Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend has a word with Rita from Jab Jab Phool Khile

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the real Sassy Gay Friend on the Second City Network!)

Meet Rita from 1965's golden jubilee* blockbuster Jab Jab Phool Khile.
She is about to run off with a man who shares none of her values and with whom she has neither mutual culture nor life experiences in common. However, he looks like Shashi Kapoor, which must be admitted as a mitigating and/or complicating factor.
This fate could have been avoided if she'd had a Sassy Gay Friend.

Bombay Central Station. Rita is wearing a red evening gown and diamonds and running wildly down the platform towards a train bound for Kashmir. Her face is a wreck from crying. Sassy Gay Friend, sitting on a bench and hiding behind a Life Magazine, hears her cries and looks up.

RITA (looking frantic) 
Raaaaaajaaaaaaa! Raaaaaajaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! 

SASSY GAY FRIEND
Puts sunglasses on top of head, springs up off the bench, and strides deliberately towards Rita with his hand extended in "Stop! In the Name of Love!" gesture.
What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

RITA (sniffling and wiping her eyes with a hanky)
Raja left me at my dad's party! 

SGF (aghast)
He what? Oh no he didn't!

RITA
He did! He was singing so beautifully about being a stranger—although also an Indian...you know, sometimes I just don't understand him at all....

SGF (interrupting)
Oh honey, nobody does. 

RITA
The next thing I know, he up and vanished!

SGF 
God, what, was he raised in a barn? 

RITA
I think it was a houseboat. 

SGF (rolling his eyes)
Whatever. So you're chasing after him? 

RITA
Yes, I love...

SGF
You love him? This is Raja we're talking about. From Kashmir. Kashmir.

RITA (wistful)
It's so pretty there.

SGF
Honey, their most famous export is goats.

RITA
But he's...

SGF 
The love of your life? 

RITA (confused)
I...

SGF (getting worked up)
I mean seriously, Ri-ri, he can't dance, he can't read, he can't even dress himself. What do you honestly think you're going to do with a boy like that?

RITA (calming down)
He is a little difficult to introduce to my friends...

SGF
Exactly. And he's so judgmental. Like it's your fault that women are going to university and jet planes fill the skies.


RITA (giggles)
And he's a disaster on the city streets. He can't even bear to see a woman who isn't me, so he's always averting his gaze and bumping into people.

SGF
You can't take him anywhere, can you?


Pauses and raises one eyebrow at Rita and leans in, as if to hear a secret.
But spill it, girlfriend. You totally let him cuddle your lambs, didn't you?

RITA (blushing)
Welllll, he doesn't hate everything about modern values.

Feigns shock, swats at Rita's arm.
I KNEW IT! You big slut! GOOD FOR YOU! I don't blame you one little bit. He's so innocent I could just eat him right up.

Taking Rita's tiara and putting it on his own head.
Well, you're better off without him. Nobody pulls that hypocritical "seedha-saadha Hindustani ladka who still likes to spy on you dancing in your nightgown" shit on my watch. Girl, let's get out of here. 

They link arms and march triumphantly onto the bustling city streets.
Oh and PS, this is the best your hair has ever looked! You have got to tell me what hairspray you use. Anything that can hold up to Bombay heat and humidity and a dramatic run through the train station and a hefty dose of emotional atyachar  is more precious than the mai tais we're about to drown in.

Cut to a tiki bar, where Rita and Sassy Gay Friend clink glasses topped with pineapple wedges and paper umbrellas as the colored lights glint off their diamonds.
SGF (smiling, head cocked to one side)
She really is a stupid bitch.

* 50 weeks. People went to the cinemas to see this for FIFTY WEEKS. The mind, it boggles.

Monday, April 23, 2012

oh, to have your DVD and watch it, too: Hera Pheri (1976)

Hera Pheri is another of those films that I want to keep in a perpetual state of just having begun, so that I am aware of how amazing it is yet still have more pure joy to experience. It is such a good movie in such a Beth-friendly/-appropriate way that I cannot believe I have not already seen it; simultaneously, it is such a good movie that I wish it were still out there waiting to be seen for the first time. A million kisses to Ness for finally giving me the nudge I needed to procure this top-shelf masala fun. 

