Wednesday, January 31, 2007

collaborative-ish project #2: cinematic and musical hip-hip-hoorays for Shaan

Movies and music go well together, I think we can all agree, being Bollywood fans and all. So with that in mind, I'm delighted to present a collaborative post by Bollywood Desi Music Club and yours truly on the musical and filmi greatness that is Shaan.

A bit of background - redundant if you've seen the movie, of course, but I hope incredibly tempting if you haven't, because you really ought to.... Sunil Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shashi Kapoor play brothers; the former is an up- and outstanding police officer who moves to Mumbai, where the other two are small-time con artists - so small-time that they seem to be the victims of jobs as often as they pull them off. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is a Blofeld-esque bad guy who controls various evildoings from his underwater lair, which, according to the subtitles, is 300 km off the coast of Mumbai and is clearly deep in the ocean based on the sea creatures that constantly swim by the background of the evil meeting room. Almost everything about the plot and sets is familiar, whether reminiscent of James Bond or North by Northwest or other Hindi films (Parvarish and Don kept coming to mind) or Austin Powers - and I mean no criticism by that, because these are elements I'm delighted to see again, especially in such giddy combination. Eventually the younger brothers decide to bring the bad guy to justice, and, with the help of a circus sharpshooter (Shatrughan Sinha), Parveen Babi, Bindiya Goswami, Rakhee, and Johnny Walker, all ends as you'd expect. Other elements include an assassination attempt at an amusement park, double-crosses, silver boots, a one-man bar brawl, spooked horses, a fake-pretend elopement and assorted other shenanigans, a pack of attack dogs, Helen doing her thing, a very cute song on a double-decker bus (which I will leave to Sanket to tell you more about), the afore-mentioned disco lounge, and Amitabh fighting a crocodile.

By the way, now that I've seen the most exalted figure of Hindi cinema in a bloody underwater battle with a styrofoam crocodile - which, for the record, does not have a freakin' laser beam strapped to its head, although I certainly see no reason for it not to - I think I can die happy.

One teensy problem. While this may have been intentional, I didn't think Shashi Kapoor quite held his own here. I've never seen him before, so I have nothing to compare his style to, but Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha walked away the heroes, no doubt about it. About halfway through I realized I wanted to put Vinod Khanna (who may have been off gardening for gurus by this point, I don't know) in Shashi's role, feeling he could have just handled it in a stronger and more sparky sort of way. No particular harm done, though; Shashi keeps his character from getting lost in the shuffle completely, which I imagine was not easy to do in a plot like this one.

Anyway, this is an absolutely fantastic movie. It really does have anything you could ever want - and plenty of things, like the crocodile fight, that you didn't know you wanted but once you see them you'll realize that they were quite possibly what's been missing from your life all this time. It's Ramesh Sippy doing a Salim-Javed story, so you really can't go wrong. For me this was almost as much fun as Seeta aur Geeta. It comes in second because the women really didn't get to do much, and this is becoming a far-too-frequent complaint, quite frankly, and I'm pretty tired of having to say it, so someone needs to do something about it, and quickly. Within its own world, Shaan is by no means only silly. It never topples all the way over into ridiculousness or spazzy, purposeless running amok, which I think it could have done quite easily. Everything is in balance. The characters for whom you are supposed to feel sympathy never get treated too heavily. Villains are thoroughly bad but not cartoony. The romances are breezy and cute rather than sappy or slogging. It's only recently that I have discovered the unadulterated fun that is 1970s Bollywood, and I'm delighted that the various forces of the universe, fickle as they may be, somehow aligned to enable the creation of this sort of gem. Shaan is a must-see, the kind of movie that is so enjoyable that it will cure whatever ails you, but it's also so enjoyable that there's no reason to reserve it only for times you most need cheering. File it in the special section of the shelf reserved for the movies you're always in the mood for. Good, good fun.

And remember, go here and read about the music.

balloon burst

Remember awhile ago I said I was going to Bollywood and not coming back? I'm contemplating it again. But thanks to Krrish, I now know that my utopia, based largely on the Kausali of Koi Mil Gaya, could only be short-lived, and that soon enough Rohit will fall into the clutches of the evil Dr. Arya, so really, why bother?

So my question to you is, where should I move? If you were going to spend a year in a movie, which one would it be? Just for fun, let's say you can take real people into it, and you can put characters and actors into movies they're not actually in. I'm currently thinking about Dil Chahta Hai, where I can hang out with my kindred spirit Deepa and hope that Sid will notice me once Tara dies. Sid really is the ultimate FPMBF, and once he makes up with Akash, the gang will probably be a lot of fun to hang out with. Plus I've never been to Goa and it sounds nice, especially since where I actually live it's 9 degrees outside this morning (that's -13 for all you celsius nuts). But I'm open to suggestions - and travel companions.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Then again, who am I to trifle with the institution of FPMBF?

