Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shashitabhiness


Over on Filmi Geek's post on Suhaag, a reader asked the following question that I just could not resist:
Who has the Ur-list of Amitabh-Shashi movies, in order of watchability and rewardingness?
Not thinking about it too much, just going with my gut, I jumped right in with the following list,* going from best Shashitabhiness to least good (I won't say bad because Shashitabh has yet to disappoint me entirely). Note that this is not the same order I'd put these movies in for quality or watchability or rewardingness overall OR for quality of individual performances from either of them. This is all about making ultimate use of the ultimate jodi.
1. Do aur Do Paanch (1980)
2. TIE: Kaalaa Patthar (1979) and Imaan Dharam (1977)
4. Suhaag (1979)
5. Namak Halaal (1982)
6. Roti Kapada aur Makaan (1974)
7. Deewaar (1975)
8. Trishul (1978)
9. Silsila (1981)
10. Kabhi Kabhie (1976)
11. Shaan (1980)

This will be a much longer post someday, but for now, how would you rank them?

* There are still two films I haven't seen (of thirteen total, not counting Bomay Talkie since Amitaibh's scene got cut or the Amitabh-starring but Shashi-directed Ajooba).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rang Birangi

There are only five major characters in Rang Birangi, but OH MY the convoluted things they get up to! Anita (Deepti Naval) and Jeet (Farooq Shaikh) are a cute young couple who haven't quite gotten around to getting married yet.

(They're not really major characters, but I have to show you Om Prakash and Chhaya Devi as the Bannerjees,

Anita's adorable friends and the movie's compass for good sense.) Anita is the secretary of Ajay (Amol Palekar), who is so absored by his work that he has all but forgotten his charming wife Nirmala (Parveen Babi).

Her brother Ravi (Deven Verma) returns after an extended stay abroad to find Nirmala so upset about Ravi's neglect that he decides to set up a scheme to turn his attentions back to her (his "play," he calls it). Under the banner of needing to spice up his life, Ravi encourages Ajay to copy the plot of a recent Hindi film in which a boss woos his secretary by pretending he has a miserable home life. Ajay at first finds this ridiculous and claims he couldn't possibly flirt, but he eventually pulls off the ruse so effectively that we come to a song in which both Anita and Nirmala sing to him.

Jeet gets jealous of all the time Anita spends with Ajay, but when Anita tells him her side of the story, he recognizes the movie plot and tells her she's been had. Furious, she tells Nirmala what's going on. Nirmala then figures out it's her brother who instigated all of this, and after he explains his noble intentions, they set off on a plot for her to punish Ajay. Meanwhile, this experience has convinced Anita that all men are slime and she can no longer trust that Jeet will be honest with her in their future. Frustrated by her doubt, Jeet tells Ravi of his woes, so Ravi cooks up a third plan, this time to make Anita jealous over a fictional girl from Delhi.


Still following? There's just a bit more, I promise. To punish Ajay for his initial fliration with Anita, Ravi invents a private detective character, Dhurandar Bhatawadekar, played by Jeet in a funny disguise,

to tell Ajay that Anita is really the daughter of a famously tempermental boxer who will be none too pleased if their dalliance does not lead to marriage. Anita plays along, crying to Ajay that her father will kill her if he doesn't marry her. But little does Ravi know, Nirmala is old friends with the real Dhurandar Bhatawadekar (a fabulously grumpy and unamused Utpal Dutt), so when Ajay tells her that he's being blackmailed by Bhatawadekar, a light goes on in her head. She tells the real Bhatawadekar that he's being impersonated by a blackmailer, so the real Bhatawadekar arrests the fake one, and to get him out, Ravi pretends...oh my god, I have to stop now. It's exhausting, isn't it?

After watching Rang Birangi the first time, I thought it flirted too long and too close with Really Stupid Ideas - the kind of thing that I would run screaming from if Priyadarshan did it but that was cute enough in the hands of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, though still nothing really to write home about. But then I read a post on Passion for Cinema that explains Mukherjee was actually poking fun at the plot of another film, B. R. Chopra's Pati Patni aur Woh, and making an extended joke about how that kind of plot only works in movies, and I said "Ohhhhhh!" and liked it more. On re-watching it, I realized that Ravi actually says as much at the end, but for some reason I hadn't taken him at his word and had assumed that the reference was only to a fictional movie. I will be wearing the DUH hat for the next week.

