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!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas!...And, What the Heck, Let's Revisit HAHK and KANK

Merry Christmas, Everyone!And, yes, believe it or not, I really do want to talk about HAHK and KANK again!


Well, since I couldn't find any other Christmasy moments in Bollywood, I popped in KANK to capture this one. Then I started watching, cuz you can't just pop a SRK movie in and not start watching...

Pretty soon I found myself lost in the world of KANK. I know, you're probably shaking your head while reading this, saying, "Of all the movies she could repost on, why, oh why KANK?" Well, I'll tell you why. I realized while rewatching that there's a whole bunch of fun stuff to cover--and all I did was pretty much tackle the issue and the way Kjo addressed it in the film. While all of that's fine and dandy in terms of discussion, I missed out on a bunch of great screen shot opprotunities and star gazing--Because, let me tell you, the stars of this film look amazing.

I really love Bollywood movies that are set in India, before the whole NRI trend in the '90s. As I've said before, I find these movies comforting because they remind me of the films my aunties would watch when I was little. But I've also got to admit, I love the glitz and glamour of Bollywood in NYC, too. What could ever be painful about seeing gorgeous stars like Rani Mukerji dancing around a beautiful city that I already adore? My dad and his wife live smack dab in the heart of Manhattan, so I could be biased, and I find India just as beautiful (though in a different way), but my point is, the combination doesn't bother me one bit. I love guys in Abercrombie and Fitch. I love Shahrukh Khan. Why wouldn't I want to see Shahrukh Khan dressed in Abercrombie and Fitch? That doesn't mean I don't like him in pyjamas and a just means I like having the best of both worlds!

Of course, Abhishek always looks great in my book. But seeing him in long trenchcoats, scarves, and suits didn't hurt either. I think I said in my first post that I was really impressed with him here, and the same holds true today. As a matter of fact, this is one of my favorite dramatic performances from him. The obvious question of the hour is why anybody would want to cheat on him, and I think the film makes the circumstances believable enough. Yep, he's a great husband, and he's really hot, but he and his wife have some major communication issues. Although, if this was my husband, I wouldn't be trying to "discuss" anything!

As you can see from the screenshots, Rani looked stunning in this film. And the makeup! Gosh, this woman is gorgeous, and with her amber eyes and carmel complexion, she can pull off almost any color.

I've heard some complaints about Preity's eye makeup being too heavy. I don't think that's the problem. I think the artist just did some kind of weird wing shape in the other corners that made her look older. I would have stuck with the smoky eye--a character like Rhea needs a smoky, kohl rimmed eye to match her "rockin'" wardrobe and career--but I would have blended the color out a bit more. Other than that, can Preity ever look bad? She totally pulled off the New Yorker look, I don't care what anybody says!;)

Let's not forget Amitabh Bachchan, whose looked smart and snappy (despite the whole "Sexy Sam" trashtalk). This was a much better look for him than the embarassing ponytail he sported in Cheeni Kum.

Now, onto the jodis of the film. There were so many great jodis in KANK! So, keeping in form with the recent jodi lists of the PPCC and Rum, I made my own jodi list for KANK. Which was your favorite?

1)Rani/Abhishek Jodi.If you're a die-hard Rani/Abhishek fan (like I am), you may be leary of watching a film where your beloved couple isn't exactly basking in marital bliss. But take heart...KANK still gives you that "Ranishek" fix you've been craving...they have a lot of screentime together, and look picture perfect in every shot! I was a little disheartened by the circumstances, but come on, its just a movie. I simply popped in Bunty Aur Babli immediately afterwards and skipped to the honeymoon song to end things on a happier note. Ahh, yep, that did the trick!

2)Shahrukh/Rani Jodi. If you're a fan of Rani/Abhishek, perhaps you weren't too keen on the Shahrukh/Rani jodi. Or maybe romances based on marital affairs are too unsettling for you to sit back and relax with. Whatever the case may be, "Tumhi Dekho Na" is so picturesque that it really created the backdrop I needed to believe the story. I'm not sure how it managed to do that on images alone--but it did. There was something about the colors, the changing seasons and the haunting melody that I found myself falling under their spell, even though I didn't want to. I thought Rani and Shahrukh accomplished what they were supposed to--they created a chemistry that was forbidden and yet enchanting enough that even I forgot about Abhishek...for a second.

