Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Update!

Good morning!

I hope you all enjoyed my Aladin review! I'm going to try and get to London Dreams on Sunday. If the bollywood fan's review is to be believed, I will enjoy it immensely.

What's the news today, you ask?

* Bebo gives me some delightful quotes this morning - from this article - "Saifu, don't embarrass me" and "I was never size zero." O RLY? Well, I'm willing to forget Bebo's size zero ribs if she is willing to never show them to me again. Also, Bebo refuses to endorse non-veg brands.

* Lovely Katrina Kaif was caught by the media attempting to pray at the shrine to Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti.

Okay, and so you remember when she walked the ramp with Ranbir? Well, the gossip rags are attempting to spin her refusal to walk with Arjun as some sort of diva fit. She's quoted as saying, "I won't walk with you - I'm doing this for the movie." So, she's a diva for wanting to promote her film? Maybe she doesn't like Arjun Rampal? Maybe he's a handsy jerk... we don't know.

Kat, you can walk the ramp with whomever you want! *smooch*

* Bollywood Hungama pulls this neat little trick where the title of the article is "Big B promises to do next film with Sujoy Ghosh." Okay, yes, that is mentioned but the meat of the piece is that Jackie was hooking up with Sujoy and now she has vanished. JUICY! True? Who knows!

Says Sujoy about the Big B: I can't get over the moment. When the world was slamming my film, he stood up for me and supported me. Some critics have slammed the film as though it's the worst film in the universe. That's four years of my life. And please remember, it's supposed to be a kids' film."

Poor guy! I liked your movie... and I loathe critics. They hate everything!

Ranbir looking studly on the cover of Yuva! He is all Mr. Bedroom Eyes, na?

The cast of Aladin at a screening of the film!

And the lovely Jackie in her "a" T-shirt!

Gorgeous Rani Mukerji at the Mumbai International Film Festival!

K.Jo. was there, too!

And Shabana Azmi!

Aladin - Best Film of 2009! (So far!)

My long time Bolly Blogosphere friends know that my tastes and critical tastes rarely line up. The critical consensus puts Aladin at fair to middling – I, on the other hand, think it’s the best film I’ve seen all year. Taking the classic Arabic folk tale of Aladdin and giving it a heavy dose of filmi magic, Aladin is as sharp as it is entertaining. Finally, a film that exceeded my expectations – although I fear it was both too smart and too glitzy for the critics!

The story takes place in a quaint (fictional) mountain village along the Chinese border of India. Aladin (Ritesh Deshmukh) is a college student – and orphan – at the bottom of the social pecking order. The film follows his adventures as he navigates college life, a mysterious jinn named Genius (Amitabh Bachchan), and a suspiciously evil ringmaster named Ringmaster (Sanjay Dutt). Also, there is a beautiful lady involved – played by former Miss Sri Lanka Jaqueline Fernandez.

But what takes Aladin to the next level is a fantastic script by Sujoy Ghosh that layers some interesting meta-narrative on top of that adventure story. Genius – the jinn – acts like Bollywood magic throughout the film. When Genius appears, people sing and dance and act filmi. I don’t want to give too much away but the song picturizations for “O Re Saawariya” and (especially) “You May Be” make this explicit. I’ll discuss “O Re Saawariya” a little further down so I’ll just touch on “You May Be” as an example of what I’m talking about.

(The song promo is here)

“You May Be” has a lovelorn Aladin at a loss to woo the elusive Jasmin – Genius provides the words, dance movements, and music so that he is playback singing for Aladin. Filmi magic at work! The heightened atmosphere taken for granted in so many films is revealed and explored as magic in Aladin.

Who knew Sujoy Ghosh had it in him? Has anyone seen his previous film Home Delivery?

The idea of genie spreading filmi magic throughout the film is simply… Genius!

Still, a good story and clever commentary do not alone a good film make. There are two other key elements to Aladin - characters and actors.

Let’s start with Ritesh as the titular Aladin. I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Ritesh Deshmukh for a long time – ever since Bluffmaster, actually, in which I felt he outshone Abhishek Bachchan by a mile. Aladin as a character is the kind of soft-spoken beta male that would be portrayed by Michael Cera (Superbad) or in an earlier generation perhaps Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) or Sanjeev Kumar. He is totally disconnected from the community. Aladin has no family and no friends - his peers either torment or ignore him. His life is completely lonely. Ritesh knocks it out of the park, making the viewer (aka me) empathize with Aladin rather than pity or disdain him.

