Monday, December 31, 2012

Silly Fun With Salman Khan- Ek Tha Tiger

Something fun for me about watching Ek Tha Tiger recently is that it was the first Bollywood film that I watched after having been aware of it before it was released. When I first discovered Bollywood, I simply bounced around Netflix and YouTube, watching movies that were, inevitably, at least several years old and often much older. As I started following Bollywood news a little bit online, and joined the fabulous BollyWhat? forum, I began to be exposed to movies before they were even released (amazing! tantalizing!). Reading about the Bollywood films coming on the horizon could be quite frustrating, because who knew when they would be available to such as I?  Well, kudos to Netflix, because a little over four months after Ek Tha Tiger's August 15 release, I watched it via online streaming.

I must stress that I wasn't expecting much from Ek Tha Tiger, because I think that is a key component to why I had so much fun watching it. The other fun came from, again, being able to watch a movie that I had watched, so to speak, people anticipate and then react to. I was also already very familiar with the soundtrack. Very. Familiar. I bought it after noticing how much my kids liked the song "Banjaara" on YouTube, and have listened to it countless times in the car, particularly "Mashallah," since my two-year-old is wont to shout "Again!" when it finishes.

But the reviews for Ek Tha Tiger were often lackluster, and since I didn't much care for Dabangg, which is a Salman Khan action flick that most people do seem to adore, I didn't think this would be my thing either. However, I was thoroughly entertained! It is entirely brain candy, and if you are looking for a taut spy thriller, you might be dismayed by all the plot holes you threaten to fall into, but if a silly modern masala that mixes action with romance and touristy-shiny views of foreign locales could float your boat, well, I present Ek Tha Tiger for your viewing pleasure! Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif, neither of whom can really, well, act, are clearly having fun and their enjoyment is infectious. Luckily acting isn't so necessary for this, and charisma (Salman's) and looks (Katrina's) carry the day.

The story centers on Salman's character, an Indian agent code-named "Tiger." He gets sent to Dublin to keep tabs on an Indian professor who may be sharing sensitive technology with Pakistan. There he meets Katrina's character, who takes care of the professor's apartment and also works at the local theater in some capacity (which is why at one point we get glimpses of a very, very odd stage performance of "Pinocchio"). He falls for her, but he hasn't been able to tell her who he really is, which is troubling for him. As it turns out, she is not what she appears to be either. So adventure and romance ensue.

This film had the kind of wink-and-a-smile lightheartedness that I am a sucker for. It definitely does not take itself too seriously. For example, after the song-and-dance to "Banjaara" that lets us know that Tiger has truly fallen for the girl, Tiger's disapproving colleague suddenly appears saying, "What are you doing? Were you just dancing??" Tiger, looking briefly sheepish, glances back down the now empty street, which just moments before was filled with singing-and-dancing extras in various colorful costumes, and says innocently, "Dancing? No one's dancing." I cracked up! The film had already been silly fun, and I think, after that good laugh, I was in a very forgiving mood for viewing the rest of it.

If you are an action film buff with exacting standards for realism and a desire for the plot to make some kind of effort at logical sense, don't bother with this film, just get a laugh from The Vigil Idiot's comic review of it (warning for bad language). But if you can turn off your brain and enjoy, then... enjoy!

Am I the only one on the planet who thought this was much more fun than Dabangg? Comment and let me know!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bollywood items on my Christmas list

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! And if you don't, I hope it just happens to be a wonderful day for you anyway!

If Santa offered to bring me anything at all Bollywood-related that I wanted, here would be some of the things on my list:

* A good-quality DVD of Lagaan. I really, really want to see this movie, but it has been a "very long wait" on Netflix for... ever. Netflix! Buy some more copies!

*The book King of Bollywood by Anupama Chopra. It sounds like a very fun read! And my library has no decent books on Bollywood, for shame. I need some Bolly-education!

* The Bollywood Cookbook. Two of my favorite things! Bollywood and cookbooks! (Notice I didn't say "cooking"...)

* A new movie starring Shahid Kapoor that is both excellent and a blockbuster hit. Maybe Santa has some pull?

Happy Bolly-days! ;)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bunty Aur Babli

Bunty Aur Babli is a film I watched to about halfway through and then forgot about for a good long time. I finally watched the rest of it. It is fun but not fantastic, as evidenced by the fact that, well, I forgot to finish it for awhile.

Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji star as a two big dreamers (Abhishek's big dreams involve running his own business, while Rani dreams of winning the Miss World pageant) from small towns who fall in together and turn to a life of crime when their dreams are stymied. They pull increasingly high-stakes con jobs, relishing both the money and the adventurous excitement.

This man thinks his is making a big sale to a beautiful woman. Oh the disappointment awaiting him...

This movie was, apparently, quite a big hit but I can't get too excited about it. I think part of the problem is that, with films where you are on the side of the criminals, like heist films such as Ocean's Eleven, I'm used to having a definite reason or at least an excuse for siding with the criminals. For example, the guy they steal from in Ocean's Eleven is such a sleazeball that you don't really care that they rip him off, especially when they're so charming and clever about it. But here they seem mainly to be ripping off harmless business owners. If the victims had it coming, I completely missed why. (Except for the con involving the supposed "Richest Man in the World" who thought he could buy the Taj Mahal. That one was pretty funny. Ridiculous, but funny.) Also, Bunty and Babli didn't really seem to have a strong reason to fall into a life of crime. It wasn't as if they couldn't have just gotten jobs, it was just that they found that too boring and mundane in the face of remembering their exalted dreams. For me, however, a reason such as "I'm disappointed that I missed the deadline for the Miss World pageant so now I have no alternative but to steal my way to riches" just falls kind of flat. Abhishek's character was dealt a rude blow, and the scene where he gets even with the guy who did it (which was their first con) was one that, I thought, worked better because he had such understandable motivation and the victim was, clearly, a real jerk. But it still doesn't really explain why they did the next one, although as they kept going it was clear that Abhishek's character enjoyed the notoriety. Better a thief than a nobody, right people?

I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that, while it doesn't stay so morally ambiguous to the very end, it does seem to cling to the idea that a normal, decent life is extremely boring and sad. Which seems like a slightly rude thing to sell to an audience that will probably mostly comprise people with normal, fairly ordinary lives. Part of watching movies is an escape from the mundane, of course, but I don't necessarily want it hammered home to me, while I'm escaping, what a bore I am!

Amitabh Bachchan plays a policeman who vows to track Bunty and Babli down. He is over-the-top, but he carries it off. Loved him! He and his son clearly enjoy acting opposite each other, and the script took every chance that showed up to make a joke out of the fact that these two are famously father and son in real life. How many times can one character tell another not to act like his father? Watch to find out!

Some of the music was very enjoyable and some of it was ho-hum (but did involve impressively ugly costumes!). I loved the song in the middle, "Kajra Re", featuring Aishwarya Rai, and she was fantastic in it, but it had absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the film. I've heard other people complain before that some songs in some films are unnecessary or make the pace drag, but I've always enjoyed the music and dancing and never before found one to be completely out of place. There always seems to be some justification for it. There have been songs I haven't cared for as much as others, of course, but I've never thought that I couldn't see the filmmaker's reason for using a particular song-and-dance number. But here it really does come out of nowhere, and moreover adds nothing, develops nothing, and changes nothing. Rani isn't even in the scene, and why is Abhishek falling all over this dancer when he's now a married man? And why is this beautiful dancer making such a point of flirting with Amitabh Bachchan's character, who is old enough to be her father (and who, two years after this film came out, became her father-in-law in real life)? What on earth is going on? Weird. I guess the idea is that Aishwarya being gorgeous is reason enough?

I don't think that anything is executed poorly in this film. It is well done. It just doesn't seem to me to have much to offer. It's fun for one watch, as long as you're not expecting much, and if you're really hankering for a Hindi caper film.

Monday, December 10, 2012

That Seventies Film- Sholay

The story of why I decided to sample 70s Bollywood films is kind of a convoluted one. The song Deewangi Deewangi from Om Shanti Om (which stars Shah Rukh Khan) was featured in the sidebar on Youtube when I was watching some other Bollywood song, and, intrigued, I watched it. It was catchy and fun, but soon became a stream of actor appearances, with people showing up to dance a few steps with Shah Rukh while people cheered. That was fun when I recognized the actor ("Hey! Wasn't she in Life in a Metro?" "Oh look! It's Preity!"), but more often I didn't recognize them. I got curious, however, and looked into the movie. Plenty of people, I came to find, thought it a highly entertaining film, but apparently a lot of the humor in the movie is based on references to 70s Bollywood. Somehow, probably bearing witness to some slight perfectionist tendencies of mine, this became an impetus for me to research the top movies of the 70s in order to track them down and watch them. In other words, a lot of preparation is going into watching Om Shanti Om someday, and I hope it appreciates it!

