Friday, December 26, 2008

The filmi year 2008.

I already said in the review for Rock On!! that it felt like 2008 was less of a year for Indian films than 2007. Each year I miss out on films that came out during that year, and weirdly enough, the films I missed out on in 2007 (such as Chak De India, Aaja Naachle and Bhool Bhulaiyaa) were some of the ones I enjoyed the most this year. So perhaps 2008 will also reveal some interesting flicks during 2009, but so far, having seen most of the big films of 2008, I feel rather unexcited.

Filmi Girl detailed her disappointments and favourites for the past year, but I'll lay out how the year was for me in a different format.

The Film That Should've But Wasn't: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

I understand I am completely in the minority for this one. I guess it was hype overkill; all the praise showered onto the movie, its plot, "freshness" and its stars, you forget it's still a debutante film director and first films are rarely if ever flawless. I liked Imraan and the kind of youthful romance/friendship themes should be exactly just my thing but something fell short in Jaane Tu. I thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that despite loving Genelia in Bommarillu, I wasn't into her character in this film at all. While I love the song "Kabhi Kabhi Aditi", the picturization of it pinpoints what turns me off about her character; she feels things so extremely and doesn't even try to get over the devastation of losing a pet, and so comes off as this generally high maitenance little lady. I just raised my eye brow like, "Geez, cheer up emo kid!".

The romance doesn't quite work, I suppose because we see them being friends and essentially already in love. When you fail to see the process of the relationship, sometimes you buy it, sometimes it makes you feel like you're missing out on something that would've made you more into the movie.

But I don't want to argue these points - if you liked the movie, I'm happy for you. Just trying to detail the reasons - more to myself than anybody else - of why I didn't like it, even though I was so sure I would!

Ladies And Gentlemen, We Have a Clear Loser: Race

In my initial review, I was almost happy to have seen Race, because it's sometimes nice to mock something so completely. But in retrospect, god, what a wasted opportunity. You have perfectly capable actors like Saif, Anil and Akshaye, and some okay-to-whatever actresses like Bipasha and Katrina and the only real offering of the movie are awkward songs with skintastic picturizations. Yawn. And yet, this one was a box office success! India, sometimes I just don't understand you...

Veracious Goes Against The Grain: Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic & Tashan

So I hated Race but the other two Saif films this year, yes, the ones that absolutely tanked in the box office, I quite liked! Thoda Pyaar was a saccharine sweet Disney film in Hindi but it worked, thanks to the sincerity of the director and the brilliance of Rani Mukherjee. Tashan on the other hand, flawed movie that could've been so much better, but also a fun action masala that proves why Akshay Kumar is one of the top stars in India and why Kareena Kapoor excels if you give her a good role.

Close But No Cigar: Dostana

I really enjoyed Dostana but it doesn't quite end up on the "oh em gee favouritest ever in the universe" list of films. It had flaws, but even more annoying, it had flaws that bugged me. The first half was a pretty damn good comedy, though, and I'll be getting it on DVD. The soundtrack is also my most-listened-to of the year.

Call Me a Groupie: Rock On!!

I don't have quite as clear a favourite this year as last year with Aata, a Telugu film I loved to pieces despite it's cheesiness. But if I had to pick one, it'd probably have to be Rock On!!, a fun film that I'll probably be rewatching a lot.

Missing Out on the Biggies: Bachna Ae Haseeno, Rab Ne Jodi.., Ghajini, Yuvraaj, U Me aur Hum..

It seems like the best films this year were the not-so-big, not-so-mainstream ones, but I definitely do want to see some of these big name movies. Maybe next year.

Film Experience of the Year: Jodhaa-Akbar

I saw this in the theaters thanks to being able to visit the UK in March and wow, what an experience. The most epic film of all time, surely, and the epicness was certainly over-whelming. It gets boring every now and again, but to make up for it, there's hot chemistry, intense romance and elephants. There are few things I love more than elephants. Did I mention .. elephants!

And a final plug to everybody and anybody visiting London:

Ayngaran Video
30 High Street Colliers Wood
London, SW19 2AB

Take the Jubilee Line (if I recall correctly) to Colliers Wood, follow the street you get on when you get out of the tube station, and find this shop. Ayngaran is the best releaser of Tamil DVD's and their London shop is full of offers, and a very nice helpful staff, brimming with movie recommendations. Highly recommended!


Navel-gazing ahead: Yeah, my blog was featured in the press a smidgeon this year. It was awkward, but also pretty cool. Here's the latest, on Filmfare October or November or whatever:

Thanks to Reema for the scan!

I might post before 2009, I might not. If not, have a great new year, guys!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Proximity awards -- the remix.

The lovely Shweta gave me a Proximity Award and since I've been seeing similar posts all over my Bollywood-related blog roll. Since I've wanted to do the same but have been struggling who I should mention and post about. I think you guys already know I love your blogs and stuff. To the right there's a list of the blogs I try to follow as closely as possible. So instead I thought I'd mix it up a little and talk about the people I don't link to on a regular basis (as their blogs are not all-Bollywood) but the people who I still love as some of my closest Bollywood-loving online pals.

Dangermousie fangirls everything from Asian dramas to historical novels, and among her favourite things is Bollywood; the angstier and more romantic the better! If I wasn't into Bollywood, her posts about it would make me want to be. Most things she posts about just make you want to get into the things she's talking about. We used to discuss Fanaa at ridiculous lengths when it first came out and though our tastes do not always match, I feel like I really know what pushes her buttons.

, the brilliant mind behind Bollywood fanvids such as this Don one, is quite simply inspirational sometimes. If we as white girls actually had more than a snowball's chance in hell to become Bollywood script writers (assuming such a species exists!), I'd definitely team up with her to make some of the best films ever. Our tentative speculations on the sequel of Kal Ho Naa Ho is just all around brilliant stuff. Karan, if you're reading, we don't mean to step on your toes so just give us the go ahead and watch the industry be rocked!

jhana has a trillion times the graphic/vidding skills I do, is my guide to university life, oftens gives me the first review of a movie I can trust (more than Rediff, BollywoodHungama and such) and is the one person I go to when I need to snark Saif's latest career turn (which is often). We've concluded that our taste is pretty much dead on when it comes to comedies but in most dramas, we split ways.

