June 21, 2010

On hygiene

Premise: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," so I hear.

After seeing the transformation of Abhishek/ Bacchan Jr. in the past decade, I am compelled to advise him the above mentioned saying.
You don't agree? You must, for he started with this, quite clean looking and certainly endearing,and turned into this; not quite quite:

Still not convinced?

2004- The first time he embraced the dirt- which was fine, since it was so unique, so raw, so macho. Unfortunately, dirt doesn't wear well for too long.

2005- See- even he is surprised how well he looks all clean.

2006- Nope, its back to the scruffy. Doesn't listen, does he?

2007- Still scruffy, and the fair is actually getting oily, dirty and weird. Add to that the bad hairband accessory.

2008- Add to that the Arafat scarf.

2009- Add to that the smarmy smile.
2010- Since that didn't work, convert the smile to a snarl.

Conclusion: The boy needs a shower, a shave and a new stylist.

PS: I swear 2 Jr. B posts in a row were NOT my intention. He jst provides too much fodder for, ahem, "thought."

The Bacchan Family

A day in the life of the Bacchans, post Raavan. Click on the pic to read.
I apologise if this offends you....

June 18, 2010

Mani Ratnam's Bollywood and me

I like Mani Ratnam, and I will probably watch Raavanan, though I'm not too keen on Raavan.

You see, until now, I've not been too happy with his Bollywood products, but in bliss with the Tamil versions. Even though both versions of the movie are supposed to be mirror images of the other, my experience with Mani's Bollywood has simply not been satisfactory.

My problem with his Bollywood movies? The movies begin well, with great songs, great cinematography, great plots, develop into complex situations, and build to a crescendo of a climax. But the end comes quickly- so quickly, that the resolution appears simplistic, when it should be anything but that. Here are my examples, full of the "lovely":

Roja (1992)

Madhoo is a lovely girl of the lovely Southern villages, and marries Arvind, who is in Intelligence, with an "I." Love, songs and great scenery happen. They are transferred to Kashmir for his work, where he is kidnapped by Punkaj Kapur playing terrorist (not that he looks remotely Islamic/Kashmiri/Pakistinian- no matter, maybe he got transferred from another Indian state too). Roja raises hell to have him found, and he goes through hell to get out of the terrorists' clutches, and we are all on the edge of our seats when the climax comes- anything can happen!
And then the terrorist simply lets Arvind go. Right. WTH.


Bombay (1995)

Arvind again! and in the South again! Only this time he is from an Orthodox Hindu family, while his love, a drop-dead gorgeous Manisha, is from a orthodox Muslim family. Lots of tension, lovely songs, lovely scenery and love (inevitably) happen.They run away to grimy Bombay, have lovely (that word keeps coming up- cant help it- its Mani Ratnam- everything is gorgeous) twins. More adorable songs happen- and then the Bombay riots occur. Lots of stress, quite enough dying. The couple even manage to misplace their kids. In the middle of the riots!
And then they find the kids, and its all resolved in a short, snappy speech. WTH.

Dil Se (1998)

Manisha again! But this time in the gorgeous North East! Laddakh! Bodos! Shahrukh plays a radio journalist from New Delhi, who falls in love with her, not knowing her name, or where she is from, or what she does (not knowing which last would turn out to be a huge issue later, but whatevers). Love happens, as it will, among (again), lovely songs and lovely scenery. And then- she turns out to be a terrorist- out to bust out bombs as a live-bomb herself in the Independence Day festivities in Delhi.
And then, Shahrukh waylays her on her way to the dastardly deed. They are ABSOLUTELY ALONE in the open, in one of the world's busiest cities on one of the city's busiest days. Right. He can figure out no other way to stop her except by a long-ish speech, followed by hugging her real hard and them dying with her in the subsequent blast. And no one interrupts them or even spots them. WTH.

Yuva (2004)
In Calcutta now! 3 heroes and 3 heroines for the price of 1 movie! Ajay is a college man(and looks 40, but OK), in love with Esha and into student and state politics. He is Christian, and its nice to meet a Christian in a Bolly movie who is still alive by the end of said movie. Alls well, sincere and positive. But Om Puri is a bad man. And Abhishek, who is married to Rani, works for Om. Vivek joins Ajay and is in love with Kareena. More stress, murder attempts and political ambitions follow, all fringed by love for all 3 couples, lovely (sigh) songs, and some darn good cinematography. And then- Ajay must win the elections, Om will not let it happen, and Abhishek must kill off Ajay.
Abhishek cant quite kill Ajay, having been foiled by Vivek. Ajay wins the elections, because having been foiled once, Om appears to not try much harder to kill off Ajay and his group. Ajay, Vivek and a random guy saunter into State parliament as the credits roll. Right. Om could have hired another henchman, and had all 3 guys killed before parliament. But whatever. And when did Vivek get a ticket to contest elections? overnight? he barely met Ajay! Whatevers.

