Sunday, January 31, 2010

Striker watchalong!

Because watchalongs (or "chat cinema," if you're one of the swarm of German-speaking fans) are always mega-fun and because I want to do everything I can to encourage good digital access to and distribution of Indian films, a few of us on twitter got together to organize a massive watchalong of Striker next Sunday, February 7, at 12 noon CST (that's 1:00 pm for North America EST, 18:00 for the UK, 19:00 for Europe, etc). From the sources I've been able to locate, like this article on Masala.com, Striker will release digitally worldwide from Studio 18's youtube channel as it opens in cinemas in India. Subtitled versions will be available free most places; US viewers will be charged $5. A very, very reasonable price for a legal, high-quality, timely feature film, I say! Let's let filmmakers and distributors know they can count on us to compensate them for good stuff!

To join in, send me your google chat ID. If someone knows of a very easy-to-use chat room or something like that, let me know - that could work even better. If I can find out more information about how the youtube release works, I'll post it here. I recommend staying tuned to Siddharth's twitter feed.

If the thought of watching along with a merry international crew of bloggers doesn't tempt you, how about noting that Siddharth seemed to hint on twitter that he might join in (in addition to approving of the idea)?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

postcards from Salmanistan: Veer

From the promotional images, trailers, and songs, I was really convinced Veer was going to be a hoot. A crackpot, anachronistic, scenery-chomping, chest-heaving (for both genders), cultural stereotype-wallowing, gleeful hoot. To my grave disappointment, it was all of those words except the last one. There were maybe two scenes where anyone in the movie seemed to be having any fun. In my opinion, if you're going to abandon any attempt at actual history or ethnography in your period piece (despite crediting someone as "research" in the titles), then you'd better replace them with something else worth watching. Exhibit A: Dharam Veer, one of my favorite films of the 70s. Dharam Veer makes no claim of real times, places, or people - or political movements or ideas - yet you do not miss them at all because there is so much other substance going on, done with irresistible, unrelenting, zealous mirth.

Whereas a Desai film rollicks along for a significant proportion of its run time, Veer lumbers like its bulked-up hero. Its idiosyncrasies feel more sloppy than zany. It's several hours of Salman Khan clenching his jaw at you, demanding you be impressed with his gianormous spectacle (ahem) without providing much reason to actually like it. (Not coincidentally, the men of his Pindari clan obtain their wives in a similar fashion, raiding them from neighboring groups.) More often than not, I was bored and/or not engaged with it. I think the state of Bakwass Masala has a new tenant, so bloated with ingredients that it forgot to consider how and why to use them. The whole production is sort of lackluster, despite all it includes.

Speaking of spectacle, speaking of ingredients, Veer is not without pleasures. I genuinely enjoyed "Taali," the first song in the Pindari compound, with clapping and stomping and swords a-clanking. A civilization led by Mithun Chakraborty should have a good song! I also really, really loved seeing a tiger chase a random white girl through the countryside only to be revealed to be one of Salman's pals in a tiger costume. How fantastic to take the 70s masala staple of dangerous animals and push their pragmatic limitations (that is, sometimes using fake animals of various kinds, whether foam or costume) into a blink-and-you-miss-it joke! I even genuinely liked much of the set design, interiors sloshed in rich colors and draped in miles of sheer, billowing fabric. Jodhaa Akbar this ain't, but it had some pretty moments. There were plenty of other things I laughed at that probably weren't intended to be funny, like the constantly reappearing brooch (token masala token!); the fashions circa 1900 that somehow involved jeans, the fur-trimmed vests from Khoon Pasina, and a raid on Justin Timberlake's hat collection*; the varied and strange accents of the British and their evil leader dressed in such metallic frippery that Mogambo himself was envious; Veer's impromptu "Indian dance" at the British school's cultural event; Mithun macking on Neena "Why Am I in This Movie?" Gupta; the recurring growling that I first assumed was a caged tiger somewhere off-screen but turned out to be Salman...the list goes on. It goes on past the final flash forward scene, past alllll the credits, right up until the very last frame that literally says JAI HIND as the film closes.