Anita's LJ is locked down apart from fanfiction, so I won't be linking to it, but regardless, she's one of my favourite peeps to discuss Bollywood with. Our tastes may be miles apart when it comes to certain movies, but her enthusiastic fangirling of "Rukhie-jaan" and his various leading ladies is fun and her semi-daily picspams give me a load of prettiness on my Livejournal friends page. She's usually also seen pretty much all the recent movies, despite her sometimes hectic schedules, so she's a good go-to person for views on some films that I'm unsure about.

The main characters of Ek Duuje Ke Liye, 1981, enjoying proximity.

And I think that's it for me until Christmas. Those who celebrate any holiday during this time in year, have a good one! Those who don't, here's to hoping you get a day off.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Haiku day!

thinking of Dil Se
the nationalist message
is it? I ask you

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why is the sky blue, why is Farhan Akhtar perfect? Rock On!! review, now with bonus fangirlism.

Dear Mrs. Farhan Akhtar,

It's not in my right to speculate how your marriage came into being nor does it feel right to try and hunt down that piece of information via Google or otherwise. Regardless, I'd just want to congratulate you and wish you a lasting and wonderful marriage and life.

Yours sincerely,


PS. You do know that there are about a billion women on this earth who are incredibly jealous of your position?

PS. He named your second kid Akira?! Ohmygod. I bet you'd hate him if he wasn't so completely awesome.

So yeah. I watched Rock On!! and despite all the hype surrounding it, I wasn't the least bit disappointed. Of course it deals with a number of rock film clichés, and you have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen, but regardless of that, while watching, I was just sucked in by the story-telling and the clever-not-too-clever narrative and the solid performances all around.

It says something about 2008 as a filmi year, I suppose, that I honestly think this could be my favourite film of the year so far. Fine, there's a ton of films I've missed but even the ones I've liked and bought on DVD, or considered buying on DVD, have been "just okay" as film experiences. I've liked a film, really liked a film, but only Rock On!! has been a film I've *loved*.

Part of what makes the story work so well is the relative realism and lack of over-dramatization of situations and people. You know, there's a few nasty people in the film but they're not portrayed as complete villains. At the core, the emotions are real and present, however, and I especially liked Prachi Desai as Shakhi, wife of Aditya (Farhan Akhtar), who begins to unravel the mystery of the man she married and sets things in motion. The scenes of confrontation between her and him were also the key moments when I realized that Farhan is as capable an actor as he is a director.

At the same time, the film is keen on some filminess, and so certain improbable moments don't make you groan at their impossibility, but rather cherish them.

The soundtrack is of course made by the true rockstars of India, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, and it's a solid rock record, though I did find myself wishing they'd break Bollywood pattern and showcase some genuine desirock bands on the record as well. Farhan's voice fits the songs and while the lyrics aren't made of deep world-altering thoughts, they're lovely. It backs up the film's central idea of rock ; as a fun way of self-expression, free of rules and regulations of more classical music. In the West, progress has lead to unpleasant phenomenons like rock elitism and categorization of music into every sub-genre imaginable. Rock On!! portrays a pure, simple view of rock that some fans of the music genre would snort at but I personally embrace. It's what rock should be - picking up an instrument and learning how to play it just for the fun of it, playing in a band because it adds something to your life.

Besides liking Arjun Rampal (who's been great in everything I've seen him recently - even if most of what I've seen have been small side roles in films like OSO, KANK, Don..), I couldn't put my finger on where I'd seen Purab Kohli (who played KD) before. Then it hit me. He was Nigel in the wonderful Onir film My Brother Nikhil. He was just ace here.

It seems sort of silly to say "a movie you don't want to miss out on", but I know how we Bollywood fans are - sometimes only keeping our eye on the big budget entertainers with truckloads of stars and glamour in them. So give this film a chance, you guys. Farhan is great (and easy on the eyes), the rest of the cast is great, the music is catchy and the story wonderful. Out on DVD now!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Memelicious; Saif Ali Khan alphabets.

For one of my favourite actors in the world of Hindi cinema, I talk about Saif quite a little. I could pretend I have no idea why that is, but honestly, I know exactly why. It's because he released Race this year (not all his fault but good god!), it's because he seems to be only in the news to gloat about how awesome it is to date Kareena Kapoor (I love her, too, but I honestly don't care about the two of them anymore!), it's because .. well, I guess the level of enthusiasm has dropped from "ooh, new Saif film!" to wary optimism (occasionally pessimism) about his future films. The man's never been perfect (and don't I know it) but sometimes he's a little less imperfect, you have to admit. 2006 was a terrific year to be a Saif fan, for example.

But as the fun alphabet meme's been going around, Beth giving some love to Rani Mukherjee and Shweta listing Hindi noir films of the olde, I thought I'd list alphabets Saif-ly.

A is for Akshay. Bet you failed to see this one coming. Yes, Akshay Kumar, current king of the box office (save Tashan for numerous reasons I could speculate, but hopefully none of them is the fact Saif and Akshay starred in the film together), the best co-star Saif can have and has had as far as I'm concerned. Don't get me wrong, he's great with a lot of other people, as well, but something about his chemistry with Akshay just gels and they both have comic timing to die for.
Plus they get along great in real life. Here's hoping they do something together in the future.

B is for Being Cyrus. Excellent dark comedy in English, directed by Homi Adajania. It has some parts that are a little too weird, but I adore everybody's performance in this (Simone Singh, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani, Naseeruddin Shah & Saif naturally - what a cast!), and remember Saif saying in an interview it's the kind of film he enjoys the most himself. I've heard rumors the director is working on a new film that will be produced by Saif's company - let's hope it turns out to be true.