This is not always easy, I must point out. I love my red envelopes that come in the mail, bearing DVDs to make me happy, but most of the top 70s movies have a wait (short, long, or very long). Evidently, I am not the only one interested in watching important films from that specific decade. Many are on Youtube, but not always subtitled.

Sholay is one I was able to watch on Youtube- with subtitles! According to this article on, Sholay is THE top 70s Bollywood film. The title means "embers."

I have to admit this poster didn't make me all that excited to see it. Nevertheless, I ended up being pretty entertained by Sholay. In my usual newbie, naive way, I remarked to myself that it looked a lot like an old Hollywood Western... except it was in India. You may not be surprised to find that I am not the only one to have noticed that- the term for this type of Bollywood film is "Curry Western." (See what they did there?)

The film stars Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra as goofy outlaw types, who steal and scoff the law but are loyal, fast friends and generally decent guys (despite the whole being criminals thing).

This was the first film I watched that stars Amitabh. I was at least aware that he was a big, big star. It was also my first exposure to Dharmendra. I hadn't heard of him at all. As it turns out, though, he is one of those stars that shows up in the Deewangi song, so I look forward to trying to recognize him when I finally do watch Om Shanti Om. These two make a fun pair, and certainly play off of each other well.

A policeman who once was THIS CLOSE to apprehending this playfully criminal duo, and who ended up impressed with their bravery and decency, tracks them down and wants to hire them to rid his village of a very bad man. I am suddenly picturing "El Guapo" from The Three Amigos,

but no, it is this guy,

and he is a really nasty piece of work. They didn't shy away from making this guy very, very bad indeed. The actor is Amjad Khan and he knows how to play the bad guy. He has it down cold.

They end up taking the job, and all sorts of drama ensues. Both find love interests in this small village they have been hired to protect. I was interested to find that both of their loves interests were real-life love interests as well, and they are now married to them. Amitabh had married the actress playing his love interest, Jaya Bhaduri, just before filming started. But the story of Dharmendra and Hema Malini, who plays the quirky village girl that his character falls in love with, is just fascinating.

First of all, I was very taken by Hema. She plays a spunky, strong girl, although her character can also be quite naive and gullible. At one point she is required to try to save her love by dancing- it may sound strange, but trust me, it is a fabulous scene- and her determination and strength are as awesome as her dancing. That is actually my favorite part of the movie.

Anyway, I decided to find out who this actress was, and my research led me to find that Hema and Dharmendra fell in love while shooting Sholay. Awww.... AND, he reputedly bribed the lighting techs to mess things up so he would have more time with her doing retakes of a certain scene. How sweet! But, it turns out, he was already married at the time. Urgh. That puts a damper on what was looking like a charming real-life romance. Then things get interesting. According to Hema's biography on, Dharmendra wanted to get a divorce and marry Hema, but couldn't because his wife would not agree to it. But eventually Dharmendra and Hema both converted to Islam and got married anyway. Apparently, and I am still trying to find out more about this because it is so very intriguing and culturally fascinating, there are different laws regarding marriage in India, depending on your religion. Which is a reminder to me that there are certainly a lot of different ways of looking at the world. I wonder what Dharmendra's first wife did then? But I haven't been able to find any information on that. Can anyone point me in the right direction? Fascinating, fascinating stuff!

But back to the actual film. Sholay has action, adventure, humor that I actually found funny (humor can be tricky, cross-culturally), sacrifice, tragedy, and very memorable characters. It also had the most ridiculous climactic combat scene that I have ever seen in any type of cinema. I can't tell you more without being very spoilery, but it is just ludicrous. Shaking my head here.

It didn't ruin it, though. I think, as a Western, non-Hindi-speaking person, Sholay does not have the impact for me that it evidently had in India when it was released. Still a good time, though, and a piece of Bollywood history that I am glad to have seen!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Searching for Shahid, Part 3

So, we have come down to the last of the Shahid Kapoor films that I have seen: Badmaash Company and Kaminey. The two films share some characteristics, too. They both deal, in some way, with crime, and in both there is less of the innocence that I find so charming in so many Bollywood films (both films have premarital relationships and onscreen makeout scenes), but Kaminey is a far superior film to Badmaash Company.

In Badmaash Company, Shahid and a group of his friends decide to form a company, initially set to profit by working around import regulations in India, but then they move to New York to profit from defrauding Americans (why not, right?).

