Women Ahead of Their Time?

The inspiration for this post was a question that occurred to me toward the end of 2015: Are there any Korean films of the 60s and 70s that feature  strong women making their own choices in lead roles?

The Korean Dramas I watch almost all reflect the male-dominated, chauvinist hierarchy of traditional Korean society. The phrase “male-dominated, chauvinist hierarchy” applies with equal force to traditional Indian society too, which is precisely why the three films I’m briefly looking at here really stand out for me.

Two of these were made in the 60s, and the other  in the 70s. One I like,  I really like, one I really don’t. But all three seem almost anachronistic in their depiction of the female leads, hence the title of this post.

GUIDE (1965)

The blurb on my DVD of this film says that Waheeda was told she was committing professional suicide by taking the role of a woman who left her husband to pursue her dream of being a dancer, aided by her manager/lover.

It really was a remarkable story for 1965 India, and Waheeda made the role her own, with her dancing skills and nuanced portrayal of a woman’s journey of self-discovery,  coming to believe that she could choose to live her life on her terms.

TEESRI KASAM  (1966)

Another Waheeda starrer, this film has many similarities to Guide. Once again she plays a dancer living life on her own terms, or in this case on terms she has chosen to accept. In Guide Dev Anand’s character was initially her guide into independence, helping steer her to fame and fortune. In Teesri Kasam she has neither fame nor fortune, and the man who enters her life is no smooth-talking guide, but a very simple bullock cart driver.

What I love about this film is the way Waheeda’s Hirabai deals with the reality of her life. Others may see it as demeaning and sordid, but whatever, it is her  life, and she will be the one to accept or reject its constraints. She may not have been an empowered woman, but she was not powerless, and demonstrated that her dignity was her business, no one else’s

SEETA AUR GEETA (1972)

This film is named for the two female lead roles, only one of whom qualifies for consideration as an independent,self-assured woman.

Seeta is a meek, downtrodden Cinderella character, not unlike the Candy trope of East Asian Dramas.  Her  separated-at-birth identical twin sister Geeta on the other hand is a real gem. After the opening twenty minutes of the film establishing how miserable Seeta’s life is, Geeta’s introduction is a welcome change of mood. She enters singing “life’s a game” in the song above, and the rest of the film shows her keeping that spirit.

Geeta’s character shines for simply refusing to accept the kind of treatment her society and culture considered both normal and proper for women to receive. Confronted with routine physical and verbal abuse, degradation and oppression, she gives as good as she gets. Especially noteworthy is the climactic fight scene at the end, in which she is an active, vigorous participant. No demure heroine waiting to be rescued, she plays a major part in saving herself, and helping the hero.

Another thing these films have in common is that the actresses were both famous for their dancing skills. All three films reference the low esteem female dancers were held in, and it’s central to both Guide and Teesri Kasam.  Perhaps being part of a contemned (and often condemned) profession played a part in the characters’ resilience?

Like Waheeda and Hema, my bias  Wang Ji Won came to acting from dance. So did several other actresses I follow, including Han Ye Ri, whose major was in Korean traditional dance. Unlike Waheeda and Hema, I’ve never seen any of the Korean dancer-actresses I follow in a role involving dance in a truly significant way, though Ji Won played a ballerina in Fated To Love You. So now I have two questions:

First, are there any Korean films from the 60s or 70s that feature similarly independent, self-assertive women? Second, are there Korean films or Dramas about dancers or featuring dance prominently and starring actresses who are or were dancers? I look forward to your responses, gentle readers.

