Saturday, December 24, 2011

And Where Was the Masala in 2011??

As I got to the end of my Top 5 in 2011 list I realized that all my favourite movies of this year have been un-Bollywood in one way or another, which of course begged the question: was there no good masala fare for me this year? Why yes, yes there was! In fact, in the special category that I like to call "glittery fluff-ball", there were two movies that went neck to neck all the way to the finish line: Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, both Yash Raj offerings.

We're talking the traditional Bollywood with song and dance, outrageous plot holes, no brains required, glitter and colour, weddings and glam, sexy locales and gorgeous people. And I do love me some of this Bollywood just as much as I love the off-beat kinds. But I can only have one perfect ball of fluff a year, so let me take you through the excruciating process that led to my final decision.

They're both very good looking movies, for sure, so points all around for that. I love the MBKD soundtrack more, but LVRB stands tall with a couple of earworms too (or so my iPod says). I love the actors in both movies, even though if you twist my arm I will trade both Ali Zafar and Imran Khan for Ranveer Singh's smile. So we're 2 - 2 now, I guess.

The ladies are all on par too: Katrina Kaif with a very endearing performance and a hot body like no one else around, Anushka Sharma spreading joy effortlessly and never failing on the dramatic side either. But then... LVRB has three other ladies who rock the screen, and in fact the story belongs to them more than it belongs to the main couple: Parineeti Chopra, Dipannita Sharma and Aditi Sharma. Not only are they fun to watch, but they each bring a different flavour to the mix, just like proper masala spice should. So I guess LVRB is now ahead for character development.

But it doesn't stay in the lead for too long because MBKD makes up for that by giving us the most lovable couple in recent memory, one that will stop at nothing in order to make it to the wedding canopy together.

Sigh... We're even again. What else? Dancing is always important for me, but sadly one of the films (MBKD) has mostly poor dancers, so while the choreographies are fun, they're not terribly impressive; while the other movie flattens two of the best dancers in Bollywood by giving them boring steps. So I guess that means MBKD takes a point for effort on this one.

Having said that, LVRB wins that point right back for Fatal Attraction because Oooo eMMM Geee, it's a trance song!! In Bollywood!!! And it's the background for a party in Goa!!!! And everything about this picturization is mindblowingly awesome. A song made for Dolce and Namak if there ever was one.

Ahem... Sorry about that little outburst, but this song honestly blew me away in the movie. It was by far my favourite 5 minutes of the film. I know Madhubala is awesome too, but it's nothing I've never seen before in Bollywood whereas Fatal Attraction is. In fact it's so un-Bollywood that I was convinced it was ripped off from somewhere, that's how odd it is to me. If it IS plagiarized it's from something so obscure I would have heard it once at some party, but despite searching high and low I could not find anything to back up this hunch. So no accusations will be made and LVRB gets the full point for it.

This process went on and on, getting as detailed as pitting Ranveer's stupendous facial expressions in the scene where Ishika signs the contract (my favourite bit of acting from him) against Imran's puppy eyes every time he tells Dimple to trust him to work things out. The nickname Dimpy in LVRB got a point as well, offset by Katrina's "correctly beautiful and appropriately sexy" description of herself in MBKD. It goes on and on, we're talking days of debate here!

So in the end it came down to this crucial question: which movie would I watch over and over and not get bored? And on this... Mere Brother Ki Dulhan just wins. I thought LVRB would have a good rewatch value, but seeing it the second time in the theatre I was already bored and checking the score of the Blackhawks' hockey game on BBM, so I guess it didn't pass that test. And since the glittery fluff-ball is more about being entertained than it is about smart filmmaking choices... it goes to Mere Brother Ki Dulhan after all.

And with this we end a week of fiery debates for me, and a year of awesome Bollywood movies for you.

Looking forward to 2012 and here's hoping it tops the most excellent 2011!

2011 Was a Damn Good Year!

I don't usually do the end of year lists (not because I have anything against them, but mostly because if I like something I will blog about it right there and then), but this year seemed to deserve a special pat on the back for giving us so much good stuff. So even if I have talked at length about most of these movies, this is the end of year wrap-up and my top 5 (or 6?) most awesome movies of the year.

Dhobi Ghat

This is technically a 2010 movie for me since that's when I saw it, so I debated whether to include it or not, but heck, it's always a good idea to give it another shout-out. It didn't do too well at the box office, and there are a couple of things that upon rewatch bothered me about it (the main one being Monica Dogra's acting skills or lack thereof), but I still consider Dhobi Ghat one of the most touching Indian films I've ever seen (yes, emotion works best for me when it's subtle and tender). Maybe because I was following it so closely pre-release, or maybe because I saw Kiran Rao on stage at TIFF talking about it, but this is one of those rare films where I can feel the love of the director for everything to do with filmmaking in every frame. It's a movie I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who wants to give Bollywood a shot, because yes, I do consider it Bollywood (the new Bollywood that I am loving more and more) even if right now it seems like it's ahead of its time.

7 Khoon Maaf

Vishal Bhardwaj's sometimes humorous, sometimes unbearably dark drama about a woman and her 7 husbands who all end up dead. Another movie that didn't do very well with the audiences, and in a way it's easy to see why. Not only does it have a woman as the central character, but it's a very complex, wicked and confounding woman who makes it very hard to read her fragile heart through the layers of the film. Give it to Bhardwaj to attempt something as bold as this film and to almost get away with it. Priyanka Chopra's performance was the highlight of the year for me and that alone makes the movie worth while. But when we add to that the fabulous soundtrack, the Vishal trademarked camera-work and the story itself with its million interpretations, it's more than enough to shoot a movie to the very top of my favourites. Frankly I did not think another one would surpass it this year. And only one did, but more on that later since this list is in chronological order.

Shor in the City

This was one of the surprises of the year for me because while I was expecting it to be fun (based on how much I loved "99" from the same director duo), I didn't expect it to be so good. It's sometimes tongue-in-cheek and other times dead serious (emphasis on dead), and sometimes you're not even sure which one it is, but it's a damn good watch, that's for certain. Setting up a business in Mumbai, working the traffic lights and a peek into the lives of small time crooks, innocence lost and found again, all these themes get explored through the 3 story-lines of the movie and most come to a very satisfying end, even if not all believable. This is a movie I can't recommend enough.

