Monday, October 29, 2012

I lost my heart to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

I'm going to interrupt the account of how my early Bollywood experiences were all colored by going ga-ga for Shahid Kapoor (which, upon reflection, is actually a tad embarrassing, but hey, it's what happened) because my recent Amazon order came in, including Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Yes, this means I liked it enough to buy it. I re-watched it last night, and I made the husband watch it with me. I only do this with Bollywood I feel strongly about. He's willing to watch select Bollywood films with me. It helps to be able to say, "Aishwarya Rai's in it!"

Fun trivia: Did you know that Aishwarya Rai was originally offered Angelina Jolie's role in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts? Wonder if Brangelina would have happened regardless?

I suppose I should try not to gush too much about this movie, but I'm not sure how successful I will be. It is a beautiful, beautiful movie. There are times, especially in the first half set in India, that I feel that each frame could be a painting, they are all so beautifully composed. The songs are fabulous and worth the price of admission, so to speak, all by themselves. Aishwarya Rai is gorgeous, but more than that, her performance is arresting. Salman Khan, her first love, is a wonderful fit for his role here. I am not a huge fan of Salman. Admittedly, I haven't seen all that much of his work yet, but I was told Dabangg would make me a fan if anything would and... it didn't. That's an entry for another day. But coming back to watch this again, I remembered his silliness and the exuberance of his performance here, which easily threatened to spill into Over-the-Top territory, and wondered if I would find it hard to bear a second time around. On the contrary, I enjoyed his performance even more this time; even the weaknesses seemed to fit his character. And I may still be a newbie, and I certainly haven't seen even a fraction of Salman Khan's or Aishwarya Rai's work (although I've seen more Rai than Khan), but I would be very surprised if I ever run into a performance from either of them that surpasses the gutting vulnerability of the Tadap Tadap song, when Salman is made to leave. Watch it. I get chills. Every. Time. (Viewer beware, though: at the end of this song picturization, Aishwarya cuts her wrist in despondency and blood is involved. Stop at 3:00 to avoid.)

Now, I had never seen Ajay Devgan before this film. He has an appealing manner, though I don't find him strikingly handsome.

His performance here is excellent, and again, like Aishwarya and Salman, he allows a vulnerability into his character that makes you ache for him. He could easily be the chump character who loves silently and plays the martyr, but his inner struggle makes him more complex than that.

There are certainly weaknesses in the film. The second half isn't nearly as visually beautiful as the first, for one thing. The scene shifts to Italy... supposedly. It's not Italy, and very obviously not Italy, at least to Westerners. I found this very irritating the first time around, and took care to warn the husband that it was coming. And once they are in Italy, we are regularly assaulted by the Atrocious Acting by White Extras that I think I have spoken of before. By the way, I was reminded what great fun it is to have someone watch with me. Instead of inwardly cringing at the unintentionally funny moments (it has its share of them, despite being such an excellent film) we could laugh and/or groan together. I really enjoyed that. Maybe I need a Bollywood-watching partner. But I digress.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam has a happy ending, but it's not a simple happy ending. I believe that at its heart, this film is about finding that life can still be beautiful after heartbreak, and that, although you can't go back (no matter how much you may wish to!), you can open your heart and go forward. It's also about the raw power of love, about how it can hurt, change, transform, punish, elevate, and astonish us. But never leave us untouched.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Searching for Shahid, Part 1

After falling head-over-heels for Jab We Met, it seemed a logical way to find more Bollywood movies to love would be to check out the filmography of that charming Shahid Kapoor. I liked him so much in JWM, he was sure to lead me to many more fine film experiences, right? Right?

Well, let us see...

I found Chance Pe Dance, Kismat Konnection (Yes, I watched the whole thing! ...Why do you ask?), Chup Chup KeVivah, Dil Bole Hadippa!, Milenge Milenge, Badmaash Company, and Kaminey.

The first one I watched was Chance Pe Dance, which was entertaining enough, but, especially considering I was searching for something as good as JWM, a disappointment. Also, for a movie with "dance" right in the title, it is surprisingly light on dancing. And the dancing we do get is the kind of hip hop designed to show off Shahid's muscles.

You see? Not that his physique is unimpressive, but I prefer some impressive choreography. And the dancing was all just so... Western. So that was disappointing, but the story is engaging enough, about a wannabe movie star trying to make it in Bollywood, and his misadventures on his way to the top. There is romance, there is the tension between honoring family commitments and chasing your dreams, there is professional betrayal. There is also a major sideways step in the plot involving Shahid taking a job teaching dance at a school when he can no longer foot his bills. But then there is a happy ending with Shahid looking fantastic on a red carpet. I was entertained but not riveted.

Personal hygiene happens in the school bathroom when he can no longer make rent.

To be fair, I must mention that my 10-year-old son says this is his favorite Bollywood movie. It's true that he has only watched six, but all of the other five that he has watched (Veer-Zaara, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Dil To Pagal Hai, Dil Bole Hadippa! and Billu Barber) I would put ahead of this one. So I asked why, and he said, "It's the first Bollywood I got to see all the way through."  There is something fascinating about this phenomenon; I've heard others say the same thing. Others who have had wider experience in Bollywood cinema. Apparently, if you are destined to like Bollywood at all, the first film that brings you to this world will hold a special place in your heart forever.

On to Kismat Konnection...

