Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

“Last updated April 2013” – tempes really DOES fugit! So why am I revivifying this moribund blog, other than as an excuse to use words like revivifying? Because the time is right. I don’t really like goodbyes, which is one reason why I chose the song above – the lyrics are perfect, and it’s from a film that I REALLY, REALLY  dislike. An apt summary of the reasons this blog went to sleep.

I started this blog primarily to write about my reaction to Hindi films. I still love OLD Hindi films, but as the big mainstream releases moved further and further from my tastes, I found my enthusiasm waning. In the nearly three years since I last updated this blog, I’ve seen only two Hindi films during their cinematic runs, PK (an OK if slightly preachy Aamir vehicle) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (a brazenly manipulative Sallu tearjerker that worked), and caught up with only a few smaller films post-release, most notably The Lunchbox and Patang. both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and enthusiastically recommend.

As my interest in current Hindi films waned, so did my already fragile motivation for bloviating about them. Thus did this blog end on an aptly funereal note, with the last post being a tribute to a  favourite female singer of yesteryear, Shamshad Begum.  Except it turned out that it wasn’t quite dead, just pining for the fjords.

It was reading a spate of “year end” blogs that sparked the urge to blow the cobwebs off this old Frankenblog and see if it still worked. I needed somewhere to celebrate my new consuming enthusiasm. East Asian Drama,  and the incredible people I follow on Twitter who have enriched the experience so much.

Within two weeks of writing the last post here, I watched my first ever K Drama. That count now stands at 124, along with 16 Taiwanese Dramas, 3 Chinese and 15 Japanese, plus 14 K Dramas dropped at varying stages. I’m an unashamed addict! I’m also a real fan boy, stretching that last word rather more than nature intended. I’m a fan of East Asian Dramas, but I’m an even bigger fan of the amazing Asiaphiles I follow on Twitter. This blog post is really for them.

Asian entertainment fandom has its fair share (he coughed euphemistically) of irrational obsessive fans who act like children, regardless of their age. Through an incredible stroke of good fortune, no one I follow is anything like that. Everyone I follow is intelligent, thoughtful and mature. The diversity of ages and backgrounds and biases is broad, as is the range of tastes and preferences in Dramas and music. On my Twitter feed are people with very different tastes in both performance and performers. Yet the spirit remains one of fun mostly, and civility always. Whenever discussions shift from lighthearted banter to serious exchanges of differing views, the conversations never become nasty, even when very vigorous disagreements are being aired.

Above all, this outstanding group of people taught me to “just let it go”, to remember that entertainment should be entertaining, and that there’s no need to rain hate on someone else’s parade. OTT ranting can be fun, but friendly banter is even more fun, and much less tiring. To the many exceptional women and tiny group of Most Unusual  men who’ve educated, entertained, and enlightened me,  y’all know who you are and all y’all are 대박, 진짜 대박, take a bow!

When I first stumbled into the Wonderland of an adults-only corner of K-ent Twitter, many (read: almost all) of my mentors prophesied that my obsession with K Dramas would lead inevitably to a slide down the rabbit hole of K-Pop, I scoffed and said the word one should never say. Never.

This year saw me fall hard for Mamamoo. I would seriously love to see them perform live, even though I’d be the ultimate outlier, demographically.  I’ve also stopped pretending that my interest in KPop stops at Davichi, and now accept that liking many songs from Girl’s Generation , T-Ara, Red Velvet and others means I’m more of a sitting duck than a standing egg.

Giving in to K-Pop was not the only noteworthy event in my fanboy life this year though. I got to actually talk to Nandita Das – a very  brief and prosaic exchange, but still! Later in the year, I did something else I never expected to do, and sent a fan gift. That turned into quite an adventure, full of laughs, frustrations and misunderstandings. It turns out that being fond of wryly self-deprecating wordplay in English is, er, let’s say, sub-optimal for maintaining clear communication with non-native speakers. Despite the hiccups along the way, when my very own “K-Drama” ended with me being called “my lovely fan”, the facade of adulthood was completely melted away from the gobstruck, hyperventilating, utterly incoherent adolescent fanboy within.

