Thursday, August 30, 2007

LESSONS AND QUESTIONS FROM 'HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN...!'

Let's take a seat and listen to Madhuri as she teaches us a thing or two, shall we?

This is one post that’s been in the works for a very long time… it’s the follow-up to my ‘wedding fever’ post, and it’s all about the lessons I learned, and questions I came up with, after my most recent viewing of ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ (HAHK)

There may be a few people reading this who haven’t seen HAHK, a MASSIVE Bollywood hit movie from the 90s, so for their benefit, here’s a little bit of background info. Directed by Sooraj Barjatya, the music from HAHK was provided by Raam-Laxman. The songs from the film were even more successful than the movie itself – ‘Joote Dedo (Paise Lelo)’, ‘Wah Wah Ramji’, ‘Dhiktana Dhiktana’, ‘Didi Tera Dewar Deewana’, ‘Lo Chali Main’, ‘Chocolate Limejuice’, ‘Maaye Ni Maaye’, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, ‘Samdhi Samdhan’, ‘Yeh Mausam Ka Jaadu’, ‘Pehla Pehla Pyar Hai’… some of the songs are quiet and romantic, most of them are joyful and playful… and I personally think they are all lovely. And as Alan has noted, one of the really charming things about the music of HAHK is the way the melodies from the songs are intertwined and woven into each other throughout the film.




HAHK stars an effervescent Madhuri Dixit (as Nisha) at the height of her powers, and a younger, actually quite endearing Salman Khan (as Prem). Nisha and Prem are two fun-loving young people who are thrown together when their respective siblings, Nisha’s didi Pooja and Prem’s bhaiyya Rajesh, (played by Renuka Shahane and Mohnish Behl) marry each other. From the engagement ceremony, to the wedding ceremonies (lavishly depicted), to a number of family events thereafter, the film is a veritable deluge of sweet, celebratory songs, and the songs actually tell a great deal of the story. The story itself is simple and can actually be summarised in 5 sentences:



1. Pooja and Rajesh’s families decide to get them married.
2. Pooja and Rajesh get married and live happily together with Rajesh’s family.
3. Nisha comes to visit, and she and Prem fall in love.
4. Uh oh – whip out your hanky, because things get very sad.
5. But everything comes out right in the end… thanks to Tuffy the dog.

HAHK is definitely one of my favourite Hindi movies – if I had a top 20 it would be somewhere on the list. I never tire of the beautiful songs, and I find the characters utterly and irresistibly charming. I recognise members of my family in the fictitious personae of the film, and I immediately warm to the overt emotion – the spirit and heart that the film is unabashedly dipped in. The sweetness of the film, excessive as it is, never seems to cloy for me (I have to say I could do with less of Tuffy the dog though)….

However, there are many who would disagree with me. HAHK is often decried as extremely cheesy, sickeningly saccharine, plotless and dumb, strictly for the dead of brain…. On that last point though, when I watched HAHK recently for the umpteenth time, I came away with some lessons, observations and questions that I immediately thought it would be fun and interesting to write about…

1. Love means sacrifice: I’ll start with one of the more serious lessons of the film, and one that I actually agree with. The overwhelming message of HAHK is that when you truly love someone, you’re ready to make sacrifices for them – to even deprive yourself of your own happiness and satisfaction. Kailashnath (played by Alok Nath) is Prem and Rajesh’s old bachelor uncle, who has raised them as his own sons after their parents’ untimely death. We are informed early in the film that at least part of the reason why Kailashnath is an old bachelor is his commitment to his two nephews – i.e. he has given up the dream of marriage and children for his boys, and is therefore left to sing harmless love-songs to married women (but more on that later).

Our lead characters, Prem and Nisha, make the ultimate sacrifice later in the film, a sacrifice that appears to be partly motivated by misplaced but understandable guilt… luckily for them, Tuffy comes to the rescue…. Note: it’s always a good idea to have a wonder dog around when you decide to sacrifice your happiness on the altar of filial love.

Because love, in the world of HAHK, means never having to say ‘Me! Me! Me!’; the character of Aunty (played by Bindu, in an OTT but very effective comic performance), is vilified for being utterly self-seeking and unconcerned with the needs of others.

Like I said, I agree with this message, although perhaps not with the exaggerated version of it that’s presented in the film. But its exaggeration for dramatic effect doesn’t detract from its veracity. I definitely think it’s a lesson we all need to learn and be reminded of from time to time.

2. A woman’s place is in the kitchen: Now this one pops up in lots of Hindi movies, as it does in real life. This is one ‘lesson’ that irritates me and totally rubs me the wrong way. Pooja’s home-making abilities are richly praised in this film (there is the obligatory scene with her slaving away for the family at the stove), and her mother (played by Reema Lagoo) urges younger daughter Nisha to spend time with Pooja so that she can learn how to run her own home efficiently when the time comes. Just in case you missed it, the message is re-emphasized when the spoilt Rita (played really well by Sahila Chaddha) uses salt to make a sweet (instead of sugar) – earning her lots of censure and abuse from Aunty. Yawwwnn…

It’s not all bad, though – HAHK is actually a bit progressive in this regard, because Pooja does get time off from kitchen duty to play a rollicking game of cricket – one in which she thrashes her hubby’s team. More significantly, the character of Professor Siddharth Chaudhary (played by Anupam Kher) loves the kitchen! He even wears a cute apron that proclaims him ‘The World’s Greatest Cook’…


3. Weddings are a good time/place to fall in love: You hear this bandied about quite a bit in the ‘real world’ as well – that weddings are a good opportunity to meet potential romantic partners… Hmmm, I don’t really agree, especially since I’ve been to a gazillion weddings and have never met anyone even remotely ‘potential’ at one…. I’m also not sure this really fits in where HAHK is concerned – Prem and Nisha are definitely attracted to each other during the period of Rajesh and Pooja’s wedding; and there is a lot of teasing and flirting, but they don’t actually fall in love until after the wedding, during Nisha’s visit to Prem’s home.