Taking another movie's plot and doing something funny with it, such as following its implications through, is a Beth Loves Bollywood-approved idea for a comedy. Even knowing that, though, I found Ravi annoyingly puckish and couldn't understand why any of these people would decide to follow his ideas. "I am the director. You are all the puppets and you will dance as I tell you to," he says, but why they repeatedly go along with it is not really clear. It's in the script, I guess - and maybe Mukherjee is poking fun at that sort of convenience, too, perhaps with Anita, Jeet, and Ajay (Nirmala doesn't totally fall for the tricks) as representatives of us, the gullible but ever-hopeful, ever-game audience?

The film's movie in-jokes became a lot funnier now that I know more about the overarching film-referring context of the whole work. Things that struck me as simply har-har - like Bindiya Goswami telling Utpal Dutt he looks a lot like Utpal Dutt - now seem like thoughtful bricks in the foundational idea of exploring how movie ideas/ideals work in, or collide into, reality. ("Reality" being "the world inhabited by fictional people in a different film," but still.)



Bhatawadekar, the authority figure and potentially wise elder, blames films for sending society's morals down the toilet. He too has a poor grasp on what is fiction and what isn't - his constables mistake a film shoot for an actual assault and try to protect Bindiya Goswami from Raj Babbar - and I like that Mukherjee is teasing both people who take films literally as directions for living and those who assign them too much power as a cultural force.

It's maybe unfortunate that the first of Mukherjee's films I saw was Chupke Chukpe, because it's hard to imaigne liking any as much as that one, but both Rang Birgani and Guddi have impressed me. Overall, I suspect this film comes off as much cleverer if you know what it's riffing on. Without that context, I found it pleasant and amusing but a little tiresome - not bad, and not sloppy, but basically just a time-pass. With that context, though, I had a new way to see it, and that extra information helped keep my patience in tact during some of the more extended scenes of wacky misunderstandings and, to call a spade a spade, outright lying. I found it much funnier the second time around - and with a little bite here and there, too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shashi Kapoor day on twitter!

The lovely crew at Filmfare's twitter have declared today's #starsaturday tag to be about Shashi! So if you tweet, use the tag and tell them your favorite Shashi films or songs. #starsaturday is always fun - every week they name a different star and people tweet in favorites and general discussion.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

a Shashi-loving emo sadist's delight: Juaari

(And great for the rest of us too.)

Meet Rakesh (Shashi Kapoor), a self-sabotaging philosopher/gambler who just wants to be understood and accepted for who he is. Although he does gamble with cash, his biggest risks are with his ethics and sense of self.

Because the film opens with him staring off into the sea as boats bob and waves crash before wandering distractedly towards the camera, we know he's got a lot on his mind and perhaps even feels a little lost and overwhelmed by the currents of life. But that's not all - the story quickly tells us a lot more about our hero. In the first five minutes, Rakesh helps out a friend in poverty (Renu - not sure of the actor) (and doesn't fight back when attacked by her distraught drunk father), admits heartache to a buddy on the street, knocks back a few, totters into a nightclub, and joins in the twist.

That is, while he may be melancholy, we also know he's also got a little bit of bounce and spark left (he is Shashi, after all) and a heart of gold that longs to be loved. Juaari follows Rakesh's through several cycles of ups and downs, an ethical u-turn, the moral and emotional fallout from abandoning his true nature, and a final resolution once he finally stops reacting and starts learning. Though I would generally classify the film as philosophical (or even "man vs self," if you want to revisit eighth-grade English class), tracing a man's attempt to figure out who he is and how to make that identity united and work successfully with the world, it's not at all navel-gazing. Rakesh goes from person to person, setting to setting, stage to stage; there's always something changing in his life and he responds in different ways to varying effectiveness. The fundamental challenge is always internal, but there are plenty of external factors to keep the story lively - three love interests (though I'm not sure one of them is a true romance), three hand-to-hand fights, a murder, a fun costume and a disguise, and five great songs.*

I'm finding it tricky to talk about the film further without outlining more of the action, so here comes a plot summary. We left Rakesh at the nightclub; after grooving along for a few minutes on the dancefloor, he exchanges cross words with and is promptly beaten up by local shady type Bankey (Madan Puri), chucked out of the club, and left to stumble outcast through the nighttime streets of Bombay singing pathetically about being a gambler and reminiscing over lost love #1 (Sumitra, played by Tanuja).