I also dabbled in blogging thanks to the generosity and tolerance of the excellent women at Couch+Kimchi.  It was fun sharing my views on K Drama, and now that I know many of them are Bollywood fans I might even see if they’ll let me back for a post about my first Asian addiction.

Another discovery this year was that someone whose writing I admire is also a  K Drama fan. Madhulika Liddle not only writes with skill and passion about pre-1970s Hindi films, she writes thoroughly absorbing and meticulously researched historical mysteries set in Mughal Delhi. To have been able to share a mutual fondness for K Drama with a real writer was an unexpected delight. If anyone reading this likes historical fiction, crime fiction, India, or any combination thereof, do yourself a favour and read her books, all of them!

What am I looking forward to in 2016? More thoughtful, fun fan exchanges on Twitter, more  K Dramas, more K-Pop and more time being a VERY happy harabeoji. It’s also the year when I find myself with no choice but to master at least enough Korean to follow the gist of a movie without subtitles, since Made In China isn’t going to get subbed any time soon. I  hope too that everyone who actually read all of this finds MUCH better ways to spend their time in the new year. May 2016 be everything you wish for and more, and for every single person I interact with on Twitter, this one’s for you:

 

 

Sangeet ke liye shukriya, Shamshad!

Other people much more qualified have written moving tributes to Shamshad Begum, who died today at 94. I have nothing to add to the praise rightly poured out, except to say that ever since I became interested in Hindi cinema, I have loved her songs, and felt that she was undervalued while alive. This is not a biographical paean, just an inadequate expression of my gratitude for all she gave us, and my sadness at her death.My introduction to the legends of Golden Age playback singers set me on a different path to many in terms of appreciation. I first heard Lata in films from the 90s, by which time her falsetto was a hideous, torturous screech, physically painful to listen to, made all the more so by being paired with actresses young enough to be her great-grandchildren.To this day, I’ve been unable to complete my plans to watch more Karishma Kapoor movies because my ears recoil in pain when Lata’s screeching fills the air. I have since heard and come to love many of Lata’s earlier songs, but in terms of a place in my affections, those 90s films as an introduction guaranteed that she would never take first place

Lata’s sister, on the other hand, I first heard from her heyday, and she remains my favourite female playback singer. After her comes Shamshad, whose distinctive voice makes it easy even for me, with all the musical perception of a dead fish, to jump up with excitement when watching a film and hearing a new song saying “Hey, that’s Shamshad!”. Here is the first song that I reacted to in that way:

I’ve subsequently been educated by several Hindi film buff friends  in the many grievous flaws of that film, but all I really remember is all the lovely Shamshad!

Being a fan of both Asha and Shamshad, watching Naya Daur was a real delight for me when reshami salwar started and I realised that my favourites were singing together. When I heard the sad news of her death, this song was the first one I turned to, to remember them both, in what was not their only “drag duet”.

 

A highlight of the film Tanu Weds Manu for me was when Kangna’s character dances to a song I had not previously heard. Now that I have  seen the original picturisation for kajra mohabbat wala I understand why it’s top of so many people’s lists of Shamshad songs, and I know that I need to see Kismat. My two favourites together again, once again blurring gender lines:

 

Since this is a celebration of Shamshad’s impact on my experience of Hindi cinema, and a look at why her death literally made me shed a tear when other “bigger” names have not, I will conclude this brief tribute with the song that started it for me. The very first time I ever heard Shamshad’s voice made an instant impression, in no small part because in the picturisation of this magnificent qawwali, she “won” the sing-off against the singer I still resented for hurting my ears. I can think of no better way to remember the unique treasure that was Shamshad than by letting her beat Lata one more time, in untainted monochrome – khudaa haafiz, begum:

 

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi   Bela Sehgal     fiftyfiftyme2013: Major

The skies above the frozen fires of Hell are thick with billions of pigs taking wing. This must be so, for I find myself obliged to say nice things about a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

I rented this film for Boman Irani, and for the promise of a very rare type of story in Hindi films, a mature romance. I had no idea that the film was written by a director whose work I generally abhor, and directed by his sister. I am pleased I didn’t know because in the end, the film was more hit than miss.

