Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Raavan or What You See Isn't Always What You Get

I saw Raavan today. I'm not doing a full review as I honestly probably need to see the film a few more times to say anything really intelligent about it but I did want to point out what I liked about it (since enough negative has already been said). As a former English Literature major in college, there are few things I enjoy more than a piece of art (be it film, TV, music, book, etc) that has some symbolism that I can sink my teeth into. This is why I love Mani Ratnam and his films. He generally makes intelligent films full of symbolism. This is what I liked about Raavan.

1. One of the main themes of the story is perception; how we perceive situations and people based on our perspective, who we are and who they are supposed to be. What we may find is that when we get to know the truth, a true vision of a person or situation, it may be very different than we thought at first glance. This includes the way we perceive ourselves until some event teaches us that we are different than we thought we were. This theme is illustrated very smartly by visuals in the film of characters gazing at each other through tree branches, reflections on the water, photographs and mirrors.

2. Another major theme is that of cause and effect and how it perpetuates a never-ending cycle, in this case a cycle of violence. Unless one party is able to engage the higher side of their being and willingly surrender the upper hand that is. This theme works in tandem with the perception theme when it is the "demon" who accepts what looks like defeat in order to stop the cycle.

3. The film is slow and a bit confusing pre-interval but there is a reason for that that I appreciate and I thought was quite well done. You're really not sure why everything that's happening is happening or why it's all so dire or why you should care. Post-interval, however, the motivation behind Beera's actions are revealed to the heroine, Ragini and to the audience at the same time. I thought it was quite smartly done because the audience goes on the same journey as the heroine. She has, I'm sure, her perception of why these things are happening to her as do we the audience, only to find out that things are not necessarily what she or we thought they were.

4. Santosh Sivan was, as always, pure genius. The cinematography is breathtaking. You MUST see the film for that if for no other reason. Every frame is like a painting. I wish my life was as pretty and dreamy as a Santosh Sivan film *sigh*

5. I really enjoyed Abhishek's portrayal of Beera. This is a character who is a bit unhinged even schizophrenic and I thought he played it quite well. He brought a frenetic sort of energy to the role along with a sort of mad intensity and at times a childlike petulance and ignorance of why what he was doing was wrong. I thought all of it worked and successfully walked the line between making the character a real person and a figure out of mythology. (Also, he looked really good with that black tunic plastered to his body)

6. Aishwarya was strikingly beautiful and did a superb job. She captured and conveyed some very complex emotions very well. She and Abhi had fantastic chemistry together which is, as we've unfortunately seen before, not always the case with real life couples.

7. Another train used as a symbol in a Ratnam film. I really like the idea of the train as a symbol of the inevitability of events once set in motion. Once two characters meet or once a discussion begins, fate has been sealed and events will keep moving relentlessly forward until the inevitable conclusion.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie because it was lovely to look at, the performances were good and it had nice visual symbolism to chew on. It wasn't my favorite movie and was quite slow paced for all the action and drama in it but that is kind of what I've come to expect from Mani Ratnam. His films end up being the ones that I want to watch over and over again because every time I do, I find something new that I missed before. His films have a way of haunting you and growing in your psyche. I can already feel Raavan taking up more space in my brain and the urge to not just see it again but examine and dissect it has already taken root.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Raajneeti or "Out Damn Spot! No? Ok, What's the Big Deal About a Little Blood on my Hands Anyway?

SPOILERS! Sorry but there is no way to review this movie without some spoilers (though I've tried to steer clear of specific plot points) so read at our own risk.

I really enjoyed Raajneeti. Yes, it was long. Yes, it was fairly violent. Yes, it's a film about politics. It's also an engaging, absorbing tale of filial duty, the sins of one generation punishing the next, the love of power for power's sake and good old-fashioned vengeance. It is truly Shakespearean storytelling and to try to talk about it or see it through any other lens would make it seem over the top and I believe it deserves better than that. So, if you're in the mood for Machiavellian political machinations and high drama in a morality play with a resolution as murky and gray as the characters and their motivations, Raajneeti is a must-see film.