Saheb Biwi aur Gangster and Delhi Belly

I cannot for the life of me decide between these two. I went to see Delhi Belly in the theatres 3 times and laughed my head off every single tine, while I only watched SBAG once but that was enough to know I was in love with it. What makes it even harder to choose is that SBAG is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, while Delhi Belly will only work if you find it funny, otherwise it will bomb. Delhi Belly is not very heavy on story-line, and yet somehow it kept me engaged every time. SBAG on the other hand has quite the plot and quite the surprising finale, so if story is what you're after, this is definitely the one to see. Delhi Belly then wins on the soundtrack side while SBAG wins on the visuals side.

Tell me this image alone doesn't steal your heart!
Both films have excellent performances and both have strong characters that make an impact. So you see... I can't choose. I'll have to leave this one to you.


I'm sure by now everyone knows this was THE movie of the year for me, so I'll keep it nice and short. Not many movies (and only a handful of Bollywood ones) grab me emotionally. I care for the characters, sure, sometimes they piss me off, sometimes I feel bad for them, but I'm never living every second of the film with them. So when a movie manages to remove me from reality and soak me into the story to the point where I forget myself completely, it's shocking. And wonderful at the same time. Rockstar did exactly that to me. Not once, not twice, but all three times when I watched it in the theatres. There is something so powerful about Imtiaz Ali's storytelling mixed with AR Rahman's music, that I simply lose myself in it every time.

I loved this movie so much that every person who did not feel the way I did about it made me sad. Not for the movie (which did well enough) but sad for them, because I felt like they were missing out on something powerful, magical and out-of-this-world special. But... then again, maybe other movies give them the same feeling, maybe movies that will never even gain my benevolence let alone my love, so I can't weep for them for too long.

Now let me tell you this was not an easy list to make. I left out the gorgeous Zindagi Na Milego Dobara, the hilarious Bbudda Hoga Tera Baap, the tragic Bol (this one would have been in my top 5 but it's not technically Bollywood, so it got disqualified), the adorable FALTU, and the quirky Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji, all movies that I really enjoyed this year. And I also left out the two glittery fluff-balls of the year, but that's because they're coming in a separate post.

So all in all... damn, it's been a great year for the Bollywood lover!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Are you saying Bollywood makes GOOD movies too??"

As usual it started with me getting all worked up about someone making a passing comment at the table that Bollywood actors suck... And also as usual, this was coming from a person who has seen a total of... half a Bollywood movie. After trying really hard to not start a lecture about ignorance and speaking without knowing what the hell you're talking about, I eventually landed myself in a discussion on the way home about why it is that Bollywood keeps being judged without being given a right to defend itself. The debate started with "Well, even if they DO make good movies, Bollywood is not exactly doing anything to dispel this bad opinion (as gratuitous as it may be) that people have of it.". While trying to objectively get to the "why" of that, we touched on a few interesting points.

1) People are far more aware of bad Bollywood movies than they are of good ones.

Why is that? Well, for one because word of mouth seems to work really well with trash: "Hey, I saw this unbelievably bad youtube video with this jeep crashing into a helicopter, it was Bollywood (no, it wasn't, but let's not even go there), here, you watch it too!". Or "Dude, I read that the most expensive Bollywood movie ever made is with this guy who turns into a robot and then turns into a CGI snake. We should get high and watch it, it's gonna be so trippy." Or "OMG check this out: this guy is rapping in English but it's not English and it's really really bad, it got like a million hits. Watch it, it's Hi-larious!". I could go on but you get the idea.

So naturally, when that's the kind of stuff that goes viral, it's hard to blame people for assuming the worst.

But that said, you really can't control what goes viral and what doesn't. So then where is the part that you do control? Well, sadly, it doesn't get much better there either. Distribution. Which brings us to...

2) Banking on only the big heroes is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What movies get good distribution overseas? The ones that are guaranteed to bring in the moolah from existing audiences, of course. So regardless of the quality or subject matter of the movie, if it stars SRK, Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan, it'll be in every theatre known to Indians. Now here's the problem with that: none of these heroes make movies that are going to change someone's opinion about Bollywood. They think the acting is crap... well, I doubt Akshay will change their mind on that. They think Bollywood movies are full of nonsense and ridiculous shit. Uh... yeah... I love Dabangg but it IS full of nonsense and ridiculous shit. They think Bollywood movies are there just to justify the song and dance routine and some silly love-story. Hm... something like Ra.One won't exactly make a case for plot over shiny dance sequences with the heroine looking hot, wind blowing in her hair. And at least if the dancing were still top notch, then maybe, just maybe the audience of such films as "Step Up" and "Save the Last Dance" would be tempted to go for it. Sadly, apart from booty-shaking, there's not a whole lot of good dancing coming out of the big productions in Bollywood these days (not you, Munni, you still rock!).

But I digress. To further complicate matters, these are exactly the type of movies that, because they are built around star-power, come in assuming a body of knowledge that the North American audience doesn't have. It's fun when you're in the know to get all the inside jokes and all the references to other Bollywood movies or other heroes, but it's no fun to sit there hearing the rest of the audience roar with laughter and have absolutely no clue what just made that scene so funny. So the movies that get the widest distribution are also the ones guaranteed to alienate any potential non-desi movie-goers.

You see how this argument will now start going in circles: good distribution is assured for actors who already appeal to the desi masses because that's who's going to bring in the money. These actors will be watched and enjoyed by the same people every time, which ensures that the next release will also come to town. And so the world turns. And the people who are NOT already on the SRK batmobile or the Salman Khan bandwagon? Oh those guys... well, they can go watch Harry Potter.

This part of the problem also gets mirrored on the media side of things. What does the radio cover? What movies will get an article in The Star? Whose arrival did you see on TV during IIFA? Guess! Why? Because that's what sells the paper, that's who people want to hear about, that's who they already know and love. How do you break this vicious cycle when none of these mass media outlets have any interest in reaching that part of the audience that *doesn't* already know about Bollywood? God only knows...

