Friday, December 17, 2010

2 Degrees of Separation: Walt Disney and Sanjay Leela Bhansali

I'm sure I'm not the first one to have thought of the similarities, because most of them can't possibly be missed, what with Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB)'s flair for fairy tales, but I realized I had to write this post when I saw Aishwarya's entrance in Guzaarish. I wish I could have found a still from the film showing that exact moment, but this will have to do for now.

She reminded me so much of Snow White that I immediately knew I had to write this post.

For some reason a lot of scenes and frames in Guzaarish sent me back to Snow White, even if the story itself resembles Beauty and the Beast much more: a lonely rugged-looking prince trapped in his rundown castle on the hill, with only a few servants, waiting for his death...

Sigh... I could do a whole post just on Guzaarish and Beauty and the Beast.

But this post will be more generic than that. Surprisingly I seem to have seen all but 2 of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films, but certainly these are his most representative ones: Saawariya, Devdas, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Guzaarish.

As far as Disney is concerned, I doubt I missed watching any of the classics less than 20 times since I grew up on them, so I'll be referencing quite a few, though the main focus are his classic love stories, to make sure that I'm comparing apples to apples here.

*** And since we already mentioned apples and Snow White, might as well start with a word on THE HEROINES in general... ***

From a modern perspective, Disney's heroines in his classics were the ideal housewives: beautiful, obedient, attentive and gentle. With very few exceptions, SLB's heroines fulfil these requirements as well.

The one thing that always drives me nuts about Paro (Devdas) and Nandini (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) is why on earth can they not stand up for themselves, in front of their man and in front of their parents. Rhetorical question, of course, because it's more cinematic to cry and deliver some inane dialogue about life not being worth living without the loved one than to actually speak up.

Just like a lost Snow White, Belle and Duchess manage to do nothing with themselves but hide and cry until they find someone to look after them.

Oh, such lady-like wimps... But you know, I love watching all these heroines for their grace: there has not been a single SLB heroine who did not walk, talk, dance and look like a queen (albeit sometimes in exile). Even Chandramukhi, a prostitute, could teach any girl a thing or two about refinement.

A very similar type of elegance can be found in all of Disney's heroines, from Snow White to Rapunzel. They'd probably be able to dance gracefully on their tiny little slippers while cooking excellent biryani and home made sweets. Oh wait, Snow White actually does!

Of course, any feminist will also hurry to point out that these graceful, perfect figures invariably depend on their men to rescue them: Snow White, Cinderella, Lady (Lady and the Tramp), Duchess (The Aristocats). No idea what would happen to these poor souls if their princes and tramps were not around to rescue them every time.

Similarly, Paro and Chandra (in Devdas) are both shattered without Dev (as opposed to the Kashyap version where they both live happily, even if initially heartbroken, without him), and Nandini has to rely on her husband to find her man for her. Saawariya as well plays into the same stereotype: Sakina is almost ready to accept Raj without having substantial feelings for him because the idea of not having any of the two men doesn't even cross her mind: what would she be without a man?

Won't really get into the Guzaarish issue of Sofia being abused by her husband and the way Ethan eventually "saves" her because that one just blows the mind. Interestingly Sofia is meant to be a strong woman (maybe intentionally different from other SLB heroines?), and one could say she saves herself, but where is her strength coming from and what is it directed at? Ethan.

Sure most Disney women end up in a happily ever after snapshot while SLB's tend to end up in misery, but their trajectory is the same: ending up with the hero = happily ever after. The opposite being also true: not ending up with the hero = miserable ever after.

*** Which brings us to... THE HERO ***

With Disney there are two types of heroes: on one side we have the Princes, who don't have much to do other than show up, so we won't really talk about them. The other far more interesting type of Disney hero is the "tramp", the adventurer, the utterly imperfect man: Tramp (Lady and the Tramp), O'Malley (The Aristocats), Aladdin (Aladdin), Beast (Beauty and the Beast). These boys don't have much to do with their time but wander the world, be brats and sing. Yes, Beast too, isn't that how he ended up where he is? However, their heart of gold shines through eventually and the heroine, as any ideal woman, knows to get past their bratty/abrasive appearance.

SLB's hero is equally carefree and lovably flawed: Raj (Saawariya), Dev (Devdas), Sameer (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam).  Hat in hand, heart on sleeve, they wander the world in search of happiness.

