Monday, February 23, 2009

Bandana intervention.

Mr Khan (may I call you Saif?).

I cannot let you do this yourself anymore. We, the unfortunate people who follow your public appearances on a semi-regular basis, cannot watch you do this to yourself any longer.

This hurts me as bad as it hurts you.

Yes, it's about the bandana.

Don't say anything, just hear me (and us!) out. We know you dug the style of your character Jimmy Cliff in Tashan. We know you like rock music. We know you feel it's edgy to have this rock cowboy inspired look for yourself, and believe you me, the leather jackets, the boots and the jeans are not the problem here. I'm not crazy about the moustache but you appear to have shaved that off, which is a great step. It shows me you can do this, too.

You can quit the bandana.

You're so much better than this godawful 80's/90's throwback of an accessory. You're a hip dude, you're not even 40 yet, you don't have to go all middle-life crisis on us yet! You have a fine younger ladyfriend, and I know she loves you too much to say this to your face but she hates the bandana, too. I mean, she has eyes, does she not?

So for her, for us, for the sake of your credibility and career -- let go of the bandana. Just do it. Comb your hair, use a little styling products, go to a hair-dresser (you can afford it!) and stop.using.the.bandana.

Thank you for listening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let's talk about ... Kareena Kapoor!

The "honor" of being the second actress to be discussed in my "Let's talk about something other than a specific movie"-series goes to golden child (or according to some, spoiled brat), Kareena Kapoor.

Kareena is a difficult case for me to discuss because even more than some actresses, people seem to either fiercely love her or hate her. I moved from one end to the other of the "Bebo love/hate spectrum" pretty fast but even though I love her now, I understand the views of the opposing party far too well.

Kareena comes from the lineage of Kapoors, the Kapoors. When your sister and uncle and basically everybody in your family is in the business, the laws of Bollywood dictate, breaking into films isn't going to be a tough task for you. Becoming a good actress, on the other hand...

I haven't seen most of Bebo's earliest films, though I did have the misfortune of sitting through Yaadein, so I can't say objectively how she developed in terms of acting talent, film-by-film. I first saw Kareena in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, my first ever Hindi film, and I disliked her severely in it. At this point, I couldn't really see the exaggerated comedy in the character of Poo(ja) that she portrayed, and so it took a long while until I warmed up to Kareena,. If you'd asked me what I thought of her in 2004, I would've said "Yuck!" - and this was based on just that one performance, not a single interview blurb that a lot of people base their dislike of her on.

I might've seen some Kareena films between my first viewing of K3G and my later rewatch of it, but if I did, I don't recall it. The next time I saw her, it was once again, in K3G as Poo(ja), the mini-skirt sporting egomaniac of a forever-teenager like straight out of Clueless, only without the heart. But this time, I got it. The character was a joke, an instead of being annoyed, I just chuckled at her, because I felt like I finally understood. And like Hrithik's character in the film, I saw through that act, that joke of a Westernized NRI girl stereotype, and learned to like Poo, and through that, Kareena.

I saw okay films of hers like Yuva and Hulchul and Kyon Ki (okay, that one sucked but not thanks to Kareena) but what really sold me on this lady were two 2006 films; 36 Chinatown and Omkara.

Chinatown was not a great film, but in the filmi climate of its release - after Rang De, before Fanaa - it was a nice, all-around decent comedy with a couple of great performances (loved Akshaye Khanna!), cute song picturizations (Shahid and Kareena in 24x7 crackland!) and the first signs that Shahid and Kareena together could actually amount to some on-screen chemistry. It's no Jab We Met but it was cute enough and it made me recognize that Kareena actually had talent in the field of comic timing.

And of course, Omkara. Even if everything else in the film sucked (which gladly isn't the case), it really made a case for Saif and Kareena. She delivered a strong, believable dramatic performance without fail and looked gorgeous in a completely non-glamorous way, capturing the innocence and naivity of Dolly.

Since then, I've liked everything I've seen of her and anticipate some of her upcoming films a ton (3 Idiots? Gimme!). But sometimes I have to wonder..

