Friday, April 27, 2007

Suneel Darshan: Commercial but not so classy

A successful Bollywood director was once asked: So should stars do a different kind of cinema?

His response: Different is a wrong word. We should stop striving to make different films and concentrate on making classy, commercial films.

I think that quote pretty much sums up what Suneel Darshan, the subject of this post (and the director referred to above), tries to do as a film-maker. It’s a bit odd that he has a problem with ‘different’ films, though. I mean, it’s one thing to prefer to do things a certain way, and quite another to discourage doing things differently. But anyway, in past posts, I have praised the adventurousness and edginess of Ram Gopal Verma’s work, and the charm and simplicity of the films made by the late Hrishikesh Mukherjee. I decided to do a post on Darshan’s films when I realized that of the eight films he has directed so far (the most recent being ‘Shakalaka Boom Boom’ (SLBB)), I’ve seen five. Not bad. But I’ll admit that I haven’t consciously sought them out.

Interestingly, Suneel is not the only filmmaker in his family. His brother Dharmesh has directed successful films like ‘Dhadkan’ and ‘Raja Hindustani’. Also, his son is about to enter the industry as an actor – I wonder if Suneel and his kid will be able to pull off a Roshan-type debut successfully.

When I think of the Suneel Darshan movies I’ve seen, I would definitely say they are ‘commercial’ – they are very formulaic, deliberately aimed at achieving box-office success by pushing the buttons of the target cinema-going audience. I’m no snob, and I know that filmmakers need to eat, so I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. However, I do think there’s a problem when filmmakers, in the quest for commercial success, start to insult the intelligence of their audience. I think cinema-goers are a lot smarter than some directors give them credit for – and Darshan, unfortunately, seems to be one of those directors.

In the interview referred to above, Darshan talks about making ‘classy’ commercial movies. I’m not sure he’s not achieved a ‘classy’ touch to his movies – commercial they are, but classy? When I think of ‘class’; I think of elegance, understatement, sophistication, style, grace and taste. These are not words that truly describe the Darshan movies I’ve seen. The films are not irredeemable, they do have certain things to recommend them, but classy? Hmm… the jury’s still out on that one. Having said that, though, he can make an entertaining (if slightly shallow) type of film when he tries.

There are some common denominators to the Darshan films I’ve seen – catchy, trendy music; stereotypical characters, gloss (think snazzy clothes and loads of make-up), some skin and sexiness, some good drama, lots and lots of heightened emotion, romance, a bit of gore, cheesiness galore, and love scenes that go a little further than most Bollywood films (see the Akshay/Karisma scenes in ‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’ and ‘Ek Rishtaa’).

Speaking of Akshay Kumar and Karisma Kapoor; like every other filmmaker, Darshan has his usual suspects. He seems to love Akshay very much (of the 5 Darshan movies I’ve seen so far, Akki shows up in 4), Lolo, Bobby Deol and (in smaller doses) Juhi Chawla and Mohnish Behl. Darshan seems to have shifted his focus from Akshay to Bobby a bit – he gave Bobby a role previously reserved for Akshay (‘Barsaat’, which would probably have fared much better with Akshay in the lead role – not because Akki is better than Bobby, but because he’s much cheesier), and also gave him a lead role in SLBB. Darshan has said in an interview (can't find it right now) that he thinks Bobby is best actor in the Deol family (needless to say, I disagree).

Anyway, on to the Darshan movies I’ve seen (in the order in which I viewed them):

‘Ek Rishtaa – The Bond of Love’: I’ve blogged about this movie before here… I liked this film, and it’s the Darshan movie I’ve liked the most. Its music was quite sweet, I thought most of the songs were very good. The story was fine, until about three-quarters of the film, when it just seemed to get out-of-control – it felt like the writer was grasping at straws, trying to wrap it all up in a hurry. On balance, though, the story was not bad at all.

