Tuesday, August 12, 2008

the Unforgettable Tour - now with varying degrees of unforgettableness!

On Sunday, I joined Aspi and his gaggle of fun friends for the Chicagoland stop of the Unforgettable Tour. (Pitu Sultan's writeup is here. She is v v funny and be sure to enlarge the photos.) Going to one of these shows with friends is definitely the right approach, even if you can't easily share witty comments over the din of the speakers. Aspi's writeup, which has inspired my format even though we disagree on some of the performances, is here.

Perhaps it's not the best idea to call your show "unforgettable." That's a lot to live up to, bypassing the here and now for the very long-term. "Unforgettable" may not even be desirable - plenty of bad things are unforgettable. Bhagban and Dhoom 2, to name some examples involving the cast of this show, are dreadful, which I remember every time I notice them on the shelf at the video store. To the person who named this show, I ask: do you want me to have a fun evening, in the presence of these performers and thousands of other fans, or do you want the show to lodge in my brain no matter the reason? Who knows - but unforgettable it was deemed, so in this light it will be considered.

Of course there were moments of this show that were utterly average in quality or memorableness. I haven't forgotten them quite yet, since the show was only two days ago, but give me a week and I bet they'll have slipped from my brain. Fortunately, I found none of the performers to be just ordinary. Each will be discussed and then given a rating from 1 to 10, with 1 as "Wait...they were there?" and 10 as most definitely unforgettable. (The numbers do not necessarily reflect how much I enjoyed an aspect of the show or how good I thought it was.) More on the stars (who all had solo sets and also participated in multi-star or whole-group numbers) in a minute - let's start with some pragmatics and settings.

venue: Sears Center, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
I pretty much loathe the Chicago suburbs (even though I know a ton of lovely people who grew up there or live there now), and my ire increases greatly whenever I have to deal with the traffic. But Aspi was really nice and let me carpool with him, so all I had to do was entertain the driver and remark at how he kept his cool even though people in SUVs tried to cut in front of us while we queued for the parking lot. Once inside, there was major malfunction and meltdown in the ticketing area. As Aspi reminded me in his post, some strange fellow was bellowing about how parents should refuse to buy tickets for their children, and there were about ten fewer ticket takers than were needed, resulting in a giant mob of people waiting for two poor souls to check their tickets and let them in. We got caught in this crowd for at least ten minutes, not moving, and the pressure growing and growing. Some @(#$&* decided that the right response was to shove, and I found myself making a silent plea to the filmi gods to protect us in what felt like a potential stampede, my mind rushing foolishly to the horrible mela scenes in A Suitable Boy. When some Ali G-lookalike started telling everyone within earshot to start pushing, Abby, ever stalwart, said "I WILL NOT PUSH." She's a lot taller than he was, and he shut up. In my experience, Chicagoland security-type people are not to be trifled with, often built like linebackers and with flat accents that can knock you out with an assault to your aural aesthetics. Ours managed to get things back under control, but not with the force I was expecting. The arena itself was arena-ish, but whoever designed it seemed to forget that audiences need room for their knees. There was absolutely no room to walk past people in your row to get to your seat unless they stood up, and lots of people didn't feel like standing up. I thought I was going to plunge to my death a few times.
venue unforgettableness: 6, but not in a good way

sets and costumes
Really, really cool and fun to look at, especially the giant sheets of fabrics used to various effects and the big grid that Abhishek danced in in "Dus Bahane," I think it was. I'm a sucker for sparklers, so the burst of fireworks at the end of most of the solo sets made me really happy. I thought the costumes were un-fuggable, even for the backup dancers. Everyone looked interesting at the least and, more often than not, classy and/song-appropriate. I must, must, must mention that during one of the multi-star numbers, Preity, Aishwarya, Ritesh, and Abhishek came out in Yaarana-style light-up jackets. Hilarious and cheeky!

(image from the official blog post about the Chicago show)
Nostalgia is one thing, and an affectionate nod to the kitsch of one of your colleagues' perhaps less notable projects is another altogether.
sets and costumes unforgettableness: 9

Riteish Deshmukh
SUPERWOW! I could see his smile from my nosebleed seat! He had so much energy and was flying around the stage! When it was his turn have the microphone, I believed him when he said "This is my first tour and I'm so excited!" He was at a zillion percent, passing the more often quoted 110 percent the moment he stepped into view. He also looked really stylish in his jeans and silver sneakers. It'd be so easy as the least famous person on the tour just to phone it in and ride a few coattails, and he was so far from that, so much more committed and engaging. I hope this tour helps his career - he deserves some palpable return for his investment on that stage.
Riteish unforgettableosity (yes, he gets his own term): 10

Preity Zinta
Oh Preity. She were my favorite thing about the Heat show in 2006, but here she was mostly perfunctory. Her outfits were lovely and she did everything nicely, but I didn't get much oomph from her. However, I am very grateful to her for doing "Kiss of Love," one of my favorite songs of 2007. I also like that she admitted to being out of breath when handed the microphone as soon as her solo set ended. Who wouldn't be! Thank you, Preity, for keeping it real.
Preity unforgettableness: 5. I enjoyed her performance, but my impression of her from the show two years ago is much stronger. People who didn't have my expectations might give her 6 or 7.