I really like this about HAHK, by the way – you can actually see the growth and development of a relationship between these two. At first, there’s curiosity – you can tell they’re a bit intrigued by each other, then there’s lots of teasing, baiting, back-and-forth repartee, and flirtation (along with physical chemistry), then a little stroppiness here and there… then finally there’s a deeper understanding between them as they really get to know each and to understand what they mean to each other (hence ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’) So the deep love they share by the end of the film doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere as it typically does in Bollywood – you can see it evolve as the characters evolve, and I really like that.

Another thing I really like is that in this film, unlike many Bollywood movies, opposites do not attract… it’s more ‘birds of a feather’… so the mischievous, extroverted and lively Nisha and Prem hook up, while the reserved and subdued Pooja and Rajesh end up together. I love this – in so many Bollywood films, it’s a hook-up between the lively, bold, boisterous guy and the quiet, shy, eyes-always-downcast girl. Here Nisha gives Prem as good as she gets, and it’s clear that he respects her for it and would have her no other way.

4. Treating people badly makes you scary: It really, really does – I mean, just look at Aunty! 'Nuff said.

Ok, so I have no screencaps of Chacha (can you blame me?), but there she is right at the back of this publicity pic, in orange


5. There are some perks to being a confirmed bachelor: Kailashnath actually gets to sing a sweet love-song to Mrs. Choudhury, paying tribute to the evergreen beauty and grace of his old college-mate. Would Professor Choudhury (and the rest of the crowd) had sat by, smiling benignly and playing musical instruments, if Kailashnath had been married? No way… that would’ve been the height of disrespect, to the wife (or wives), to the professor, to the gathering. Here though, it’s sweet and charming – and completely harmless. Random thought: I guess the fact that it’s considered harmless could make it easier for the bachelor to take things further without arousing suspicion – like, ‘you all think I am too old and crusty to tempt a woman? Ha – now watch me run away with your wife!’ (And watch me run away with this silly random train of thought).

6. Go on and kiss that frog: (remember ‘Kiss the Girl’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’? That was so fun – but I digress). Yes, kiss that frog because he might just turn into the handsome prince you’ve been waiting for (or not – but you’ll never know unless you try…)

Hmm… I’m a bit leery about this one – while I agree that the best things sometimes come in the most unlikely packages, there is no doubt in my mind that under certain circumstances, the frog must never ever be kissed. Luckily for Rita though, it works out for her. The earnest, goofy and actually quite sweet Bhola Prasad falls in love with her at first sight, as Dushyanta did with Shakuntala (in Hindu mythology). In fact, every time Bhola sees Rita, he actually sees Shakuntala. Rita, on the other hand, is irritated by Bhola’s attentions – until one fateful day, when she in turn sees him as Dushyanta – and falls madly in love too. Aww… who knows why she decided to kiss this frog? Perhaps she finally saw the goodness and sincerity of his heart (one scene between them lends credence to this theory), maybe she just got sick of sitting around and watching other people hook up… whatever it was, I thought this was a funny and quite cute little sub-plot.


7. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more fun than laughing, dancing, joking and sharing special moments with your family: So true. And HAHK is big (no, HUGE) on this.

8. There is a time to be born and a time to die: Birth and death are daily realities of our lives – as one lamp is lit, another is extinguished. Anyone who’s seen the film will get this. This, of course, is very true… and it’s directly linked to the next point, which is also my first question:


9. Why do the best people die young? Why oh why? HAHK doesn’t really answer this age-old question, but it does refer to the bit about some people being like angels who bless us with their presence in this world for a while, do lots of wonderful things for us, and then they have to go…. Sad stuff, huh?


10. On a cheerier note, who am I to you? The big question of the movie – so big that it deserves an ellipsis and exclamation point for emphasis (see the title of the movie), but what on earth is the answer? I have no idea – is it ‘the one I love’, ‘my love’, ‘my everything’, ‘my world’, ‘my life’ (I know, how sappy can I get? I can feel myself turning into a giant cheeseball) or what? Some subtitling in the songs (especially the title song) would’ve helped, I think… or maybe the songs don’t answer the question either. Or maybe it’s a rhetorical question… I don’t really care about this, to be honest….



11. This most recent viewing of HAHK did clear up one big mystery for me, though. I finally understand why I am so in love with Bette Davis’s eyes. I mean, yes they are the most beautiful, expressive pair of eyes ever, and will always be (to me), but the intensity of my love for them has always been a bit of a mystery... now I totally get it – it’s the black-and-white! Watch Salman’s big ol’ eyes in the opening credits of HAHK and tell me if you don’t think they’re absolutely gorgeous (which they are - despite my many other criticisms of the man, I’ll admit that he does have truly lovely eyes). So monochrome definitely enhances the eyes… why am I only just getting this? Thank you HAHK, thank you…


Ok... so this photo doesn't quite illustrate my point... will try to find something better.

So who says that HAHK has nothing to offer anyone but the brain-dead, nothing to stimulate that grey matter? I obviously take a contrary view… while some of my lessons might be frivolous and silly (and what’s life without some silliness and frivolity anyway?) there is definitely some stuff in there worth mulling over…. This was fun!!

