October 29, 2011


I never thought I had issues re: enjoyment of self-inflicted pain.

but I've begun to doubt myself.

Maybe I do enjoy pain.

Why else would I sit through Ra.One (2011)?

Why indeed.

This is sort of what happened.

Shahana Goswami opens the film with a terrible speech about gaming and giving us a holographic image of...not princess Leia, but Dileep Tahil, owner of the game developing company she works at. She is a game developer too. I requested a barf bag.

And her colleague is Shahrukh, who is Southern Indian, but with the worst accent ever- maybe some of the $ should have gone to a language coach? I again requested a barf bag.

Shashrukh's wife Kareena and son Prateik live in a mansion with him near London- though how they can afford it I'm not really sure. Lots of lame and risque jokes help the scenes hobble along.

Anyhow- under orders to build a game, he designs Ra.One vs G.One- with a lot of Bollywood fanfare which is impossible to believe. And did I say the "game" robot/tabgible holographic images have a heart- that is a facsimile of Iron Man's chest plate. So much for creativity.

Anyhow- Ra.One is evil and goes rogue. A live computer game if you will. Or a robot. Remember Tron I & II? I did.

And now that he is rogue, Ra.One's aim is to kill Prateik, who had started playing the game and left in between. Memories of Terminator II, with the evil robot going after the little kid.

In a nice twist, Ra.One kills Shahrukh- and we have a montage of a burial that's very Spiderman I - ish.

Ra.One goes to town, walking around in Schwarzenegger's trench and glasses from the Terminator films. Sigh. See the pattern?

So to save himself, Prateik brings back Shahrukh in the form of G.One, who fights Ra.One.

And Ra.One reassembles/regenerates after being smashed, Terminator style.

And you know how this wraps up. But a lot must happen before that:

1- Sad gay TSA jokes (really!)

2- Matrix bullet-dodging

3- Utterly delightful songs- wanna be my chammakchallo anyone?

4- Arjun being what he was meant to be- robotic, and delightfully so.

5- G.One stopping a train, superman style.

6- Burning crotches.


1- Any film that requires constant narration of what's going on by its characters has a basic issue of cohesiveness.

2- If you have a character who is Southern Indian with an accent, then let him have a proper accent, but not one that comes and goes and is lame at best.

3- It isn't 1980. Please do not show us a mishmash of copies of montages from successful films- we have already seen them, and it doesn't work- remember Jaani Dushman (2002).

4- Instead of taking years, games, animes and robotics apparently just take days or weeks (at best). And 12 year olds do this naturally. Ask anyone.


Of course I'm being harsh- the effects are great and this is a definite step in the right direction for Indian superheroes and scifi.

And in conclusion: Of course you will watch this eventually if you haven't already. Its a Shahrukh film after so long that isn't steeped in hammy romance. And while you are watching and after, you will criticise it for its fallacies, but that's a necessary side effect. Then maybe you can answer the question I cannot solve: Why does Shahrukh pose like Michael Jackson in the poster (and other places in the film)?

October 17, 2011

B is for .....Books on Indian Cinema!

After writing A/Adult Certification, I went a bit crazy researching the B. As in A, the first association with B is also for Amitabh Bacchan, but like before, I didn't want to fall for the 1st and obvious choice. Bollywood babes? Heck Bollywood babies? So it went for weeks, until it became obvious- B is for books!

I have loved books since childhood- and can read about any subject under the sun. I collect, for fun, old recipe books, turn of the century - '60s children's books, '40s - '60s American womens' magazines- and of course, anything written on Bollywood.

