Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ek Hasina Do Diwane

It's a weird sensation to realize that Om Prakash makes more sense than anyone else in a film. It's also a weird sensation to realize that you're watching something very close to Abhinetri, which, in my opinion, is not a movie that needed to be re-imagined, certainly not just a few years later.

Thankfully this one stars Jeetendra instead of Shashi as Amar, its insufferable hero, a hypocritical holier-than-thou cultural-purity mama's boy. Amar tries to help his friend Prakash (Vinod Khanna) woo  Neeta (Babita), the very modern, educated, and half-English young woman playing opposite him in the Ramlila. Perhaps because she knows how to read 70s film costumes,
Neeta realizes Prakash is a bad seed and promptly falls for Amar, nicely demonstrated by her dramatics-inspired hallucination. 

This, by the way, is pretty much how Amar sees himself.
Despite the objections of her father, the Major (Om Prakash) and the attempted interference of Prakash, Neeta and Amar get married. It's all cute for a song or two, but Neeta is appalled by the locals in Amar's hometown and Amar cannot handle Neeta and her friends wanting to go to nightclubs and dance and have parties—not even the children of France, England, and America behave so indecently, he cries! 

He eventually smacks her across the face at her own birthday party, and she actually walks out on him, returning to her parents' house. When he chases after her there, the Major gives him an earful: "You slapped her in public and now you want to apologize in private? You preached your culture and civility. Is this your culture where women are treated as animals and thrashed?" "I don't want to discuss the reasons for bringing matters to this state," Amar replies. Yeah, I bet you don't, you ass. "It's a life and death partnership," he says, defending his right to claim his wife. The Major counters "So you're arranging for her death? She doesn't want to live with a mannerless, uncultured man like you!" When Amar makes a break for the stairs to her bedroom, Neeta appears on the landing and says "First I misunderstood [you]. But now I know the truth. You slapped my heart, not my face." [transcribed from subtitles] The Major visits his lawyer to help arrange their divorce.

"Could it be?" you ask. A patriarch defending his daughter against her conservative husband even to the point of actual divorce? Well it would have been, except then Nirupa Roy as Amar's mother shows up. 
I put this on twitter and asked "Most unnecessary filmi dialogue of all time?" "Yes," said all of twitter.
As in Abhinetri, the husband asks the wife he's driven away to move in with him so his mother thinks all is well when she come to visit; in this story, the signed divorce papers serve as bait to lure Neeta into a fifteen-day stint at Amar's house pretending everything is hunky dory. The movie more or less supports Neeta until the very end, but of course the influence of Nirupa cannot be withstood, and by the end of the film Neeta is falling at Amar's feet at a train station (hello, shades of Jab Jab Phool Khile). 

What makes Ek Hasina Do Diwane (and what an irrelevant title that is, by the way) interesting is that in addition to its almost clinical treatment of the situation, neither praising Amar or smacking down Neeta, Maa supports the strength of women in her own particular ways. Without giving away the details, I'll say that Maa participates in traditions that put a lot of resources and power into Neeta's hands, and she also makes it clear that she thinks her son is an idiot who needs all the guidance from Neeta that he can get. Here she is offering advice on men in general.
She also tells her son that she has spoiled him but she won't let him treat his wife badly. It's not clear to me whether Maa knows all that Amar has done, not just the physical violence but also his  condescending and aggressively divisive and arrogant attitudes, though somehow I sense that she's figured it out. Amar's Maa is a more involved mother in Neeta's life than her own mother (who is said to be English, though I cannot tell if the actress is). Other than trying to calm down the Major when he's threatening Amar with a gun, Neeta's mom doesn't do very much. Amar's Maa really does provide her with some useful tools for her adult married life, and not of the "just submit and it'll all be fine" variety, either.

Maa also has a big effect on the Major, who sees in her his beloved but deceased sister, so much that he starts crying the first time he meets her. I didn't catch whether the Major flat out tells Neeta that she should stay with any family that Maa has any involvement in, and I think the film implies that Neeta's change of heart towards Amar is of her own volition in reaction to the picture of adult relationships that Maa paints.

I, of course, think the Major's initial reaction to the Neeta-Amar pairing is correct, that they are just too different for this relationship to be sustained without a huge amount of work—and let's be honest, it's Neeta who will do all the changing, perhaps because she's the woman, perhaps because she's less traditional, or maybe just because her husband is too childish to do the work required for significant alteration or compromise.