Ethan in Guzaarish, much like the Beast, is a bit of an exception, but only on the surface. At heart, Ethan is, or was, just as sparkling and bright as Raj and Sameer. Or so the movie expects us to believe based on much too few flashbacks into Ethan's old life.

We are supposed to love the hero (and sure enough that's why the heroine falls for him) for his radiant, debonair personality, and then feel for him when that chirpiness gets killed in the wake of some tragic love-related event. Because much like the heroine he never has the strength to endure heartbreak. And, as an aside, I do believe SLB genuinely thinks that a man giving up on life because of a love story gone wrong is sexy!?!... That boggles the mind, it really does.

Ugh... no. Not my idea of sexy for sure.

Moreover, the one decent man, you know, the one that would actually make a reliable friend and/or husband, the one who is strong enough to deal with heartbreak... ends up getting the dirty end of the stick: Vanraj in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Of course, there are different opinions on the ending of HDDCS, and I do believe some would call it happy, but I can't help but feel for poor Vanraj...

Raj in Saawariya I would place halfway through, because Raj completely lacks that streak of depression, that tragedy characteristic of most SLB men, which is why he's the only one I can foresee ending up in a happy place. That could also be why I love him the most out of SLB's characters (and of course no one will believe me when I claim it has nothing to do with the fact that I adore Ranbir Kapoor in general, but I swear there is no connection! I swear!).

Of course, while on the topic of heartache both filmmakers have to inevitably believe that true love is only one. And that there is no life without it. But of course!...


Lush and opulent, SLB's sets and cinematography are part of the reason why I will always make an effort to see his films on the big screen.

Saawariya is my favourite by far, but that could be because I also love the film overall. However Devdas and Guzaarish, despite being bad stories, are such stunners that I still can't regret watching them to the end. If there's one thing that SLB gets right every time, it's the fairytale settings and the painfully beautiful images. Seriously, is there anything that is not bejewelled in his films?? As much as I dislike them, I have to admit I would love nothing better than to work as a set designer for SLB's films!

Disney's classics always captivated me for the same reason: why, they're so pretty! You can't take your eyes off them: they sparkle, they glimmer, they're colourful and soft. In short: they're gorgeous.

And as a tangent while on the topic of visuals, fun fact: according to imdb, Belle and Beast were the only people wearing blue in the Disney story, as a way to single them out visually. Need I mention SLB's fascination with blue? Or is it evident in Saawariya and Guzaarish?


Walt Disney is quoted to have once said: "I'd rather entertain and hope that people learn, than teach and hope that people are entertained." Well, at least he was one honest man.

I doubt SLB would ever say something as truthful as the above quote, but deep down inside he seems to be a student of the same school of thought. Nothing else can explain the lack of substance in his films. But to a certain degree that is ok with me. There is a part of me that is happy just watching Madhuri dancing or Aish running in the fields. And listening to the beautiful songs of Saawariya. And not over analysing the meaning of Paro and Dev's night by the river or the inappropriateness of the song Pari in Saawariya. I just don't want to know. Let me look at how pretty it all is and let's leave it at that.

Sadly, a byproduct of the film's visual magic is that the soundtracks inevitably lose their charm when they play on my iPod.

Disney does a lot better in that respect, and I am probably one of the few adults in the world who owns a CD set with the most popular Disney songs. That I actually listen to. And know all the lyrics to. Granted I didn't buy it for myself, but I can assure you it was a gift received with hops and shouts.

*** Last but not least...THE SURPRISING CONCLUSION ***

Funnily enough, I love Disney's classics down to the last cheesy "happily ever after" frame, but have very little love for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's melodrama. I suspect that's because it's always the child in me that rewatches Disney's movies, with big wide eyes and no desire to deconstruct them. Unfortunately for him, SLB came into my life too late: I was already a cynic and perfectly capable of analysis by then. Sad for him...

That's why this image will always make me go awwww...

... while this one will make me roll my eyes and reach for the lemon juice to cut the nausea.

Such is life...