The misses in the film were its music and some of its comedy routines. The music was banal and bland, and didn’t not identify with the distinguishing characteristic of the story, the age of the protagonists. I don’t blame SLB too much for the banal, trite music, since such is the norm in 90% of Hindi films these days, and the songs in this film were no worse than the pap that pads out so many films. Nevertheless, they were too numerous and together they accounted for a sizeable chunk of the two hour run time. Had all but two been cut, the film would have been tighter and less saggy.

Many of the comedy routines were similarly uninspired and cliched. Most Hindi films derive much of their humour from mocking those who are different, and in this film the message is apparently, “Parsi are paagal”. From Uncle Feroze with his unrequited crush on Indira Gandhi to the flintlock pistol wielding loon from Shirin’s Baug, too many of the comic elements of the film were too loud, unsubtle and long. As with his own overblown and self-indulgent films, so too in this one SLB demonstrates that he holds no truck with the concept of “less is more”. The comic parts of the film were not all failures, though. The scene with the “swallowed” diamond ring was one of several that made me laugh, and also demonstrated the strength of the film – the relationship between Shirin and Farhad.

It was this feature that drew me to watch the film, and it was the reason I had to end up giving the film a passing grade, in spite of myself. As writer, SLB deserves credit for penning a story of a sort almost never told in Hindi cinema, a tale of first-time love between two people in their forties. With Shah Rukh, Saif and Salman all tirelessly pretending there’s nothing at all creepy in romantic pairings with actresses barely half their age, the age setting of this film was truly refreshing. I’ve never seen Farah in a major role, and was pleasantly surprised at how well she did, given the inconsistencies in the writing.

The film did an OK job of addressing the issue of never-married forty somethings in a marriage-obsessed culture. The most successful comic elements and the most believable drama came from their interactions, as they both sailed into uncharted waters. The film was definitely not without flaws, but I applaud the Bhansalis for venturing into the undiscovered country of mature romance, and hope that the film’s non-failure will encourage other writers and directors to follow suit. If SFKTNP opens the door for films that facilitate the return of actresses like Juhi, Madhuri and (I can dream!) Nandita, then this surprisingly unawful film will have been even more worthwhile.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari

Ferrari Ki Sawaari   Rajesh Mapuskar                   fiftyfiftyme2013: Major

From No Country For Old Men through everything Tarantino’s ever done,from Rowdy Rathore to Agneepath and Gangs of Wasseypur  it seems that the one prerequisite today  to being lauded as a work of cinema is violence – lots of it, and the more graphic and realistic, the better the artistic merits of the film. Reviewers wax lyrical and in-depth on the creative artistry and beauty of the violence in films like these. I am not one of those reviewers, and Ferrari Ki Sawaari is not one of those films.I have a vanishingly low tolerance for violence, which means that most of the films that get raved about I choose not to watch. It also means I end up watching films that are treated dismissively by those who feel that what bleeds should lead. Watching Ferrari Ki Sawaari reminded me that I’m fine with all of that. I am not pretending that Ferrari Ki Sawaari is a work of cinematic genius or even of lasting import. But one of the best things about the film is that it doesn’t pretend that either. A Twitter friend described it as a “ladoo+gulab jamun combo of cuteness and saccharineness”, and that’s not only a perfect description, it sums up what  the film is proud to be. That honesty redeemed the film for me.

The story is tissue thin and the plot, or at least its outcome, is predictable in the extreme. Devoted single Dad (widowed, of course) raising cricket prodigy son needs an unattainable sum of money to send his son to a cricket camp at Lord’s. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that the ending is very definitely Lagaan, not Mother India. It’s not the journey, but the refreshing spirit in which it’s taken that won me over. Boman Irani is great as the gruff, embittered Dadaji with a tragic past, and Paresh Rawal once again demonstrates that he was born to play villains, even light comic ones like his character in this film. Vidya Balan lights up the screen in her special appearance, looking like she’s genuinely enjoying herself.
As Hindi cinema increasingly apes the West with its obsession on  portraying only darkness seriously, and insisting that anything else is done “ironically”, this film was a pleasant surprise. It’s cloyingly sweet, and it knows it, and it doesn’t apologise for it. It’s a Disney-style fairy story, offering its viewers the chance to laugh and enjoy the ride, without having to view it through the prescription lenses of pretension. If you need anger, angst and bloodshed to enjoy a film, avoid this one at all costs. If you want a break from that for a couple of hours, and feel like getting a major cinematic sugar rush, take a ride in Sachin’s Ferrari.