You know how you can get all caught up in the fiddly little details of life, or work yourself into a tizzy over groundless unknown things, and lose track of the big picture, and then all of a sudden something reminds you in a heartbeat of what's truly important? I love when that happens.

Thanks to a tip from alert reader Haley, I refreshed my long-dormant subscription to the BBC Film Café podcast to hear what Akshaye had to say for himself. And in all honesty, I was smitten all over again. Sensible, calm, confident but grounded and assuming, neither evasive nor exhibitionist. He actually said very little, but he said it so beautifully. Usually I am not a fan of saying very little, but there was something about how he spoke that struck me as so honest and uncomplicated - someone asked him some questions, and he responded, without compromising anyone else in his answers. And oh my stars, the man has a lovely speaking voice. And - how shall I say this without sounding like some sort of deranged memsahib fetishist? - the combination of that silky warm accent and gentle voice and flawless English* is Fish Called Wanda and then some.

Damn.

* Yes, of course I know millions of people in India have flawless English, but please remember that I have never heard him use his before. Also, when you know people from their work in movies that mostly use Hindi, but you have to rely on subtitles, it's easy to get the impression that in fact no one in India has a firm grasp of English. It's a very unfair impression, and not one anyone with half a brain would ever hold when they stop to think about it, but when the shiny pictures go flying along with the ridiculous text, that's what happens. And anyway, very few people speak flawlessly in interviews. Or in blogs, for that matter.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

save the date

Over pancakes yesterday morning, my friend Abby said that she was putting so-and-so on her shit list, which got me to thinking about how I don't have one of those but it seems really fun as a concept, like you've got this little notepad and you jot people down when they cross you, and of course you don't publicize your criteria, because you want to keep the mystery alive that at any moment anyone you know or encounter could be next. Very menacing. Very not me - so of course I've decided I need one.

Regular readers will know that a certain fellow in Mumbai is currently perilously close to being on such a list if he doesn't watch it, but...well, I just can't stay mad at him, really, those eyes and all, and anyway, to forgive, divine, so I should offer him a chance to redeem himself. So here it is: drop whatever you're doing and go, right this minute, and reserve the awesome giant mirrored bar/lounge from Shaan for our fake-pretend wedding.

Because I cannot think of a better setting for the best party I'll ever throw in my life than that room. End of story. If it's fallen into disrepair since its 1980 heyday, bust out the elbow grease. If it's still just as fantastic as ever but is in a less than desirable neighborhood, call in Salman to drive around until he scares off all the derelicts. If it was a set, dig up the loonytoon who designed it and put him to work.

So I've already started sketching out ideas - I'm taking my inspiration from the room itself - think disco ball turned inside-out. As every good American woman knows, part of the fun of a big wedding is fugging out your girlfriends. So, Totally Basmatic, Maja, Babasko, Bollyhoo, t-hype, Carla, Filmiholic, Chronicus Skepticus, and Azuregoddess, you get to wear these little numbers - I know, really cute in a flapper-y way, right? you can totally wear them again -

and dance with wimpy sparkly pompoms on the light-up floor.

But don't worry, there are lots of ringside seats for FPMSOs, so all that rump-shaking you're going to do won't go unnoticed - nudge nudge, wink wink.

For the fellas, I'm sorry, I don't quite have your outfits picked out yet, but I'm thinking a trouser in purple pleather topped with pec-exposing silver shrugs. AoM, Teleport City, Michael - hit the gym. Nothing against you personally, but Hrithik and Sanjay will be there, and I wouldn't want you to feel self-conscoius. Plus it's bound to be page 3, and you don't want Manisha to see the photos with you looking anything less than your very most pumped, na?

Now, since it's my special day, and it's Bollywood-themed, there's going to be a lot of opportunities for musical numbers. All the big names will be there, so you can just mosey up and ask the artist(s) in person for your favorites, and they'll be delighted to stand in the background while you romp around and mouth the words.

I know some of you are worried about this maybe veering towards the tacky, but believe me, it is going to be first class, one hundred percent - with me in a white dress and centerpieces with tapers and everything!

