Friday, November 20, 2009

A Thing I Made!

Bollywood is on vacation while I continue to recover from the Evil Swine, two load-ins back to back (come see Let It Snow!), and a whole lot of other nonsense.

In the middle of it, a thing I made finally got released! I spent far too much time on it this summer (literally: sorry, deadline monitors! ;o) but really enjoyed making it nonetheless.

So what is it, already? It's a Behind-the-Scenes documentary-style interview thing I made -- I conducted the interviews and edited it together -- about a really crazycool production studio: the crowdsourced audio drama podcasts brought to you by Between the Lines Studios.

They write and produce an entire season of audio dramas (13 episodes at least, plus extras) set between the seasons of everyone's favorite teenage vampire hunter show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and now they're doing it for Angel as well (and they have assorted other projects). Hey, it's a chance to do some voice acting in the comfort of one's own home, right?

And did I mention there are like 200 people who work on these episodes start-to-finish?
I volunteered to do the behind-the-scenes episode about the directors, knowing not a whole lot about the project at all, and came away entertained and fascinated -- and with 7 hours of audio to edit.

You don't need to know really anything about Buffy or Angel or Joss Whedon to listen to the finished product; it's more about the amazing nature of the people and their process. And don't worry, the finished product is hardly 7 hours long -- and I love it! Look at what I made! (well, listen to it, anyway.)

Angel Between the Lines: Behind the Scenes with the Directors

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bollyween Movie of the Halloweek: Gumnaam

Because I'm sick sick sick today this Halloween (boo), instead of afternoon-Halloween-partying with roommates I'm at home with anguished lungs (boo), and I *finally* decided to watch this movie, lent to me by my pal Rebecca Stockley (hi Rebecca!). And it was WAY more Halloween-appropriate than I thought. So, with strange delirious Halloween glee, I present you with:

Gumnaam, 1965

Directed by: Raja Nawathe

Produced by: M.A. Madhu and N.N. Sippy

Starring: (in the era of the one-named star) Nanda, Manoj Kumar, Pran, Helen, Mehmood, Dhumal, Madan Puri, Tarun Bose, Manmohan, Naina

It's Kinda Like: Lost meets Agatha Christie meets Horror Movie with a Castle (parts reminded me of Young Frankenstein, even!), with a dash of Gilligan's Island

This movie is WEIRD. I guess it was 1965, what do you expect? The trailer proclaims it to be "India's First Suspense Thriller in Eastman Color," confusing -- is that a claim to fame, or just Eastman's claim to fame? Anyway -- it's a strange, looong, meandering thriller that owes a lot to Agatha Christia's manor-house style murder mysteries (Wikipedia mentions 10 Little Indians as an "uncredited" writing credit). Above all, I think I found it fascinating, if anything.

Rebecca bought the movie because they became fascinated with it, as did many Americans, after seeing one of its musical numbers as featured in the movie Ghost World:

This is actually the first musical number in the film, and it's almost the first thing that happens. (Note: this is NOT the weirdest musical number in the film.) A big bummer is that for whatever reason, lots of old Bollywood movies don't subtitle the songs, so you *still* don't know what's going on. Still, if they're staged appropriately, you can pretty much get the gist: "We're drunk and it's hilarious!" "C'mere, baby, I think you're cute!" "We're so in love!" or in the case of the opening number, "Jan Pehechaan Ho" apparently means, "Let's get to know each other!"

The crazy staging of this song is basically an excuse to set up the plot: seven strangers win a fabulous vacation on a chartered flight -- but oops, they're mysteriously stranded! Wandering through what seems to be a deserted island, they happen upon an opulent manor in the middle of nowhere. Yowza!

Of course, they find out that they've all been wrangled there for some purpose: all of them are criminals and will be picked off one by one! There's no host that they can see ("Gumnaam" apparently means "no one," or "lost one"), but taking care of their physical needs is a childish, clownish butler in a stripy T-shirt and plaid dhoti -- who seems to be mimicking India's Charlie Chaplin, Raj Kapoor. [edit: Google Books reveals a memoir from Mahmood, the actor, who confirms that indeed he's mimicking Raj Kapoor, Prithviraj Kapoor, and Randhir Kapoor. go me!]

The other things perfect for a campy Halloween viewing include a ruined church, a ghostly female voice, strange noises in the woods, and some bizarre comic wordplay -- and romance. Like lots of Bollywood films, this one's got something for everyone: love, comedy, danger, terribly-staged '60s fights (I'm stepping on your foot! No, I'M stepping on YOUR foot!), and oh yeah, the suspense plot -- people are dying! who's the murderer? why is no one who they seem to be? What is up with that 5-minute sequence at the beginning of the film where the guy gets murdered?!?

They don't seem terribly concerned by this whole murder thing, until people actually start dying. They're too concerned with ordering food, wandering around looking at the island, going swimming and gogo dancing on the beach, and chasing the Mary Ann ("Asha") and Ginger ("Miss Kitty") characters.

The plot -- and the film -- move at a pace common to movies of that era, where the shots are all so loooooooooooooong, and some of them are realllly reduuuundant. Yet, apparently this film was a box office hit. It takes its sweet time -- but on the other hand, it takes the time for people to really examine their situation: how would people trapped in this situation *actually* feel? Asha confides to her newfound love that before, she didn't really have a reason to fear death -- until now that she's got someone else to live for. Awwww.

The Verdict: Campy, confusing, and fascinating. Clearly not the best film ever -- but maybe for a group viewing with lots of heckling and drinking.

And okay: THIS is the weirdest musical number in the movie.
Hum Kale Hain Toh Kya Hua song - Gumnaam

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Lagaan

Lagaan, 2001

Directed by: Ashutosh Gowariker

Produced by: Aamir Khan and Jhamu Sughand

Narrated by: Amitabh Bachchan

Starring: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne

It's Kinda Like: Sports Movie meets Period Epic

Here's something you probably never thought you'd read: "Dude, this almost-four-hour subtitled movie about cricket is SO suspenseful! You GOTTA check it out, it's awesome!" And yet, I just wrote that. Dude. And you know who'll back me up? The American Film Academy: Lagaan was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, in 2002. And quite a bit more anecdotal and less, say, impressive: when I was directing The Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza, Lagaan was on my list of recommended films to see, and everyone in my cast who saw it *also* thought it was amazing. So there.

Set in the Victorian period of the British Raj in India, the film is about the village of Champaner and the unreasonable taxes levied against their drought-ravaged fields ("lagaan" translates as "land tax"). Our hero musters the village to protest this year's *double* tax -- but the British Captain in charge of their district presents them with an unexpected challenge: beat his Britishers at a cricket match, and avoid paying the tax for three years! Lose the match, however, and pay *triple* this year.

Our hero is Bhuvan (played by one of the famous Khans -- Aamir, this time), a strapping young lad about the age to do something with his life. At the palace of the Raja, where the men come to formally protest the tax, Bhuvan gets into a fight with the British Captain when the villagers stop to gape at white-clad Brits playing what they consider to be a children's game. Male pride: see why the mean British Captain hates that village so much?