The star cast, led by Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee, worked together quite effectively. I liked the way Akshay and Amitabh interpreted the father/son relationship of their characters. Mohnish Behl and Juhi Chawla did quite well too.

Karisma (playing Nisha) and Akshay (playing Ajay) were a cute couple and had nice chemistry together (I love their ‘Mohabbat Ne’ number), but the biggest problem I had with the film revolved around these characters. The story was quite sexist in the way Nisha’s place in Ajay’s family was treated. Nisha made her share of mistakes and apologized for them – but Ajay treated her pretty badly as well, and never apologized or even admitted to being wrong. Their story was also quite shoddily resolved, which was pretty annoying – after spending a lot of time on how the couple got together and the crisis they faced, the resolution was pretty much thrown away. In fact the entire ending was unsatisfactory – the closing scene is particularly cheesy, unrealistic and irritating, and detracts from the overall standard of the film.
Having said all that, I liked ‘Ek Rishtaa’.

Oh, ‘Jaanwar’. I said a bit about it here. It’s impossible to take this film seriously, really. But its heart is in the right place. The film is one big stereotype, packed to the gills with many smaller stereotypes that don’t always work well together. But, its heart is in the right place. ‘Jaanwar’ opens with a vicious car-chase, making it clear that this is one of the films that won Akshay his ‘action hero’ stars when he was younger. Then we see that Akshay’s character (‘Badshah’) has been trapped in a life of crime since childhood, by an evil ‘Fagin’ (from Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’) type. Of course, this is a respected Bollywood plot device – I recently saw it brilliantly deployed by Raj Kapoor in ‘Awaara’ in the ’50s.

Before long, we come to a scene with Karisma Kapoor (playing ‘Sapna’) dancing for money. She too is oppressed, by a mean uncle who’s greedy enough to sell her body to the neighbourhood lecher. Naturally, Badshah comes to her rescue just in time – but oops, I forgot to mention that before that, she had saved his life and nursed him very prettily, so he’s kinda returning the favour. Of course, they fall in love… but things don’t go smoothly for their relationship...

To cut a long story short, Badshah, so sadly led into crime in his youth, serendipitously gets the opportunity to bring up an adorable little kid on the straight and narrow – and of course, he abandons crime in order to do so. Unfortunately, the kid actually belongs to a young couple (played by Mohnish Behl and Shilpa Shetty), who, when they find him, are desperate to get him back. Meanwhile, the Fagin-type that was abandoned by Badshah re-discovers him and wants his pound of flesh. Sapna manages to return to the story as well. CRISIS! And resolution – everyone ends up happy somehow (except for the bad guys, of course). And did I mention that Johnny Lever is in there for laughs? Ha ha.

Yup, that’s the kind of film ‘Jaanwar’ is – it has a little bit of every major Bollywood stereotype out there in its mix, and it doesn’t always work, but you just can’t bring yourself to dislike it. It’s really cheesy, but it’s also quite entertaining. And the earnestness of the actors makes it work, somehow. There are some cute moments, some amusing ones that are actually meant to be serious (the ‘comic’ moments are actually not funny at all – Lever is wasted in this one), and it’s so funny to see Akshay sporting some luscious long brown tresses (they made him look sooo funny), wielding a hammer, and shouting angrily and passionately at every opportunity (one thing I will say for Akshay: he is game for everything, no matter how mad or daft – a bit like Salman actually – and the ridiculous, silly part of me totally respects that). In short, it’s all harmless good fun.

‘Dosti: Friends Forever’: I blogged about ‘Dosti’ here… the leads were not bad but the details were pretty appalling. I still can’t get over the fact that the kids aged 20 years but the world stayed exactly the same. And the female roles were really bland and uninteresting – I can almost conclude that Darshan doesn’t have much use for women in his films – he seems to use them a bit like fashion accessories – a tear from a neatly-kajal-ed eye here, a flash of leg there, a little conflict over a very undeserving man there.

