Baghban – Pretty and Preposterous

baghban%20white Baghban   Pretty and Preposterous  

Look at those two.   Don’t they look perfect?  

When this movie came out in 2003, I remember reading stories that said the picture had been exceedingly well received by Indian overseas audiences, especially in the U.S., whereas response was tepid, at best, in India.    They went on to say that the storyline seemed to have struck a chord with NRIs and older American-born people of Indian origin.

Having seen Ravi Chopra’s movie now, if those reports were indeed accurate, I’d guess that it’s for two reasons: first, because there are fewer large joint families here than in India, and one of the main themes touched on in Baghban  - abandonment of aging parents  by their adult children –  is a secret fear that more people would likely  harbor in the U.S., and second, because it represents an idealized image of middle class Indian culture that seems locked in amber in an earlier time.

The movie begins with an  idyllic set-up.   Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini (as Raj and Pooja Malhotra) have it all:  a flawless, happy marriage, a  beautifully appointed home, and five seemingly perfect sons, some who have married and had children.   Raj heads out every morning to walk the two family dogs, looking very spiffy in his designer track suit.   He returns home to be  greeted  by his beautiful, dutiful wife who has his Tata tea waiting for him, and who ties his tie for him  when he dons a sleek suit to  head off to his job at ICICI Bank.   (Two more big product placements coming up after the Interval.)   The first song – Meri Makna, Meri Soniye – happens shortly after, for the occasion of Raj and Pooja’s wedding anniversary.   It’s a lovely number, and it’s pleasing to see a long-married couple portrayed as having such an affectionate and devoted relationship, though the translation of the title, repeated often throughout the song, is hilarious:   “My butterball, my beautiful lady”!   (For anyone reading who may not have lived through one or more Thankgiving seasons in the USA, Butterball is a brand of frozen turkey here.)  

We see Raj  hit up for a Rs. 50,000 downpayment for a car by one of his sons, and we also see him take out a loan at work in order to get the money  for him.   Raj’s boss at the bank cautions him to take care of his financial affairs, lest he run into difficulty after retirement, and Raj gently waves him off, saying, in essence, “I have no need to worry.   I’ve invested everything in my children and I know they will pay me back in kind when the time comes.”

One more happy song for Holi, and the children  all receive  a letter from  Raj  asking them to be sure to be present for Diwali.   After a dinner wherein Amitabh, at the head of the table, has explained to his grandson that the family dining table is like a tree –  the grandmother is the root, the grandfather is the trunk, and the grandchildren are the sweet fruit –  he and Hema sit down with the children and give them the news: Raj is retiring and the couple will give up their home and go live with whichever of the four sons want them.   (The fifth son,  adopted, played by Salman Khan, is off earning big money in Europe somewhere and not in on the surprise.)   The happy couple then excuse themselves so the children can discuss and make their decision.   They imagine that the children are fighting over who gets to have them, when in reality the ungrateful offspring react as if they’ve just been handed a vial of the Ebola virus and told to drink up.

They devise a plan to split the parents up (one son and d-i-l will take the mother, the other son and d-i-l will take the father, and after 6 months each will send that parent on to the next two brothers).   They are sure, knowing how attached the parents  are, that they will never agree to such a plan and the kids will all be off  the hook, but, to their surprise, that’s not the case.   AB and Hema spend one sad final night together before a long and tearful goodbye.   At this point, as I was watching the movie, I jotted down in my notebook: “What a ridiculous premise!”

It’s outrageous to believe that four adult children (with no prior hint of this earlier in the movie) would turn on their parents and behave this way, and it’s even more preposterous to believe that a couple who love each other as much as Raj and Pooja do, would agree to leave each other.   I know that each movie requires some degree of letting go and saying “Ok, this is unlikely, but it might happen”, but this plot point is just beyond any filmi suspension of disbelief.

Did I stop the DVD player, remove  the disc and put it back in its case?   No.  

Partially because I was curious to see how the story had been written to  be resolved, and partially because the fantasyland that Raj and Pooja live in so lulls you into believing that this sort of love between a man and his wife is actually possible (as much as you really suspect it’s not).

Raj and Pooja drive off in different directions and it just gets worse from there.   At his new home, no one helps Raj carry his luggage up,  he is chased away from the seat at the head of the dining table by his bahu, and when his eyeglasses break, the son makes him wait ’til the next payday to have them repaired.   Pooja fares no better: her teenage granddaughter refuses to share her bedroom, so she is placed in the maid’s room, causing the maid to promptly quit.   Raj and Pooja write  letters back and forth, expressing how much they miss each other, and soon, we the audience have to sit through a toe-curlingly dweeby  picturization of the song Main Yahan Tu Wahan with AB crooning into a phone in a telephone booth.   (By the way, have a dekko at this picture: is he actually wearing four rings??)

baghban%20phone%202 Baghban   Pretty and Preposterous  

The only bit of consolation for Raj (and us) during this period is when Raj meets Hemantbhai (Paresh Rawal) and his wife Shanti (Lilette Dubey), who  own and run an Archies card shop and cafe.    At the urging of the kids hanging out at the caf, who appreciate him more than his own, Raj starts typing his memoirs.   For the celebration of Valentine’s Day, a party at Archies gives way to the song Chali Chali.   Again, it’s lovely to see that the second of the big numbers from this film are acted out by two  people both past age 50.   My only complaint is the lame dialogue leading up to it.   Raj arrives at Archies and sees the kids with the red, heart-shaped balloons, exchanging cards and terms of endearment,  and when  told  what the occasion is,  he asks “Valentine’s Day?   What’s that?”

