Traveler Ganapati

Tipperary water swirls 2 Traveler Ganapati

Some people always carry one or more special items with them whenever they travel; I’m no different.

For years now, this small Ganesha, originally purchased in a little shop off Astor Place, has come along with me in my carry-on bag, and sat on nightstands around Asia and Europe for the duration:

Ganesh iHome 2 Traveler Ganapati

On this Ganesh Chathurti, when so many are celebrating this very clever son of Shiva and Parvati, I thought it a good time to post a few pictures of my travel companion on his most recent visit to the Republic of Ireland.

Ganesha over BOI Traveler Ganapati

Ganapati Bappa Moriya

Singam 2: Too Lite

Singam 2 white shirt 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

First time in all my Tamil movie-watching in New York and New Jersey, I witnessed in person Friday night that massive hero worship of Tamil film fans.  When the opening credits of Singam 2 started rolling, folks were already clapping and whistling, and when Surya appeared on screen for the first time, they burst into hoots and roars, and this went on for a couple of minutes.  The girl in front of me snapped a couple of pictures of the screen with her phone and promptly sent them off to her friends.

Interesting too – and also my first time seeing this here – was the very notable Sri Lankan presence at the cinema.  When an ad was run for some satellite channel’s upcoming cricket coverage, when clips of the Lankan team were shown, several clusters of moviegoers in the crowd went crazy – you’d think we were actually watching a big Sri Lanka vs. India match right then and there.

One group were seated right in front of me, mainly older teens, one of whom jokingly scolded a relative as he slowly progressed up the stairs in the darkness, searching for the rest of the family: “Oh, that’s mad lame!  Uncle, you’re so funny – wearing a shirt and tie to the movies!”  To which the now embarrassed, middle-aged man stammered “Er, well, I wasn’t sure….” before scuttling off to sit with the family members closer to his own age, leaving me to enjoy the engsters’ entertaining commentary throughout the film.

The hard thing about sequels is (usually) that everyone remembers the predecessor fondly and how great it was, so you have that Sword of Damocles to contend with from the get-go.
In several important ways, Singam 2 feels more like Singam Lite.  The music itself is nothing as fun or memorable as songs like En Idhayam, Kadhal Vandale or even Naane Indhiran were from the original, and the biggest gap for me was the one left by Prakash Raj.

Whereas he was Mayil Vaaganam,  the big don, in the original, here, there is a combo of three villains-in-one, and none of them are that compelling to watch.  Moreover, dialogue comments directed to the African member of that triumvirate were racist: at one point he was referred to as “…, you African monkey.”  And I write “African” because while I might guess the actor playing Danny “King of the Indian Ocean” was from West Africa, perhaps Nigerian, I don’t believe the film actually specified a country of origin for him.  But the people of the African continent aren’t the only ones targeted, there’s also a supposedly humorous bit where Singam’s sidekick Susai (Santhanam) is trying to evade some goons at a tea stall and when he turns around to face them, he pulls his eyelids sideways and make some jokey Chinese reference.

SIngam 2 under cover 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

The story itself (set primarily in Tuticorin, which allows for some beautiful coastal and ocean shots) has the honest cop Durai Singam undercover as he tracks the goings on of some drug smugglers using the cover of salt exports to ship out their product.  This posting – which has him pretending to have resigned from the police force and now managing a high school – has also set back his plans to marry Kavya (Anushka Shetty), since his own father (not hers) finds the whole thing so humiliating, he can’t go through with the union of the two families.  Throw into the mix Hansika Motwani as Sathya, a well-to-do and rather spoiled girl who develops a heavy crush on the hero and pursues him relentlessly.

Singam 2 cut baniyan 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

It’s an action flick and so yes, there are some engaging fights sequences, one in particular that I enjoyed, with a ripped and dripping Surya in a plain white short-sleeved shirt over a crisp veshti which he has hitched up to mini level, in order to be able to fight in a soaking downpour that suddenly erupts  (thank you, director Hari).  But the m.o. becomes repetitious quickly – beat one thug up, fling him through the window of his SUV, beat the next thug up and do the same, and on and on.

Happily, this film did come with subtitles – something you can still never be sure of when going to see a Tamil film in the U.S. – and they provided occasional moments of puzzlement and mirth.  I don’t know when the last time was that I saw the word “fillip” included among song lyrics (in Hindi or Tamil) and I did raise an eyebrow when Durai Singam scolded Sathya after one of her bigger attempts to claim him as her own and told her she was behaving “like a brazen hussy.”  I often wonder who it is that does these subtitles, but whomever they are, I’m convinced he/she must have degrees in English literature, with specializations in Dickens or Austen.

Final thoughts

If you’re a die-hard Surya fan, then po.

