Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Indra" Review

It's time to put some fun back into this blog. Enough of this melancholic poetic mood! And what do I do when I need some fun? Tollywoooooooood!!!! I know, I know, you people keep telling me about good serious movies made in Tollywood, and I even got some of them, but let me enjoy this stage of fun romance with Tollywood a little bit longer before I get to discover its grumpy serious side. Like every relationship, mine with Tollywood started off bubbly and exuberant and is bound to become profound and analytical, which is great, but... we're not there just yet!

So... Indra!

This is one I saw a while ago and swore I would blog about it, but been too lazy to actually get to it. Well, laziness no more! Jai Chiranjeevi! Oh wait, that's another movie... well then, insert whatever you shout out when joyous about something in Telugu! I think this time my favourite interjection, rrrreeyyyy, doesn't quite cut it...

Back to Indra. It starts off with all kinds of killings between two factionist families, in fact so many I had to watch it twice to figure out who the heck managed to survive the massacre. Turns out I'm just slow, the answer was very easy: no one. Except for... Indrasena, the youngest son/grandson of one of the two factionist families.

Little boy needs some work on his thigh slapping skills, but he's badass enough...

Namak: I realized that we love factionists on this blog, all the movies we've seen involving factionist Reddies have been fantastic. Arya 2 anyone?
Dolce: I know! And especially the ones where the main character has his own theme song to accompany him whenever he walks in, slow motion shots, purposeful walk, wind blowing in his lunghi and mustache...
Namak: Whoa, let's leave it at the wind blowing in his mustache, shall we? I know we love Chiranjeevi, but still...
Dolce: Sheesh! You're always thinking of mischief, you filthy mind! I was just trying to subtly praise his earthy wardrobe and the lack of satin and sequins in it! So much for subtlety!...

I do appreciate that the Megastar finally managed in his 50s to have a consistently decent wardrobe for his films. It was starting to get really scary, as much as I love glitter everywhere.

Chiru in State Rowdi (1989)
Please never again, Chiru dear! Pretty please!

Did I get distracted again? Oh dear, blame it on the shiny pants! Well, we're definitely in the new century with the wardrobe in this one. He even has a bandana around his neck, Pokiri style. Vah!... And the week-old beard suits this new look perfectly!

But enough objectifying. The plot! The plot goes something like this: Shankar (who, predictably is the same person as the Indra we saw as a child, played by Chiranjeevi in adulthood) is trying to raise his niece and nephew in Varanasi, where he has a job as taxi driver... When really he should have a job as a professional singer, but that's a different matter. In this avatar he meets Pallavi (Sonali Bendre, no better in this Telugu film than I remembered her from Hindi films, but still very pretty) who for whatever reason decides she will marry him. It's the week-old beard, I tell you, it must be!

At any rate, Sonali's overacting is superb in this film, she normally annoys me, but this was perfect for the role!

Then the story gets a little complicated, with nephew getting into trouble for trying to elope with a Muslim girl. Luckily, they seem to be much more tolerant when it comes to different religions in Varanasi, and much more responsive to failed suicide attempts than say... people in 90s Hindi films, so with this gratuitous screencap and a pair of lovers reunited, we conclude the first third of the film:

Namak: First third??? Dude, how much longer does this film go on for?
Dolce: Chill, we haven't even found out that Shankar and Indra are the same person.
Namak: That's a lot of set-up time just to introduce two characters that are relevant to the story. I would have chopped up half of these scenes if they're not going to bring anything to the story.
Dolce: What, and give up on half an hour of week-old bearded Chiru? Never!!

Regardless of whether or not the editor of the film was as in love with this beard thing as Dolce, the fact remains that the plot takes a looong time to settle in.

But when it does... We get kidnaps, Prakash Raj in hysterics, and even a helicopter to follow a train - granted, not as entertaining as the one in Magadheera, but still:

Ah... I live for such randomness!... Don't get me wrong, I love my cheap truck full of rowdies, but when they spend the extra dollar/rupee for helicopters and trains, you know the good stuff is yet to come!

The film really picks up from this point on, with twist after twist after twist, and a badass second heroine to boot! Aarti Agarwal may not have her own theme song when she walks in, but she still manages an explosive entrance, the kind that is usually reserved for the heroes. Ok, maybe the hair flips are not exactly hero-like, but this lady is on fire, and a pleasant change from the drama-queen Sonali.

Badass hair-flipping Snehlata Reddy

Namak: The second heroine sure makes for a good hero: she even crosses her legs when she sits down!
Dolce: Yea, this movie seems to have two heroes and one heroine, rather than the other way around.
Namak: Which explains the length of the first half. The plot of the second half could have made for an entire movie just by itself, but then there would have been no romance. I suppose that's fair.