Despite have a poor record of preserving early films and film memorabilia, there is a surfeit of books on Indian cinema. Most of these books are focused on Bollywood and iconic Bollywood figures, and while one may berate the trend and hope fervently for more books on regional cinema and the technical aspect of cinema, the authors are obviously catering to popular demand, and not to my whims and fancies :)

Jerry Pinto's "Helen : The Life and Times of an H-bomb," was the first book I recall reading on Indian cinema. Its a good book, and with the assistance of anecdotes gathered from industry insiders, makes for a great read. The early chapters are tear-jerkers (for me), and a very real and empathetic portrayal of Helen as a child and teenager. The book's greatest flaw, which the author discusses within, is the absence of any insight from Helen or her family. The author was denied any interviews by Helen, her husband Salim Khan and their family, and the books is notable for their absence. As a result, a fair portion of the book is given to speculation. There is also significant commentary on her roles that could have been edited better, since it tends towards being repetitious. This may be a personal peeve- I'm not fond of biographies that are fluffed for want of content- a common phenomenon in a lot of bollywood-related writings.

Which is the issue I take with Nasreen Munni Kabir's "Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema." The book is precious for some rare photographs, and there is more than just fluff here- Kabir's interview with Mr. Dutt's mother, sister and colleagues are real and intriguing. It does seem however, that the author had too little information to write a sizable biography, because the book quickly falls into that terrible trap of filling pages with detailed reviews of Mr. Dutt's filmography. Again, not a bad thing, but more meat would be good.

The only biography I've read, to date, where I AM willing to properly appreciate detailed reviews is Pran Nevile's "KL Saigal: The Definitive Biography." Most of Saigal's films are not easily available to a regular viewer like me, so reading about his films is complete pleasure. My favorite part of the book comprises of the discussions on Saigal's music- which I really knew incredibly little about until this book. I think the book is a fabulous memoriam to one of the industry's greatest leading men.

And speaking of music, Ganesh Anantharaman's "Bollywood Melodies," is a brilliant guide to Bollywood music history. The author discusses forgotten and celebrated music geniuses, and the usage of Indian instruments, styles of music and ragas in Bollywood. For a musical ignoramus like me, the book was a crash course in Bollywood music. I adore this book, but the publishing house was certainly not paying attention: my copy has significant pagination issues.

Madhu Jain's "The Kapoors" is one of the most popular books on Bollywood, and with good reason: it traces the Prithvi Raj Kapoor clan from its inception in Bollywood through its current filmi generation. The book's tone changes with each famous family member it discusses- reverential with Prithvi, gossipy with Raj, a tad racy with Shammi, and decidedly romantic with Shashi. Jain's criticism, is subtle and largely aimed at Raj and Rishi- so subtle, that for me at least it skirts dangerously close to those adoring fluff pieces written in most Bollywood magazines. The books has few photographs, and strangely, glosses over the careers of Karisma and Kareena- maybe so because it was written in 2005, and at least Kareena's career had yet to become the phenomenon it later became. I vote for a reprint, with more pictures, updated for Ranbir and Kareena, and strengthened for criticism- it would be a better book for it.

And speaking of better books, Priya and Namrata Dutt's "Mr & Mrs Dutt" and Kishwar Desai's "Darlingji" are two of the most intriguing biographies I have read. This may be attributable to the fact that the story of Nargis and Sunil is one of the most intriguing and romantic in Bollywood, but also has to be attributed to the writers themselves for their execution. The Dutt sisters' book is a beautiful tribute to their love for their parents, and a definite tear-jerker. It isn't gossipy, and that is where Desai's book fills the gap. Both books have good pictures and memorabilia, the Dutts' better than Kishwar's in that aspect. Both books are easy to read and very engaging- you can read either after the other, without feeling overdosed.

But I do feel overdosed by Bulbul Mankani's "Bollywood Cookbook." I really enjoyed reading the recipes shared by Nandita Sen, Rahul Bose, Raveena Tandon, Suneil Shetty and Shabana Azmi. Other actors- not so much- did those actors really think about the recipes they were sharing? Did Mankani really assess them- or were they added anyhow? The photographs don't always properly reflect the recipe they represent- which fact she does admit in an interview I found online. Also intriguing is the set of actors and film celebrities chosen to interview- I'd have preferred to read recipes shared by the Chopras or other film families- not necessarily Amrita Arora, whom I dont regard as much of an actor. Lastly, I don't think I appreciate the essay in the end as much as I ought to. Shaym Benegal's foreword is well-written and a perfect apostrophe to the book- the concluding essay in the book appears without purpose and simply wasn't needed- a photo essay would have sufficed, seeing that Mankani has some really great photographs in there. The book is an essential owing to the uniqueness of its subject- not as a cooking resource, since you can troll better recipes online anytime. Except for the Shabana chapter- totally worth it.