Even Amitabh will be there, adding some establishment gravitas. He'll probalby get a little paternal, making sure that I behave myself and don't do anything to embarass his old buddy Vinod - and people will have been whispering for months that I'm bound to do something inappropriate, since I'm not accustomed to industry galas, and clearly I had an unconvential upbringing - but I'll be too busy to notice, as I sweep around the room to "Chale Jaise Hawein" and greet the glitterati. You girls will stop me before I get too crazy, right, like if I spend a little too much time locked in eye contact with the unescorted Mr. Kiran Rao? And Aspi, can I trust you to talk me up to Vinod? Preferably before "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" comes on, 'cause no good ever comes of "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" + rum.

This in-the-indeterminate-future fake-pretend party's going to town.

cough(nerd)cough

I've just spent half an hour using pencil and paper to diagram the Kapoor family tree...and then the Roshan/Khan group. And I was about to tackle some of the other Khans when I realized just how long this particular project had taken, and that I had better get back to Shaan - quite possibly the greatest movie ever, by the way - while the getting was good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

By "New York," do you mean "Illinois"?

This is so not the news one wants to hear when one is home sick. At least there's an explanation for why I had to go get my own ice cream. It's times like this that the "FP" in FPMBF begins to wear a person down.

pass the tissues

All quiet on the midwestern front. What have I been doing instead of watching Bollywood? Actually learning Hindi, that's what. I've made it through the consonants; watch out, vowels! But I'm home sick today, so maybe I'll re-watch something I've seen before but never reviewed.

Of course, what I'd really like is for Akshaye to call in sick too and then go get me some ice cream, but he's out promoting a film or something. Babasko has kindly offered to call her FPMEMA to be the heavy, but I hope it won't come to that.

Anyway. Guru will be in my local art theater February 2, but hopefully I'll get to something before that. I keep promising Teleport City that I'll watch Shaan, but I'm not sure I have enough concentration for a new movie, especially one with Amitabh and Sunil Dutt and Parveen Babi and Rakhee and Helen and Bindu and Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Shahsi Kapoor and.... Coughing fit. It's all too much.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shaadi Se Pehle

You know what the worst thing about Shaadi Se Pehle is? The sound effects - they're cartoony: slide whistles, crashing noises, overly loud footsteps, that sort of thing. Even Akshaye gets in on the act and resorts to talking like Scooby Doo a few times. It's ridiculous, and it adds to the wackadoo feeling of the movie, which in my book is veeeeery dangerous, because most versions of wackadoo leave me completely cold. (Hungama is my Bollywood wackadoo yardstick, even if no one ever agrees.)

Other than that admittedly minor complaint, this really wasn't so bad. Although as Totally Basmatic wisely reminded me in the context of Chori Chori, that's the kind of compliment that's the kiss of death. Here it's not quite death - if you stumble across Shaadi Se Pehle you'll quite possibly enjoy it just fine, timepass, perfeclty pleasant few hours, but don't go out of your way.

Which brings me to the real question at hand: why is someone with the talents of Akshaye Khanna making movies I shouldn't go out of my way to see? Of course my hopes are high for Salaam-E-Ishq, but his lack of compelling chemistry with Ayesha Takia has me a little daunted. They weren't awful together; more like "serviceable." Again, the kiss of death. But at least in that there will be lots of other people to rely on. You have to believe that he really loves her in Shaadi Se Pehle, loves her enough to try a Really Stupid Idea to protect her feelings. Let's voluntarily overlook the hope that when you truly love someone, you communicate with them about big life decisions. I haven't decided whether my lack of investment in their love is due to dull and limited writing - in which they try to tongue-in-cheek-Hindi-film-jokingly gloss over the development of the relationship, substituting for dialogue and character development a wink-wink joke that the apperance of a duet means that the heroine and hero are in love - or to a simple lack of "chemistry," whatever that means. She in particular is given very little to work with. In some ways this lack of emphasis on the start of their relationship makes sense, as the story is really about the set-up and effects of his shenanigans, but, as a general rule,* caring about the leads is a big chunk of what's needed to carry us through the rest of the movie.

Akshaye generally handles said shenanigans with lightness and level-headedness - very much like he did in Hulchul. He rarely indulges in wackadoo, and he does a nice job balancing his careful, businesss-world, hypochondriac lover-boy with someone who has only a year left to live and has gotten himself into a Malaysian mobster sexpot soup. There are definitely funny moments, mostly at his hands (although I can see how Mallika is funny; although her switch from devil-may-care playgirl to puppy-love is a little lurchy [and probably not entirely her fault]), though I don't remember what most of them are. One is here, where, at his engagement party, Akshaye is demanded by guests to dance like Govinda and then Hrithik;

after protesting he gives it a go (sadly the scene cuts to something else right here, so we only see the start of the wiggle, and the grocery store didn't include the features disk with this rental, so my dreams of seeing it on the blooper reel are unfulfilled).

