Sunday, October 30, 2011

in conversation with Minikhan: Ra.One

Ayooooo! My thoughts on Ra.One are still swirling around, so I thought I'd talk it over with Minikhan. After all, who understands rubbery SRK better than he does? 

Before we begin, a disclaimer about our conversation: I do not have an informed opinion about superheroes generally or superhero films more specifically. I'm not sure what Minikhan reads and watches while I'm at work, so for all I know he's an expert on sci-fi and superheroes and VFX and might have surprisingly strong opinions.


Beth: So Minikhan, what did you think of your first trip to a Bollywood movie in central Illinois?
Minikhan: To be honest, I was kind of surprised no one recognized me, but it was nice to be able to just watch the film in peace. That hasn't happened in I don't know how long. The crowd didn't seem terribly excited about it, though, did they?
Beth: They did not. My India Real Time column is going to discuss that this week, though, so hush.

Minikhan: You and Bollywood Fangirl were mighty talkative in the cinema. Was there any part of it that you liked unreservedly?
Beth: "Unreservedly" is such a tricky concept, Minikhan. But I think I can name two, though I might change my mind by the time we're done with this conversation. First and foremost, the action sequences were very impressive and felt like honest attempts to go full-throttle.
Minikhan: Lemme pause you there. You don't watch action movies, so why should I listen to you about "impressive"?
Beth: Okay, that's fair. There were no aspects of the action that distracted me from them and what they were trying to communicate about the characters and the drama/risk of the situation/story. They suffered from an utter lack of internal logic, but so did every other aspect of the film, so I had long let go of that dream by the time freshly-minted Ra.One chased after Kareena's car by running instead of by, oh, taking the kinds of gigantic leaps we saw him do ten minutes later.
Minikhan: That was at least a cool contrast with G.One's entry, since he drops down out of the clear blue sky—nothing so mere mortal-like as running.
Beth: But I'm glad you pointed out that I never go for technologically impressive action films. My liking the action more than anything else underscores what a hot mess the rest of this was.
Minikhan: The train crashing through Victoria Terminus was my favorite. And so symbolic! A character being held up as an INDIAN SUPERHERO ZOMG!!!!! gets to be involved with bringing down a symbol of the Raj while not actually being responsible for the resulting deaths himself!
Beth: I also thought your human version and his crew did a great job making three different characters in the film (if we count the hilarious version dreamed up by his son in the opening sequence, complete with whoa!-adult black strappy leather—and what does it say that that's what the kid invented as a hero? His own father in eyebrow-raising clothes with a woman who isn't his mom?).
Minikhan: You love it when Shahrukh acts! "Tries to act!" many commenters will doubtless say.
Beth: Guilty. Note I'm not talking about the quality or appropriateness of one of those characters.
Minikhan: The less said about that racist, sexist, size-ist, juvenile, ridiculous crap, the better.
Beth: Agreed. In fact, I thought about trying to re-write "It's Criminal" as something like "It's juvenile! Baby's brain is goin' 'Stop stop stop!'", but I lost my inspiration.
Minikhan: Will you check and see if I was made in China?
Beth: You were. But don't take it personally. I can't imagine any of the people involved with this film put a lot of thought into deciding whom to mock.
Minikhan:
Yet they bothered with details like making G.One's snot luminous.
Beth: "Luminous Snot" describes this whole film, actually.

