Tuesday, November 28, 2006

signed, sealed, delivered

In the mail this weekend I received a nicely designed and very academic-looking newsletter from the University of Chicago South Asian Studies Center, the lovely and whip-smart folks who organized our pre-Fulbright seminar orientation this summer.


Now look how the newsletter was addressed.


Somebody, somewhere, likes me.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I wonder if anyone has written a thesis on this? Amar Akbar Anthony

This movie is a hoot. It's got such a gleeful mix of everything I hardly knew what to expect next - except, of course, that the family would be reunited, since it was clear from the get-go that there was heavy moral order going on here. You don't dump your kids off at the feet of Gandhi on Indian Independence Day if you're going to be noncommittal about how things wind up.

Since there's no possible way that I have anything to say about this movie that hasn't already been said, I'll just say that it's really fun and everyone in it is great and then share a few of my favorite things:
Vinod Khanna is so cool he can snap on the interrogation lights.



This has got to be my favorite Amitabh fight scene ever.


And this might just be my favorite Amitabh scene of any kind ever because he's so very, very funny.


On second thought, wait. I do have something else to say - or, rather, ask. For reasons that are still not entirely clear, even after a solid 24 hours of thinking about them ("24 7 I think of you, 24 7 I think of you..."), there's an idea rattling around in my head that the people who made this movie had something serious, or at least important, to say, but I'm not sure what it is. There was something about the religious/cultural assignment of the three leads that didn't seem to be just for kicks - and I'm wondering if they're each supposed to represent some different facet of Indian culture, or the Indian experience, or maybe three distinct values. We have the oldest boy being Hindu, yet I don't think we ever see him do anything particularly religious (unless I missed it, which is entirely possible - he doesn't go to any temple, does he, or say a prayer, or make an offering...?). The Muslim and Christian sons, though, are more conspicuously religiously identified. (Speaking of which, what is that place Akbar is singing at when his mother comes upon him and, stumbling towards the statue, has her sight restored? Is it a mosque or a temple - or some kind of interdenominational communal house of worship? The statue seems to be treated like a Hindu deity of some kind, with garlands and coconuts, but didn't I see a star and crescent in that building too - plus, of course, Akbar singing? My dvd had no subtitles in songs, so I have no idea what he was actually singing.) (One aspect of the religious lens, or whatever you want to call it, that I found particularly interesting was the death of Anthony's "father" - who, celibate, has a "son" - who, for his flock's protection, gives his life. Kinda heavy-handed, but point taken.) Then we've got the whole nationalism thread, with the kids being left with Gandhi on 15 August and a blind but all-sacrificing, all-loving, all-welcoming mother named Bharati. This movie was made 30 years after independence; are the filmmakers saying that India was stumbling and blind and only through the identification and embracing of its constituent parts can it regain vision?

Anyway. My usual consultant on such matters is really busy right now, so I went on a research binge, as my librarian heart is wont to do. I haven't hit the academic databases yet - yet - but even I may not need to look any further, thanks to this great article on philip'sfil-ums. So think about the movie, then pop over to philip's and read what he has to say. Then get back to me, okay? I'm really curious about what everybody thinks.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

we always hurt the ones we love; or, a turkey a day early

So awhile back I was on MTV Desi's "The Big Picture" to talk about Aap Ki Khatir. My handler was off that week so I had to get ready for the show all on my own, and since it was on an MTV channel, I figured, hey, why not do what all the American kids - and that Britney Spears girl's husband, he seems happenin' - seem to do these days: put on something vaguely hip-hop and an I'm-so-cool-that-I'm-bored attitude. Voila!


The all-white and the chains and the Caesar hair are all that and a bag of magic masala chips, na?

I know Beth has a new outlet for her opinions on what I wear and all, but I figured since she doesn't even have cable,* she'd never spot this one. Anyway, what does she know about being a movie star making promotional apperances? Nada.

It pains me that because of this outfit I can actually compare him to Britney's ex (and well played, Britney, actually).** He looks like a Saturday Night Live parody of George Clooney prepping for some kind of detective-going-undercover-as-a-hip-hop-producer role.