The film started out with a lot of information about the characters and their relation to each other and the same with political parties. I was a bit overwhelmed and wondered if I would be able to make sense of it all. Eventually, I realized that those things were really just distractions from the real story of people and the corrupting influence of power. You have 3 hours of political families and parties vying to win the upcoming elections and not once does anyone discuss the issues, what it is the voters want or why it is they want to win other than they believe they are entitled to win. The candidates feed the populace empty rhetoric that has nothing to do with actually governing the people and the people are easily influenced by such rhetoric, not questioning any of what happens. This is why I say Raajneeti is simply an examination of power. It's about how obtaining a little bit of power causes an insatiable thirst for more power, how having power creates a hunger to maintain that power at any cost, how power blinds those who have it to the reasons they wanted it in the first place and how it brings out the worst in them.

I find I don't really want to talk about the specific plot points of Raajneeti. I found all of it interesting and it all served to illustrate what I saw as the overall theme. What I do want to talk about are the performances and chemistry between characters.

Hallelujah! Finally, Arjun Rampal has an outstanding performance. He was truly good in this role. He was perfect as the charismatic but less calculating and more passion-driven scion of a ruling political family. He got everything about the character right from the coldness of the manipulating politician to the vulnerability of the brother, son and husband motivated by his love of his family, to bloodthirsty and slightly mad man in the throes of revenge. His chemistry with Ranbir was fantastic! He plays the protective, older brother with so much affection that you believe that, as bad as he is, if he can love his brother that much, he must not be totally irredeemable. I have always wanted Arjun to be a good actor and he has far exceeded my hopes in Raajneeti. I hope he can be consistent in the future.

Speaking of consistency....Katrina Kaif needs to try it sometime. She wasn't awful but she wasn't very good either. She had some of her trademark wooden moments when you wondered if, like a claymation figure, they were posing her, taking a shot, moving her, taking the next shot and thus animating her. She had some moments that were pretty well acted too but her problem seems to be that you can see her thinking about her acting all the time. She tries too hard and you can see the thought process as plain as day on-screen. Her character was a pivotal one which could have resulted in a very moving and powerful performance had it been given to a better actress. It's a shame it was wasted on someone not ready for it, someone who may never be ready for it.

Ranbir Kapoor was fantastic as usual. He is an actor that, I believe, has enough stand out performances under his belt now to be counted on to deliver every time. I've said it before and I will say it again, he's got the "it" factor and is Bollywood's newest generation's brightest star. He has joined the very exclusive ranks of stars who will get me to the theater no mater what, Shahrukh, Hrithik, and Ranbir. That being said, I have been eagerly awaiting him in a negative or gray role and he delivers in Raajneeti and how! I actually think it's genius casting because he has that vulnerability and aura of niceness that he brings to all of his roles so that you are all the more shocked to see what he does and becomes over the course of the film. He plays cold and calculating brilliantly and makes it sexy! His performance was fantastic and compelling. An interesting point about his character...he may seem to be one of the worst people in a film full of really bad people but his character actually has the purest motivation of all. He is ready to leave all the politics to his family and return to his studies in the U.S. until something happens that causes him to seek vengeance for the sake of a loved one. He is the character most suited to the mantle of power and yet he is the only character that I believe doesn't do what he does for power.

Ajay Devgan...another good character played by a mediocre actor. He's better than Katrina but he needs to have more than one facial expression. Is the man capable of smiling? Has anyone ever seen it? And the way he carries himself...classic "smell the fart acting." Also, whose idea was it for him to play a 27 year old character? Ridiculous! Still, his performance was passable. I just, again, think another actor could have done more with it.

Nana Patekar...wow! He was outstanding as the patriarch/puppet master/kingmaker of all the political maneuvering in the film. His character will go to any lengths to protect the family's political position and power all seemingly with a chilling lack of conscience. He smiles and plays the caring chacha while peoples' lives are bought and sold and ended to serve his whims. His chemistry with Ranbir was terrific! They have some stand out scenes together that are great fun to watch.

The other actors and actresses are fine. Again, they could have found a better American actress to play Ranbir's girlfriend but she wasn't awful in the KJo tradition of white actors. Although, if I had to hear her say "summer" instead of pronouning Samar properly one more time...I would have gladly killed her.

