Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye

poster Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye  

Honestly, I had never heard of this 2003 movie  until Michael of Bollywoodblog contacted me about joining in today with nine  fellow  bloggers in Europe and the U.S. for a group review of the film, and virtual meeting with director Sanjay Jha.

Participating in this exercise are:

Once I finish writing this, I’m off to see what they all had to say.

PJPSNJ is set in a Bombay chawl that is threatened with destruction so the property owner can erect several high-rise luxury apartment buildings in its place.   The movie opens with classic Bombay views: a sunset over the water with highrises in the background, tetrapods at the shore, and, of course, VT.

Just at the same time as the  news is delivered to the colorful residents that they have a few months to go until they are evicted, an educated young man, Aman (Aman Verma, who got his start in the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi soap opera and was one of the bad sons in Baghban)  moves in to the chawl, claiming that he wants to study the residents for a thesis he’s writing (though we learn later that’s not the case).

The convention of setting the film in a densely packed location like this allows the director to examine the lives of more characters than most movies (think of Altman’s dizzying and delightful  Gosford Park for a similar arrangement), but it certainly is an ambitious choice for someone making their first film.   That’s an awful lot of storylines for the director and scriptwriter – Mahesh Manjrekhar, who also does a turn as the ineffective thug Munnabhai –  to keep straight (and resolve).

In the exposition during the first half of the movie, we meet Ganpat (Vijay Raaz), a wizened and wise-cracking sutradhar of sorts, narrating everyones’ lives to Aman, then there’s the  small part actress/hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Mona (Namrata Shirodkar), the scheming Mama’s boy who dreams of making a lot of money selling blockbuster movie tix on the black market,  a couple of drunk, abusive husbands and their too-beautiful-for-them, long-suffering wives, Raveena Tandon in a very shaadi shuda role as  the barren  Laxmi who needs an operation to be able to conceive, Diya Mirza as Saundarya, a supposedly ugly girl (because she wears specs??),  a Greek chorus  of  guys  (and one lesbian friend?) who do little more than loaf around and live off their parents, and many others.    

namrata Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye

Aman wins the trust of the chawl residents, and then their admiration when he floats a loan to the family of a boy who’s fall and visit to a municipal hospital almost killed him, until Aman stepped in and insisted they go to a private one.   Suddenly everyone is tapping him for a loan, and he complies.   To the horror of the chawlwallahs, it turns out Aman’s been setting them up so they will be in debt to his friend, Pravinseth, the chawl-owner.   Unless they return double the amount in 60 days, bulldozers will arrive to demolish their homes.

The crisis forces the residents to band together and come up with a solution, including a trick that Tevye used in Fiddler on the Roof:  pretending to have a dream and instructions from the Great Beyond.   Laxmi claims that the Goddess Sati has informed her in a dream that her husband Mahendra will die in 30 days time and if Laxmi commits sati on his pyre, she will be redeemed.   This touches off a carnivaleque month in the main courtyard of the chawl that allows all sorts of money to be earned to pay off the debt: darshans of not just Laxmi, but also of her chappal, a pau bhaji stand, a merry-go-round to keep the kids busy, a cow to be honored by feeding grass (available for a price), etc etc etc.  

satimata%20laxmi Praan Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye

Sanjay Jha seizes this opportunity to skewer various political and religious groups who take advantage of these type of situations to increase the numbers of their followers, both the saffron brigade and the women’s libbers, no one  escapes.

Along the way, Jha displays an affection for, and playful leg-pulling of, Hindi movies.   The opening scene about the chawlwallahs waiting for water turns into Lagaan‘s Ghanana Ghanana, characters make references to well known films by name, snippets or even just a few bars of movie music have been dropped in, and even chunks of dialogue mirror classics like Namak Haram and Deewar.   Here’s my list of all the films referred to in one way or another:

  1. Lagaan
  2. Gupt
  3. Bombay
  4. DDLJ
  5. Namak Haram
  6. Deewar
  7. Monsoon Wedding
  8. Sholay
  9. Company

Fine, but does the movie work?  

Well, I would say that Sanjay Jha should get full marks for having either the cojones or the folly to take on such a sprawling story for his debut.  

