Monday, June 29, 2009

Third installment of mini-reviews.

(For those who missed them the first two times; typical writer's block post fodder; randomized list of all the Indian movies I've seen to work through; as the name suggests, bite-sized reviews.)

21. Saamy (2003) - This is a pretty solid Tamil action masala starring Vikram that I saw as my third or fourth Vikram film. I remember being mildly disappointed that the plot had its draggy bits but overall not a bad film and I adored Vivek's comedy track in this. Trisha was cute, too.

22. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) - Juhi's debut! Aamir's debut! Both of them so young and freshfaced and adorable! I remember really liking this movie, but also not enjoying it fully because the plot is violent and full of family rivalries of the bloody sort. I was a newbie when I saw it, so that kind of stuff was too much for me at that point - I only wanted fluff. Thankfully, this film had plenty of that, as well.

23. Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara (2005) - Has anybody even seen this? Anupam Kher plays a man who starts thinking he was the one who killed Gandhi and Urmila Matondkar plays the daughter who has to deal with her father's mental imbalance. Quite an okay drama, though the ending was incredibly heavy-handed. As far as films that hammer in the message of Gandhi and how Indians shouldn't forget it, I much prefer Lage Raho..

24. Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971) - Um, remind me to rewatch this and properly review it because while not amazing, this is a memorable 70's film starring Dharmendra, Asha Parekh and of course, Vinod Khanna as the hottest, filthiest, most vile villain ever. If some of the other legendary villains are disturbing, then Vinod's character Jabbar Singh (check the year! not ripping off Sholay, vice versa rather!) is disturbingly hot. My brain is shortcircuiting just by looking at the screencap above (not mine, by the way, I think I took it from the great bollywood501. com). Oh, Vinod.

25. Salaam-E-Ishq (2007) - I talked about this here. Nikhil Advani's sprawling romantic magnum opus that sort of loses you on some couplings and wins you over with some. Oddly enough, the not-too-available nearly 4 hour long cut of the movie is the best one - the one that made it on DVD is okay, too, though. Excellent music, if nothing else.

26. Race (2008/I) - Worst film of 2008. I can't believe some people found this a fun popcorn thriller. I've not seen a recent Hindi movie be this stupid and attempt to be so serious at the same time. Cringeworthy on all accounts. I'm sure in 10 years' time I can hail this as a campy so-bad-it's-good masterpiece. Right now? Die die die in a fire, stupid movie.

27. Ghulam (1998) - Aamir classic! Aati kya khandala? I quite liked this, a typical 90's romp with the cheesy violence and whatnot, but well worth a watch. I wish Rani and Aamir would star together again. They're always so good together.

28. Sangamam (1999) - One of the most amazing AR Rahman soundtracks ever belongs to this sadly mediocre Tamil movie about a pair of dancers in love. The real tragedy of the soundtrack is that the main dude (whose actor's name my memory has blocked out by now) was just a dreadful dancer. But seriously, the soundtrack, oh my. Carnatic music on speed. Buy the record, go listen to it on a streaming site, just do it!

29. Jaan-E-Mann: Let's Fall in Love... Again (2006) - I reviewed this one already but let's recap: spoofy, goofy, batcrap insane romantic comedy that encapsulates a crazy universe. It's a little fourth-wall breaking, it's plenty funny, it features sympathetic performances by Preity Zinta, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar alike but. It's just not quite solid enough to be called flawless, and the director threw a hissyfit after being critisized. So it's with some sadness I say goodbye to whatever film could've followed up Jaan-e-Mann's type; perhaps better than JEM itself did.

30. The Burning Train (1980) - A disaster movie! A multi-starrer with some of 70's finest (Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Jeetendra, Vinod Khanna, Neetu Singh!)! Nutty and entertaining and actually with some really interesting dramatic scenes! I liked this, not quite enough to own on DVD but liked it all the same. Vinod and his romantic interest Parveen Babi's romance was an interesting ride - you see their marriage fall apart because of his workaholism. This film is also worth mentioning as the first film where I really liked Jeetendra.

Right, now to answer comments and then work on a blog review index..

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

99 - the vibe is right.

I'm utterly behind on new movies, but for whatever reason, the film 99 caught my eye and inspired by my recent rewatch of CDI, I knew I had to at least try and get back on the '09 Bollytrain. I actually don't remember why this film sparked my interest. It might have been Filmi Girl's post in which she asked, "Why isn't Kunal Khemu a superstar yet?".

Why, indeed. Better yet, why is he not in every film this year, every film ever, why is he not shirtless in my bedroom.. Um. You get my point.

And besides him, this film has the fantastic Boman Irani who I love the hell out of in pretty much everything but this was one of his most brilliant roles and performances thus far. I was filled to the brim with Boman love. And Soha Ali Khan, pretty and charming, definite girlcrush of mine (though I admit, has ways to go in terms of acting - she gets good roles, though!). And and and Vinod Khanna! In older form, but still fantastic. Oh. Oh.

Wait, story? Fine, if you must know. 99 takes place in 1999, before and after the Y2K panic and follows the journey of two small-time crooks Sachin (Kunal Khemu) and Zaramud (Cyrus Broacha) who go from being independent to working for the bhai AGM (Mahesh Manjrekar). The perpetual gambler Rahul (Boman Irani) owes AGM money, so Sachin and Zaramud are forced to go to Delhi to collect money.

It's one of those films that isn't mind-blowingly amazing but solid enough and so well-written that you begin to believe in its world, laugh out loud at its clever little jokes and enjoy the ride its characters take into the unpredictable world of betting. Lacking of traditional song picturizations but packed with interesting music all the same, it's one of the few less loud Indian comedies I've seen. (Not that I mind loud comedy -- but I appreciate more situational comedy when well done.)

