Thursday, April 29, 2010

Naseeb - or thoughts on various negative factors.

Naseeb, a 1981 Manmohan Desai masala has it all, like a typical Desai masala would - the name means destiny, and there's a heavy sense of that, familial bonds breaking and being tied back together, epic dosti, lots of messy love and villains galore. There's Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha. There's funky fashion, kickassery, cool women and people falling out of windows onto two-decker busses:


The plot goes a little something like this; Daddy'O (played by Pran, not the character's actual name but work with me here, I'm lazy) gets screwed over by his two friends (Amjad Khan, Kader Khan) and framed for murder. His friends become rich villains with evil sons, lairs and fancy stuff. Daddy'O flees the country, assumed dead or something. Amjad Khan's son Vicky (Shatrughan) is a successful businessman who is returning from London to India to meet his father and his friend Johnny (Amitabh), incidentally Daddy'O's son. The friends fall for the same girl, Asha (Hema Malini), while Vicky's childhood friend (Reena Roy) is hopelessly infatuated with him. Meanwhile, Johnny's younger bhai Sunny (Rishi Kapoor) romances Asha's younger sister, villains plot away, Amrish Puri makes an appearance.

But even though I liked the movie, and all it's zany components, I wasn't in love with it. So what gives?

By Hercules and his tight velvet vest, I can't figure it out. Then I screencapped the movie and it hit me - the DVD just may be really crappy. The BABA DVD makes all the colours look drab, and the film appear more meandering and dull than it actually was.

Or maybe it is the period? This is early 80's, not late 70's and in Hindi films, that can actually make a world of difference. Maybe the film, as it was shot, was not as full of colour and exciting visuals, somehow darker in tone (literally, not metaphorically).

Because try as I might, I can't say there's anything particularly wrong with the film. Hema's character is pretty fun, Amitabh's is a little too Anthony throwback-like but then again, who cares? Rishi plays far too small a role but is still good and the plot has enough drama and twists in-tact.

And the amount of classic villain actors in this movie is mind-boggling! Amrish Puri, Pran, Shakti Kapoor, Amjad Khan, Kader Khan, oh my. Desai loves his plentiful villains (see also: Dharam-Veer) and I love him for it!

And in the first song we get the proto-type of Om Shanti Om's Deewangi Deewangi (ie. star guest appearances galore!), where Amitabh's character learns the First Rule of Dharmendra - Don't mess with Dharmendra.

And you got fashion like Shatrughan fishing in cowboy gear (what all sophisticated Englishmen do), or ..

Hema being excessively sparkly.

Okay, so maybe the problem doesn't lie with the fact that this movie is unexciting on the Desai Masala-meter, but rather that it just doesn't fall in line with some of my other overwhelmingly amazing Desai favourites, like Dharam-Veer or Parvarish or AAA. And it's not really so much a flaw as it is a shame - I'll rewatch this movie but mostly for the songs.

But seriously, if you can avoid it, don't buy the BABA DVD of this. It makes me sad to think the bad DVD might've affected my Desai enjoyment and I don't want that to happen to anybody else!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Raavana & a totally real, not-at-all fake letter I just received.

[Click on thumbnails for HUGE pictures - pictures from official site.]

Dear Veracious,

This is Mani Ratnam. I know, I know. You must be thinking, "How can this be, Mani-saab? You at the release of not one but two of your films and you have the time to spare to write to a lowly film watcher such as myself!" but believe me, I'm not as busy as people would have you believe.

And anyway, let me be honest here for a second - at the end of the day, I made this film with you in mind.

I know it sounds unbelievable, but it's entirely true and not just something you made up while thinking of a way to intelligently fangirl the hell out of the Tamil Raavan pictures that you just saw online. No, that isn't what this is at all. You wouldn't be talking to yourself, that would just be crazy. See, I know how you feel about my films. I read your ambivalent review on Guru (2007) and I realize that film didn't work for some people. Still, I know you appreciated Iruvar and were down with Bombay and Alai Payuthe and that Dil Se played an important part in your early Bollywood watching career. I know you really appreciated the Tamil cast of Ayitha Ezhuthu, or as you like to call it "Tamil Yuva" for short.

So when it came to casting my latest film(s), I again looked at what you, dear Veracious, might enjoy. And so I went with this guy:

Of course, it didn't hurt that he'd done some quite impressive work in the Tamil industry before.