I liked that the movie had a playful, winking sense of fun and parody, especially the endearing Vijay Raaz who addresses us, speaking directly to the camera.   After Monsoon Wedding, I think this is his best role, and  I think he was the strongest player of this ensemble, hitting just the right notes at all times, whether making savvy asides to Aman, or relaying the story of his wife and child’s death, or talking to us like we’re bhai-bhai.  

I loved that Jha  championed women in the face of their lazy, randy husbands, and overbearing mothers-in-laws and leering men, and that the women unapolegetically took action to deal with their situations, rather than just  do the expected and suffer silently.

I also loved that the movie brought together Raveena Tandon, Namrata Shirodkar, Rinke Khanna and Sushmita Sen and got such good performances from them, though I found the snippets with Sush to be somewhat forced and jarring.   And don’t get me wrong, I adore Sush; her mujra was the only saving grace of Kisna, even though she was only on screen for a few minutes.   I find her a much more compelling, earthy and beautiful  alternative to Aishwarya Rai, who, sure, is lovely and graceful but seems to have no depth and be a flash-frozen automaton.

All that said, I think that the intent of the film over-reached, compared to what it was able to achieve.   With so, so many characters (what, something like 20?) to portray, a movie can go one of two ways: either portrayals  become shorthand for types that we are all-too-familiar with, or they are artfully rendered by a strong script with the masterful touch of just a few lines of dialogue.   I think PJPSNJ falls somewhere in between, tilting a bit more toward the former than the latter, and the fault for that I would rest more at the feet of the Manjrekhar than Jha.   To go back to the Gosford Park example, it was Julian Fellowes’ dialogue that told us so clearly in very few (and often overlapping) words, what each character was about.

On the subject of dialogue, I liked Jha’s tribute – spoken by Gandhiji’s ghost R.K. Laxman’s The Common Man – to the hardworking people like those chawlwallahs who slog through life and still manage to laugh and love and care for each other.   Yes, it was a bit hokey and didn’t really say anything new about that populace, but still, it’s endearing  to see a filmi story once in a while that isn’t all about the bling and the pierced bellybutton.

See it or skip it?

See it.   It’s wonderful  to see Raveena doing more than just being her pretty self and playing some lead actor’s girlfriend, Vijay Raaz is terrific, and if you love Hindi movies, you may get a kick out of the  in-jokes.

And, as I was just reminded at Paint it Pink, there was a funny ad for Old Monk rum.   Ugh, how do people drink that stuff?   It’s like cough medicine, but worse!   Bleahhhh.

Save the Date! This Saturday, September 30: Special Bombay premier of Thaang

 Save the Date!  This Saturday, September 30: Special Bombay premier of Thaang

Amol Palekar’s new film Thaang (The Quest), will have a special premier September 30 at 9.00pm at the INOX Cinema at Nariman Point.

The movie, the  final in his trilogy dealing with sex and relationships,  is about what happens to a marriage when a woman  comes home and finds her husband in a compromising position with another man, and where they go from there.   You can see a short promo here, and movie stills here.

The premier is being hosted by the wonderful Humsafar Trust, who do great outreach and advocacy work for gay men in Bombay and beyond.   (You can read Humsafar Trust’s Ashok Row Kavi’s recent article about Section 377 here.)

Tickets are Rs. 180 and are going fast.

Some cornflakes mixture with your lambic?

india%20bruxelles Some cornflakes mixture with your lambic?

Looks like the lucky citoyens of the dearly departed Jacques Brel’s native city are in for quite a treat over the next four months.

Launching on October 7th, and running through to January 21st of next year, the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles will host an India Festival, with performances by Talvin Singh (whoo hoo!), Asha Bhosle, State of Bengal, theater groups, dancers, as well as art exhibits, literature talks, family activities  and yes, of course, movies.

There will be an Indian film retrospective from Jan 12th to Jan 21st 2007  (the festival closing day), and, according to NDTV tonight, the line-up will include  Mangal Pandey, Paheli, and Manish’s favorite Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi.  

Detailed information on the retrospective is  not yet available on the festival website, nor on the Royal Belgian Cinemathèque that the brochure points to.  

Meanwhile, check out  the very pretty 50-page India Festival brochure.

Perhaps a certain Michael or Maja will make at least one  trip to have a look…

If you go, drop me a line and I’ll give you a list of some favorite places to visit.   Thanks to a parent working for a Belgian company, every other page of every passport I’ve ever had is smattered with stamps from Brussels Luchthaven, and the compact and picturesque city has a special place in my heart.  

