Monday, June 29, 2009

Okay, That Didn't Feel Like Bollywood, But...Pukar (2000)

Watching Pukar was, for me, a little bit like watching a "pretty good" Hollywood drama from the early 90s or so. The acting was better than decent, there was an all star-cast, and the story unfolded at a reasonable pace. That's not a bad thing, and apparently worked to its advantage; the film walked away with two national film awards and a boatload of other nominations, including Best Actor for Anil Kapoor (right on!) and Best Actress for Madhuri Dixit (yeah!).

It was strange; On the one hand, I found the story of Major Jaidev Rajvansh, a well-respected and admired officer of the Indian army who is horribly betrayed by somebody closest to him, incredibly absorbing and well-portrayed by a strong all-star cast. On the other, I found Pukar sort of dull. Where was the color? Where was the creativity in the song picturizations? My inner masala child desperately wanted to know.

Anil Kapoor, looking dashing in an army suit (quite the change from the Micheal Jackson white-sock look he sported in the last film I saw him in, Mann), plays Jai, an Army officer on a short return visit to his hometown. Madhuri Dixit is Anjali, Jai's childhood friend who also happens to be in love with him, something that is clear to everyone but Jai himself. Or is it? In the beginning of the film, its hard to determine whether Jai is simply ignorant to Anjali's feelings or if he just doesn't give a care.

Either way, the whole town(including Jai's parents) seems to share the same opinion-- Anjali's so gorgeous and such a natural on the dance floor, there's no way she's not going to snag him, right? I mean, it's have to be MISS INDIA walking through the door for Jai to turn his head the other way...

Which, of course, is exactly what happens. Jai meets Pooja(Namrata Shirodkar), a.k.a. the current Miss India, and is instantly hooked. He spends most of his time trying to convince her and her parents, who are adamantly against Princess Pooja marrying an army officer, that the two should be married. The rest of his time is spent dodging Anjali whenever possible, unless she is needed for moral support (or lunch--grrr!).

After an embarrassing encounter between Jai, Pooja, and herself, Anjali is approached by a crooked man who works for a sinister terrorist named Abhrush (played by Danny Denzongpa, scarrry looking!!). In desperation, Anjali strikes a deal with said crooked man and sells her soul to the devil, so to speak, in one of the most messed up betrayals I've ever seen.

But man, it was so satisfying to watch. Things horribly backfire--no spoilers here, I'm sure you could guess that they would, and I've only just taken you into the real story--but its the characters and how their lives are affected by this one event that makes Pukar interesting. As you can see, Jai's far from a likable character in the first half of the film. Which ends up really working to the film's advantage--at first, you're like, yeah, stick it to him, Anjali! But then the second half rolls around and you get to thinking. Poor Jai. Poor unfortunate, circumstantially abused Jai (Did they really have to rip his army uniform to shreds--WHILE HE WAS STILL WEARING IT?!?)!

This is a prime example of another one of the film's strengths--the characters were so human! You loved them, you hated them, you forgave them. Even Pooja showed us Miss India could be one heartless witch!

But, ahh, did I mention how refreshing it was to see Madhuri in a role that gave her not only more to do than dazzle and dance, but also required her actions to be a pivotal piece in the plot?! I was elated! Yes, I know Mads is brimming with awesomeness, and she has to little but flash a smile and float across the dancefloor to show she's the whole package, but...she can also really act!! Note to directors---Use her!! (A moot point, it seems, since she's sort of "retired", and I realize I haven't seen enough of her films to solidify this opinion, but I love her so much to let her talent pass me by without mentioning it).

This was my first Anil/Madhuri film, and I realize, given the story, that it may not have been the most popular choice to start with. Because they were already an established pair in Bollywood, I'm guessing that most of Pukar's initial audiences were invested in Jai and Anjali ending up together from the very beginning. But not me--they had to really sell it to me. Which they did, thanks to their commanding screen presences and oodles of talent (there's a very heated argument/exchange/revelation between the two of them in the second half that literally gave me goose bumps, it was so emotionally charged).

The supporting cast was strong, including Om Puri, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, and Farida Jalal (as maa--yes!!). Most characters were given enough screen time to establish their presence in the film, but there should have been wayy more of Jai's parents, especially given the powerful encounter that follows this screenshot:

But alas, onto the negatives, of which were significant enough to mention. As I said above, there just wasn't enough creativity from a visual aspect. A dash of color or masala madness would have done the trick; After all, music was by A.R. Rahman! Yet most of the good songs seemed wasted against ho-drum deserts and waterfalls (which I normally love, as long as the settings and outfits change during the song picturizations, barely done here). The exception, of course, is "Kay Sera Sera" (Que Sera Sera?), a tune whose brilliance was done justice by Madhuri's vibrant facial expressions and graceful dance moves (along with a cameo by Prabhu Deva).

