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.)