Happier times.

Maybe he had a good dinner at Khyber first?
Lamenting the death of love, he collapses on the footpath, where he is found by kindly Saroj (Nanda).

She listens to his tale of woe about Sumitra - who left him when he insisted that marriage is nothing but pain if the couple doesn't share values, implying that she's too materialistic to be happy with him - and continues to build him up even as he delves into Bankey's world to try to win money for Renu. This being Bollywood and all, it turns out her purely good heart is a great match for his passion to live life based on truth and shared values. In her company, he stops moping and finds a little joy in the calm, and she blossoms in the attention.

But woe! This being Bollywood and all, Bankey's not done yet. Thanks to his meddling, in Rakesh's immature, all-or-nothing view of the world, Saroj is soon toppled from angel to...well, whore, I suppose, and he flies into a rage, goes after Bankey with a broken bottle,

and hurls ill-informed insults at Saroj.

Rakesh storms out, checks into a hotel, and heads straight for the bottle - apparently he believes in learning lessons the hard way.

Luckily Renu is also visiting this hotel, and her new life as a cabaret dancer has given her insight into a whole new way to live: the slick, wealthy, not-a-care-in-the-world set can at least solve one's financial troubles, and she's sure his skills with the cards would rocket them to the top. No matter that they don't have much money to start with - the fake-pretend fortune they claim in order to bluff their way into high society can become real soon enough. A far cry from the kind of life Rakesh has tried to live, these people are more than happy to believe the lies of a charming, confident young man who can walk the walk and talk the talk. After all, what has Rakesh's relentless pursuit of honest living and professing his true character gotten him? Young and mature loves dashed, two altercations with Bankey, and an irreparable rift with his status-obsessed father (Kamal Kapoor), which, this being Bollywood and all, is followed by his beloved Maa (Achala Sachdev) falling ill.

That's the crux of things for Rakesh: the honesty he so values has led him to despair, so in his most vulnerable moment of doubt and anguish over Saroj, he turns to the dark side - a life of lies and pretense.

Fortunately, the dark side is full of great parties - like this randomly Moroccan-themed bash -

and rich suckers. Enter the princess (Kumari Naaz), who takes a real shine to Rakesh 2.0. But this being Bollywood and all, his new life is not as disentangled from his old life as he might hope. Re-enter Sumitra. She and her husband, a rich lawyer named Chari (Rehman) whom she married after Rakesh taunted her about being too interested in money to marry him (a poor philosopher, of course), are at the party too. Chari is much older than Sumitra and Rakesh; the movie has previously shown her to be unhappy, and seeing Rakesh again just reinforces what she lost.

Please note the proto-Anthony Gonsalves in the top hat.
Also re-enter Saroj, who has taken ill, and Bankey, who conveniently has financial interest in the princess not marrying Rakesh. Also enter a hot-head with a gun, who turns the last twenty minutes of the otherwise pensive Juaari into a thriller and courtroom drama. But this being Bollywood and all, the right couples are reunited, health is restored, and goodness is rewarded**

Simply put [Editor Self says: too late!], I loved this. I found it complex and engaging with enough pep to keep things from getting too murky. Shashi's finesse and gusto for expressing emotional attyaachaar is put through the paces as Rakesh slowly grows from bratty through sulky and limit-testing to genuine distress, empathy, and wisdom. Thank goodness he gets to take juvenile, sorry-for-myself Rakesh on a Dev.D-y path rather than that of the more famous boozey loser. Tanuja and Kumari Naaz have smaller roles, but they're very good as well. Tanuja is cute and smiling as Rakesh's first love, and she is very believable as the kind of young woman who cuts her losses with her beautiful philosopher to marry a grumpy old lawyer if the philosopher created an artificial rift and tried to shove her through it. (Which is exactly what Rakesh does; at the first hint Sumitra may not be perfect, he criticizes her until she leaves him.) Kumari Naaz is alluring and sharp as the independent princess who actively pursues what she wants. Nanda in turn is wonderful as the solid, quietly confident Saroj - the character is nearly disgustingly good and sacrificing, but there's something very mature about her, making me feel this person really is this way and makes her decisions thoughtfully rather than just doing what she's been told to do in order to keep her man. I was really impressed - this role would have been easy to overdo, leaving Saroj unlikable and tiresome. Saroj is really, really, really good: as people in her chawl wonder why she's brought another man home, a friend defends her character as being as pure as the Ganges as the camera shifts focus to her pouring water over Rakesh's soapy hands. He can hear the people talking in the courtyard below and looks up at her in wonder as the water falls.

