Friday, October 20, 2006
So (sniff) my excitement at being able to watch a Hindi movie on its first day of release (with the subsequent pleasure of posting a review) has been diluted somewhat. I shall take comfort in some small facts, which shall become clearer as you read on...
Watching any movie on the first day of its release in India has got to be a unique experience. Add to this the fact that the movie in question stars one of the biggest superstars of Bollywood (King Khan SRK himself) and opens the day before Diwali, and you're pretty much guaranteed that the theatre's going to be packed!
So it was with some discomfiture that I squeezed into my booked well in advance seat, settled down and got ready for the ride. I was curious to see how anyone, even as talented a film maker as Farhan Akhtar, would be able to do justice to an all-time classic like the original. It was always going to be difficult to do justice to a remake - how on earth could you recreate an entire film, capture the magic and also keep an audience engaged - especially one that already knew the story by heart?!
Akhtar went about this in a fairly smart way - he slicked it up, made some significant deviations from the original story, and retained just enough from the original to keep the association between the films alive. Rather than trying to replicate the original frame-by-frame, he's been reasonably liberal in reinterpreting and moulding the story to present an updated version to a much broader audience.
Don feels like more than a Bollywood movie. With some crisp editing, pretty spectacular stunts & props, and some gloss at the right places, Akhtar's packaged a slick flick for a global audience. This film is infinitely more accessible for non-Indian viewers, with its Hollywood-style action pace.
Like Dil Chahta Hai, this film is classically Akhtar, with an urban, contemporary feel to it. Akhtar's cinescape is that of the big modern city - and he has done Kuala Lumpur justice, where most of the film is shot. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Malaysia Tourism sends him a cheque for the best promotional video they could have asked for.
I'm not going to spend my time recounting the storyline here, because most people are too familiar with the original, and I don't want to give away too many of the new twists that Akhtar's factored into the story, because that makes the film more enjoyable. I will however go through some interesting things that caught my attention.
Don's vault - a large steel room, with access through a single door requiring Narang's palm print to deactivate the locks, the vault contains money, diamonds, cocaine, the infamous disc (a red diary in the original) with all those contacts, some ancient Asian sculptures, and - WAIT A MINUTE - is that Edward Munch's "The Scream"? The one that was stolen at gunpoint in August 2004, only to be recovered earlier this year? So we finally know who had it all that time the international hunt for the masterpiece was on...
Second thing of note - when Don spots Kamini (Kareena Kapoor) they are both in a nightclub in KL. The scene is incredibly reminiscent of the club scene from Dil Chahta Hai - lots of flashing strobe lights, a dance floor packed with clubbers, alcohol, and pulsating music....hmmm....that beat seems familiar.....hey wait a minute - it sounds like the one from Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe in the club scene in Dil Chahta Hai. Interesting way to build in a signature Mr. Akhtar...
Third thing - Priyanka Chopra. This woman has come a long way, from being a wooden Ms India to a pretty competent screen presence (note the absence of the word actress) Chopra is beautiful, and also very photogenic. She also plays a convincing Roma, out to avenge her brother's death at Don's hands by infiltrating Don's gang. There were several moments when she was on screen that wolf whistles went off all over the cinema (at one point, a particularly distressed man kept wailing, "Sexy" at the screen until he was, I presume, either escorted out or passed out, because the noise died out after some point - I just hope he didn't stop because he had managed to "gratify" himself...)
Khaike Paan Banaraswalla - this song made the original movie, and in many ways also cemented Amitabh Bachchan's fan following in his own home state of Uttar Pradesh. Sadly, while King Khan does his best to emulate a paan chewing rustic from the Gangetic plains, high on bhaang and also on the tambaaku in his beeda, this is where you miss the old Bachchan. Khan throws some fairly energetic moves, while Chopra does a good job as well, but you can't help but remember the original. Having said that, I had never thought this particular song would do well as a karaoke number, but at one point, half the audience was going, "Hai, Hai, Haaai" with Don when he sang about ek kanya kuvaanri & ek meethi kataari.
