Monday, June 27, 2011

quick IIFA post: from twitter

I'll post picture with actual writing attached to them when I am home on Wednesday, but in the meantime, here are all my IIFA-related tweets. For those not familiar with twitter, the newest tweets appear at the top, so scroll to the bottom of this post and read up. You should also go have a look at Filmigirl's post on the awards show - her pictures are way better than mine and we agree on pretty much everything about the show. And if you're tired of IIFA (and I hear ya on that, believe me), there's a new episode of Masala Zindabad! It's part 2 of our series on iconic Hindi female characters with Bollyviewer of Old Is Gold.







Lots of jokes abt ppj who aren't here: Kareena, Rani, Ranbir. And now Anil on stage!








Saturday, June 11, 2011

more assorted Kapoors from Filmfare

Following up last week's post about the Kapoor family tree, here is an article from Filmfare (December 4, 1970) with a few recollections about Raj and some text descriptions of some of the family relationships (branching out all the way to actress Naaz, who married Prithviraj's nephew)!


Note the little picture of young Rishi and Raj with Shammi and Shashi hamming in silly hats!

Shammi in an amazing shirt while filming Rajkumar!

Sadhana's headpiece is no less amazing.

Babita wearing something I want to steal, head to toe.

I'm not saying I'd wear all of it simultaneously outside the privacy of my living room. But I want it anyway.

Shashi and Asha Parekh.

I really wish they'd done more films together - I like them so much as a pair.

And Shashi in the regular Filmfare feature "Tipsy Queries."


I found two more of these with Rekha and Bindu (I promise to share them later). So silly!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

in which Shashi Kapoor fights a bear and other delights amuse us: Yeh Dil Kisko Doon

Last month while visiting Devon Avenue in Chicago, the heart of the city's Indian and Pakistani neighborhood, I popped into a new-to-me store called Al-Mansoor Video. Expecting the usual Shahrukh/Salman/Amitabh sections and everything else except pricey Yash Raj jumbled together, instead I found a squeaky-clean store with films sorted into dozens of categories by hero. Putting aside the giant flashing ethnological questions of a system of organization based only on language and lead male star, I was really surprised to see names like Anil Kapoor, Jeetendra, Vinod Khanna, and Shashi! It's like they knew I was coming! I only wish I had known about this place years ago; as of May 2011, I already owned all but two of the forty-plus DVDs in the Shashi category. I snapped up those two, neither of which regsitered in my mental file of missing Shashi movies, and I'm now the proud owner of unsubtitled copies of Yeh Dil Kisko Doon and Mohabbat Isko Kahete Hain.

It appears that no one else has written about this film, which is a real shame not only because I thought it was very cute but also because the lack of subtitles means I'm missing some of the finer points of the story. As far as I can tell, the basic plot focuses on a young man who runs away from home and joins the circus. Oh yes! Establishing shots of a mansion and a very somber voiceover suggest that Shashi (let's go with actor names this time around) has it all, but after a big meeting with a group of applauding old men in suits, in which I suspect he has been named the sole heir to or head of an estate, he mouths off about love, friendship, and work, dashes away in his convertible, manages to give the slip to a motorcycle gang following him (yeah, I have no idea about them), and accidentally careens off a bridge, proving it is never too early in one's career to worry about driving like a Kapoor. Unconscious, he washes up on the beach, where he is found by Agha and Jayshree Gadkar, who shelter him for the night and probably have philosophical conversations about whether money can truly buy happiness and all that jazz, though I'm not certain about that bit. Waking early the next day, Shashi leaves his nice suit and a wad of bills with them, setting off in patched clothes, free as a bird. Agha and Jayshree go off to a restaurant to plot their next move. Unexpected delight #1: in very brief walk-by cameos, Mehmood and Shammi Kapoor greet them with "Ram Ram" at the door of the restaurant; upon consultation Memsaab has allowed me to refer to Shammi cameos as "Shammi-os."

Agha then goes to a newspaper office, I think to report Shashi missing; this kicks off a side plot of many different men in various outfits signifying profession or ethnic group trying to find Shashi, and I am not clear whether they were henchmen (like the motorcyclists), selfishly after a reward (given that he is very rich), hired by the suited old guys from the beginning to bring Shashi back home safely, or just looking for their cash cow.