Back home, Bhuvan is responsible for putting together a motley crew of wannabe cricket players; despite their glib assertions that it's a simple children's game, they have almost no idea how to play and have never seen a match (one Sikh guy used to be a British soldier and has some small idea). And we're talking a *seriously* motley crew: faced with derision and opposition from most of the village, Bhuvan drafts an Untouchable, which causes everyone else on the team to quit. They are totally up the proverbial creek: it's a *ludicrous* challenge they've undertaken.

Meanwhile, tagging along at Bhuvan's heroic heels is Gauri (Gracy Singh), tomboyish childhood friend who's of course totally smitten with him (I mean, he's pretty hunky; who wouldn't be?). In return, he cheerfully gives her the runaround, which drives her crazy. Look how cute they are, in this film clip:

Who's that strange white lady, you ask? That's Elizabeth Russell, sister of the mean British captain. Appalled that her brother has trapped the village in an impossible situation, in a monstrous breach of Victorian propriety she sneaks away to help coach their scrappy team. And of course she falls for the hunky Bhuvan.

A large percentage of the film is taken up by that final cricket match, and it IS actually a gripping sequence. Rest assured the film teaches you enough that even complete cricket novices (like me!) will be able to follow the action.

Lagaan was made an interesting time for Bollywood: the films I've seen from the late '90s all seem much older than they are; there's a sort of line of modernity evident, somewhere in the late '90s to early 2000's. Lagaan certainly tries very hard to seem like a Western-hemisphere-made epic film: the film's narrated opening and zoomed-in map feel more like Hollywood than Bollywood. The film has an overall sense of self-conscious epic importance, which certainly works well for generating suspense over the outcome. It's a very earnest, serious period film. (I mean, there's definitely comedy mixed in -- but the film isn't Bollywood-Goofy.) And the musical numbers are snugly integrated into the environment of the film, springing directly from the action like this song about the hope of rain:

It's a pity that the poor Russell siblings, being non-Indians, are suffering from Speaking English Syndrome: it seems like non-Indian characters in Hindi films always come off like zombies, with bizarre stilted acting. And they've had plenty of work since then, according to IMDB, so it can't be that they're just terrible actors. Though in a film about shunning colonialism, I suppose you don't want the English to come off all that well. All in all, it's forgivable.

Verdict: See it! Strongly recommended -- though take a dinner break in the middle or something, cause this sucker's LONG.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Dostana

Dostana, 2008

Directed by: Tarun Mansukhani

Produced by: Karan Johar, Prashant Shah

Starring: John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Bobby Deol, Kirron Kher (world's best Bollywood mom!)

Notable songs: Desi Girl, Shut up and Bounce, Jaane Kyun, Khabar Nahi

It's Kinda Like: Three's Company (but in reverse) meets Friends, with a dash of Ugly Betty, and a tinge of Green Card.

Dostana, which means "Friendship," is a unique Bollywood film: it's the first Indian film in which issues of homosexuality, specifically male homosexuality, are not comic relief but instead the main plot. For India, this is a Big Fat Deal: homosexual sex was a criminal act until 2009. THIS YEAR. AFTER this movie was made. (It's also the first Indian movie filmed entirely in Miami, but that's less exciting -- though probably necessary, given the subject matter.)

It's a little racier than you might be used to in a Bollywood movie, too. But I saw it right when it opened, in a packed theater, and the audience totally loved it. The scenes where our heroes are discovered in Accidentally Compromising Positions got slightly *more* laughter than felt comfortable to me in the theater -- but we can cut India some slack.

It's a high-budget, slick modern campy comedy about hilarious attractive people who are too wealthy to have *actual* problems: the best kind of escapism! I totally enjoyed it; it's a little silly, but the comedy bits are very funny and the chemistry between the two male leads is fantastic. Abhishek Bachchan steals the show.

Let's be clear: none of the main characters are *actually* gay, which is established in one of those unexpectedly adultish sequences, after the opening credits. Nothing you wouldn't see in an American movie -- or even on TV -- but for Bollywood, it's like whoa!

Here's the very *first* thing you see of the movie: the title credit sequence, which neatly sums up the in-your-face sassy hawtness they wish to establish (starring Shilpa Shetty as the Item Girl -- she's just in this song, not the rest of the movie):

In this crazy fast world of Miami, the two main characters, Samir (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) are both Indian expats, both coincidentally needing a place to live. They've met before (in the hilarious opening sequence after the credits) and they meet again, in an astronomically unrealistically awesome apartment for rent. But Aunty (played by the HIGH-larious baby-faced Sushmita Mukherjee) won't let any boys live there. No Boys Allowed!

The apartment is just too awesome to pass up, so they reluctantly decide to do something CRAZY: play gay in an attempt to get another chance at the rental. Only later do they discover that the *actual* tenant is not Aunty, but her superhot niece Neha (Priyanka Chopra). Oopsie!

Plus, despite the boys' mutual desire to spread the news of their gayness in order to protect their precious reputations, circumstances (Aunty's nosiness, residency papers, Neha's gay boss, etc) mandate that they "come out" to pretty much everyone. I'll let you imagine the eventual fallout (hint: someone in the cast is playing someone's MOM). Plus, they're both in love with Neha! Awwwkward. The boys make the best of it, and from the first, they spend absolutely every second together, and soon become a trio of best friends. Awwwww! Watch the adorableness as they first move in together (and check that apartment! crazy, right?):

As India's first gay movie, Dostana is definitely a maverick. Sometimes, like mentioned above, I wasn't sure whether I should be slightly offended sometimes on behalf of the gay community -- the gay characters are a little on the stereotypical flaming side -- but then again, it's Miami, right? And you do have to cut India some slack: confronting homophobia is a Big Deal! The characters in the film are indeed forced to confront personal prejudices -- though it's *definitely* a comedy first and foremost, not an "issues" movie. (The flashback sequence where the boys attempt to describe how they met may be campy, but it's also *so funny.*)

Anyway. I totally enjoyed it, in that "guilty pleasure" sorta way. Definitely a "fantasy" that takes place in Glamour World: Neha is a mucky-muck at an international magazine, Kunal is a fashion photographer, Sam is recently arrived from a posh life in London. The plot ventures slightly into the sappy and unrealistic at times (derrr, Sam, did you hire a professional photographer to take those pictures of you and Neha "alone?" Whaaaaa?) -- but that's excusable in the "sitcom" genre, which this film definitely falls into. Situational Comedy!

There are some high-larious references to other Bollywood pop culture (what Bollywood movie doesn't do this? as my roommate Heraldo said ironically upon watching this movie, "So I guess the second Bollywood film ever made, referenced the first one, and so on."), including a very funny scene mimicking Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham -- you don't have to get them to have the movie make sense, but it definitely adds to the modern Pop-Culture-Savvy Sitcom feel of this movie, overall.

