Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oldie photos.

I feel like my brain is completely running on underdrive thanks to doing so much studying. Me and some friends did watch Andaz Apna Apna and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, confirming once again that I can watch those two as many times as possible and they'll still stay favourites. And I have some newer films I need to review but like I said, too brainless. So have some oldie photos for the lack of actual substance.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara - audio review.

I decided that instead of writing an incredibly rambling review, I'd record one.

Whether this was a smart move on my part is anybody's guess, but here's the review link:

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD/LISTEN. You can listen by pressing "play", or you can download. It's 11MB, around 12.5 minutes long, and in MP3-format.

I say "um" a lot, but I also edited a ton of "ums" and "ers" out..

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robot or Endhiran - no rest for the lithium-powered.

I was psyched, absolutely psyched to see Robot at my annual film festival blast of Indian films. Usually they only have Hindi films on display, usually only one, but this year they delivered big time with this, 7 Khoon Maaf and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which I'll review once I've seen it. I'd been anticipating Robot for ages - it was Shankar, it was big budget, it looked like it'd be crazyfun, so to see it in theater was a dream come true.

The audience certainly delivered, as did the surround sound in the theater. I think most Finland-dwelling Tamil speakers made the showing and put up an impressive display of whistling and cheering for the Superstar, and of course at every mildly naughty suggestive line of dialogue. No, it wasn't seeing the film open in a packed Madras cinema, I'm sure, but it was the closest we could get to such an experience in this cold country.

So what about the film itself? Well, it was Shankar alright. Rajni pulls triple-duty for the joy of his fans, as he's both the titular robot Chitti as well as his creator Vaseegaran, and even the version 2.0 we see on the second half. The big budget allows Shankar to go all out and I really do mean ALL OUT - besides the nice-looking visual effects, there are lavish song sets, foreign locations, and a climactic showdown unlike no other, in both good ways and bad. There's a certain insane visuality to Shankar films that everybody who's seen one recognises. That's all here, too.

So if I wasn't smiling ear-to-ear, I was laughing, clapping my hands, despite myself, even doing the clichéd slapping of the knee. But the full enjoyment of the film as a watching experience doesn't sadly take away the problems the film has. While I definitely think it's a must-watch for the insanity, the megalomaniac budget and the sheer show of Rajni-mania (the fans cheer him when he's good, but they also cheer for his villainous avatar!), these are some of the reasons why it doesn't quite jump on top of my must-buy list as well.

1. Aishwarya Rai dances gloriously but her character is underwritten to say the least. She throws nonsensical tantrums, her romance with both the creator and the robot is bland, her character is materialistic and acts bizarrely at best, annoyingly at the worst. She's just not very fun to watch.

Shankar's never been known to write fantastic female characters, but at least some of his heroines, like Sada in Anniyan, seem to have a good head on their soldiers. Aishwarya's Sana is merely a prop to allow for Chitti, then Vaseegaran to display different facets of their characterizations. Yes, even the robot is infused with more genuine personality traits than the female lead. This veers on insulting, to be quite frank.

2. As silly as it sounds as a criticism for a Shankar movie, as the dude is all about visuals, the story is hopelessly hollow. Gone is the usual social message, placed with a couple of moralistic conclusions towards the end. Usually the visual effects are a side-show, gratuitously used but only one of the tools that Shankar uses to tell his story. This time, they play the lead role.

I want to hope that because of the visuals, whatever story there was, I merely missed it in the flurry of eye candy. But I'm afraid that if I look again, there's very little there to hold onto.

3. Last but not least, and cover your eyes in Tamil Nadu because this might be blasphemous for the Rajni-fans: he's a good actor, so why not let him act? Sure, he hams it up on the second half and there's a couple of choice moments here and there, but while the whole point (and this I get) is that he's playing a robot, not known to emote very well, I still wonder why there was barely any effort to carve a real character out of the man who created him.

Or is this a gripe like you could level at many actors, that once they become famous, they become famous to such an effect that say, Rajni the Actor had to take a step back to make way for Rajni The Star? Pardon me, Superstar.

Point being, I really need to watch older Rajni films as it seems that he's not cast to act in these films: Shankar's merely putting him on display for the fans. And for me, the Star has little appeal unless I also get a glimpse of the Actor inside.

But as I said earlier, if you've not seen this one, for goodness' sake, do!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To have and to hold, in sickness and in health - 7 Khoon Maaf.

A woman, and her seven husbands - all dead. The premise sounds macabre and exaggerated. But I'll never forget discussing wanting to see this film with an Indian guy I met during my recent globetrotting, and his (paraphrased from my memory) comment on the title.

"Khoon is like, sin. But then you add maaf, and it's all forgiven."

His point was, as I understood it, that there's a poetic tone to the title, and that same poetic tone underscores the movie. This film isn't rough and rustic like Omkara, or slick with dirty urban rain like Kaminey. It's part realism, part fantasy-like. Sadly, not all stanzas are equally strong.

I didn't have very high hopes. I'm not sure what I'd read but something told me this wasn't as universally praised or as liked as Kaminey. There are probably good reasons for it. There is plenty good, though - starting with the fact that Priyanka does well in her performance, and to compliment her acting, the way they've aged Susanna over the years feels realistic. Susanna gains a certain weariness as she ages, but never loses her spark. At times it seems like she's lost it completely, but somehow she's still in control, or about as in control as she can be, of her own life. I end up sympathising for a killer - not enough to think what she did was justified each time, but enough to hope she gets out of it, somehow.

The husbands are well cast. It's difficult to name stand-outs, to be honest. They all rather fit their roles and brought the essential core of each role, whether the husband was to be terrifying from the outset, lying but lacking malice or surprisingly menacing.