More thoughts on the actual content of the interview to follow. This was just too jarring and distressing not to share right away.

*So much of thanks to filmiholic for sending me a DVD of the interview!

** Last year Melina named our Thanksgiving turkey "Kevin Federline" because that pop marriage was going to last, unlike Nick and Jessica's, who had broken up that very day.

research question #2

My friend Teleport City wants to know: who is blue dude in the middle?


And also, Electric Vindaloo is an awesome name for an album. I'm really sad I didn't think of it.

Update to post (October 1, 2007): Teleport City has found the answer! Well, almost, anyway. The blue dude comes from Dharmendra-starrer Saazish (1975). Bravo!

not additionally spicy

I just discovered Dishant.com and am listening to "Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re," a remix that includes strains of "Wannabe." I admit to liking the Spice Girls, even if not as much as I like Bollywood, but I'm pretty sure this is wrong somehow, probalby because the singers sound very clipped and proper, as opposed to the broad, attempting-cheeky tones of the Spice Girls.

I cannot believe I am analyzing the musical style of the Spice Girls.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

compare/contrast: Umrao Jaan and Bethelein

Abby and I saw Umrao Jaan today. I thought it was very pretty and not as bad as various reviews had led me to believe. I only looked at my watch once, and that was partly because I had to leave town not long after the end of the movie and was trying to figure out if I would have enough time after it finished to grab a quick bite to eat. It was sad, but not excessively so; it had a leisurely pace, but not excessively so; it had gorgeous costumes, excessively so, in a good way; it had footage proving why Abhishek deserves any and all "sexiest XYZ" list titles, and I can always use more of those.

[Pause to think about Abhishek. Damn.]

I don't have anything else in particular to say about it. As Umrao began her courtesan training, I found myself thinking, "Wow, I'm sure glad I wasn't taken away from my parents' house and plonked down in a school for companions of the rich and powerful." (Good thing, too; the instructors would never make back their investment.) And so began an idea for the usual post-film conversation with myself, one that, without this idea, would have been very brief indeed, consisting of me writing that Umrao Jaan was a not unpleasant three hours but I'll probably never watch it again.

Please know I mean no disrespect to the movie or its subject matter. I just didn't find it terribly interesting, apart from the visuals. I feel like this is a story I've heard a zillion times before in a variety of settings; this was an acceptable but uncompelling treatment of said story. I thought the performances were fine but not noteworthy. My favorite thing in the whole movie was Kulbhushan Kharbanda, whom I always enjoy.





compare/contrastUmrao Jaan*me
general arc of life storyMainly downward, with a few short-lived upturns and positive points. While not a conventional happy ending, she maintains her talents, creativity, and allure.In progress; mainly upward. To date, not kidnapped, sold into prostitution, or accused of infidelity by bloodthirsty nawab.
love interestCharming, handsome, absolutely irresistible, slightly cheeky Indian nobility with melt-your-heart smoldering stare.Ditto.
sidekick(s)/friend(s)Generally supportive parental stand-ins; generally supportive but occasionally jealous colleagues; helpful but secretively self-serving sidekick who turns rapist and then somewhat redeems himself by dying a freedom fighter.Oooh, I've got her there! 1) My real parents still love me and support my career choice. 2) My friends have never expressed any envy issues and are superwow companions in all endeavors, and some of them even watch Bollywood with me. 3) None of my male friends has grumbled about being a go-between for me and aforementioned love interest.
villain(s) As demonstrated, a sad and unlucky fate cannot be trumped.If present, any villain in my life is ill-defined - or maybe just really, really subtle. In high school I did have a largley unspoken rivalry with someone over class rank, but I think we've both moved past that. Plus I won.
careerHighly-paid but risky and volatile work as courtesan depends on the whims of pampered playboys. Staggering highs but wretched lows. Formidable work wardrobe. Strict but loving boss.Underpaid but ethically clean work as musuem educator entails hours staring at copmuter screen and keeping twelve-year-olds' grubbly little hands off of exhibits but promises vast spiritual rewards of encouraging learning and making the world a more interesting place. Can wear jeans to work but very rarely pearls, gold, or sparkly fabrics. Inspiring and sympathetic boss who has never encouraged me to hang out with armed robbers.
dialoguesClear winner. Poetic and poignant, if sometimes a teensy bit overly dramatic.Despite efforts to learn and usurp new vocabulary as often as possible, considerable room for improvement. Very few professionally-written Urdu lines in my life. Yet, anyway.
musicWhat was there was enjoyable.I've got the edge here, due to variety; while none of the songs in my life has been written specifically for me, I have a lot more of them at my disposal, drawing from a much greater span of geography/cultures, time periods, and styles - even though Umrao did have three hours' worth.
dancingVery compelling and expressive.At a major disadvantage due to not being professionally choreographed; also untrained. She looked much better dancing around to Hindi film music in her living room than I do.


