Vanaja%20Igiiri%202 Vanaja

This movie opens in NY today.   If you’re anywhere near Manhattan,  PLEASE go see it.   And if you’re not in NYC, just hold on for a bit, because it’s coming to your city soon.

For me,  the pleasure of watching Mamata Bhukya dancing in the lead role would be enough.   But  the  petite  teen  is also a wonderful actress, and you know what?   Two years ago, she was a student in school and had never acted before in her young  life.  

Rajnesh Domalpalli, who already  had an IIT-Bombay degree and years of experience in Silicon Valley under his belt, returned to his native Andhra Pradesh to make his first feature film, part of his MFA thesis for Columbia University, and against all better advice, he was determined to use non-actors.

Vanaja%20hands%202 Vanaja

Mamata almost didn’t even get to audition because her hair was too short.

In Vanaja, as the title character, she’s the plucky teenage daughter of a poor fisherman in coastal AP.   To help keep their little family afloat (her mother died years ago), she quits school and gets a job with the local landlady, Rama Devi, a wealthy widow and former Kuchipudi dancer.   Vanaja convinces her new boss to teach her to dance, and the protegé turns out to be a quick study and extremely talented.

Vanaja%20tea%202 Vanaja

All’s well until Rama Devi’s son, Shekhar, returns from the U.S. to comply with his mother’s wish that he run for local office (“He’ll be Chief Minister one day,” she  declares.) and sparks fly when he and Vanaja lay eyes on each other.   The attraction is real, but she’s still 15 and wavering between childhood and being a woman.    (Shekhar is in his 20s.)

Vanaja inadvertently embarasses him in public and he turns on her, bringing issues of wealth and poverty and gender and caste to the fore, and her life is never the same afterward.   The young girl struggles to make her way and forge a way ahead, using her own strength and resourcefulness, in situations where you sense the cards are stacked against her.

The back story on the making of the film is material enough for another movie.    Stayed tuned for an interview with the director very shortly.

Special bonus for those of you who go to see Vanaja at the Cinema Village this weekend: Rajnesh Domalpalli and Mamata Bhukya will be present after  the 5:10 and  7:40pm shows.  

See it or skip it?

See it!   Mamata is simply amazing to behold, the other actors too are all solid as well.   Yes, Vanaja’s struggles can be sad and uncomfortable to confront, but the overall beauty of the film and the love that the director has for the region and for his subjects and the arts  shines through clearly.  

I had the sense in the second half of the film that it could have been tightened up every-so-slightly, but this  is only a small complaint, and not one that should deter you from going.   This truly is a special film and I’m so glad to have seen it twice in the last few weeks.


poster%202 Marigold  

Just at the time when Salman has been installed in a Jodhpur jail (at least for the moment), I happened to watch Jaan-e-mann and recently attended a screening of Marigold, his much touted Hollywood film, or crossover film as some were calling it.  

The movie is directed by Willard Carroll, a man who glimpsed Salman onscreen when he dropped into a Madras cinema to watch Chori Chori Chupke Chupke.   He was wowed by the musclebound Khan’s performance, watched the actor’s entire catalogue of movies, and scripted his own film for him.

Marigold is also the name of the lead actress in Carroll’s film, played by Heroes’ Ali Larter.   She’s a girl with a diva complex who is repeatedly cast in crappy, sexploitation films that end in a number (Basic Instinct 3, Fatal Attraction 3) and she jets off to Goa (where her luggage is lost en route) to make Kama Sutra 3.   But she arrives to find out that the production office has shut down, the filmmakers are in jail, and she has no return ticket.

Lucky for her, and us, she encounters Rani (the wonderful Suchitra Pillai who I wish would get her own lead in a film) who offers to help her out.   They stop by a film set in Goa and Marigold is spotted by the director and  cast in a musical  number.   She also meets the arrogant lead actor and the mellow choreographer, Prem, played by hamara Salman Khan.

Ok, at this point some of you may well say “What?   Sallu as a choreographer?   But he’s so athletic and dances with his shoulders!”   That was my reaction too.   He’s no twinkletoes, and I will confess I was never a big fan of his before.   Sure, I was temporarily swayed, or blinded rather, by his glistening shirtlessness for that Oh Oh Jaane Jaana song in Pyar Kiya To Darna Kiya, but after that momentary loss of reason, I went back to being a non-Salman fan.   (Unlike this girl!)  

But can I tell you something?    I liked him as Prem.   He was there in all his stoner dude, American-accented glory, but he was also incredibly low-key.   Granted, he goes from meeting Marigold to falling in love with her in zero to sixty, but once he’s smitten, he plays this guy who has no doubts about his love for the girl and is totally into her, and that confidence was really appealing.   And he never had to take his shirt off once.

white%20ensemble%202 Marigold

Ali Larter is pretty, and looked quite cute in some of the filmi outfits they dress her in, but she’s brittle, and stays so even after she’s supposed to have melted and fallen for Prem.   I confess I must be one of the few people in this country who doesn’t watch Heroes, so I don’t know if she’s improved since the time Marigold was filmed (2005).

yellow%202 Marigold

The action moves from Goa to Bombay, Prem helps Marigold to learn how to dance, they go to Elephanta Island, and Prem reveals over dinner one night that he’s a Rajasthani prince.   He invites Marigold to accompany to him to his sister’s wedding (cue the traditional clothes) and the Cali girl learns that Prem has been betrothed for years to another girl.

