Friday, January 14, 2011

mini-reviews: I Hate Luv Storys and What's Your Raashee?

Neither of these movies was as painful as I was expecting, but I'm still having as much fun considering a combination of their names as a title for this post as I did watching either. Luv and Hate. I Hate Your Luv. I Hate Your Raashee. I Luv Your Story. Luv: A Story. What's Your Story? And, most importantly, I H8 How U Foolz Spell Ur Moovees.

Anyway. I Hate Luv Storys didn't come to my cinema when it released and I couldn't have cared less. I very much dislike Sonam Kapoor based on Saawariya and Delhi-6 and thought "Oh dear me" when Filmi Girl said she had turned it off after 10 minutes. But Netflix Instant kept trying to get me to watch it, so one cold and snowy afternoon over the December holidays I gave in. I made it through the whole film and have very little to say for my efforts. It's so rare that I'm interested in the romantic bumblings of 20somethings in ironic t-shirts, and there was nothing otherwise appealing about either lead to make up for their foolishness. Even when they managed to convince me that they actually loved each other, I couldn't see why they possibly would - or care that they did. Sonam did nothing to improve my opinion of her and Imran was not nearly as endearing or lovable as he was on Koffee with Karan, which I suspect we can chalk up to the material.

Even the film-world setting was mostly a snooze. I did appreciate the focus on the backstage crew rather than actors, dancers, or even musicians and was glad to see a female boss, even if she was someone who seemed too easily flustered and of an age very unlikely to have sufficient experience for the job she was in. Also amusing were some of the comments on extravagant, oversized filmi houses, which is one of my pet research projects that I have yet to post about but love collecting screen caps in support of. The film-within-the-film's director (Samir Soni) raves about one of the characters' homes thus:

"It's beautiful! Look look...there is a staircase inside the house...

and the staircase has molding too!" SQUEEEEE! Architectural froo-froo! Now that is funny. I also enjoyed his attitude about socioeconomic realities, and I couldn't quite tell if he was supposed to be a master of marketing or a blissfully ignorant dimwit inhabiting a world formed wholly by lush song picturizations. "These people are not rich, but they shouldn't be too poor either," he explains. "Just right."

The most interesting question raised by I Hate Luv Storys is exactly how far up producer Karan Johar's bum director/writer Punit Malhotra was trying to climb. If he had kept the film references to about 15% Karan Johar films, they would have seemed more like actual good-humored self-aware writing and less like lead-footed unctuousness.

To be honest, I watched What's Your Raashee? because Fairy Filmi Ending suggested it for a watchalong and I thought it might be an amusing craptacular dodecahedron of ridiculousness - I mean, what kind of lunatic casts Priyanka Chopra in TWELVE roles in one film? But you know what? She wasn't bad! I didn't notice her doing much with her voice (except perhaps for the last version, which I won't name so as not to spoil things), but there was at least one impressive example of using mostly posture to create a character, as well as holding her face in different ways to project different personalities. It's only fair to give a lot of the credit to two sets of behind-the-scenes crew. First, the writers (director Ashutosh Gowariker, Naushil Mehta, and Amit Mistry, based on a novel by Madhu Rye) wisely made a few of her 12 roles little more than poses was and kept all of them short and one-dimensional. Their character sketches were very effectively presented by what must have been a huge amount of work and creativity by the wardrobe and makeup departments, who really made each of her characters look very different, sometimes down to eyebrows and I think perhaps fake teeth to change the shape of her lower face.

All of which is to say that I think Priyanka was able to carry these roles off because a significant proportion of each of them could be treated as modeling assignments, which should be up her alley. I don't mean to unfairly downplay what she actually did, but with a particular look for each character, complete with physical attributes and accessories, she certainly had a great start for making each woman distinct.

After I watched this, I remembered Amrita saying on our most recent Masala Zindabad podcast that Gowariker seems to have gotten bogged down by Lagaan into making films that speak to the Indian national character and that What's Your Raashee? was a look at the state of contemporary Indain womanhood. That idea did not occur to me at all while actually watching the film, I suppose because it wasn't the sort of visually noticeable tour that, say, 70s songs tend to have, with a village girl, a bharatanatyam dancer, a spangly sequined vamp, etc. But I think her point holds up, and it's interesting to me that the spectrum is seen through the eyes of a foreign-returned man, as though the writers really were trying to be ethnographic with an outsider-turned-participant-observer discovering that every Indian woman has something to offer, whether it is a desire to serve her country (the doctor), an artistic or creative side (several characters are performers of some kind), wealth (the rich industrial family), traditional knowledge (the astrologer), ambition (the wannabe model), principle (the exceptionally forthright one with a past her family wishes she would hide), etc.

