Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Preity Zinta Scores, Deepa Mehta Bores; Videsh (Heaven On Earth)

(Contains some slight spoilers, but don't let that discourage you from reading; You may have a better experience with Videsh if you know what to expect, and when I discuss the ending, I'll let you know)

There's good news and there's bad news. First, the good news, which can be summed up in two words: Preity Zinta. Just like she did in The Last Lear, Preity proves all those who thought she was only good for "bubbly, Westernized" roles wrong. Dare I say that I saw shades of Tabu in The Namesake in Preity's performance? She obviously worked very hard on this, and it all paid off--her character was the beating heart of Videsh.

As for the rest of the film, let's just say I'm still trying to figure it out.

Videsh starts out promising enough. Chand's family arranges a marriage for her to a man named Rocky, a NRI who lives in Canada. It's a full house; Rocky lives with his parents, his sister, his sister's husband, and their two children. While things are a bit crowded, the family is welcoming enough to Chand and she dutifully accepts her new life. But Rocky's mother is jealous of his new wife, and it doesn't take long for her to put a guilt trip on Rocky that provokes him to treat Chand like dirt. Tension escalates and Chand finds herself in an abusive relationship she is powerless to escape.

The film's gray, gritty photography and simple dialogue made it feel very realistic, but it was a bit slow. Still, I was glued to the screen; After all, it was a Deepa Mehta film. I knew I could expect each scene to get increasingly potent as the film progressed, and at the end it would all erupt in a dramatic climax...Right?

Wrong. What the heck happened? I'm still trying to figure it out. Somewhere along the way, this drama that was only engaging because of its raw performances and in-your-face realistic approach to a messed up situation (as most Deepa Mehta films I've seen) fell off the track and ended up in la-la land. The film lost me when it tried to go all Paheli-ish and actually expected me to believe a cobra had taken on the form of Chand's husband. I'm not kidding.

Chand's coworker, a well-meaning Jamaican woman named Roza, advises her to grind a piece of ginger root and place it in Rocky's drink as a black magic tactic that would cause him to fall madly in love with her. The abuse would stop shortly after. None of this was the problem--I actually felt like Roza's character was detrimental to the story, like she honestly cared for Chand and would save her from this hellhole after her home remedy suggestion proved unsuccessful. But that's not the direction the film chose to take--Instead, after one failed attempt, Chand's black magic went arwy and !Voila! a cobra ended up in her backyard.
This cobra would eventually take up the form of Chand's husband Rocky and provide her aching heart with the love and affection it craved.

If the above paragraph made absolutely no sense to you, imagine how I felt when watching the film.

I love fantasy in film, but when it is well placed! I thoroughly enjoyed Paheli and Pan's Labyrinth. BUT it just didn't fit here! If this was a fantasy film, then it was an incredibly boring one. There was no color, no excitement. And the stage had not been set for something like this to happen!

After doing some reading on Wikipedia I found out that this curve in the storyline was based on an Indian fable. So perhaps I just didn't "get" it, and I don't mean to sound authoritative about a subject I know very little about (such as Indian folklore).

It's very possible that I'm misinterpreting this, and Mehta intended the snake's metamorphosis to be a figment of Chand's imagination, a coping mechanism related to her physically abused state. I'd be willing to buy this, and perhaps it would have even made the film all the more effective. But that still doesn't explain why a cobra ended up in the Ontario, Canada!

All of that being said, Videsh wasn't a disaster, either. The entire cast was amazing, but of course it was Preity I was rooting for. Newcomer Vansh Bhardwaj made me jump in fear every time he looked like he was going to hit Chand. In fact, I wish Mehta would have scrapped the cobra and just used the "real" Rocky more. We could have seen more of the depths of his character, the different mood changes that an abuser can often take. We never saw Rocky's good side, and perhaps if we had we could have empathized with Chand's predicament even more. We could have felt just as torn and heartbroken as she was, and that would have made an effective film. Bhardwaj would have been more than competent to pull it off.

The climax wasn't a complete loss, either. Despite the ridiculous circumstance, my eyes were wide open as I watched Chand reach into the snake pit.

I do feel, however, that the ending left more unanswered questions. Was Chand really going to be safe from Rocky? And if it was that easy to pack up and go, why didn't she leave sooner? I'm a nursing student, so I know that abused women often have to wait until they feel safe to leave a dangerous relationship, but still...this wasn't explained clearly enough in the film.

(***SPOILER END****)

Watch Videsh for Preity--she makes it all worthwhile. Rent it, download it, do whatever you have to do, but please, please don't pay more than $3 for it.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Much-Needed Indulgence...Maine Pyar Kiya

Oh, what to do when you have five papers due and two exams to study for?

Pop in Maine Pyar Kiya, of course!

After all, what could be a better stress reliever than a babyfaced Salman and a ravishing Bhagyashree surrounded by an '80s infused Bollywood?