As ever, with Vishal Bhardwaj films, the music completely makes the movie. Almost every song is a treat, from the hard rock songs (O Mama & Dil Dil Hai) to the Kalinka-inspired Darling, where Rekha Bhardwaj delivers a song so catchy you almost wish you'd never heard it. A lot of the film feels, looks and sounds exactly right - these are the hallmarks of a Bhardwaj film. You are sucked into the world and unwilling to leave.

But like I said, there are weak stanzas. While John Abraham does fine in the role of the second husband, there is something that feels weirdly out of place about his segment of the story. Maybe it's the way the songs are picturized, his character's style that just kind of goes a little over-the-top, but something about it felt a bit off. The picturization for Yeshu could have been a little more subtle, and the comedic elements in the story of the Russian husband, while certainly appropriately dark, could have been toned down a little.

And let's face it, it's not easy to watch the suffering of a woman for over two hours. Not that a Bhardwaj film is ever all fun times, but there was something about the unrelenting circle of her life, even at the moments when the whole audience laughs darkly at the interval screen ("Four more to go.."), that makes me unsure I want to return to this film, solid though it may have been. Bhardwaj-saab, mujhse maaf kardo.


And some less organised thoughts..

- Another example of National Awards really jumping the gun. She gets one for Fashion (bloody Fashion), and then goes and makes this one? What nonsense. (See also: Saif for Hum Tum. Dude goes on to make Omkara.)

- Neil Nitin Mukesh, despite being all menacing and the character being a bag of dicks, looks really good with a moustache ....so yeah.

- Seriously, I was in musical heaven throughout this movie. Can Vishal Bhardwaj come score my life so I can just have that on my iPod and not ever listen to anything again?

- Konkona Sen Sharma was barely there but left an impact. Anybody surprised?

- I haven't read the Ruskin Bond novel but I'm assuming it's a pretty good adaptation. Once Vishal Bhardwaj has scored my life, can he just adapt every book ever written? I'm thinking Jane Austen. It is a truth universally accepted, that every behenchod in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Gangsters, nautsch girls, the whole works.

No? Fine, I'll just keep day-dreaming, then..

Friday, September 16, 2011

The curious concept of masala, and a bit of Dabangg.

Carla's Dabangg review, besides being worth reading, got me thinking.

Whereas she draws comparison between this type of masala and the good stuff of the yesteryears, my go-to comparison is the action masala's from some of the Southern industries (Tamil and Telugu). Not that I've seen a whole lot of them, but enough to draw a general picture of what kind of tropes the films are composed of.

I was going to comment something along the lines of "Well, to me, the Southie industries have been keeping this sort of masala format warm all these years, so it's nice to see Hindi films going with this tried-and-true formula again."

Then I catch myself. Is this awfully reductionist and even for a personal interpretation tenuous at best? Probably. I mean, first of all, Southie films have their own history with their own stars and their own cultural context, which Northern industries and especially the supposedly pan-Indian Hindi film industry seems rather ignorant of. Who knows where the Southie masala took inspiration from? Rajnikanth was making movies around the time Amitabh was carving a place for himself. It seems weird to speculate when one doesn't know the full history of genres in Tamil/Telugu films.

At the same time, the Southie influence is clear in my eyes. Very few 70's masalas had a high skill in choreographing the fight scenes, or interesting in terms of camera positioning. The best cinematographers in all of India have famously come from the South, and the fight choreographies seemed to learn a thing or two from Hong Kong. You can definitely see that modern flare in Dabangg, and the realism in the violence.

Then there's the hero, of course. No longer the charming NRI whose dil beats for Indian family values even though he wears Western labels, Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey is basically a certified badass rustic cop, assuming they give out such badassery certifications, and if they see him, they had better start. As Carla points out, he's not exactly morally sound, but there's a certain ends-justifies-the-means attitude that makes sure we don't stop believing in him completely as a hero.

The story's been called lacklustre and incoherent in the few reviews I glanced at, but I think what is interesting about these sorts of action masalas is that they are complete crowd-pleasers, but the perception of the crowd has changed a bit. Nowadays there's no one mass (was there ever, truly?) but multiplex audiences, NRI audiences, segments of the "mass" that don't necessarily care for the kind of cinema Dabangg and other such masalas are all about. I started thinking about the action masala hero and how strange it is that Salman, not Akshay Kumar, became the new box office king with these sorts of ventures. You'd think Akshay would have the skills and the mass appeal - and he certainly does. He's not an actor with mind-blowing range, but that's usually not what the masalas are looking for, either. And yet, starting from Wanted and culminating in Dabangg, it was Salman who has his renaissance with these action masalas.

Salman is the Marmite Hero, or Marmite Khan if we want to get specific. Aamir and Shahrukh inspire reactions ranging from lukewarm to passionate, but Salman seems to split people into haters or lovers. I'm more inclined to agree with the latter camp. Of course, now that I've said that you can all reminisce my Let's Talk About post about him, in which I write: "-- I like Salman Khan. I don't love him, I certainly don't enjoy him unconditionally, but the fact remains I do like him."

Isn't like a lukewarm reaction? Not really, not to me. The fact remains, when Salman makes good movies, I really like him. When he makes bad movies - which is often - I can't stand them or watch them just for him. These recent films feature him in roles that suit him superbly, suit his acting, his style, his core fanbase. The flicks are crowd-pleasers, and the crowd gets what they came for, unlike the crappy favour-for-a-friend films he's been known to churn out, with half-baked plots and disappointing action. You can virtually imagine the movie theater exploding when the shirt comes off - and you know for sure it will.

