was eager to make her watch something. We had trouble deciding what to watch when I suddenly got an idea.

"I should show you Khiladi," I said. "It's so 90's and it's got Akshay fighting and all that good stuff."

Steve was game for it.

"We'll stop half-way through, though," I added. "The second half is simply really boring."

We began the movie and Steve was enthralled. The cheese! The action! The brilliance of keyboard-composed sound effects! When we got to the part where the plot takes a twist for the worse, she refused to let me stop the film. "Let's just keep watching." And so I suffered through the mediocre suspense plot of the second half, but at least Steve was happy. "I kind of love this film now," she said.

Then I thought I'd again show a bit of Saawariya, to introduce two of Bollywood's newest faces to Steve, who hadn't really seen the really new batch of films. The film may be pretty, but it's also quite a borefest, which even the Khiladi-loving Steve noticed. We remarked on Ranbir's face and acting, and a bit on Sonam, and then I told her that the Region 2 DVD release has an English audio track for the visually impaired - an English narration track of sorts. For laughs, we began watching it.

And then we kind of never stopped, skipping only a few scenes and then finishing the movie. The narration track was just so amusing, getting some things wrong (like saying Salman's character has his hands up "as if he is praying" when he clearly is praying), getting lyrics wrong, and amusing voice overs for Bollywood actors (like Salman's one made him sound like a really perverted older British man). Quite a joy, that audio track, but also bizarre - especially considering how much the visuals are the sole appeal for this film.

Ishq was a film I actually intended to show Steve, after spamming her with links to the songs on Facebook. This is really the quintessential 90's Bollywood film, after all. Not to say it's the best, or even remotely good. But Ishq is what it is; the most over-the-top, outrageously great bad movie you could think of. A story of evil rich people and prejudice against poor people, a story of absolute crazy love, filled with slapstick and silly fashion and a painfully simplistic Anu Malik soundtrack, Ishq is a kind of questionable masterpiece. And it's amazing that a cast so famous, so well-known and acclaimed in terms of acting could come together in a film this bad, where all of them act bad. (Yes, even Aamir. Yes, even Kajol.)

Needless to say, I loved rewatching it, and Steve enjoyed watching it. Tears and monkeys and setting-oneself-on-fire included.

By this point the fact that we were overlooking some really good movies in my collection for some mediocre and lame ones had become an inside joke. There was no chance of this becoming a classy film marathon, I wasn't going to pop in a classic and hope for a sudden turnaround. So utterly randomly, I mentioned Katrina Kaif and then realized Steve hadn't actually seen a film with her in it. Time for Namastey London!

As far as not-great films go, NL is top class, though. The story of Katrina's bratty Brit with Punjabi roots and Akshay's handsome farm bumpkin is brought down a bit by the film's rampant anti-British sentiments. There is only one mildly likable white character, the rest are awful racists and assholes. However, in the love story department, the movie excels. It's just a really lovely, fun watch, the kind of nice film for a rainy day.

And it will never stop being funny that Katrina's assy British boyfriend character is called "Charlie Brown".

But I think I made a mistake in trying to turn our "Crap To Mediocre To So Bad It's Good" marathon into something quite different by popping in an actual very beloved favourite of mine and many others, Jab We Met. My thinking was again one of introduction - Steve hadn't seen a single Shahid Kapoor film, and surely that should be a sin in these post-Kaminey days! Retrospectively I think I should've gone for 36 Chinatown, another Shahid-Kareena film, much more fitting to our silly marathon in terms of quality.

Why do I say this? Because to Steve, this film was very fitting - she absolutely loathed it. She hated both main characters, she didn't like the storyline, she didn't find anything appealling about it, and for me to tell her the film was actually quite popular further confirmed her dislike of it. I can't really remember why she didn't like it; something about the characters simply didn't click with her.

But the tragedy of how bad JWM had gone down, there was nothing that a little high-spirited rock'n'roll couldn't fix, so I put in Rock On!! (presence of Farhan Akhtar helped cure yours truly of all blues as well). While this may not have become the huge, unbelievable favourite that Khiladi was to Steve, she enjoyed this one a lot more than JWM. I think as long-time rock fans it's nice to see enthusiasm for this genre in its rawest form, a simple celebration of music. You can see rock is still somewhat underground in India, but there is buzz around it, and there's enthusiasm among makers and fans, and that's what matters.