More amazing to me, though, was that the male/outsider is not unreasonable in his judgment of any of them and he really does try to get to know each of them for who they are, at least in the short amount the structure of the story allows. He seems to want to do right by each of them, as well as stick to his own values, and that in itself makes this a noteworthy film. Hell, we even get a woman asking why it shouldn't sometimes be the case that the man follows after the woman's career choices! The film also presents the interesting question of what we would see in other people if they all looked the same. Of course, here they all look like Priyanka Chopra, but still - it's a point we should all consider in our image-driven world.

Harman Baweja was pretty likable in his role, far more so than his unconvincing turn as icky Karan in Love Story 2050, though Yogesh as an individual is very clearly not the point of What's Your Rashee? Being a blandly pleasant on-ramp into the spectrum of female characters seemed to suit him well enough. I also give the film points for being accurate about Chicago, down to the correct typeface on the University of Chicago sweatshirt that Harman wears all around Mumbai (though who packs a hooded sweatshirt for a trip to Mumbai?). As a lifelong Illinoisian, the only thing that made me want to jab somebody with a miniature Sears Tower was the talk about Chicago as the center of modeling in the United States. Ummm...no. Here in the midwest, we like to eat. Is Priyanka destined to play models in films that know eff-all about modeling?

Also annoying: the smooth jazz opening song and James Bond titles-esque introductory segments to each zodiac sign that featured Piryanka in a spandex bodysuit slinking around with a symbol appropriate to each sign.

"Pal Pal Dil Jisko Dhoonde"

These had nothing to do with the story or characterizations and I wish they weren't there at all. A simple bit of text would have worked just fine and been less distracting. I don't think the cartoon-y look of the title on the film's poster works either, even when it features as the cover of a book Yogesh casually picks up that then, for no truly sensible reason, dictates the structure of the story.

Even with that much to recommend it on paper, What's Your Raashee? is just too damn long. Knowing there will be twelve Priyankas means you can count down the minimum amount of story left, and after about 150 minutes I lost steam and was worried the remaining women would get far more time on screen than I had energy for. I'm not sure what I would cut - probably the antics with the side characters and some of the songs. Actually, trimming the concept might be smarter - find some sort of system of sorting people that has only 7 categories, say. We can be thankful Gowariker hasn't tackled What's Your Myers-Briggs? Though it certainly did not leave me wanting more, once this movie ended, I realized that I actually liked it, and it has provided me plenty to think about in the two days since I saw it. Its relatively respectful treatment of female characters and acknowledgment of some sort of diversity, however filmified, makes it a standout in my film-viewing experience, and because I found those amazing feats in a place I least expected them, it's also a lesson in keeping an open mind.

[Note from Editor Self - so much for "mini."]

13 comments:

dustdevil liz said...

With all of the hoopla in the news the last few days about "your Zodiac sign may be off" makes me think that it would be amusing to do a re-edit of "What's Your Rashee", and shift the personalities of each girl into the job/home situation of the next one.

Banno said...

Oh no, dustdevil liz, that would only make the film longer. :)

Beth, I did quite like 'What's your Rashee' too.

Beth said...

Liz - OOOH! And as someone who has been bumped from Gemini to Taurus, I am quite intrigued by the prospect! But not enough to ask them to remake the film or anything. Though maybe if they did it with 13 Abhay Deols....

Banno - Did you!!! Oh good! I am glad to know I am not completely on crack about this one :)

Lime(tte) said...

I also h8 that chat-language... Okay, I don't even like misspellings on twitter, but I accept them - but in film titles???? Please!

Anonymous said...

"Trimming the concept" of What's your Raashee is all well and good, except that it was based on a novel.

And as someone who works in the film industry (not Bollywood) I can tell you there are young, female executives, and anyone can get flustered given the right circumstances. I didn't like IHLS for various reasons but they actually got the film industry stuff SPOT ON.

Beth said...

Lime(tte) - Ditto. If the film were actually about an SMS-based romance, for example, it'd be fine because it would be relevant - I may not like it, just as I dislike that kind of thing in twitter and text, but it would make sense. Here I didn't pick up any reason for the weird spellings.

Anonymous - But people alter (including abbreviating) book plots, characters, etc ALL THE TIME in film adaptations! An example that comes to mind quickly in Hindi cinema is the Dilip Kumar/Madhubala adaptation of Jane Eyre called Sandgil in which the back story of the major pair is quite changed.

But I do think in this particular case cutting the songs would have been a much easier way to keep the character structure in the novel but still shorten the film. Alternately, they could write a different script with a similar basic idea (meeting X # of women, one from each type of a certain system of classifying people) and indicate that they were inspired by this particular novel. I think it's clear that run time (or "leave 'em wanting more") is not a concern for Gowariker, though :)

I am glad to know there are young female executives, and I agree that anyone can be flustered. What I'm saying is that this particular character seemed to me too lightweight too often for the job she had, not that she sometimes made mistakes.

