Wednesday, March 29, 2006

balle balle in the most sincere and superwow way

I'm going to India!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This summer! I have been selected to participate in a Fulbright-Hays summer seminar for educators, and the program I'm in is called "Broadening the Knowledge Base on India." You can read about it here and also see a list of the places I'll be going. And that's about all I know so far - I am waiting a big formal packet from the US Department of Education ("Plenty of Children Left Behind, Thanks Very Much") with more information.

But in the meantime - YAY!!!!!!

And to my dear penfriends in India - Obi Wan, trivialmatters, and AFJ (anyone else?) - your towns are all on my itinerary....

update to post March 30, 2006:
Look who sent me a note!


update to post (March 31, 2006):
linky to my trip blog, which will have a better description when I figure out a fancier or funnier thing to call it

Sunday, March 26, 2006

the ugliest shirt ever: Ishq Vishk

Note to the person who recommend this to me: I'm really sorry, but I didn't like this at all. But I'm glad you did, and I'm even more glad you kept watching Bollywood. My own first film, Mujhse Dosti Karoge!, seems not to be terribly popular either, so I write this to you with empathy.

Not to start out with a snarky note or anything, but this to me was the most noteworthy thing about this movie. Not only is the shirt really bad, it also has a vest over it, the wearer's sunglasses match it, and it's worn while swinging on a rope over the cheering crowd. Not a good set-up, but look:

You can guess what sank it. It's the arms. I have never seen even Hrithik or Salman in something so ridiculously muscle-flaunting. I mean, I guess I'm glad for equal opportunity, since cut-out clothing with tiny strings holding bits of fabric together is usually swathed on women. But this is so tacky. I know, I know, many of you may argue that there are gaudier, meshier, more poorly color-coordinated shirts out there, and I would not disagree. But this is just so tasteless that I am giving it top prize. For now - I'm sure I will find worse later. And just to prove my point, take another look:


Okay. I didn't like this movie. At all. But I will happily admit that maybe I didn't watch it on its own terms - I know how to go into a Hollywood teen comedy, for example, and maybe that's what I should have done here. From the "Generation Next" flashed on the screen at the beginning - odd in a movie clearly in cahoots with Coke, since the Spice Girls had a whole song called that, tied with a Pepsi campaign almost ten years ago - to a disappointingly sign-free college dance competition, this whole thing struck me as incredibly immature. Not in a silly, romping way, but in a poorly thought-out and often self-contradictory way. Which maybe is how teenagers are - although I work with college students almost every day and, even at the hopelessly uncool age of 31, I can happily report that none of them behave anything like these people. And of course they don't generally behave like college students in an Hollywood movie, either, so I know that holding a movie up to real life isn't really a useful thing to do. But I kept thinking this was set in a high school. A boy sneaking peeks at a skin magazine in the bathroom and at a blue film when he thinks his dad is asleep, popular boys teasing the geeky girl for not having a boyfriend, covering for an absent friend in attendance roll-call (do they really take attendance like that in college classes in India?) - none of these seem like 20-year-olds' behavior. The only explanation I can come up with for the plot is that it started out as a teen sex romp and then had to be reigned way in but no one ever bothered to go fix some of the major plot elements, such as the driving event of an overnight beach trip.

The dominant problem for me was that I didn't like any of these people; the characters were charmless, shallow, and uninteresting, and I don't think any of the actors made anything out of the little they were given. You can tell this was the first movie for Shahid Kapoor, who tried far too hard, I think to be Shahrukhy but I'm not sure, and for me he failed to be anything other than grating. His character did nothing to demonstrate that he knows how to care for another person. Amrita's character should never have gone back to him, scrapbook or no. I was also completely confused by "the gang," whom at first seemed to be the bane of Rajiv and Mambo's existence, but then they spend the whole movie hanging out together.

The movie seems to have a problem with commitment - it needed to come up with some characters and some ideas for a story and stick to them. Be a sexcapade but fill it with compelling characters. Be a college film in which young people learn a bit more about who they are and what they value (as in MHN, for example). Be a romance with some bumps along the road that show us the leads have figured out how to love each other. Within any of these structures, there can be plenty of room for nuance and layers; while this movie never claimed to be nuanced or layered, it just giggled and shimmied around and wound up doing nothing.

Except one of its songs rhymed "alert" with "flirt," which I liked very much.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I heart Paheli

I have been waiting forever to see this. I kept thinking the video store would get it, but no, and it was never in at the grocery store. So, after an esteemed advisor told me he thought I would love it, I just gave in and bought it. And zowee was he right.