Some of you that are South Indian and know the industries inside & out, or those firangis who jumped the Tamil/Telugu gravy train in a big way and know your Vijay's from your Karthi's and can cite Allu Arjun's family tree by heart, will protest purely because there are things the legitimate Southie heroes can certainly do that Salman can't. He's an old guy who's not famous for emotional range, so when you've got young Telugu lads dancing their hearts out in limber moves to rival Hrithik's, charming heroines and kicking ass left right center and just right there behind them, it can feel wrong that Salman took influence from these types of movies and is now breaking box office records. But of course, Fair is not a word in the Indian film vocabulary, otherwise new talent wouldn't find it so difficult to break into it while son-of-so-and-so gets a debut role no problem.

And as for Dabangg? Well, if you can't tell by this post, I enjoyed it. Not sure whether it jumps ahead of the perfect-in-every-way Wanted (I hear some of you Salman haters protesting but ah, there you have it, Marmite Khan on display!) but it certainly comes close.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Peddling DVD's.

Space is a luxury this student can't afford. So my apartment is composed of some furniture, some essentials, some Bollywood posters and a whole lot of clutter.

Therefore, I'm trying to rid myself of some DVD's. I'm not selling them per se, but if it looks like shipping gets costy, we could work something out through PayPal (small fees, I promise you these aren't worth a lot of money).

Here's the list:

Andaz Apna Apna (I have another copy so getting rid of this one with bad subs. Ideal if you already know Hindi.)
Chori Chori (90's film with Rani & Ajay, some obviously love this - I don't.)
Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (Madhavan, Saif, Reema Sen - I actually got this from somebody .. so I figure it's okay to gift it forward)
Life in a Metro (okayish film by lots of people inc. Shilpa, Konkona Sen Sharma, Irffan Khan, KK Menon, Sharman Joshi)
Naseeb (70's masala with Amitabh, Rishi, Hema etc directed by Manmohan Desai - I should love this but I kind of didn't? It was just okay.)
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (Akshaye Khanna + Jyothika, terrible flick, terrible dvd but good AR Rahman soundtrack)
Saawariya (SLB film, Finnish dvd but with Hindi audio, various subs)
Salaam Namaste (Preity, Saif)
Tum Haseen Main Jawaan (Dharmendra, Hema, okayish 70's masala)

The Finnish Saawariya is Region 2, all other ones are region 0.

Please get in touch fast if you are interested, I might gift some of these to a friend this Friday and after that some of them won't be available. If multiple people want the same DVD, it's first come first serve.

EDIT: Thanks, folks, got homes for all of these now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mini-reviews, lately watched: the Merely Okay Films pile.

Challo Dilli - This 2011 film was rather charming. I mostly watched it for the curious pairing (non-romantic) of Lara Dutta and Vinay Pathak. Both I like a lot, not typically to watch a film for, but I definitely enjoyed them in this. A story of two very different individuals having to road-trip to get to Delhi was paced nicely and shot prettily, showcasing northern Indian sights in a lovely way, and both actors did great. The ending delivers a bit of a heart-tugging twist, but you end up walking away from the film with a smile. S'all good.

Tere Bin Laden - The Pakistani popstar Ali Zafar stars in this and seems to be gaining popularity on the acting front in general. He's rather good! Sadly the film itself was not massively impressive. I think it suffered a bit from a case of overhype for me? It may been a positive surprise for everybody else but by the time I got to it, it was just okay. I enjoyed it, and it didn't drag on, but I doubt I'll ever feel the desire to rewatch and while as a comedy it worked, definitely better than I would have assumed going by the plot premise, it didn't become a favourite.

We Are Family - I know I'm a terrible Kajol fan because I only saw this film now. I've not seen the original film, Stepmom, but if this version is anything to go by, it's a solid, nice film. It's always refreshing to see a Bollywood movie adapt a Hollywood one honestly, with full credit & rights stated in the opening credits.

I grew up in what some people would call a "broken family" based on the fact that my parents were not together (a term I'd obviously disagree with - I know so many friends whose families are more broken than mine, whilst being together) so the topic was close to heart in some ways. I'm however too old to remember what it's like to dislike a parent's new partner instead of being open-minded and thinking "if this person makes them happy", so I didn't feel very sympathetic towards the kids and their little tantrums towards the beginning of the movie.

The other minor problem I had with the film was the role of the father, which was pretty much ..popping by every now and then. I don't normally get very feminist on my Indian films but this one annoyed me because couldn't Arjun's character have done a bit more to help out? It seemed sort of ridiculous it was such a strong assumption that all that housework/childcare was the women's work, not his business.

Other than those two minor annoyances, I enjoyed the film.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yeh Rajneeti hai - dirty, dirty politics.