And of course I knew of that time you watched Kannukondain Kannukondain and imagined Abbas as Vikram (who Abbas was voiced by) and what his chemistry would be like with Aishwarya. And then I just made it all the more interesting by being my awesome self, throwing in some Ramayana and a little jungle and more than a touch of visually interesting stuff (Santosh Sivan helped, of course).

And of course it is a given that you can barely stand Aishwarya in most of her movies but can enjoy her in the direction of somebody good - hate to toot my own horn but Iruvar, Guru, one would be insane not to name these some of her best performances. So I put her in this, both versions, and I know you won't mind one bit.

And as a cherry on top, just so you can't really get grumpy about Vikram doing so few movies per year (or years, should I say), I put him in both versions, in different roles. And in the Hindi version, there is also Abhishek, so you've basically got no room to complain about my casting choices.

So yes, I hope you and many others enjoy it - whichever version, or both. I hope you don't gnaw your fingers off in anticipation. I'm sure there'll be other stuff to keep you busy while waiting for this movie. I hear Housefull's going to be quite good - ha ha ha.

Anyway, I must go now as I am a real film maker with busy schedules but I hope you read this entirely real, not at all fake letter and post it on your blog. It'll be good promotion for the movie and a way for you to describe your enthusiasm without resulting in keymashing and repeated exclamation marks after the name Vikram. Yes, I did this all just so you wouldn't have to type "omg" and "phwoarr" and "eeee" and "Aishwarya & Vikram eee omg!" over and over again. I care for your dignity.

Yours truly and genuinely and not in the least bit fakely,

Mani Ratnam

PS. I too severely hate Saif's bandanna. What was he thinking?!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mini-reviews, part 6.

[Previous mini-reviews here.]

Sorry, I lack blogspiration nowadays. Better than nothing, isn't it?

51. Yuva (2004) - Probably the second Mani Ratnam film I ever watched and while it definitely has its good points (Abhishek, Rani-Abhishek, music), it felt like a disappointment by the time I was done. I assumed that once the storylines of the three heroes (Abhi, Ajay Devgan & Vivek Oberoi) would come together, the movie would more or less end. Well, it didn't. It goes on exceedingly long and it's just kind of, hmm, dull?

52. Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (1994) - Damn, ain't sugar great? I remember watching this and just thinking what a perfect piece of fluff it was. The Rajshri megahit is just about two Indian families coming together, Salman and Madhuri's characters teasing each other, falling in love to the sounds of a million songs and it's all cushioned edges and niceties. They do mix in a little drama but it's nothing like the melodrama in Maine Pyaar Kiya (review here) or even the godawful follow up, Hum Saath-Saath Hain. HAHK is a fluffy classic. I really should rewatch. I yearned for more drama on my first (and only) watch but nowadays I think I might be more fine with no sharp edges and candyfluff.

53. Ishq (1997) - If you're sane, you hate Ishq. If you're lucky, you love Ishq. I love Ishq. Yeah, it's a wasted opportunity for a great 90's multistarrer (Aamir, Juhi, Kajol, Ajay), it's way too over-the-top, but it's so-bad-it's-good, and it's mind-boggling and every now and then I gotta youtube or pop in the DVD for the songs. It doesn't get more ballistic than this. Seriously.

54. Lamhe (1991) - This is one of those films where everything seems fine but where I can't get over the premise, where Anil Kapoor loves both Pallavi (Sridevi) and Pallavi's daughter (also Sridevi), after Pallavi died during delivery. Based on what I watched, it seemed like quite an okay film but once I realized what was coming I had to turn it off. I still feel kind of guilty about it, because it seems like a popular movie but eh there you go.

55. Nandha (2001) - I like Nandha but it is sadly my least favourite Bala film. For the purposes of keeping this short, here's my original review of it.

56. Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (1998) - Ohhhh boy. I talked about it here previously (in 2008!) and since I haven't rewatched it, my thoughts haven't changed. It's an okay Akshaye Khanna movie - which is saying something, but knowing the career of poor Akshoo, it's still not saying a lot. And Jothika is a shadow of the spunk she shows in her Tamil films. Oh and it's directed by Priyadarshan. Fantastic soundtrack, though, do youtube the songs!

57. Inkaar (1977) - Vinod playing policewallah detective proper in a 70's thriller I will discuss more during Khanna Week so ..til then!

58. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) - Blaaaahhhhhhh. Blaahhhhhhhh. Blahhhhhh. This whole movie is like my relationship with Karan Johar in a nutshell. He spends one half of the movie building something I might enjoy and the second half tearing it down in the most ridiculously melodramatic manner possible. The less I can talk about this movie the better so --

59. Main Hoon Na (2004) - God I'm going to come off as such a party-pooper but okay, please sit down, take a deep breath, you calm? Okay. I'm not a fan of Farah Khan. I really am not. I like her movies but I don't get the excitement others have for them. I think the parodying aspect is fun, but it doesn't make me develop any sort of emotional attachment to the characters, and when she rams up the emotional moments, it just feels so fake. So that's the kind of attitude I have towards both MHN and OSO. Fun watch, maybe rewatch for some scenes.. (Also, I have an irrational annoyance towards the fact she's a female director who does absolutely nothing with her female characters, they're mostly there to look gorgeous and glam.)

60. Swades: We, the People (2004) - Mini-review triple whammy for Shahrukh! Swades is quite a good picture. It suffers from the usual Ashutosh Gowariker trait of being a little too overly long and I think some people found Shahrukh's NRI character a little too sermonizing. But on my first watch, I really enjoyed. It has very little repeat value, though, I've discovered. Still, fab soundtrack - one of the first ones I ever got into.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bunty aur Babli steal your heart & valuables.

Bunty aur Babli (2005), the bombastic masala thrill about two con-artists gaining fame all around India, directed by Shaad Ali Sehgal, always takes me back to my Indian film newbie years. I saw some promo pictures for the movie and got pretty excited about it. It just looked so colourful and amazing, and I'd seen Rani Mukherjee in Hum Tum and really liked her in that. It was the first Bollywood movie I didn't just randomly come across or get recommended or anything. It was a movie I sort-of-found on my own, and got excited about seeing it.

The movie's inherently tied to those first impressions and memories of it. How at first I really enjoyed it but not unconditionally - I thought it had some flaws (given, I still do). But it also just works, on so many levels, and nowadays, when I rewatch it, I am able to dig beyond those first impressions and appreciate it all the more.

So, instead a proper review, have a series of random, spoilerous observations -- and if you haven't seen the movie, drop everything you're doing and get your hands on it. Consider this a huge recommendation. It's really so worth it.

1. I adore the love story, the way their bond slowly and subtly develops. A part of why this film is so special to me is because I think I saw it at the point in time when these stars hadn't crystalized in my mind, and when I watched the movie I only saw characters. Don't get me wrong, this happens nowadays, too, with good movies particularly. But back then, I really wasn't watching Abhishek and Rani at all - I was watching Bunty and Babli, or Rakesh and Vimmi, and seeing them come together. It was just great. Despite their gentle bickering, Vimmi's tantrums and all, they gel perfectly together, and it's just all too sweet. Plus they can be surprisingly steamy together.

2. And there are so many awesome, cutesy coupley moments and bits that could easily go in my top 10 of anythings. Like Vimmi drunkenly explaining her past love history during their wedding night (and Rakesh coyly trying to talk her into consumating). Or their wedding ceremony, where she leads him around the fire. Or when she tells him to stop drinking and come help her check out the rooms of the hotel they just "bought" (the implication just makes me grin). And the moment before they finally get together, when Vimmi asks him, "You think you can live without me?" and Rakesh has to defiantly answer "Yes," before succumbing and admitting, "No."

Vimmi's foxiest moment.

3. The cons!! The cons! Given, we don't see enough of them -- though what we do see is just so much fun, what with the costumes and everything. I especially love the Taj Mahal bit, Abhishek's whole get up, from the way he holds his cell phone to the bit where Foreigner-ji tells him, "I can't believe somebody is selling the Taj Mahal!" and he replies, "I can't believe somebody is buying!". I also liked this little consistency I noticed on this rewatch; in most of the cons, Vimmi plays the "head honcho", be it the person Q.Q.Qureishi has to impress, the lady minister selling the Taj Mahal or the foxy businesswoman buying a dozen washing machines.

4. The soundtrack is still lively and awesome. And I noticed that S-E-L also did the background score, which you can tell on the second half, when the plot goes all 70's masala and the music accompanies that change. It's just really lovely listening.

5. Speaking of that 70's style, I think while BaB could've pulled it off much better - make it snappier and less draggy at that point in the plot - it is a really splendid tribute to 70's style masala. Escaping hospitals after giving birth, gold heist, train scene like straight outta Sholay .. are wah! I dig it a lot. Especially now that I actually recognize this stuff.

