Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire and Ghajini...2008 Goes Out With A Double Bang!

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!


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat January 1, 2009 at 8:16 PM  

Happy New year Nida! What u say is so true- though Ghajini was far easier for me to digest than Slumdog- the former we KNOW isnt real- but Slumdog is way too real and painful- I cant get over it!

Darshit January 1, 2009 at 8:32 PM  

Happy Happy New Year !!

if we can't count on Aamir Khan to give us a decent film, who can we depend on?
I just loved you said it. Being an Aamirian, celebrations are on, for me. Ghajini did record breaking business and its going on further. I don't like action movies, either. Still, this movie made me change my belief.

Waiting for your Jaane tu... take. Why comparing TZP to Ghajini?? Both are best in their own genre. We can see such versatality only in Aamir's movies.

I skipped the whole Slumdog.. part, cause the movie is yet to be released in India. So want to keep it surprise to me.

Thanks a lot for that Extra special note .

ajnabi January 1, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

Happy New Year, Nida!

I can't wait to see both of these films; they look really good and have gotten lots of buzz.

When you move, you should think about the Southeast. We have good weather here--on the inland parts, anyway. LOL

theBollywoodFan January 2, 2009 at 12:17 AM  

Happy new year! Glad you liked Ghajini! Completely agree on Jiah being much better in motion than on stills. The Ghajini DVD should release relatively quickly, since it's not an Aamir Khan Productions film...those take a while, LOL. Got quite a streak going with Lagaan, TZP and Jaane Tu, their next will be Delhi Belly starring Imran Khan.

**MAJOR Spoiler**
As I was leaving the theater, I was thinking of how cool it would have been if Ghajini were made before TZP, Sanjay Singhania was somehow magically cured, and *then* helped the kid in TZP, as he would be a student in the school named after Kalpana! :)
**End spoiler**

Also agree about the critical reception being impacted because of what has almost become an expectation of Aamir. For nearly a decade now, he's been associated almost with sensible cinema. This was a drift from the new Aamir norm, and I thought it was just fine, because he's always been a proponent of diversity in film, which Ghajini is in some ways.

I haven't seen much from his earlier "hero" days

There were many hits and misses with his earlier love stories. Some of the more popular ones were Qayaamat Se Qayaamat Tak (w/ Juhi Chawla), Dil (w/ Madhuri), Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin (w/ Pooja Bhatt), Rangeela (w/ Urmila Matondkar), and Raja Hindustani (w/ Karisma Kapoor).

And on Slumdog, which I haven't're right about there being an appearance at least of very specific plots that almost validate stereotypes of India and Indians. I say someone here should get Ashutosh Gowariker! I am a child rights activist in my other life, so I'll wait for the DVD. Thanks for your review.


And here in L.A. I was complaining about 40 degree weather...

a ppcc representative January 2, 2009 at 6:36 AM  

I surprisingly liked Ghajini a lot as well! I was a bit put-off by the violence in the end, and there were some shots that I thought lingered too long on violent details, but overall it was a very fun masala movie.

Small correction: It's Danny Boyle, not David. (And yay Slumdog!)

Amrita January 2, 2009 at 8:00 AM  

Hey Nida, hope you have a wonderful 2009!

I don't think I liked Ghajini as much as Memento but I do agree with the bulk of both your posts. And like you, I've been thinking of them both together, something about the two just asks to be grouped imo.

Filmi Girl January 2, 2009 at 12:56 PM  

Happy New Year!!

I'm glad you liked Ghajini - I had the same reaction you did - expecting just violence and being delightfully surprised by the getting the whole entertaining masala mixture instead. :)

Re: Slumdog, I liked it but I wasn't overwhelmed. And the coverage it's been getting the American media is really turning me off. *grumble grumble*

Nicki January 2, 2009 at 2:18 PM  

Oh my freaking goodness, I commented you and it disappeared! WTF!!! Urgh!!

Happy New Years. Hope you're doing well.

I'm so jealous. You got to see both films! So glad you liked Ghajini. I don't think it was as confusing as Memento either.

