That unstoppable, beautiful happiness! Raniiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!
My favorite Bollywood lady is predictably cute and appealing in bumpkin-Babli mode - that is, a spirited small-town young woman with big dreams and sheer and/or pink outfits, not as complexly written but still thoroughly enjoyable and root-for-able. As Veera, Rani shines as only Rani seems to do - squeaky, sometimes bratty, fully egotistical, but also loving and helpful and sweet. And, importantly, absolutely right morally, which helps her bratty moments slide by more easily. Her alter ego Veer is kind of annoying. Veer doesn't exactly show-boat, but his near-constant patter and sideline silliness make me wonder if Veera has never had the chance to be part of a proper team and doesn't know how to behave when it's not just her against various egotistical bowlers. I rewatched Chak De India before seeing this, and Dil Bole Hadippa generally suffers from comparison, but its implied arc of learning how to be the best possible team member one can be (not just an individual performer) is nice to see again. Too bad people other than Veera didn't have to grapple with it too. Writing Veer as a different character than simply "male Veera" makes sense, and it also meant Rani had a lot more to do, so no complaint in principle - I just wish Veer hadn't come off as such a nervous 14-year-old.
Shahid Kapoor, the v-neck wonder, is blandly pleasant and super-smiley as the blandly pleasant, dil-newly-hai-hindustani Rohan. It's a good thing Shahid is so pretty to look at since little else is demanded of him in this snooze of a role. (My mom even thought he was cute.) I wish he'd gotten to dance more, I wish they hadn't had him literally copy a Shahrukh moment, and I wish he wasn't scripted to spend quite so much time doing Intense, Dramatic, Cricket-Related Staring throughout the final sequence. Dalip Tahil was a happy treat among the forgettable parental generation (also giggling Anupam Kher as Rohan's megalomaniacal dad and sad-faced Poonam Dhillon as his mother, who fled with Rohan to the UK years ago to escape dad - and who can blame her!).
A quick question about the cast: imdb says Tabu is in this film, but I didn't see her. Where is she? The DVD I got from Netflix lurched and skipped and caused my player to crash twice, so it's quite possible I missed a scene or two.
So how could I not love a movie that starts off with that top picture? Never fear: the geniuses at Yash Raj Films managed to muddy up some of its potential. Things started slipping for me as soon as they billed Shahid over Rani. As if, YRF. She has the bigger role and the movie is about her, and she's a much more accomplished and experienced actor. Whatever message the film has about women playing equally on any stage they choose was not taken to heart, apparently. Do as YRF says, not as they do? Next, Veer, the fake man, also has to get taken down a peg by Rohan, the real man, at their first meeting. It stung like grown-up Rahul beating grown-up Anjali at basketball, though it could also be a sign of having to learn one's weaknesses (arrogance, in Veera's case) in order to be at one's true best. Why does the woman have to be belittled the very first moment she joins the "real" team? Why couldn't Veera just be impressive from the get-go? Or get her comeuppance later? Or not at all, since no one else on the Indian team other than Rohan gets any kind of character arc that shows them learning to be a better team player/human being? Still later, at the big match, Veera actually enters the game saying she's playing for Rohan - gone, or at least subsumed, are her big dreams of being a cricket star for India.