Hey, they gave us not only raspberry beer and Jacques Brel, but also Tintin,  Magritte and the Brueghels.   Nuff said.  

Oh, and how could I forget the Mannekin Pis ?   That there, by the way, is the oddest website about a historical monument I’ve ever seen, especially the History section.

Watering Eyes by SRK

SRK FEM Watering Eyes by SRK

A month back, I mentioned that SRK’s perfume Tiger Eyes would now be available in the US (for sale over the Internet).   Not willing to hand over $50 for a celebrity scent, I wondered what it would smell like.  

Well, a girlfriend has written to me and here’s what she had to say:

“I’m wearing the perfume right now.   It is not worth the $50.   You know how they sell some perfumes at Nordstrom (i.e. Chanel), and other perfumes at Duane Reed and Walgreen’s (i.e. Tommy Hilfiger or Jean Naté)?   Tiger Eyes by SRK falls into the drugstore category.   It has a fresh top note, but no depth, and a very cheap-smelling and overpowering middle note.   There is a lot of alcohol and it takes some time to evaporate, so you can’t tell what the smell is right away.   I liberally sprayed myself this morning, and I am afraid the smell will cling to me for the rest of the day, and my eyes are starting to water.”

Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

raghavan%20nypd Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu  

Yes, the premise of this exercise when I started back in May was solely Hindi movies, but having just seen Kamalhasan’s latest (Tamil) movie Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, I’m making an exception.

I’d been burned by the last few Tamil movies I handed over good money to see – first Priyasakhi and then Paramasivam – in spite of the fact that I liked the lead actors (Madhavan and Ajith, respectively).  

In Priyasakhi, a kind of Thamizh Banarasi Babu, everything Vestern was bad, slapping the little woman a few times was ok, and, in this one, Maddie goes to court to order his soon-to-be-ex-wife to carry their baby to term, then he will take the little tyke and raise it himself, since his phoren-influenced wife is not good mother material.  

Paramasivam, also starring  personal fave Prakash Raj, was too long, too boring and too obvious.   You know you’re off to a bad start when, in the first minute  of a film, you see a guy with an umbrella-type baby carriage about to apply  a screwdriver to it, and you murmur to your companion “He’s making a bomb”, and you’re right.   This movie’s only saving grace was its quintissentially typical Tamil movie’s raunchy, rump-shaking Asai Dosai number.

But after a somewhat  favorable assessment of VV from a Madras-born girlfriend, and curiosity to see how it portrayed New York City, I’m glad I went.

uniform%20and%20gun Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

Directed by Gautham Menon (of Kaaka Kaaka fame), Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (Hunt and Play) is the story of S. Raghavan, a tough cop (is there ever a movie about a softie cop? moreover, would we  watch one?) who has a hangdog  look about him, likely owing  to the tragic impact  his work has had  on  the people closest to  him.  

Raghavan gets involved in the investigation of the murder of the daughter of his mentor, Arokiraj (Prakash Raj).   His former partner in policing is horrified to open his front door one day and find his daughter’s severed finger hanging from one of these (see below), like a  malevolent mistletoe of sorts.   (By the way, what is the name for these things????   I’ve asked everyone I know, all and sundry  recognize that they are a  talisman to ward off evil, but no one can give me a name.   Yet.)

 Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

Not long after the discovery of the murdered girl, Raghavan finds out that both Arokiraj and wife, who were so  griefstricken they  moved to New York, have been executed.   He hops a plane to Newark, and while he flies across continents, he has a flashback on his earlier career with Arokiraj, and we learn that Raghavan was once married.   The onboard flashback takes us through his first encounter with his wife, their days together, through to her kidnapping and murder.

raghavan%20and%20the%20mrs Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

Once in the U.S., he is partnered with a member of the NYPD and installs himself at a midtown hotel.   No sooner does Raghavan unpack then he finds himself saving the life of the girl next door, Aradhana (played by the  just-married Jyothika), who is despondent over the break-up of her marriage and in the process of trying to kill herself.   Eventually (can you see this coming?), she and Raghavan become friends.

hello%20moto Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

While doing some sleuthing with his vellai counterpart, Raghavan discovers four more victims of the same killer he’s seeking, and he starts to narrow in on a suspect.   There is a violent confrontation in a Brooklyn apartment (that no one could have walked away from in real life) and the killer flees back to India.   As soon as Kamalhasan has recovered, he and Jyothika return to Madras, sitting comfy in Business Class, and actually standing during part of the long flight home to chat by the lavatory (vah! kya location!).  