At that point, I think I actually shouted “Oh, come on!   What nonsense!” at the TV.    I mean, really, here we have this urbane gentleman who has been out and about, worked in a bank in a big metropolis, and he’s never heard of Valentines Day?   Even if, as Shiv Sena  maintains, the holiday is a Vestern one and foreign to Indian culture, in any big city a gent like AB would know what the  day is about, just as surely as he’d know that Cafe Coffee Day and Barista are in competition with each other.    

baghban%20valentine Baghban   Pretty and Preposterous

Raj  and Pooja meet up at the time of the six-month switch (where else but at a train station ) where they’re supposed to transfer to  their next destinations, when Raj decides they should make a break for it and run off together, like two teens eloping.   During their escapade,  at a moment when Raj is  being abused by a car salesman after a test drive, Salman the adopted son (called Alok), materializes, with his shaadi shuda wife (Mahima Chaudhry) in tow, and brings the parents  home to live with them, where they can bask in the glow of his adoration.   Yes, really.   He recites lines like “You are God who has come into my life as a father” and falls asleep on the floor at the side of the parents’ bed, like a puppy dog.   (You’d think after  six months apart, Mum and Dad might want some alone time, if you know what I mean.   Hai hai!   Becharam!   Who would suggest such a thing?)

baghban%20alok Baghban   Pretty and Preposterous

In the meantime,  Hemantbhai gets Raj’s  memoirs turned into a book, which  becomes  a huge hit,  has to be reprinted and wins – ahem – the Booker.   At a ceremony to celebrate the author, the four bad children show up, the  money-grubbing little brats.   But don’t worry, Amitabh delivers a powerful speech about parents and children

“… our drooping shoulders on which our children once sat to see the world…..our trembling hands which held our childrens’ for them to see the world….our parched lips that once sang lullabyes…”  

and gives them what for.

I love the fact that Raj and Pooja sleep in the same bed, embracing each other, that they are shown – tastefully – actually being physical with each other.   But the atmosphere of the movie, the sets, are too perfect.   The home that Raj and Pooja live in is gorgeous, but it looks like a movie set home, an oversized chalet, like something for sale in Aamby Valley.   It detracts from the possible emotional impact of the film, because it lessens how believable we find it.

The troop of actors playing the various children were all forgettable.   The movie could have benefitted from better writing and better actors to play the sons, so they might have been halfway convincing rather than cardboard.

See it or skip it?

If you’re excited at the prospect of Amitabh and Hema together again on screen, or the idea of a mushy  love story between two attractive, older people  appeals to you, go for it.   Everyone else, walk on by.  

I don’t regret having seen it.   I love Amitabh Bachchan, especially in this phase of his career, plus  he and Hema played their roles so gracefully and beautifully, in a far-from-perfect film, but this movie is definitely not everyone’s cup of chai.   Tata, or otherwise.

 

Who says Bombay is rude ?

tyres%20v2 Who says Bombay is rude ?

Just around the same time that Bombay was bottoming out on Readers’ Digest rudeness survey, I had a very friendly email from Bombay Addict  -  who writes about movies and Bombay –  inviting me as a guest to his blog and proposing that we collaborate in an online discussion of his native city and how it is portrayed in Hindi movies.   This  sounded like good fun to me.

Polite gent that he is, BA  bhaiyya asked me to go first.   Here.   Can’t wait to read his  contribution.

Don’t Get Her Started on Product Placement: Chatting with Lisa Tsering

Lisa%20with%20ARR Dont Get Her Started on Product Placement: Chatting with Lisa Tsering

I thought it could be interesting to add an occasional piece that wasn’t a movie review.

Lisa Tsering is a reporter for the California-based  paper India West.   I’ve known her as a fellow  Hindi movie and Govinda fan for a couple of years now, but I was curious to  learn how she came to make a  living writing about something she loves so much, and hear about her experiences on the job, and how she’s keeping it all together now that she and her husband have an 11-month-old son.   Here’s our chat:  

Maria:   Before we jump into the whole Bollywood subject, can you give me a little biodata?   How did you get into this line of work?      

