Friday, December 31, 2010

Bollywood mini-reviews

Over the past year we watched something on the order of 30 Indian films, but I only wrote about a handful of them. Sometimes they had already been covered in such loving (or excoriating) detail by other writers that I didn't feel I had much to add. Sometimes they didn't seem worth a full-length post. And sometimes life just caught up with me and I didn't have the time.

So here are some capsule reviews of films that, for one reason or another, never got the full-length treatment.

Dor (String, 2006) is well-written, beautifully filmed, and offers two strong performances by its lead actresses, Gul Panang and Ayesha Takia. Zeenat (Panang) learns that her husband faces a death sentence in Saudia Arabia for the (accidental?) killing of his roommate in a guest-worker dormitory. Zeenat's husband can only be saved by the pardon of the victim's widow Meera (Takia), and so Zeenat travels to Rajasthan to try to find her. Along the way she encounters the itinerant actor Behroopiya (Shreyas Talpade), who—after introducing himself by stealing her belongings—comes to aid her in her search.

Panang is fiercely convincing as the driven Zeenat, showing us both her inner strength and her desperation. Takia, previously cast mainly in lightweight comedies like Dil Maane More!!! (2004) and Home Delivery (2005), gives a subdued and nuanced performance as the young widow Meera. The scene where Meera discovers that Zeenat's friendship has an ulterior motive is heartrending, and very real.

The only thing that makes me hesitate with Dor is that, while its surfaces suggest the gritty realism of parallel cinema, as it goes along it more and more betrays its filmi heart. Talpade's character is simply too good to be true, a self-conscious star turn that feels jarringly out-of-place at times. Director Nagesh Kukunoor incorporates multiple references to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) and Bunty aur Babli (2005), and in Dor's final moments he directly quotes Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). While I love Bollywood in-references, I think the movie would have been even stronger without these touches. Still, a compelling film about the power of emotional bonds between women.

Two with Kamalinee Mukherjee: Anand (2004) and Godavari (2006)

The best thing about these two Telugu movies is Kamalinee Mukherjee, who is delightful as the confident, independent young heroines. In Anand she is Rupa, a young woman alone in the world who is pursued by two over-persistent lovers. One of them, Anand (Raja), moves in next door and randomly accosts her, and the other, Rahul (Anuj Gurwara), tries to rape her. After Anand saves Rupa by thrashing Rahul in the obligatory fight scene, he then blames her for the attack because she was too friendly with Rahul (!). Writer/director Sekhar Kammula creates a wonderful heroine, and then unfortunately matches her with a woefully conventional, not to say sexist, hero. Despite its charms—Kamalinee's performance, and the closely observed interactions between Rupa and her next-door neighbor Anita (Satya Krishnan) and her kids—Anand felt like it would have been better with a better hero.

Godavari, Kammula's next film, has a slightly different hero problem. Sriram (Sumanth) is travelling by boat down the Godavari River to attend the wedding of Raji (Neetu Chandra), the woman he loves but whose family has arranged her marriage with another suitor. As they float downriver to the temple of Lord Ram at Bhadrachalam, he meets Seeta (Kamalinee). Ram, Seeta, Bhadrachalam—that's not overdetermined, is it? The morose Ram and the plucky Seeta argue constantly, which means, of course, that they're falling in love, even if they're not quite aware of it. Unfortunately in the second half there's an odd incident that makes us doubt whether Ram is really ready to have someone like Seeta—or, really, anyone—in his life.

Seeta is a complex character, very sympathetically portrayed by Kamalinee: she's smart, open, generous, and aware of her own attractiveness, but given to occasional moments of doubt and jealousy. The shots of the river trip and the details of the community life on board the boat are wonderful, beautifully framed by director Kammula, and, together with Kamalinee's charming performance, are the best reason to watch Godavari.

Three with Priyanka Chopra: What's Your Raashee? (What's Your Sign?, 2009), Pyaar Impossible! (Love Impossible, 2010), and Anjaana Anjaani (Strangers, 2010)

Speaking of hero and script problems...

Priyanka may have looked great in the backless, gold-lamé swimsuit she wore in Dostana (2008), but her best asset is her voice, which is low and throaty. As she proves in What's Your Raashee?, though, she's capable of many voices, some extremely grating. Priyanka plays 12 hopeful brides, each representing the supposed characteristics of a different zodiac sign. Watching Priyanka portray 12 different women is pretty enjoyable, but the film gets bogged down in complicated subplots featuring the blandly handsome but distinctly uncharismatic Harman Baweja. Three and a half hours is a long time to spend in his company.