Verdict: A "chick flick" about boys -- with hot chicks in it. Very funny and probably enjoyable for the general public. Plus, watching it makes you feel like you're helping the world become better people!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Billu Barber

In honor of the song my Bollywood dance class is learning, plus the song I picked for the dance warmup for the Let It Snow! cast, I present:

Billu Barber, 2008

Directed by: Priyadarshan

Produced by: Gauri Khan

Starring: Irrfan Khan (aka the cop from Slumdog Millionaire and the villain from Aaja Nachle), Lara Dutta, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav, Asrani, and of course Shahrukh Khan.

It's Kinda Like: Hard to say -- though Wikipedia tells me it's a retelling of the story of Krishna and Sudama. (Also that it's a Hindi remake of a 2007 Indian film made in the Mayalayam language.)

Billu Barber is a non-romance, and another film where Shahrukh Khan stars as a knowing parody of himself (see Om Shanti Om). If anything, it's a friendship romance, an unexpected storyline.

Billu (a guarded and put-upon Irrfan Khan) is a barber in a small Indian village. His daily life includes spending time with his wife and two young children, hanging out with his best friends, and generally trying to make ends meet. Until one day (!!), Sahir Khan (Shahrukh), the most famousest Bollywood movie star ever, comes to town to shoot a film.

Billu mentions that he's sort of friends with the famous Khan, but is unclear about the circumstances. Suddenly, it's like, whoa-- EVERYone wants to be his very bestest friend. Suddenly all kinds of people to whom he owes money are falling over themselves to be nice to him, all willing to make him deals for just one leeeettle meeting with the star. As you can imagine, things get way out of hand.

He starts to backtrack, unwilling to provide details, coming up with continual excuses why he can't set up a meeting, or why they've just missed him. It's a real dilemma: his children need to go to school, his barber shop is experiencing competition from the trendy barber next door, he owes money to important people--but he seems to regret ever making the comment in the first place. Soon his friends and family violently turn aGAINST him, even his wife and children. Poor Billu!

Do they really know each other? Will he have any friends at all by the end of the movie? Watch the movie and find out! Butcha don't have to take my word for it!

This was a fun movie, with gorgeous cinematography and a glowing color palette -- and Shahrukh Khan is really good-natured about his self-parody. He first enters the movie in a motorcycle cavalcade, surrounded by fire:

That clip, above, is indeed the music video from the movie, complete with all those ridiculous clips of "Sahir Khan's" awesome filmic feats -- AND, ALL of those are real clips from movies that Shahrukh Khan was ACTUALLY IN. (Cheap for the production company, huh? No need to film *fake* ridiculous movie footage when there's already years and years worth.) Fans will no doubt recognize at least some of them; *I* certainly did. Running from a helicopter? Check. Wearing a ridiculous mustache and jumping out of a fire? Check. Scoring a soccer goal in the rain? Check. Shirtless and surrounded by hot chicks fondling his killer abs? Check. HIGH-larious.

The film, while showcasing Billu's difficulties, really sets up the contrast between village life and Bollywood glamour, and the visual contrast really plays up the absurdity of Bollywood-land against the tiny but very real troubles of Billu and his family. The villagers constantly flock to watch Sahir Khan shooting on location, and every big dance number features another improbable set with ridiculous costumes and a different item girl. Here's one of the big, er, "hits" from the film (fake Star Wars costumes! I love it!):

Don't you love that? And here, for contrast, is what the rest of the film's world looks like, showcased nicely in the film's trailer (all in Hindi, but you can just look, it's pretty!):

(And Let It Snow! folks take note: this film is a great example of a story that, despite containing elements that definitely come from outside the town, revolves completely around the small fates of people who live in the town and aren't looking to get out. The story is about villagers who are essentially OF the village.)

The Verdict: Yay. A friends-romance, about the changes in relationships which already exist: Billu and his wife, his children, his pals, his enemies, etc. Irrfan Khan nicely holds down the lead, with Lara Dutt as his down-to-earth but still-ridiculously-beautiful wife. And the kids are funny. Yay.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bollywood Movie(s) of the Week: The Sixties

This is good for at LEAST two weeks. I was working on choreography for a big Indian wedding that happened yesterday (congrats Ashish and Ranjeeta!), and an older couple gave me their song choice: a medley that included two numbers from the sixties. I had heard the songs before but never seen the movies, and wow -- the first of the two songs was really something. Shammi Kapoor, I feel I don't know enough about you, for you are awesome:

And in researching other kinds of sixties Bollywood dance, I came upon this fantastic montage made by a YouTube user. Here's part one of six; I recommend the whole series, for some fabulously weird entertainment brought to you by Bollywood of the sixties and seventies:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Other Bollywood of the Week: Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Lage Raho Munna Bhai, 2006

Directed by: Rajkumar Hirani

Produced by: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Starring: Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan, Boman Irani, Dilip Prabhavalkar

It's Kinda Like: Comedy gangster movie meets Guy Pretends to be a Professional _____ meets Guy Is Reborn as Prophet movie

Most of these movies I've been reviewing (and seeing) have tended to be of the Romantic Comedy/Drama/Musical variety. Hard to tell whether that's due to my general proclivities, or the tastes of the Bollywood film industry at large (I think it's probably the former, but who knows). BUT this one is different.

Okay, it's kind of a romantic comedy. BUT it's also a comedy gangster film! It's a sequel, apparently, to the first Munna Bhai film. (At my library, you gotta grab from the Hindi section quick; high high demand means there never seems to be the same thing there twice.) And, let me ask you this: how many comedy gangster films involve a guy seeing the ghost of Gandhi? GANDHI. This is probably the most philosophical comedy gangster film you will ever see.

Sanjay Dutt (who kind of reminds me of a chunky Indian Bruce Willis) plays Munnabhai, friendly and personable underworld denizen, a guy who, you know, gets stuff done. He and his short, gold-chain-wearing, trigger-happy sidekick Circuit (yes, Circuit) do things like, you know, obtain property illegally and otherwise take care of business on the shady streets of Mumbai. And, they also have comically misunderstood adventures: apparently in the first Munna Bhai movie, he masquerades as a doctor in order to save face with his family back home.

In this film, they're charged with obtaining the deed to some land, in order to make a big deal with a developer. But Munnabhai is distracted: he's in luuuuururrrrve! Every day he drives his bike out to the pier and listens to the radio show hosted by Jhanvi (Vidya Balan), who of course begins her show with "GoooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING MUMBAAAAIII!" (Ah, the borrowing.)

One day, Jhanvi announces that there's going to be a quiz contest about Gandhi, on the day honoring his birth, and the winner gets to meet her and go on the air! Of course Munnabhai MUST win. So Circuit rounds up a bunch of Gandhi experts (at gunpoint, of course), and menial thugs to dial handfuls of phones each, and this vast operation ensures that Munnabhai will win!

Of course, on air he ends up pretending he's a professor of Gandhi studies (like one of the guys they had rounded up), and then of course, impressed by his vast knowledge, she invites him to give a talk about Gandhi at the house where she lives with her "children": her father and a bunch of other elderly men he's taken in, who are alone or who have been rejected or neglected by their successful children. This place is called "Second Innings House," and the prevailing spirit is, go for broke -- you only have one life to live, and you're still alive, right?