Lisa: I was born in LA and I’ve been watching Bollywood movies since 1991.    I was going to make my first trip to India and I thought if  I could prepare myself to see what real life looked  like in India  then I can  have an idea in my mind.   So I thought “Well, I’ve heard about Bollywood movies”, you know down in LA they have a couple of theaters.   So I thought “Why don’t I go see  a movie and see what real life is like?”   Of course as we know, Bollywood movies don’t look much like real life.  

But I went and the first movie  I ever saw was called Akela with Amitabh Bachchan.   It was  kinda lousy, but I saw that movie and it  was like  a spiritual experience for me.    After that I went to India and I realized  ”Oh my God, this is the greatest thing.   I’ve discovered something totally wonderful.”

Maria:   Wait, you mean India was this totally wonderful thing, or Bollywood, or both of them?

Lisa: Both of ‘em.

Maria: Why would you say it was like a spiritual experience for you?

Lisa: The fact that it wasn’t perfect.   It wasn’t anticeptic.   It had flaws, for example, I noticed that Amitabh’s  eyes were kind of pointing in two different directions.   It was a little bit slapdash and the technical qualities of the movie weren’t so good.   It was kind of  corny and everything.   And all these little imperfections to me became very charming.   And I thought it was a little  bit dorky in a way.   And that’s sorta  how  I see myself.   Kind of dorky and kind of weird and  charming at the same time.   Something about it was  the key that just fit in the lock in my mind  and I thought “I get it!   I get it!   This is great!”

Maria:   So that was the beginning.   Then what happened?   Were you writing at the time?   Did you have a day job that was different?

Lisa: I had a day job that was really different.   I was working at  the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in LA.   And I was a doing a little bit of writing,  but not much.   But then after I started getting backstage at the various Bollywood concerts, which back then was very easy if you didn’t look Indian, just being different, they would let you in and do whatever.   I made some friends and I started doing a little bit of coverage for an LA-based Indian paper.   They were really nice and gave me a chance.   That was the very early ’90s.   Then I had a bunch of different jobs but then I came here to India West about nine years ago.

I’m not the quitting type, but I had just quit a job that I hated, some desk job, and that very day I was going through the want-ads and  saw that  India West needed a part-time proof reader.   By then I had been reading the paper and loving everything and I went and introduced myself and spoke some Hindi to them and they said “Oh that’s great, c’mon onboard.”    I started in a very low position but then I started slowly working myself up and taking more responsibility and  now I’m so grateful.   If there’s a show or anything that needs to be covered, I’m the first one they call, and that’s really great.

Maria: How about credibility?   Do you ever find people looking at you a bit askance, saying “Well what does she know about this because, well, she’s not one of us”?

Lisa: To my face, at least,  people have always been so nice, especially because I’ve taken time to learn some Hindi, so people have been just so nice and sweet and grateful.   And if I go out to interview anyone, say some movie star, after  two or  three minutes they realize “Oh, I don’t have to explain what chai is to this person” and they treat me just like any other Indian, which is just great.

Now, when I go to India though, being a woman, yeah that’s when some problems begin, but not being not Indian, as a woman journalist you know what I mean, it can be a little hard as a woman there sometimes.

Maria: You mentioned in an email that you really like Bombay.    How many times have you been there and what have your experiences been?   Have you been to the studios?

Lisa:   I’ve been there six times, and I’ve been to most of the studios.   I’m not gonna tell you his name, but one major male star, we had some experiences together when he was on a break between shooting and he was smoking a joint while his bodyguard waited and it was very weird, but all that crazy stuff’s behind me now.   I’ve been able to visit the studios and it’s a wonderful experience, but it is so hot and those guys work so hard.    The women have all that heavy make-up on in the heat and they always look so beautiful…  I don’t know how they do it!

Maria:   What about other Indian films (Tamil, Telugu, etc.) – have you branched out?

Lisa: Well, only if Mani Ratnam has made it, you know?   Otherwise, not much.

Maria: And the non-Bollywood movies, you know, the

Lisa:   Mr. and Mrs. Iyer type movies?    

Maria:   Yes

Lisa:   Oh yeah, I love the parallel cinema.

Maria: You’re a mother now, you’ve got this career as a journalist full time, how do you juggle it all and how often do you watch movies or go to concerts?

Lisa: I go to cover something once a week, a movie or a show, and my husband is so supportive.   He is such a gem.   He always says “Hey, your work is so important, you need to do that, just leave the baby and we’ll have a great time just being bachelors” so it’s not been a problem.   In fact, you know, if I need to I’ll take my son along to an interview.   I haven’t done it yet, but I’m not afraid to.   I want him to be surrounded by all the wonderful Indian music too.   There’s one place I won’t take him, though, and that’s to these Indian star shows because they are so loud and it just drives me nuts to see people bringing babies to those, makes me so mad.

Maria:   You were at a show recently, weren’t you?

Lisa: Yeah!   I was at Salman Khan’s show and then before that it was Akshay Kumar.