I finally got around to watching Prakash Jha's Rajneeti, quite an epic tale of one family's unhealthy relations and how the politics ruin them, twist them, and ally them with each other as well as against each other. I loved it, not only because it was a well-made story juggling an impressive amount of characters, all with their own shades of grey and questionable decisions, but also because it revealed quite painfully the kind of things you might end up doing for the desire of power - the dark side of politics you never see politicians talk about, even for all that talking they get to do.
I have to again confess I don't know an awful lot about Indian politics, but I was still surprised at the blatant lack of worry that the politicians seemed to have regarding the opinion of the people they were elected to represent. Perhaps this goes for almost any democracy - the power is so high up the people cannot reach it, even though this is precisely what a democratic system tries to prevent from happening. Instead, the politicians do not live in fear of the people - but of each other. And what a messy game that can be. This film lays bare all the backstabbing, scheming and just plain reaches to any power that can be had in a way that's brutal.
And it is so very interesting to watch.
This being a film about politicians, it's easy to start listing those who I hated while watching. Ranbir's Samar is absolutely despicable and to top it all off, he tries to blame the circumstances for his behaviour. Certainly the circumstances contributed, but his blind devotion to following the political game to its absolute sickest conclusion, and how coldly he played this game, was indicative of not just the circumstances, but the man who chose to act as he did, in those circumstances. At first I thought the way he played Indu (Katrina) was cruel, but then the rap sheet began to fill up with more terrible offenses, one after another.
Then there is his brother Prithvi, played by the ever-capable Arjun Rampal (sending us all into conflicted emotions, so charming, yet so hopelessly evil in this!), whose first scene features him, what's that, oh yes, taking sexual advantage of a girl who wants to get into politics. Now, while she seems willing initially, the whole scene has a very uncomfortable vibe, to the point that when it's later framed as rape, I found it hard to disagree. What a charmer. He also goes to great lengths to secure power, and has a fuse about the length of a baby's finger.
Manoj Bajpai plays an absolute crook in the other brother Veerendra, naturally, and Ajay Devgn is only a teaspoon more honest than the rest of them, but in comparison appears saint-like. Which of course means he gets gunned down on a dirty street.
A thing that struck me about the film, besides how awful the characters were (and let me re-iterate that this didn't take away from my enjoyment of the film - the story absolutely captivated me), was how vague the actual politics were. What was the difference between the two parties, besides the faces of their leaders? What were their policies, their promises, their stances on major political issues? None of these were discussed, debated, even stated. Nope. Just waltz into town in local attire, greet the common folk respectfully and the poor will worship you as god? Or was this just unwillingness of the film maker to actually draw connections to any real issues that might upset viewers or even worse, the censors?
I kept waiting for Naseeruddin Shah's leftist character to make a comeback but alas, he never did. Probably better for it, actually - his character got a peaceful death, at the very least.
Biggest gripe? How out of place was that item number? Oh dear.
Other than that? Recommend, recommend, recommend.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Veracious versus Saif: An Imaginary Chat

Saif: So we're making a sequel to Main Khiladi Tu Anari.

Veracious: Shut up. You're not!

Saif: That's correct, we're not making one at all. In fact, there are no plans. I just happen to say something to the press, and they completely misunderstand it.

Veracious: That can be a problem when you deal with a middle-man when making statements. Why not just release everything on your own, like say, via Twitter?

Saif: Me, on Twitter?

Veracious: You're right, it's probably a terrible idea. Nevermind.

Saif: Now I'm a bit insulted. I'm a thinking wo/man's actor. I made Being Cyrus, you know?

Veracious: Dude, you made Race. There was no thought involved in that.

Saif: Shakespeare was also not appreciated during his time..

Veracious: Actually, Shakespeare was very liked in his day. You Shakespearean you.

Saif: I can't believe you spelled Shakespearean correctly.

Veracious: Whatever. When's Agent Vinod coming out? Flick's been in the making for like four years. What gives?

Saif: Who knows. Sriram's a perfectionist. He's my bhai, though, we'll get it done.

Veracious: Four years, though.

Saif: I don't believe in the concept of years now that I've got a young girlfriend.

Veracious: Wow. Why do I imagine you as such a douchebag?

Saif: You're a bad fan, anyway. Did you ever even see Kurbaan?

Veracious: Shut up, and go make that MKTA sequel.

Saif: How about a remake?

Veracious: You leave the casting to me, and it's a deal.

Saif: Isn't talking to yourself the first sign of madness?

Veracious: First, I'm typing this. And second, I don't believe in madness. You know what I believe in?

Saif: What?

Veracious: M.A.D.-ness.

Saif: Oh god..


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bunty and Babli of wedding planning.

Once upon a time there was a period when all the Cool KidsTM thought it was cool to rag on Yash Raj Films. Or maybe there was never such a time but simply a time when yours truly was overly defensive about the studio in question. They had done some tragically bad choices, which I won't even have to list for you to think about, but they had also given us the crack that is Dhoom, and gems like Fanaa, Bunty Aur Babli, Hum Tum, Chak De India to name a couple.

Essentially, I see Aditya Chopra's thinking: splash some new talent onto the screen, whether the talent is eventually judged to be good, mediocre, or talentless. There's also a certain gloss, a certain visual appeal, whether just in advertising, that YRF has a tendency to give its films.

So when I finally got around to watching Band Baaja Baarat, the colourful romcom about two youngsters who start a wedding planning business but promise not to complicate the business partnership with romance (and trust me, this is all the plot you need to know), not only was it a fun movie with a good cast, great songs, beautiful sets and all the works, it also felt like vindication that I was right all along. And that the Cool Kids were wrong. (Take that, Cool Kids! Not so cool anymore, are you?)

BBB certainly does all that I mentioned Aditya Chopra's end-game being. It introduces new talent in the director-writer Maneesh Sharma as well as the male lead Ranveer Singh. There is nothing radically new about the concept behind the film, but it is a lot of fun and it's a twist to the typical Bollywood fare, where the main characters are from such rich families that running dad ka business in a massive corporate office is a given, as is a foreign MBA. Just to see the heroes work, honest-to-god work, feels like a good change.

And they are delightful to watch, with the effortless chemistry and Anushka's character being so no-nonsense, and the standard useless hero gaining a work ethic even if his attitude with regards to other things only improves by the end of the film. But I fell in love with them, and when their heart breaks, mine does, too.

Almost every scene being either at a wedding or setting one up, the fun quotient is quite high. Makes you want to have a wedding of your own!

And speaking of heart-break, my biggest props of the whole film go to Anushka in this scene. Won't say any more about it to not spoil the poor souls who haven't seen this film yet but ..yeah. She was good.