3) On the other side of the distribution coin, movies that could appeal to non-desis never even get marketed to them.

I remember being completely dumbfounded that Shor in the City didn't screen anywhere in Toronto. Here was an opportunity to introduce a movie with an actor that North American non-desi audiences were already familiar with (Sendhil Ramamurthy), banking on the success of the TV series Heroes, and thus potentially gaining yourself a new audience. My friends had no way of knowing if the movie was any good (and nor did I), but they would have gone to see it just for Dr. Suresh. How crazy would it have been if that movie ended up changing people's minds about Bollywood (because it actually is pretty damn good)? We'll never know...

Or take another little piece of good cinema, Dhobi Ghat. Would people who watch foreign movies from Europe be interested in seeing this and loving it? Most likely. And yet its entire marketing campaign was aimed at convincing existing Aamir Khan fans that this is not your typical Aamir movie. (Which by the way led nowhere because those Aamir fans still went in expecting another 3 Idiots and they still bitched about the movie being crap, so a wasted effort if you ask me). Not only that, but despite the very cool website and the dozen of "making of" featurettes, the film only had one trailer, and that trailer didn't really say anything about the plot (not saying it's easy to make a trailer about this movie without giving away the plot, but if I hadn't already been interested in the director, that trailer wouldn't have convinced me to see it). So with this in mind, what potential did Dhobi Ghat have to attract that audience that would have given it its due? Almost none. It was people like me who already love Bollywood that went, loved, wrote and... that's it.

Not really Bollywood, but I can think of a few people who would have really appreciated the Pakistani movie Bol... if only they had known about it. But even I discovered it by fluke during the one week when it played in the city. This type of film would have made the film fest circuit, I think... but it never seemed to even try even though it came out right around TIFF. I know I would have gone to it at TIFF instead of Chatrak.

And fine, forget these off-beat movies, they probably don't get much of an audience even in their home country, it's unfair to ask their producers to spend more on marketing when they're likely to not recover their money even at home (though that argument lacks vision completely, but whatever, let's accept it for argument's sake). Then what about some true blue Bollywood like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or even The Dirty Picture? Not technically your typical Bollywood blockbuster (although these days it's very hard to say what IS your typical Bolly blockbuster), but in my opinion a good enough combo of Bollywood pizzazz and a good story line. Not too much thinking required, mostly full-on entertainment with a few misty-eyed moments here and there. Certainly neither of them a perfect movie, but enjoyable enough for an evening out. Did either of them get promoted outside the desi-verse? If they did, I never saw it.

Let's go even further with this: do we really think that those legions of teenagers who flock to the theatres to sigh and swoon their way through Edward and Bella's love story would not be interested in watching something fun like Mere Brother Ki Dulhan? Is there any valid reason why they would not also fall in love with a Bittoo in Band Baaja Baarat? Because other than the fact that they're required to read subtitles, I really can't think of a reason why they wouldn't be a perfect audience for this type of movie coming out of Bollywood. Why, then, is this audience not targeted when clearly they love the genre?

Now I'm not saying I know how to really reach these audiences with a marketing campaign, because if I did, I'd move to India tomorrow and hit up Aamir Khan Productions for a job. But what I do know is that I saw posters for Cooking with Stella all over downtown Toronto when that movie came out. I know that Videsh (Heaven on Earth) was shown in theatres that had never seen a Bollywood movie before. And I know that Breakaway was allegedly the most watched Canadian English-language movie of the year. Now they could all have something to do with the fact that some of the big names involved in the production are Canadian citizens. Still... maybe worth studying what it is that they are doing right.

Though I will say, one thing that would really help and it's beyond me why it's not happening, is instead of making movies in English, how about putting some subtitles on those youtube trailers? And hey, while we're at it, if you're releasing the songs as a promo, stick some subs on those as well! It's nice that you want people to appreciate the music and the visuals for themselves, but you know what, a lot of times the beauty of a song lies precisely in the way the lyrics match the music and the moment, and if you don't understand the lyrics, that moment is likely to pass you by. Not to mention that a trailer with subtitles is more likely to be disseminated on Facebook, Twitter and all those magical places where friends of friends would now have a chance to actually understand what you're so excited about as opposed to feeling like an idiot for having to ask so many questions about what you just posted. The internet is the strongest marketing tool right now. USE IT! But I am wasting my breath, I know...

This screencap stolen from

Without getting into Bollywood's Hollywood complex which I find ridiculous anyway, I really wish Bollywood producers would explore the concept that maybe they don't need to change Bollywood to make it more marketable, it might be enough to just... market it properly!

Last but not least, and this is the one point where the biggest changes can be made...

4) Bollywood is such a self-centered industry.

Why not come out of its comfort zone and do some cross-pollination? I'm not just talking about Anil Kapoor being in the last Mission Impossible movie, or Aishwarya Rai being in the Pink Panther, or bringing in the awesome Poorna Jagannathan for Delhi Belly, although that's not a bad start. I'm talking about doing some joint projects, getting some experience elsewhere, bringing in some talent from abroad, just engaging with others. How many Hollywood actors have been in European movies? All the good ones. How many Hollywood directors watch Asian and European movies on a regular basis. Judging by what they list as their favourite movies, I'd say a lot. How much traffic is there back and forth for production staff across the continents? Enough. Sure it took decades to get to that kind of interaction, but Bollywood needs to come out and play already. Building itself a little fort of self-righteousness from which it scoffs at the other film industries while secretly wanting to be them will never be the way to go. National pride is nice and all but when Zoya Akhtar and Kiran Rao are the only two directors (that I can think of) who list non-Indian movies as their all time favourites on a regular basis, you know there's something rotten in the state of Denmark.

If people here were exposed to some Bollywood actors, cinematographers, plot-lines through this cross-pollination, their tolerance and curiosity for the real deal would probably increase substantially. And then it might go beyond Slumdog Millionaire and "that guy who won the Oscar for the soundtrack". Then you'd hear things like "Let's go see this Bollywood movie, it's with that girl from [insert title]. I love her!" and "Check it out, remember that awesome choreography from [insert title]? The same guy did the choreos in this movie". Or better yet "Wow, I LOVE this song. Here it is with subs. Hey wanna go see the movie it's from?". Sigh... Instead, actors from Bollywood would never be caught dead saying they'd like to be part of a foreign movie, the Indian actors who ARE part of international productions, such as Freida Pinto, are scoffed at, and whenever choreographers, singers and actors from North America do get involved in Bollywood projects, the enthusiasm is always one-sided and it's not on this side of the Pacific.