6. This bit always amuses me (and is hypnotic):

And this bit is so adorable:

7. And a million other little things such as...

Vimmi thinking Babli sounds like a "fat" name.

Bunty Aur Babli safe!

Abhishek's party department in the Dhadak dhadak picturization. Hells yeah. Nobody ever said train travel had to be boring! Just be sure to be the only guy wearing red when everybody else wears blue/purple shades.

Height difference is just adorable. Seriously. Adorable.

I love how young and naive and awkward they are in their initial scenes together. They really are perfect fit; both can act confident and be anything they want, but at the core they're both young, unexperienced and still learning things.

Ahhh this scene I love it. I love the constant "Are you being Bunty or Rakesh?" type of questioning and how they kind of get lost in their dual roles but can also pull away from them.

8. I'd definitely still change some things about this film, make it tighter on the second half among other things but generally? Massive, overwhelming filmipyaar. I just wish Rani and Abhishek would be in another movie together anywhere close to as satisfying a watch as this one.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Let's talk about ...Salman Khan!

[Earlier editions of Let's Talk About here.]

I meant to do a selective rewatch of Wanted this one evening, but enjoyed the movie so much I ended up watching it the whole way through. I'd be hard-pressed to name more than three Salman Khan films as good as this one, which is why I really truly cherish this film, despite the fact that the Southie film fan inside me feels betrayed.

And the next morning I found myself watching Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya (2005) and was going to write this totally tortured metaphor about Salman's filmography based on these two films and one of the worst films I've ever seen, Marigold (2007) but decided to scrap that in favor of this more general post about the man.

The thing I found out quite early on in my Hindi film obsession is that Salman Khan really splits people. Unlike the other Khans, who have their haters, their lovers, and their more casual fans, it seemed like whether you liked or disliked Salman was a touchy topic for some. The lovers are more vehement, but even more so are the haters.

Eventually I found myself positioned more in the "like" column than the "dislike" one when it came to Salman. I liked him a lot in roles he seemed to excel - Andaz Apna Apna, Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, Salaam-e-Ishq, Maine Pyaar Kiya - but wasn't particularly interested to see the mediocre or the bad films of his career. I read his interviews and found him to be really entertaining, down-to-earth and his world views generally simple but honest.

In a nutshell - I grew fond of him. And I became very forgiving and understanding, but not in a super-fanatic manner. It's just that I began to sort of place him in a category of his own.

Like I always say, Salman is as Salman does and what Salman does is not traditionally classified as acting. But strangely enough, that's one of the appealling things about him. I wouldn't say Salman defies definition -- it's more like, he doesn't benefit from definitions.

But so there I was, watching Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, a film from that poor David Dhawan "ha ha fake cheating is the funniest thing ever" school of comedy, and it's got a constantly hysteric Katrina Kaif, a mildly amusing Sohail Khan, and the too-good-for-this-movie Sushmita Sen (seriously, she was the best thing about this movie). And I suppose I could ask myself why I'm watching this movie, as I know it's not exactly favourite material.

In my heart of hearts, I know why, though.

Because I like Salman Khan. I don't love him, I certainly don't enjoy him unconditionally, but the fact remains I do like him.

As much as I sometimes find myself defending that fact, to myself, or to the haters, it's true.

Even if it's a little guilty pleasure, even if I recognize all the flaws others see in him (like the fact he looks eternally tired nowadays, he's involved in more scandals than the Catholic Church, he sometimes only employes one dance move..), the fact simply remains that I like him and I really, really love him in Wanted, which just might be his best movie last decade (no, seriously).

And as far as previous decades go, I've got one word for you: Prem. That about sums it up, no?

Friday, April 9, 2010

My favourite Indian directors.

In my last post I talked about being a newbie and not knowing certain things or what's what when it came to certain things. I think one of the questions I couldn't have in any way answered during my newbiedom was "Who's your favourite director in Indian cinema?". For one, I didn't pay attention to directors - only the stars of films. Second, even if I had, I hadn't seen enough films by any director to know whether I liked them or not.

But, I'm glad to say, now that I've seen enough films, when the question is put forth, a number of names instantly come to mind.