The answer is nothing, except maybe some chocolate...But watching Maine Pyar Kiya was similiar to that, too. It was like binge-eating a box of chocolate covered cherries--the bursts of syrupy sweetness just kept coming, and I kept shoveling 'em in with a big ol' smile on my face.

Bhagyashree reenacts the Like A Virgin video.

In what I'm convinced must have been one of Salman Khan's most adorable roles ever, MPK was yet another "forbidden" young love story of its era, one that I to keep wanting to lump together with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. It's interesting that the big breakthrough films of the 3 Khans had similar plots, particularly this one and QSQT. You know the cliche...two young lovers kept apart by their disapproving families...Sound familiar? One would think at least one of these would have been tossed aside as a copycat of the others, yet from someone who's seen all three, I can honestly say each one holds their very own and is well deserving of their individual successes as Hindi cinema classics.

Prem has posters of Micheal Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna!

The film was directed by Sooraj Barjatya, and if you disliked HAHK and hated Vivah (or vice versa), don't let that deter you from watching Maine Pyar Kiya. Unlike those two films, MPK is easy to follow and engaging from the very beginning. Also, its super enjoyable--think all the best elements of an 80s teen love story with Bollywood fairy dust sprinkled on top.

An accent from the 80s I still love--lipstick prints!!

It wouldn't be an 80s film without a party scene...

...Or Seema's bad perm!

Suman (Bhagyashree) and her father, Karan(Alok Nath) live in a modest country home. One day, Karan is offered a job abroad, and sends his daughter to live with his beloved friend, Kishan (Rajeev Verma), whom he has not seen or spoke to in years. Because of the depth of this friendship, however, Karan entrusts Suman's well-being to Kishan and sends her to live with his family without a second thought-he's convinced they will treat her like royalty.

While the family is nice enough to Suman, its Kishan's son Prem (Salman Khan) who goes out of his way to make her feel welcome, and the two become fast friends. Here's the first thing I liked about this movie--I felt like Prem was genuinely interested in being Suman's friend and not just trying to get with her. He was drawn to her because he could tell she was a kindred spirit, respecting her and showing her he cared before the romance began.

Of course, since Suman is a breathtaking beauty with a heart of gold, Prem eventually falls head over heels. And once he does, he's committed to being with her. The sacrifices Prem makes for Suman throughout the film made me love Salman Khan's character!

Sure, one could argue that Prem had his crabby moments--For example, after a fight at a party, Prem tells Suman to fix him a plate rather curtly, which she gladly does in submission. This attitude may be frustrating to some who hate this Hindi film cliche, and while I don't embrace it myself, for some reason I didn't sweat it in this film. You see, it was clear to me that Prem respected Suman so much--and that she treated him with honor because she wanted to, not because she was a woman and he was a man.

Hands down, this performance marked one of my favorites from Salman Khan (the others being HAHK and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). He was so adorable here!Mostly for the reasons I've listed above. his final scene alone with Alok Nath and Bhagyashree, he proves he can really and truly act! And here I thought he was the worst overacter ever...

Bhagyashree. Do I need to say anymore than that(except maybe COME BACK BHAGYASHREE!!!)? She was awesome! First of all, her name even sounds cool, as most one-part movie star names do. Bhagyashree. Dharmendra. Kajol. Nargis. I've decided that if I ever make it big in Bollywood I'm going to go with a one-part name, and its not going to sound too feminine, either. But getting back to can I describe her? She was something like Nargis--Grace, class, poise, and sensuality all wrapped into one. At times, her facial expressions even reminded me of Marilyn Monroe!

That's a wall covered in Salman Khan photographs, just so you know.

The film is NOT just sugarpie romance scenes like Vivah was, for the most part. There's a twist to this happy tale--You see, Kishan is a very sucessful businessman. In a quest to gain a part of Kishan's empire, his business partner devises a plan to get Prem to marry his daughter Seema. Along with Seema's brother, Jeevan (played by Mohnish Behl), the three make up a trio of scheming villains that bring out every trick in the book to try and keep Prem and Suman apart.

Though all three are far from nice, Mohnish Behl surprised me with his sleaziness as Jeevan. This guy played one of the nicest characters in HAHK and here he was, picking on poor Bhagyashree? But alas, he was perfect for the part, deliciously good at being bad. His dashing handsomeness made him seem all the more dangerous!

Other key players are Alok Nath as the loving father he can portray so well and Reema Lagoo (yay!) as Prem's mother. Rajeev Verma plays Kishan and Laximikant Berde has a small but non-irritating comedic supporting role. AND...

In true Barjatya fashion, there's a crucial animal in the film--a white pigeon that also wants Prem and Suman to be together. And let me tell you, HAHK's little dog Tuffy is no patch on this butt-kicking bird. He even plays a critical role in the climax that will have you LAUGHING OUT LOUD(I sure did!).