Abhishek Bachchan
Overload of cool and good cheer. If I didn't really love Abhishek, this...shtick, I think some might call it (Abhishtick?), would have been incredibly annoying. But I do really love Abhishek, so it was perfect. He entered from the back of the arena, sort of boxer-like, in a leather jacket, with the crowd going completely crazy. As soon as he was on stage, he climbed into a fenced platform and was floated high above the floor, going out over the audience and back again. (Aspi's wife made a really interesting comment about how different this was from the entirely closed-in cages that female dancers are usually put in - a totally different type of power dynamic was being set up, in which he was free to jump out and get close to the audience. Contrast this to women in oversized bird cages, "locked up" with no way out.) He hip-hopped all over the stage, doing his Abhisheky dancing and posing - think of the "Right Here Right Now" mix video during the end credits in Bluffmaster. My personal feeling is that this was all done with a delightful veneer of self-reference and irony, playing on his image as both hep cat and Rakesh (from Bunty aur Babli)-like everyman, which I love. He seemed like a very normal, fun, generous guy who happened to find himself in front of a few thousand people and a ton of speakers and decided just to go for it and do in public the strutting and mugging and singing and dancing that he usually saves for the shower or his own living room. You know, like the act/sing/dance/emote-along-ing I do while watching his movies. It tapped into what I like most about Abhishek, which is that he appears to be this normal but really talented guy who enjoys what he does and can laugh at himself, even when he's being held up as some sort of icon. I ate the whole thing up with a spoon. The montage of film clips that preceded each star's solo set did a lot to hype them up, and Abhishek's included various qualities stuck after the modifier "unforgettable," like "intensity" and "comedy." Mostly I agreed with them, but the last one before he entered the arena was "unforgettable dude." If I had been drinking anything, it would have come out my nose - I use the word "dude" pejoratively to imply that someone thinks he is far cooler than he actually is or is behaving in an otherwise eye-roll-invoking manner. Which brings me back to my caveat about "if I didn't really love Abhishek." If you weren't on board with how he was being styled in this event, you would've rolled your eyes, for sure. Either he's got the best persona (not "personal") managers ever, or he really did enjoy himself and really did love interacting with the audience. Aspi put it well in his review - the man has a flair for dealing with people, and while I think he's fantastic in front of the camera, especially in comedies, now I wonder what he'd do behind it. In short: more please!
Abhi Baby unforgettableness: 11

Side note on Abhishek Bachchan: It's time to admit something that I rarely talk about in clear terms. It's a tight race, but Abhishek is both my favorite working actor (based on my responses to performances on screen and my assessment of talent and effectiveness) and my favorite star (as determined by a highly unscientific, biased, and personal combination of factors, mostly actors' celebrity personas and my vague impressions of the people themselves formed by their works, interviews, general treatment by the press, etc.). He is most definitely the reason I went to this show. Therefore my thoughts on his unforgettableness are wildly slanted, but Abhishek, in general, just does it for me both as an actor and as a celebrity, and it is no surprise that his is the performance I found most memorable (and loved/enjoyed most).

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Now I understand why people accuse her of being an ice princess. Her solo set was lifeless and boring. And when she started to talk, oh heaven help us, I thought I was in the hallways of a middle school. Giggle giggle "thank you for all your blessings" giggle giggle "I love you too" giggle giggle "I love my husband." BLEH. I've always been an Aishwarya apologist, but now you're walkin' on thin ice, princess. Aspi blamed her tight costume, and I'll happily chalk her non-performance up to that rather than admit that someone I have always enjoyed was only capable of being lackluster. She was also oversold by the introductory montage and voice-over, when she was referred to in superlative terms that only people with far more years of experience could possibly live up to. Not her fault, but very damaging to the effect of her set. Her dances in the later group numbers were much better, and "Kajra Re" was totally satisfying, even though I could tell it wasn't as snazzy and sharp as it was in Bunty aur Babli. Does this mean she can't be a solo artist? Say it ain't so!
Aishwarya unforgettableness: 4. I expected a lot more from her. This performance is already fading away, replaced by happier, more striking memories of her on film.

