Tuesday, August 07, 2012

When Mini-Reviews Attack! Day 5: Caravan

Unlike Filmi Geek, who said she thought she maybe shouldn't like this film as much as she does, I grumbled throughout it and worried that my criticisms will sound unfounded. The songs are uniformly fantastic—there's the rightfully mega-famous "Piya Tu," of course, but many more, including the work of Sanjana and person-I-would-love-to-be-for-a-day Aruna Irani—but I am of the mind that songs alone do not a fillum make, nor should they be expected to (hence DVD song compilations, now that we have the technology to easily isolate, combine, and distribute clips from films). Most of Caravan feels like a generally pleasant film about nothing, √† la Seinfeld, when it isn't being cruel to all its major female characters. This anti-woman vibe that runs throughout and pops up at some odd places seems all the more egregious because of the film's otherwise entertaining and occasionally insightful froth.

Asha Parekh's character is treated like garbage by everyone except for a father figure who is killed for his concern and, eventually, of course, the moronic and utterly useless hero (Jeetendra) who is too caught up in his own delusions of grandeur to notice that the woman right in front of him is classy and clever. Aruna Irani, whom I am always thrilled to see in an actual role, is equally delusional, then smothered with a coating of rage and violence that is probably supposed to be read as "feisty" but I think is more accurately labeled "insane"—and because she expresses desire and flaunts sexuality, she takes a bullet for the hero and the woman he loves. As soon as she picked up a gun, I thought "She's a goner," even as I was a strange sort of impressed that a woman was actually going to do something in a typical rambling finale brawl. Helen is duped and physically harmed by the man she loves; even comic player Manorama is beaten by her husband over a trivial matter (Madan Puri, who is the otherwise very decent and reasonable leader of the gypsy musical troupe).

However, this being prime vintage masala, there are a handful of things I liked quite a bit, in addition to the overall candyfloss gloss. Most noably:
1) I agree with Filmi Geek that there is something a little "Jab Jab Phool Khile lite" about this story. It is no small thing for me to be invoking JJPK as a compliment, and Caravan just goes to show that it's possible to make a romance between an uneducated man (who in this case does not even have the sort of insight into human nature and his own limitations that JJPK's hero does) and a more sophisticated, learned woman without it being completely objectionable. I still don't love the way Caravan ends and I don't see anything love-worthy about Jeetendra's character, but it doesn't enrage me, either.
2) "Dayia Re Main" is hilarious. I like it even more than "Piya Tu." Both Asha and Jeetendra work their comic chops really well; the costuming is a hoot; the choreography is exuberant and creative.
That hat and Jeetendra's moves at around 0:20 are seriously funny.
Watch Jeetendra flap around uselessly as he tries to egg Asha on to perform an actual song, then keep an eye on her face as she swings over the crowd. For the first time in the film, Asha tastes freedom. It's such a perfect metaphor, this moment of soaring, of delighted solitude, that still dangles her by a chain over shark-infested waters. Brilliant!

I'm tempted to put Caravan on the "watch again later when I've had more sleep" pile. The evidence within the text suggests it has a lot more going on than some of its surface style and elements suggest. Whether I'd have any respect for what I find if I dig is less clear.


4 comments:

carla (filmigeek) said...

I think I would truly go mad if I tried to reconcile all the movies I like in spite of their misogynistic threads with movies that I hate because of their misogynistic threads.

All I can do is throw myself on the mercy of my readers (if I am lucky enough to have any) and invoke a convenient adaptation of Emerson's line: Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

I suppose that a lot has to do with one's state of mind when watching a movie for the first time - Beth, you and I have discussed how that random factor can really change one's experience of a movie. I will never know why *Caravan* just clicked with me, the first time I saw it, and gave me enough grins to brush aside the aspects that in all fairness did make me shudder.

I can say that I haven't rewatched it recently, and I haven't pulled it out to show to friends, so perhaps despite my great enjoyment of it the first time through, there is a part of my brain warning me away from examining it too closely.

carla (Filmi Geek)
http://filmigeek.net

Beth said...

Carla - OH ABSOLUTELY. I am sure there are plenty of films more vile and horrific about women than this that I watch with little public complaint. Like you said, this film caught me in a certain mood or headspace, and voilà, I am mad at it. In fact, I went to your review specifically for a reality check, and when I saw that you had had problems with the women stuff too, I felt a little relieved knowing that I wasn't the only one who thought she saw them. Knows she saw them, really.

I'm kind of tempted to FF through the songs when I watch this again some day just to see what removing their amazingness does to the overall tone of the film.

memsaab said...

My feeling about Caravan, which I think I've seen 3-4 times now, is that it's fairly dull. There's not much of a story, it seems mostly a vehicle for songs and while they ARE lovely songs, I can watch them on YouTube and skip over the meh. I don't think it's the misogynism for me either...I'm sort of used to it and it's not as bad as some and better in some respects than others. It's just kind of boring.

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