Friday, September 19, 2008

lunchtime poll #7: foundation masala films

Inspired by Temple's concept of "foundation masala" (in the comments on Karz) and Rum's very excellent essay on the various states within the new nation of Masala Pradesh, here's a question for anyone who wants to take it up: what's on your Superwow Masala list and why? What do you consider essential viewing? (Those two descriptors might not always overlap.) Which films define or exemplify the idea of a masala movie? And spinning off of the core list, which films do you love or admire for their variations on the theme (e.g. disco masala)?

I don't want to flat-out ask "What makes a movie masala?" - I'd rather let that arise out of everyone's answers. There are many other masala -related quesitons to explore, and no doubt many other sites and authors and cinema studies graduate students have done so; if this experiment works the way I hope, we'll take a stab at them too. The kind of stab you take at the man who ruined your father/humiliated your mother/kidnapped your sibling/committed another atrocity that you accidentally witnessed as a child and now cannot escape.

I'm still mulling mine over, and I hope to have a list up by Monday. Something tells me I'll end up putting Parvarish near the top.

In this one shot alone, we have a location whose exterior is a badly done model, wacky outfits, not one but two pairs of lost fathers and sons, a police officer, a gun, a Kapoor, a classic villain actor, a time bomb, and the king of them all. Its only flaw, as a snapshot of the greatness that is Parvarish, is that it doens't show Neetu, Shabana, a song, or evidence of faked blindness. But you can't have everything.... Oh wait, yes you can: you watch masala!

21 comments:

memsaab said...

This is an excellent and timely post, Beth. I have recently been thinking about why some masala films are so satisfying, and others so...NOT. Why do some just not deliver, while having essentially the same ingredients?

I will need to ponder, but I agree that Parvarish would be right up there, and my personal fave is Jugnu.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Beth: There are too many to mention, but two I haven't tired of are Amar Akbar Anthony and Andaz Apna Apna. The former because it is one of the first movies I recall seeing (one I love and still enjoy), and the latter because although I am like more films that carry material social and political significance, I laugh my way through it each time despite its meaninglessness (oh, and with all the references to prior 'masala' it contained too). Sadly, I do not believe think Andaz Apna Apna works as well across the language barrier.

I prefer to be at the intersection of masala and what fans of masala would call 'bland', I guess :P If being a 'masala' film, then, is defined by its applicability and/or appeal to the masses (which I think it is, and not merely a checklist of measurable cinematic elements), I think (or hope) we've gotten to a point where this converges with more meaningful cinema, above and beyond the very fundamental kind of meaningful masala that Amar Akbar Anthony was, perhaps.

Cheers!

theBollywoodFan said...

although I *am* like

Meant to say I *like*, of course :)

I'll be checking others' responses here!

Filmi said...

Masala, masala, masala...yum!

@ Bollywood Fan, I love Amar Akbar Anthony with it's lost/found plot involving three (differently-faithed) brothers who happen to find three appropriately-faithed young ladies. :D

I'm going to have to compile my own list, but off the top of my head I'm going to have to say Talash, which has Helen, a fake double role, quaint villagers, evil gangsters who populate a (tacky looking) gangster lair, tons of comedy, and a sad caberet number. My honorable mention goes to Geeta Mera Naam for a lost/found plot involving 4 siblings on opposite sides of the law, Sunil Dutt playing an extremely campy gangster, Helen, and a boatload of dishoom-dishoom.

Great topic! I'll be checking back to see what people have to say, as well.

Temple said...

Hey Beth! I have been thinking about my must-sees, the required course reading prerequisite type movies..And realising how limited my filmi knowledge is. But for a mainstream view that is heavily dependent on a love of shiny shiny sets and costumes, great songs and a high WTF quota, here I go.
I agree with Amar Akbar Anthony as it has everything in spades, some great song piturisations (Rishi snd the hijras for one), and the children separated at birth only to be reunited in trying to help or save their filmi ma theme is a good un.
I would also list Evening In Paris and/or Teesri Manzil (Shammi is not for all tastes but one has Sharmila and one has the amazing Helen) for their convoluted plots that could have stopped dead had any character applied common sense, awesome soundtracks and exuberant performances.And the costumes and sets are insane.
For a family tragedy/revenge theme, I would probably go for Duniya Meri Jeb Mein or maybe Geraftaar for something really over the top (death by bulldozer, Amitabh and Kamal Hassan as brothers type of OTT).
Cute kids n their tribulations would be either Mister India (which has every single masala ingredient) or for something with a bit more soul, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, or maybe as an outside chance Hatya with Govinda.
Probably if I wanted to pick a masala madness extravaganza that made everything after it look quite sensible and understated by comparison, Mard would win hands down.
OK, well now I just want to go watch more movies...

Todd said...

This is just a list of my three top faves, because I don't think I've watched enough masalas yet to make any kind of pronouncement about which of them are seminal/ovular or whatever.