If I was forced (not quite gun-to-the-head, maybe a baseball-bat-raised-over-laptop) to name something about this film that didn't quite work, I'd probably say the way that the ending resolution came about. It didn't fall apart, but it could've been better, but as it came about, I was just happy it did.

So very, very happy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Breaking the fourth wall and beyond.

So I had a dream about a big star Hindi film in which me and the friend I was watching it with were actually in ourselves. But not only that, the characters themselves knew they were in a film, but this wasn't the usual Bollywood meta ala Farah Khan or such, this was a rather dark premise wrapped in wild, filmi colours - these characters knew the script, so they also knew when they were going to die.

At the same time, you would have delightfully humorous things like Boman Irani's character commenting how suspicious it was that one of the characters played by Paresh Rawal was never around when the other character played by Paresh Rawal was.

All in all, this was such a fantastic dream I'm not sure if it would make a good movie in the least, but it certainly had some of the right elements. At some point, the big star cast launched into a Kunal Kohli type tribute the yesteryear filmi music, singing songs from HAHK to Shree 420. My friend (remember, inside the film we're watching) commented this was her favourite scene. At some point the film took a bizarre religious, almost Greek drama type element, in which Hindu gods could be prayed to and they would answer, aiding the characters in whatever the script demanded from them - whether it was becoming the villain, making budding romance blossom or preventing death of a loved one. (The Hindu gods, by the way? Played by great actors of the past. I'm pretty sure Sharmila Tagore was Lakshmi.)

The action finale turned the film into a Matrix of some kind, with parts moving as you wish, a stone wall erected where there was nothing before just because, bullets not hitting a character if they didn't want to die yet.

As I said previously, wouldn't make a very good movie, but would make a messy movie with some very good elements. Essentially I just had to share this with you before I forgot about it as so often happens with dreams.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mini-reviews, part 9.

Previous mini-reviews here.

81. Anniyan (2005) - Quite possibly the most entertaining film I've ever seen in any language, made anywhere in the world. Maybe closely rivalled by Wanted (Hindi)? They both have Prakash Raaj, but then, he is the very definition of Awesome. Stars Vikram, not at his hottest, but still good stuff. Endlessly rewatchable.

82. The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey (2005)
- A surprisingly bland Aamir Khan film. It's okay as far as historical films go, but doesn't really stand repeat viewings. I do wish we got better films with the Aamir-Rani pairing, they are great together!

83. Peralagan (2004) - Surya's impressive double-role picture co-starring the delightful Jothika, who also has a double role in the film. This picture is worth watching even when it's not a huge favourite of mine, simply because it answers the question: how evil does Surya have to play for fangirls to forget he's hot? The ugly character he plays in this has so much heart. Not the best film, but worth checking out nonetheless.

84. Bumbai (1995)
- Also known as Bombay. Maniratnam's classic film about the Bombay riots. I cried so much on my first watch I haven't dared rewatch since, even though I own the Tamil-dialogue original on DVD. One of those films you watch that make you go, "Manisha Koirala, whatever happened to her? Oh yes, Bollywood's unfair bias against married women.."

85. Aaja Nachle (2007) - Madhuri's unfairly maligned comeback film about a dancer that returns to her home village to save a theater. Yes, it's cheesy and the story is standard fluff, but it's just delightful, and has good song numbers and heart and a great supporting cast. See also: Akshaye Khanna as the world's cutest villain.

86. Yeh Dillagi (1994) - I call it the Sakshay movie you don't realize actually is a Sakshay movie. Mostly because they play brothers, actual brothers, both trying to woo Kajol's character, Sabrina-style. It's watchable 90's fluff, as opposed to being too cheeseball for its own good. Kajol makes 90's fashion look good, for evidence, youtube "Hoton pe bas" from this film. Original review here.

87. Chupke Chupke (1975) - This Hrishikesh Mukherjii comedy I mostly watched for the fact it's the only film where Amitabh and Dharmendra are leads besides Sholay. It's a gentle, feel-good comedy with Sharmila Tagore and Jaya as female leads, and I really ought to rewatch, because it was delightful and cute, in that classic Mukherji manner.

88. Black Friday (2004) - This docu-drama about the Mumbai blasts of 1993 is slow-moving but engaging, and hopelessly realistic, so definitely not your standard Hindi film fare. It's good, but one of those films I am not sure I will ever rewatch. Pavan Malhotra delivers a beautiful, chilling performance as the terrorist chief. We all think about the nature of terrorism these days, this film's portrayal of both the perpetrators, the people in charge of the plans and the police chasing these people gives you a lot to think about. Original review here.

89. Dil Se.. (1998)
- Dil Se is most certainly one of those films that made me go "wow", in my early days of Indian film watching. It was a film that was different and gorgeous, with good performances (Manisha Koirala, Shahrukh Khan) that made one pause, dealing with heavy topics such as sexual abuse and terrorism. Since then I've rewatched it but I do wonder if it'd still make the favourites list. There is something vaguely disturbing about the course of romance in this film.. Regardless, it's a film I could easily recommend.

90. Namastey London (2007)
- Is this a really good romantic comedy? Perhaps not. The story of the Punjabi boy, played by Akshay Kumar, and the Londonite girl (Katrina Kaif), and their love story is well-paced and well-acted (Katrina fits the role like a glove, so even she excels, and Akshay's great in this!) but has some extremely cringeworthy moments, and a blah soundtrack. Regardless, it's one of those Rainy Day films. I can put it on and be put in a better mood instantly.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Suno Aisha.. (About Aisha and other Emmaites.)

Aisha came out around a year ago, and I finally managed to watch it. Seeing as how I cannot talk about the film in detail without going into previous modernized Emma adaptations such as Clueless, this review will have two parts: one short spoiler-free part, and one more detailed, spoiler-filled part which compares and contrasts it to the other adaptations of the story.

