Saturday, October 31, 2009

Darna mana hai? Darna mushkil hai, yaar..

(With my barely existing Hindi skills the title of this post is supposed to say "Fear is forbidden? To fear is difficult, man..")

Last night was another NIF movie night. For those of you unaware, NIF is a term originating from the Bollywhat? forums, where it was decided that N(on-)I(ndian)F(ilm person) would refer to those who primarily consume non-Indian entertainment and aren't familiar or (yet) keen on Indian films in general. I have two friends who are still NIFs essentially but we've formed a habit of meeting up with me coming to their apartment, a handful of Indian movies in hand. Altogether we've matched tens of Indian films from my collection, and while some haven't been successes, I'm clearly doing something right; one of my friends bought Rang De Basanti for herself earlier this year.

There's also another, less clearly defined group of NIFs I'm semi-regularly showing Hindi films to; some friends from university. Attendance was high on the first meeting when we watched Lage Raho Munnabhai, but low on second meeting when only three guys made it. To cater to stereotypical "guy tastes", I didn't shove Hum Tum into my DVD player, but we instead watched Sholay, which was a tad too long for their attention span, but they liked it. So much can be said for that classic - it might be alien to those unfamiliar with Indian cinema, but dammit, it simply works!

But now I throw this to you? Since I do a lot of rewatching with my NIF buddies, even during the dry periods when I tend to not watch much new stuff myself, I tend to want to write about them, as I have in the past, but are they interesting for you all to read about? My blog is essentially for my own views, and it can be weird to read those of total strangers, but naturally during these rewatch posts I'll also shed light on how the rewatch changed my view on the film, or if it did at all.

So since it was so close to Halloween - though we Finns don't celebrate - I picked the only horror-esque/scary-ish Bollywood film I had in my collection (unless scary means really, really bad, in which case I have more than this one) and through the luck of a random draw, this became the film of the evening.

I suppose it deserves a mention as I discuss the RGV-produced Darna Mana Hai (Fear is forbidden, 2003), which I saw around three years back during my biggest "I must see everything Saif Ali Khan was in!"-phase, I bought it simply because Saif looked hot on the cover. To be specific, Ek Hasina Thi-esque. Yes, that hot. For that reason, I only really have screencaps of his and Boman's bit of the story.

I warned my friends, "This is not a scary movie. This is a freaky, hilarious movie." DMH has six separate ghost stories wrapped in a framework of a stereotypical slasher plot of a story; seven friends get stranded on a road in the middle of nowhere after their car breaks down. They make a bonfire and start sharing ghost stories to each other. Naturally a killer creeps in the forest around them.

The first story, starring Sohail Khan and Antara Mali, is actually a tiny bit creepy. The direction varies from story to story, sometimes rather radically. Salim-Sulaiman's music composition for the movie is appropriately freaky, but a little too much so - it just seems like they went a bit too crazy with it. Since the movie really isn't scary at all, creating jump scares with weird sound effects just comes off as goofy.

But while the first story might actually have some hope as to this being a scary movie, the second story shatters all such illusion. The story of Anil, a photographer spending a night in a remote hotel run by a peculiar character (Boman Irani), starts out with some tension but ends up just being hilarious in its exaggerated nature. Both actors do a fine job, don't get me wrong - I quite love them in this - but the story itself is just quite something else. You have to see it to believe it.

But here's a hint for you.

Around this story my friends began realizing this really was a movie to be enjoyed in a less serious manner. The story of Raghuvir Yadav as a teacher haunted by the fact a little girl does her homework is probably the weakest of all the stories, but the next story, with Shilpa Shetty and co-starring apples, saves the film by being a total riot (somewhat intentionally I would hope!).

Vivek Oberoi and Nana Patekar's story about a midnight hitchhiker probably delivers the best twist out of all the stories, and the last one starring Aftab Shivdasani getting weird powers from a god began to test our collective patience with the movie. The worst part? It wasn't over yet! Still tens of minutes to watch Sameera Reddy try to escape the hands of a demented killer in the middle of the forest. At least the other crappy actors they got to the framework story were out of the picture at that point (not really a spoiler, you figure so much out from the get go).