Barfi! (Strained love: How I learned to stop worrying and hate the accordion)

Barfi!  Anurag Basu                              fiftyfiftyme 2013: Major

 

Every now and again, a madness seizes me, and I decide to watch a movie that I know I won’t like.So it was with Barfi!   I was even warned against watching it by some who did like it, including both Dolce and Namak.  All the reasons I thought I would dislike it proved to be true, in spades. Huge chunks of it were at best derivative, at worst outright plagiarism, and the background soundtrack was driven by a monomaniacal obsession with the belief that French-style accordion music automatically makes everything whimsical. It made me homicidal.

Looking back on my experience with Barfi,  the one thing I find hardest to believe is that I made it through the first twenty minutes. NEVER have I been filled with such rage at an overdose of twee. I like Buster Keaton, Chaplin in small doses and Amélie, but Basu’s decision to  rip off all three, and crank them all up way past eleven made for a truly barf-y first half hour. Sheer bloody-minded masochism kept me going, and in the end, I’m glad I persevered.

This does not mean that I ended up liking the movie. The saccharine horror of the start was too great for me ever to like the film, but there were things about it that I did like in isolation, and which suggested how it could have been a film I would have really enjoyed.

I really like Ileana in this film. She is extremely beautiful, of course, but I thought she did well in a largely thankless role.  The clumsy emotional manipulation of the film with its “noble savages” adoration of the “incomplete” Barfi and Jhilmil meant that a real character was always going to have their work cut out getting any attention. Her vulnerability and inner conflict helped give the film some grounding, I thought.

I also liked the last thirty minutes of the film. For me, the ending showed what this film could have been – an interesting dramatic romance examining the challenges faced by the three leads. The “mystery” involving Jhilmil was not much of a mystery of course. It was immediately and transparently obvious who was primarily responsible and why, but as a mechanism for bringing real emotion into the story, it worked.

The songs too, were quite pleasant. In the early, agonisingly painful “clownish” passages, the light, hummable tunes were a break from the incessant whimsy, helping save my monitor from meeting my fist. I’m not sure why the copy I watched didn’t have them subbed, but at least my Hindi was up to the task of getting the gist of the songs.

I would summarise this film as the anti-Aiyyaa. Overall I liked Aiyyaa, but I absolutely loved its opening twenty minutes or so – full-on, no holds barred 1000% Rani madness. Where I thought it stumbled was when it tried to come back down to Earth. With Barfi! I liked the last thirty minutes, when the attempts at “whacky whimsy” were done away with, and we saw what could have been, but by then the scars of the first half hour were too deep and too raw, and the film could not be saved.

One scene in particular sums up what I found most aggravating about the film. Shruti has driven from Kolkata to Darjeeling to support Barfi at the police station. After some time her husband turns up. Do we get any dialogue, any emotional interaction? No, what we get is more (insert gaali of choice here) ACCORDION music! A perfect summary of the first two hours of the film – avoid emotion, avoid conflict, make everything whimsical by just playing the accordion.

The promotional poster I used above nicely shows what I think of as the promise of Barfi!. It could have been an interesting film with potential for a nice blend of drama and comic relief. Instead, we learned that Basu knows how to recreate scenes from other films and that he loves the accordion.

Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola

Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola  Vishal Bhardwaj             fiftyfiftyme 2013: Major

 

mkb

There are two general truths about my Hindi cinema experiences: They are very, very rare, and they are very, very disappointing. Rare, because I live 350 kilometres from the nearest cinema that regularly shows Hindi films, and disappointing because on the rare occasions I happen to be in that city, the films being shown are dire.  Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola  was both an exception to and a confirmation of those truths, which was fitting for the film itself.

