Abhay Deol interview

Here’s an interview with Abhay Deol appearing in today’s Firstpost that I did when he was here to promote Mela.com (more about them, their service and the event later).

If explicit nudity helps the story, I’ll do it: Abhay Deol

Clad in a yellow t-shirt, a navy Armani Exchange blazer and jeans, Abhay Deol breezed through New York City recently to promote the launch of Mela.com this month, a broadband service that will provide Indian TV and film content across the United States. In between press conferences and meet-and-greets, he stopped to talk about the changes happening in Indian cinema, corruption and more.

On that Sunday morning, Deol had considerably more perk in his demeanor than many of the press people in attendance, and he seemed more at ease than during the summer, on stage at various malls to promote Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.  While Hrithik Roshan tripped the light fantastic front and centre with Katrina Kaif, and Farhan Akhtar hoofed along doing his own thing, Dev.D co-stars Deol and Kalki Koechlin were the two who smiled bravely, but underneath it all looked liked they’d rather not be prancing around.

Dressing up formula films

When asked about that part of being an actor, the promotional gimmicks in the lead-up to the release date, Deol was sanguine:  “You keep getting asked the same question over and over again and you want to keep it fresh. And then the whole dance thing; I’m always uncomfortable going up on stage and public speaking is not my strongest point. It always takes a little bit for me to warm up to it.”

Part of his time in New York that day was to attend a special screening of the ensemble hit, the latest of several he’s been part of,  Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.  Deol agrees that there are different and positive changes happening in Hindi cinema, albeit slower than he might wish.  “I still think there’s a huge resistance to change from within the industry,” he says. “I think formula will always be (there).  Some of the biggest hits this year follow the formula, whether they be Ready or Murder 2, so that’s here to stay.  More actors need to step out and take chances, and some do, like Aamir Khan.  But it’s all about ‘Ok, we’re gonna pick this subject that’s not conventional but we’ll dress it up a little bit so that it doesn’t come across too arty-farty as people say, too alternative’.”

“That’s the start of the process and I think it’s just starting, whether we will actually achieve something extreme that will appeal to the whole world, I don’t think it’s gonna happen any time soon, because you can’t just suddenly introduce people to something that is completely alien to them; you need to ease them into it. And that’s the angst I feel as an artist because I want to go the whole extreme but I know that I need to strike a balance.”

According to Deol, even the edgy Dev.D  struck a balance. “The original treatment had him start dealing drugs and he gets shot by the cops. But Anurag wanted to lighten it a little bit towards the end, and it made sense, the film’s done well. Zindagi in that sense is quite radical for Bollywood ‘cause  a lot of people who were traditionalists were like ‘What is it about?’” he mimics, his voice getting tighter and higher, before he breaks into laughter. “For them it’s about nothing, there’s no external conflict, all the conflicts are internal, but Zoya’s brilliant in that sense. She dressed it up with the fancy locations and the songs and all that stuff, but within, it’s a new idea.”

If sex works in a scene, why not?

Given how some new writers and directors in Indian cinema are pushing more boundaries in the past few years, the next logical conclusion might be the appearance of nudity and more explicit content, which leads one to wonder if Deol would go with that flow, should he be asked.  After a loud burst of laughter, he is more serious:  “See, for me, it’s just my comfort zone with the director and convincing me that it actually helps the narrative, in which case if I’m really excited about the story and if explicit nudity works within it, then ya, I’d crib and cry but I’ll do it because I know it helps. Or, I take it back, I won’t crib and cry, I’ll be like… I’ll admit to myself this works. And I would put that towards even doing song and dance.  If a song actually works in pushing the narrative forward, why not?  If sex in a scene works, then why not?”

“But what’s happening now is that the easiest way to be provocative is through sex, and I can see a lot of people end up doing that, and it doesn’t appeal to me, because if it’s only to be provocative, can you do it without sex? Let’s see then, how would you provoke? Then it could be politics for that matter. It’s what route do you use and is it an easy route, because then I lose interest. Is it actually original? Then it appeals to me.”

Entrenched in corruption

With that reference to politics, since almost every other actor has expressed his or her thoughts on the recent skirmish involving Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill, Deol was willing to share his thoughts too, reasoning, “Being a public figure, I think it’s important to partake of what’s happening within a culture and if there’s something pressing and urgent, we should step out and speak about it.”

“Corruption is very rampant in our country. All of us have experienced it. If you want to buy property, you have to pay black money, everybody’s faced that. Back in the day, if you wanted to have your phone connected, you could always give a tip to the guy or he would give you problems.”