In the name of full disclosure
"Full exposure?"
it should be stated that most of my favorite things about this film are related to Vinod Khanna. First, he is  screen-meltingly hot.
even with masala pink blood dripping out of his mouth
even with a dead rooster on his fridge
The above scene opens the film, with Vinod (as Ajay) drunk, angry, and somehow swaggering even slumped in a chair. But even better, as Ness said to me while discussing the film, is that his character seems like an actual nice guy. A devotee of Hanuman, he prays more than he drinks. He's so bashful around women that when he saves Sulakshana Pandit (Asha) from goondas who have torn her shirt, he can't even look at her until she manages to cover up the two visible inches of her bra strap, and only after bundling her off safely in a taxi does realizes he didn't even ask her name. He doesn't have any family to speak of and has bonded intensely with Amitabh Bachchan (Vijay). Awwww.

Despite my ongoing and attentive research (twenty-five films!), I haven't quite decided what I think Vinod Khanna's greatest strengths as an actor are, other than wearing the sh*t out of bellbottoms, but the particular masala mix in Hera Pheri is perfect for him. It's got the badassery and emotional drama of Parvarish but a lot more comedy, at which he is very adept. Some of it is physical comedy, like a throw-away moment of Vinod and Amitabh sneaking in an exaggeratedly unsneaky manner into a villain lair or the excellent disguise-laden antics of "Darbar Mein Uperwale Ke," and there are some great nonverbals and facial expressions too. 

I also think he and Amitabh make a really strong pair generally (Parvarish, Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Khoon Pasina) and they are beautifully, evenly matched in this, first as allies, then as foes once SIKRITS ARE REVEALED. Look how Ajay reacts when it comes to light that Vijay has a mother he never told him about. 
What a mix of anger and disappointment. And look how Vijay responds when Ajay refuses to join him in his revenge against his father's killer! He stumbles drunkenly through a street with posters for Dost and Dushmun (see it in "Barson Purana"). 
GET IT? IT IS SO IRONIC! IT IS SO POIGNANT!
Amitabh too is in his element in a truly impressive way here as well. Everything he does here is an element of why he's the star that he is. I don't really know what to say other than that. Both of these fellas seem to love to perform, you know? Whatever the script calls for, they are doing AND HOW, but not in a hammy or overselling-it sort of way.

I wish I could say that the film inspired such range in the female leads, Saira Banu and Sulakshana Pandit. Sulakshana, as Ajay's love interest Asha, is particularly useless in that "she's there simply to give the hero something to be heroic about" type of way that I hate. Saira's character, Kiran (Vijay's love interest), actually figures into the plot as a protagonist of sorts, but somehow I found the impression I formed of her character based on her action-taking much dampened by her schmoopifying* over Vijay. It is certainly possible to have strong, proactive, participatory female leads who are also romantic (OHAI PARVARISH), but somehow that wasn't the effect here. Maybe 70s masala isn't Saira Banu's forte, or maybe creating awesome women isn't the strength, or possibly even an interest, of the writers. Vijay Kaul has the story and screenplay credit, and I have no strong opinion on how women are treated in the two of his films I've seen (Yaarana and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar).

And everything else is either solid or freaking fantastic. Dekho!

Disguises!
Clothes!
A henchman named Tiger with a bizarre fake eye, whom Vinod fells instantly while wearing peach plaid bellbottoms.
Mac Mohan spying!
We should start a "Mac Mohan photobomb" meme.
My favorite staircase!
If you know where this is, pleeeease tell me!
My favorite domestic living room/entryway!
My new favorite casino! Look at the light-up bar and those groovy pendant lamps! Look at the sign over the door that says "BAR" under some shirtless dude's legs! Look at all the circular pictures among the gilded plaster froofroo! Look at the playing card motifs!
Is this, in fact, a Shiva-themed villain lair**? WOW!
If it is, that is incredibly symbolic for what's going on in this scene. GENIUS!

PLEASE, Prakash Mehra sir, may I have some more?

* Term inspired by Brown Girl Daily.

** Art history lesson courtesy of Samrat

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sassy Gay Friend takes on Yash Raj Films (with apologies to Second City)

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see the real Sassy Gay Friend on the Second City Network! My favorite episode is Ophelia.)

Meet Chandni from Yash Chopra's Chandni.
She is about to marry one or the other of two completely unsuitable men who seem old enough to be her father.
This fate could have been avoided if she'd had a Sassy Gay Friend.
Get your own at the Sassy Gay Friend Meme Generator!