When I interviewed him, the director said that he wasn’t making a Bollywood film, and I think how you appreciate this movie may depend on your familiarity, or the lack thereof, with mainstream Hindi movies.   For me, with my viewing history, it’s hard to come to Marigold with fresh eyes.   And so for me,  the filmi elements in the movie were a tease, but not satisfying enough.   If this were  ten years ago in August, and I was just starting out on this cinematic safar, my reaction might have been stronger.

See it or skip it?

It’s a tough call.   If you love Salman, or you’re curious to see him in an English-speaking role, or you’re such a diehard filmi fan you’ll watch anything related to the Bombay film industry, then definitely go for it.

After ingesting over 150 movies, Carroll has definitely got a feeling for filmi touches, and the cool design of the onscreen images that mark the change of scenes are done by the director himself.

My favorite part of the film?   A brief appearance by Helen – the one and only Helen – at the start of the movie as  Prem’s grandmother.  

Stay tuned for an  interview with Carroll about his moviemaking experiences with Salman in India.

Heyy Babyy

HeyyBabyy%202 Heyy Babyy  

In Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, we saw Indians living in the New York marrying, cheating, divorcing  and being miserable in the pursuit of soul mates.   In Sajid Khan’s Heyy Babyy, the location is Sydney, and the trio of dawgs (Arush, Tanmay, Al) never get  that far, as they bounce from girl to girl in an endless string of meaningless physical encounters.

The  movie opens with the title song, featuring Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh and Fardeen Khan living it up in the nightclub that Akshay’s character, Arush, manages.   They are joined by some 20 actresses in dance on, dance off guest appearances.   It’s a high energy number and  the girls (Malaika Arora, for example) look stunning.

The next day, all three boys wake up in their rooms of the bachelor pad, each wrapped around his own conquest from the previous night.   Arush answers the doorbell and finds  a mystery baby girl gurgling and cooing  at him.   She is the most adorable child you will have seen in years, unless you have your own, and then she will be the second most adorable child you’ve ever glimpsed.

Given how slutty fancyfree the boys all are, the baby could belong to any of them.   They draw up long, long lists of all the Aussie maidens they’ve bedded and seek out each and every one to look for the missing mother, but, many tight slaps later,  no luck.   In the meantime, much slapstick comedy ensues as they learn how to feed and diaper the tot, wherein the three become model parents and newly sensitive men, regretting any pain their past indiscretions have caused.

shower Heyy Babyy

Vidya Balan appears  and  the father in the group realizes he’s the one, as  the mother waltzes off with the bundle of joy, leaving the men bereft.  

The trio devise a plan to win her and the baby back.   More slapstick,  a few more songs and a wedding, and a wonderful picturization of Mast Kalandar, complete with guest appearance by SRK in a gorgeous mauve sherwani (with a baby pink lining) and some tongue-not-quite-in-cheek references to DDLJ.

You’ll completely ignore the closing credits rolling by on a split screen, because of the  final number.   It’s  a re-do of the title song, but this time with the accompaniment of Australian group Girl Band, as a series of outtakes give way to a Chippendales type scene playing out.    Akshay and the two boys appear in air pilot uniforms, which they shed before a cheering  all-female audience.   Athletic Akshay manages to do a bit of very competent pole dancing too.

See it or skip it?

It’s a fun summer soufflé, though with a few dents in it from some overwrought drama and an excess of about 10 minutes overall.   Akshay is cute, Fardeen rather misplaced (except when playing the khadi-wearing, shudh Hindi-speaking suitor), and it is Riteish who comes out surprisingly strong here.   After his comic turns in films like Bluffmaster, he again shows an easy ability for comedy.   Vidya manages well enough, in spite being saddled with several unflattering dresses with the largest, ugliest patterns imagineable.   Her saris at the Delhi wedding scenes are a welcome respite.

When a door closes, a window opens

heyy%20babyy%202 When a door closes, a window opens  

A few weeks ago I lamented the closing of the North Bergen multiplex that screened so many Hindi, Telugu and Tamil movies over the past two years.

For people based in NYC and  the Manhattan-facing edges of Jersey, filmi theater options were then reduced to The Imaginasian and bas.   (Excluding long drives into Jersey, or subway rides out to Queens.)

Well, if Fandango is to be believed, Heyy Babyy is apparently now showing  not just at The Imaginasian, but also at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 cinema and opposite IKEA at the AMC Loews Jersey Gardens 20  cinema (at the Jersey Gardens outlet mall in Elizabeth, NJ).  

It’ll be interesting to see how much of a turnout they get for today’s new release.

(Review later….)

UPDATE:   What a nice cinema the Union Square one is.   Comfy stadium seats, big screen, and there was even a trailer for Saawariya.   The 7.30 show only had about 25-30 people, but it seemed like there were a lot more people waiting to get in to the 9.45.   I hope the place gets some good business and screens some of the big releases coming in the next three months….

Vanaja NY premiere

  Vanaja NY premiere

More about this beautiful film very soon, but for now, here are some pics from the red carpet premiere last night on Amsterdam Avenue, complete with Connecticut-based Indian elephant, Minnie.

 Vanaja NY premiere

Minnie and her handlers:

 Vanaja NY premiere

Minnie and the IAAC‘s President Aroon Shivdasani:

 Vanaja NY premiere

Rajnesh Domalpalli (director) and Mamata Bhukya (lead actor):

 Vanaja NY premiere

From another angle:

 Vanaja NY premiere

Minnie’s ride:

 Vanaja NY premiere

Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center

 Bachchan Sandhya at Lincoln Center