As always, mucho thanks to my local art theater for showing Umrao Jaan and all the other Hindi films this year. Word on the street is that we'll get Dhoom 2 over the holidays.

* As portrayed in the 2006 version of the film. I have neither seen the earlier version nor read the book.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

close, but still one click away from my actual post

Finally I have gotten around to writing something over at Bollywoodbloggers. Maybe now Michael will say something cute about me again. I have such a platonic international crush on him (a list which is taking on alarming proportions lately, must do something about that).

Tomorrow is Umrao Jaan at the art theater. I'm so excited to see all the pretty on the big screen even though everyone says the movie is terrible.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The family Thanksgiving get-together this year is going to be awk-ward: Parvarish*

I won't lie. I ordered this movie from a nehaflix sale bin because I wanted to see my FPMFIL again. It's been awhile since Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and...I miss him. And I swear it has nothing to do with the insanely tight flared trousers.

But every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed bad boy with a coconut-shell grenade, na?


What I enjoyed most about this movie, apart from the delightfully masala plot and thoroughly effective cast, were our two fun-lovin' heroines, who showed considerable oomph, their questionable ethics notwithstanding. They have two great dance numbers, one in which they rip off the citizens of Mumbai while wearing crazy 70s patched pants

and one in which they dance with guns on a stage decorated with guns and famous buildings of India. The guns, in context, make perfect sense; the buildings do not, but I really like them and would gladly prop a few up in my yard.


There are many details in this movie that should not be overlooked, such as the totally awesome submarine that the bad guys are in.

C'mon, just go ahead and throw in the rubber duckie for fun, eh effects crew? Towards the end of the film our heroes put on scuba suits and go after this thing, and the shot of their little vessel chugging along behind the submarine is very funny - the scale is completely wrong.


Kader Khan, who did the movie's dialogues, plays "Supremo," otherwise known as - wait for it - the head bad guy. Here he is in his submarine office, complete with the seldom-seen Condensed Southern Hemisphere/USSR Swallows Saudi Arabia Projection world map.


But oh my friends, la pièce de résistance: a villain lair that Bloefeld himself would be proud to call his summer home.

It is comlpete with a Pit of Doom (I think it's supposed to be quicksand, but it's hard to say - it's not sharks with frickin' laser beams strapped to their heads, although lord knows it should be) with moving walkway/ramp and silhouetted dancing girls who dance, dance, dance no matter what chaos is happening elsewhere in the lair. This has turned into a seriously good Bollywood + James Bond weekened here at BLB, and I couldn't be more pleased - it's a fitting way to gear up for the release of Casino Royale in a few weeks, about which I am v eager.

Anyway. This is a really fun movie and features, in addition to the above selling points, an orphan, a school for the blind, Vinod Khanna driving a vintage white Mustang, Shabana Azmi dressed like Laverne/Shirley, and some arm wrestling. Who could ask for anything more?

Amitabh is totally on board.