What makes a favourite director for me? Well, for one, I have to have seen a lot if not most, if not all of their films. I have to (obviously) enjoy the films I've seen by them. I have to get why they make the kind of films they make. And I also have to anticipate their up-coming films (assuming they're still directing).

Sriram Raghavan

So, dude's only made two films, Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar, and you know what? Friggin' adore both films. And now he's in the process of making another film starring my on/off favourite actor, Saif Ali Khan. I think Raghavan is the Tarantino of Hindi films, if we must make such comparisons - he is a huge film fanatic, who loves films of all sorts, and he mixes these influences into his films (you only have to read his piece on Rediff about his favourite thrillers to know this). However, unlike Tarantino with his self-indulgent dialogues, I think Raghavan keeps his films tightly plotted. They're not perfect films, don't get me wrong - there are things I'd change about both of them, there are things I'm sure he'd change himself, but they are good films, no two ways about it. I hope he makes plenty more.

Kunal Kohli

Yeah, I am an eternal Kunal Kohli apologist. He made Hum Tum, which I loved (despite its flaws), he made Fanaa, which I loved (despite its flaws), he made Thoda Pyaar.., which I loved (despite its flaws and the fact nobody else did). This critic-turned-director is not generally immensely appreciated. But I like him, and I get him - like Raghavan, he's a filmi fanboy. Sometimes, that can be a good thing - he constructs films that aren't the tightest or the best when it comes to plot, and that really require suspension of belief. Sometimes, it's not necessarily a good thing. For example, I get the sense he loved everything Aamir did in Fanaa so much he didn't necessarily direct the actor much. But I think Kohli makes films that feel right, and have those magical filmi moments that just click with me as a viewer so strongly I adore him for it. Like the antakshari scene on Fanaa, or the argument scene in Hum Tum, or the sindoor in Mujhse Dosti Karoge. To Thoda Pyaar's disadvantage I have to say, the film lacks those moments in large part. But it's fun fluff regardless.

Manmohan Desai (pictured with Rishi Kapoor)

King of Masala. King of Mass-entertainers. King of crazy, funky, fantastic entertainment. I wonder, how this man was talked about back in the day? Was he considered the David Dhawan of his time, sort of looked down on but very popular regardless? The Priyadarshan? I want to say no, because I think Desai really believed in the type of cinema he was making - he wasn't just making it to make money. There's wildness in his films that captured the imagination of the audiences. I mean, I can think of a story wilder than Dharam-Veer, for sure, but I could not imagine it into a blockbuster that would live on as a classic masala film to this day. The over-the-topness, the fantastical story tropes, but also the heart at the core of these films, all of these make Manmohan Desai a name I can trust.


He debuted with Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana (a film that flows through choreography), continued with Pournami (amicable effort, though not a huge favourite) and began in Hindi industry by giving them Wanted (a show that Southie rules in action masalas, but the format can and does work for Hindi audiences, too). Plus he's an awesome dancer and choreographer. Again, he's not done a whole lot when it comes to directing but I love what he has given to the world and I anticipate his future efforts.


I've talked about his guy a lot but I can't get over how spell-binding his latest effort, Naan Kadavul (review here) was in all its grimness. Plus I adore Pithamagan, for not being so totally hopeless. And this guy, if there any directors who make films like his somewhere in India, I've not heard of them. I think he has a totally unique vision, the kind that looks that things that are grim and dark and awful, but also rooted in some sort of strange humanity. And all these characters that are outsiders, and characters who do bad things but who still feel relatable - in other words, complexity.

S. Shankar

Another Southie director! This guy is the real successor to Manmohan Desai, if anybody in Indian films is. He makes the most bombastic, insane, masala to the nth degree that has everything, visuals, comedy, music, CGI, star power. In true Thamizh style the heroes smash social problems with a simplistic philosophy - curing social ills one baddie at a time. I adore Anniyan but I also enjoyed Indian and his Hindi venture, Nayak: The Hero. And then there's Sivaji, and the up-coming Aishwarya-Rajni film Robot/Enthiraan. Shankar is something you have to experience to understand, and then experience it again, to truly understand.

Bubbling Under: Gulzar, Vishal Bhardwaj (lovelovelove this guy, also as a composer, but feel like I need to see more of his films), Shankar Ali (Bunty aur Babli & Jhoom Barabar Jhoom), Rajkumar Hirani (I love him but who doesn't?), Guru Dutt (again, feel like I need to see more)...

Gosh, there's actually quite a number of people whose films I love. Go figure.

