Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna Trailer

Last Friday night we moviegoers at Fanaa not only got to see Kajol back on screen and looking luscious after her four-year absence, there was also a first-time showing of a trailer for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Karan Johar’s August-releasing movie which was filmed largely in and around hamara New York City (including Jersey City, Hoboken, Philadelphia and parts of Westchester county as well), and saw a slew of Bollywood luminaries (Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, and Shahrukh Khan) take up residence in Manhattan (just a few blocks from my office) for an unprecedented three months.

When the Indian Film Board’s certificate appeared on the screen, the packed house again let out a collective gasp, as if one of the film’s stars had just materialized in person.

Having followed the blow-by-blow accounts on Bollywhat last year, written by  the many local people who worked as extras, in a the short time the trailer rolled  before my eyes, I was primed to recognize many of the costumes and locales.

One thing missing though: I don’t recall hearing even the hint of a soundtrack yet.

In short, the movie looks like it will be chock full of fights and shouting and clanging plates and cutlery, as two married couples seem to struggle with, or be on the brink of, infidelity.   Abhishek Bachchan even says a line that goes something like “What about my own wife, who won’t sleep with me?”   (Oh my God, what happened to no-sex-please-we’re-Indian ??)   Karan Johar himself has  been  reported to have said that this movie will be a departure from the non-stop sweetness and light of  his past films, dealing with conflict in marriage and serious issues.  

What will the tag line for this one be?   “Staying in an unhappy marriage;  it’s still all about loving your parents.”

And then, as quickly as it started, after all the fast cuts of couples fighting, we see Amitabh Bachchan laying in a hospital bed (talk about bizarre foreshadowing) and he says “Love and  death, both come uninvited.”  

Fin.

I can’t wait.   For longer trailers.   For the soundtrack.   For the movie itself.

The Ghost and Mrs. Mukherji: my do paise on Paheli

First thing I noticed is that the name of the film’s jeweler is listed before the opening credits even start running.   Once the movie gets underway, you understand why: the women, and quite a few men, are dripping in more bling than you’d see at the BET awards.

The story in a nutshell: Rani Mukherji marries Shahrukh Khan in Ye Olde Rajasthan.   He’s a bean-counter by profession and, in spite of Rani’s charms, even as they are jolted about against each other in a carriage home from the wedding, he’s pouring over his accounting books, instead of checking out his fetching new wife.   They stop in a village to cool off for a bit and a ghost catches a glimpse of Rani and falls in love with her.   After an unconsummated wedding night, Mr. Accountant Khan sets off on a five-year business trip, leaving the Mrs. in tears.

The ghost gets wind of the fact that the object of his desire will be unchaperoned for a long time and takes on the guise of the husband, pretending to show up back home early.   The family is duped, as is Rani.   But just as the couple are finally about to get down to business, the ghost comes clean to Mrs. Mukherji about who he really is, and, get this, she’s so tickled by the lengths that he’d go to in order to be with her (and so ticked off at the hubby disappearing), she tells him to stay.   They settle in to a blissful existence together, SRK the Ghost works his charms on the village in a kind of Lagaan/Swadesi way, until (cue suspenseful music) the real husband returns, just as Rani’s in the throes of labour.   Toss in an appearance by the Big B as a Solomon-like goatherd in a dhoti (boy, does he have skinny calves), and some hocus pocus later, loose ends are tied up.   Fin.

The costumes are a magnificent array of strong jewel colors and gold embroidery that hold up well against the desert sun and endless blue sky.   The women are swathed in lots pf reds and pinks, ghunghats firmly pulled down whenever the menfolk are around.   Meanwhile the fellas, all turbans and twirly moustaches, sport blousy empire-waist shirts that tie at the side.

Two puppets serve as narrators and a Greek chorus  of sorts.   Naseeruddin Shah – here in  voice only – outperforms Suniel Shetty (who appears in the second half in a cameo role) in totum.

Shahrukh Khan is himself, energetic and playful, with eyebrows like two tildes escaped from a Galdós  novel.    Rani’s feline eyes are magnetic as she peers up, scene after scene, from under her veil.   Score one for women’s lib when she replies to a choice that Khan the Spirit has presented her with: “No one has ever asked me what I wanted.”   The two together are entirely credible as a manand a woman who can’t get enough of each other.