Lots of good stuff happening in the second half: a Rrrhey shouting match between Sunil and Veer Shiva Reddy, a great scene of trashtalking between Indra and Veer Shiva Reddy before their fight (I love those!), some fabulous scenery, great choreography by Lawrence Raghavendra and Chiru's own Ghanan Ghanan song which is beautiful (and impossible to find on youtube in its Telugu version, so I suppose the Hindi dubbed version will have to do).

But it's not just the shallow stuff that gets my appreciation: some interesting religious symbolism in this second half as well! I'm particularly fond of the scene where the priest encourages Indra to go and fight without worrying about the ritual he is interrupting, because Lord Rama was also forgiven when he did the same to fight a demon. Perhaps one day I'll have to look deeper into the idea that dharma excuses all trespasses, an idea used often in Southie films (via Bhagavad Geetha, I'm sure), which are much more religiously/mythologically inclined than Hindi films.

All shallowness aside, there are a lot of themes packed in this film: religious differences, social issues and power balance in villages, women's place and power in the family (more than just from the point of view of the doting father or the jealous brothers), and surely a few others I'm forgetting right now. Sure there's over the top everything, and Chiru even gives me the impression he's taking this role seriously, but then he does a little smile for a split second, and I know he's just having fun with it. As was I.

I love Indra. It's over the top at times and even outrageous, but nonethless it's such an entertaining watch! So I suppose it delights me in the same way that cheese strings do. So many ways to play with them, and yet a great snack with plenty of nutritional value. Sure, not the fanciest cheese in the world, but sometimes I like to stop being a snob and just have fun.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2 Degrees: The Voice of Paintings

This may sound a little blasphemic, it does even to me and I feel a bit awkward writing it, but I'll write it anyway.

The reason why I can't write about music, it just occurred to me, is because I never mastered the vocabulary. Granted, I never felt it was imperative, but every once in a while I find myself wanting to talk about music, and failing. For example lately I've been wanting to write a whole post gushing about Pakistani and Bollywood singer Atif Aslam. But what to write about him other than "I adore him" and other such trivialities? I wanted to put into words just how much I love his voice and how happy I am every time I discover a new song from him in a movie... So... since my music language is lacking, I'll use a different language that I am much more familiar with: painting.

Atif Alsam's voice to me is like a beautiful painting. And if I was to narrow it down - this is where the blasphemy part comes in - it would be like a Vincent van Gogh painting. Now don't sharpen your machetes just yet, art lovers, hear me out!

Van Gogh's paintings for the most part have a quality that every artist covets: they are unmistakable! One cannot look at a van Gogh and think that it's a different artist: they either know it's him, or they don't know much about art in which case they won't venture to guess. A unique blend of all the artistic movements he was going to influence (from the Fauves to the different branches of Expressionists), as well as a tribute to the Impressionist techniques, van Gogh's art is unprecedented and unsurpassed. But most of all, it is singular.

Vincent's Room at Arles

In a similar way one cannot mistake Atif Aslam's voice for another's after they have heard him once. Just like van Gogh's brush strokes, this off-key, rough and yet poetic modulation has a personality of its own, and certainly will endure in one's memory if one has a taste for it. It sure did in mine, I was hooked as soon as I heard Pehli Nazar Mein. And I didn't even know then that his very first song, Aadat, would become my most favourite despite a career that is by now 7 years old.

The one thing I really like about Atif Aslam is the "boy next door" quality of his singing. Unlike Sonu, Mohit and all the others, his songs, though complicated, always sound unrehearsed, as if he could be sitting with you for coffee and all of a sudden felt like singing to you. Ok, maybe I'm daydreaming a little bit much here, but there's such an effortlessness about his singing that I'm always a bit surprised the first time I try to sing along to a new song and fail horribly to hit the right notes. Some people have the "boy next door" face, or the "boy next door" physique. With Atif, it's the "boy next door" voice. Sadly, not the boy next to my door, but that's a different matter...

I find the same quality from a slightly different angle in van Gogh's art: he always painted real life. People, flowers, landscapes, street corners, you name it, he painted it in his own frantic way, reflective of his troubled inner life, but it all feels as real as the coffee shop down the street and the garden in front of your building. And how would it not, when it was all right there, next to his door.

Cafe Terrace at Night

Tired already? Hang in there, I'm not done yet! There's one more thing they have in common and it's the most important one: the passion!

Can you hear heartbreak in every word on Tere Bin? I could before I even knew any of the lyrics, and it still makes me a little bit sad to listen to it.

Though not as sad as Tu Jaane Na and Aadat! Those two have got to be the world's saddest songs, and I love them dearly! Atif's soulful singing is as efficiently heartbreaking as a surgeon's scalpel.

