Friday, September 28, 2012

Dharmendra-Hema - simply the cutest pair!

This one is a pretty precious behind-the-scenes shot from the filming of Sholay.. What a find! Adore everything about this.

This is what they did before Photoshop, ladies and gentlemen...

The fashion is questionable but isn't this just adorable otherwise?

Hee, Dependable Duo indeed!

This picture feels almost entirely too intimate. It's either very genuine or very well posed/acted. Regardless of what the surrounding circumstances were - already in love or just playing it on-screen? - I do love this shot. It's just amazing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Somebody give Shaad Ali a second chance!

The ways of film industry financing and personal relations are always a puzzle to me, as an outsider occasionally peeking in and trying to make sense of all of it. I understand that Shaad Ali, son of Muzaffar Ali (director of the original Umrao Jaan as well as a lot of documentaries) had a hit with Bunty aur Babli and continued his relationship with YRF with Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, which was a commercial and a critical failure, despite being quite a serviceable movie. But I'm still astounded that he's not directed anything since, and has clearly moved to work behind the scenes, back in Mani Ratnam's crew, working the assistant director's job.

Is nobody willing to give this guy a second chance? Clearly JBJ was a bit excessive - wild in more ways than one, and the story perhaps unnecessarily twisty, but that's partly why it gained its (dare I call it) cult following. It's a funky little film with charm. BAB is not perfect, either, but charmed audiences, and most of us who love the movie don't even care for the Kajra Re item number. 

And if JBJ was excessive, well, isn't this the cinema of excess? If it isn't, explain Karan Johar to me. I rest my case.

Like them or find them mediocre at best, it's hard to deny that Shaad Ali's films had style and flavour. He gave Abhishek Bachchan some of his career's funniest performances. I understand YRF wanted to give new directors opportunities, and given their success at bringing fresh talent to the foray, I appreciate that, but Shaad Ali didn't deserve to be kicked out of the stable, I don't think.

And critics would do well to re-visit JBJ, because if this quirky charmer of a film is what a bad film looks like, then I'd like to see more "bad" films made, thank you very much.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kuchhe Dhaage, a conventional film that defies its convention.

(This review contains SPOILERS. If you've not seen the film, I would recommend either reading until the "read more" jump, or just watching the film and then returning to this review. For all its troubling aspects, I'd recommend this film.)

Raj Khosla's late 70's dacoit drama Kuchhe Dhaage began so conventionally, I thought I knew precisely what was coming. Nirupa Roy's husband dies due to a testimony from a man named Tulsiram, and she vows that her son will avenge his father's death. We see the baby pick up a toy gun from a line-up of various items; his destiny is sealed. 

I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be interesting to have a film that instead of embracing the revenge-as-destiny trope, is a treatise of how incredibly damaging and horrible it must be to be brought up to avenge your father's death?"

And, as if the film could hear my inner monologue, this is precisely what Kuchhe Dhaage ends up being; it turns a critical eye on its own convention and follows that to the horrible conclusion that the convention bears. For that, I became a fan of the film. 

Vinod Khanna plays Lakhan, whose life's sole purpose is this revenge, and Nirupa Roy is the typical steadfast, proud mother, spurring him on. Lakhan gets to enact his revenge rather early on in the film, and following the death of Tulsiram, he comes home to his mother, bearing the dead man's blood on his forehead: 

In rather typical fashion, the story continues as we find out that by this action, Lakhan has made himself an enemy. 

Tulsiram's son, Roopa (played by a dashing young Kabir Bedi), does his own vow - to kill Lakhan to avenge his father. And thus continues the pointless cycle of death and enmity. 

But it's also where the "treatise on how messed up all of this is" thread of the plot begins. Lakhan visits a brothel and after a dance sequence with an actress that resembles Madhubala to an eerie degree, things take a rather dark turn: Lakhan kidnaps the young naach girl, and rapes her. Repeatedly. 

Everybody, especially his mother, finds his actions deplorable, but in a way it's a storm of their own making. He's brought up to be a monster whose sole goal was violent murder, and now that that's done, he's unlikely to go on to lead a normal, law-abiding life. (Of course, I don't think this absolves him from personal responsibility, and in true filmi fashion, I think the film is a little too easy on him in that regard. But it's fascinating to watch them turn this revenge-as-purpose trope belly-up, and what is revealed is not pretty in the least.)

And it's not like Roopa is our hero, either. He's as hellbent on revenge as Lakhan once was, and cares little for anything else. Roopa's revenge is never about the horrible acts Lakhan is committing in the present, but the death of his father. Roopa could've become the audience's moral compass, joining forces with the police to take down Lakhan and get him convicted for horrible crimes (mirroring what Tulsiram did), but instead he's single-mindedly focused on fulfilling his own vow, and blinded by this focus to see what it did to Lakhan. 

The film shifts focus onto the enmity between these two, and we see how their desire for revenge binds them.