Juhi Chawla may well have a second career ahead of her as a woman of more substance than she was in her earlier roles.   Playing the abandoned sister-in-law, she has more gravitas and presence than before she passed the perkiness mantle on to Preity Zinta, and her face is more luminously beautiful, whereas before she was merely toothy and pretty.   It’s interesting to see her cast as a woman close to her own age, and to note that her place as leading lady beside Shahrukh Khan now taken by Rani Mukherji.   There was a lovely frame of her, alone as the other women go off to the temple, the stark contrast of the hues of her clothes set off by the small mounds of white cotton all around her.

(By the way, who else is going to change the spelling of their name?   Sunil was Sunil, but  now he’s Suniel.   Rani Mukherjee was Rani Mukherjee, ’til she became Rani Mukherji.)

The special effects – mainly Shahrukh  appearing and disappearing in a swirl of sand – are well done.   Similarly, a small cluster of flower petals floating before SRK’s eyes in one scene, and a circle of them darting around Rani’s footsteps in a courtyard  are believable.   The only thing that is obviously fake is the blue bird at the start of the movie, one of the ghost’s avatars, fluttering around and following Rani at the Rajasthani rest stop.

As with most Bollywood movies, a few things are not quite right.   Anupam Kher is cardboard thin as the money-grubbing father.   Juhi Chawla’s reaction to her husband’s reappearance after seven years is way  too muted, to say the least.   If the man you loved and had married vanished with neither trace nor explanation, and stayed away for almost a decade, wouldn’t you haul off and at least slap him a few times if he suddenly waltzed through the door?   One other question to ponder is, how can it be that an entire village accepts Rani’s infidelity (even if she was, as they believe, tricked), to say nothing of the same reax from the family she married into to?

But as a purely romantic fable where True  Love conquers all, the movie works.   The lovers never quarrel, SRK is always doting and affectionate, nobody says “Just once, will you please stop leaving you clothes on the floor!”   In a scenario reminiscent of Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos, when husband and ghost meet, the phantom Khan explains to his flesh-and-blood doppelganger: “I’m the love she longs for.”   Sigh.

See it or skip it?          

See it!   Beautiful to look at, with a different story.

Fanaa: Fantastically Far-fetched

Fanaa%20bumper%20cars%20v2 Fanaa:  Fantastically Far fetched  

Watching any movie requires some suspension of disbelief.   Mainstream Hindi movies usually require even more.   And in that way, I’m pretty tolerant when watching my Bombay-made fillums.   Whereas others would groan and roll their eyes, I soldier on, happily.   The second half of Fanaa pushes that envelope to the limit.

Visually, Fanaa could be a bookend to Hum Tum, also directed by Kunal Kohli.   The interiors are lovingly appointed.   The costumes are gorgeous.   Army boots in Srinagar give way to pastel salwars and girly shoes.   Zooni (Kajol) and her attractive gal pals are magazine perfect in their color-coordinated, Kashmiri tinged outfits against the sandy, ochre tones and Mughal arches of Delhi’s famous tourist sights.

Aamir Khan as the incorrigible cad Rehan is decked out – fittingly – in various hues of peacock greens and blues in the first half of the movie, always topped off by a matching scarf flung jauntily around his neck (one even looked like a Missoni).   In Fanaa, Rehan is the 40-year-old grup that Aamir Khan’s previous tapori incarnations in Rangeela and Ghulam would have become, had they gotten a few rough edges smoothed out and learned an awful lot of poetry.   One metrosexual touch perhaps too much was the thumb ring and the six bracelets.   (The New York Times’ Nathan Lee declared the actor “over-accessorized.”)

Fanaa is a pretty meringue to consume, until the Interval passes and the movie turns all Rang De Basanti on us and gets heavy.   The stunts were maybe not quite Hollywood or Hong Kong at their slickest best, but were, for the most part, o.k.

But in the emotionally wrenching moments, when one should have been in tears, or at least feeling a catch in the throat, I was as dry-eyed as if standing online at the supermarket.   Never mind shedding tears, there wasn’t even any welling (and this is from someone who can even get teary over TV ads at Christmas).

The story is centred around Zooni, the beautiful blind daughter of a loving Kashmiri couple (played by Kiron Kher and Rishi Kapoor), who has led a happy and protected  life with them, just as she sets off on her first trip ever away from home.   She is going to New Delhi to perform with a dance troupe on Republic Day at the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Dil Se anyone?).   Their chaperone, the foxy Lilette Dubey, arranges for a guided bus tour of the city before they get deep into rehearsals, and arre vah, here appears hamara Aamir, stretched out on the roof of the bus and spouting poetry as if he were reprising his role of Dil Nawaz in Earth / 1947.

