Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bommarillu--My Own Little DDLJ

This film is my Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

When I first saw DDLJ, I didn't get what all the fuss was about. But then I dug deeper and learned just why it's adored by so many. Although the movie has grown on me considerably, I think I still enjoy hearing about DDLJ and its success more than I do actually sitting down and watching it. Its just so awesome when you consider the film in its entire context, because it really was a turning point in Indian cinema. Bear with me--there's a reason why I bring all of this up!

You see, although I didn't have that initial experience with DDLJ, I grew to appreciate and understand it. So, when I saw this cute little Telugu film starring Siddarth and Genelia, and had my own touching moment with Bommarillu, I got soooo excited...Was this what others felt like when they first saw DDLJ?

Why compare the two? Well, in some ways they're glaringly similar; Both films share the same family values (yet Bommarillu mentions less of these being specific "Indian" values) and explore the oh-so-sweet taste of first love. Thankfully, though, it's nothing like the countless Hindi films that have attempted to mimic DDLJ in the past. Instead, Bommarillu has enough of its own points to make--and does so successfully--so that we never feel like we've been there, done that (or at least I didn't feel that way--there may be a Hindi or Telugu film out there similar to this one that I have yet to see).

Siddhu (Siddarth) is a young man who has lived mostly to please his father (Prakash Raj). As a result, his father ends up controlling every aspect of his life--his career, his clothes, even the way he eats his food.

However, when Siddhu discovers his father has arranged his marriage, he feels its time to put his foot down--yet never actually expresses his feelings to his pop. Instead, Siddhu vows to his friends that he will find his soulmate on his own; And, of course, he does, in a young girl named Hasini (Genelia D'Souza).

While the romance between Siddhu and Hasini blossoms, Siddhu's father continues to plan his son's wedding to the young woman he has chosen. I'm sure you can see where this is going, but there's an interesting catch to the good ol' filmi cliche--Once Siddhu's father discovers his son has been frolicking with some strange girl instead of eagerly counting the days to his wedding, he presents his son with an unexpected challenge; Hasini will be allowed to stay in the family's home for 7 days, and in those 7 days, Siddhu must convince his father that she is suitable for him. If he can accomplish this, he will receive the entire family's blessing. If not, he must marry the girl his father has chosen.

Do you see how this is all very DDLJ--yet with a twist?

I will admit that there were times during the first half that I noticed my mind wandering a little. That could be because I've never heard Telugu before, and relied solely on subtitle reading. I mean, I don't speak Hindi, either, but I've watched enough films that I can sometimes pick up on things that the subtitle guy forgets to translate, or concentrate on the visuals while simply glancing at the words. But with Telugu, I had to watch the bottom of the screen diligently...and it wasn't always easy to do with Siddarth's quirky yet charming smile competing for my attention!

However, once Hasini moved in with the family in the second half, the film got a whole lot more interesting. As Siddhu tries his hardest to get his family to accept his lady love, the relationship between Siddhu and Hasini changes as well. The events that occur and the reactions between the young lovers, their parents, and the entire family is so original and believable that I fell wholeheartedly for Bommarillu and never looked back.

The family values explored in Bommarillu moved me more than the actual love story did. That's not to take away anything from Siddarth and Genelia--they were adorable together, which I'll discuss in the next paragraph--but the scenes at the end between Siddhu and his parents really choked me up. It takes a lot for a familial storyline to resonate with me--My own family's never been close, sadly enough--but Bommarillu did just that. Why? Well, for starters, Prakash Raj and Jayasudha (Siddhu's parents) did an awesome job! You could almost hear the battle in Siddhu's mother's mind as she wrestled between supporting her husband and standing up for her son; And as Siddhu's father explained the reasons for his controlling ways, you just knew it was out of love!

Make no mistake, though--Siddarth and Genelia's love affair still owns much of Bommarillu's charm. Many of their antics reminded me of the joys of my own first love...Waiting by the phone for the "secret ring code"? Done that. Telling every detail to my girlfriends? Of course! Sneaking out for ice cream in the middle of the night? Well, not exactly--I never snuck out--but there's nothing sweeter than ice cream!! It's also worth mentioning that Siddhu tells Hasini at one point that he will not elope with her--but its not because of what his parents will think. He wants Hasini to have a good family, and therefore sticks out the 7 days for her sake. Aww--Now that's selfless love!

Siddarth, obviously, has quite a different role here than the last (and only) time I saw him in Rang De Basanti. While he probably did a better crafted job in that film, he was still the right choice for the role here. Yes, he could be over the top at times, but his comedic expressions (and quirky smile, as I mentioned above) seemed to come naturally for him.

As for Genelia, she completely annoyed me at first, but grew on me as the film progressed. I think I preferred her in Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na!, actually, but learned to love Hasini nonetheless.