The highlight of the film, especially if you've already seen Abhinetri (or Jab Jab Phool Khile, for that matter), is a an angry but very fab dance by Amar, who flies into a rage after his friends tease him at a nightclub about singing hymns instead of dancing to the groovy tunes. It's a very modern dance of a very deeply held conservativism. I don't know what Amar thinks he's proving, but I do know that watching Jeetendra do these moves, among backup dancers in these clothes, in this superb nightclub set, is a joy. He twists, shimmies, and flings his partner over his head.
My DVD does not have subtitles on the songs, so I don't know what he's singing. I almost hope it's a condemnation of their decadent western ways because the hypocrisy (or "juxtaposition," if I'm being nice, which I am not inclined to be since it's Amar we're discussing) of those words set to this music and dance would be astounding. A comment on the late, great Briyanshu blog notes that "Vinod Khanna lighting his cigarette was looking at him as if saying 'You are a disgrace to all men!'" which cracks me up, because Prakash has very little affection for his friend at this point and mostly wants to get him out of the picture so he can have Neeta for himself. 

So in the end, what is the movie's overall statement about traditionalism, religion, commitment, and mistakes? I really don't know. I have to wonder if the screenwriters wanted to make a bolder version of Abhinetri but chickened out under pressure to be acceptable to audiences? Is it a critique of men like Amar (at least movie versions of them) with a resignation to the reality of their continued power? Amar gets what he wants, but he isn't praised. And who actually has the power, the influence, in this story, anyway? It really doesn't seem to be any of the individual characters; Maa is persuasive, but perhaps as much by example as by what she actually says in words. She doesn't argue any points that are overtly in line with her son's more bluntly stated and not at all backed-up-by-behavior morals. For example, he yadda-yaddas on about religion but Maa and Neeta are the people we see praying and singing hymns, not Amar. The institution of marriage seems to have as much sway as any of the people, almost as an invisible force that no one directly espouses very often but the young couple is wrangled towards it all the same, regardless of their differences and, in Amar's case, cruel behavior. Or maybe this is an attempt—and a successful one, I think—to create a more complex version of a movie maa? What a noble experiment that could be.

The final result of Ek Hasina Do Diwane is the same as countless other films, but the path to it is quite different. Watch it for the mostly modern father who accepts the mistake his daughter has made and loves and protects her anyway, for the mother who wants to bond with her daughter-in-law, and satisfaction of snarling at hypocritcial Amar. Oh, and for the sanctimonious twist. That is very special indeed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

remembering Yash Chopra

A week ago I was asked to write a piece on Yash Chopra for Rediff, and it has just been posted! The title is a little misleading; while I do think he made some gorgeous films, thinking through his career to write this piece made me realize just how brilliant he is at the dark sides of the human experience: despair, longing, isolation, fear.

I also realized that my problems with Yash Chopra films are almost always the stories, not what he does with them. That's why I so intensely dislike Silsila, for example; even though it's perfectly pretty to look, its basic premise repels me so much that I cannot get on board. And it's also one reason Darr impresses me: the story is disturbing but they way he pulled it together...amazing.

I have written up ten of Yash Chopra's films on this site. A few of these were written quite early in my Bolly watching and may not reflect how I would feel if I rewatched the films.
Dharmputra 1961
Waqt 1961
Deewaar 1975
Kabhi Kabhie 19796
Trishul 1978
Kaala Patthar 1979 (and episode of the Masala Zindabad podcast here)
Silsila 1981
Darr 1993
Dil To Pagal Hai 1997
Veer-Zaara 2004
I've also seen Faasle, but...meh, though obviously the concept of Farooq Shaikh and Deepti Naval in a Yash Chopra film is funny. And in case you missed it the first time, here is exactly what I, by way of Sassy Gay Friend, think of Chandni and Lamhe. Barf. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Devi

[Note: isn't that corporate logo in all the screen shots a drag? Do not buy the Reliance Home Video editions of Ray films.]


Oh how I love the ferocity of Devi, its strength within storytelling that is clear and calm. Even after making my way through roughly half of Satyajit Ray's filmography (as director), I'm still amazed by Devi. The critique of religion in Mahapurush, the political commentary in Hirak Rajar Deshe, the portrait of fading relevance in Jalsaghar—somehow none of these prepared me for the amount and deployment of skill in this film. 

The condemnation of religion and, I think, faith is perfectly clear, yet this seems a story that hates the sin but still loves the sinner, as it were.
I loved the symbolism of the structure of the idol from pooja that opens the film with deafening, almost disorienting noise, now bare, desolate, abandoned, no longer useful.
Extreme things happen but the people act, in their own ways, with reason and with great effort. When landlord Kalikinkar (Chhabi Biswas, whom I last saw in a similar role embodying sad, outdated values in Jalsaghar) has a dream that reveals his daughter-in-law Doyamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) to be an incarnation of the goddess Kali, his intention is to support and venerate this joyous miracle in the ways he knows how, carrying forward a lifetime of worship of Kali into an even more immediate scale. Doyamoyee, who is but seventeen years old (and Sharmila sixteen when this was filmed) and alone in her father-in-law's house while her husband is at university in Calcutta, is immediately overwhelmed by her new role and seems miserable in almost every frame of the film that follows, yet she cannot bear to take away whatever meaning this has for her father-in-law. 
The image below is her reaction to his revelation; she cannot face him, she cannot stand unsupported, and she scratches the wall in a gesture that reminds me of a needle skidding across a record, destroying the path it was supposed to be following as it goes, in addition to a desperate clawing to escape confinement. 

