Thursday, January 1, 2009

Four months of Bollywood

Happy New Year to all, and thanks to Memsaab and everyone else who inquired about me over the past four months. My schedule left little time for seeing movies, reading books or attending operas, much less writing about them. My too-busy schedule also coincided with a low period in our Bollywood viewing: nothing we've seen over the past few months has been very impressive, so I not only lacked the time but the inclination to write. So this post is going to cover four months of Bollywood in five films, most of which, I realize, will be old news.

Jab We Met (2007)
I had high hopes for Jab We Met (When We Met). The dance numbers we'd seen on our Saturday morning clip shows featured colorful North Indian costumes, spectacular settings, and Shahid Kapoor's boyish charm. Even Kareena Kapoor seemed as though she'd be tolerable for a change.

Alas, Jab We Met is yet another remake of DDLJ (1995) with a goodly helpings of Chalte Chalte (2003) and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1998) thrown in. There's the missing the train scene from DDLJ, there's the falling in love while travelling together sequence from DDLJ and Chalte Chalte, and there's the guy who's in love with the girl delivering her to her fiance/lover without declaring his own feelings character from Chalte Chalte and HDDCS. Fatally, the part of Shahid's rival was played by Tarun Arora, who on the evidence of this film is a stolid gym bunny with man-boobs bigger than his personality; no right-thinking woman would prefer him to Shahid. So the last hour becomes increasingly irritating as it delays the inevitable Shahid-Kareena embrace. Watch the songs, skip the movie.

Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003)
It's better, I think, to draw a veil of silence over this movie, from which only Abhishek Bachchan emerges with some shreds of his dignity intact. Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor are painful to watch, together and separately. The premise for the whole thing--that Hrithik's character is mistaken for Abhishek's because they're both named "Prem"--is unutterably lame. This isn't the worst Bollywood movie we've ever sat through, but it was bad enough.

Raja Hindustani (1996)
Karisma is the Kapoor sister with the better acting ability and dance skills, but neither she nor Aamir Khan could rescue this movie from its masala-y second half. Aamir is the poor but proud taxi driver Raja; Karisma is the sheltered rich girl Aarti. Spoilers follow: Do they meet cute? Fall in love? Get married despite her father's opposition? Have evil relatives who try to split them up because the relatives are after the father's wealth? When that fails, do the relatives hire a gang of thugs to kill Raja and his infant son? Does Raja somehow, while holding his son, beat up 20 guys armed with guns, swords and pikes? Are the evil machinations of the relatives exposed, and is there a tearful reunion between Raja, Aarti, and Aarti's father? Wait, don't tell me--let me guess...

Somehow it won the Filmfare Best Film award, along with a slew of other awards for the actors and director Dharmesh Darshan. Maybe it was a weak year, or maybe the charming songs clouded the voters' judgment.

Saawariya (2007)
We'd been warned by BethLovesBollywood, but did we listen? Noooooooo. Rani Mukherji's sparkling performance is the sole thing that keeps this bloated motion picture (make that slow-motion picture) from sinking into the blue lagoon of its fake Venice-plus-Paris setting. Matters aren't helped by the serious lack of charisma exhibited by newcomers Ranbir Kapoor as the puppyish Raj and Sonam Kapoor as Sakina. Sakina was by turns flirtatious and demure, encouraging and chaste--even a seasoned actress would have had a hard time making this character cohere. The soundtrack has only a few highlights (most of them dance numbers for Rani), and a couple truly embarrassing moments for Ranbir (yodelling?). For his next film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali might want to spend a bit less time on art direction and a bit more time on getting a compelling script together first.

Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (2008)
A mixture of the Sound of Music (1965), Mary Poppins (1964), and the most saccharine moments of It's a Wonderful Life (1946), TPTM (A Little Love, A Little Magic) can't be completely dismissed because of the strong performances offered by Saif Ali Khan as a successful but miserable business executive and by the four extremely talented young actors who play the children that he's accidentally orphaned. Alas, all Rani Mukherji is given to do for most of the movie is twinkle, until the very end when she's asked to cry, but of course she's very appealing even in role of such limited scope. The music is mediocre, the special effects worse, and the shameless plugs for certain LA and San Diego tourist traps are cringeworthy.