Things don't improve a great deal in Pyaar Impossible!, where we're asked to believe that Uday Chopra is a software engineer. Uday's really not bad in this; the role of the geeky Abhay forces him to tone down his usually all-too-apparent self-love. Abhay manages to be somewhat endearing, as long as you don't think too hard about his stalking of college beauty Alisha (Priyanka). I also have a soft spot for the picturization of the title song, where Abhay shows Alisha how brutal the dating market can be for nonconformists (though I have news for director Jugal Hansraj and his costume department: Priyanka would have no trouble getting a date in those cool nerd glasses). But despite the best efforts of Priyanka and Advika Yadav, who plays her bratty 7-year-old daughter, the silicon-wafer-thin story—written by Uday himself!—doesn't bear a moment's consideration.

Priyanka finally gets to play opposite a plausible hero, Ranbir Kapoor, in Anjaana Anjaani—only the movie's entire budget seems to have been spent on its stars and location shooting, with nothing left over for script development. (Curiously—or perhaps not—no writers are credited on the film's Wikipedia or IMDB pages.) Akash (Ranbir) is about to jump off a bridge when he's interrupted by Kiara (Priyanka), who is also there to jump. Nothing about this film is surprising in the least: we understand where it's going in the first five minutes, but it takes the rest of the film for these uninvolving characters to catch up with us. In the meantime, their cluelessness and self-involvement becomes ever more irritating.

There is one great moment: Kiara and Akash have agreed to a reunion on the bridge at midnight on New Year's Eve, but he hasn't shown. Dejected, she's turning to leave—and then she hears his voice. In quick succession, about a dozen distinct emotions cross Priyanka's face. It's amazing to watch, but one great moment doesn't make up for the rest of the movie.

Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) is a slickly filmed and atmospheric mystery/thriller with appealing stars in Farhan Akhtar and Deepika Padukone, and at least one catchy tune in Shankar-Eshaan-Loy's "Uff Teri Adaa." But the solution to the mystery is so ludicrous that it reveals the rest of the movie to be the empty exercise in style that it is.

I Hate Luv Storys [sic] (2010): Halfway through IHLS I asked my partner, "Do you notice a lack of chemistry between Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor?" She replied, "I notice a lack of chemistry between Imran and the camera."

And that's the problem with over-saturating your film with references to DDLJ (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), and many other romantic classics—you invite comparisons between your lead couple and the most charismatic jodis in latter-day Hindi cinema. In comparison, both Imran and Sonam are, well, inert, separately and together. And that's the main problem with IHLS—all the in-references just serve to highlight the movie's own inadequacies. It's early days yet for Imran and Sonam—this is only his fourth movie, and her third—so they may get better. I'll check back in a few years.

Dulha Mil Gaya (Found A Groom, 2010): Speaking of comparisons, Fardeen Khan should make sure that he never has to share a screen with Shah Rukh Khan again. FK's lack of magnetism is always obvious, but it becomes so glaring after SRK enters in the second half that I felt embarrassed for him. The one entertaining moment is "Dilrubaon Ke Jalwe," which deliriously mashes up SRK's and Sushmita Sen's filmographies. Otherwise, this one is for SRK completists only.

Happy New Year to everyone!


  1. I didnt dare see Dulha Mil Gaya, but you make me feel it may not be such a bad watch after all- Sush and SRK are a great couple to watch. Totally w/ u on the others. I saw IHLS with a group of other bloggers/tweeters and would have basely run out of the theater if it wasnt for them. They did have fun laughing at my pain though :)

  2. Shweta, once SRK enters DMG becomes a different (and better) movie. SRK and Sushmita are fun together, and "Dilrubaon Ke Jalwe" is the movie's highlight, incorporating visual and lyrical references to many of their films. Ishitta Sharma is charming as the village girl who gets a makeover (I didn't recognize her from Loins of Punjab Presents), and she also has a good number. But be forewarned: the super-fluffy plot can't sustain the leaden weight of Fardeen; he drags the whole thing down.

  3. I found Dor somewhat disappointing too. Not only was the story too filmi, I just could not buy into the plot. If nobody (including the Saudi Arabian and Indian governments) knew anything about Meera and how to find her, what stopped Zeenat from signing the petition in her stead? Surely it was more important for her to save her husband? And Shreyas Talpade's character, while quite endearing, was so very extraneous to the plot. The whole story would have been so much better if Meera were not such an unknown quantity and Zeenat did not have to do a 'Rajasthan travelogue' to get to her!

    "I notice a lack of chemistry between Imran and the camera." I wish the filmmakers would recognise this too!!!

  4. Bollyviewer, I agree--Dor needs less of Shreyas (much as I like him usually) and fewer Bollywood in-references, more of Zeenat and Meera. As for Imran, he may improve--I just wish he weren't so ubiquitous. It seemed like he was featured in half the movies that got released in 2010.

    Thanks for your comment!