Oh yeah - another good point in the movie is Arjun Rampal. Akhtar coaches out a believable performance from him; there are some creepy moments when he's locked in a coffin, and also when he's hunting down DCP Da Silva. Rampal's also looks convincing in the fight scenes, though his geeky IT consultant image jars just a bit.
Whistle Quotient - highest for Kareena Kapoor for her Yeh Mera Dil number, followed closely by Priyanka Chopra in a bathing suit. Isha Khoppikar didn't get much attention, but seriously, what do you expect when the woman's wearing a maternity frock?!
Disbelief Quotient - pretty low, with the exception of Don flying through mid air like a Patriot missile to zoom in the guy with a parachute. Thankfully, the high wire walk by a lame man with two kids is replaced by a much more believable scene...
Overall Result - go watch it, for some good fun, good thrills and very slick production. Picture mast hai baap...
Images courtesy official movie website
Edward Munch's The Scream courtesy Wikipedia
Saturday, October 14, 2006
There is a school of thought that believes that the true measure of whether a movie is great cinema or merely passing fare is whether or not there is that one screenshot that captures the ultimate essence of the entire film; one that becomes the leitmotif of the film. Hindi cinema has several such moments - scenes that have become emblematic of the film as a whole, as well as signposts along the filmmaker's career. Scenes such as Waheeda Rehman sleeping on the couch in Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Nargis hunting for food in the mud in Mother India, Manisha Koirala's burqa snagging on a tree and her flinging it aside in Bombay.
And today, I saw a similar scene - when Mira threw off her odhni in Dor.
One of the smaller, lower budget movies of the year, Dor is the latest offering from Nagesh Kukonoor, Indian cinema's NRI engineer turned India-returned filmmaker. After giving us some seriously low budget films like Hyderabad Blues, Kukunoor's growing stature has given him more funding, while each successive film has shown his maturing into a talented filmmaker.
Dor, is his most mature & well crafted movie. Compared to the raw amateurishness and boisterous enthusiasm (coupled with the pretty stilted acting) of his earlier ventures, his latest cinematic venture is a brilliantly executed work in understated, subtle film making. With a low-profile but competent cast, some extremely simple but powerful landscapes, and a very tight script, Kukunoor delivers a film that is worth seeing several times.
The film traces the journey of two women, Zeenat (Gul Panag) from Himachal Pradesh, Mira (Ayesha Tankia) from Rajasthan, on their journeys of separation, loss, friendship & liberation. Both women are married to husbands whom we see leaving for Saudi Arabia at the start of the movie. When it emerges that while in the Gulf, Mira's husband has died, ostensibly at the hands of Zeenat's husband, one woman is widowed while the other is left knowing her spouse is to be executed for murder. Zeenat's only hope is to obtain a pardon from the victim's wife, and for which she undertakes the arduous journey to the desert state to track down Mira and convince her to sign the pardon.
Dor has been labelled a feminist film, in the sense that the narrative is entirely focused on the two women who are central to the plot. From the start through to the end, the male characters in the film serve only to progress the plot, but are also merely incidental to it. Kukunoor almost takes Thelma & Louise and injects into it a distinctive "Indian-ness", in terms of aesthetics, plot as well as character development. Both Zeenat & Mira face very different circumstances, both from their western counterparts as well as from each other, differing in language, religion & perspective, but each is ultimately Indian. Kukunoor fleshes out the disparities between them easily, both through narrative and cinematography - Zeenat & Mira are as different as their respective homelands of verdant Himalayan mountains and the arid Rajasthani desert, but this difference does not detract from their instant recognition of a companion soul in the other.
Kukunoor also manages to inject his story telling with a healthy dose of cross referencing to mainstream Bollywood, lending a unique intertextuality to Dor. Several references through dialogue, many of them to contemporary films like Munnabhai MBBS & Bunty aur Babli, and the use of Hindi film songs (You are my Soniya, Kajra Re) also help Kukunoor develop aspects to his characters that would have been challenging to flesh out otherwise. You can immediately recognise in Mira every small town girl that learnt the steps to famous songs, to be performed at family festivals in front of cousins and at wedding sangeets, while the Behroopiya's mouthing of filmi dialogues marks him out in five seconds as that small town performer who entertains in villages with his impersonations. Furthermore, this intertextuality is both a testimony to the over-arching influence of popular cinema in the lives of millions, as well as a fitting tribute to Bollywood. Kukunoor has done well in not going down the route of many "auteurs" who look down on their mainstream counterparts; on the contrary, he uses them intelligently to sustain the sparseness of his own narrative.
