poster%202 Aladin

It’s rare that we get to see a big Hindi movie release before yeh log over in the desh, but last night was an exception and a treat.

Aladin was the opening night film for the South Asian International Film Festival, which runs through next Tuesday, November 3rd.   No one from the film’s cast or crew could make it, but they (Mr. Bachchan, Ritesh, Jacqueline) did tape a brief message to the audience that was broadcast beforehand.

I’m always up for a bit of fantasy in the vein of “…long, long ago in a kingdom far, far away…” and Sabu Cyril has managed to make Jaisalmer look like a magical and beautifully unreal combination of San Gimignano and Jerusalem,   almost like the fantastical place where the characters in Saawariya lived, except instead of bathed in blue, this land – Khwaish – is drenched to a pale golden and sandy beige by all the sunlight.

The cast includes Amitabh Bachchan as Genius the Genie, Sanjay Dutt as the evil Ringmaster, Ritesh Deshmukh as Aladin and the lovely new discovery Jacqueline Fernandez as Jasmine.

I confess I am a diehard Amitabh Bachchan fan and would happily watch him in anything, heck, I would watch him make toast reconcile his checking account prepare his taxes ok, I’d watch him do whatever mundane (if any) tasks a man of his wealth and stature might actually carry out himself  any more.   And I say this even though he likes to paint  Americans Westerners as callous people who would happily throw their elderly parents on the rubbish heap.

He is a charming,  cool genie, combining  a jacket from a band gala suit with jeans,  cutting quite a rug in the musical numbers (using that adorably leggy and unique  Amitabh Bachchan dance vocabulary that includes  several  gestures with those long, graceful hands) and even rapping while surround by comely dancers.    When it came to hair and hats, Genius  seemed to be taking his grooming cues from Vijay Mallya.

Ritesh Deshmukh is sweet as the much put upon Aladin who was orphaned at a young age because some evil-doer did in his parents (yes, yes, I know, Hari Potter too….) and who is forever tormented by his bratty classmates, up to and into university.   His principal torturer, the muscular yet delicate-featured Kasim, looks like a very young Rob Lowe on a steroid binge.   The two boys become rivals when the very lovely Jasmine comes to town, as a returned student, back from the US.

But not even Mr. Bachchan could  keep Aladin from sputtering out midway and dragging toward  its denouement.   The set up of Aladin’s back story glided  along and explained who he was, who his family had been and how the Genie and Ringmaster came to cross paths with him, but once the big Good-versus-Evil picture had been painted, it felt as though the engines had cut out and we had no chance but to slowly, slowly  glide toward land.

I can usually concentrate on, say, a book, or something I’m writing, to the total exclusion of whatever is  going on around me, and  I can also usually sit patiently through most any film,  but I fidgeted non-stop for the last 45 minutes of Aladin, at least.    I wonder how children will make it from start to finish.

At first I thought “Well, you’re an adult, maybe you just can’t watch a children’s film like you would have if you were eight or nine or ten” but then again, when I think of most Disney films, or the slew of animated films like Toy Story and Madagascar, those have been able to keep the attention (and element of suspense or surprise) through to the finish.   I think where Aladin runs into trouble is it becomes too contemplative in its pace and doesn’t surprise us enough.

It’s a pity, because the film does create a lovely environment, in the town, in the local eatery Chaipiyoji, and especially  in Aladin’s family home.   It’s the cosy sort of place that would make a bibliophile and traveler’s heart plotz   with  gemütlichkeit.   The color scheme is earth tones, walls are decorated with photos, there are wooden mantlepieces and maps and stacks of books resting on Persian carpets.   That’s what’s lovely in  this  rendering of this tale, it  sweeps you away to some place you really wish existed, that you could step across the screen and walk into, but in the scenes with the Ringmaster, that place is neither seductive nor frightening (actually not even suspenseful).

There are a few  genuinely touching moments, like when Ritesh reveals how truly orphaned he does feel because everyone he loves goes away.   (Trust me, no matter what age you are, when you’ve lost your last parent, you’ll  feel what he’s talking about to your core.)

See it or skip it?

Tough call.    As the prospective viewer,  consider how great is your love for the cast members or the story of Alladin itself, or if not, how curious you are to see this treatment of an ancient tale.   (Congratulations to Sujoy Ghosh for  having attempted what he did.)

SAIFF ’09 Opening Night

A few photos from the red carpet at the Paris theater:

 SAIFF 09 Opening Night

He who is known as Q

 SAIFF 09 Opening Night

Maulik Pancholy

 SAIFF 09 Opening Night

Samrat Chakrabarti of Karma Calling

 SAIFF 09 Opening Night

When asked what happened, Samrat replied "I do my own stunts."

 SAIFF 09 Opening Night

Shilen Amin, SAIFF President/Founder


aadhavan%20poster%202 Aadhavan

So, I get the feeling that Surya likes dual roles, yes?

After his so very solid turn in Aayitha Ezhuthu, I rediscovered the caramel-eyed wonder for myself in Vel on a visit to Madras in ’07.   All I can say is, I was never much of a fan of moustaches before, but oh Mama, after seeing Mr. Sivakumar play both the Country Mouse and City Mouse roles in that separated-at-birth story, and do so while sporting a modified mush (not the full-on lip foliage of some filmi Tamil heroes), I was converted, and how!