Maria: Do you notice quality changing in the last 10 years or so?   Any observations or trends?

Lisa: It’s satisfying on one level, you know, you get to see your stars dancing, and the dancing’s really good, but the staging is really old-fashioned.   If you ever get a chance to go see one of the bigger Western acts, like Madonna, you’ll think “Why aren’t the Indian show producers looking at the new technology and the new staging and try to be innovative?   You know, in fact, they’re so old-fashioned that the girl dancers usually have to wear flesh-colored spandex on their tummies; I have no reason why.   It’s so lame.   A lot of progress needs to be made.

Maria:   Yeah, that spandex cover-up is weird.   Tell me about your personal favorites over the years; actors or movies that you could watch over and over.

Lisa:   Since Amitabh was the first star that I ever saw, he’s totally the king of everything.   He’s a god to me.   It’s almost like in my mind he’s a father figure and I know maybe that sounds really stupid for a movie fan to say, but hey, people build altars to him.   Then, I think Shahrukh Khan is great and I admire Aishwarya though her acting leaves me cold, but I admire what she’s doing.   And Raj Kapoor.   Nargis is a total favorite.   In fact, I named my cat Nargis!

Maria:   You’ve watched the earlier movies also, have you?

Lisa:   A fair amount.   Not as many as I’d like to watch.   My absolute favorite of all time is Awaara.   It’s such a beautiful piece of art.

Maria:   Have you met Amitabh Bachchan?

Lisa:   Oh yes, I’ve interviewed him several times.   He recognizes me now.

Maria:   How was it the first time, and since?

Lisa:   The first time I interviewed him I waited in a hotel lobby for six hours.    I was relatively new at that  point in my career and I thought “You know, I’m willing to wait as long as it takes to do whatever I have to do to get an interview with this guy” and I’m so glad that back then  I would wait because you know these stars are always late and you have to get used to it, but I felt so committed.

It was some hotel in the San Francisco Bay area and he said “Oh my gosh, since you’ve been waiting so long, sure I’ll give you some time.   Come on up and we’ll do the interview” and I was just flabbergasted.   He was such a gentleman.   You know, a lot of journalists will say “Oh yeah, this fake modesty thing he puts on” but I just think that he’s the ultimate classy, wonderful gentleman and he’s just great.  

Other stars have been not quite so positive, like one of the times I interviewed Salman Khan.   He was hanging out with Sanjay Dutt backstage in LA at a show and the floor of the dressing room was an inch deep in booze.   It would splash when you walked.   They would smoke cigarettes and let them fall to put themselves out in the booze, and I thought “Oh my God, we’re all gonna’ go up in flames!”

Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s not.   Once in Bombay, Hrithik was shooting Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon and I waited for about 3 hours outside the studio in the burning sun and I didn’t get to see him.   But things do eventually pay off.   I was actually the first NRI reporter to interview Hrithik.  

LisaTsering%20interviewing%20Hrithik Dont Get Her Started on Product Placement: Chatting with Lisa Tsering

Maria:   How often do you go to India?

Lisa:   I haven’t been in about three years now.   I used to go every other year.   Since I’ve had the baby I’ve had to take a little break from that.  

Maria:   Do you have any of the Indian channels at home?

Lisa:   We used to have them, but they’re so freaking lame!   These stupid soap operas and the same old ads for these  fortune tellers.   Why should we pay all this money to watch a half an hour of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and then suffer through 23 and 1/2 hours of garbage?   So I cancelled my channels.   It’s bad.   I would love to see Indian Idol and all that.   Did you have a chance to see those shows?

Maria:   A little bit.   I have to confess when I’m in India it’s hard for me to get out of my hotel room, the TV there  is just mesmerizing.

Lisa:   Oh yeah, Zee TV and MTV and all of that.

Maria:   We both love Govinda.   What is it about him that you like so much?   Have you met him?  

Lisa:   Oh yeah, he’s my favorite, my God!   I have a picture right here that I took when he was shooting in San Francisco.   I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, in both Bombay and here, and he laughed at my jokes.   What can I say?   The man’s a god.

Maria:   Excellent!   How is he to talk to?   Does he speak to you in English?   What’s he like?

Lisa:   He’s very laid back and laughs all the time and his accent is very thick but he’s very funny and he’s just as charming and cuddly in English as you could imagine him being in Hindi.   Is he supposed to come back in films after doing his political thing?

Maria:   If you look at IMDB, there are some movies down there, so supposedly he is.   Let me ask you about your career.   You did this piece about immigration fraud and false dowry accusations and you won an award for it this year.   How do you interweave these stories with your Bollywood work and do you worry about getting pigeonholed?

Lisa:   Oh, I do care.   For instance, my business card says “Entertainment Editor” which I’m changing now, because I hate to go to some function, like a memorial service for somebody, and I whip out my card and it says that.   To me, it’s real easy to switch from subject to subject, and I’m glad that I don’t do entertainment 24/7; I think that’d be real stultifying.

