Bollywood and Bolly-beyond A Lunch Community for all things Indian <![CDATA[ Chance Pe Dance...]]> American Chai and The Guru style, Bride and Prejudice style, Monsoon Wedding style, or in the more traditional sense of Bollywood in Lagaan. This weekend a new Bollywood filme Chance Pe Dance opened with a limited release around the US, and this Hindi film is a spectacle all of its own. 

With a running time of over 2 hours, this film includes a full soundtrack of completed songs and performances that would easily rival an MTV music video.  Directed by Ken Ghosh, this film follows an aspiring actor who moved from Delhi to Mumbi and is given one chance to finally achieve his dream.  Shahid Kapur stars as the hero, and I believe that it is of great thanks to his father (actor Pankaj Kapoor) and mother (actress/dancer Neelima Azim) for why his talents were such a great highlight for his film.  He is a talented dancer, and it was featured throughout the entire film and especially during the routines.  It did not hurt that he was extremely easy on the eyes, and that he was given a beautiful co-star to share the screen with.  Genelia D'Souza  plays the love interest for Shahid's character Sameer Behl, and is the choreographer who stands up for her beliefs in what the industry should be rather than it is when things begin to go downhill for Sameer.  It is through his journey and with Tina's (D'Souza) encouragement that that dream becomes a clear possibility.  The story has heart and soul that is so full that it spills over the edge. 
It was fun to watch the film, even though I had to take my eyes off the action to be able to read the subtitles, but it was all worth it.  The routines were brilliantly choreographed and the cinematography brought out the best in the actors as well as the visual side of film.  It felt like watching a marathon of music videos with the climax of the final routine being the biggest and brightest.  The only thing I missed with the bright and vibrant colored costumes that I am used to seeing in other Bollywood films.  I guess the concert style lighting made up for the shortage of colors as they were just as exciting as watching an actual concert on stage. 
If you enjoy a little culture, some singing and dancing, and an interesting storyline that brings out the soul of what a Bollywood film is, than this is a film for you.  Even if you are not used to this genre of film, it never hurts to try something new, so just go give it a shot.  After watching Chance Pe Dance in its entirety, I give this film a 3.5 out of 5.  It is a fun film, maybe a little long, but definitely fun film to go watch.]]> Tue, 19 Apr 2011 02:46:19 +0000
<![CDATA[ It is Written]]>
The "she" in question is named Latika, a young orphan girl whom Jamal invited into a shelter from the rain when they were very young, and much to the disdain of his brother Salim. The first time we get a look at the fully grown Latika, we don't blame him. The adult Latika is played by the breathtaking screen newcomer Freida Pinto. Latika becomes the third Musketeer, Aramis, to Jamal and Salim's Athos and Porthos. It's fitting how the two brothers can never remember the name of Aramis, because she keeps coming into their lives and then disappearing. (The Three Musketeers is the book which the brothers relate to.)

As mentioned before, Slumdog Millionaire plays like a hard version of a typical Disney movie. In Slumdog, there are bullies. But these aren't the kind of bullies who pick on main characters who have no self-esteem. The bullies in Slumdog make one violent appearance. They are Hindu extremists who attack the Muslims in the Mumbai slum where the family lives. While Salim and Jamal escape, the extremists kill their mother, effectively turning them both into orphans. Since they were born into both a bad social class and the wrong religion, their lives are pretty much over. The two of them - along with Latika when they meet her - drift from day to day, surviving mainly for the sake of surviving.

Salim at first falls into the role of caretaker for the younger Jamal. It's due to Salim's intervention on a number of occasions which keep Jamal and Latika alive, including in an orphanage in which the caretaker plans to exploit the children as beggars for his own fortune. But later, Salim goes and does something unforgivable which results in their breaking connections. But all of the things Jamal experiences in the Mumbai slums turn into quiz answers, which equal riches for Jamal on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Jamal has a chance to become the first-ever contestant to win the 20 million rupee prize on the game show, but since he's from the slums and can't possibly know that much, the suspicious host has him exposed to torture and inquiry because he thinks Jamal is cheating. Jamal tells the story of his life to the officer who is questioning him. Every question triggers a flashback showing how Jamal got the knowledge to do so well.

India is seen as an exotic resort by Americans looking for a relaxing getaway. It is romanticized psuedo-spiritual people tend to visit to make contact with local gurus for some kind of guidance. Slumdog Millionaire presents a crushing version of this same country, a place where social classes are strict and undesirables are left without support or charity. In India, if you don't socially fall into line the way your caste expects you to, you're cooked. Jamal, Salim, and Latika are the everyday people in this place. Even if they manage to survive the living conditions, the rigid social structure dictates they will never be much of anything. Jamal is good enough to win a job carrying tea to telemarketers at AT&T. The host of the show makes fun of him for this. Slumdog Millionaire even contains a very hard shot of social criticism, particularly in a scene where Jamal and Salim first see the Taj Mahal. Without the slightest hint of irony or sarcasm, one boy asks the other if it's a hotel.

Slumdog Millionaire takes place in three sections: The first shows the three main characters as children. The second shows them as adolescents. The third shows them as adults. (The three child actors who play Jamal, Salim, and Latika as children were actually plucked from real slums in India.) Normally is movies with such a long-term approach, the timeframe is used to show the characters growing together. But in this case, they tend to drift apart until they are separated both physically and mentally. You would expect a movie like that to end badly, but a final act of redemption, a reunion, and a triumph against heavy odds bring things together wonderfully. The movie revolves mainly around Jamal, and while his relationships with his two other Musketeers are explored, they're not very important to the story. In fact they are plucked from it entirely at certain points.

Despite the bleakness of the Indian slums, Slumdog Millionaire has the courage to find subtle traces of humor from the outskirts. There is one scene in which one of the young boys gets trapped in a bathroom and gets out in the worst way possible - all because he wants an autograph from the most famous Bollywood star in India. Later, as the keeper of the orphanage checks on Jamal's talent level to see if he's ready to "turn professional," Jamal sings only a little before demanding 50 rupees. He can get away with it, he says, because he is now a professional after all! The funniest scenes revolve around the boys as they act as phony tour guides to the Taj Mahal. They appear to have the time of their lives stealing shoes and telling phony stories about the old tomb's purpose to gullible Americans.

One of the things I found very strange - not good or bad, just strange - about Slumdog Millionaire was how the story switches from Hindi to English after the scenes featuring the youngest boys. It didn't distract me very much, but it just seems a little bit funny to me. Whenever Hindi is spoken, the usual method of running the translations along the bottom of the screen is ditched in favor of talk bubbles which appear where the talking characters are standing. This is actually good for the movie because it allows more than one character to talk at the same time, and so I would assume the translations are a bit more accurate.

Slumdog Millionaire has been universally acclaimed. It is up at the Oscars for Best Picture, if you pay attention to that sort of thing. I think a major part of its appeal to American audiences is that it tells a quintessentially American story: A young penniless man going against the grain and becoming something great after learning from experience and using those experiences in ways which play to his strength. In the end, we get the feeling that Jamal is not only competing to capture the attention of Latika, but to prove his worth to himself and to those in India who doubt him. Yet at the same time, Jamal doesn't want to do anything underhanded or illegal. One of the best scenes of suspense in the movie comes when a commercial break in Who Wants to be a Millionaire allows Jamal and someone on the show to use the bathroom. An answer to the next question is written on the bathroom wall, and the result of the aftermath of that scene is very well-played.

Go see Slumdog Millionaire. It takes a brutal path, but it will ultimately warm your heart. And if you're emotionally involved enough to stand up and cheer at the end, there's no embarrassment in actually doing that. After all, the entire Indian subcontinent will be joining you.]]> Thu, 14 Apr 2011 13:14:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ Shah ain't that Baad]]> I can't say that I loved this flick but I certainly did enjoy it and I think that most of Shahrukh Khan's fans will too unless they have something stiff up their rectum. I'm not kidding here, there is such a lack of comedic subtlety in BAADSHAH that the Three Stooges would be embarrassed, but not SRK he just gives it his all and that's what made this a 4 star flick for me.  I have to admit that Khan can do very little wrong in my book and frankly I prefer him when he is lighter roles like this where he can go from goofy comedy to steamy romance to nicely choreographed fight scenes rather than suffering unrequited love for 3 hours on end
like in DEVDAS.  