The film ends on another twist, naturally, and then we get credits along with some more badly mixed dance music. These factors made one of my friends announce, "This is probably the worst film I've ever seen. And that includes Twilight." I replied, "Oh come on, you can't possibly mean that!". She immediately backtracked, "Okay, maybe not. But out of the ones we've seen so far.."

It's true, Darna Mana Hai is quite possibly the most mediocre out of the films I've provided them with so far. But it has its charm, for the mini-stories, the goofy twists, the scary apples! And if the tag line of the film is, "jo darr gaya, woh mar gaya" (he who fears, dies) then shouldn't we just be glad there's no way in hell we're going to be scared during this film?

So that's my non-pick for the Halloween. Happy Halloween to all those who celebrate. Those who don't, enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hema is pretty, Dharmendra is young and I am discontent: Tum Haseen Main Jawaan.

I know, this isn't fair. This shouldn't be possible to begin with. A cracky, goofy, comedic masala with Dharmendra, Hema and Pran and I don't like it?

What went wrong with me and Tum Haseen Main Jawaan? If only I knew! I suppose it's a mood thing. I watched this film in two bits and during both times I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted to see a fun Hema/Dharam masala but this wasn't hitting the right buttons, the ones their films such as Jugnu, Seeta Aur Geeta, hell even the not-that-amazing films like Patthar Aur Payal and Shafarat had done. The comedy felt like really tired slapstick, the chemistry between Dharam and Hema was merely okay, the songs worked but didn't excite.. Sigh.

The story is centered around a baby, who his villanous uncle (Pran) wants to kill in order to receive the inheritance of the baby's father. The baby's mother is forced to separate from her child, and her sister Anuradha (Hema Malini) takes the baby instead. Through a confused misplacement of the baby (because let's face it, babies get lost all the time!), the baby ends up on the boat of sailor Sunil (Dharmendra). Cue some incredibly long comedic hijinks that finally end when the boat arrives to shore and Sunil begins to take care of the baby. Anuradha finds him and becomes a nanny for the baby, without telling Sunil about her connection to the child.

This film really ought to be more entertaining than it ends up being. It takes an hour for our leads to meet, and none of the build up is worth it. Everything is so goofball it essentially becomes grating. And I like goofball comedy! So annoying.

Pran! Helen! All the classic ingredients are there!

Either this movie really was lame or then I need to go see a doctor.

Oh and speaking of lame comedy, there's a lot of scenes where Sunil's friend crossdresses. In true Some Like It Hot fashion, he meets a girl and then dresses up as a rich sailor (only the joke is, he's really a sailor!) and meets her on a beach. Oh and her boss falls in love with his crossdressing form. I liked the Some Like It Hot nod a lot but good god this actor was painfully unfunny. Give me the original any day of the week.

Oh, jodi, what do I do for you..

It's always a puzzle to me why I don't gel with certain movies. Sometimes it's as clear as the day; I don't need to pick apart my viewing experience of Tum Chor Main Sipahi to know that movie is garbage. Other times, it's a very specific problem with an otherwise okay film - Kal Ho Naa Ho I would like a lot if it wasn't for certain actions and motivations of the characters. And then there are films like this, which I might've liked, had I been on a different mood, had I watched it at a different time in my filmi-watching career.

Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cheating on the viewer; heroine switches in Pournami & Indra.

The last time I discussed the Chiranjeevi starrer Indra, I focused on what made it a quintessential Southie (in this case meaning Telugu/Tamil) mainstream masala flick. Pious, god-like heroes, colourful picturizations, handful of villains and a buckets of social justice - to name some of the ingredients. What I didn't talk about extensively is what annoyed me about the movie, as much as I liked it.

But now I will, because I happened to run into the same phenomenon in another Telugu movie I saw.

You see, Indra's first half features plenty of comedy hijinks that come from Sonali Bendre's character pursuing Chiranjeevi's. It's funny, it's cute, it makes you actually buy into Chiranjeevi as a romantic hero and all is fine in the universe.