Part ek:

I pretty much loved Aisha, even though it was far from being flawless. In fact, while the film is overall well-made and executed the Austen story well for the most part, there are a couple of problems, especially with Aisha's characterization that I can understand may take some viewers from the Loving Camp and place them in the Meh Camp. I'm still with the Loving Camp, but I do wonder whether that'll change. Sometimes phrasing the problems in form of a movie review can make them more apparent to me as a viewer, which takes some enjoyment out of the film. Regardless, Aisha serves its purpose as a fluffy romcom with good-looking, charming leads, a well-paced storyline and I still dig the soundtrack an awful lot.

Plus it has Abhay Deol. That, in and of itself. Well. You know.

Part do (SPOILERS):

I'll state at this point that Clueless, Amy Heckerling's 90's Valley girl spin on the classic Austen novel Emma, is one of my favourite films of all time. Not that it's a master piece, but it is one of those few perfect, charming teen comedies as well as a pretty nice romcom. I watched it as a kid, loved it and have rewatched it numerous times since. On the other hand, I have a weird relationship with some of the other Emma adaptations. I can watch the miniseries that have been made and enjoy them, and while I don't love the Gwyneth Paltrow film, I suppose that's okay as well. However, to me, Clueless' Cher is the most lovable of the Emma characters. I suppose the other versions are closer to the original version in the books (which I've read but have very vague memories of).

So you could say I love the general story structure of Emma; the fact that it's a female centric story where the main character has to learn some pretty crucial lessons that she isn't always in the right, and that sometimes her class prejudice can cloud her from seeing things that are truly there. I think we all enjoy watching characters that learn things and when they do bad things, get their comeuppance. Simple enough, that.

Now, at first appearance I thought Aisha was a little less charming than Clueless, and just a tad more commercial/consumeristic. What was with that L'Oreal advertisement in the middle of my movie? Learn to be subtle, product placers of Bollywood, for goodness' sake. But the film grew on me, mostly on the backs of the side characters. Shefali (Amrita Puri) was just delightful and Abhay Deol did not disappoint in the least. There is a lot to be said for Sonam Kapoor's Aisha, too. It's easy to believe that somebody as gorgeous as Sonam, growing in wealth, could be this sort of clueless, spoiled character who always gets her way and always thinks her way is the right way for things to go. She's believable, and while the role doesn't exactly feel like a stretch (not that Sonam is like this in real life, but I'm sure she's run into the type, being the daughter of Anil Kapoor, and hanging out in the glitzy upper-class filmi circles), she does a good job.

I guess where the problems come in is the "comeuppance" part of the storyline, the point that everything has been building up to. The thought I couldn't shake after the film was over was this: does Aisha truly learn anything? We see her moping around a lot, eating ice cream (in that most terrible of female clichés), and finally seeing her friendships fall apart. We see her realize how much she loves Arjun, which is all very well, and we see that she's probably quit meddling in the affairs of others. I walked away from the movie, liking it a lot, but wondering if these lessons she's got to learn were portrayed believably in the film.

In comparsion to Clueless, I just thought that Cher had a very visible "oh, I get it now" moment and her efforts to make amends to her previous actions were portrayed in a way that really redeemed the character. And even before that, as spoiled and silly and annoying as Cher was, she also had a big heart and you could really get a sense of it as you watched her go through her consumerist, vapid existence. With Aisha, the helping of others truly feels mostly self-serving, and so she comes off as a less sympathetic character. She isn't clueless - you can see she's smart, but using her smarts in a very foolish way. Cher was smart, too, but (I think) very unaware of it, or thinking that her smarts only applied to the social world of high school. Aisha's character is not a teen, she's an adult, and though young, it sometimes feels like she should know better by now, and heed the advice of Arjun instead of stubbornly picking up her pet projects with very self-centered goals.

This all makes it sound like I hate Aisha - I most certainly don't. It's just that I can see the flaws in the characterization, perhaps where they just wanted to glam her up as much as possible, they forgot there are ways of making her more sympathetic to the viewer as well.

And as seems to be the Abhay Deol character cliché at this point, his Arjun does come off like a bit too smug at times. This didn't rid a whole lot of enjoyment of the movie for me, but it was something I picked up on, and something that could rub others the wrong way.

But despite all these points, I did genuinely enjoy the film a whole lot. I liked the fact that while Pinky comes off as quite the bitch with regards to Aisha picking up Shefali as a new project, you can later see at least partly why she's upset about this. It's not the first time Aisha's done it, and it's also that Aisha tends to not notice Pinky when something like this comes around - like her friends are simply accessories, and sometimes the newest one is her favourite. Shefali was great, and all the moments between her and Saurabh were too adorable for their own good. And the song picturizations were quite a delight (L'Oreal commercial aside). Big ups, Amit Trivedi.

So.. what did you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ek main aur ek tu hai.. Random thoughts about hiphop.

This post is just some thoughts inspired by Switty Tera Pyar Chaida, a promotional video for Delhi Belly, and Filmi Girl's brief thoughts on it that inspired debate in the comments of this post, as well as Twitter debate that touched on the same topic (I don't know how to link to this so I won't).

I think when it comes to the intersection of hiphop and Bollywood, there are numerous points to consider.

1) Globalness of goth genres. It's clear that these two would not intersect if it were not for the global popularity of hiphop, or the popularity of Bollywood films outside India. But the fact that they are global, brings up a question that problematizes the 'globalness' of them. So we understand hiphop and Bollywood as "things" or as "genres"?