The storyline concerns a ne're do well private detective (SRK) and his buddies who (while trying to rescue a kidnap victim) get caught up in a plot to assassinate a powerful female government official who has been making life miserable for the local industrialist whose chemical plant was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of workers. Of course there are sideplots including the inevitable love story all of which are complicated by a top secret government agent (think James Bond) who is out to foil to assassins and just happens to be a dead ringer for our private detective. And did someone say "Love story?" Of course there's love story and it's all mixed up with the rest of what's going on too.

There are several terrific dance numbers including one in which SRK is supposed to be blind (but we only learn that after the fact) and another at a nightclub where he descends from the ceiling in a cage in a costume and mask (!) that would fit in well at any science fiction convention and proceeds to do a perfectly choreographed impromptu routine with about 40 backup dancers, both male and female. Great fun there. To me it just ain't an SRK movie without at least two good dance numbers.

Now OM SHANTI OM this film is not, but if you want a couple of laughs and several very, very good dance numbers you could do worse than this film. The female lead is beautiful, the comedy is inane( watch for the fight in the parking lot) , SRK is SRK--not once but twice, and that's good enough for me.]]> Thu, 2 Dec 2010 23:29:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Mukhbiir -- Fantastic in any language (mostly Hindi in this case)]]>

Mukhbiir is not long enough.  It’s just over 2 hours long, does not stop for a standard bollywood type song/dance routine, but it is still not long enough to finish all it starts.  That leaves me frustrated but it does not mean the film is bad.  It is the strongest spy movie I have seen in a very long time.
Mukhbir is an infilt
zzrator/informant for the Indian Security Services.  As with any spy-like job, he is on his own in any operation and the service will very rarely make any effort to rescue him.
Rathod, an about-to-retire officer for the ISS, is Mukhbir’s handler.  Rathod didn’t so much recruit the young ward as Shanghai him.  Mukhbir was an orphan living on the streets and perhaps guilty of a minor crime.  He is caught up in a sweep and Rathod gives him the choice between jail and becoming an expendable spy.  We learn that Mukhbir is just the latest such man with no family, no ties, and no history to speak of which means he has already “disappeared.”  Whether this one orphan is special or if it is because of a sense of a career’s worth of guilt at using young men like Mukhbir, Rathod’s emotional involvement runs deeper than it had with any of the others.
The film shows this most directly early on.  Rathod neglects to give Mukhbir any special way to identify himself on a mission to infiltrate a paramilitary group ready to set bombs in a major city.  The security services’ order is to liquidate the camp.  Rathod is able to work a small trick that gives Mukhbir just enough time to escape coordinated heavy machine gun fire.  The implication in this instance is that if the infiltrator had been anyone else, Rathod would not have bothered.
Mukhbir wants to quit but realizes he doesn’t have enough money—and since he doesn’t really exist, getting a job outside the service would be all but impossible.  So he accepts a massively risky mission which Rathod assures him will give him enough money to live comfortably for a while at least.
He joins the family of an aging godfather with two sons.  His assignment is to cozy up to Saaya, the brutal son.  Saaya is extremely suspicious about the newest member of the “family.”  Saaya has an assassination plan to kill a government minister and his wife and daughter.  To test his mettle and loyalty, Saaya gives Mukhbir the gun to kill both women.  Mukhbir made a promise to himself and his god (more on this in a moment) that he would not kill; luckily, he is given a revolver he is able to make jam.  Saaya’s suspicions are not allayed but Mukhbir is able to survive with both the mission and his promise intact.
Meanwhile the foppish son, Biju, entices Mukhbir to help him smuggle drugs across state boarders.  Biju’s actions give Mukhbir a taste of fun it seems he may never have had: some drinking, some drugs, a little sex.  All of that comes to an abrupt end when Rathod kills Biju and purposely wounds Mukhbir.  His mission, after all, is to stop Saaya’s multi-billion rupee human organ smuggling operation, not help the low-level playboy son.
I cannot go into the specifics of what happens next except to say that Mukhbir is forced to escape and compelled to take on one more mission.  For this one, he has to “become” Muslim.  What happens for the last half an hour is too intense to spoil in this review.  So…
The cinematic stuff.  In the spirit of people degreed in the humanities, I can rationalize a misunderstanding as fraught with meaning.  The film quality is questionable, so it is difficult to say if the over-exposure and washed out color is intentional.  It wasn’t truly distracting, but in the glib spirit of my education comment, it can be seen as a metaphor for the quality of the real versus the pretend.  But it can indicate low production value which is anything but true.  Even filmed on a shoestring budget, it is a great movie.  I say it more as a warning not to dismiss the film if the picture looks less than crisp.
The acting was top notch across the board.  Because it is a terrorism-spy movie, it is going to be more loaded with stock characters than a more run of the millspy flick (you run into serious risks as a filmmaker if your terrorists are painted ambiguously).  That said Rahul Dev plays Saaya with just the right mix of playboy and kabuki over-the-top evil; and this balances with the interpretation Rajendranath Zutshi gives to Biju whom he plays with the right mix of playboy and kabuki over-the-top fool.  But the main forces are the strength that Sammir Dattani brings to Mukbhir, reluctant spy and meek Macgyver, and the relationship he has with the fatherly Rathod (Om Puri).  This bond is what makes the movie great (without it the movie would still be good). 
As I hope I have proven without overselling, the story is solid.  I detected no plot holes.  Also, the twists were truly surprising and there are more than a few—since the film covers more than one mission, there is room for a multitude of twists without getting the sense that they have gotten out of control.
A quick word about the subtitles (which will segue into the cultural exploration).  India produces tons of movies and all require subtitles.  More careful companies, or larger budget films, will tend to focus more on the meaning than the exact translation.  Mukbhiir’s translations are very stiff.  Dancing girls are not likely to say that you need to love their “salaciousness.”  Even if they really are dancing only to pay for college, they may know what the word means, but drugged and drunken gangsters are not going to have any idea what the word means.  And the same scenes contain the following translation whose interpretations are very wide and … well … salacious: “Bangle of your name.  Adorn me with it, gypsy man.”  Yea I have a few ideas what that might mean (blush).  It is my current favorite for confusing subtitle.
Not everything is subtitled.  Mukhbir (as Kailash during this mission) chats with the mastermind of the plot he is infiltrating.  While they speak Arabic, there are no subtitles.  The tone is conspiratorial during these brief scenes and I don’t get a sense that I lost any relevant point since everything that happens makes sense based on the rest of the dialog.  Back to the educational comment … I can think of several reasons why Arabic would not be translated in a movie made in and about an area whose cultural, religious, national, and linguistic differences are always in tension (I will spare you the thousand additional words of that investigation).  Or it could be that the film was under tight deadline and their Arabic translator was sick.
Apart from how successfully writer/director Mani Shankar created the tension and suspense, the movie’s success hangs entirely on sympathy with Mukhbir.  He is devoted to his god and makes pilgrimages to a shrine as a penitent (at least as I understand it) after each mission.  We can assume that each mission is fatal for many and that he is able to keep his promise not to kill (whether this remains true to the end is not something I am going to reveal).  This devotion makes his “conversion” to Islam heart rending instead of just a plot point.  This also means that his motives for doing so would have to be nearly world-ending.
I am in an odd position with regards to religion (I am largely without).  But it fascinates me to the point of significant study that can often leave me with a host of facts that do little but befuddle.  This is a situation that does not leave me confused in a technical sense but does from an emotional one.  What, if anything, would make you forsake your god?