Until one or several of the above elements changes drastically, I will keep having to fight with friends to prove that Bollywood does *gasp* make good movies, while Indian films will continue to be this alien entity that holds nothing familiar and hence nothing of interest.

To end on an anecdotal note, I'll leave you with the best example that was given me last night during this discussion. Bollywood is like the Blackberry Playbook. It can do all these totally neat things, it's powerful, it's capable, it's reliable. But when it came out, it lost a lot of ground because of unfavourable comparisons to the iPad. Did anyone bother to look at what makes the Playbook different? Nope. All everyone wanted to see was how it fares next to the iPad in all the features that could be compared. And what about the areas that the iPad never even touched? Well, those don't matter and Blackberry certainly never bothered to highlight them. So in its own world, the Playbook is this awesome little product that will never get its due because its marketing campaign let it down. I don't have an iPad so I won't start comparing which one is better (and I don't really care, so please feel free to NOT start a debate over this), but the point is, just like with Bollywood, most people won't even give the Playbook a chance because it allowed itself to be positioned as Number 2 from the get-go. Why would I get the Number 2 product when Number 1 is readily available?

Ah... but what if Number 2 was not a number at all? What if it was just... say... the letter A?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ooh La La Ooh La... Blah?

According to imdb, I have to date seen 3 Milan Luthria films. Ok, 4 actually, but I really would rather forget I ever wasted 2 hours of my life to watch Hattrick. So those 3 are: Taxi 9 2 11, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and The Dirty Picture. And at the end of all three I felt like saying Romeo's line: "Oh wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied??". Luthria is a charming storyteller, but it's a crying shame that he can't make up his mind about what he wants to say with his films. Every time I see one I am left with the lingering question: Why did he make this movie? It's a good movie, sure, but... why?

After finishing Taxi 9 2 11 yesterday I commented that it's like a parable, it exists in a surreal world where the characters just... are, without having to justify why they are. You are told about them, and you just accept that they have their own internal logic and their own compulsions that well... you may not necessarily understand. But all will be explained when you get to the moral of the story (which is why I quite liked the ending, surreal as it may be).

Thinking of these other two movies (OUATIM and TDP), I think they also work well as parables. They talk of rises and falls, of right and wrong, of success and failure, and admittedly, they do so in a rather intelligent way. They're like a smart retelling of those children-stories you used to read years ago, with witty princes and fearsome ogres whose existence or raison d'etre you never questioned. You just went with it because that's what the story told you to. But unlike in fairy-tales, with Luthria there is no moral to the story in the end. There is no good to triumph over evil, there is no ogre to be slaughtered, there is no princess whose hand can be won. It's the same style of storytelling that parables use, but just when you get to the end and you're waiting for the punchline, for those last 2 lines that give you the life lesson to be learned, you get cut off.

The Dirty Picture is, admittedly or not, a biopic of the life and times of the South Indian sex-symbol of the 80s, Silk Smitha. Without knowing too much about her life, or having seen any of her films, I can still completely understand why she was a controversial actress. The Dirty Picture does well with showcasing that, and just in case you're slower on the uptake, they even put it into words for you, one of Naseeruddin Shah's best lines in the film: "You're our late night fantasy... that no one wants to talk about in the morning." This goddess of sex that everyone wants a piece of cannot be accepted as part of a society who thinks of itself as virtuous and wholesome.

But after having made this point, The Dirty Picture somehow chickens out when the time comes to hit you with the punchline. If the movie was to be a slap in the face of a public who cannot resolve the cognitive dissonance created by what it really wants and what is proper, then Silk should have triumphed in the end. If on the other hand it wanted to be a commentary on the genesis of a star and its inevitable downfall, then Silk didn't need to be Silk, it could have been any other star, the controversy didn't add anything to the story. As it stands, with its two feet in two different boats, The Dirty Picture leaves you with the truly dirty feeling that, when it's all said and done, this society which gets criticized in the beginning for not owning up to their lechery, is the one and only winner in this film. And as I was saying earlier, that makes me wonder: why tell this story to begin with?

Sure Vidya Balan is absolutely fabulous and truly the queen of our fantasies, whether those fantasies revolve around her generous cleavage or around the belief that a woman can be considered a sex-symbol even without spending grueling hours in the gym every week (I suspect a lot of women watching this will come out with this particular fantasy, as did I). And yes, Nasseruddin Shah is an absolute delight to watch as he lusts, smoulders, boils over and drools over... well, himself really (as much as Silk would like to think it's over her).

It also goes without saying that Ooh La La is a true feast for the eyes on the big screen, even though quite honestly the best version of the song is Tusshar's rendition of it in his bedroom. And I quite enjoy Emraan Hashmi when he's being emo and brooding, even if I will never understand why he just has to sing to at least one song in all of his films whether the film warrants it or not (and whether it's a pretty song or not).

And there's no denying that it's a very well made movie. But while leaving the theatre one can't help but think that despite the clever one-liners and the million bite-size life teachings that make up its script (sometimes in very entertaining ways), the Dirty Picture was robbed of its punchline. And if there IS a moral to the story, it's sadly the same old and boring one: that no matter how high we rise, our existence is meaningless if we don't have the only thing that matters: love.

You know, sometimes I think Bollywood is still terribly nostalgic of itself. In the past month I have seen 2 movies (Rockstar and The Dirty Picture) with a very similar trajectory: the rise and fall of a star who turns out to be nothing without love. I said that The Dirty Picture was a parable without a moral. But if Bollywood itself were to be seen as a story, its moral would be this line from an old song: Ishq bina kya jeena, yaara? (What's the point in living if there is no love?).