My list of Veer's unintentional humor does not, however, include Sohail Khan getting a pineapple stuck to his butt.

What else can I tell you? I did not think it was a good film in any way, nor did I enjoy much of it for any reason, even for howl-arity or "so bad/insane it's good," which can hardly even save films like Mard that benefit from much better writers, directors, etc. It wasn't silly enough, light-hearted enough, to be bad in a way that was fun. I think the best way to see Veer will be in a few months, when you can get the DVD, invite a bunch of friends over, and create your own drinking game. Or you could do what I did and enjoy the waves of inspiration for puns and other wordplay.

  • Veering Off Course
  • Oh, Veer, what could the matter be?
  • Oh Veery Veery me
  • Veer Eye for the Stereoid Guy
  • Veers of a Clown
  • Veer and Present Danger
  • We having nothing to fear but Veer itself.
  • Or, from clever comments on my friend Steven Baker's facebook page, "Bhai one, get one free!" (in reference to the presence of Salman and Sohail) and Sneer
Whatever you do, make sure the alcohol is handy. And read this great comic review by the Vigil Idiot - the last frame might just be the funniest thing I've read in weeks. Now, someone kindly pass the bourbon.

* Costume designer Anna Singh deserves to be singled out for a job exuberantly but ultimately poorly done. In a piece in the Hindustan Times, she says "The late 1890’s is the inspiration here. It’s fiction; so we couldn’t focus on one particular style." Um...what? Who says fiction is not allowed to have historically accurate clothing? She goes on to say "Veer is set in the time when the British ruled India. It was a very pronounced period, so there was very little liberty that we could take. Here we are not showing a particular prince or a princess of a particular era." Again, what? The film jumps around in time a lot but in discrete chunks, so you could very easily focus on clothing of the time of the first big battle, the time of Veer's adulthood, and the original starting point from which the story flows backwards (1920). Someone in Veer seemed to think that gigantic hoop skirts should accompany jazz music. Yes. Clearly no liberty taken there. I'd love to turn a nineteenth-century costume expert loose on this thing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Get it while it's hot: Oye Lucky Lucky Oye is on Netflix instant!

Service announcement: if you are a Netflix user and haven't seen Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, run, don't walk, and watch it this very minute! I can't say enough good things about it and happily rank it my favorite film of 2008. The ever-changing list of Indian movies Netflix makes available for streaming is fascinating - who chooses? and why do things suddenly disappear off the list? Just as I was making time to watch Aamne Samne after Fairy Filmi Ending told me it was available, it was gone! Also available as of this very moment: Swades, Bluffmaster, Khosla Ka Ghosla, and Monsoon Wedding. Me, I'm going to re-watch Race just for some quality Akshaye and Saif scowling time and the cringe-worthy use of the Confederate flag in a cowboy dance number. Yippee!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

lately link love

I don't know how I didn't know about V Love Movies until just a few days ago, nor do I remember which particular gem in a pirate's hoard of tweets and links finally made my lightbulb turn on. I do know that the right thing to do with this knowledge now that I have it is to share it. Here is the self-description (with original emphasis intact):

VLoveMovies.com is your guide to Hollywood, Bollywood and beyond, giving you reviews, features and more on all the things you adore about cinema. The newest blockbusters, the finest classics, the quirky, the strange, the unexpected and more, served up with passion, intelligence and love.
How could you not want to read that? Intelligence and love are my favorite things! Nor, of course, do I shake a stick at passion when it comes my way, but Shashi does not seem to let it out of 70s Bombay very often.

In an unrelated aside (house specialty!), I promised the author that I would reprint here something I wrote in a comment on one of his posts. He invented the word "Shahidporn" to describe some of what happens in Chance Pe Dance:
Even the straightest man in the world will at least be entertained by the repeated episodes of Shahidporn we are treated to, because even shirtless and pop-and-locking to jarring tunes, he’s somehow more likable than his more famous contemporaries.
You know me - I love a useful new word. I had to try it out immediately and came up with this: “For debate: Dil Bole Haddipa is YRF getting its kink out with cross-dressing Rani, booty-shaking Rakhee, and cleavage-thrusting Shahidporn." Ajnabi, this one's for you!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