Since I expected to dislike this film (after I heard someone call it Puke-kar, lol, and you know who you are ;)), I was happily surprised to find it, for the most part, watchable, if a bit bland. Next up in Anil/Mads territory? Beta, a film I know next to nothing about and bought on a whim. Any other recommendations? I'll take 'em!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There's Just Something About This Movie...Yeh Vaada Raha (1982)

After having a lovely filmi conversation with Anarchivist (and a few cocktails), I decided it was time to step into the Glorious Kingdom of Rishi Sweaters...

I get the feeling that Yeh Vaada Raha, the 1982 Ramesh Behl film starring Rishi Kapoor, Poonam Dillon, and Tina Munim, was an awesome place to start (despite the fact that my subtitles were pretty sparse and all in CAPS--frustrating). Also, there's a lot of screencaps here, but its just that kind of film!

It's love at first sight for Vikram (Rishi Kapoor), who meets Sunita (Poonam Dillon) in a temple and is instantly besotted.

And who wouldn't be? Sunita is gorgeous!

She rejects him, though, despite his efforts. Left with nothing but a cold shoulder, Vikram turns to his friend, Gogi (Rakesh Bedi), a painter, and sings a colorful song describing her beauty.

And--!Voila!...Before Vikram knows it, Gogi has composed a blind portrait of Sunita based on the words of the song (Which, sadly for me, were not translated)!

Sunita turns out to be a singer. She continues to reject Vikram until one night when she is mocked onstage (ironically, due to Vikram's actions--he has Gogi's paintings on Sunita hung all over town in an effort to locate the poor girl).

Vikram comes to the rescue by singing the song for her (and again, it wasn't translated so I don't know what he said, but it worked because Sunita falls for him after this).

Their romance blooms in no time at all, and is filled with lots of lovey-dovey, sunshiny things. Vikram, thankfully, doesn't stop treating Sunita like a queen just because he's won her over. To the contrary, he's quite the teddy bear boyfriend, sending a marching band over to sing to her on her birthday and gifting her with a promise ring. The two discuss marriage.

Of course, its not so easy. While Sunita appears to live modestly as a lounge singer, Vikram comes from a rich family. When Maa comes to town (Played by a witchy Rakhee), trouble begins to brew.

Maa despises Sunita from the start, and after meeting her, leaves in such a huff that she doesn't notice her saree is hanging out of the car door:

Meddling Maa digs up some damaging information about Sunita in an effort to discourage her son from dating her, but Vikram will have no part of it. He doesn't care about Sunita's past--He loves her and vows to marry her. I really appreciated the fact that Vikram didn't give this a second thought; He didn't even bring it up to Sunita. He gathers his beloved and his pal Gogi and the two race off to the temple to elope.

However, tragedy strikes and the three are in a horrible car accident. Though Vikram's badly injured enough to be confined to a hospital bed, its Sunita who suffered most from the collision. Her face is badly disfigured, and her doctor gives this information to none other than Vikram's mother, of course (Why???!!).

Of course, Maa uses this to her advantage and tells Vikram Sunita is dead.

Crushed, Vikram retreats into a mourning period of doing little but talking to Sunita's painting:

Meanwhile, Sunita is shipped off to a plastic surgeon specialist, a kindly doctor played by...What?! Shammi Kapoor!!I had no idea that was him until just now when I looked it up to write this paragraph. I knew he looked familiar--now I like the Good Doc even more!

Sunita undergoes multiple plastic surgeries, "8-10", according to her doctor. It must have been pretty bad--just check out the looks on the doctor and nurses' faces:

Not the most tactful medical staff, are they?

Meanwhile, Vikram continues to grieve for Sunita...

Anyways, after some time, Sunita's face is repaired. However, the doctor never knew what she looked like prior to the accident, so he had to use his imagination and give her a whole new face (Where's Gogi the Painter when you need him?)

Lovely as it is, its not Sunita's original face, and here's where Tina Munim steps in. Sunita freaks out, understandably, but eventually is calmed by the Good Doctor and starts imagining her new face and new life with Vikram, to the tune of the very catchy title song:

When Sunita goes to tell Vikram she's all better, she's hit with a crushing bomb--Vikram is engaged to somebody else. Unbeknownst to Sunita, all of this was arranged by Vikram's mother, and agreed to by Vikram only because he thought Sunita was dead.