Which I find somewhat amusing given that Bollywood has been fighting against its old school love stories for almost a decade now. From making movies like I Hate Luv Storys, to reciting and mocking old love story dialogues in pretty much every other movie, to making a Rockstar and a Dirty Picture, it's like Bollywood can't make up its mind between embracing its love for love or letting go of it. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Rockstar with the burning power of a thousand suns, but sometimes I do think Bollywood is like a teenager, who can see nothing beyond that world of love that it has created for himself/herself. And just like human beings do, I wonder if Bollywood will ever grow up from its teens and realize that there are so many other things worth talking about in life other than love? It's not that I don't think it can move mountains, or that it's the most delightful anchor in one's existence, but let's admit it once and for all that it's not the be all and end all of life. And then move on.

Oh well... The Dirty Picture is still very much worth a watch for Vidya's excellent performance (or for her cleavage, depending on your tastes, of course).

The Dirty Picture (2011)
Director: Milan Luthria
Starring: Vidya Balan, Nasseeruddin Shah, Emraan Hashmi, Tusshar Kapoor
Music: Vishal- Shekhar
Choreography: Pony Prakashraj

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Of Men and Man-Children

We've talked about action heroes recently around here, so as the natural progression (or regression?) dictates, the time has come to talk about lovers. Ok, so it's really not the progression, it's more the fact that I've been thinking about this post for over a year now, and well, it's high time. And reading the beginning of this excellent post about the evolution of love stories over the decades reminded me of it.

Rockstar - my favourite love story lately
It's hard to ignore the fact that for the past 10 years of Indian cinema a new prototype of hero/lover has evolved, and it's more or less adequately summarized in one word: the man-child, defined as an immature grown man who still has no direction in life, nor much emotional maturity. Without getting into how generation Y is probably the biological father of this character, while globalization is its mother, we'll have to accept the fact that for the past decade it's been the back-bone of most love stories. And some non-love-stories too!

Wake Up Sid! - the title says it all
Gone are the days when fate or a fortuitous chain of events would finally unite the lovers who had agreed to call it quits for the sake of their families. Gone are the days when the crushed lover was willing to let the girl he loved walk away with the other man, and if we still see that man, he is no longer the hero, he has become the other man, pushed somewhere in the background while the main couple holds the sympathy of the audience firmly away from him. Sure we get all kinds of excuses for it: he was abusive (City of God), he was cheating (Kismat Konnection), he was too boring (I Hate Luv Storys), he was not really in love with her (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan), and sometimes no excuse is even needed (Rockstar), but the general rule is that it's the hero's right to get the girl. He certainly seems to think so. And it's this sense of entitlement that is, I feel, the first and most important trait of the man-child.

Sure, there's something to be said for his immaturity, as well as for his self-centered-ness, or for his fear of commitment. These are admittedly all important for his characterization, but unlike the sense of entitlement, they're nothing new. And this is also something that puzzles me personally, because there are few things I hate more in this world than entitlement. And yet... and yet, I am always on the side of the man-child, no matter how spoiled and obnoxious he is.

Dil Chahta Hai - the movie that started it all!
Thinking back about the lover prototype of the 90s/early 2000, one thing seemed to consistently annoy me in all the movies that I couldn't avoid from that decade (though for the most part I did well with avoiding them): the hero's helplessness. Devdas and his eternal self-pity, Raj willing to give up his Simran because the parents said so, Sameer's departure for similar reasons, even Ram giving up Sita for the sake of his people and his honour. All examples of the kind of man I would despise. What use do I have, as a woman, for a man who will not fight for me? How is this coward the ideal husband? Maybe that's why despite their extreme OTT-ness, I found Aamir Khan's old movies more palatable: he never did play the hero that just gives up. For all the ridiculousness of the chair-marriage in Dil, the man at least had the balls to stick to his guns. Don't get me wrong, I avoid those as well (sorry Aamirou), but when I do watch them, I appreciate that at least I don't have to yell at my TV screen: GROW A BACKBONE ALREADY!!

Devdas - It doesn't get much more pathetic than this
I don't know if it's my generation, my upbringing, my star sign or something altogether different, but giving up is not something I would ever have sympathy for. And my real life aversion for weak people seems to translate to my filmi preferences as well. So for all his alleged cuteness (I suppose that's a matter of taste with actors like SRK and Salman), I cannot cheer for a hero who puts his hands up and goes to mope in a corner. Unless of course, she's the one pushing him away, in which case insisting would turn into stalking and we all know how much I hate that.

So I guess when I think about it this way, I'm not really admiring the new hero's sense of entitlement, but rather his willingness to stay and fight once he finds the one thing he cares about. Whether it's through ridiculous and completely implausible plot twists, a la Break Ke Baad, or through hilariously complicated plans a la Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, or with the wild determination of a jungle predator a la Ghajini, or just by speaking up a la Dil Chahta Hai, I find myself always attracted to this hero who doesn't know what quitting means. Obviously all this goes for the heroine too, though sometimes I can understand her weakness where I would have zero tolerance for his. Still, it's much nicer if she is as determined as him.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan - a most tenacious pair!
On the other side of the coin, it occurs to me that this is most likely why I hated Mausam. But let's not digress.

Yes, he's a man-child, and yes, he needs to do some growing up, and yes, he will probably do at least 2 or 3 offensive things in the course of the movie, but when it's all said and done I am guaranteed to not see him feeling sorry for himself until the girl decides to call it off. And even then, in most cases, that's the catalyst for his growth (whether it's growing up, growing stronger, or growing famous), so you never get that sense of self-inflicted helplessness from him.

I don't mind spoiled brats. Of course, we'd never work out in real life, but they do rather amuse me on screen. I do however get an irresistible urge to slap them when they turn out to be quitters too, on top of being brats. And this seems to be the difference between me hating Devdas and loving Dev D. Between unabashedly despising Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and embracing Jab We Met. Between thinking Dil To Pagal Hai's ending is a lame cop-out and finding the ending of Dil Chahta Hai exhilarating. And let's not even try to pit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge versus Rockstar. Talk about going for it!