We and the girls soon learn that Rehan is quite the studmuffin.   He and Zooni are drawn to each other, and after some intense days together, they fall in love and decide to get married.   When Zooni telephones her parents to tell them the good news, they step out of filmi stereotype and say “That’s great!   You have our blessings and we’re heading to Delhi right away to get you two married!”

(The Amitabh-Hema pairing in Baghban had a similar reaction, leading me to wonder if the increase of love marriages, and/or unions that are some mix of arranged and love matches in real life, have given some filmmakers pause before they script in the hitherto required blind parental opposition.)

The movie, especially the first half, will appeal to people who like hyper-romantic, airbrushed stories of films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but anyone who has relished the closer lean toward realism in some 21st century Bollywood releases   – like Satya and Company – will probably gag on this one.

Poland serves as a stand-in for the troubled northern territory, and seems realistic enough.   So Pavlovian is our response that the minute we see a man paddling a shikara across a body of water with mountains in the distance, we do as the girl next to me at the theater last night who said to her boyfriend during the opening credits: “Dal Lake.”

After a tragic and bittersweet denouement just before the Interval, the movie’s flight from reality really takes off.   We flash forward seven years, and see Zooni settled in rural Kashmir with her widowed father.   The picturesque wooden house where Zooni and Zulfi live actually looks so much like the dacha from Dr. Zhivago that I half expected to see Yuri and Lara appear at any moment.

And speaking of which, what in God’s name was Lara Dutta supposed to be?   A hooker?   A slutty  girl?   A flirt?

The biggest complaint people will have with the second half of Fanaa has to do with one central plot twist, where you keep asking yourself “How can she not know?!?”   It’s hard not to do a spit take when she says to Captain Ranjeev Singh “Sometimes you seem very familiar to me”, though there are some sweet scenes where the two meet cute and frolic in the snow, looking like they’re doing a photo shoot for an Esprit catalogue.   Equally frustrating is how, even when the partial truth is revealed to Zooni and her father, no real clear explanation is given for what happened seven years before.

The film does offer some sublime sensual moments that are real and go just far enough before crossing over into Clintonian lip-biting set pieces.   As they tour Delhi alone, Rehan leans in toward Zooni and, almost brushing her cheek with his lips, asks “What is my voice like?   And my fragrance?”   He takes her to a mosque and daubs her eyes with dripping rose petals that have been soaking in water that is believed to have healing powers.

As the couple enjoys their last few hours together in  Delhi over dinner on the terrace of Rehan’s apartment, it suddenly pours rain and, of course, Zooni  chooses to stay outside and enjoy it.   It’s  funny  to see how  Aamir Khan’s ears, no longer hidden by his collar-length hair, stick out.   The song picturization comprises prolonged extreme close-ups of the couple as the water beads on their skin.   They spend the night together before Zooni has to catch the train home, and amazingly enough for a mainstream Bollywood movie, when she meets up with her girlfriends and chaperone at the station, there are no recriminations, just support.   The girls cradle Zooni in their arms as she cries inconsolably over leaving the man she loves behind.

Kajol, back on screen after several years’ absence playing the role of wife and mother, looks lovely and the camera lingers on her, over and over.   Thankfully the spastic mannerisms she brought to Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham are nowhere to be seen.   The only thing I don’t understand is, how can a girl from a country known for its threading still go around with that unibrow she’s had all these years?   Is this like Enrique Iglesias and his over-sized  beauty spot?   Is she afraid to remove it lest it affect her talent?

Kiron Kher has become the Nirupa Roy of our times, having done three splendid recent turns as a warm and loving Maa in Veer-Zaara, Rang De Basanti and now Fanaa.   She and Rishi Kapoor play a devoted couple who are such supportive and caring parents that you can actually believe their daughter just might say, as Zooni did when debating whether or not to go to Delhi, “I’ll do whatever you say.”

The music is entertaining, but just alright.   It lacks a melody or a hook that you’ll hear in your head for days after you leave the theater.   Mere Haath Mein is swoony and romantic, and Chanda Chamke is catchy, the first time I’ve heard a song that is nothing but tongue-twisters, but there’s no Chayya Chayya moment on the soundtrack.

See it or skip it?

See it, but be prepared to surrender and go along for the ride, or  be prepared to be frustrated.  

No trailers, let’s go straight to the main feature

So this is the proposition, with no overseas trip in sight for the forseeable future, I’m going to use the next three months to expand what  I know thus far about Hindi movies.

In between watching and reviewing releases like Fanaa and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, most time and attention will be spent on the classics and hits of the past 50 years or so.

Comments and additional insights welcome.

Curtain up!