Manoj Bajpai as Veerendra was a little too "filmi villain" for me. It was mostly his look that was a bit ridiculous and he had a few OTT moments. I think a better actor could have won the audience's sympathy more at the end when I think we were meant to feel something for him. I was too distracted by his filmi moochie and straight from the 70s wardrobe to feel anything for him at that point.

Nikhila Trikha is the debutante actress who plays the mother of the family. She was much better in the scenes where she was a young woman opposing her father's political party than she was as the present day 50-60ish mother of Ajay, Arjun and Ranbir. She just didn't have the skill to play the emotional depth needed and her scenes that should have evoked some emotion left me feeling cold. Maybe it was because I couldn't find anything sympathetic about her character at that point in the film. Any woman who allows herself to be controlled and then allows the same thing to happen to her children and lets them be raised to be what they become gets nothing but contempt from me.

Finally, Nasserudin Shah. He has a very small role in the film but he made the most of it. He was wonderful for the few minutes he was onscreen and I wish he was in more films.

So, Raajneeti is definitely worth seeing in my opinion. Even if you don't like the story I think you'll find the performances worth your time and money. I, however, think that you'll find this case study of the human hunger and quest for power compelling in and of itself. There is a lot packed into the last half of the film and I've already heard some people say it gets too filmi but when you play as deep a game as these characters do, consequences are to be expected. What goes around comes around. This is why I call it Shakespearean in scale. It is a heightened version of life...an absolute version, if you will. After all, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

#T5T or Top Five Thursday- Movie Quotes

OK so, yes, I am trying to create a meme. Why not? One Thursday my twitter friends and I fell into a conversation about our "list". You know? The list of 5 celebs that you have a free pass with if you ever get the opportunity (made famous on Friends). We had a blast! So, I thought lists are fun to make. It's fun to think about your favorite things. Why not have a topic each week, pick our top 5 and discuss for fun? So, that's what we've been doing. We've covered guilty pleasures, Bollywood item numbers, hottie bad boys and girls from movies, etc.

So this week the topic is Top 5 movie dialogues or quotes. I am a quote whore! I just love a verbal moment in a movie so I give you my Top 5 and then some miscellaneous moments that I also love. Hope you enjoy!

#T5T Number 5: From the end of Anne of Green Gables when she and Gilbert finally get together.

Anne: I went looking for my ideals outside of myself and discovered it's not what the world holds for you, it's what you bring to it. The dreams dearest to my heart are right here.

Gilbert: Well I hope you keep on dreaming. It'll be 3 years before I finish medical school and even then there won't be any diamond sunbursts or marble halls.

Anne: I don't want sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.

This scene starts at 9:42 of video.

If you've never seen Anne of Green Gables, you're totally missing out on a fabulous movie and the books too are wonderful. I think every girl in the world should read the Anne books. Anne and Gilbert are an iconic couple and this scene where they finally get together is the perfect end to the film.

#T5T Number 4 Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild at the end of Velvet Goldmine.

We set out to change the world...just ended up changing ourselves.
- What's wrong with that?
...Nothing...if you don't look at the world.

Sadly, I could not find a clip of this scene so I have a video clip of character Curt Wild performing during the movie. To be safe: VIDEO IS NSFW! (Ewan and Curt are so very hot!)

This quote always gets me. First, I LOVE the character Curt Wild mostly because Ewan McGregor is amazing in the role but also because he's that archetype of the vulnerable bad boy who has been wounded. Who can resist that? This quote though, I think fits my cynical side and in the context of the film is just brilliant.

#T5T Number 3 Holden to Alyssa in Chasing Amy. Fell in love with Ben Affleck during this scene. A rain scene by the way.

