Thursday, June 30, 2005

The real baiscope wallahs

Sepia Mutiny blog has a nice post on the travelling cinema of yesteryears, with some nice anecdotes and pictures.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Gujju Rap


Hit or Miss?

Without providing any trade numbers whatsoever, Glamsham conveniently declares whether movies are hit or miss:
The recently released "Parineeta" also seems well on its way to make an important contribution to the box-office bottom line.
Really? "..seems well on it's way.."? According to whom? I still have to stumble accross any trade magazine (at least online) that provides collection numbers for movies released in India. Unfortunately we have to deal with broad generalizations (from same article):
Commercially oriented productions that are not run-of-the-mill entertainers and movies with substance are scoring over mere packaging.
Compare with this.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Baiscope Movie Recommendation #1

This week's recommendation: Prahar, Nana Patekar's directorial debut. The first half of the movie is a hard hitting look at an Indian Army commando training camp, very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. The gritty depiction of the gruelling regimen appears very real, mainly because Nana Patekar actually spent time at an army training camp in Pune before writing the script.

The second half of the movie is a Major's attempt to make sense of the civil society, where the black and white rules of the army no longer seem to apply. The Major's need to restore order into his surroundings leads him to take matters into his own hands, and eventually to dementia.

Synopsis (by The Tribune):

NANA PATEKAR’S Prahar spelt out his vision of dispensing justice in a society trapped in a morass of helplessness and indiscipline Maj Chauhan (Nana Patekar) ran a gruelling commando training centre. One of his wards Peter D’Souza lost a leg in an anti-terrorist operation and was discharged from the centre. He took charge of his family’s bakery in Bombay. When he refused to pay protection money to local criminals, he was killed by them. An outraged Maj Chauhan confronted and eliminated the criminals. After trial, the court verdict was that Maj Chauhan had lost his mental equilibrium. He was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment in a lunatic asylum. Dimple Kapadia and Madhuri Dixit impressed in a deglamourised role, but Nana Patekar stole the thunder as a military Pied Piper.
Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ashutosh on movies, life and philosophy

Very few filmmakers have the wherewithal to make entertaining movies and connect with the youth in a positive way. Ashutosh is a rarity, and he is able to simplify his message within the constraints of hindi movie format, and at the same time not come across as condescending. He is also very well spoken. Here's a snippet from an interview series with Rediff:

Q. There is no cynicism and an idealism you project very sensitively in Swades.

A. I am not cynical because I like to look at the positive, brighter aspects and move on. Even in Lagaan (image above), I touched upon it very lightly. We are playing cricket and don't have a 11th player, and Kachra comes in. So we touched upon the most glaring issue in the 1890s -- untouchability. You will be surprised that be it 1893 or 2005, the problem exists in a huge way. In fact, now it has taken violent forms.

If you don't find the film cynical is the reason I have created a village which is very Chandamama (the children's magazine of the 1960s and 1970s), Malgudi Days. In reality if an NRI comes into a village and starts asking questions about how the village structure is, the first thing you get is a lathi on your head.

Check out rest of this enlightening multi-part interview series on Rediff:

1. We don't look back in anger any more
2. Aamir Khan pulled me out of the rut
3. Shahrukh Khan is so obedient as an actor
4. Everything Gandhiji stood for can be made into a film

Shades of Black

When I saw Black, I quite enjoyed it. I especially liked watching a mainstream actress take on an unconventional role and do her homework. However, I hesitated to conform with the rising popular sentiment that this is one of the greatest Indian movies ever, without being able to explain my dissatisfaction. A friend passed along an interview with filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, in which he articulates my feelings quite well:

"I don't like hamming in films, and it's a film where everybody's hamming, including the cameraman. Everything is setup for effect -- 'look how sensitive I am.'

It's not really a film about the girl who's blind. It's like you make a film about a guy who's lame, then you take the crutches away, then you hit him on the head, and he falls and you point and say, 'look how he's suffering.' When everything is for effect, it becomes boring. As a filmmaker, you start predicting.

For me, it's a very manipulative film. It's always manipulating me to cry. It's asking for too much sympathy, and I don't have that much sympathy to give. It's like emotional blackmail all the time, and I find that very unattractive. Some people might really like it, but it's not for me."
It also doesn't show well on the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, when he doesn't acknowledge the true inspiration for the movie Hellen Keller, nor does he give credit to the original movie The Miracle Worker.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's festival time

The New York Asian Film Festival 2005 is underway. A couple of movies that I have seen and would recommend:

My Brother Nikhil (India) - The description on the site is tad incorrect. This is not really the first Indian movie to touch upon AIDS, but definitely the best one. See earlier post

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Japan) - I saw this movie a couple of years ago at the Montreal Film Festival, and quite liked it. It is a bitter-sweet love story set in contemporary Japan.