He seems to do so few movies lately that you appreciate anything he appears in, though I did find myself thinking at times “Jeez, I wish someone would give this guy some other kinds of roles where he can stretch a bit more than his muscles.”

Otherwise, think it over.  It was interesting to me that the two elements I felt most lacking compared to the original Singam, the better music and Prakash Raj as Surya’s foil, were both referred to repeatedly throughout Singam 2.  Maybe they can bring Prakash back as his own twin in the inevitable Singam 3

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and a late arrival to the party

BMB Zinda Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and a late arrival to the party

When I learned back in winter, remarkably via the impenetrable wall formed by his agent’s office, that Art Malik was to play Milkha Singh’s father in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, I thought it was indeed an interesting choice.

BMB Art Malik Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and a late arrival to the party

Milkha Singh was born in Faisalabad, Pakistan, just some 300 kilometers from where Malik himself was born (Bahawalpur).  And I couldn’t help but recall Mr. Malik discussing why he had never entered the Hindi film industry when he was a guest on Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Sayal’s Kumars at No. 42 (min 4:07).

So, next Friday we’ll get to witness, at age 60, Art Malik’s rather tardy, but nonetheless welcome, arrival to the Hindi film industry.  Let’s hope it’s not a one-off, and let’s hope he goes on to bigger and bigger roles.  Having one’s launch in a film by the man who directed Rang De Basanti is an excellent start, but I doubt Mr. Malik will be devouring yards and yards of film playing the father of the hero, as – if you know the biography of Milkha Singh – I fear our glimpses of the paterfamilia will be brief.

Meanwhile, here’s the very energizing song Zinda from the film:

Alexandra Eaton & Arjun Mathur talking about Bombay Movie

ElsaArjun Alexandra Eaton & Arjun Mathur talking about Bombay Movie

At NYIFF last month, following the screening of Alexandra Eaton’s documentary Bombay Movie, there was a Q & A with her and actor Arjun Mathur, one of the stars of Barah Aana, the making of which is at the center of Bombay Movie.

Q: How did you come to make this film?

Alex Eaton:  I was in Bombay with a video camera, and I don’t speak Hindi so I couldn’t really have a job on the set of Barah Aana, and I met Giulia (Achilli) and we hit it off right away.  I could see that the filmmakers were so earnest and they believed in the story so much.  The city was so ruthless that I knew whatever ended up happening to them, it was gonna make a great story.

Q: How long were you there with them?

AE: About a year.

Q (to Arjun Mathur): How does it feel to watch this film?

Arjun Mathur: It’s amazing.  I had no idea what Alex was doing.  It’s fantastic.  I had completely forgotten that bit about us fighting with the manager at that theater.  It’s heartening to see that the kind of films you want to make and to get people to watch them… I’m glad that people can get an insight into that.

Q (to Alex Eaton): You haven’t shown it to Raja (Menon) yet?

AE: No.  He’s been really super-supportive of the whole process.  I’ve been asking him for clips up to the last minute.  I’m gonna send Arjun home with a DVD.

Q (to Alex Eaton): Any memories of making the film?

AE: One of the things that was really interesting is there’s no way for these filmmakers to get data, and they literally have to go around from theater to theater to look and see how many people are there, just to have some kind of inkling of how well it’s doing.

Q (to Arjun Mathur):  When you tell people that you were in a film called Barah Aana, how do they react?

AM:  You know, strangely, this is the film that I get talked to about the most, of everything I’ve done, and it feels fantastic because I don’t expect it at all.

Q (to Alex Eaton): How did Giulia and Raja and Raj (Yerasi) connect? (because that’s not something that’s in the film)

AE:  That’s actually a good story.  They (Giulia and Raja) met at a conference called Italy Meets Bollywood and I think Giulia was at a table in the Italy section, Raja was at a table at the India section and they somehow found each other at the water cooler and started talking about this idea and Giulia was instantly into it.  Raj (Yerasi) had come over from the US to get involved in film and they met at a party in Bombay.

Q (to Alex):  Raja’s obviously not starving, if you look at the flat, the location, so what else does he do?  Does he do ad films?

AE: Yes, he does a lot of commercials.

Q (to Alex):  With technology now, it would be possible to pay for your film and download it, but then you also have the risk of piracy.  The thing that always strikes me at these festivals is you see all these films, you write about them, you talk about them to your friends, all over  the place and they should be able to access these films, even if they can’t come to the festival.  But in terms of economics, how does that factor into things?  Is the big screen release still the thing that everyone wants more than anything in the world?