Instead of having to wait months for a DVD, thanks to being in the right place on release day I got to see this film before almost all my filmi friends, courtesy of Aotearoa’s advanced timezone. I was very excited about it for many reasons: The music seemed fun and lively,  and Pankaj Kapur was back to being in front of the camera, not behind it,  giving him a chance to atone for the awful Mausam. Also, Vishal Bhardwaj directed it, and I absolutely love the other three of his films that I’ve seen and own, Omkara, Maqbool  and The Blue Umbrella. With that sort of pedigree, what could go wrong? Quite a bit, as it turned out.

There was a lot that I really liked about the film. Shabana Azmi positively revelled in her role as the absolutely amoral and corrupt Minister, hamming it up with a glee that reminded me of Alan Rickman’s villains in Die Hard and the otherwise execrable Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It seemed that Shabana got found added fun in role that saw her playing a character the exact opposite of her offscreen image. Pankaj was better acting than directing, another fine performance of a character with a speech impediment in a Bhardwaj movie. And Anushka seemed solid in a role that was a little like a rural version of Shruti from Band Baaja Baraat. Even Imran seemed marginally less wooden and vanilla than he usually does.

I really enjoyed the music, and the comedy. There were a lot of genuinely funny moments, even if I was the only person in the cinema who laughed when the Minister’s spectacularly dullwitted son asked if it was a “tubelight” who revealed a key plot point. The scene where Matru and Harry “move” the well was comic genius, and one of the main reasons I am going to watch the film again. It was also a very rare treat to be part of an audience actively enjoying a Hindi film, not being stupefied into somnolence as by Mausam, or walking out in boredom as with Dabangg 2.


I also really loved the film’s unabashed use of devanagari, as in the poster above. To see devanagari being used in everything from karaoke screens to cheques was a refreshing change from the rampant Anglicisation of Hindi films, and it was fun to read it to myself while  hearing a Panjabi audience member behind me reading it aloud for his friends who couldn’t read it.

Despite all those good points the film fell short of my expectations. Like its main character it seemed schizophrenic, veering from being strong in its bizarrely comic surreal elements to being plodding in its sombre sermonising portions. Unlike its main character, whose altered states were a result of alcohol’s presence or absence, the film never really explained or linked its two personalities. It was riddled with erratic inconsistencies, right down to Imran’s “now you hear it, now you don’t” accent, which even my very inexperienced ears caught repeatedly. The political sermonising was stodgy and as subtle as a blow to the head, although not quite as much fun. The seamless blend of innocence, wonder and malice that Bhardwaj achieved in The Blue Umbrella was sadly very noticeable by it absence in this film.

Some reviewers have panned the film viciously, others have praised the movie to the skies, like my twitter friend and major league Shabana fan Carla, aka filmi geek . The diverse range of reactions seems apt for a such a split movie. For me, this film was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, a refreshing break from my history of only seeing stinkers on the big screen, and a provider of several good laughs. If only it had been given some internal coherence and a clear sense of its own identity, it could have been a great film. Instead, it was quite literally “not bad”, and as praise goes, that’s pretty damn faint.

Movie 49/50 Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro    Kundan Shah          fiftyfiftyme category: Major

I have owned this movie for a while, but put off watching it because I’d heard and read many times that the ending was dark. It was, but not in the way I expected. And, while the last shot was unrelentingly bleak, angry and bitter, the climax before it was brilliant farce. This is unquestionably the blackest and most comic black comedy I’ve ever seen.

There is nothing I can say about this film that hasn’t been said many times before, but a classic like this deserves all the repeat publicity it gets. Reading the blurb, outlining the tale of two photographers trying to set up their own small business and getting trapped in the mire of corruption around them, I was expecting biting satire with a tragic end. What I got was a film that often had me laughing out loud at its sheer silliness, while presenting an unrelentingly realistic, and therefore grim, view of the social issues it was lampooning. Book-ending the film with two very different presentations of the feel-good inspirational ham honge kamyab served to nicely sum up its bitter theme.