Her husband Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee) is so modern that he's more progressive than some current Indian film heroes I've met. It's not clear to me whether he's a flat-out atheist, but he certainly thinks his father's beliefs and actions are ridiculous and harmful. Yet he never forcibly removes Doyamoyee; he offers her escape, but when she expresses uncertainty about her situation [note from Editor Self: "situation" is an utterly insufficient word], he respects her opinion and assessment more than his own values and education—or at least enough to return with her back to his father's house. 

As many things as Umaprasad may accuse his father of, shouting at his father that he has turned his wife into a stone idol, Kalikinkar is not a villain. He is a human with deeply held beliefs that he thinks are blooming before his eyes.
I almost wonder if having the goddess in his family is a parallel to his land, riches, and two sons, the elder of whom, Taraprasad (Purnendu Mukherjee), does whatever Kalikinkar tells him, including falling at the feet of the newly-named goddess. This is a particular type of fulfillment of a spiritual life that mirrors his worldly success and reinforces his role of local authority and center of activity and attention. 
Worshippers en route to see the new goddess.
Kalikinkar is entirely sincere in his belief about Doyamoyee, but it cannot be denied that his mind was ripe ground, especially as his age distances him from modern ways and ideas and makes him increasingly dependent on Doyamoyee, who attends to him loyally in his life at home. It's as though he already saw her as a goddess because she treats him the way he thinks he ought to be treated, with compliance and quiet respect. 

Circling this overview back to Doyamoyee herself, she seems as modern as Charulata, if perhaps more fettered since she has a father-in-law to look after and a nephew to dote on (and has no need to steal flirty moments with Soumitra in his matinee idol mustache [and eyeliner?], since she's already married him and he's out of town). 
It's hard to say what Doyamoyee would have become had being the goddess not consumed her: Umaprasad teases her about having children, and she's clearly big-hearted, brimming over with affection for her nephew and the family bird (whom she turns to for closeness when the humans of the house either distance or prostrate themselves).

The poignancy of Devi comes, for me, from all the failure and deficit that slowly destroy the characters. For example, Umaprasad seems to have a top-quality education and modern life in the city, but all his forward-minded values cannot quite trump his love of the actual person of Doyamoyee, and I think the loss of her is what he grieves, what leads to this wild despair in the film's final scene. 
All his abilities to argue in class or on behalf of a friend who has himself in a sort of social-ethical pickle (wanting to marry a widow) are powerless on his own father and even his wife, who seems to want so badly to believe him, and in fact made it plain at the onset that she neither is nor wants to be a goddess, but cannot (will not?) abandon her own questions about what she is experiencing. For that reason alone, perhaps it is right to read Doyamoyee as a very modern woman, one who may not know her own mind at every moment of her extraordinary life but is trying to trust herself to figure it out. Most of the writing about Devi I have found mentions that Doyamoyee eventually snaps under the grief for a sick child she, as the goddess, is unable to save, but I am more than ready to believe that she has simply been worn out by trying to process her own daily life with the physical, emotional, and intellectual strains of people venerating her, arguing over her, shunning her, and relying on her. 

For his part, Kalikinkar's faith is great for him but destroys almost everyone else around him, as Umaprasad rightly accuses. Taraprasad turns to alcohol to blunt the pain of the indignity of toadying to his father; Taraprasad's wife Harasundari (Karuna Banerjee, aka Mom of Apu!) is angered by what she sees as silly fawning over Doyamoyee and disgusted by her husband's sucking up; his younger son is increasingly driven away ideologically; his pet Doyamoyee goes mad; and his young grandson's life is risked when the goddess instead of a doctor is sought for a cure. 

Of all the belief systems and attitudes towards faith and religion demonstrated by characters in this film, my own is closest to Umaprasad's, and I know that look on his face, that disbelief that people you love are acting in ways that seem to demonstrate willful ignoring of reason, in ways you cannot understand or respect. But like Umaprasad, I have tried to learn that the whole human package must come before any single aspect of the people themselves, no matter how grotesque and unwieldy that aspect has become. The critique of particular kinds of belief and of actions resulting from particular kinds of faith is very powerful, but for me the fundamental question of how to relate to people you disagree with or do not understand is likely going to be the feature of this film that will resonate most significantly over time.