What are your favourites? Feel free to make your own post, or just answer in the comments. I'm really curious!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Your Indian cinema is not my Indian cinema - constructing knowledge.

Even as a fan, I find fans fascinating. And more than just generally fascinating, I think the process of becoming a fan is really intriguing, specifically the process of how one builds a knowledge about their object of fandom.

I remember one of the first times I met up with Stimpy, back when I had seen barely any films, and she threw around all these oldie star names I had no context for. I think she said something like, "It just seems like every Shammi film I watch nowadays ends with him and Pran chasing each other in a comic fashion." and I was just like, "Who's Shammi? Who's Pran?" but even as she answered, I couldn't really contextualize the two properly, having only seen maybe three pre-1980's films.

I think what happens when you're a non-Indian fan of Indian cinema, is that you suddenly come upon something that you've either sort of known about (it's been in your periphery) or haven't had any clue about, and little by little you build a knowledge of it. But your knowledge is based on what you watch, when you watch it and how you watch it - whether you focus on oldies, newer films, fluffy films, tearjerkers, plain masala, socially conscious, more arthouse films, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada.. And when I was a newbie, I became accutely aware of all my blind spots, all the blanks I had to somehow fill out to get a picture in my head of what other people were talking about.

Eventually the blank gets filled out. You learn who you like, who you choose to focus on.. You learn that not knowing who's Dino Morea is actually no great crime on your part. Not knowing who Salman Khan is, however, would be a different story. And the way the utter blankness gets filled out, but never completed (because nobody can know everything about Indian cinema -- there aren't enough years to live on this planet to do so), that's really interesting. And one of the things I kind of struggle with is how to write "newbie-friendly", so that I don't take for granted that everybody knows who so-and-so is, and so my posts can be more easily contextualized even if you haven't seen over 150 or so films.

Of course, Indian (or NRI) fans of Indian cinema are possibly even more fascinating. For them, it's not necessarily a blank slate they fill out slowly - it's different variables of ground knowledge, knowledge of language and culture (but not some other languages, some other parts of the culture), it's watching films when you're a kid you now can barely remember (or remember extremely well), it's having a mother who loves Rajesh Khanna films because that's what she grew up on, it's quoting Sholay because other kids are quoting Sholay, not because you've seen the film yourself.. It's taking your family to the movies. There's so much there, so many individual "how I became a fan" stories, and if I had my way, everybody would be recounting these stories because they are so cool. A lot of them may seem self-evident to the people recounting them (like watching films off TV) but those of us who haven't lived through them will find them interesting.

This isn't to say we are all operating on completely different playing fields, as obviously we are watching the same movies, even enjoying the same movies, and agreeing on things left and right, whether we're newbies, seasoned fans, Finnish, Indian, British NRI or Nigerian. But I think we all have our own ways of contextualizing things, giving them a place in our knowledge sphere if you will. (Does that sound pretentious enough?)

There's always going to be a million and one Indian films you could watch. But your choices are yours, as are your views. What we can give to each other is knowledge of what we've yet to look into, recommendations, and stories. And I think we should tell more stories of how we watch films, instead of just talking about the films, to give context to our own film experiences. But coincidentally, I may actually be the only one..

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The tale of three movies.

I've done a post before where I talked about two films both named Meera, which had in terms of story, execution or even language very little to do with each other.

Similarly I'll now discuss two films called Chori Chori - the 2003 one and the 1956 one.

The 2003 Chori Chori was recommended to me a couple of times by people who knew I liked Rani Mukherji a lot, and I think every Rani fan loves her lively, "bubbly" roles, if not best then at the very least a lot. I wasn't very different in that respect, considering Bunty aur Babli is my favourite film with her in it next to Hum Tum. I had my doubts about enjoying the film, considering I'm no huge Ajay fan (don't hate the guy, just don't like him a ton, either), but enough people whose tastes I trust liked it and so I bought the film.

I was open to it, I really was, but it just never won me over and I kept watching it in 15 minute chunks because that's about all I could do before my attention span would end and I'd just conclude I didn't really care. I mean, Rani did a fine job, and I didn't hate her character. But I just didn't care, and I quit watching, and I tried again, and quit watching, and again, and again, but never far enough to actually get to the ending of the film.