India West is a small paper and the advantage to that is for the reporters,  we have to dip our toes into so many different subjects.

Maria:   How did that piece come to you?   [Note: the story was about NRI men returning to India to marry and afterward being extorted for  money or citizenship for their brides' family members under the threat of being accused of asking for dowry.]

Lisa:   My editor mentioned that it happened to somebody she knew, and then it happened to somebody else, and if it happened to these  two people, then maybe we can research this.   And now, my God, there’s so many people!   I still get email about it.   In fact I just got an email yesterday about some NRIs who are mobilizing against it.   Storywise, it was just such an interesting novelty.

Maria:   What is your opinion of recent Bollywood movies, compared to say what was coming out in the early 1990s?   What do you think of them now?

Lisa:   Of course I admire their increasing sophistication both technically and storywise, but Maria, the latest thing that I’m all upset about is product placement; shameless, odious, obnoxious product placement.   I just saw Krrish and they put a bag of Tide laundry detergent right in the middle of the movie screen between Rekha and Hrithik as they’re having a conversation.   In another scene, they put a jar of Bournavita on the table right in front of the camera as they’re trying to have their breakfast.   Odious.

If you read the news in India all these media analysts think this is the greatest thing to come along  and I just think it’s disgusting and I’m so upset by it.   But if there’s any trend I’m seeing, it’s that, and we have to do something because it’s not o.k.

Maria:   On the positive side, anything that impresses you?

Lisa:   The look of the films has become much slicker, which I like.   The heroes and heorines are cleaned up a little.   You know, the girls used to have bushy eyebrows and be chunky, now they’re all hot.   All in all, the films have improved.   They used to be a little simplistic, they’re more intellectually rewarding now.

Maria:   What was your favorite movie in 2005?

Lisa:    Was Main Hoon Na 2005?   I just saw Fanaa and thought it was great.   I loved it.   I thought the relationships were so beautifully done, Aamir and Kajol had so much chemistry and you could really feel the two people connecting, and the scenes of her and her son.   I mean the kid had some crappy dialogue, but she and  Aamir are  such a great actors that watching them is just a joy on screen.

There was one parallel film I saw called Dombivli Fast, a Marathi film, that was really good.   It’s been in a couple of festivals.  

Maria:   Amitabh Bachchan was in just about every big movie last year.   Was there anything of his that really struck you?

Lisa:   Oh, Black!   The scene where he kissed Rani Mukherjee was one of the highlights of cinema of any country, I thought.

# # #

It’s a Friday afternoon in San Leandro and we wrap up our chat so Lisa can get home to her family.   I ask if her husband shares her enthusiasm for Bollywood movies, and she  says that, being Tibetan, he’s familiar with Hindi movies, of course, but, Lisa tells me, “I’ll say ‘Hey, do you want to come with me to this event that Aishwarya Rai will be at?’   And he’ll say ‘That’s ok, you go with one of your girlfriends.   I’ll hang out here  and watch TV.”

You can learn  more about Lisa and read her award-winning article “Indian Husbands Fall Victim to  Dowry/Immigration Fraud” here.

Krrish! Krrash! Hrithik in a flash!

 krrish%20flying%20thru%20the%20air%20v2 Krrish!  Krrash!  Hrithik in a flash!

In the most recent episode of the HBO series Entourage that aired in the U.S. last weekend, Vince and his buddies go through opening day of the actor’s big budget release  Aquaman, tracking the opening grosses and comparing them to the opening weekend of Spiderman.   Initially, only E is interested in how the two movies compare, but by the time the 28 minutes of the show have run their course, everyone is looking over their shoulder at Peter Parker’s red and blue stretchy-suited alter ego.  

I had a similar sensation at Krrish tonight, at the 10 p.m. and final showing of the night at the local Indian multiplex.   (By the way, I must find out if  this is the first time a big Bollywood release has opened in the U.S. a full day before India, and why.)   The action hero scenes shot amid the high-rises of Singapore called to mind Spiderman, while Krrish’s movements and fight scenes themselves were a melange of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix.   Not that that’s an entirely bad thing; we all know how often Bollywood takes its inspiration from other movies.   Of  all three of the aforementioned movies, I’d say that technically Krrish  approaches Crouching Tiger most: there’s a lot of running and climbing by hopping quickly from one place to another, when not bouncing off trees, branches and  bodies of water.  

krrish%20muscles%20v2 Krrish!  Krrash!  Hrithik in a flash!

Krrish is the story of Krishna, the son of Rohit Mehra, the character that Hrithik Roshan played in Koi Mil Gaya.   He has the same magical powers that his special father did, and, growing up parentless, Krishna has been raised by his grandmother, played by Rekha.   (It was  a surprise for me to see her with grey streaks in her hair and the stiff gait of a woman in her 70s, given her recent, wince-inducing appearance  in Bachke Rehna Re Baba and her item number as the heavy-lidded, somewhat fleshy  vamp in Parineeta.)  

krrish%20rekha%20as%20a%20grandma%20v2 Krrish!  Krrash!  Hrithik in a flash!  