Vishal and Shekhar
My overall impression of the musicians is that they sang out of tune a lot. I'm sorry, I know that's mean, but being on the right pitch is an absolute baseline requirement for singers, and they missed. Now, let me say in their defense that the music was incredibly loud in there, and I have no idea if they could actually hear what they were doing. They were also very energetic performers, hopping around and trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to work up the crowd.
V&S unforgettableness: 6. Their energy was admirable but misplaced.

Side note on musical performers: I loved Sa Re Ga Ma Pa's Amanat Ali in the pre-show and found him cool and suave (if overly Ranbir Kapoor-looking) yet engaged with what he was doing and his audience. He gets a 9.

Jaya Bachchan
You would never think the scowling, robotic woman on stage had been the star of Guddi - or of anything else, for that matter. She read from a card (nicely printed with the tour logo) a few reasons why we should stop global warming. I couldn't agree more with what she said, but her dour presence and complete lack of conviction made me want to go burn some styrofoam out of spite. The only thing that would have made her spot worse would have been having her text on a Power Point slide projected on the JumboTron while she read it word for word.
Jaya unforgettableness: 7. Her discomfort is seared into my brain.

Amitabh Bachchan
What can I say? He was the major feature of the show, even though he didn't seem to expend as much energy as much as other people. He got into the spirit of things without losing his dignity - no small feat. He too worked the crowd, in his own "stern but benevolent father" sort of way, ignoring hoots and hollers but pacing his words so that those of us who wanted to listen could do so. I especially enjoyed his version of "Main Hoon Don" (sadly sans the tiger mask) and the tribute to him in which the other stars danced some of his numbers. His dialogues were mostly lost on me but his voice was a treat to hear. In one of the Amitabh-based montages (there were at least two), the voice-over guy built him up into supernova, god, mafia boss, and world leader rolled into one. A bit over the top and completely unnecessary - anyone who comes to a show like this knows who Amitabh Bachchan is, for goodness' sake. At one point, the voice said something like "his greatness is more than the things he does...it's a part of who he is!" and I replied "Oooh, is Gandhi here?" Another segment included a fleeting glimpse of Shashi - woohoo! - so my sarcasm was quickly curtailed in favor of dil-squishy happiness and I sank back into filmified gushing and love of all things Amitabh, just like the show clearly wanted me to.
Big B unforgettableness: 10, of course. I might have given him an 8 if he hadn't displayed such good humor about his own persona.

Side note: I would pay a lot of money and travel many miles to see Shashi live and in person, even in a stupid suburban arena, even if he doesn't do "Kehne Ki Nahin Baat." Shashi-ji, can we possibly tempt you to go on the road? Pretty please? You can just sit on stage on a bunch of comfy cushions and chat with us about whatever strikes your fancy - no performing necessary. That would be unforgettable, I think in the best possible way.

the show overall
I notice I've used the word "persona" a few times in this writeup. That's key to some of what was going on - this was a tightly controlled and orchestrated celebration of popular cinema fame, less of the movies themselves and far more of the faces who represent them. Anthropologists who study contemporary social rituals and religion would have a lot to say about the show, I'm sure: the congregating, the gratifying of the faithful, an acknowledgment of community and a reinforcing of the "we," the lit-up god-like figures front and center granting us a viewing. There were ridiculous amounts of hero worship and ego-feeding (which I suspect are inherent in shows like this), but they were offset by the performances, most notably Riteish's, that were in the true spirit of entertainment. The show was participatory, especially when egged on by Abhishek. There was a chance to engage with the stars, to do what they were doing (that is, singing and dancing, celebrating movies), to move a little bit beyond simply watching them. Just a little bit, of course, but it was there. That generosity is always endearing to me, and it's one of the most lovely trademarks of Bollywood films and culture generally. So well done, Unforgettable Tour, for tapping into what I love about Hindi cinema and creating a fun atmosphere of shared celebration and some genuine entertainment.
overall unforgettableness: 8

17 comments:

Nida said...

Thanks for the detailed write-up, Beth! I'm glad you got to go and was looking forward to your review :)

But..Wait, no Madhuri? I thought she was added into this at the last minute...

I was very, very sad that I couldn't afford to go to this--I would have went by myself if I had the funds, but times are tight now!--But am hoping to catch the next tour that comes around (which I heard will be Shahrukh's). Chicago is a lot closer to me than New York is (where the Desi half of my family lives) so it really felt like I was missing the closest I'll ever get to the stars I've grown to love in the past year.

