Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

Watching your comments roll in on my previous "OMG I LOVED THIS" mini-post about Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! has been fascinating. People seem to either enh it or all-caps LOVE it, which of course has me wondering why I fall into the latter category when the criticisms by the former make quite a lot of sense, actually, when I read them in the cold light of my email, away from the high of watching the movie. One of ideas that has surfaced as I thought this through is that while I loved the movie, I certainly did not love the character Lucky. He's made a lot of stupid, not to mention morally and legally objectionable, decisions and basically gets rewarded for them. He's two-faced, smiling warmly and charmingly while ripping people off. He's not always nice to his friends. He's got a supersize ego and seems to be motivated by fame. He's not particularly clever or creative in his heists, relying instead on a few quick lies and a cute face. He doesn't seem to learn or change much. He took somebody's dog! There's nothing super about the super chor except his confidence and single-mindedness. He's the Energizer Bunny chor - he keeps on stealing and stealing and stealing, always on autopilot.

But to me it was a very successful, engaging portrait of this very lucky Lucky and the people around him.What I find most interesting about him - and his story - is that once he got started, he couldn't stop. It might just be as simple as his greed - not just the money and material goods, but the lifestyle as well. Acquiring and acquisitiveness are hard habits to break; as Jabberwock says, Lucky is caught up in social climbing and the desire for more, and he doesn't seem to care what he actually already has. I think one could argue that Lucky turns a lot of his brain off as his success grows. Not thinking about "enough" - or about the actual reasons for his unhappiness - is established while Lucky is still a kid. He steals the scooter, takes out the girl, his actual financial situation bites his facade in the rear, he pouts, he lies to his friends about it, and then we see him making off with a car as the story shorthands him into adulthood. Transport is clearly a motivation for Lucky (and wans't it great how the last vehicle we see him in is a cab and the last mode of transport is his feet?), serving as status symbols but also movement and being unestablished, like in Johnny Gaddar and Kalyug. Lucky's girlfriend Sonal (played with down-to-earth bluntness and vitality by Neetu Chandra) is as much an accessory he thinks he should have as she is an actual emotional attachment.

Abhay Deol was bang-on as this likable, sort of shallow guy. He looks "blank and bemused," as movie meh commented, becuase Lucky is largely blank. But at least he's pretty happy about it, as opposed to the malcontent criminal who is unsatisfied with everthing. I was reminded of Owen Wilson's pleasant laid-back blond persona - different cultural reference, but the same calm good-naturedness. He demonstrates little awareness of the difficulties he causes (or could potentially cause) the people close to him; he's so totally detached from his family that even their major life events are news to him. He's invested only in gain and his next chance to gain, and if he's in motion towards gain, he's happy enough. (Not satisfied, mind you - I mean "happy" in the sense of cheerful.) He's the more chor.

There's something about the scale of this portrait that I loved too. Approachable, comprehensible, resonant. The little film-strip style single frames of connected moments moving the plot or time along and the many, many views of Lucky or from his point of view through car windows felt so real, like the way many of us do actually see other people's lives and moments. (At one point I wondered if all the car window shots were in fact supposed to evoke the frames in a film.) Lucky climbs back stairs like a normal person - no grappling hook, no fancy equipment. He clambers over fences of reasonable height, not boudning like a superhero. His hangouts seem normal. Sonal's family's house seems normal (and is decorated with the kind of tacky but harmless geegaws we always notice at other people's homes). And don't we all have a dorky friend who wears a sweater vest or baseball cap when we wish he wouldn't?

Other things:

  • Obviously I missed a ton of the jokes and references in the dialogues, but the subtitles were pretty sparky, occasionally even providing cultural translation, like "Clint Eastwood" for "Vinod Khanna."(Interestingly, "Chunkey Pandey" was not translated, and I'd think a person who watches this movie who doens't know who Vinod Khanna is is even less likely to know who Chukey Pandey is, so I'm not sure what's going on with that. Sometimes they said "star" for "Shahrukh" and others just did it literally as "Shahrukh." Somebody should do a list on all the ways "Shahrukh Khan" gets translated in subtitles - off the top of my head I'm remembering "Brad Pitt" in Bluffmaster.)
  • When Dr. Handa and Lucky meet on the plane, he asks Lucky "Are you from the film line?" and Lucky says "No." More meta? Tongue in cheek? Or Abhay Deol disavowing his heritage and nodding to his slightly offbeat body of work thus far?
  • The repeated return to the song about Jugni (and many thanks to Shweta for explaining those songs!). I wish I'd paid attention to when it was used, if it was always during a theft. The music and audio generally were fantastic; I especially loved the chimes (and maybe even glockenspiel! thanks D4K!) that hinted at a fairy tale feeling here and there. When characters were ouside, it sounded like they were outside. When a busy street was out the cafĂ© window, you heard the honking and spoons clanking against cups. And the moments the sound disappeared - when Lucky takes Sonal driving and skidding around in the car he claims to have bought and the film slows down as her hair floats in the wind - you could tell you were in somebody's head instead of in reality. Side point: there are a lot of bird noises throughout the movie, including the little female voice refrain in the "Jugni" verses that the subtitles translated as "tweet tweet." (I hope the subtitles are accurate, or there goes my point.)
  • Lucky does seem to really like Sonal. I think he likes her feistiness, and somehow he trusts her, which he doesn't seem to be able to do with any of the other people who know what he does. Although I felt the loose ends at the finish of the movie were consistent with the feel of the story and personalities of the characters - and for once a movie merely stopping rather than properly ending seemed appropriate - the cheeseball part of me wanted to know if what I saw of Sonal and Lucky was real or in their imagination.
  • Three Paresh Rawal caracters! I don't know if that casting was to show the differnet forms of evil (Bollyviewer) or father figures and obstacles (Jabberwock), or just that sometimes we run across the same basic annoyances or struggles in life over and over. No matter why he was used so much, I was grateful for his nuanced creation of three very distinct characters.
  • The rest of the cast was so fantastic. I want to see more of all of them, especially Manu Rishi (Bangali) and Richa Chadda (dancer Dolly).
I told myself that I couldn't add any pictures to this post, purely out of simple interest in trying to get to bed at a sensible hour, but I just can't do it. Here are two: one to summarize the whole movie, just the man with his stolen stuff unsure whether to trust whoever's at his door,