Jab We Met - selflessness done right
Now don't get me wrong, before the desis start explaining to me the importance of family, honour and "doing the right thing", let me preemptively state that I am vigorously of the opinion that no one who loves you should ever stand in the way of your happiness. Also, in terms of parenting, I firmly believe that the young ones should be allowed to make their own mistakes, though feel free to practice your "I told you so" diction in the mirror all you want in anticipation of their failure. So with that in mind, I guess it boils down to: why care about the family honour when the family couldn't care less about your happiness? And if others do and can relate to these heroes, so be it. I just don't think I will ever be persuaded to.

If I absolutely have to have a Raj, I'll take Saawariya's Raj, despite all the film's faults, because at the end of it all, he's still boxing with unhappiness.

Saawariya - so many things wrong with this one, but what a memorable Raj!
If I have to talk about a noble soul who gives up the woman he loves, I'll talk about Jab We Met's Aditya Kashyap who goes on to make something of his life as a result of his heart-break. If I am to love a quitter, I will choose Lakshya's Karan who, despite his completely unrealistic trajectory, makes a strong case for learning from one's failures. And if I am to cheer for a man who chooses the honour of his family over the happiness of the woman he loves, I'll choose Pinjar's Rashid because he more than makes up for it.

Pinjar - another favourite love story, and don't think there are that many!
While they may not all be man-children per se (unless we broaden the definition to encompass all emotional immaturity), they all go against the norm of the mopey, honourable end-of-century lover as made famous by Shah Rukh Khan, though far be it from me to lay the blame solely on him. It was definitely a trend everyone was a part of, he just happened to be the most famous, and therefore his movies are the hardest to avoid. So you know, I tend to rip on him more, but the problem extends to most movies from the 90s and early 2000s.

Taal - Oh, don't even get me started!
I find that the past decade has happily solved this problem for me! They may have brought in the slacker to replace the struggler, and the video-games player to replace the hard working college student, but hey, it's the SMS generation, isn't it? There is a short cut for everything, values and ethics have definitely changed.

Tere Bin Laden - how do you not love this slacker? And see, it doesn't even have to be a love story!
I must say I do love this generation. It's not just that I love the actors and the fact that they refuse, for the most part, to be stuck in the same role, but I also love this spirit of independence, this effervescence and yes, this streak of immaturity about it. On and off screen.

I love that they want the world and they think there's no reason why they shouldn't get it. Yup, I'll take the immature fighter over the mature, righteous quitter. Any day.

Road, Movie - what a classic!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's the Little Things about Rockstar...

I've resolved that even if I can't review Rockstar in something more coherent than a series of sighs, there are still a few things I would like to leave for posterity on this blog. One area in particular about the direction of this film interests me because of my background, and I'd like to share it with you since I don't expect most reviews will touch on it, and that's the "local colour".

In this day and age, when technology can deliver even snow to your doorstep in Miami, local colour is still something that very few artists manage to capture, be they photographers, painters, film-makers or writers. It's such an elusive concept too: is it the smells or a place, is it the colours, is it the muffled conversations in the background, is it the taste of a local dish, is it the blurred faces of people passing by? Probably all of the above, and then a little extra something, a detail here and there that is so unique and so representative of that place that it will release an avalanche of memories in an instant. Much like in Proust's famous episode of the madeleine.

Bollywood is not particularly renowned (feel free to read "infamously known for failing in this department") for researching and capturing the elements specific to the foreign set where parts of a movie are shot. Many examples come to mind, but the one that stands out for me right now is Kismat Konnection (because it was set in Toronto), which not only failed to capture anything that is typical for Toronto (really, it could have been any other city and the movie would have been the same), but also managed to sin against my patience by dubbing the "locals" with some sort of alien accent that I can't even place, but it sure as hell was not from this continent. And let's not even talk about Kahin Na and the ridiculous blondes jamming on mandolines with some sort of local rastafarian. Um... wtf??? Anyway, better stop here before I get all angry again.

And let's not even talk about the many productions that were shot in England, no, let's not even go there, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

Come to think of it, apart from placing the action in certain very pretty places or iconic situations, I don't think Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara did terribly well with giving the film a pronounced Spanish colour, something that you can instantly recognize as typical. Sure the song Senorita is sung by a local flamenco singer, but apart from that everything in it is desi. The same can be said about the rest of the scenes in the film: whenever there are interactions with locals they're written from a desi point of view, none of it looks like it's been written by someone who has lived and interacted with the locals for too long.

But Rockstar truly impressed me. Not because I think Imtiaz Ali is brilliant (which I do), and not because Prague is one of my favourite places in the world (which it is), and certainly not because I adore the Italians in Italy (not so much the ones here, but that's a different matter), but I was in awe at how much I was feeling the local atmosphere in both Verona and Prague. They say the devil is in the details. And if so, Imtiaz Ali is one delicious devil.

I did appreciate the Italian police cussing Jordan in Italian (you know, as opposed to say, Hungarian or worse yet, Hindi!), and the marketplace atmosphere in the footage at the beginning of the film before Ranbir even appears on screen. But the one moment that struck me (and made me snort both times I saw it in the theatre) was during Ranbir's intro when he finally manages to escape the cops and gets off the streecar: two girls recognize him and start running after him screaming "E' Giordano! E' Giordano" (It's Jordan, it's Jordan!). I'm not sure how much this will amuse anyone else, but I am always in awe at how Italian people manage to translate everything in Italian, especially names. So to have them translate Jordan's name to Giordano in that brief sequence just tickled me into happiness. It's such a little detail that no one would even think twice about it, and who knows, maybe it all happened by accident, but if it didn't (as I like to hope), it's a wonderful proof of solid, careful film making from Imtiaz Ali. It's little things like this that I always hope to see in a film shot in a foreign location.

Which brings me to the second minuscule detail that coloured me happy, this time in the Prague scenes. Now this one may be entirely a fabrication of my too optimistic imagination, but there's a scene where JJ and Heer are having shots on a patio overlooking Hradcany and the St. Vitus Cathedral.

Leaving aside how gorgeous Prague looks throughout the film (though not even close to how charming it is in real life), did anyone notice the colour of the "cheap liquor" they're having? Because unless they were doing shots of the good tequila (and why would they have tequila in Prague?), I am willing to bet that coloured water was standing in for Becherovka, the most famous local bitters. Why would I get so excited about this? Well for one, because there's a bottle of it in my freezer than I can use to cheer to Imtiaz Ali's health when I am done with this post. But really, because, once again, when it's so easy to wing something as trivial as this and just have water standing in for vodka in those glasses, this kind of attention to detail is such a pleasant surprise.

