November 27, 2008

Bombay meri jaan

This isn't the first terror attack in Mumbai. But it is the first time that I am completely speechless about the enormity of the attack. God bless the brave police and navy men who are still working hard to end this trauma.

This is intolerable. I wish I had joined the armed forces and could have been some use to my country.

Update, 11/29: The fighting is at last over. I still cant fathom the reality of this incident. Have finally heard back from all the friends I was trying to contact in Bombay, and at least that worry has gone. I am still heartbroken about the devastation- many beautiful memories of that city remain with me, though I haven't visited in many years now. However, now that this incident has occurred, I think it is time to go back, and show my faith in this city I love so much.

If you have lost a loved one or suffered a loss, please know that I and many others pray for you everyday. Let us all be strong and figure out how we can participate in strengthening Bombay's confidence.

November 18, 2008


Title: Lekin
Year: 1990
Cast: Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia, Hema Malini

In between the real and the unreal lies the ethereal, and there are few Bollywood movies that talk about that in-between place without making a horror movie- Lekin (trans: "But") is a rare gem.

Vinod is Samir, a government inspector sent to Rajasthan to evaluate a princely estate. As he embarks upon his journey, he meets a mysterious woman (Dimple) in the train, whom he later finds is called Rewa. He is intrigued by her and puzzled by the enigma that she is, but she disappears before dawn.

Have you ever seen such beautiful opening credits?

Samir begins his work in Rajasthan, and begins to meet Rewa more and more often, though he has no idea who she really is.

At the same time, he begins to hallucinate visions of bygone eras- of a cruel king, a group of folk singers, of desert storms- is he losing his mind? or is he really time travelling? or is someone making him aware of crimes of the past, and for what purpose? His friend Shafi (Amjad Khan! who totally rocks it!) and his wife Sharda (Beena) are afraid for his sanity. With Dimple looking so amazing, can you blame the poor man?

The movie proceeds to its conclusion with so many foreshadowings and half-hints, that like Samir, the viewer is also completely befuddled- who the heck is Rewa and why is she so mysterious?? Will Samir ever know the truth- and whose beautiful voice calls him to the desert- who has been lost in the desert's storms for such a long time, and has not yet reached home?

1- Vinod was back from the break he had taken in the mid80s, and was looking suitably gorgeous. The desert scenery complemented him beautifully.
2- Dimple rocks Rajasthani outfits, and she knows it (dont believe me? Check out Rudaali (1993))- she acts with her eyes here- and they speak volumes- often during the movie, I honestly didn't need her to speak at all- her expressions convey everything, which is what the movie needed.
3- The real star: the songs, the music, the lyrics, the singers- I've worn out 3 (yes, 3!) copies of the soundtrack since my teens, and have the majority of it committed to memory. Gulzar and Lata appropriately received the national award- each song is a beautiful gift from the duo and Hridaynath Mangeshkar. I am usually not a Suresh Wadekar fan, but he moves me to tears with the "Surmayi" song.
4- I wish there was a national award for "best locales"- because the Rajasthan featured here deserves it- the sand dunes, the colors, the sand, the unrelenting yet accepting desert- it is truly a visual feast, cliched though the term may be.

Final thoughts:
I love this movie- there is a lot of solace to be found in it. The yearning, the loneliness, the poetry of the desert all reach out to the viewer; and in the end, the real lovers are the music and the desert- both more enduring than their human counterparts.

November 12, 2008

"Taare" update

I am getting a bit worried here- Aamir was supposedly in LA through November 7 to promote "Taare Zameen Par" for the Oscars- but that was a visit comprising less than 10 working days. No doubt he has other commitments, including Ghajini coming up for release real fast, but I really wish more was happening to promote the movie.

Taare also didn't come back with anything from the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and while that isn't the end-all, it does put things in perspective. A lot of lobbying is going to be required ... but we shouldn't worry- Aamir has been there and done that, so he must know what's best for his own movie for sure :) Trusting in the Aamir, and hoping for the best!

November 10, 2008

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Title: Welcome to Sajjanpur
Year: 2008
Cast: Shreyas Talpade, Amrita Rao, Ila Arun, Ravi Kishan, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Yashpal Sharma, Divya Dutta.

I've always loved Shayam Benegal: I've seen so much of his work and cried so copiously through it all, that I am rather wary of it- so much pain and angst always! From Charandas Chor to Nishant to Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda (oh that last one was especially sob-worthy :)), Mr. Benegal is a brilliant director great at angst-ridden, socially education cinema.

So I was pleasantly surprised that while I did shed tears during Welcome to Sajjanpur, some of those tears were also attributable to laughter- its as if he has adopted some qualities of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of cinema, and made it his own. This is a really clever movie- an essential part of my top 10 this year.

The action takes place in a Northern Indian village, where Shreyas lives- despite his Bachelor's degree, like so many of the Indian youth, he hasn't been able to secure a decent job, so he comes back to his village to write his novel. However, his writing skills soon make him the village's letter writer of choise, to the extent that he opens shop in the village marketplace and charges nominal sums to write everything from love letters to petitions to the police chief, as requested.