Up next… I’ll be bringing in September with a return to my first love – the next post is all about ‘Apne’… the Deol-fest.

Monday, August 27, 2007

'DEEWAAR' (1975)

'Deewaar''Deewaar'… I was really intrigued by a couple of mentions of this film. Sanket mentioned that it was the first and only Bollywood film to show a couple smoking cigarettes in bed after sex. Abhishek Bachchan, on 'Koffee with Karan', was asked to rank five of his father's movies – 'Agneepath', 'Deewaar', 'Sholay', 'Zanjeer', and 'Baghban'. That was exactly how he ranked them – with 'Deewaar' taking a princely second place over 'Sholay' and 'Zanjeer', both of which I have seen and loved. So I knew I had to see 'Deewaar', and now I have.

Every now and then a film comes along that just satisfies you in every way. You aren't left wishing the story had been more ____, or the dialogues had been more ____, or the performances had been more____, or the music had been more____ or whatever…. You are just satisfied in every way, because the movie is just… all that and more. 'Deewaar' is one such movie – and the best thing is that, for all the brilliance of its crafting (Yash Chopra directs brilliantly, Salim-Javed's masterful writing is all things beautiful – sheer perfection in every scene, RD Burman's music is excellent, the action scenes are well-staged, there is some lovely cinematography with some truly iconic images, even the costume design and make-up rocks…), it also has a great deal of heart.

Ravi (played by Shashi Kapoor) and Vijay (played by Amitabh Bachchan) are brothers, but each has a very different outlook on life. Ravi has a wholesome, unassuming, unambitious, and sincere desire to seek fulfilment by walking the straight and narrow. He is non-confrontational, good-natured, almost na├»ve – very sweet, really. Even when, in the course of his search for employment, he is confronted with inequality and injustice, he does not fully engage with it – he deals with it by manufacturing a string of similes about the world being like a chest of drawers, a cupboard, a third class train. When he has the opportunity to deprive another young man of a job opportunity, his conscience will not allow him to – like every other eager young man he wants to succeed, but he is not desperate enough to hurt someone else in order to succeed... so he steps back.

When Ravi eventually finds himself (and not on purpose, as it is a goal he would never have considered himself worthy of) in the police force and under oath to fight injustice, he is crushed to discover that the injustice is not 'out there', to be expressed in poetic metaphors and looked upon philosophically. Nahin, injustice and inequality is nearer and dearer to him than he could have ever imagined. In boldly and painfully confronting and grappling with this injustice, Ravi loses one of the most important relationships in his life. At great cost, he discovers a steeliness and resolve he never knew he had – and becomes a man.


Vijay, on the other hand, is relentless and unscrupulous in his pursuit of a better life. One extremely cruel childhood encounter has scarred him for life – emotionally, as well as physically. And along with this terrible event, abandoned by their father, Vijay and his brother (with their mother having to play the role of father as well as mother) have had to endure deprivation and degradation. So now the adult Vijay is haunted and hurting – and angry…. He is angry at many people – at his father, at the men who made an offensive inscription on his arm, at society and 'the system' for kicking the three of them when they were down, at God for allowing all this to happen despite his mother's devotion to Him… but most of all Vijay is angry at himself.


He's angry at himself for being a victim, for seeing his mother become a victim, for feeling helpless and unable to make up for all the suffering.

So when he sees the opportunity to do so in adulthood, he accepts the risks involved and grabs at it with both hands… unconcerned about the risk to his life, unconcerned about the censure of society. He has only two overwhelming motivations – first, to make his mother happy by endowing upon her all the comforts she has been denied (and to take care of his brother too); and second, to prove that he is not a helpless victim but a powerful man.


Ravi and Vijay are the sons of a former trade union leader, a man who fearlessly stood up for justice until the price of his uprightness became too great for him to bear. In a way, both Ravi and Vijay are very much their father's sons… fearless, courageous, single-minded and determined (although for Vijay, that courage is almost instinctive, while Ravi has to discover it). Both have also inherited their father's substantial leadership qualities – Vijay's abilities in this regard shine through early in the film while he is working as a dockhand – it gives you a glimpse of how effective he could have been had he chosen to harness that boldness and ability to inspire in a more positive way.


The difference between father and sons, however, is that, unlike their father (and in Vijay's case at least, in a conscious effort not to tread their father's path) both brothers stubbornly refuse to back down from their fight for justice… and each brother's concept of 'justice' is very different. For Ravi, justice is firmly on the side of the good – it's about putting the bad guys behind bars, and without fear or favour. For Vijay, it's about taking what he can as quickly as he can, by any means necessary, from an intrinsically and endemically unjust system; and all in a futile attempt to numb the pain, to destroy the power of the past. It's about taking complete advantage of his luck until it runs out. So Ravi and Vijay, hitherto loving and very close brothers (with Vijay doting on Ravi, and Ravi adoring his bhaiyya), end up firmly on different and opposite sides of the same wall – hence the film's title.


In a way, the wall also represents Maa (played to perfection by Nirupa Roy), who is caught between these brothers. Deeply loved and respected, Maa has sacrificed everything for her sons and loves them both with all her heart… but like all mothers (although they will usually deny this); she has a soft spot in her heart for one of them. In a scenario that reminded me of Radha and Birju in 'Mother India', Maa shares a very deep and special bond with her restless, defiant firstborn son Vijay. Part of the reason for this could be that, as the older son, Vijay has consciously witnessed and shared in more of Maa's suffering, while they have both sought (and fought) to protect Ravi from becoming too keenly aware of the full extent of their lack. (In fact, Vijay took up child labour so that Ravi could get an education). More importantly though, I think part of the reason for this bond is that Maa sees beyond Vijay's tough and abrasive exterior to the wounded, tender, sensitive heart within. In a way, she's the only one who fully 'gets' him.

