Saturday, February 19, 2005

Bride and Prejudice Redux

I wrote a piece on Bride and Prejudice when the movie released in India and UK. At that point in time, I had no clue on how the movie was going to turn out. My analysis was solely based on the reports that I had read on websites and a few trailors that I saw. Yesterday, I had a chance to catch the movie at an art-house cinema hall, the Egyptian theatre. Turns out my guess about it being a moderate critical and commercial success was bang on (Pat my back :-))

So, what did I think of the movie? It was actually enjoyable. Since most people are familiar with the story, I am just going to point out the pros and the cons.

1. Seamless integration of a Bollywood concept into a Hollywood movie. You don't notice the song and dance too much.
2. English movie with Indian actors, but it never appears ackward.
3. Lush with colors, shifting locations from Amritsar to London to LA helps.
4. Nikhil Ganatra as Kholi (ya, that's how they spell it in the movie) is terrific as the settled NRI shopping for a bride in India.
5. You should see how each character in Bride and Prejudice has been given an equivalent name. If you remember the book, you'll make the connection. For exampl, the two balls in the book are replaced by dandiya and bhangra. Smart, huh?
6. Aishwarya Rai looks really good on screen

1. Aishwarya Rai looks really good on screen. She can't act though. All points in my Ash rant make it worse to enjoy here.
2. Martin Henderson should be a Dudley, not a Darcy. Zero personality. I winced in pain as I watch him fumble a part that Laurence Olivier and Colin Firth have excelled in.
3. Music is a letdown. Barring a couple of hummable numbers, Anu Malik missed a golden chance
4. Story lacks pace in the middle portions. Could have been spruced up.

All important question. Is it a successful crossover attempt? I'd say 3.25/5. Yes, it has the right idea. I sat in a theatre where only 4-5 people were Indians. The rest were largely white Americans, and I could see them enjoy the movie in parts. I think the accents take time getting used to, the song lyrics are indecipherable, and the loud characters are not easy to identify with. But the humor was something they connected to, there were no grunts when the songs came on, and I heard some really positive comments in the hallway when we were exiting.

Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. Check out the reverential nod to Bollywood when they stroll on the Santa Monica beach with gospel groups and Baywatch babes singing 'Show them to love'. It was hilarious. If you are an NRI like me, you'll 'get' most of the Kholi jokes and trust me, they are funny.Gurinder Chadha does not deride Bollywood, but does caricaturize Indians at time in the movie. There is not much brain, not as much wit as the original book. But this is the 21st century anyway, right?

This is not a Bend it like Beckham because it was never meant to be one. I'd recommend that you watch this movie once. Don't expect too much and thou shall come out pleasantly surprised as I was.

Post Script:
This is NOT a movie blog. I should remind myself of this every morning. Namesake is terrific so far and I did not get a chance to see Cold Mountain. Next week, I am off to my alma mater: Texas A&M University, College Station to give a, ahem, lecture to the Computer Science Honors Society. Of course, Avinash is still there, so that is motivation enough to put together some powerpoint slides and talk incessentlty for an hour or so.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Angels with arrows, large hearts, large chocolates shaped as hearts, red roses, orange roses (welcome to the genetic world), white roses, panicky boyfriends, perspiring husbands et al. The day is here. I saw the rise of the Valentine in India. The neighbourhood Archie's went from having a bunch of cards to putting huge cut-outs and tons of extra racks of cards outside their shop. You were bombarded with songs like 'Valentines day ke din main keh doon ankahi'. Corny with a capital K. Puppy love, yuppy love, mismashed into this consumerist exposition of affection. In fact, this whole 'imported' concept of 'days' is funny. Our outpouring of patriotic feelings seems to be limited to two days a year. Does the same concept apply here? Can you get romantic and flowery and chocolaty one day a year and be your normal grumpy, remote-turning, chip-munching self for the remainder? Apparently not. Then, why single out this day and make it harder for the poor souls. It gets worse with the other 'days'. With a day associated with each member of the family, it seems to be a scam purported by Hallmark to increase it sales, and stuffed down the throats of gullible Indians who'd be more than happy to adopt any Western traditions, given we don't have any of our own!

Rants aside, let me announce that we have got Lucky. Literally, the best music of the year so far has come through. Adnan Sami has scored the music for this Sallu movie called 'Lucky' with an Ash-lookalike 19 year old National College Bandra student. Five songs to absolutely check out if you like melody and have enjoyed his solos thus far.