“I do support Anna Hazare with Lokpal the bill, but I do have a few questions about it. My question – and I asked this of Justice Hegde on TV – was ‘How do you guarantee the people on the panel are not corrupt and have no past of being corrupt?’ ‘Cause corruption has touched the Indian public from every level. Corruption starts at home in India. It’s not just with the politicians and the parties, it’s in your house, even when you’re tipping the guy for your connection or paying a little amount of black to buy that house, because, well, you can’t help it, you are also taking part of corruption.”
“This was my question to Justice Hegde. Tomorrow you might have someone really clean, really straightforward and he’s the best man for the job, but because the system is corrupt, he’s had to pay some money black to buy an apartment, now he can’t escape that, and I would not kick him out of it because of that ‘cause I know it affects all of us and we have to deal with it, but if some opposition wanted to dig deeper and prosecute him for being corrupt, they could use that!  We’re so entrenched in corruption, how do you pick the guys on your panel?”

“I will support Anna Hazare simply for the fact that he is an honest man and I know he believes what he’s standing for, that’s the thing that I find most attractive about him.”

Before letting Deol go, especially in view of his recent foray onto Simi Garewal’s chat show, I had to ask him — given the tremendous love and interest so many Indians have in cinema — why are there no shows along the lines of Inside the Actor’s Studio, and why they all focus so much on celebrity and not on the  films themselves, a question which provoked more laughter but then seemed to leave him at a loss: “I don’t know… I think maybe no one’s thought about being more seriously content-oriented, it’s more lifestyle-oriented. I think that’s what they think appeals to people and that’s what they go for, that’s what I’m guessing,” he replied while gesturing helplessly as if to emphasise, “How should I know?”

Waking Up to B’wood at the IFC Channel

wakeup%202 Waking Up to Bwood at the IFC Channel

Leading up to their August mini-series Bollywood Hero with Chris Kattan and Neha Dupia, the IFC Channel started a monthlong 12 weeklong Sunday morning screening of a recent Hindi movie, at 10am, called Wake Up to Bollywood.

The debut flic on July 5th was Johnny Gaddar, to be followed by Bheja Fry, The Blue Umbrella, Ghajini, Don, Sarkar and many more.


quartet Mozhi

Mozhi surprised me.  

I don’t know what exactly  I was expecting, probably some sort of a love story, eventually  the  kalyanam at some wedding hall in Madras, women in saris and jasmine, and maybe a fight scene thrown in to keep the mens happy.   And honestly, the cover of the DVD was a little too family-friendly for me.

But I bought it anyway on my last shopping stockpiling expedition to Landmark for two reasons: first, I remembered there had been a lot of favorable buzz when it hit cinema screens last year, and second, it has Prakash Raj in a lead role.   Show me a film where he has more to do than play the older cop/buddy/Dad and I’m there.

prakash%20raj Mozhi

So, the film starts with these two friends Karthik (Prithviraj) and Viji (Prakash Raj), and no, the lead actresses don’t have “Raj” in their names.   The guys are in the music side of the Tamil film biz and they get an apartment together.   The crabby building secretary finds out they’re singletons and declares they must move, “˜cos bachelors are too much trouble. (Don’t I know it; they’re almost as bad married men!)

Viji says to Karthik “Why don’t you get married?” and the ever-idealist, ever-romantic Karthik explains he has to first fall for the girl, complete with lightbulbs and bells going off.  

He’s out on the street and happens upon the modern, liberated Archana (Jyothika, wearing trousers and  shirt with a messenger bag slung across her body) and sees her beating up a wee twig of a drunk man who’s  been abusing his wife.  

Karthik thinks the  wife of Surya is damn cool, plus  she reminds him of his Mom (er, okay”¦.).   Bulbs and bells go off and he’s in love.   Cue the dream sequence (Jyothika in a frothy purple gown, then as a cop, then a tough girl on a motorbike.)

jyothika%20alone Mozhi

And lucky Karthik, it turns out Archana  lives in the same apartment complex.   He tries to chat her up and gets nowhere.   Finally, after rescuing her ailing grandmother, and still not getting a rise out of Tamil filmdom’s heroine, he says “What is your problem, girl?”   and just then, he learns, as we the viewers do, that she’s deaf and mute.

She’s also traumatized.   Archana’s father split when she was a kid and then her mother died, leaving the little girl in her grandmother’s care.