The only one, that is, until the sassy Anita (played very capably and memorably by Parveen Babi) shows up.
Vijay and Anita discover that they are kindred spirits, and open up to each other like they have to no-one else. I really liked the depiction of this relationship, because, as Carla notes, there was a realness, a lack of bravado… an almost painful honesty to the equation between Anita and Vijay.

As the story progresses, the wall between the brothers becomes an increasing source of frustration, conflict, even alienation. Maa is in a heartbreaking position. Like Radha in 'Mother India', she ultimately must deny Vijay and hurt him, in order to be true to herself (and to Ravi). It hurts to see Vijay become the cornered, wounded animal, and to see his own brother have to play the role of hunter…


…but the wonderful thing about it is that it all makes perfect sense. In the end, Ravi once again receives a boost from his bhaiyya as he moves up in the world, but not in a way anyone could have expected or hoped for.

The inexorable denouement is perfectly symmetrical with the rest of the story, flowing directly from it – and the filmmakers, as Sanket notes, never allow you to look away from it, there are no cop-outs. Commendably, they commit to showing us what the characters really go through, their dilemma, their pain, warts and all. (Not really what I would associate with Yash Chopra – this is not a pretty, shiny, sentimental film; although it definitely is elegant, stylish and beautifully shot, which I would associate with Yash Chopra). I certainly did not expect to see realistic, frank scenes like these in a Yash-ji film:


The overall effect of the film is raw, gritty and hard-hitting, slamming the viewer with an almost brutal impact, and providing lots of food for thought. Even the sunny, light-hearted parts all lead somewhere – towards the inescapable conclusion of this very human, very real tale. For example, I love these adorable, light-hearted and carefree scenes between Ravi and his girlfriend Vira (played by the ultra-cute Neetu Singh, I love how Ravi told Maa she was his 'class fellow' – simply adorable - and just look at each of their expressions and how they tell a complete story)…
Random thought: I love how Ravi and Vira's names mirror each other…



But these sweet moments aren't diversions, they are the last calm and innocent moments just before Ravi's peaceful world is turned upside down…

I love how 'Deewaar' made me think about so many fascinating issues – the complexities of mother/son relationships, the relational dynamic between siblings, the way that choices made in each echelon of society eventually trickle down (or surge up) to affect other strata… 'Deewaar' is just a really good film, everything about it just works.


But now to erm... other matters… how hot is Mr. Bachchan in this film? He totally sizzles. This is definitely one of the best Amitabh Bachchan performances I've seen so far, it's intense, raw, compelling, and has tremendous depth; so I'll get that said right now and get back to how hot he was in this film. That thick, long-ish hair, those tortured eyes, those full lips, those lanky limbs… all variously accessorised with cigarettes/bidis, fab sunglasses, nice suits… even a rope. All hella hot.



Erm... no comment on this one

The only accessory that didn't quite work (for angry-and-hot-young-man purposes) was the badge… that was kinda corny…


One big discovery for me with 'Deewaar' is that I have been watching the wrong Shashi Kapoor films. Honestly, I have never 'gotten' the whole Shashi thing… I've never really understood why people think he's so handsome/beautiful, so cool, such a great actor… I mean, until 'Deewaar' I was ready to admit that there's a pretty-ish face there (and some lovely, long-lashed brown eyes – always gotta love that); but looks-wise or acting-wise (aside from his beautiful face and performance as a child in 'Awaara'), I had not seen anything to make me really love Shashi…

I had seen him opposite the Big B in 'Do Aur Do Paanch', but I thought Amit-Ji totally outdid him in that film. I thought Shashi's character came across as a bit of a loser and a wuss, and I really didn’t like his miserable 'do not sleep, little children' song in the film. My sister who watched 'Do Aur Do Paanch' felt the same – since then she's refused to watch anything else with Shashi in it. I also caught Shashi in Raj Kapoor's 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram', in which he plays an engineer who is obsessed with beauty and mistreats his wife as a result… in this film Shashi was playing a silly jerk, so it was really no wonder that I didn’t think he was all that. I actually really liked Shashi's performance (again, opposite Big B) in 'Trishul', but he didn’t really 'stay with me' after the film.

But 'Deewaar'… now this is a little something to make me like Shashi a little (ok, so I didn't just like him a little in 'Deewaar', I absolutely loved him, but it's slightly galling to have to admit it now...), and it definitely makes me want some more Shashi. His performance is simply wonderful, his character is nuanced and beautifully drawn, you can really trace his arc and journey in the movie… and he ain't looking half bad doing it either…

Monday, August 20, 2007

MY TEN - Ranking Dharmendra Movies (Part II)

I was going to do my 'Deewaar' review next… but I've decided to finish my Dharmendra countdown first… I am going to see 'Apne' any day from now, and for some reason it's important to me to finish this before seeing my 11th Dharam movie (I'm a little funny about details like that)…

Okay, so looking at the 5 films I have left to rank, I am thinking to myself: what a varied bunch – in one film he plays an 'ordinary hero', in another he plays himself (the movie-star Dharmendra), in a third he plays a prank-playing husband, in a fourth he plays a criminal whose services are enlisted to bring down the ultimate baddie; and in the fifth he plays an NRI returning to India and to his first love.