PS: A big Thank You to the guys and girls at Magical Screencaps for generously making their Disney stills available. It saved me a lot of renting and downloading!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tere Bin Laden Review

Wow... how to review this film without offending American sensibilities? I pondered on this question for about a minute before deciding that... I won't. Take into account American sensibilities that is. No really, while understanding that 9/11 is a touchy subject, one cannot deny the amount of ridiculousness that its aftermath has given birth to, and Tere Bin Laden takes full advantage of that. The movie won my 5 stars the moment we see Ali Hassan trying to be all smooth and chivalrous by returning a dropped butter knife to the air hostess on his flight to the US, only to be met by this face:

Really, I still miss my 3 cm nail file that got confiscated at a Canadian airport a couple of years ago...

But my personal experiences aside, the movie only gets better from there, and as they say, no cow is too holy for this film. The story in a nutshell is about Ali Hassan, a Pakistani yuppie, who tries to scam his way into the US in the post 9/11 world without much success. However the Gods seem to finally smile upon him when he discovers an Osama Bin Laden look-a-like whom he uses to make a video proving that Osama is alive and well (and even has access to health care since he has obviously done Botox, as one of the characters quickly points out). Surely the TV channels will pay millions for this video, but will that be enough to pave pay Ali's way to the promised land?

In an hour and a half, the film packs an impressive amount of digs at the American paranoia and imperialism, the Indian/Pakistani "grass is always greener on the other side" mentality, the media's inanity, Communism, and even at the current craze for overpriced, overhyped and underperforming organic products that a developing country would produce naturally for a fraction of the cost (one of the best lines in the film if you ask me).

It's interesting to note that in order to coherently go in so many directions without being overbearing, the film uses both the foreground and the background very efficiently throughout. And for heaven's sake, don't disregard your peripheral vision either because those eye muscles will get a good workout too. There's always something going on in every corner of the screen, but somehow it's not tiring at all, if anything it just gives you a reason to look forward to the next watching. Granted, some of the jokes fizzle a bit on the second watching, but I for one appreciated the opportunity to focus on the lovely performances the second time around.

Funnily enough, observing (and taking advantage of) the most obnoxious mentality changes seen after 9/11 doesn't do anything to deter Ali from his dream. The biggest and perhaps most subtle irony of the film is that he begins by using the Pakistanis' weaknesses but ends up taking full advantage of everything that is not desirable from the American psyche, all the while not stopping to think for a second if he really wants to live in the very society whose xenophobia and shortsightedness keeps interfering with his plans. But I don't think we're meant to think about whether or not Ali will be happy in the US, especially since this is what his American dream looks like.

The movie is built on several levels which helps it stay interesting for various types of viewers. I'm sure every time I watch it going forward I'll notice yet another detail that will make me laugh hysterically. The reason why it works for me where other slapstick movies or satires do not work, is because it blends both. Just when you're getting into the subtleties of the script and admiring the elegance of a situation that mercilessly mocks everyone without even a hint of crassness, you get hit by a "Men in Black" type scene where it's virtually impossible not to laugh at the CIA sync-chewing on carrots while interrogating the suspect. But don't give your brain a break just yet because you may have to quickly call on it again for a dollop of brilliantly penned sarcasm. I can see this film being enjoyed thoroughly with your brain in OFF mode, but also in ON mode.

Typically I would have Dolce and Namak talk about their likes and dislikes, but since they were both falling off the couch laughing, I can't really do that today. But I will tell you what amused and charmed each of them the most:

Dolce: the Nagin dance

Namak: the Men in Black spoof

Dolce: the delightfully retro savings accounts.
Bank Account Number 1

Bank Account Number 2

Bank Account Number 3

Namak: the reference to a brilliant line from The Shawshank Redemption, an all-time favourite.
Hey, I told you no cow was too holy!

Dolce: Ali Zafar
What? I can't stop Dolce from being a fangirl!...

Namak: Operation Kickass!

Ok, I give up, I'll just screencap the whole movie if I keep this up. But I will mention one more scene that had me hugging my knees in a futile attempt to prevent my abs from getting torn by laughter, and it's the scene where the Pakistani cop realizes that there is no good reason to bomb Afghanistan, which as it turns out, doesn't seem to phase the American investigator. A priceless dialogue, and so right in so many ways!

By the way, wherever they found this guy (Barry John), they struck gold. He is... PERFECT! Can you tell he has a hilarious accent from the screencap above? Because I tell you, he does!