As an aside, I am also amazed at how they managed to shoot on Charles Bridge, THE most iconic place in Prague, without a soul in sight. Because normally that bridge is packed with people, sketch artists and local musicians. So it looks more like this:

Speaking of local musicians... how in love am I with Hawa Hawa? No really, ask me how obsessed I am! Ok, fine, don't ask me, but I'll tell you anyway. I am so in love with that song that not even the ridiculous flamenco skirts can ruin it for me. (Granted, I do get it that they needed something colourful and easy to slip into, so I don't mind it, just pointing out that it's not exactly local. Even gypsy skirts would have been more appropriate.) But it makes me so happy that it starts with Jordan jamming with a group of street performers because I can so see that happening in a place like Prague where everyone is always up for a drink and a song.

Apart from sounding so authentically Eastern European that Goran Bregovic would probably blush in envy, the lyrics and story of Hawa Hawa are an adaptation of a fairy tale from the Grimm Brothers: The Twelve Dancing Princesses, whose origins are next door in Germany (if there is such a thing as origins for fairytales). But here's my favourite part: the details were changed to fit the story of Jordan and Heer. So the youngest princess turned into a queen, the curse turned into free will, and the king turned into her stiffling husband. Only the poor soldier stayed the same. Oh, how I love poetic licence! And how perfectly woven into the narrative that this is the first song Jordan composes after meeting Heer again in Prague.

I'm sure upon further rewatches (and there will be MANY of them!) I will giggle at many other little details like these from Rockstar. But for now, back to planning my third trip to the theatre to see Hawa Hawa once again on the big screen! I know everyone is all about Saadda Haq and Kun Faya Kun, and I am definitely with them, but Hawa Hawa gives me a special kind of nostalgic happiness that no other song has given me until now. And all the little paintbrushes of local colour from Rockstar make me wonder why it's been so damn long since I've been to Europe! Sigh... Add this to the pile as emotion number 563 that has not left me since I saw this film.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rockstar - a Love Story Made for Me

There are movies that punch you in the lungs and leave you breathless.
Rockstar is not that movie.
There are movies that leave you mellow and lazy as if you had just woken up on a Sunday morning.
Rockstar is not that movie.
Most movies just leave you unmoved, and some, too few, leave you thinking.
Those are not Rockstar either.

But then there are movies that you just feel in your gut, even when your mind can't explain them. Rockstar is like leaving a dry white sheet out in the rain. Every drop that falls on it is a new emotion, a new song, a new moment. At the end the sheet is heavy with rain, but even if you tried wringing it, the drops would not come out individually, as they came in. Rather they'd all flush down in a rush to sink back in the ground. So you don't wring it. You just let it sit there, heavy with all its meanings, until time slowly dries it and it's safe to offer it to the rain again.

I refuse to deconstruct Rockstar into its characters, its songs, its narrative, its dialogues, its first and second half, how it's Ranbir's career best, how Imtiaz Ali always speaks straight to my soul, how Rahman's music is immortal. It would be like trying to get each drop of rain back out of that sheet. Even if I managed to, it would leave it wrinkled, devoid of its meaning. I'd rather hold on to that heaviness it left in my stomach with its last images, its last flashback dialogue, with Rumi's poem. Over Mohit Chauhan's smooth voice.

"I couldn't live outside again", says Jordan to Heer. For anyone who wants to see it, that is the key to his character and to his thorny story. But that outside world doesn't know that. They only see the rebellion, and feed on it without understanding it. The more he tries to push them away, the more they are attracted to this darkness as if to a black hole. And while being drawn to it, they, in turn, exacerbate it. It's funny how the same society who constrains us to live and die in a certain "suitable" way, falls for the ones who won't conform, wants to posses them in a badly veiled attempt to hide the envy that they got away. When in fact... they never did get away. They're just as trapped as everyone else.

If you forget all that, it's easy to look at a song like Saadda Haq and call it a youth anthem, an inflammatory slogan, a middle finger raised to rules, war, and corruption. Because it's brilliant enough to also mean all these things. How easy it is to forget that it is, at the core, just a song about being allowed to cut your own path, to live after your own heart, whether it leads you to the right place or the wrong one.

It's also easy to look at Rockstar and rip its metaphors into little pieces of trivialities. After all, don't all painters use the same colours? But it's the big picture that makes an artist. Then again, all artists are often misunderstood.

Wait... Didn't I say I wasn't going to break it into pieces? Yes, I do believe I did.

Do I stop here saying it's my favourite love story of the year? Yes, I think I should.

"Main galat hoon, toh phir kaun sahi?" (If I am wrong, then who is right?)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

MOuchoPrema for MOvember

Yes, yes, it's November, and men are celebrating across the continent by growing moustaches for all kinds of causes. In the blogging universe however, we're predominantly women. So since growing one would be, maybe not impossible but rather anti-aesthetic, we found a better way to express our solidarity with the cause.

Presenting to you: MOuchoPrema, a month long celebration of moustaches in all shapes, sizes and connotations! Anything goes as long as it has a moustache!

All the links for this festival will be collected by the lovely Beth and posted here. So if you want to add your own, just tweet either one of us and use the hashtag MOuchoPrema, or drop us an email on our blogs.

Among other moustache aficionados, we have heard from the following bloggers who have posts in the works, or have already offered some for consumption:
Temple and Heather from Cinema Chaat
Liz from My Year of Prakash Raj
Vanessa from Shah Rukh Is Love
Katherine from Totally Filmi
Isabel from Perdue in Bollywood
Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood
and of course, yours truly!

Let me know if you want to join in! And for MOvember, let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!

It's MOvember... Zoom In on the 'Staches!

5 years ago if you had asked me to name 5 moustachioed men I liked, I probably would have made a long pause after blurting out the first two obvious names: Salvador Dali and Freddy Mercury.

Some thinking time would have probably added Hercule Poirot and then I would have been stuck.

