Monday, January 28, 2013

When SRK Won Me Over- Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

As I mentioned in a previous post, the very famous Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which launched Shah Rukh Khan's lover boy persona and remains at this writing the longest running movie in Bollywood history, only served to leave me slightly bemused as to the appeal of SRK. The movie was fine and he did have some moments that proved he knew how to turn on lovey-dovey charm, but mostly I spent the film thinking, "Really?" Why, I wondered, has this odd-looking man with his over-the-top "look at me!" acting style won the hearts of fans the world over?

I warmed up to him a little when watching Dil To Pagal Hai (The Heart is Crazy), which is an overblown 90s romance full of cheesiness and angst and fate and love and soul mates and Madhuri Dixit running through verdant green meadows and DANCING and some horrifically ugly dance costumes and I love it. I just do. I've heard this type of Bollywood movie described as "candy floss romance," which didn't mean much to me until I remembered that "candy floss" is the UK English term for cotton candy. It fits perfectly. There is nothing of nutritional value in cotton candy at all, but it certainly tastes delicious! And sometimes you just want to indulge.

I'm sure I will devote an entire blog post to Dil To Pagal Hai eventually, but for now, check out the rain song with all the adorable dancing children (watch the kids in the background closely starting at the 2 minute mark to see one little boy miss his cue in hilarious fashion):

But I still wasn't feeling the magic, although his chemistry with Madhuri Dixit is sizzling (Madhuri herself is fabulous).

Then, one night, I was scrolling through the offerings on Netflix Instant Streaming and came across Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made by God). I have to admit, the fact that it starred Shah Rukh Khan was part of what made me pretty indifferent to watching it at first. But I thought I'd give it a go.

I planned to just watch it for a little while to check it out but watched the whole thing then and there. I suppose you should know before reading on that I cannot with any kind of objectivity speak of this movie. I love it that much. I love it so much that perfectly reasonable criticisms of people who don't like the movie make me irrationally defensive. I love it so much that it almost ties with Jab We Met, which was on such a pinnacle I thought no other Bollywood would touch it. And in that one viewing Shah Rukh Khan wormed his way into my heart and I totally got it. I don't even find him funny-looking anymore, but impishly handsome. That's the power of his charisma.

The story centers on Surinder Sahni, a bespectacled, quiet-spoken and perfectly ordinary middle class man who is invited to attend the wedding of his favorite university professor's daughter, Taani, played by Anushka Sharma.

He is charmed by her, and who wouldn't be? In fact he is immediately smitten. But she's about to be married and all, so... short movie, right?

No, of course not. I will warn you that the beginning here, which sets up the premise of the film, is an awful lot to swallow, at least for a Western audience. I always give this warning when recommending the movie, as well as assurances that just rolling with it is worth it! What happens is, as fate would have it, a tragic bus accident means the wedding doesn't happen. Suri's old professor friend, Taani's father, promptly keels over with a heart attack. On his deathbed at the hospital he calls Suri in and begs him to marry Taani so he knows she'll be taken care of after her dies. He begs Taani to marry Suri even though she is grieving, because he doesn't want to leave this world worried about her. Both of them agree, Taani to make her father happy, Suri ostensibly for only the same reason (but we know better).

So now Suri is in the unenviable position of being married to the woman he loves, but without her loving him back, and he is at a loss for how to go about changing this. He ends up having a friend change his look entirely and goes to see her at her dance lesson, but though she ends up seeing him there she doesn't recognize him.

Seeing his chance to spend some time with her with no baggage, he ends up playing a double role: her dance partner, Raj, and her husband, Suri.



A very sweet love story follows. I love it all. I love the music, and the song-and-dance numbers are very entertaining and sometimes touching. There's humor I actually find humorous, and Anushka Sharma's debut performance is quite lovely. Then there is SRK's performance. He is wonderful in this. The man can actually act! His reaction to the decision Taani eventually makes brings tears to my eyes every time. YES, I KNOW I'm sappy! And sure, the movie is kind of sappy. But it is wonderfully heartfelt and sweet. Also engaging, and technically well-made with brilliant colors and beautiful cinematography. And you should watch it. And if you don't like it DON'T TELL ME because I don't want to be disappointed in you. All right, fine, but while you're telling me, just know that I'll figuratively have my fingers in my ears while singing "Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai" at the top of my lungs.