As far as the music is concerned, let's just put it this way--My favorite song in the film revolves around a pigeon and a love letter.Doesn't that just sound like a fairy tale? The pigeon carries the letter away to the handsome prince while the princess sings a melody in her nightgown. And the tune was super catchy, too! I've included the Youtube Video for those who want to reminisce BUT if you haven't seen the film, please, please wait! Its the surprising little details like these in MPK that won my heart because I didn't know they were coming.

Don't you just love the climax of this song with Bhagyashree's thick shiny black hair blowing in the wind and the city lights in the background?
There's nothing more I can say about this film except that I loved every minute of it. After my recent viewing of Aa Gale Lag Ja, I seem to be on a streak of guilty pleasures in Indian cinema that have me overusing my exclamation point key. But I'm not complaining, and I apologize if I sound like I'm overdoing it. I just can't help it--I really get that excited about this stuff (hence the blog)!

Would I be a glutton for punishment if I said I loved Maine Pyar Kiya more than Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge? Because guess what...I sure did!


Friday, April 10, 2009

I've Got To See More Films Like This One...Aa Gale Lag Jaa

My dil is smiling right now. It just is.

How could it not be after watching Aa Gale Lag Jaa, the 1973 film starring Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore(along with a really cute kid)? Aside from two bothersome scenes (We'll discuss them later), the movie is just a bag full of goodies. I was grinning from ear to ear from start to finish...Take a peek at some of this stuff:

You know you're in for a real treat when the first line in the entire film is this:

Surely if I was going to star in a movie, this would be my opening line of choice as well!

We have Shashi on roller skates:

Sharmila looking stunning in every scene (I'm convinced she's the type of gal who can wear anything and make it look classy)...

A smitten Shashi...

Shashi's a single dad(How often do we see this in Bollywood?)!

...And Sharmila's a doctor!

Letter Mix ups!

The song that inspired the title for Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na!

A cute little kid that melted my heart every time he smiled (Or frowned, for that matter)!

Ice Cream!

Musical Chairs (I love musical chairs! I want to go to a grown-up party where this game is played--Wouldn't that be fun?)

Long-lashed Shashi pines for his love in this woeful-yet-touching song (Don't worry, Sharmila--its YOU he's singing about!)

Even the "villain" in this film joins in on the happiness when all's said and done!

As you can see, Aa Gale Lag Ja was brimming with goodness. Yet it was also more--a snappy little love story with misunderstandings and mishaps keeping our hero and heroine apart. You know, one of those stories that has you screaming at the tv, because only you,the viewer, know the real truth. Luckily (and surprisingly, because this is Bollywood), the film doesn't drag any of this out past much more than what it needs to---everything unravels at just the right time.

As if you needed any other reason to watch this, allow me to give you one more. The music! The songs in Aa Gale Lag Jaa are delightfully catchy and sweet, every single one. Like most of my Bollywood faves, every time I listen to this soundtrack it warms my heart as I reminisce about the corresponding scene from the film. Ahh, I can't say it enough--I'm so glad I found Bollywood!

I browsed through some of the other reviews on Aa Gale Lag Jaa and found that many listed all the film's ambrosial elements (Pony rides!Elephants!Shashi!Sharmila!)as I have. I certainly didn't mean to be redundant--but its just that its hard not to do exactly that when describing this film. Its truly a bag of treats, one I know I'll keep reaching in for more! (I know, I've used wayyy too many exclamation points in this review)...

(***WARNING***Slight spoilers ahead, but nothing that would prevent you from enjoying the film if you read***)

Which brings me to the bad news. Yes, believe it or not, I do have something negative to say about Aa Gale Lag Jaa. Two things, in fact. First (and if you've seen the film, I'm sure you knew this was coming) was the fact that Preeti (Sharmila's character) became pregnant after Prem (Shashi's character) slept next to her, saving her life (After a sudden accident that left her hypothermic) by transferring his body heat onto her. What?? Did I miss something??? Perhaps I was being naive, but I really assumed directly after watching this scene that Prem and Preeti merely slept next to each other in the nude (Strictly for medical purposes, of course). Now I was supposed to believe that...oh, never mind. Okay. It's Bollywood. You just have to take some things with a grain of salt, na?

The second thing that disturbed me was the scene where Preeti's fiance (because you know there's always a fiance lingering around keeping our protagonists apart), who also happens to be a doctor, starts whipping Prem's son (the kid from above photographs). Now, as I said, this little guy's as cute as a button--and also happens to be disabled. Who would want to watch him get hurt? Definitely not me! It helped a little that the doctor was actually doing this as a legitimate part of the boy's treatment, still stung nonetheless.

(****END of slight spoilers*****)

Those two things aside, it wasn't hard to love this film. Heck, I'd probably say its found a spot on my Favorites List--at least for now. If you need a dose of sunshine in your life, pop this in--you'll be grinning by film's end!

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you that are hanging in there and still visiting/reading/commenting on my blog. School's been crazzzyy...I've had very little time for recreational things such as writing and Bollywatching. But--have no fear! I've got quite the pile of films to dig into, and school's almost out in 3 weeks...Stay tuned!:)


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