Guru (2007)

Abhishek again! in Gujrat now, out to make a buck. Aishwariya is beautiful. They marry. He is ambitious and makes lots of $ in business. They are lovely (!), sing lots of lovely songs and lovely love abounds. Years pass. And then- Abhishek's friend Mithun and his mentee Madhavan (love him! love him!) decide to bust abhishek's corrupt chops and put an end to his business empire. The Indian IRS dump themselves like a ton of bricks on Abhishek, who suffers a paralytic attack!
Abhishek gets out of the whole mess by barely a couple cler moves, but primarily a spiffy speech. Everything comes out roses. No casualties. WTH.


You'd think that all these characters, having found themselves in a corner, would have a TAD MORE struggle to get out of said corner! Fabulous movies, every one, and ridiculous paths to resolutions for each! Argh!

And therefore, I am comfortable looking forward to watch Raavanan- dunno about Raavan quite yet.

Lagaan week 2010: The underdog's underdogs

I like supporting the underdog: for me, its always been "Fauji" before all of SRK's other work, Shashi before Amitabh, Amitabh's 1st 5 years of work before all others- you understand. So loving Lagaan (2001) was a foregone conclusion, even if one didn't take in account its inherent brilliance.

The story: Its the late 1800s-early 1900s, and Bhuvan (Aamir), leads a rag-tag group of his fellow villagers against the Brits in a cricket match, the prize being 3 years worth of land rent. Needless to say, the underdogs win, the Brits lose, and all's well that ends well. The movie became an instant classic, and triggered the sport-movie phenomenon in Bollywood.

And yet, its the Aamir the underdog's underdogs, his supporting cast, that I enjoy the most in every re-watch of this film. I wanted to take a moment and talk about my favorite supporting characters from Lagaan. I limited myself to 5, because really, there weren't any bad actors in the movie (except the Brits, who came off as well as any Westerns could in a Bolly movie (one day I may be proved wrong, I concede).

1. Raj Zutshi (character: Ismail)

The token prominent Muslim character, Ismail is Handsome with an H! The character is a fiercely loyal friend to Bhuvan, and a pretty good cricket player (with lots of coaching), despite being injured. Ismail rocks, and Raj rocks harder. As you may know already, he was married to Aamir's sister (since divorced), and is step dad to Imran. He has, like Ismail : Bhuvan, been with Aamir since the beginning: they both started cinema with Holi (1984), and he helped Aamir run away with Juhi In QSQT (1988). He has a considerable body of work, these are my favorites: Holi (1984), Goonj (1989), Shiva (1989), Maachis (1996), Rules (2003) and Daddy (1989). Goonj and Holi are probably where he met Ashutosh G. (who was an actor back then, with a full head of curly hair). I love the man- is that apparent enough?

2. Pradeep Singh Rawat (character: Deva Singh Sodhi)

The Sardar who comes from Punjab to help Bhuvan! As hard as that is to imagine, it probably helped Ashutosh Gowrikar (the Director) to realize his Utopian village vision. You've seen this guy in tons of movies, haven't you? He's the titled Ghajini (2008 AND 2005), of course, and he is also in another popular Aamir movie, Sarfarosh(1999). He is probably a more popular Southern actor nowadays than Bollywood, and also has lots of TV credits to his name. Additional Aamir connection: they're very good buddies.

3. Yashpal Sharma (character: Laakha)

He is my favorite character in the movie! He does everything wrong possible: loves Gauri (Gracy) who is Bhuvan's girlfriend, plays villain, and even tries to sabotage the village team. However, in the end he redeems himself when he makes his apology, and completely captures my heart with his tears. I lurve the boy. Arguably, he is the one actor who profited the most from the movie: from unforgettable appearances, he suddenly began appearing everywhere, mostly in thug or police roles. My favorites for him: Gungajal (2003), Chameli (2003), D (2005), Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008), and Well Done Abba (2009).

4. Raghuveer Yadav (character: Bhura)

Probably the most under-appreciated, yet critically acclaimed actors of all time. He more or less sleepwalks through Bhura's character- not in a bad way, but one gets the sense that this is too easy a role for him. For someone who began his career with Massey Sahib (1985) and followed it up with Salaam Bombay (1988), became a popular rage with Mungeri laal on TV (1990), and has been in numerous brilliant movies since (just IMDB him and look at his work), there cant be much that this man finds a challenge. Lets just bow to his brilliance and leave it at that. Everything he has ever done, he has done well. 'Nuff said.