They are successful, make a lot of money,

are predictably torn apart by that money and all the trappings of success, and Shahid learns a lesson and becomes a better person. The end.

OK, I'll tell you some more. This is not a terrible film, there's just nothing special about it. The story is predictable... except for the racism, I have to admit I wasn't expecting that. There is racism when the group negotiates with Thai businessmen and there is racism as they decide to move to New York and Shahid, narrating, explains how fun will take advantage of "Whitey." Unfortunately, I don't speak Hindi (I wish I spoke Hindi!) so I don't know how good of a translation of the original dialogue that is, but the fact is they move to New York and commit fraud, ruining some random New York businessman's reputation for no reason, but hey, no worries, he's white.

The music is forgettable and only comes in the background and in "time-is-passing" montages- there is no dancing to speak of. THE MOVIE STARS SHAHID KAPOOR AND THERE ARE NO DANCE NUMBERS. I... I just... I don't understand.

The script is weak and indulges in some preachiness. (Wait, maybe this is a terrible film... but it is pretty entertaining!) The entire cast does a good job with what they have here, but the story is not strong, and in fact is downright implausible in several parts, and the entire film comes across as slightly cartoonish at times.

Shahid's character is pretty much a jerk for a good portion of the film, but he still gets the sweetest scene, when he reconciles with the love interest, played by Anushka Sharma (I love her in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi!)

He is so good at being vulnerable and open in relating with his romantic counterparts.

The difference between the quality of Badmaash Company and Kaminey is stark. There is a Grand Canyon-scale difference between the two of them. Kaminey is so intense I wasn't sure whether I liked it at first. I have that experience sometimes with movies that really involve me in the tension. I know it sounds strange, but if a few days later I'm thinking about the film still, remembering certain images that impressed me, and starting to feel that I want to see it again, then I know I actually liked it. That's what I experienced with Kaminey.

Kaminey is a gritty and dark film (thematically dark and literally dark- there's a lot of shooting at night and in dimly lit places and shadowy spaces). Shahid plays twin brothers, Charlie and Guddu (Charlie narrates sometimes), so we get two times the Shahid, which is nothing to complain about. And he does an excellent job differentiating between the two characters, one of whom is an honest, hard-working sort, and the other a bit of a thug. His performance here is impressive.

Priyanka Chopra plays Guddu's love interest, Sweety, and her performance was brilliant. I've seen a little bit of her before, but she never impressed me until this film. She is not entirely likeable here, which is part of makes her character intriguing. I didn't always like where the writer(s) went with her character, but it was always believably complex and interesting.

This would be Sweety taking up arms to defend the man she loves. Heck yeah!

The plot involves gangsters, corrupt politicians, dirty cops, and drugs, and how the two estranged brothers both become entangled with all these. It is quite violent at times, but not graphically so. There is great music, and even some dancing, which is very skillfully interwoven with the narrative, not seeming incongruent or tacked-on at all.

The only thing I found a little disappointing was the ending. There was a point where I felt the movie could have ended, and it would have been a powerful, statement-making ending. But it didn't end there, we got kind of a "happy ending" epilogue instead. So that was somewhat unfortunate, but this is still a skillfully made, well-executed film.

This is not a movie for someone who only likes Bollywood for effervescent romances (and I do love those!). But I think I will watch it again, and see if I can get the husband to watch with me. Vishal Bhardwaj directed, and I now very much want to check out more of his work.

So now the search for Shahid has ended. He remains my favorite actor, and will always have a special place in my heart for being the hero of the film that introduced me to Bollywood. Jab We Met is still my favorite Bollywood film. I look forward to seeing Shahid's newer films, Mausam and Teri Meri Kahaani, which came out after my headlong plunge into Shahid's filmography, but Netflix doesn't have TMK, and gives its availability date as "unknown." Sigh. The reviews for these films have been mixed, too. Sigh again. Anyone know of any other Shahid Kapoor films that I missed?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jodhaa Akbar- Visiting Mughal India

Recently, I read Indu Sundaresan's books The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses. They are well-written and fascinating; the author obviously steeped herself in research, and her books are vividly strong when it comes to a sense of place. The books are about Nur Jahan, who is a very interesting historical figure. She married the Mughal Emperor Jahangir when she was 35, which was considered quite old. She was a widow and already had a daughter at the time. But the emperor married her and was, by all accounts, truly and deeply in love with her, above all his other wives and concubines, and he granted her an extraordinary amount of power.  For a time, she ruled Mughal India.