Gattu

Gattu        Rajan Khosa                       fiftyfiftyme2013: Major


I got this film primarily because it was produced under the auspices of the Children’s Film Society of India while Nandita Das was chairperson. It was a tangential connection to my filmi favourite, but seeing her listed first in the “Special Thanks” made me feel good. So did the film.
Some synopses have used phrases like “The story of an orphan chasing his dream”. That might make it sound like this film is going to be unbearably twee or saccharine. It isn’t. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so, I was wondering whether Ms Das’s involvement actually meant that this was doomed to be some sort of Dickensian horror that ended bleakly. Happily, it wasn’t that either.
I  found Gattu to be a great children’s film. Uplifting with a positive tone fitting for its audience, and with a clear moral or message, but devoid of sickly sentimentality. The first twenty minutes or so in particular reminded me that the world of Indian children like Gattu is more remote from my experience or comprehension than Mars will ever be. The candour of the film in showing the world of its orphan hero was never overwhelmingly grim, coming across as more matter-of-fact, “this is how it is” than any “slum porn” glorification or romanticising of hardship.
The casual and accepted use of violence and humiliation as disciplinary tactics by authority figures was another reminder that this was another world, but the film strove to show that the people doing these things were not sadistic bullies, but people who meant well, for the most part.
The characterisations were the strength of the film, especially Gattu. A very focused young boy, his dream of conquering the seemingly invincible patang known as Kali is the core of the story. Everything he does is about trying to beat the unknown flier of the black kite with a legendary status in his town. His determination to beat Kali sees him steal a uniform to gain access to a local school, whose roof is the highest point in town.
An illiterate orphan child labourer breaks into a school whose motto is satyamev jayate – it probably doesn’t take a degree in film studies to work out where this goes. Indeed, the inevitability of the outcome resulted in a mildly jarring transformation in a couple of the characters, a slightly rushed revelation of their better natures that seemed a bit implausible. The ending of the film with children singing saare jahaan se achchaa also struck a false note with me as a somewhat manipulative display of nationalism. Then again, this is an Indian film for children, funded by the Children’s Film Society of India, a part of a government ministry, so nationalist propaganda and a happy ending that seemed a bit convenient were not deal breakers.
This was another film in a similar vein to Stanley ka Dabba and I Am Kalam. I enjoyed all three  very much, and while Gattu did not wow me as much as the exceptional Kalam, like them it did draw me into to its sweet tale and make me care about what happened to its hero, primarily thanks to a great performance from its young lead. If you’re looking for a child-friendly film with a good message and engaging characters, Gattu will not disappoint.

 

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Movie 50/50 Stanley Ka Dabba

Stanley Ka Dabba  Amole Gupte               fiftyfiftyme category: Major

The final film for my fiftyfiftyme challenge for 2012 was also the saddest. It was billed as sweet, and there was plenty of sweetness in it, but I spent most of the movie stunned into sadness bordering on tears.

The story of a young orphan boy who excels at school but is victimised by a gluttonous teacher for not having a tiffin box he can steal from, Stanley ka dabba was a powerful reminder to me of just how alien India is to my my life experience. Watching a starving child being abused for writing with his left hand and for having no food, watching a depiction of teachers who work only by rote, I couldn’t help being grateful for the accident of my birth in the First World, and deeply saddened by the world the movie showed.

The remarkable thing about this film is that although it infected me with a deep sadness, it bubbled with positivity and smiles. Even the very end, which I found as heartbreaking as the rest of the film, was presented as a happy ending. And it was, in the context of Stanley’s world. The film does not pull any fairy godmothers out of its hat to magically give Stanley the sort of life that pampered, self-centred Westerners assume is normal for children. Instead, it shows a boy whose triumph is in finding his own happiness where he can, and then challenges its viewers to do something about the issue of child labour.

Made on a very low budget in careful conditions that avoided any child exploitation, this was an unsettling end to my filmi journey for 2012. Watching it on the day that the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi died in a Singapore hospital just served to emphasise that, in the immortal words of John Clarke, “we don’t know how lucky we are, mate

Movie 48/50 The Eclipse of Taregna

The Eclipse of Taregna   Rakesh Chaudhary        fiftyfiftyme: Major

One of  the rules for the fiftyfiftyme challenge stated that if a book was over 500 pages, participants could count it as two. I did not avail myself of that option, even when reading a book nearly three times that long. When it came to films however, no stipulation about length was given, so this exquisite short definitely counts toward to my tally for the challenge. It is easily the shortest film I’ve watched this year, but is also one of my favourites

This was a moving tale about the dying of the light, but there was no rage in it. It was also a superbly constructed short story, with no bloat or unnecessary padding, but nothing missing from what was needed for its tale.  The film tells the story of an old man going blind from glaucoma who uses the happenstance of a total solar eclipse to reconnect with his grandson.  That is a plot summary, but it’s a tribute to the craftsmanship and skill of all involved that I found myself tearing up a little near the end of its twenty minute duration.