Ok, I think I almost gave up on Bollywood after Kismat Konnection and wrote Jab We Met off as a fluke. The premise is that Shahid is a struggling architect who can't catch a career break. He visits a psychic who tells him he has to find his lucky charm, and then as long as his charm is with him everything will go right.
"Of course I can tell the future! Look what I'm wearing!"
Well, his lucky charm turns out to be a person- yes, a woman (naturally). Not only that, she is someone he only recently met but already managed to antagonize. So he has to get on her good side and convince her to be there for all his business interactions. And of course they fall in love. This was set in Toronto, and was my first introduction to what I have come to find is a not uncommon Bollywood phenomenon: atrocious acting by white characters. Just extras, but still. I don't know where Bollywood filmmakers find these people. After all, Toronto has a pretty vibrant film scene and is probably stuffed to the gills with hopefuls who would love to be cast in a movie. Surely they could find white people who don't act like they've just been inhaling paint thinner? The good news on this score is that, according to the movie, it is fairly easy to live and work in Toronto while pretty much only interacting with Hindi-speakers.

All-in-all, watching this movie was not such a great experience. But Shahid did well with what he had to work with- he really can act! I remember one scene in particular, when Shahid and his lucky charm are starting to fall in love. Shahid is staring at the heroine while he thinks she can't see, and he looks so sweet and wistfully besotted. But still, this movie had a mega-dose of the Bollywood corniness without its larger-than-life charm, and without any of the beautiful costumes or scenery. And really, without the heart and charisma that just makes it work. Also, the music was so forgettable that I've literally forgotten it. I'm assuming there was some, but I don't remember it at all.
Say whatever you must to get out of watching this movie.

And then I found Chup Chup Ke. Not only Shahid, but his Jab We Met co-star Kareena Kapoor as well!

I actually love this movie a lot, but oddly enough, the first time I tried to watch it I gave up and turned it off. There is a particular reason for that, though. The movie involves two bumbling fisherman characters (on the cover above), and they provide a lot of physical comedy. At the point that I turned it off on my first go-around, it involved one of them mistakenly getting a tooth pulled (without pain meds).   I feel vicarious pain too acutely, I suppose, because not only was that not funny to me but it made me feel faintly sick. Perhaps I've just had one root canal too many. But for some reason I kept thinking about this film, and the beginning had intrigued me, so after a little interval I went back and tried again, using the special technological feature known as "fast-forwarding" to avoid the scene I had so disliked the first time.

It is a lot of fun! But a bit strange, yes, definitely a strange story. Shahid is a would-be entrepreneur who has racked up a lot a debt from various failed enterprises. He decides to commit suicide so his family can collect life insurance on him and escape hounding by the debt collectors. He throws himself into the ocean, but of course, as Shahid is far too handsome to die, he is fished up by the aforementioned fishermen and ends up getting his lot thrown in with them. Oh yes, and he pretends to be deaf and dumb (there's a reason!). The fishermen have their own problems with debt, and Shahid and one of the fishermen end up working in a rich family's house as a consequence. In that house lives Kareena, who is mute, although not deaf. I won't try to explain more, because the plot is on the convoluted side and will suffer from being laid out for viewing out of the context of the film itself. But watching it is a lot of fun. Romance! Angst! Love triangles! Misunderstandings! Friendship! Family ties! AND (drum roll please) Shahid Kapoor dancing! My husband came in while I was watching Dil Vich Lagiya Ve, and even he remarked, "Well, that Shahid Kapoor guy certainly can dance." Yes. Yes, he can. Anyway, I recommend giving Chup Chup Ke a try!

Beautiful people dancing in beautiful clothes make me happy.

Coming up in the next Searching for Shahid installment- Vivah, Dil Bole Hadippa! and Milenge Milenge. What do you think of Shahid Kapoor's filmography?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

RIP Yash Chopra

I have only published one post so far and probably am only talking to myself here, but I have saved the post I was working on for later because I want to acknowledge the passing of Bollywood legend Yash Chopra.

As I jumped into Bollywood after my introduction through Jab We Met, I noticed that a lot of the films I enjoyed started with a particular melody and some version of this symbol on the screen:

I didn't know until later that Yash Raj Films was Yash Chopra's production company, but I began to be pleased when starting a new film to hear that melody and see this symbol. My youngest, Wally, the child I mentioned in my first post whom I used to rock to sleep while watching Bollywood movies, knows the YRF signature melody. When it comes on, he sings along. (He's not yet two.)

Yash Chopra was particularly known for his romances, and indeed, I don't think I've yet seen a Yash Raj film that was not a romance (but I have Deewaar coming up soon in my Bollywood viewing plan). Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is probably the most famous Yash Raj romance, but my favorite is Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which is loved by my children also. We usually can soothe Wally out of a tantrum by showing him the song Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, and my two older boys (12 and 10) have learned to dance along to it, mimicking the moves with surprising adeptness. Meanwhile, my daughter's favorite (she's 8) is Veer-Zaara, which she and her older brothers begged to be allowed to watch in installments over several nights. For quite awhile afterward, I would hear them suddenly break out singing Main Yahaan Hoon at random moments.

I love the vibrant colors and music, the gorgeous costumes and scenery, the beautiful people, and yes, the happy endings I have found in Yash Raj films. They have a wonderful quality that certainly could be called "cheeziness," but that I prefer to characterize as ebullience. Sometimes I like to escape to somewhere more beautiful than reality, and thanks to Yash Chopra, I have a lot of wonderful options- and I've only scratched the surface of his long career. I look forward to discovering many more of his films.

I was so very sad to hear that he passed away today. It's strange to think that as early as two years ago I had never heard of this man, and now his death feels like something momentous to me personally.

Rest in peace, Yash-Ji. You most definitely made a mark on the world, and you will be missed.