He just wants her love!

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Brief Bollywood Book Review

I had a Bollywood wishlist for Christmas, and Santa delivered in the form of an gift card (actually, it was from my mom- she's the best!). So I bought and recently finished reading King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Sedutive World of Indian Cinema by Anupama Chopra.

Quite the title, don't you think?

Here is the book:

Here is the author:

The book is engaging and well-constructed, providing a nice overview of Bollywood by closely following SRK's career and giving the bigger picture that frames it. It was definitely written with the largely uninitiated Western reader in mind: the first time she refers to a person or film, she provides a bit of explanation and/or background, no matter how seminal or famous in the Bollywood world. This is nice for a relative newcomer like myself, and I think anyone with even a passing interest in Bollywood or the phenomenon that is Shah Rukh Khan could enjoy this little book quite a bit. It's also an easy, quick read.

One thing that was a little strange was that occasionally her attitude toward Bollywood seemed dismissive. Here she is, a film critic for an Indian newspaper and is writing a book about Bollywood and its biggest star; clearly, to get to this point she has to have spent a lot of time with Hindi-language cinema and one would assume this began because she liked her subject. But sometimes she seems almost a little embarrassed by her country's biggest film industry. I find that both odd and interesting. Of course, not all of Bollywood is wonderful, but I don't find Hollywood movie enthusiasts or critics, when writing about their subject, finding a need to take a tone that makes it clear that they know that often Hollywood films are quite awful (although, of course, this is perfectly true).

All-in-all, I very much enjoyed the book, and am very keen now to watch some more of SRK's films, despite the fact that Ms. Chopra did not shy away from presenting his warts as well as his charm. She did justice to a fascinating personality.


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Triumph of Sridevi- English Vinglish

Netflix, you know I love you, but what are you thinking? Why are you not offering the wonderful English Vinglish? Why is not even on your radar, not even under the dreaded "availability unknown" tag?

Well, people, there's always, which is how I got English Vinglish as a Christmas present.

Sometime last year, before English Vinglish's theatrical release, the internet was abuzz with news of a comeback vehicle for Sridevi. Bollywood afficiandados were doing the internet equivalent of excitedly squealing, "SRIDEVI!" Meanwhile, as an enthusiastic newbie, I rejoined with... "Who?"

Well, Sridevi is a star. I say "is," not was, because when you can come back to films after 15 years with a reception and a performance like Sridevi's for English Vinglish, you are definitely and irrevocably a star. When I first heard tell of English Vinglish, I had never seen or heard of Sridevi. After my abortive attempt to watch Chandni, this is the only Sridevi film I have seen all the way through. She. Is. Fantastic. I'm almost tempted to try to finish Chandni for her sake, but I think I'll see if I can find some of her other pictures first, in the hopes the storylines will make me less nauseated.

English Vinglish is the charming, simple story of an Indian housewife, Shashi, who is intelligent and runs her own little business out of her home, making and selling ladoos. (As a side note, after watching this film I very badly wanted a ladoo, despite never having tasted one before. Unfortunately for me, I know of no way to procure one around here.) However, she lacks confidence, and is frequently the butt of insensitive jokes from her husband and obnoxious insults from her daughter, because she can't speak English. Apparently, this is a thing in India, at least in some circles. I won't pretend to fully understand it or all its implications. At any rate, the daughter is truly and hideously awful to her mother. At least Shashi also has an adorable little boy who doesn't treat her badly.

Well, Shashi's niece in New York is getting married, and Shashi travels to the Big Apple for the first time to help with the preparations, with the rest of the family planning to follow closer to time for the actual wedding. With time on her hands during the day, she covertly joins an English class, complete with an international assortment of comic characters, plus a Frenchman (Mehdi Nebbou) who is easy on the eyes and fascinated by Shashi.

And let me disabuse you now: there is no romance happening here. She is flattered by his attentions, but that is as far as it goes. I, frankly, love this. I love that they are able to make a story about a middle-aged woman looking for something more in her life, and trying to gain confidence and self-respect, and refrain from the cliche of "a sexy man sweeping her off her feet (and a divorce) is what she needs for self-actualization!"
No, Shashi gains confidence as she makes strides toward the goal she has set for herself.