And did you know the Americans have missiles that can take out the entire first floor of a building without moving even a glass of water on the second? Well, if you didn't, you'd better watch this film because one of them even gets launched in what was the other greatest moment of the film for me.

As an aside, I've actually missed Shankar Ehsaan and Loy lately, so I was very happy to get such a fun soundtrack from them, especially in a film where I wasn't expecting any memorable songs. Of course, it helps that Ali Zafar is actually a well-known Pakistani pop star and can sing his own songs!

Aye haye, I'm floored! Can we see more of him in the future, please?

Truly, an hour and half of all kinds of fun, which makes this one of my favourite movies of the year and definitely the best satire in a long time. Sorry Peepli [Live], but where you were callous and caustic, Tere Bin Laden was light and witty, which works infinitely better for me in the context of a satire.

Friday, December 10, 2010

OMG!! They're Kissing?!?!?

You think I'm joking, but I still get this reaction every time my friends come over for a movie where this happens. No matter how many times I've explained that the dancing around trees and wet sari songs were a thing of the past, and no matter how many times they've seen Shahid smooch with his co-star, kissing still takes them by surprise. They don't even believe me when I say there's plenty of kissing nowadays in Hindi films. In fact, there's more kissing than almost-kissing! How crazy is that?

But before I go on, let's play a game. Pick the emoticon that best describes your feelings towards this rather new trend in Bollywood:

or even
or even

[Btw more awesome emoticons here:]

If you picked one of the top row ones, the next bit is for you, and then I strongly recommend you stop reading. If you picked one of the bottom row ones, then by all means, read this to the end, I think you'll enjoy it!

~~ Some of my favourite recent near-kisses ~~
Whether the scene got cut off for the sake of decency, or the one of the two changed their mind, or even someone interrupted, these are the best kisses that never happened on screen.

Sona and Vikram in Luck By Chance - great scene this one

Aditi and Viren in Socha Na Tha - proof that Abhay Deol can do romance just fine... though maybe not with Sonam Kapoor.

Sonia and Kabir in Kidnap - proof that Imran Khan can do romance just fine... though maybe not with Sonam Kapoor. Wait, do I see a trend?

^ Granted, one of the most random songs ever in a film, but kya chemistry, ya Rabba!

Jodhaa and Jalal in Jodhaa Akbar - oh well, not like we haven't seen Dhoom 2, right?

Shai and Munna in Dhobi Ghat - sigh... Can it be January 21st already?

But forget all that teasing. Time for the good stuff!

~~ Some of my favourite recent kisses ~~

Meera and Jai in Love Aaj Kal - Perhaps not the steamiest kiss in history, but what a cute scene! Imtiaz Ali is the man, I don't care who says what about his films!

And speaking of Deepika: Pinky and Nandu in Lafangey Parindey - Not a very successful movie, but a very cute jodi these two.

And to move to the seriously scorching stuff (hopefully by now the people who picked emoticons from the first row have given up on reading else I will be responsible for some heart attacks)...

My boy Shahid also had his share of on-screen kisses, and if it weren't for the stupid dialogue before it, Kaminey would be at the top of this list. "I love you more than Bombay"??? Really, Vishal, what were you thinking?
Chance Pe Dance is an eyeful as well, but what with me not being a big fan of Genelia, her being there ruins some of the magic.

So I went with Bulbul and Karan in Badmaash Company - Did they even stop to breathe in this scene?

Kiara and Akash in Anjaana Anjaani - No really, I got embarrassed even screencapping for this!

Krishna and Babban in Ishqiya - Now those two could roast a pig, they were so hot together! And what an awesome movie!

Nameless woman and Vishnu in Road, Movie - Caution, steamy roads ahead!

ETA: By public demand, adding Shruti and Bittoo from Band Baaja Baaraat. Yup, it is as good as everyone told me!

~~ And just for fun: blast from the past ~~

Raja and Aarti in Raja Hindustani. So sad that Karishma's irritating laughter (and general presence) ruins this scene, it would have been perfect!

Perfect I say, perfect! After all, they can say whatever they want about Emraan Hashmi and his kingdom of smooches, Aamirou is still way ahead of anyone else, if only in longevity and well... sheer numbers!

And I think that covers my quota of fangirling and naughtiness for the past 2-3 months (I was way behind), so I promise some perfectly decent posts in the next little while.