Yaadon Ki Baaraat. I love this movie because, despite all of its corniness, it managed to completely smash through my usually steadfast wall of ironic detachment. I found the romance charming, the family drama moving, and the criminal intrigues thrilling. And I don't think I even need to mention the amazing R.D. Burman score. Uh, even though I just did.

Dharam-Veer. There has to be a Manmohan Desai film on any list of top masala movies. I was tempted to say Amar Akbar Anthony, but the fact is that it's been too long since I watched that one for me to make that call. Dharam Veer, on the other hand, is a definite all time favorite, even though I had this nagging feeling that the period (or periods, whatever they're supposed to be) setting somehow excludes it from being a pure masala film. Anyway, it has all of the other elements -- plus gladiators fighting pirates, medieval gauchos and, of course, Sheroo the Wonder Bird. (I think honorable mention should also go to Naseeb, in which Manmohan Desai, in his herculean efforts to top himself, seems to be trying to mount a parody of a Manmohan Desai movie. Marvel at the concept, people.)

Geetaa Mera Naam. I've often described certain masala movies as being "crazy" or "insane", but Geetaa Mera Naam has a psychotic edge that really makes you wonder if its makers had a firm hold on their sanity. For instance, there's all of those weird S&M overtones, plus Sunil Dutt carrying a stuffed monkey around with him throughout the entire picture. It also has one of the most magnificent supervillain lairs in all of masala-dom, right up there with Amjad Khan's in Parvarish and Shakaal's in Shaan (and, Beth, if you're looking for suggestions for future polls, I'd love to hear other people's villain lair rankings). On top of that, it has a killer Laxmikant Pyarelal score, making it a hands-down favorite.

Cool topic! Thanks for giving me the chance to reflect upon these high points in my Bollywood-watching career.

Rum said...

thank you for spreading the word of the Masala Pradesh, on my superwow list of masala it would be, along with todd

yaadon ki baraat: its just so funky, so full everything, and the reunion scene just makes me cry every time, the funky sunglasses that tariq and ajit wore made me find every single type so i could wear it to school in the summer, that's some masala!
Suhaag: the Shashitabh did some wicked movies together, and this blindness and lost dads and brothers plus my fvorite Jeevan make this movie joyous to watch every time, and it does help that my aunt is one of the background dancers in the "rab ne banaya jodi" song
WAQT(OLD)= It was the original 60's version of the lost and found genre that made me go gaga for sadhana's fringe that looked quite terrible on curly hair like mine! and it raaj kumar ohhfff that voice!

Temple said...

Todd - I got scared off Dharam-Veer by the idea of Dharmendra in a gladiator outfit but it is still in the to-be-viewed pile.
Geeta Mera Naam sounds brilliant - I really must track that down right away.
I realised I mentioned 2 movies over on Karz, but not in my post -- and duh! How could I forget Shoaly (the ultimate buddy dishoom romance revenge drama) and Big B as Don (as above, minus the buddy).
There are so many excellent recommendations here - thank you everyone, you may have made my DVD shop guy a very happy man indeed.

Temple said...

oh I CAN spell, I just can't type.....Sholay Sholay Sholay

Filmi Girl said...

@ Temple

Geeta Mera Naam is *so* classic. You simply must see it! Sadhana dishoom-dishooms more than any other heroine I've ever seen - including Zeenat Aman in Don!

And I don't think of Sholay as being a masala-y film. It's more in the mode of the serious Zanjeer than the light-hearted Amar Akbar Anthony and the aforementioned Don.

Besides, I think a wacky villain's lair is an essential part of masala - leading me to also put forth the excellent Vinod Khanna/Amitabh Bachchan buddy film Hera Pheri, which also features a pretty jamming Padma Khanna item number!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

I will probably sound super-obvious, but here goes- While Amar Akbar Anthony is the ultimate masala movie without perhaps trying conciously to be so, Om Shanti Om is conciously so.

But other than the latter, I dont believe there ARE too many true masala movies in the past few years...which is surprising.

I think any Manmohan Desai, GP Sippy or Subhash Ghai movie automatically qualifies tho :D

Temple said...

@ filmi girl
Re Sholay - yes I did initially think of it as a more serious film, but as soon as I saw the revenge finale with armless man in hobnailed clogs it moved over the border into masala-land. It has the ditzy heroine, the buddy theme, unrequited lerv, a couple of awesome songs and a villain with a very visible hideaway, token minoroty characters living in peace n harmony. So for me, raised on Western Westerns, it is on the fringes, or the outer suburbs of Masala Pradesh for me.
My favourite lair is probably the drive-in one in Fakira with the clap activated lights, round sliding doors and red backlighting for instant Charlies Angels effect on entering a room :)

Todd said...

Thanks to everyone's suggestions here, I now have Fakira, Jugnu, Talash and Duniya Meri Jeb Mein on my "must see" list.