This film is a gem. It reminds me of the wonderful Japanese film Shall We Dance (which was remade into a much lesser film starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez) as a story about reaching a point in your life where you're wondering if what you are is all you ever will be, if how people are used to seeing you is all there is to you, if there is no change or growth left. Shashi's growth and her inner strength are marvelous to watch, and Sridevi, as I think I mentioned, is just amazing and simply stunning. When she's onscreen, you can't look away.

English Vinglish isn't perfect, but it's so large-hearted and winning that it's pretty easy to dismiss some stereotyping and other minor flaws. I really wanted a scene where Shashi tells her daughter, in no uncertain terms, that her behavior is unacceptable, but I guess one can't have everything. Another disappointment for such as I is the lack of big dance numbers (could have had at least one at the wedding!), but on the other hand, it makes for a film that should easily appeal beyond Bollywood fans to anyone without a crippling case of cynicism.

Watch English Vinglish if you can! I'll lend you my copy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Girl With a Curl- Aiyyaa

After watching the song promos for Aiyyaa starring Rani Mukerji I just had to see it! Rani's dancing is so fabulous and fun, and she looked like she was having a blast. Well, Netflix has it on the dreaded "availability unknown" list, and it's not subtitled on YouTube, so I actually bought a copy.


Now, I knew this was a risk, because reviews for Aiyyaa have not been overwhelmingly positive, but I succumbed to the temptation. What came to mind after watching it was a little poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that my mother was fond of reciting:

There was a little girl, 
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid!

That's how I feel about Aiyyaa. The good is so very, very good. So engaging, so fresh! But the bad is squirm-in-your-seat cringe-worthy. Thankfully, I do think there is more of the "very good indeed" than the "horrid," but, yikes, the "horrid" is hard for me to ignore!

Rani's character, Meenaxi, is a delightfully spunky young woman who sometimes lapses into colorful daydreams, usually about being a film star.

Her real life is not so glamorous, however. Meenaxi's boisterously eccentric family is trying to marry her off, but meanwhile she has become enamored with a brooding hunk of an art student enrolled at the college where she works.

Her family succeeds in finding a match for her, and Meenaxi's never even been able to talk to her love interest, for whose benefit she has been studying Tamil. (I love that! I love languages, and I love people being enthusiastic about languages and wanting a language-enabled connection with other people.) So there is some angst over what she should do, since the guy she has been matched with is a decent, likable fellow. But mostly she just wants a chance to see if she and her dream guy are destined to be together!

What is there to love? First of all, RANI! She is fantastic! Her facial expressions are perfect, her screen presence is riveting, and she looks gorgeous yet like an ordinary girl. Her character is quirky, but still seems like a real person rather than a gimmick (unfortunately, the same cannot be said for every member of the cast).

There is an allusion to the book Alice in Wonderland in the film, and the film sometimes takes on a surreal, Wonderland-like feeling. My favorite is when Meenaxi is following her love-interest through the streets and ends up in a neighborhood unfamiliar to her. She seems flustered by sights and sounds and people she is unaccustomed to, but as the object of her affection calmly walks through everything she follows, almost like Alice down the rabbit hole.

There may have been some stalking.

I also loved Meenaxi's crazy family, particularly her goofy, soft-hearted brother, and the way they all related to one another.

And Rani's dancing! FABULOUS! I so wish I could move like she does.

But the storytelling is disjointed and the editing is choppy. Meenaxi's zany family is fun, but the way their zaniness is presented leads to all sorts of set-ups that are never paid off. Meenaxi's coworker is a caricature, and not a terribly funny one at that, although I have to say I was pleased to see the depiction of female friendship.

And the horrid... Rani's delicious dancing is ruined for me by incredible raunchiness. The dance numbers for "Dreamum Wakeupum" and "Aga Bai" in the movie are not the same as the promos. The promos had some suggestive elements, sure, but in the movie we go from playful hinting to spelling it out in spray paint on a ten-foot wall. I get that it is supposed to be humorous but it simply doesn't work. And there is another song near the end (not involving Rani) that is distasteful through-and-through. To give details would be to give spoilers, so all I will say is that, though I am usually of the opinion that the more songs the better, I would happily have foregone that one and wouldn't mind having the memory of it struck from my brain, either.

But Rani! I know nothing of her as a person, have never read or seen an interview, so I won't say that I have fallen into girl-crush territory. However, I do know this: when she makes another movie, I will see it.