A history book with no photographs, "Bollywood: A History," by Mihir Bose remains one of my favorite books on Bollywood till date. Full of facts and trivia, historically accurate, and yet chatty and full of heart, this book is a very fun read- one of those that may be easily re-read annually, without any pain. Bose' genius lies in his stating the facts simply- and then adding his heartfelt two cents- sometimes quirky, sometimes bitter, sometimes clearly in awe of his subject- but always entertaining. You need this, if you dont have it already, for its thoroughness, that deserves applause. Ignore the bad editing and spelling mistakes, and concentrate on the history, trivia and scandal!

What you dont need is Stephen Alter's "Fantasies of Bollywood Love Thief." I bought it because of its fascinating title, and the fact that Stephen is brother to Tom- who I do love. The book is great when it talks about Tom and his struggles in Bolylwood. But- the title mislead me. Alter trails Vishal Bharadwaj and his team through the making of "Omkara," and covers the movie making process as experienced through this creative journey. For the amount of space devoted to Omkara, it should have been titled as such- I just kept looking for that elusive, titled "Bollywood Love Thief," whom I never did meet. Moral of the story- authors shouldnt name books what they arent, no matter smart those names sound.

Roopa Swaminathan won the national award for the best book on cinema, for "Star Dust." And she deserves it. Despite the critical acclaim, the book is realtively unheard of and reprints/hard bound editions appear unavailable- I've been trolling heavily, believe me. Its the only book I've read on Bollywood that focusses on the underbelly of Indian cinema, discussing scandal with a directness that is refreshing. It celebrates supporting actors, and provides a remarkable insight into their daily aspirations and struggles. It discusses Bollywood and Southern Indian cinema on equal footing, which in itself is sadly still a rarity. It documents the fanaticism of the Indian cinegoer, including the extolled worshippers of Southern cinema- one can see that Swaminathan truly did the legwork and the research that makes this books a winner in every sense. The prose is engaging and brilliant, and the only downside is that the book unfortunately, seems too short. Swaminathan has other books out, including books on Gemini Ganeshan, MGR and Kamal Hassan, that I'd love to be able to get my hands on. If you can find a copy of this book, do not let it go!

The book that I am reading next, is the one that I did let go- for years in fact. It has gathered dust on my bookshelves for years now, and its strange that I never gotten to it. I have seen most of Dev Anand's films, and his autobiography, "Romancing With Life," promises to be an optimistic and goofy self-homage that is bound to be a fun read. And narcissistic, for sure.

I cannot wrap up without acknowledging the writing that is most often read by Bollywood fans- the gossip rags! My favorite magazine has always been Stardust, for its relatively balanced critiques, scathing scandals and its catty mascot. While most film magazines in Bollywood as well as it the West, tend towards bad writing, fluff and pandering, Stardust remains consistent. Its website is finally (!) current, for which I am devoutly thankful. Also online, Mid-Day's entertainment section remains relevant and well-edited, as opposed to websites of national dailies that annoy readers with bad grammar and irrelevant reporting. There is no excuse for bad writing from professional sources.

So are you still reading this blog? Go read a real book.

September 5, 2011

Blog issues

The blog is suffering from issues with coding, as is obvious by its appearance. Since I am not an expert, it is taking a while to igure out. Please bear with me and feel free to suggest fixes!