They both get identical bullets to kill the other one. Lakhan is still a monster, but now he's found a new purpose: to kill Roopa, just as Roopa's focus has now become to kill Lakhan.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

14 days of Katrina Alerts.

Two weeks ago I put Katrina Kaif on Google Alerts and began reading everything that came up. I'm not sure what I thought would be the point of this exercise - perhaps just to test out Google Alerts, perhaps to learn something about one of the biggest names in Bollywood, but also one of the most controversial ones.

Myself, I'm of two minds when it comes to Katrina. On the superficial film viewer level, I'm not bothered by her. She's done some good films, some bad, and occasionally puts in a good performance. She's in a couple of favourites, but I've never considered myself a fan of her. On the other hand, there's a more conscious part of me who cannot ignore the politics of casting Katrina and other white or mixed women as Indian characters. In an industry where the beauty ideals are very affected by a colorist mindset (where dark is never thought of as beautiful), casting non-Indians signals that local actresses just aren't pretty because they're not white enough.

There are a lot of interesting aspects about Katrina's stardom. She's an outsider, but benefited from having friends in the right places. She hasn't had a lot of scandals, but always has people talking about her. The fake last name reminds us that like all stars, she's a product - packaged, marketed and bought by the film-going public. At the same time, she's very unpretentious and genuine in her interviews - talking about working, working hard, wanting to do different things, try new things.

So what did the search results turn up? To start off, a pretty vacuous interview with a misleading title -  Katrina : I want only strong roles -  followed by a bit about her hectic schedule and an article about how she's one of Bollywood's under-30 "over-achievers". Then there's the obligatory "cat-fight" rumour spreading about the new YRF film starring Katrina, SRK and Anushka Sharma. Must you, media?

Speaking of that Yash Chopra film, it'll have a title soon. Not yet, though. (Good media tactic - keep the film in headlines by not having it have a title!) Even the actors don't know the title.

It seems she's become YRF's darling, starring also in the next film by the director of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, alongside Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh (another love triangle? spare us!). Oh wait, she's not cast in that movie. Well, according to that website, anyway. Who do we trust in this? (Do I really even care, seeing as how I found MBKD kind of mediocre?)

Finally a spot of controversy! Her assistant messed something up at customs. But there is an even bigger question floating around the nets - who out of Anushka and Katrina will wear the white chiffron sari, the staple of Yash Chopra films? Actually, the better question is - who will look hotter in it? And being the catty women they are, of course this leads to a tussle over the white sari. Except, of course, once you read the article, you find there wasn't really a tussle at all.

Oh, and are Priyanka and Katrina changing Khan camps? A word of advice: always be in the Aamir Khan camp. It's neutral and pleasant.

So what did I learn from all of this? Well, it seems that there is no end of material to squeeze out of absolute non-stories when it comes to young actresses. Diets, schedules, popularity, non-existent cat fights and hotness seem to be constant topics. Harking back to that first interview Google alerted me to - Katrina may only want to do strong roles, but the media seems quite happy casting her as just the popular beauty that she's been so far.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ayan: an utter Thamizh delight.

Sometimes the blessed Kollywood just gets it right. Ayan is all of the following:

1. a really good Surya film, that makes most people wish they woke up as Jothika tomorrow morning

2. a terrifically solid action entertainer

3. probably the BEST film where the main character is actively involved with pirating films

4. a film so good that I could easily encourage you to get the DVD without even thinking about pirating it!

Surya plays Deva, who smuggles whatever Dass (Prabhu Ganesan, pictured here on the left, also known as That Guy From A Lot Of Tamil Films) needs, be it diamonds from Namibia or pre-release pirated DVDs. The plot is fairly standard, but it's the execution that counts here, and the fact it throws a couple of twists on the way you might've seen coming, but enjoy nonetheless.

Chitti (played by Jagan), Deva's partner-in-crime and friend, is not only the brother of the heroine Yamuna (Tamanna) but also pretty integral to the plot and all its happenings, but I won't say more as to not spoil it.

Basically what this provides is simple, good masala, including fights on Namibian rooftops, awesome song picturizations, cutesy romantic comedy and well, Surya looking really good.

And angry and shirtless.

But mostly just really attractive. There's even a special, adorable little shout out to his wife Jothika, which made me all gleeful.

And the songs are all fun and gorgeous!

And there's even some slightly questionable comedy with women sexually harassing Surya!

Actually, speaking of questionable elements, there's a couple. As can be expected, the portrayal of Namibia and its warlords is pretty brutal, and negative. How much of this is based on reality and how much of it is based on prejudice, it's hard to say, not being an expect on the subject. There is a picturization shot in Namibia, where Surya briefly sports a bizarre curly wig that could be considered a little racist..? But with Indian films you've sometimes got to be grateful that things aren't as offensive as they could be: at least there's no blackface here. There's also the slightly odd "hippie" picturization (first picture of this post) but it didn't bother me that much.

