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.


Anonymous said...

Damn you Dolce, this post makes it impossible for me to not go out and watch Rockstar, which is still in the theatres here. If I end up hating it, which looks like a definite possibility, I am going to blame your blog for 2 and a half hours of my life wasted :-P

The Giordano scene does warm my heart as well, for reasons that I cannot fantom, considering that I have not even watched the movie yet. Maybe it's because I am such an Italy-phile or maybe because as you point out, there is so
little local colour in most Hindi movies.

Speaking of ZNMD the bollywoodization of Spain was especially unforgivable
because a) Zoya was actually attempting to make Spain a character in the film and not just use the location as an excuse for a whori-gori orgy and b) she is dating a Spainiard.

I was kind of amused at how many cliches she crammed into the film: running
with the bulls, The mechanical bull, flamenco, slutty western girl, paella, Tomatina...There was not a single Spanish detail there that did not come out of the tourist brochure description of the country.

Read the first two paragraphs here, and tell me if you don't honestly think that she used that as her only material to create the Spanish landscape for her film


Radical said...

hey Lady...i thought u took a trans-atlantic flight in the not-so-distant past. that wasn't to eastern europe, then?!:P!

Mette said...

We shouldn't begin to talk about Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, should we? ;)

Dolce and Namak said...

Haha! Sanyogita, I think this film will be talked about for a looong time now, so even just for that, give it your money so you can have an informed opinion about it. Do try and pay attention though, a lot of people seem to be confused by the non-linearity of the narrative, though I think if you pay attention and keep your brain on ON, you should be fine. If anything this one is worth the big screen just for the songs. I would pay the full admission price for each of them (and there are many ;)). Looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

As for Zindagi, it's not that I didn't love it visually and I really appreciated how much time and resources were allocated to showcasing Spain, but without having been there, just from having spend ample time with Spaniards while I was in Europe, I didn't really feel that it captured the spirit of the country. It was more like looking at a very pretty album of pictures. Nothing against Zindagi which I quite enjoyed (more as a fluffy timepass than as a life changing piece of cinema, but anyway), it's just that I never realized what was missing until I saw all those little things in Rockstar and went: a-ha! THAT's how it's done! :)

I hope you like it if you do get around to seeing it! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Vistrit, yes, this past winter, but I never count going home as "travelling". It's just... going home. :) I haven't done some proper Europe travelling in something like 3 years and it's starting to show in my crankiness. :P

Hey Mette: haha, yes, let's not. ;-)

Larissa said...

Girl, as if you are going to criticize Zoya's portrayal of Spain in ZNMD without actually having been to Spain! :-P I thought she did a great job, whether it was showing the narrow lanes of Barri Gotic in Barcelona, the stunning blue water/white houses combination of Costa Brava, or the sun-drenched stone of Seville. And the ZNMD equivalent of Ranbir and Nargis (maybe) drinking Becherovka on that patio is hearing Hrithik order tortilla at the bar :-)

Dolce and Namak said...

Haha! But of course I will! :) I'm not criticizing the ability to capture the places photographically, that I'm sure she did very well, even if I have no way to verify it until I go. But having spent a lot of time with Spanish people, I didn't feel that their spirit was captured in the film. Perhaps a second watching will change my mind, maybe I'll notice things I didn't notice before, but I don't remember coming out of the theatre and thinking "wow, I miss my Spanish friends from Uni...".

The only scene that seemed to have some spirit was when Kat and Hrithik are walking around the city and they end up in that park. But the conversation they were having ruined the feel of that scene for me, so there goes that. :(

That said, far be it from me to even hint that the photography of the film was not amazing, I don't think there's any arguing there. It looked exquisite!

Larissa said...

I don't understand why you would expect ZNMD to remind you of the Spanish people you know, because it's not about Spanish people. It's about Indian people visiting Spain, and the movie shows you Spain from their perspective, the perspective of a tourist.

Dolce and Namak said...

Well, that was kinda the entire point of my post. That a movie doesn't *have* to do that, but I appreciate it if it does. :) If it does remind me of things I am familiar with from that country, then I can say it captured the local colour. If it doesn't, then it didn't. That was the distinction I was trying to make, because for me including those little details really increases my respect for the film maker. Not that other movies that don't manage that are bad, it's a detail (hence the title of my post with emphasis on little things ;)), but the ones that capture it get that extra inch of love from me, that's all. It won't matter either way for most people watching it, but it seems to add a little something for me.

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johannes said...

in the Hindi film "Rockstar" there is a scene with the song "hava hava/ hawa hawa" (its story
taken from the Czech folk tale, "Sleepy John"; Czech John "český Honza").

Can you hear what the man with the accordion is singing?
0:17 to 0:25

Which is the language this man is singing in?
Can you please send me this language's phrases in its original writings and its translations into English?

Or can you please tell me this man's name and e mail address for being able to ask himself?

I thank you in advance for your kindness
with kind regards

Ernst Tremel

johannes said...

Can you hear what the man with the accordion is singing?
0:17 to 0:25

Which is the language this man is singing in?
Can you please send me this language's phrases in its original writings and its translations into English?

Or can you please tell me this man's name and e mail address for being able to ask himself?

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