3)Abhishek/Preity Jodi. There was something about watching this couple hug prior to "Where's the Party Tonight" that made you ache for them--and what they didn't know. You knew halfway into the film that there wasn't going to be anything going on between these two--they were completely trustworthy, and totally committed to their spouses. And they were so fun to watch on the dance floor! Both playful, energetic and spunky. I always imagine that the director of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom saw Preity and Abhishek in KANK and said, "I've got to give people more of these two! Sign them up for my next project!"

4)Abhishek/Amitabh Jodi. Of course, their dialouges together consisted mostly of the word "Dude", but still...I always get warm fuzzies whenever I see these two onscreen together. Especially on the dance floor! Without their jodi (and Kajol's cameo) "Rock 'n' Roll Soniye" would have been unbearable!

5)Amitabh/Kirron Jodi.Of course, I'm still waiting for someone to snatch up Big B and Kirron Kher for a new twist on a romantic comedy. This was the best jodi of the film! The relationship with Dev's mom (Kirron) and "Sexy Sam" was a great side story, and saved Amitabh's character from looking like nothing more than a dirty old man.

6)Everyone Jodi. Gosh, everyone just clicked with one another in some scenes. Especially when the four main characters shared screenspace--think the snappy confrontations at the ballet, at the "Rock n' Roll Soniye" party, and at the hospital. Those one liners--particularly Shahrukh's--were hilarious. And who could forget the intensity at the dinner scene in the second half? The contrast between Shahrukh and Amitabh's icy comments over the flaming candlelight was sheer brilliance.

7)Little Arjun/"Simran" . A cute "in" joke referencing DDLJ. Aww!

8)Me/Arjun Rampal/John Abraham. Oh, did you miss that part? ;)

So that sums up the KANK recap. Now, onto that other film with a famous acronym...

HAHK, or, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. I have to chuckle while I write this, because, gosh, this film is something else. It really is. On the one hand, its utterly ridiculous...the film stretches nearly four hours long, the plot doesn't kick in until the last hour and a half, and there's a lot of technical snafus. When I first saw this, I didn't quite "get it". My comments from readers assured me I wasn't alone. I decided to put HAHK way in the back of my DVD cabinet, proud for trying and glad that I at least liked some of the tunes.

Yes, that is a dog listed in the opening credits. I'm not kidding.

Anyways, for some reason, I decided to pop it in again last night. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was Daddy's Girl's recent post on Sooraj Barjatya's films, or the fact that I was one of the few bloggers who liked Vivah, or the upcoming holidays (I saw HAHK last Christmas, and I'm big on holiday repetition with films), but I just felt like watching it again.

And you know what? I got it. In fact, I loved it. Everything that confused me the first time around literally delighted me this time. A song about shoes? Awesome! Practical jokes? Funny! Family values instead of a plot? Aww! A dog as an active character? Bring it on!

I always said Vivah was a film I enjoyed because it felt like I was spending time with the characters as opposed to watching an actual movie. Because of this feeling, the weak plot never bothered me. I found every moment in that film touching and sweet, like my grandmother telling me the story of her courtship with my grandfather. I felt something similar with HAHK this time, although with this film I thought the emotional depth was even stronger. There was love all around in HAHK. Love between Nisha and Prem (Salman/Madhuri), love between Pooja and Rajesh, love between both families, Prem's love for his bhabhi...its just beautiful to watch. For example, there's a touching moment when Pooja's mother sings to Rajesh's father about how she is entrusting her most beloved treasure--her daughter--into his care. The two gaze at each other and sing, sharing a moment that is powered by their love for their children, and nothing more. How did I miss that the first time around?