Aside: continuing with this weekend's discussion-in-my-head about Bollywood remakes, I want to remake this movie with Akshaye and Abhishek and Rani and Karisma and Rishi Kapoor as the bad guy and Farida Jalal as the mom and, oh, I don't know, Big B as the dad, just for the wink-wink fun. (Also Army of Monkeys gets to be the random white guy, 'cause I think he'd have fun playing a role originated by Tom Alter.)

* Have I gone too far with the riffing on the FPMBF joke? It's too far, isn't it? Sigh. Knowin' when to hold 'em never has been my strong suit. But trust me, in this scene, when he strolls in, totally owning the white pants, even though you can tell he knows he looks good, you have to lurve him.

Forget the 1978 original - what about the nod to Raja Hindustani?!? Don: The Chase Begins Again

[spoilers ahead]

Two nagging points out of the way first, because if I don't express them I'm going to lose it.
1) I know this isn't a problem unique to this film, and if I watched more action movies I could spout off a host of other examples, but: why, why, why must the police be such awful shots? Obviously DeSilva wasn't always going to be on the target we expect, but everyone else? And why does no one shoot out the tires of escape vehicles? And wouldn't prisoners on a transport plane have handcuffs on? {Babli voice}What crap!{/Babli voice}
2) If anyone remotely connected to the Hindi film industry is reading this, I'm begging you, please get someone to proofread the subtitles. It's instead of its, you"re instead of you're (as a twist on the mistake you'd expect), and, a personal favorite, Deepu education will be taken care of. I'll do it for free. Just email them to me and I can turn them around in forty-eight hours. Like Filmiholic just said, in a production as slick as this, these kinds of rookie mistakes were glaringly stupid. (And in the time-honored tradition, by griping about others' typos I'm sure to have plenty of my own here; I'd like to point out that the problem of noticing your own mistakes is why you have proofreaders if you are a professional, budgeted production to be seen by millions.)

Also, please bear in mind: I was raised on neither Amitabh Bachchan nor the original Don (and have only seen it once), so for me this basically had to stand alone. And it did. About halfway through Don: The Chase Begins Again I had a revelation: I don't particularly need this one to compare to, change, or otherwise have any relationship with the original - except in spirit, and I think it has the giddy, twisty chase of the original covered sufficiently, if not with some toning down of the slapstick - because to me this seems like a pretty different movie.

To me, this was Bollywood + James Bond, reminding me of how Bride and Prejudice was Bollywood + Jane Austen. I really like James Bond movies (which often surprises people, given that generally I dislike film violence and seeing women be helpless, possessed objects), and if Bollywood wants to give me a James Bond-ish movie with singing and dancing and one of my favorite actors, sign me right up. Bride and Prejudice was a thoroughly enjoyable experiment, although in my opnion not as good as either full-on Bollywood or a full-on Jane Austen adaptation. Don was also a thoroughly enjoyable, and I think a much more successful, experiment, with all its pieces and references holding together as it zoomed along, using the orignial Don as raw material for a new, different project.

Which raises the question of whether borrowing a plot means that a movie is a remake. At first I thought, "Well, of course it does," but now that I've been thinking about it for a few hours, I'm not so sure. Somehow it seems, reasonably, that a shared plot is very significant and implies a responsibility to faithfulness to the source; but yet for me this is just a different movie, plain and simple, even though the stories are so similiar. I wouldn't really say that Bluffmaster is a remake of Nine Queens, even though they are very similar in some aspects of the story, but I can't deny that the latter must have knowingly borrowed from the former. Of course, they have different titles and are from different film cultures, so maybe those differences rule out the label of "remake." And maybe we just need some additional categories, running across a spectrum, like "homage to" or "inspired by" and "copy" and "retelling" or whatever. Let's not forget that the Hindi film industry recycles elements of movies all the time, and nobody seems to care whether Aap Ki Khatir is faithful to or dares to trash the very soul of The Wedding Date. Is it fair to hold the new Don to higher standards because it's a remake of a Hindi classic? I'm not saying it isn't fair, by the way; it's just that now that I'm thinking about remakes and how we analyze and judge and accept them, I'm curious. I also wonder if the new Don isn't what a lot of us would do if we had the opporutnity. It was a fun movie to watch, and I bet it was a fun movie to make.