Other promising ones: Arahan, Karaoke Terror, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, Survive Style 5+, University of Laughs

Monday, June 20, 2005

See you bitches tomorrow

No, not you. Check out Aunty Gs, a short film by Shetani Film Productions, presented by Badmash, spoofing our everyday Indian American diaspora (is that an Indian word? Nobody else seems to be using it). You immediately get a sense of what's coming with the opening dialogues of the movie, all performed with a straight face:

(In the dining room/kitchen of a typical bay area Indian household)
Uncle: Good morning faithful wife
Aunty: Good morning well providing husband
Uncle: I don't want to be late for my high paying engineering job, so hurry up with my hearty breakfast of puris, chhole, aloo puri, matar paneer, saag paneer, makke ki roti......

After Auntyji attends to the self absorbed piece of work, she sheds the garb of the sati savitri Indian bahu, and proceeds to paint the town red with her fellow bitches. It's awesome!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bhaago! it's Bunty Aur Babli

The Upper Stall review for Bunty aur Babli goes
Bunty Aur Babli is a film of missed chances. Look at what the director Shaad Ali Sahgal had going for it – A great cast, the best production house of the country and an extremely strong technical crew. Hence, the disappointment is all the more.

I am usually a cautious guy who waits a week for some unsuspecting friends to get conned by the next bad hindi movie, so they can pass on the good word and I avoid the hassle. However, the catchy song promos, the promise of mast timepass and my soft spot for Rani got the better of me this time and I went headlong for the premier screening at Times Square. The Upper Stall review continiues:
It is that nemesis of the Hindi film, yet again – the script. For a caper film, the screenplay needs to be crackerjack, witty, innovative, fast moving and engrossing -- none of which Bunty Aur Babli is.

I couldn't agree more about this i-wish-i-had-not-wasted-3-hours movie. My one line assessment: B&B is nothing but a revival of the Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja farce.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Rising in august

It seems like we have to wait a little longer for Aamir Khan's Rising.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mellow drama

It's hard to find good reviews of Indian movies, but here's a good one on Parineeta by Amit Varma

Parineeta: the good melodrama

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Meet Ray

Time magazine's list of 100 best films ever, includes legendary Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy (1,2,3). I wonder how many of today's generation have watched even a single Ray film. Having grown up in Mumbai, I can say it's a saddeningly low percentage. I personally watched my first Ray film when I was 24.

Ray's films do not provide the titillation of conventional films, the instant gratification of the senses, the superficial excitement that lasts a superficial second. Ray's films need you to trust the filmmaker and allow him to take you on a journey; a journey that slowly draws you into another world and exhilarates more than just the senses. It's not a tequila shot, but a mysterious wine from a far away land; it takes time to grow on you. You are not watching a film any more, but transcend into a world where you know the characters on a first name basis, you are part of the story, and the experience lingers much beyond the final frame. It's magic!

If you have never seen a Ray film, I urge you not to start with the Apu Trilogy, which requires an already developed taste for the neo-realistic form of cinema. I recommend something more accessible like Ghaire-Baire, Agantuk or even Devi.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

jalataa hai badan

ho ... hAy! jalataa hai badan
pyaas bha.Dakii hai
pyaas bha.Dakii hai sare shaam se jalataa hai badan - 2
ishq se kah do ki le aae kahii.n se saavan
pyaas bha.Dakii hai sare shaam se jalataa hai badan
jalataa hai badan - 2
I have been searching for the lyrics of this song from Razia Sultan, since it happens to be my friend Rajani's pet peeve :-P

On a more serious note, the Internet has provided a unique space for communities to organize information collaboratively, to address social communication needs, or to provide a service; the net effect sometimes is a massive movement which takes the initial effort to a whole new level of relevancy. Some examples: Craigslist, IMDB and Wikipedia.

