Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Gamyam" Review

In preparation for their (soon to be released) most expected Telugu movie of the season, “Vedam”, Dolce and Namak watched the director's first movie to get a feel for what to expect.

The story in Gamyam is quite simple: obscenely rich boy (Abhi) who never worked a day in his life meets hard working middle class girl (Janaki), falls in love after seeing her dance (he calls it love at second sight – Dolce would call it love at first dance, a feeling she knows all too well, since a variety of her crushes were born that way) and proceeds to woo her. Here's the lovely unexpected twist: she falls for certain parts of his personality, but ultimately can't come to terms with the Abhi-centric, arrogant side of him and so, prompted by a dramatic accident, she picks up and leaves.

Namak was jumping up and down at this unexpected turn of events, as Indian girls in movies are generally not very decisive that way and they tend to stick around and try to change things or suffer in silence rather than take a matter into their own hands and just say: “enough!” Meanwhile Dolce was, not surprisingly, too taken in by the charm of the main lead to notice such unessential points.

Namak: “He's not a particularly good actor this Sharvanand I see mostly two expressions on his face: brooding (and entitled during much of the first half), or romantic come-hither smile”
Dolce: “I think he's pretty good.”
Namak: “He has potential, sure, but he's not very versatile when it comes to emoting”
Dolce: “Isn't he so cute though?”
Namak: “Wha-- God, I can't have a reasonable argument with you, can I?”

To illustrate the come hither look:

Alright, forget the main leads, this is a lost cause. As Namak sinks back into her seat after this exchange of “opinions” she starts to get excited about the storytelling in general. The movie goes back an forth effortlessly between revealing new pages of the relationship between Abhi and Janaki ultimately reaching the events that led to their fallout, and Abhi's current journey across many villages, and interesting characters in search of Janaki. Though she does find the ubiquity of the story's message just a tad irritating.

Namak leaning towards Dolce about three quarters into the movie: “So wait, what was the message of the movie again?”
Dolce: “Shut up, I'm trying to watch this”.
Namak: “Oh, never mind, there it is again. 'I know that he's a thief, but you don't know that he's also a human being'. I could have sworn they made that point barely 10 minutes ago about the theatre dancer", she notes sarcastically.
Dolce: “Shh!”
Namak: “Don't worry, it's not like you can actually miss anything important: they are sure to repeat it in another 15 minutes.”

Now Namak is just being picky. To be honest she doesn't really mind it because, repetition notwithstanding, the movie does have a great message, one that can never be stressed enough in a self centered society such as our own: you'll never get to understand the real world if you're only looking at it through the car window. School can only take you so far, you need to go out and experience life first hand, and see that the real world is made up of imperfect human beings that even in the darkest places have the ability to learn and the power to love.

There are some other charming moments that stay with you, such as Janaki's dance, the “well deserved slap”, the character of Gaali Seenu, beautiful simple images - almost photographs - of real human beings living their real lives... everything comes together on an enchanted canvas painting the director's genuine love for people. And speaking of love, some cool comments on that as well, such as the three kinds of love: love's effects last for 2 months, big love's effects will last 2 years, great love however will change your whole life. Wise words, wise words indeed!

The "Thousand Hands" Dance:

Sadly, the movie falls short on script and performances at the end. I expected the journey to come full circle in a more subtle way, I expected the best performances to come out of these actors in the final scenes. Not so. And that brings my expectations back in check for Vedam: the director does not seem to have as good a grasp as I would want him to on restraining an actor's tendency to overact in the big emotional scenes. As a result, even Dolce's fangirl heart sank at the prospect of a similarly powerful scene in Vedam.

Judging it a little harshly maybe? Perhaps... But from me that is a great compliment for a movie: it means it's playing in the big league, and that it's worth pointing out its imperfections because everything else is good enough to compete with the very best.

Gamyam to me was like Shropshire Blue cheese. It has all the ingredients to be an excellent cheese: great aroma, intriguing colour, yet somehow it manages to unexpectedly steer towards the bland because the taste is simply not as strong as it could be. Lovely cheese, I like it, recommend it, and I will pick it over many other equally good cheeses, but I can't help but think that it could be so much more, that it could be truly outstanding. Instead it's... “nice, very nice...”.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In Search of the Elusive Indian Audience's Psyche

As payback for Dolce's latest post that Namak had to sit helplessly through, with her reactions changing from amused to embarrassed, to outraged and finally to: “She did NOT just put up pictures for all that too!!”, Namak has now locked Dolce in the bathroom for the duration of this post and has the podium all to herself and her random thoughts on Indian audiences.

I've always been puzzled about the complex equations that lead a good movie to flop and a bad movie to smash all records in the Indian Film Industry more so than in other film industries, so this question is always at the back of my head when I talk to someone about Indian films. This story is about one such conversation that left me even more puzzled.