Aspects of Dil Bole Hadippa's cultural self-love are hard to take, even though they're nothing new. We all know western-styled seductress Sonia (Sherlyn Chopra) won't stand a chance with Rohan - rules of screenwriting dictate that if the boy takes up residence in India for six months, ain't no way he's going to maintain any interest in a bikini model - but she isn't even an actual character. She doesn't say anything or think anything. Sonia even crosses the infamous "sari point" and still doesn't win the man - that's how free of actual appeal she is.* Sonia's makeover kicks off a scene that, to quote the fine sports film Dodgeball, made me throw up in my mouth a little. It's clearly rude and stupid of Sonia to label women performing pooja in front of men
as "silly" and "old-fashioned," but the answer she gives (husbands as god, husbands' long lives, more sons) and is criticized for by Veera is one that countless other films, like YRF's own London/Punjab-centered Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge, have reinforced. Veera's response is that the women's prayers make the grains grow, thus making sure the nation, including ungrateful Sonia, never goes hungry. On top of this, Veera takes over Sonia's tour guiding, shutting her out for the rest of the film. There's no room in "the land like a lovely embrace" where "we embrace every heart" (lyrics from "Ishq Hi Hai Rab," according to the subtitles) for Sonia and her kind. The Veera-Rohan romance is the cutest and most successful part of this film, and in no way do I wish that any of the obstacles to it had been longer or more complicated, but straw sluts are so tiresome. Especially when a few moments later, Veera pops out of a truck in a cut-to-here minidress and heels too high to walk in, proudly telling Rohan that she'll change to be more "made in England" whenever he wants. So, showing skin is trashy when Sonia does it and should be changed, but it's accommodating or awkwardly endearing when Veera does it? Rohan, of course, wants Punjabi field-romping Veera, and he says that to love Veera and India, he must change - he'll take the "non" out of his NRI status and basically do whatever his until-now largely absent father asks. Hmmmm. I'm glad Veera gets to stay true to herself, but the "phooey on England, which, by the way, is where I earned a crapload of money for all my cool sunglasses" change in Rohan is facile. It's also an interesting plot pairing with the basically feminist and girl-power message that Veera delivers after the big game - and that the initially skeptical crowd wholly accepts. Of course one can be culturally jingoistic as well as feminist - I just wasn't expecting it.
I do think the film's basic message about full and equal participation of women is solidly delivered - after all, Indian only wins when women play too - and I liked the central romance and its portrayal by Rani and Shahid. But this just wasn't as strong a project overall as I had been expecting and hoping. Someone was very clever in ending this film not only with the Important Message Speech and consensus-cementing slow clap but also a fantastically spangly dance number, leaving me feeling cheerful and sated after earlier moments of real disappointment.
* The science of "the sari point" is usually not very complex, in my experience, though Dil Bole Hadippa gives us an interesting twist on it: it's a self-proclaimed sari point, rather than occurring naturally in a song inspired by true, requited love. I'd love to know if any female characters who voluntarily go from western-slutty to traditional actually get their men. Anjali gets her man, but of course she was never, ever slutty-looking. Another good twist on sari science can be found in Main Hoon Na, where a sari-centric makeover wins the boy but the girl decides it doesn't really feel true to herself and so she ditches it.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Yalgaar is not so much bad as it is lacking in any enticements - unless you like early Sanjay Dutt, and I know some people do, especially shirtless and/or bemulleted. I was bored and unmoved. It drags. There's too much time spent on uninteresting things.
And sometimes they just ramble on and on for no apparent reason. Feroz must be talking about some other film here - any "twists" Yalgaar may claim are predictable and not handled with any kind of sharpness or surprise.
Most of the acting is corny. I was wary of Yalgaar based on its 1992 vintage alone, but my experiences with Feroz Khan projects so far had been pretty fantastic, so I thought I'd give it a try. Bad idea. I could try to look for deep, special meaning in the parallel intra- (and later inter-) familial dramas of loose-cannon cop Rajesh Kumar (Feroz Khan)
and his by-the-book cop father Mahendra (Mukesh Khanna) on one patriotic side and crime boss Raj Singhal (Kabir Bedi) and his dumb but thuggish son Vishal (Sanjay Dutt) on the selfish and corrupt other.
I could wail over the ill-fated yet Maa-sanctioned love of Meghna (Manisha Koirala), daughter of Rajesh's cop brother who was killed in the line of duty, and Vicky (Vicky Arora), upright family-business-spurning younger son of Singhal. I could even retain a glimmer of hope for the budding romance of Rajesh and the Sunita (Deepti Naval), the widow of his partner. But there's not much more to work with than what I just told you, and it's more fun to enjoy the bad 90s fashions and set design, so let's do that instead.
I've said it before but I'll say it again: the 90s were kind to no one.
Manisha à la Dixit.
"Why are Neena Gupta and I in this movie?"