A decade ago some well meaning individuals managed to create such an event in an effort to create an on-line repository of Hindi movie song lyrics. Before you say woaaa!! let me add that it included lyrics in both roman and Devnagri scripts! Many of the song submissions were made by the general public, and the transliteration to devnagri script was achieved by the ITRANS software written by Anurag Shankar. Check out the database here:

However, it seems like the movement came to an abrupt end some time in the late 90's. I wish they could pick it up where it was left off, and continue the noble task.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Finding Aamir

It's high time for an Aamir Khan movie! It's been long since the last one, even by Aamir's own admission recently in an interview with Shekhar Gupta, due to "personal issues". According to SAWF, there have been some further delays in releasing "The Rising", a movie based on the life of one of the first Indian freedom fighters, Mangal Pandey...
...the Mangal Pandey Memorial Committee in Nagwa, Uttar Pradesh claims to have given the producer a legal notice expressing its opposition to the fact that the film was not shot in Nagwa, the birthplace of Pandey. “The film also features a kiss,” say committee members, “And we oppose this vehemently. We can’t allow a kiss in a film on the martyr’s life.”
This turns from mildly amusing to highly absurd:
...many Pandeys are claiming to be the direct descendants of the martyr and forming organisations to assert their prominence and get the benefits of being associated with the suddenly famous freedom fighter. The fact remains that Mangal Pandey was a bachelor and little or nothing is known about his descendants or family.
I can almost hear Mangal Pandey's moustache turning in his grave. There hasn't been much publicity for the movie, considering it's being touted as the most expensive Indian film ever. Although here's a sneak preview @Rediff.

Sunil Dutt ...most memorable

Browsing through Sunil Dutt's filmography on IMDB (link) I was struck by the sheer number of forgettable films that he was part of: Daku aur Jawaan, Ram Kasam, Reshma aur Shera, Jai Jwala, Pyaasi Sham and Insaan Jaag Utha to name a few.

Sunil Dutt was not the most gifted of actors, nor was he incredibly good looking. However, it was his endearing personality and screen presence that worked with the general public. His sincerity shone through whatever he did and there are several films that will ensure him a special place in the history of Indian Cinema.

He also had an experimental streak in him: remember the one-man film "Yaadein"? I watched it on Doordarshan many years ago, and would love to get hold of a copy. My favourite Dutt movies:

Mother India (1957)
Yaadein (1964)
Mera Saaya (1966)
Milan (1967)
Padosan (1968)

Article by my favourite film historian Dinesh Raheja: link

Friday, June 03, 2005

Where there's smoke, there's censorship

The Censor Board chief Sharmila Tagore is quoted in Indian express:

“Instead of actors lighting up on screen, they can chew on a toothpick or a pencil. It is possible to depict a scene without a cigarette and it would have the same desired impact. Smoking (on celluloid) can be avoided,” says the yesteryear actress."

Huh?!! Just what happens to seemingly intelligent actors as soon as they become chief of Censor Board boggles my mind! I fundamentally disagree with censorship, and favor the ratings system in the US. However, I do understand that proper enforcement is key to making the ratings sytem work, and India may not be ready for it. So, in the spirit of censorship, to preserve our young hearts and minds, here is what I would like banned from Indian movies:
  1. Violence: instead of shooting a gun, the actor could point his forefinger at the target and shout 'statue' to have the desired effect. Fight sequences, if they must exist, could involve no physical contact, a la climax scene from Andaz Apna Apna with Shakti and Salman.
  2. Sex: instead of making out shamelessly, the couple could wink at each other repetitively, accompanied by heavy breathing and uninhibited sweating.
  3. Alcohol: instead of drinking from a bottle, the actor could suck his thumb and look sleepy.
  4. Dishonesty: if a character must lie, it could be followed by appropriate consequences: e.g., lengthening of nose followed by a lightening strike.
I am sure the censor board is already thinking along these lines.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

My Brother Nikhil

According to film critic Roger Ebert, there is no such thing as a depressing movie; there are only good movies and bad movies. I couldn't agree more, especially after watching "My Brother Nikhil". There are film makers for whom the sole purpose of making movies is to entertain (David Dhawan, Manmohan Desai) and for others it is just a tool to make soporific social commentary, audience be damned.

Every now and then you find some mavericks like Ram Gopal Varma and Ashutosh Gowarikar, who will take the medium for what it is, i.e. to tell a good story. Onir, the writer/director of "My Brother Nikhil" falls under the last category. Surely the movie deals with tough social and moral issues, but the approach is that of telling a story with sincerity, without being overly melodramatic or preachy. That's hard to do.

Official site
Upperstall reivew
IMDB entry

Kudos to Sanjay Suri, who keeps getting better with each film.