Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Catching up with Bollywood


I went to see a hindi movie in theatre after a really long time. The last time was "Mangal Pandey" a couple of years back and it was a really traumatic experience. I saw Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par both last year on DVD and regretted having missed them on big screen. I had some serious problems with the "political" content or the "message" of Rang De Basanti and how it went about delivering it but it was still heartwarming to see a mainstream Bollywood movie trying a little harder. I loved TZP too and was really glad that it became such a big commercial success and a general topic of discussion. I don't know how much was it able to change people's perspectives but if it made them think critically about how our schools and colleges behave as if they were factories and how dehumanizing competition can be for children, it still served its purpose.

Now coming to Ghajini, I actually rather liked it. One of my friends had warned me about it saying that Aamir Khan has moved into the Sunny Deol's "Haath nahi hathoda" territory so may be it was because I went with lower expectations and consciously tried not to think about those two earlier films. The romantic track was wonderful, very natural and spontaneous. It was nice to see a new actress getting so much screen space and opportunity to shine and she did a really good job. I liked the way the love story was cut short by tragedy just after the wonderful song "Kaise Mujhe...", it could have been even better if their mutual acceptance had remained in their hearts before the tragedy struck. But that's probably only me with my masochistic leanings.

It is still hard not to express disappointment over a nice opportunity wasted. The story about memory loss could have gained some depth if they had concentrated on how the awareness of passage of time is essential to grieving and moving on and how without it the wounds never heal, even the emotional closure that craving for justice and revenge provide may prove illusive. Then there is the idea of identity, how to form relationship with other people based on trust and how all this is linked to memory, and who knows even an allegory about the dangerous effects of "live for the moment" philosophy. I mean, I wasn't looking for a course in existential philosophy but these things do cross our minds when we sit alone and think. Memento also didn't veer into these territories so for me it was ultimately a shallow film, a clever puzzle yes but ultimately uninteresting and shallow.

I was trying not to think of Rang de Basanti all the while but that scene after the protest in which he breaks down is hard to forget. Specially when, as in this film, he just screams and growls and moves his hands randomly all around. I really hope he doesn't let all the success of Ghajini get into his head and treat it as just temporary distraction.

A Wedenesday

This took me completely by surprise. Extremely impressive and very cathartic after a terror-filled 2008. An excellently made thriller with a stirring and provocative "message" in the end, all the more disturbing because it comes straight from the heart. I can't think of a better film which captures the psyche of ordinary people after so many senseless terrorist attacks that India saw in 2008. It gets even more impressive when you realize that it is the work of a debutante director (Neeraj Pandey). I am really looking forward to whatever he does next.


This was just a random choice, not something I expected to like and it was exactly what I expected it to be - shallow and dumb moralizing about the evils of modernity. I didn't think it was unfair. I am no fan of fashion industry. It is dehumanizing, exploitative and alienating (just like many other jobs such as, ummm, software programming?) but there is a difference between moralizing, using your received ideas and cliched opinions and criticising something on ethical grounds which requires thinking through your ethical principles and applying them to reality.

Singh is King

Inanity. Beyond any commentary.

Next up on my bollywood catch up (planning to see): Chak De India, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, Jodhaa Akbar (?), No Smoking, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (?)

Question marks are because I feel ambivalent about these films. First because of Aishwarya and second because of teenagers.


Szerelem said...

I liked Ghajini too!! (But that's also because I have been an insane Aamir fan since age five.) I too had gone in with lower expectations - mostly because I knew it would be an out and out masala throwback to the 80's. I know a lot of people who didn't like the romantic track or felt Asin was annoying but I found it charming and it gave some weight (in my opinion) to his crazy need for revenge. (I also think most people who had a problem with the romance were at some level comparing it to Memento - since the stories depart at this angle).

I was pleased to see you mention the "Kaise Mujhe" song - I thought that was one of the most haunting scenes in the movie. Though I do agree with you - it wasn't a film that sticks with you nor does it address some of the questions it fleetingly raises but I still did enjoy it. And I thought Aamir was amazning as usual. I have enough faith in him to know the success of this film probably won't affect his movie choices in the future. He had written about the topic on his old blog too after the release of Fanaa where some fans felt disappointed that he had done such an inane commercial picture - he mentioned how films like Fanaa and their commercial success give him the base to make more offbeat films and the power to pull people into theatres to watch them - I think that was definitely true of TZP. Plus he also mentioned how the potboiler movies challenge him as an actor because the situations are so ridiculous.

Btw, Oye Lucky is a must watch. Probably the best Hindi movie I have seen this year.

Madhuri said...

I am surprised with your assessment of Memento - all the concepts that you have mentioned are there in the film. They are as good as spoken out loud by the policeman John G., and they are central to the movie. Leonard's relationship with either Natalie or Teddy is hazy and wavering because of his lack of memory, and eventually you see him as a completely isolated person.
One concept that is not there is "live for the moment", but given the irony in life, when memory is short lived, it should be difficult to enjoy the smaller moments. We tend to do that only when the longer term guilt and consequences are sure to follow :)

Of your wishlist, can comment only on Jaane Tu - feel good drama - as silly as you expect.

theidealrecluse said...

Jodha Akbar can be dropped from the list.

Jabberwock said...

Oh I thought Memento was a very multilayered film - perhaps even more so than many of its ardent fans give it credit for being (many of the initial reactions seemed centred around "figuring out" the film and then making some superficial observation about what a clever piece of movie-making it is). Lots of food for thought there if you watch it three or four times.