Dharmendra's range as an actor is something that is not often remarked upon, but after seeing only 10 of his movies, I can testify to his aplomb at handling different types of characters – romantic leading men (an obvious choice for anyone so handsome and charming), action heroes (again, not too surprising, he's got quite a good build), 'everyman' type of characters… rich and well-educated men, undecuated rural-dwellers… good guys, bad guys, good-but-bad guys… comic roles, physical roles, dramatic roles… I may have only seen a few of his many films, but I think Dharam is a very versatile actor; and I am looking forward to discovering more of his ability to interpret various types of roles, as I continue my foray into his body of work.

And now to the top five… exciting… even as I type this, I have no idea… I love all these movies so much, for so many different reasons… how do I begin to rank them? This is SO unbelievably tough!! (I know, like I didn’t give myself the task.) But here goes…

5.

"Life in a... Metro" was my most recent Dharmendra film, my tenth, and also the first I've seen on the big screen… so lots of milestones there! I really enjoyed "Metro", and although my favourite performances were by Konkona Sen Sharma (as Shruti) and Irrfan Khan (playing Monty); I thought Dharam did a really good job with his character. I relished every moment I had with him in this movie, from seeing his name in the opening credits, to seeing him back on his bench at the train station in the closing credits. I think he did a wonderful job with his character, an elderly man who returns to India to find the young girl he fell in love with many years before (beautifully played by Nafisa Ali).

Dharam had a lot of great scenes in this film – gleefully fleeing with his ladylove under the cover of darkness (on a motorbike!); panicking in the middle of gridlocked Mumbai traffic at the heartbreaking climax of his character's story; sharing intimate moments with the woman he loved, lost and had the opportunity to love again. In "Metro", he is in his romantic, dramatic element. He's elegantly, but also humanly, drawing you in with those dark eyes and making you fall in love with him all over again (well, at least, that's what he did for me)…



4.

"Guddi" is such a fantastic film… I have raved about Hrishikesh Mukherjee's wonderful films many times on this blog, and I have also raved about Jaya Badhuri's beautiful acting… the music of "Guddi" is lovely too, I can't get enough of "Bole Re Papihara". When I reviewed "Guddi", Sanket commented that this film should be seen for Jaya B's performance as Kusum (Guddi). At the time, I protested, saying that it should be seen for Jaya and Dharam-ji… but deep down I knew Sanket was right, and I had to admit it, even in all my fangirliness… this is 100% Jaya's movie. She dominates it, she holds your attention from start to finish… you are caught up in the journey of her character and you fall in love with her right from the start.




But, having said that, the movie-star called Dharmendra is pivotal to the story of "Guddi" – he is the catalyst for much of what happens to Kusum, the reason for the choices she makes… in this movie, Dharam has the unenviable (though flattering) task of playing himself… and he's playing himself at the height of his powers… as a highly successful leading man, adored by millions (especially females) young and old. And I think he does a fantastic job… he is utterly natural. The ploy succeeds – you actually believe that Dharmendra is not just stunningly handsome, but that he truly is gracious, likeable, and in fact, adorable. I have sometimes imagined how badly this role could have been executed had it been given to someone else, Rajesh Khanna for example… ouch, painful thought…


3.



Number 3, and it's another Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, the absolutely delightful "Chupke Chupke". This film is definitely a treat for any Dharmendra fan – in it, he is at the height of his powers… handsome, charming, mischievous, funny, sweet, smart… he pulls off the role of prankster professor extremely well, and he is ably supported by a wickedly fab and irresistible Sharmila Tagore, an absolutely adorable Amitabh Bachchan (I love his "Sa Re Ga Ma" song with Dharmendra), and a guileless, lovely Jaya Badhuri.

Dharam is absolutely gorgeous to look at here, and when he smiles... well, he just charms your socks off. In this film, there is a lot of scope for him to do the romantic leading man stuff he does so very well… but what I love most about his performance here is the way he shows off his formidable comedic chops… he is absolutely hilarious and just great to watch in every comic scene. His comic timing and delivery is impeccable. Yup. This one is definitely a monster-sized, thousand (no, million) calorie Dharmendra-flavoured treat… and look...! They just supersized you too.


2.

From greatganesha.com

So at number two, it's that much-beloved classic of Hindi cinema. Who doesn’t know all there is to know about "Sholay"? Fantastic performances all around – from Amitabh Bachchan as the still-waters-run-deep Jai (one of my favourite Big B performances, right up there with "Deewaar" and "Zanjeer"), from Sanjeev Kumar as the haunted Thakur, from Amjad Khan as the truly frightening Gabbar Singh (tremendous), from Hema Malini as the talkative Basanti, from Jaya Badhuri as the haunting Radha…and of course, from my dear Dharam-ji as the umm… colourful Veeru… And even the bit parts by Asrani and Helen are notable. Definitely one of my top 10 Hindi films of all time... maybe even in my top 5.

Dharmendra is fantastic in this film – it's been called his best performance ever (although some feel that honour belongs to "Satyakam", which I haven't seen). I haven’t seen enough of his movies to agree or disagree with this assessment – but it IS a great performance with a great deal of depth. He does it all – comedy, tragedy, action, drama and everything in between. Who could forget his drunken scene at the top of the tower, threatening to throw himself off for the love of Basanti (and of course, Jai's response to the threat). Simply classic comedy. Veeru's heartbreaking reaction to the loss of his friend… the scenes with Basanti when he plays a deity (so funny)… the wonderful camaraderie between Jai and Veeru right from the start of the film (I love how in the middle of the fight scenes, they look over to each other and ask "tum thik hoon?", so seemingly effortless and natural. The scary confrontations with Gabbar Signh. "Sholay" has everything – enough action to satisfy the die-hard action fan, very funny comedy, fantastic music (I love "Mehbooba Mehbooba" and "Yeh Dosti" best), intense human drama, thriller elements, and oodles of tragedy… just a great, great film.


