Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Favorites of 2013: Contemporary Bollywood

My viewing of current Bollywood movies tends to lag about six months behind their release dates. It's strange to me that no San Francisco cinema has yet realized that it should be showing first-run Bollywood films. I could travel to smarter theaters in Emeryville, Fremont or Santa Clara, but I can't quite bring myself to turn watching a movie into a five- or six-hour commitment. I'm not a fan of streaming, so I still wait for the DVD release (although eventually, of course, DVDs will be going away). But the availability of new Bollywood movies on DVD rental services like Netflix is spotty, to say the least.

So I haven't yet seen Chennai Express, Shuddh Desi Romance, Phata Poster Nikla Hero, Ram-Leela, R...Rajkumar, Krrish 3 or, of course, Dhoom 3 (although in the cases of the last two, it sure feels like I've seen them already). My favorite contemporary Bollywood films are necessarily chosen from those released from late last year through the first half of this year. And they are:

Sridevi in English Vinglish

English Vinglish
Shashi (Sridevi), an Indian housewife and mother, begins to feel excluded and taken for granted by her family, the rest of whom slip easily between Hindi and English. On a trip to New York to help with the wedding of her niece, feeling overwhelmed and isolated, Shashi decides to take a crash course in English. Her choice has unexpected consequences for those around her, her family, and especially for Shashi herself.

English Vinglish (2012) was Sridevi's first Hindi film after a hiatus of nearly a decade. In my original post on English Vinglish, I wrote that it "is a nicely observed and thoughtful film on issues of language, cultural identity, and family dynamics...And I hope it's only the first of many well-written, nuanced roles for Sridevi on her return."

It also has an improbably catchy title tune; somehow that "Hah!" perfectly captures Shashi's joy in her small triumphs as she begins to broaden her linguistic (and emotional) horizons:

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
A smart, tomboyish but shy girl falls secretly in love with a popular, extroverted boy. She never lets him know, but eight years later she's blossomed into a beauty—and is suddenly reunited with her old crush...

Ranbir and Deepika in YJHD

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (These Young People Are Crazy, 2013) is largely a mashup of elements from two earlier Karan Johar films, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something's Happening, 1998) and Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come, 2003). So it doesn't win any points for originality. What it does have, though, as those earlier films did in Kajol and Preity Zinta, is a compellingly sympathetic heroine. As I wrote in my original post on YJHD, "Deepika, cast against type, gives an utterly believable and highly affecting performance as Naina." As the unobservant object of her affections, Ranbir Kapoor is also in good form, but it's Deepika's Naina that we come to care about.

Oh, and having an item by the fabulous Madhuri Dixit doesn't hurt, either:

Kandukondain Kandukondain
Speaking of compellingly sympathetic heroines, Kandukondain Kandukondain (I Have Found It, 2000) has two: Sowmya (Tabu) and Meenu (Aishwarya Rai). This film doesn't quite qualify for my Contemporary Bollywood Favorites list even under my extremely lax and entirely self-imposed rules: it wasn't released recently, it's not a Bollywood film, and I didn't watch it for the first time this year. I can't resist giving this wonderful Tamil adaptation of Sense & Sensibility another plug, though. As I wrote in Bollywood Rewatch 3, Rajiv Menon's film "manages to be surprisingly faithful to its source while believably updating the story to the present." And if there's no scene in Austen's novel where Marianne Dashwood dances in front of a giant stylized peacock, there should be:

Next time: Favorites of 2013: Movies

Last time: Favorites of 2013: Classic Bollywood

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