CHANDNI (looking wistfully out the window of a train rushing towards Bombay) 
Sigh.

SASSY GAY FRIEND (POSSIBLY ABHISHEK AS HIS ALTER EGO IN DOSTANA)
Prances down the aisle of the moving train wearing a conductor's cap
and punctuating his statements with his hole punch
What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

CHANDNI
Rohit...Rohit broke up with me! He says he hates me! So I'm running away from my memories to the big city.

SGF (skeptically)
Rohit? Rohit. You're leaving your life behind...for Rohit.

CHANDNI
I...

SGF (interrupting)
The man who introduced himself by grabbing your wrist and not letting go even when you squirmed.

CHANDNI
Well, he...

SGF (interrupting again)
The man who thinks it's charming to wallpaper his room with your photos.

CHANDNI
But that's...

SGF (having none of it)
The man whose family thinks you're scum and implies you're a common whore.

CHANDNI
But he's not....

SGF (smirking)
The man who can't even step out of a helicopter without ending up paralyzed?

CHANDNI (giggling)
That's true.

SGF (getting worked up)
I mean seriously, Chands, he spends how much on a helicopter—and rose petals? Without even asking if you're allergic, I might add—and he doesn't even practice his dismount?

CHANDNI (blushing)
Actually, his mounting isn't so good either. 

SGF
Feigns shock, swats at Chandni's arm
You big slut! GOOD FOR YOU! I knew that trip to Switzerland was just a pretext! What a Matterhorndog. Well, you're better off without him. Nobody pulls that "I'm too noble to tie you to my life of suffering" shit on my watch.

Flops down on the seat next to Chandni.
Scoot over, slut. Look, I brought the new Filmfare

Nestles against Chandni's shoulder
and flips though magazine pages
Sweet Fearless Nadia, what did Priyanka do to her face this time?

Flash forward four months to Chandni's wedding to Lalit, an attractive but sad older man who dresses in suits and runs his own successful business. SGF bursts into the room resplendent in nearly-bridal red finery, complete with nose ring, elbowing the groom's mother out of the way and knocking over the pandit.

SGF
Chands! I thought we went over this. What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing?

CHANDNI (looking surprised)
But I thought you said....

SGF (angry)
No, Chandni. You're not listening. 

To audience
Sigh. Women.

To Chandni
Sweetie, listen, I know he's a dreamboat and never physically harms you but it's appropriate that the man runs a travel agency because he's packing a lot of baggage, amirite? You do not want to marry someone who's in love with someone else, even if she's dead. Hell, especially if she's dead. Ghosts never have bad  hair days or stay in bed eating bonbons watching Ekta Kapoor shows.

To audience, pulling Chandni's pallu over his own head 
Ugh! And don't get me started on his mommy issues.

CHANDNI (still surprised)
But he's nice to me. He gave me a job. 

SGF (angry)
So we marry him? Marry him? What is this, Bimal Roy?

CHANDNI
But Rohit rejected me!

SGF (rolls eyes)
So what? God, be single for a nanosecond. 

CHANDNI (looking confusedly at Lalit)
He is a little mopey....

SGF
Damn right he is. Come on, Madhuri, aaja nachle your ass outta here. 

They rise and skip out of the room
I tell you what. We'll go home, put on your favorite chiffon saris, sing a sad song in the rain, and then eat a mountain of jalebis. Before you know it, you'll meet somebody new who doesn't set off your daddy issues.

Cut to a mountainside, where Chandni and Sassy Gay Friend do a complicated side-by-side dance routine

SGF (smiling, head cocked to one side)
She really is a stupid bitch.



Sunday, April 08, 2012

Paapi

In a masala-appropriate coincidence, Temple and I both recently selected vintage movies simply because of a hat that appeared in the film. (Hers is Yari Dushmani.) You can understand why I had to have this DVD as soon as I pulled it out of the bin at Planet M.