1.

In the top spot (where else could it be? I have to be honest, I tried to put it at number three where I think it 'technically' belongs, but my dil said – nahin, DG, this is your number one!) is the movie that made me fall head over heels in love with Dharmendra… it's "The Burning Train". Objectively speaking, I have to ackowledge that my number two film "(and prolly my number three as well) trumps it completely, both as a film and as a vehicle for Dharam's sheer acting ability and versatility… and if this were not a Dharmendra-film ranking but just a film-ranking, "Sholay" would definitely be in the top spot... But for reasons beyond my understanding or control, I just am not as attached to it as I am to "The Burning Train". You see, I love every minute of "Sholay" – it has made me laugh, cry and be very, very afraid, but it has never made me swoon, it has never made my heart skip a beat. "The Burning Train", on the other hand… it makes me smile, it makes me blush (I'm doing both now), it makes me emotional, it makes me clutch at my heart, it simply makes me love Dharmendra…

I just found this here and I want it!

"The Burning Train"… I love this film. It's an action-thriller type of film, but it has really strong relational aspects to it – in a way, it's really all about human relationships. The train of the title becomes a deathtrap when a spiteful engineer rigs it, causing it to malfunction. Aboard the train are ex-lovers, played by Dharmendra and Hema Malini, and a colourful cast of characters led by a rich heiress (played by the fabulous Neetu Singh) and a conman (played by Mr. Jumpin' Jack Jeetendra)… Dharmendra finds himself bravely leading the terrified passengers as they struggle to save their own lives. Not aboard the burning train, but watching the progress of the deadly journey and doing his best to halt it is the engineer who built the train, played by the ultracool Vinod Khanna (he totally ROCKS an outfit in the beginning of the film that is just so… hmm… – some cowboy boots, very tight white pants, a scarf, a vest, accessorised by a comb hastily pulled through those sexy locks… only Vinod Khanna could've pulled off that get-up, but I digress…).

Where do I begin to describe what I love so much about this film? First, let me start with RD Burman's fabulous music… this film is often rated as having one of the best soundtracks ever in Hindi cinema… and I have to say that the songs are marvellous – they are each memorable, each different, each so right for the film… and every time I listen to them (and sing along) I love them more… I could never tire of them.

"Pal Do Pal Ka Saath Hamara" – I once described this song as an orgy and I can think of no better description for it… it's long, it's delicious, it's rich, it's indulgent, and it just keeps going on and on… just genius from start to finish… almost 10 minutes long, and just… delicious…. Then there's the touching "Teri Hai Zameen, Tera Asmaan", guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye, especially when the child falters emotionally in the middle of the song and the teacher goes "gaana bachcha, haan…" This one is completely calculated in its desire to wring emotion from you, but on this occasion, I really don't mind being manipulated. There's also "Meri Nazar Hai Tujhpe", beautifully picturised on a graceful Hema Malini and a fiery Parveen Babi, with Dharam and Vinod Khanna paying delightful homage to the ladies; as well as Dharam and Hema's cute number, "Vaada Haan Ji Vaada"... lovely song.

But the track that made me fall in love with this film and with Dharmendra is "Pehli Nazar Mein Humne"… oh my, this song (and the picturisation)… I could talk about it for hours… I could listen to it for ages (and believe me, I have) – I love how all the singers perform it in unison, then the male voices, then the female, then all in unison again etc, and there are no solo parts… I could watch it for ages (done that too) – I love the "natural" playful tone of the picturisation, with minimal choreography (and bicycles AND a train!! I can't believe how excited I am over bicycles and a train!)… I just can't explain the depth of my love for this song… technically it's not even the best song on the soundtrack of "The Burning Train". But boy, does it do something to me…

“Pehli Nazar Mein Humne” is as good a place as any to start to talk about the things Dharmendra just does throughout this film. Things that just devastated me the first time I saw it… there's just something about him… in "Pehli Nazar Mein Humne", the ladies (Parveen and Hema), are dancing gracefully, Vinod Khanna is cool as ever, strutting his stuff with those superfine brown eyes… but Dharam… Dharam is not dancing (he can't dance), he's not strutting (he's just not the strutting type, you see), he is just laid-back and relaxed, just kicking it with his crew, but he has such presence, and I just cannot take my eyes of him… and he's like that throughout the movie…

That look in his eyes at the start of the journey, a look of nostalgia mixed with frustration; then way the hurt on first seeing Seema later changes to a fiery, resolute desire to help the people on the train; the way he crushes that glass; the way he flicks off that guy's feet from his seat; the way he brushes the confetti off his hair and eats the sweet at the engagement ceremony; that throaty voice, the way he says "Sunno Seema, I love you", "Tell him thanks", "Seema, kya hua?"… from the first moment I watched this film, I just wanted to be Seema… yes, I'll admit it, I was jealous of a fictional character played by Hema Malini… ridiculous…but powerful, because this impact hasn't waned even a tiny bit since I first saw this film months ago. If anything, it's waxing even stronger…

Next up is "Deewaar"…

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

MY TEN: RANKING DHARMENDRA MOVIES (Part 1)

I'm suspending the follow-up to my 'Wedding Fever' post for the moment… I will come back to it soon… need to deal with something else first…

I’ve missed this blog… yes I have… for the entire month of July I can boast of a grand total of 1 post… been too busy working my butt off and basically running around like a bleary-eyed chicken with half its head cut off, to do much blogging.