5. Kulbhushan Kharbanda (character: Raja Puran Singh)

In his autobiography, Gandhi holds Indian kings during the British Raj (rule) akin to liveried butlers. Dressed to the nines in jewels, they were puppets in the hands of their British lords who made them dance to their tune. And Kulbhushan plays that character brilliantly- despite his sympathies being with the village team, he has to sit with the Brits, and his discomfort is palpable. A short-spanned character; but there are no characters that Kulbhushan cant do well, regardless of their screen time. He has immortalized the shark-loving Shakaal in Shaan (1980), and done brief but brilliant work in Arth (1982) and Mandi (1983). He has the amazing knack of simply remoulding himself into whatever he is playing: whether it is a Raja in Jodha Akbar (2003), a corrupt minister in Manorama (2007) or a tea-seller in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992). He may do more movies; even better movies- but will always be to me primarily the reason to watch Shaan over and over again.

These 5 were a hard choice- I cant help but regret not having included Suhasini Mulay, AK Hangal, Rajesh Vivek, Rajendra Gupta, Akhilendra Mishra and all the others who made this movie what it is. If anything, the bringing together of this brilliant cast has to be commended. I leave you with the Lagaan "team," in a light, marketing moment:

June 11, 2010


Title: Sadiyan
Year: 2010
Cast: Luv Sinha, Ferena, Rekha, Hema, Rishi, Javed Sheikh

Often, I realize I write posts specifically for public service purposes. It is no less than a PSA to write a review on excretory drivel like Sadiyan. The title mean "eons"- that's what the duration of the movie would feel like if you didn't have access to a remote control while watching this.

The movie opens during India's independence and partition in 1947. The Hindu family Rishi and Rekha moving to Amritsar after being driven out of their homes that are now in the newly formed Pakistan. Rekha and Rishi do look cute together, now that they've aged; I know she is criticized for her makeup, but the haters need to cap it- she is just adorable, makeup or whatever. They've just moved into a home which belonged to Muslims (who have been driven out of their home to Pakistan). Rekha's kid has died/is lost in the ruckus, and she is really messed up, but wakes up in the night to the sound of a child crying. it isn't a ghost (it may as well have been), its a little child who has been left behind, hidden in the attic by the previous owners. Herein lies the 1st big problem with the movie- HOW is that kid even alive? Barely 2 or 3 years old, hungry since forever, instead of being faint, its lungs are strong enough to wake up adults sleeping a floor away.

Anyhow, Rekha has a burning need to adopt this kid, despite every one's advice not to do so. Why she cant have her own baby isn't quite explained. Rishi tries somewhat, but cant find any Muslim family who will take the kid.

See they should have given the kid away, because with the aid of film magic, a quick transition later, the kid has grown into a highly unattractive Luv Sinha (one of Shatrughan's twin sons; apparently neither of the parents could spell). The boy looks 12, but is supposedly at least a teenager (he does wear a school uniform).
Lots of Luv-centric scenes later, the boy travels to Kashmir, and bumps into Ferena (sounds like baby cereal, looks like the Manisha Koirala's caricature). Love and terrible songs happen, involving costumes that are clearly 2010, though the characters should be in 1965 or thereabouts. Its very painful, and the viewer will not be able to bear the terrible dialogues, crap music, ugly leads and 80s production values. The sacrifices I make for humanity!

Turns out Ferena also lives in Amritsar. And is a Muslim. Due to opposition from Ferena's family and fear of inciting riots, Rekha figures the best way to resolve this is to prove Luv's Muslim heritage. So off go Rishi and Rekha to Pakistan, praying to God and government officials to figure out Luv's parentage. Sadly, this is short- someone must have decided that all this was taking too much time away from Luv.

So they find the parents- a gorgeous, glowing and super elegant Hema (I swear she looks exactly like my mom in the screen-cap where she is praying- and no, sadly I take after my dad, not mom) and a handsome and also elegant Javed Sheikh. They make a seriously handsome couple. No kidding.
Hema and Javed come to Amritsar to get their kid married, and take the couple (Luv and Ferena- why anyone would want them, I don't know) back to Pakistan. A ridiculous amount of time is wasted on the two supposed leads, but anyone watching this monstrosity would have eyes only for the Rekha-Hema scenes- the ladies kill it with their awesome chemistry. The ladies are so riveting that the horrible dialogues go unheard. They need to make a sensible movie together. Maybe with Benegal or Lajmi. And they need to stop making favors to old colleagues like Shatrughan and acting in their movies.
The movie ends as well as can be expected; since most people wouldn't watch this, rest assured that Luv and Ferena do get married (teenage weddings aren't a good idea, especially when the groom looks like an adolescent, but no one listens to me), and they do remain with Rekha and Rishi (why the heck do they want them??? whyyyy?). Hema and Javed go back home (secretly relieved I'm certain).
Rekha. Rishi. Hema.
1. On a serious note, Luv seriously needs to reconsider his career options. Granted that Amitabh and Salman were both ungainly in their first movie, but they could at least act enough to get another role. Actors like Hritik and Ajay were properly trained for years before they made their first movie. This boy has no sense of diction or acting, and doesn't have a beautiful body to distract us!
2. The execution is bad. The director's focus had so been to highlighted Luv that he apparently forgot everything else- costumes are incorrect, looks are incorrect; it doesn't work.
3. At one point, Ferena, who portrays a Muslim girl in the mid-60s, dances with Luv in the proverbial "College"fest,"" while wearing a tiny blouse and a low rise skirt. Good Muslim girls didn't wear stuff like that in the 60s, especially in Kashmir. My grandma was a young(ish) Kashmir Muslim in the 60s. She'd be horrified.
4. Everything else.