Shashi too goes to a restaurant and seems to have forgotten he gave away all his money. Unexpected delight #2: fortunately, just as the waiter and owner give him the bum's rush out the door, he crashes head first into...a bear!

As far as bear suits go, this one is not nearly as moth-eaten as it could be and seems to have a nice shaggy coat and a head that fits relatively snugly onto the body, creating a halfway decent, if anthropomorphized, bear effect. Shashi runs screaming from the bear straight through the restaurant window and somersaults over a table. General pandemonium ensues with customers running around, the bear growling and lunging, and Shashi hurling furniture at it. The bear picks him up by the waist, spins him around, and even lifts him over its head! I must break from narrative for a moment to try to express how happy I am to have seen Shashi Kapoor fighting a bear in 1963. This is a dream come true—a dream I didn't even know I had! I've never seen him fight any animals, real or costume, and if I had dared to hope I ever would, I would have put money on it occurring sometime after 1975 and also involving Amitabh Bachchan and possibly Pran. I cannot find this scene online, but here is a collage of some of its highlights.

You will probably say to yourself "Ah, of course" when I tell you that the bear belongs to a girl, in this case Ragini, who works at the circus. And if intervening in a bear attack does not qualify for meet-cute, I don't know what does. After the incident is featured in the news, Shashi becomes a celebrity and people start giving him things, including food from a stall in front of a poster of his earlier film Prem Patra, which he immediately gives away again, determined to...be poor, I guess, as an outward expression of breaking free from the stifling monotony of wealth? Unexpected delight #3: poor but happily unencumbered Shashi skips down the street playing a a harmonica and bursts into the title song, leaping, spinning, flinging his arms every which way, and exaggeratedly kicking his feet up behind him. Who knew Shashi could make such an exuberant ragamuffin?

Shashi eventually meets up with the circus, where he is smitten at first song, as it were, with Ragini, now featured as the show's lead musical act. Recognizing him from the bear attack, she takes him home to meet her dad, Anwar Hussain, a "trapeze king" now alcoholic and long past his glory days. Over a pepper sandwich, Ragini and Shashi get to know each other. Unexpected delight #4: Shashi teasingly answers Ragini's question of whether he has wife and kids by counting on his fingers "Kunal...Karan...." After admitting his joke over a mouthful of scorching mirchi, she takes him to circus boss Jeevan (not quite as creepy as usual, possibly because I didn't know what he was saying), who gives him a job as the living target of his knife-throwing act.

The movie continues on in the predictable "boy and girl fall in love and overcome obstacles" vein, but I thought it was a treat through and through. There is but one objectionable moment in the whole thing: Shashi has been led to believe (falsely) that Ragini is in love with Jeevan, and he strikes her in the face. For the first time I can remember, we actually see the effects of a tight slap, an important reminder that the physical pain of the instant may fade quickly but the emotional pain can linger. Interestingly, Ragini has an almost reciprocal action; not ready to forgive him, she hurls money in his face, and the camera treats this action in the same way it filmed his slap, looking straight at the actor and letting their arm almost cover the lens as the blow approaches.


But back to the things I loved...which is everything else! The circus setting makes for a lively and varied background cast and set, and even their silent presence in various scenes added a big splash of fun. I've never seen Ragini before and thought she did a great job as the confident, competent female lead. I don't even want to call her a heroine because that seems too reductive. Despite the only-in-a-movie setup of walking away from wealth and joining the circus, Shashi and Ragini's characters seem like real people—real adults, even—trying to balance pragmatics, love, and dreams. Unexpected delight #5: there are references throughout to other films and actors, and my favorite was this one, Dev Anand's Chortling English Accent Twit from the just-reviewed Hum Dono, even accompanied by the tune from the musical lighter!

Iqbal Qureshi's songs (including how they are sung, costumed, choreographed, filmed, etc.) are without exception entertaining and emotional—and very often gorgeous to boot. "Kitni Haseen Ho Tum" features a stylized romantic moonlight night on a lake.