Holden McNeil: I love you. And not, not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way,
although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. I love you. Very, very simple, very truly. You are the epitome of everything I have ever looked for in
another human being. And I know that you think of me as just a friend, and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you would ever consider.
But I had to say it. I just, I can't take this anymore. I can't stand next to you without wanting to hold you. I can't, I can't look into your eyes without
feeling that, that longing you only read about in trashy romance novels. I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. And
I know this will probably queer our friendship - no pun intended - but I had to say it, because I've never felt this way before, and I don't care. I like
who I am because of it. And if bringing this to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But God, I just, I couldn't allow another day to
go by without just getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And, you know, I'll
accept that. But I know...I know that some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, then that means you feel
something too. All I ask, please, is that you just, you just not dismiss that - and try to dwell in it for just ten seconds. Alyssa, there isn't another
soul on this fucking planet who has ever made me half the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the
next plateau. Because it is there between you and me. You can't deny that. Even if, you know, even if we never talk again after tonight, please know that
I'm forever changed because of who you are and what you've meant to me, which - while I do appreciate it - I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.

Who hasn't been there? In love with a friend (gay or not) and terrified of saying something but too tortured to maintain the status quo. You just know from the writing here that Kevin Smith has been there too.

#T5T Number 2 Almost Famous: Lester Bang's famous "uncool" dialogue.

Lester Bangs: That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter.
William Miller: I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love... and let's face it,
you got a big head start.
William Miller: I'm glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I'm always home. I'm uncool.
William Miller: Me too!
Lester Bangs: The only true currency in this bankrupt world if what we share with someone else when we're uncool

For all of us who've ever felt uncool. It's true what he says, always trying to be cool is the enemy of sincerity.

#T5T Number 1 is from Rocky Balboa, the last Rocky film. Rocky talks to his son who feels overshadowed by his father's legacy and disenchanted with his life.

Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world and you did but somewhere along the line you changed. You stopped bein' you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you're no good and when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame. Like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are
it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it...you, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much can you take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done.

Now if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that.

This scene really hit home for me at the time and still does. We all need to remember this when anyone tries to make us feel inferior or when life beats us up a bit. I think Sylvester Stallone is great in this scene.

Honorable Mention Goes to the Following:

"Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
- Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell

"It can't rain all the time."
- The Crow starring Brandon Lee

"So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."
- Office Space starring Ron Livingston

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."
- A Few Good Men (just one of many quotes from that movie. Possible the best dialogue movie ever)

"Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!
- Braveheart

"That night, I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace."
- Band of Brothers

Finally, I know this is supposed to be movie quotes but a post on quotes could never be complete for me without quotes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the smartest shows to ever grace the television.

Willow warns Riley about dating Buffy:
"And remember, if you hurt her, I will beat you to death with a shovel. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend. Have fun."

Giles referring to Angel and Buffy in Season 1
"A vampire in love with a slayer. It's rather poetic...in a maudlin sort of way."

Spike...ah, Spike :-)
"If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock"

Spike in Season 3 telling Buffy and Angel how it is.
"You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other until it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood -- blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it"

"Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping, waiting, and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir. Open it's jaws, and howl. It speaks to us, guides us. Passion rules us all, and we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we can live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we'd be truly dead."

Spike to Buffy in Season 7 after her friends and family have kicked her out.
"You listen to me. [Kneels in front of her] I've been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things you couldn't imagine, and done things I prefer you didn't. I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of: you. [Buffy looks away; he reaches toward her face] Hey, look at me. I'm not asking you for anything. When I say, "I love you," it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy."

Giles losing at Dungeons and Dragons
"I used to be a highly respected watcher, and now I'm a wounded dwarf with the mystical strength of a doily."

Xander bemoaning his fate
"Damn it! You know what? I'm sick of this crap. I'm sick of being the guy who eats insects, and gets the funny syphilis. As of this moment, it's over. I'm finished being everybody's butt-monkey"

Buffy reflecting on the life of a pumpkin at Halloween
"I was just thinking about the life of a pumpkin. Grow up in the sun, happily entwined with others, and then someone comes along, cuts you open, and rips your guts out"

Willow's take on relationships after Oz breaks her heart
"Okay, say that I help. And you start a conversation. It goes great. You like Buffy, she likes you. You spend time together, feelings grow deeper, and one day, without even realizing it, you find you're in love. Time stops, and it feels like the whole world is made for you two, and you two alone. Until the day one of you leaves, and rips the still-beating heart from the other, who's now a broken, hollow, mockery of the human condition"

Spike to Buffy after she is resurrected
I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I'd done that ... even if I didn't make it, you wouldn't've had to jump. I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course. But after that. Every night after that. I'd see it all again, do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways ...Every night I save you.