The thing is, what with her previous controversial statements and the fact that she does sometimes come off as a highly privileged star kid, even though I normally don't enjoy allowing off-screen personalities affect my opinions of stars, Kareena always makes me examine my views on nepotism. It's one of those things every Bollywood fan will find themselves commenting on at some point in time. Most of us like at least one star who's got family in the industry and even worse, most of us like at least one star who "learned on the job". The automatic reaction is to condone it, or at least not oppose it vehemently - after all, if your favourites are kids of stars or big producers, who are you to say they shouldn't have gotten the break they did, entering the industry themselves?

But at the same time, it seems so wholly unfair that for every son/daughter/niece/nephew of producer Y or actor X, there's a guy or a girl struggling in Bombay, taking acting lessons, dance lessons, borrowing money and rubbing elbows, just trying to catch their own break. There could be some real talent there, among the kids who are not blessed to be a part of a handsome Bollywood lineage. As a viewer, would I rather watch a starkid struggle to emote in a crappy film or a newcomer actually knowing a thing or two about acting?

Even as I say that, I admit it is somehow easier to watch a starkid, crap or not, than to give a film full of total newcomers a chance.

So yeah, I'm torn on the issue, and more so when it comes to Kareena than say, Abhishek, whose rich famous kid privilege has never come out in interviews so obnoxiously as it has with Kareena or some other stars.

Ending on a bit of a sour note, but hope you enjoyed reading despite.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ajeev lagta hai, or: more NIF experiences.

I haven't really been watching Indian movies in the past two weeks or so. Correction: I haven't really been watching new Indian films as of late, even with my awesome pile of Southie flicks and my existing pile of unwatched Hindi DVD's. Instead, I've been keeping my NIF friends on a steady diet. Here's what we've watched.

Rock On!! was sadly overshadowed by the presence of the brand new puppy my friend had gotten. The little thing was running around, biting and being chaotic as puppies usually are, and so the brilliant story-telling of the film was constantly taking a back seat to what was happening in the room. But nevertheless, they did see the film, and did enjoy the soundtrack.. Though again, with mixed success; one friend noted during Socha hai, "That dude can't sing", but the other one liked it enough.

There were no comments on the hotness of Farhan, but there was praise on Purab Kohli's comedic skills. Go Purab!

I brought over three DVD's with nothing in common except they're all favourites of mine that I wouldn't mind re-watching: Jab We Met, Dhool and Dharam-Veer. I introduced them to the audience. "This is romantic & awesome, this one has Anniyan Man in it, this one's got everything from samurai's to midgets to gypsies to pirates." One friend said romantic fluff, the other wanted brainmelting midgets and samurais. We rock-paper-scissors it, and Dharam-Veer won. The JWM-supporter friend started whining - she was tired, it'd been a long day, all she wanted was something relaxing and fun to watch. I tried arguing the merits of D-V; it was perfect "turn your brains off" fun! It was masala from the 1970's, for crying out loud,

D-V went into the DVD player, but you've probably already guessed the outcome; after non-stop whinging from Friend #1, Friend #2 succumbed and we turned back to JWM.

Shahid got the honor of being compared to a successful literary character: "He looks like Harry Potter." We giggled over the Harry Potter analogy throughout the first half, and Friend #2 groaned when Shahid begins singing on the bus. "Like you didn't know this was coming!" I old her.

Views on Kareena differed. Friend #2 thought she was "one annoying lady" while Friend #1 said, after the film, "I usually dislike the girls in Bollywood films, but I really liked this one!". Don't worry, Geet, at least you made one new fan!

Emotional appeal was established, probably for the first time since our viewing of Rang De Basanti - Friend #1 admited to getting teary-eyed during one of the heart-string tugging scenes. I consider this one an overall success.

Another evening, another film, and while I love Dhool to pieces, even after this umpteenth rewatch of it, it didn't reach the glorious levels of WTF that Anniyan did, and therefore left my friends a little cold. The songs were appreciated (though perhaps "Kundu kundu" a bit too brainmelting for Friend #2), but the typical "hero-against-corruption" didn't really engage my friends enough for them to truly appreciate the film.

Nevertheless, Friend #1 admitted she was warming up to Vikram's looks and that's good enough for me.

