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.