As a warm, heartfelt story in its own right, and as a great example of what makes a good short film,  The Eclipse of Taregna  is a must-see. Happily, it is very easy to do just that, as the filmmakers have generously put it online. Watch it!

The Eclipse of Taregna
on Vimeo 

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Movie 14/50 Paan Singh Tomar

Paan Singh Tomar      fiftyfiftyme category: Major

Some movies are quite excellent, others are quietly excellent. Paan Singh Tomar is both. Everything about the movie is understated competence, making for a very satisfying viewing experience.

A biopic with a storyline that I’m sure could only happen in India, this tale of a man’s journey from soldier and star athlete to rebel/bandit is not typical Bollywood fare. Almost songless, its low-key storytelling, literally. The lead character recounts his tale to a very nervous reporter hoping for a career-making scoop. The absence of Bollywood style melodrama really drew me into this film. It was almost the anti- Mangal Pandey – a movie built around one character, but without hype or exaggeration. From the perspective of my limited knowledge it seemed authentically grounded in its setting, and I enjoyed the dialect used, it reminded me of the Dakhini of another favourite of mine,  Well Done Abba.

The artist formerly known as Irrfan Khan definitely filled this film up. Thanks to all the training he did, he was believable as an athlete, but more importantly he did a very good job of portraying an intelligent man with a very simple world view. He made it very clear that he was an athlete first, and a bandit only because he felt that he had no choice, a fact about which he remained very angry right to the end. The film did not turn him into Robin Hood, but it made his choices understandable and he remained a sympathetic character. From beginning to end it his personal ethics remained the same, even his reluctance to resort to violence. When shown using violence, his pained reluctance and sense of aggrieved necessity was very clear.

I also really enjoyed Mahie Gill as Paan’s wife. I’d just seen her playing a very different role in Utt Pataang, and was impressed at how believable she was as both a shallow, slick urbanite and a devoted but still independent village woman. She really loved her husband, but it was a realistic affection, no pati parameshwar syndrome here that I could see. Her skilled performance in  Paan Singh Tomar highlights a problem with the current Bollywood obsession for fair-skinned gori PIOs – Angela Jackson, Evelyn Sharma et al could easily play the role that Mahie Gill played in Utt Pataang, but they would never be able to play the role she played in this film.

The film’s end credits, with a list of Indian athletes who were forgotten and died penniless, was a very effective way to drive home the message of Paan Singh’s lifestory. If anything, in today’s world where MS Dhoni can earn more than $20 million US annually, the point may be even more relevant – other sports and their participants have to fight for  scraps, and outstanding achievers in minority sports can still be unsung and underpaid heroes in their own land.

I would recommend this film to anyone who thinks “Indian cinema=Bollywood”. Distinctly and distinctively Indian, it’s also very accessible to people not used to the style of cinema associated with Bollywood. A good story, well told and convincingly portrayed. I hope that, unlike its title character, this film gets the long-lasting recognition it deserves.

Movie 07/50 Andaz Apna Apna

Andaz Apna Apna      fiftyfiftyme category: Major

This film scrapes under the fiftyfiftyme challenge “no rewatch” rule by virtue of the fact that I never actually finished watching it the first time. I disliked it so intensely, I gave up  barely halfway through. Having now seen it all, the question that remains is: What on Earth was wrong with me then?!

Andaz Apna Apna is normally translated “To each his own style”, or similarly. That’s a nice summary of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. All interaction with art is subjective, but perhaps comedy most especially so, and film comedy from a culture not one’s own even more so. That’s the weakness, the possibility that what seems hilarious to many will leave others unmoved. The humour of Andaz Apna Apna is so non-stop that if it’s not  your style of humour, the movie will seem very long and excruciatingly unfunny. Now on to the film’s real strength, which centres on one word – meta.