Saroj seems to be the rock that Rakesh's stormy mind swirls around again and again. I don't know when this movie was filmed - much of it looks older than its 1968 date - but it's not the Nanda-falls-at-Shashi's-feet fare of director Suraj Prakash's Raja Saab or Jab Jab Phool Khile. (I haven't yet seen his fourth film with the pair, Mehndi Lagi Mere Haath - how does it stack up?) In fact, it ends like this:

Wow! He (and only he) is the one who changes in order to make the relationship to work! My only complaint is that the "older but wiser" reunited couple seems to have lost some of their joie de vivre, and I'd hate to think that's a necessary sacrifice for wisdom.

In addition to being a good think and listen, so to speak, Juaari is a good watch as well. Editor Self is going to lose the battle over including screen captures; if you don't want to see a lot of pictures of sad, wounded, and/or vulnerable Shashi (told you it was for the Shashi-loving emo sadists!) (plus a few of the other people in the movie), you may be excused to hop down to the links to the songs, about which I would love to know your opinion.








Song cuteness! "Neend Ud Jaye Teri" (thanks to Bollyviewer for finding it for me!), the last song in the movie, is so great. It interweaves the three love interests, all misty for Rakesh.

"Na Jane Kya Karegi" with the yong lovebirds is appropriately 60s boppy and sweet.

The Baba Traders DVD did not subtitle songs, but "Main Hoon Badnaam Juaari" seemed so sad - and gave Shashi an opportunity to showcase his abilities at physical expression (or practice his drunking, however you want to say it).


And because ending on sad drunking is a downer, and Editor Self is going to take away the computer if I don't stop posthaste, check out Rakesh's impressive gardener disguise, which he uses to trap Bankey in a dangerous admission. Who is this warpped-up, mustachioed man?

Shazam! It's Shashi!

* Courtesy of Kalyanji-Anandji with an assist by Laxmikant-Pyarelal (if I understand the credits correctly) and an interesting, varied background music that includes brassy riffs for the gamblins scenes, western classical music, and nods to other films, including a snippet of Aamne Samne's "Nain Milakar Chain Churana".

** And the most assertive female character is shot dead in cold blood in her home, but never mind.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Outlook's Bollywood Special

Outlook has published a set of interesting articles on various filmi topics. My favorites:

  • Dibakar Banerjee, the director of my favorite film of 2008, wonders whether non-filmi love could ever make it on to the big screen.
  • Nandini Ramnath summarizes and ranks heroes from the last 40 years. (No Shashi. BOOOO. But Vinod! Yaaaay!)
  • Naman Ramahcandran lists some of the other kinds of love to hit the big screen.
  • Sudhir Mishra investigates the appeal of Devdas - and it ends happily, Dev.D. style.
Thanks to Indie Quill for the tip!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Apradh

Who loves ya, baby?

Feroz Khan does! But only if you're wearing a neckerchief, a lace-up shirt, or both. Seriously. Look how many scarves and lace-up shirts there are in this movie! I lost track after I realized Feroz had at least four of the shirts. His 'n' hers shirt/accessory combos: lace-up shirt and big orange-y scarf.

His 'n' hers entire outfits: lace-up belted tunic-length sweater!


Or just one or the other. Even the baaaaad girl gets one!



When in doubt, pair with a fringed jacket.

Anyway. The Moserbaer/Bombino DVD from Netflix didn't have subtitles, and even with Memsaab's valiant attempts to fill me in on the dialogue, I know I missed a lot. Fortunately the movie has plenty to discuss that isn't based on words, and I'll display some samples of its fabulous look in a minute. But one thing I could tell for sure, even sans subtitles, was that Apradh has two very distinct halves that don't really interrelate, complete with two sets of occupations, villains, and villain hangouts/lairs. In fact, Feroz-the-Director tells you so, as Feroz-the-Hero and Mumtaz fly off from...I don't know where they are at this point, somewhere German-speaking, to Bombay, and the villain accomplice guy who seems them leave exits through a door marked "2." (In fact, he himself actually fits more with half 2 than 1, so he's as much the bridge as the airport.)