Kunal Khemu definitely has the acting chops to match his looks and the comic duo of him and Cyrus Broacha worked nicely in here. And I can't fangirl Boman Irani enough, and I also liked Simone Singh in the small role of his wife (which also amused me, because I recalled their jodi in Being Cyrus). This film just had its own style, and that style worked perfectly.

Sometimes I review movies to discuss them, sometimes to warn about them. And sometimes, as with this movie, just to recommend them. It's a fun little film I bet tons will be missing out on. It doesn't look like 2009 is a great year of Hindi films so far, so you might as well give this one a go.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chak De India and its feminist glitches.

Contains some spoilers for the movie. Watch it before reading! (I doubt you'll regret it.)

I said I'd blog about feminist perspectives when I have something to say, and after rewatching Chak De India last night with one of my NIF (Non-Indian Film watcher) friends, I find I have things to say. (I feel the need to point out that this NIF friend, while still not being fanatic about Indian films, has done something revolutionary; she bought Rang De Basanti on DVD because she enjoyed it so much! Hurray!)

The thing is, I adore this film to bits. It's refreshing, it's gripping, it's got a cast of absolutely terrific characters and some rare, fascinating female-female dynamics that are usually reserved for relations between the sexes or just between men in Indian cinema. And yes, it is awesomely feminist -- boldly, explicitly saying, girls should be able to go out and do stuff, and they can do all stuff as well as men. So what I'm about to say is not to undermine the film's obvious achievements, it's more to examine it more closely.

But - ah, there's always a but, isn't there? - as the movie was winding down, and we see the last of Shahrukh Khan's character Kabir's journey, my friend commented, "But the girls couldn't have done it without a man, huh?".

Glitch number one, ladies and gentlemen (and I sincerely hope people of both genders are still reading!).

The film both triumphs and suffers from the character of Kabir. Triumphs because it surely helped the film's commercial appeal to have the biggest actor in Bollywood starring, and of course, who's to deny Shahrukh turned in a fine performance as the girls' coach. Suffers because it is clear that while these girls were all talented in their own right, they needed Kabir to pull them together as a team, lead them to victory. Even the very final save by the team captain Vidya was successfully pulled off thanks to the signal of Kabir.

You could see the film makers were sort of struggling to maintain a balance between the film's story being the girls' and one of Kabir. It's a tough balance to achieve, no doubt, and I think thanks to Shahrukh's presence, the scale ended up being tipped slightly towards the latter. On the other hand, this is what the audience, I think, expected and probably what I expected, going in. When it turns out the girls have character arcs, personalities and interesting, changing dynamics in a film that is pretty tight in terms of pace and script, I was blown away. The second time, I could take a step back and realize that at the end, Kabir's importance is highlighted as well. But is it at the expense of the girls?

That's really the big question. It can be problematic but it doesn't have to be. Of course, realistically speaking, the character of Kabir couldn't be female - a perceived betrayal of the women's team captain wouldn't be such a big media fuss as that of the men's team captain. But aside from that, it's a typical sports movie and it has its typical sports movie characters and plot structure. Kabir comes in with radical ideas, the girls rebel, but most eventually bend to his will, seeing its results. He is the archetype of the inspirational coach (or teacher) and such a role could be played by a man or a woman. The fact that the character is male carries some implications, but they don't need to be considered as overshadowing the girls' active roles on the field. At the end of the day, whatever training and tactics seminars the coach does, the players get the job done.

Then the other glitch, which my friend also pointed out during our viewing, and which Beth has blogged about (though I hadn't seen the movie at that point and couldn't join in on the discussions). It is the McDonald's fight scene, the bit where some guys and then some more guys get trashed by the girls for making lewd comments at the border state representatives, Mary and Molly.

My friend commented something along the lines of, "Well, that's not too fair." and Beth in her post seconds the notion of vigilante violence not perhaps being the way to deal with gross suggestive comments. Standing up vocally, yes. With fists and sticks? Maybe not.

But as my friend said that, I realized another thing. In the context of the film, my friend and Beth have a definite point - it is an exaggerated response to a situation, and to see Kabir just munching on his burger, not trying to stop the girls' "show of team spirit", is comical and weird at the same time. But the scene makes sense, through a different prism, and one that I'm sure certain female viewers, perhaps even all female viewers, can select to view.

It's this unfortunate worldwide fact that almost all - if not indeed all - women have faced sexual harrassment or even abuse at some point during their lives. Even if it has been of the milder variety, even if it hasn't left considerable trauma, even if it is not something they face every day, it simply is fact. (And now this isn't some call for all the women who don't feel they've ever been sexually harrassed to call me out for generalizing - if you're one such female, you can consider yourself lucky and recognize that some have not been so lucky. I personally prefer not to discuss my experiences with such matters, so I'll simply say I'm not a stranger to it, but also consider myself lucky.)

So the girls in Chak De are not just paying back for a couple of comments. They're paying back for all the comments, all the unwelcome touches they've suffered throughout their lives, and all the stuff they know their fellow females have suffered as well. For the female viewer, who probably has experienced such harrassment and discrimination based on their gender at some point, it can be an empowering, cleansing experience. Is it fair to take it out on a portion of the idiots who do such things? Not really. But it makes sense none the less.

(I should add I'm not some revolutionary thinker on this point -- many people who commented on Beth's post had similar ideas.)

Do these two glitches (and any I possibly didn't pick up on) kill the movie? Not in the least. But it's worth noticing they exist, so as to stay critical of what even the most progressive movies say about gender. So that not only will we get movies as good as CDI in the future, but movies that are, god willing, even better.

Another talky, non-picture-filled post from me. Next time I'll try to bring you more screencap gloriousness. (Summer job is keeping me pretty busy, apologies for not being up on all my blog following business.)