Thursday, March 27, 2008

Welcome two and a half hours of pure torture.

I'm kidding. Well, sort of. The new comedy starring Anil Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, and Feroz Khan wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

But it was pretty darn close.

I may not be qualified to criticize here, and I don't mean to poke fun of Hindi comedy--Something I clearly know next to nothing about. But I am beginning to think I'm simply just not wired for Bollywood comedy. After Partner, Heyy Baby, and now Welcome, I'm guessing there's something lost in the translation (which is very possible) or I just don't get it. Or perhaps it's the choices I'm making. I'd be willing to take suggestions, but for now I guess I can only judge what I've seen.

I figured I should start watching some Akshay Kumar films, since his movies all seem to do really well at the box office. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, why people flocked to see almost anything he starred in. Unfortunately, Welcome didn't give me any answers. Although his character was likable enough, I still have yet to find one of his performances where I can go, "Oh, yeah, that's why he's doing so well!" But I don't hate him or anything...he's funny, attractive, and sweet in any role I've seen him in, including this one. Akshay's Rajiv was probably the highlight of Welcome, if you can call it that. I'm just waiting to have my own "moment" with him.

As a movie, Welcome was chaotic, as most "silly" comedies are. I wasn't impressed, but my expectations were low to begin with. It had it's funny moments (the scene where the steering wheel comes off in Akshay's hands had me cracking up), but most of the time it was, in my opinion, second rate entertainment. Welcome was almost like a bad Hollywood comedy from the 80's - with a more scatterbrained plot.

The girls were okay. Malika Sherawat seemed comfortable, and Katrina Kaif was cute paired with Akshay. I'm beginning to worry about Katrina, though...She's a lovely girl, but does she try to look and sound fake when she laughs/talks/cries? I'm no acting professional, but the poor girl makes some of the stiffest faces in Bollywood!

The music of Welcome wasn't bad, and it was nice to get a break from the "story" to watch Akshay and Katrina look like they were having some fun. Having said that, I thought some of the choreography looked borderline ape-ish, and Katrina's beach outfits made me want to jump on the ol' treadmill. Unfortunately, none of the tunes from Welcome's soundtrack stuck with me.

I also have a small proviso to this review I need to share with you. Say what you will, but I missed the last 30 minutes or so of this movie. I had to leave, and haven't felt compelled to pop it back in the DVD player since. Perhaps, for those of you who've seen the film, that makes me a poor judge of the movie.

Or perhaps Welcome just wasn't interesting enough.

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Umrao Jaan (starring Aishwarya Rai)

Although the 2006 version of Umrao Jaan starring Aishwayra Rai is a far cry from the original, I still really enjoyed this film.

For those of you who've read some of my earlier posts, you may remember that both Umrao Jaan films were a couple of the first Bollywood movies I'd seen. This one in particular lost me a little halfway through, as I felt it dragged. However, after re-watching it nearly a year and a half later, I liked it a whole lot more. I know, I know. I say that a lot about some of my earlier Bollywood experiences(Devdas, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the old Umrao Jaan and now this), but it's so true! Perhaps I'm more accustomed to reading the subtitles now. Or maybe, with this version of Umrao Jaan, I'm more familiar with the story and less taken aback by Aishwayra's beauty...She's still gorgeous, but the first time I saw this I was so in awe of the woman I think I found her beauty a distraction from subtitle reading.

Even though J.P. Dutta's version is extremely long (189 mins), when compared to the 1981 version (145 mins), it's my understanding that the director intended to portray the original novel instead of remaking the older film. Keeping that in mind, I'm beginning to think Umrao Jaan Ada is a whole lot of story to try to cram into a movie. I'd really like to get my hands on a translated version of the novel at some point, because I get the feeling there's quite a lot I'm missing here.