If we classify them as "things", then they can be more clearly defined and located. Hiphop music and culture becomes something that stemmed from the experiences of black Americans in the late 1970's and onwards. It's not just a genre of music with certain characteristics - it's a thing with a certain, definite history. Bollywood as "a thing" would be mainstream Hindi films produced in Bombay/Mumbai.

As genres, I think the boundaries somewhat disappear. A musical dance number in an American sitcom can be considered in the "Bollywood genre", despite it not being in Hindi or produced in Mumbai. Yet there's something "Bollywoodish" about it, so it can be understood to fit the genre. Hiphop as a "thing" isn't produced by two Indian guys, with the son of India's biggest film star providing the vocals, but as a genre, it can accommodate a hiphop song like "Right Here Right Now" from the 2005 film Bluffmaster.

I think it's good to keep in mind both hiphop and Bollywood as 'things', because those I feel like are their "truest nature". It's where the genres stemmed from, and it's where you can still find a lot of variation (so it's not as if its a very purist view). But at the same time, you have to consider the global aspect.

2) Mockery. What's the parody of "Switty", regardless of how funny or poignant it is, aimed at? I would argue the same as those defending it in the FG post - at the endless appropriation of hiphop as a genre by Bollywood film makers because of the idea that hiphop is glamorous, current and cool. But of course, what they really ape is only some aspects of hiphop as a genre - the musical style and the materialistic flair of the music videos (not to mention the objectification of women). So there's bling, cars and girls, not well-crafted lyrical output about the racism of the police or such issues.

I don't think Switty's a fantastic parody - it runs the risk of becoming the thing it mocks to the casual viewer, who will just see as another hiphop-inspired Bollywood promotional video and react accordingly. But I also don't think it's saying, "this is how silly hiphop is". To do that, it would just be ignorant, the same way in which some "Bollywood-inspired" things made in the West come off as insulting because even if they come from a place of love, they boil "Bollywood" as a thing or as a genre down to rather shallow "essentials", which can upset those fans of Indian films who find meaning in the lengthy dance numbers or other factors which these "inspired" thing contain.

3) Who gets to perform, and on whose terms? In hiphop, this is a much more pertinent question than it is for Bollywood, but applies to Bollywood as well, to a certain extent. It's obvious that hiphop's roots are not in the materially rich living portrayed in numerous music videos. At the same time, there are middle class rappers, too. I don't think it's my place to really chip in on this debate; while I do think that hiphop has become a global form of expression and I think a lot of respected, ground-breaking MC's have voiced similar opinions, it's really difficult to draw the lines of what 'feels' appropriate and what doesn't. And a whole other issue is just what is good music and what isn't.

Is Imran Khan performing a mockery of hiphop? In this case I feel like I can confidently say no. He is mocking a 'wannabe' who idolises certain aspects of the hiphop "culture", and the fact that most aspects are rather superficial. But what about white people performing Bollywood style dances and sequences?

Well, it might not be completely insulting, but it can be cringeworthy. I've been thinking about the Finnish bhangra-group, for example. Bhangra is global, but in the sense that desi people make it and perform it and dig it in Punjab, London, Toronto, wherever they may be in the world, and the audiences can be composed of various ethnicities. What are pasty Finns doing declaring their own sub-sect of this genre? I am biased, of course, and one of the things that bothers me is that I understand the lyrics to the song, whose title translates "leaders/commanders are invicible", which hardly gives off the vibe of a respectful tribute, but more of a boast. If you're going to borrow the musical stylings of another culture, at least be respectful. Or maybe I'm just easily irritated...

In terms of "Right Here Right Now", which I reference in the title of the post, it has to be said that this song only takes in aspects of hiphop, and while done in love, can be rather goofy in the way that Abhishek lives out his "rapstar" fantasy in the video. But for all its "trying too hard", it comes out as rather sympathetic to me, as does "Switty" in the end, even though it's more the bits of the movie that they show that make me want to see Delhi Belly, not the promotional video as a whole.

Or am I just a Bollywood apologist, easy to find fault in everything else but it? I don't know. I recognise that there are issues surrounding the problems and I do wish that certain Bollywood film makers would also think twice before making the "hiphop style" music videos for promotion of their films.

Until they do, hiphop producers outside India will rake in good money from the global success of their genre.. Has Bollywood gone down that path as well? Will it? That's probably a topic for another post.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Moments in film, as in time.

[I've not been writing as of late, for various reasons ... I think I'll remain relatively inactive in terms of this blog for most of the summer, but I'm trying to be more relaxed about reviewing films or whatever, so who knows, maybe you'll get some random updates every now and then.]

There is this brilliant little throwaway joke in 3 Idiots, a movie that I feel deserves all my worship of it (and of the fact I've rewatched it like 5 times since I first saw the film), which happens in the toilets of the university, where the guys are washing their teeth, and Raju is stressing out about exams and the antagonism Rancho has built with Virus.

Farhan steps in to assure him, relax, it's going to be fine - "Nothing is impossible."

Raju stops his storming out from the bathroom to turn back at Farhan, and asks, "Nothing is impossible?"

He then empties half of Farhan's tube of toothpaste onto Farhan's palm and says something to the effect of, "Try putting all of that back in there and then tell me nothing is impossible."

I love this joke, because not only is it funny, it demonstrates something we all know about life. Nothing is impossible is true when it comes to most things (other than the truly impossible things, like reductio ad absurdum type of logical fallacies) but of course, putting the tooth paste back into the tube would be an ultimately useless, tedious process that nobody in their right minds would consider taking up, unless they really, really, really needed that specific tooth paste. And even then, unless you're in severe financial circumstances, it'd probably just be better to buy a new tube.

Nothing is impossible, yes, maybe, but some things are so difficult, time-consuming and fruitless efforts, you can question whether they'd be worth it in the end. Nothing is impossible, but some things are so improbable, it's easier to rely on the improbability than it is to put your trust in something happening.