The film thus etches the characters of Zeenat & Mira as much through dialogue & situation as through visualisation and imagery. If Zeenat's overt fearlessness, but inner hesitation, is most clearly etched out as she stands cornered by two men in a doorway, silently clutching a small stone to defend herself, Mira's tender innocence is seen most clearly as she dances quietly in a dusty alley to You Are My Soniya, dressed only in the dull blue of the widow. Later, her distress at having to take a decision that affects another human's life, when she herself has been denied the freedom to make decisions about her her own life, is beautifully acted out. Kukunoor chooses to utilise all the elements of cinema at his disposal, rather than relying only on verbalising everything that is to be portrayed. Thus, we see Mira's desolation in her clutching a pink shawl retrieved from her deceased husband's belongings, while Zeenat's independence is seen in her striding confidently through mountains on her own, unaccompanied, to go visit her in-laws or work on her house, hammer in hand.
This, then is what good cinema is about. This is what we have expected from our new breed of directors but have not seen much of until now. Kukunoor is to be lauded on reaching a stage of maturity in his film making through a relatively brief filmography. From Hyderabad Blues to Dor, he has crossed a big gap and has given us one of the best movies of the year, if not decade. Dor is a tribute to the strength of the individual will to make its own decisions and bear their consequences; to the power of humanity and to the complexity of human relations. This is a definite 6 out of 5 - go watch it or you'll miss out on some of the best cinema in years. And when its out, go buy the DVD and watch it again.
A final comment on the closing sequence. Kukunoor's intextuality continues, with a tearful departure on a small train station. Zeenat is leaving, and takes with her Mira's pardon. Unlike when Mira's husband was going, this is a solitary departure, alone, without the strictures or support of family ties.
Here, we are treated to a scene of greater pathos - Mira hands the pardon to Zeenat through the grilles of the train window. With that pardon, she hands across not only her forgiveness, but her desire for revenge, and in a sense, her one and only friend. For surely a married Zeenat will leave her to her own private desolation? What we see instead is a desi version of Thelma & Louise, with Zeenat holding out her hand for Mira to catch. But in this case, because this is a Hindi movie which is to have a happy ending, we are not looking at two friends about to drive off a cliff, but at two friends who are looking into the future.
It is virtually impossible to not think of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, when Simran must beg her father to let her go with Rahul. Unlike Simran, Mira must not beg for freedom from her constraints as personified by anyone; her boundaries are made amply clear to her in her own widow's garb. Seeing in front of her a future, a life and a friendship, Mira chooses to run and board her own life.
And as she does so, she lets her dull blue widow's odhni fly away.
Images courtesy Apun Ka Choice
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The award citation read, "In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, (Pamuk) has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
Perhaps this, then, is Pamuk's greatest legacy. Born in a staunchly nationalist Turkey, the memories of Ottoman decline fresh in its mind, and the glory of Kemal Ataturk at the forefront of the national consciousness, Pamuk could be the Cassandra of modern Turkey. His has been the voice of prophecies and quiet introspection, and one that has been incredibly divisive internally. His work has attracted much attention, and a great deal of criticism, with some considering Pamuk to represent a vision of Turkey that is palatable to the West, but which it actually is not. His mention of the massacres of Kurds & Armenians has not gone down well in Turkey either. Pamuk has recently been victim of a lawsuit, brought to court by nationalist Turkish lawyers for insulting the Turkish nation state by accepting the genocides. In fact, its probably no coincidence that Pamuk won the prize in the same year that he faced the lawsuit - many Turks would probably also feel that the lawsuit itself might be the only reason for his winning the award at all.