AE: Well, I don’t know about everybody else…. But I think that online is a great, great venue, especially for a film like this which is pretty low-budget and also has an audience that can, potentially, span the globe.  I hardly go to movie theaters honestly, so I’m a huge advocate of digital and downloading.  The piracy question is not something I’m particularly afraid of.  I think you gain much more exposure by putting it out there, and if a couple of people steal it, then I hope they have a nice party watching it.

Q (to Alex): What’s next with this film?

AE: Well, we just finished it last Thursday, so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about that, but we’ll definitely be trying to play it as many times as possible and bring it to Bombay.

* * * * * *

You can read my thoughts on Bombay Movie here.

Bombay Movie: Maybe it is a Bollywood country

BOMBAYMOVIE2 Bombay Movie: Maybe it is a Bollywood country

For some people who love movies, it’s enough to lose themselves in the story, the visuals, the music, the talent (or beauty) of the actors, or perhaps the action and stunt sequences.  But for others of us, there’s also a searing curiosity to know more: who came up with the idea to shoot a scene a particular way, what was it like for the film crew to have to schlep up that treacherous mountain with all that expensive equipment to get that one brief shot, how was it to work with this or that actor, and so on.

For the latter group of moviegoers, the director’s commentary track on a DVD is one possible source of information and delight (especially if Mira Nair, Emma Thompson, or Nora Ephron are involved).  And occasionally, someone makes a film which – in its own right – answers some of those questions, and others you didn’t even realize you knew nothing about.  For fan-geeks like us, there’s never enough of those kind of movies about movies, but then, occasionally, a welcome downpour reaches the parched earth.

At the NYIFF last month, festivalgoers were lucky enough to have three such films to see:  Bombay Movie, Baavra Mann, and The Human Factor.

Bombay Movie allows us to tag along for the making of Raja Menon’s 2009 indie release Barah Aana, which starred Naseeruddin Shah, Vijay Raaz and Arjun Mathur.  Director Alexandra Eaton takes a very straightforward approach in her film we move briskly from an introduction of the director Raja Menon, producer Giulia Achilli and the investor, Raj Yerasi, straight into pre-production where we see a long-haired Vijay Raaz – looking every bit like a 30-ish Mick Jagger – as he visits Yadav, the chowkidar of the building where Menon used to live, who served as inspiration for Barah Aana.

Within the next 50+ minutes, Eaton gives us a window onto the work and challenges of making a movie, especially one without the huge staff and financial cushion under a YashRaj or UTV banner.  The director and his team have to grapple with some staff who have forged shooting permits and funneled off money, people at a building society who don’t want a film crew on their premises, and crowd control at Dharavi (“Silence, please!  You’re in the frame!”), urban train stations and even on location in the countryside (“Please, can you stop washing the clothes for five minutes?”).  There’s even a peek at Naseer in disagreement with the way one of the last scenes is being directed, and saying so quite freely.  Fair play to Menon, at that time on only his sophomore film, and standing his ground with the way he wants the scene to play out.  The director came to Bombay in 1993, initially for only one year, but ended up staying on.  He speaks of the city as a place of opportunity, where you can “come out of the dirt and be able to rise above it.”

The second half of the documentary shows the ups and downs during post-production.  The decision is made to release the film themselves, which brings with it more work.  In quick time we witness everything from film posters printing to press kits being assembled, and more money being handed over for a film lab, and even trying to coax the aam aadmi in off the street to watch test screenings of the film.  At one point, Eaton’s camera is on Menon when he spots a big hoarding with the blue and yellow Barah Aana poster, with the trio of Shah, Raaz and Mathur peering out from a taxi, and we witness him experience what must be a great, even if only momentary, thrill.

Achilli, the charismatic and photogenic young producer who arrived from Milan in her twenties and wound up collaborating with Menon, goes to a local church and makes an offering of candles and money for good luck for the film, and then opening day – March 20, 2009 – arrives.  Much of the day seems to be spent by Menon, Achilli and Arjun Mathur dashing from one Bombay multiplex to another to see how the film is faring and why, in some cases, scheduled showings are not taking place.

SPOILER ALERT:  If you don’t wish to know the outcome of Barah Aana‘s release and how it did at the box office, then stop reading here.  But I will say – for me – Eaton’s film is really a study of the entire life cycle of the creative process of film-making, from before shooting ever begins, through to the time after the film has been released, when the filmmakers assess how it all went and what they’ll do next. [Read more...]

Finally! Art Malik’s big Hindi movie debut

BMBpostr Finally!  Art Maliks big Hindi movie debut

Well, it’s only taken several decades into his career, but finally someone has been able to lure Art Malik onto a mainstream Hindi movie set.

The director who managed that coup was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for his soon-to-release biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag starring Farhan Akhtar in the title role.

If you watch this trailer, just around minute 2:24 you can see Mr. Malik looking very fatherly toward Farhan: