Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Top 10 Shah Rukh Khan movies

This morning Geet TV presented the Top 10 Shah Rukh Khan movies as voted by visitors to the Namaste America website.

Shah Rukh is the reason we began watching Bollywood films. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come, 2003) and Devdas (2002) were the first and second Bollywood movies we saw, and we were immediately hooked. We have since seen more than 40 of SRK's films; the Internet Movie Database lists 77 movies in which he has appeared as an actor, but that list includes special appearances, voiceovers, and movies that haven't yet been released. So we've probably seen at least two-thirds of the movies in which he has a major role (though we haven't yet seen either of his movies from last year, Ra.One and Don 2).

The results of the vote by the viewers of Namaste America were eyebrow-raising; here they are, in ascending order, with my comments:

10. Main Hoon Na (I'm Here Now, 2004): While for my taste this movie is a bit heavy on the masala—it's a college comedy crossed with a terrorist thriller, with a couple love stories and a father-daughter reconciliation thrown in for good measure—it belongs on this list for the wonderful musical numbers choreographed by writer/director Farah Khan. As bonuses it has the adorable Amrita Rao and, as SRK's love interest, Sushmita Sen (a pity that she and SRK don't work together more often). As a taste, here is "Tumse Milke" (if after clicking play the English subtitles don't appear automatically after 45 seconds, click on the CC button on the bottom bar):

9. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made In Heaven, 2008): On my list of favorite SRK films, this one is now in the top five. It took a while to grow on me, but I think it has one of SRK's strongest performances. He plays Suri, a shy, plain office worker who, with the aid of his hairstylist buddy Bobby (Vinay Pathak), secretly transforms himself into the brash filmi-style hero "Raj" in order to win the love of his estranged young wife Taani (the delightful Anushka Sharma in her first film). Of course, the plan backfires in a big way; the scene where Tani confesses her awakening feelings to Raj is devastating.

In "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" SRK pays homage to Golden and Silver Age Bollywood heroes and heroines; SRK's partners are Kajol, Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutta, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukherjee:

I have also written a full-length post on RNBDJ.

8. Mohabbatein (Love Stories, 2000): A teacher (SRK) carrying a secret returns to the boarding school where he was once a student and confronts its strict headmaster (Amitabh Bachchan). We rewatched Mohabbatein recently, and found it more enjoyable the second time; still, I think I might put the tender supernatural fable Paheli (Confusion, 2005) in this slot. Here is Paheli's "Khali Hai Tere Bina," with SRK and Rani Mukherjee:

7. Don (2006): Farhan Akhtar's slick remake-with-a-twist of the classic Amitabh Bachchan movie from 1978 is entertaining enough, but it wouldn't come close to making my SRK Top 10. Instead I think this slot should belong to Om Shanti Om (2007), which is inexplicably missing from the viewers' list.

OSO features SRK in a dual role as a struggling junior artiste in 1970s Bollywood and as his reincarnation as a modern Bollywood superstar. Along the way we get hilarious parodies of both Silver Age and contemporary Bollywood. As an example, here's "Dhoom Taana," which features the lovely Deepika Padukone in her first major role (no subtitles, alas: clicking the CC button will only get you an English phonetic "translation" of the lyrics):

6. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come, 2003): This would be Number 1 on my list. As I wrote in my earlier post "Bollywood for the Curious": "The clever script, appealing stars and razor-sharp editing make KHNH an excellent candidate for a Bollywood conversion experience. It's a film that gets better with multiple viewings, as more of its Bollywood in-jokes become comprehensible. But while it's fun to get the references, we can attest that the movie is also highly enjoyable without any previous experience of Bollywood." Here is the title song, with SRK, Saif Ali Khan, and Preity Zinta:

5. My Name Is Khan (2010): I don't quite know what to make of this choice. I thought this Karan Johar-directed film was well-meaning, and that SRK did an amazing job in the role of Rizwan Khan, a man with Asperger's Syndrome whose stepson is the victim of a hate attack after 9/11. The movie also stars Kajol, whose onscreen chemistry with SRK is justly famous.

Still, I thought My Name Is Khan took on too many issues too superficially (if Asperger's, 9/11 and anti-Muslim prejudice aren't enough, there's an extended Hurricane Katrina sequence and a nod to the 2008 presidential election). Despite its positive qualities, this movie wouldn't make my SRK Top 10.

