Ahh, its been a dreary last couple of days. The weather here in Wisconsin has been abyssmal (I'm moving when I graduate, that's it!), and there's been little more to do than watch movies and stuff my face with (now stale) Christmas cookies.
Plenty of time to head over and catch Bollywood's latest flavor of the month, Ghajini, and David Boyle's newest project, Slumdog Millionaire!
(First let me say that both of these films are equally deserving of their own posts. I only chose to combine the reviews so I could package it up in a neat little Happy New Year post like I did with HAHK and KANK).
I got so lucky this week--I enjoyed both films! How often does that happen? Anyways, let's talk about Ghajini first, since I saw that one on Monday. I'd heard various things about it, both good and bad, but I made up my mind that I was going to see it anyways. After all, I'd seen Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in the theaters, so I figured if I could take a risk on that one, I could do the same for Ghajini. Besides, if we can't count on Aamir Khan to give us a decent film, who can we depend on?
Though violent films are never really my cup of tea, I liked Ghajini much, much more than I thought I would. I mean, I was looking forward to it because of Aamir, but I didn't expect to be completely engrossed from beginning to end. Ghajini grabbed me hook, line and sinker! Never mind the similarities to Memento or the Tamil version--I couldn't have cared less. All I know is I was pretty darn entertained, and that's what I pay money at the movies for.
Gosh, its been a good 7 years since I saw Memento, and while I remembered it being very interesting, I really had to concentrate to figure out what was going on (the entire movie plays backwards, and the story's told through the eyes of the main character, who keeps losing his memory). Not so with Ghajini, a psychological thriller/romance that plays on the same premise of short term memory loss, but does it in a less complicated way. In this film, everything is pretty much spelled out for you: You know that Aamir's character, Sanjay, has suffered some kind of violent trauma to the head that resulted in his loss of short term memory. In other words, he forgets everything and everyone in 15 minute intervals. You also know he's looking for the person responsible for all of this, and you know his name is Ghajini. Heck, you even know that he's lost someone close to him, and you know that person's name is Kalpana. All of these things are tatooed in angry scrawl over Sanjay's chest, which you get a full view of early on in the film (and what a nice chest it is otherwise--go Aamir!).
As I said, I'm not one for violence, but I can stomach it. When I walked into Ghajini, I was prepared to walk out with zero "filmi feel good" moments and a collection of disturbing blood and gore flashbacks. So imagine my surprise when, after gearing up for three hours of action and suspense, Ghajini went off on a romantic comedy tangent...And stayed there for awhile.
I was kind of taken aback at first--I had really been getting into the suspense of the film--and the unlikely story between Sanjay and Kalpana (played by Tamil star Asin, who apparently has the same role in the Tamil version) seemed a little farfetched. Yet, as it went on (and on) I really started to like it. After all, its not everyday that I get to watch Aamir fall in love--romance took a backseat in most of the films I've seen him(I haven't seen much from his earlier "hero" days). And there was just something appealing to me about the way the two leads met--Kalpana was living her life, not even looking for romance and...well, Sanjay just kind of fell in her lap. Granted, it all started with a lie--her lie---but she redeemed herself with her affinity for helping others, which I'm sure was the director's intention.
By the time the flashback paused, and we got back to the action stuff, I actually wasn't ready to leave the romance(She didn't even know his real name yet!!! That bugged me like having an itch on your back you can't scratch). But Ghajini was just getting warmed up...the story gained even more speed and momentum in the second half. All I have to say is, the scenes with Aamir and Jiah Khan (who plays a medical student bent on befriending Sanjay) were nail-bitingly good!
As we pieced more of Sanjay's background together, the film took us to another flashback. This time I embraced the switch, as I'd been on the edge of my seat for the past 45 minutes and needed a breather. And what a perfect way to calm me down "Guzarish" was, the song that had serenaded me in the background every time Sanjay looked at Kalpana. Before I knew it, I'd went from pulse racing chase scenes to prancing around the sand dunes with Sanjay as he pursued his lady love...And of course, since I'm such a sucker for stuff like that, I loved every minute of it. Its also worth mentioning that Asin maintained an appropriately relaxed facial expression during this song, which I appreciated since her character was a bit obnoxious overall.
Because I knew from the very beginning that Kalpana was going to be killed, I knew the romance would be short lived, and maybe that's what touched me even more about it. I had a lump in my throat for most of the flashback, but I was still rooting for the couple to somehow make it.
The rest of Ghajini doesn't lose steam in the second half, like most 3 hour movies do. While the focus is on revenge--and that's not a concept I like to embrace--overall the mood of the film is balanced nicely. It flits from suspense to romance throughout (and does both very well), then tops it all off with a sharp climax. But the very last scene--and I won't give it away--is extremely touching and memorable. So much so that I left the theater quickly, hastily throwing my soda cup in the garbage while blinking back tears.