I am not misspelling either the title or the character's names, the movie title has the extra 'i'. ]]> Thu, 11 Nov 2010 01:10:02 +0000
<![CDATA[ Alas, Abhishek!]]>
The film was disappointing on almost every other level as well. From the title RAAVAN I was expecting a film that was in some way a retelling of the Ramayana and that is sort of what I got, but I was hoping for more of a period piece because I'm a sucker for costume flix. No dice, this one is definitely contemporary with Vikram playing a cop (the Ram character) out to rescue his wife in this version played by Aishwarya Rai who has been kidnapped by Raavan, Bachchan of course. The script seemed weak and undeveloped considering the rich source material it had to draw from, and the direction was uninspired. The worst part for me was that the music (always a prime concern in Bollywood films) wasn't given a fair shake. In fact the best song was over almost before it had begun which was extremely disheartening. On the plus side there is some beautiful scenery and the cinematographic does an excellent job of capturing it.  If it hadn't been for the scenery I might very well have given this film 2 stars.]]> Wed, 10 Nov 2010 23:08:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fida -- a waste of time unless you are giggly 14 yo girl]]> What follows in italics is my boilerplate for defining a certain type of Bollywood film; Fida fits this category.  If you have read other reviews that start with this, then skip past.
For a Bollywood movie to have the greatest chance of success it has to be at least 150 minutes long, have a problematic love story, at least 2 song and dance numbers (or a music video montage equivalent), swindling or gangsters—if swindling then guns are optional and might be just for show, if gangsters, then guns are required as is at least one shoot out.  No lie—tongue in cheek yes, but no lie.
Briefly, Fida has all the ingredients, they are just poorly chosen and poorly mixed. 
The movie begins with a cybercrime: the theft of billions of rupees from a notorious gangster, Babu (I can’t imagine that name sounding notorious to anyone, so it is a very early example of bad choices that plague the film).
Then this other movie starts.  Jai, a young man so frantic Adderall would be candy, sees a young woman for less than an instant and becomes insanely smitten.  He pesters her, Neha, with dozens of flower arrangements and everything else a cute puppy can think of to gain her attention, convinced that her affection will finally follow.  His pep and persistence pay off and they begin the happily ever aft … Except that Jai comes home to find Neha choking, hanging from her scarf attached to the ceiling fan.  He cuts her down and learns that she owes millions to a gangster who will, predictably, kill her in two days if she cannot come up with the money.  Realizing that liquidating everything he has (which is substantial for someone with no truly explained income), will not cover the debt, he decides to rob a bank to save his beloved.
As luck has it, an account holder is withdrawing nearly the same amount of money, in cash, so Jai changes plans and opts to rob the one man instead of the whole bank. He breaks into the man’s house.  Instead of simply killing Jai, Vikram listens to why he was so desperate. Viram, it turns out, is the cyberthief involved in the first movie an hour earlier, so he gives Jai the money in exchange for Jai allowing the world to believe he was the mastermind.
Two things happen very quickly.  Babu learns “who” stole his money and goes after him.  And Neha tells Jai that she was using his infatuation to set him up to be the fall-guy so that she and her real man, Vikram, could live without fear of cop or Babu.
No gangster is going to let the justice system take responsibility for retribution, so he sends blazing guns to get the boy.  During the haphazard shoot-out, Jai appears to escape or die trying.
Then this other movie starts.  Spooky things start to happen to Neha.  Items she lays out, jewelry and clothes for instance, get replaced with things she will associate with Jai.  There is a phantom phone call and a bit more “I Know What You Did Last Summer” play before Jai lets the couple know that he is alive and that Babu knows the whole story.
What happens after that is … I’m going to continue to gripe a little but not going to spoil the ending.
As for the review; I’ll take it one movie at a time.
Fida starts off badly and never recovers.  In order for a gangster movie to work, the gangster must be, well, a gangster.  It is a universal character type that can generally be recognized cross culturally without much translation.  Babu is a stereotype of the pretend eunuch thrown out of the harem; he is a sweaty buffoon.  I’m going to mix this metaphor just a wee bit more.  When he shoots one of his men in cold blood to prove a point, it looks like a fat circus clown shooting a skinny circus clown with a popgun.  So when Vikram, who is not terribly sophisticated either but does know how to bathe, separates the fool from his money, we feel like cheering because Vikram put the fool back in his proper place.
Fida is translated as “Besotted”; which is a perfect definition of the second movie.  It isn’t a love story, it is a flick for 14 year old girls to giggle at and rewind enough to watch the dance numbers more than once.  This is oppressive silliness that makes the third movie impossible to swallow.
I cannot accept Jai as even a little threatening, let alone harboring enough hate (or muscle) to string Neha up by her neck, mirroring the event that ruined his life.  If anything, Neha is even less believable and she is the dynamo meant to drive the film.  Given the weakness of the character, a film based on her will fail to inspire much energy or interest.
Kareena Kapoor (Neha) and Shahid Kapur (Jai) are heart-throbs.  Fida allows itself to fall victim to the problem of casting two such beautiful people in the principle roles: if your actors are pretty enough, the story doesn’t really matter (I call this the soft soft-core porn effect).  Put cynically, Mr. Kapur brings in the girls, Ms. Kapoor pulls in the boys, and with any luck the action aspect will pull in a slightly less giggly and acne-plagued audience.  I always feel supremely cheated after seeing a movie like this because I feel like the victim of a rigged carnival game.

That said ... if the link to the main song and dance creates a very guilty pleasure ... Fida is still a waste of time, but you waste it looking at pretty people.

]]> Fri, 5 Nov 2010 15:56:25 +0000
<![CDATA[Chance Pe Dance Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Mon, 30 Aug 2010 00:58:50 +0000 <![CDATA[ All the glitters is Shahid Kapur]]> Guys don't come much cuter than Shahid Kapur and he sure can bust a move, but when you come down to it that's all  Bollywood's CHANCE PE DANCE has going for it. The film's overwrought screenplay combines two plot lines (both of which are cliches in both Hollywood and Bollywood) 1) that of the long suffering but extremely talented young actor/dancer trying to make it big in showbiz, and 2) the teacher who turns an unwilling band of misfits into into a winning team...while (of course) searching for true love, after all this is Bollywood.  Surprisingly the second plot line is given very short shrift with more attention being placed on how our hero (having been evicted from his apartment) uses the school as a way to survive the elements and pick up a couple of quick bucks. Even more surprising is the fact that  after the students are turned into dancers virtually overnight we are never really rewarded with the kind of dance competition we expect to see them compete in.  One dance, give 'em the trophy, bam, that's it.

The script is much more generous in its dealing with our hero's suffering as he attempts to become a star however. Virtually no type of suffering has been been spared.  In the beginning stardom seems to almost fall into his lap when he is spotted at a dance club by a prominent director, but no such luck, it's merely part of a chain of broken promises and betrayals and shattered dreams--the prize is dangled before him and snatched back time and again with the kind of cruelty you see only in melodramas. Even true love (in the form of beauteous Genelia D'Souza) looks as if it will slip through his fingers. Finally ( 130 minutes later) he has one last chance to make it--in a sort of American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance type TV show. Will he succeed and become a star or does fate have one last sucker punch in store for him? Or both, after all this IS Bollywood.

CHANCE PE DANCE is not a film I would recommend to someone as their first Bollywood experience, it's nothing special. I found it to be worth a single viewing only because of Shahid Kapur  whose other films I will be checking out. Did I mention he's good looking?


]]> Mon, 30 Aug 2010 00:56:55 +0000
<![CDATA[Slumdog Millionaire Quick Tip by lyssachttr]]> Tue, 13 Jul 2010 23:38:36 +0000 <![CDATA[A Passage to India Quick Tip by marysan]]> Mon, 5 Jul 2010 21:07:16 +0000 <![CDATA[A Passage to India Quick Tip by Chipmunk1954]]> Tue, 29 Jun 2010 22:59:32 +0000 <![CDATA[A Passage to India Quick Tip by mauverneen]]> Mon, 28 Jun 2010 22:41:40 +0000 <![CDATA[ My Passage Reading "A Passage"]]>  

E. M. Forster's "A Passage to India" is an extremely provocative read. Though written nearly 100 years ago, it addresses themes that remain timely, examining how race and ethnicity color societal interactions in a way that provokes the reader to thoughtful evaluation. It follows four characters: Dr. Aziz, Mr. Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Quested—Dr. Aziz an Indian with the remaining three Englishmen. Several points of the plot remain obscure and the relationships between the four characters vacillate from friendly to strained to hostile and back again. The character development is complex and realistic, and I found myself identifying with one of the characters more than any of the others—I have heard that every reader sees his or herself in one of the characters. As you read, ask yourself who you are and the book becomes an emotive experience. Regardless of your choice, you will come to the conclusion that the arbitrary boundaries created by societies are just that: arbitrary--pointless and tragic. I would recommend this book to any interested in Colonial India or racial and ethnic discrimination. 