The film was not without its flaws. I felt the pursuit scene from the house through the mosque to the theatre was over-long. In fact, I was beginning to weary of it, and was contemplating hitting the fast forward button, until I saw that they were about to go on stage. I am so very glad I didn’t. The madcap mangling of the Mahabharata was several minutes of nonstop laughter for me. Sadly, because I’m utterly useless at getting subtext, I only saw the surface. I laughed to myself thinking, “the audience thinks it’s hilarious because it’s all part of the play”, but it was only when I read the always excellent filmi geek’s review that I was given the real meaning of that passive audience.

After watching it I read that the film was made on a budget that would make a shoestring seem luxurious, and that helped make sense of some of the details that annoyed me while watching it. It is a tribute to the skill and commitment of all involved that they managed to make a film that was always relentlessly dark and almost always screamingly funny at the same time. Watching Naseeruddin on stage defending Draupadi’s honour made me wish that I could see this fine actor in his natural environment. That feeling was reinforced by the very theatrical final scene. It was quite literally a theatrical ending, one that belonged to the stage.

I don’t know if I will watch the whole film again, but I will certainly rewatch the Mahabharata scene when I want a good belly laugh, and I’m really looking forward to checking the special features disc. This film really is very close to being the perfect example of bitterly funny film making, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys their humour dark.

Movie 47/50 English Vinglish

English Vinglish   Gauri Shinde         fiftyfiftyme category: Major

 

This film was all about lessons, and there are several important ones to take out of it. I’m not going to review the film as such, the outstanding bloggers linked to beneath this post have done that much better than I could. I’m just going to talk about what worked for me and what didn’t.  Because my overall reaction to the film and its message was very positive, I’m going to start by getting my quibbles out of the way.

Quibble number one: Sridevi’s disturbingly plastic face. Not only did she copy Michael Jackson’s signature dance move, she seems to have copied his nose. It took me more than half the film to get used to seeing her look the way she does now. I was saddened that she apparently felt it necessary to do that to her own face, especially in the context of a film with a strong message about self-acceptance.

Quibble number two: The songs. Or at least, most of them. I fast forwarded through all the songs before Gustakh Dil, which was the first one that I felt added anything to the movie. I found the lyrics in the earlier songs to be vapid and banal and delivered in some sort of anaemic soft voice style  that really irritated me. This fine film would actually have been much better almost songless. I say almost because of …

…Quibble number three: The dancing. Or rather, the lack thereof. For crying out loud, this is Sridevi here Gauri, what on Earth were you thinking, giving us her comeback film and NOT giving her a chance to really dance? Only as the credits rolled did we get to see a hint of how much a real dance number for her could have enriched the film.

Quibble number four: The instant conversion of the Dad and daughter. Some people have said that they found the snide, cuttingly cruel self-absorbed daughter in particular to be too much. I didn’t, because I’ve known children like that, and was not unlike her myself a long time ago. Similarly with the Dad. I had no trouble buying him as the faux liberal chauvinist he was shown to be. I thought everything about the characterisation of those two rang true, until the very end. Their instantaneous conversion, after nothing more than a couple of sheepishly bowed heads during Sashi’s speech, that was what I found hard to swallow. The film could have easily accommodated another ten minutes or so to show the two of them actually processing and reacting to what Sashi  had said. Especially if those ten minutes had come at the expense of the first couple of songs.

Listing them like that might make it seem like all I did through this film was carp, but in reality, I wanted to get the negativity out of the way to finish on a positive note, the way the film itself does. The biggest positive about this film was Sridevi. Her journey was the film, and she always seemed credible, her actions consistent with her character. She was entirely believable as the mousy stay at home monolingual mithai maker, and the pacing of her transformation seemed right. When I read that Amitabh described being moved to tears by the film, I knew what he meant, because Sashi’s story as told by Sridevi had my eyes suspiciously moist many times.  Her speech at the shaadi was superb, well-written and perfectly delivered. It really was very moving, beyond question one of my favourite moments from Hindi films I’ve seen this year. A truly brilliant climax that made all my quibbles seem just that, trifling, petty details.