After getting two times the Surya in Vel, we again got a double helping in Vaaranam Aayiram, except this time as father and son.   Again, no complaints, especially after the money shot of himself shirtless and his by-then famous abs on display under a waterfall.

All winking referrals to Mr. Sivakumar’s good looks aside, what I really like is that he is capable of being equally good in Aayitha Ezhuthu as he is in Vel or Vaaranam Aayiram or Ghajini, and so on.

And now there’s Aadhavan, where he actually almost plays a triple role, if you count the creepy Love Guru-ish special effect of the adult head of Surya floating over the body of the child actor playing his character as a youngster.   (Ohhhhh, okay, wait a second, now I can understand the whole motivation for Dasavatharam a bit better”¦.it’s a Kollywood thang”¦..At this rate, by the time Surya hits 50, he will likely have starred in a film where he takes on ten, no, wait, eleven different roles.)

In Aadhavan, Surya plays the title role, that of a hired killer, who early on manages to flub a hit on a Tamil judge.   Rather than just try another sniper shot at a later date, he decides to go undercover as a servant in the judge’s Calcutta household, where he plays sweet and unassuming, eyes averted.   Aadhavan very soon wins over the affections and trust of all under the familial roof, except the main manservant Bannerjee (played by Channai’s answer to Shakti Kapoor, Vaidivelu) who he has coerced into vouching for him to the judge’s family.

But how can it be that we really like Aadhavan and accept him, knowing that he’s a killer?   Ah, my dears, that’s where the back story comes in”¦..I won’t give the details away here, but suffice to say Aadhavan actually has a connection to the family that goes way back.   Fortunately for the story line, his love interest, Thaara (Nayantara) is far enough away in the gene pool that the idea of the two as a couple is not unnatural.

The movie clocks in at some three hours and ten minutes, the discovery of which caused me to let out a loud groan on my way to the cinema, but I gotta’ say, it wasn’t that bad.   While Aadhavan hews close to the masala formula, with a high quotient of slapstick comedy and action as well as romantic songs, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the first half of the film zipped on by at quite a clip, and the second half didn’t dawdle either.   That’s quite an accomplishment, because usually either the fight scenes or the comedy turn bothersome for me rather fast.

I wouldn’t go into raptures about the chemistry between Surya and Nayantara, because I didn’t sense much at all, but they do look cute together, with much of the cuteness mantle being borne by Surya.   I could say a lot about Surya’s sartorial bungee jumping in the various song picturizations, but I’ll write about that separately and those who are not as interested in dissecting the various outfits in Aadhavan can walk on by.

See it or skip it?

If you go into the theater knowing that this film is holiday entertainer, then your expectations should be met.   It is not Naan Kadavul (by a longshot), nor is it Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu, but rather, it is more in the vein of Vel.

If you are quite content to gaze at Surya on the big screen in any and all roles, then you will enjoy the film even more.   It has some fun songs, some that were even kinda catchy.   The fact that I was able to sit through 190 minutes and only barely get into that fidgety, when-is-this-going-to-be-over mode in the last 15 minutes (the seemingly obligatory drawn out final action scene), that’s really saying something.

Today’s the day: Priyan and Prakash

Kanchivaram%20poster Todays the day: Priyan and Prakash

Am very happy today for these two Southern film luminaries as they receive their National Awards for Kanchivaram.   So, so well deserved.

I just hope now the film will get a new breath of life and make it to more screens than just on the festival circuit (where we were fortunate enough to see it in the NY area a while back), and eventually then be released as a DVD, with a really good “making of” feature and (hopefully) a commentary by both gents.   A girl can dream…

Kanchivaram%202 Todays the day: Priyan and Prakash

Kailash Kher interview in Khabar

Khabar%20cover%20Oct%202009 Kailash Kher interview in Khabar

During Kailash Kher’s recent trips into and out of New York over the summer and into the fall, he sat down with me for an interview for Khabar magazine, and talked about about his efforts to reach a wider audience in the US, and also about his two new CDs, Chaandan Mein and Yatra (Nomadic Souls).

Check out the latter for a wonderful new version of Dilruba, where the singer’s voice really stands out.

If you haven’t already caught him in one of his many shows around the US and Canada in the past three months, he’ll be back in November for a few more shows.

Kailash%20Kher%20live%20at%20Stern%20Grove%20by%20Joy%20Dutta%202%2c%20v2 Kailash Kher interview in Khabar

photo: Joy Dutta

You can also catch him on MTV India’s reality show called Rock On, except if you’re in the US and have the Directv HindiDirect package, where it becomes something of a challenge (except if you’ve got loads of time to spend in front of the tube trying to catch it, or tons of space on your DVR), but more about that in a separate post………….   (grrrrrrr)

Happy Diwali!

 Happy Diwali!

Madhavan & Simran & Ganesh together for Deepavali 2009

Wishing you and yours all the best!

 Happy Diwali!