Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hera Pheri: a pause for superficial reflection.

Hera Pheri is a 1976 masala thrill with all your standard goodness elements: lost-and-found family members and enemies, epic friendship, fist fights, lavish sets and incredible wardrobe choices.

Oh, nice jeans, Vinod.

..oh, they just ...kind of .. ended. Um. I see.

I see that very well.

So, moving on with this review..

No, on second thought, let's put this whole "serious review" thing on pause for a moment. It's clear to me it's going to be one of those reviews.

Yes, I know, I'm sorry. These aren't the most educational reviews to read if you're not a fan, but it is my blog and thus I will allow myself to occasionally indulge.

So let's talk Vinod Khanna, and how I love whatever he's doing in this film, whether it's being good or being bad (he's too good at being bad, isn't he?) or being awkward because there's a girl near (adorable!) or being funny or everything he's wearing. Yes. Everything.

It seems to me that every 70's film with him I watch reminds me of why I love him so much. If there was a way to make the years 1975-1979 last ten years but just in the Hindi film industry, I'd arrange it in a heartbeat just to get more of this deliciousness. He's so good! And he looks so good while being so good (or bad!) and I am lacking in varied vocabulary right now! Let's move on!

This suit! And look at that face! So bad!

And for comparison, see how normal Amitabh's clothes are here. I can only presume this is what happened:


We have all these patterned suits!

(heavy sigh)

And nobody to wear them!

But we've got Vinod Khanna in this film! That man can wear anything and make it work.


Yes, anything.

But how far can we take his tall, dashing good looks?

Let this be a challenge to us!

In summary: everything he wears is great, just fantastic.

Everything he doesn't wear is fine by me as well. I'm open-minded.

So very open-minded.

(A more level-headed review of Hera Pheri coming to this blog at some later point in the future. Well, possibly...)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Anathaaru - what's in a remake?

Bala's modern Tamil classic, Pithamagan, is probably not the first film you'd choose to remake. It's a dark and grim tale of a man who barely knows how to communicate via speech, and its other protagonist is a scam artist - the film only operates in shades of grey when it comes to morality. It's also a film packed with powerhouse performances; not only did the film put Vikram on top of the list when it came to versatility in Tamil cinema, it's also remembered for Surya's portrayal of the lovable con artist, and the female leads (Laila and Sangeetha) were solid as well. (My Pithamagan review, for further reading.)

To my great surprise, however, Anathaaru, the 2007 Kannada remake of Pithamagan, does not fall that much behind its original counterpart. Perhaps what happened with Nanban, the vivacious Tamil remake of 3 Idiots - I love the original so much I cannot help but also love the same story and characters in the remake.

So much rested on Upendra's shoulders. Could he match Vikram's original dialogue-free performance in any way, shape or form? I was impressed that he more or less did. He doesn't copy his acting cue's from Vikram, but makes the character his own. The performances do not feel identical, though they clearly share the same roots in the story. I've been of two minds when it comes to Upendra as a film maker (see my reviews of Super and A) but I'm definitely of one mind when it comes to the man as an actor: he's talented.

Darshan plays Sathya the conman, and has the same infectious likability as Surya's performance in the original film. The character is still a horrible human being, and never changes for the better precisely; the romance he has with the young girl Parvathi (Sanghavi) after scamming her is still one of the more questionable romances I've witnessed on screen. And yet, I like both of them, and more astonishingly, I root for them to be together.

And naturally his scenes are hilarious to watch as well. 

Sanghavi portrays Parvathi with the same kind of petulant, yet sympathetic pluckiness as Laila did in the original. I'm sure some people find this character grating; I don't, and will like her in every version of the story.

The low-grade DVD (with English subtitles, thankfully) does not show a strong directorial hand, however, and I find myself wondering if it's just the DVD or perhaps the remake is simply not as well directed as Bala's original. The cinematography is fairly dull, and the colours even more dull - if I didn't already love the story, I'm not sure if I'd be that impressed with it this time around. It's a good film, but perhaps because it's not original, it's not a great film. 