Similarily, van Gogh's mental state makes its way directly to the canvas and into your heart through his violent brush strokes and heavy textures. The colours may vary from the brightest yellows to the darkest blues, but his striking interpretations of something as simple as a vase of flowers never fail to inspire at least awe, if not a full storm of emotions.

Four Cut Sunflowers
Whew... Well this was easier than talking music lingo, that's for sure! Now who knows if it even expressed an ounce of my admiration for this talented singer, but at least I am happy to have tried.

Now that I started thinking about it, Sunidhi Chauhan's voice sounds like a Gustav Klimt painting, Vishal Dadlani evokes Edvard Munch, and Henri Rousseau's naive painting makes me think of Shreya Ghoshal's pure voice. But... maybe that's for part II of The Voice of Paintings?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Going Home Bollywood Style

Hello, my blog, did you miss me? I am embarrassed to admit that with all the commotion over the holidays complete with a last minute trip across the Atlantic, I didn't get a chance to miss you. Now that I'm home though (as opposed to "back home"), I realize what an integral part of my life you have become. So a big hug to you!

Going back home always puts me in a contemplative mood, not because of the changes there (which are always many), but because of all the dead time I have on my hands: about 20 hours in total just in flights, and a whole lot of jet lag boredom. So when I'm not filling up this time with Kunal Khemu's movies watched one after the other, I sit and think... How is this Bollywood related, one may ask. Well, it sort of is because... well, because everything about me relates to Bollywood one way or another.

For example, the last couple of times I went home, I found myself having what I call "the Swades feeling": a bit of helplessness, a bit of nostalgia, a bit of impatience, a bit of frustration, but also in the end a strange peace coming from the comfort of old places that used to be mine.

This time around I found myself less nostalgic and more excited to discover every single new thing. So I guess this time I got "the Delhi 6 feeling": always exploring, always intrigued, always enchanted by some little detail that the locals are not even aware of. Still wanting to belong, but at the same time detached enough to be able to see the big picture without that indigenous fear of the future getting in the way.

Who knows, maybe next time I'll get "the Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana feeling": like a hyper kid in the candy store.

Come to think of it, it's amazing how few NRI films actually get all these feelings right. I guess Indian films are usually more preoccupied with the greatness of India and the India-pushing agenda to stop and think about what an NRI, or any immigrant returning home for that matter, would really experience. Most of the times you get little moments here and there, but then the story evolves either towards integrating the character back into the Indian society, or towards showing the great values that clearly the Western world has spoiled in the character, which inevitably leads to more drama, and sadly less authenticity.

But one film that got the whole thing right in my humble opinion, is the over the top and royally plot-holed Aaja Nachle. Successful American choreographer comes back to India with her daughter to pay her respects to her first dance teacher and life mentor. She arrives after his death, but has to fulfill his legacy in keeping the dance school and theatre alive.

How she does that is irrelevant for this discussion (though definitely worth watching, if only for the sumptuous dances), but over the course of the events we witness Diya's struggle with what are now foreign concepts to her: bureaucracy, people's acceptance and resentment, lost friendships.

One excellent scene that always resonates with me is when she goes to meet her childhood friend, and finds a completely different person in her stead. Isn't it ironic how we are always so cognisant of the changes we have gone through over the years and of the new person we have become, but with the same sincerity we expect the people we left behind to have stayed exactly the same as our memory has assembled them? Never fails to take me by surprise. The teenagers you used to hang out with are now grown men, the places you used to hang out in are gone, the party animals are now all about enjoying their quiet evening at home, and so on...

Still thinking about Aaja Nachle, maybe this film flopped precisely because the heroine was unconventional enough to not be reintegrated in the Indian society by the end of it. Maybe the Indian audiences are not interested in seeing an NRI who is genuinely happier on the other side of the world. Maybe they didn't take kindly to the returning Indian who brings her Western values and expectations home and succeeds in implementing some of them without being sucked into the "greatest country in the world" mentality. Maybe a heroine who doesn't give up her jeans and cropped tops in favour of a traditional salwar kameez, who doesn't fall head over heels for the charming Indian MP (though seriously, how does she not??), and who doesn't crumble emotionally in front of potential failure so that she can be rescued, maybe such a heroine is still too far ahead of her time for the Indian audiences. I always wondered why Aaja Nachle flopped, and it just came to me that this might be it. And maybe that's precisely why I loved it and list it as one of my favourite films despite its many shortcomings.

Wow... I didn't know I was going to talk at such length about Aaja Nachle when I started writing this, but it's probably good that I did, as this is one of those movies that I love too much to ever review properly.

And because I started with me, let's also end with me: Bollywood or no Bollywood there's no denying that going back home always teaches me something. About myself... about the others... about change... about differences... about harmony. I just have to be ready to learn. Hopefully I always will be.