So many people need his help- the local goon wants his wife to be the elected leader of the village, and therefore petitions the chief of police to arrest the honest transvestite who is standing in the elections. The transvestite in turn petitions for police protection from the goon who may resort to murder to stop him from running. Which letter will work better?

Then there is Ravi Kishen, a low-caste who is in love with a young widow, Rajeshwari- Shreyas writes voluminous love letters, which win the heart of both the widow and her father-in-law- but will the wedding really happen?

Then there is Amrita, whose husband Kunal hasn't returned from Bombay, where he went to work, in years- but will Shreyas be able to write her pleas to him to return- since he is falling in love with her himself?

There is also Ila- whose daughter Divya is unlucky, and no suitable boy can be found for her. What will Divya's fate be- spinsterhood or marriage to a puppy (yes, really!) to remove the evil eye upon her?

In all of this of course is also Shreyas' novel, which must come to fruit inspite of all his distractions and the events unfolding around him.

  1. This movie can be placed in any period of time- the 70s, 80s or the 90s, and would fit right in- the issues and people transcend time. Watch it, and you will see why.
  2. You may think that when the movie ends, you know what happened and why- but the Benegal throws a twist at you, and attributes it to poetic license :)
  3. I really really liked this movie- probably because Shreyas comes out on top and really binds the whole thing together- I really enjoy watching him, and he reminds me very strongly of the everyman that Amol Palekar used to portray- they even resemble each other! Which also reminds me of SRK in the upcoming "Rab ne Bana di Jodi"- he is SO pulling an Amol there it is adorable :D
  4. Amrita Arora just doesn't do anything for me- she suits the role though, and does well enough.
  5. Ravi Kishen is a revelation! Apparently he is legendary in Bhojpuri cinema, which I don't doubt- he acts really well here, and I would love to see more of him.
  6. Divya Dutta and Ila Arun are brilliant in their parts- just wish there had been more of them :)

November 7, 2008

Amitabh and Shashi

I cannot think of Shashi's career without Amitabh, or vice-versa, since their careers have crossed via so many beloved movies. And while I adore Shashi, my feelings about Amitabh are ambivalent- a fine actor no doubt, but probably because I am a product of a later generation, I do not fathom his demi-God status in Bollywood. Shashi, and for that matter several others, are just as fine actors, no? And if both men have acted in so many movies together, why God status for one and not the other? To gain an understanding, I decided to look a little deeper at their careers.

Shashi supposedly had a greater advantage to begin with: he started in movies as the scion of a movie dynasty: the Kapoors; at age 4 in Meena, 1944, and then continued with both cinema and theatre into perpetuity (pretty much). Amitabh's break into the entertainment world came with his parents' move to Delhi in 1955, when his mother became an important part of the theatre scene, and he was drawn into the troupe, presenting before the Nehrus and Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The latter fact initiated his friendship with the Gandhi brothers: Rajiv and Sanjay, and so his entertainment and political seeds were sown.

And there the Shashitabh roads diverged from running parallel to diametrically opposite, for a while: While Shashi grew under the theater and cinema mantle, Amitabh wanted to be an engineer- until my dear father-in-law tutored him in math in Karorimal College, which didn't work out after all, after which he moved on to sell insurance in Calcutta. And there he was to remain until his brother Ajitabh, the business brains of the family, brought along a movie camera from his foreign travels, reminded him of his aptitude towards acting, and helped create a little movie short, exhibiting Amitabh's talents.

It must have been a good short, since it brought Amitabh back into a parallel life with Shashi, with Saat Hindustani, 1969, when Shashi was already 38 movies strong, had broken into Indo-Western movies and had met Jennifer. After that, it was a mere six more years till Deewaar, 1975 brought them together for a partnership that would go on to go down in Bollywood history as probably one of the best collaborations ever. While Shashi's transition from the 60s to the 70s had been pretty smooth, he was fast becoming part of the multi-hero movie phenomenon that started in the 70s- pure Masala, with a capital M.

Amitabh fared better with the masala-fare- he certainly would get the lion's share of screen time: cases in point: Trishul, 1978, Kala Patthar, 1979, Shaan, 1980, Naseeb 1981. The one movie that perhaps irked me the most for this reason was Kabhie Kabhie, 1976, considered as one of Amitabh's better movies. This is the one movie that seeded my incomprehension of the demi-God phenomenon. He certainly had tons of screentime, but most of it was spend being poetic or sullen, in turns-I couldn't see the artistry in that- while Shashi, so I felt, took his second/third lead style role and converted it into something stellar. The one scene where he realises that Rakhi, who played his wife, had an affair before they married is so perfect: he goes from surprise - to despair - to understanding and being at peace with the past- for me, he owned the entire movie with that one perfect scene.

Let it not be thought that I think less of Amitabh as an actor: Zanjeer,1973 and Don, 1978 are strong evidences of his star quality during that time. He rode into the 1980s on the insanely fabulous Mahaan, 1983, and Coolie, 1983, and survived that terrible decade despite of Toofan,1989 and Jadugar,1989.