Pamuk has continually chosen to depict the dichotomies of tradition and modernity and their conflicts within Turkish consciousness in most of his work. His work has focused on more easily identifiable themes, such as the syncretism of Istanbul and its transition from a centuries old capital to a simple commercial city in Istanbul or My Name is Red. He has also chosen to delve deeper into the issues of identity formation and constructivist identities that operate at multiple levels in The White Castle, Snow & The Black Book. There is also a recurrent mystic quality to his writings, whether in his descriptions of art as a means to reach God in My Name is Red, or in the power of books to transform lives (The Black Book, The New Life).
But for me, none of this is anything more than an intellectual exercise.For me, as a non - Turk, non - European, perhaps some of the complexities in his writing are inaccesible. I am definitely impartial to most of the controversies surrounding his work. Pamuk became one of my favourite authors, and the reasons for that were simple. He opened my eyes to his beloved city, Istanbul.
A city that has long fascinated me, I was intrigued by a place that is poised between Europe & Asia, historically, geographically, culturally. I wanted to see how Istanbul, for many centuries a great city, has dealt with no longer being the centre of the known world, where different cultures, empires, societies would meet in the original melting pot.
Pamuk helped answer some of those questions for me. Through his writings, I could trace the transition that Istanbul & Turkey have undergone over the past forty years - from a slow decline of Ottoman tradition, to the steady growth of European style secularism, with recent years seeing a resurgence of Islamism. His work helped me discern the fine divisions that existed between different factions within Turkey and their views of how Turkey should be; how it veered towards a modern, outward looking nation that is increasingly global & consciously European in outlook, against the backdrop of a strong Ottoman legacy, a distinctly Asian heritage and a syncretic society that saw many religions and ethnicities coexist within a distinctly Islamic framework.
The first Pamuk novel I read was his classic, My Name is Red. A historic murder mystery, set in medieval Istanbul, it brilliantly etches the strongly divergent views on art & representation between the Islamic & European worlds. At the centre of the narrative is this discord, of how long established traditions are threatened by new trends brought east by Genoese merchants, of how the quest for modernity can be so easily shattered by the tyranny of tradition. My Name is Red sketched for me a view of an Istanbul that was redolent of power and grandeur, but that was laced with a seamy underside of political intrigue & stifling traditional conservatism, as well as a city that was essentially divided between its European & Asian halves, psychologically as well as geographically.
I read My Name is Red & Istanbul before I visited Istanbul. But Pamuk's writing had painted a glorious picture for me, had opened my eyes to the multifarious realities that make up that uber-city, had prepared me for the schizophrenia that was to confront me at every step. I learnt not to blink at the sight of a woman in a full chador, only her eyes visible, walk down Istaklal Caddesi and pass several open air cafes, their tables occupied by several gorgeous young women, blond, in low cut tops, chatting and smoking cigarettes. I learnt to expect Turks to look Caucasian, Arab, Persian. I learnt that the architecture in Istanbul was a glorious cacophony of different styles, the older Ottoman heritage clearly showing its Mongol ascendancy, while more recent constructions spoke of rococo & Baroque influences. I learnt that it was normal for people to live in Asia and work in Europe, and cross that great divide twice a day on their way to work.
Pamuk's writing taught me, before I had even stepped foot in his city, that if you were in Istanbul, your name, too, would soon be Red. And for that alone, I applaud Pamuk on his Nobel prize - rarely has an award been so well deserved.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Woh Lamhe stars newcomers Shiney Ahuja & Kangana Ranaut, both of whom were also seen earlier this year in the moderate hit, Gangster. The film is a fictionalised account of the real life relationship between Mahesh Bhatt (the producer of this movie) and erstwhile Bollywood star Parveen Babi. Bhatt himself claimed that this movie was his way of "letting her go", after Babi's death in her Mumbai apartment last year. (Though it has to be said that the story has been rehashed several times, including in the classic, Arth).
To be fair though, in many ways, the Bhatt - Babi love story has been one of those almost mythical stories that have evolved in Bollywood. Something everyone knew, but nobody ever talked about. Babi's rise to success, from a newcomer from Junagarh to everyone's heart throb, her sudden illness, which many thought was drug addiction, and finally her disappearance for several years, only to return to the spotlight a ravaged, depleted woman.