The pseudohistorical crackfest known as Dharam-Veer I watched together with Friend #1, Friend #2 being out of town (god, I really have to come up with better nicknames for them if I continue to write about our filmi sessions on this blog!). This time, the moment just wasn't right. The first half of the movie went swimmingly, my friend fearing constantly a Dharmendra up-skirt shot, which seemed to come around the corner but never (thankfully) did and us snarking the brilliant costuming in the film, and of course, the Wonder Bird Sheroo.

But as the movie continued, the complex, convoluted - maybe slightly stretched-out - plot began to bore me and my friend. The first two times I'd seen the film, I'd loved it to bits. Perhaps it was just the hour of the evening, the stress of the upcoming week creeping up to both of us.. Don't know. I still love the movie as ever, but I suppose it just isn't as tight in terms of direction as I'd want it to be. Then again, maybe Manmohan Desai films never are.

So, that's NIF Story Hour for this time.. I think my friends have had an overload of Hindi/Tamil films for now, but next time I'm considering showing them Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom or Duplicate. Best keep it light.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bollywood, Slumdog & "the West".

I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire because I intended to see it in theaters and the Finnish release date has been postponed time after time. Right now we're looking at a March release date, and I'm not sure if I can wait until then.

But even without seeing the film itself, it's impossible not to witness the impact its making in English-speaking countries, and other countries where English films typically reign supreme. I've had American friends tell me, "I just saw a Bollywood movie!" (which leads me to react, "Good for you! But technically Slumdog isn't Bollywood..."). There's quite a lot of buzz, and a lot of media coverage and even if Slumdog isn't technically Bollywood (if we define Bollywood as Hindi-language, Bombay-produced, mainstream films), it's certainly getting the genuine Bollywood some attention in the eyes of the so-called West.

Having spent nearly five years in the Bollywood fandom, there seems to be this constant question of when Bollywood will finally break out and become cool and popular among the Western mainstream, in the way that Chinese martial arts once did (leading Jet Li and Jackie Chan to become recognized household names), or in the way that Japanese films and comic books became when you began to find manga books and anime DVD's in nearly every store. People predicted it would happen with Lagaan and now with Slumdog, and rather than to ask, should it happen (in other words, does Hindi cinema need the approval of the Western mainstream somehow, why should it ever break out into the consciousness when just the NRI's and the few non-Indian fans seem to bring in quite a nice amount of abroad box office money?), I'd rather ask, will it ever?

I somehow doubt it.

I can't speak about the histories of Japanese popculture or Chinese/Hong Kong films with expertise, so I suppose it could be exaggeration to say they're somehow more open for the eyes of people outside those cultures, whereas Bollywood films can be such a different ballgame from European or Hollywood movies, and the culture they portray so alien to the Western viewer that they take a little while to become more accessible. When I saw my first Hindi film, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham, I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I didn't get it. I was confused by the less structured story-telling (it was not a 90-minute Hollywood script in three acts!) and couldn't read all the cultural customs and references that they loaded the screen with.

Of course, that's not to say I'm now fully versed in Indian culture and know everything and get everything; that just wouldn't be possible. But I've become more understanding of this form of cinema, its traditions, history, values, tropes and style. Getting into Indian films has in some ways become an exercise in open-mindedness; it's different from everything you're used to seeing, but now you accept that, and appreciate it on (what I hope are) its own terms.

This doesn't mean I love every film or don't find objectionable things in films or the industry itself. But along with my love for Bollywood, comes a definite attitude re-adjustment. Films are films. If you watch Hindi/Tamil/Telugu/whatever Indian language films and continue to carry the notion that films from the US/France or wherever in the so-called "West" are somehow magically superior, you might as well stop watching.

But if only it were that simple that all films are created equal and a bad film's bad, although in different ways, despite the country or culture it comes from. But the ideas of Western film-making's superiority is sadly prevalent even in the minds of some Indians themselves. But I suppose that's a different issue altogether.

The point I'm trying to come to is that I'm not sure the audiences at large in the "West" would be so accepting of the Indian manner of making films and telling stories. Some people occasionally might get into, thanks to an Indian friend, a visit to the country itself or pushing efforts by us non-Indian filmi fans, and that's wonderful, but for it to become something more popular in the mainstream, for people to know stars beyond the few who've been in the limelight outside India, I just don't see it happening.

And to risk sounding elitist, I don't mind it.