I liked Asin overall, and her acting actually improved as her role got more intense. And, whoa, she's got the shiniest black hair I've ever seen! No wonder Sallu's smitten, though you didn't hear that from me...;)
Jiah Khan, who's photographs have never done anything for me (I just thought she always looked kind of creepy, but she's actually very beautiful), showed some potential. Her role was second to Asin's, but she still added something to the film. Actually, at first it annoyed me that the director (or whomever was responsible) had her all dolled up when she was doing her medical research, every black curl in its perfect place. Then I realized that I would have done the same thing at her age (and still wear hot pink eyeshadow at work--I'm a makeup artist, I can't help it!), so I shut up and stopped calling the kettle black.
Do I really need to say Aamir did a good job? Of course, he did, but we already know he can do anything and everything in filmi-land, from acting to directing and back again. And I'm really liking the good streak of films from Aamir Khan Productions... First Taare Zameen Par (which I haven't reviewed yet because I'm looking for an excuse to rewatch), then Jaane Tu... (which I'll be reviewing shortly) and now this? The only drawback to Ghajini is it's not as good as TZP, in my humble opinion. But to compare the two really isn't fair (they're both very different films), and in some ways I think critical reception for Ghajini would have been even better if it had come out before TZP. Its never an easy task to follow perfection!
I liked Ghajini, it was worth every penny I spent on the ticket, and I'll buy the DVD when it comes out, too. Let's just hope it doesn't take as ridiculously long as Taare Zameen Par did!
The next day, still riding my Ghajini high, I didn't plan on making any trips to the theater. But a surprise babysitter and crummy weather left the opprotunity wide open--and off to see Slumdog Millionaire I went!
In case you haven't heard (because it seems like everyone's talking about it), Slumdog Millionaire is a British film directed by David Boyle. It's about a young boy who lives in Mumbai and lands a spot on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Because it happens to be set in India, a lot of my friends had recommended this to me, knowing my fixation on Indian cinema. And I'm so glad they did!
At first, I was afraid of the film being another depressing story about poverty and village life in India. Why does it seem like that's the only thing that sells to the American audience (at least to the people that haven't fallen in love with Bollywood yet)? The Indian culture is more than just castes and Hindu/Muslim differences and treatment of widows. I don't mean to take those issues lightly, but can't there be a film that's set in India (that doesn't come out of Bollywood) that has a happier overtone? In other words, I just didn't think I could sit through another Brick Lane.
While Slumdog Millionaire has its own moments of dhoom and gloom, its also surprisingly witty and fun. The story follows the main character, Jamal, through his life as an orphan in the slums of Mumbai. His closest companions are his brother, Salim, and a little girl he meets along the way named Latika. Yes, things get ugly. Most of Jamal's life experiences include betrayal, poverty, and loss. Things don't look like they're going to get any better for our little hero even when he manages to land on the show, and play sucessfully. He's betrayed once again and even suspected for cheating since he's answered most of the questions correctly.
Again, the great thing about this film is that through all of this messed up stuff, there's a lot of opprotunity to laugh (including an "in" joke referencing Amitabh Bachchan!). The script was really well written, the editing was tight, and the music added a modern edge to the village scenes. The kids did an outstanding job--my favorite was the oldest Jamal--and the story was a lot more about the relationship amongst the three of them than anything else. Bravo! Whenever you tell a story about an "adult" issue (poverty, life in the mob, etc) through the eyes of a child, it puts everything in a very real perspective--Just like in Bronx Tale (a film directed by Robert de Niro about a child's relationship with a mob boss that I highly, highly recommend).
Yes, there are some Bollywood stars in Slumdog...Irfan Khan expands his rapidly growing international resume. It's not hard to see why he keeps getting picked to play these parts, since the man is extremely talented and just looks like the stereotypical Desi man (Doesn't he? I'm not supporting stereotypes, I'm just saying that he epitomizes the non-Desi view of an "Indian man").
Anil Kapoor plays the gameshow host, and, man, was he perfect for the role. He's got this way of going from smiley to sinister in seconds, and I never know if I should trust him or not. I could also see him playing a politician someday!
****Small spoiler ahead, but I don't give the ending away, I just hint at it****
Maybe I've watched too many Deepa Mehta films, but I had little faith that all would be well in the end. I won't say if it was or not, but I will say I was extremely pleased with the whole film. And there was a special treat as the credits rolled, which caused me to literally squeal with delight! Any Bollywood fan would appreciate this! I like to think David Boyle made the film his way, but included this last bit as a tribute to "the Bollywood way". There's no right or wrong way to make a movie, just two different styles that can both be enjoyed and celebrated by all. Now let's all hold hands and sing! :)
I can't believe I was lucky enough to see two films in two days--and love them both. What's amazing is that after seeing Ghajini and Slumdog Millionaire, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is but a distant memory. That's the point I was trying to make in my review--that film wasn't awful, but it just doesn't compare when you hold it up to really good films like these.
And last but not least, Happy New Year to each and every person who reads this blog! I really love reading your thoughts and comments, and appreciate you taking the time to do so. An extra special note to my regular commenters, readers, and blogging buddies (most of whom have blogs of their own-see sidebar)! Here's to another year of blogging, Bollywood, and friendship!