Maybe it was the presence of Priyanka and Arjun, but I kept thinking of Asambhav as I watched this - poor, ridiculous Asambhav. After all, both are slick, gadgety Hindi action films with some undercover aspects and layers of villains, but this was a zillion times better. (Maybe there's an inverse relationship between enjoyableness and split screens?) Probably because SRK is a joy to watch perform and Arjun Rampul isn't, although neither he nor Priyanka sucked my will to live in this particular movie, maybe because neither had much to do. Roma got short-changed here, didn't she (and Om Puri too)? Too bad. Someday I'll find Priyanka in a role in which she actually gets to do something; until then I guess I'll just admire her nose like everyone else. Boman Irani was fabulous, giving DeSilva a convincing taint of bumbling and shabby.

Favorite new way to fell an opponent: golf drive to the head.

Favorite wardrobe piece: Don's linen pants in the scene in which he is eventually captured by DeSilva. Second favorite: Vijay's kung fu t-shirt.

Favorite "something borrowed" from the original: the getaway van in the parking garage lined up perfectly over a grate, dropping DeSilva to safety. Not only was it a nice nod, it was done much more realistically, and in movies like this, I'll take my wee moments of reality whenever I can get them.

Saddest moment: the implied death of Vijay. I really liked him, for the fifteen mintues I knew him. However, I was satisfied to sacrifice him for an explanation of how post-injury Don knew how to fight so well.

I have nothing good to say about the music in this movie. The background score was stronger and more effective than the songs, which were watered down - strange, given how amped up the clothes and sets and action and violence were - and sounded as though they were trying too hard to sound tech-y, although I liked the nod to "Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe."

Another point people might fuss at me for, but I don't care: I wasn't raised on Helen, either, and I think Kareena did a fine job, especially given that she had only "Yeh Mera Dil" lite to work with. I wish Don had danced with her, I must admit, but that's only because I love watching SRK in action.

Which, after all, this movie provides in spades. Rock on, new Don - but with better music next time, please.

Friday, November 03, 2006

so clearly my big Bollywood break will have to be as a playback singer

I just giggled my way through a Bollywood workout DVD. I am a bad dancer. That's about all there is to say. At one point, trying to do some kind of hip-roll move that I'm sure is supposed to be alluring, an image of Main Hoon Na's Ms. Kakkad flashed in front of my eyes and I had to pause the DVD for a mo to collect myself. The nice instructor on the video said not to worry if at first you find some of the moves difficult, as practice makes perfect; she did not, however, say what to do if you remind yourself of a ridiculous comic side character. I've always assumed I was one of life's sidekicks, and usually I'm perfectly okay with that. It's just that one would like to be able to muster the teensiest bit of dance-based allure should one find oneself in a situation that called for it. That must be one of the things I like about Bollywood - generally, people fare very well in dance-based situations, and if they don't, it's often becuase they deserve it, or if they don't deserve it, they do much better in a subsequent situation. Another strike against "real life" in the ongoing "real life vs. Bollywood" question.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

resistance is futile; or, happy birthday, SRK

For days I've been thinking about what I want to say about the man - the legend [that's a joke from my trip this summer, by the way, which you can read about here if you're curious] - on this, his forty-first birthday, and I still don't have it figured out. What do you say about someone that you adore even though the more artistically discriminating part of your brain raises an eyebrow in reproof and says "Really? That guy? The one pretending to rap to 'Pretty Woman'?" I even put him on my list of top five embarassing crushes last year. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was my first SRK movie and I very clearly remember thinking that Anjali must be out of her mind and then being a little relieved when Salman's Aman first came on the screen, as he was actually comprehensibly attractive, whereas that guy with the weird nose was so obnoxious and cheesey. I mean, I actually said to myself, "Ah, that's better" after Salman hit the dance floor. But after a few more - Chalte Chalte, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Devdas, and Mohabbatein - it was all over. I wish I could remember how it happened, or when, but somewhere in there I got it, like the light had been switched on. And by the time I got to Saathiya a few films later, I was ecstatic when SRK appeared in a not dissimilar winking, in-joke entrance.