What a beautiful, touching movie - full of color and light, choices and love, footsteps and anklets, murals and puppets. No particular time, no particular schedule, just gently and with care telling this lovely story, watching what happens when individuals make choices. It raised so many interesting questions but never threw them in your face; instead, options played out, drenched in sun and color and quiet yet dearly-felt emotions. Whom should you choose: the one who loves you but might be too good to be true? or the one who is completely real but blunders, not knowing anything and probably too afraid to try? the accountant you know or the ghost you don't?

And what a miserable, dreadful ending. I don't think I've ever been so angry at a Bollywood ending.
me: What about Kishen, you selfish, presumptuous bhoot?
bhoot: Eh? Didn't you want me to end up with Lachchi? C'mon, you know you did.
me: No! No, I didn't! I wanted all three of you to get to choose what you were going to do! Especially her. Here she is, years after making an extraordinary choice, then having a chance to reevaluate and decide whether or not to continue with the choice. We should all be so lucky to have such an opportunity, and you robbed everyone of some interesting conversation.
bhoot: You didn't really think Kishen could love her, did you?
me: I don't know! But you didn't let him try! You essentially killed him off. He made very thoughtful use of the only piece of information he had about her; maybe he would have done just fine, now that he was home, he knew his family loved him, his uncle was back, and the house was filled with happiness - and he knew how to stand up for what he thought was right. Ordinary people have an extraordinary capacity to love, so you just bugger off and let him try! And anyway, just because you have all the charisma of SRK doesn't mean you get to go around eliminating people from other people's lives! And go shave that mustache.

I know I will very happily watch all but the last few minutes of this again and again, lost in this golden, twirling, almost whimsical world.

A few unorganized little points:
1) Farah Khan, brava! How can one person be responsible for so much greatness? I would love you forever even if you had only done MHN and this puppet dance, but there's so much more!
2) Puppets! Puppets puppets puppets! I loved them! They reminded me of weird filmstrips from childhood and greatly added to the fairy-tale feel.
3) Is Kirron Kher the voice of the puppet queen?
4) Who played the ghost when he was talking to Lachchi before becoming Kishen? That actor looked very familiar. Was he in Hulchul, maybe?
5) I watched this with a friend who's been going through some incredibly difficult times. She was as taken as I was, but we disagreed over the ghost, her rooting for him to win Lachchi's heart permanently and me for letting Kishen have his turn now that he knew a bit more about who he was. Part of my argument was that the ghost was so many different layers of not real, reminding her that, as Bridget Jones says, "being imaginary is a character flaw that cannot be overlooked." She immediately tossed back "That's better than so many different layers of disappointment, which is what I have now." I laughed so hard, gasping for breath and almost falling off the sofa. Point taken. Which is the lesser of two sadnesses: imaginary or disappointing?

And in other news, I saw someone looking at Kandoukondain Kandoukondain at the video store and, having just lent my copy to Abby, leaned in to her and said "That's really good. You should definitely get that." I think I scared her a little. So apparently I've become that person. Great.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Beth Loves Seth?

I don't know what is going on in my head, but somehow over the last few days I am finding the wisdom and solace that I ususally rely on Bollywood for in...the OC. I am midway through season two and more addicted than ever. As a long-time 90210 junkie it is really no surprise this show has grabbed me, but it's got an extra little sarcastic edge that does me in. The bad kid loves Journey. The good kid requires a social-life strategy session before school each day. The girl we hate to love watches a show called the Valley that, when snippets are heard in the background, quotes her lines from previous episodes. Plus, you know, making fun of Peter Gallagher's eyebrows.

Quotable lines from this binge include "You're the bad boy. You're supposed to lead me into temptation, not to homeroom" and, about a deep and difficult problem that is different from others previously borne, "It's different.... Different as in not fixed by pancakes. And don't ask me how I feel about waffles." Ryan, my man, I can never be attracted to you because 1) you're fictional, 2) you're a bad boy, 3) you look eerily like one of my close friends, and 4) my heart belongs to Seth, but you are speaking my language here. Pass the syrup.

Monday, March 20, 2006

you know, it tastes Bollywoody

Okay, not really. But I am still delighted to have found this

at my local grocery store. Trolling Devon in Chicago turned up no celebrity-emblazoned packaging, but the IGA in walking distance from my house came through. Is SRK actually on Lux packaging or just in ads? Because I would love some SRK soap.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

another site to bookmark

My friend Kamla, of Talk News India, has a new website, the Kamla Bhatt Show. She digs into an amazing range of topics - technology and culture and media - and is really engaging. Go! Read! Listen!

Friday, March 17, 2006

I'm with her. The D is definitely for "deewana": Disco Dancer

I watched Disco Dancer four days ago and I still don't know what to say. What could I possibly add to the conversation about a movie like this? Teleport City and Gorilla's Lament have gleefully pointed out its joys and foibles, how it is both sugar-frosted seductively ridiculous and far too easy to make fun of. So go read their reviews and imagine me saying "Totally! What they said!"

