Thursday, July 28, 2005

They don't write like this no more

Shehanshah ki inn be-hisaab bakhshishon ke badle mein, yeh kaneez Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar ko apna khoon maaf karti hai
(Anarkali to Akbar: "In return for your Majesty's magnanimous gifts, this slave forgives Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar for her murder")

- Mughal-e-Azam. Dialogues by: Aman, Ehsan Rizvi, Kamal Amrohi & Vajahat Mirza

Bollywood tidbits

A good post by Amardeep Singh:

8 Things About Bollywood You May Not Know

Amardeep is a self confessed "amateur (bollywood) fan". There isn't much new here for someone like me who grew up on hindi movies and lived in Mumbai most of his life. An entertaining read nonetheless.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Baiscope movie recommendation #4

This week: Masala (1991) - Good fortune, bad Karma

The second generation Indian theme has inspired a myriad of movies in recent years like ABCD, American Desi, Bollywood Hollywood, American Chai, etc . Most of them shove their central theme of cultural dislocation and identity crisis in your face, resulting in uni-dimensional characters and un-imaginative love stories. It is natural for film pioneers in second generation Indian community to tackle the identity conundrum, but when you get the 109th version of the same movie, you get a bit tired.

Lost in this recent deluge is the film that started it all, a little known gem from Toronto, Canada by Srinivas Krishna. Synopsis by Rotten Tomatoes:
"Masala", the first feature by actor/director Srinivas Krishna, is a rich and heady mixture of genres and moods. The film's story jumps easily from serious explorations of racism and youthful anomie to witty parodies of such Indian cultural staples as Hinduism and the fantastic Bombay musical.
Krishna, a recovering drug addict who lost his entire family in a plane crash, is released from rehab and heads for his uncle Lalu Bhai's home. Immediately Krishna finds himself in a strange world where old values clash with new, and where the most important Hindu God carries on a sarcastic communication with mortals via the VCR. But even more explosive situations exist: a group of bigots are after Krishna, radical Sikh terrorists rent the basement of Bhai's sari shop, and the government is out to reclaim possession of a rare stamp that has fallen into the hands of Bhai's cousin.
It's a surefire recipe for pandemonium and disaster...
Unlike the more recent movies in this genre, the second-generation-Indian theme tends to inform the larger plot, rather than dominate it. The movie is intelligent and some of the sub-plots are bizarre and hilarious at the same time. Dvd Verdict has a more detailed review.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Baiscope movie recommendation #3

The events of last week in London reminded me of a relatively small British movie called My Son the Fanatic (1997). The movie correctly and very early on identified the rise of religious fundamentalism in Britain. Reviewed by WSWS:
This collaborative work by Kureishi and Prasad is a moving, often funny, and stubbornly unconventional love story about a Pakistani taxi-driver and a prostitute. Set in the north of England, the backdrop to the story is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the growing tensions within a community that borders on the city's red light district at one end and the mosque at the other.
The film stars Om Puri as Parvez, the Pakistani taxi driver, and it is a treat to watch him as always.

Here we have two radically different personalities. Parvez has apparently assimilated himself into western society. Traditional Muslim values have little or no appeal for someone who considers himself "a man of the world". He listens to jazz records, appears to have no time for religion and is a casual drinker.

Farid on the other hand, like many second generation Asian youth, feels like an "unwelcome visitor" to Britain. In one of his first confrontations with his father, Farid angrily tells him that the Police Commissioner father of his fiance could not bear to be in the same room as them. For him, religious fundamentalism seems to offer an alternative to a prejudiced and immoral society.