some impressions of a non-functioning, unsubtitled screening of NTR Jr's Adhurs

It's almost unfair that I say anything about Adhurs at all. I knew going in that it was unsubtitled and I would therefore miss a lot, even though the plot about twin brothers separated at birth (and one is a tough guy while the other lives with priests) sounded awfully familiar; on top of that, our screening was beset by massive technical difficulties. We made it aaaaalmost through the first song -

which offered the motto "Life Is a Cocktail" in its chorus and reminded me of Bluffmaster's "Boro Boro" with fedora-ed strongmen posse

and skankily-attired writhing ladies surrounding the hero in a nightclub, but with a lot more kicking in the dance steps - when the sound cut out. And then the picture stopped. And then the house lights came up. Pause for five minutes. Picture, no sound. Pause. Sound, no picture. Etc. The film lurched along like this for another half hour or so, and the theater staff came out to apologize and explain that the projection equipment cannot go backwards, meaning we couldn't backtrack to catch the bits we had missed. Long story short: no dialogue and inconsistent visualization of plot = huh? Even in the sections that worked properly, there was obviously a lot to this film I didn't catch.

But I gotta say, even after the pragmatics got ironed out and the film was running smoothly (I'd estimate at about 45 minutes in), I was not inspired to stay past interval. I had read in several reviews that this film, like so many others, suffers from The Curse of the Second Half (meaning it's really not as good after the break), its greatest strength was comedy (which I knew I had no hope of understanding without subtitles), and the best song was in the first bit, so my friend and I cut our losses and went for cocoa with no regrets whatsoever.

Here's what I did manage to get: the credo of this cast and crew seems to be "Why do an interesting thing once when you can do it at least four times? MORE IS MORE!!!!!! Why would you...

And so on. (And yes, I realize the irony of me giving so many, many examples of how more is more.) I assume the answer to all of these questions is paisa vasool. It is not the fault of Adhurs that my experience of it was too incoherent to appreciate all the effort that got put into it, but unfortunately I was just too confused and annoyed at the situation to appreciate all the glee. Given what I've seen of Telugu films in isolated clips on youtube, I suspect my reaction to this would have been a slightly perplexed pronouncement that "it's a bit much, but I sure did love the army of red pleather-trousered, shrug-wearing male backup dancers," but that really isn't fair in this case. Fortunately, the theater manager announced he was going to try to show at least one Indian film per month, so it sounds like I might get to try again soon!

[Pause to bask in the joyful glow of the opportunity to see an Indian film in the theater every month. This is big, big news for a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Illinois!]

To end, an ethnographic note: even though I didn't have any idea of it when I started watching Hindi films, I quickly discovered that Indians in the cinema are, behaviorally, my people. I have always been an exuberant movie talker and thus shushed, glared at, and generally avoided in my home culture and everywhere else in the world I've seen films. Except India - and, gloriously, in American theaters full of Indians! I love it! Want to have a running commentary with your friends? No problem! And why should it be? Art is supposed to inspire thought and exchange! Side note: my favorite take on this difference between American and Indian cinema audiences comes from a friend from Delhi, who said "We're a much bigger country. You can't shush all of us!" The communicativeness of the audience is my favorite part of the experience. When NTR Jr. made his entrance, people hooted and clapped (and a bunch of stuff exploded and flipped over). (No such treatment for the heroines, interestingly. Not a blip.) My usual experience of technical difficulties in US midwestern theaters is that we all sit quietly trying to figure out, without talking, who will get up and tell the staff about the problem, and it's a battle of unspoken internal worries about appearing too bossy or demanding. On the other hand, when the sound and picture crapped out in Adhurs, people booed, kids ran around, and everyone just turned calmly to their neighbors and resumed the chats they had started before the film began. Yesss! That is the way to deal with obstacles to one's afternoon happiness. It's also just an amusing experience to be a visible minority without leaving my own town, where I am generally indistinguishable at a quick glance from a large proportion of the other residents. But whenever an Indian film plays, the numbers and colors flip-flop, and I get a little taste of what it's like to stick out and get stared at. And in its usual generous and beneficent way, Bollywood culture has somehow arranged for this to be a good thing for me most of the time: sometimes I make new friends before the show starts when people lean over and say "Do you understand these movies?" or our usual film organizer (whom I am dying to interview!), who recognizes me, pushes through crowds to hand me a ticket when the queue system breaks down (which it often does, another fascinating flip of standard US event procedure - see my post on the Unforgettable Tour for a scarier instance). He wasn't there today, and this time, when I walked up to the ticket counter and said "One, please," the man with the roll of tickets started and said "For the Telugu film?" You betcha, yaar! And for next time, will someone please teach me how to say that in Telugu?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wake Up Sid