On the whole, this is a gorgeous, fun little film. It's maybe coloured a little over the edges, but it's a good film and one I'd definitely recommend.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I can't handle this amount of cool.

Southie award ceremonies (I'm guessing) - when they seat all your favourites in one row, and Prakash Raaj still somehow manages to be the coolest one in the picture.

Or: my brain goes dhdfkjghkjdfg.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A different perspective: Jugnu is Batman.

I was rewatching the 70's darling Hema-Dharmendra masala romp by the name of Jugnu and just before my (brand new) DVD stopped co-operating with me, something occurred to me.

Dharmendra's character is a millionaire with the secret identity of Jugnu (translates glow worm), a moustached crime-fighter and con artist, outwitting baddies left and right. In the eyes of society, he's merely  a wealthy and polite philanthropist, running a school for orphaned children. The trauma of losing both of his parents lingers, as do memories of his patriotic father standing up against his English-loving grandfather..

Sound familiar to you? Of course, Mr Wayne never had a school for orphans and never thought that a disguise could be made up of just a moustache and a wig. And because Batman's father was never played by Pran, we know for sure he's dead and not coming back, resurfacing at a moment when you'd least expect it. In Jugnu, it's a bit of a different story in that regard.. (Lesson: Pran never dies.)

I also realised how much I like this film, how rewatchable it is, and how sad it is that now that I finally got a copy of it, the damned thing broke in an instant. I don't expect cheap DVD's to last a forever, but at least one or two watches should go without a hitch. Otherwise, why even bother? 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Desperately seeking: Kinara.

Years and years back, I discovered there is a film called Kinara.

With Hema Malini and Dharmendra (and Jeetendra, but not a huge fan of him), directed by Gulzar in 1977.

Featuring classical dancing.

Every now and then I try to find this on DVD, VCD, illegal download, anything, and always fail to find it! So far I've only seen of what little there is of it on youtube (featuring some glorious dancing by Hema, which only makes me want to see it more).

So ...

If you know where Kinara is available, please let me know! I'd love to be able to just watch it, even if without English subtitles, just to see it. I generally like Gulzar films, and absolutely love Hema, and dancing, so the one or two clips just aren't enough. I want the context, too.

(I know the film probably won't be an amazing, given it's not really discussed or noted all that often, but like I said, I'd just love to see it, and have for years and years.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Teri Meri Kahani, or: Mr Kohli's History Lesson.

You all know I am rather fond of Kunal Kohli's work, so it breaks my heart to say that his latest, Teri Meri Kahani, just doesn't quite work. It's got all the filmi traits we know Kohli by; the improbable romance, the poetic love confessions, the tributes to films of the past. And yet, the film is actually among his very worst, all-in-all messy and almost annoyingly mediocre. 

Teri Meri Kahani tells three love stories; the first one begins in Puna, 1960, and as it winds up we go to England, 2012. The final story, from Lahore in 1910, is one that the film spends the most time with and deservedly so. The 60's romance between a film star (Priyanka Chopra) and a struggling musician (Shahid Kapoor) takes place in a strange, blatantly phony and filmi milieu. With studio sets and computer effects, Kohli seeks to create a true period setting, but it just doesn't work, so much so it jerked me right out of the story. 

Not that the story was all that engaging. The first two stories, we're watching Priyanka and Shahid doing their damnest to sell characters with flimsy characterizations falling in love and making googly eyes at one another. There's a strange discrepancy between the stories; while the first tale of love and loss feels inauthentic and self-aware of its filminess, the second tale is supposed to be hip, modern and grounded in our current reality. Only it doesn't quite work, and I didn't care for the characters in the least. Even the song they have is painfully bad.

Thankfully, these stories wind down and we finally get to the third story, in 1910 Lahore, where the village casanova Javed finally meets his match in Anuradha. I strongly suspect this is the story Kohli had the strongest connection to personally. It's full of Urdu shyaari and each couplet is more romantic than the previous - just these little touches bring an extra something that the other tales fail to have. There's a joy to this story; it feels like an actual setting, actual characters, actual passion. It's still filmi and melodramatic in true Kunal Kohli style, but it's his essence, rather than some vague imitation of it. 

It also contains the film's best songs and picturizations.

I'm not a fan of Priyanka Chopra, so if I'm not won over by her in this film, it's hardly surprising. However, I wouldn't say a word against Shahid in this; his charm just about carried my interest, and without it (and him looking spectacularly adorable, as usual), I would've turned this film off before the second half. He's great, simply put - now I just wish he was in better films.

Where does my man Kunal go from here? I'd tell him to stick to his strengths; the poetry-filled romance and strong melodrama is clearly what good Kunal Kohli films are made of, and with the strong cast to perfect them (think Aamir-Kajol, think Saif-Rani), they make for compelling watches. Over-complicating things with three parallel stories, where only one is actually interesting, is not the way to go about these things.

And for god's sake, always have an antakshari scene in there somewhere!