Monday, January 26, 2009

Indra: a study in South Indian masala.

Sorry for the silence. I've been too busy stressing out, the kind of stressing where you're so busy stressing you fail to get anything done; both the things you should do and the things you'd like to instead of doing what you have to, like watching Southie films on a Saturday evening, sipping cocoa. Luckily, I managed to do just that this past weekend. And thus, a review.

Indra is a great example of a well-done Southie masala of the Telugu variety from 2002. I'm of course no expert and should not be counted as one, but based on the 30 odd Southie films I've seen, I'd say this one has all the post-millennial Southie masala trademark features.

First things first. You have to understand that if you think hero characters in Bollywood are glorified, you haven't seen anything close to the glorification Southie heroes recieve. The star - I'm sorry, Megastar - of this flick is of course Chiranjeevi, a Telugu powerhouse of an actor, and the character he plays is as close to a god as one man may get. He is so virtuous, pious, devoted to his family, forgiving, kind, cool, manly, down-to-earth and badass words cannot describe it. He is a god among men, and other characters are sure to point this out, but our blessed hero, being so noble and humble as he is, will deny this 'til the end of the world.

And I know you Bollywood fans are thinking, "What, that guy? Hairy, pudgy, old? I could barely buy Hrithik as a badass in D:2!" but for the millions of fans who adore him, all these Bollywood pretty boys Chiru could have for breakfast, but he doesn't. That's how good of a man he is.

Well, I'll just say it now. Sure, a lot of these Southie guys aren't exactly hunks. But what a great many of them achieve is stunning acting and charisma that wins over even the most shallow of viewers.

With the hero, there must be a heroine; a yin to his yang.

For Indra, it is the gorgeous Sonali Bendre. She falls in love with Chiru's character because God made them destined for each other and she works her way into his life and sexually harrasses him in a series of hilarious scenes that would be downright creepy if it was the other way around. Bless double standards! This is not always how love tracks work in Southie masalas. Often, there's bickering. Sometimes the hero yells at the heroine and that's why she falls in love with him. Yeah, go figure. But quite often, there's bickering.

Prakash Raj aka The Awesomest Southie Daddy Role Actor Ever plays Sonali's papa, who speaks in Hindi sometimes because they're from Hyderabad and of course vehemently disagrees with her intentions with Chiru, but will eventually come to know what an amazing soul he is.

Other notable sidecharacter is Chiru's niece, who he looks after, and is most devoted to, even though he totally messes up her chance to shine in a singing competition in one scene, but really it actually only helped her, because he's just that amazing! He kicks a puppy and it turns into a rainbow!

And of course: The Comedian. Usually unpleasant-looking (read: ugly), sometimes actually funny! In Telugu films the only guy I've seen has been this dude, called Sunil, who usually makes sardonic comments about the actions of other characters, in this film mainly the villains. Occasionally comedy tracks are completely separate from the actual storyline, or very loosely tied, like say the comedian's character is a friend of the hero or an uncle of the heroine, and they have a funny profession and they just go around doing their schtick in-between scenes of romance, plot and ass-whooping.

Oh yeah, the plot .. and ass-whooping! As you can imagine, if people as amazing as the hero exist, there has to be an anti-thesis to that amazingness. And that's where the villain comes in, and the plot, where you know, the hero tried to play nice but the villain wouldn't have it and thus, whoopass. Or the hero asked "please, stop being corrupt and evil" but the villain wouldn't, and therefore, whoopass. Or the hero was like, "to hell with this, I know you're evil - here's some whoopass".

I don't normally screencap whoopass (kickass, action, dishoom-dishoom, fight scenes, however you like to phrase it) because there's not much to screencap. It's martial arts influenced stuff, usually 100 guys with weapons (sticks, pipes, hands-on stuff, usually no guns) coming at the hero who is bare-knuckled but ready to take it. But it should be noted they're a large part of the masala mix. As is family drama, engagements that fail to realize themselves into marriages (causing trauma to all parties involved, except if one of the parties is evil, which it usually is), revenge. All that good stuff.