and one of my favorite little jokes in the movie, which came within the first few minutes, stealing my heart (and brain) right away.

14 comments:

Darshit said...

Gr8 analysis of the movie. Loved every bit of it. Also loved only two screencaps u captured. Fab.

moviemeh said...

Excellent and insightful post!

bawa said...

Very nicely-done and enormous review. Now shall have to see it.

Jugni is not only popular in Delhi, it is a traditional Punjabi folk-song about this girl Jugni who could really "kick-ass": stanzas have been since added, modernising Jugni's experiences.
One of the best Jugni versions is by Hazara Singh Ramta, here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoBdV0o-WeQ

(If you understand Punjabi Ramta is not to be missed, caustic lyrics poking fun at himself)

Rabbi Shergill in his first album did a lovely version of it, where Jugni goes to different parts of India and faces some pretty hard issues in each place.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Agree w/ view on "Clint Eastwood" for "Vinod Khanna."(Interestingly, "Chunkey Pandey" was not translated"- yes that just made me sit up in the middle of the movie- hilariousness :D
That 1st sequence was amazing, where the newsreported, in typical Indian-tabloid style introduces Abhay (who looks SO DANG CUTE in the 1st shot- OK I need to control the gushing)- and then the chase behind the pup :D even the cops are delhite to the core.

Thanks for the link! Agree w/ Bawa on the Jugni being rooted in Punjab- am sure I was clear enough :)

memsaab said...

Perhaps we need to suggest appropriate Hollywood replacements for Chunkey who show up at parties and events but never actually act in any films? :)

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Oh I just remembered my fav line from the movie, and had to share- in the title song : "Oye apna munda Lucky- yeh single hai ya bachelor?" (Our boy Lucky- is he single or a bachelor?)
brilliant!

bollyviewer said...

All the valid criticism makes me re-think why I liked the film, too! I think its because its so much the opposite of Bollywood glamor - no fancy locales, jazzy songs, special effects and no melodrama. Plus, it sketches the life of a small-time crook in Delhi (how can I dislike anything set in my beloved city?) so well that it appears real. And that dog quip had exactly the same effect on me! lol As a kid I remember very few friends/relatives who had pets, but those who did, gave them western names like "Tommy", "Jackie", "Diana" and always talked to them in English (as if dogs dont understand Hindi). So this English speaking pet of Lucky's hits the right spot!

ajnabi said...

OMG, that English-speaking dog line *might* be enough to get me to add this to my ridiculously long queue.

Darshit said...

@Shweta: ROFL. That line was hillarious. Archana was excellent as typical 'Delhi Aunties'.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth

Excellent review - enjoyed reading it!

Meera

celluloidrant said...

Nice review!

I absolutely loved this movie -- it's among Abhay Deol's best performances to date, and he hasn't had too many weak entries.

What I liked the most was that the director trusted our intelligence to see that the movie wasn't about what he did, but who he was. And he had the courage to leave it at that, and not feel compelled to end it neatly. A lesser movie would've taken the time to put in explanatory dialogue about the guy's psyche -- this one simply assumed that we could read between the lines. Rarely do movies do that, especially in Bollywood.

~ramsu

Anonymous said...

for those who can understand hindi, you should listen to this audio clip of the director dibakar, where he addresses the criticism that the film has "no story". Absolutely brilliant.

http://passionforcinema.com/dibakar-unplugged/

JB Singh said...

Actually 'Jugni' means something else. In the early part of the last century (Sometime in the 1910s) the Victoria JUBILEE Torch came to India and was taken from town to town ceremoniously. In Punjab it was followed by two itinerant folk singers who composed small ditties about what happened where ever it went. Since JUBILEE was a linguistically a alien word it got corrupted to JUGNI. This gave birth to a whole new genre of folk music which is enjoyed till today.

Some people claim that it is a talisman (Taviz)worn around the neck to ward of evil spirits. Not so.

As an aside, the main hospital of Govt Medical College Amritsar was renamed and known for quite some time as the Victoria Jubilee Hospital

JB Singh said...

I just remembered the names of the two village bards - Bishna and Manda. The year 1906, to celebrate 50 years of Queen Victoria's coronation.