It doesn't hurt that the film's solid in terms of acting, direction and just about everything.

We ended the marathon by reading the karaoke lyrics on the DVD's bonus disc for Sinbad the Sailor.

Rock on, Accidental Marathon. Rock on.


ajnabi said...

Steve is the ONE PERSON I have ever heard of for whom Jab We Met didn't click! (Well, newbie, anyway. A lot of more experienced viewers came into it with Kareena baggage.) I actually think it's very funny, especially about how its popularity solidified her dislike. Can you believe I still haven't seen Rock On!? What's wrong with me?

Anita said...

I know my sister would kill me, but I had more fun watching. Ishq than JWM. :P

Actually, I think in terms of pure enjoyment it would go: Saawariya > Ishq > Rock On > Namastey London > Jab We Met

... Yeah, I'm weird. :P

theBollywoodFan said...

Fun post! I've been very concerned over what Disney will do with the TZP DVD release out here, which will have an English audio track as well. That bit on Saawariya reminds me of it.

@ajnabi: Interesting comment on Kareena. I've always been a Kareena fan, and it's not Jab We Met, but what she's done after it, that has significantly reduced the extent of my fandom. Hoping for a comeback of sorts.

@Anita: With you on the sequence of repeat viewings for these films, absolutely! Nothing weird about it! :)

veracious said...

ajnabi - I wouldn't call Steve a newbie, though. She must've seen around 40+ films by now, mostly Hindi but also most of Siddharth's Telugu ouevre. I don't know what her Kareena baggage is but she's seen Omkara so unless she's forgotten about that movie, I think she knows the girl can act. It is weird. But there you go. :/

Rock On! is just adorable. And Farhan, mmm.

Anita - Hey, I get the Ishq love completely. Saawariya puts me to sleep, though. I can't believe I've now seen that film twice. That's twice more than I eveer planned on.

TheBollywoodFan - I should get TZP's Euro DVD but it's 3 times the price of a regular Hindi film so I am struggling.. Especially if it ONLY has an English audio track. I'll have to check before I buy it.

The Saawariya audio was hilarious, because it really was more like narration. And such unsuiting voices for BW actors!

Anonymous said...

Your opinion on 'Saawariya' is appalling. It only goes to prove that you should not even try to pass comments on things you don't understand. Ever heard of serious cinema? Agreed films are meant for entertainment, but I guess we should applaud directors who dare to tread a different path. How on earth can you voice out your opinions on somethings that is not your cup of tea? Seems Indian cinema is a butt of ridicule for you!! Though 'Saawariya' is a slow movie but it has depth which a person like you believing NL is topclass would not ever understand!! Feel sorry for you.

Filmbuff said...

Anon, u must be the only one in the world who has something good to say about Saawariya. It was a total wash out as the rejection from audiences in India shows. It had beautiful music which was totally wasted. I think you need to seriously re-think your idea of serious cinema. Serious cinema means movies made by Shyam Benegal, Ray, Govind Nihalani and a host of others who had something to good to say cinematically on some critical issues. Saawariya does not come under the serious cinema category - rather it is a narcissitc ego trip for Bhansali.

I think it is rude of you to make so many personal comment about a person from a non hindi speaking background and from another culture watching Indian movies coz she is interested in them. I don't think any indian should consider it their prerogative to be making judgemental comments about people from other cultures ie their credentials in commenting upon movies they like or do not like. The author of this blog and many others from other cultures have something interesting to say or share with rest of the film viewing audience in the world.

veracious said...

Filmbuff - Just ignore the anon. :)

Anonymous said...

Agree with you about RO, JWM and NL, haven't seen the others all the way through.

I like the STS song from RO, my favourite from that soundtrack :)

Aya said...

I LOVED Namastey London. and ROCK On!!!(Farhan Akhtar is soo good looking and SO talented! That man can direct, produce, SING, act...whats next haha?)

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