Let's talk about Must Have Songs.

1. The Colour Song - This is some creative stuff, you guys. You take your stars, put them in clothes of the same colour scheme, put some extras in clothes of the same colour scheme, only a million times uglier, make them dance in surroundings of the similar colour scheme and then .. wait for it ... you do the same thing, but with a different colour!

"No way!" you might say. "There's no way that can ever work!"

I know, it's amazing. But it works. Every.damn.time.

And so we have blue/violet...

White/white.. (It's upside-down world where nothing goes with white except white! Shimmery white! And Chiranjeevi is enjoying Sonali's rearview way too much.)


And red/fuschia! That's it, we've made a song picturization, you guys! And they said it couldn't be done without black. We sure showed them.

2. Switzerland Song - "Too 90's!" you may cry out, but shush, ye o' little faith. Switzerland is always hip and pop and exotic. I can't get enough! And neither can those suburban Swiss who drive to work one Tuesday only to find two Indian stars pulling corny dance moves in front of their house. I can't imagine a better feeling.

Even parking halls make for great locations. As long as you have rhythm in your blood, you're good to go. And Chiranjeevi definitely does (because in all seriousness, the man can dance).

But whatever you do, please don't include embarrassingly pale white ladies into your dance routines. It's cringeworthy. Every.damn.time.

3. Earthy Song-and-Dance in the Middle of an Ordinary Street, to Demonstrate How Ordinary and Down-to-Earth and Common Man the Hero is, Despite Being Amazing and Godlike in Nearly Every Aspect of His Being - ..well, that about sums it up.

4. Switzerland: The Re-Imagining Song - You paid for the plane tickets and shooting permits to come over there, so why not stay to film another song? This time, spice it up a little. Secondary heroine, Chiranjeevi in mind-bogglingly awful Hawai'i shirts, field of flowers instead of urban locales. Fantastic! Song wrapped, back to the plane and Andra Pradesh!

5. Obligatory Expensive Set Which We Paid For So We Might As Well Use It Song - I absolutely adore these when it comes to Southie films but I always feel a bit sad.. Couldn't they re-use these sets somehow? Do they all get demolished after the shiny-suited background dancers and the crew go home?

There's a bunch of things I left out, like exploration of hero's background (hero as a kid scenes), Obligatory Raunchy Song Lyrics, when the hero dies but not really, when the villain's surprise twin appears, etc etc.

As far as Indra itself goes, I really liked it, especially during the first half. I look forward to watching Tagore with Chiranjeevi later. The second half got a bit too heavy on the family enmities and the most dragged out ending full of ass-whooping, but I enjoyed it despite.

Final note?

Prakash Raj, I love you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rumba thanks!* An improved Southie to-see-list.

Christmas season brings out kindness in people's souls. A very kind soul who goes by the name of Nina on BollyWHAT? message boards decided to join the season of giving and ridding herself of some of the South Indian film DVD's she'd acquired and watched, but hadn't quite enjoyed enough to keep in her collection. I was one of the people who offered a new home for her collection as I saw a few titles in there that I was very curious about, but perhaps not willing to buy (online orders can be pricy!).

Today the package arrived to my post office and I went to pick it up. Lo' and behold, a lot of Southie goodness awaits me!

Indian - A film with Kamal Hassan by Shankar, that crazy Tamil director whose films I enjoy so much. This looks good. (Tamil)

Happy - Another chance to see Allu Arjun! Bless the man, I didn't like his acting at all in Bunny but he dances and looks so good I want to give him another chance and this certainly looks like a film that will maybe persuade me he is not just a pretty face. (Telugu)

Indra & Tagore - I am ever the skeptic when it comes to uber-popular moustachied older guys from the Southern states, but if I could love Rajnikanth in a film or two, why wouldn't Chiranjeevi have something going for him as well? (Telugu)

Run - Mmmmaddy. Oh, and this one has Vivek and an A R Rahman (or should I make that Golden Globe winner Rahman) score. I know it won't rock my world but I anticipate watching this anyway. (Tamil)