Barsaat’: I’ve also blogged about this one before – here. Bobby Deol was miscast, but Bipasha Basu was even more so. The film just doesn’t work.

Humans or dolls? You decide.

‘Mere Jeevan Sathi’:
My most recent expedition into Darshan’s world, and one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while. Released last year, MJS is the story of a woman (played by Karisma), who is obsessed with an up-and-coming singer (played by Akshay Kumar: a very cringeworthy performance, in a role that’s too young for him). Unfortunately for the obsessed lover, our singing hero is already in a serious relationship with his high school sweetheart (played by Amisha Patel). This, naturally, does not stop him from making a mistake that sorta messes up his life for a while.

These poses by Akshay in 'Mere Jeevan Sathi' still leave me absolutely gob-smacked.

What can I say about this film? It’s really trashy and the story is just dumb and annoying – from beginning to end. The performances are nothing to write home about – Akki, in particular, makes you cringe – he is just so OTT and cheesy. Lolo and Amisha are given the most horrendous, hackneyed lines ever. Lolo is not bad in some bits, but she totally overdoes the ‘femme fatale’ thing and becomes a sort of caricature. Amisha is way too sweet – any sweeter and she’d turn into a big ol’ bag of sugar. And the Akshay/Karisma love scene I mentioned earlier in this post probably was striving for tasteful sensuality, but it’s really just trashy and a bit eeuw.

There is so much to dislike in MJS, so many scenes and moments that make you cringe, so much senselessness in the plot… I can’t even begin to tell it. You do get a sense for what they were trying to do – it’s an attempt to have ‘grey’ characters – Karisma’s crazed character is portrayed quite sympathetically… but I’m sorry, I just think it’s all a load of rubbish – not much thought seems to have been put into it. So much is just pointless and/or extremely annoying (I wouldn’t mind the former as much – this is Bollywood, right? – if there weren’t so much of the latter).

They put so much eye make-up on Amisha for this movie, that sometimes you just can't see the whites of her eyes. Frightening.

There’s an older MJS, released in 1972 and starring Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja, that’s quite an interesting movie – some extremely camp and OTT grooviness, a storyline that’s a bit bizarre (different from the new one, although naturally there’s a love triangle – or two – in there as well – sigh), some great RD Burman music, and a really fun and silly lead role that only Khanna could play with such skewed relish. It’s a fun and sometimes even thought-provoking memento of the time in which it was made.

I wish I could say something complimentary about Darshan’s MJS, but I can’t – I could say Amisha and Karisma look great, but that would be praising Darshan’s apparent penchant for showing off the beauty of his female stars and just not giving them much (or much that’s meaningful or sensible) to do. I could say the songs are not that bad, but then I didn’t really like them either. So I’ll just say this is an awful film. A pity to end this piece on a downer, but there you go. I think – no, I know, that Darshan can do better than this mediocre film – what I’ve heard about SLBB isn’t promising, but hopefully he’ll do better next time. There's always next time.

You should know there's something amiss when the guest at your engagement ceremoy has wind blowing in her hair and you don't.

And just because it's fun, here are a couple of funny subtitles from MJS:
1. 'What do you take me for...? A prostitute? A blood whore?' This subtitle is less funny than disturbing, actually.
2. 'I'm free! Free! Free from my dreams!' This one's kind of weird 'cos Akshay actually says this in English, not Hindi, so there is no real need for subtitles. Except he says 'free from your dreams'. The funniest thing about it is the grandiose arm movements he makes, though.