September 3, 2011

A is for ... Adult Certification

I was contemplating writing an A - Z string of posts on Bollywood, and spent a while brainstorming the "A" to write about. Amitabh Bacchan was the obvious and first choice to come to mind, followed by a series of important films (and there are an AMAZING number of films begining with an "A" in the title): Anmol Ghadi, Apur Sansar, Amanush. But that's a film REVIEW, something I do all the time anyway. Having seen multitudes of sleaze, horror and action films, writing about the of "A" Adult cinema seems perfect- a little scandalous, attention catching and definitely in sync with the fearless spirit of this blog, and its ability to envelop all kinds of films. Literally :)

Who does all this?
The Central Board of Film Certification ("CBFC"/ also the Central Board of Film Censors before 1983) is the tour de force behind film certifications in India. The Organization has a operational website at http://cbfcindia.gov.in/, which, while not amazing, does the job. There is also a Wiki on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Board_of_Film_Certification

What does it all mean?
A history lesson is in the offing! The Cinematography Act (1952), lists the provisions relating to Constitution and functioning of the CBFC, and provides guidelines for film certification. You can read all that on the CBFC site, if you are so inclined. Per my understanding, there appear to be 4 current categories of film certification:
‘U’ (unrestricted public exhibition): Films without expletives, sex and violence. Added about 1949/50.
‘A’ (restricted to adult audiences): Films WITH with expletive language, sex and violence. Added about 1949/50.
‘UA’ (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve). Added about 1983.
‘S’(restricted to specialized audiences such as doctors or scientists). Added about 1983.
we good?

- Orphans Of The Storm (1920), starring the Gish sisters, appears to be the first film to undergo censor cuts due to Indian Censorship Act 1918.
- Bhakta Vidur (1921), appears to be the first film to be banned due to censorship controversy.
- Social Evil, a docu drama, was made in 1929 to "give guidance to ignorant youth about sexual problems," and may be the first film to be given an "adults only" certification.
- Hanste Aansu (1950) and Marmayogi(1951) (the latter starring MGR!) appear to be the first Himdi and tamil films, respectively, to receive an "Adult" (A) certificate following the amendment of the original Indian Cinematograph Act (1918) in December 1949 by which time “A” and “U” had been introduced.

U/A and A certified films translate loosely to R rated and NC17 films in the United States, and when I watch films, it seems that almost everything that Bollywood currently produces falls in these two categories. Not that that is a bad thing, but it appears that filmmakers revel in getting an A rating on their films, publicizing the fact, and building any ghost of a controversy related to censorship (or otherwise), so that audiences are intrigued into watching them. Which is a little low, I think.

Because as soon as something is rated for adults only, chances are a kid will figure out a way to see it, you-tube or any which way.

What I think
The term adult films conjures imagery of sleaze-filled porn, which I am certain is a huge industry in India: Bollywood and other woods. While this post isn't about porn, I am curious to know how those are certified. Does the censor Board, currently chaired by the venerable Leela Samson, sit around and watch those too? I've a feeling those films are like poor cousins, applying for certification quickly and quietly. They are probably stamped "A" without a second glance- maybe the lowest executive on the totem pole is asked to take one for the team and scan through the reels. The films and actors are so pathetic that I cannot believe the Board would give them much interest.

Then there are the Adult films with an "A"- where bigger stars and producers and directors abound in either sex or violence or both , and appear to vie with each other to "capture eyeballs" (oh what an ugly ugly term- ugh). Such films began really to appear in the 70s in Bollywood, with the multistarrers and fake "awareness" films. Amitabh's Deewar, Zeenat's Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Shashi's Satyam Shivam Sundaram come to mind for big movies that titillated in the 70s, and the fake-awareness movies that had smaller stars, like Anil Dhawan, who made a string of these in the 70s: Naya Nasha, Honeymoon, and Chetna among others.
It seemed to be more about sex than violence in the 70s, but plenty of violence came to the picture in the 80s, as if to make up for lost time, along with parallel cinema, which embraced sensitive issues like never before. Despite its lavish scale, I believe Utsav (1984) starring Rekha, produced by Shashi Kapoor and Directed by Girish Karnad, is exemplary of parallel cinema. It was definitely out of the ordinary realm of Bollywood films; sensual, extremely beautiful and - alas- adults only. I'm sure many children (like me) at the time couldn't wait to be adults to go grab a copy and see it. I recall how the grown ups got a VHS copy of it, and how I cajoled my mom into seeing at least the non-steamy bits. Yup, a child con artist I definitely was.