So lost in this dreamworld are the lovebirds that they miss her scheduled performance time in the circus, which causes her wobbling dad to return to his trapeze in a pique of "the show must go on!" (I will digress just a bit further to add that in order to add a big flourish to his act, he decides to do stunts blindfolded and without a net. 'Cause that'll go well.) "Phir Aane Laga Yaad Wahi" is another entrant into the "songs with giant props" category. Despondent, drunken Shashi imagines tiny Ragini dancing in his drink, then on the surface of his table with ashtray, still-smoking cigarette, and bottle.

It's possible there is also a letter holder on this table? Or maybe it's for napkins? Also: her skirt in this sequence is black with silvery sparkles, almost like she's wearing the night sky. I love it so much!
The song ends with a tempest, with tiny Shashi tossed into the set and both of them staggering around as grief and tears threaten everything. It is glorious: the emotions, the music, the dancing, the rain, the fireworks, all of it. And my favorite, because I will almost always prefer laughter and grooviness over longing and drama, "Jab Tak Duniya Rahi Rahega," in which Ragini and Shashi...well, frolic, I suppose, on an minimalist background with instruments, music notes, and giant playing cards before walking off along a path lined with fairy lights.

Danny Kaye-type moment: he's got a cane!

There are several people in the film I would like to match up with names. Can anyone help identify these women? Lady A (who is very familiar!) plays Ragini's romantic competitor, a fellow circus performer who is not above schemes to try to snare Shashi.

Though as Memsaab pointed out, maybe she just seems familiar because she looks like Mary Steenburgen.
Lady B stars with Jayshree Gadkar in the lovely dueling tawaif number "Humein Dum Dai Ke."


Lady C has a flamenco interlude in "Kya Hua Maine Agar," another number full of energetic, joyful romping by Shashi and Ragini and set among the bright lights and costumed onlookers of the circus.


Coincidentally, while combing through my most recent haul from the library's Filmfare collection, I found a review of the film from the May 3, 1963 issue.

An excerpt: "This 'Dil' is the cross of Shashi Kapoor, possibly one of the most authentic of young talents in the industry but still in search of a worthy film. Shashi works hard (e.g. he romps singing and dancing on the roadside, fights a studio bear, hides his handsome face in a circus clown's wig and rubber proboscis, and gives delightfully irreverent take-offs on matinee idols, two of them his real-life brothers) to save the film, but 'Dil' heartlessly keeps sinking." Click on the picture for a readable version. I was surprised they gave it only one star, not only because I found the film interesting and delightful but also because the words in the review don't make it seem quite as dire as that lonely star suggests. But don't listen to that critic from almost fifty years ago! This is a funny, cute little film with some real treasures, whether they are of the "gorgeous emotional song" variety or simply "Holy moly, that's Shashi Kapoor fighting a man in a bear suit." Or both!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

In lieu of a film, how about some more vintage Filmfare pictures?

This heat has melted my brain and I just cannot get traction on my writeup of a fabulous early Shashi Kapoor film in which he fights a bear. (Oh yes. That happens.) I do seem to have the brain power to crop and upload photos, so here are a few more from some of the many old Filmfare issues I have been able to check out from my university library. This set is for those who loved the picture of Shashi Kapoor and his late wife Jennifer Kendal in Manhattan in 1963 in my previous post of family photos. Here are a few more, I think from that same trip to New York, from a December 1963 issue of Filmfare.


American Interlude
Away from the bustling, overcrowded Manhattan streets, Shashi Kapoor and his pretty wife Jennifer spent peaceful moments wandering along the rambling leafy avenues of Central Park, New York. They admired the breath-taking beauty of the on-coming autumn stretching golden fingers across the lawns. Both former members of a Shakespearean company, the couple spent some time in the park's open air theater.


"(Top) Shashi and wife Jennifer outside the Hilton Hotel and (bottom) near Shakespeare's statue at the open-air theater, Central Park."

Above: Shashi is close to Nature even in a bustling city. Above right: Lost in reverie near the lakeside. Below: Shashi has the wondering look of Gulliver in Brobdingnag. [Below right]: A thoughtful silhouette against the backdrop of giant skyscrapers.