In order to cram for his Gandhi talk, he goes to the Gandhi library and reads for days and days until - - - Gandhi himself appears! With an invisible Gandhi in tow, he heads slightly more confidently to her house.

This is where the film begins to transition more strongly from Comedy Gangster Film to Philosophical Comedy, and becomes much the better for it. Munnabhai, with the prospect of gaining the woman he loves, and the confidence of an invisible guru, begins living for and inspiring the principles by which Gandhi lived. I don't think I'll ever see another comedy that so eloquently displays the principles of nonviolence and passive resistance.

Of course, along the way there are hilarious shenanigans involving him pretending to be a bigshot professor; it's still a comedy, after all! And, although it doesn't really come through in the subtitles, Munnabhai and pals speak in slangy, vulgar Mumbai street dialect, which further belies his claims to be a scholar. That slangy dialect is apparently what made the film so popular and Gandhi-ism so cool and relevant for the Kids Of Today.

Because apparently (according to everyone's best source, Wikipedia), the film "has had a strong cultural impact in India, popularising Gandhism under Munna Bhai's notion of Gandhigiri [his word describing Gandhi's principles]. As noted by critics, the film has 'stirred the popular imagination,' leading to a number of Gandhigiri protests in India and in the United States." Neat, huh? Comedy as social change.

By living unstintingly by Gandhi's teachings, Munnabhai deals with his own problems -- his budding romance, his task of illegal repossession, his crazy violent boss (the very funny Lucky Singh, played by Boman Irani) -- as well as the problems of other people in the city, both in the Second Innings house, and across Mumbai via his OWN new call-in radio program.

(And oh yeah, there are songs too, which are mostly cute and funny, and shoehorned in there because you have to have songs in a movie. Like this one:)

Verdict: I gotta say, I thought this movie would be pretty dumb, and it kept getting both funnier and better as it went on. I plan to see the first one, just to get some background, but this movie definitely stands on its own without the first, as a comedy and as a film about sticking to your guns (ha ha) and changing your community with honesty and nonviolence. I know, whaaa? But seriously. I enjoyed it!

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab ne bana di jodi, 2008

Directed and written by: Aditya Chopra

Produced by: Yash Raj Films

Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Vinay Pathak

Notable Songs: Dance pe Chance, Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, Haule Haule

It's Kinda Like: Any of those movies where the dork gets a cool makeover, plus any of those movies where the girl is involved with two people who happen to be the same guy.

(I missed last week what with a crazy schedule, so you get two this week. Booyah!)
(That is, assuming anyone reads this besides my mom. Hi mom!)

A modern Bollywood with, as the critics say, a touch of the old: comedy plus melodrama equals that guilty-pleasure frisson of awesomeness. And bonus: you get to see Shahrukh Khan dressed up like a Total Dork AND a Super Hot Douchebag in the same movie!

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi's entire plot is set off by an event that could only take place (at all realistically, anyway) in a place where arranged marriages are still culturally acceptable. (It happens in the first five minutes of the movie, so I can tell you about it.) Surinder (Shahrukh Khan) is the all-time favorite student of an old professor, who invites Suri to his daughter's wedding. Seeing her dancing and shouting and making last-minute wedding preparations, Suri falls instantly and silently in love with her.

The groom's family, however, is killed on the way to the wedding! The news literally gives Taani's father a heart attack, and on his deathbed he suggests that Surinder, his solid-citizen favorite student, marry his daughter instead, who would otherwise be left bereft and destroyed.

And thus the opening shots of the film, silent, poignant, and awwww-inspiring. SRK's awkward, well-meaning physicality is understatedly adorable and heartrending. Meanwhile, the poor bride, decked out in her finery, wearily and warily eyes the dingy streets of Amritsar and her unceremonious new home.

I found this movie, in concept and execution, interesting because it focuses on a character we don't get to see much: the average middle-class tech worker. Shahrukh Khan, with a simply atrocious haircut and moustache, plays Surinder "Suri" Sahni, a tech support employee for Punjab Power: "Lighting up your life!" He's shy, quiet, polite, self-effacing, not exactly a snappy dresser, and pretty much completely unattractive (O the bright white sneakers with highwater khakis! O the too-large tucked-in button-down shirt with pens in the pocket! SO delightful!). He resembles nothing so much as someone's embarrassing unfashionable dad, rather than the superhot cool dude he usually plays.

And, he allows us a glimpse into at least a vision of middle-class India. Granted, he has a probably-gay hairdresser for a best friend (how did that happen, exactly?), but his office mates, prairiedogging over the cube walls, are fantastically normal, boring office mates (why is that one guy in a neck brace? I LOVE that touch.). He rides a tiny scooter to his boring job, and showers outside under a tap. Whether or not it's true to life, I cannot say, not having been to India, but the humdrum unglamorous picture is intriguing nonetheless.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this movie, following from the previous point, is the way Suri's songs are staged, woven through the everyday world like a train of thought surfacing and then ducking back into the unconscious. Colorful dancers appear, invisible to everyone but him. His personal dance moves, IMDB tells me, were mostly improvised, which results in a lovely sense of personal spontaneous joy echoed by the burst of color invisible to an ignorant public.

Check out the video for Haule Haule, and you'll see what I mean:

And then, of course, there's his Sassy Alter Ego. It arises in a slightly different way than these things usually do in this type of film. He's ALREADY married to her, so he doesn't have to "win" her in order to have her. But, he's so shy and lovestruck he can't really talk to her -- so when she comes out of her shell enough to request money for a Bollywood dance class, he asks his pal Bobby to help him create an alter ego -- just so he can watch her dance and be happy. Of COURSE, things get out of control, and chance -- or divine intervention -- make them dance partners.

"Rab ne bana di jodi" loosely translates as "A match made in heaven," or "A couple chosen by god." There's an interesting interplay between love as dictated by the gods, and love as portrayed in Bollywood films -- self-referential, eh? One of Taani's few joys is going to see films with her husband, which is where the whole dressing-up idea springs from. There's the dance class, which is specifically a Bollywood class. There's Shahrukh Khan himself, as "Raj Kapoor," the loud, obnoxious, flirtatious dance partner he names remembering a character in a film they saw together (which has a HIGH-larious fight scene, by the way, in which the hero fights off the gang WITH his girlfriend -- and I don't mean side by side, he's literally WIELDING her). And how many filmi heroes have there been named Raj or Kapoor or both? Exactly. Not to mention Raj Kapoor himself, a famous actor and director.

Even Raj's catch phrase, "Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" is a melange of three movie titles, all starring famous Khans, one of them Shahrukh himself. And the song that bears that name is a tour through the history of Bollywood film romance (see 2007's Om Shanti Om for another great example of that kind of song). The number also features a bunch of star Bollywood women, here for their item number.