Ben Zimmer wrote an excellent piece on the  evolution of meta recently, and the word in its current sense is very relevant to this film. It’s a Hindi film that’s all about Hindi film, but it has something that most Hollywood attempts at self-referential humour lack – innocence. There is no shortage of Hollywood product that relies on making references to other Hollywood product, but almost all of it is done with a very self-aware sort of arrogance – “look at us, we’re making a clever reference here, aren’t we clever?” This is done to be “ironic”, because Hollywood is far too grown-up to break the fourth wall just for pure, innocent fun. The only exceptions I can think of to this both involve desis, interestingly enough – Danny Pudi’s outstanding Abed on Community, and Psych , one of whose producers and writers is a desi American. It’s tempting to think that this may not be coincidental, but perhaps indicative of a cultural difference.

The best Indian films really do have a unique innocence to their meta moments, devoid of the clumsily unsubtle “nudge nudge, wink, wink” mentality of shows like Family Guy.  The filmi references in Andaz Apna Apna are perfect illustrations of this. They are genuinely funny because the laughter is unforced. There’s no script equivalent of a neon sign saying “laugh now”, just a relaxed confidence that the audience will find them funny because the writers did – a shared laugh among friends who get the joke. And in this film, there’s two and half hours of that shared laughing. Every filmi trope is thrown into the pot, including the clownish “supervillain” as in the above screenshot, but they are laughed with not at. 

This unaffected innocence makes Andaz Apna Apna  a relaxing, fun movie to watch. Its simplicity and lack of pretense is sadly rare even in Hindi films today, more and more of which seem to feel obliged to ape Hollywood in everything, including attitudes toward self-referentiality. This film may represent the acme of filmi meta-humour partly as an accident of timing, coming as it did toward the end of that age of innocence.

The fact that I enjoyed this film so very much got me wondering why I hated it the first time I tried to watch it, and the answers I came up with are the reasons why I can’t give it an unqualified recommendation.

When I wrote about my favourite Hind film ever, Pyaasa, I said that to do the film any sort of justice required learning at least some Hindi/Urdu. I think that is even more true of Andaz Apna Apna, for a slightly different reason. In Pyaasa, the poetry of the songs will go un(der)appreciated without at least some grasp of the language. In Andaz Apna Apna the sheer speed of the dialogue can make listening to it without any comprehension tiresome – nearly one hundred and fifty minutes of people jabbering away flat out, just an irritating noise. That’s one of my lingering memories of my first abortive attempt to watch it. It’s a shame, because the quality of the subtitles is pretty good by Bollywood standards, and the basic humour of the story is of broad appeal. Perhaps I would still have laughed at it the first time if I’d just turned down the volume a bit more.

The other thing that makes me think this would not be a great film for a novitiate Hindi film watcher is its meta-ness. In-jokes are only funny if you’re in on the joke, and there are so many in this film that if none are known, much of the humour is lost. For example, one of my favourite laughs in the movie is this one:

The subtitles do a perfect job of translating the song lyrics, but the scene is not funny at all if the reference to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak is missed. I got it, and laughed a lot. I did that often enough through the film to know that there must be many more jokes that I missed. But that’s OK, because I got enough of them to find the movie very funny and because I can look forward to finding ever more scenes to laugh at as my knowledge of Hindi cinema grows. It might be possible for someone to find this film mildly amusing without knowing anything of the language or the filmi references, (like Karisma playing someone who may or may not be Karisma), but its status as a truly iconic barrel of Hindi belly laughs will almost certainly remain puzzling.

To each his own may be a cliché, but Andaz Apna Apna  is one of the funniest collections of clichés you’ll ever see. If you haven’t seen it, do, and if you don’t find it funny the first time, watch a few hundred more Hindi films and then try again. It worked for me!