As much as I enjoy the photos, the text drags them down into a taint of space-filler. And I love the layout and bold pink title!

Next up: assorted Kapoors from assorted Filmfares.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

mini-review: Ready

I can't do any better to summarize my feelings about Ready than my film-loving friend Samrat did when I found him online at 1:00 in the morning after our one local screening.
Samrat: Is it good?
Beth: It is whatever. Nowhere near as offensive to everything I stand for as Housefull.
Samrat: So, mostly harmless but also mostly charmless?

And that was it exactly. I can, at a sort of academic level, accept that if one enjoys byzantine, duplicitous shenanigans that are eventually and somewhat hypocritically swept under the carpet of respecting elders and women and telling the truth and loving family and blah blah blah, then Ready might be perfect summer fun. Salman is funny enough; the heroine, who could have been played by anyone but was solid under the sass-dishing eyebrows of Asin, is pleasingly feisty more of the time than I thought (though all but absent post-interval) and even gets to express desire; there are too many pee jokes but only one about skin color; its wackadoo plot and action are left relatively unamplified, mercifully free of slide whistles and bug-eyes and solid seconds of screaming; and all of the songs looked and sounded good, though I'm not sure what to make of the limited range of motion in most of Salman's moves.

My favorite part of seeing Ready, contested only by the very presence of a skeleton suit, is probably getting to see it in the cinema and enjoy the reactions by the other viewers in the hall. A boisterous pack of 20something men sat right in front of me and talked and laughed full volume throughout (a behavior I, unlike most American movie-goers, have no issues with). Their hoots started at the certificate and abated only at the Ra.One promo, during which they grumbled "Robot! Robot!"—and as much as I love SRK, I can't say there was anything in that particular clip to make me disagree. They were thrilled to see Hrithik and Katrina in the trailer for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Zarine Khan proved waaaaay more tantalizing than Ready's actual heroine. Not surprising, given poor Asin was put in junior high outfits and Zarine got black leather jeans.

Basially, my expectations of Ready, as well as both its offenses and payoffs once the film began, were far less complex or significant than those in other recent finger-quote "comedies" like Housefull and Tees Maar Khan, and I'm just not excited enough by it in any direction to bother writing very much more.

And now for a bit of housekeeping. Back in May, I was also profiled in the most recent edition of the Polish blog MasalaWBigosie's Blogue. Thanks Louella! Most of the rest of June will be devoted to Kapoor Khazana, organized by Totally Filmi with posts collected here. And at the end of the month, I head to Toronto for the IIFAs and to meet up with lots of other blog and twitter friends from around the world! Of all the goings-on I've heard about so far, I am most delighted about the exhibit Bollywood Cinema Showcards at the Royal Ontario Museum (where I used to work in the Egyptology collections) and the opportunity to squeeeee at Dharmendra in person. Cover your ears!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Hum Dono


There are several interesting aspects of Nav Ketan Films' Hum Dono (recently colorized; I saw the original black and white), and if you can get past Dev Anand's secondary of two roles as Chortling English Accent Twit, you might really enjoy them. Me, I got distracted. Dev is not among my favorite actors anyway (though I have only seen Jewel Thief and Guide), and the things I normally find irritating about him— his ubiquitous and out-of-place pompadour, jaunty body movements that border on swagger, smug facial expressions, and slowed-down, growling delivery—were ratcheted up in his performance of Major Verma.

Verma chomps a cigar, strokes his mustache, rambles on and on about personal details in odd ways, and tries very hard to sound old-school English. "Oh dash it!" he grumbles, lacking only a "Jolly good show!" from the Pip Pip and All That! Mining English Vocabulary Stereotypes for Comedy Gold handbook. It's entirely possible that this character is a bit of a parody of 1950s war films or other contemporary portrayals of colonial authority figures (and Indians who tried to be like them, a sort of updated Massey Sahib); lacking those references, though, I just wanted to poke my eyes out with a fork. (Hear a bit of Major Verma at about 3:15 here.) By contrast, though, Dev's principal character, Major Anand, who is the real focus of the story, is much more sympathetic...and normal, even.