Sri Anjaneyam - I have no idea what this is about but it's got some young-ish looking dude, Charmme from that Siddhu movie with three heroines, and Prakash Raj. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's worth a glance. (Telugu)

Poovellam Kettupar - Surya and Jyothika and perhaps this is not their bestest film ever together, but they're still cute so ...why not! It's nice to see a now-married-couple on-screen in a film from the past. Also, did you know "kettu" is Finnish for 'fox'? (Tamil)

I'm really excited. After the blahfest that was Bheema, I'm really looking forward to any potentially good Southie film experience. And seeing Telugu cinema beyond Siddharth films is beyond exciting. Yay!

* Rumba in this case does not refer to Cuban music/dance but the Tamil word "rumba" which as I understand it means "very, much". So 'rumba thanks' is Chennai colloquial Tamil for "thanks a lot"! It's one of the first little bits of Tamil I picked up from films.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ghajini: the audio review.

Being a lazy typist, I wanted to make an audio review of this one. Turns out blogger doesn't allow you to upload & embed audio files so I had to go to imeem instead. Hope it works fine and you can decipher my accent & horrible mispronounciations without problem. Enjoy!

jeejee.wav -

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wherein I cheat, address Misters Khan & Khan and explode from adoration: Andaz Apna Apna reloaded.

I've seen plenty of Indian movies, and blogged about a small margin of them, so the problem of posting is never really about lacking a movie to talk about. It's more about what I'm inspired to write about. And so, even though I've already discussed this movie, I'm going to talk about it again. And by talk, I really mean "gush".

So. Andaz Apna Apna. One of the few films where just looking at my collection of screencaps can send me giggling. This is truly one amazingly funny film, and I've loved it to pieces since I first saw it, as a very fresh Bollywood fan. I'd seen the movie mentioned countless times when the topic discussed was "best Hindi comedy ever" before I saw the film and even though there are as many tastes in comedy as there are people, I am pretty much inclined to agree.

Everything about it is just so delicious. From the first moments, the guest appearance by Juhi Chawla (as Juhi Chawla!) meeting Amar (played by Aamir Khan) and a romance developing between them, you start to see the great, parodic, not-too-serious manner that the film adopts. The way Juhi delivers those cheesy lines that Amar's filmi-addled mind is later revealed to have dreamed is very telling of the film's character; it's just loud enough to be hilarious in an outrageous way but yet with a certain subtlety that shows the wit behind it. The makers, the actors, they know what they're doing. The silliness is over-the-top, yet self-aware.

It's exactly that rare type of stupidity and intelligence mixed that makes AAA's formula so successful. That's not to say it's some kind of incredibly deep, layered movie with a message. It's still a comedy; I'd be stupid to say it wasn't. But there is something great about the type of devotion that the film gives to being parodic, self-aware and most importantly, a comedy. It avoids the "interval turn-around" completely - it doesn't suddenly decide to be a serious love story or a family drama. It does its thing and stays true to it until the very end.

The characters are all utterly dim-witted, but in a weirdly charming manner. Amar is a manipulative, scheming dumbo who wouldn't know sincerity if it hit him with a manner, but I love the character all the same. Same goes for Salman's Prem, who's more naive and sincere, but still determined to get what he wants (rich girl Raveena ..played by Raveena!).

I have a hard time thinking of favourite scenes or favourite lines simply because there are so many. In some ways I consider Andaz Apna Apna almost an exhausting comedy; it's just so funny, nearly all the time. It rarely stops to give you time to breathe - even the songs can be hilarious! When I put it on, I have to prepare myself to laugh my head off. Sometimes, something less funny and light may be more in order.

So what's this I hear about a sequel? I'm truly as torn as ever. On one hand I would love for another Khan-Khan collaboration and seeing as how well Salman and Aamir still get along, I think it would work, given the right script and movie. But whether that movie should be a sequel to Andaz Apna Apna or anything emulating its style, I'd have to say "thanks, but no thanks". The movie stands alone; there is no story to come afterwards, and re-making it, even with a lot of the key players, seems pointless. If it still works for modern audiences in its current form, why change it?