Of course, the best part of the film is still the music and Salman/Madhuri. But that was one thing I mentioned even in my first review. It was the rest of the film that I didn't quite get, but now that I've pieced it all together, HAHK has shockingly become a Bitten By Bollywood classic. I'll probably watch it again every Christmas. It's not holiday themed by any means, but it gives me that same cozy feeling that I get when I'm decorating the Christmas tree, listening to carols and sipping hot cocoa. It may not be for everyone--it sure wasn't for me, at first--but it's become one of my comfort foods in Hindi cinema.

And there you have it--two films that have unexpectedly found their way into my heart this season! Maybe I need to lay off the eggnog...or maybe they're both a lot more charming than I had thought. Either way, I hope everyone is having a blessed holiday and I'm wishing you all a Happy New Year!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Just got back from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

Was it good? Was it awful? Did I like it? Was Shahrukh's performance all that and then some? Is Aditya Chopra back with a vengeance?(Drumroll, please...)

Unfortunately, a big fat no!!!!

Now, don't get me wrong. "Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi" wasn't all that bad. But it wasn't all that good, either! And we expect the best! Come on, Adi--You've got Shahrukh Khan, adequate funds from Daddy's production house, and countless fans who love you for making Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge--and this is all you got? You had how many years since Mohabbatein to come up with something creative, something original, something really great for your big comeback. Yet you gave us nothing but mediocre fluff, something we've grown to expect from Yashraj films after the great flopfest of 2007-2008.

I don't mean to jump on the critics' bash-Yashraj bandwagon, but its a little disappointing when you pop in Veer Zaara or Bunty Aur Babli and realize the films Yashraj are making today are a far cry from what they were only a few years ago. To be fair, I haven't seen Chak De!India yet, but Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Bachna Ae Haseeno, and Aaja Nachle were so-so "chick flick" material at best. Were they watchable? Sure. If you'll read my reviews, you'll see I liked them, for the most part. But they weren't great. And great is exactly what I expect from one of the biggest production houses in the industry!

Ok. So now that I've gotten off my soapbox, let's get into the film, and you'll see what I mean.

The story centers around Surinder Sahani(Shahrukh Khan)'s "arranged" marriage to Taani(played by newcomer Anushka Sharma). I say "arranged" because the marriage was set up to satisfy Taani's father's dying wish--it was all very last minute, you see. Anyways, Surinder is sort of a nerd. No, wait, he is a nerd. He's awkward and uncharismatic and can't dance--the opposite of a Shahrukh Khan-type hero. Yet he seems like a good man. In fact, I really liked Surinder. He tries to be romantic, but it just never seems to work. Poor guy--even his wife tells him not to expect her love--it just ain't gonna happen.

However, Taani does make somewhat of an effort to be a respectful housewife (thankfully--I probably wouldn't have liked her too much had she not). But she lives her life like a robot, barely cracking a smile. However, when she sees an ad for a local dance competition, Taani finally finds something to be excited about. She enters the very next day, and Surinder gives her his blessing. It's then that he devises a plan, with the help of pal Bobby (Vinay Pathak), to win his wife's heart--He'll get a makeover, join the competition, and she'll be his forever (technically, his original intention wasn't to deceive his wife, but of course this is Bollywood, so circumstances "forced" him into the situation).

I have to say, up to this point, I had really been enjoying the film. Surinder was cute, and I felt Shahrukh played an "average" man pretty well, refraining from his usual trademark expressions and flashy moves. Also, I like love stories that occur after marriage (like in The Namesake and Jodhaa-Akbar). But when Surinder's alter ego, Raj, came into the picture, the film went south.

Raj was supposed to be a real life version of what Surinder imagined Taani wanted in a man--a Bollywood "hero" type, the type of guy Shahrukh normally plays. But he looked more like an obnoxious Ricky Martin wannabee. Whose idea was it to dress Raj in tight tees, spiky overgelled hair (with highlights), and colored glasses? Maybe that would've flown in 1999, but not today. And, ironically, he possessed none of the qualities Shahrukh is famous for--Raj had zero charisma, no chemistry with his leading lady, and couldn't dance. Forget about the love story between Raj and Taani--it just didn't exist, in my book. There was more of a spark between SRK and Deepika Padukone in Om Shanti Om(and that's not saying much, because that wasn't supposed to be a love story).