The movie Jodhaa Akbar is not about her. It is about Emperor Akbar, Jahangir's father, and one of his wives, notable for being Hindu, and I believe she was in fact Jahangir's mother. But Akbar does feature pretty prominently in the first book, The Twentieth Wife (though Jodha Bai is mentioned only once, and not by that name), and after feeling like I had spent a good deal of time in Mughal India via the written word, I thought it would be nice to see a cinematic rendition of that world.

First brief reactions:

*You don't want to be the target of an elephant on the battlefield.

*Hrithik Roshan is an extremely attractive man.

*Proof that actors don't have to get naked to portray a sensual romance.
*I loved it!

This movie, at 3.5 hours, was a not inconsiderable investment of my time, but I was totally, blissfully involved. Nary a boring moment. Aishwarya was, as always, stunning. She also gives a lovely performance in a strong role (and, for a bonus, we get to see her sword-fighting, which was very fun). This was my first view of Hrithik, and he is definitely easy on the eyes (see first reactions above).

This is the story of Emperor Akbar marrying Jodhaa Bai, a Hindu princess, as a political alliance, and how they come to truly love each other. It is mainly a romance, with the intrigues of the empire as a backdrop. It is full of color and has beautiful costumes and music. And did I mention that I loved it?

Netflix has been pushing Jodhaa Akbar at me for some time, but I'm actually glad I waited on this one. Some things I would have found very confusing without having read Sundaresan's books, like the fact that he's not called Akbar at all for most of the movie. Thanks to The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, I knew that names were changed and added at important times throughout the lives of important Mughal figures, so I wasn't left scratching my head, just pleasantly wondering when the "Akbar" would come. Another small example is when they show Akbar sitting in one side of a large balancing scale while they pile gold and treasure into the other side. No explanation is given, so it's only through the reading I had recently done that I knew this was something done at celebrations or perhaps generally auspicious times, and that "his weight in gold" was to be distributed to the common people. And all-in-all, I just have the sense that I had an easier time following what was going on with all the politics and battles and what-not having read those books.

On the other hand, I'm fairly certain not being a scholar on Mughal India is a good thing when it comes to enjoying this film. The (very) small amount of reading I have done makes it clear that this wasn't an entirely accurate representation. For example, where is the rest of his harem? Conveniently absent, but the onscreen presence or even the allusion to more wives (not to mention concubines- and isn't that a horrible sounding word?) would have been to great detriment to the romance. And I love the romance, so I am glad they skipped the historical accuracy there. Hrithik and Aishwarya did a fabulous job portraying the gradual rise in both physical attraction and actual respect and affection, and the will-they/won't-they tension was delicious.

One of the things I love about this romp through Indian cinema I've been taking is the enjoyable cumulative effect of things making more sense because of other things that I've seen already, or, conversely, discovering something that illuminates something I've seen before. Two such instances from this viewing experience:

On their wedding night, Jodhaa is standoffish and tells him she married him for her people, but her heart is not ready to accept him. He tells her that according to the laws of Islam, if a wife is not happy she can divorce her husband. She replies that that may be true in his traditions, but as a Hindu she believes the bonds of marriage last "for seven lifetimes." Light bulb moment! So that's why, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,  


when Nandini tells Samir she is married and staying with her husband, and he lets her go, he says the time they spent together will last him for seven lifetimes, but on the eighth life he wants to be with her again. Those specific numbers meant something! I get it now!

Also, after having listened to the soundtrack from Ek Tha Tiger for the last few months, especially this song, and having gone to the Bollymeaning site (love that place) and read this very nice explanation of what the title word "Mashallah" means, it was very fun for me when, during their mostly playful sword-fight, Akbar removes the scarf from Jodhaa's face and then exclaims appreciatively, "Mashallah!" I was grinning like a little kid, thinking, "Hey, I know what that means!"

But maybe I'm easily excited.

Easily excited or not, this film was a treat! If you like romance at all, not to mention beautiful costumes, battles, intrigue, scheming, excellent music, a compelling sense of glimpsing an exotic time and place, and, well, most of all, romance- then you're in for a good time! Have fun and think of me when you hear him say "Mashallah!"

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stopping the moonlight- My attempt to watch Chandni

When Bollywood works for me, it is a fabulous cinematic experience. It may make my heart sing or crack, but either way, it's worth the investment of my time. But let's face it: there's a reason Bollywood's reputation isn't entirely sparkly with praise from across the globe. It doesn't always work. Sometimes it is flat, or dreadful, or flatly dreadful.