1. Jaan Meri Ja Rahi Sanam (Anuradha Paudwal, Udit Narayan)
Refreshing melody, reminds me of some songs from Sahibaan.

2. Sun Zara (Sonu Nigam)
Composed by Adnan for himself, sung by Sonu. Good rendition.

3. Shayed Yahi To Pyar Hai (Lata Mangeshkar, Adnan Sami)
Class all over. Lata shines in this beautiful composition.

4. Chori Chori(Alka Yagnik, Sonu Nigam)
Not exceptional, but I like the beats

5. Lucky Lips(Asha Bhosle)
Very 80's rhythm. Asha rescues this from being a corny song to a terrific foot-tapper

While on the topic of Bollywood (my blog seems to be receding into becoming a blog exclusively dealing with Hindi movies), I saw the nominations from Filmfare this year. Wonder what set of dimwits work over there. Here's the list and here are the goof-ups. I read the nomination list before I read the other article and I thought I was looking at misprints till I read the analysis. These awards used to be an institution (not without their share of controversies, yet they did ok most of the times), but they are turning out to be a joke. I don't think we have even a single set of awards that are genuinely good in India. You might say National awards, but when Shobhana shares the award for her work in 'Mitr' with Tabu from 'Chandani Bar', you have to wonder.

Currently watching: House of sand and fog, Cold Mountain, Mystic River, Good Will Hunting
Currently reading : Digital Fortress, Namesake

Friday, February 11, 2005

'Aish'a bhi hota hai

I tried hard to resist. I thought of avoiding the cliched path. I thought this topic is best left buried. But I read about one more American TV appearance of Aishwarya Rai, and I knew that I had to write about it.

What's with this Aishwarya mania? I really don't get it. Agreed, she is considered undisputably beautiful in India. It is also understood that she has zero selling power at the box office by herself. She really hasn't had any hits beyond the Bhansali camp and the odd Taal and Mohabbatein here and there. I am one of her fans, but only of her looks. I'd like to reiterate that Aishwarya Rai in a saree is God's gift to mankind (pun intended). But really, she isn't paid the kind of obeisance in India as she is being paid abroad right now. When she made it to the jury of Cannes, that was a shocker. She has no body of work to talk about (neither did Meg Ryan, but at least she had Harry and Sally :-))

Is it because she looks beautiful and is urbane enough for the Western audiences? This is the age of Asia, say the Western TV executives. Let's promote people from India. Whom do we promote? Who is looking westward? Who can actually speak English? Lo and behold. There's the beauty queen from India. Why not call her over? Time Asia called her the Face of Bollywood (the crappiest article on Bollywood possible). On all Western shows, she is repeatedly called the most successful actress in India. Hello?

Then came the appearance on 60 minutes. For years, she has been accused of being fake, a plastic beauty. Well, she reiterated it on the show. Look at how she plays the slighted diva when she says the best compliment someone ever paid her was that she looks real!!! What's with all the giggling? You can see the obvious effort to appear smart. Oh, by the way, you can watch the appearance here. I also saw her appearance on David Letterman. She was irritating even more than on CBS. I guess she was trying to pander to the Nascar/NFL crowd, unlike people who watch 60 minutes. And what's the big deal about her doing a kissing scene? It has now become an international issue.

Alright, enough of the criticism. Here are some positives. I like the fact that she tries to sell India, and is a defensive mode when the interviewers feign ignorance about the country. I like the fact that she has been bold enough to think beyond the borders of India and is thinking of true international stardom. I guess I am just jealous that we might lose our beauty queen to the decadent western powers :-) I like the fact that she still looks a million bucks!

When I started the post, I mentioned another TV appearance, right? Here's the breaking news: she might appear on Oprah.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Black Magic

I caught the most anticipated movie of 2005, first day first show. For days, the poster of Black on my desktop was a testament to my excitement. There were several reasons to be have high expectations. I like Bhansali's work, despite the fact that most critics pan his movies. I was very happy that Amitabh was finally working with a class director after working with any and every director last year. This was a different genre that Bhansali was tackling, and it seemed exciting to me that a mainstream director worked with a mainstream superstar to make a movie that was anything but mainstream.

So what is Black all about? Black tells the story of Michelle McNally (Rani Mukherji), who is born to an Anglo-Indian family, deaf-blind after an illness at the age of eighteen months, is a bright, intelligent girl who lives in a world of black silence with no way of reaching out. Enter Debraj Sahai. An eccentric man, an alcoholic, a person consumed by his profession of being a teacher to the deaf-blind. The story revolves around how Debraj suceeds in helping Michelle connect to the outside world, to search for light through the darkness around her. He teaches her words and their meanings, and helps her make sense of the darkness that engulfs her. The movie is about her incredible struggle to earn respect among the 'normal' world. She and her teacher work through several hardships to get her close to the goal of graduating from a university with normal students. But as they work towards it, Debraj starts to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. He slowly forgets everything including all words and their meanings. The roles are now reversed! Can she achieve the miracle that he once performed for her? Will she achieve her goal and wear the black graduation robes?