And, finally, a very classy goodbye from Akshay:

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I had to post this cute picture on my blog:

It's Dharmendra (who seems to have lost quite a bit of weight), and his sons Bobby (don't you just love how he's hugging his dad close?) and Sunny. These three Deol men are getting ready for the release of their new movie (and first movie together), 'Apne'. Many, many thanks to Sanket for directing me to the photo. I really hope 'Apne' is a good movie, and I also hope that it gets a good reception when it comes out. So far, it looks promising. My fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

'SEETA AUR GEETA' - The Hema Malini Show

So… I finally got round to ‘Seeta aur Geeta’, yet another Dharmendra movie - yup, I’m on a roll! ;-). It stars the fabulous Ms. Hema Malini in a challenging ‘double role’ as chalk-and-cheese twins named ‘Seeta’ and ‘Geeta’; twins who were separated at birth. Dharmendra is one of her leading men, and Sanjeev Kumar is the other. ‘Seeta aur Geeta’ is your typical 70s masala flick – there’s something in there for everyone - sadness, laughter, drama... and it’s just a whole lot of fun.

I’ve been looking forward to this particular movie for a long time… and maybe that’s partly why I didn’t love it as much I probably could’ve. I really liked it though, it had some really fun moments, and Hema is so fab in it, so I know I’ll definitely be returning to it time and again. For now though, I thought it might be fun to do a list of pros and cons about my experience with ‘Seeta aur Geeta’ (I love lists of pros and cons, thanks to one of my fave actors, Dustin Hoffman (in ‘Kramer v. Kramer’)). I can’t decide whether to do the pros first or the cons first, so I’ll interchange…

Pro: Hema and Dharam are always a cute couple, and this movie is no exception. Was great to see them onscreen together again.

Con: I so was not feeling Sanjeev Kumar’s performance… it seemed like he was trying too hard, and he came across as a bit of a fancy-pants-Ronald mummy’s boy (it didn’t help that he kept going ‘Mummy Daddy’ either). He really does not look cute on skates – and I was not feeling that hair. Fine, I know he was supposed to be a bit stiff and geeky, but he could have done it better, I think. I usually like geeky, but I didn’t like his geeky. Plus (and most importantly), that slap… what a horrible thing to do. I hate that clichéd ‘I’ll bring this hysterical woman to her senses by slapping her’ rubbish. I still think Sanjeev was a pretty cool actor, but this was definitely not one of his stronger showings.

Pro: Now my Dharam, he was looking good… a little rough around the edges, but good. Loved his little gold earring. And his character was fun as well – I enjoyed his scenes (would’ve liked to see a bit more of him, but hey, I’ll take what I can get).

Con: This was probably my biggest problem – my dvd (by the mighty Eros) is absolutely abysmal in terms of picture quality. Everything is just RED and YELLOW and DIRTY and BLURRY and so so eeuw… I’m definitely getting the Shemaroo version when I go to India. This one stinks big time. (It’s the main reason for the lack of screencaps in this post) I'm beginning to think I may have unknowingly bought a fake DVD 'cos I have quite a few Eros DVDs, and none are this bad.

Pro: Hema is just the bomb in this movie. She is so super-cool, and adorable and fun, and you just fall in love with her (both versions of her). Simply too fab for words.

Con: The subtitles were not good at all. They were really minimal, and they were out of sync with what the characters were saying, and they were just kind of weird.

Pro: There’s always a silver lining…some of the subtitles were hilarious! (They’re the main reason why I have screencaps in this post at all.) Here are my top 5 - I love them. They're a little hard to read, so I'll spell 'em out.

1. No friends. I have none. I was born on the lap of footpath.
2. Why should I tell lie for such a petty thing? Yes she put leg break.
3. Don't worry. Raka will get Geeta freed, even if she is in jail or in den.
4. So, it is your duty to feel shy before my daddy and mummy. Understand?
5. I am your another form. I am your twin sister, Geeta.