But wow, what a disappointment about Ash! I'm one of those people who have called her "ice princess" before but have softened to her recently...and, well, she's Ash. My expectations would have been high, and I would have been bummed if she would have given anything less...

Anyways, I'm glad you enjoyed Amitabh, Abhishek (is he just as hot in person?) and Riteish, and overall an 8's not bad.

Thanks for the post!

CanadianKen said...

Enjoyed reading your reactions. Yes, calling it "The Unforgettable Tour" reeked of hubris and self-congratulation. I caught the Toronto stop on the tour. And of the ten or so star shows I've seen, I'd probably rank this one at number 10 satisfaction-wise.
First of all, I paid a fortune for a lousy seat. Had to depend on the (not that) jumbo screens to see any facial detail. Two years ago, the same amount of money got me a terrific up-close vantage point at Shah Rukh Khan's HEAT show. It also happened to be maybe the best Bollywood show I've ever seen. Simply spectacular. Shah Rukh really has no peer when it comes to hosting these things. He's amazing. Preity and Rani were sensational too - especially together. And the whole presentation was put together with real non-stop flair. I also have great memories of The Millennium Tour about eight years ago. Akshaye Khanna and Aishwarya were unbelievably effective, riding a euphoric post-TAAL wave. Aamir Khan was on that tour too. And he scored again with the LAGAAN show a year or two later. Aishwarya was on board for that too - and she was marvelous. Over the years Mahima Chaudhary,Bobby Deol and Sushmita Sen have all made terrific in person impressions as well. But there was really nothing that memorable about this latest show. The Toronto MC was a very pretty young woman with a nice speaking voice. But she didn't have a humorous bone in her body. And with a repertoire of about six stock phrases that she repeated ad infinitum, the girl made zero connection with the audience. In the end she succeeded only in making the awkward pauses between numbers seem even more interminable. The onscreen intros for each star were so fawning and over the top that they actually wound up undermining the reputations they were so bombastically trying to extol. Also -along with the price of tickets - Bollywood music's moved a little beyond me. I loved it best in the 90's and early 2000's, a perfect east-west blend of the melodious and the exotic. Too much techno and rap now. I realize time marches on and the movies want to appeal to the kids. But, believe me, a massive segment of the audience at these live shows are older people who like their music a little mellower. I think you were hard on Aishwarya. She did seem tired at the Toronto show. But I'm always amazed when someone with a schedule as crippling as hers DOESN'T look exhausted. And that techno-number she opened with was not the best way to introduce someone essentially famous for her grace and beauty. Maybe Preity wasn't as sensational as she was on the Shah Rukh tour (I still smile when I remember how dazzling she and Rani were when they recreated a number from the film CHICAGO). But I still thought she was a joy -with charisma and talent to spare. And - like Aishwarya - she's a sensational dancer. I wasn't doing the kind of handstands you were about Ritesh, butI thought he did a fine job. Abhishek's never been a favorite of mine, but he exuded an easy confidence and I kind of got the feeling he may be the one that's holding the whole troupe together, morale-wise. I've seen Amitabh before - but he was in particularly good form this time. Impressive energy. And - even though I barely understood the words of his movie dialogues, his beautiful, impassioned delivery brought tears to my eyes. Brilliance that went a long way toward counteracting the effect of those pompous on-screen intros. They had him all but walking on water. No one in the audience needed to be told he was a legend. Clubbing us over the head with endless restatements of that fact merely dampened the crowd's mood. Our leg of the tour had Akshay Kumar on the bill, too. Needless to say, a major addition of star-power. I love Akshay onscreen - but he's never seemed able to master the ability to modulate his personality and voice in arenas. Even his friendliest speeches tend to sound like harangues. But he looks amazing - and few can touch him as a dancer. So in the end he was one of the evening's definite plusses. No doubt they've retooled and improved things as the tour progressed. But I got the impression there was less actual interaction between the stars than I'd seen in previous similar extravaganzas. And, yes, if there was one moment that WAS unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons), it was Mrs. Bachchan plodding onstage to deliver her mechanical little piece with all the enthusiasm of someone emptying bedpans at a hospital.

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Shashi ji on stage would make my LIFE. That would be so awesome.

That said, hearing that Amitabh did Main Hoon Don makes my day - what was it like? Details!

Sigh, you are so lucky.

Anarchivist said...

Now I'm going to be singing "Main Hoon Don" all day, and there's nothing wrong with that. :)

"Abhishtick" is going straight into my everday vocabulary.