Two more quick asides. First, if you'd asked me a few months ago if I thought frilly lace would be much improved by adding a sari on top of it, I would have said no, but I really, really love these Victorian Bengali rich lady sari and blouse combinations.
Second, Devi is mentioned in this Smithsonian Magazine article on films about faith

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Barnali

brain: What a line.
rest of self: Take me now, Soumitra.
This is a darling little film I stumbled across while digging through youtube for Soumitra Chatterjee films with subtitles, and what a find it is: gentle, sad, and incredibly dear, with quiet but rich performances from Soumitra and Sharmila Tagore.

I had no idea what to expect of it going in because I haven't been able to find a single opinion about it online in English (though I did see something labeled "review" in Bengali on a torrent site). Maybe because the film is so straightforward and simple people haven't felt there's much to say about it. I also know nothing about what would have been hoped or expected of its director (Ajoy Kar), music director (Kalipada Sen), writer, etc. when it was made almost fifty years ago. Maybe some of you can tell me whether the film was overlooked when it was released.

The lead actors, of course, are a different matter. Barnali feels like the story Apu and Aparna from Apur Sansar deserve to have had had if only their lives hadn't been so cruel. I can't help but wonder if that was on the minds of the filmmakers (especially since their only other collaboration thus far was Devi, which doesn't give them a happy ending either). Ashesh (Soumitra) is a doctor in a big, comfy house with a gaggle of bright, jolly friends—what a contrast to Apu the orphan, the wandering, devastated writer. On the other hand, though, Apu is free to make his own, sometimes quite dramatic decisions, while Ashesh humbly does the bidding of others, acting on their principles of pride, greed, and self-interest even though he obviously finds the effects harmful, the regret heavy in his eyes.

Aloka (Sharmila) has a family who supports her becoming an accomplished adult, letting her stay up late at night studying and having no issues with her socializing with this kind man they've all just met. I don't know if I'm actually right about this, but Aparna in Apur Sansar seems so much a girl and not a woman until the very end; there's something more mature and well-rounded, solid, stable about Aloka. She is a young woman of deliberation and principle and carefulness, one who speaks her mind and is adult enough to admit when she's wrong.

None of this is to say that I think there is any intended reflection on Apur Sansar by Barnali; it's just that seeing Sharmila and Soumitra's faces makes me think of that indelible film and their beautiful work together.

Their work together here is wonderful, too. There's nothing very dramatic about the story—they meet by accident, there is an obstacle to their love, their responses and responsibilities to that impediment are very different and perhaps even repelling, and everyone has to decide how to handle the truth. I love the way we grow to understand these two people as they grow to understand each other. Their first meeting is uneasy, but Ashesh soon finds her really intriguing and, I think, worthy of attention when Aloka's dad mentions that she's doing her honors degree in philosophy. 
Which is still not an excuse for staring at her in the middle of the night while she's studying.
This is a triumph of the brainy girl unlike anything I can remember from any other Indian film, and obviously I love it with all my heart. Aloka only becomes interesting to Ashesh when he knows she's smart. She's not even a scientist (like he is). His reaction to this statement by her father is fantastic—it's like he sees her for the first time despite having spoken to her before. 
She, in turn, really starts thinking about him in a different way when they visit his family's house, where he is clearly most comfortable and happy. It's also where Aloka realizes he's been lugging around a burden on her behalf, no doubt a sudden explanation for the reticence and concern in his demeanor. Without giving away the story, I'll just say that both of these people seems a little afraid to express themselves and ask the questions they need to have answered, and it is that fear, more than the actual roadblocks, that threatens to dampen the blooming of their clearly very dear affection for one another. 
It's a very sweet lesson in why you should tell people when you feel good things about them, try to understand why they act the way they do, ask why they're sad, and not think you know everything from a glance or sentence or even that magical evening you spent together. USE YOUR WORDS, PEOPLE. It's also a study in the importance of forgetting and letting go of ideas that don't do you any good anymore. 

To me, the strength of this film is the script, but the actors within it, enlivening it, are perfect. Sharmila Tagore has so much more presence here than she does in Kashmir Ki Kali from a year later. She's clearly playing a young woman, but she's not silly or slight. Aloka is buffeted by a series of discoveries, and Sharmila does a great job at expressing the thought Aloka requires to make sense of them and sort herself out. Soumitra gets more to do because Ashesh has to juggle several responsibilities—to his family, to Aloka (in a few different contexts), to Aloka's family, and eventually to himself—and there is a calm, very professional ferocity to his portrayal of some of them. 
He's a very kind and sensitive person, but don't mess with the people he likes. I don't know the names of the other actors, but they too were good. I especially liked Aloka's father (with the mustache below), who, like Ashesh, is incredibly darling but has his limits and will not tolerate transgressions of decent behavior or thought.