C is for Cyrus or see how incredibly uninventive I am even this early in the post.

D is for Dil Chahta Hai. Predictable, I know, but what else would you place here? Saif as the hopeless Sameer is just one of his absolute funniest, effortless performances, and it's also the one that convinced a lot of people this guy should stay in movies. The friendship between the trio of guys in this film is still considered one of the most realistic, wonderful depictions of friendship in Hindi film history and it's often mentioned as changing the tone of Bollywood films and bringing them to the new millennium. Quite a lot of praise for one movie, but if you still haven't seen it, forget everything I just said and watch it for a fun time.

E is for Ek Hasina Thi. If you haven't seen this movie yet, drop everything you're doing, rush to Nehaflix, your local Hindi DVD retailer and buy this film. Now. I'm 100% serious. I remember when after seeing Hum Tum (a film that showed that that guy I liked a lot in Kal Ho Naa Ho was good in other films, too, and I was beginning to consider myself a fan) I was browsing IMDb and checking out Bollywood films I potentially wanted to see, and ran into EHT. I only remember seeing the poster with the streams of blood and the tag line "It started like any other love story..." and I knew I had to get my hands on the film. It is quite simply all-around excellent, and even if it wasn't, I'd want to own it because Saif looks his absolute hottest in this film.

F is for funny.
Because comedy's really what appeals to me most about certain actors, and Saif is one of those actors. Even when I drag myself through his godawful (or just very very mediocre) 90's films, sometimes the script is barely good enough to allow his comic timing to surface itself. The thing is, he had it in him all along but the films he chose to do (or got offered) were mostly dreadful junk. Somewhere along the line he grew confidence and the ability to choose wiser and for that I'm glad. Nowadays the same problem persists, though: there simply aren't good enough Hindi comedies to go around.

G is for gay jokes.
See also: Kantabeen. See also: Filmfare 2004. See also: this clip. You know you want to.

H is for Hameesha.
Some people might tell you this movie is cheesy fluff. Some people might tell you this movie is adorable and stupid. Some people might tell you you'll want to see it. Some people are wrong. Hameesha ('always') is a godawful, boring, ridiculous 90's movie starring Saif and Kajol, where Saif's mullet is out of control, so much so it gets it should get its own credit, the story is some dumb crap with reincarnation, and it remains the only film where I've found Kajol's acting completely unconvincing. "Neela dupatta" may be a fun song, the fashion may be laughably bad but please don't subject yourself to this movie. Oh god please.

I is for Ishwar 'Langda' Tyagi
aka the role we'll hopefully remember him from in the future. A part of the appeal of Omkara is no doubt the fact that some of its cast steps outside their usual character nichés to portray something radically different. The change from the modern, super-rich, English-speaking NRI type characters to a dirty UP gangster who's most at home in the village is indeed a stark one. Roles like this don't come very often, and I'm glad Saif had this opportunity. Here's to hoping it won't be the last one!

J is for jodis. Probably one of the most popular Saif jodis is Preity-Saif, here in a misleadingly adorable picture from Kya Kehna which is actually NOT a very good film, and their pairing in it is also not too romantic. Do not be fooled!

K is for Karan. Karan, not for Karan Johar who put him him Kal Ho Naa Ho, but Karan as Karan Kapoor of Hum Tum and Karan Singh Rathod from Ek Hasina Thi. Two excellent but very different performances, both from 2004. Karan Kapoor is the character who grows up and matures during the movie, while Karan Singh Rathod is the character who remains the same throughout the film. Whatever change might occur in him, it's only on the surface, a mask he puts on and off as he wishes. Two of my favourite performances by him, and good films, too.

L is for Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega.
An underrated film, one of the few truly situtional comedies Bollywood has produced, also starring Aftab Shivdasani, Fardeen Khan and Sonali Bendre, including Johnny Lever at his funniest (yes, I said it - he is truly funny in this one). This is a predecessor to Dil Chahta Hai, but Saif's performance is up to that DCH level and so if you're running out of post-2001 Saif films to watch, rent this one.

M is for "My adorable darling". The catchiest, worst Hinglish song ever, from Main Khiladi Tu Anari. Sung by Anu Malik himself! God, the horror.

N is for "No Smoking". The theme is central in the episodic film Darna Mana Hai ('fear is forbidden' - should more accurately be called 'fear is impossible because the film is more funny than scary'), where Saif stars in a segment where he plays a photographer checking into a motel run by Boman Irani's character. I love it a lot, Boman and Saif are just hilarious together.

O is for "Ole ole" from Yeh Dillagi. Mullet!Saif classic. Watch here.

P is for Parampara. An early 1990's film with Saif and Aamir as frenemies. You might ask yourself, "why haven't I seen this?". The answer is: the universe is smart and has made sure the DVD's of it aren't that widely available. It's just not very good. Sadly it's not incredibly bad, either, so I know some of you have seen it, and some of you are googling for the DVD as I type this.

Q is for "quite painful" which is the only way I can describe watching a song DVD filled with songs from Saif's crappy 90's film catalogue. You'll never see so much crotch-thrusting in your life. I had to take a shower afterwards because I just felt gross - it's like bad cinema taints your skin.

R is for Rohit Patel. I remember like it was not yesterday but a day way cooler than yesterday and thus worth remembering. Me and my friend, going to the Helsinki International Film Festival to see Kal Ho Naa Ho, a film about which we knew virtually nothing except it starred Shahrukh Khan, an actor we both quite liked. But the weirdest thing happened - instead of loving Shahrukh like usually, I found I kind of preferred the other guy - the awkward Rohit who failed at love but made funny jokes and was otherwise sympathetic. He gets shafted in the movie, but I still think fondly of him.

S is for Sharmila & Soha. The two gorgeous filmi women in his family; the mother and the sister.