But come second half and we find out that the other heroine, played by Arthi Agarwal, as evil as she might look, is not necessarily so. In fact, she is indeed a heroine -- the 2nd heroine! Who also loves Chiranjeevi!

For those of us coming off a steady diet of Bollywood films, where it's usually clear from the get go who's going to end up with who, or at least there's certainty that love triangles are solved for the best, Indra throws a total curveball. You've got two heroines, fighting over one hero and the hero isn't really showing any signs of romantic interest towards either.

When you watch the film, it's not like you're surprised; social justice, saving the world one village at a time, slaying one corrupt politician at a time, these things are what's important to our hero. Not the ladies he romances (or doesn't romance, as can it really be called that when his heart isn't really in it?). Look, I'm not saying he has to get with either heroine but surely he can love one woman as much as he loves social justice? No?


Fine, Chiru, you're the Megastar, not me, and it is your film. So I'll move on to ...

Pournami, a Prabhu Deva direction that talks about love, dance, revenge, tradition and ..well, mostly just dance to be honest. Starring Prabhas, who is a new acquintance to me but who I definitely like as Shivakesama, who enters a little town to open a dance school. Co-starring is Charmme, who I also really enjoy watching, as the girl who is not very fond of him, but who falls in love with him despite herself (no surprises there).

Of course, now that I search for images of the film, all of them feature Trisha -- playing a character who only really features on the second half of the film. I went in blissfully unaware that the film's pairing was being promoted as Prabhas and Trisha, not Prabhas and Charmme.

I have smart readers, so you know where I'm going with this. I start watching the movie, slowly beginning the root for Charmme and Prabhas' characters to end up together and then the movie pulls the rug from beneath me. Then it's all Trisha, all the time, and to make matters worse, she's wooden and her character is more bland than a brown paper bag spiced with oatmeal. And of course it is shown that Prabhas' character in fact prefers her over the wonderfully lively Charmme. At least Chiru in Indra was nonchalant towards both!

You could ask, "But who the heck cares? The main story's about something else anyway!" and you'd have a point. But I care, because if we want to believe films are about stories, then those stories are about characters. And I have to be able to sink my teeth into those characters, feel as they feel, journey as they journey. When something like the heroine switch happens, it feels emotionally dishonest. You build up to something, and then you reveal the initial heroine was just a chess piece, or both the heroines are chess pieces for the plot and there's nothing to them, and that just gets on my nerves. A lot.

But I really do hate to rag on this movie because right up to Trisha's appearance, it was nailing everything for me. The songs, the dancing, Charmme's acting, Prabhas' acting, the comedy, the action.. Everything had me on board and I really enjoyed watching. Now, the movie doesn't completely lose momentum, and the finale is actually pretty incredible to watch, but these sort of major irks always make me question my liking of a movie.

But as I said before, this is one type of masala hero; the kind who doesn't have even one ounce of selfishness in him, so naturally he doesn't even have the mindframe to think selfishly when it comes to love.

And maybe it's just my individualist, Western viewpoint, because I really do understand where these sorts of heroes come from and I can enjoy them a lot on-screen despite the fact that the movies sometimes feature these things that annoy me. I understand why Indian audiences would welcome heroes who put the interests of the communities they live in ahead of their own personal desires, as well as love stories where mutual respect and admiration is more valuable than actual romantic love.

All the same, I can't help but (wistfully) think about some of the movies where the hero is oh-so-good, kicks unholy amounts of butt and really really likes the heroine. Like my favourite Tamil film Dhool (discussed here), where you have two heroines but you also know exactly who the hero likes better from the get-go.

I am not a bitter person, though, and will definitely watching more of both Chiranjeevi and Prabhas. Hit me with your recommendations - I know for Prabhas I was recommended a film called Chatrapathi, probably my next Telugu watch.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shola-- no wait. Mera Gaon Mera Desh.

So remember this movie, with this really great scene where Dharmendra plays a former criminal who teaches a village belle how to shoot in a forest setting?

And that movie had this pretty despicable villain played by a really good actor, called Mabbar Singh or Dabbar Singh or something to that effect? And a coin that played a key part in the decision making of the hero? And a fight towards the end that is a tables-turned version of a fight we saw earlier? And the scene where the villain has a gun and angrily questions his henchmen?