Speaking of Rani, Beth offers a delightful appreciation of her, complete with stills and clips, in "26 reasons I love Rani Mukherji."


  1. Oh dear oh dear. Sounds like a bad run you've had there! I loved Jab We Met and Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, even though the latter is obviously terrible. Any movie with a college dance/song competition is worth the while for me. I do have a freakish soft spot for Kareena (and similar impatience with Karisma - maybe there's some sort of Kapoor Constant, in which the amount of love a person has for a generation of that family is the same but can be redistributed among the members to vary with personal taste?)

    Did you find Raja Hindustani unbearably regressive? I hardly remember it at all, but since watching and hating Jab Jab Phool Khile, people have warned me against revisiting it, saying it's even worse than its 1965 source material.

    I'm sooo conflicted about TPTM. Some people I trust say yay, others nay. Your assessment of Saif is tipping me more towards trying it....

  2. Beth, thanks for your comment. My major problem with Kareena has always been her dancing--if she were more graceful, I'd be more forgiving. On the other hand, I'm a huge SRK fan, and yet realize that there are people who can't stand him. De gustibus non disputatum est...

    Raja Hindustani is regressive--it's all about validating Raja's sense of honor as the male head of the household. But I could make excuses for the sexual politics if it didn't have the big masala action scene at the climax. I realize that I'm a prisoner of my aesthetic and cultural programming, but there it is...

    As for TPTM, I'm beginning to wonder whether Saif is so effective in Angry Man roles because he seems perpetually pissed off. As for whether you should see it, I say no, and my loving companion says yes, so I guess we're no help. Saif, Rani and the kids are worthwhile; there's a lot about it, though, that rings false (and not just the bad special effects). I wouldn't watch it again, for sure.

  3. There is no good thing that can be said about MPKDH, except that eventually it is over.

    On the other hand, I love Jab We Met; something that might have been influenced by me not watching DDLJ till after I saw the former. Still, it's my favorite "conversion" movie for my girlfriends who haven't been introduced to the wonders of Bollyworld.

  4. Ajnabi, it's looking like I'm outvoted on Jab We Met. And--derivative aspects aside--the first half works just fine for me. It's when it takes Kareena's character the entire second half of the movie to realize that a) Shahid's character is far better and more selfless than Tarun's, and b) that she's actually in love with Shahid, that I lose patience.

    Still, there's a reason why DDLJ keeps getting remade--it's an irresistible story. I just wish that in this version the scales weren't so obviously weighted in Shahid's favor. I'm thinking of the moment in The Philadelphia Story when Katherine Hepburn has to choose between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, or the ending of HDDCS when Aishwarya Rai must choose between Ajay Devgan and Salman Khan. In neither case is the ultimate choice completely obvious, and it keeps the dramatic tension high until the last moment.

    In Jab We Met, it feels to me as though the movie should really end when Shahid finds Kareena in Simla--instead, it drags on for another hour before she discovers the obvious. Still, it clearly works for you and Beth, so I may have to take another look.

    I loved your comment about MPKDH.

  5. I liked Jab We Met although MPKDH was abysmal. I have to say that I disagree about Karisma being the better actress---I think Kareena is just hitting her stride and she's phenomenal with good material. I did like Raja Hindustani, but not as much as most people seemed to...

    I just can't bring myself to watch Saawariya :) And I'm wary of TPTM since Ta Ra Rum Pum nearly made my head explode...and made the Saif-Rani combo dead to me forever.

    In any case, I'm glad you are back :)

  6. Memsaab, perhaps I should have said that Karisma is the Kapoor sister who has exhibited the greater acting range. Kareena has often been typecast as the spoiled rich girl (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Asoka, Mujhse Dosti Karoge, MPKDH, Jab We Met, etc.). Perhaps that's beginning to change--in the second half of JWM, we certainly see a more subdued side of her character.

    Karisma can actually dance, though, while Kareena's lack of grace in her numbers has always bugged me. She's usually shot in quick takes which involve swaying, posing, and pouting for the camera, rather than long takes where she's actually performing steps and gestures in sequence.

    Thanks for your comment!