T is for Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. Sure, it's a cheesy children's movie, but it sure as hell beats the other Saif/Rani children's film starting with T where the worst thing EVER is when a super-rich family has to go middle class and live in an apartment (ugh can you imagine the horror!)... Needless to say, I hate the latter movie. Thoda Pyaar is quite sweet, though.

U is for "unwise" which is how I would describe watching more than three song picturizations from really bad 90's Saif Ali Khan movies.
V/W is for "Woh ladki hai kahan". Fantastic song and funny picturization from DCH.

X is this scene in Parineeta.

Y is for Yeh Dillagi, the most recommendable Saif film from the 90's (next to MKTA) and Yash Raj Films, the production house who just loooves casting Saif.

Z is for zzz or congratulations whoever made it through this incredibly long post!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A dog named Remo; stories of rewatching.

I have these friends who, bless their hearts, are very easy to talk into watching Indian movies. Maybe it's that using my DVD collection is cheaper than going out to rent a movie (and might include arguments over which film to go for), maybe it's that watching something is better than watching nothing, or maybe, just maybe, the wonderous world of Indian films is little-by-little creeping into their hearts.

So I've made them sit through the likes of DDLJ, Sholay, Dil Chahta Hai, Hum Tum with varying results, but I guess it's a triumph in itself that they are always keen to see more. They still confuse actors with one another, and have a decidedly "Western" perspective on some things (getting hung up on continuity errors is not something a seasoned Hindi film fan does!), but at least they're willing to see more, and I'm more than willing to provide more.

In the past two weeks, we've watched three films together and all of them are well worth talking about.

First up it was Anniyan, which I intuitively selected to introduce the crazy world of Tamil mainstream films to my friends. And say what you say about the shortcomings of this epic masala film, directed by S. Shankar, it simply never fails to deliver and even though it is completely and utterly over-the-top in every way, the core story, the characters and especially Vikram's acting seemed to make this nutty movie approachable to even complete beginners. They were aww'ing at Ambi, the by-the-book lawyer, and his total failure to capture the heart of his beloved, Nandini.

I once called Anniyan the most entertaining movie ever, and I stand by that to this day. The action scenes, the comedy, the social message - even when it all becomes a rather illogical mess, it doesn't get boring. My friends did start to get a little bored as the end was approaching - when the song "Andakaka" arrived, they wondered out loud about Shankar's style of loud visuals. "Why?" was a question on one of my friends' lips. I shrugged. "Because it looks good." I suppose it's the sort of perspective they still haven't quite embraced.

The real winner of the evening, however, was Remo, one of the characters Vikram plays in the movie, a rocking super-model, so hip and modern and ultra-cool it hurts. I like to think of him as mocking the "Western" life-style worship, though at the same time a very loving parody. Whatever he is, he's absolutely hilarious and after the initial shock my friends couldn't help but love him. So over-the-top and ridiculous and yet somehow, absolutely amazing.

This picture says it all.

After the movie, my friends sent me a message that the next male pet they get, will be named Remo. Whether they ever keep this promise or not, I'm more than glad I introduced them to this film.

A bit later my friend saw the gorgeous Mughal-e-Azam poster in my room and since I wanted to rewatch the film, I suggested we watch it together. It's been a while since I saw this classic, even though the DVD is the first Hindi one I ever bought. I believe I'd actually only seen it once up until that point. I warned my friend it would be a lengthy historical love story (set in the Mughal era for those three of you who weren't aware), not quite as cheery as the films I usually show her, but we ended up watching it regardless.

Sometimes the flaws of DVD's can truly ruin a film experience. I never realized the subtitles on my DVD lag. Severely. And so as if it wasn't already difficult enough to keep up with the going-on's in a film largely centered around people arguing in hyper-poetic language, we had the lacking subtitles to deal with. It's probably because of this I never warmed up to the characters on this watch - I felt very distant from them as did my friend, and our concentration was slipping dangerously. The movie bore on, scene by scene (arguing in highly poetic Urdu), song by song (singing in highly poetic Urdu about how miserable everything is), I found myself asking my friend whether we should skip some scenes. She insisted we not fast-forward a single minute, and I relented, as boring and futile as the watching seemed like.

Don't get me wrong. I love the visuals of this film. I adore the songs. When we finally see the sets in colour, their glory takes my breath away. The battle scenes are good for their time. But it was simply hopeless to get into the story when you had to wait 20 seconds for the subtitles to appear. It got to the point where, if I understood a sentence or even a bit of a sentence, I would translate out loud for my friend as we waited for the correct subtitles to come on.

As it stands, we got to the end and I walked home, thinking about the MeA poster on my wall. I do like the film, still. Just wish I had a better copy of it so I could sit down with it and see if I'd get into it with subs that do not lag. The Mystery of Dilip Kumar for me personally is still unsolved; in other words, I've not yet understood why he is considered such an enormous acting talent of his age. But perhaps one day I shall find out..

Realizing I better keep the films masala from now on, I brought over my Amar Akbar Anthony DVD the next time I visited my friends. The story of three brothers separating and re-uniting in harmony of three faiths and three professions seemed like a nice way to reflect the friendship of the three of us, and even though the wonderous masala recipe from the 1970's didn't quite fully win over my friends (the variety of characters and plot twists left them a bit confused at times!), at the end of the film, they enjoyed it a lot!

This is Pran, or as we called him during our viewing, "Daddy'O".

Amitabh Bachchan as Anthony was another star of the evening. His signature song was both mind-boggling and amazing according to my friends and especially during the penultimate scenes, they found him a riot.

Thankfully my own favourite, Vinod Khanna as Amar, did not go unnoticed, however. My friend's verdict? "Cute."

Out of the three couples, my personal favourite is Rishi-Neetu, without a doubt, but as his storyline was the least featured in the movie, my friends might've not caught onto their cuteness that much.

