Monday, February 25, 2013

Thank you for the music!

With over 60 Bollywood movies under my belt but many more to go, I want to record a collection of some of my favorite songs, dance numbers, or song picturizations thus far.  I plan to look back with nostalgia at a later date, seeing, perhaps, what was knocked out by later favorites and what managed to stand the test of time.

I have created the categorizations to fit my favorites, rather than the other way around. There are certain recurring themes in Bollywood music, and if I were to list only one "Favorite Romantic Song," for example, it would leave a lot of other favorites out. Not that I'm not inevitably leaving a lot of favorites out, anyway. The music and dancing are a big part of my love for Bollywood, and I have so many favorites. I would even say... "a plethora." It's hard to narrow them down. For me it's like being presented with a room full of Cadbury chocolate products, and asked to pick favorites.

Brace for a video onslaught!

Favorite Bhangara-inspired Dance-to-the-Drum Song:
"Nagada Nagada" from Jab We Met. This is the song and performance that truly hooked me on Bollywood.

It is so colorful, infectious, and joyful! I knew I had to see more of these kinds of movies.

Favorite Romantic Song:
"Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai" from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. No contest so far. This truly gives me a warm, bubbly feeling inside.

Favorite Item Number:
"Kajra Re" from Bunty Aur Babli. A true item number, having nothing whatsoever to do with the plot but only functioning to show off a beautiful woman who has fabulous moves. Aishwarya Rai is so graceful and lovely in this.

Favorite Romantic Song Involving the Woman Imagining Her Love Who Isn't Really There:
"Yahaan Hoon" from Veer-Zaara. Zaara is preparing for her arranged wedding to another man in this picturization, while her true love, Veer, keeps getting in the picture. Watching this, I can't believe I ever thought SRK was ugly. What was wrong with me?

Favorite Romantic Song Involving the Man Imagining His Love Who Isn't Really There:
"Tum Se Hi" from Jab We Met. Aditya's life is better because he met Geet, and he sees her everywhere. I don't even mind that they don't have Shahid dance much in this. It is so sweet.

Favorite Happy Wedding Celebration Song:
"Maahi Ve" from Kal Ho Naa Ho. The happiest part of a tear-jerker of a movie. It's the engagement party! Couldn't find a version with subtitles for this one, but I guarantee it's fun to watch anyway.

Favorite Melancholy Romantic Song:
"Khaali Hai" from Paheli. What a beautiful, haunting song from a fascinating, fantastical movie. I love this movie, except I'm not sure about the ending.

Favorite Happy-College-Kids-Dancing Song:
"Chale Jaise Hawaien" from Main Hoon Na. Watch how much of the first part of the dance is all one take. Impressive, is it not? And Amrita Rao is adorable.

Favorite Song from a Movie I Haven't Actually Seen Yet:
"Aati Kya Khandala" from Ghulam.

Favorite Dancing-on-a-Train Number:
"Chaiyya Chaiyya" from Dil Se. Okay, it's also the only dancing-on-a-train song I've ever seen. This song is spectacular, and may be my very favorite at the moment. Fun, romantic, and daring- it's pure entertainment.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Flop I Love- Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

It began like many of my Bollywood love stories. It was just there, on my Netflix screen, suggested for me along with a handful of others for instant streaming. But this one looked a little garish. It looked a little cheap. I didn't yet recognize most of the cast (I think I knew Preity Zinta). I had no idea what the title meant. I passed it over many times. But then one day, and I don't recall why, I went ahead and pushed "play" on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.

And, of course, I loved it! I laughed out loud. I grinned goofily. I was completely charmed by this completely improbable, silly movie.

I was sad to do a little more research and find that Jhoom Barabar Jhoom flopped in India. Flopped! And sadly, the director, Shaad Ali, has not directed a film since (as of this writing). I hope I will eventually get to see some more from him.

The movie has two beginnings. It actually begins with Amitabh Bachchan, whose role in this movie seems to be something along the lines of a Shakespearean Chorus (of all things), dancing to the very catchy title song in a train station in London with a diverse collection of extras backing him up. I didn't know much about Amitach Bachchan when I saw this film, actually, and was a bit bemused by the old guy in the ridiculous outfit.