Of course, Sunita leaves without revealing her identity, and Vikram continues to believe she is dead. She assumes a new name, Kusum, and vows to forget her past. Its not until one day Vikram hears her singing that he recognizes her voice as Sunita's.

I'll leave you here, because there's still the chunk of plot left to unravel, and if I go any further I'll start sobbing like I did while watching the rest of this heartbreaking-yet-lovely tearjerker. Will Sunita reveal her true identity to Vikram? Will Vikram accept Sunita's new face? Will Maa's deception be revealed?

As you can see from my screencap enthusiasm, I really enjoyed this film. It was just so touching and sweet, and I found that I warmed easily to sweater-clad Rishi. The songs were catchy and hummable, and I'll probably bounce over to Itunes to download them after posting this.

While both Sunitas were good, I found that Tina Munim brought more life and vitality to the role. I'd love to see more of her!

That's not to take too much away from Poonam Dhillon, the first Sunita. She was delicately beautiful, reminding me physically of a cross between Bhagyashree and Rekha. But, though I enjoyed her, I found her Sunita to be a little less thrilling than Tina's.

On a final note, I thought it was very considerate of the filmmaker to use the same voice to dub both actresses playing Sunita (since plastic surgery on the face wouldn't change one's voice). And, as I discovered while looking up the year of this film, that voice belonged to none other than Jaya Bachchan!!

Though not very realistic otherwise, this film was so touching that its a new favorite. I'd recommend it wholeheartedly, but warn to keep a box of tissues on hand--I was crying like a baby!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bitten By...The Masala Bug??...Amar Akbar Anthony

First of all, let me apologize for abandoning the blog once has been crazy hectic, but rest assured, I've been spending the time accomplishing things that are relevant to Bollyblogging, such as: 1) I attended the 2009 Boston Bollyblitz Meetup and 2) completed all of my classes in the most stressful semester I have ever experienced (so that I can get a good job to support my Bollywood DVD shopping sprees).

But make no mistake--I've still been managing to squeeze in some good ol' movie watching through it all...How else could I make it through the day to day grind without a good dose of this:

Amar Akbar Anthony marks one of my very first attempts to tread the waters of classical masala. And after my personal lackluster reactions to Deewar and Suhaag (Beloved films by many that I promise to retry before my upcoming reviews), I was beginning to think that perhaps, sadly, classical Hindi masala madness just wasn't for me...

But then I popped in Amar Akbar Anthony and--something clicked. I found AAA to be such a wondrous experience--On the one hand, it was so utterly ridiculous that I was laughing out loud. But on the other, it was so gosh darn enjoyable that I lapped it up like sugar in a bowl. And then it hit me--that's the whole point of classical masala, isn't it?

The gorgeous Neetu Singh

Similar to the other masala films I've seen, AAA begins with a poor family. Nirupa Roy plays maa, as she does so well. Pran pays the father, Kishanlal, who, upon his release from prison, comes home to find his wife ill with TB. He goes to visit his rich "friend" Robert for help, but is ridiculed and mocked instead.

A confrontation between Robert and Kishanlal ensues, resulting in Kishanlal's separation with his wife and three sons. I won't go too much into detail here, as this is the brief summary of events, but rest assured most of this is explained much as it needs to be in the film.

The three sons are then separated from each other, and found by three different outside characters. Amar is adopted by a Hindu police officer, Akbar is taken in by a Muslim tailor, and Anthony is raised by a Catholic priest(Can you guess which one will grow up to be Amitabh Bachchan?).

Of course, its Anthony (which I only happened to know from the parody segment in Gol Maal-and the readers who were kind enough to explain it to me!). This was the first (and granted, I haven't seen many) "older" Amitabh film that I really, really liked him in. He was great in Deewar, true, but had sort of an icy and conceited quality that was perhaps necessary in order to portray Vijay. Here, Anthony was funloving, goofy, and even a bit awkward(he loses two fights!). If you've ever heard the "Easter egg song" mentioned, here's the movie it came from (I've included the youtube video below). Quirky and lovable, Amitabh and Parveen make one of the cheesiest songs I've ever seen an instant favorite. Despite all of this, Big B was still smooth enough to make this one of his iconic roles (there's a great mirror scene following the egg song). Clad in an array of assorted colored pleathers and bell bottoms that looked supersoft to the touch, Anthony showed me a glimpse of what made Amitabh Bachchan so special to his fans--After all, who else could pull off all that chest hair? :P

Rishi Kapoor plays Akbar, a.k.a. King of Qawwali, and lives up to his nickname in not one, not two, but three songs(ok, only two of them are really qawwalis, but Rishi gets the most songs in the entire film mostly to himself and I'm definitely not complaining). Quite the cutie pie, Rishi lights up the screen (literally) in every song picturization he has. I've included my favorite one below, in which he romances none other than real life wife Neetu Singh (though I'm not certain on whether or not they were yet together when this film was made).