Coming back from seeing “Darling” in a suburban Toronto theatre a few weeks ago, a very shy Andhra boy started talking to us. I suppose the two white chicks at a Telugu movie with no subtitles would prompt people to go “wtf”, and it prompted not one, but two guys at different moments to come and express their surprise. This young lad accompanied us for a long part of the journey home. After talking a little bit about the movie we had just seen, we start chatting about other movies and discover that we are both Allu Arjun fans - judging by how his face lit up when I mentioned I was excited about Vedam coming out soon, I really don't think he was just saying it to make me happy. (By the way, I can hear Dolce banging on the bathroom door wanting to get out, but I did say no fangirling in this post, so nope, no gushing about Arjun allowed.)

As we're talking about films in general, I ask him the question that had been on my mind since I started watching a certain kind of Southie films: what's up with this stalking business and why is it considered acceptable by the Indian audiences? He tells me that “Arya” was actually a “trend-setter” and after learning that I didn't like it, he proceeds to explain that yes, he does feel sorry for the girl a bit when she is being pursued, obsessed over, and essentially emotionally blackmailed into accepting the hero, but he, the audience, knows she should end up with the hero because, well... because he's the hero and we know he's a great guy!

At this point I start thinking: really? So are you telling me this whole time the joke was on me because I was getting into the movie and identifying with the characters and, you know... doing what one does with every movie, which is judging it from inside the world it creates? Because there I was thinking I was an educated audience, meanwhile I'm being schooled by this young man who clearly can separate the movie from his principles in real life... I must have been wrong all along then!

As the conversation progresses however, we get to another point where we disagree, and this one is even more thought provoking. We're talking about “Varudu” and he asks me if I liked it.
“Well,” I go, “barring the dialogue which I didn't understand a word of, so if it was badly written I wouldn't know, I thought it was a pretty good movie”.
“Really?” he rebuffs. “I didn't like it.”
I go back in my mind to scenes from the film and think: wow, the dialogue must have been really bad then, because I can't think of any other reason to truly dislike Varudu, especially if you're a fan of... that guy whose name I will not mention lest Dolce knock down the door and come at me with a machete.

I try to test the water a little bit more:
“Oh come on, how could you not like it? The last fight was all colours of awesome! (teaser for it at the end of this trailer)”
“That's just it, I didn't like that part at all. It was so... artificial”.

HUH??? If I had a penny for every millimeter that my eyes grew bigger by after hearing this... well, let's just say I'd never have to go to work again and I'd watch Tollywood movies all day...
So let's get this straight: he thinks Prabhas outrunning a car and ripping off its door while being chased by an angry mob of machete-wielding goondas in “Darling” is just fine, but the fight in Varudu was... and I quote: “artificial”???
“Well, that's different”, he explains, “that felt more real.”

Oh sweet gods, so now the story should feel real where before it was isolated from reality with surgical precision? And you're telling me that while I was enjoying a very sleek, gorgeously choreographed fight sequence against some (decently done) colour coordinated CGI backgrounds and thinking it's the best thing I've seen since House of the Flying Daggers (granted, mostly because HOTFD didn't have any good looking guys), the intended audience for this movie was thinking: “Bah, this is too artificial, I don't like it.”? Sure it was over the top, duh!, but where is that fine line between “believable” over the top and “artificial” over the top? I have no idea! To me they're all pretty unbelievable and at the same time they're all pure badassness!

My search for understanding the Indian audiences goes on, it seems every conversation guides me further away from my destination.

Time to let Dolce come out, I suppose, we'll need to pacify her before the next post.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Badmaash Company" Review

I suppose this is a good movie to start the blog reviews section, since I am a huge Shahid Kapoor fan. It also seems like an excellent intro for Dolce and Namak because this is one of those typical situations where I am torn on my opinion about the film and everything in it. provides this presentation for the movie which I find decent:
"Life in the 1990's was remarkably different for the average Indian. Consumerism had not set in. It was devoid of most of the luxuries of the West. In fact everything "imported" was good, and everything Indian, passé. "Badmaash Company"is an extraordinary story set in the 1990s in middle class Bombay of four ordinary youngsters - Karan (Shahid Kapoor), Bulbul (Anushka Sharma), Zing (Meiyang Chang), and Chandu (Vir Das) - who came together to start an import business of things longed for by yuppie Indians!"

Right from the beginning, our two girls started arguing in my head and did not let up until long after the movie had ended.

Namak: Nice, I like the voiceover. Smart of them to do an intro to explain what the times were like. I wouldn't have known that about India.
Dolce:  Hm... Sure, it's nice, but why was it necessary? 1994 was not that long ago. Surely people would either remember or know stories about those years. Don't tell me this movie is meant to woo foreign audiences!

Dolce was right. Not only is it meant for them, but it is also done very Hollywood for my tastes. Dolce ended up missing her Bollywood deeply during this one. Already the big dance numbers are few and far between (and none here), lip syncing to great songs is going extinct (and this movie confirms it) and the Indian glitz and glitter is wearing dull (in fact, there's none of it in this particular movie), but now we've lost even the not-so-great features that make Bollywood... Bollywood! Such as the big emotional scenes, the big impractical love stories, the big family drama that transcends time and space... Nope, none of that left here.