Sunil Shetty has some funny scenes, but his schtick quickly gets repetetive. It's as though he's playing Main Hoon Na's Raghavan for laughs instead of seriously. (Now there's an interesting question: how do you decide when to play an essentially funny role seriously instead of full-on jokingly?) I wonder why Anupam Kher bothered to be in this - talk about being given little to do. And I do hope Rajpal Yadav is not on his way to becoming the next Johnny Lever - he's capable of much better.

Before I go, here's a sample of Akshaye's many looks in this movie (if you want more, I already wrote a long piece in Bollywood Fugly on the fashion foibles, not because everything was awful but because a lot of it's just funny. That, and my FPMBF looks mighty good in a tie):

  • urban cowboy
  • fake-pretend drunken seducer of fiancee's mother
  • advertising executive frightened by Gulshan Grover-led mob
  • and, my personal favorite, yummy.

And remember: if you decide to see this, walk, don't run. And be sure you look both ways before crossing.

* Exceptions apply. Some movies escape this rule by having lots of other aspects to delight or engage the viewer, like disco dancing or ninjas.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Omkara

(Note: I've never read Othello and haven't seen it for ages, so some of my comments are uninformed. C'est la vie.)

I'm beginning to worry that there is an inverse relationship between the quality of a movie and my ability to write about it. Abby and I just finished Omkara and I cannot think of much I feel the need to express. If you've seen it, you know it's great in a variety of obvious and subtle ways. And that once again Saif Ali Khan is exceptionally impressive - I can't believe this is the same guy I just saw in Main Khiladi Tu Anari, you know? - although everyone in this was stellar. (Though maybe it's not fair to single him out and Iago is just one of those roles that gets all the attention? )

Like Bandit Queen yesterday, I especially liked all the details in the sets that made this look like a very pragmatic, everyday world in which people take care of business, and even though they wield control and intimidation they're not decadent or excessive in most aspects of their lives. I certainly don't know what everyday life in UP looks like, but I did see a lot that looked familiar to me from my time spent staring out of bus and train windows this summer. This isn't the world of Sarkar or Maqbool, or even K3G, for example, where the powerful and rich are visibly so (although maybe that's because this was in a less urban setting). Also, most emotions were played close to the chest and contained until the very end - no histrionics or trauma-drama here. (I'm drawing a difference between expressing emotions and acting on them, the latter of which happened all the time, of course.) What I mean to get at by all this is that I think the relatable visuals drew me into the story more than I might have been otherwise, based as it was on people making bad decisions in skimpy context, a story arc that usually annoys me (see also K3G). As much as I tend to enjoy Bollywood's big and bold emotions, they wouldn't have worked here.

Three little quibbles, though.

  • Bipasha's songs felt completely out of place, not so much for their purpose in the story (and not because of her or what she was wearing or singing) but in the way they were set up and filmed or something. I've got zero filmmaking knowledge but both of these struck me as incongruous - and this coming from someone who now takes as completely normal that people might burst into song and dance no matter what's going on. The rest of the music was woven into the general fabric of the movie much more effectively and subtly, and I thought the transitions into her numbers were awkward and the picturizations a tad overly happy-dancey in the otherwise stable look of the film.
  • There isn't much overt character development. I felt left to infer a lot of motivations; that wasn't hard or unpleasant to do, but I felt that all I know is that Omkara reacts strongly to things most of the time, Kesu is generally good-natured (within his violent and sketchy world, anyway) and malleable, and Langda is jealous. Nobody here does much communicating, do they?
  • If that waistband meant so much to Omkara, why in the world didn't he notice its absence immediately after it fell off when they were cuddling and cooing and hold-me-tight-ing? It was clearly absent from her light-colored clothing - and, even sillier, his hands were on her waist multiple times. That was just stupid. I was also surprised she didn't notice it, as it looked pretty heavy, and that Indu, as Omkara's sister, didn't recognize this "family heirloom" when she found it outside and that she left it in the hands of someone for whom it was clearly not meant.* A lot of plot and evidence depended on that waistband, and I didn't think it added up very well.
Anyway, see it, if just for Saif. But you knew that already.

