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?)