OK, I'll leave it there for now. I could spend ages listing quotes I love. How about you guys? What are your favorite movie quotes (or Buffy quotes)? Please share them in the comments section. I'm always looking for more for my collection. Also, if you're on Twitter, why don't you join us next week? The topic for Thursday, June 3rd is Top 5 fictional characters you'd like to punch in the face. Use the #T5T hashtag in your post and use it also to read what other participants have to say.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kites, or I Don't Know What the Message is but it was Damned Entertaining

I have been waiting for this movie since I first became a Hindi film devotee a bit more than a year ago. I happened upon my first Hindi film Jodhaa Akbar when it was available for instant viewing via Netflix and I needed to test out my new Tivo wifi adapter. Hrithik Roshan immediately mesmerized me with his breathtaking beauty, screen charisma and talent.

Hrithik was my first love in Bollywood. Immediately after watching Jodhaa Akbar I googled him (what did we stalkers do before google?) and started finding out everything I could about him and watched and purchased ALL of his movies in quick succession. I quickly exhausted all of his films and so my focus shifted to waiting for Kites which was already in the works (until SRK entered my life and stole my heart... but that's another story for another day. I still love Hrithik and he is 2nd in my affections hence my continued anticipation for this film.) So today, after the release date being pushed back time and time again, I finally got to see Kites.

Normally, the kind of hype and anticipation that preceded Kites would result in me being disappointed by the final product but it turned out to be everything I expected it to be, a feast for the eyes, a real entertainer and just great fun at the movies. Anyone who expected it to be more than that...you're misguided at best and kinda dumb at worst.

From my perspective, as someone who saw a decade's worth of Hrithik's work all at once, I definitely think he made a huge leap in his confidence and comfort in his own skin and as an actor with Jodhaa Akbar, Dhoom 2 and Luck By Chance. One thing I was anticipating in Kites was seeing whether or not he had taken that further. I think the answer is that he demonstrates less potent sex appeal and mesmerizing charisma in Kites than he did in JA and Dhoom 2 but in exchange he seems to have grown as a dramatic actor. It's almost as if the compelling gazes and sexy expressions which he perfected in Dhoom 2 were put on the backburner for Kites while he mastered a more subtle style for his dramatic scenes. Now he just has to put it all together in the same film, the subtle dramatic performace with sizzling sex appeal, to really blow people away. This is not to say that there are no "Gah!" moments in Kites where he'll make you drool because there are...just not as many as in JA or Dhoom 2 (a moment on the boat comes immediately to mind and pretty much anything at the beginning of the film when his backstory is being established. Add learning to turn into a toothpick at will to life goals...you'll understand once you see the movie).

All of that being said, Hrithik gives a great performance...I just can't wait to see how he continues to evolve as an actor because I know he can be even better than he is in Kites. I guarantee you, from an American gori's perspective, if he were in a Hollywood film tomorrow, he would be an instant phenomenon in America just like he was in India after his debut. I'm not sure that "Kites the Remix", however, is the platform that will do that. The main reason being, the acting of the supporting actor who plays Tony is totally cringeworthy, enough so that it casts a serious pall over the entire film that may cause American audiences to have trouble taking the whole film seriously. Other than that, there were only two scenes that really didn't work for me and only two scenes that I noticed being lifted from or reminiscent of other films SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT>>>>>>>>>>
There is a scene between J and Natasha/Linda that takes place the night before her wedding to Tony in which they are discussing their motivation for why they are with Tony and his sister and discussing cutting their ties to each other. It didn't work for me. It was the one scene where I felt Hrithik's acting was less than convincing. The line delivery was just off for me. Others may find it charming...I just didn't.