And of course the usual, cutesy harrasment of heroine for comedic scenes. And how can you not love the bit where the gypsie girl dances in front of the villain?

But if you know your 70's Hindi cinema, you know where I'm going with this. In fact, while it might appear to the modern viewer, working their way through the rich history of Bombay's cinema, that Mera Gaon Mera Desh has far too many similarities with the classic Sholay, release dates reveal that it was in fact Sholay that took influence from Mera Gaon. It's quite a funny thing, to watch this movie after Sholay and realize that the more popular and yes, the better film out of the two, is not just the one influencing others, but also has those clear influences of its own.

Vinod Khanna is indeed called Jabbar Singh, a dacoit-thakur who doesn't hesitate to put bullets into those who oppose him. Dharmendra on the other hand plays Ajit, a reformed criminal who moves into a village to work for a man who believes in giving people second chances. And Asha Parekh plays Anju, the village girl he falls in love with.

The movie handsomely begins with the following quote:

Yeah, Gandhi can be badass, too. Who says you can't learn from cinema?

It delivers everything you'd expect. Ajit may be an orphan disregarded by society as a lost cause, but the idyllic Rajasthan village and faith placed on him by a few really good people reforms him and makes him the people's hero, gathering the villagers to fight against the evil Jabbar Singh. There's plenty of songs, fights and sentimental speeches.

But mostly the film falls into the "just okay" category for me. I get a huge kick out of Dharmendra in just about anything but Asha Parekh as a heroine lacks that special something. The story certainly doesn't rise up to the level that Sholay does; it just isn't as good and appealling, I didn't find myself getting that emotionally invested in any of the characters. Of course, it does fall short of Sholay in star power as well as budget, probably, so it's not at all a fair comparison. If it stands alone, Mera Gaon is decent masala of its time.

That is, unless you're me and ...

.. absolutely ..

.. friggin' ..

.. adore ..

.. Vinod Khanna in this movie!

By no means is Jabbar as despicable or as legendary as Gabbar Singh. He is in a sense ruthless but he doesn't take the sick pleasure in killing and torturing people as Gabbar seems to. But the first scene he's in, where he tears a mother apart from her child and plainly shoots the child, sets the tone of the character. And while my biased adoration is, I'll admit, mostly superficial, Vinod does play the role with such intensity that it's not hard to see why this was the role that got him noticed.

In a sense, the movie belongs to its side stars -- alongside Vinod, we have Laxmi Chhaya, who steals the show as the gypsie girl Munnibai. She's a double agent of sorts, who eventually decides where her true loyalties lie and is responsible for most of the dance numbers in the film. On my first watch she was such a breath of fresh air after the blahsome Asha I almost wished she'd been the romantic interest in the film. The last song in the film is so memorable, very much due to her performance.

I was feeling very angry at the world today for whatever reason and screencapping and rewatching this movie totally did the trick. Mmm, bloody, evil Vinod. If I'm alone and crazy in this matter, I apologize for affecting you with my mental disorder. Really, I'm so sorry. I'll stop now.

..sorry! Okay, I'm done now. Promise.

.. I need help.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana - the one Siddharth film to rule them all.

Today I had the fortune of sitting down with some friends of mine and making them watch Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana, the Telugu super-hit from 2005. My friends have seen tens of Indian films by now, but I don't think any of the films they'd seen so far could have prepared them for what was coming: a wonderfully romantic, funny, visual, glorious masala film. I can't believe I haven't discussed it on this blog yet, so allow me to correct that now.

It's one that even some mostly-exclusively-Hindi-film-watching people have made the effort to seek out and watch, and I'm very glad about that. This film is just such a gem and very accessible to people who like Bollywood. NVNN (or NVNV as it's sometimes abbreviated) takes its influences from Bollywood classics, such as DDLJ or Maine Pyaar Kiya, after all.