The other thing about Sridevi’s performance that excited me was the potential it hints at for other actresses of her generation. This was the second “comeback” movie of this year that was awaited with massively eager anticipation. Unlike Lolo’s Dangerous Ishq, this one delivered.Most importantly for me,  the film was not just age appropriate for Sridevi, it was built around a character of that age.

Like the much-maligned Aaja Nachle (another film I really, really liked), this film showed a real woman, a mature adult , dealing with  issues relevant to her life experience. It could not have been played by a 20-something starlet.  That delighted me, because it demonstrated  that if given something worthwhile to say, the marquee actresses of the 90s can still deliver, both on screen and at the box office. Again like Aaja Nachle this film did not make romance a central part of the main character’s arc. It didn’t shy away from the potential of a romantic entanglement, but that was never the most important part of the story, and the way Sashi summed that particular element up in her words to Laurent at the end was masterful. Here’s hoping that we will see more films like this one, telling stories that do justice to the talents of Sridevi, Juhi, Madhuri and others.

After all the minor quibbles, I must mention a minor detail the film got spectacularly right – the cameo  from Amitabh. Most guest appearances are at best pointless, and in recent years, the phrase “cameo from Amitabh” has caused a pavlovian shudder of fear in me. He seems to have cornered the market on tacky, sleazy and demeaning cameos. In this one, he was brilliant. A cameo that really added to the film, a very pleasant surprise indeed. It was another example of the intelligence behind this film, not just shoehorning a BIG name into the film, but making his brief appearance meaningful, even possibly planting the seeds in her mind for what was to come.

As comebacks go, they really don’t come much better than this one, and I hope that the success of this film will broaden the minds of film makers, helping them break out of the ageist, sexist box they’ve been living in forever, and get them busy making more sweet and meaningful films like this one.

Movie 46/50 Dabangg 2

Dabangg 2    Arbaaz Khan         fiftyfiftyme category: Major 

 

I was beside myself with excitement for the release of this film. I mean that almost literally. Despite the fact that some five to eight percent of my town’s population is desi, there have only been two Hindi films shown here in the last ten years, before this one –  Barsaat (Bobby Deol & Priyanka) and Ra.One.  The last Hindi film I’d seen at the cinema before this one was Shahid Kapoor’s six-month long comafest Mausam, and I’d taken a 350 kilometre trip specifically to see that one!

Given that history, I was ecstatic at the idea of a Sallu blockbuster actually showing HERE, barely two kilometres from my house. After I watched and fell in love with Dabangg, my excitement at the thought of getting to see the sequel on the bigscreen the very next day hit mesospheric levels. The fall from such dizzy heights was truly epic – very much unlike the film itself.

Perhaps I am the jinx, my presence in the cinema guaranteeing that the film will be a disappointment, a yawning chasm of, well, yawns. Certainly that was true of Barsaat and Mausam. In my defence though, there was no way I could have foreseen that the one adjective above all others that summed up the sequel to Dabangg would be “boring”! It was everything the first film wasn’t, sadly.

Dabanng was lively,  full-on entertainment, with a truly threatening villain, a love interest who rose above her role, and action scenes that were both fun and advanced the storyline. It also had an old-school item number that deservedly became an instant hit. Dabangg 2 on the other hand was limp and lifeless. Everybody in the film seemed to be going through the motions. The first film crackled with the sense that everybody involved was having a great time, the sequel sagged with the sense that everybody involved wanted to get their money and move on.

The sense that this film was little more than a cynical grab for cash was strongly reinforced by the outrageous product placement. I have worked in market research for 20-odd years and generally have no problem with product placement at all. But even by Bollywood standards the inept crudeness of the plugs for a phone and a money transfer service was breathtaking. Both those ads though, were at least brief – as subtle as being  hit over the head with a hammer, but also as quick. The idea of a whole “item number” being dedicated to a brand of adhesive tape? Words fail me! In Dabanng’s item number Munni sang about having “Bebo ka attitude”, in Dabanng 2’s item number, Bebo herself turned up looking gorgeous and flogging sticky tape. A perfect encapsulation of what went wrong with this film.