Minikhan: Here's another good thing about Ra.One: it got better as it went along! That never happens!
Beth: Reverse of the Curse of the Second Half! What do you think the underlying problems were in the first part? It's not as though being set in London automatically makes a film horrible.
Minikhan:
No, though that and the huge corporate setting they implied sort of beg the kind of multi-cultural word that "mass entertainers" aren't, um, adept at depicting.
Beth: What do you mean? Don't all gora street toughs in London speak Hindi?
Minikhan: Maybe that was part of hospitality efforts for the 2012 Olympics. Learn how to threaten people in langauges they might be more comfortable with! 
Beth: I think the basic problem with the first part, and maybe therefore the whole film, is that everything was determined by an obnoxious, spoiled child. That the film was packed with the kinds of things kids—
Minikhan:
Boys.
Beth: Right. Making a film for boys (or media executive visions of boys as consumers) is one thing but having their way of seeing and navigating the world—e.g. mega-villains are cool! prove that playing video games is actually useful on a major scale! solve problems by grabbing them in the crotch!—as the basis of the philosophical structure takes much better writing than this had. 
Minikhan: You think Ra.One had a philosophical structure?
Beth: Maybe? I mean, it fulfilled poor Shekhar's idea that good triumphs even against more powerful adversity.
Minikhan: They kept saying that, but I wasn't completely convinced that G.One was weaker than Ra.One. 
Beth: I'm not sure that shook out, no. I was talking with the Horror this morning about what defines and characterizes a superhero and I realized that Bollywood tends to give us heroes that are not only already pretty superheroic (a point several writers made before this film came out) but that they are much, much better than the villain, if not in strength then in moral fiber, which counts for a lot.
Minikhan: So if Bollywood makes a superhero who has to be weaker than the villain, it just doesn't quite jive and some kind of major overhaul of the filmi formula would be required?
Beth: That's what I'm wondering. Though it seems to work pretty well in Mr. India.
Minikhan: Being a human who is sometimes invisible via technology and proclaims himself an ordinary Indian isn't the same as being a semi-digital semi-programmed strongman.
Beth: True. Maybe G.One isn't human enough to be a superhero?
Minikhan: Maybe. Drona was a much more human superhero, but that didn't work at all, so mere humanity isn't the only factor needed.

Beth: What did you think of Kareena?
Minikhan: Not particularly noteworthy in any regard.  There was no Bebo fierceness, but I might have been a little touched by her depiction of grief for Shekhar. 
Beth: Her character didn't work well in the first part, though no more poorly than anything else. I liked her more as the film progressed.
Minikhan: For what I think was maybe supposed to be a feminist slant, she had no problem gyrating around in tiny clothes.
Beth: She's just third-wave, that's all. At least the kid wasn't in the room to see all the skimpiness and ass-grabbing. I kind of wish she had had something to do in the climax, but I suppose they could justify her absence by saying she wasn't a character in the game.
Minikhan: That's just a more elaborate way of saying "It's in the script."
Beth: I know, I know. She got used as a weapon against the airport thugs but then didn't do any actual fighting. But maybe that is how the character would have wanted it—she seemed very unhappy to be in that situation.
Minikhan: True. And at least she upheld the proud Kapoor family tradition of driving like a lunatic!
Beth: Twice! And for reasons that made sense!

Minikhan: And Arjun?
Beth: Ummm. He was in it!
Minikhan: He wasn't awful, but he had nothing to do. Why do you think SRK seems to like Arjun as an on-screen adversary?
Beth: My theory is it has to do with maintaining some sort of set level of charisma. SRK exudes it without even trying (well, usually) so he needs someone who has none for balance. VoilĂ .
Minkhan: I thought Ra.One was very scary-looking in a sort of "Darth Maul as a digital skull" sort of way.
Beth: I did too! I was relieved to wake up on Saturday morning and not have dreamed about him! 

Minikhan: Do we have to talk about that horrible child?
Beth: No. Well, maybe a little bit. I really, truly hated him as a character (it feels wrong to say you hate a twelve-year-old as a person) but at least he learned to appreciate his father's work and values.
Minikhan: Do we have to talk about his inexplicable haircut?
Beth: Double no.
Minikhan: Do we get to laugh at how he played the triangle in his rock band?
Beth: Absolutely.