Om Puri personified the angry young man of parallel cinema- and still does, to my mind- in Ardh Satya (1983). And Shabana helmed very adult, very sensitive films like Mandi and Arth, that are all certified A. Oh and lets not forget Salaam Bombay, which I did sucessfully see in its entirelty, at age 10.

This of course doesn't mean that the 80s were full of sensitive films aimed at mature adults Dharamendra, to my mind, lead a string of films full of violence and sleaze, with titles like "Paap Ko Jala Kar Rakh Kar Doonga" (I will burn sin to cinders!) and "Jeene Nahin Doonga," (I wont let live) that are particularly excretory.

While the sleaze and violence continued through to the 90s and today (check out any number of films on this blog), one film changed the game completely. Shekhar Kapoor's Bandit Queen (1994) was a film with highly adult content- so all agreed, to the extent that there were any number of suits bought against it- and yet, it elevated Shekhar Kapur and Indian Cinema to a new level of cinematic glory that could not be denied. I believe there was serious violence in theaters where it did play, laying the grounds for similar treatment to Deepa Mehta's Fire (1996) and Earth (1998).

But current cinema is ambivalent. For every sleaze filled Julie (2004) and Z-grade horror movie, there are films like Kaminey, Dev D and Love Sex Aur Dhoka (for the record, I didnt like this last, sorry), where the script is so rooted in either expletives or sex or violence or all, that they are in fact essential to the film. And as much as naysayers protest, I believe the Board has recognized that in cinema, and has been making sensible cuts.

Which bring us to the ultimate argument of freedom of expression and free speech. Because there are films like Ishqiya (2010), which it would be criminal to suppress, and Water (2005), which was suppressed almost to anonymity. Because on the other aide of the equation are folks who actually decided to live the films they watch, and jumping from buildings is the least harmful thing they accomplish. So how much, really, is too much? We can argue to the end, all the while watching a Kanti Shah original. or Bazaar. You decide.

July 27, 2011


Title: Thanedaar (Inspector of Police)
Year: 1990
Cast: Kiran Kumar, Jeetendra, Sunjay Dutt, Jayaprada, Madhuri Dixit

Thanks to this film, I was able to remember how much fun 90s Bollywood was~ when it wanted to be!

The movie opens with a fantabulous Kiran Kumar, evil landlord of a village. He not only rocks a topknot, he has a pigtail trailing out of it!

Kiran has kid Madhuri's mom killed, and when her dad goes to complain to the local police (lead by Dilip Tahil), Kiran isn't too please.Dilip has his own little tragic song, remembering a dead wife with his two little kids..Dilip and Madhuri's dad are soon killed off by Kiran's henchmen, and the kids are scattered. Dilips' younger son is Sunjay, a career criminal who has a on-off flirtation thing going on with Madhuri...while Dilip's elder son, in true Bollywood tradition, is the opposite of his brother, an upstanding policeman played by Jeetendra. He is happily married to Jayaprada and they have a daughter of their own.
In true filmi fashion, the brothers meet accidentally in a train, fight, and Sunjay manages to throw Jeetendra out of the moving train off a cliff. Oops.

Sunjay makes it to the end of his journey, and hits the same village he grew up in, unbeknowest to himself. The villages mistake him to be the new chief of police- in Jitendra's place. Sunjay takes things in stride, and starts fighting Kiran's men- Star Wars style!

And Sunjay's romance with Madhuri blooms, as they look super good together here. What separates Madhuri from almost every other actor is her utter abandonment to whatever character she plays. She actually seems to enjoy what she is doing, and is in the moment every time.