I'm glad to say the fight scenes got the 'oooh's they deserved (70's masala action = insanely awesome fight moves!) and since we all began humming the last song as the movie wrapped up, I'd consider the evening a success. Masala might be a little tough on the beginners, but they handled it well.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A bit of unfortunate current affairs off-topicness.

I feel obligated to mention the devastating terrorist attacks that affected the city of Mumbai this week. I can't claim to know the city, as I've never visited, but as I type this I am slightly worried somebody I know might be affected in the attacks. Hopefully it's just my paranoia. Hope you, whoever might be reading out there, and the people you love aren't affected by this incident. Condolences to those that were.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

That gay movie which is entirely non-homosexual whatsoever, no, sirree: Dostana.

When reviewing Dostana, I find myself knee-deep in a dilemma. Sure, it's a fun light romantic comedy more than anything else, and over anything the film tries to emphasize (as can be seen in the title) friendship. At the same time, a lot of the promotion, a lot of the hype and yes, a lot of the discussion after the film's release discusses one thing in particular: portrayal of homosexuality.

A funny thing about the film's promotion is in a way very telling of the film itself. They flirt with the idea of homosexuality quite loudly all around, jokes are being made about John-Abhishek being "jodi number one" and the part of the plotline is heavily emphasized. Then it's time to pull back on the reins, underlining the fact that Sam (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) are only pretending to be gay in order to land a sweet apartment in gorgeous Miami, they're not actually gay, they're womanizing, very very heterosexual guys. Time to say, "the movie is about friendship, it's not trying to send a message".

Honestly, I don't blame them. It's a commercial film and making a straight-forward message film or a social commentary might hurt its chances at the box office. Karan Johar may be considered brave for making KANK but he's also got a business sense. If India's the country where homosexuality is still technically illegal, it's probably not quite ready for a Brokeback Mountain.

So how about the film itself? There's good and there's bad. Some of the portrayal of homosexuals (because yes, the film features some genuinely gay characters) is undoubtedly stereotypical, but not mean-spirited at all. There's allusions made to gay people being "not-all-male" which I mostly found really misinformed. At the same time, we see general acceptance - it's played up for comedy, certainly, but it's definitely there.

As far as performances go, Abhishek and Priyanka Chopra (playing landlady's foxy daughter Neha) win all the way. Movies like these make you wonder why Abhishek bothers with serious roles at all; he's just that good at comedy. John Abraham left me cold (yeah, I know, what the--). Maybe it's the role simply being more restricted than Abhishek's. Maybe it's just that he's not that great an actor (sorry, fans!).

The soundtrack is delightful and while there are some definite flaws in the second half (so much so that for a moment the film becomes a borefest, not a funny entertainer), which I won't get into as I'm trying to keep the review spoiler-free, Dostana is quite a fun ride. Let's hope the director, besides stepping out of Karan Johar's shadow, might actually also avoid some typical KJo mistakes with his next project.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bheema; vigilante justice was never this boring!

Oh, Bheema. I waited for you so long, through all the delays and the set-backs. I knew I should keep my expectations low - you would not amount to anything more than an average Tamil action masala. "But," I kept thinking, "I like those, don't I? And this one has Vikram, and Prakash Raj, and Trisha looking lovely. Surely that's got to count for something, right?"

And so finally you arrived, without much notice, and I began watching. And stopped. And tried continuing. And stopped. And like this, little by little, I progressed until I finally tied myself down for the last hour or so.

Bheema, like so many Tamil films, is a tale of men. Women are a footnote, the kind you merely skim through. The most central relationship is between gangster Chinna (Prakash Raj) and his bodyguard/goon Sekar (Vikram), who first saw Chinna as a kid, and has since then aspired to be the kind of Man with a capital M that Chinna is. It's a kind of a manly love story - one of admiration, devotion as well as friendship. Law-abiding is not an option in their world; the police are corrupt and useless to the extreme.

Of course, Chinna's gang uses violence to punish those that go unpunished by the police - the true wrongdoers. And so very have truckloads of film violence, Sekar being a badass extraordinaire, the director trying to inject emphasis with annoying computer effects and way too many stylized shots and of course, the joke of a romantic storyline between Trisha's character and Sekar.

There's no reason why she falls in love with Sekar and then stalks him here and there. She fully understands he's one rude, dangerous feller (with admittedly rather nice looks & physique) who couldn't give two craps about her, and yet she bugs him until the magical moment when he against all reason suddenly likes her a lot, too. The song sequences are glorious visually, and if I focus hard to forget about the actual "love story", I enjoy them a lot. In general, though? Meh.

I remain a fan of Prakash Raj but when the storyline is as much a mixed bag as this film's was, there's not much even fine actors can do with it. There is always the occasional convincing moment but I just didn't care enough for the characters, or their cause. Even the most fantastically choreographed fight scenes made me shrug and check the time stamp - how much of this film did I have left to view..

But maybe I'm being harsh, maybe I just needed to get into the good ol' action masala mood, maybe there was a scene I missed because I was busy filing my nails or something. Or maybe my evaluation is completely correct, and this is just one of those tragic low points in Vikram's career; the kind where you agree to do films beneath you even though just about everybody knows you can do better.

And if nothing else, I quite enjoyed the "Siru paarvayalae" song, a historical picturization where for no reason whatsoever Vikram gets captured in various settings and Trisha dances and then releases him and yet nobody tries to recapture him. There's no logic, but who needs logic when you can have the pretty? Here's the song on YouTube.

Monday, November 10, 2008

And two years later.. Jaan-e-Mann.

I haven't been blogging much. I haven't been watching much, either. Life's been a haze of studying, worrying about studying and random methods of procrastination. I keep up with Bollywood, just haven't been able to watch Hindi films as of late.

Then last night I needed a pick me up and put on Jaan-e-Mann.