And so the DVD still sits on my shelf, never watched all the way through, as I type this. And the weird thing? I can't pinpoint the problem. Somebody suggested it was Ajay's acting, that I just couldn't buy his side of the romantic pairing. I suppose .. but I'd hate to lay all the blame on him.

So anyway...

I never had any intention of watching the 50's version of Chori Chori, probably because I wasn't in general very driven to watch Raj Kapoor/Nargis films. I loved them in Shree 420, of course, but then I watched Andaz, with them and Dilip Kumar, which ended up being among the few movies I've quit watching and never gone back to.

But then one evening near Christmas they showed It Happened One Night (1934, starring Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert) on Finnish television and I loved the movie to pieces (easily one of my favourite romantic comedies of all time). Naturally I immediately went to Wikipedia and saw that it had in fact been remade in Bollywood, as the 1956 Chori Chori.

Now, it was always clear to me that ITHO was the original version and would always therefore be the best one, but I was still keen to see the Bollywood version. And this Chori Chori I definitely liked. The changes to the original story of a runaway heiress and a writer meeting on a bus journey to a big city were minimal, limited to dialogue and of course, the integration of songs and comedy characters that weren't in the original (obligatory Johnny Walker), but watching those changes was really fun for me, just having seen the original film.

While neither of the stars necessarily make my favourites category, I really enjoyed them in this film. There's a lightness to everything in the film, as there should be, but there are also a couple of very nice more emotional moments where you can tell that this a film made in Bombay, not in Los Angeles.

And what really won me over was the soundtrack. The integration of the songs can be a tad odd sometimes, relying on side characters to make sure there are enough songs, but I can be forgiving when the songs are this good.

I especially loved Jahan Main Jaati Hoon:

Fun song, and cute picturization, especially towards the end.

Anyway, I don't feel comfortable comparing the two movies with one another, because of their obvious vast differences, and the fact whoever the 2003 was made for, it wasn't for me. I know it has tons of fans and everything, and I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as they did, but I just didn't. The older Chori Chori was my favourite purely for the fact it was easy to sit through, and an overall fun watch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A wholehearted recommendation: Sita Sings the Blues.

I don't normally talk about animated films on this blog, and I typically don't cover non-Indian films, either, but for this film, I will make an exception. Sita Sings the Blues (2008) by Nina Pailey, happens to be that good of an animated film, and better yet -- legally available for free online, at (you can select whether you want to download it or watch it online streaming - I downloaded the small file version and put it on my iPod).

The film uses various animation styles and tells the parallel stories of Sita in ancient Ayodhya and Nina in modern day San Fransisco, with clear focus on Sita. There are song interludes using jazz songs sung by Annette Hanshaw to portray different stages of Sita's tale. Besides these interludes, the musical score of the film is excellent, providing perfect accompaniment to the fantastic animation.

At first the variation in style may seem a bit random, but very soon a pattern emerges. Nina's story is animated a certain way, the songs another way - and my favourite part, the narrators accounting and discussing the story as it moves along, explaining and relying on each other for certain details, in its own style.

The film is partly hilarious, partly sad, sometimes ironic but riveting throughout. The story of Sita is something I only learned about very late in life (as with most information on India) but it captured my imagination. The way the narration discusses the story from a modern perspective is really interesting, and what also fascinates me is the different versions of the story told. I have, for example, heard that a lot of South-Indian versions of the tale portray Raavan as not really a villain at all (this film seems to somewhat agree).

Another reason why you ought to watch Sita Sings the Blues? The upcoming version of the story directed by Mani Ratnam, which looks to be super-interesting, as it tells the story from Raavan's perspective. If you're a non-desi like myself, and haven't looked into the story yet, this is one version you can get acquintanced with. It's accessible but not over-simplified.

It is seriously so worth the watch, and a dozen more. And - may I remind you? - free, legal! For your further convinience, here is part 1 of it on YouTube.

Give it a go, I doubt you'll regret it. If you need more persuasion, check out Memsaab's screencap-filled review.

A Note: I've seen a lot of debate about Paley's reinterpreting, whether her whimsical outlook is insulting to those Hindus to whom these are not just stories but stories of their god(s). I totally respect that, and if somebody doesn't want to watch the film for the unease it puts them in because of their faith, I completely understand that. I think it's not offensive at all, but I'm a total outsider. I think many Indians - Hindu or not - have enjoyed this take a ton, so I'm not taking back my recommendation, just qualifying that people can have their own personal reasons for not watching the film & that's cool with me.