Woh Lamhe tells that story, in a slightly fictionalised & updated form. Kangana Ranaut plays Sana Azim, an established Bollywood star from Junagarh(!), in an abusive & exploitative relationship with another film star. She meets struggling filmmaker Aditya Garewal at an event, Garewal provokes her to get some attention, and finally, many twists and turns later, the two end up working on the same movie. Garewal's intentions are only to use Azim as a stepping stone to success, but he ends up falling in love with her. The rest of the movie deals with the trauma of finding out that Azim is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and how the relationship flounders until finally Azim dies at the end of the movie, having successfully attempted suicide.
Now, this is not the most happy of films to watch - in fact, it can get quite heavy at times. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by several things about this movie. The script is decidedly mature, dealing with several issues, including schizophrenia, marital/relationship rape, and adult relationships. The script is reasonably tight, and the editing doesn't really make the movie seem too long. The soundtrack is also pretty good - I've been humming "Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai" and I think its going onto my iPod very soon. More importantly, the songs aren't forced into the script for the sake of it, which makes them seem more natural.
Finally, a word about the lead pair. Both Kangana Ranaut & Shiney Ahuja are fairly new to the screen, and taking on such an emotionally fraught film can't have been easy. Having said that, both are reasonably good at their roles, but are definitely still young actors. Shiney is best when he doesn't speak - he can emote quite well with his eyes, but his dialogue delivery lets him down. He will have to learn that there is more to verbalising than shouting, and more importantly, trying to tone down the gruffness in his voice. Otherwise, he runs the risk of sounding like a Jat munda from inner Delhi. Ranaut is also quite immature as an actor, but doesn't shy away from getting into character.
Overall verdict? Probably deserves a 3/5 rating, with a good soundtrack, tight editing and clean dialogues.
Image courtesty Apun Ka Choice
Friday, October 06, 2006
So the key issue at hand here, and one that people have asked for my reflections on, is that query that lurks in the subconscious of every slightly megalomaniacal blogger:
Which movie characters should have had blogs and in what ways would their blogs have changed the movie plots?
Now, this is by no means an easy question. To start with, it requires me to think about ALL those movies that I've seen, and actually am able to remember. Then I'd have to think about ALL those different situations in which the plot development was NOT to my liking, and think about whether or not there would be scope for improving the obviously lacking story with a spot of blogging (hmmm....is that why its called blogspot?!)
Now there are two ways I could go about this - I could either go away, spend time thinking through a lot of different movies, ponder the issue ad inifinitum, and like the Indian Parliament, eventually establish a committee to review the problem and develop a cross party consensus on the matter (much like the much debated and ill fated Womens' Bill) The other, and probably speedier alternative, is to convince you that ANY movie could do with a bit of blogging, though whether the impact on the overall plot would be to our liking or not remains questionable.
Let's start with that classic (well, maybe not really) Hindi college film (well, before Rang De Basanti) Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Anjali & Rahul & best friends, Anjali falls in love with Rahul, Rahul falls in love with Tina, Tina & Anjali are good friends, Anjali can't tell Rahul she loves him because he tells her first that he's in love with Tina, Tina & Rahul get married, Anjali leaves college to go home and never comes back. Tina & Rahul get married, Rahul gets Tina pregnant (well, maybe not in that order, but who knows) Tina gives birth to little Anjali, Tina dies, Rahul brings up little Anjali all by himself (well, maybe with a little help from his mom, Farida Jalal) and then years later runs into an Anjali that is mature, though still in love with him, even if she is trying to hide it by marrying a totally inappropriate Salman Khan (I mean, he's FLIRTING with him prospective mother-in-law! Seriously, how gross is that?!)