Grandmother and grandson have lived an idyllic and isolated existence up in the green hills and mountains of Manali.   She wants to  protect him, as she believes it was her son’s powers, and the evil intentions of a Dr. Arya (portrayed with relish by Naseeruddin Shah)  that led to his death.   All goes as planned until a camping group of young people shows up, including two Singapore-based friends, Honey and Priya (the doe-eyed Priyanka Chopra).   Priya, out paragliding, gets into trouble when she lands high up in a tree and Krishna amazingly is able to fly to the top and carry her to safety.   It doesn’t take long before he’s in love with her.   Aside from the ridiculous amount of ear-splitting screaming that Priya does, the scene does convey well the amazement  between two people as they stare into each other’s eyes that something is happening.

krrish%20and%20priyanka%20white%20v2 Krrish!  Krrash!  Hrithik in a flash!

Priya and  Honey return to Singapore and their jobs at a television network.    Having stayed away five days longer than allowed, they are about to be fired by the boss (Archana Puran Singh, doing her customary Hot Aunty role, with a dollop of Bossy Harpy thrown in) when Honey has a brainwave: they’ll get Krishna to come to Singapore and film his superpowers, and by getting this scoop, they’ll be saved.   Priya lies to Krishna, telling him if he doesn’t come right away and meet her mother, she’ll be married off to someone else.  

Though he’s stated he’d never leave his grandmother, he gets her approval and shows up at the Singapore airport in his father’s dorky, I’m-with-the-Gestapo-geek-squad trench coat.   While he takes up temporary residence in the metropolis, Priya’s efforts to trick him into performing on film fail, but she finds herself falling in love with the muscular but unassuming hunk.   Before leaving home, his grandmother extracts a promise from Krishna that he will never use his powers in front of people, but when a fire breaks out at a  circus,  he feels compelled to step in and save lives, so  he dons a black mask and turns the nerdy coat inside out to reveal a shiny leather trench straight from  the costume cupboard of The Night Porter.  

And Krrish is born.

While Krishna’s  romancing Priya and saving children from a burning tent, his father’s crooked business partner and megalomaniac, Dr. Arya,  is  on the verge of recreating Krishna’s father’s invention: The Computer that Allows  You to See the Future.   You know that the paths of these two men will cross as the story comes to a climax.  

So this is Hindi cinema’s first superhero movie, such a newsworthy event that even the New York Times has written about it.   The budget is reported to have been between $7 and $10 million, and to prepare for the role, Hrithik Roshan trained  with Tony Ching Siu Tung (of The Hero and House of Flying Daggers) on how to do wire stunts.   The training and the green-eyed boy’s natural grace lend a gliding fluidity to the action scenes.

The only other movies I’d seen Hrithik Roshan in were K3G and Lakshya.   In this movie too, he has several opportunities to show off his dancing ability and he is a joy to watch.   The Dil Na Diya number has shades of Ek Pal Ka Jeena for the way it highlights Hrithink’s footwork.   His face is quite compelling to behold too.   Technically, you would think that a nose as long as his would be a strike against him, but somehow, it works, probably because you find yourself – when he’s in close-ups – staring at his eyes and trying to figure out which order the concentric circles of brown, light gold and green appear.   His pre-Singapore wardrobe could have included some long- or short-sleeved shirts; he spent that entire part of the film in a sleeveless sweater/shirt and soon in you think “Ok, we get it, he’s got big muscles!”   I found the long hair distracting in some scenes.   Early on, it was ruffled and curly and went well with the whole quasi-Tarzan thing Krishna had going on, but in other scenes, where it was straighter and darker, it just seemed off, and at one point I thought to myself “That’s the same hairstyle Monica Lewinsky had for a time!”  

Priyanka Chopra plays The  Beautiful Girlfriend role well enough, but it’s not a terribly taxing one.   Her Singapore wardrobe consisted of several outfits that included several pairs of pretty low-slung jeans, the lowest I’ve seen in a Bollywood movie so far.

Product placement was all over: Tide detergent (also prominent in Chup Chup Ke), Lays chips, Samsung electronics and Bournavita.

The soundtrack is enjoyable enough, moreso than that of KANK I’d say, but there are no WOW! moments, where you think “I’ve gotta get that number onto my iPod work-out playlist.”    One song – Chori Chori Chup Ke Chup Ke – comes from what I’d refer to as the filmi school of bullock carts,  flute and drums numbers (you know, the scene where the hero or heroine, or both, return to the countryside (think Veer-Zaara or even Pardesi Babu) and appreciate how beautiful it is.

See it or skip it?  