Namak: Hey, I didn't miss that at all! In fact I was grateful that after the big teary scene between Karan and Bulbul, there wasn't another one with his dad!
Dolce: But even the big teary scene you mentioned had Hollywood style dialogues! (Though admittedly I did like the proposal dialogue)
Namak: Well, maybe that's how people talk now. Are we going to try to stop globalization to rescue Bollywood?
Dolce: No, but it's a shame that they're trying so hard to be on this side of the Atlantic...
Namak: It's ok, I felt there was plenty Bollywoodness in the Bleeding Madras plot twist. I mean, talk about getting filmi!

This goes on for a while. They do manage to agree that the first two cons were rather brilliant and cleverly presented. In the meantime the movie has moved to the US where it attempts a housing bubble based stunt, and once again Dolce and Namak surprisingly agree: this one was lame! I suppose research about how one obtains a loan in the US and the basic conditions that have to be met (such as a credit history) was an afterthought rudely dismissed by the producers.

On the final scheme put together by the four friends, they disagree again:

Namak: This is the worst! I know people are gullible and a good tagline can make them do almost anything, but still: a celebrity endorsement and marketing can't possibly make a defective product successful. (And as she's saying that, Namak realizes that she may have a little too much faith in people's critical judgment. Luckily, she doesn't get called on this statement.)
Dolce: I enjoyed the last scheme the most! It was so deliciously over the top that I appreciated it for what it was: filmi ridiculousness! 

By the end of the movie, I did see why Shahid took on this role (or at least that's what I choose to believe, instead of believing he's become a Yash Raj sl*t). It was the negative side of the character. Karan spends more than half the movie being despicable and essentially a jerk. Shahid wanted to see if he could pull it off. He did. I'll admit that he could even sell me a bikini in Alaska, but that's one point where he has so far never let me down: good acting. I know he'll always deliver it, so I'm on board with his characters no matter what they do.

I guess the biggest problem with this film is that you already know how it will end. Come on, we've all seen Catch Me if You Can! But it's enjoyable nonetheless, as soon as you start taking it for what it really is: a mass entertainer that has had its Bollywood-ness surgically removed, and its Indian-ness photoshopped.

Badmaash Company for me was like Oka cheese. It sounds like a great imported delicacy but when you read the label you realize it's made right here in Canada and there is nothing exotic about it. Decent cheese, sure, just not very exciting.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The closest Dolce & Namak will come to reviewing Arya 2

Here's the problem with this Telugu movie starring Allu Arjun, Kajal Aggarwal, Navdeep and Shraddha Das: Dolce is so in love with this movie, that Namak has been silenced by shrill supersonic outbursts of fangirl-ness to the point where she decided: if you can't beat them, join them. Which is great for their relationship, but terrible for this blog because if I can't have a balanced review, I'd rather not have one at all.

To describe the movie briefly would be an injustice, but I suppose it must be done. Arya (Allu Arjun) and Ajay (Navdeep) both grew up in an orphanage as best friends. One day Ajay got adopted by a rich family, but Arya was never far from his life. In fact Arya's idea of friendship is better understood if one thinks of a psychotic stalker and the object of his affection. Enter Geetha (Kajal Aggarwal), a new employee at Ajay's company, who turns into the force that throws everything off balance as both Ajay and Arya fall in love with her. Arya's obsessive affection for Ajay is challenged by his even more obsessive affection for Geetha which simultaneously turns him into a puppy in love and a vigilante for alternatively Geetha and Ajay's happiness. 

This song should tell you all you need to know about Arya's idea of love (and a tiny bit of what you need to know about Allu Arjun's out of this world dancing skills).

But that's not what I was planning to talk about. As I was indulging in an episode of the TV show "House" the other day, it hit me that there must be something that I enjoy about this kind of dysfunctional addiction-based relationship, because Arya and Ajay are practically identical to Wilson and House, who have given me many great moments over the past year of catching up to this show.

Wilson, much like Ajay, fails as the person with the most influence on House (and Arya respectively) simply because he is too weak to actually use his power. House could not live without him, and they both know it, but every time Wilson gets close to playing the leaving for good card, he chickens out. On the other hand House torments him until kingdom come without ever apologizing, as if it were his right to do so, and yet he relies on Wilson more than he relies on his drugs to get him through the day. It sometimes seems as if House is the strong one, but in my opinion, they're both weak and entirely dependent on each other.

Ajay and Arya follow the same pattern: you'd think Ajay wants Arya out of his life for good, and designs some very elaborate plans to reach this goal, but if he really wanted it, he could have done it long back. Meanwhile Arya keeps lying to himself that Ajay needs him, only because he's the one who desperately needs Ajay, his approval, his affection, his attention. It's funny how at first sight it seems that one is clinging to the other (Arya to Ajay and House to Wilson), only to reveal in the end that their symbiotic dysfunctional relationship has them tied together so tight that it's hard to even tell which one is which anymore.

On my cheese rating scale Arya 2 is would be the exquisite cranberry goat cheese. It messes with your head at first, and you won't even know it's cheese until you've had it a few times, but oh the sweet, velvety spiciness of it will not leave your mind for a long time to come. You may even get addicted and crave it like mad. It's ok, if that happens, just indulge in a few songs.