In other news, I tried to watch Chandni.

I think Chandni has been in my "Netflix recommends for you" row since I first watched a few Bollywood films. I saw it there but it never caught my eye, what with the surfeit of Bollywood available, enough to look into it. However, it has been slowly and inexorably looming larger in my awareness for some time. I learned, because it is used in many song lyrics, that "chandni" means "moonlight." And I thought, "Oh, that's what that movie title means..." I gradually became aware, watching the song "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi over and over again (many many times- it was the toddler's favorite for a good long time, so the entire family has seen this one countless times) while also reading and learning more about Bollywood, that the lyrics of the song are in large part made up of references to other songs and movies. "Oh," I thought, "When he sings 'Meri Chandni,' maybe it's a reference to that film I see on Netflix..." Most recently, with the buzz surrounding Sridevi's newest film English Vinglish, I, well, heard of Sridevi, who plays the heroine (from whose name the title comes) of Chandni and is, according to some internet sources, "a legend."

Moreover, it is a Yash Chopra film! I thought it was time to pull the trigger.

The film starts promisingly, with a dance number by Sridevi, looking impossibly large-eyed, dewy, and winsome.

While she is dancing, I got the first hint of something amiss: Rishi Kapoor is there, angling to watch her dance, trying to sneak into the performance although (for some reason) her audience is entirely female (she's dancing at a wedding celebration). I saw Rishi Kapoor in Bobby, and he was fresh-faced and appealing. Chandni is some 16 years later, and he looks flabby-faced and unattractive. (Sorry, Rishi, but it's true. You're looking much more palatable now that no one is trying to make a romantic lead out of you.) They also stuck him in the most ridiculously unflattering clothes. For a futile moment I hoped he wasn't to be her hero, but I also sinkingly knew he was, because there he was, ogling her dancing. From my limited Bollywood experience, being desperate to see or being captivated by a girl's dancing is a sure sign of a sudden and irrevocable plummet into romance. This was not a good sign. But there was the possibility that they could make it work.

It did not work.

After her dance, Rishi's character accosts (assaults) Chandni on the stairs, declaring his love for her apropos of nothing (does she even know who this guy is??) and demanding she reciprocate ("Do you love me? Yes or no?"). At one point, as she tries to slip past him and go back to whatever she was planning to do before he inserted himself into her life, he actually grabs her wrists and twists her into himself, holding her is a semi-chokehold. My eight-year-old daughter was in the room and commented in disgust, "I would never want someone to grab me like that!" And we immediately had a little discussion about how she was perfectly right in feeling that way, about how he was being a jerk and no one should be treated like that, and about how this was an entirely inappropriate way to express affection. Because, wow, Great Jangling Bangles what a hideous way to kick-off a relationship! After she has finally escaped to her room she looks at her wrist to see it bleeding because Rishi broke a bangle when he grabbed her. How romantic.

As the wedding celebrations continue Rishi's character keeps inserting "Yes or no?" accompanied by meaningful looks into his every interaction with Chandni. And how does he finally get the answer he wants? He takes her for a motorcycle ride and scares her by driving fast and recklessly, shouting that he'll stop when she says "yes." So that's how their love affair begins. Under duress. None of this is even slightly ameliorated by any chemistry between Rishi and Sridevi, because I can see none. Later, Rishi shows her his room, which he has wallpapered with various photos of her. She is apparently touched by this disturbing behavior, which was disturbing to me as a viewer.

To make a long story short (too late), I stopped watching during the "honeymoon in Switzerland" dream sequence. I do not have enough free time in my days to permit me to even come close, over the course of my lifetime, to watching all the Bollywood films I might possibly find enjoyable. I'm certainly not going to waste any of my allotted Bollywood hours watching something so joyless.

"I wonder if she'll like me in Amar, Akbar, Anthony..."

If anyone out there wants to tell my why I'm completely wrong and Chandni is a marvel of film-making, please feel free!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge- First impressions of Shah Rukh Khan

Before I take a look at the last two Shahid Kapoor films my semi-obsession led me to, let's talk about Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which I watched somewhere in the middle of all these Shahid films.