Here's the video of the song, which begins with early Bollywood and a tribute to the REAL Raj Kapoor, India's Charlie Chaplin. Literally. He's essentially Charlie Chaplin, people. Only his hat is shaped differently. (how I love the culture of borrowing! ;o)

The title/refrain of that song essentially says: "We take different forms, and we're travelling down the road of love; down the road we'll meet again." Indicating, you know, that it's inevitable they'll end up happy in one lifetime or other. But does it mean because of god, or because of the movies? After all, it's Taani's daydream in which the whole song sequence takes place; is her subconscious trying to show her that Raj is a trickster who takes many forms and therefore . . . . . . ?

Of course she has to choose between them at SOME point, though I found that events shook out slightly less predictably than they could have. For instance: who would guess this movie would feature sumo wrestling? Or a motorcycle chase? But it does. There's a whoole lot more movie than featured here, folks. And like I find in most Bollywood, sometimes the silliest characters show more dignity and depth than you would expect, even the boorish Raj. Neither of the two men behaves perfectly well OR perfectly badly, leaving Taani with a truly tough choice. Good thing they're both the same guy, right?

I love the scene right before intermission where a drunken Raj is addressing his own alter ego. Monologues in Bollywood = something most Western movies don't have time for (or at least no time for one per emotional moment), but that really plumb the depths of characters in unexpected ways. Sometimes things can be cheesy AND profound, people! Embrace the cheese. Love the cheese.

Verdict: Fascinating culturally, for all the everyday stuff as well as the religious stuff (the famous Golden Temple of Amritsar is so pretty!). And a fun mix of film styles: Symbolic Indie Film, Rollicking Comedy, and a healthy portion of Romantic Melodrama all rolled into one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Om Shanti Om

Om Shanti Om, 2007

Directed (and Choreographed) by: Farah Khan
Produced by: Gauri Khan

Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Kirron Kher, Shreyas Talpade, Arjun Rampal, Yuvika Choudhary, and a million zillion cameos by other stars.

Songs: Ajab Si, Dhoom Tana, Dard e Disco, Main Agar Kahoon, Deewangi Deewangi

It's Kinda Like: Singin' in the Rain meets Austin Powers meets Hamlet. No kidding.

I love love this movie. And at the wedding I was at this weekend, all my friends at my end of the rehearsal dinner table had seen it too! What the fish! I think it's a great entree into Bollywood (high-budget and truly entertaining), plus a lot of fun for fans of the genre and/or fans of movies and moviemaking in general. And my dad loves the soundtrack, even though he's never seen the movie. (Hi dad!)

The basic idea: The first half of the movie takes place in the seventies, with FAHbulously HIGHlarious costumes to boot. The second act takes place in the present, in the world of Bollywood movers and shakers, where Om reincarnated must solve the mystery of his memories, and right a wrong.

The first act plot is a love letter to Singin' in the Rain. Talking with the beloved on the billboard (which is a CUT SCENE from Singin' in the Rain, no less!), going to a film screening and watching stars on the red carpet, going on a date in the sound studio, funny antics as an extra on set, a bright green dress -- even that weird dream sequence with the sunset and the steps and the veil makes an appearance!

Check out these parallel scenes. You can see how Om Shanti Om's scene takes the ideas in Singin' in the Rain and runs with them. (And I have to say, Gene Kelly is WITHOUT QUESTION the better dancer of the two, BUT the Shahrukh Khan scene still holds up to comparison -- I love this scene, but I've always thought "You Were Meant For Me" was the most boring song in this great movie. Sorry, GK.)

And just so you have no language bias, I'm embedding the Singin' in the Rain clip that's in French. It also just so happens to be the only one with the whole scene in it.

Okay, so that was sort of the mushy part -- but even as hinted here, Om Shanti Om is quite funny, especially the first half. Om (Shahrukh Khan) and his pal Pappu (Shreyas Talpade) have great buddy chemistry, and Om's mom (everyone's favorite Bollywood mom, Kirron Kher) expertly chews up the scenery as an overdramatic and crafty "filmi ma." The boys are scrappy extras jonesing to be stars, and their quickfire quips and upstaging antics are well-executed.

The second act is set in the present, making this one of those films in which Shahrukh Khan parodies himself and his own ridiculous level of stardom (see Billu Barber for another example). Om is reborn in Act II as the very thing he'd always wanted to be: a major film star -- the son, in fact, of his hero, seventies heartthrob Rajesh Kapoor, brush brush (Javed Sheikh). Though the second act (as the Bollywood formula goes) is where the Grand Drama happens, it's also got comedy built in, like the bits featuring Om as spoiled mega-star. For example, cast in an over-the-top tragic film (blind, mute, missing limbs, confined to a wheelchair, Om Kapoor -- known to his fans as "OK" -- demands the only possible kind of musical number that will, in his opinion, save this pathetic boring flop: disco.

And yes, this is supposed to be ridiculous (somebody throw some water on those ABS):

Om Shanti Om is both a well-made film, with great attention to detail, *and* a love letter to film past and present. For general film fans, it's fun to see the filmmaking process lampooned, with fussy directors, goofy stars, scene-stealing extras, and forbidding producers.

For Bollywood fans, the film is chock-full of references (I'm not pretending to have gotten them all by any means). The musical sequence "Dhoom Tana" is a journey through Bollywood film styles, complete with CGd-in film stars of old. Plus there's the Veritable Pantheon of 42 Bollywood stars who make cameos, many starring as themselves, from Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan to Zayed Khan. The second half has a very funny sequence at the Filmfare awards, featuring red carpet interviews with many of these stars, and then the awards ceremony itself with all the "films" that are up for awards. And IMDB tells me there are plenty of other things you might notice if you're a big Bollywood fan . . .

I hate giving away plot, so I tried not to. It's more fun for YOU that way. See how I neatly failed to explain just *why* Om gets reincarnated? You'll have to watch it to find out. Aw snap!

Verdict: Good-natured comedy and High Drama together in one slick package. And with the past versus the present, it's two movies in one! It's a movie to see, for sure. My heart is full of the pain of disco!

Plus the ending credits are great. When else do you get to see the grips and the spot boys walk down the red carpet?

Bonus: If you're looking for hilarious yet obscure catch phrases (and isn't everybody?), you can find some here. (Mind it! What the fish?)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yes I Can!

"Can you make a ventriloquist's dummy that looks like my actress?"
"Can you teach my hip hop class for me?"
"Can you make my brother a skunk smoking jacket?"
"Can you put on a puppet show for my four-year-old's birthday party?"
"Can you choreograph seven Bollywood numbers for our wedding?"
"Can you write a one-hour musical for sixty fifth-graders?"
"Can you paint a mural on our garage?"

These are all questions people have recently asked me -- three of them within the last two weeks.
And to all of them I've said, sure!
What do I do for a living, you ask?
I can. That's what.
I can.

AND, I do.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
(trans. loosely as The Lover Will Carry the Bride Away, 1995)

Directed by: Aditya Chopra
Produced by: Yash Chopra
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol (hey, I was in a movie with them! and so was Dave. Woot!)