The other scene that threw my mental brakes was one of the car chases. They have an extended scene of J and Natasha/Linda driving down an empty desert highway then the police come out of nowhere and start chasing them which is fine, it looks as though the police were laying in wait for them. That I can accept. What bugged me was how all of the sudden approximately 10 other cars suddenly appear on this previously empty highway in the middle of nowhere just so the police cars have something to smash into. It was poorly executed. The other chases, however, were great! I love a good car chase and so, apparently does Anurag Basu. The chases were fantastic and the stunts and action sequences were very well done and not at all cheesy.

The scenes that were lifted from or reminiscent of other films (this is a Rakesh Roshan production after all) were a scene where J sees Natasha/Linda through as fish tank a la Baz Luhrman's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and a scene where Tony's father punishes a cheater in his casino which reminded me of Reservoir Dogs.

OK, so enough with the negative. On with the gushing!

Kites is a beautifully shot film. There are some scenes that are simply stunning visually. Two that I especially enjoyed were one where J is looking at his new car and the flashing lights of the casino sign are reflected on the car surface. It's just a great visual, very cool. The other is a scene of J and Natasha/Linda in the desert framed by rock arches...very pretty. I also appreciate the color coordination of the couples' outfits when they are on the boat. If you ever wonder in a Hindi film who is going to end up together, look at who is wearing the same color and you'll have your answer. I like that. It's certainly better than airbrushed T-shirts from the mall.

My two favorite scenes in the film are two quiet, tender scenes between J and Natasha/Linda. The first is when they make shadow puppets together. It's so sweet you can't help but smile and feel all gooshy inside. The other is a stand out scene for Hrithik where he tells Natasha/Linda about why the rain makes him sad. Really well written and exceptional acting from Hrithik.

The other scene that I loved was Hrithik's big dance number. He never fails to top himself. He is without a doubt the BEST dancer in Bollywood! The man must be made of rubber! Knowing a bit about how Hrithik prepares for roles, I can't even begin to imagine how many hours of practice he put into getting the dance right. He works incredibly hard yes, but he also has enormous amounts of natural talent. The scene is mesmerizing. I think I watched the whole thing with my jaw on the floor. The high splits alone will blow your mind.

As far as the music is concerned, I really enjoyed all of it and thought it was different than the usual Hindi film fare, it absolutely works both in the context of the film and as stand alone songs...that is except for Kites in the Sky. It pains me to criticize Hrithik's first attempt at a movie song but this song just does not work! I think Hrithik is a decent singer...probably better than this song indicates. It's just a bad, bad song (Rajeshji did a bad, bad thing). The lyrics are beyond cheesy and the arrangement is awful. Upon hearing it before the release of the movie I know some kept an open mind thinking, "Oh, it just needs to be heard in the context of the film" Nope! In fact, it may have been slightly less cringeworthy if used in a different scene, a quieter scene. As it is, the context in which it is played just adds to the reasons why the song doesn't work at all. I hope Hrithik sings again...just a much better song.

Barbara Mori is gorgeous and sexy but sweet at the same time. You can't help but fall in love with her just like J does. She's a fresh, talented actress and is especially touching during the climax of the film. She will break your heart in the scene where she saves J's life. I am curious to see what she does next.

Hrithik's performance I already touched upon but I will say a bit more (mostly because there are few things I like more than rhapsodizing about Hrithik and SRK). In the beginning when they are showing us J's life in Vegas, Hrithik couldn't be hotter! God, he's sexy! But I digress. He does a great job playing a convincing...well, player. He then transitions beautifully to devoted man in love. He is totally believable as both. He is also really funny in a few scenes. I would love to see Hrithik in a *smart* comedy. He has some great comic timing and expressions. His most affecting scenes were the quiet scenes between he and Barbara. He's fantastic at sweet and sincere. He has also really gotten good at the big drama scenes. He held back the lip and nostril quivering (well, there's a little bit of that but not too much) puppy dog-eyed histrionics. He was subtle and believable. His physical performance complimented the scene rather than detracting from it by being too over the top.