Beth: Amid all the Ra.One-related screeching in all directions, whose reviews have you liked?
Minikhan: I'm glad we read your friend Temple's before we watched the movie and tried to imagine seeing it from a thirteen-year-old boy's perspective.
Beth: And she's definitely a fan of Shahrukh, so we didn't have any of that nasty hater blinkeredness.
Minikhan: And she doesn't mind thinking about things, so there's no brain-dead fawning, either.
Beth: There were two others that have helped me think through the film. Jai Arjun Singh's was short and to the point, and I can totally imagine feeling like that the elements he named just sank the experience, especially if you went into it really hoping this was going to be INDIAN SUPERHERO ZOMG!!!!! (not that this writer did that). 
Minikhan: You like short writing?
Beth: Harhar. My other favorite is by Samit Basu, who is an author of comics and speculative fiction and various other things and has spent some time in the wilds of the film industry working on an adaptation of one of his novels.
Minikhan: I liked that one too. It's got that brain/heart balance you like so much and isn't at all bitter despite having pretty good reason to be.
Beth: Imagine being an actual writer and watching movies like this. Gah.
Minikhan: And don't forget Vigil Idiot. He nailed its problems, as usual. 

Minikhan: Hey, let's go see if tonight's Good Wife or "Treehouse of Horror" is online already.
Beth: Great idea. Let's find some good writing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi

First, an overdue announcement: the wonderful site Without Giving the Movie Away (WOGMA) is holding a blogging contest in honor of its fifth birthday. The gist is that you should write something about your favorite film, however you wish to define the term. Click here for details.

[This post contains a significant spoiler about the end of the film. I'll warn you again when it's imminent.]

For those of us who did not grow up watching Hindi films (and maybe even for those of you who did, depending on how closely an adult monitored what you were watching when or after this film came out), there is a particular threshold that each of us must cross in our filmi-life's path. That threshold reveals itself to each of us at a different time—I like to think at the exactly right time—and affects us in particular ways. But there is one commonality in the experience: after this line it is crossed, there is no returning, no backtracking, no un-knowing. You can never un-see Rekha and Akshay Kumar frolicking in a pool, drizzling each other with chocolate sauce, and wrestling in the mud while Sumitra moans about naughty girls needing love.
Inspiration from Samantha Fox, Laura Branigan, and Madonna all in one song! And note the hilarious user comment on this video: "this is advantage to have friendship with experienced ladies."
What sacrifices our hero makes.
Having been told repeatedly that Rekha's performance in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi is amazing above and beyond the, er, notable song above, I decided I needed to see for myself what in the world could possibly have spawned it.

Before getting to the aspect of it that interests me most, I want to praise Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi for offering excellent entertainment value. Its masala mix is much more heavily slanted towards action than my general fare, but thanks to Akshay Kumar's fluid moves and general likability, I even enjoyed most of the fight scenes and only fast-fowarded through the final one. His songs in the film are equally fun and/or impressive.
The backup dancers have their jackets tied around their waists with the most hilarious and enhancing possible placement of the knots.
Production checklist: after shooting, return costume to Dexy's Midnight Runners.
Vampire face that, much to my delight, turns out to be a foreshadowing of a later costume.
The romance between Akshay and Raveena Tandon is cute; I could have used more of it, but I'm not sure how the film could give it more time without cutting down on either the action sequences (which were surely a big attraction at the time) or Rekha (lord knows I don't want that!). The only ingredient I disliked was the horrible acting in the more light-hearted bits by the hero's friends, but of course this is to be expected in at least half of all Hindi films made since 1983.* Given the comic bent of the hero and heroine's romance, I'm not sure why the friends' attempts to be funny were even necessary.