]]> Fri, 18 Jun 2010 00:59:06 +0000
<![CDATA[Hey Ram Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Sat, 1 May 2010 01:04:54 +0000 <![CDATA[Darna Mana Hai Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Sat, 1 May 2010 00:48:37 +0000 <![CDATA[Veerana: Vengeance of the Vampire Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Thu, 15 Apr 2010 00:35:29 +0000 <![CDATA[Om Shanti Om Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Mon, 15 Feb 2010 14:39:27 +0000 <![CDATA[Slumdog Millionaire Quick Tip by QUEENBFLIX]]> Thu, 4 Feb 2010 02:57:19 +0000 <![CDATA[ A Really Good Film. Not as Great as I Was Led to Believe!]]>
I enjoyed this film but I did not feel it was as great as all the hype it has received.  The director uses flashbacks in a confusing manner starting with an adult Jamal being tortured in a Mumbai police station.  We are then treated to all kinds of flashbacks with an adult Jamal playing the India version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and a very poor kid Jamal being abused by his bully brother Salim.  Salim locks Jamal in an outhouse when the local celebrity comes to visit their villiage.  The only way Jamal can get out is to fall in the cesspool beneath the outhouse.  A Jamal covered with feces is able to get an autograph from the star.

Jamal's misery is intensified as his brother sells his Jamal's autographed photo and then a bunch of rioters kill the boys' mother.   The two boys escape the rioters to be taken in by some criminals that are trafficing and exploiting young children.  The boys eventually escape but Salim twarts the escape of Jamal's female friend Latika.

The movie follows them as they grow up and Jamal is constantly searching for his friend Latika.  The movie shifts constantly between the present day torture in the police station, Jamal answering questions on the TV game show and the boys story growing up.

All through their life Salim is bad to Jamal and Jamal can never seem to find happiness without Latika.  I really liked most of the film but I found the constant flashbacks and time shifts to be annoying.  Also, the subtitles when needed were virtually impossible to read.  Jamal's game show experience did not seem believable except if the movie were to be labelled a fantasy.

I did like the Bollywood number that the director threw in to the end.  I liked the Paper Planes song that is played in part of the movie.

One of the better movies of 2008 but not the epic film that many make this movie out to be.

]]> Mon, 16 Nov 2009 18:48:42 +0000
<![CDATA[ Vampire Masala? Masala yes, Vampires not so much]]> There are vampires and there are vampire movies, and then there's VEERANA: VENGEANCE OF THE VAMPIRE a Bollywood horror flick circa 1987. One would think that this flick is about some hot vampire chick named Veerana judging from the title and the cover of the box, and one would be wrong on both counts. We can blame the American distributors for this of course, because Veerana seems to translate to something like "Lonely Place" in English but it's far more intriguing to let potential viewers think it's the chick's name. Furthermore the chick  Nakita isn't really a vampire--oh she drinks blood all right but in reality she's something more of a witch (an ugly one) who's in league with a wizard. Together they serve the god Mahakal, the master of all who seek evil in the world.

WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? One thing that the title is honest about is the fact that this flick is about vengeance. Villagers have become annoyed at the way bodies keep turning up in the forest so they go to the wealthy landlords and beg them to take action and save them from the evil that is stalking them.  The younger of the two brothers, Sameer, finds and kills Nakita making our wizard very unhappy. In retaliation he  transfers Nakita's evil soul into the body of  Jasmin, the elder brother's young daughter. From here things get complicated and it takes a good 10 years for the wizard's plan to come to fruition.Veerana: Vengeance of the Vampire Now I know what you're thinking; Are there any song and dance numbers? Well yes and no. The adult Jasmin/Nakita has a little seduction song that she sings over and over, and our romantic female lead and her boyfriend have a love song that they sing (also over and over) but there's nothing really grand or satisfying here. There was a great clip on the disc of an unnamed movie showing corpses and skeleton's dancing towards the camera so I KNOW that what I'm looking for is out there somewhere. I just have to persevere.

WHAT ABOUT BLOOD AND GORE? Are you kidding me? This is Bollywood we're talking about here, you're not going to get much of that although they do imply a few things. Mostly what you get is a lot of Hammeresque atmosphere with swirling fog and a mansion/castle that is a combination of Victoriana and Indian architecture. The Vampires represented here don't really exist in Indian folklore so they've taken western cliches and toyed with them a bit; for instance instead of crosses you get Sri Ram's Om. Nakita does a wear a bat medallion however.

SHOULD I SEE IT? To be brutally honest, I don't know. I enjoyed it, but I suspect it's best left for those who feel they must see every variation on the vampire film ever created, yes I mean you trashcanman. It was made by the Ramsay Brothers who were not only the pioneers of horror in Bollywood, they were also regarded in their time as being the equivalent of Britain's Hammer Studios. They were the ultimate in their genre, and they were copied relentlessly.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW? Like almost every other Bollywood movie VEERANA is very long, so if you intend to tackle it you need to set aside about 2 and 1/2 hours of your life.


]]> Wed, 21 Oct 2009 19:59:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ WTF?]]>
Chandni Chowk is the name of a district in old Delhi where Sidhu lives and works with his Dada who loves him dearly despite literally drop kicking him from one side of Delhi to the other for his foolishness in trusting fortune tellers and every other kind of fakir and faker he runs across. One day while chopping potatoes Sidhu finds one that resembles Lord Ganesh (it kind of has an elephant trunk on it) and he's convinced it will  change his life. Actually his life DOES change because 2 men arrive from China convinced that Sidhu is the reincarnation of the legendary warrior Liu Sheng and they cart him back to their village (along with a fortune teller named Chopstick to act as translator) to save them from the evil Hojo, enter Gordon Liu in all his villainous glory. Whew. The catch here is that Chopstick tells Sidhu a little white lie. Instead of telling him that the villagers believe him to be the reincarnation of a warrior and that they expect him to kill Hojo, he tells Sidhu that he was an emperor and they want to honor him. Just a little lie. 

Of course there are other things going on here since that's hardly enough to fill out a 2 and 1/2 hour movie. We also have the love interest (although it never really goes anywhere) in the form of Sakhi, (also known as Miss TSM) who is the  TV Spokes Model for a company that sells among other things the Dance Master G9, a clever device that when strapped to one's ankles can make you dance like a Bollywood star. Gotta get me one of those. Needless to say, our hero falls madly in love with her the instant he sees her on TV but when they meet in person things get off to a rocky start. Sakhi is bound for China too and she has her own story going on involving Hojo who, in true kung fu movie fashion, had killed her father and her infant twin sister Suzy when the family was on an outing to the Great Wall of China. There's more. There's always more.

But what's the bottom line you ask, was it all I had dreamt it would be? Nope. I was disappointed. The first 25 or 30 minutes were actually painful to watch because the humor was so over the top. Remember when I said Sidhu's Dada kicked him from one side of Delhi to the other? I wasn't kidding--he actually goes up into the air and sails over the city causing a danger to low flying aircraft.  We don't even get a musical number until he boards the plane for China and although I enjoyed the number it seemed to be cut very short. Perhaps that's because this film has the distinction of being the first Bollywood film ever picked up by an American company. That's right folks. Warner Brothers hand their dirty little hands all over this flick and I suspect that might have something to do with it's flaws. I'm certain it explains the problems with the DVD release which include the lack of a special feature that let's you access all the musical numbers directly which is something that's been included on every Bollywood flick I've ever rented before. The American version is also 18 minutes shorter than the version the rest of the world got. If they cut out song and dances numbers I'm going to get really pissed because there was a definite shortage of them. What there was was good though, including the rap song Akshay does with the end credits. Who was that black rapper anyhow?