Well, that all changed with starting to watch Indian movies, where the moustache is glorified as THE most coveted symbol of virility and manliness. Hence all the jokes in films about young men who should stay out of adult affairs because they haven't even grown a moustache yet. And hence entire songs (or at least mentions) that pay homage to the hero's moustache.

Now personally I've never been a fan of the clean, lawyer-like shave, so in my book some well groomed facial hair that suits the person's face is always a win. Day-old beards fare very well too. But moustaches are a little tricky, and I'll admit it took me a little bit to warm up to them. However, now that I have, I really think there are people who owe it to themselves to sport a mooche more often, and these people are who this post is all about.

And just so we're all clear, moustache ONLY is what I was after. The combo of thick moustache and day-old beard, as can be seen on a few South Indian heroes (Ram Charan Teja is the first one that comes to mind, Sharvanand would be another) doesn't count. As much as I love it to bits. Nor have I looked at those heroes who have never been seen with a perfectly clean shave, or with a perfectly defined moustache, so actors like Allu Arjun and Mahesh Babu have been left out as well (as much as I enjoy posting pretty pictures of them).

Now that the methodology has been put in place, Dolce and Namak are ready to get into some serious moustache talk. By the way, you're also invited to vote on which look tickles your sex appeal bone!

First up - the Southies!


Dolce and Namak in unison: Moustache. All the way. In fact: a clean shave = ewwwww!!!

Namak: You know, I'm actually kind of leaning towards the clean shave on this one...
Dolce: But but, look at that glorious display of manliness. Come on! You gotta give it to the stache, it's impressive.
Namak: No doubt. But if he were to just have a regular one, it would look like this:
Dolce: Hm... yeah, that's not exactly a winner. All right, clean shave it is.

Prakash Raj
Namak: Wow, that zoom-in was really not necessary.
Dolce: Shut up. It was. We have to pay homage to the perfection of this particular moustache.
Namak: Whatever. The vote would have been the same anyway: moustache 100%. People with such round faces should always put some thought into their facial hair.
Dolce: Not only that, but he really looks like he's missing something when he's shaved.
Namak: Agreed.


Namak: Sigh... Do we have to get into this one again??
Dolce: No. This will be short and sweet: the moustache needs to DIE! It makes Prithvi look like the sleazy uncle you really don't want giving candy to your children. Or like a carpet salesman in a bazaar in Istanbul. Or like a 70's...
Namak: All right. Short and sweet, short and sweet, let's not go overboard now.
Dolce: Right. Short answer: lose it.

Namak: You know, Siddharth tends to either do the clean shave, the stubble, or a combo thing, I don't remember ever seeing him with a proper full mooche.
Dolce: Ah, how quickly you forget! Sure it may have been for a brief scene or two, but behold, a full bodied, elegant piece of awesomeness!
Namak: Oooooh! That is indeed a thing of beauty! Wait, are we sure it's not the lighting, or the green filter? Oh, whatever, it doesn't matter.
Dolce: So... vote for it? Yes?
Namak: Yes, I think I'm in love!

Sonu Sood
Dolce: Now that's a tough one! The problem with Sonu is that he looks good no matter what. I mean, truly, have we ever seen him look less than perfect?
Namak: Unfortunately, yes, I do believe we have!
Dolce: Oh boy, yes, I forgot about that! So then for the sake of consistency, we're going with no mooche on this one?
Namak: We are. Even though those stills from Maximum do look pretty damn good!

As an aside, before we move to the North, there are 2 actors that I don't ever even want to see without a moustache, because I am firmly convinced they would look terrible without it, and that's Chiranjeevi and Gopichand. Just putting this up there.

My suspicion about Chiranjeevi was in fact confirmed when my fellow Chiru aficionada Temple from Cinema Chaat gave me the link to this song. No. Just no.

On to the North? Oh, some good favourites here!

Abhishek Bachchan
Just in case you haven't read my review of Dum Maaro Dum, you can do so here. It will also explain the vote for the mooche in the above choice.
Namak: Really? We like him better than shaved?
Dolce: Not convinced? Ok, I'll add one more for good measure.
Namak: Ha! Fine, I suppose if the beard is not a choice, which is pretty much divine on him, mooche is better than nothing.

Ajay Devgan
Dolce: Seriously now! This is not even fair!
Namak: I know, right? Moustache all the way!
Dolce: Definitely one of the cases where I cannot for the life of me understand why he would ever even shave it.

Shahid Kapoor
Dolce: Oh dear, must we?
Namak: Oh yes, we must! No opportunity must be wasted in the effort to express our disdain towards Mausam.
Dolce: Ok. Are we happy now? Yes, the moustache is terrible.

Hrithik Roshan
Namak: Gosh, I'm shocked to say this, but that Jodhaa Akbar moustache is a win.
Dolce: And keep in mind he's hardly ever without any kind of stubble nowadays. And God knows in his youth he was not exactly pretty without facial hair either.
Namak: Yes, I do believe we have to go with moustache for Hrithik.

Aamir Khan
Namak: Oh boy, another tough one! I do love that Mangal Pandey 'stache!
Dolce: I know, dammit, me too! But I really like the clean shave business too. Gosh, so hard to choose!
Namak: Yes, especially when we throw this one on the table as well:
Dolce: You know, we haven't cheated at all this game. Can we? Please?
Namak: Was just thinking the same thing. All right. It's a tie!

Salman Khan
Dolce: I think this one has to be seen in action, but I do find the no-good-goonda mooche quite appealing.
Namak: Hey, considering we NEVER find Salman appealing, that would mean it wins by default, right?
Dolce: Why yes, yes, I suppose it does!

And this is the end of the North Indian batch. What? No SRK? No Saif Ali Khan? No Abhay Deol? Well, no. Some of them are so obvious that there's no fun in comparing them. Though this particular still from Mere Brother Ki Dulhan makes me wonder if Imran Khan would be a contestant in a future poll if he ever made a movie with that look...

But certainly we cannot end without taking a trip down memory lane, to talk about the one and only: Raj Kapoor. Possibly THE most famous 'stache in Indian cinema. Actually not much to talk about: I was unequivocally convinced of its glory when I saw Raj Kapoor without a moustache in Aag.
Ugh. No. Just no.