Starburst-from-a-streetlamp highlights include:

  • I actually liked some of the music - or rather, I would happily select it out of a pre-2000-Hindi-film-music-only jukebox.
  • the dancing was delightful - I can't say it was good, exactly, but it certainly was fun. I hadn't realized disco involved so much tippy-toe prancing.
  • somehow I really enjoy Sam, even though he's a perfectly awful cartoonish villain, stumbling around with bottle and syringe and falling off his debauched bedroom's raised platform floor. I mean, I don't think the poor guy was ever very secure in his career, despite his ego-crazed bluffing - I'm sure deep down he knew he was bad, which is why he let the lady in purple do all the work.

    The very best Sam moment is when in the "Video Killed the Radio Star" song he bursts into camera from stage right and just yells. That was the single funniest moment in the movie and a new personal favorite across the board. Does anyone know what he's actually saying? To me it sounded like "YAHHH!" Maybe he thinks the camera operator had the hiccups? Whatever the reason, it is genius and I will cherish it always.
  • oh, lovely Rita, disco maid. You don't have much of a role, but at least you got some flared gold boots

    and your hair is so long that when you whip it around in your come-hither dance it fills up the screen

Let's talk clothing for a minute. I can honestly say I've seen worse, even on the Kapoor sisters alone. But Disco Dancer's costumes are a very particular kind of bad, a very enjoyable kind of bad - a kind that has a patina of age that ups its feel of what-the-hell-is-this? and seems so horrifying that it could never have been the teensiest bit real, could it? The kind that is pure pixie-stix trip. Here, for example, Jimmy is wearing a relatively acceptable outfit, given that he is a wildly popular disco star, but it is pushed over the edge by the shiny fabric...tiara, I guess I'll call it, little leaf-like bits sticking out of his forehead. To the victor goes the pleather?

There can be no finer example of completely insane costumes than those in the Krishna song. Completely unfathomable. I'd describe them, but you all know what I mean. Baby pink, baby blue, leotards, capri leggings, capes, gladiator skirts, and...black socks.

Words do not suffice.

Confession time. I wasn't properly engaged in the movie. I can't explain it. I should have been. The right ingredients were there. [Spoilers ahead!] But even the giddy song and dance and the unbelievable clothing weren't enough to sustain me through the dead mother, dead mentor, and half-arsed international disco competition (a bas le Paris!) I'm just not moved by Disco Dancer. I feel bad saying so - I feel like I've let people down by not being able to embrace this. I do so hope I get to keep my Bollywood membership card, even if I have to surrender my little cape and stop wrapping my braided pigtails in gold ribbon.

if only it came in pill form

Head is swimming with goodness. I just went down the hall at work to the medicine cabinet, looking for tylenol to fight off a very bad headache (so bad it made me wonder if people who practice traphaning may in fact be on to something), and I was introduced to one of our new student employees who lo and behold loves Bollywood too! We've just had a spirited conversation from Sholay (her: "I can't believe he dies!" me: "Me too, me too!") to Bunty Aur Babli (her: "They're so cute!" me: "I know! It's so pink and happy!" her: "It's great!")

So I add to my list of things I like about Bollywood its persistently rose-colored powers. You have to know where to look, but I've learned. It's hard to maintain a self-indulgent melancholy when you're watching Rani do her Lucille Ball hommage, seeing a really good arm-fling, or overwhelmed by rollicking pink cheer.

Move over, life! I have Bollywood to attend to!

Other things have overrun my mind lately, but never fear, I will be back soon. And what better way to return than with my thoughts on Disco Dancer?

In the meantime, I leave you with a lovely thought from an insightful friend I know through this blog: do everything you can to value people fully. Although I've never heard that in a film, it seems a Bolly way to approach life, hai na?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

the meme for nagging filmi mothers everywhere

The much-quoted Gorilla's Lament has gotten his revenge and tagged me to do a guilt meme. So it's over here. I tag Obi Wan and AFJ and any other Bollyblogger who is so inclined because I'm really curious as to what else they like to spend their time doing in secret.But, you know, don't feel bad if you don't want to. It's not as though I worked really, really hard writing this up.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Black

Black is beautiful. I don't really know what else to say about it. It's a little emotionally manipulative, a little heavy on the attempt to inspire, the characters a little broad and shallow, but I very much enjoyed watching it. Not so much the story but the performances and the visuals. I loved the not-quite-defined time period, the Indo-Euro mishmash house that was more like a gallery than a home, the storybook village that was really only safe if you knew where you were. Rani and Amitabh handled their unoriginal parts with grace, energy, and just the right amount of humor. Although I haven't seen The Miracle Worker, there so many other familiar threads here - misfit grizzly type with one last chance to save himself, angry young person softened when she can reach out to others, jealous-but-loving family member - that the whole package was familiar. But it didn't matter. Certain story devices and themes are reused so often because they work, and these worked sufficiently on me. I can't say I was moved, but I can say I was happy to have spent a few hours in this little world. It was the familiar made touching, intriguing, and beautiful. Many a movie does far less than that.