Even though I was disappointed that it wasn't the outlandishly entertaining spectacle I had envisioned, I still wound up liking this flick. Things definitely picked up after Sidhu got to the village of  Zange where it eventually turns into a more conventional martial arts flick with Roger Yuan (who you might remember from an episode of ANGEL) showing up to serve as Sidhu's sifu and help him save the day. Did you know that learning kung fu can also up your I.Q about 30 points? It sure made Sidhu smarter, and better looking too. The action is pretty well handled although there is a lot of wire fu and CGI going on in this flick, and the showdown between Hojo and Sidhu has some laughs in it. I think the part that I liked best is that our hero manages to get through the entire movie without actually killing anyone himself. A good Hindu boy to the very end. By the way those of you who like your women dark haired and gorgeous will not be disappointed. Deepika Padukone who made her debut in OM SHANTI OM will give you a double eyeful in the roles of Sahki and Meow Meow (yes I said Meow Meow) and of course all the back up dancing girls are Chinese.

Should you see it? Sure. If only to see Liu Chia-Hui. But I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's first Bollywood experience.

Rating: 3.75 LOWERED FROM 4 DUE TO THOSE FIRST 25 MINUTES OR SO.]]> Sat, 26 Sep 2009 15:26:34 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not Worth A Darna]]>
As a lifelong horror fan and a recent convert to the wonderful world of Bollywood, I was looking forward to sampling the exotic world of Bollywood horror. Would it draw upon ancient Indian mythology? Would there be strange and horrible creatures that we in the West have never encountered before? Would there be singing and dancing? Sigh. No such luck, at least not in this flick. DARNA MANA HAI is a western cliche transplanted on the Indian subcontinent with nary  a change or a breath of fresh air  to be found in the stale old formula. It's the old tried and true bummer about a group of college kids taking a long drive through an isolated jungle and making an ill-advised short cut. Guess what happens next? They get a flat tire and have no jack. Off in the jungle one of them spots a light (yawn) so all but one of them decide to go see if they can get help. There's no help to be had however. There's just a lantern hanging on the wall of an old ruin. So they decided to build a fire and sit around and tell each other scary stories until the owner of the lantern comes back. From here on the movie slips into anthology mode as the kids tells their stories, with breaks in between so that one of them can wander into the jungle and get killed off screen--sorry, not a lot of gore here folks. Now the anthology form has been used to death but can still be effective as long as the individual stories are interesting. Here, alas, most of them are not. Only the Hitchhiker segment broke the mold (cracked it really), although the Apple story was interesting because it was an oddity; a woman buys apples from a street vendor at a ridiculous low price only to find that they have a terrible effect on all those who eat them. The film has a vague wrap-around story and the usual twist that can be seen coming a mile away, but there was an unusual shading to that ending that I won't give away in case you're reading this and still have an interest in seeing the film. I would advise against renting it however. You've seen most of this before and certainly Bollywood must have something better to offer when it comes to horror than this. DARNA MANA HAI translates to "Fear is forbidden'. I wonder how you say "Boredom is guaranteed" in Hindi?.

I can't believe that this type of film translated so literally into another culture. I had expected more in the way of cultural differences when it came to horror movies and what worked within other socities.  In fact I only found two significant differences here; the first was that all the kids were really nice. There was no nasty-ass skank or foul mouthed jerk that you just couldn't wait to see get what was coming to him. The other was that there was virtually no violence whatsoever. Almost everything that happened happened off screen. I can't believe that this is representative of all Bollywood horror films, but time will tell.

I suppose that at this point I should add that DARNA MAN HAI is subtitled since I realize that not everyone enjoys having to read a movie--especially a horror movie. Other reviewers seem perturbed and confused by the fact that all modern day Bollywood films frequently have characters lapsing into a few words or even several lines of English for no apparent reason. I can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with the occasional English, it only makes sense when you consider that India was under British control for well over 300 years. Still it can make the Bollywood novice lose his/her concentration the first couple of times it happens, so be warned.]]> Wed, 23 Sep 2009 21:55:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ Interesting story of love and emergence from the slums of Bombay]]>
Jamal and his older brother Salim are children of the Bombay (now Mumbai) slums. The viewer is not spared the very apparent misery of those slums and the legions of poor who pick through the garbage, the beggars the very lowest on the social ladder.

The tale is of Jamal, Salim and a girl, Latika, who becomes attached to them under horrible circumstances as very young children. Taken under the wing of a villain lifted directly from Dickens, but who is probably all too real in such poverty, the children are groomed for lives as beggars and prostitutes.

Fate conspires to separate Jamal and Salim from Latika. The boys go off on their not-very-honest adventures across India. A few years later - with the kids being played by different actors now to reflect their emergence into adolescence - Jamal returns to Bombay to search for Latika, a rather daunting task in a city of 19 million, but as a product of the slums, he knows where to look.

The story takes darker and darker turns with the would-be lovers separated again and again.

Finally, in an unlikely set of coincidences, Jamal winds up as a winning contestant on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" and as a victim of police torture.

There are more twists and turns to this story than you can count, but the literate viewer will be able to identify all the plot devices lifted from classics and name their authors. Dickens and Dumas are prominent as is Shakespeare and numerous others. In short, this is a brilliant concept for a love story, turned into a compelling script and then an irresistible movie. It is a classic love story as well as poor-boy-makes-good. Some might be put off by the brutal depiction of Indian poverty, violence and generally depressing lives of many shown in this film.

Jerry]]> Thu, 10 Sep 2009 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Love, Hate, and The Mahatma]]> Bollywood films ( those wonderful movies from India) have the reputation of being mindless fluff--of being nothing more than pretty people singing and dancing while falling in and out love for roughly 3 hours, and from  my admittedly brief exposure I must agree that there is a great deal of validity to this assertion. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that when it's done with so much panache and infectious good humor, after all they've got to get those butts into those theater seats and they certainly are doing that. Nope. You can't argue with success. It's just that they seem to avoid tackling serious subject matter at every possible opportunity, and perhaps that's understandable. There are certain subjects that are so tender within the very soul of this nation that even after the passage of 70 odd years they can still inflame the public's passions. HEY RAM is a film that deals with one of those subjects, the one that is perhaps the most sensitive of all because it is the most complex; religion. 

When you talk about in religion in India you aren't just talking about some simple theological matter. It goes far deeper than that--at least as far back as the Mogul Empire which was established in approximately 1398 when Tamerlane came into the country and set one of his sons on the throne. That empire lasted until the British started to weasel their way in somewhere in the 18th century and the problem didn't go away simply because Mogul rule was replaced with British rule. The roots run deep. When HEY RAM played the theaters in India it was a dismal failure at the box office because no one was willing to book it and consequently it played on very few screens. Everyone was justifiably afraid that its subject matter would lead to lead to violence among Hindus and Muslims.

HEY RAM opens in 1946 and Indian independence and the ultimate partition of Pakistan is at hand.  We meet 3 friends, Saket Ram (Kamal Hassan) a Hindu, another Hindu friend Lalwani, and their mutual Muslim friend Amjad played by Shah Rukh Khan. At first it seems as if we're going to see just another Bollywood flick as the 3 launch into a giddy, drunken musical number. But the tone of the film turns on a dime when Saket Ram returns home to Calcutta the very day the violent riots between Hindus and Muslims break out. Tragically his beloved young wife Aparna (Rani Mukherjee) is gang raped and murdered and Saket himself is swept up in the murderous mobs seeking retribution. He finds himself both witnessing and committing unthinkable acts. That night is a kaleidoscope of depravity, and after experiencing a blood soaked old Muslim man mistaking him for an angel sent to save him-- and the old man's blind granddaughter groping her way toward her own death, he (Saket) can take no more and staggers back to his apartment and his slaughtered wife. But even at his own doorstep there is one more horror--a sacred white elephant standing, swaying, over the body of its lifeless mahout. Before reaching that point there was one other encounter for Saket Ram, and it was a life changing one. He met a wild eyed rebel Sriram Abhyankar (Atul Kulkarni). It's Sriram who first planted the evil, insanely logical notion in Saket's grief stricken brain that the cause of all this death and chaos was one man, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi--The Mahatma. Sriram and those who felt as he did (and they were legion) believed that not only had Gandhi given away a large part of their native land to become the Muslim state of Pakistan, he had also stolen away Hindu India itself by giving power over them to a Muslim Prime Minster (Nehru) and his government. It was the ultimate act of betrayal--it was treason, and he must die for it.