There are even more ways I could rave about Barnali, like its reflection on particular social values, its purposeful quietness, and its lovely music.* Instead, out of concern of swamping it (or preaching about it so much I drive you away), I'll just finish by saying it is thoughtful, sweet, sad (but not at the very end, of course!), and delightful. Watch it on Angel Video's youtube channel here

PS And because the world needs more pictures of this vintage of Soumitra Chatterjee in a suit....
And here, I've even got a non-shallow reason to include it. It shows how well this movie does at saying things visually. Look at the contrast in these two characters: upright, smooth, in command; squashed, disheveled, ridiculous.
* imdb says some of the lyrics are from Tagore. I have no idea, but I found the subtitled versions of them very nice, especially with the music itself and the gorgeous black and white version of nighttime Calcutta, rain, and a river boat. My favorite stretch of the music is here; it starts with one of those "wandering through the city with the person you love as neon signs flash by" kind of montages but set to something that reminds me of a ceilidh, then changing to a simple, contemplative song on the boat with ghostly strings. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

You are a rejected person! Jimmy

Possibly all you ever need to know about, or see of, Jimmy.
It's hard to know what to say about such a colossal failure. There is absolutely nothing done right or well in this film. If Rahul Dev is your most recognizable cast member, if the hero is backed by tracks of a baby crying, if Shakti Kapoor is playing a good-guy police officer, if the best thing about your project is the excessive Michael Jackson tribute, if your title song is called "Why not [hero's name]?", leaving the door wide open for us to point out the zillion reasons why not, THEN YOU ARE DEFINITELY DOING IT WRONG. According to imdb, neither the director, producers, nor writer has any credits to their name since this film came out. 

Was this all a joke—a massive, industry-wide joke, perhaps masterminded by Mithun for all the nasty things people have said about some of his films over the decades? I find myself almost a little concerned for Mimoh. Why would you do this? WHY? It made you look an absolute fool. 

Here are a few of the best Mimohments from the film.
In the aforementioned title song, someone decided Mimoh should dance in front of a big, back-lit fan. You know, just like Hrithik Roshan did in Dhoom 2. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO HRITHIK ROSHAN, EVEN IF YOUR DAD IS A MUCH BIGGER STAR THAN HIS WAS. It will only end in heartache. I actually thought Mimoh's dancing was the least awful thing about Jimmy, but he's no Hrithik. And speaking of, is it Hirthik's, or perhaps Salman's, influence (fault, if I'm feeling less charitable) that so many baby heroes have this notion that if they have huge muscles they are somehow automatically watchable in a lead role? I'm surprised this movie didn't kill that idea dead in the water more than four years ago. 

The harder the movie tries to insist Jimmy is cool, the more certain we are that he is pathetic and ridiculous by every stretch of the imagination. This image is from the title song again, where we see that Jimmy has, among other accoutrements unveiled later like lots of too-tight Armani shirts, at least two classic phallic symbols, the drum kit that should be gathering dust in his parents' basement (oh but wait, his dad is dead, I think? Of course. Who cares), and a logo whose super-angry slashy lettering isn't even properly aligned. 

Just look at the
emotingMimohting! Love! Fear (in India's cleanest prison cell)! Brain tumor! Of course, we can't give all the credit to the acting; someone decided that "I have a month to live?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!!!!!" should be reinforced by spinning the camera around. The film's approach to the action sequences is perhaps best captured by the image at the top of this post; I bet you can hear Mimoh's battle cry just from looking at the expression on his face, as well as discern the incredible inconsistencies between the blows that don't even register and the ones that cause instant toppling over, bone-cracking, head-snapping, and possibly dismemberment. I swear I saw Mimoh hold up someone's severed arm in a prison fight, but I'm definitely not going back to check.


It's too bad the name of this nightclub doesn't echo thematically into the song set there—and you can't even really make jokes about Mimoh's acting being zombie-like because his problem is much more misdirected and strangely applied effort rather than phoning it in—but the song is its own special kind of treat. Behold. And don't miss the end, which is punctuated with Mimoh throwing himself through the air, a stunt I've come to think of as his signature move. 

While watching Jimmy, I started to wonder where I'd place it on my list of most horrible Hindi films. Top ten, definitely, but is it worse than Shaitani Dracula or Deshdrohi? Simply as a film on its own, no, but as a thing that was deliberately created, marketed, and released into the wild, yes, absolutely. And here's why: those other two films are the work of  insanely deluded auteurs, for lack of a better word. Just like The Room, they are vanity projects imploding at epic proportions. There was clearly no one else with any influence or power to stop Harinam Singh or Kamal R. Khan from their trainwrecks. And maybe more pointedly, no one had any reason or interest to do so either. What's it to anyone else if they demonstrate their ineptitude on a lackluster scale?