I loved this! It's even better than the elevator that glides past "interval" in Bluffmaster. So cool! Unfortunately, the second half also sidelines Mumtaz's Meena from the important action (a trend familiar from Qurbani). She starts out with a bang - as an international jewel thief! - but after the story shifts to India, she's more of a pawn than a player. Too bad the rollicking action couldn't include her. Feroz's Raam also loses the luster of the European setting, going from race car driver to factory worker. (Note: I am not implying any connection between a domestic context and loss of glamour - there is plenty of glamour in 1970s filmified India, but this is not one of those stories.) But don't you worry: there's still plenty of glitz, courtesy of one of the most fabulous, and probably the most exuberantly appointed, villain lairs I've had the pleasure to visit.

To be on the safe side, I won't even pretend to know if this movie had anything to say or if, as it appeared based on what I could discern with my own two eyeballs, it was simply a loose connection of instances of or excuses for dishoom, race cars, skin, and near-sleaze. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Feroz and Mumtaz were adorable together, there are oodles of fun details to look at, and even when there's yet another fight, I didn't mind, because there's something about the way Feroz puts his scenes together that kept me totally entertained in situations that I would ordinarily only half pay attention to. Like Vinod Khanna, Feroz Khan can also bust down the the doors of my dil with his slightly smarmy, swaggering, aggressive persona. In real life, I find that totally off-putting; even on screen, my usual type tends towards poncy, brainy, goofy, wordy, and nerdy. (Like this. Or this.) I'm embarrassed to admit it, but somehow he makes it work. (Until the very end, when his own dil melts upon seeing his child for the first time and the happy family reunites under the Indian flag. Blurgh.) You can read the plot at Memsaab's or Apni East India Company's posts.

Whatever its blend of style and substance, Apradh is definitely fab in its own way. For starters, the two stars look great together (in addition to interacting well). Memsaab told me they were good friends (and in-laws) in real life, and you can see it.



I don't know about you, but when I steal gems, I always wear a floor-length velvet gown slit up to my waist. And when I try to romance a jewel thief, I stand confidently on a hillside of flowers with my thumbs hooked casually over my gigantic belt buckle.

The Europe-based villains lack the blinged-out accoutrements of their Indian counterparts, but their hotel suite does the job. And based on fashion, they come out ahead - Mr. Sunglasses here sports the film-requisite belted sweater over tight pants, and in purple and gold, no less.

The hotel is clearly in a great neighborhood; buildings across the street are emblazoned with "THE HELL" (seen through the window over the sofa above) and "SEXY CRAZY" (below). That's almost as good as Parvarish's "BHAI BHAI" sign.

Indeed, that necklace is sexy crazy. Emphasis on "crazy."

Speaking of sexy crazy, it should be noted that our friends at FK International like to dally with the saucy. The tame-by-comparison pose of the stars is overshadowed by the light fixture/statue.


When the camera pans to the side, it reveals the pose to be totally innocent, sort of like ice skaters mid-lift. The European den of iniquity also has trashy art. I couldn't get a clear shot of it, but their mural has a naked couple

accompanied by...yes, a rooster sitting by the man's hip and a snake winding over the woman's thighs. Please let the set designers know if you can think of two more obvious phallic symbols.

But hey, at least FK is equal opportunity.




And now for Apadh's greatest gift: the villains' bar! Here's an overview image:

Kind of hard to take in in one glance - it has everything! - so let's take a closer look. Fountains! Covered lawn swings (at the back)! Pools full of drunk/stoned white girls gyrating in swim suits!

Shetty! A gargantuan chandelier!

A tiled bar that sits on a rotating platform, surrounded by barrel chairs!

Though somehow I think spinning your alcohol consumers is a recipe for disaster. Please also note the ballerinas in the yellow cave-like mural behind the bar. More bright colors!

Helen!

Is her necklace is made of hair? Gah! Well-coordinated with the little braids in her hair, but gah all the same!
Oh poor Helen. Prem Chopra nibbles her ear. Poor, poor Helen.

Replace Prem with Vinod or Shashi, add a death trap, and install a slide, and I'd move into this place immediately. Who's with me?!? Bollywood fan meetup 2010 - 1972 Ferozishtyle!