I was also not enamored of any of the female characters. This being a story set in wartime, you can bet your khaki there are mothers to deal with. They are as desperate and crazy as their daughters-in-law are depressed.

Leela Chitnis as Anand's mother, already in full-on crazy mode just one day after he left to join the army.
In the younger generation, we have Sadhana as Anand's fiancee Mita and Nanda as Verma's wife Ruma. They look pretty, but they mostly mope around confused and wide-eyed at the pain around them.

I don't know why, but I think Nanda looks so much better here than she does in the western/modern clothes and hair we see her in in Jab Jab Phool Khile.
Ruma has all the personality of a wet mop, as the Bollywhat discussion of this film says, and Mita only occasionally shows more oomph or agency. I did really like an exchange between her and Anand when he has just come back from the war but is behaving mysteriously. "I waited for you the entire year but not as much as I waited for you last night. I know you are tired and worried, but this silence is not the solution," she says, not quite pleading but quietly emotional, as he worries his forehead and sinks into a bed. She eventually softens and takes pity on him as a song from earlier in the film replays: "if you hide from me, then whom will you tell?" Unfortunately for her, he is hiding something very important and she is absolutely right to have a funny feeling about his absences and strange behavior. The movie didn't seem to address Mita's (or Ruma's) legitimate sadness and anger in its resolution.

Overdone Dev and watery women aside, Hum Dono has some real loveliness. With Vijay Anand involved*, you can count on pretty visuals with rich content in both images and ideas. I particularly liked the use of reflections in water.

Sometimes the person gazing at the water sees what he wants to see and at others what is really there; to me this was a nuanced way of demonstrating that you get out of life what you put into it, a lesson that both Verma and Anand learn the hard way over the course of the film. Reflections also play up the lookalike plot device, which I think is used fairly subtly to discuss choices, priorities, and principles rather than as a more blatant "the good and evil faces of the same person" setup.

Stating your needs is important, but it's even better to think ahead and consider the other people in your life as you make decisions (and to me it seemed that the major characters had clear and particular choices, even while there is also talk about fate and responsibilities). As a panicking Anand realizes he's made a big mistake, someone sternly chastises him: "You should have thought of that earlier." And it's true, he should have. Anand is neither a sheep nor an idiot, but he also goes with his gut, which, in the crucial instance upon which the second half of the film hinges, is loving but unwise.

In a sleep-deprived hallucination, the lookalikes debate how to deal with the mess they've gotten themselves into.

This reminded me so much of Dev's conversation with himself in Guide!
To my surprise, society's perception of their respective partners' purity was included. At first I was a little put off, thinking "Good lord, how'd we get to that?" (because of course nothing untoward had happened in either couple), but then I realized that way to highlight the effect of the men's plans, as are Ruma's physical health and Mita's domestic worries. Just like the water in the title sequence, ripples have fanned out from one small drop on the surface, and what people think they see is not always accurate.

There are many well-done small moments too. Look at this training montage. Anand enters the army a little lost and probably wistful for home, having signed himself up in a rash attempt to become enough of a breadwinner to ensure Mita's father's approval.

With more experience (and perhaps a promotion, judging by his new hat?), he's happy, but as time passes and the reality of war sets in, the smile has faded.

Even the light on a worried mother's face from her diya is beautiful, so simple yet so evocative of what this character craves.

Additionally, Jaidev Verma's songs are lovely to listen to and to watch,

Abhi Na Jao Chhod Kar Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahin
though the phrase stuck in my head after the film was the tune from Anand's musical lighter that occurs throughout, a concise badge of the reliability and constancy of Anand and Mita's love.

I can't decide if Hum Dono just doesn't work for me or if I'm really missing something important in it (like dialogues that just aren't magical in English). As always, a Vijay Anand film makes me want to see and think about more Vijay Anand films, and a Dev Anand film makes me wish he would perform like an actor rather than a star. If anyone has recommendations of films in which Dev gets over himself and really becomes the character the film needs, I would love to try them out.

And for fun, here are two things that made me giggle. As stated earlier, I am easily irritated by Dev's very artificial yet often completely inappropriate hairstyle (why not spend all that hairspray on something suited to the film you're actually in?), so when Ruma smooths it down while wondering why it looks the way it does, I shouted "You tell 'im!" to the screen.