Aside to costume designer: from a knitter's point of view, this was intoxicating. Rani's never-ending parade of sweaters, hats, and scarves was absolutely gorgeous. Please publish patterns.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

L'amour est l'amitié?

Quelquechose se passe dans mon coeur. Because I am a humongous nerd, I decided to watch a bit of KKHH with the French subtitles tonight, French being the only other language I know even remotely well enough to follow at subtitle speed. It's trippy to have three languages bouncing around in my head, since I've remembered a handful of the Hindi here by now, and sometimes I have to run the French back into English before I truly recognize it anyway. Their trip to Scotland is made even more scenic, Anjali's tears even more poignant, Rahul's lines even sparkier by the accent marks.

Quelquechose s'est passé.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Emergency! Giant sparkly mothballs - stat!

I hate to badmouth a project starring my fake-pretend movie boyfriend, but honestly, what are they wearing?



I can sort of forgive his ensemble (and not just because Akshaye's inside it). It's 80s-esque in a slightly gaudy way, but nothing out of the ordinary except for the shoes, which, if it were up to me, would be pink to better match the graffiti on his shirt (there might be red in there too, I can't quite see, but pink's a little more nutty, don't you think?). But hers. Also 80s-esque, but I think it misfired, and I blame the butterfly. Her top is just silly, but the ragged rising top layer begs a cause-and-effect with Midriff-Mothra here. Is the butterfly attached to the shirt with a little silver thread? Like it might actually fly away and it needs to be on a leash? And how does that work when you get dressed - is it separate and you clip one end of the leash to one part of your outfit and the other to the butterfly? At least she won't lose it when she teleports to Switzerland. Look at the original picture on IndiaFM and tell me what you think.

Once it's released, I trust someone will tell me if Shaadi Se Pehle is at least watchable. Subhash Ghai's no dummy. (I stood two feet away from him last year while he was mobbed by undergraduates wanting his photo. Have I mentioned? He was here for our film festival because Taal was shown.)

Aside to the whole planet: stop smearing bleach on random parts of jeans. It looks dumb.

Aside to publicity person: a still showing the hero doing the white-man's overbite is maybe not the best choice.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Which quotable quote should I use as the title for my post on Mr. India?

My favorite is "Mogambo is pleased," but that seems too easy.

Finally! Mr. India! I've been looking for this for awhile - by which I mean I kept re-checking the video store online catalog, hoping they purchased it - and was delighted to see it at the grocery store. The man who works there (whose name I really must learn, as I inkle he's going to feature prominently in my life for the next little while) approved of my choice and then told me to watch Black, which has been on my list for ages but I never feel quite up to it. Anyway. Last fall I met someone who said she used to think Anil Kapoor was the dreamiest, and something in this movie made me see that, I think when he was romping around with Sridevi on the beach. He often looks like he enjoys being in movies, and that's hard to resist.

This movie wins the award for "masala-iest" of the 72 movies I've seen (yes, I have a spreadsheet). I can't think of a Bollywood component that didn't show up at least momentarily here. I usually like my masala slanted heavily towards comedy and romance, but this one was still plenty entertaining. Plus it was one of those movies of which I get the impression I need to watch in order to really know Hindi cinema. My education continues.

And Mogambo. What is there to say about Mogambo that hasn't already been said? I liked everything about him. Blonde hair with slicked-down curly bit on the forehead. Boots. Logo. Light-up throne complete with light-up globes on which he drummed his fingers and smacked India with each tap. Firecrackery missiles. Ego as fatal weakness. Quotes like "Use this money to destroy and other things."

Aside to whomever cast the little kids: really good job. I usually have little patience for movie children, but I really liked them, even when things looked like they were going to veer toward mawkish.

A for effort

I won't say where or who, but I have just heard an ensemble of many, I think seven, people attempt a version of "It's the Time to Disco" from KHNH. I was so very excited when the MC announced the song. I started dancing in my chair as the synthesizer kicked in. But I really had to stop myself from rushing the stage and grabbing the mic away because they just didn't do it justice - and I could have, as one of the singers had the lyrics printed out and was holding them while singing. However, I have at least three people who now want to see the real thing - so it was all for the greater good.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

When it has to be seen to be believed...

buy your own dang copy of Disco Dancer. Which I have just done. Hurrah!