On the passport control line –  second only to the ITC Welcomgroup lounge as the most romantic place at Chennai Airport –  Raghavan  declares his love to Aradhana, only to be met by a queasy look and the “I’m-just-not-ready-for-a-relationship-right-now” spiel.

raghavan%20and%20aradhana Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

Raghavan’s nemesis continues to kill and taunt him, until  a violent climax that also (can you see this coming?) involves Aradhana, who has just come to  realize that she does have feelings for the 50-something cop after all.

It’s not a perfect movie, and the biggest complaint I have is the link between homosexuality and the killer’s motive.   It’s an  irresponsible,  erroneous and dangerous way to explain the behaviour of someone who, we are to believe, enjoys raping and mutilating women before finishing them off.    It’s very disappointing that someone of Kamalhasan’s reputation and power in the  Tamil film industry  would willingly participate in  this movie  without objecting and asking the director  to find an alternative  back story for the  serial killer.  

That said, the Raghavan character was interesting enough to want to watch for two hours plus.   Kamalhasan plays him with an appropriate compactness of gesture and weariness.   It’s refreshing to see a slightly more nuanced Jyothika as a mother and woman with a career, though still young enough to be Kamalhasan’s daughter.   (Aiyo.)

The hair crew at VV should be taken to task for the bad dye jobs on the men.   Kamalhasan’s hair is a shade of black not found anywhere in nature, while it looks like all they did to make Prakash Raj go grey was sprinkle talcum powder liberally through his hair and moustache.

Both Kamalhasan and Prakash Raj are broad-shouldered and slim in the leg, and  like many men their age, both are a bit soft around the middle, with a certain fleshiness of body and face that is pleasing.   Possibly for this reason, the audience at the screening I attended laughed loudly at the  ”Hello Moto” ringtone of Raghavan’s phone.   It was jarring to see a taciturn, senior  cop with his experience responding to the same sound that was once popular with Japanese teens.

dark%20suit Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

The picturization of the Partha Mudal song that we see as part of Raghavan’s flashback to  the time with his wife has moments that are beatifully executed, including an overhead shot of the two in their new home, curled up in an embrace on the tile floor, with the pallu of the wife’s black, red and gold sari spread out  behind her.   The Neerupae Goa number was fun, though it looked more like an item number to be found in a Hindi movie than the usual filmi equivalent from TamilNad.

Half of the movie takes place in Manhattan and a lot of the action  take place in and around Times Square, as well as the Jersey waterfront and South Street Seaport.   One annoying technique, repeated several times, was to show some familiar area of NYC, but to have the shot inverted, so the sky was below and ground above, which was pointless.   Also without reason were the frequent references to the time in the corner of the screen.   Such a detail would be fine in a film where the exact time or date matter (e.g. Dus, or an episode of M*A*S*H where the docs only have 30 minutes to complete an operation on a patient packed in ice), but here it was just annoying.

See it or skip it?

As much as I liked the rest of the movie (Kamalhasan, Jyothika, the music), it’s a shame to encourage a director whose film tars the gay community so badly.

Post 9/11 Blues

Before escaping back into movieland…  

MC Riz has a song out that sums up his view on what it’s like  to be South Asian in the UK nowadays:

I got the post 9-11 blues
On the telly nuthin but the post 911 news
War, iraq, suicide bombs
Stop hogging the limelight and make some room for my songs!!
Anyway its all reruns
We need a new war Bush! Go get Iran, I heard they’re talking bout your mum!
Change the channel, watch some telly for kids, but whats this??
Hi kids welcome to fun fun fun fundamentalists [kids show theme style]
In the breaks, Nikes advertising bomb-proof-kicks
They even showing Bin Ladens cave on Cribs!!
So I picked up a respectable post 911 magazine
It told me bout the new post 911 categories -
Isreali fighters are soldiers, Irish are paramilitary
- And darkie ones are terrorsists – how simple can it be?
But not me, my friends say “Riz is still one of us”
But if I haven’t shaved – they won’t sit with me on the bus

You can read the rest of the lyrics here, and hear the song itself  here.