See it!   This movie is a first in Hindi film history, but bring a cushion, because it runs over three hours.   (The movie could have benefitted from less time with the evil Dr. Arya.)

This is where it all began

 This is where it all began  

It started in earnest August 1997. An ad appeared on the weekend morning Indian shows for Pardes and I noticed that the theater was only 15 minutes away, so off I went. People stared a bit as I merged into the crowd, the only gringa on line for the 9p.m. showing, but I wasn’t turning back.

No subtitles, but it was easy to follow the story. I know it was no great opus, but, having not yet been to India at that point, for me it was a bonus to see the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, and the banks of the Ganga seemingly side-by-side geographically all in one movie.

And I confess, while I didn’t agree with all of the values in it, I did find SRK energetic and the music catchy, and it was hoot to see a young woman in the late 1990s with a Hema Malini bouffant do!

Hooked from that point on, I returned every weekend possible to the dingy, two-screen local cinema, memorizing titles on the drive over so I could say “One for Mere Sapno ki Rani please” without embarassing myself. For a few winters, when there were no big releases, weather was cold  and customers were few, I was a staunch regular.    Soon after, I was conversant enough that Rajesh, the owner of the local Indo-Pak grocery/video store would turn to me while I browsed the shelves, and when a customer would ask him about a recent release, he’d look at me, prompting me to offer: “Well, Bobby Deol’s still acting too much with his eyebrows, but the scenes filmed in Simla are lovely and the music’s not bad.”

Short of deep psychological excavation, the only explanation I can give for this fascination with such vivid, formulaic epics goes back to, where else, childhood: as a little girl, some of my favorite movies were West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Gigi, Cabaret (all musicals). And in high school. I taught myself Spanish on a heavy diet of Mexican and Venezuelan soap operas at the impressionable age of 14, and they both have a lot in common with mainstream Hindi movies: the clear delineation between good and evil, lots of handsome heroes, and scores of glam heroines fond of eyeliner and flowing tresses (ah yes, and mustn’t forget the melodrama).

A lot of my Indian friends here (and over there), all well traveled and well educated, are dismayed at this choice of viewing matter, but in this, to a great extent, I’m like the front benchers in the cheap seats: I get plenty of Real Life in my real life. I don’t want  to pay $10 to see more of it when I want to be entertained.

Almost 10 years on now, after having  seen what averages out to about 12 movies a year, I’ve  amassed enough movie memories to be able to spot the inside references and jokes in any given  film, and to have seen a tremendous improvement in production values.   This summer filmi safar is a deliberate attempt to fill in the historical gaps of my own movie-viewing shortcomings (whatever was released prior to the mid-1990s).

Amar, Akbar, Anthony: Wait, wait, WAIT!

amar%20akbar%20anthony%20all%203%20together Amar, Akbar, Anthony:  Wait, wait, WAIT!  

Amar, Akbar, Anthony, Manmohan Desai’s 1977 movie  takes the separated-at-birth, double role device prevalent in many Hindi movies over the years and puts a twist on it.  

The set-up is this:    driver Kishenlal (played by Pran), just home from having taken the fall for his boss, Robert, and gone to jail, finds his three small sons starving and his wife, Bharti, ill with TB.   Enfuriated that Robert has not kept his word to support the family financially, the father sets off to confront him.

While he’s gone, the long-suffering Bharati (Nirupa Roy, who else?), pens a suicide note, leaves it with the boys, and runs off to do herself in, so as not to be a burden to the family.   Over at Robert’s palatial home, he and Kishenlal have a showdown and a shootout, and Kishenlal escapes in a car that, unbeknownst to him, contains gold bricks (albeit some very light ones).   Upon finding his  baby  sons and the note, he piles the kids into the car, and zooms off, Robert’s men in pursuit, to look for the missus.   He stops briefly to deposit them at the foot of a statue of Gandhi, telling them to stay put.   The baddies find and chase him.    He crashes, police and crooks think he’s dead, but, he’s actually escaped with a box of those ultra-lite gold briquettes.   Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Bharati runs to her designated suicide spot, but before she can reach wherever it is, a tree branch falls on her, and PLAF! she’s suddenly rendered blind.

(You with me so far?)

So, we have one father – Kishenlal – in hiding, one mother – Bharati – blind and home to an empty  house, and the three babies, what happens to them?   One wanders to the road in search of food and is hit by a car and injured, and rescued by the police.   He is raised as Amar.     Another lands up at the door of a church and is taken in by a priest.   He is raised as Anthony.   The smallest is found alone and crying by the Gandhi statue, and taken home by a Muslim tailor.   This is Akbar.

Fast forward to the present.   Akbar (Rishi Kapoor) is a qawwali singer and friend of Anthony (Amitabh Bachchan), who’s a bit of  a  chancer, running a small bar and giving 50% of his earnings to the poor.   Amar (Vinod Khanna) has become a police officer.   By a series of circumstances, before the opening credits have yet to roll, Bharati is in the hospital in need of a tranfusion for her rare blood type, and lo and behold, the 3 guys just happen to be there and match, but of course, no one realizes that they’re all related.