A brief aside about comedy: having lived in Toronto for two years, I could not stop laughing at how often the characters mentioned being in America when they so clearly weren't.
That's right! In fact, you're going to...
 See this?
CANADA!
This giant landmark (the tallest structure in the world for over three decades) that is very hard to avoid in almost any view of downtown Toronto?
If I have my geography correct, this is the Gardiner Expressway, and hiding under it is not exactly recommended since it tends to shed chunks of concrete. For friends who remember 1990s Toronto, there's another shot showing the giant roadside Panasonic sign.
THIS IS NOT IN THE UNITED STATES. Why didn't the writers just change "America" to "Canada" and be done with it? Did the Canadian government not want them to sully their good name by depicting Toronto as a hotbed of lethal wrestling and a corrupt chief of the amazing all-Hindi-speaking police force? On the up side, this gave me a chance to relive last summer's IIFAs.
The songs that teleported to Russia were also amusing simply because of their unusual yet unremarked-upon locale. The Soviet Union's long love of Hindi cinema is well-known, but it's not a setting I've seen very often, certainly not without some kind of "Hey, here we are living in St. Petersburg!" talk like in Lucky.
Love the Mosfilm truck.
Raveena had a lot of bad boots in this film.
But no matter. Who does not love a song teleport!

Like Khoon Bhari Maang, there are also many wonders to be found in Rekha's costumes, not only because they are dramatic and, um, "interesting" but because they fit so well with her character. She's Madame Maya, and all the accoutrements are part of the illusion/facade/projection. Even better, nobody comments on her ever-changing hair. She's not judged for wanting to look a certain way. Granted, she's already the villain, but there's no sniggering or eye-rolling, no accountant asking her if her wig budget really needs to be so large.
Click for a bigger version. Do check out the top center picture to investigate Rekha's striped eyebrows (perhaps drawn on with a very rigid mascara brush?) and all of the humdinger dialogue in the middle row. Oh, and Akshay's chest hair (center left).
I'm hopeful Akshay's vampire get-up here is the reason for the bloody mouth in the picture in the discussion of songs (above), but that might be a stretch.
Now for the meat of why I enjoyed this movie so much: REKHA. REKHA REKHA REKHA. In his post on this movie last year, Bollywood Deewana mentioned that Rekha is a "heroine who fought hard against playing motherly roles when she was deemed to be past it by many, even if it meant she played ridiculous characters." That's a very good point for two reasons. One, there is a lot of WTFery in this film, and almost all of it is centered on or somehow related to Rekha, meaning that she bears much of the weight of the ridiculous, no small task in a film that has multiple WWE-style fights, tons of lunk-headed beefy bodyguards who should never have tried to speak a line on camera, the wig parade, and The Song. She has a dignity, a style, a presence that not even this movie can crush.

Two, at approximately 41 when this movie was filmed, she still looks ageless, and, much more importantly, she has the acting experience and gravitas needed to make such an exaggerated, imperfectly written character in a contextless setting work. Contrast her with Gulshan Grover, the other main villain (King Don), who is no more menacing than Joey Tribbiani doing his best example of a daytime soap opera villain. In addition to being unimpressive, King Don isn't even fun. He's just some guy in big suits using a weird voice. Rekha, on the other hand, clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this performance, making the best of what was given to her, and she absolutely sells it. She shows the imperfections in Maya's steely persona at exactly the right time to give them maximum impact and, I must admit, evoke my sympathy. Even in her plainest dialogues, she's working to give them some bite, some animation, some oomph. Maya may be ridiculous, but Rekha is not. What a fine line that is—and how well she walks it.

Madam Maya is a fascinating character. On one hand, she is confident, powerful, and successful in her profession and operates in a world entirely populated by men. No character seems to doubt her place and ability in that world. I don't think there's a single line about "What does a woman know about fighting?" or "Let the men handle it." She is unquestionably awesome in the life she has chosen for herself. But on the other hand, she is given a few emotional arcs that I think most male villains probably would not have, and of course these are both her undoing and her ultimate salvation. However, they also give Maya texture that is interesting to discover and provides Rekha more to work with. Female villains of this caliber are so unusual that I don't know what to make of this one having such a strong conscience.