After watching the endearing Wake Up Sid on netflix instant at almost exactly the same time (and tweeting about it as well), Filmi Girl, Bollyspice editor Stacey Yount, and I continued the internet-y nature of our viewing with a post-film chat. You can read an edited version of our conversation in our joint review at Bollyspice here. And by "edited" I mean "I deleted most of the 'squeeeeee!' and detours about why Akshaye's dolphin song in Dil Chahta Hai is so lame or whether Neil Nitin Mukesh is cut out for real masala."

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

For us non-Urdu-poetry-knowing types, some context on the title, courtesy of Indie Quill:

Hazaaron khwaishein aisi, ki har khwaish pe dum nikle.
Bahut nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle.

Literal translation:
Thousand desires like, that every desire over breath out
Many out my desires, but yet little out.

Sensible translation:
A thousand desires such that each is worth dying for.
So many have come to pass and yet seem so few.
Set in 1969, 1973, and 1975, the story follows three university students of contrasting backgrounds as they grow into adults trying to sort out what they want to achieve in or contribute to the world, contextualized the the very dangerous politics of the times. I say "very dangerous" because that's how it appears to me in the film, not because I have read up on early 70s Indian politics. In fact, I know very little beyond a basic sketch and what I have inferred from 70s films, so I'm sure there is commentary in this film that I didn't pick up on - but even just with the information the film provides, the political and social context seems very clearly ominous and messy. Siddharth (Kay Kay Menon) is the son of a retired judge but wants nothing to do with his parents' establishment lives and instead agitates within a student communist group and later moves to Bihar to work with Naxalites. Vikram (Shiney Ahuja) has a similar path that goes in an almost opposite direction, also eschewing his father's legacy, in this case Gandhianism and Congress Party allegiance,

Vikram's father after he is arrested during the Emergency. Not the most subtle characterization but still effective.
to fight his way into the upper classes and earn big money. Linking them is Geeta (a mind-blowingly natural and effective Chitrangada Singh) returns to Delhi after growing up in London. Her focus is neither as big-picture as Siddharth's nor as basely pragmatic as Vikram's. She follows her love for Siddharth to the village in Bihar, but she also goes back and forth to Vikram's world of Delhi money and power. She loves Siddharth but she needs the real resources, protection, and even mental calm that Vikram offers her over the years. I suspect you can imagine which of these three paths, which of these sets of desires, is the most workable, effective, and sustaining. These characters are beautifully written, with much scope for each to think, react, and change, and through them we can imagine the thousands of desires of the citizens of 70s India.

Two quotes from writer/director Sudhir Mishra describe perfectly what I got out of - and liked most about - Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi:
My father's generation loved him and wanted to believe in his dream and that we had a tryst with destiny. I did too. By the time my elder brothers and sisters (not that I had any) went to college in the late sixties, Nehru had died and his dream had soured. The baton has passed into the hands of his daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is the story of my imaginary siblings' lives in those times...when India was being pulled in a thousand directions.
- from the introductory text of the film


The adult thing in life is that as much as you disagree with somebody you can’t kill him. That’s a mature world.
- from an article by Mishra at Passion for Cinema
Life is gray at best; sometimes it's very black, as the movie painfully shows. Even revolution can be gray, especially when it is snatched up by the corrupt and vicious to be used for their purposes. It creates chaos that cloaks power grabs and oppression that have nothing to do with ideals.