And not only is there knitting, the second male lead joins in!
For more filmi knitting, be sure to look at Totally Filmi's tumblr of Rishi's sweaters.

* I've been told he is the actual director of this film, even though it is credited to a Nav Ketan associate named Amarjeet.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

the Kapoor family tree

For all your Kapoor Khazana reference needs (and beyond), here is a Kapoor family tree. This image is courtesy of Madhu Jain's book The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema (Penguin Books India, 2005). Click the picture to enlarge to legible size.

The dates and underlining are my own. My notations indicate who is of what generation: double underlines are for Prithviraj's children; single underlines are for their children; dashed lines for their children; etc.

If you'd rather read, the family tree goes like this, color-coded by major branch and with the names you probably recognize in bold:
  • first and second generations: Prithviraj Kapoor (born 1906) is the father of Raj (Ranbir Raj, born 1924), Shammi (Shamsher Raj, 1931), and Shashi (Balbir Raj, 1938). Prithviraj and his wife Ramsarni (Rama) also had a daughter, Urmi (between Shammi and Shashi), and two children who died, Ravinder and Devinder.
  • Raj's wife Krishna Malhotra is from a film industry family too. Her brothers Rajendra Nath and Prem Nath are actors; Prem Nath married actress Bina Rai. Krishna's sister Uma married actor Prem Chopra.
  • Raj's children with Krishna are Randhir ("Daboo," 1947; married Babita, who is a cousin of Sadhana), Ritu, Rishi ("Chintu," 1952; married Neetu Singh), Rima, and Rajiv ("Chimpu," 1962).
  • Raj's grandchildren are the most famous members of the fourth generation so far. They include Randhir and Babita's daughters Karisma ("Lolo," 1974) and Kareena ("Bebo," 1980) and Rishi and Neetu's son Ranbir (1982). Nikhil (son of Ritu) married Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Badhuri's daughter Shweta.
  • Shammi married actress Gita Bali (maternal aunt of Yogeeta Bali, who was briefly married to Kishore Kumar before divorcing him to marry Mithun Chakraborty*). They had two children, Aditya and Kanchan (married to Ketan Desai, director of Toofan and son of director Manmohan Desai). Gita died quite young and Shammi is now married to Neela Devi. Memsaab has met Shammi and Neela and says they are delightful.
  • Shashi married English actress Jennifer Kendal, sister of the more widely-known actress Felicity Kendal. Jennifer and Felicity spent many years in India as part of Shakespeareana, the traveling theater company led by their parents, Geoffrey and Laura Kendal. Jennifer, Felicity, and Shashi all acted in Shakespeareana at various times; this era of their lives is described in Felicity's fabulous autobiography White Cargo and loosely fictionalized in the Merchant-Ivory film Shakespeare-Wallah, in which they (and the senior Kendals) all appear. Shashi and Jennifer's children are Kunal (married to Ramesh Sippy's daughter Sheena); Karan, whom you may have seen in 80s Bombay Dyeing advertisements; and Sanjana (once married to director/actor Aditya Bhattacharya, who is the son of filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya and writer Rinki Bhattacharya, the daughter of Bimal Roy), known in her own right for running Prithvi Theater, an amazing multi-generation labor of love for the stage built by Prithviraj, Shashi, Jennifer, and herself. All of Shashi's children acted in his films when they were young and also appeared as unsuccessful leads as adults.
So there you have it. Kapoors, Bachchans, Desais, and Sippys, just to name a few. To my knowledge, Shekhar Kapur, Kunal Kapoor of Rang de Basanti, and Pankaj and Shahid Kapoor are not related to this Kapoor family. Can anyone confirm? There is currently some debate in the comments about whether Anil Kapoor is or is not related with various sources being cited.

Update to post (June 3, 2011): Here is another version of the Kapoor family tree from an old Filmfare, centered around Raj. I have used it to flesh out my list above just to keep all the information in one place! Thanks to reader Asli for the scan!


* I don't know about you, but this is where my brain gave out. Raj Kapoor is related to Mithun Chakraborty! Talk about masala!