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.