After having seen twenty-five of his movies, I still can't explain it. I made an "introduction to Bollywood" handout for my Fulbright peers this summer, and about SRK I could only offer "to know him is to love him" as an evocative description. (And sure enough, one of my colleagues on the trip did fall for him, hard, and would gasp in delight if I pointed out one of his many, many billboards from the bus window; when I bought her a copy of Filmfare with him on the cover, she hugged me.) I'm a little ashamed to admit that some of his appeal to me might be his otherness - and I don't at all mean nationality. I mean that I have never encountered anyone, fictional or famous or known to me face-to-face, who could dance like that and cry like that and flirt like that and was so compelling to engage with. These things aren't necessarily inherently good, and lord knows he does not always use his talents to what I would consider to be their fullest or most appropriate potential. There are also the little things: he seems to enjoy himself, he seems to have a sense of how ridiculous some aspects of his on-screen work are, his arm-flings and nonverbals are so communicative.

But what it boils down to is this: no matter what he's doing, I want to watch it because I know I will have a good time. Even if it's little more than caricature, even if I've seen him do it before, the man can entertain like no one I've ever encountered.

And just when I think he's essentially an extremely talented one- or two-trick pony, here comes Swades and I'm sobbing, again, because of the heart he thrusts out on to the screen - and then within the same film, the man I usually expect to be the class clown has somehow, by just taking a few steps,

given me the mind-blowing revelation that the most meaningful relationships are the ones we choose because our hearts want to, because we are willing to try, because we want them and will work for them and treat them with such care and flexibility and laughter, and it's one year and sixty films later and I can't and wouldn't re-cast that role. (Thanks for the picture, Maja.) I liked him before Swades, but after that...woah. I would write a birthday salute to him based on that and Main Hoon Na alone; fortuantely, I don't have to. Long live the king.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Khan-nundrum

In praise of all things Dharmendra-related (IPATDR?) has tagged me to list my four favorite Khans. This is not only a good warm-up for tomorrow's birthday celebration for SRK, but also a question that many Bollywood fan has no doubt pondered to herself, rising naturally as it does from the ubiquity of Khans.

Here are all the Khans I can think of off the top of my head (and have seen in at least one movie):
Aamir
Shahrukh
Saif Ali
Salman
Zayed
Fardeen
Amjad
Kader

But you know what? I'm going to start my list at number four with Farah Khan. The world would be a much more drab and boring place without the incomparable awesomeness of Ms. Khan. I love her. I love her for Main Hoon Na alone; but then there's Paheli's puppet dance and Koi Mil Gaya's ode to "Singin' in the Rain" and Asoka's steaminess and Kal Ho Naa Ho's "Maahi Ve" and Dil Chahta Hai and Monsoon Wedding and...and.... You get the drift. She's fantastic. I don't know anything about dance, but I do know how gleefully I go hurtling from the sofa to the cleared spot in my living room to dance along with her work.

It's a three-way tie for number one. I love Saif, Shahrukh, and Aamir, if not equally, then equitably. None of them could be swapped for another, and that's what makes them so great. Aamir has that freaky powerful stare (and the extended hand, with its force field of "do not f*&% with me" rage) and is just so very convincing all the time. Sharukh is...well, we know what he is, and I'll say more about that tomorrow. He's got more on-screen charisma than any other actor I can think of; for me, to know him is to love him, whether or not I really want to. Saif brings nuance and believability and a general sense of realness to roles that many other people would do as throw-away. Examples include that line in DCH when he introduces Pooja to her own parents and how my heart broke for him in KHNH even though he started off as a womanizing corporate lameo.

I won't choose. I khannot.

And that's it for puns for today. Promise.

I tag Kamla, Obi Wan, and Totally Basmatic.