On the more fun side, I’ve also been going to bridal showers and weddings (yes, the fever's still raging), meeting fellow bloggers (always interesting), and getting reacquainted with old ‘friends’; like the fab Neetu Singh, who I recently saw in ‘Deewaar’ (I had almost forgotten how much I love her, and speaking of ‘Deewaar’, it totally rocks, and I will come back to this point), and the Jackson 5 on ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ (isn’t it just fabulous when you’ve been away from a song you adore for a while, then you re-discover it and it feels like you’re in music heaven? I compare it to the feeling of being re-united with a long-lost lover and finding out (s)he loves you even more than (s)he did back then, although of course I know nothing aboutwhat that feels like)… but now I am rambling…




Now that I've gotten that pointless paragraph out of the way and rather randomly indulged the Neetu admiration a little, I can get down to the nitty-gritty of this post. My first post this month is all about Dharam-ji, the inspiration behind this blog – not surprising since he’s been on my mind a lot these days; not that he’s ever far from it – but ‘Apne’, his latest film with his sons Sunny and Bobby, has been released and I’ve been longing to see it. ‘Partner’ is currently showing at Nu Metro (I might catch it, I hear it's not half bad) and ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’ is on at City, but there was no sign of the possible fulfilment of my Dharam dreams... until last week, when I received a very gratifying text message from my friend Uzo, with the long-awaited good news (drumroll please), that the Deol men will be kicking it at Silverbird.


Anyway, I have now seen 10 Dharmendra films (I know, still way too few for a person who has a blog dedicated to the man), and I thought it might be fun to rank them in order of preference… I mean, I’m never going to be here again. Of course, I will be seeing ‘Apne’ very very soon. I also have ‘Ram Balram’ at home, waiting for me to find the time to watch it – it’s a Dharam/Big B movie, from the 70s I think. I’ve watched a little bit of it and can confidently say it’s not quite a ‘Sholay’, but it's looking good and I’m looking forward to it.


This idea is not mine (the good ones rarely are). Credit goes to Carla (of the wonderful Filmi Geek and Sounds Like Power sites, both of which I am compelled to visit daily because they are just so good; she also has the Geek of All Trades blog which deals with her varied non-filmi interests - from African music to baseball to languages - and more). Carla loves Shabana Azmi and is putting together a 'Geek's Guide' to Shabana's movies.


So here’s my list… this is going to be incredibly tough because I like all these movies, for different reasons… I should probably note that I am ranking these movies based on two major criteria, both of which are equally important to me – the quality of the movie, and the quality of the Dharam-liciousness. So some movies that I would ordinarily regard as better overall just might take a backseat to the ones that have more 'Dharmendra-power'. And of course there is the power of sentiment and personal connection (and, I might as well just admit it… hotness), which may trump more, ummm, rational factors. You’ll see what I mean in a minute (I think).

Anyway, starting from number 10:


10.

Sadly, ‘Anpadh’ brings up the rear – sadly, I say, because I actually like this movie. And it is a very noble film, aimed at promoting the importance of female education and the trials women often undergo simply because of their gender. The film preaches education and enlightenment as a tool of empowerment for women. The late Nutan Behl, one of my favourite Indian actresses, puts in a strong, heartbreaking performance as the ‘anpadh’ who is thoroughly taken advantage of and wronged because of her lack of education. All good so far – but my, is this a dreary, sad film. It’s all a bit 'too' overwrought.

And then there's a young Dharam (the youngest I've seen him, so far)… playing a young (and immature), educated man who is semi-forced to marry an illiterate girl (his parents' eyes are on her substantial dowry). He marries her, and at first is captivated by her beauty, until he discovers his dulhan cannot read or write, cannot cook (yes, the omnipresent every-wife-must-cook idea rears its ugly head yet again), and generally can't do much of anything. He then proceeds to be horrible to her, until one fateful day, when he discovers how sweet and kind and forgiving she really is….. Expectedly, he falls in love with her and teaches her to read and write (in between stolen kisses and coy glances). Just when they are really happy, he dies in a tragic car crash and his wife continues to be confronted with misery after misery…

Dharam looks beautiful (yes, beautiful) in black-and-white here, good enough to eat really…but his part is rather short, and for most of it he's playing a shallow, unkind, inconsiderate prat… so this isn't really one of my fave Dharam performances. And the fact that 'Anpadh', for all its noble social commentary and well-crafted performances, did not really ‘capture’ me in general; keeps it down at the bottom of my list…


9.

At number 9, we have 'Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya' – starring Kajol, Dharam-ji, and the Khan brothers (Salman and Arbaaz)…. Again, there isn't a whole lot of Dharmendra in this film. He plays a loving chacha who also happens to be a bit of a badass – for all his innocuous looks, he does not hesitate to beat up any goon who dares to threaten his family.


This was my first taste of 'older' Dharmendra onscreen – and I was so busy enjoying the fact that I was watching my hero, that I would probably have been happy watching him watch paint dry; but the truth is, he doesn't get a chance to do much in this film – rightly so, because the storyline is about the young lovers and he's a minor character. I also had some issues with his dubbing. Having said all that, though, it's quite a good, believable performance by Dharmendra, in a film I enjoyed far more than expected.


8.