Con: This film should’ve been ‘Rama aur Shyama’ (excuse me, I just have to be idiotic and say they should’ve put the ‘ram’ in the ‘ramashyama ding dong’). Or they should've called it ‘Ramita aur Shyamita’… or something… because it’s EXACTLY the same film as Dilip Kumar’s ‘Ram aur Shyam’; it just has a female star instead of a male one, and a female villain instead of a male one. I mean, it’s pretty much exactly the same movie… down to like, everything (all they really added in S&G was the existence of ‘Dadi Ma’). I have to admit that this detracted from my enjoyment of the film – I always knew exactly what was going to come next. Maybe it would’ve helped if I’d known going in that I was going to be watching a ‘Ram aur Shyam’ remake. The fact that I saw ‘Ram aur Shyam’ first (and on a rather good DVD, I might add) made comparisons on my part inevitable… and I honestly have to say that, on the whole, R&S wins it for me – for reasons I can’t go into right now, ’cos I’d end up saying too much about both movies (I still really like S&G though).

Pro: I very much liked the cute duets with all the la la la-ing (I have a soft spot for la la las), and I liked all the other songs too. So the music (by RD Burman) gets a big thumbs-up.

Con: The whole bit with Dharam’s character being an alcoholic and Hema trying to dissuade him from drinking… hmmm… I didn’t like it… let’s just say it hit a little too close to home for me. I just couldn’t help but wonder if that scene has been replicated in real life… but I’m veering into gossip territory… and I really shouldn’t.

Pro: There was some great comedy in this flick. My three favourite scenes for laughs – when Chachu drags Seeta down the stairs dressed in that crazy outfit with crazy make-up – I love the way Hema stumbles down in horror; when Dharam goes ‘wow, great dive’ (can’t say more than that, or I’ll spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie – I just thought that bit was hilarious); and when Chachu and Chacha walk into the police station and all the policemen are just sitting around looking shell-shocked. There were plenty of other funny moments (most of the ones with Sanjeev and Hema, as well as the ones at the mansion, I found pretty funny), but those three are my faves.

Con: The pointless thing by the pool with Sanjeev and the bikini-clad chick… like, so very yawwnn…

Pro: I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s the best thing about this movie – so here it is again – Hema ROCKS!! I dare anyone not to love her after watching this film!

So, I think the pros just about outnumbered the cons… I’m glad ’cos I really liked this movie and I’m looking forward to getting a better DVD so I can enjoy it properly!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

'GUDDI' (1971)

I have raved about Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s directing and Jaya Bhaduri’s acting more than once on this blog… so you can imagine my delight when I recently came across another film starring Jaya and directed by Hrishida (my fifth, after ‘Abhimaan’, ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Mili’ and ‘Chupke Chupke’). The icing on the cake is that ‘Guddi’ also stars my hero, Dharam ji, playing himself. It was an absolutely delightful find, especially in view of my recent discovery of Jaya’s remarks on Dharmendra on ‘Koffee with Karan’ (thanks again for letting me know, Sanket!)

‘Guddi’ is the story of Kusum (her pet name is ‘Guddi’, which means ‘doll’ – a very clever symbol in this film), a young schoolgirl who is in love with the movies, and especially with her favourite movie star, Dharmendra. She is so in love with him that she doesn’t want to marry a sweet, sincere young man who’s in love with her. However, through a series of visits to Hindi movie sets, she comes to discover that her ideas of glamour and perfection in the movie industry and its stars are nothing but a smokescreen, and that beneath the glowing surface, there are blemishes: inequities, crushing and monotonous hard work, disenchantment, and even callousness. She realises that the love her suitor feels for her (and which she, unbeknownst to her, returns) is real; while her love for Dharmendra is a mirage… and of course it all ends beautifully (I love the final scene so much, it’s so charming).

Gulzar’s script is a beautiful tapestry of metaphors, themes and esoteria – I love the way he intertwines expositions of ideas as varied as the role of the press in the movie industry, the team effort involved in film-making, and the awkwardness that lies in the gap between girlhood and womanhood. It’s all expressed through beautiful music (the stand-out tune is ‘Bole Re Papihara’) and lovingly sketched scenes with just the right amount of sweetness (I love the use of the ‘statue’ game), fantasy (I must admit I was totally fooled by one of the two fantasy scenes), comedy (Asrani’s scene with his mother is hilarious), and social commentary (as found in Dharam’s scene at the old studio – the commentary is totally inoffensive and sincere, and never goes over the top – which I guess is one of the biggest achievements of this film).