Anthony%20Gonsalves Amar, Akbar, Anthony:  Wait, wait, WAIT!As with Deewar and Zanjeer, Amitabh Bachchan’s wardrobe is fantastically trendy  in this film.   In one scene, he appears in a red leather jacket, and bell-bottom jeans with a patch, the ubiquitous ’70s decoration, two fingers making a peace sign in the red, white and blue stars and stripes of the American flag, topped off with a floppy newsboy cap.   He dons a different color cap in another scene, and also rotates his jewelry between an oversize ankh (how Valley of the Dolls!) on a silver chain around his neck, or a cross large enough to belong to a bishop.  

Not to be outdone, Rishi Kapoor, the Qawwali King, shows up in one scene for his concert wearing purple trousers, a mesh wife beater (or cut banyan, depending on from whence you hail) topped off by a see-thru green shirt, lavender scarf  and oversize sunglasses.

amar%20akbar%20see%20thru%20green%20shirt Amar, Akbar, Anthony:  Wait, wait, WAIT!  

For the sold-out qawwali concert (where we hear the song Pardah Hai Pardah), upon bumping into the blind and ticketless Bharati who’s come to hear Akbar and give him a flower, Anthony behaves like the perfect son and tells her that he has a special pass to get them in, and once in the hall “You sit on my seat and I’ll sit at your feet.”   Hai rabba.   With celluloid sons like this, Indian kids in real life have got a lot to live up to.

The three brothers find three equally cute girlfriends.   Akbar’s is Salma, a  fetching Muslim doctor (played by Neetu Singh) whose father disapproves of his daughter’s choice of suitor, though he’s eventually won over, not by the hijras who serenade him, but  after Akbar saves him and Salma from a fire.   Amar falls for Laxmi, a woman suspect (played by Shabana Azmi) who he’s been sent  undercover to  tail, as she’s been implicated in some hitchhikings-cum-robberies.   When we first catch a glimpse of her, she’s poised by the roadside, looking very comely  in oversize yellow flares and a matching green, yellow and black blouse.   It turns out Laxmi has been committing the crimes, but only because she was forced to.

The relationship that gets the most screen time is that of Anthony and Jenny (played by Parveen Babi), and the reason for that is because, just to add more twists to the plot, Jenny is actually the daughter of Robert, but she was kidnapped as a baby by Kishenlal, for revenge of the loss of his sons, and raised by him.   Anthony sees her for the first time at St. Mary’s church in Bandra, where she has come to attend Mass, beautifully groomed in a pale yellow, tiered dress and black lace mantilla (this was back when women used to still cover their heads inside a church).   She has returned from overseas for a visit and Kishenlal has assigned her a leering, beefy goofball of a bodyguard named Zebesko, who soon decides he’d like to guard Jenny’s  body full-time as her husband.   Perhaps because of the atrocious poncho he wears in one scene, or because of his eerie resemblance to Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, Jenny is repelled and rebuffs him.

One of the best scenes and songs in Amar, Akbar, Anthony  takes place at the Easter Dance Jenny attends with Zebesko in tow, where a giant egg is rolled onto the dance floor and Amitabh Bachchan pops out, wearing a squishy stovepipe  hat and tuxedo, and procedes to sing the almost totally nonsensical, but catchy, mambo: My Name is Anthony Gonsalves.   In between the  lyrics (sung by Kishore Kumar) he spouts phrases like “Wait, wait, WAIT!   You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin  in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated  rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberence of your own verbosity!”   For days after watching this movie, I couldn’t get that song out of my head.

There are many other memorable scenes, including the drunk scene AB does, talking to his mirror twin after a brawl, dabbing medicine on the other guy’s wounds, and another where he shows up at the church in a three-piece white suit and pink tie ready to get married only to find the priest who raised him murdered, and he angrily addresses a statue of Jesus (much like Vijay in Deewar at the temple as he was dying) saying “Tell me the name of who did this or I’ll become so bad” (of course, just then a locket – containing the clue – drops from the dead priest’s hand).

Invariably, the various strands of the story criss-cross each other, with a miraculous religious eyesight healing (hey, I guess this precedent is why the makers of Fanaa figured they could get away with it) ending up with the Big Climactic Scene with all three brothers (in costume, and singing), all three girlfriends, one villian, one wronged father, and a score of bad guys, out at Robert’s house, which looks like Hernando’s Hideaway, or  a hotel I stayed at once in Puerto Vallarta.  

See it or skip it?  

You must see it!   In addition to the sweet notion of the film, that inspite of religious beliefs we are all brothers and should all get along, the movie just has a terrific, happy-go-lucky feel to it, and between the songs,  the crazy storyline,  the fab costumes and the attractive triumvirate of heros and  their accompanying heroines, what’s not to like?