June 4, 2010

Well Done Abba

Title: Well Done Abba
Year: 2009
Cast: Boman Irani, Minnisha Lamba, Sammir Dattani, Ila Arun, Rajit Kapoor, Ravi Kishen + many more- you have to see!

There is an old joke in India, in which a poor man applies for a government loan. There are multiple steps to have the loan sanctioned, and as the man goes through the process, he has to provide bribes to all the greedy officials at each step. So much so, that in the end, he gets the loan, but has no balance left- the entire amount goes towards the bribes. Frankly, this would only pass as a joke in India and a few other similar nations :)
After the brilliant "Welcome to Sajjanput" (2008), Benegal emplys this old joke into another stunningly simple, lyrical, yet profound satire in "Well done Abba."

The film opens in Bombay (I still refuse to call it Mumbai, say what you will). Boman is a driver to a executive. He was off on vacation, which he overextended by 2 months, and has therefore been kicked out of the job he is trying to win back. He begs the boss to let him drive on the trip he (the boss) needs to take to Pune (a couple hours), during which Boman would explain to him all the issues that prevented him from coming back to work in a timely manner. The boss agrees, Boman begins the drive, and the movie begins as well.

Boman plays an immigrant worker from a village near Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) in Bombay. His wife is dead and his only child, Minnisha, lives with his rascally twin brother and his wife Ila in the village. His twin and Ila cant handle Minnisha anymore, and so Boman goes back to find a suitable boy for Minnisha.

Of course, nothing goes as planned. Boman gets to his village to find an immense water shortage in the area, his brother and sister-in-law in jail for theft, and his daughter trying to cope with everything with remarkable strength. Meanwhile, young women in the village are being sold to Sheikhs in the Arab Emirates, and the government has a loan program for the villagers, to build wells for combating the water shortage.

And while all this sounds terribly grim, it isn't at all. In Benegal's hands, the very real issues of a corrupt government system, water shortage in villages and human trafficking are treated with glib satire so that the viewer is made aware of these issues and encouraged to resist them, and yet be entertained by this gem-like, brilliant film.


1- Boman, finally plays the main protagonist in a film. Away with the conventional, pretty heroes- even though Sammir has romantic interest with Minnisha in the film, for once, the romantic pair isn't the lead. This is really fantastic, and Boman chews up the scenery beautifully and well. I just wish his evil twin had more footage- he is utterly hilarious and keeps you glued to the screen. His nuanced mannerisms as both brothers are so integral to his characters and so well mastered, that he can be called without doubt one of the best actors we have ever had.

2- Benegal is, once again, brilliant in his concept and vision. With his employment of humor as a working arm, I find his work in his latest 2 films far more engaging than his cinema in the 70s-90s (which made one weep, but never smile). He has talked about extremely difficult issues in all his work, but in "Welcome to.." and now "Well Done...," he kicks up his game and teaches the viewer with laughter instead of tears. He captures the flavor of Andhra Pradesh, playing with the uniqueness of the local patois and culture without pandering.

3- Benegal also brings back theater to cinema, and this film has all the rasas balanced beautifully. The songs are comparable to spoken word; they are not memorable, but do their job in helping thread together the narrative.

4- Thank goodness for Rajit Kapoor and the league of supporting actors- every individual plays their part brilliantly, and does not overshadow anyone or lets anyone else overshadow them. Most of the cast is repeated from "Welcome to...," and so perfectly tuned to the director that the viewer can feel this cohesion. Aside: I love rajit- always have, always will. Thank goodness (again) for Benegal recognizing his brilliance.

5- And lastly, can enough be said about the effectiveness of cinema as a medium of mass communication? If anything, this film proves that movies do not have to be preachy or sad or violent to carry a message for the masses. And that intelligent cinema can be entertaining and compelling enough for the viewer to want to watch it multiple times.


Why doesn't Benegal make movies more often? Why didn't he employ humor with this effectiveness earlier? I demand more Benegal!