I think what impressed me most was how many points and ideas this film raises without having much actually happen. (Or maybe what happens is deceptively simple and I just didn't get it.) Despite revolution, despite emergency, the overall feel here is quiet, which lets many small moments really stand out without overt commentary. In Geeta's family's house, for example, any interest she has in changing the social order or involvement she wants with the larger world outside the home does not seem to play out as thoroughly at home, with her male relatives discussing the news in one room but the women clearly not involved.

In this scene, Siddharth's revolutionary group has met to plan their trip to Bihar; one by one most of the group members admit they cannot go due to family pressure or fear of endangering their chances at jobs, and when someone bursts in to say the police are coming, they all scatter, leaving Geeta, who has been silently sitting somewhat apart from them but still listening, totally alone.

It's as though the film is telling us who will remain after the dried leaves scatter off on the first winds. It's so gorgeous and important. Once in the village, Geeta starts an adult literacy class, and as the camera pans past some of her students, it's hard not to feel both wildly hopeful and somehow resigned to the unlikeliness of her goals.

And this particular stab by Siddharth at mainstream values made me laugh because it skewers directly into the patriarchal, unquestioning bloat of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: Siddharth is railing against the misplaced goals of his generation, saying that life is not about success, or....

Take that, KJo!

I feel like if I try to say much more about this film, I'll burst it like a bubble. There's something so intimate about its scale, yet it manages to show so much. I can't say enough about Sudhir Mishra's PFC piece; it's the perfect companion to the film, whether or not you've seen it or even plan to. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is the kind of story every generation in a culture needs to tell or to think about. It's not necessary to agree or empathize with what the characters struggle with, but their efforts to make sense of themselves and of their time and place are universal. If you possibly can, this is how you should try to live, with your mind and heart engaged, thinking about other people while you try to figure out the best version of yourself.

I'm ending this post on a note the film itself does not deserve or even have anything to do with. If you have the Shemaroo DVD of this film and you need English subtitles, just go throw it away. Right now. My Hindi is still too wobbly to tell you whether the translations from Hindi are any good, but the direct transcription of the English dialogues - and I'd estimate about half the film is in English - are so wildly incorrect that it's hard to hope that the actual translations are any better. For example, the voiceover of the scene below says "The violence of the oppressed is right. The violence of the oppressor is wrong." Look what the subtitles tell us.


Subtitler folks, that's the opposite of what the movie said, and, even worse, that's an integral philosophy to some of the characters in this film. Most of the other ones are just foolish, rendering sentences into non sequitur WTFery rather than undermining the point. But still. These are even more badly done than in Fashion, and that is saying something. Those of you who follow me on twitter will have already heard some of the worst, but I'm repeating them just for spite.
Dialogue: "The effing landlord had a heart attack."
Subtitle: "The effigy landlord...."
Dialogue: "Our setup is a bourgeois feel-good scheme."
Subtitle: "Our setup is a bonjour feel-good scheme."

Dialogue: "I have just applied for my M. A."
Subtitle: "I have just a flight for Miami."

Are the subtitles transcribed by robots with imperfect language-detecting capabilities? For us English Dialogue Subtitle Purists, this sure seems like proof that no one reads these things before making the DVDs. I can only hope that it had better subs when it was screened at the thirteen international film festivals boasted on the DVD cover. Shame, Shemaroo. SHAME.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Fashion-bashin'

Fashion is among the worst films I have ever seen, any language, any culture, any decade, whatever. It's dreadful. I do not understand what anyone involved with this script was thinking. Filmfare award for best actress aside - inexplicable and very, very far aside, in my opinion* - Priyanka Chopra is blank-eyed and blinkingly unconvincing as a character we are told over and over again will be a star because she has enough attitude to make up for her inexperience and horrendous choices. The idea that an almost unknown struggler in the industry would be given a role in a high-profile show by an agent who has never seen the model walk seems so stupid - let alone the idea that said model would have the gall to walk into an agency office to put herself forward for assignments without ever having walked in a show. Meghna voice-overs how she has dreamed of being a supermodel - not just the face of a department store brand or shampoo, mind - yet thinks scrunchies are appropriate

and is uncomfortable wearing lingerie for a photo shoot. Honey, what did you think you were going to have to do? Were you planning to be a caftan-only supermodel? It's fine not to want to show your goodies (which of course were still quite covered up in said lingerie shoot), but why are you so stupid about a job that you long for? And it's not as though seeing what supermodels have to wear is information that's difficult to come by - seeing what they wear is the whole effing point of the job! There's ignorance and naiveté, and then there's stupidity, and I think Meghna's mindset and decisions often fell under the latter. I assume the story was trying to show that the fashion industry preys on the weak and today chews up those it admired yesterday, but most of the damage I saw Meghna suffer was her own damn fault.

About halfway through the movie, I had to stop, unsure if I could bring myself to finish such an unrewarding task when there were so many better things I could be doing. I went in search of the professionals' views on what to me was quickly becoming a massive waste of time. Baradwaj Rangan points out that we never see Meghna experience any of the highs that motivate anyone to stick in this back-stabbing, people-eating world - and in turn, we viewers get zero sense of her motivation. Why does she want to be a supermodel so badly? Why would someone sign up to do things that make them so uncomfortable with no payoff? Who knows! There's not even a cheesy montage of trying on fabulous clothes and jet-setting around the world. This problem becomes even worse when Meghna returns to the industry after her tumble from popularity - so now we know that Meghna knows that the industry is horrible, so why does she want to go back? Based on what the movie shows us, there's nothing but deterrent in her life. Not to mention how difficult it is to empathize or sympathize with a person who is voluntarily re-enlisting for as damaging and draining yet totally self-centered lifestyle as...modeling. If she had burned out on being a doctor, a teacher - hell, even a designer - something creative, something that gives people joy, something that makes the world a better place - I might have admired her. Maybe it should be enough for me that the character states that this is her dream, but since I see no benefit from her dream to either her or humanity generally, I figure she's far less determined than she is unable to learn life lessons and make responsible decisions. Then again, the writers hardly spent any energy telling us about her thought processes and reactions during her fall and recovery, so it's hard to guess what, if anything, Meghna has absorbed from her first round, so maybe it's unfair to hope a character will act on resources we're not sure they have.

Raja Sen gave Fashion a prize "celebrating special achievement in awfulness," citing the director Madhur Bhandarkar's foolish self-congratulatory nods



and racism - oh the horror of a pretty pretty image-centered girl hitting on and sleeping with a black man! how loud and clear the wake-up call she needs to snap out of her decline and fall! this is even worse than cutting off your hair to chin-length! -

in addition to general failure to tell us anything novel or interesting about the Mumbai fashion world. To racism I'll add two stereotype-revelling depictions of gay male designers.

Yes, he is literally limp-wristed, lisping, and wearing a pink cravat. Two of the three major gay characters are denied any kind of love life, as far as we see on screen; on the other hand, a minor gay character who is some sort of player in the industry is shown as far more predatory than Arbaaz Khan's corporate head who has an affair with Meghna. And speaking of love lives, how 'bout that particular sort of puritanism that keeps in scenes of drug use but won't show us a stable, committed homosexual couple?


I have only four nice things to say about this movie. 1) It at least showed a taste of what the working conditions are like for the people who actually make the clothes. For a movie that seems to have wanted to have bite and to expose, especially in a major textile center like India, more of this would have been even better.

2) I agree with Filmi Girl's point that it is a refreshing change to see the woman in a relationship be the person who decides to put her career first, outpaces her male partner, and does not regret it. Unfortunately the script undid a lot of this independence- and career-positive work by having her sleep with a boss and crack under the pressure of success, as though it was saying "Look what happens when women aim for the top of their chosen line of work!" 3) One of the three major gay male characters was portrayed as a totally normal, non-affected person who tried to make the best of a bad situation. I wish the film had had another option for him than giving up his boyfriend to get married and closing off a portion of his life that was meaningful to him - with the dialogue "When you can't come out with the truth, it's time to live a lie." Ouch. 4) As readers of Bollywood Fugly know, I relish any chance for crazy movie costumes, and Fashion did not disappoint. I could have used more, but I can always use more.