So, dear Misters Khhhan and Khan (should either of you be reading, you blogger people you!), enjoy your current success and by all means make a movie together, but don't bother making sure it's of the same breed as Andaz Apna Apna. Such scripts are one of a kind. A good original comedy I would gladly welcome, however. And if we truly mean to make some sort of AAA re-union happen, let's not forget to pull the ladies out of their pro-longed maternity leaves and get Raveena and Karisma into this project, as well (I always thought Raveena was a criminally underrated comedienne in the 90's). Paresh Rawal returning goes without saying, of course.

Before I leave you, I must link to the fabulous write-up of the film by TheBollywoodFan, that explains a lot of the cultural comedy references woven into the movie.

Oi maa!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blues and hues of Saawariya.

So there it is. Saawariya directed by that-guy-whose-style-looked-like-something-I-didn't-care-to-see, in all it's Region 2 (that's European DVD region for those unaware) glory, staring at me in the shop shelf, placed mistakenly under the "Comedy" section. I know it's probably not smart, but forgive me - I rarely see Indian movies or "Indian-esque" films in my local shop, and when I do, I go a bit crazy (this explains the Marigold DVD in my shelf). The cover says "A genuine Indian Bollywood-movie" in Finnish - yes, as opposed to those ungenuine Indian Bollywood movies.

And so I do buy it, even though I'm almost certain I won't love it and pop it in on New Year's Eve.

The plot shouldn't be new to anybody. Based off Dostoyevski's "White Nights", Ranbir Kapoor (son of Rishi & Neetu) plays Raj, who comes to a very blue town to become a successful poet or musician, or something. He's like a Guru Dutt character on a sugar high, whose poetry sounds more cheesy than genuine. He meets Gulabji (Rani Mukherjee, probably the best performance and character in the film), a prostitute who he befriends and ends up falling in love with the beautiful Sakina (Sonam Kapoor, daughter of Anil), who is waiting for her own love, Imaan (Salman Khan).
Yadda yadda yadda. Sonam and Rani are both fantastically beautiful, Ranbir is generally good and proves he is capable of dancing like any new generation star should be, Salman gets to be effective (with kohl!) and the youngsters manage some very good, very convincing scenes together. But little by little, I realize I don't really care for the movie. It's not exactly dislike - it's simply apathy towards the story, towards the characters and their fates. When the film ends, I sort of shrug. "Already? Okay."

The dark blue colour scheme starts out lovely and the visuality of the film is undeniable, but it all gets to be a bit too much at some point. It just feels like it doesn't serve a purpose of any kind; had the story kept me engrossed in the film, I might've found it interesting or potentially meaningful. Like maybe the mood of the film changes the way I perceive the colours of it. But that doesn't really happen; the visuality of it seems skin-deep, if even that. I screencapped a lot, especially the lovely ladies of the film, but I would not call it the prettiest Hindi film ever.

So unfortunate. The songs, even though I quite liked them, felt awkwardly paced and whatever other things I found promising or good, I ended up being quite disappointed in. Raj starts out a funny, likable character and ends up going through a puzzling metamorphosis into a crazy-in-love guy that might've been more understandable, had the script been stronger. Sakina also suffers from mild insanity caused by love, but for whatever reason, it seems just the tiny bit more believable. The poetic dialogues - or wannabe-poetic if nothing else - seem to slow everything down and even though I had subtitles in my own language, I kept zoning out on the story and what was being said.

Oh well. I try to remember the things I did like - Gulabji and the kids when they're in the first stages of getting to know one another. The rest, to quote Avril Lavigne's ever-green tune "Girlfriend", is quite simply "so whatever".

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beginning the year with a superficial thought.

This is going to sound awful whatever way I put it, but I watched Saawariya (on Region 2 DVD because it's one of the three Bollywood films that has been granted that pleasure) last night and ...

... Ranbir Kapoor looks a lot like his mother, Neetu Singh. Only Neetu is gorgeous and Ranbir just looks funny.

He may be the only guy who I approve of the emo look for, though.

Review later.