The parallel between Farid and the three London bombers is hard to miss. The review goes on to point a flaw in the film:

Sadly the film's weakness also resides in its treatment of Islamic fundamentalism. The explanation of its attraction for large numbers of other youth is somewhat shallow.
Here I would disagree with the reviewer. The movie is made from the perspective of the taxi driver who is unable to comprehend the motivations behind his son's radicalization. To him, the Islamic fundamentalists are indeed "frenzied, almost clownish" (sic).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Reviews round-up

Round up of recent film reviews:

Sarkar & Yakeen - by Rangan Baradwaj
Matrubhoomi - by Chugs and Jabberwock
Hazaaron Khwayishen Aisi - by Mukta
Paheli - by Uma
Paheli & Parineeta - by Rangan Baradwaj

Also, I am beginning to think Mr. Subhash K. Jha gets paid by film wallahs to idolize them in print. Check out his review, or rather unstinting eulogy of Sarkar. Having seen the movie, imho this is definitely not Ramu's "best work" (sic). Not only that, he manages to misinterpret a rather straight-forward narrative:

Into this world comes Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief who provides a parallel justice force within Maharashtra to those who cannot afford or obtain justice through official channels.

Thackeray's name is changed to Subhash Nagre. But the power and the socio-political positioning of this fascinating messiah remains unaltered in the movie version of his life.

Subhash Nagre's character (played by Amitabh) has only a superficial resemblance to Thackeray, which should be completely ignored after the first few frames of the movie. Maybe the eulogizing needed to be extended to politicians as well!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Kwik Meal - a New York story

Inspired by "Taxi Dreams", a PBS documentary, my friend Vikram and I made a short film on a New York City food vendor in 2004.

There are thousands of food vendors on the streets of New York city, mostly immigrants. They make up an essential part of the landscape, but for the most part remain faceless entities in the hustle-bustle of a busy city.

Kwik Meal brings to the foreground, the story of one such vendor, a Bangladeshi immigrant M. D. Rehman. Why would a professional chef give up a career in fine dining for a life on the streets? What goes into making of the most famous lamb on rice in mid-town Manhattan? Watch Kwik Meal to find out. (Running time: 16 min)

Title: KWIK MEAL; Year: 2004; Running time: 16 min; Language: English; Country: USA

Directed, Produced and Edited by: Rakesh Chaudhary and Vikram Bhat
Interviewer: Vikram Bhat
Cinematographer: Rakesh Chaudhary
Music by: Trilok Gurtu
Special thanks to: Cambridge Community TV
Special thanks to: MD Rehman, his family and the Kwik Meal staff

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Baiscope movie recommendation #2

This week's recommendation: "Let's Talk". This is a breakthrough film at many levels: a unique non-linear film structure, a powerful script, a mind-blowing soundtrack, and Boman Irani's bold entry into the film world. Synopsis (from official site):
Radhika Sareen is pregnant and the baby is not her husband's. If she tells her husband, how will he react? What will he do? The film unspools from Radhika's mind as she imagines her husband's possible reactions to her predicament. The structure of alternative realities borrows from a traditional musical form, the "Thumri", where a single thought is expressed in a multiplicity of moods. While the setting is urban contemporary Mumbai, its exploration of love is based on the enduring myths of Lord Krishna, the eternal lover and his beloved Radha, who represents the eternal seeker. Newcomer Maia Katrak and sensational theatre actor Boman Irani provide riveting performances with a realism and truth unsurpassed in modern Indian cinema.
Although sprinkled with sharp wit and humor, this is a bleak film. After watching it, I recalled the sinking feeling I experienced after watching the Aamir Khan starrer "Raakh", but that is the nature of the film.

A couple of things didn't work for me: the movie is almost entirely about the husband, leaving the wife's character very uni-dimensional. According to the Rediff review:
She complements Irani well but is handicapped by the fact that it is Irani's film all the way.
Secondly, being the first ever Indian movie shot on DV, the visuals are mediocre. From Upper Stall review:
The film has been shot using 2 PD-100 MiniDV cameras. The director claims to have done considerable research on the film, including filming an entire scratch version, doing sample reverse telecines from different labs all over the world, and even writing customized software for post production. But the end result is disheartening. The film is extremely grainy and pixelated and the the look of the film supersedes the fine performances and an engaging story. The camera is obtrusive at times and lighting is totally uncontrolled (burned-out windows, too dark, ineffective use of indoor lights.) Technically the film is too amateurish to qualify as the herald of serious DV filmmaking in India.
All in all, an outstanding and inspiring movie. Did I mention the mind-blowing soundtrack?