I've heard nothing but good things about Slumdog Millionaire! Nothing negative yet. I have to really watch this now!!! I didn't know you saw Brick Lane and I agree it's a disappointing movie.

Consider moving to Atlanta, we could hang out and talk about Bollywood. :)

The Bollywood Lover January 3, 2009 at 7:06 AM  

Ghajini worked wonders for me. It is an example of great work. But the sad thing was Sanjay (Aamir Khan) couldn't tell Kalpana (Asin) that he is not Sachin! Their love-story just ends without truth (that maybe why you were "blinking back tears").

I wish if I could get its DVD and fast-forward the violent scenes. It would have been better, no?

Nida January 3, 2009 at 12:44 PM  

Shweta--Thank you! That's a very valid point. I think we see a lot of situations like that, for example, when we look at what is considered outstanding cinema in America, we see mostly drama and nonfiction. A lot of tragedies and biographies with less than happy endings do very well here (Examples "Schindler's List", "Million Dollar Baby", "the Departed", "Crash"). The majority of Americans find this "interesting"; When you compare to what sells in India (the happy films such as "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge", "Jab We Met" and "KKHH" compared to the box office failures of "Dil Se" for example"), the differences appear obvious. So my point is, you're absolutely right...what sells in America may be considered OK because Americans for the most part see it most as fiction, whereas in other parts of the world these situations may hit too close to home (as did you and "slumdog"). I even heard the other day that as the economic crisis gets increasingly worse in the U.S. that we may be surprised to see a gravitation toward "happy" cinema and musicals in America. Interesting, isn't it?

Darshit--Thanks! I love Aamir, he's such a talented actor, yet seems to know his stuff behind the scenes really well. I think Bollywood would be at a loss if he wasn't a part of the industry; I only compared "TZP" and "Ghajini" because that just seems like the obvious thing to do. Any time an actor or director comes out with another film, its inevitably compared to the previous one. They are two very different films, you are right, but Aamir gained even more respect than ever before when "TZP" came out, so people are always going to set the bar high for him. Still, I loved "Ghajini" and wasn't one bit disappointed...(but I did love "TZP" more. :))

Ajnabi-Thank you! You should really see both of these. I'm sure you'd love "Slumdog"! I'm not sure what you'll think about "Ghajini", but I definitely loved it! And I'll keep that in mind--Florida is definitely on my consideration list!

Bollywood Fan--Thank you!Oops--now why on earth did I assume this was an Aamir Khan production film just because he was in it? Lol. I'll make the necessary adjustments to the post :) BUT I'm now super duper excited for "Delhi Belly"--I loved Imran in "Jaane Tu..."!I like your idea for a "Ghajini" -"Tzp" connection!;) I too was reminded of Aamir's character in "TZP" at that scene you're referring to in "Ghajini"! I can see what you mean about "Ghajini" being "different" than Aamir's other films, which seemed to have a political message underlying the story. "Ghajini" didn't have that, but maybe that's just what Aamir needed to show he can still do just pure entertainment, too. Thanks for the Aamir recommendations! I've been meaning to see "Qayaamat Se" because it seemed to be one of the most talked about romances he's done (correct me if I'm wrong) and well, he's paired with you know who (Haye Allah! Juhi Chawla!lol--I did see the first half of "Andaz Apna Apna" and then my DVD stopped working--I was too upset to talk about it so I didn't mention it until now, hee hee). Then I just read a review on "Dil" on Filmigirl's blog, so I was considering that, but unsure about the rape scene...still, Aamir and Madhuri is a pair I can't afford to miss...I'm on the same page with you on mistreatment of children in movies. It really, really bothers me. There were parts of "Slumdog" that I couldn't handle, but the film did a good job of stopping things right before they became too unbearable (for example,this is ****not really a spoiler cuz it is so predictable but read at your own discretion****, but Latika is sold into child prostitution...yet we're also told she's worth the most because she's still a see?). Anyways, I don't want to say too much or give away anything. I'd love it if America would hire Ashutosh Gowarikar! That would really put a cool spin on things! One more thing...40 degree weather!You're so lucky!I've gotten my car stuck in the snow 3 times so far this year (and my brother's gotten stuck 4 times) so I've just about had it with this weather!