While Maya is shown at various times to have a heart—and to deeply resent the times in her life that emotional happiness was taken away from her—she is not at all religious. We're so accustomed to seeing non-heroine female characters behaving piously that it's a surprise to see one who doesn't give a rat's ass. This makes her strength more impressive for being presented and conceived of as entirely internally derived and driven...and, for story-telling purposes, makes the contrast with the hero's devotion even more delicious. I think it's significant that other fierce females, Kali and mostly Durga, are required to defeat Maya's henchmen.
*** spoiler alert! *** Maya herself is brought down by women as well, both her sister's pleas to her better nature—and I think the film is implying that that good side is her true self, one that has been lost over the years as she has raged against the world in order to provide her sister a better life**—and her own hand. *** end spoiler *** I have to love that this woman was never defeated by a man and that what finally conquered her was conscience, not violence. Maya is so in control that she chooses her own demise.

And as I type that, I'm wondering if a female character has to be a villain in order to have that kind of freedom? Hmmm. HMMMM.

Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi is silly, entertaining, and interesting. Everyone but the three leads is pretty dreadful (and had little by way of a quality script to work with), but their performances were charismatic enough to carry me through the predictable back story and the side characters I didn't care about (namely Akshay's brother, his girlfriend, and his gang of dimwitted friends). I realize I've hardly mentioned Raveena Tandon as Akshay's girlfriend/Rekha's sister, so here you go: she was fine in the little she had to do and seemed to enjoy bopping around with Akshay in a few fun songs. Even if you don't care about fight sequences, this is one to watch simply for Rekha's performance in an unusual and intriguing role.

To close: a sign of the times
and a snake for Liz!
This snake appears in the last song, which is set in a huge cavernous temple-ish structure (I say "temple-ish" just in case it is in any way offensive to call a structure like this a temple, but it is certainly being used for worship). (And speaking of worship, doesn't this look for all the world like a church that's temporarily moved out its pews and lecterns [can you tell I was raised Presbyterian?] in order to make way for one of the film's many WWE-sytle fights?)

* It occurs to me that perhaps the likelihood of the comic side plot being irritating increases the closer to the present day a film was made. For example, I am almost never annoyed by Agha or Rajendra Nath but always want to punch Satish Shah and Johny Lever.
** At least, that's what the subtitles say. All I feel the film shows of Maya's criminal existence is that she likes working the fights and the lifestyle that comes along with that wealth. She does not seem to have any bone to pick with society at large, any particular institutions, any person in her past who did her wrong or led her to a life of crime, etc. There's no indication of her doing anything useful for her sister (Raveena Tandon) or protecting Priya's "values and culture" (another doozy from the subtitles) other than putting her up in the palatial "American" house and fussing at her for having a male visitor. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit investigates Hindi cinema

You may have noticed a new link in the sidebar to a site called the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit. If you're into poppy, sometimes monster-y, other times spy-y, always silly goodness, you will probably love reading (and listening to!) the works of my fellow MOSS agents (who include long-time friends Memsaab, Die Danger Die Die Kill, the Horror, and Teleport City). Our October mission—should we choose to accept it, and we probably do—is to investigate our namesake motif: that classic cinematic costume staple, the skeleton suit.

To my knowledge, there are very few skeleton suits to be found in Bollywood. I can think of only three: Pran and some of his friends in Karz,
one of the countless low-budget monsters in Shaitani Dracula, a movie so bizarre and terrible that you kind of have to see it to believe it, or if you are concerned for your mental well-being just read all about on Teleport City because therein Keith delivers one of the funniest pieces of writing of the decade,
and the jiving crew in the superb "Main Bhookha" from Bhoot Bungla, which Memsaab has written up with her usual aplomb.


However, given my love for villain lairs and 70s and early 80s masala (and its descendants), I have seen many skeletons and skulls as prominent decor or visual motifs.
 the original Jaani Dushman
Teesri Aankh
Mr. India (both above)
Sheshnaag
Ajooba (look on the wall of rocks for two skeletons and the big stone skull)

I also like these computer-generated skeletons in Naag Lok. They rise out of graves, bounce up and down (maybe they were backup dancers back in their day?), and whoosh towards the camera.