Speaking of Om Shanti Om, was Aditya Chopra trying to cash in on his own version of the 2007 Farah Khan hit film? With surprise cameos, film parodies, and a double faced Shahrukh Khan, its hard to ignore the similarites. Yet Adi should stick to what he knows--he's definitely no Farah Khan in the humor department (And how many times are we going to see Dhoom referenced in a film? It's getting pretty ridiculous).

The music was nothing to write home about, surprisingly. If there's one thing I've always said about Yashraj films, its that they know how to churn out an awesome song picturization. But the songs in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi lacked the luster and extravagance of previous Yashraj films. Even the song with the surprise cameos could have been done with a little more flair and creativity. (***If you don't want to know who the "surprise" cameos are, stop reading this paragraph***)Nonetheless, it was cool to see Kajol, Bipasha, Lara, Preity and Rani pop up in the film right when I was starting to lose interest. Beloved couple Kajol and Shahrukh's dance even featured a nod to another famous Bollywood jodi-Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420---that made me very happy. And, of course, seeing Rani's smile always makes things better. Someone in the costuming department hates Preity Zinta, though--Eek!What's a girl got to do to get a cute outfit for her cameo? Hook up with Aditya Chopra?(Sorry Rani, you know I love you, but I just couldn't resist)...

The song "Dance Pe Chance" is okay, but its kind of misleading because it gives the film a Dirty Dancing sort of vibe--and then we don't get much dancing afterwards. The song where Raj is trying to romance Taani on his birthday is sweet, but again, its not half as gorgeous as "Bolna Halke Halke" (from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom) or "Khuda Jaane" (from Bachna Ae Haseeno).

There are other scenes in the film that I just didn't get. For example, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the biggest appeal of DDLJ the fact that it was wholesome and family friendly? Then why on earth would Aditya Chopra include a crude and ugly scene of Taani almost getting in a catfight with a fellow female dancer--in which the word "bitch" was unecessarily used about six times? Just to be able to include that dumb Dhoom motorcycle thing? Sheesh.

And the less that's said about the sumo-wrestling match, the better. It was just painful to watch.

Now for the good stuff...Anushka Sharma did a great job considering what she was working with. She had a charm and beauty about her that gave the film much needed color--something Raj's bright baby tees failed to do.

For me, the brightest spot in the film was the interactions between Taani and Surinder, in his natural form. Aditya Chopra should have taken a clue from The Namesake and focused more on this pair than the dragged out Raj/Taani scenes.
I also liked the ending, and I'm glad things were resolved the way they were. There's some extra stuff that plays while the end credits roll, and its pretty cute, despite the fact that it wasn't subtitled.

There's been a lot of complaints about the plot, since its kind of ridiculous that Taani wouldn't recognize her own husband, simply because he tossed the mustache and got a new wardrobe. That part didn't bother me so much--I'm always okay with being manipulated by a film, and try not to think too hard about what's believable and what's just plain outrageous. But what did bother me about this film was that it wasn't better. I expected more, and got less, and that's always disappointing.

If you're planning on seeing the film because you love Shahrukh and have been looking forward to it, I'd say go ahead. Some of the feedback has been good, and you may really like it. But as for me, I could have waited for the DVD.

I still love you, Shahrukh--here's to hoping your next one's better!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

1947 Earth

After Dil Se..., I wasn't sure I was in the mood for another depressing film. I didn't know much about Earth, but since it was directed by Deepa Mehta, I knew better than to expect anything for the faint of heart.

But I popped it in anyways--Truth was, I'd been dying to see it for quite some time now. For one, it stars Aamir Khan! Isn't that reason enough to watch a film?