My 12-year-old later informed me that he thought Amitabh's character looked "really cool," however, so what do I know? And the opening song and dance he heads up is very, very fun.

The story proper (so to speak), begins with Rikki (Abhishek Bachchan) and Alvira (Preity Zinta) meeting in the train station while each is waiting for a delayed train.

At first they are somewhat antagonistic, but to pass the time they begin to tell each other the romantic stories of how each of them met their significant other. As they get to know one another, it seems they begin to fall for each other. The rest of the film deals in light-hearted manner with how that all pans out.

Yes, it is a silly movie. It also knows that it is a silly movie, and does not take itself seriously. It pokes fun at the fantasies in Bollywood romances and makes shrewd commentary on their improbability, while simultaneously being one itself, in all its improbable glory.

Preity is both caustic and charming, Abhishek knows how to do comedy, and Lara Dutta and Bobby Deol, who play supporting roles, are dead-on and committed to their goofy characters. The music is fabulous and fits in perfectly. An important part of the film involves a dance competition, so we also get to enjoy an abundance of dancing, which is a major plus for me! This film is a rocking good time. Give it a chance!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Impressed lately by: Vidya Balan

Without really meaning to, I watched three movies featuring Vidya Balan recently.

She hadn't really been on my radar, although after watching her onscreen for awhile I thought I had seen her before. I had- in my least favorite Shahid Kapoor film to date, Kismat Konnection. No wonder I hadn't made a point of seeing other films featuring her until now. But I've been glad to find she is actually an accomplished actor, and she seems to choose very interesting roles, too.

I just realized that two out of the three movies in question I became interested in watching from posts on the they dance! blog. Yes, I trust her taste I guess!

The first was No One Killed Jessica.

Vidya plays a young woman whose sister is carelessly murdered at a party one night. The perpetrator is the son of a rich, powerful man, who bribes and threatens so that ultimately his son is acquitted. Rani Mukerji plays a reporter who tries to bring justice.

The movie is good, although not my favorite type of Bollywood film, and certainly my least favorite role for Rani that I've seen. Vidya impressed me here with her naturalness, and in the way she was completely submerged into her character.

Then I saw Kahaani ("story"), a much-praised thriller from last year.

I say the praise is well-deserved! I found Kahaani initially intriguing, and then completely riveting. Like many thrillers, however, I suspect closer attention to details along the way will start a few plot points unraveling, so I'm actually not going to hurry to rewatch this. I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I don't want to blemish it at all. Vidya was absolutely engaging, at turns tough as nails and achingly vulnerable. Her face revealed and concealed at the same time, and here she was, which they hid as best they could in NOKJ, absolutely stunning. Her supporting cast, by the way, was as fantastic as she was. Go watch it! I didn't even care that there were no song-and-dance numbers!

Then, most recently, I saw Paa ("Dad").

This is a shameless tear-jerker of a movie. I really enjoyed the central story. There are some side issues dealing with Indian politics, which were not as enjoyable to me, although interesting. The core of the movie, however, is about a boy suffering from a disease that causes him to age much faster than normal, and how he comes to know the father that has never been in his life. It is not a synopsis that made me want to hurry to see it, but I felt in the mood for something sweet and it delivered that and more. I didn't realize that Vidya was in it before turning it on, but she was magnificent. She plays the child's mother, and it is not a side-lined role. She delivers a complex and moving portrayal of a strong, accomplished, many-layered woman. It is fabulous. I also loved the relationship her character had with her own mother.

So, within the space of not too much time, I saw Vidya play three characters that were all very different, but all strong women who take charge of their own destinies, in movies that I found interesting and somewhat outside of mainstream. I am impressed with Vidya. I am impressed with her talent and versatility, and in her taste in selecting roles.

You've come a long way since Kismat Konnection, Vidya. Good for you!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Three times the laughter- Amar Akbar Anthony

A funny thing happened after I watched Amar Akbar Anthony, the Bollywood hit from 1977 starring Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna (which, in case you didn't know, is an awful lot of star power).

I watched the film and enjoyed it, full as it was of good ol' Bollywood melodrama, plus a generous sprinkling of what I like to term "'huh?' moments." My husband had wandered in and out while I was watching a couple of times, but he is never drawn in by 70s Bollywood production values, so he never stayed. Afterwards, however, he asked me what it was about, and while telling him I literally laughed until tears came to my eyes!
I'm not sure I would recommend this as anyone's first introduction to Bollywood, but it is a rollicking good time!