PPCC--I think you're right about some of the violent scenes lingering, especially towards the end and with the whole Kalpana thing...if it wasn't for the masala mixture, that would have bothered me more. And I've made the correction on Danny (David) Boyle!:)

Amrita---Thank you and you do the same!:) I don't know what it is about these two--Perhaps because they've been the latest buzz for sometime, but they just kind of worked together, didn't they? Kind of like when "Saawariya" and "OSO" came out... "Rab Ne" kind of got pushed aside, didn't it? At least in my world!

Filmigirl--Thank you!:) I'm glad you liked "Ghajini"! We need a good hit (or two) to end the year on a positive note. Though I'm not too disappointed with 2008--I loved "Jodhaa Akbar" "Jaane Tu..." and these two. And I'm 99% certain I'm going to love "Fashion" "Rock On" and "Dostana" as well. As for "Slumdog"...well, I think its just been talked about so much that's in danger of being overrated. I had high expectations of the film--which they did meet, for the most part--but could see how someone would have the bar set too high because of all the buzz.

Nicki--LOL. I hate when that happens! Thank you...and I am :)Hope you are also doing well! That would be awesome (if I move to Atlanta)! I'd love to watch some Bips movies with you :)Urgh, "Brick Lane" was soooo dragging and disappointing and boring....what a snoozefest. Can't wait to hear what you think of "Slumdog" though!

Bollywood Lover--Yeah, I really liked the action and suspense but agree that some of the violent scenes were a few minutes (I'm guessing 10?) too long. ***SPOILER***And I'm in the same boat--it really, really bothered me that Kalpana never found out about Sanjay! I kept hoping every scene that something would come out.That was my only real gripe about the film. *****END SPOILER*****

theBollywoodFan January 3, 2009 at 5:24 PM  

Ghajini didn't have that, but maybe that's just what Aamir needed to show he can still do just pure entertainment, too.

I really think that was the goal, which is why there was little divergence (from what I hear) in the screenplay from the original until the last few minutes. And if I were Aamir, I'd be quite tempted to develop the bit on technology in rural India and the trafficking of children.

Qayaamat Se Qayaamat Tak (or QSQT) is absolutely one of the most talked about ones, and for good reason. It really put Aamir and Juhi on the map in a big way. Too bad about the Andaz Apna Apna DVD, it gets more crazy after the first half! That scene in Dil was interesting, but Madhuri's done a few more like it, and in this case, I think their performances were so powerful, it looked a little too real. Still, enjoyed the film quite a lot.

And yes, I really shouldn't be complaining about the cold in Southern California, but South Florida and 70 degrees in December for seven years spoiled me :) It's been great here too, though. Any time you can go to the beach in December/January and have fun in the sun, it's great :P Have I sold you on L.A. yet? LOL...good luck and take care.

Nida January 7, 2009 at 2:31 PM  

Thanks for the recommendation, Bollywood Fan! I'll definitely buy QSQT on my next DVD shopping spree!

I'll have to check out "Dil" regardless. Like I said, the Aamir/Mad combo is too rare to miss. As for Andaz Apna Apna...I'll just have to buy a new DVD. I've heard too many good things about it!

The beach in December/Jan? Sounds tempting!My birthday's in January, and usually falls smack dab in the middle of a snowstorm!

Ellen,  January 9, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

Hey, just wanted to say, I LOVE this blog. Started watching Bollywood in the fall of 2005 when I was really depressed and stressed... almost by accident really... and it was almost the only thing that got me through. Once you start you really can't quit!

Ellen (Saif Ali Khan fan...)

Ellen,  January 9, 2009 at 8:07 AM  

oh forgot to say I love Aamir too.

Nida January 9, 2009 at 9:49 AM  

Ellen--Thank you very much!:) Bollywood has a way of lifting my spirits, too! And you're right...its sooo addicting!

I also love Saif and Aamir ;)

Please stop by again soon!

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