Secondly, I knew it was a story about Partition. Partition--the concept has fascinated me ever since I heard the story about how my grandparents migrated over to Pakistan from India. Actually, I know very little...My grandparents are both deceased and my father and I don't really discuss it. But it's my dad's wife who has known our family history for years, and gives me little pieces to the puzzle every time I visit her (In case you haven't read my brief little family story, I haven't been very close to my father for most of my life and was brought up very non-Desi by my German/Mexican side of the family). What I do know is my grandfather was Sikh, and apparently converted to Islam to remain in Lahore (his parents had migrated there from India before Partition). My grandmother and her family had migrated to Pakistan after Partition from Mumbai. And Earth is about Lahore, no less--needless to say, this heightened my longing to see the film. I wasn't there, but I could imagine the suffering my grandparents and their families must have went through, and how jarring the division of India and Pakistan must have been for all who experienced it. It certainly was the most bitter divorce in history, and I'll be telling the story to my own daughter someday--I don't ever want her to be ignorant to her family history, like I was.

Earth was just as much of a downer as Dil Se was...yet for some reason I liked this one better. Deepa Mehta has a knack for that. She gives you the most depressing circumstance and tells it with such well developed characters, solid performances, and tight scripting that you walk away feeling satisfied despite the doom and gloom.(At least that's the experience I have when watching her films--I'm sure there are some who beg to differ).

In Earth, the story is told mostly from the point of view of an eight year old girl. This was a brilliant move. We see the most terrible acts of mankind through the innocent eyes of a child, making even the stiffest upper lip tremble. Lenny (played by a darling Maia Sethna), lives with her parents in a Parsi home in 1947 Lahore. Her nanny, Shanta (Nandita Das) totes her around everywhere, mostly with a circle of Shanta's male friends. This isn't a problem in the beginning--Shanta's male friends lavish "Lenny Baby" with attention--mostly because they all have a thing for Shanta. Especially Dil, known as "Ice Candy Wallah"--and played by none other than Aamir Khan.

Lenny's adventures with her nanny turn from playful to tragic as the events of 1974 Lahore unfold--None of the characters have any idea of the warfare about to take place until it actually happens. Lenny and Shanta's world is literally torn in two as 1947 Earth lifts the veil off the people they trust--revealing love, friendship, hate, and betrayal.

My only complaint about this movie is there was less Aamir than I expected. I wondered why for most of the film (any insight, Bollywood Fan ?), until I finished it and thought whoa. As a matter of fact, it is Aamir (and his performance) who left the strongest impression on me. And I do mean strong---there's a particular scene towards the end (actually, Aamir's last scene in the film) that I had to replay three times until I could move on. I stared at the screen, wide eyed. If you've seen the film, you know why, but if not, just know that you still get blown away by Aamir, no matter how "small" his role may seem on the surface. It's not--trust me.

Nandita Das plays Shanta, the woman who everyone seems to want. Actually, it's Aamir's Dil and Hasan (Rahul Khanna--Akshaye's brother!) who are both in love with the beautiful nanny. And it's not hard to see why. Nandita Das fascinates me every time I see her. She's an amazingly talented actress and has a natural beauty that would make even the most polished Bollywood beauties jealous. There's just something about her--she's real, yet sexy at the same time. That jet black hair! Those perfectly straight white teeth! That creamy cocoa skin! Fair, schmair...Nandita's got it going on!

Maia Sethna was perfect as young "Lenny Baby". Her voice had the cutest little accent when speaking English. Oh, I could listen to her say "carmel custard" a gazillion times--I don't mean that in a derogatory way, its just so adorably cute! Deepa Mehta knows how to pick her child actors--remember Chuyia in Water?
But Maia is more than just cute as a button--she pulls off some of the most pivotal scenes in Earth effortlessly.

I remember little more about Rahul Khanna than that he was very handsome, and I feel kind of bad for that. His performance was more understated, and it wasn't that he didn't do a good job, but more that he was overshadowed by Aamir, Nandita, and little Maia. My feelings for him evolved during the course of the film--at first, I was irritated with him for getting in Aamir's way. As the film progressed, I softened--it was clear where Shanta's heart was, anyways. But I won't say too much.