It's Kinda Like: The first half is like Guys and Dolls, the second half is like . . . it's stretching, but like Oceans Eleven with love instead of money. And with only one guy instead of eleven.

If you're unfamiliar with Bollywood and want to see a really entertaining example of the genre (an old-school or maybe mid-school one; things have changed a LOT since 1995), this is definitely one to see. It's one of the highest-grossing Hindi movies of all time, I think the longest-running (700 weeks straight in theaters, according to Wikipedia -- that's 13 and a half years!!!), it won ten Filmfare awards the year it came out, AND it's genuinely a whole lot of fun to watch.

Like the film that came out the year before, Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! (stay tuned for a review of that one, also a major major hit), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is like spending the weekend with someone's enormous, hilarious family. DDLJ is a little lighter on the melodrama (there still is some -- this is Bollywood, after all!); more hijinks and it travels farther outside the family home, from London to Europe and then to India.

The Plot: Raj (SRK) is the spoiled, charming, freewheeling son of a millionaire, while Simran (Kajol) is the daughter of a fiercely patriotic Punjabi convenience store owner -- both of them born and raised in London. Simran has been betrothed since birth to the son of her father's best friend in India; as the film opens, her father receives a letter saying, "It's time!" Simran has dreams of an unseen perfect boyfriend, but is pretty resigned to her arranged marriage -- but she wants one last fling: her friends have bought tickets for a month-long Eurail tour of Europe, and she wants to go.

Guess who else is on that tour? Bingo! Raj (and some hilarious friends, including a young, pudgy-faced "Robbie," played by Karan Johar -- hey! Dave and I were in a movie directed by that guy! ;o). Raj, the determined womanizer, fixes his eye on Simran as a challenge (or hey, her friends will do), while she specifically tries to deflate him at every turn. (See? Like Guys and Dolls.) He's so maddeningly carefree, it's hard to tell when he's being serious for a change. In this dance number early in their overseas tour, she's just called his bluff: overhearing him claim to be a fantastic piano player in order to hit on her friend, she walks up onstage and announces, "We have an amazing piano player in the house. Let's hear it for him!" And waits for him to be keeeeenly embarrassed . . .

Something goes wrong, and of course they're stuck traveling alone together. And guess what happens. Hey, you're smart! But before things really come to a head, the trip ends and they part with a handshake, a declined invitation to her wedding, and no real closure. Simran gushes to her mom about the great guy she met, and OOPS, now that her true love is real and not imaginary, he's dangerous. Bang! Dad picks up the whole family and they move straightaway back to India.

And then the second half of the film is the OTHER fun part! Back in India, with the hilarious huge family she's never met -- and her weirdo hunter-cum-greaser fiance. Guess who ends up there as well? And his plot to carry her off (hence the title) is ingenious and fun to watch unfold. The plot is essentially: to NOT CARRY HER OFF. You'll see.

Part of the fun of this movie (like HAHK) is that people are mostly so NICE to each other. Aside from Simran's tall, imposing father (Amrish Puri) with the bug-eyed glare so intense as to be highly comic, all the characters interact on a teasing, slapstick-y level that seems antagonistic at times, but feels, overall, very SAFE. Even Raj's dad (the adorably round-faced Anupam Kher) is totally supportive of his bride-stealing plan, and comes to help out! Everyone is the Marx Brothers, except that there are forty of them. Amidst a very comic cast, Shah Rukh Khan is hilarious, and oh so reassuring, and this film is generally agreed to be one of his (and Kajol's) best performances.

Never fear: there are moments of danger, tragedy, and violence. But you know that everything will be OK, and that people will continue to take care of each other no matter what happens.

Verdict: Delightful. Hilarious, awwww-inducing, and generally quite delightful. Watch it, and be delighted.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Aaja Nachle

Aaja Nachle (trans. Come Dance -- 2007)

Directed by: Anil Mehta
Starring: Madhuri Dixit, Akshaye Khanna, Irrfan Khan, and lots more

Big Songs: Aaja Nachle, maybe Dance with Me?

It's Kinda Like: Any of those "Let's Put on a Show in the Barn!" movies, plus Waiting for Guffman (except for serious -- it's the exact plot structure that Waiting for Guffman is poking gentle fun at), maybe a hint of West Side Story, plus -- Un-Scripted members take note! -- our early Let It Snow! plots.

How can a professional artist NOT enjoy a movie that makes the case for theater changing people's lives? Plus the structure is not your usual romantic comedy plot, so it's an interesting journey, as well.

Aaja Nachle is about a dancer and choreographer self-exiled to New York, who returns to her hometown in India after ten years (with Americanized daughter in tow) when she gets a phone call that her theater guru is dying. Of course when she gets there, she has to muster all her theatrical skills to motivate a village who truly hates her, in order to save her beloved ancient amphitheatre from development into a mall (see, Let it Snow!).

Once Dia (Madhuri Dixit) eloped with an American and fled the village in disgrace, the theater program in her town died. Hence, the villagers and their local MP, "Raja" Uday Singh (Akshaye Khanna), want to build a mall. (Of COURSE she goes over there intending to yell at him, and of COURSE he's younger and cuter and more charming than she thought he'd be -- it's a movie!) She vows to revive the place with her New York company, but noooo . . . Raja Singh insists that she cast all LOCALS. Oh, and she has two months.

Of course, all the locals still hate her (did I mention her parents moved away in disgrace?) and no one will audition. So she does the craziest thing possible: casts the biggest, angriest thug in the gang that's tearing her theater sets apart. Imran Pathan (Kunal Kapoor), a lanky, moody, giant who just happens to be the local heartthrob, will play Majnu in her musical play about Laila and Majnu (a Romeo and Juliet-like story). All at once, people are lining up to audition to be his Laila, and to be in the play. Cue a dance number: Show Me Your Jalwa!

Madhuri Dixit is charming and believable as a mom and a choreographer, and her obvious dance training makes her a lot of fun to watch in the dance numbers. And her ragtag village cast are so lovable and ridiculous at the start, that it makes my little heart want to hug them. Of COURSE they will be awesome -- it's a movie! But they're a well-cast, appropriately mismatched bunch. And Irrfan Khan, most well-known by Westerners as the (slightly pop-eyed) cop in Slumdog Millionaire makes a great deadpan secret villain.

And of course, the final crucial performance is so unbelievably above and beyond what would be possible, strictly logistically, in that outdoor space -- but they show you the whole thing, so you get to revel in its improbable awesomeness, to your fullest extent. Theater! It changes lives! I love it!

Verdict: It's about theater making people better! How could I NOT love it? Five jazz hands.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Something I Like: HEM

I subbed at KZSU yesterday (9am - noon, I'll be subbing the next two Tuesday mornings as well!), and it got me remembering how much great music there is, much of which I found there.

Sooo I thought I'd try to occasionally feature some Stuff I Like (besides Bollywood), and that includes music as well.

One of my favorite music finds from KZSU is a band called Hem. Their genre defies exact description. Some have called them "indie-folk," but when I think of folk I tend to think of Peter, Paul, and Mary, or the Indigo Girls-- an earthy guitar-led sound. Hem is much more orchestral than a mere indie-guitar outfit. Their instrumentation includes piano, glockenspiel, violin, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, PLUS guitar, bass, and percussion.