And, hey, Canadian Ken -- did you go to Convergence in Bloomington this year? Not that there weren't probably a billion people who've seen Shah Rukh in concert in Toronto...

Filmi Girl said...

I'm so jealous! Why couldn't they come to DC?! *sigh*

I'm glad Ritesh was fun; I've always liked him and he definitely deserves better roles. (He was my favorite part of Bluffmaster.) On the other hand, I don't quite buy into Abhi's Unforgettable Dude persona, which means I would have been rolling my eyes 100% of the time when he was on stage...

Yay for the Big B, though!

Aspi said...

Amitabh singing Main Hoon Don in his own voice - priceless!

That image of Shashi on a bunch of cushions holding court cracked me up.

Beth said...

Nida – No Madhuri, even though she was in some of the posters. Next time there’s a Chicago show you want to see, let me know! Although this one was solidly fun, I can’t say you missed anything life-altering :)

CanadianKen - I long to see SRK on stage. I have no doubt he'd be the best possible person to see live, and now I'm just lying in wait for something to bring him to Chicago :)

I'm a little bit envious of all the great shows and performances you've seen!

I know what you mean about the screens - I split my viewing time between them and the stage about evenly.

As for your impressions of the Unforgettable Tour...we definitely had a different MC. Ours reminded me of the guy who does the ads for B4U on DVDs. I totally agree with you about those intros – they were beyond silly and made it hard for anyone to live up to the praise, and they went on for so long that it was hard to maintain your enthusiasm for the appearance of the person they endlessly hyped. Re: Aishwarya: one of the stars (I think she) said that their plane had only landed about 8 hours earlier and that they were wiped out, and I agree that there are many good reasons why anyone should be tired. In comparison to the others, though, her solo set, which if memory serves consisted of songs from Dhoom 2 (bleh), was unexpressive and dull at this particular performance. I’m very happy to hope she was more lively at other stops. That’s a good point about Abhishek as the glue – he was certainly cheery, and he was on stage a lot.

PPCC – I KNOW. All the proceeds could go to cancer research! And stage theater! Pleeeeeease?

As for Don, it was fab. It was not the full-scale lunacy of the film number, of course – how could it be without the mask? – but it was still really fun.

Anarchavist – Nothing indeed!

Filmi Girl – Maybe there will happen to be a show in NYC during a certain weekend in May…. Ritesh was fantastic. I’m definitely going to seek out his movies. Re: Unforgettable Dude: I think if it had been anyone else styled like that, I would have been eye rolling too. I am somehow convinced that Abhishek embraces it with a hefty dose of self-awareness and irony; if I weren’t, I don’t think I’d buy it for him either (or at least not as much as I do). It’s like those great ads he does, when he is out-cooled by his phone, acts like a doofus dancing along to his music when he should be working, or cuts loose with the moves in the men’s room. I LOVE THOSE.

Aspi – Yeah it was! I loved that he sang so much.

Beth said...

PS to Nida - YES, he is as hot in person. :)

neha vish said...

Wow! I was half contemplating booking tickets for the London leg of the tour, but am kinda caught up with school work. But your description makes me want to go see it. Education be damned! :)

Beth said...

Neha - Do it! It's only 4.5 hours of your life! And you could even bring some books for the down time in between numbers (and during the interminable pre-show).

Reviewer said...

Hey Beth,thanks for sharing your experiences.This show does not come to my neck of the woods,so reading such a detailed account of your experience is the only way I am going to experience this....sigh :(

About Aishwariya,I always felt that she is a little overrated and overhyped.

Nida said...

Ahh, Beth, I knew he would be!! ;)

Sounds great--I'll keep my eyes peeled for any news on the next concert!

Pitu said...

Fun write-up and ty for linking to my bloggityblog. Am still bummed abt the whole no-show thing tho :-(

Reema said...

I'm glad you liked Ritesh, I wanted to go to the show just to scream and cheer for him, because I know he's the least popular star.

Beth said...

Reviewer - I miss tons of movies in the theater due to geography - so writing up the few events I do get to see is the least I can do to help other locationally-challenged folks like myself.

Nida - Yay!

Pitu - Yours too! We were definitely misled about Mads - she was in all the posters!

Reema - Yay! He was so enjoyable - I for one will scream loudly for him anytime in the future since he has proven himself so well!

Maja said...

Ahh this was great to read, Beth, thanks for all the details! I've had a major soft spot for Riteish ever since Bluffmaster so I was pleased to read about his unforgettableosity. And I admit I had to supress a couple of squee-like noises while reading the bit about Abhi ;)

Maja said...

PS. just saw the tour promos on one of the blogs you linked to, oh my, they sure are sparkly!