Aishwayra's Umrao was a far cry from Rekka's riveting performance, but she still held her own. It's just really, really hard not to compare the two. If you look at Ash's work by itself, she had some powerful scenes where she showed an appropriate amount of pain and sadness in her crystalline eyes. She looked amazing throughout the entire film, particularly in "Salaam", where I had to laugh out loud at how ridiculously beautiful she was. But when you hold this up to Rekka's Umrao, Ash pales in comparison. Rekka was beautiful, but in her own not-quite-so-perfect way, and she had tons more sex appeal. She cast the seductive spell a real courtesan would, as men were drawn to her soft "bedroom eyes" and demeanor as smooth and warm as maple syrup. Ash, on the other hand, was like a porcelain doll...if I was a man in her brothel, I'd be afraid to touch her, lest she'd break.
And while Rekka seemed subtly unaware and a bit surprised by her ability to bewitch Naweb Sultan, Ash appeared almost cocky when she pranced right over to him and assumed he'd be enamored with her beauty just like everyone else was (and, of course, she was right).

Abhishek did a pretty good job as Naweb Sultan, but lacked the elegance and maturity in Farooq Shaikh's performance. However, I think Sultan had quite a different storyline in this film...his character, in my opinion, was supposed to be a little bit immature (he couldn't handle a woman supporting him when he lost everything, so he left) and spoiled (seemed lost once Daddy kicked him out and went on a drinking binge), as the story called for him to let his ego get between his ability to love Umrao (couldn't deal with another man taunting him over his territory). I'm thinking Abhishek was probably a good choice for the role, though, because he didn't upstage Ash(as perhaps Shahrukh's fame or Hrithik's own pretty face would have done).

I realize it's probably not fair to compare these performances, but as I stated above, how can you not? Rekka, Farooq, and Naseeruddin Shah made those roles their own. I didn't even grow up on the classic and can see that!

Of course, this statement does not apply to Shabana Azmi. Her performance as Khannum was flawless, and uncannily "spot on" with the original (which I discovered was played by her real-life mother-Cool!)--if not better. The only unfortunate thing for me is that I have yet to see a Shabana Azmi film, and I can't really count this one since her role was so small. But since I read a lot of Bollywood blogs and magazines, it's clear just how respected she is as an actress. I can't wait to experience her in a more substantial role!

There were a few directional choices I really appreciated. Perhaps exclusive to my copy (a pirated DVD given to me as a gift from the fam), I thought the movie had a very beautiful yet "bleached out" kind of feel, like an Indian or Pakistani soap opera. Nonetheless, I liked that vibe, as it reminded me of watching television in Pakistan as a child.:) Another thing that was cool was the scene were Lord Sultan and Umrao consummate their relationship, a conclusion we draw by the pressure in their clasped hands. And, finally, I thought the scene where Umrao returns to her childhood home only to be shunned away was heartbreaking and effective. As Umrao walks away from her birth family, her brother slams the gate, which stops her in her tracks, a symbol of a closed chapter in her tragic life. Her eyes are glassy, but she's been through it all at this point, so she's almost unfazed. However, as we then get a close up of her seemingly cold hearted brother, we see tears budding in his own eyes as well. Powerful.

I liked this movie more than I thought I did. While it's far from perfect, it's still a good watch featuring some pretty people and sets. If you're going to enjoy it, be open-minded and try not to compare it to the original (like I did through this whole post!). Otherwise, you may be disappointed.

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood


Friday, March 14, 2008


I had a really tough time getting my hands on this film! After months of searching online, the only place I found it was on Nehaflix, but it was horribly overpriced. The owner of my local Indian grocery store told me the publisher recently went out of business, resulting in Lagaan becoming scare and quite expensive.

Then, one day, lo and behold, my friend takes me to some random and tiny (but very cool) video shop on Milwaukee's East side...and they actually have it!! I couldn't contain my excitement. I almost broke into a song and dance right in the video store, but since my friend (who I haven't converted into a Bollywood fan yet) visits this store quite frequently, I maintained my composure and paid for an overnight rental instead.

Was Lagaan worth all the hype and drama I'd created around it? Probably, but I didn't actually love it. But that's okay. It's okay because there were still some great things in the film, and I only paid $3 to rent it(as opposed to $130 to purchase it online).