By leaps and bounds, the most enjoyable Bollywood skeleton I have ever seen is in Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani. I mean, look:
Is that not amazing? It has SLEEVES. For a video clip, click here. And if you've never seen this film, I would actually recommend reading my friend Steve's writeup of it (you remember Steve—he wrote Army of Monkeys) instead because the film is dreadful.

What skeletons have you found hidden in the dark recesses of the filmi world? Share in the comments!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The 30-Day Bollywood Song Challenge! part 3

21. A difficult song that you wish you could sing
Anything that uses or depends on structures or techniques from classical Indian music is beyond me (all my decades of musical training and experience are western), so much so that I don't even know how to talk intelligently about what I hear—or, more to the point, what strikes me as difficult. Lately the song I love the richness and expressiveness of the voices in "Katiya Karoon" from Rockstar—and have been practicing a lot in my living room. You've been warned.

Shifting the question a bit to voices, I'd love to be able to sing like Rekha Bhardwaj and Vasundhara Das, who both have simple, straightforward, expressive voices I just adore. And some tricky tricks I wish I could do?  R. D. Burman's and Mohammed Rafi's howls and growls!

22. A song that you know you the whole routine and choreography to
It is for the safety and sanity of everyone within eyeshot that the answer to this question is "none."

23. A song that you dedicate to your friends
At the first Pan-European International Bollywood Blogger Meetup in Vienna, so much fun was had with "Kaike Paan Banaraswala" from the 2006 Don that I cannot hear the song without thinking of them. And in honor of the crew of the Boston meetup a few years ago, it's "My Name Is Anthony Gonzalves."

24. A song that no one would expect you to love
 How about "Pyaar Do Pyaar Lo" from Janbaaz? As Tim Gunn might say, "I'm concerned about your taste level."

25. A song that reminds you of your childhood
Anything from the 70s in which people are wearing flared plaid trousers and giant sunglasses! Shashi's leather jacket and big collar in "Mujhse Mera Naam Na Poocho" in Chor Sipahee remind me of the cool dads I knew when I was 6.

26. A song you play when you're happy
"Meri Jane Jana (Oh Baby Don't Break My Heart)" from Mohabbat: mostly I love this one for the picturization. It's just so moppety and sunny and floral and cute! I know I'm biased, but Akshaye is keeping up with Madhuri better than we might expect, isn't he?

27. A song you play when you're sad
This fits under the next category too, but I cannot stay glum in the face of "Good Morning India" from Khushi. Be amazed at this list of smile-provoking ingredients: cornflakes, samosas, corporate sponsorship, "rave" as an adjective, cheerleaders, several modes of transport, and Fardeen Khan (whom I like way more than I should) doing pelvic thrusts.

28. A song that makes you laugh
"Gori Gori" from Main Hoon Na. The slide! The arm fling! The coordinated outfits! Boman! The near-constant shaking!

29. A song that you can relate to
"Bole Sajni Mori Sajni" from Doli Sajna Ke Rakhna. Having very elaborate and dil-squishy dreams about Akshaye Khanna (or some other boy you met in the library)? Nope, I know nothing about that.

30. A favorite song that is picturized on the legend that is Amitabh Bachan
"Aaj Rapat Jaye To Hame Na" from Namak Halal. Or "Pug Ghungru Bandh Meera Nache" (same film). Or "Janu Meri Jaan" from Shaan. Or the title song from Do aur Do Paanch (and its reprise, starting at about 9:55 here). Or "Ae Yaar Sun" from Suhaag.Or "Aaj Thehero Zara Dekho" from Parvarish.

Yes. That one.

Click on the links for parts 1 and 2 of this series.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

mini-reviews from the Chicago South Asian Film Festival

Somewhat distracted by all the delightful friends who were there, I managed to catch seven films at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival last weekend: a short, three documentaries, and three features.

short

The Eclipse of Taregna (2011, dir. Rakesh Chaudhary)
So much happened both to the characters and to me in this tiny film that I hardly remember it's a short. There is full character development, real hopefulness is established, and the titular eclipse works so well as a metaphor in several different ways. It manages to be both momentary and full, very focused yet emotionally expansive. It's really, really lovely.