I love the ‘mirroring’ effect Mukherjee creates between what’s ‘real’ and what’s not in this film. The lines appear unclear sometimes, but then you realise that what’s being reflected is the magic of the movies as well as the ‘realness’ of the people who work within the movie industry. There is an appealing heartfelt, self-effacing tone to the entire film, especially the ‘movie-making’ part – I am not sure anyone but Mukherjee could have made it work so well - I think with most other film-makers it would have come off as very patronising and preachy. It’s sheer genius – it all appears really simple, but there’s an appealing ‘meatiness’, a hidden complexity beneath the surface.

And Jaya Bhaduri’s performance as Guddi is absolutely marvellous – she captures the conflict within this girl on the cusp of womanhood brilliantly. The transition of her character is subtle and realistic, and it’s expressed through slight changes in her manner, appearance (props to the costumiers and make-up people on this film) and demeanour – absolutely beautiful. I love her acting. Jaya is supported by Samit, Sumita Sanyal, Utpal Dutt, and G. Asrani (one of Hrishida’s faves, here in a memorable little role as a deluded young man consumed with dreams of starring opposite Sadhana or Sharmila).

During the film-set scenes, there’s also a range of stars making special appearances, (for some reason I found those sequences quite moving). Among others, there’s Ashok Kumar, Vinod Khanna (rocking some hot long sideburns – couldn’t get a good pic unfortunately), Rajesh Khanna and even Jaya’s future husband:

Now for a few screencaps… Jaya looks absolutely stunning in this film (those eyes!), and her evolution is great to watch – I love her first sari scene, her walk is ever so slightly and unselfconsciously awkward – I just think she is such a brilliant actress.

I love that her character never loses her ‘girlishness’, her sense of fun and liveliness – one thing you find sometimes in Hindi films is that the girl suddenly becomes sombre, boring, lifeless and even repressed when she transitions into womanhood. This doesn’t happen with Guddi – she matures, yes, but she doesn’t lose her gutsiness, vivaciousness, warmth and spirit. I love that.

I love the way she laughs – this scene reminded me so strongly of her laughter during ‘Shava Shava’ in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’.
I also think she makes such a sweet couple with her co-star, and I love their playful, charming chemistry together:

And of course, there’s the obligatory funny subtitle:

This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention my dear Dharam’s role – playing yourself must be so hard as an actor (the divide between sheer hubris and crushing awkwardness must be difficult to straddle), but he does it with such grace, (apparent) humility and… cuteness. Through his efforts, Guddi loses her girlish crush on him in the course of this story, but I’m afraid this movie has had the opposite effect on me. It’s only made me love him more… so I must now crave your ‘forgivance’ – permit me to indulge my Dharam-love just a little bit…

Guddi’s Dharmendra scrapbook – I love how she’s crossed out his co-star’s face – such a typical fangirly thing…

This scene was fabulously done – it looked just like you’d expect Guddi to imagine it:

Sach, Dharamji?! Bahut bahut shukriya… that means so much to me!

I simply have to find a place for this picture on this blog…

April has been pretty quiet on this blog – not because my Bollyworld has been quiet, but because blogging time has been in short supply – I’m hoping to liven the party up a bit in May though. Up next… a review of the awesome ‘Awāra’, my first Raj Kapoor film – or I should say my first Raj Kapoor starrer, because I have seen a film he directed ('Satyam Shivam Sundaram'). 'Awaara' was very kindly recommended by Rajnish ji, in a comment on my ‘Mother India’ liveblog. On the contemporary tip, I’m also working on a lil’ something about Bollywood’s ‘bunny boilers’. Should be fun.