Which brings us to the song that made me watch this movie- the infamous Tamma Tamma!I love this song- Madhuri's 80's Madonna look, and energetic dancing beats everything else and brings the movie to another level.
Oh just check it out yourself- note that Javed Jaffery performed parts of this song as Sunjay's body double, since Sunjay really isnt that great a dancer- which explains all the long shots.

Soon enough, Jitendra resurrects from the alleged dead, and we rush into the inevitable and obvious finale- fun times! And in conclusion- its an immensely watchable movie, and if nothing else, you are bound to enjoy Madhuri in every scene she illuminates.

July 24, 2011


Yesterday, I went shopping with my mother and sister, and bought two dresses. Nothing unusual, you'd say, but it was, for me. After almost 10 years, I wore a size 8 dress, having been wearing a size 14 just this past February.

It is so exciting, and yet, so scary to have this happen. At 5' 1" (barely), I'm still not at a ideal weight and measurements, but I am so proud to have accomplished this much. And I am terrified~ about being able to maintain this. Its bewildering to discover a part of me I had forgotten. And I am painting again, another part of me that had gotten lost in the struggle of being an immigrant, and the daily pressures of school and work.

I'm going to keep doing what I am doing. Maybe this is how phoenixs feel.

July 22, 2011


This movie had me completely befuddled. Visually, it looked a film from the 40s...no later than 1959 I'd say. And yet, my research confirmed it was indeed made in 1969!No, it didn't sit in the cans for 10 years and had a late release- the heroine, Alka's youth testifies to that- she is unchanging and comparable to her other releases during the era. It's uncanny!

Title: Wapas (Trans: Back; as in going back)
Year: 1969
Cast: Shekhar Purohit, Alka, Satyajeet, Leela Mishra

The movie open with Alka living in Bombay with her parents, Mom (someone tell me her name!) and Styajeet. Mom wants Alka to marry a rich man of her choosing, while Alka is in love with Shekhar, a poor singer.
So love triumphs, and quickly, with the young lovers marrying an posing in filmi-style montages. Mom is so pissed that she moves to Delhi with Dad, bag and baggage. They don't like the new city, but refuse to go back. Meanwhile, Shekhar becomes a popular singer, ... and they have a baby,

...and he gets a movie role! Jankidas brings him to the studios, who are happy to hire him opposite their resident heroine, daughter to the spiffily coiffed and made-up Leela Mishra. It was glorious to see her vamping it up~

And so shooting begins, and there are some real fun shots here-

The movie is a hit, and Shekhar is a star. Jankidas and Leela go into over-time spreading rumors about Shekhar and his heroine. Rumors=fame, they argue, and fame=$$$.

Alka isn't happy with the gossip, ... as are her parents, who rush back to town to inquire about her well-being.

Resident evils #1 Mom and #2 Leela quickly begin instrumental in driving apart Shekhar and Alka, and the unhappy couple are on their way to divorce court in no time at all. The heavily-Bolly judge grants the son to Shekhar and the daughter to Alka, who moves to Delhi with her parents. Shekhar is left alone with his son, his work and a very designing Leela.

Time passes, as it will, and the kids are grown up enough to take this film to the scripts of The Parent Trap (1961) and Do Kaliyan (1968). why Satyen (the director) chose to do this barely 1 year after the release of the remake, I will never understand.
Unlike the going-camping scenario of the earlier movies, which wouldn't have worked here anyways, since the kids aren't twins, Shekhar's daughter simply going to visit him. ..Which is followed by a scheming Leela & Co.,

... and counter-scheming by the kids.

And you can easily imagine how all this wraps up.

Wapas isn't a bad movie, but it definitely feels redundant with a very tired script. The highlights are Leela Mishra and the lady playing mom to Alka with all their gesticulations and scheming, while Alka is decorative in parts. What I really enjoyed are these two songs by Mohammed Rafi, that stay with you long after the movie is forgotten. Enjoy!