It began to be clear that, as much as I love Shahid Kapoor and think he is terrifically talented, his filmography is something of a mixed bag. After awhile it occurred to me that I should maybe try another avenue for finding fantastic Bollywood. To the internet I went, and searched for something like "best Bollywood movies." People disagree, of course, but I began to notice one title coming up again and again. A long title in Hindi that I found, at first, completely impossible to keep in my head. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Before looking into this film, I had never heard of Shah Rukh Khan. Now that I have waded a smidgen further into the sea of Bollywood, it seems incredible, but it's true. I had never heard of Shah Rukh Khan. If any readers are uninitiated or newly curious about Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan is a megastar- quite possibly, by sheer number of fans, the biggest movie star on the planet. Just barely having dipped my toe into Bollywood, I did not know this. But people on the internet were gushing, absolutely gushing about this movie. And I read that it is the longest running film in Indian history. According to the wikipedia entry, as of this writing it is still running in Mumbai. It first came out in 1995. Can you imagine a movie in the US staying in theaters for over 15 years? I was intrigued by reports of this phenomenon of a film.

The English translation for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: "The brave-hearted will take the bride."

So I watched it. And I liked it. I did like it. I enjoyed it. But, perhaps not unsurprisingly, after having found it because it was touted as being one of THE BEST BOLLYWOOD MOVIES EVER, and after all the anticipation... it didn't seem THAT amazing.

And I was bemused by SRK (that's Shah Rukh Khan, don'cha know). I thought he was unbelievably annoying for the first half of the film, and only started showing some charm in the second half in India, charm which was still interspersed with obnoxious interludes. I could see- it was plain and obvious- that we were supposed to find his manic antics charming, his habit of talking really fast and over the top of people funny, and his entire manner rakish and endearing. But I must admit that it turned me completely cold. Also, and this is another thing that I find odd to remember, I thought he was really ugly. *ducks and runs away from legions of angry SRK fans*

I did! I thought he was "homely as a mud fence," as my mother used to put it. Now, in the second half of the film I began to see his charm. I had been thinking, as I watched, "THIS is the biggest star in India?" Then came the song Tujhe Dekha To, and the romancing started in earnest, and I began to get a glimmer of the appeal. His eyes are very expressive. He can do the lovey-dovey eyes like nobody's business. He is a master of being besotted.


So no need to fear- eventually I joined the fantastically huge brigade of Shah Rukh Khan fans. The man has been blessed with heaps and bags of charisma. But it wasn't DDLJ that turned me into a fan of SRK. That honor belongs to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, bridged to by Dil To Pagal Hai. But that's a topic for another day.

So the story: Raj (SRK) and Simran (Kajol- another very famous Bollywood luminary whom I hadn't heard of before this film) have grown up in London but are Indian at heart. They meet as they take a trip through Europe with groups of mutual friends after graduation. Simran first hates Raj, but then she falls in love with him, which is a problem because after the trip she's going to India with her family and marrying her father's best friend's son, whom she has been promised to since birth. Raj follows her to India and devises a plan to win her father over and marry Simran himself.

It was interesting to see how adamant Raj was the Simran's father give his consent. Simran actually asks him to run away with her, but he insists that this is not what Indians do, and he will only marry her with her father's permission. This is totally foreign to both my Hollywood experience and my actual experience (I didn't let my husband ask my father for my hand in marriage, only his blessing, because I thought it would be disingenuous when I knew I would marry him no matter what my parents said). And therefore fascinating.

DDLJ won me over in the end, just like Shah Rukh did. If you want to get into Bollywood at all, this really is a must see. It is referenced over and over and over again. Just try not to let Raj annoy you in the beginning, open yourself to romance laden with traditional Indian family values, and enjoy the ride!


Monday, November 5, 2012

Searching for Shahid, Part 2

So, I found Vivah through the "search for anything with Shahid Kapoor in it" technique, and it was maybe the fifth Bollywood I ever watched. As I look back on finding and watching Vivah, it occurs to me that it's a little odd that I like this film so much. It's a bit slow. OK, more than a bit slow. It is intensely saccharine. It doesn't have the exuberant dance numbers that I enjoy so much. The characters are all unbelievably upright and honorable and nice, except for a token angry character who comes around in the end. It's just very... sweet and slow.

 BUT Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao are so ridiculously beautiful that you CAN'T LOOK AWAY.

Also, I found it very intriguing to see such an idealized depiction of traditional arranged marriage. With the disapproving fascination Westerners have for the concept, we tend to think we understand a story about fighting against an undesired arranged marriage, but this is a movie about an arranged marriage that works just exactly the way it's supposed to, with everyone happy and no conflict.