This is the set up for HEY RAM a film which, as are most Bollywood films, is about love and loss, sacrifice and pain, love and redemption, but without any of the joy and the laughter and the songs ,dances, and gorgeous costumes that have endeared these films to many while causing other to roll their eyes in dismay. It's is the story of a man whose life is shattered by the violence brought about by a man of peace. I could tell you more about what it is, but I'm afraid that in doing so I might make it sound BETTER than it is. It has very high aspirations, some of which are met but most of which are not. It wants most of all to be the story of redemption but it fails to be totally satisfying for two reasons.

Reason number one is that not enough time is spent making us feel that Saket is really a guy who needs redemption anymore than anyone else out there does--and from what we've seen in this movie a LOT of people need redemption, most of them a great deal more than he does. His main flaw seems to be that he simply gives up on life and just drifts through it,  the way the body of a drowned man in a river is pulled along where ever the current takes him--whether it's into an unconsummated marriage with a much younger wife who adores him or into an assassination attempt that doesn't even seem to  vaguely interest him. There's no passion, or even a sign of life in him. We never see the look of the feral animal who truly believes that The Mahatma must die, instead it's almost as if he just happens to have his hand sticking out at a time when someone places a gun in it. The whole thing is more coincidence than anything else. Reason number two is that his redemption comes pretty quickly, but on second thought I'm willing to cut them some slack there even though it does strain credulity a bit to believe how quickly he changes his mind when one considers how wishy washy he has been throughout his entire life. The film has other flaws I haven't begun to touch on. The primary one is that Saket's passivity serves to make the film's slow pace even slower--painfully slow at times, and American viewers in particular will find this hard to endure.

I've gone on much too long but I'd like to say one last thing. When I realized I was watching a film that was potentially about the man who assassinated Gandhi, I wanted to turn it off. I didn't want to run the risk of even possibly understanding what might have been going on his mind or worse, feeling any sympathy for him. I suppose I should be ashamed.]]> Thu, 20 Aug 2009 11:33:51 +0000
<![CDATA[ Refreshing Crowd-Pleaser...Great but Not Amazingly Great!!]]>

"…If you look hard enough, Life can give you all the answers."

This is one phrase I've always been told and director Danny Boyle's adaptation of the novel by Vikas Swarup tells a very whimsical tale. The film has won several Academy film awards, most probably because of its portrayal of humanity. The film is a rousing crowd-pleaser, it is an excellent tale of life, love and delightful destiny.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a young man on the verge of winning a significant large fortune in India's version of the game show, "Who wants to be a Millionaire?". Jamal is an uneducated young man from the slums and one would be very hard-pressed to believe that this young can go this far, exceeding the capabilities of scholars and wise men. Accused of cheating, Jamal is questioned by the local authorities, and his mind drifts back to his past, a past tainted by the bleakness of his childhood, his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and his childhood love, Latika (Freida Pinto). Will he lose everything or attain all his dreams?

            Dev Patel in "Slumdog Millionaire."

                               Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail in "Slumdog Millionaire."

Danny Boyle's film is edited in a fragmented style, as the past is told in flashbacks. There is a strong appeal along the film's screenplay, as it delves into a reactionary pace in its poetic rhythm. Jamal's character is perfectly fleshed out, as the film meticulously reveals his childhood, seen through his memories, and the very unbalanced relationship with his brother Salim. They lived in the slums of India, doing what they could to survive whatever life throws at them; from abusive crime syndicates who use children, to selling goods on the train, pretending to be guides, stealing shoes for profit, that leads to Jamal being a mere aide in a telecommunications company. Jamal and Salim were separated when they were children, Salim took the dark path, as he becomes the henchman of a crime boss. Latika is the one girl that proves to be the catalyst for Jamal's inspirations, and carries all the wealth of the film's thematic message of destiny.

The underlying secret of Jamal's childhood is told to two cops, and it is very bleak indeed. There are hinted at child abuse, and there are mild doses of violence. I rather thought that Boyle did well in his expositions of the comings and goings in India, the cultural differences are brought into center stage as the audience becomes privy to life in the slums. The film gives us glimpses into India's red light district, and the workings behind child begging. These are things that came as no surprise to me, as I am well aware that children have been used as beggars by the underworld for many years. The soundtrack utilizes a neo-India/modern style that adds some great atmosphere as it complimented its mood.

Jamal is one optimistic individual, and maintains a heart of gold. The film does manage to balance its somewhat bleak tone with the developing love between Jamal and Latika. It is something to look forward to in the eyes of Jamal and the viewer, and therefore proves very predictable. While there are indeed weaknesses in the script, the film does manage to enthrall the audience due to its excellent editing tricks that nails down the atmosphere and emotions. I may say even go as far as the film barely offers anything new, the far superior Brazilian masterpiece, "City of God" did everything "Slumdog Millionaire" did better, but Boyle's film manages to make his audience feel uplifted as Meirelles' felt very dark and depressing. This is one common denominator critically acclaimed movies mostly share (but not all), they have a good message. During this very depressing times, it is refreshing to see an uplifting motion picture. 

            Dev Patel as Jamal and Freida Pinto as Latika in "Slumdog Millionaire."

                               Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as youngest Jamal and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as youngest Salim in "Slumdog Millionaire."

The film is well acted, but I thought the children who played Jamal, Salim and Latika stole the show. These children do manage to turn up the emotion in the film's sequences to generate sympathy, and does serve up bits of humor, (however, hopeless their plight may seem to be). The film becomes darker and bleaker as Jamal's memories slowly unfold, that you know that it may get worst before it gets better. Their evolution in a harsh setting is the film's main draw, and realistically, the film requires some suspension of disbelief as to how everything seemed to fall into place. Which brings us to some of the film's weaknesses. There are times that I felt that the film felt a little rushed, that some elements weren't brought into fruition. There are some plot holes and some did hamper the film, not too much but they did. I also thought that the film's climax came rather quickly, with a perfunctory factor that was too telegraphed with its almost overdone sentimentality.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is a story of hope, love and destiny amid the most dire situations. It is an effective tale of rising above to achieve your dreams, and in this case, it is a lovely story of love. Its theme captured 8 Academy awards including best picture, I guess the American audience do love tales such as this. Don‘t get me wrong, this is a great film, strong in its message that no situation is so bleak that one cannot rise from, but reality turns its ugly head, as we all know that this fictional tale is so far-fetched. I guess we all need to be uplifted at times, but I still prefer actual gritty realism, it best signifies ambitious filmmaking.

Highly Recommended! [4 Stars]

]]> Mon, 18 May 2009 03:47:10 +0000
Shah Rukh Khan stars as a love struck bit player with the unfortunate name Om Prakash Makhija in the Bollywood of the 1970s. He's desperately in love with gorgeous megastar Shanti (Deepika Padukone) and he frequently converses with her image on a giant billboard, completely oblivious to the stares of passers-by. One day Om and his brother have the good fortune to be cast as extras in a film in which Shanti is starring and it seems as if fate has cast them together. And for quite awhile it does seem as if Shanti will fall for the charming Om, especially after he rescues her from an on-set fire. But alas, Om over hears Shanti telling her director Muhkesh Mehra  (with whom she is secretly having an affair) a terrible secret that will make Om's love impossible. When faced with leaving his wife and marrying Shanti as he has promised, the director (played by Arjun Rampal) does what most men would do--traps her in one of the extravagant sets they are filming on and lights it ablaze. This time there's no escape from the fire for Shanti, and  Om dies as well in a futile attempt  to rescue her.