When I first watched JEM, it was autumn 2006 and JEM was up against the Don remake starring Shahrukh Khan in the Diwali box office battle. Understandably JEM lost miserably; it had too many weird, meta-like references, Broadway-style song picturizations, a lot of plain silliness.. Watching it now, I can see that it's definitely a flawed film, but also carries a definite charm; the performances by Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Preity Zinta are solid despite the occasional failed punchline, and the songs are catchy despite obvious vapidness ("Udh jaana" I am looking at you).

Suhaan Kapoor (Salman), a wannabe-filmstar, has a problem. His former wife Piya (Preity) is suing him for unpaid alimonies and he has no money whatsoever. Oddly enough, a former geek and current astronaut, Agastya Rao (Akshay) lands on Suhaan's door step and thanks to a legal loophole that would get Suhaan out of trouble so long as Piya remarries, Suhaan hatches a plan to make Piya fall in love with Agastya aka Champu, who used to crush on Piya back in college.

Watching the film when it came out compared to watching it now shows how much the industry has changed in mere two years' time. When you've seen Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Om Shanti Om, both more outlandish and colourful than JEM, the world of this film doesn't feel so alien anymore. Then you have the stars. Akshay's career really took off in 2007 and 2008 and now he's one of the absolute biggest names in the industry. Salman on the other hand has had his share of hits and flops, but still remains (as far as I know) a top star. Preity's career sank after JEM - or should I say, starting with KANK & JEM, but she's getting positive recognition from her latest films, thankfully.

You haven't heard much about JEM's director since the release of the film. Quite honestly, as much as I like the movie, I don't mind. After the film's release I happened to find an interview with the man and he was one obnoxious dude. If nobody is willing to finance his films nowadays, I'm not surprised. His touch shows in the film, though: check out how many frames of the film are tilted. I'm not what's the significance of the style choice, but well, it is a style choice regardless!

When I initially saw the film, it made me really like three actors I wasn't all that nuts about at the time. It's because of these actors that I still appreciate the most when it comes to Jaan-e-Mann. Salman is perfect at these self-parodic roles where he's allowed to also have emotional moments. Akshay makes for such a lovable goof and Preity is, well, Preity. As I've discussed previously, I can't not like her. This was one of the films where I came to that realization.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Animated movies: you're doing it wrong.

Warning: This post is pure prejudice against what could be a perfectly fine movie that I haven't seen, nor intend to.

I can't put my finger on why Yash Raj Films' animation venture Roadside Romeo feels so wrong, misguided and unthrilling. Perhaps rather than one thing, it's a combination of several small things. Let me try to break it down.

1) The title. I know Hindi films and Tamil films have a tendency to romanticize sexual harrassment of females and I admit I've had a number of uncomfortable moments watching a film where the hero pesters the heroine and I'm just sitting there thinking "Dude, give up, she's not into you!". Roadside romeos are, as I understand it, those guys who lounge about and whistle at and follow pretty girls. The Tamil movie Boys I almost turned off because the boys in it engaged so heavily in this kind of behavior. Basically, the title brings to mind an euphenism for "total creep". Not the best first impression, you know?

2) It's a Bollywood movie ..with dogs! And animated! Because seriously, the promos make it seem like just that. Which would be fine but ..why? The thing about animation is you can do anything, so why stick to Hindi film conventions? And will kids - assumably the target audience - get into this at all, or will it be more something that the parents enjoy? And if only the parents enjoy it, there's no reason to make an animated movie, other than for the sake of having made an animated feature, and that's just lame. Unless you absolutely must make a Bollywood movies starring dogs as it is a life-long dream, which would be ..a little weird to say the least.

3) Laila. If you don't know, this is Kareena's character, the heroine of the film. And yes, a dog. A dog whose floppy ears are made to look like hair. Again, not understanding the need to make a film about dogs but make them extremely human-like in all aspects. Reminds me too much of furryism to be completely innocent, if you know what I mean. The first promo of Laila had her flirting with the director and him getting so excited the lens got fogged up. Um. It's a dog. It's a very female-looking dog, but it's still a dog and getting all hot over a dog is kind of ..I better not say. Laila's second promo had her performing some sort of an item number-esque song in what appeared to be animated Dhoom 2 sets. I know it's probably easier to make an animated dog dance than it is to teach Kareena Kapoor (Laila's voice actress) complicated dance steps but again, I really fail to see the point.

4) What I guess it all boils down .. the concept. The film seems like a Bollywood-reference packed romantic comedy. Animated films don't have to be something only kids enjoy but when the film is about dogs and the style of the animation is very conventional, you'd expect they'd at least make sure kids can understand it and enjoy it next to adults. If you're going to make a film mainly adults enjoy, why go through the trouble of animation? And why make them friggin' dogs if you're going to go out of your way to make them as human as possible?

I'm sure you could see this see as some sort of magnificent breaking ground in Hindi cinema, but I couldn't care less. There's always room for new films that acknowledge and parody the past great Hindi films, but this? A little too weird for me, I think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's talk about ... Preity Zinta!

Yes, the first lady to be featured on the "Let's talk about" series (also known as the "I have nothing else of interest to post about" series) is Preity Zinta. It was a few days back that I got to thinking how Preity is an odd favourite of mine; I used to not like her and then slowly, without there being any particular moment of realization, she became a favourite. I've not seen all of her film catalogue, far from it, really, but I think I've more or less seen the quintessential Preity films, so let's talk.

She debuted in Dil Se, not the least interesting film to debut in. Her role of course was minor and therefore really didn't leave an impact on me, which I suppose can be said about all of my first films with her. Curiously enough, all of those films had her star opposite Shahrukh Khan. Veer-Zaara and Kal Ho Naa Ho aren't the worst movies out there, and I think she's quite alright in both roles, but something about her in all of these three films left me cold. A lot has been said about their jodi, and I don't want to rag on it, if partly because I know the biggest Preity-Shahrukh fan, Anita, might be reading this post! Let's just say I think it's not so much a fault of the jodi, but that the movies - as movies - left me unimpressed.