But with Jimmy, surely someone was trying to make this work.Why would you bother to launch a non-chocolate-hero industry son who isn't easily, obviously, charmingly star-y (like Shahid, Hrithik, Imraan, Ranbir, though of course he's a special case) if you don't at least put some effort into it?  If this is a vanity project, it's one that involves a lot of other people and, as far as I can tell form the credits and imdb, not the one person we would most assume would have the most invested in this and thus be tinkering and meddling. Where is Mithun's huge career in all of this? Side note: somewhere I read the very funny idea that perhaps Jimmy is a deliberately bad homage to Mithun's B movies, a theory that gains serious traction in any of the action sequences. As much as I would love to see such a film, this clearly isn't it. This is clearly earnest and Mimoh-centric. At a nuts and bolts level, the credits indicate that there was a proper team working on this and actual experienced people were involved. Director Raj N. Sippy did Satte Pe Satta and Inkaar; yes, they were long ago, but still. Writer Ranbir Pushp...wel, okay, I haven't seen any of his films, and I have heard nothing but howls of laughter about Return of Jewel Thief, but he's written over two dozen movies so should at least understand a bit about pacing and good plot twists. The music director, the sound crew, the editor, the cinematographer have all worked on many other films. But somehow Jimmy seems for all the world like someone's scrapped first project made in 1992. It's absolutely amateurish—loud, boring, really stupid plot, bizarre cast—for no reason at all.

But please don't think I mean that Jimmy is a sad waste of interesting potential. Definitely not. There is nothing good about it in either concept or execution. However, much, much good can be had of its consumption, as I hope the following links for further reading will suggest, because I just know I am not conveying the hilarity of this disaster
  • A top unintentional comedy moment from other players in the film (and the source of the title of this post). 
  • A few of us had a little watchalong of Jimmy on Twitter, and you can follow our snark with the hashtag #JimmyAaja
  • Aspi captures some of the WTF of the film and a sampling of the many moods of Mimoh.
  • Max Davinci posits a principle that really ought be named in honor of Mimoh, namely that "only when a son is terribly horrible do you realize how good his not-so-great father was," citing evidence like Feroz/Fardeen Khan and Jeetendra/Tushaar Kapoor. 
Based on my own experience and reports from friends, Jimmy certainly holds entertainment value if viewed (or read about or discussed) in the proper setting and company. See the magic in Mimohtion at Shemaroo's youtube channel here. But heed my warning, friends: consider "the more, the merrier" as instructions for viewing, not merely a friendly invitation. GET  MIMOHTIVATED!

Also, who's going to leave me more bad Mimoh puns in the comments? C'mon, you Mimoh you want to.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

slightly-less-mini reviews from the Chicago South Asian Film Festival: features, part 2

My choices for worst and the best of the feature films, both of which had their world premieres at this festival.

Shobhna's 7 Nights
 (2012, dir. Sudipto Chattopadyaya)

Full disclosure: I was not primed to like this film. On the previous day, I had been been offered the opportunity to interview its star, Raveena Tandon, a few hours before the screening. Due to scheduling problems—or perhaps just the whims of the star, I have no idea—Raveena did not show up for her press times, and, to my knowledge, only arrived a few minutes before the scheduled start of her film. I was already in line to get into the cinema when festival staff told me I could interview her right that moment, but since I wanted to, you know, actually see the film and didn't have anything incredibly important or intelligent to ask her anyway, as I'd only had a day to prepare (and a day filled with festival screenings at that), I declined. They also said I could interview her after the film, but I was staying with a friend on the edge of the city and needed to bolt as soon as the film was over to make it back to the house.

But in the kind of masala-approved coincidence I love, even after the first ten minutes of the film, I realized what a blessing it was that I would not be able to speak to her after the film, because I have no idea what I could have said that wasn't dripping with disdain or just a hopeless pile of laughter. I have new respect for the professional journalists who manage to keep themselves pulled together while interviewing people who are responsible for cinematic garbage on scales far grander than this film.*

See the trailer here.