We go immediately from a sheet being pulled over Om's body in the hospital to the new and improved reincarnated Om, 30 years old and still played by SRK. He's the person our deceased Om had always dreamed of being, he's a famous actor with a name to match-- Om Kapoor! His life comes complete with a round bed, velvet slippers, and servants at his beck and call. When we first meet him he's waking up at the crack of noon to go to work at the film studio--surrounded by screaming fans (who can't help observing "He's so much shorter in real life"), fawning studio executives, and a frantic director who's trying to film a really weird script.

That scene leads into the film's BEST dance number to a song called "Dard-e-Disco" which I've since learned is a parody of a number by Hrithik Roshan, one of Bollywood's number one studs. Roshan and his father also have a cameo as themselves in this flick. I doubt that he knew he would be parodied at the time. I had no idea he was a paroding anyone in particular but by the time SRK got to to the part where he was shirtless and dancing provocatively while wearing a hardhat and a toolbelt with a rope slung over one shoulder and singing "My heart is filled with the pain of disco", I was laughing in spite of the fact that he looked really hot. You can always count on Bollywood for a little comedy. But it's during the "Pain of Disco" number that Om Kapoor first begins to remember his past life as Om Makhija. Later at the Filmfare Awards (which feature hilarious send-ups of other stars images) Om's memory clears even more, and afterwards when he spots the director who had killed both of the not-quite-lovers 30 years ago Om, remembers everything and begins to plan his revenge.

OM SHANTI OM is a throwback to the films of the 1970s for its entire first half, which is to say it shows both the worst of the decade's fashion trends and the best of Bollywood's over indulgent opulence. The sets and costumes are magnificent beyond imagining and damn near knocked my eyes out. There are 7 or 8 musical numbers in this film, with the standouts for me being the "Pain of Disco", and "Deewangi Deewangi" with the lyrics "All the cool boys come and make some noise and sing Om Shanti Om".  It's also a good practice for seeing how many Bollywood stars you can name since it's sung at Om's party as an entrance number for all the guests (who are playing themselves) as they arrive. I'm not very good but I was able to identify 6, maybe 7.  Still it's an exuberant, catchy tune that will drive you out of your mind. Director Farah Khan also choreographed the film and she's done an outstanding job. Each number is done in a completely different style from the others, very refreshing. If you've never seen a Bollywood film this might be a good place to start even if it's most subtle parts will be lost on you as it was on me. Be sure to watch the end credits where almost everyone connected with the film gets to dance down the red carpet.

The title for my review comes from Om Kapoor's favorite vulgarity. Whenever he's angry he yells, "What the fish!"]]> Thu, 7 May 2009 21:52:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ First fresh and innovative movie I've seen in at least a decade!]]>
The movie also teaches Western audiences (most of whom have never been to the slums of a developing country) about the struggles of life as a "slumdog" without lecturing or moralizing. In fact, at times, the movie turns heartbreaking situations into heartwarming ones. For example, in one scene, a little boy wants to see a famous movie star but is locked in a run-down outhouse, so he runs out of the outhouse, through the waste, and asks for the movie star's autograph while he is covered in poop.

This is definitely one of the best movies of the past few years. I certainly hope Danny Boyle makes more great movies like this.]]> Mon, 4 May 2009 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Great Soul Does Not Always Make A Good Father]]> While reading a collection of Gandhi's writings I came upon a mention of his son having converted to Islam. I was very surprised since Attenborough's film had completely skipped over any children and so I couldn't wait to see this film when I learned of it. I was expecting them to have had some sort of violent, acrimonious parting, but that doesn't really seem to have been the case.

 The story is an old one though; very successful Dad expects son to go into the family business but son wants to do something else and this inevitably drives a wedge between them. The main difference is that here the son wants to be what his Dad USED to be (namely a Barrister) and Dad's new business is Self-Sacrificing Servant of the People. The son (Harilal) follows obediently through the early years in South Africa, all the while quietly harboring a small grudge because others are given what he feels should be his, but he never gives up his dreams of accomplishing something big and impressing Dad--never realizing that all it would take to do that would be to live his life in the service of the people just as he already was. It's a sad story of a father and mother whose arms are always open to welcome back a son who just can't stay out of trouble and ultimately uses the family name to steal money from others. It's also the story of how a great man can be a father to millions who have never seen him, but can't really connect with a child born of his own blood.

My one problem with the film was the casting. So much depended on Akshaye Khanna as Harilal, and to me he was inadequate. He had one expression that resembled nothing so much as cocker spaniel that has just been caught urinating on the carpet. However Shefali Shah as Hari's mother is truly the shining star in this film. Her suffering as she tries to hold her family together is poignant and will resonate with audiences everywhere.]]> Fri, 1 May 2009 23:45:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ Hooray for Bollywood!]]> Are you up for something completely different, something the likes of which I guarantee you have never experienced before? A film that has the lush romantic aura of Franco Zeffirelli's Shakespearean films combined with the extravagant sets of Liz Taylor's CLEOPATRA mixed with the whimsy of Baz Luhrmann's flix with some catchy songs thrown in too? You say no such animal exists? Well, my friend you are wrong!

That film is ASOKA which stars the legendary Shah Rukh Khan who is undoubtedly the most worshiped romantic leading man in the world of cinema today--bar none. I was going to say that he was the most lusted after, which is probably true as well, but there is something about SRK, as he is known, that seems to evoke an even more powerful emotion in women than mere lust. He is Rudolph Valentino, Gene Kelly, and, when he needs to be, Douglas Fairbanks. He's all of those and more, he's an original. And he's a very important part of what makes this film work so well.

There is so very much in this film to like aside from Khan that I hardly no where to begin. The cast is all superb, especially his co-star the  beautiful Kareena Kapoor who plays Asoka's love interest  Princess Kaurwaki--she couldn't be more believable as the woman for whom he would gladly give up a throne. The sets and costumes are gorgeous and whether or not they are true to the time period couldn't concern me less since the director's approach to this film seems to be more that of a romantic fantasy than of an historical documentary.

That brings us to the one element that sets Bollywood pictures apart from Hollywood films, the musical numbers! (Remember I said SRK had a little Gene Kelly in him.) The fact that anyone can burst into song and dance for no apparent reason at any given moment is one of the things I like best about Bollywood movies. There is so much joy and exuberance in these numbers that sometimes I just want to get up and dance myself, but since I look nothing like those pretty girls with their bare midriffs I've managed to restrain myself, so far. I know what you're thinking, but really after you get accustomed to it the songs won't bother you at all. In fact you might even like them. They're sort of a combination of folk and pop, and they're very catchy. I've always liked "foreign"  folk music so I fell right into it.

But what about the story, you say. The story is mostly fiction based on fact. There was a man named Asoka who became a brutal monarch and then renounced his evil ways to spread the word of Buddha and he is in fact credited with having transformed Buddhism from a second-rate sect into a major world religion. His personal life and his rise to power which are the subjects of this film are the stuff of myth and legend. But that's always where the best stories are to be found.

The DVD begins with a crawl that fills us in a tiny bit on the importance of the the man in the story we are about to see which is very helpful for those of us without any background in Buddhism. And our story itself begins with Asoka's grandfather the Emperor Chandragupta Mauya giving away all his possessions to the people prior to embracing his new life as a Jainist monk. Asoka is just a young boy and doesn't understand his grandfather's choice, nor does he understand when his grandfather tries to stop Asoka from keeping his sword for himself. His grandfather tells him that the sword is a demon and that once it is drawn it sees neither friend nor foe it only thirsts for blood, and that he should throw it away before it can do anymore harm. Asoka refuses, so his grandfather grabs it from him and throws it in the river himself, then leaves on his journey with the other monks. If only Asoka had left the sword in the river, but he doesn't. If only he had not drawn it, but he does. If only he learned from that first bloody lesson, but he doesn't.

There is plenty more to Asoka's story, the film runs well over 2 and 1/2 hours, but in that time it manages to pack in adventure, romance, comedy, drama, one really good battle scene and a couple of small skirmishes, plus song and dance numbers that run the gamut from free wheeling fun, to sensual and erotic. My God, how much more do you want from your first Bollywood experience!