But as I watched more of Preity, I was struck by how consistent her work was. Even in a part-trainwreck like Kya Kehna she gives a memorable performance. Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, despite having two other major stars in it, managed to become all Preity's by the "The End" screen. The tragic romance between her and Hrithik in Mission Kashmir was without a doubt the best thing in the movie as far as I'm concerned.

Preity did not always blow me away, but she always did so good I couldn't not like her. And like that, little by little, I became a fan.

I suppose the tragedy of Preity nowadays is that she's not the most sought out actress in Bollywood, though there are so many reasons why she could (and perhaps should!) be. In fact, when I thought about making this post, I had to consciously decide not to let it drift into Rant Zone by detailing why it upsets me so much that box office success decides how much work the star gets offered. The latest three films by her that I've seen, I've simply adored her in all of them:

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna certainly was not great, but Preity's role in it was without a doubt one of my favourite things about it. Then there was Jaan-e-Mann, a flawed but funny, endearing movie alongside Akshay and Salman. And of course, my biggest favourite of the three, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom where we finally got to witness the Abhi-Preity jodi and it fully rocked the house.

Then Preity became busy managing a cricket team and thanks to the non-success of JEM and JBJ, she probably wasn't getting a ton of offers. Thankfully the lady has a few movies coming out, and while Heroes and Har Pall do not look the most enticing films to come out in the future, it's definitely better than nothing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why not take a course on interior decoration? *

Internet is one amazing enabler, I can tell you that. Not only is it the thing that allowed me to get into Bollywood beyond those 60 minutes of K3G that were my first encounter with Indian cinema, it has also been the reason my interest is alive and kicking, and also allowed me to decorate my room accordingly. I got some new posters last week, and redecorated my walls so I thought I'd share the results with you.

In the above picture we see the oldest Bollywood poster I have, one Devanagari one of DDLJ, celebrating Yash Raj Films' silver jubilee. I love the poster to pieces; not only is it gorgeous, I love deciphering the writing on it, and am glad to tell you the lines at the very top are lyrics from "Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna"!

Next to DDLJ is a new addition; a Sholay poster celebrating "first time in cinemascope 4 track optical sound!". I have no idea what that means but I really like the poster; it's full of fire, full of embers and full of action! You also get the title in Devanagari and the characters besides Veeru and Jai in the smaller pictures on top.

I have a weakness towards Devanagari in film posters, so next to the firey Sholay one, we have a cheesy Devanagari poster of Keemat (a Sakshay classic, read about it here). Everything about it is unholily awkward, a hasty Photoshop job in other words, but I love it to death anyway.

So where do I acquire these posters, you may ask. eBay! Yep, the den of online sellers of all shapes and sizes, you can find all kinds of Bollywood memorabilia. My choice is store this time was The Absolute Indian Store, who I can personally vouch for and their overall rating on eBay is high, too, so I'm not the only satisfied customer. On eBay in general of course it pays to be a little wary.

Since I mentioned Keemat, the prices (see what I did there?) for these posters are not sky-high and at least at the places I've shopped at, the shipping has also been very reasonable. In fact, I've counted that I've been able to buy three Indian movie posters for the price of one Hollywood poster at a local store. Of course, the Bollywood posters can have slight fold marks and worse paper quality, but considering how pretty and awesome they are, who cares?

Here's my room door with another Sholay poster on it and a Tashan poster I ordered back in April. How I came to acquire two Sholay posters is a long story so I won't bore you with it. This second one has an older feel to it; whereas the first one has an email address for the printing company, this one does not, the paper is thinner and the design is messier. But it successfully displays all the elements of Sholay's action masala; you've got your angry heroes, your beautiful dancing village belle - in fact one of the reasons I really love this poster is because there are three depictions of Basanti in it! One as the damsel in distress with Gabbar, one of her with her tonga & Dhanno, and one from Holi Ke Din, dancing. Compare this two the two depictions of Gabbar you have in the poster.. Yes, I think we all know who the real main character of Sholay is now. And of course, the poster is Devnagari, my weakness.

The Tashan poster is pretty ace, I especially like how I accidentally placed it so that the text is actually horizontal whereas the poster itself is enormously tilted. I also enjoy the fact it's next to the Sholay poster; Tashan is so influenced by films of the 70's, it just feels very appropriate.

Last but not least, on the other side of the room, next to the window and overlooking my bed, is this poster for the coloured 2004 version of Mughal-e-Azam. I've actually never seen the coloured version but the poster is really lovely, complete with elephants and the tag line: "The Biggest Indian Film Ever" - can't argue with that! Interestingly, the only makers the poster mentions is the director K. Asif and the music director Naushad.

I admit my criteria for this particular selection of film posters is eclective. While surfing eBay for posters, I overlooked many, many favourite movies because I didn't like the design of the poster. On the other hand, I picked Keemat despite the campy design. When I was done setting up the posters, I realized I had posters of three of the arguably biggest Hindi films ever made, and then two posters of cheesy Sakshay ventures that never made it big in the box office (or in most people's minds). How's that for a mixed bag? Regardless, the posters make me feel at home in my small flat.

* This, as some of you may recognize, is a spoken word line in the Hum Tum song "Ladki kyun". It just seemed all too appropriate.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

मुझसे माफ़ करो - broken hindi ahead...

अच्छा, आप लोग जानते मैं हिन्दी नहीं बोलती हु। लेकिन test कर सकती हु, है ? मैं हिन्दी थोड़ा समझ (समझती?) हु जो मैं कोई हिन्दिवाल्लाह (या हिन्दिवाल्ली) मिल गई, मेरा conversation (बातों?) बहुत limited होनाहिन्दी पिक्कार से सीखना मै सिर्फ कोई चीज़ सीखी ने। मै कुछ हिरोवाल्ला dialogues जानती, प्यार या लेकिन, कुछ simple, एक ट्रेन टिकेट (er, buy?) मै नहीं सकती हु।

देखी, यह सब मेरे लिए बहुत मुश्किल है। मैं सिर्फ़ थोड़ा grammar जानती हु (मालूम है?) मेरा vocabulary अजीव है

लेकिन let's get down to business. As explained and demonstrated above, I know next to no Hindi (hope reading/deciphering the above wasn't too painful for you native speakers). But the funny thing about learning Hindi mostly from films are actually two funny things and I'm not sure exactly how funny they are, but I will talk about them anyway.