Number 8 – and it's 'Jugnu'… a masala flick from the early 70s, starring Dharmendra and Hema Malini. 'Jugnu' is not a bad film, but it's not exactly all that, either. Dharam plays an action-hero type, an almost legendary thief who steals from the rich and uses the proceeds to run an orphanage and do other nice things. Hema (in a very good performance) plays the feisty daughter of a police chief. She first clashes with, and then falls for, our thief. 'Jugnu' has a lot of the 'right' elements – some good comedy, some exciting sequences (Jugnu's daring heists are not badly staged) and some good music (by SD Burman). But there's also stuff in there that's not so good – some cheesy one-liners, some poor plot pacing in the script, some scenes that were frankly boring, and a mysterious sort of fading-in/fading-out chemistry between the leads. I did like the fact that our ‘jugnu’ got his comeuppance in the end.


As I said, it's not a bad movie by any means, and the second half definitely trumps the first half; but it's no classic either. Dharam's performance could've been better – he seemed a bit uninspired sometimes, especially in the first half of the film…. 'Jugnu' just left me thinking it could've been better scripted, less tacky, tighter, fresher, more fun, more… something… but at the end of the day, it's quite watchable, and I guess that's good enough for some movies.

7.

Look for any potted biography of Dharam-ji, and you'll probably find a reference to his badly made 'muscle man' disaster flicks from the 80s. Most such biographies will tell you that making these movies was a huge mistake for Dharmendra because they lessened his credibility and umm… made him look a bit ridiculous. They might also mention that these films were basically B-movies with lots of cheesy special effects, screaming heroines that were much younger than Dharam-ji (a fact he apparently was quite proud of), and dodgy storylines…

My lucky number 7, 'Ghazab', might well be classified as one such movie. 'Ghazab' is a movie about twins – not a fun masala ride like 'Ram aur Shyam' or 'Seeta aur Geeta', but quite a sad one. One of the twins dies and then comes back as a ghost to beg his brother (hitherto unaware of his existence) to avenge his death. In a rather icky twist, the avenging twin ends up hooking up with the girl (played by Rekha) that the dead twin was in love with when he was alive. Want more weirdness? Avenging brother gets possessed by spirit of dead twin at some point, the girl 'they' love goes bananas then gets well again… and so on.


As my last paragraph shows, 'Ghazab' is certainly not for everyone. It's a little bit silly. But at times I could not help but laugh at the comedy between the twins and the silliness of a lot of the film. And the sad parts are actually rather poignant. The pacing of the story was quite good as well, actually – it held my attention all the way through. Plus there are a couple of cute songs in there – in particular, 'Jaane Jigar' is still remembered in Nigeria by a lot of people (forgot to mention that 'Ghazab' is one of the more popular Hindi films in Nigeria). Dharmendra's performance is interesting to me in this film, because he throws himself into the role, and it totally comes across to the viewer. His aptitude for comedy comes through, as does his affinity for physicality. I found 'Ghazab' very entertaining, and I will definitely watch it again.

6.

At number 6 is 'Seeta aur Geeta', in which Dharmendra takes a bit of a backseat to the fabulous Ms. Hema Malini. Hema basically runs away with this film, in which she plays a pair of very different twins. Dharam plays the love interest of one the twins. He's a happy-go-lucky gypsy-type who is more scarred by his past than he would ever dare to admit. Sanjeev Kumar (star of another famous twin-movie, 'Angoor', which I've just started watching – it's very funny so far) gets a bigger part than Dharam-ji in 'Seeta aur Geeta', mostly because Dharam gets the quiet twin who doesn't do much of anything, whereas Sanjeev gets the fun, feisty, fan-hopping twin, who's much more entertaining to watch (although the quiet twin was hilarious in the scene where her aunt dressed her up in some crazy clothes and forced her down the stairs – but I digress)…

The point I'm trying to make is that Dharam comes in a slightly distant third to Hema's ownership of the movie and Sanjeev's comic role as the feisty twin's love-interest. Dharmendra doesn't get that much screen time, but he does very well with what he's got – one of my favourite scenes is his side-splittingly funny reaction to the quiet twin's dive into the river. He's rather mischievous and cute with his little gold earring, and he plays his part in this enjoyable romp of a movie well. At the end of the day though, it’s Hema ki film.


So that's the bottom 5 of my top ten (and only ten). Five films are left for me to arrange in order of preference: 'Chupke Chupke', 'Guddi', 'Sholay', 'The Burning Train' and 'Life in a… Metro' (or is it ‘Life… in a Metro’? Whichever). Which do you think will be my number one? Which do you think will be my number five? (To be honest, I have no idea at this point!) If you have seen some of these movies, I would love to know you would rank them!!

At the very beginning of this post, I raved about 'Deewaar'… I was going to do a review of this film, but if you've been to Filmi Geek or The Bollywood Music Club recently, you'll find wonderful reviews that do it far more justice than I could ever hope to. If you haven't checked those sites out in the past few days, then you must – they've done a great job of summing up just what's so good about 'Deewaar' – it's just a really, really good film. (After reading the reviews, do yourself a big favour: find a copy of the movie and see for yourself how good it is).

Since Sanket and Carla have done such a fab job with reviewing this movie, I was gonna pack it in and move on to the next topic, until I realised that... aha... I've got something that those reviews, wonderful as they are, haven't got (isn't that, sort of, a line from 'The Wizard of Oz'?)… and that something is... screencaps galore! (and, I am forced to admit, multiple references to hotness, but that kinda follows on from the screencaps...)

So anyway, up next will be a very screencappy review of 'Deewaar'…