As for the much speculated about on-screen chemistry between Hrithik and Barbara...it is powerful, no doubt. I would, however, not call it sizzling or hot or anything with a sexual connotation. There are a couple of steamy moments to be sure and they are certainly very beautiful together but I found the chemistry to be more emotional than physical. When they look into each other's eyes, you really believe that they love each other not just that they want to jump each other. Oh and for those of you who care, there's not just one kiss in the movie...there are at least 4 if my count is right. ;-)

The supporting cast, with the exception of Tony (Nicholas Brown) and the train station agent, are quite good. I especially liked Kangana in her limited role and Anand Tiwari as J's friend Robin.

So what is the message of Kites? I don't know. Does it need one? At the beginning, there is a scene with two kites in the sky with a narration that likens them to two lovers but we are cautioned that the kites don't have control of their actions or fates, those who hold the strings do. So, who then controls the fates of our lovers if not they themselves? The rich and powerful Tony and his father? Fate? There's no clear answer to that especially since J and Natasha/Linda individually have chosen paths that are less than noble so they can't really blame anyone but themselves for the people they find themselves beholden to. Then they continue to make poor decisions that lead them to their ultimate fate. So the story seems to actually contradict the "theme" of the kites. Anyway, like I said, does this movie need a message? Nope. It just entertains and does so thoroughly. I'm recommending it to everyone just with a parenthetical disclaimer about "Tony's" acting.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Non-Bolly Film and Book Rec

This Friday I have difficult but worthwhile recommendations for you.

The film I'm recommending is Yesterday (South Africa 2004).

This is the first film ever filmed in the Zulu language. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and very thought-provoking on the topics of forgiveness, unconditional love and how one can choose to live life knowing the end is near, selfishly or selflessly.

I'm borrowing Jeff Shannon's review from Amazon as it's been too long since I saw the film to do it justice.
As beautiful as it is heartbreaking, the Oscar®-nominated drama Yesterday brings an intimate human perspective to the AIDS crisis in Africa. On the surface, it's a harsh and devastating story about bad things happening to good people, but such a limited description robs the film of its warmth and tender compassion. Best known for his 1995 drama Cry the Beloved Country, director Darrell James Roodt returns to his native South Africa for this moving and heartfelt portrait of a young, devoted mother named Yesterday (played by Leleti Khumalo, from Hotel Rwanda) who learns that she is HIV positive, and remains determined to stay alive until her young daughter Beauty (Lihle Mvelase) is old enough to go off to school. Her husband (Kenneth Khambula) is also stricken with AIDS, and Yesterday cares for him even as they are ostracized by fearful neighbors in their tiny Zulu village. One might expect a film about AIDS to be terribly depressing, and Roodt pulls no punches when conveying the emotional anguish of Yesterday's dilemma. But Yesterday is so visually beautiful in terms of its physical and spiritual landscape (it was filmed in the expansive KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa) that it's universally appealing, and the score by Madale Kunene adds just the right emotional seasoning to the film's ethnic roots. Anyone with a beating heart can relate to Yesterday's plight as a caring wife and mother, and Khumalo's performance is so lovely that she lights up the screen, even (and perhaps especially) during Yesterday's darkest hours. Without pounding on its point, Yesterday puts a human face on a global crisis that's too often viewed on impersonal terms. --Jeff Shannon
See it...you won't regret it!

The book I'm recommending is Desert Flower by Waris Dirie.

Waris Dirie was born into a nomadic tribe in Somalia. At the age of 5 she was subjected to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and at the age of 13 she ran away to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. She eventually made it to London where she worked as a housemaid until she was discovered and catapulted to the status of "super model" in the 90s. Her book talks about her personal experiences but also focuses on the horror of FGM. She now works as a UN ambassador for women's issues, specifically FGM. I implore every woman to educate herself about FGM and this woman's personal account of its effect on her life is an excellent way to do so.

Some people would argue that it's not our place to impose our values on other cultures...I say that's bullshit. Some things are inherently wrong and should be stopped. FGM is one of those things. Please check out the UN page on FGM for more information as well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year

Rocket Singh was not at all the movie I expected it to be.