Archana and her best friend/translator, the widow Sheela, become friends with Karthik and Viji, and love grows as the quartet hang out.   Karthik learns sign language, and wants to marry Archana, who freaks out and tells him to go away.   The rest of the film is what happens afterward.

jyothika%20face Mozhi

Now, when I say this film is different, please don’t take that to mean “dark”, because it’s not;   there are some exceedingly sweet moments in this film (I personally found the little soap carving of a violin that Archana gives Karthik rather  corny).   But it is part of that current wave of Tamil films that show more of the day-to-day lives of people, without so much dishoom and no item number.  

Viji is that always cheerful guy you’d like to have as a friend, and my favorite scene was the one with Prakash Raj dancing around in only a towel to Hava Nagila Hava, of all things (and you thought all those Kosher dosa places on Curry Hill were the only link between Israel and southern India).   It’s quite funny to hear a man of his years and not insignificant figure refer to Little Prakash Raj as his “shame shame puppy shame.”

While Prithviraj plays him with great reserve, Karthik is written as such a decent  hero that you almost expect to see a halo over his head.   And his strength in resisting the repeated pouty advances of the sexy neighbor girl seemed rather super-human to me; I think most men would have been flattered and given in.   But Prithviraj is credible as this guy with a heart of gold, and his lisp is endearing.

prithviraj Mozhi

For Tamil movie fans, there’s an opening movie-within-a-movie sequence where Karthik and Viji work on the film’s score.   When commenting on the plot of the film, Prakash Raj (who not only acts in Mozhi, but is also the producer) says to his buddy “I pity the landlords’ daughters in Tamil cinema, they only find beggars for husbands.”

The film was shot in and around Madras, so anyone feeling a bit homesick will catch some glimpses of Marina Beach and several shots at MusicWorld and the food court at Spencers Plaza.

mozhi%20dvd%20cover Mozhi

And a brief word about the DVD I watched, a Moser Baer version.   For Rs. 34, I think it’s a great deal.   The picture quality is good, the English subtitles were there, and there were even extra features!   (A long press conference and the music release.)

See it or skip it

See it!   In spite of being a little too long (did we really need the storyline about the Professor who was stuck back in 1984?), and having one or two snafus on the subtitles (“banquet” instead of “bouquet”), the movie is a lovely change from a lot of what has come before.   The characters are all older than undergrads and so their stories involve more than hanging out and flirting at the local Barista, even if the plot still evolves around the ubiquitous filmi concern: marriage.

And by the way, when was the last time you saw a filmi heroine who wore trousers through all but two or three scenes in a film?

Finally, Jab We Met

Jab%20We%20Met%20poster%202 Finally, Jab We Met

Just missed the release of the DVD in India by a few days, and then once back here just couldn’t get around to it until now, but it was well worth the wait.

Part road movie, all romance, Imtiaz Ali’s  Jab We Met seemed doomed when it released last October.   At the very same instant in the 24/7 news cycle, it emerged that the Chhota Nawab had usurped Shahid Kapoor as the object of Bebo’s affections.  

Who would go see the movie now that the couple were kaput?   My already tepid interest waned at that point.   (Never wild about her, though like photos of airplane accidents, I can’t look away.   And Shahid, well, up until now, he always looked so young on film that I felt as though some police crime unit would burst through the door and arrest me for ogling underage boys.)

But the film surprised a lot of us,  found its audience, and a lasting, growing one at that.

We have Aditya, who’s inherited his late father’s business and seems to be faring poorly in the boardroom, only to also see his girlfriend go off and get engaged to someone else.   Shellshocked, he blindly makes his way to the train station and boards the first train he finds.

As it chugs away from the platform – cue the banjo music – (yes, really, banjo music) – along comes the fresh-faced Geet, running to catch up as porters toss her luggage onboard.   The motormouth Sikhni finds mute-by-comparison Aditya seated in her row, so she proceeds to talk at him until he slips off at some back-of-beyond town to be by himself.   Thinking he’s going to miss the departing train, Geet hops off too, to warn him, and the trains goes without either of them.

And they’re off on their adventure.   She insists that he accompanies  her  to her family’s home in Batinda, and he agrees.   The reticent Aditya slowly opens up, charmed by Geet’s optimism and warmth, and later by her large, boisterous family.   Along the way, they pass through Manali, and Geet reveals a plan to elope with someone other than the munda her family has lined up for her.

And it goes on from there, with some very lovely scenery along the way.   On the road to the abode of Manu, we’re treated to Yeh Ishq Hai, which would be sweet, were it not for the mincing, faux-Chini, dance steps that Kareena repeats throughout the picturization.    (Look here and  see what I mean around 1:01.)   Nagada is set on the grounds of the Dhillon family manse in Batinda, and wow, you gotta give Shahid credit for being fleet of foot and energetic.   This is my favorite song of the film.  