In the first movie, Sonakshi Sinha was a revelation, transcending her almost non-existent role and making me care about her character. In this film, she became the cipher her character was written as in the first. There was no spark, no sense of the independent woman she managed to create in Dabangg. She, like everyone else in the film, seemed tired, flat and bored.

Both Dabangg  films were created as Sallu vehicles – he is the reason for their existence, and both depend on him more than anything else for their success. The fact that he too seemed to be performing by rote guaranteed that Dabangg 2  would be a dud.

The film wasted its villains too. Prakaash Raj’s character never seemed to be a real threat to anybody, and the excellent Deepak Dobriyal was totally wasted as the lecherous brother. Instead of building a storyline around a conflict between Chulbul and a credibly frightening villain, the first half of the film followed the pattern of another Sallu film, HAHK – song after pointless song spaced out by a few minutes of go nowhere dialogue.

There were some funny scenes, especially involving Chulbul’s teasing of his stepfather with “Aasmaa”. The Aasmaa scenes during the end credits were my favourite bits of the whole film, actually. But occasional bits of humour couldn’t save this film, nor could the heavy reliance on flashbacks to the excellent first film. I can’t recall a film that used so much footage from its predecessor, but padding this film out like that did not help.

There were about thirty people in the cinema for this showing. It was only the third Hindi film here in ten years and of course, everybody there had already paid. Despite that, two people gave up on it just after where the interval would have been and walked out. I saw them go while I entertained myself tweeting about the film and checking Facebook, and did not blame them at all. The fact that the first sequel reached the level of unoriginality and tedium I normally associate with a second or third sequel pretty much guarantees that I won’t be watching Dabanng 3, even if they screen it in my garage.

Movie 45/50 Dabangg

Dabangg   Abhinav Kashyap        fiftyfiftyme category: Major
Dabangg_Movies

There was really no reason why I should have liked this film. Which is a big part of the reason why I loved it.

I had avoided it for ages because the idea of a film about a corrupt cop beating his way through life  just did not appeal. When I finally watched it, I was delighted to find it was nothing like what I expected. It was a simple Sallu delight – a rollicking good fun flick. Everybody who is ever going to has already seen Dabangg so I’m not going to review the plot. Besides, the plot is beside the point. This movie is all about Salman having fun being Salman, and giving audiences something I hadn’t had in a while, an uncomplicated actioner.

Before watching it, I already I liked one thing about this film – Munni. For me, its “competition” in the item number stakes of the time, Sheila, had all the eroticism of someone shaking a dead fish, whereas Malaika truly sizzles in Munni. Sorry, Kat, your spark with Salman may have enlivened Ek Tha Tiger, but your Sheila is flat against this:

The fact that it’s Salman she’s sizzling for makes it even more saalacious, but that’s very much in keeping with why the film works. The story of estranged brothers fighting then reconciling maybe as old as Indian civilisation, but to see it played out by two brothers who were clearly enjoying themselves doing it was a blast.

Every good Hindi action film needs a good villain, and Sonu Sood as Chedi Singh delivered on that. Despite the fact that being the villain in a film like this is literally being on a hiding to nothing, he gives credible menace to the role, and his malice and threatening demeanour are critical to the plausibility of the brothers’ reconcilliation.

The other standout for me was Sonakshi. Her role was the ultimate non-entity, in keeping with the tradition of films like this, but she rose above its severe limitations and gave her character real personality. Her performance was a big part of the reason I was excited for Dabangg 2, and I look forward to seeing more of her, if she does films that fit my viewing profile.

The challenge of watching fifty movies in a year  for fiftyfiftyme has involved some disappointment, and some tedium. To be so pleasantly  surprised in the home straight was a delightful bonus. Thinking about this film makes me smile, not just because I like it so much, but because the fact that I like it was such an unexpected treat itself. I only rented Dabangg but I am definitely going to buy it, and on the off chance that there is someone in some remote corner of the Universe that has yet to see it, I say, do.