* Update to post (January 19, 2007): thanks to comments - and no thanks to the subtitles - I now understand Indu is not in fact Omkara's actual sister and that it's just a friendly term. Sorry about that!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bandit Queen

History, culture, life, human nature - whatever you want to call the forces that cause us to act the way we do - can be brutal, selfish, narrow, dumb, bleak. Sometimes all of these elements and adjectives come crashing down in a single narrative, and when they do, we get Bandit Queen's story of Phoolan Devi.* Is there resolution? No. Forgiveness? No. Peace? No. Regret? Not that I understood. Responsibility? Only when forced. Sympathy? Very little. Courage? Maybe, but usually it gets filtered through fear and revenge. Community? Maybe, but societies in the world of this movie just seem to drive individuals to either mob behavior or extreme complacency.

This last point is what disturbed me most. How many people saw the literally countless abuses against Phoolan Devi and did nothing? Dozens, hundreds. By no means does this justify most of her decisions and actions, but it very quickly and thoroughly creates an environment in which I could accept why she did what she did.

The movie's little touches of beauty - a laughing bicycle ride, the harsh landscape, ruins of lovely carved stones, the simple textures of daily life that witnessed the violence - and the wrenching performances just made everything hurt even more; instead of limiting the story by being ridiculous, they built a world in which all this happened. I don't even want to try to think about what the message of Bandit Queen is. I don't want to think about it anymore at all.

Aside: If you want to see this, please, please be warned that starting at about 1 hour 12 minutes there is a 5- or 6-minute scene that might just break you. I told Filmi Geek I was going to watch with my teddy bear close at hand, but I didn't get around to that layer of protection, but it wouldn't have helped one bit.

*Notice I didn't just say "the life of Phoolan Devi" - horrific as it may really have been, it seems the facts are so muddied that I don't even want to consider the question of whether the film is accurate or even representative, and in some ways I don't think that matters much.

beta hot potata

This long weekend is devoted to a variety of projects, one of which is converting the blog template to beta. And I'm sure something won't go quite right (hey banners, I'm lookin' at you.) And if all goes well, things will be back to normal soon - and there will be a review of a FPMBF movie too. Really, who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I believe the word is "geeked."

A certain social networking website - which I happily admit is not at all my favorite thing in the world, partly because it provides another forum for bubble-headed writing with eight exclamation points in a row and features eye-scarring layout and graphics - has given me a reason to like it a little more than I used to. After all, a good laugh is priceless (dekho my dosto).

Friday, January 05, 2007

Beth loves books, too

My "to read" stack of books has become completely unwieldy. Novels people lent me almost a year ago, a really interesting-looking nonfiction on the history of spices, four books on Bollywood...all untouched. Dusty, even. Verrrry bad.

I love to read, and I'm not sure why I haven't been doing much of it lately - certainly not from a lack of material. I can't really blame all of that on the television, but it's the major distraction, so after I watch Bandit Queen this weekend (which I borrowed from someone so I have to return it soon), that foul temptation is banished for at least one whole week - which means no movies either, unless Dhoom 2 appears out of nowhere at the local art theater. Which could happen. This is going to be extra tricky given that I'm going to Chicago's Indian neighborhood today and tomorrow, where the shopping is plentiful and easy. Movies will certainly return soon - Abby and I are thinking of having a Bollywood sleepover over MLK long weekend - but something is keeping me from a hobby I truly enjoy and value, and I need to re-set a few things to get elements of life into a more fulfilling order.

But there is another little project in progress that might interest some of you (although it's not movie-related): I am finally putting up all of my pictures from my trip to India. I'm working on tagging and describing them, and not all are up yet; as of this writing, I had done most of the photos from Agra, Ahmedabad/Gujarat, and Amritsar/Punjab (see the theme here?). I'm trying to avoid duplicating the movie-related photos, since they were already up. At some point I'm going to research about as many of the buildings in my photos as I can - I looooove buildings.

Monday, January 01, 2007

happy new year!

2006 was seen out and 2007 in by movies - and Hrithik was wiggling as midnight turned - but somewhere in all the madness I lost my voice (figuratively). I can't think of a single thing worth sharing about either Main Khiladi Tu Anari or Chori Chori except that the cover of the latter has some hilarious verbiage about how love "makes the mornings glow, the days flow, and puts a smile on evening" and that it "sneaks up on us like the wind in the woods and washes us with its freshness," none of which has particular significance to the movie. Also Ajay Devgan sports some very fitted shirts in it, making him look a little like a cop going undercover as a Bollywood star, although as Abby and I agreed, "tight shirts are his color." I like Ajay Devgan but now whenever I see him I think of cell phones, thanks to a relentless billboard campaign that followed me around India last summer.
IMG_1239.JPG

But the thought of leaving readers without a "hmmm" or a giggle makes me really sad - and is soooo not 2007 - so please go read Susania's post on Bollywood Fugly about Main Khiladi Tu Anari, which is not to be missed.