Mauja hi mauja is great too, except we have to wait til the very end to see it, and then, the sudden, startling appearance of a bunch of firangi girls, some dressed in stripperish renditions of coolie uniforms, is all very bizarre and out of step with the rest of the movie.

In a stranger-than-fiction moment, as the two talk about a woman who’s walked out on her man so she can be with someone else, Kareena tells Shahid “When somebody’s in love, there’s no right or wrong.”   Ouch!   What’s Hindi for “˜foreshadowing’?

I’ve commented in the past on the occasional gaffes you see with subtitles, and there was funny little bit of that in Jab We Met: during one song, the voice sings “sa-re-ga-ma etc etc” but onscreen we read the English equivalent “do – ti -la – so – fa – fa etc etc” and it’s completely at odds with what we’re hearing, which are not even words.

See it or skip it?

Aww, see it!   It’s a lighthearted, sweet movie, perfect for a Sunday, when you don’t want to watch anything too heavy before the work week begins again.   Kareena is likeable  as the bubbly, confident Punjabi kudi, and Shahid, rapidly  gaining onscreen presence, was well able to hold his own and not be drowned out by his ex-.  

What Sort of a Welcome is This?

welcome%20poster%2c%202 What Sort of a Welcome is This?  

The first glimpse I caught of Anees Bazmi’s marrying-into-the-mafia caper Welcome was an ad on a small TV screen by a bank of elevators in an office park in Bombay, just before the film opened.   I normally wouldn’t rush to a movie like this, with all the promise of madcap slapstick, but there on that little screen I spied Nana Patekar frolicking in a musical number with Mallika Sherawat.   Nana dancing?   Nana in a comedy?   Must see for me!

welcome%20nana%20smiling%2c%202 What Sort of a Welcome is This?

Nana’s been a baddie on screen for so long that I always get a little thrill seeing him step out and do comedy roles, like Taxi Number 9211.   In Welcome, he plays Uday Shetty, mafia don and wanna-be actor, as well as brother to Majnu (Anil Kapoor) and Sanjana (Katrina Kaif).   All Uday and Majnu want to do, when they’re not doing mafia business, is to get Sanjana married off to a respectable family.   Enter Rajiv (Akshay Kumar), the loveable and goofy nephew of Dr. Ghungroo, who also wants to marry off his young charge to a respectable family.   The rest of the movie is about how Sanjana and Rajiv fall in love and want to marry, with their families and super-don RDX (Feroz Khan) getting the way.

welcome%203%20dons%2c%202 What Sort of a Welcome is This?

The movie was filmed in UAE and South Africa, but in spite of the jet-setting patina, the two big scenes at the end are sloppy in their denouement and both go on way too long.   Surely I can’t be the only one who gets restless and twitchy during these kind of unending chases?   Ugh.  

There’s a slight diversion as Uday is conned into thinking he’s replacing Suniel Shetty in a movie directed by Vijay Raaz, but aside from a few smirk-inducing moments, the concept just lays there.

welcome%20hote%20rasiley%2c%202 What Sort of a Welcome is This?

The saving grace –  for me –  was the music, and its  song picturizations.   There are a few Roger Rabbit-ish touches in the closing credits song, but the real fun is watching Nana shake a leg, first in the item number Hoth Rasiley with the amazingly luscious Malaika Arora in jeweled bra-top and billowing orange harem pants/skirt, and then in the Kiya Kiya number with Mallika Sherawat.   Nana appears in the first song in a wine-colored velvet jacket and a long pirate headscarf, in the latter, in a Bluffmaster-y red and white floral shirt over jeans, sporting a yellow gerbera daisy over his right ear as he charms Mallika, and later in a tight green t-shirt, knit cap and ripped jeans.   Perhaps not ‘age appropriate’ clothes for your average 57-year-old, but then again, hamara Vishwanath is not average by a long shot, and anyway, isn’t 57 the new 37?

See it or skip it?

Unless you’re a big fan of one of the leads, you could miss this one and not regret it.   Nana’s great fun, but even he can’t carry Welcome alone.

And the Oscar didn’t go to… Water

Sarala%20in%20Water,%202 And the Oscar didnt go to... Water  

But regardless, the nomination has been significant.   And to judge by the increasing amount of coverage that Deepa Mehta’s Water has gotten on Indian television in the past few weeks, and the mention of it by Karan Johar and Anupama Chopra when interviewing them both in the past six days, it’s clear that this Canadian entry for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards has gotten a second wind with making it to this illustrious shortlist of five.  

Water releases (finally) in India on March 9th.