The whole thing mesmerizes me, from the song itself to Rishi's colorful attitude (and outfit), and Neetu's striking beauty alongside that red rose and black veil...

Amar is played by Vinod Khanna, and what a hottie he turned out to be! Though there were times I swore he was wearing blush...

As a police officer, Vinod has one of the more serious roles in the film, but ironically enough, during the title song he's given the most comical disguise of the three brothers.

While its obvious from the beginning that Akbar's girlfriend will be played by Neetu Singh, the other two women were welcome surprises (since I'd purposely read very little about this film before viewing it).

Anthony ends up falling for a Christian girl named Jenny, played by the lovely Parveen Babi...

Dizzy with images of Parveen Babi! A nice place for anyone to be.

Parveen's such a beauty to begin with, but she brought the same golden-hearted cheer to her role that Anthony did to his, making them a funloving addition to the already likable Neetu and Rishi coupling. And while Jenny seems rather softspoken and meek in the beginning, we get to see she's got much more of a backbone in later scenes. And, as in Deewar, poor Parveen always seems to get attacked in her own home. But look at the way she books it in a pair of high heels!

And, also, where can I find a hat like this? I used to have one similar, but can't seem to find it!

Amar's romance begins on the wrong foot with a seemingly fiesty yet misunderstood young woman named Laxmi played by none other than Shabana Azmi!

One of the only disheartening things I found in this film was the under-use of Amar and Laxmi. Much of the romantic screentime in the film was granted to Parveen and Amitabh, and while Neetu and Rishi still had their songs, Vinod and Shabana were left with little to do. After the two warm up to one another in their first segment, we see only a glimpse of their life together as Laxmi hangs Vinod's clothes to dry while he rests in a hammock.

I wanted more of these two!

Another disappointment I had with the film once again involves Amar. In the end, when the three brothers are reunited (and you know they will be, so I'm not going to post a spoiler alert), we miss out on Amar and Anthony's reunion. This would have been neat to see, especially after their fight in Anthonyville, yet its skimmed over with nary a dialouge.

Still, Amar Akbar Anthony is more than just the delightful tale of three long lost brothers. One of the best jodis in the entire film was the hilarious long term rivalry between Robert (played by Jeevan) and Kishenlal (played by Pran).

These two enemies were pure masala entertainment in each and every scene they shared, equipped with stolen boxes of gold, bullet proof vests, and midnight kidnappings!

And it wasn't just the songs in AAA that were brilliant (and they all were--my favorites were "Parda Hai Parda" and the title song); the background music was just as memorable and fun. When Anthony and Amar fight, we're treated to a flamingo-eqse tune to keep the mood upbeat. When Anthony first spots Jenny in the church, he chases her to a catchy tune that echoes the Western image of their characters.

I feel like this is one film I could sit down and watch again and again--and notice something different every time. While laugh-out-loud ridiculous at times, it was such a delight from start to finish that I'm left feeling like I need to see more of classical masala. Needless to say, this film was perfect for a group watchalong at our Boston Bollyblitz Meetup. Our playful banter made for a hilarious rewatching experience, and I think I'll always remember our comments every time I watch this. What a great film to toast new friendships!

Before "Chaiya Chaiya" there was Neetu and Rishi!

Here are some burning questions we came up with (all in jest, of course):

*What ever happened to Maa's TB? Was it magically cured or swapped for blindness?

*Did somebody actually misspell Anthony's sign and was too lazy to make a new one or was this just another glimpse of Manmohan Desai's brilliant humor?

*Did Maa actually think delivering flowers to Akbar would be a legitimate reason to stop a surgical procedure?

*How could Robert and Zebesko think that by listening to Jenny's pulse, Dr. Salma could tell she was pregnant?

*In the beginning, when little Amar buries a pistol in the dirt (to "hide it from Anthony", no less), his father seems more concerned with why he is doing so instead of why he had the gun in the first place!!

There are many, many more--and, of course, these unanswered gems are part of what make this film so great. Can you come up with any? :)


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