Which brings me to, last but not least, the music. And wow, what music! I think I can safely say I loved the entire soundtrack to Bommarillu, both song-wise and picturization-wise. Maybe it had something to do with Siddarth's goofy-yet-suave dance moves, I don't know, but the music alone was enough to capture my heart. I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of "Appudo Ippudo"! Check it out below...

The best part of Bommarillu was the ending, but I don't want to include any spoilers so I won't say too much. But rest assured its completely satisfying... there's even good stuff as the credits roll, too(which, in my opinion, is always the icing on the cake)!

And there you have it--My own little DDLJ, and my very first Telugu film. Special thank you to Nicki for recommending it!


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It's Every Woman's Worst Nightmare...Aishwarya Rai's Moving In and She Wants Your Man!!!...Chokher Bali

Oh, that naughty little Ash. Just because she's the "Most Beautiful Woman in the World" she thinks she can have whoever she wants, doesn't she? :)

Choker Bali, a "passion" play, as the box calls it, is a 2003 Bengali film starring Aishwarya Rai. Set in 1902, it's based off by a novel by Rabindranath Tagore, and is a love quadrangle of some sorts. Ash plays Binodini, a young bride whose husband passes away after less than a year of marriage. As a widow, she lives like a caged bird, eager to fly but trapped by society's restrictions for a woman of her circumstance. Naturally, Binodini aches for more, and one can hardly blame her--she's beautiful, educated, and speaks English well (Not to mention that if I looked like Aishwarya Rai I wouldn't want to be stuck at home in a plaincloth saree, either...I'd be eager to break out the red heels and hit the town, too!).

Jokes aside (and I don't mean to make light of the treatment of widows at all), its of course no way for anybody to live. Yet despite the longing in her heart, Binodini seems to accept her fate and doesn't show any sign of rebelling. Except, well, there's this one nagging thing she just can't seem to shake...

You see, Binodini's husband was not her family's original choice for her. The first man she had been offered to, a young doctor named Mahendra (Prosenjit Chatterjee), had rejected her without ever meeting her face to face. That's right--Mahendra had seen Binodini's exquisite photo and cast it aside, laughable as that may sound considering how beautiful she is. But wait, it gets better--he wasn't the only one who turned her down! His best friend and fellow doctor, Behari (Tota Raychoudhuri) also rejected the proposal. I'm not sure what their reasoning was (What man in their right mind looks at a photo of Aishwarya Rai and says "Nah, no thanks!"?), but perhaps I missed something that would become clear with a second viewing or in reading the book.

Mahendra blows Binodini's photograph to the floor-Wasn't his type, I guess.

While Binodini begins her life as a widow, Mahendra's friend Behari (the second person to turn Binodini down, remember?) is offered the hand of a young woman named Ashalata (Raima Sen). However, he takes Mahendra along with him on his first meeting with the girl. Mahendra, possibly out of competitiveness and a desire to want what somebody else has, decides he wants to marry Ashalata and tells Behari so. Behari, being the ever loyal friend that he is, agrees, and Mahendra and Asha tie the knot instead.

When Asha moves into Mahendra's house, the newlyweds' happiness sparks jealousy amongst the widows of the manor--In particular, Mahendra's mother (Lily Chakrabarti).

Naturally, Mahendra's mother feels the need to vent her anger to someone--and goes to have tea with Binodini, complaining openly about the attention her son gives his new bride. Binodini, with longing in her eyes, listens as she thinks of what might have been had she married Mahendra instead.

This seemingly harmless (and so humanly natural, you can't even get angry with her at this point) envy is heightened when Binodini gets her hands on some poetry that Mahendra has written for his wife. She reads it passionately, almost as if it was written for her, as if the words satisfy the burning desire of her lonely heart. How could a man love and yearn for a woman so much? Binodini seems to ponder this as she reads.

The only person who seems naive to her husband's affection is Ashalata herself. She is coy and flirtatious with him, yet doesn't seem to realize how "lucky" she is (as the women around her keep pointing out) since she's never known any different. In some ways she takes this for granted, thinking his love will be hers and only hers forever. Logically speaking, she's entitled to feel this way (his love should be hers to keep), but unfortunately, this is her first mistake.

Mahendra's mother, who has become quite fond of Binodini, invites her to stay with them at the house. At first, Binodini and Asha become inseperable friends, even coining a mutual pet name "Chokher Bali" (which is translated as "Sand in the eye"--and if anyone can elaborate on that a little better, because I have a feeling it goes deeper than the literal translation, please do so!).

While Asha's frienship seems to be genuine, Binodini's loyalty is suspicious from the very start. At first, she seems to live vicariously through Asha's stories of married life, probing and encouraging her along the way.