I guess I'm just not a "sports movie" kind of gal, but that's not to say I was disappointed with the lengthy cricket game in the second half. In fact, I probably enjoyed that part of the film more than I did the first half. It was in those scenes where I finally "connected" with Lagaan, when I found myself falling for the characters, moved by the film's beautiful story of teamwork, really wanting them to come to victory. Ok, so if this is what makes a great sports film (and I would think that it does), then Lagaan definitely makes the mark.

While it succeeded most in telling a story of friendship and unity amongst villagers, I found the romance in the film a bit dull, a disappointment since the three characters on the cover had me thinking we were going to get a juicy love triangle. Although it's possible the film was trying to do just that while everything else was going on, it just didn't quite work for me in that respect. I did appreciate the writer throwing some romance just didn't move me all that much (I loved Gracy Singh, though. She was the cutest!).

Aamir Khan continues to impress me with his performances...this is only the third film I've seen him in, and I'm already in awe of the man. He says so much with his expressions alone, never over the top. The only problem with his role in Lagaan was that I didn't get much about who his character really was, but I guess that was because the writer was trying to tell the story of an entire village coming together, not just Bhuvan's piece in it. So whatever. I just want more Aamir!!

As I mentioned above, the movie's true strength lies in its touching tale of teamwork. Even as things turn sour when one of the villagers betrays his fellow teammates, Lagaan chooses forgiveness instead of spite, giving us another character to root for in the end instead of a villain.

It's those little things that made Lagaan special for me. I'm definitely glad I got to see it, as it's quite different from the typical Bollywood formula, and my curiosity was killing me. Knowing the lengths I go to for Bollywood, I might have paid the $130 had I not found it at the video store (and this post wouldn't have sounded quite so cheery)! Now there's a scary thought...

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood


Hum Tum

Another Bollywood comedy with Saif as the guy who's afraid to settle down and Rani as the refined, somewhat serious, sweetheart?

Bring it on!!

Yes, Hum Tum follows the somewhat played out formula of boy-meets-girl, with some songs thrown in, in typical Bollywood rom-com fashion. But you know what? I could watch ten more movies like this, and they could all star Saif and Rani in typecast roles, and I wouldn't complain! Maybe it's because I'm new to Bollywood territory, but for me their romantic comedies have Hollywood beat.

Hum Tum is no exception. While it wasn't one of my favorites, it was definitely enjoyable enough. Saif Ali Khan is super-easy to laugh at, and Rani is her usual classy self. The two of them breathe new life into the old phrase "opposites attract", and I enjoyed their pairing in Hum Tum.

Our friend Abhishek Bachchan makes a baby-faced appearance in the movie...and this marks the third time I've seen him and Rani "married" onscreen. Not that I mind. I'm just saying. Although, I suppose, in Bollywood-land, that's nothing remarkable.

The songs in Hum Tum weren't too impressive in my book (except for the catchy title song--that one was really pretty), especially the one Rani "sings" right before her wedding. I'm usually a huge fan of Ms. Mukerjee's facial expressions, but she made some pretty dreadful ones in this scene!

There were some really funny moments in the film, but in a very subtle way. I guess that's what I love about Saif's comedy style. I find myself laughing out loud at the littlest things, such as his goofy smiles that appear at just the right time, or his whiny complaining when things go wrong. Rani's elegant demeanor bounced well off of this, especially in the scenes where Rhea can't stand Karan. You actually believe that she hates him, and her annoyance seems relevant as they are worlds apart.

I did appreciate Hum Tum for not dwelling on Rhea's status as a widow. I can't recall that ever being a factor in Karan's decision to be with her.

I consider Hum Tum to be a romantic comedy anyone can enjoy. Because it's light and funny, rarely obnoxious or over-the-top, I could probably show this to any of my non-Bollywood watching friends. If you haven't seen it, you may want to give it a try.

Text © Copyright 2008 Nida Nazir


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