For one, my "passive vocabulary" is a lot richer than my "active vocabulary". For those not familiar with the terminology, passive vocabulary is words you recognize and know the meaning of, but wouldn't necessarily know how to use when writing in said language. Active vocabulary is what you actually have at your disposal when stringing words together to make sentences. What happens with Hindi and me is simple: I feel like I can follow and understand a lot of stuff even without subtitles, but seeing as how my grammar knowledge and active vocabulary is scarce, I couldn't really string sentences like that together myself without making about a gazillion mistakes.

Another funny thing is that when you learn Hindi from movies, a certain phrase or a word relates to a certain movie or a scene or an actor who uses it. So for example, "accha" or अच्छा which literally means "good" but is also said to mean "I see", always reminds me of the train scene in Sholay where Sanjeev Kumar as Thakur adjusts his hat and speaks the word while Veeru makes smalltalk. The word "saansa" or in its oblique plural (I think?) "saanso" or साँसों which means "breaths" always reminds me of Aamir Khan's great monologue in Dil Chahta Hai, making romantic talk to Preity Zinta.

As you can tell, I don't study Hindi though I do own a beginner's studybook of it. If I don't lack the time, I lack the patience but I keep telling myself if I really wanted to, Hindi wouldn't be an unbearable challenge. Might not be easy, either, but still, the relative familiarity with the language would help, I'd imagine.

(If any of the Devanagari is wrong, my apologies. Used Blogger's automated Hindi function.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Achilles' heel: Hema-Dharmendra

If you ask me whether I have seen some uber-popular all-time classic and I reply "no", you can only blame the obsessive nature of yours truly, as well as the causal effect that instead of seeking out these Mother India's, these Pakeezah's and and Guide's, I've been watching films with my favourite stars and especially my favourite star jodis, regardless of quality.

A lot of my early and so-far watching of oldies has been influenced by the fact the first oldie that I absolutely loved was Sholay and thanks to it, I just wanted more of Hema Malini, and more of Dharmendra, and quite simply, that's what I ended up watching. While the numbers are not huge (out of the 42 shared projects IMDb lists with the two, I've seen a mere 11 so far), it's quite a lot considering the overall number of oldies I've seen is not grand. So seeing as how I love this jodi so much, I thought I'd review three of their films in one go.

The above two stills are from Jugnu, one of the most delightful Hema-Dharmendra ventures alongside such classics as Sholay and Seeta aur Geeta. It was one of the first true-and-blue 70's masala films I saw, complete with double identities and car chases, and thus taught me the meaning and value of this crazy genre I later grew to love. There were a number of fantastic traits in the film; Dharmendra plays Jugnu, a mysterious man of virtuous deeds and a master of disguises, and in those disguises he gets to do a couple of very funny comedy scenes. Hema plays a girl who falls in love with his real life identity, Ashok, but her run-ins with Jugnu are less favourable, though all the more hilarious. Added to this, we have awesome villains and beautiful songs. After seeing a few mediocre Hema-Dharmendra films (yes, such exist), this was a true breath of fresh air, and I truly should rewatch it and buy it on DVD soon.

One of those sadly mediocre flicks was 1980 Alibaba aur 40 Chor, the Soviet-Indian co-production (not that there is much Soviet to be seen - on the outside it pretty much looks like your typical Hindi film from this time period), which is a re-telling of the classic Arabic tale. Certain things are changed in this version compared to the one I first heard as a child, but the core elements (Alibaba, cave, 'open sesame!') stay more or less the same. I watched this also pretty early on in my oldie-expeditioning, and maybe because of that it was kind of a letdown. The plot moved slowly and there was a lot frankly quite boring action. On the plus side, the film included Zeenat Aman who I adored as the strong girl avenging her father's death. Dharmendra-Hema sparkled as usual and the songs were all visually spectacular. Especially memorable is the female duet where Hema and Zeenat protect themselves by pretending to battle over men's attention - "Saare shaher mein". And of course, must not forget Zeenat's song in the treasure cave, with the psychedelic disco floor - "Khatooba khatooba". I don't own this one on DVD either, but just for the songs, I frankly could!

Maa contained some offensively bad fashion, tons of mother love, tons of animal abuse and at the end of the day .. an elephant.

That's right. An elephant.

Without the elephant I would've not hesitated calling Maa one of the worst oldies I've witnessed. Boring, eye-roll inducing melodrama and overflowing mother love almost made me turn off the movie despite it having two of my big favourites. Thankfully I stuck through Dharmendra battling wild animals as the hands-on hunter, whose mother dislikes his profession because he separates animal children from their mothers. Three guesses what happens and how his mission on the second half of the movie shapes up to be re-uniting a baby elephant with its mother. Now sure, that sounds cute, and admittedly was cute, but this was unfortunately only for the second half. You know that "no animals were harmed" disclaimer you get in front of movies? This one didn't have it. And I really, really wish it had, considering what kind of stuff happens in the movie.

But to quote one song from Alibaba, "jaadugar jaadu kar" - the magician does magic! - and somehow it remains that even though they've done some unimpressive films together, I'll still gladly keep exploring the vast catalogue of Hema-Dharmendra films out there. I don't have any on the horizon right now but I hope to watch at least Pratiggya, Kinara (providing I ever find this on DVD!), Naya Zamana and Aas Paas.

Recommendations are welcome! My Dharmendra-Hema list so far is:
Alibaba aur 40 Chor
Dream Girl
Patthar aur Payal
Seeta aur Geeta
The Burning Train