What if instead of running away, Anjali had started a blog (perhaps even imaginatively calling it, "I Love Rahul"?) She could have started it out as an anonymous poster, and even got all those girls that were in love with Rahul/Shah Rukh to post as guest columnists or "anonymous commentators", responding to imaginatively titled posts like "Why I love Rahul's high-lycra-content t-shirts" or "Gap - the only casuals brand for my man". Eventually Tina would emerge as the most hated woman on that site ("We love to hate Tina for her legs/hair/lips/skin/dress sense/lack of dress sense/sense of humour/lack of sense of humour/phoren-returned accent/fill in with appropriate hateful attribute") Finally, similar to Darr, we'd have the most psychotic group of stalkers baying for Tina's blood. Given that she died in the original movie anyway, we could add some more drama to her death through a gruesome murder in a misty forest, an abandoned little Anjali that is found and adopted by big Anjali, who rears her as her own until many years later, after she's old and wizened and so is a heartbroken Rahul, they run into each other. They start chatting, little Anjali comes into the scene, Rahul sees a locket that belonged to Tina on little Anjali's neck (perhaps little Anjali could be played by Rani Mukherjee to add that extra frisson of melodrama) and there is a thunderstruck revelation. Thunderclap, multiple camera frames and dramatic music later, there is a tearstruck reunion between father & daughter, and big Anjali & Rahul live on happily ever after (we could even use the song, "Tere Liye, hum hain jeeye, hoton ko seeye...")
Would that make Kuch Kuch Hota Hai a better movie? I think not.
And while we're at it, what if the guys from Brokeback Mountain had started blogging as well?! Ennis could start a blog titled, "Loved & Lost - How I tried to Quit Him", while Jack could start one called "Why Heath scored over Hathaway". They could write about hot and steamy nights out on the lake, on how "fishing" was no longer enough for them, why denim is the ultimate look for the new man and why the best way to use aftershave is after you've made sure you've moisturised after shaving. There could be special columns on the sexiest way to wear a Stetson, why you should always buy those plaid shirts a size too small (the better to have them hug your torso with) and why you could never be seen outside your house without a properly knotted bandana - think of "Queer Eye for the Cowboy". Soon, after becoming the latest storm in the gay blogging world with racy posts on their sexual escapades (Things That Go Hump in the Night, The Pup in my Tent), they could choose to run away from their restrictive lives and go live in San Francisco and run a cowboy themed men's boutique called "Bucking Bronco" or "Ride'Em Hard", or a steakhouse called "Montana", serving only the best beef the Mid West has to offer.
Alternatively, what if the blog had been kept not by either of the leads, say by Heath Ledger's disgruntled wife? She could have started writing anonymously, tired of being the poor, overworked store clerk taking care of the babies while her husband was off with his boyfriend. She could have soon become the latest rage of the womens' blogging world, gaining sympathy and support through a variety of forums, being listed on Technorati & BBC World as the voice of the oppressed woman, get a feature listing on Slate, and finally an appearance (anonymous, of course) on Oprah.
Or if our blogger was actually the bitchy wife, Anne Hathaway (who frankly got away with being bitchy because (a) she's hot, (b) they were living off her poor ole Daddy's money and (c) she's hot)? What then would our blogging twist to the tale offer? Would she write a blog about her machine implements? About how she never suspected her rough & ready husband might like it up where the sun doesn't shine? About how even though she was married with a poor ole chile, all she really dreamt about was going out to a rodeo one last time, and sleeping with as many dirty blond cowboys in a haystack behind Big Jim's Saloon?
Yeah - I reckon this 'ere new fangled blogging thing ain't really helping this movie none, neither. Goddamn, I wish I could quit you, blog!
End point being - keep the blogging out of the movies (unless you actually MAKE one about blogging, like they did for email in You've Got Mail.)
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
With a cool three weeks of holiday to be spent in India, I'm excited, happy and already looking at a packed social calendar. The best thing is that I will be spending Diwali with my parents - something I haven't been able to do since 2002. It's not as if I haven't seen them in the interim; but being able to spend the festivals with family is a big thing (if you don't believe me, might I point you towards the multi-million dollar Hollywood industry that each year produces several major Christmas movies extolling the importance of family values, togetherness, peace on the earth and goodwill to men?)
So the next few weeks of blogdom will be written from India - how cool is that?!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Definitely check it out - its so worth it!
By the way, did anyone else cringe in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the (non-Greek) boyfriend tells his (Greek) girlfriend that he wants to marry her with her family's approval?! Talk about stealing a scene!
Photo courtesy: Yash Raj Films