Movie 06/50 Dhanwaan

Dhanwaan        fiftyfiftyme category: Major
 
As part of my fiftyfiftyme challenge, I decided to catch up with some Karisma Kapoor films. I started with this one, and ended up being pleasantly surprised. It’s formulaic and predictable overall, but had a few  noteworthy redeeming features. First, it’s comedy elements were actually funny for the most part.Second its stars all look very good – Urmila quite distressingly so. Third, and most important, its ending was intelligent and sensible. I don’t want to give it away in case there are any Urmila, Ajay or Lolo fans reading this who haven’t seen it, but  I thought I knew how this was going to end, and it let me think that right up until almost the very end, then pulled out a filmi happy ending that was still satisfying and consistent. If watching these three stars shine in youthful beauty sounds appealing, you could do much worse than Dhanwaan.

 

Movie 05/50 Vivah

Vivah  fiftyfiftyme category: Major
 
 

After a break, I got back into my fiftyfiftyme challenge with a movie I’ve had sitting around for a long time. I got Vivah for one reason, Amrita Rao. I think she is one of the few actresses who is truly pretty in the strict sense of that word, and enjoyed her part in Main Hoon Na. Having watched Vivah, I can best sum up my reaction to it with one word.

WHY

 

  1. WHY did I watch this?
  2. WHY didn’t I listen to the warnings of my friends who said DON’T?
  3. WHY did this film get made?
  4. WHY did anyone think that a HAHK clone with 3 times as many songs was a good idea?
To be fair, this film has several redeeming features: First and foremost, it has two very pretty leads. They spend a lot of time doing what they do best – looking pretty. Second, it provides an object lesson in the perils of choosing a film for a reason as superficial as the prettiness of its leads. Third, it is one of the strongest arguments ever made in favour of giving the Nobel Prize to whoever invented the Fast Forward button on the remote.

This film’s “drama” is supplied by an incident involving fire. Having watched this through to the interminable end, I feel that I am now  entitled to be called Sita, having survived my own Agni Pariksha.

I am a sucker for sweet films and I really like the sweetest of them all, HAHK. That film was unabashed confection from start to finish and it got away with it. It was a one-off, though, and Vivah is powerful proof of that. It tries to be as sweet as HAHK but only manages to come off as cloying. It can’t make up its mind whether it’s regressively traditional (Krishnakanth’s opening monologue) or drolly modern (its jibes at shuddh Hindi, which this learner enjoyed).

It’s also way too long, thanks to its makers apparently deciding that because HAHK had 14 songs, they would top that by having a song or song snippet after every 14 seconds of dialogue. The result is that the six months between the engagement and the vivah is lived in real time by any who sit through this film without hitting the FF button.

I felt sorry for poor Seema Biswas – she deserved better than having such a shallow caricature of a character. It was obvious from her first appearance onscreen that she was the archetypal villain who would be redeemed by a transformative bout of soul searching, and so it proved to be. Happily, her “I’m so sorry it was all my fault, I love you, really” bit was mercifully short, and I’m sure the tears in her eyes were real as she reflected on the indignity of a real actress having to play such a role  to pay the bills.

Vivah could have been a good film in the right hands. With less gag-inducing dialogue, fewer songs and thirty minutes knocked off its runtime, it could have been an enjoyable escapist romance. If you’re the sort of person who can polish off a plate of laddoos, wash them down with a mango lassi and chase that with fresh jalebis and masala chai, then you will probably enjoy this film. If, like me, you enjoy sweet, gooey confections that stop just short of inducing diabetes, avoid, yaar!

Book 03/50 A House Divided: The History of Hindi/Hindavi

A House Divided: The History of Hindi/Urdu  Amrit Rai       fiftyfiftyme category: Minor

The copy of this book I read was from its original 1985 publication, with “Hindavi” in the title, where the revised edition (pictured) has “Urdu”. I’ve been told that, other than the title, not much was changed between the two editions.

Hindi/Urdu is possibly the most famous, and certainly the most widely used, digraphia in the world today. This book is an attempt to trace the language from its roots up to about the time of Partition, with a focus on when and how one language began to split into two forms that are increasingly presented as being separate entities. It’s a challenging task, because the status of Hindi and Urdu is one that is fraught with issues of politics, nationalism and religion, and those factors make a purely linguistic assessment difficult. An example of this can be seen in Ostler’s  The Empires of the World wherein he has a graph listing the 20 most spoken languages today and places Hindi 3rd with 498M speakers and Urdu 12th with 104M, then over the very next page says of them “Hindi and Urdu are in a dialect continuum if they are distinct at all.”