Instead, I'd put Veer-Zaara (2004) here. It's the impossibly romantic story of Veer, an Indian man (SRK) and Zaara, a Pakistani woman (Preity Zinta), who are separated by the political divisions between their countries. Yash Chopra's lush, sweeping direction is especially apparent in "Aise Des Hai Mere" (if after clicking play the English subtitles don't automatically appear, click the CC button on the bottom bar):

4. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes Joy, Sometimes Sorrow, 2001): This has to be on this list somewhere, if only for the songs, but Number 4? For me this would just squeak on at Number 9 or 10. Director Karan Johar pulled out all the stops on this multi-starrer, but the final result leaves me less moved than I suspect I'm intended to be. We do get to see SRK and Kajol, along with Amitabh Bachchan (reprising his Stern Dad role from Mohabbatein) and Jaya Bachchan, and the young Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor. For me, though, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Still, the big-budget treatment of the songs is highly effective, as in "Yeh Ladka Hai Allah":

3. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave Heart Will Win The Bride, 1995): As with its placement in Namaste America's list of the Top Ten Bollywood Love Stories since 1990, I'm only amazed that this didn't come in higher. The movie that made SRK a superstar, it remains a classic. It's marred for me, though, by the violent final scenes. Still, the Jatin-Lalit songs are excellent and SRK and Kajol are unforgettable together, as in "Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna" (apologies for the lack of subtitles on this latest version from Yash Raj Films):

As I wrote in my post "Having it both ways: Bollywood contradictions", "I also love how, when Raj sings 'Keep your eyes downcast,' Simran looks straight into his eyes."

2. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Is Happening, 1998): Another great SRK-Kajol pairing; there's a good reason why four of the top five films on this list feature this famous jodi. Probably the third or fourth Bollywood film we saw, it remains among my favorite SRK films; my partner and I still quote the gazebo scene to one another. Here's the title song, with SRK, Rani, and Kajol:

1. Devdas (2002): And I thought I was the only one who appreciated this amazing film; see "In defense of Devdas, the movie everyone loves to hate". It wouldn't be my Number 1—that honor belongs to Kal Ho Naa Ho—but it's definitely in my top three or four. Here is "Kahe Chhed Mohe," my Platonic ideal of a Bollywood dance number, which features the exquisite Madhuri Dixit as the courtesan Chandramukhi:

Missing from the list: Apart from the films mentioned above, I was a bit surprised that Dil Se (From the Heart, 1998) didn't make it onto the list, as it has the famous SRK-dancing-on-top-of-the-train number "Chaiyya Chaiyya"; it's the fourth entry on "Why I Love Bollywood: The Playlist". SRK gave an excellent performance as coach Kabir Khan in Chak De! India (Come on, India! 2009), the thinly fictionalized story of the Indian women's field hockey team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Given the patriotic, uplifting story, I wonder why more viewers didn't vote for it—perhaps the lack of songs hurt its chances. Also, a good argument for inclusion could be made for Swades (2004), and I think the forthright Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye, 2005) is underrated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bach's Mass in B-minor

J. S. Bach: Mass in B-Minor. Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Ton Koopman, conductor, Saturday, March 10, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. Produced by Cal Performances.

Bach's B-minor Mass is a mass of contradictions. More of it is in D major (the key of natural trumpets) than in B minor, and, at nearly two hours long, it was never intended to be performed in an actual mass. The different pieces that make up the work were composed decades apart; Bach, a devout Lutheran, combined them into a whole by replacing the texts of those sections that had originally been in German with Latin, the language of the Catholic service.

So why did Bach assemble this monumental work if it was neither composed nor intended to be performed as a whole? (In fact, the first performance of the work in its entirety did not occur until more than a century after his death.) As Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has suggested, it seems to have been intended (along with other late works such as A Musical Offering and The Art of the Fugue) as a compendium of Bach's compositional techniques, a summation and culmination of his life's work and a set of models for others to follow.

That description makes it sound somewhat academic, and indeed Wolff's biography of Bach (Norton, 2000) is subtitled "The Learned Musician." However, the music of the B-minor Mass is simply transporting. Here is "Gloria in excelsis Deo/Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" from Phillippe Herreweghe's superb second recording with the Collegium Vocale (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901614.15):

This is music that can lift you out of your seat; unfortunately there were few such moments during the performance of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman last Saturday. Koopman's tempos sometimes dragged, there were occasional moments of mis-coordination between the soloists and the orchestra, at times the choir sounded ragged, and the instruments weren't always in tune. Tuning was especially a problem for the winds; in "Et in spiritum sanctum dominum," a bass solo accompanied by oboes, the instruments were painfully off-key.

An occasional miscue or sour note is only to be expected in such a massive and difficult work. But Koopman's group sounded underrehearsed, which seems incredible given their long association with Bach's music (they have recorded Bach's complete cantatas, among other works). In combination with Koopman's sometimes plodding tempos, the group's musical struggles kept this transcendent music firmly earthbound. In a pre-concert interview with Jeffrey Thomas of American Bach Soloists, Koopman asserted that the B-minor Mass is one of the most difficult of all choral works; unfortunately, this performance made it sound like it. Matters weren't helped by Koopman's odd decision to break for intermission after performing 19 of the work's 25 sections, leaving only half an hour's music for the second half of the concert.

It was so disappointing that when I got home I put on Herreweghe's recording, just to reassure myself of how magnificent this work can be. Here is Andreas Scholl performing "Agnus dei":

Thanks to pannonia77 and civileso for posting these wonderful clips.