Still, for the performances and the ability to bring life to this story a second time, I have to give the Kannada film makers props. It's a challenging film to remake, and they did a decent job of it. I would recommend it for Upendra's strong performance, but for those who've not seen the original - do not see this one before you've witnessed Pithamagan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shanghai: politics of progress.

There's quite a bit to unpack with Shanghai. It's arguably a new height for Dibakar Banerjee (LSD and Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye) as well as a fascinating portrayal of the violence embedded in the political establishment. It's also quite easily Emraan Hashmi's career-best performance.

The city of Bharatnagar is going through rapid change; the political leaders seek to resettle poor people from their homes and construct International Business Park to make for further economic progress. An anti-IBP intellectual, Dr Ahmadi (Prasenjit Chatterjee), gets run over by a truck, which leads the political establishment to launch an enquiry into the incident, lead by political climber Krishnan (Abhay Deol). Shalini, Ahmadi's former student and close ally, believes the case to be a murder by political opponents. Photographer Joginder Parma (Emraan Hashmi) seeks initially just to impress her, but gets more involved in the case as things progress.

Emraan overall was quite a find for me in this film. He embodies the character perfectly. Joginder is quite a useless, aimless layabout (though with a fledgling career in producing pornography, the film seems to imply), sucked into events he doesn't even begin to piece together until it becomes crucial. There's a physicality to his performance that really drew me in, and made me wonder if there really has been a terrific actor hidden in all those shitty films that I've avoided for so long. It just goes to show; you should always give actors a second, third or fourth chance to impress you. You never know what they might turn up with.

A good example of how much Banerjee manages to pack into some of the scenes is the Scarlett Wilson (yes, another white girl in Bollywood! yes, I cringed) item number. The song and dance takes place at a political gathering, where members of the ruling parties clap while the white girl dances in full Indian garb, singing about how far India has come (lyrics, romanized & translated). The subtext is thick; "progress" means Westernization, the girl is dressed "Indian" but imported (which also relates to the white beauty ideals pushed by the media), and the political leaders cheer all this without giving the common man much thought. You have to give Banerjee some serious kudos for not just shoehorning in a white girl in an item number, but actually making a comment on not just politics of progress, but Hindi cinema itself.

And for once, I don't think I'm reading too much into it, and that's a good thing, too.

Every film has its flaws, though, and the central one in Shanghai is that as much as the themes and the overall story fascinated me, the characters did not. I was about to criticise the actors, because as solid as Kalki Koechlin and Abhay Deol were, I wasn't invested in their characters. However, on second thought, I think that might be unfair on the two actors - Kalki does do a good job with her portrayal of the driven half-outsider Shalini, and Abhay's character is supposed to be as stiff a political figure he portrays Krishnan as. They both do their excellent usual, but nothing extra. Does the script not give either enough to work with? I'm not sure, to be honest.

For a portrait of political violence, Shanghai is not the most nuanced, but it does reach some interesting conclusions. It's not a character piece like so many Indian films about politics (Raajneeti, Iruvar) , and it touches on corruption as it penetrates levels of the establishment, but doesn't focus on it. It's a good film, but perhaps what it does best is show us more of what Dibakar Banerjee is capable of.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revisiting the unbelievable charm of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.

I didn't love Oye Lucky Lucky Oye as much on the second watch as the first, but it's still a terribly fun, all-around well-executed film. The satirical comedy didn't contain as many laughs as I remembered it having, but one thing was certain, at least: the film completely rides on the effortless charm of Abhay Deol as Lucky.

There's a certain easy-going confidence to him in this role, and it's just a joy to watch. Even though to be hustled in real life would just be terrible, it's joyous to watch on-screen. I guess it's the ingenuity of the swindler that makes it so fun, and Lucky is definitely among the smartest of Hindi film's recent slew of con artists.

If you, for whatever reason, have missed out on this film so far, give it a spin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Aaj Mausam Bada...

Sometime last year, the weirdest thing happened.. Out of nowhere, I woke up with this song in my head. It's from a film I've not even seen (Loafer), starring Dharmendra and Mumtaz, but I had heard it on one of those Western Bollywood song compilation albums I had bought back in the day (this one, where the first two CD's are really good but the third one, covering more modern Hindi tunes, is not really to my liking).