So the story is what you can imagine, based on the influences; rich NRI boy Santosh (Siddharth) returns to India for a wedding of a childhood friend, whose best friend is Siri, a girl of good heart but modest wealth (Trisha). He's wild and flirty and gets on her nerves, but of course, they end up falling in love anyway. As beautiful and strong as their love is, it still faces the challenge of convincing her brother (Srihari) that the NRI boy is good enough for his precious younger sister.

Of course, it goes without saying that the above plot description is extremely "bare bones". There is, in fact, a great amount of detail woven into the otherwise stereotypical masala script. The reason why the brother feels discontent towards rich people, for example, is demonstrated in the beginning of the film. That's not to say everything is incredibly original, but something about the script is so thought-through that it works splendidly.

Santosh at the beginning of the film is what some people would call annoying, what I call hilarious and what could be described as "kid on an extreme sugar high". He's hyperactive, playful, loud, and I suppose his shows of physical affection are meant to highlight the fact he's "westernized". Nevertheless, I loved him from the get go. The love story develops believably, there's mischief but also a lot of sweetness, as the two get to know each other.

The film's general tone might be over-the-top with the comedy on the first half, but I adore it, and I continue adoring it when it smooths over and we get the more somber but still entertaining second half. My friends scoffed a little at the idea that a love that blossomed in 15 days may be so strong as to endure the trials placed on it on the second half, but these are the kind of masala premises you have to buy into. If you do, you're rewarded with a great movie.

Ostrich pants - when I knew I would love this film like nothing else.

What helps make the story a great ride is the amazing way the film is shot. To everybody and anybody who is perhaps tired of seeing foreign (as in, non-Indian) locales in your Indian films, you need to watch Southie films! The loving way Venu Gopal (if I'm to believe the back of the DVD box) has shot the countryside of India is worth noting. The songs, the costumes, just pretty much all the visuals, are lovely.

Which brings us to...

The music. Seeing as how this film is directed by a man whose name is synonymous with dance, it's no wonder it feels like the whole movie is in a way choreographed, danced more than it is acted. What struck me about Siddharth as an actor in this movie, and why I became a fan, was the physicality of the role (and I know that sounds like a pretentious thing to say about a masala entertainer but hear me out). He's a great dancer, and that shows, when he plays the physical comedy scenes, the hyperactive energy Santosh has on the first half, but also the more serious determinence we see in the character on the first half. The choreographies in the film are so wonderful, as well, intricate and imaginative.

Rewatching NVNN really makes me want to see Wanted, Prabhu Deva's Hindi directional debut. This man is capable of good things, so much is clear, but I'm really psyched about seeing whether he infuses a more straight-forward action flick with a touch of choreography, as he did with NVNN and its masala format.

And once again let me remind you that Prakash Ra-- I mean, Prakash Dad is in this movie. And while I think his later Dad roles have been more exceptional, this one stands as a damned classic Prakash Dad performance. Everybody needs a dose of Prakash Dad every once in a while.

I know not everybody is going to love this movie but it's definitely a special one, for me personally, but as I understand it, also in the history of Telugu cinema. This film brought life to the industry, giving it new talent, new energy, new gloss. A breath of fresh air. I won't argue whether Tollywood needed that, I'll simply say that I'm happy this film exists. So very happy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pastiche of praise; Kaminey.

WARNING: I curse in this review. The title of the film gives me full license to, in my opinion. If you're offended by salty language, just don't read this one.

What do you say about a film as universally appreciated as Kaminey? How to phrase things you've read a million times in such a original, refreshing manner that your voice isn't lost in the sea of reviews?

Yes, I made the awful mistake of reading other people's reviews - tons of them - before writing my own. When you've read stuff penned by professionals and goddamn media scholars, why read whatever I have to say?

The problem isn't that my opinion isn't valuable, no, I would never lack the self-esteem to think that. As a blog writer, a certainty in my own views is absolutely essential. No, the problem only comes in when I realize that Kaminey was loved by me as it was by others, and there's nothing I can really add.

Vishal Bharadwaj is making some of the finest films to grace Indian screens this decade - and the upcoming ones, I'm sure of it. Shahid Kapoor, under his direction, has risen to new heights as an actor, carrying the personalities of two very distinct characters perfectly. Priyanka Chopra gave us a wonderfully complex, multifaceted female character. The newcomer character actors all shine.