The dancing in this movie is dreadful. Aerobics-style lurching and 90s side-by-side silliness abound.
Aside: some of this awful dancing occurs in a night club that has Warhol and Robert Indiana art in it (note the mural with Indiana's LOVE motif), as well as walls full of musical instruments.
The crowd here is sympathetic, to put it mildly, and are somehow so moved by the music that they hold up lighters. Did we teleport to a Styx concert without my noticing?
I really wish we had teleported to a Styx concert.
To be fair, Sanjay's moves are more a kind of combo of working out and stress/rage-release than they are actual dancing, but:
See the whole thing here.
Vicky Arora makes this same basic facial expression throughout most of the film.
IMDB says he's done only one other movie, and it's no mystery why.
Singhal is a bad guy. You can tell by of his giant bubble bath.
He also has Dogs Playing Pool in his rec room.
People in this movie like bowls of fruit.
Is this Manjeet Kullar? Whoever she is, does she remind you of Jan Hooks as a Sweeney Sister?
And who is this? Scary!
Vishal may be a criminal, but it seems like he has a hint of a proper Hindustani dil, doesn't it?
I enjoy random maps of India in films, and I am very impressed to see one left in broken glass. (This could also be a complete accident, but the shape read very clearly as "India" to me.)
Is that...a DeLorean?
Maybe not. There are other gull-wing cars out there. But it's more fun to think of Sanjay Dutt with a DeLorean, so that's what I'll do.
For a more involved look at Yalgaar, see this post by Diwali, Queen of All Things Sanjay. I disagree with her on almost every point (except her shared dislike of Vicky Arora), but hey, that's what makes life more interesting. As for me, I need a palette cleanser pronto. Fortunately, Sawaal just arrived in the mail, and I have cleared my schedule accordingly. Shashi to the rescue? Pleeeeeeease?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Without being spoilery, here are the good things I can say about Kurbaan.
- The acting ranges from solid to quite strong, with Om Puri and Kiron Kher perhaps tailing the pack only because their characters are extreme and tempt the actors into scenery-nibbling. I was especially impressed by Vivek Oberoi.* Even the American extras and bit players are pretty good, relatively. (Note: it seems like a wasted opportunity for some fun cameos, though. How fun would it have been if they had roped in someone Harrison Ford-ish to be the lead FBI agent - he could've done his belabored everyman bit in a totally new context!)
- Some of the characters are more nuanced than I expected.
- Cutey-cute love among the bookshelves and Delhi landmarks.
- Some blood and guts were at a level of gory that surprised me but felt in the right tone of danger and consequence of the subject matter.
- The pace is quick without being rushed.
- It successfully manipulated me emotionally throughout its climax as I wondered which of the terrorists' targets would go according to their plans.
- There is an unspoken contrast of behavior driven by conviction (religious, political, emotional) and behavior resulting from not knowing what to believe or think, between knowing one is right and not being able to grasp the world you find yourself in. In some ways, I wish the movie had made more of this, but leaving at least one important idea to permeate quietly was also very effective.
- Kareena Kapoor (Avantika)'s wardrobe and makeup staff did a bang-up job. She looks gorgeous throughout, whether in her "Indian" clothes in Delhi (intensely colored skirts and shirts with intricate earrings and pretty scarves) or in the more western-urban trench coats and boots in New York. (These two styles are cleverly bridged by using similar shirts - with full skirts in India and jeans in the US.) As the tension in her life builds, her makekup helps tire her face, and as it disappears (or becomes more natural-looking, at any rate), it accentuates how stripped-down her existence is becoming - no extras, no fun, no beauty. Saif Ali Khan (Ehsaan) also looked very natty in his suits and jackets, especially a gray one with off-center buttons. (Can you tell I just finished the Project Runway finale?)
- Likewise, the set design is great. A lot of time is spent in Avantika and Ehsaan's suburban New York home and neighborhood, and it looks exactly like many homes built in the last 10 years across the US, even in my little city. This was an effective way to communicate "evil lurks in the most normal of places"-style fear.