But then we see Binodini trying to use her sex appeal to her advantage--she casually lets her saree fall and expose her smooth back in Mahendra's sight... she appears cool and aloof when he is around...she even flirts with Behari. Man, Ash really works it here--she plays all her cards, using every ounce of sensuality her luminous good looks provide.

Of course, she and Mahendra end up having an affair. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you this--their tryst, and how it affects the people around them, is the real story of Chokher Bali.

Will Ashalata find out? Will Mahendra leave Asha for Binodini? What will Mahendra's mother say once she discovers the truth? How does Behari fit in--and, has he ever really gotten over losing Ashalata? All these questions and more make up the remainder of this deeply emotional film.

I have to be completely honest and admit that I'm not sure how I really feel about Chokher Bali. On the one hand, its a compelling drama with stellar performances that I could watch again and again. But on the other, it makes me very angry--Angry with Binodini, angry with Mahendra, and angry at the way women are expected to prize their husbands and gravel at their feet when they decide to go astray. I suppose this is what the movie intends to do--at no point did it come across as a sunshiney film--and in that respect it suceeds. But a lack of reasoning on Mahendra's part (if he supposedly loved his wife sooo much, can he really just turn off his desire for her like a switch in favor of another? Scary, when you think about it), and a rapidly diminishing level of respect for the protagonist left me feeling a little cold. Still, its definitely worth a watch --and probably a rewatch, because I get the feeling there's a lot more I'd pick up on with subsequent viewings.

Like I said above, I found it hard to believe that Mahendra's heart was so fickle. When the film began, I thought he and Ashalata were a darling couple with that heartwarming factor that makes me sigh blissfully when I hear a "love after marriage" story. He spoiled and doted on her like a child , then turned around and devoured her passionately in the bedroom. One could argue that he treated her like a toy, as a plaything that existed solely for his satisfaction. I didn't get that at all from their relationship--In fact, it reminded me a little of Rhett's love for Scarlett in Gone With the Wind.

In fact, up until the affair, Mahendra reminded me a lot of Clark Gable. He was regal, classy, and handsome--I could practically smell the soft mixture of cologne and tobacco on his shirt while watching him onscreen. But then he slept with Binodini and became weak, slimy, and completely unappealing instead.

Don't get me started on Binodini. Perhaps its because I liked Ashalata so much, and really wanted her to win in the end, that I became increasingly unsympathetic to Binodini's fate. I just didn't get how she could betray her "Bali" so...and Aishwarya's obvious beauty made it even easier to hate this woman, since she seemed to use it to her advantage so much.

That's not to say that the performances weren't superb--they absolutely, positively were. Ash was at her subtle best--She played her role solemnly and effectively, sometimes saying very little while conveying a wide range of thoughts and emotions. Even her makeup, as it was in Jodhaa-Akbar, was low-key (a look I think suits her very well). And what a vamp she was, seducing Mahendra with those cat-shaped emerald eyes and rose-petal pink lips! If only she'd used that approach in Umrao Jaan (a performance I felt she could have played a bit more seductively)! There was only one scene in Chokher Bali that I can remember offhand where she did that shriekly laugh--I love Aishwarya but that damn laugh really gets under my skin--but, other than that, she was perfect.

Raima Sen was equally outstanding as Ashalata. I loved her childlike innocence, her gullibility and, as I said above, I was rooting for her in the entire film, not Binodini.

The entire cast was physically chosen to perfection. Mahendra's classic good looks made him believably desirable (at least until I realized he was a pig, but I won't get into that again). Behari was attractive enough, but lacked Mahendra's charm. Ashalata, while strikingly beautiful in her own right, was still outshone by the flawless glow of Binodini's ethereal beauty. Yet the two women were somewhat identical, appearing almost as mirror images in certain scenes--another brilliant move by the director.

I hate to say it (and no disrespect to Raima Sen, because I think she's gorgeous, too), but its almost as if the film wanted for us to see Binodini as a more exquisite, celestially beautiful version of Ashalata. Perhaps to make us see through Mahendra's eyes? That he'd chosen his wife, then found something his egotistical, pigheaded mind deemed as "better"? To be fair, I do think Mahendra's lust was based on more than just Binodini's looks. They were both educated and perhaps he felt more drawn to her intellectually. But still--I felt so bad for poor Ashalata!

The pace of the film is fast at first, much different than the slower pace of most Hindi films, but then, this isn't a Hindi film at all. Towards the end it dragged a little but never to the point that I lost any interest. I think I was just eager to see how it would all turn out, and many times when I thought the end was near it just kept going. But make no mistake--overall, this is a very interesting film and deserves a look for Aishwarya's performance alone.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Gol Maal (1979)

Yes, Yes, YEEESSS!!! I've finally found a Bollywood comedy to love!