Also, w.r.t. A Wednesday

An excellently made thriller with a stirring and provocative "message" in the end

Excellently made thriller I agree with - it really was a solid and compact film - but did you really think the vigilante message was stirring? Or did you interpret the film's message differently?

Alok said...

szerelem: Yeah that whole song was the key moment for me in the whole film. You know that something really bad is going to happen and with the song it becomes really ironic and painful.

I am not averse to popular genre movies, one can do a lot more even within a given framework of revenge drama. That's why I felt it was a lost opportunity.

madhuri: I was probably being unfair to Memento. At that time it just struck me as a good "concept movie" and a difficult puzzle. I will try to see it again, I don't remember the scene you talk of. I agree with you about his inability to trust anybody and his resulting isolation.

jai: I saw that "message" in the end as an expression of pain and helplessness felt by that character. It was "in the character" as they say and not imposed from the outside that would have been didactic and much easier to dismiss. I don't think any lesser actor could have pulled off the climactic monologue and it wouldn't have worked at all then. But with Naseeruddin Shah it felt as if it came straight from the heart. I also saw it just a week after the mumbai attacks, so may be it resonated with me more.

theidealrecluse: A Hrithik fan here but he rarely takes himself seriously. That makes me sad.

Space Bar said...

"...because of teenagers"?

Alok said...

yup. just like some people don't like kids, I don't like teenagers.

Sunil said...


Nice to see you writing about movies again. Not likely to watch Ghajini in the near future, though I admit I like Aamir Khan, so cant comment on the main piece really, but am bit surprised ( like Madhuri) about your take on Memento.

I think you are the first one who actually has called the memento shallow. It reflects on the adherence of a definition to a subjective meaning of deep, which I am afraid ruins the art of cinematic narration. Guess madhuri has made some relevant points - memento is, what I would call the 'Borges' movie - an ultimate marriage of form and substance.

While the concept of a single man trying to figure the world in his own space and time is existential enough ( All lenny shares with teh real world is a 'memory' of a trauma), the star of the movie is the form ie anterograde amnesia. I dont know about the Indian versions of the movie but anterograde amnesia in Memento is captured wonderfully. Imagine the reality being broken down into sequences of few minutes which seem exclusive and unrelated then narration is a challenge - esp to present the discrete , broken reality of Lenny in a progressive,linear timeframe ( for the viewers) to pastiche together a story - hence the retro narration. I thought thats what makes memento a classic.

Consider Pulp fiction whcih has circular timeframe scene - one relates to scene five, while scene two relates to scene four while ultimately they arrive at scene three from two different directions; its like drawing a whorl. All makes sense only at the end because we as viewers are moving in linear time.

So disagree about definition of deep / shallow Its like saying Mulholland was Shallow because Lynch could explored on parallel realities, mental imagery a bit more. I belive we got to judge the movie for what it is than what we would have liked it to be.

BTW watch Oye lucky. I found it charming. There is one absolutely fantastic scene where wooing the girl he says ' Dont take me for a chatterbox I can show you I'm not'. The next cut shows the both of them in a car when lucky carries out a fast skid maneouvre thus succeeding in impressing the gal. I cant think of a single friend or acquaintance in my circle who would do such a thing to woo someone; Im sure it is incredibly shallow, but I understand there are people who would do that. And, in the context of the story/ narration that is precisely why it isnt shallow.


Alok said...

Sunil: Ok, may be I really need to see it again. It's been quite a while and it might be just my perception resulting from listening to other people's cleverer-than-thou comments which always focus on plot about who killed who and what happened when. It is possible that the film talks of all those things about how identity, perception of reality, one's being in the world is affected when one starts seeing everything in short and discrete chunks of time. I just don't remember the film spending time on any of these things. I will definitely check it out again. Thanks for the Oye Lucky recommendation...I have heard similar raves elsewhere too.

Jabberwock said...

I don't think any lesser actor could have pulled off the climactic monologue and it wouldn't have worked at all then. But with Naseeruddin Shah it felt as if it came straight from the heart.

Agree with this. I think if the two lead roles had been played by lesser actors, the film would have seemed like a much more routine masala thriller, and probably wouldn't achieve cult status (which is something that's already happened). Amazing how Shah brings integrity and credibility to that monologue.

Jabberwock said...

just like some people don't like kids, I don't like teenagers.

To misquote Laurence Olivier in Spartacus, "My distaste includes both teenagers and kids."

Cheshire Cat said...

Does the presence of Priyanka Chopra in a movie make no difference to how much you like it?

I read a rave review of this movie called "Mithya", but no-one I know seems to have watched it, or even to be aware of its existence...

Anamay said...

A suggestion from a non-teenager..hehe..
You can add "Slumdog Millionaire" to your list..

Paul said...

Hey, check out Manorama Six Feet Under, starring Abhay Deol, which is an excellent kind of noir set in a small Rajasthani town. Also the forthcoming Dev.D also starring Deol, a contemporary re-telling of Devdas.

Aashu said...

What you pointed out about Rang De Basanti is something that I think we debated very deeply the last time we were together so no point in re-taking that issue........anyways, about ghajini...I think was a good movie especially the blend of the past and present that was presented in small segments in the movie was very pleasing. Whenever you start to be monotoned, it suddenly changed........really appreciable. About Amir Khan, being his near-diehard fan, I was a little bit disappointed with him for this was a kind of a typical masala film that i didn't expect from him. Anyways as usual he did some diferent things which were "unexpected" from him.
A wednesday has been a topic of one of my blogs so i won't write much about it here.......only that it waws a really good movie....one of the best of 2008.
About your list..i seriously request you to drop Jhoom barabar jhoom from that.........