Seeing some different behind-the-scenes aspects of filmmaking was probably the best part of IHLS for me.

memsaab said...

I want to see "What's your Myers-Briggs"!!!!!! Ha ha ha ha ha hhhhaaaaa! Unctuous corporate types in solemn self-examination!!!! that would be brilliant.

Filmbuff said...

Beth, totally agree about the long boring length of what is your rashee. I don't think Ashutosh needed to insert a song for every role of priyanka. If he really needed songs, he could have limited himself to one recurring one or two or three. I can't help wondering that Hrishikesh Mukherjee would have done a wonderful job with this plot line and story by keeping it short but at the same time keep the viewer engaged. I quite liked Harman in this movie - haven't seen him in any other though.

I didn't like IHLS. Had to make up for that experience by watching good 70s movie!

Carol said...

IHLS - I didn't understood why the hell they loved each other and only kept watching beacuse Sonam is so good to look at. Yet, she still has to learn how to act.

WYR? - I don't remember a lot about this movie, but I remember that there was a point when I thought I couldn't take no more. I only saw it all because I wanted to know the 12 girls!

Aparna said...

IHLS: Surprising myself, I actually liked the movie! That might be because of 2 reasons:
1) I went with minimal expectations
2) I was indulgent about the stupidity on the part of the leads as they were much younger (unlike in 'Love Aaj Kal' where "matured" people take "mature" decision to break up but be in touch).
But all in all, why I liked it were because of the songs, the effervescent comedy/humor that nicely highlighted the shallowness, and the fact that the film did not take itself too seriously and try to be a treatise about love (for e.g. not having dialogues like 'Love is not this...but that').

WYR: Finally watched it last week on TV. It is actually a good film to watch on TV with 10 breaks in between and a chance to do something on the side like surfing the net or cooking. My own grouse: Why were most of the 'Priyanka's so weird?

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,
This is Jayesh Adhyaru, a regular visitor of your blog, from Ahmedabad, India.

Despite its long running time, I really liked this movie. Let me share few things. Yes, this movie is based on a Gujarati novel called 'Kimble Ravenswood' by eminent Gujarati writer Mr. Madhu Rye. He lives in New Jersey.

He wrote this novel during 1976 and was published in a daily of Surat (Gujarat) named 'Gujarat Mitra'.

When I interviewed Mr. Naushil Mehta, well known playwright and co-writer of WTR, he told me that Ashutosh Gowarikar wanted to make movie from this story for so long (from his college days).

Original novel was based in Ahmedabad and was path breaking in its style-psyche-language etc, because now-a-days one can't even imagine that a guy from Chicago comes India to look for suitable bride and meets different girls. But believe me, this trend is still on in NRI (or NRG- Non Resident Gujaratis) filled Gujarat. Boy comes for 10-14 days, meets too many girls, gets engage or gets married and fly back to US, UK or Canada etc.

But Mr. Madhu Rye himself is not very happy with the movie, because Gowarikar had changed many things in the movie. For e.g., he changed many characters of 12 girls, in the novel, there was a character of Yogesh's girl friend Peggy, Ashu deleted it. And added nonsense character of Pundit turned Spy called 'Bhautesh Uncle'.

But still, Ashutosh made honest effort to do justice to novel and has given due credits to Madhu Rye (his name was displayed in all the promos, his credit appears in the beginning of the movie and if you've noticed, the book Yogesh (Harman) reads in the movie is shown written by Mr. Madhusudan Thakar which is Mr. Madhu Rye's original name. 'Madhu Rye' is his pen name.) This is nice gesture in hindi cinema, when we juxtapose it with the incidents of plagiarized hindi movies without any mention of source and 'Chetan Bhagat-3 Idiots' like controversies.

Ashtosh also captured different shades of Gujaratis living in Mumbai and their attraction for NRI groom.

However, Mr. Rye was also not happy with the televised version of Kimble Ravenswood. Ketan Mehta made a TV serial on it named 'Mr. Yogi', taking Late Mr. Mohan Gokhale in Yogesh Patel's role, which was aired in late 80s on Doordarshan. But I was told by the writer that Ketan Mehta really messed the story, but despite that, the serial became hit and people still remembers it.

Also there has been several stage adaptations of this story.

Hope you wont mind this looo..ng comment! :)

Thanx!
Jayesh Adhyaru.

Beth said...

Hi Jayesh - I am SO sorry for the long response! Your comment got lost in the mess of my inbox! I am grateful for thoughtful comments, no matter what length!

This is all very interesting! I too am very glad the original author got credit, and though I have not read the book it seems that Gowariker put a LOT of work into this film. I just wish someone had helped him edit!

If you happen to read this comment, I'd be interested to know whether you think the original book would be an enjoyable read 30odd years later? I think the Chicago connection alone would fascinate me!

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