That sort of uncertainty about how to define them is at the heart of Rai’s book, and the external factors that have caused the confusion are very clearly evident throughout. In the end, they give this book two distinct tones, one of which I did not enjoy, although I could understand its rationale.

For me, this book is most enjoyable in the early chapters, establishing the steps in the process that led from Vedic and Sanskrit through various Prakrits to the New Indo-Aryan languages, including Hindi-Urdu. Right from the outset, though, the author is focused on the issue of when, how and why Hindi and Urdu became separated from each other.

Rai documents all his claims with copious examples, and the linguistic scholarship seems sound enough. It was fascinating to see the the markers of linguistic change down through the centuries, and whenever the book is addressing solely linguistic issues, it is very enjoyable.

Of course, the very title of the book shows that the author’s intent is to go beyond linguistics. The whole book addresses claims made about the history and origin of Urdu made by scholars of Urdu, and details the start of the divergence between Hindi and Urdu, and the reasons for that divergence, including the various campaigns deliberately aimed at fostering the separation. As linguistic history it is fascinating, even if the socio-political factors make for very  depressing reading.

Unfortunately, despite a generally even-handed tone, toward the very end, the book falters. The book makes no attempt to look at efforts to separate Hindi from Urdu, the drive for Sanskritisation and “shuddh” Hindi. Given the detailed analysis of the efforts to Persianise Urdu, this omission implies that the divergence is all the “fault” of one side, as it were.

That aside, there was a wealth of interesting reading in the book, especially many interesting quotes on the nature of languages and their inevitable evolution from scholars, poets and linguists down through the centuries.
It was naive of me to think that a book about this digraphia could be totally objective, I think. Overall, it is a good read for those interested in the history of Hindustani. To its credit it will, at least in places, likely annoy extremists on both sides of the argument. It is, though, a little disappointing that, driven by a desire to address errors and omissions in the propagandists’ history of their language from the extreme Urdu end of the continuum, he falters at the very end and effectively gives a free pass to their counterparts at the opposite end.

I have no side in the political or nationalist debates that use the differences between Hindi and Urdu as ammunition. I really look forward to any comments, but I’m not getting into “it’s their fault”, “no it’s theirs”.  My interest in this is linguistic, fascination with the fact of a digraphia  which despite concerted, systematic efforts at differentiation by promoters on both sides of the divide remains mutually intelligible at street level. To me, this represents a triumph of language as an intrinsic part of human nature over the superficial and temporary overlays of politics, religion and national identity. Namaskaar, salaam alaikum.

Movie 03/50 London Paris New York

London Paris New York  fiftyfiftyme category: Major
 

 
“Almost, but not quite”. That would be my summary of this movie. I was really looking forward to it for a number of reasons. First, I like Ali Zafar. His winning combination of charm, good looks, and humour were major factors in my enjoyment of both Tere Bin Laden, and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. The other reason I was really looking for to this movie was to see how it compared with Linklater’s iconic Before Sunrise/Before Sunset diptych. Those two movies are classics, two of my favourites, and for me, Before Sunset is “The. Best. Sequel. Ever.” So  London Paris New York had a lot to prove.In addition to the comparisons with the Sunrise/Sunset movies, I’d also seen several references to LPNY’s similarity to  Hum Tum. My memory of that film is patchy, it’s been several years since I’ve seen it, and I recall it basically as when Harry Met Sally, with animated segues. In contrast, I re-watched the Linklater movies just a couple of months ago, and enjoyed them as much as ever. That’s why it was those movies that I was comparing LPNY to.I was not put off by the idea that LPNY might be a Hindi version of those iconic films, because some Hindi remakes have been very good, often adding something to the original in the process of adapting them to an Indian setting. The best example of this  is Salaam-e-Ishq. I saw Love Actually first, but prefer S-e-I, it’s a very good adaptation/remake. Similarly, Malamaal Weekly is at least as good as Waking Ned Devine, and has elements I prefer. So, I was not predisposed to be negative toward LPNY simply because it was said to be a remake or adaptation of the Sunrise/Sunset films. Instead, I was interested to see how well the adaptation was done. That’s where the “almost but not quite” comes in.