For all of its realistic touches, Kurbaan still gives us multiple characters who are supposed to be smart and good with words - we know this because they're professors and journalists - who refuse to call the police or FBI at sensible times. And when they do, they don't get to the point and share the really important life-saving information, even though they have time to do so, or identify themselves as a reliable source, even though they have already met the FBI agent and he has asked them to call him if they find information, and instead leave cryptic anonymous messages about meeting up in a church. Wha? Do not try to take out a terrorist cell on your own. Ask for help from the friendly FBI guy who gave you his business card. It won't make you any less of a man, I promise.
Generally, a film that offers unexpectedly complex characters is a good thing in my book, and I am grateful to writers who are willing to try making people more than caricatures, especially in a complicated story full of inner conflict in the face of fear and sadness. However, in this film, multiple facets didn't always cohere into a person that made much emotional or logical sense. "Is that really what s/he would do?" I kept wondering. The character that the FBI calls one of the most lethal terrorists in the world seemed to change his mind a lot, pulled to extreme action by his hatred of what American troops did to his family in Pakistan, then lurching as far back the other direction when someone accuses him of using jihad as a cover for his psychological pleasure in killing. I like the idea that even a terrorist who seems ready to kill hundreds of people might be able to change his mind when given new information or a different way of looking at his life, but in this case, it just felt jumbled. Is he conflicted, is he lying to get the upper hand, or is the writing disintegrating? I'm not sure.
[The next paragraph has spoilers. Sorry!]
The film's tag line - "Some love stories have blood on them" emblazoned over shirtless Saif and Kareena - implies that they have a romance, which I think is completely misleading. Ehsaan is a sociopath using Avantika for very evil purposes; he claims some sort of affection for her, but I don't buy it. He's too warped. Most of the actual connection he claims and seems to engage in is about their pregnancy, not about her. She's just a vehicle - first for entry into the country, then for a weird attempt to re-do the horrors of his past via their baby. I think she may have a romance with/towards him, though the film does not explain why or how she is unable or unwilling to disengage from him. (Idea: if she is in fact Indian, is she representing filmi-fied India as a great loving mother who accepts one and all and is always forgiving, always accepting, always compassionate?) I was surprised that she backs down from confrontation and retribution that a filmier film might indulge. The sensible, pacifist, real-life-centered part of me is glad, but my more emotional side was disappointed. "Take a page from Fanaa and kill the bastard!" I wrote in my notes (though Avantika is never sketeched as anything close to Kajol's "Desh Rangeela"-spouting character, so maybe she doesn't feel inspired to act decisively for the nation/world) - and I am not prone to recommending Fanaa-isms as a way to improve matters. (Though Tabu shooting bad guys from a helicopter should be in every film.)
Now for a laugh to get rid of that murky, depressed, vaguely dissatisfied taste: go right now and read this highly spoilery but hit-the-nail-on-the-head comic of Kurbaan at The Vigil Idiot. Go!
* I haven't seen any of Vivek's heavy-hitting films except Omkara, which I loved. What should I start with?
Saturday, November 21, 2009
There are several knitting, Bollywood-loving bloggers out there - Deewaani for Bollywood, Memsaab, Totally Filmi, who publishes Bollywood-inspired patterns; and Antarra, who has posted a few times on the most important and memorable theme of knitwear in Hindi cinema, the sweaters of Rishi Kapoor. There's even a Bollywood group on Ravelry, the knitting social networking (knitworking?) site. I generally find my two favorite hobbies to be almost mutually exclusive, because relying on subtitles means I can't do any complicated knitting while watching Hindi films. So I take my filmi fiber joy where I can find it, most commonly in scattered scenes of people knitting (Maine Pyaar Kiya, for example) and in sweaters and scarves courtesy of the wardrobe department. In addition to Rishi's Cosby years, 60s love songs set in Kashmir are excellent sources, and Black remains my absolute favorite use of knitwear in a Hindi film.