I don't even remember listening to it that much.. But out of nowhere, it popped into my head and I was obsessed, listening to it over and over again during one day, two days.

All things considered, I should probably watch Loafer now.. But sometimes a great song is just a great song, and it works completely independently of the film. So give this one a listen, and hopefully Mohammed Rafi's vocals will worm their way into your subconscious as well!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Patthar aur Payal - that lucky mistake..

You know, once I was recommended this film called All About Eve. You've probably heard of it, pretty well-known picture. But I completely misremembered the title of the film, and ended up getting my hands on another Hollywood oldie called The Lady Eve, which is an excellent comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as a whipsmart conwoman. The latter ended up being one of my favourite films of all time.

The same sort of thing happened with Patthar aur Payal (Stone and anklet). I read about Hema's rather interesting role in a film called Laal Patthar (Red stone), which I reviewed here, but when I was browsing my usual online DVD store, I misremembered the title and ended up ordering Patthar aur Payal instead. This was very early days in my Indian film watching, I should point out.. Remembering film titles precisely was not yet a strong suit of mine!

Fairly lucky accident, as it so happens. This was probably the fourth or third Dharam-Hema film I watched, and it became my introduction to Vinod Khanna, who plays the smug-faced villain in this one. The story itself is one of reformation - Dharmendra is a dacoit who falls in love with Hema, and decides to give up crime for her. Ajit portrays the leader of the gang of dacoits, and Dharmendra's father, and Vinod is the brother who eventually takes over the gang.

It's a rather standard 70's flick which I remember fondly because of the lovely dance numbers and perhaps because I saw it so early in my Hindi film watching career. It introduced me to Vinod in his vicious villain avatar, made me like Dharmendra even more as he delivers those bizarre bloody-thirsty "I will avenge this to you, villain!" dialogues. I should honestly rewatch this one of these days, as I've got no idea how I'd rate it now - I have rewatched the songs numerous times, particular this one, where Dharam imagines a dancing girl as Hema..

It's funny how films becomes not just a viewing experience but also a part of a story; in this case, the story of a mistaken find that lead to so many more films, and experiences.

Have one more Hema screencap for the road:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spare a thought for Ishq.

Ah, Ishq. You are the most entertaining bad film ever, or a hot mess that's a tragic wasted opportunity considering the talented, likable cast - depending on who you ask. You're the worst of Anu Malik soundtracks, or the best example of an Anu Malik soundtrack - again, depending on the listener.

I'm in the camp of Ishq lovers, and unapologetically so. But as with any bad movie, to actually value it in that perverse The Room type of cult phenomenon type of way is just not on (I mean that in the sense that I've had people praise The Room to me as a pinnacle of film-making, like there's some kind of wild genius hidden in its badness). This is a bad film, superb in its badness, but not necessarily to be admired for that quality. A bad film is a bad film is a bad film. Some bad films just happen to be entertaining.

All the characters and events in Ishq are hysterical and over-the-top. The comedy of the first half, what with the ape driving the car and Juhi spreading tooth paste all over Aamir's face in a fit of anger, is just so out there you wonder how anybody thought it was a good idea. The songs are a constant joy; the first one, "Humko tumse pyaar hai" fits neatly into the weird category of pervy love songs that have picturisations like out of a horror film. "Ishq hua" is every 90's Bollywood love song cliché neatly squeezed into one package, with the kind of lyrics that didn't seem to take that much thought (ishq hua / kaise hua? / accha hua! / jaise hua! - congratulations, that's four rhymes worth of "hua"). "Neend churayi mera", the song picturized above, is a ripped off disco tune with some pretty cheesy dance moves, and of course, a villain trying to shoot our foursome of heroes.

And of course, there are just no words for "Mr Lova Lova" apart from this one: why?

Then there's the epic second half, where angst reaches heightened proportions, there's attempted suicide and some other really deeply messed up stuff. Again: hot mess of story-telling. And yet weirdly enjoyable.
I should probably do a proper write-up of Ishq, with screencaps and all. But for now, spare a thought for Ishq - if for nothing else, than for the fact that grave mistakes ought not be forgotten..