Ahh, I've struggled so to get here. I know I haven't been making the best choices, but for a long while I didn't know where to start. Gol Maal was recommended to me by Doc Bollywood and was a favorite on Shweta's Mac N' Cheese Movie Poll, so I just knew this was going to be a good one (Shweta and Sanket will never steer you wrong!)

Who can resist a face like this?

I was smiling as soon as Gol Maal started. As the opening credits roll, we see Amol Palekar and friends singing the title song in a happy little circle. Man, just the expressions on these guys faces are comedic enough, especially Amol Palekar:

Amol plays Ram Prasad Sharma, a recent college grad living with his sister. Knowing he'll be looking for a job, his uncle suggests he apply for an interview at his friend's firm. But there is a catch: The uncle's friend (Bhavani Shankar, played by Utpal Dutt) is extremely picky about who he hires (He even has a plaque in his office that reads, "WORK IS GOD"). As a matter of fact, there are several rules Ram must follow in order to get the job. His uncle tells him that Bhanvani:

1)Hates recommendations, therefore he can't use his uncle as reference.
2)Doesn't want to hire anybody with the least bit of interest in sports (which Ram loves) or music (which Ram also loves--see above images and video)...
3)Has a strong respect for Indian values...
4)Considers having a mustache a sign of strength and confidence!

Ram decides (somewhat reluctantly) to conform to this persona in order to become the ideal candidate for the job. He borrows pyjamas and a kurta from a friend (who happens to be in the film business, which leaves room for some fun cameos!), slicks his hair back, and pretends to have no interest in anything except work and his "rigid Indian values". The interview process goes smoothly, he is hired, the boss is happy, Ram is happy, everyone's happy. Of course, since the entire thing is based on a lie (Ram's carefree personality is miles away from the "New Ram"), we know Ram's headed for trouble.

This guy means business.

Ram's very proud of his new job, and we see him living the "good life", singing, throwing parties, feeding his friends. But when the gang invites him to a cricket match that happens to be going on during work hours, it doesn't take much convincing for Ram to devise a plan to get out of work early. He uses the oldest, riskiest trick in the book: His mother's sick and he has to go see her at once. Of course, since Ram has sort of become Bhavani's pet employee, he agrees and Ram happily attends the game with his pals.

But guess who also shows up at the game!

That's right, the boss himself. Sounds like something that would happen to me, yaar!

Of course, Bhavani's ticked off, and confronts Ram the very next day. Caught on the spot, Ram does the only thing he can do to save his hide: He tells his boss it wasn't him, but his twin brother, Lakshman, that he saw at the stadium. Bhavani actually feels guilty for mistrusting Ram and offers his brother a job at the firm to make it up to him. Ram frantically declines the offer, saying Lakshman is too incompetent for a job like this, since music is more his thing. But Bhavani won't take no for an answer, and counters with a job offer for "Lakshman" as a music tutor for his beautiful daughter, Urmila.

The boss' beautiful daughter.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Ram has to assume two identites, the "New Ram" (which is the polar opposite of the real Ram) and the fictional twin Lakshman a.k.a. "Lucky" (who is actually more like the real Ram, only with a shaved mustache). By day he works for Bhavani in the office, and by night (which looks more like afternoon since its always during broad daylight) he tutors Urmila. Do they fall in love? This is Bollywood--Of course they do!

What follows is mixup after mixup, mishap after mishap, until Ram's lie blows up to enormous proportions. Most of the time I felt like I was watching a sitcom instead of a movie--and that ended up being a good thing! The comedic timing was spot on, the actors looked like they're having a fun, and the movie didn't drag one bit. It was just pure zany, wacky Bollywood fun! Like eating a bowl of mac 'n cheese, indeed!

It's probably no coincidence that Farah Khan chose the names of Shahrukh and Zayed's characters in Main Hoon Naa to be Ram Prasad and "Lucky" Sharma as well. I could see Gol Maal being one of her all time favorites, since this looks like it would be right up her alley!

There are cameos galore in Gol Maal. While I'm sure I missed some of them, the one with Amitabh Bachchan was appreciated, though I didn't get the whole "Anthony Bhai" thing all the way.

I recognized Rekha, Zeenat Aman, and Hema Malini, in a fun song that I really, really wish would have been subtitled because it looked like it was chock full of jokes and cameos!

Although all of the actors contributed greatly to the success of the film (even Ram's friends, who were used very little), Gol Maal belonged to its two leads, Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt. Both of these guys were physically perfect for their roles, as you can probably tell from the images. Utpal fit the part of a grumpy ol' boss like a glove, and Amol...well, let's just say I now have a soft spot for Amol Palekar. His expressions, mannerisms, and goofy smile literally made my day!

Thanks to Gol Maal, this won't be my last venture into Bollywood comedy. It's the most hotch-potched, hilarious thing I've seen in Hindi cinema (yet) and I adored every minute of it!


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