Fortunately, the hat was not a lie. Paapi is fantastic. Within seconds of the production banner, we have a lechy, shirtless Kamal Kapoor; an innocent, shirtless Heena Kausar; hot pink walls; a fake passport; a gold medallion; a fedora; Iftekhar as a police officer/father figure to a family of orphans; a motorcycle; and a stolen medal. If that isn't enough, someone looks out his window to see a party full of out-of-their-senses white folks dancing so suggestively that he is stirred into a murderous, rapey rage in the middle of the night/thunderstorm/a qawwali-like song led by Manmohan Krishna belting lyrics like "Clouds of sin are thundering and it is raining sin!" as the music intertwines with the firangis' hi-fi, someone almost gets burned alive in a haystack, someone else falls into a puddle and drowns, and then the sky turns red and the title drips across the screen like blood or tears.

That's all in the first eight minutes. Excuse me while I pause to catch my breath.

Basically, this film is 1970s masala magic of the highest order* and I am so happy the hat led me to it. The long-lost siblings are so beautifully emotional about each other before their reunion. One of them is even a sister, and as an adult (Zeenat Aman) she is not a prostitute or a long-suffering all-but-servant but a sought-after criminal with thieving, dancing, and allying skills. There are layers of villains (including the voice, but not the body, of Amrish Puri), relevant comic side plots, people who might not be dead after all, groovy clothes and furniture, a full-on role for Padma Khanna, tons of character actors and supporting players, and questions about the redemptive power of love and whether any of us has the right to judge another's wrongdoings. It has a few unfortunate detours about women—like Sanjeev Kumar being thrilled to find out that Zeenat has remained pure while hanging out with the criminal gang, never mind that she has pointed a gun at him and has been robbing people—but they're brief and seem to have little impact on the characters or their actions.

As I was writing this post, I began to feel bad that I didn't have more to say about Paapi. But then I realized that being called top-notch 70s masala is no small thing. In fact, it's one of the most important and heart-felt compliments I could ever give a film. So makers of Paapi, be proud!

The songs by Bappi Lahiri are fantastic. My favorite is "Pyaar Hai Gunah," a nightclub number that introduces Padma Khanna. Watch it here courtesy of Papy Potage!
She is fabulous in this film and for once is given a lot to work with. It's the best role I've seen for her after Chunaoti, and in this one she is friends and allies with the heroine rather than a snarling competitor. She even talks sense into the heroine at her darkest moment, empathizing over a life that seems to have been lived for nothing and providing a very pragmatic and noble, if filmi, light at the end of a philosophical tunnel.

Lots of good disguises and shenanigans. For example, if you have seen Kahaani, you will know exactly what is happening here.
 Zeenat slips someone a mickey.
Disguises for the head bad guy on the left and Padma on the right.

The acting is mostly right on pitch. Zeenat overdoes it a bit when her character learns the news about her long-lost brother, but on the other hand you could print these pictures in manuals of masala acting under REALIZATION!!! and OHNOES!!!
Ditto for some of the gestures. On the left, she extends her hands to her brother before clutching them at her heart as she realizes she can never meet him; on the right she extends her hands to the proper authorities, ready to accept punishment for her life of crime.
Parallels: we can haz them!
The dialogues are in for textbook masala-ness too.
Zeenat's necklace has a key role.
Iftekhar is concerned.

Danny Denzongpa has a small but juicy role as a be-fro'ed villain in a cowboy belt and cradling a cat.

The director/writer, O. P. Ralhan, also appears as a photographer who keeps crossing paths with Sunil Dutt's investigation. His studio includes framed posters of puppies.

Zeenat drives like a maniac.

Prem Chorpa is gross (in a pleasing way).

Nadira shows up!
Don't let the rickrack fool you into thinking she's a girl scout.
I wish I knew what hotel this is; it appears to have a great view of Marine Drive.

It may also be the location of my favorite staircase. The characters talk about going to Hotel Volga, but I don't know if that's the location's actual name.
Love the view from inside the staircase on the bottom right!
More amazing interiors. All of these are the villain HQ except the bottom right, which if memory serves is Iftekhar's living room. Please note the top left image, which shows the lair furniture made of statues of naked women bending over to support table tops. SO CLASSY. See them in "Shamma Jale" here.

Of course there are great clothes. I am especially fond of the men's shirts, but the ladies get some fun nighttime and performance wear. And Reena Roy's heart-bordered sari is a level of hilarious-yet-adorable that I've never before sampled.

So: watch Paapi. The hat will never lead you astray.

* Its only 1970s flaw:  somehow not managing to include any of the Kapoor family.