So, let me take this opportunity to talk about the way some Hindi films are marketed. It seems to me that occasionally a film comes along that the producers are afraid to market for what it really is for one reason or another. Chance Pe Dance was marketed as a dance movie when it really isn't. It's a movie about a guy who wants to be an actor. Just because they had Shahid Kapoor they thought they had to market it as a dance movie I guess. I suppose, in that movie's case, they had to look for the best thing they had and go with it. Another film that comes to mind is Life in a Metro. I was really excited to see this film when I saw trailers for it. It looked like a nice, gushy film about various couples at different places in life. What I got when I finally watched it was a tawdry, infuriating film about people twisting love and mistaking physical intimacy for what's most important in life. (If you want to see the movie that Life in a Metro could have been see Playing by Heart) And now, Rocket Singh. The ads for this made it look like a high energy comedy of some sort. I was reluctant to see it because it looked like it would be slapstick and quite possibly ridiculous. Instead you have a thoughtful film that moves at a realistic pace. Nothing earth shattering happens and it's just about regular people going about their mundane lives but figuring out how to be as dignified and as happy as possible in the process. Now that is a movie I would have been anxious to see, a movie I really enjoyed once I overcame my misgivings caused by the ads. So what I'm saying is, don't be afraid of your films people! Especially just because they're not the typical BW fare, a good film will stand for itself. You do the films a disservice by marketing them based on what you think the audience wants to see. Market them properly and let them find their audience.

The main reason I decided to watch Rocket Singh, despite being wary of it based on the marketing, was Ranbir Kapoor. I believe he is definitely the best of Bollywood's younger generation of actors. He's that rarest of commodities...a really good actor. Beyond that, he's got the "it" factor. I don't think it's the super mega-star "it" factor of SRK but he's certainly more compelling than any of his peers and many of those who've been at it much longer *cough* Saif Ali Khan*cough* He has a great vulnerability about him and a genuineness that translates to his characters and really makes you care about them. I can't wait to see his future films. I especially want to see him play a grey character which, if the trailer for Rajneeti can be trusted, may be coming very soon.

On with the film review.... At first, Rocket Singh made me uncomfortable and, quite honestly, depressed me. I think it's because I identified with Harpreet so very much. He's a middle class boy being raised by his grandfather who graduates from college with below average grades. He passes the test to go for an MBA course but can't afford to pay for it so he goes out into the work world. He ends up in a shitty job that quickly sucks away any enthusiasm he had about entering the adult world and starts to change his attitude towards his life in general and his loved ones. The movie does a brilliant job of showing you what effect a horrible job can have on every aspect of your life and, as I once said about one of my jobs, can kill a little piece of your soul every day. Harpreet is a good guy and he gets punished mercilessly for doing the right thing. He finally decides to take things into his own hands and show those who have put him down that he is more than they have given him credit for.

Without getting into major spoilers, let me just say that Rocket Singh is a great example of how Bollywood can make movies that will appeal to an international audience without losing what makes them wonderful. It's a good story with a tight plot, good dialogue, believable characters and nothing over the top. There were a few instances in the plot where the characters had a choice to make. Had this been a Hollywood film, the characters would have gone with the cynical, negative choice. In this movie, however, they made the choice to trust, forgive, do the right thing and that is one of the best things about Hindi films. They have a hopefulness that the West has come to view as too uncool or unreal. (I'm really sad for us if hope has really become too "unreal" to even be portrayed in films. This is why I watch more Hindi films than American films these days.)

Overall, I thought Rocket Singh was a good, solid film. I identified with it and was interested in the characters and their journey. Ranbir gave a strong, engaging performance. The supporting cast was solid, especially Prem Chopra as Harpreet's grandfather. Rocket Singh tells you that you can't let other people's expectations of you write your destiny (nicely illustrated in a scene where the formerly slimy supervisor is misjudged by his new parters in Rocket Sales) Ultimately, it's a movie about not letting the world around you make you lose your self-respect, about getting the life you deserve the right way even when everything tells you you can't and about knowing that you're more than what's written in black and white and more than someone else's opinion.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bad Poetry Monday


Yesterday I saw the Doc,
Was better than bein at work watchin the clock,
I told him I think I'm dyin,
He told me to stop my cryin,
After all, if I pass away,
I won't have to work today!