I think as we go through life, we want to believe in 'nothing is impossible' but are faced with certain challenges that make us lose faith, or come across a certain realism that it would just be foolish to keep believing. I'm not saying we should believe, I've never been the type to keep insisting there's no ceiling to achievement or circumstancial / structural things that might prevent certain things from happening. But I guess what I'm saying is, I think when you assess certain situations, and have a determination to make things possible, you know, they just could be.

And that's why I've been thinking about this scene as of late, and of the film as of late. There are going to be some steps I'll take in the future to mold my life in a way that I think Rancho would have liked me to; in a way that hopefully benefits and satisfies me and my future goals. But it's scary, and it's especially scary to think about the end results - what if I don't know myself enough to make the right choices? What if I've still go blinders on and cannot see what I'm really meant to be doing with my life? And is there ever going to be anybody to show me?

Life's not like a movie, things happen randomly and for no good reason, and affect each other in unexpected ways. Good timing comes and goes and who's to say that good decisions taken now will be good decisions in 3 years' time?

It's these sorts of difficulties that the film does not address, nor should it, being an uplifting comedy. It re-affirms life, and the kind of trust you can only place in yourself, but of course, life is so much more complicated and requires different solutions than just the "go-get" attitude movie characters exhibit.

So that's what I've been thinking as of late; a bit of filmi-inspired philosophy for you..

Sunday, January 30, 2011

London times - No One Killed Jessica & just a smidgeon of Dhobi Ghat.

So I visited London a short while ago. As usual, this meant visiting the Ayngaran Video shop in Colliers Wood (which still has friendly staff and amazing deals! I cannot recommend it enough). I'll try to watch all the films I bought uncharacteristically fast and not let the DVD's lie around waiting for me to get to them, so expect a lot of Tamil goodness in this blog soon! But what was also great about visiting London was what is a rare treat for me - Bollywood in an actual movie theatre.

Unlike last time I visited the UK (last year May), I had better luck with what was running while I was over there. Sure there was Yamla Pagla Deewana or whatever the hell that film is called, which I very decidedly gave a miss in favour of No One Killed Jessica - a film I was curious about and had heard good things about, though hadn't actually read any reviews, professional or non.

I had a feeling I would like it and I certainly did. Now, being as out of the loop as I have in the past, uhh, I don't know, year or so?, it's hard to tell what the consensus on the film is in the world of Bollywood. When I later on met Daddy's Girl she told me that the reviews for the film hadn't been all that, which surprised me - I'd only seen praise, from Bolly-fanatics and not-so-much alike. I guess it just depends where you look.

NOKJ, for those unfamiliar, is a story that mixes fact and fiction about the death of Jessica Lal, who was shot in a crowded bar full of people but whose killer still went unconvicted for a long time (hence the title). The film's story focuses on two main characters, Jessica's sister Sabrina (Vidya Balan) and Meera (Rani Mukherji), a tough-as-nails journalist who at first ignores the case, believing it not to be worth her time, but eventually ends up working passionately to expose the authorities' mishandling of the case.

That's probably giving a way too much, to be honest. I went in not knowing anything and came out loving it. It was just a well-made movie, and a fantastic example of how a female character-driven film can work just as well as something hero-focused. Vidya Balan shone in the role, so much so I could feel the pain that her character felt, and found myself welling up constantly. I later wondered if I'd ever cried so much at a film. Then I realised I had, of course, wept myself silly at Paa (with also Vidya in it ..coincidence?). And Rani was also great, even if her character's sharp, bitchy edge could've been written a little less over-the-top. I am also just so happy she is doing these alternative types of roles, as opposed to the usual YRF fare. Mind you, I am one of the few who love her even in those fluff pieces, but she's a better actress than to limit herself to roles of that kind, and the self-assured, independent and career-minded Meera was just one of those performances that isn't going to be easily forgotten.

It's a film that tugs at the heart-strings in a massive way, has that lovely against-authority-power-to-the-people Rang De Basanti type of edge to boot and yeah, really enjoyed it. I hope this is a sign of things to come for 2011. Maybe if we get a ton of films as good as this one, I'll jump more actively on the Bollywood-train, because I've just been watching it go by for a really long while now (though I've always kept rewatching old favourites and suchlike).

Unfortunately, when I meant to go see Dhobi Ghat with Ros, luck was not on our side! First all of the trains in her direction were cancelled so she was late, then we went to the wrong screen, then we find the right screen and sit down to watch around 15 minutes of the film, only to have the projector break down so bad we get our tickets refunded. And this was basically my last day so I couldn't go see the film the next day. Based on what I saw, the film certainly looked interesting - Prateik (Babbar)'s looked like a promising performance, and we were just getting to the part where Aamir Khan's character starts figuring out what the tapes left at his new apartment were about. I enjoyed the low-key feel of the film and ...yeah, it was disappointing as hell, even as I got my money back from the £10.70 film tickets. I guess I'll wait for DVD?


Anyway, I realise I really need to get on a move on with this blog! Expect a thinky (extremely!) analytical post on Chak De India which is based on an essay I wrote. I still haven't done my Filmi Year 2010 post because .. I feel like I really have not seen all the best films of 2010.

So let me throw this one out to you.. I've seen Striker, Housefull and ..uhh, really, self, is that it? I guess it is. I will DEFINITELY be checking out Dabangg, Baava and possibly Tere Bin Laden, Band Baaja Barat. In fact, I should go look all of those up on Nehaflix for my next Bolly-DVD order.

But anyway - what were your favourites of 2010? What would you recommend I see? (Knowing my tastes, as hopefully the regular readers do, if just a little.)