The plot takes a while to get going but the storytelling is dense, with amazing eye to detail. While I thought the soundtrack was inferior to that of Omkara it is nevertheless worth mentioning. The black comedy is excellent, unexpectedly funny, and fits in well with the occasionally sternly dramatic thriller plot.

I want to rewatch this, again and again, to catch all the details, all the layers to the storytelling, I want to show this to my friends, those who love Bollywood and those who know nothing about it, because this film is just that damn good.

And because I've read a million reviews of this by now, I can honestly say this: fuck Tarantino. Vishal Bharadwaj is not India's Tarantino. I realize getting called that is by no means an insult, but I feel like in some ways, it is. Tarantino makes films with very little heart or purpose, other than to show he's watches a lot of films and he really, really likes them. Bharadwaj has more of an auteur's touch to his films. He doesn't simply get inspired and spin his inspirations into stories, tying them together with quotable dialogue. His films seem to have more heart than that.

(That's not to say Kaminey isn't, in some ways, a very Tarantino-esque film. Comparisons to the good Guy Ritchie films also make a lot of sense. But in the end, Bharadwaj can't be India's Tarantino, because Sriram Raghavan, bless his soul, is India's Tarantino. End of story.)

This might not be the best review I could've written for this film but you know, it might not be the last. I'll be revisiting this film for sure. Hopefully on this blog, as well.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Look, shiny things! Dil Bole Hadippa.

It's one of those movies.

Now, listen. Save anything directed by Siddharth Anand, I like YRF's recent string of releases. Let's put that on the table right now. I realize a lot of people disagree with me, hating Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, despising Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, finding Aaja Naachle a tired film. I know I'm one of the handful of people who actually bothered rewatching Tashan. So to say this doesn't colour my opinion of this movie would be a blatant lie. (Oh and please, if you are one of those YRF haters, please save your tirades for your own blog, not the comment section of mine.)

Dil Bole Hadippa is one of those movies that YRF haters rejoice in finding, because it has all the things that people critisize the production house of being.

It's fluff with no hard edges that features an idealized Punjab (and an idealized, extremely patriotic view of India). It's colourful picturizations and goofy comedy, it's filmi references thrown in for a good measure, it's a film with a message that isn't necessarily delivered in the most delicate of ways. It's a film that entertains, but it's not a film that can afford being thought through, analyzed and picked apart.

And I quite like it.

Our hero is an NRI (of course) who arrives to Punjab to help his father out by coaching the cricket team that goes up against a Pakistani team every year in a friendly match. Rohan (Shahid Kapoor) is all roll-eyes and reluctant to stay. Meanwhile, a vivacious Punjabi girl Veera (ever-so-lovely Rani Mukherjee) dreams of cricket and nothing but cricket. Being conviniently a worker at a drama company, she decides to get into the team Rohan coaches, even if it means dressing up as a guy - and thus, Veera turns into Veer.

So despite the twenty billion plotholes, impossibilities, improbabilities and the fact the movie can't quite decide whether it wants to be a romantic entertainer or a cricket film, there's something about the film that simply entertains. Maybe it's Rani - while her comedic skills as Veer aren't pitch-perfect, they work good all the same and as Veera she's stunning and extremely lovable. Shahid's not given much to work with, but he does good with what he is given, and the chemistry between them works as well. (And as a fangirl note? Those arms should've had their own billing. Seriously.)

The soundtrack is sufficiently peppy and bhangra-influenced - not amazing, not incredibly original but you know, nice. Also, this is probably the second film where Rakhi Sawant actually works (the other one is Main Hoon Na, of course).

I am disappointed they didn't play around with the crossdressing aspect of the story more. There is so much potential if you take this route, and they didn't seem to even want to squeeze anything particularly new and exciting out of it.

So yeah, listen. I realize this is no DDLJ, nor is it CDI. But not all good films have to be great, they just have to have that something that keeps you wanting to go back. And I think this film has enough of that something, whether it be the songs, Rani's performance, the love story or Shahid('s arms ..sorry, I don't know where that came from).

Sometimes that's all I need.