The supporting cast seemed to click perfectly in their roles. Especially Kitu Gidwani, who plays Lenny's mother.

Here is another woman I was in awe of in this film. Kitu has this voice that is so musically elegant it could lull me to sleep (Isn't she in a Basmati rice commercial? I swear I've heard this voice before!). Lenny's mother Bunty exuded class and beauty, with a delicate grace that told you oodles about the type of home they had. They had it pretty good prior to 1947, an upper class Parsi family that lived quietly and comfortably. There's a scene where Bunty explains to Lenny what it means to be Parsi, and its so effective that I think I'll remember it for the rest of my life:

That's the other thing about tries to give us a feel for 1947 from multiple angles, not just Hindu and Muslim. We see Lenny's family and their struggle to remain neutral as Parsis, the fury of a Sikh man who is forced to flee from his beloved homeland (or convert...makes me wonder if that is what my grandfather's family did?), and even a man who becomes a Christian. Given the time frame of the film, I was impressed with the glimpses into the other perspectives, albeit brief.

The music was forgettable (at least I forgot--how many songs were there anyways?) but this was not your typical Bollywood film. The background score, I thought, was really effective...a soft hum to steady drumbeat, like the sounds of a crowd of people making their way across the new borderline. There was also a narrative--who sounded like Shabana Azmi?--which was also pretty effective.

I've heard from Magpie Ima that Earth is an adaptation of a book called Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa. I'm also told that the author makes a cameo at the very end as an adult Lenny. I would definitely read her novel, since I really liked this film. It was fantastic--absolutely brilliant--and I'm so glad I finally got my hands on a copy (Thank you again, Summer and Katy!). I recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone and everyone.

Text © 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dil Se...

Let me first say that my prayers and thoughts are with all of those who have lost loved ones in the recent terror attacks on Mumbai. It's hard to watch a movie like "Dil Se..." at a time like this and not think of the horrible reality of hate crime and terrorism. I usually don't use this blog to post on anything other than straight film reviews, but I just wanted to let everybody know that I am posting this review and an upcoming review of "1947 Earth" without any intention of offending or glazing over something which rings horribly true for those who are living it. I'm sensitive to what you are going through, and although I am fortunate myself to have never been a victim of a terrorist attack, my heart goes out to all of you.

Secondly, I want to thank publicly and warmly my blog readers and newfound friends Summer and Katy for sending me this film as a present on their recent trip to Mumbai (thankfully, they were unharmed by the attacks). Along with Dil Se... I received 1947 Earth, Deewar, GolMaal, and Chotker Bali, so reviews on these films are forthcoming. Thanks again guys!

But onto Dil Se.... I was stumped for awhile on what to say about this film. It was quite a switch from the recently watched Main Hoon Na. Folks, if you're looking for a Shahrukh movie thats not your typical sugary song and dance, then Dil Se... is for you.

I'm used to watching love stories that make me feel good, a huge fan of rom-coms and heartwarmers such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. But Dil Se... was very much opposite. Yet it appealed to a different side of my heart, the side that understands the yearning and passion of love that isn't always good for you. The side that wants something it can't have and can't understand why. The side that believes there is a thin line between love and hate.

How do I describe Dil Se...? Moving? Tragic? Disturbing? Passionate? Intoxicating? It was all of these things, really, and as a viewer I fell completely under its spell. But it was also one of those films that lingered in my mind for days after its end, bits and pieces resurfacing in my memory, the sweet and the bothersome. That's why I had a hard time putting my thoughts together for this post--I wasn't sure how a film could make me feel touched and disturbed at the very same time.

The film kicks off with Shahrukh's character, Amar, at a train station (***This isn't really a spoiler, but it will be a play by play of Shahrukh and Manisha's first meeting. I'm including it in detail only because I thought it was so effective***). Everything about this first scene is foreboding...shadowy, dark, lonely, with gusts of wind howling in the background. A dark, cloaked figure sits on the bench nearby. The whole thing reminded me of the beginning of a deliciously good ghost story.