In the spirit of chronicling this generally irrelevant detail - the same spirit that has brought us Bollybob's thermoses, Bollywood Food Club's balloons, and Apni East India Company's chandeliers - I thought it was high time to collect some of filmidom's finest knitted specimens in one place. I think this particular item is not the most auspicious beginning possible, but since Manisha asks us for feedback, I couldn't resist.
Frankly, it's hideous.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The opening frames of Reshma aur Shera, a tragic story of family honor and vengeance set in rural Rajasthan, made me think I was in for depressing slog through the trials and tribulations of The Indian Woman, deified in theory but treated like dirt in practice. As the film begins, a voice (I think director/producer/star Sunil Dutt) extols women as the keepers and transmitters of the Indian virtue of sacrifice, sure to save the whole world from its woes. (Note the transition from the glorification of sacrifice to the assertion that India is the heart of such attitudes and behaviors.)
There’s not been a single era where the sarifices made by the women of our country, in order to glorify human beings and humanity, have not been written in golden letters. Be it a sacrifice of her husband, child, life, or her love sacrifice is another name for the women of this country. It’s the sacrifice by the women of our country that has kept the cultures of our country alive. It has spread enlightenment in the world. Hence this world, lost in the terrifying violence, enmity, and hatred, looks with a ray of hope towards our country and its culture for salvation. That is why it is only in our country that the women are looked upon as deities. And hence we dedicate this film to the women of our country.Any time I see a claim that "women are looked upon as deities," I'm immediately skeptical. "Prove it," I think. "Prove that the women in this context are genuinely respected." (This film, for example, depicts the meeting of its heroine and hero as her falling towards his feet and him saving her from falling on the ground.) Interestingly, the next words in the film immediately move to laying out the culture of the men of the feuding Singh and Chaudhury families. The senior Chaudhury boasts to the men of his village that he has just killed one of Singh's sons, leaving the other four Singh boys (Shera/Sunil Dutt, Vijay/Vinod Khanna, Jagat/Naval Kumar, and Chhotu/Amitabh Bachchan) for his "lion" (the startlingly cheerful and non-creepy Ranjeet as Gopal) to kill.
Hearty laughs and jovial back-slaps ensue. This is the attitude we're dealing with. Murder is something to aspire to and brag about. The context is macho to the extreme, and the equally extreme consequences of this culture are laid painfully bare. The film pulls no punches, either in the depicted violence or in its judgment of it.
After watching the film, I'm really not sure why the story is set up in this female-centered manner, because the essential lesson is, I think, pacifism and respect for human life and is not specifically focused on the power or virtue of women, either actual or romanticized. The relentless clan violence that runs throughout the film - and drives most of its characters and action - is indeed brought to an eventual halt by the youngest generation of women (Waheeda Rehman as Shera's star-crossed lover Reshma and Rakhee in a tiny role as Gopal's new wife)
Reshma and Shera meet at a fair, and I love this image of Waheeda getting to be carefree and full of motion as Reshma giggling on the ferris wheel. And Rakhee is so beautiful I had to put a picture in, even though she's on screen just for a few moments.
and sanctioned by Shera's mother (Sulocahana Latkar). But I'm not sure how significant their gender is, other than that by being women they are somehow less a part of the multi-generational enmity between the two central families/villages. That is, is their decision to strive for peace and calm instead of for revenge possible because they are women or because they are not adult men? The effect is the same, but I wonder about the differences between being defined as "X" instead of as "not Y." Anyway, more importantly, I think their decision is motivated by the despair of having their lives, and the lives of those they love, ruined by principles and values they can neither influence nor participate in.
Reshma rages against the goddess, who is as yet to provide a good answer for how she is supposed to get out of this tragedy; click on Rakhee above to see her making an excellent "crazy with grief" expression.
Only two adult men of the immediate Singh and Chaudhury families are standing when Reshma forges a new path; one of them is mute (and I think implied to be mentally impaired) (youngest Singh brother Chhotu) and brought to his knees by regret, and the other is completely out of his mind with grief and rage (Shera). Is the new way of living only possible because the old way is literally being killed off? While Reshma's bold decisions at the end of the film provide a little hope for a new way of living and new freedoms from the oppressive violence of the past, an attempt at such a choice while the patriarchs and older brothers were alive probably would have been silenced immediately (and perhaps permanently, given the fathers' quick tempers and penchant for blood).