The story begins thusly: a chauffeur, played by the inimitable Pran, agrees to take the rap for a hit-and-run crime perpetrated by his rich boss, because his boss assures him that he will take better care of his family than he himself can.

However, when the chauffeur gets out of jail he finds that his boss did not keep this promise, and that his wife is ill and his three sons hungry. He confronts his boss, and there follows a dramatic series of events culminating in the children being lost, the chauffeur thinking his wife is dead, his wife thinking her entire family is dead, and the three boys being adopted by a Hindu police officer, a Catholic priest, and a Muslim tailor, respectively. Oh, I forgot to mention that the boys' mother was struck blind in this series of unfortunate events. The chauffer had managed to steal a lot of gold from his rich boss, and, in retaliation for the loss of his family, also steals the rich man's baby daughter.

We then shift scenes to 20 years later. The three brothers unknowingly reunite at a hospital when they all donate blood to an accident victim, who is actually their mother. Many hijinks follow before the family are all reunited at last. Many hilarious, hilarious hijinks, and also some confusing offshoots of subplots as well.

But surely we can forgive a lot of a film that presents us with Amitabh Bachchan dressed like Mr. Peanut.


 This is, you see, apparently how a good Christian man dresses to attend an Easter party. One must be properly dressed when emerging from the huge, celebratory Easter egg to sing and dance in honor of the occasion.

Frankly, I think these images alone should make you want to see the film! And that was one surprise for me from this film, actually. Amitabh Bachchan is hilarious! I had seen a few of his 70s films before this, and he was always very serious and brooding, with his character showing any levity only very rarely. This was not surprising, since he is famous for his "Angry Young Man" persona. But in this film he gets to display a knack for clowning and a wonderful sense of comic timing. It made me wonder if there are more "funny Amitabh" movies out there.

Another thing that surprised me about the film is that there is never any contention between the three brothers stemming from their different religions. When I read the short synopsis given by Netflix, I had assumed that the fact that they had been raised in different religions would prove a significant issue for the three brothers, and perhaps that they would be antagonistic towards each other before having to face the fact of their blood relationship. But this plays no part in the story whatsoever. The brothers are perfectly friendly, despite being ignorant of their real connection, after meeting that fateful day in the hospital. (Well, there is some tension between the Hindu brother, who is a policeman like his adopted father, and Anthony, who has unwittingly aided a criminal his policeman brother is pursuing, but religion never enters into it.) Though this surprised me, I found it quite nice. It also seemed to gently suggest that all religions are kin, even if their adherents don't recognize it, which is a nice sentiment.

Now I want to do a shout out for the ladies of the film! They are wonderful. Each of the brothers has a romantic interest (but of course!), and each of the women (Parveen Babi, Shaban Azmi, and Neetu Singh) gives a delightful performance.

Bollywood films from the 1970s seem to be brimful of strong female characters, although they do not get a fair share of screen time. For example, a major part of the ending of the film (I hesitate to say climax... this film has several contenders for the "climax" title) revolves around rescuing Anthony's love interest, who has been kidnapped, with the kidnappers intent on forcing her to marry a particular goon who is obsessed with her. The three brothers go to the rescue, aided by the love interests of the other two brothers. They are disguised as the priest who is to perform the marriage, the tailor who made the wedding dress, and a "one man band" hired to provide the music.

They don't find a sobbing damsel in distress when they arrive, however. She is giving her kidnappers plenty of trouble, and Anthony actually has a hard time getting near enough to let her know it's him because she has plenty of fight in her.

Incidentally, perhaps only Vinod Khanna could pull off the dignity he showed when called upon to reveal himself as a police officer, ready to take charge of the situation, while actually still wearing cymbals attached to his knees.

I think anyone exploring Golden Oldies of Bollywood should certainly give Amar Akbar Anthony a try! It is chock-full of melodrama and delightful music, colorful characters, great performances, and, yes, the occasional plot thread that simply disappears into thin air. Masala film-making at its best, perhaps, and all part of the charm.