There's a lot more to hate in Fashion - dubbing that sounds stagy, footsteps that are far too loud, facile characterizations, uninteresting people, unimpressive acting, and drug scenes that brought back memories of After School Specials from the 70s and 80s (ANGEL DUST!) (though not nearly as laughable as Sridevi's freakout in Janbaaz), blatant irony -

but for my sanity's sake, I will end with one problem that is dear to many subtitle-reading hearts: English subtitles that do not match English dialogue. One of my favorites folllowed a swimsuit runway show, when someone refers to La Perla as a luxury brand - good, good, totally normal term - but the subtitles say "lovely brand." Not a boost to the film's fashion industry cred. We see "fool" for "bastard," "beautiful" for "sexy," and "lousy woman" for "bitch." A famous lousy-woman-y designer demands a fashion show staffer arrange for him to get a front-row seat, screaming "You know who I am!!!", and the subtitles say "You know where!" What? And perhaps best of all, a photographer tells a model “Go get a dress change,” but the subtitles say "Go to the rest room." I almost hope the subtitle-makers (or automatic generator - it's hard to tell which is more likely to produce the above results) are the same people as the actual writers, because that would explain why we also get dud lines like these:


Clearly they blew their creative juices on transcription WTFery.

And I think degenerating into "WTFery" means this is as good a place as any to stop, don't you? There's nothing worth holding on to in this movie, nothing to engage you, nothing to remember. Unless Michael Kors, Tim Gunn, and Tyra Banks release their own MST3K version of Fashion, I never want to think about it again.

* And I know this is a movie and all, but as I read somewhere when the film came out, neither Priayanka nor Kangana Ranaut really look like the 2007-ish-era supermodels they're supposed to be - to be blunt, they have curves like most women do and do not look like heroin-addict nine-year-old boys that you most often see in major fashion publications in the last few years. Priyanka Chopra is a women-lover's version of beautiful, not the fashion industry's.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Dharmatma

[Chock full of spoilers, especially if you haven't seen The Godfather or Sarkar. I'm also assuming you have seen at least one of those films and therefore will do even less plot summary than usual.]

Ghost of Feroz-ji, I've got just one burning question about your 1975 take on The Godfather: why oh why, when this is Indian filmmaking in the mid-70s, did you choose to omit two of the three Corleone brothers? Why no bhai-bhai drama when it was already integrally incorporated into the story? Why not milk something that was totally convenient and, even better, sensible? Why a story of just one man avenging his father and fighting for patriotic service and sacrifice when you could have had at least two? Making this story primarily about an individual is not at all what I expected.

After reading some of the great comments on Memsaab's writeup of this film from last year, I think I may have the answer: Feroz doesn't tend to let a hero stand with him at the end of a story, and in this case maybe it would have just been too complicated to incorporate them long-lost- or estranged-ishtyle what with all the other important characters? Maybe it's because Feroz's story is more about patriotism and law-abiding for national well-being than it is about family or choices and inevitability? (Note for example the eventual disconnect from all the foreign trappings of Ranbir's earlier exile in Afghanistan [no sultry Sicily here!] and Ranbir's later direct reference to the utility of India's Maintenance of Internal Security Act as he argues with the drug-running villains.) Or maybe, despite them already existing in the original story, it just would have been too much work (or drama?) to bump off Fredo and Sonny along with all the other necessary bodies - Vito (Prem Nath as the god-man of the title), Tom Hagen (an excellent Iftekhar, who was surely born to play the 70s Indian Tom Hagen), Connie (Farida Jalal, whom it is delightful to see as something other than a sidelined Maa or psychotic teen), Apollonia (Hema Malini as Reshma),

and all the actual baddies. It must be said that this story is pretty effective without them, but their absence gnawed at me. "This would be even better with brothers! Vinod as Sonny and Shashi as Fredo, maybe? Or a mostly mute Amitabh borrowed from Reshma aur Shera?" Even if the story in Feroz's hands isn't so much about family, the setting sure is, so why leave out two of the most gut-wrenching arcs? It's been over four years since I saw Sarkar, but I remember the brother (just one - RGV's version merged Sonny and Fredo) working well enough there.