Temple, I came very close to naming Mr. India myself. Then it struck me that, despite how self conciously masala-y (that's a word!) it is, it lacks, as far as I recall, one element that I thought was pretty much a deal breaker in terms of it qualifying as a true masala: a mother figure. Am I wrong in that assumption? Perhaps my definition of the genre needs to be a little more fluid.

Temple said...

Hey Todd -
I actually thought the resounding lack of mother figure in Mr India fit the requirements - Orphans in search of a family and a man in search of invisibility and true love (who then became the mother figure reluctant or otherwise). I think the lack of mother is a strong masala theme - orphans being adopted by random strangers who then give them a place in life, kids separated from their mother in early childhood and trying to find her, people who don't know their origins who are barred from some areas of society.
Maybe I am too broad in my interpretation - It's all very subjective I guess. I have already confessed to Beth, I get very distracted by the sparkles and the snazzy dance moves so not always the most rigorously intellectual viewer.

Sanket Vyas said...

Masala films must have 3 components to be truly considered great in my humble opinion. First and foremost is stars and plenty of them. Second is a story that must be layered on top of several other stories but NOT to the point of being incomprehensible. Third of course, is that the movie have memorable tunes for the songs will be remembered long after the movie is gone.

To that end my personal faves (which are heavy on the Amitabh side) include: AAA, Shaan, Naseeb, Do aur do paanch, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Karz, The Burning Train. No modern day films really come close as the outfits/colors are just not Krazy enough ;)

a ppcc representative said...

PPCC comin' at ya with a fried brain and fried dil, but will try to give this a shot:

Disclaimer 1: Gotta have the Shash. Masala sans Shash is like a day without sunshine!

Disclaimer 2: Fried brain, v. tired.

What IS masala? Messy, emotionally epic, telenovela, shambolic and dizzy and fun. Like a roller coaster that hasn't cleared any sanitary American safety regulations. Rickety and low-fi and adorable and SQUISH. Cops and robbers, antics, disguises, misplaced family members, misplaced babies, qawwalis and disco balls, dishoom, Shashi's wobbly smile and Amitabh's BAD-ASSness. Gah! You said it better than I did.

The countdown! (in no order)

- Amar Akbar Anthony. Because Manmohan Desai is the god of masala.
- Chor Sipahee. My masala guilty pleasure. A trainwreck, but so aesthetically pleasing.
- Don. The first masala and a good hook masala movie.
- Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Modern masala, as it should be done! The movie from my brain!
- Do Aur Do Paanch/Namak Halaal/Mard. Scary post-masala masala that becomes surreal and Dali-esque and freaky.
- Duniya Meri Jeb Mein. Emo masala.
- Kasme Vaade. Redemption masala.
- Muqaddar ka Sikandar. Devdas masala.
- Roti Kapada aur Makaan. Socialist masala.

Actually, what am I talking about? The number one masala movie for the PPCC has been and always will be Suhaag. That movie fills me with such joy.

eliza bennet said...

When I read the post the first thing that came to mind was Amar Akbar Anthony.

For a -sort of- newer experience I think Dil Hai Tumhaara is pure masala (this film is never mentioned and probably not a very good film but give it a try if you are in to masala)

Sholay to me is not masala - actually I regard it as "two samurai"

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom receives undeserved love from me but it is not masala unless there are more than a few tears (and JBJ doesn't oblige :) )

Ashley said...

Nothing beats Sholay, but I agree with others about Amar Akbar Anthony. I also enjoyed Yaadon Ki Baarat.

Temple said...

Hi Rum and the P-PCC (and of course Beth)

I have had Suhaag in the to-be-watched pile for ages and last night I finally did it. Oh my God, how have I lived so long without that movie in my life??? It goes to the top of the Filmi MA (Masala) required viewing list. Not negotiable.It is awesome. Shashi (hope he gets out of hospital soon) and the B were in fine form (and excellent wardrobe), and even Nirupa Roy didn't annoy me so much. It was good to see young Master Titoo as young Shashi, bringing back fond memories of roller skating and purple suits. It had an excellent lair, but I don't know why Vikram felt sitting in a recycled cinema ticket booth was going to protect his identity, given that said booth was in his house. Oh well. Detail, unimportant detail. It is full throttle masala and I love it.
Now I am off to try and find Geetaa Mera Naam!

Temple said...

Peoples - I got a copy of Geeta Mera Naam on the weekend. I did my usual test to see if it would play by choosing a song. Lordy - S&M overtones, Helen in a bubble filled water feature with nasty man in flesh coloured leotard (the black belt is not really as slimming as I think he hoped) and that was just the first few seconds of the song...Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

Beth said...

Temple! Awesome! Now I must get it too. And now that I have finally seen Suhaag, I can whole-heartedly agree with your assessment. Full throttle masala - amen!