Oh, there is one tiny negative. The subtitles aren't the easiest to read, but after awhile I found that I didn't really need to read them word for word in order to understand and enjoy this film.

ADDENDUM: I recently learned that another Bollywood film is being made about Asoka with an even bigger budget than this one had. It will take up the story from the point where this one left off.]]> Fri, 13 Feb 2009 01:18:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ David Leavitt, Once More and Better]]>

David Leavitt, Once More and Better

Amos Lassen

David Leavitt has worked hard to earn his reputation as "one of our most respected writers" and he wears that title proudly with the publication of his brilliant new novel, "The Indian Clerk". He is the author of eleven works of fiction (including "The Lost Language of Cranes", "While England Sleeps", and "The Body of Jonah Boyd') and two works of non fiction. When I see the name David Leavitt on the cover of a book I know before I open the pages that I am in for quite a read and have never been disappointed. I marvel as his ability to transform his thoughts into beautiful language as well his way of developing new plot ideas. There is always a surprise with Leavitt and he always manages to make me feel like I have really read a book that matters to me. (I would love for him to come to the Arkansas Literary Festival and I am doing my best to that end).

"The Indian Clerk" is an ambitious contribution to literature and the sharp and elegant use of the English language is absolutely wonderful.

The book explores the relationship between two mathematicians, G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa

Ramanujan. It all began in 1913 on a morning in January when Hardy at 37 years old and considered by many to be the greatest British mathematician of his age, received a letter from India. The letter was from a self-professed mathematical genius who claimed that he was on the brink of being able to solve the most important unsolved mathematical problem of all time. Even though some of Hardy's colleagues at Cambridge dismissed the idea as a hoax, Hardy was convinced that the writer, the Indian clerk, Ramanujan, should be considered with serious thought. Hardy enlists the aid of two men, his collaborator, Littlewood and a young instructor, Neville, who is preparing a trip to India with his wife, and is determined to find out more about Ramanujan and possibly use Neville to persuade him to come to Cambridge. Hardy's decision will not only affect his life deeply but it will also have an affect on all future mathematicians and the history of mathematics. Hardy was a reclusive scholar and a closeted homosexual and brings a second storyline into the novel which is presented as a series of lectures some of which he imagined. Ramanujan gains fame as the Indian and Hindu calculator and as the novel moves, we get a look at the academic culture of Cambridge which is at times quite risqué.

The novel is fiction but it based upon a true story and contains shreds of authenticity throughout and we also read about D.H. Lawrence's 1915 visit to Cambridge as well of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertand Russell. Leavitt manages to take one little look at history and explodes it into an emotional story that will have you engrossed. It is a tale of the "fragility of the human connection and the need to find order in the world". The book questions colonialism, sexual identity and the nature of genius in a way that it has never been done before.

Watch this book carefully and I feel we shall see David Leavitt once again take the place he so rightfully deserves among the authors of today who not only know how to tell a story and as one who knows how to do with beauty, grace and integrity.]]> Tue, 4 Sep 2007 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Despite the Passage of 20 years, this film still galvanizes]]>
Based rather faithfully on EM Forster's novel, A PASSAGE TO INDIA examines the dichotomous roles of British colonialization of India and the force of impact of the longstanding occupation on not only the Indian population, but also on the British colonists who loved India and were dismayed by the conflict of political struggle. Forster, as usual, approaches the Macro with the Micro: the underlying disparity between the British and the Indians is brought into focus by the examination of relationships between 'opposing' sides. It is finally in a courtroom that the story gels and the results of history alter.

The cast is strong with especially notable characters created by Judy Davis, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Michael Culver, and Victor Banjeree. One will never understand why Lean cast Sir Alec Guinness as the Indian Godbole when there are so many fine Indian actors who could have made the role significant. For all of Guinness' talent he simply looks foolish in his makeup and demeanor.

Maurice Jarre contributes a fine musical score and the richness of color photography is in line with Lean's other epics. The film is long, yes, and there are times when those unfamiliar with Forster's novel would fault as cumbersome. But the very fact that this film continues to spark debate about the British/Indian duplicity is, to this reviewer, an indication of how fine and important - and durable! - this film truly is. Grady Harp, January 2005]]> Fri, 14 Jan 2005 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Dedicated to the Street Children of Bombay]]> Pros: beautiful, moving, good acting

Cons: bleak, dark, depressing

The Bottom Line: Mira Nair's tribute to prostitutes, drug addicts, and street children is beautiful, bleak, and will break your heart.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

Before she became famous for such films as Mississippi Masala and Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair wrote and directed the dark and powerful Salaam Bombay!, the story of street children and prostitutes in the bustling city.

It is ironic that the film has an exclamation point in its title since it is quite a downer. However, it is full of interesting subtleties and is definitely worth seeing.

Young Krishna (How's that for a loaded name?) has been forced to leave home after setting fire to his brother's bicycle. His mother tells him that he can return home when he has earned 500 rupees, enough to pay for a new bike. Although his age is never given, Krishna seems much too young to be living on his own and says that he misses his mother when he goes to sleep.

The film starts out with Krishna working for a circus out in the country. His boss gives him some money and tells him to run to town to pick up some food. Slapping the boy, the boss tells him not to try any tricks. Krishna makes the journey, but, on the way back, realizes that he is free to escape. Unable to read or write, he asks the man at the ticket counter of the village's train station for a ticket to the nearest city. "What city is that?" Krishna asks him.

In Bombay, Krishna becomes known as Chaipu ("tea boy") and lives with a group of street children, eking out a living with various odd jobs, including selling tea and skinning chickens. Chaipu's best mate, a drug dealer, seems to lack an identity as he is called "Chillum," the word for a device used to smoke hashish. Chillum tells Chaipu that he can't remember when or why he came to Bombay. Since the boys' names come from the products they sell, Nair emphasizes that Chaipu and Chillum are dispensable to their bosses.

Chillum's boss Baba also works as a pimp in a local brothel. Baba lives with a woman named Rekha whom he claims to have rescued from the streets. They have an adorable young daughter named Manju, but Rekha still services other clients, sometimes bringing Maju with her to the johns' houses. Manju and Chaipu become friends and maintain an innocence in contrast to the harsh reality of the brothel and drug-dealing. They act like brother and sister and are really adorable together, especially in the scene where they dance to a song on the radio. Rekha seems to really care about Chaipu, but Chaipu still longs to go home to his real mother.

Baba the pimp considers himself to be superior to Chaipu and Chillum. There are several shots of him literally looking down on Chaipu from a balcony. He reprimands Manju for sleeping in the street "with riff-raff," but later on tells her to "go sleep in the street" when he wants time alone with Rekha.

One of the saddest parts of this film is the story of "Sweet Sixteen," a young virgin whom Baba brings to the brothel to sell off to a wealthy client. Sweet Sixteen is another example of a character without a or an identity. She doesn't speak Hindi, so she can't communicate with Baba, Chaipu, or any of the other prostitutes. She never speaks, but Sweet Sixteen's face is incredibly expressive.

For Chaipu, Sweet Sixteen, and Manju, their whole life is a prison. Nair shows the children's confinement through the use of bars. For instance, one scene shows Chaipu and the others cleaning out chicken cages, crouched inside the tiny jail-like structures. Manju is also sometimes outside the prison in which her mother is trapped. When her mother is with a client in the brothel, Manju often stands outside the semi-transparent door and scratches at it "like an alley cat."

Impressively, this film was shot entirely on location, and the actors seem very natural. In the opening credits, the actors' names are preceded by the word "introducing," so it is clear that it is their first feature film. In fact, all but one of the actors are non-professionals.

The most extraordinary part of the film is the crowd scene near the end. How Nair set up the elaborate parade/carnival with hundreds of people jamming the street is a mystery to me.

There are a few brief light moments in this film such as Chillum and Chaipu's interaction with an American tourist, but, overall, Salaam Bombay! is heartbreaking.


Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

]]> Mon, 24 Feb 2003 12:00:00 +0000