Totally Filmi has a great (and much longer) writeup here.

documentaries

Roots of Love (2011, dir. Harjant Gill; trailer.; interview with the director)
On this film's official website (linked above), there's a quote from a reviewer that calls this look at contemporary Sikh attitudes towards hair and the turban "compassionate." For me that sums up its strengths perfectly. As an atheist and someone who has never much wanted or needed to visually stand out, it's very hard for me to even begin to get my head around the idea of committing to religious principles or commandments at all, let alone ones that are also physical markers of your faith. This movie was great food for thought, and I appreciate how expressive the subjects were about their interpretations of...is doctrine the right word? The scenes between parents and their adult son who decides to cut his hair were particularly poignant.

Ring Laila (2010, dir. Anuradha Rana; trailer)
Focusing on young female boxers in Kolkata, this film made me want to leap out of my seat and encourage every woman, everywhere, to lace up their shoes and start punching. And not out of violence—that's not what this story is about. It's about real empowerment, movement, strength, brains, work, dedication, women choosing to do something and learning how to be good at it, and, amazingly, with the love and support of their families. One of the boxers also gets in this amazing statement: "Men, I think, want women to come forward, but only as long as they stay a step behind." Now that is a TKO. 

Ring Laila was also the only film by a female director that I got to see at the festival.

Find it and watch it right now.

Made in Pakistan (2009, dir. Nasi Khan; trailer [do not read the comments]; interview with the director)
Like Roots of Love, this film took me into a world I know nothing about. The subjects were very much not the people I see or hear on US news about Pakistan, and the combination of focusing on members of the creative and intellectual communities as well as smaller-scale politicians with living through the events we have all heard about was very engaging. The four people who feature in the film are all so relatable, so thoughtful. Filmed during the 2007 state of emergency (and coincidentally during the assassination of Benazir Bhutto), the film captures that uneasy contrast of everyday lives with extraordinary times.

features

Stanley Ka Dabba (2011, dir. Amole Gupte)
SUCH a charming movie (until it punches you in the gut at the end, but still)! Sweet and sad and smart and funny! And the acting! Vah! My only criticism is that I had no sense of why Mr. Grumpy acted as he did other than a general gluttony that overwhelmed his understanding of acceptable behavior. Watch it for the we've-seen-this-a-zillion-times-before but powerful "triumph of the human spirit" aspect if nothing else, or maybe the relief in knowing that there do exist sensible adults who do the right thing once they realize wrongs are committed, but I'm pretty sure you are made of stone if you don't melt at least once or twice in the presence of these bright, hilarious, adorable kids.

Sthaniya Sambaad (2009, dir. Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas)
True confessions: I don't think I understood this film at all. I was happily following along with the various characters talking about what their neighborhood in Kolkata means to them and their various schemes and dreams, through the weird "drifting through the night" bit, and it looked really good and I felt like I got a firm and thorough concept of what the neighborhood was like and all about, its limits and its possibilities...but then things just kind of stopped. I saw it with a friend and we both walked out going "Huh?",  continued to return to "Huh?" as we drank our lattes and discussed it further, and remained at "Huh?" 90 minutes later. 

Shuttlecock Boys (2011, dir. Hemant Gaba; trailer)
This story of young men struggling to create meaningful lives for themselves through the vehicle of a fledgling business was largely predictable but, as with films like Chak De India, if someone hands me a chestnut that they've done something interesting and appealing with, then that is perfectly fine by me. The writing and performances created real people who were easy to recognize and empathize with. Coincidentally, I saw this and Delhi Belly within a week of each other, and they strike me as similar, if maybe just in their subjects of non-rich 20something men in Delhi trying to identify and/or do what they care about while juggling the problems life tosses their way. Both films have some very dear friendships at their core, too, and that focus pushes all the right buttons for me.

Read the frustrating story of the making and distribution (or not) of this excellent film at Dear Cinema and please, please go watch the film if it's playing at a festival near you!