A movie inspired by Hellen Keller, Black is vastly different from anything seen on this scale in Indian cinema. I hesitate to call it a Hindi film, because large portions of it have English dialogues. Is it an attempt at crossover cinema? I don't know, and I can't answer that question confidently after watching the movie. What is consistent are Bhansali's sense of melodrama, the extraction of great performances, touches of brilliance in his direction and an assertion that he is amongst the finest film-makers this country has at the moment. Is Black truly a great film? I don't think so. It falls a few degrees short of being one. Is it brilliant? At times, hell yes. Does it set a new standard in Indian cinema. Definitely. Should you watch it? Please do, and please do so in a theatre. Here are the pros and cons of Black

1. The performances. Ayesha Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh give excellent performance. There are moments of brilliance from the actors. For eg. the scene when Amitabh first shows signs of Alzhiemer gave me the chills. We take the brilliance of the man for granted. The kid Ayesha as the young Michelle is superb, and Rani gives a mind-blowing performance.
2. The cinematography is outstanding. Ravi K. Chandran has created an aura of blackness to perfection.
3. Background score by Monty adds to the effect of the movie
4. Bhansali. The director's special touches are evident all throughout.

1. The screenplay is a letdown. The selection of moments of struggle in the protagonist's journey could have been picked better. Somehow, the pace of the movie in the second half is uneven
2. Half the movie is in English, which excludes a lot of Indian audiences
3. The protagonist's triumph does not make you feel exulted as you expect to
4. The 'sex' aspect is ok to tackle, but could have been tackled better
5. This is a 'heavy' movie. It has little relief for the running length of two hours, which again, most impatient audiences find difficult to sustain.

I would be interested in seeing people who are dissatisfied with the regular Bollywood fare (hint hint, Avinash) to please see this and give me their unprejudiced opinion. It is an intelligent movie with good performances from a talented director. Black worked its magic for me, hope it does so for you too.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sania Mania

I am a little late on the post. I wanted to sing my encomiums after watching Sania Mirza battle Serena live and late into the night. It was after a long time that I found myself rooting for an Indian tennis player. There were days when Leander produced absolute magic in his Davis cup matches. A player, who would lose most of his singles matches on any given days, went on to beat the best (including Ivanisevic) in Davis cup matches, almost spurred on by some invisible strength. As a kid, I followed the adventures of Leander Paes and Ramesh Krishnan on the Davis cup courts. There was a lull after that till Bhupathi came into the picture and the Indian express gained steam. It felt like we finally got a pair of world-beaters. And then came the split. I must admit that barring the odd occasion (the quarter-final loss in the Olympics), I had almost given up on Indian tennis.

There are two different challenges that sport offers. One being team games like cricket, where you may fail on a day but others might cover for you, while you may have to take upon yourself the burden of weaker team-mates (as la Sachin). Individual sports however are tougher. There is no one else to rely on, no one to shoulder your load, none to blame if you fail. That's what makes them so lucrative. Glory is not shared, it is yours and yours alone. That is why it is so frustrating to see Vishwanathan Anand do so well, and yet, not be the best. It is so sad to not see us getting any medals in athletics. For the cricket fanatic that I am, I miss rooting for other Indian sporting heroes.

Enter the country's latest pin-up girl, Sania Mirza. I had read a lot about her in the run-up to the Australian and after her first two victories. Yet, I wasn't expecting any great shakes, primarily because she was pitted against Serena. However, it turned out to be a good match to watch. I was very impressed by her attitude on court, and the aggression she showed in the second set. The condescending and mis-reportage by the Amerian commentators made me root for her even more. It was painful listening to Pam Shriver go 'Indian women are not allowed to play tennis'. Hello? You have this other commentator going 'She was born in the city of Bombay, formerly known as Chennai and now stays in Hyderabad' (she is a Hyderabad born girl in actuality who stays in Mumbai). Even though she lost the match, she put up a susbtantial fight in the second set and actually made Serena sweat.

Of course, she hasn't actually won anything substantial in the professional circuit, and if she doesn't improve he strength and fitness, might disappear faster than you can spell Kournikova. For the moment though, I am happy for her success. Her post-match interviews also bring her forth as a lass with class and some brains. Of course, the fact that she is a Sachin fan gets her extra points in my book :-)

Enough of the Sania chaalisa. I sincerely hope she lives up to her promise and becomes a sporting star in India for all the right reasons. If she does well in subsequent grand slams, I am sure to catch her matches. Go, Sania, Go!!