I think of their music as . . . could one say "wise pastoral?" Listening to their instrumentals you can just picture the wind blowing over the prairie -- even though they're all in New York. Aaron Copland would probably love it -- though, there's no brass, so he might take issue with that.

Here's a video of them performing live, with one of their songs from an early album (their first?) Rabbit Songs, which has a great panorama of their styles. Ranging from delicate instrumental waltzes to the more traditional rural-folk cover of "The Cuckoo," this album as a whole is so beautiful that sometimes I can't bear to listen to it. You know what I mean.

If you're now hooked, and dying to know all about them, you can go visit their website at, where they even have -- GASP! -- FREE DOWNLOADS available.

Hem: know them and love them.

Peace out!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Love Aaj Kal

Love Aaj Kal (2009)

(I think this means "Love Today Tomorrow?" Or "Love Today Yesterday?" or BOTH? "Kal" can mean either, depending on context . . . It is weird when one has learned enough Hindi from watching movies to be able to translate titles. And, to be able to eavesdrop on people at the farmers' market.)

Directed by: Imtiaz Ali

Starring: Saif Ali Khan (Jai), Deepika Padukone (Meera), Rishi Kapoor (Veer Singh)

Link to "Chor Bazari" promo (they no likee the embedding)

A dual love story -- most Bollywood films tend to give you two-for-one, and that's the twofer for this movie: one set in 1965-ish Delhi (Dilli?), one set in today-land (2009 London). It's a counterpoint between the undying flame of a provincial love at first sight, and the murky uncertainty of cosmopolitan dating and sleeping around. Jai and Meera must part to pursue their careers, with perhaps the most amicable breakup in film history -- but the cafe owner where they're hosting their breakup party shamelessly butts in with embarrassing questions and his own love story, and this new strange friendship kicks off the real plot that follows.

The beginning of the film is an interesting editing technique -- a whirlwind fast-forward through the first two years of a relationship, before we even get to the credits. Like the dual love story in the rest of the film, they don't hit you over the head with the convention, but let you figure out what's going on. As the characters might say: Practical. The past/present stories flow together without a lot of fanfare; it's pretty easy to figure out, so why should they make a big fuss for you? You're a smart person.

And the stories speak to each other nicely without a giant sappy parallel-story-fest. I mean, they're sort of parallel, but again, not so you'd be bludgeoned by it. AND, past-guy and future-guy are played by the same actor, BUT that's really hard to tell, and they do seem like two totally different people (to me, at least), so that's a nice touch as well. Subtle.

I was also struck by the colors in the film; overall the film is less sappy/sentimental than it is poignant, and that color palette just twists your heartstrings. The present is in vibrant bright colors, while the past is always tinged with that reddish sandstone color like that faded photo of your mom as a baby that always makes you want to cry. The casting is brilliant; Harleen (love interest in the past) is so adorably awkward, and all the people in the past with their "real-people" looks are just so earnest, especially as compared to the catty plastic Londoners. That group of young Veer and friends with their turbans and fitted 70s short-sleeve button-downs and high-waisted 70s pants, riding their bikes after the girl in the rickshaw . . . . Awwwwwwww! (Go casting, costumes, and art direction; nice job, guys!)

Not a film that was built around the songs; most of them are in voiceover, and the two dance numbers are a bit oddly thrown in (especially the party anthem du jour "Twist") -- but sometimes you just gotta have a "Broadway Melody" moment, right? The music is enjoyable throughout, whether shoehorned in or not.

And I have to say: what's up with all the San Francisco imagery on the marketing materials? Not to give anything away, but they didn't exactly spend a whole lotta time there. (It looks like they were filming REALLY near Union Square for virtually all the shots. How did I miss this filming process? I spent all of last year in Union Square, practically!)(And why is there a giant institute "Golden Gate Inc." that builds bridges if the Golden Gate is already BUILT? hwwwwhwwwAAAAA?)

Anyway. And I did enjoy the treatment of relationships; both extremes (undying love at first sight vs "good morning, what was your name again?") are seen by the characters as kind of silly in the light of day, and the relationships between the leads -- Jai, Meera, AND Veer Singh -- are fresh and teasing and honest; they are playful with each other and not overly precious. I'm always a fan of love interests poking each other on the arm. Some great banter, too: improvisors take note. Nice teasing each other, and some very funny emotional babbling.

The film glides along at a stately pace, with no *major* moments of urgency or surprise or hilarity -- but that creates an inexorable tug towards the dual resolution(s), that keeps you going "AwwWWWWWWWW!" throughout, which is my favorite sound to make an audience make, personally. And I'm a sucker for a pretty film. Did I mention how pretty it is? Ooof. All those shots of that train in the 60s train station, and Young-Veer riding the train. And Harleen on the balcony at night, brilliantly lit in the darkness. Awwwwwwww!

So: overall, good job, film. (Why is it that the people acting in English, especially the non-Indians, always act like zombies in these films? I'm talking to you, weird Frenchy Swiss girl.)

(Can you tell? I'm a film lover AND a heckler. It's possible for me to be having a great time watching a film, at the same time that I'm also picking on the costumes and pointing out continuity errors and hilarious extras. To notice is to enjoy, I say.)

Verdict: Adorable. This film makes you want to hug it. (awwwwww!)

Bollywood Movie of the Week Begins (we hope).

I went to see a new Bollywood movie today (Love Aaj Kal), and I tried to see if I could make a list of all the Bollywood movies I've seen, both before, during, and after researching The Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza. And boy, it was a lot. And since I've been choreographing a bunch of wedding dances, and my roommate is teaching Bollywood at what seems like every company between here and Seattle, Bollywood is eating our house.

So, to edify my friends and colleagues as well as complete strangers (and to keep track of all these darn movies I've seen), I'm gonna try to write up a movie a week. There's quite the list before I have to go out and see any more . . . oh no, twist my arm. :o)

There might be more than one Bollywood movie a week. Or less than one a week. But I *do* have things to say about them, so I'll try to keep myself motivated. ;o)

On Bollywood in general: I have to say, I love it. It's just as if the Hollywood movie industry from the 30s and 40s (post Hayes Code), with its mega star system and its casts of thousands and its singing and dancing and its heightened realities, was transported to a strange planet and allowed to evolve separately. (India: the Galapagos of film?) Spectacle, melodrama, slapstick, romance, all together, forever!

And, perhaps because Bollywood films tend to have something for everyone -- comedy next to drama as per Dickens' streaky bacon -- they definitely *feel* different than American films. Plots may be contrived, but characters almost feel more like real people, showing a wider range of emotions than American films (at least mainstream Hollywood films) have time to give us. The comedy is genuinely funny, AND the tragedy is sincerely tragic. So much crying!

Let the Bollywooding begin!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Need some puppety advice?

If you're wondering about the meaning of life, but want your philosophy to come from a more foam-based source, you could always ask Puppetji!