The story is about how Prem and Pooja meet when their families decide they want to match them together. The fall in love in that brief first meeting, agree to the marriage, and the movie follows their engagement period as they get to know each other better. The night they are supposed to marry, there is a terrible accident that leaves Pooja's family worried that the marriage won't happen. But love triumphs, and I don't consider that a spoiler, because it is made obvious the entire way through that only a picture perfect happy ending would be allowed here!

Shahid is excellent, utterly charming and adorable. He fleshes out a pretty one-dimensional character with heart and soul. Amrita does pretty well with what she is given, as well, and she is just stunning. I thought their chemistry was wonderful, and they kept up a pretty sizzling sense that both were greatly anticipating their wedding night. 

I also loved getting to see the full wedding costumes and all of the pomp and preparations involved. Shahid looks fabulous all decked out in wedding clothes. Why do we dress our men so uninterestingly in the West? Dark suits for everything. Yawn.

I thoroughly enjoyed Vivah. But I would never have the husband watch with me, since the appeal would be completely lost on him, and he may well take to hiding whenever I suggest watching a Bollywood film. If you are disinclined to enjoy cloying sweetness, a lack of action, and/or a slow pace, the appeal may well be lost on you, too. However, if watching Bollywood for interesting cultural tidbits appeals to you, or if you could happily stare at Shahid Kapoor being adorable for three hours regardless, take a gander at Vivah.

Next up, one of my kids' favorites. Dil Bole Hadippa!

I searched for Shahid and found Rani Mukerji. This was my first exposure to Rani, and when I watched this, I had no idea what a big star she was. I was actually somewhat surprised that Shahid has relatively little to do, but this is really Rani's movie.

The story is that there is, in the Punjab, a young girl who is fantastic at cricket, and dreams of playing for India and winning the World Cup. (Or something... I think they said it was the World Cup, but I know next to nothing about cricket, and before watching this movie all I knew was that it was a game that people in Britain and India like.) But when she wants to try out for the team, they won't let her because she's female. So she disguises herself as a man and gets on the team, which is coached by Shahid, a big shot cricket player from London. Shahid has also met her as herself, and she claims her male persona is her brother, and romance becomes involved as they are gearing up for a big game against their rival team from Pakistan.

Rani gives an exuberant performance and I love her expressions, but I don't think she really fits her role here, in that it is hard to believe anyone buys her disguise. Even my kids asked, in genuine confusion, "Why can't they see that she's a girl?" To which I could only respond, "Well... she has that fake beard..."

And they gave me pitying looks that made it clear that they were sorry to think I could be taken in by such a thin disguise. And they have a point.

This movie is not going to change anyone's life, but it's a very fun watch. There were some elements that I have since heard others describe as overdone that I really enjoyed, although perhaps because I didn't have a lot of Bollywood experience when I watched it. The patriotic Indian girl defending her country in the face of snobby Londoners... the "we can be friends with Pakistan" message... the London-raised Indian character (Shahid) learning to appreciate his cultural roots... apparently these are recurring themes that some have grown quite tired of, but I was not too jaded to enjoy them! There was also a reference to the staggeringly popular Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but, well, I hadn't even seen it yet, and so the reference went right over my head.

As for the music- I love it and the kids love it! For awhile is was the go-to when the toddler needed Bollywood Therapy. (Discowale Khisko is excellent for stopping a tantrum, if you're interested.)

Now, on to the very amusing (often unintentionally funny) Milenge Milenge...

I will tell you right from the beginning- this is not a good film. However, if you are the type who enjoys watching a bad movie because you can make fun of it, this may be a good candidate! It overflows with mock-able scenes.

Just a little taste: Shahid falls in love with Kareena when he and his friends dress in drag (!) so that they can go to a party in the girls' dorm.

He loses his way and stumbles into her dorm room, where he watches her sleep, entranced by her beauty. Not satisfied with that level of creepiness, he spies her diary and steals it, where he reads her account of how a fortune teller told her the signs that would reveal her true love to her, and naturally he decides to arrange for them to happen so as to indicate himself as her true love.

Of course she finds out. She never wants to see him again! He begs her to forgive him. She tells him she'll only take him back if it is decreed by fate, and devises a test whereby they can discover fate's opinion on the matter. WILL THEY END UP TOGETHER IN THE END?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to care. This movie is only recommended if one is on a quest to see every film Shahid Kapoor and/or Kareena Kapoor ever made. Not that anyone would do such a thing...

So far, a bit of a mixed bag for Shahid. Next time: Badmaash Company and Kaminey.