This film is a complete disaster. Pointless. Boring. Low-rent Bhandarkar. An awkward and offputting combination of teenager's idea of edgy or shocking—older woman/young man, gossip, skin, booze, smoking, swearing, infidelity, dead children, desperate film industry figures, "Your dream has become a nightmare! Mwahaha!" fantasy sequence—with the vibe of a Lifetime tv movie, thanks to being centered on the suffering of a 40+ woman. No teeth, no heart, and nothing to say. Tons of trash with no substance and no intellectual interest, entertainment, or even moral lesson from the portrayal of by-the-numbers badness. Waste of experienced actors (Anupam Kher, Lillete Dubey). Terrible direction of and performance by someone who may never be master thespian but should still know better (Raveena Tandon, who is still trading in the sexy-moan-as-acting she employed in the 90s). If you thought she was bad in Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The stranger in the seat next to me leaned over and said "When will this end so I can go home?" and "My god, this is bad." The audience laughed at places that were clearly not meant to be funny. People began trickling out after the midway point despite it being the final film of the festival and the presence of the star in the back of the cinema. A star who, I must add, introduced the film by saying it had been a labor of love, and I left the cinema thinking "A love of what, exactly? This film gives the audience absolutely nothing." I've seen only a very few Raveena Tandon films, but surely she is better than this. I know Anupam and Lillete are. At one point Raveena's character, who is a gossip columnist, says "I write good trash." Too bad the people making this film couldn't manage to do so themselves.

Bas. This film deserves no more of anyone's time or thoughts.

Listen Amaya  (2012, dir. Avinash Kumar Singh)
Full disclosure again: I was very primed to like this film, even just by the description of Farooq Shaikh in a romance with Deepti Naval. I figured that if nothing else, I would respond positively to a sure-to-be-well-acted age-appropriate romance between two stars I have always loved. I barely managed to keep myself from running up to Farooq Shaikh when he entered the cinema for the screening; the next day he paused briefly to talk with the man in front of me in a line and I think I let out a breathless "Eep!" He looks so huggable! (I have since been chastised by several people for not hugging him— though really, I'm not that crazy.)

This is a very sweet film about decent people who are given time and space to figure themselves out when an unexpected obstacle disrupts their good and pleasant lives. What really distinguishes Listen Amayaa, I think, is that all the characters' problems result from a surfeit of love. 20something Amaya (Swara Bhaskar) cannot accept her mother Leela (Deepti Naval)'s romantic relationship with Jayant (Farooq Shaikh) out of an inflexibly-defined loyalty to her deceased father. Leela cannot simply write off Amaya's anger as mere selfishness even after many unsuccessful attempts to actually talk with her about Jayant because she can see the stung and frightened child inside her grown-up daughter. Jayant never walks away in frustration because he is so fond of them both. Even Amaya's annoyance at the friend who has a massive crush on her results from him showing it a little too grandly and too often for her liking, but pleasingly by the end of the film he shapes his affection into a form of tough love that she really needs.

While the story and the performances are what I found most special about the film, it is very nicely done in many other ways as well. The interiors of the houses, shots of Chandni Chowk and Delhi rooftops, several rainstorms—the Delhi of this film is lush and glowing and calm, so critique it for realism if you will, but it sure would be a wonderful place to visit. Maybe the city was hushed so that the personal drama could stand out? Everything looks so classy, with subdued but very beautifully coordinated colors, elegant jewelry, expensive-looking furnishings, etc. The film's one weak spot is its handling of songs. I only remember two, but they were both really inconsistent with how layered and careful the rest of the movie is.

There's a range of lovely parent-child relationships in this film the balance out some very sad histories. Leela and Jayant's first spouses are deceased, as is Jayant's daughter. Both Deepti and Farooq are, of course, more than capable of portraying these stories in ways that seem like genuine loss rather than filmi filler. In the present day, Jayant clearly sees Amaya with eyes almost brimming with tears for his dead daughter; his affection for her is palpable, and I think Amaya's anger at Jayant and Leela's romance wounds him as much as as it does Leela. Leela, in turn, has a mostly friend-like relationship with Amaya, respectful of her daughter's free spirit and supportive of her attempts to be a writer, while also serving as a sort of den mother to Amaya's friends and some new transplants to Delhi who turn up at the bookstore/coffee shop she runs.

While the story is centered most directly on Leela and Amaya's relationship, for me it is Farooq who walks away with the film. Jayant is very nicely written—a careful and creative man who has deliberately decided to look on the bright side of things and to reach out to everyone he meets to keep from being crushed under the pain of his past—and Farooq makes him bubble with goodness and cheer that emanate from a steady depth. The wrinkle to Jayant is that he is slowly succumbing to a disease that may—or may not—threaten the core of his character, and it's hard to decide whether either of those eventual outcomes would be a calamity or a relief.
There's a scene towards the end of the film in which Jayant is walking to Leela's café and just stops dead on the tiny median of grass amid the rushing lanes of a major Delhi street. I was so afraid he would wander out in traffic as he struggles to proceed; he doesn't, but Farooq keeps Jayant right on the edge of an immediate tragedy while clearly showing that he might be close to a much longer-ranging and more complicated one.

It is Amaya who finds Jayant in the street and guides him to safety, which I just loved. I know it's cheesy, and maybe I'm just a sucker for daughter-and-dad stories (a thread seen in other CSAFF films like Lessons in Forgetting and Jalapari too), but the film ends with a sense that these characters have resolved to have an expanded approach to being good to one another from that point on.