It's mostly a very sad story. (You know things are bad when Amrish Puri is one of the more sensible people in a film.) The body count is high. The anger is deep and senseless. I've have read that the film flopped, and I wonder what specifically about it made it so unappealing at its release. Was its condemnation of violent, patriarchal honor codes simply unpalatable to most audiences at the time? Putting aside its lesson for a moment, its other significant story is the doomed romance of the title characters (Reshma is a Chaudhury and Shera a Singh) (and a much smaller one echoed by Gopal's engagement), and all the elements and details of the story are supported well and interwoven with much thought. Its script seems almost perfect, with quiet but careful attention to histories, character development (or deliberate lack thereof), locations, and movement. Two of my favorite details are special artifacts, a charm and a transistor radio, that become meaningful tokens through repeated presence, bringing a very personal and everyday scale to this otherwise quite epic story (you know how I love that!). The movie does have its filmi moments, like a forehead-clutching Nahiiiiiiiin! and some dramatic slips into near madness, but overall the intensity is well-paced and relieved sufficiently by moments of cute romance and light-hearted fun throughout its overall downward arc.
The world of Reshma aur Shera may be conceptually and emotionally bleak, but it is stunning to look at. The colors seem a little washed out and yellowed, but even with those problems, there are glowing purple night skies, dancing orange fires, sparkling silver jewelry, and vibrant whites that set off both art and dirt. (But it's hard not to think how much more amazing this would look if its colors were closer to Paheli's....) The Rajasthani architecture and villages (both grand and domestic) are as much a star as any of the characters, representing beauty and creativity in the doom-filled lives of the characters.
The landscape too is lovely, as the shifting sands add dynamic shadows and an uncertain foundation to scenes that seem straightforward at first thought.
Look how tiny and alone the people are in the middle of this sea of hot, harsh, mostly lifeless landscape - and what a parallel to the Singh/Chaudhury traditions! Recurring motifs of flames and circles link scenes visually. Not long after they first spy each other at the fair, Shera steals one of Reshma's bangles, and here he holds it up during a qawwal and imagines her dancing in its center, the focus of attention, hair loose and face in plain sight, instead of just peeping from the sidelines.
The moon and night sky recur significantly as well.
He returns it as the song ends; the next day, after their first real conversation, she fiddles with it as she dreamily reflects on their conversation
I don't usually talk about cinematography because quite frankly I do not understand with any depth what a cinematographer does, but there are lots of cool shots in this movie, and S. Ramachandra deserves a shout-out. Sometimes the camera is positioned so that you feel you're sitting right next to or across from a character; sometimes it's under a bench; sometimes it's between the strong, dark vertical lines formed by the legs of a pack of camels. (Aside: I loved all the camels in this movie - and all the cool noises they make! I had no idea camels were so growly.) Jaidev Verma's music dances and wails; as much as I love the regional instruments in some of Waheeda's songs, I think my favorite song might be the extremely saucy-sounding "Tauba Meri Tauba," a dancing-girl item number performed by a panting Asha and writhing Padma Khanna.
It's interesting to note that 70s regulars Amitabh, Ranjeet, and Vinod are all very early in their careers at this point, and seeing the first two in roles so different than the types they're known for later is fascinating - and a credit to their skills. Watching a nearly silent Amitabh Bachchan tremble for his life in front of a crowd of frail old villagers is a real sight. For the first time in my movie-watching career, I was not eager for the death of Ranjeet. And Vinod...well, he was in villain mode, dishooming in the hot desert sands and leering with menacing lust at the dancing girl.
And speaking of young, check out wee Sanjay Dutt as a qawwali singer!
As always, Philip Lutgendorf has interesting insights, and there's a gossip- and spoiler-filled review/making-of piece by Suresh Kohli in The Hindu.
Posted by Beth Watkins at 6:20 PM