(came across this randomly while looking for puppet images . . . is it Culturally Insensitive? I dunno . . . *I* don't mean to be, at any rate. It seems less so than it could, if only because they know enough to call him puppetJI. Who knows. At any rate, he looks like a well-made puppet, well-puppeteered. :o) Enjoy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Haiku #5

purple shoes and socks
purple shirt and purple purse.
no one to notice.

Haiku #4

stanzas look so nice
neat haystacks filling the page
makes you feel smarter.

Haiku #3

The BART is almost empty.
Here I am in the back
Writing sucky poetry.

And notice how it's not *actually* a haiku? Even though it sounds like one. Crafty! Or is it?

Haiku #2

one two three four five
six seven eight nine and ten
eleven and twelve.

Haiku #1

i am untethered,
floating free without mooring.
sounds great -- but lonely.

Haiku Month!

Here's my proposed M.O.: one poetry style a month, one poem per day. (at least one.) An exercise in improvisation, of a kind.

First poetry style: Haiku.
(because on the BART, the first line I thought of for a boredom-poem had five syllables. That's when you take an idea and run with it!)

From the American Heritage Dictionary:
hai·ku (hī'kōō)
n. pl. haiku also hai·kus

1. A Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.
[Japanese : hai, amusement (from Middle Chinese bəij, pha·j) + ku, sentence (from Middle Chinese kuəh).]

(Link to Wikipedia on Haiku)

Summer Writing (and reading)!

Photo by lizaart from Flickr
It's summer! Teenagers freely bike around during the day, Stardate is talking about how the sun behaves during the solstice, and the Dana Street Roasting Company is playing hula music.

And in honor of summertime, I decided while riding the BART that I should (re?)start poem-a-day.

Q. Why?
A. Because it's summer, and I have a lot of downtime. And I need deadlines to get hings done, even if the other person setting the deadline is just me from the past. Take that, me from the future? Also, because I have/anticipate some writing projects coming up (comin' atcha, Van Meter Elementary!), and it would be good to get some practice. And since I believe that the key to writing, like improv, is just producing a lot without being too precious, here ya go!

Q. Didn't you try this once before?
A. Yep!

Q. And didn't you totally flake out on it?
A. Oh hell yeah. :o)

Q. Why poetry?
A. Because poems (at least, the ones I'm doing) are small and really, you can produce a poem pretty fast and then be done. I'm all about the instant gratification. (I tried, o knitting. I tried. But you're too slooooow!)

Q. So you must really love poetry then, huh?
A. The short answer is no. Actually, the long answer is, I love good poetry. Mostly that means, funny poetry--with perfect scansion. (And I have a horrible disdain for slant rhyme.) I kind of sort of hate poetry. And I have two English degrees! But then I hear poems I like, and I think, ooooo, I LOVE that. I think I hate how pretentious much of poetry is, and how a lot of what people think is good poetry, is stuff that seems like opaque overly-precious crap to me. :o) I think I like populist poetry that demonstrates understanding of human nature. I mean, I like Ogden Nash, and Dorothy Parker. I love Stephen Sondheim--he's definitely qualified to be named as a poet. (Scansion and perfect rhyme, helloo?) I love Lewis Carroll. I might even love *your* favorite poet. But I have little patience for overwrought angst or purposefully bizarre weepiness. It can be weird if it feels *true* (see The Hunting of the Snark), but weird for Art's sake is just . . . dumb.

Q. Oh. So that means that *your* poetry's going to be *awesome,* right?
A. No! It's probably going to suck! Woo hoo! But I will cheerfully post it anyway. One of the reasons that I have a disdain for "Poetry" is that, in seventh grade, I wrote a poem (I'll see if I can find it somewhere) over which my teacher accused me of plagiarism. Plagiarism! Because, she posited, it was way too good for me to have written. Now, like all assignments I ever turned in in school (hi mom), I probably wrote this poem at the last possible second, in like 10 minutes. It was one stanza, I can still see it on the page -- about half a sheet of ruled paper long, I can't remember whether it was a rhyming poem. But I still remember the "See me!" scrawled in red on the top (Mrs. Morrison was very oldschool. Red pen all the way.) And I remember thinking something like, Geez, you like this crap enough to think it might be famous? Poetry must be pretty stupid, then. (I guess it's kind of like turning in an art project and having your teacher say, My god, that's too brilliant, you must have copied it from Kandinsky!)

So, there you have it. A sequence of mostly-improvised poetry for at least the summer. Why? Because I'm enjoying it. Maybe it will be completely stupid. Maybe it will be so unexpectedly brilliant that you will fall to your knees and weep. And who knows if anyone's actually reading it, anyway. Hooray for blogs.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Puppets . . . Finally going to the moon?

Today I've got rehearsal for a pilot shoot for a kids' TV show: The Magic Paintbox . . . it's been pending for a couple years now, while they go round with different sets of finance people and TV execs. Maybe this time it will happen?

It's kind of weird that I've been on two prospective TV shows without ever *really* seeking out TV. I mean, I feel pretty unphotogenic. Maybe I've got a face for puppetry. :o)

On the other hand, none of the student films I was featured in during college ever got completely finished. And so far, neither of the TV shows. So maybe I'm cursed.

Here's to the future! Magic Paintbox, you've been warned: I may be cursed. Here's hoping I'm not! I always thought in the back of my mind that I'd be a puppeteer on a kids' TV show someday. Seriously. It's your fault, Sesame Street.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Puppets in Chicago?

We got invited to perform The Great Puppet Bollywood Extravaganza at this year's Chicago Improv Festival (CIF). Isn't that cool?

We're trying to make it work, and it seems promising. Latenite Saturday improv! We'll keep you posted.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Working in the theater is weird. or, Use More Vaseline!

For what other job (or in my case, one of several jobs) do you have to get up at 3 in the morning so you can finish a lifelike severed head (or in my case, totally still fail to finish it)? (No worries, SF Playhouse; I'll stick the hair on and gory it up for tomorrow.)

This is one reason improv is much easier: no pulling all-nighters for props. As we move into Un-Scripted: unscripted, this is one thing I remain totally thankful for. (I think we almost pulled a couple of all-nighters for the Shakespeare set -- CHRISTIAN -- but it was supercool and we've already used it again. :o)

On the other hand, I now have intimate knowledge of life-casting using silicone, and of some liquid latex artistic usage. (AND of how stupid one feels when one has inadvertently entombed one's eyebrow and eyelashes in purple silicone, and must resort to tiny scissors to remove both the aforesaid eyebrow and eyelashes, AND the giant purple floppy mold of half one's face that is dangling from one's severely watering eye. Good thing I tried it on myself before I tried it on the 13-year-old! You really do have to use quite a lot of vaseline.)

Plus, latex is a medium you can use to make puppets with. I mean, new art techniques are ALWAYS useful.

Come see Landscape of the Body at the SF Playhouse to see my handiwork! And also, handily, see *by* my handiwork, since I also hang the lights there.

Master Electrician out!