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?