The movie starts off with real promise, and the London section felt like an almost perfect Bollywood adaptation of Linklater’s films. So much so that my wife, who is much less fond of them than I am, got a bit bored, muttering, “this is definitely a remake”. For me though, that first segment captured the tone I was hoping to see, something that clearly referenced the Linklater films, but added a Bollywood sensibility. After that, I felt the film lost its way a little. There were a couple of factors that contributed to this, and each of the last two segments showed the effects of one or more of them.

One problem facing a film attempting to recreate TWO films is the simple matter of quantity. The Linklater films are unique for many reasons, but primarily for their “real-time” nature, with the same cast and crew making the films in a near perfect real-time match with the elapsed time between the two films’ stories. In LPNY, I got the impression that Anu Menon had liked those films then fell into the trap of trying to stuff too much into her film.

This is a common problem in Bollywood cinema – it seems that Ashutosh Gowariker has never heard of the concept of editing, and Pankaj Kapur apparently decided that Mausam had to feature every faux arty cliché he’d ever seen in any film ever. Menon came nowhere near those extremes, and overall the pacing of her film is pretty good. But she did overload it a bit. The whole “reveal” at the end of the Paris segment felt a bit forced, a reversion to an old Bollywood trope. In so doing, she did a disservice to both characters, but especially to Lalitha, burdened with a Jekyll & Hyde style personality remake. The “twist in the tail” of the Paris segment was jarring, superfluous and disappointing.

After that slight let-down, I wondered how the finale would play out. It started well, and I enjoyed it right up until they woke up the next morning. Nikhil’s rant was bizarre, even though not entirely without merit in context. What followed though, was a stretch too far for the credibility of the film. Much of the film did show the characters as realistic and recognisable types, albeit filmi versions. That’s the strength of the Linklater films, that the characters seem like they’re just big-screen versions of real people. Perhaps in that context, Nikhil’s explosive rant could make some sense, but what follows did not. Menon retreated to the safety of cliché, and this time it was Nikhil’s character who underwent a lightning change of personality, from nearly psychotic rage to classic filmi Raj-Rahul.

Many of the films I’ve liked from the last few years have been let down by this rushed, forced “need” to have a filmi-style happy ending, and LPNY joins Band Baaja Baarat, Tanu Weds Manu and, to a lesser extent Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (which had other issues) in this club. In the Paris segment, Menon overloaded the film with a “dramatic” interlude that betrayed her characters’ growth arcs and thus seemed jarring. In the New York finale, it felt to me like she did the same in a slightly different way. Much was made of their being older and wiser, but little of that was seen from either of them. If she  was really older and wiser, why didn’t she tell him what tomorrow was when he first turned up? If  he  had grown, why did he turn psycho in the morning then go all DDLJ in the end? If Menon had been bold enough to wrap it with a Before Sunrise  style ambiguous open ending, or even a “sad” one,  that would have redeemed the New York segment, and the film almost entirely.

I can’t finish this review without stressing that I liked the film. The music was good, a great debut for Ali Zafar here too, writing both music and lyrics, and the two leads worked really well together. Ali Zafar is as swoony as ever, especially in the Paris segment for me where I kept thinking of Zoolander – really ridiculously good-looking –  and Aditi Rao Hydari was a delight, easy on the eyes (my wife commented on that several times) and very believable when the material let her be. I am very excited to see her opposite Irrfan Khan soon.

I think that if I hadn’t seen  Linklater’s unique classics, I would have enjoyed this film more than I did. Apparently it’s generated a lot of very negative reviews, which I don’t think it merits. There is a lot to like about it, and it was a promising debut for Menon and for Aditi as lead. I will almost certainly watch it again, and will definitely be looking out for the future work of all the principals. It’s just a shame that what could have been a great example of adapting an Anglo classic to Bollywood tripped up in a couple of key places and ultimately came up short. Almost, but not quite.