The other major deviation from the structure of The Godfather I noticed comes in a nod to another masala-approved convention, the importance of distant childhood bonds: Michael (Feroz Khan as Dharmatma's only son Ranbir) and Kay (Rekha as Anu, who looks glamorous but has the oomph of a wet noodle) are reimagined as childhood friends. All I have to say to that is, if Jane Eyre and Rochester can be childhood friends, why not Kay and Michael? Shrug. Feroz works in mysterious ways. Michael/Ranbir also gets a rival for Apollonia/Reshma in the form of Danny Denzongpa (Jankura) - I mean, honestly, who wants a hero who has come by his love easily? Pish. More seriously, I think this is to show that Ranbir is willing to fight when necessary to acquire something he values.

Until at least halfway through this film, my dominant impression of it was not "Hey! It's The Godfather!" but "Hey! It's the movie in which Feroz puts lots of things in the immediate foreground, often to obscure what's really going on or to set up a big reveal of the true nature of the scene!"



Like the missing brothers, this also weighed on my mind. The only explanation I've come up with is that placing interesting objects or people in the foreground sort of echoes Ranbir's fate and duty to avenge his father, which were right in front of him all along but took awhile for him to accept and undertake.

Similarly, maybe the identity of certain villains - or rather, the truly evil nature of some central characters - is prominent to us viewers but not to Ranbir. The culprits are right in front of you, boy! Or maybe Feroz-as-director was just in a hard-core "stuff in the foreground" phase. He also had fun with putting interesting things both close to and far from the camera,

lovely use of geometry and striking landscapes, particularly in Afghanistan,

some unusual camera angles (especially looking up at things),

and even rotating the camera around its sight line to show mental turbulence.


Whole kit-and-kaboodle-wise, I'm with Todd that this movie didn't really get rolling until Ranbir returns to India to track down the attackers of his father and wife. This being an FK International Presentation, though, there is plenty to occupy the viewer until the story gets cooking. As House in Rlyeh pointed out on Memsaab's comments, there's always something to look at. There's always something going on, even if I wasn't sure why or whether it was designed to do anything other than intrigue/entertain (which are perfectly fine ends, don't get me wrong). For example, we have the Rapey Cousins, played by Sudhir and Ranjeet at his most vile. In addition to being morally bankrupt, these two also provided relatively understated comic relief, playing Villain Dumb and Dumber and dressed as twins. Jeevan and Satyendra Kapoor as the senior baddies are styled similarly.



Other 70s delights include motorcycling henchmen wearing rubber heads

in an action sequence that includes Feroz leaping into the air to catch a live grenade,

I have to admit I loved this, stupid as it is. See it here.
swell 70s fashions and a heaping helping of Feroz's chest hair, if you like that kind of thing,

an Egyptian-ish drug den,

another lair with flair,

And yes, that's a lazy susan in the center of the table!
a nighttime cityscape that I know I have seen before (Apradh? Parvarish?),

some internal parallels to reinforce familial similarities,

and maybe even a visual nod to my favorite scene in the original film, when the door to Michael's world closes on Kay.

The door is used differently here - instead of locking Kay out, it's locking a principal villain into his eventual fate.

I cannot close without stating my concern about how women are portrayed in Dharmatma. This film has some harsh violence against women, including a rape scene that I would probably label the most disturbing I've seen in Hindi cinema. Thanks, writers. The same perpetrators try again with a different woman - in her workplace, no less - and there is also awful repeated domestic violence. And no, of course the wife won't leave the bastard despite the patriarch of her family encouraging her to do so. On the up side, Reshma claims her right to marry as she choses and not to merely be handed over to Jankura as a prize in a violent carcass-chasing horseback game among the Afghani tribals (and what's that about? noble savage? exoticization?). On the down side, the feisty, assertive, equal-with-men, but rustic Reshma is killed, leaving Ranbir with simpering but background-appropriate Anu, who is much more nursemaid than partner (whereas I've always thought Kay had the ability, though not the ethics, to be a real partner to Michael, like Rekha's character Supriya in Kalyug). As a further aside, I wished these two roles had been cast in reverse - I'm so fond of spitfire Rekha! Like Reshma aur Shera and Qurbani, Dharmatma is a man's world.