Amar awaits his train, trying to light his cigarette in the wind. He attempts to make conversation with the cloaked man, asking him for a match, but receives no response. And then...brilliantly...the cloak whips off the man on the bench in the violent wind...and...why,its not a man at's Manisha Koirala!

Instantly smitten, Amar tries to buy the woman a cup of tea. She quietly accepts, but while he's making the purchase, the woman's train arrives. Amar runs back just in time to catch only a glimpse of her face as the train departs, holding his two cups of chai in the rain.

Why go on and on about this little scene? Because its serves as a symbolic precursor for Amar's luck---as well as he and Meghna(Manisha)'s tumultuous affair.

Believe it or not, this eerie encounter is followed by the cheerful and ever so popular "Chaiya Chaiya"--the song that made train dancing famous. It's Shahrukh energy at its best, and the chereography makes it really fun to watch (or imitate, if you dare). Malaika Arora makes a cameo in this song (That is her, isn't it?) and it appears as if Amar's forgotten all about the mystery woman at the train station.

Don't worry, he hasn't. Amar's actually just begun his somewhat disturbing mission of stalking Meghna. Another angle to the film that I found bothersome at times.

He stalks her on the air at his radio station.

He stalks her when she is trying to make a personal phone call.

When she asks him to stop following her, he refuses to listen, and jumps on the back of a bus to follow her home instead.

As a matter of fact, the whole thing got pretty irritating to me, until their showdown in the desert--where I just about felt like hitting Amar myself. His violent, aggresive, male chauvinistic approach to conquering Meghna was a huge turn off for me. I say "conquering" because that's just what he was doing--attempting to win her over, with virtually no regard for her feelings or what she was saying.

Some can argue that this was how deep their passion was, and that essentially she really was in love with him as he thought. She just wouldn't admit it to herself because of her situation. That could be, but he told her she was "fast" and "a tease" just because she wasn't interested in him! I don't know, maybe I misunderstood something along the way, and I welcome anyone else's take on this, but I just didn't get this part of the story.

I did, however, soften to Amar and forgive him after this. There would have been no other way for me to continue the film had I not. I'm glad I did--the romance between him and Meghna took an interesting turn after all of this. I actually believed Amar did love her, and he proved it many times for the duration of the film. The song depicting their love affair was hot--and featured some creative chereography that shows why Farah Khan is Farah Khan. A bit choppy and rough, but it did match their attraction.

Love it or hate it, you've got to admit it's unique. And I'm sorry, but the whole red satin thingy was super cool.

The second half of the film gives us Preity Zinta in her debut role! Yay--nothing like Preity to add some much peppy punch to the situation. I loved her character instantly, and I'm glad she was included in this film. It was her character,Preeti, (yep, same name just spelled differently) whose fate I cared for most during the last parts of the film.

Also, I never noticed the age difference between Preity and Shahrukh--although I'd heard it complained about before--until this film. I thought they paired up beautifully in Veer Zaara, but she looked much younger than him here. Still, they have some great scenes (and lines---who could forget the hunka-bunka-bunk coversation?)together, and even a cool dream sequence, also nicely chereographed. Not only that, but Shahrukh proves he had a nice body before Om Shanti Om...

I can't say much more without spoiling the ending. And, trust me, you want to remain surprised here. Just know that even though the movie may have some upsetting elements, its definitely worth it. I watched this film late at night and woke up with the thoughts lingering like a "Dil Se..." hangover. It's just that kind of film... it effects you.

If you've seen the movie, I'd love to hear your thoughts! This is one that I'm sure a lot of people have different opinions about. Although I loved the film, I think I'd have to see it again to really organize my thoughts on the deeper elements. It's something I could watch again tomorrow and realize there were parts I'd missed the first time around.

In the meantime, I'll be working on my next post, also another controversial film--1947 Earth!

Text © 2008 Nida Nazir


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