Watch a promo of Listen Amaya here, and please do keep an eye out for its wider release.

*  I also have huge respect for journalists who sit back quietly, with just a hint of amusement or disgust on their faces, and let their guests be badly behaved, taking themselves down in a giant ball of flames, But that is a different set of skills and, as someone with zero poker face, one that I will never be able to master.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How to Bollywood-ize Your Office: midwest museum edition

The other day, Mike at Pedro (the Ape Bomb) wrote a fun post on the Bollywood artifacts and decor in his office. I loved getting to know about the space Mike spends his days in and, more importantly, how he has made it his own and taken his love of movies and his fantastic aesthetic sense to work. 

Want to peek at mine?

Many of you know that I work in a museum of world cultures at a university; what you may not know is that, like Mike, I have really, really wonderful colleagues who value making work a fun and meaningful environment, so my office has been allowed to ramble wherever my heart and eyes take me. Several other people have workspaces as, er, exuberant and personalized as mine, including my boss. I've been in this particular space the whole time I've worked at the museum (12+ years!), so the layers have really begun to accrete. I am a zillion times less tidy than Mike.
The big blank space on the yellow wall really screams out to be filled. I'd hang something up, but I keep thinking I'll need to have shelves built there to hold my ever-mounting piles of papers and books.

On to the filmi artifacts, all of which are gifts, which is absolutely perfect because one of the things I love most about Bollywood fandom is all the dear friends I have met without who have become such an integral part of my life.
This hilariously wee Amitabh Bachchan-emblazoned bag was sent to me by the excellent Jo of the Ganesha shops in London. I think the image is supposed to be in the style of rickshaw art. I love that the biggest star of all of Hindi cinema is surrounded by a field of glued-on gold flowers. I put him here on purpose; the bulletin board reminds me of an extremely haphazard altar area (and in fact two items I contributed to our staff ofrenda during a Dios de los Muertos exhibit years ago are there as well), so of course the principal idol should be there, and it also seemed right that he was facing any visitors to my office, both as protector and host, the perfect patriarch. He sees—and possibly judges—all.

Geetanjali mailed me this postcard of movie hoardings. Who doesn't love movie hoardings! A paritcular highlight of this collection is the ad for Hero Hiralal proclaiming "A star is born" next to Sanjana Kapoor's name. To quote Wayne Campbell: NOT! In the top right corner of this picture you can see the edge of the pink badge everyone was given at the second Pan-European International Bollywood Blogger Meetup in 2008 made, I think, by Kaddele. I'm embarrassed to admit I've fallen out of frequent touch with the German-speaking Bollywood community but many of them are on Twitter and I have no doubt that branch of my long-lost masala family tree is up to their usual shenanigans (and even welcoming new generations into the fold).  

On the wall behind my computer is the Shahrukh area. Obviously Salman is on this folder (given to me by Mrs. Aspi) as well, but when I'm at my computer, which is 95% of the time, he is blocked by the monitor. Sorry, Salman. The photos on the left here were taken by Christy when we saw SRK in Chicago a few years ago.


A few months ago I decided my office was not colorful and filmi enough, so I fixed my computer desktop accordingly with a collage of images from Music from the Third Floor's flickr stream. My colleagues love these images and say things like "WOW. Do the movies look like that too?" and I get to smile beneficently at their poor benighted souls and say "Of course."

My one nicely framed film poster (Sharmeelee, featuring the same pose but much different coloring and background as the image on the monitor) is at home, but I have lots of other things that might amuse you if you visited my office: 
  • Rajasthani puppets,
  • the adorable and eye-opening book Going to School in India
  • matryoshkas,
  • Shrinky Dink of Luke Wilson
  • magnet set of the equipment and ingredients required to make pancakes,
  • two sets of Pantone color swatches,
  • pen with a mini Tardis on one end that makes the Tardis noises,
  • Powerpuff Girls stamps (I currently only have Bubbles and Mojo Jojo), 
  • metallic Canadian maple leaf sticker with a tyrannosaurus in a yellow t-shirt (seen just to the left of the Apple symbol on my computer above)
  • dinosaur key chain that lights up and goes RAWR RAWR if you push a switch on its back,
  • orange and yellow plastic Slinky, 
  • old Limca bottle to play along with whatever you like to listen to on web radio, and
  • Calvin and Hobbes cartoons (e.g. "What's the point of wearing your favorite rocket ship underpants if no one asks to see 'em?" and "We 'big picture' people rarely become historians"). I'm pretty sure that if you are an academic employee at any American university, you are contractually required to have Calvin and Hobbes and/or Far Side cartoons displayed prominently in your workspace.