But somewhere in there, their path's diverged- Shashi got through the 70s with the fabulous Junoon, 1978 and miscellaneous Masala. Moved into the 80s with more Masala, including Namak Halal, 1982 with Amitabh, which again portrayed him more as a second lead than anything else. But then, he had bigger and better fish to fry in the 80s: In Silsila, 1982, which was pure Amitabh, he was stellar in the cameo he did. He was fabulous in Kalyug 1981 (despite a huge star cast), Heat and Dust, 1983 and New Delhi Times, 1986. The 80s, so unkind to everyone else, saw him experimenting with production and intersting cameos: my favorite cameo from Bollywood remains his one scene in Ijazat, 1987 with the 2 words he speaks, "Oh. Mahendra"- which words are the sum total of his understanding of his wife's (Rekha) previous marriage, her relationship with her ex-husband and his own levels of comfort with it.

And then of course came the contemptible 90s-where Amitabh suffered terribly until reinventing himself with Suryavansham, 1999, and moving on to do over 50 movies (arguably the best acting he has done in his career) in the 2000s, all as an older man, without the misuse of hair-dye. Shashi, since the 90s has done comparitively lesser work, and even lesser work of note, except In Custody,1994 and perhaps Side Streets, 1998, his last to date.

So it appears that on-screen longevity definitely lends to demi-God-ness. But I remain largely unconvinced that despite his legend, Amitabh's superlative acting skills are greater than Shashi's, or his other counterparts. Perhaps this belief comes from being a firm Shashi fan, or perhaps it is simply because I need to see more of their movies to convince me otherwise.

November 4, 2008

BR Chopra-

BR Chopra has passed away today, after years of giving us glorious movies like "The Burning Train," "Choti Si Baat,""Waqt" and "Naya Daur." A life well lived sir.

Much love to you.

PS: As Memsaab and Bollyviewer have wisely pointed out, the earlier pic I posted was Yash's! - Blame it on election-night maddness :D and Obama's speech, during which this post was written :D Thanks Bollyviewer- used your pic!

November 3, 2008

A Wednesday

Title: A Wednesday
Year: 2008
Cast: Naseeruddin Shan, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill, Aamir Bahir, Deepal Shaw.

This is definitely a movie at the right time- though it is debatable whether it provides any true answers, or serves more as a mirror of the issues faced by the common man in these times.

Mumbai has a long history of violence- secular, gang-related and the theme of this movie- terrorism -related. And Naseer himself has acted in several movies reflecting terrorism, varying from the crudely jingoistic (Tahelka, 1992) to the commercially spectacular (Sarfarosh, 1999).

In today's Bombay, more has changed than its name- while the gang violence has ebbed somewhat, bomb blasts are the bane of eveyrman's existence- not frequent, but deadly enough to make the administration lose its sleep.

In such an enviornment, it is not unusual that an anonymous everyman (Naseer), would lose his cool sometime- and the results of that would be explosive. While the chief of police, Anupam, has to manipulate politicos to get free reign to do plea bargaining with terrorists, terrorists themselves have greater freedom via access to technology. His team, headed by Aamir and Jimmy take the lead in tracing the source of the blackmailing terrorist- but will they be in time?

So what happens then? The movie pulls enough punches to give you plenty of surprises and yet a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Yet, the movie is deeply disturbing- what if the common man does indeed take the law in his hands? This would hardly render greater security to the general populace- can we afford creation of a renegade sect, turning to violence out of frustration? In this, the movie is reminiscent of "Rang De Basanti," which also showed an eruption- but lacked for real answers.

The movie also exhibits hows "easy access" terrorism has become, with the widespread use of the Internet- how do we deal with educated terrorism? Each one of us has the tools to turn to violence- how do we defer to our better natures, and turn away from school yard behavior of "a slap for a slap"?


  1. They bring in a "hacker" to track the origin of the phone calls to the police. The hacker pinpoints the geographic location in minutes- by running a Flash presentation :S Most hacking is done by coding, not running presentations- and if a layperson like me can see that, the director should definitely be able to.
  2. Jimmy races through the grimy streets of Mumbai in blindingly white sneakers- which remain pristine through the end of the movie.
  3. Naseer's roof-top location seems to have been picked more for the skyline shots than any practical reason.
  4. I hate to judge on the basis of looks- but Deepal Shaw looked terrible. I am not certain if they intended it this way, but she looked positively comically scary. I wish they had hired a make-up person for her- she needed one really badly.
Great stuff:

  1. Naseer draws you in- no matter what he says, or how he acts, he is a consummate actor who pulls you in like a spider draws his victims into his web- in a good way of course.
  2. Anupam is the perfect foil to Naseer, and stands up perfectly to the latter's powerful performance.
  3. Jimmy is beautiful- and it is interesting that his first movie, Maachis (1996) saw him perfectly cast as a terrorist, while he was very good as the frustrated Muslim policeman here. It is unfortunate that his acting talents haven't been channelled as well as they ought.