The Japanese have a word that I think perfectly describes the type of character that Aladin is - kawaii. It has a complicated meaning, mixing elements of cuteness with a darker twinge of the pitiful and vulnerable. Kawaii is adorable but is unable to defend itself – much like Aladin, who is unable to speak up for himself, unable to fight back, tied by his isolation. Ritesh can do kawaii like nobody’s business – he’s all big eyes and vulnerable looks. And – this is 100% true – he made me cry at one point. Yes, a children’s movie had my eyes tearing up in empathy for Aladin.

Enter the heroine – Jasmin, played by newcomer Jacquine Fernandez. Jasmin is also a newcomer to the college. I’m convinced that Aladin falls for her in large part because she is new and therefore doesn’t realize that he is a social pariah. She talks to him like a normal person! Jasmin is everything that Aladin is not – she’s confident, physically strong (!), and a desired member of the community.

There are actually two romances in the film – Jasmin/Aladin and the more important romance between the Genius and Aladin.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no sexual tension between Genius and Aladin but they do develop a strong bond of… brotherhood, maybe, is the way to describe it. Another thread of the meta-narrative has the film exploring the differences between real and fake romance – which is where “O Re Saawariya” comes in.

I’ve resisted spoilers but I want to talk about this so…

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

Last chance to skip to the next section…

Ok, so, Aladin, begin human, finally breaks down and wishes for Jasmin – which obviously completely backfires. Aladin is at a total and absolute low, convinced nobody will ever love him, makes this wish and down the stairs comes Jasmin, all cutesy nicknames and offers of foot rubs. Aladin, to his very big credit, is disgusted by the outcome of his wish.

And I think this is where Aladin just won me over intellectually. While this is a film about the male character’s journey, the heroine is treated like a person and not an object. She even rescues him a few times from danger by using her dishoom-dishoom skills. Aladin’s disgust with himself for wishing this and with the result of the wish were just perfect. I don’t blame him for wishing for Jasmin – who among us hasn’t desperately wished for the same thing at some point – but he did the right thing when faced with the mess he had made.

One last spoiler, the biggest moment of the film isn't when big, evil Sanjay Dutt is defeated in some epic dishoom-dishoom with Amitabh Bachchan (yes, you read that right) but when Aladin is FINALLY able to speak up for himself.

*end spoilers*

The Big B as Genius was a delight! He still has that old magic! Genius’ bonding with Aladin was too adorable – he does it despite himself. And in the end, the most helpful “magic” that Genius gives him is just the support of a friend.

What about the characters? The world of Aladin is populated with some entertaining folks, including…

* The bully who beats up Aladin all the time – Kasim (Sahil Khan), who kind of looked and acted like Salman Khan.

* The campus acapella group who sings Bollywood oldies – seriously! Put out an album and I will buy it! They were fantastic!

* The campus extras who, for the most part, looked like they might actually come from the India/China border – and kudos to the casting director for that one.

* Sanjay Dutt’s gang of hilarious henchmen, who all had special costumes.

* The denizens of the costume ball whose costumes included Uncle Ya from Love Story 2050 and Mehmood in geisha drag from Love in Tokyo.

* Awesome Ratna Pathak (you may know her as the mom from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) as a local restaurant owner.

* Guitar frog (that will make sense, I promise.)

* Also, I’m not sure who we have to thank for this but there are definitely some sexy dudes thrown into one of the dance numbers. It’s nice to give audiences a break from the bikini babes with some hunky dudes every once in a while.

In short, I was supremely impressed with the whole film – and especially with Ritesh. I mean, I always suspected that he COULD carry a film by himself and now he’s proven that he can! The new actress definitely has potential – she’s not Ayesha Takia but she does have screen presence and can take a song, which is an important skill.

This will be one I buy on DVD.

I only hope that Aladin finds its audience and doesn't end up a lost gem like Jaan-e-Mann...

Friday, October 30, 2009


Finally - London Dreams and Aladin!! Both of which have gotten mediocre reviews, which means nothing to me. Actually, I'm more inclined to go see the movies than if the critics were raving about them because me + critically acclaimed do not mix.

Speaking of the critics - I've got two articles that could loosely be grouped under "Bollywood for White Folk."

Foreign Policy in Focus gives a general overview of Bollywood for white folk, focusing on films like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer.

More interesting is this look at Arshad Warsi vehicle Dhamaal by FilmThreat.

Everyone has heard about Bollywood, but few people outside of India and the Indian diaspora have ever sat down and watched a Bollywood film from start to finish. I just experienced my first Bollywood film, a 2007 comedy called “Dhamaal.”

As one of the "few" he is talking about, I was curious to see how this played out. The reviewer is confused by the songs, sound effects, and many references to Hollywood films - all things singled out for derision. And this is the problem with showing something like Dhamaal to a Bollywood virgin - he has no context. I can guarantee that there were as many tributes to old Bollywood films as there were references to old Hollywood films but those would have gone right over his head. And the sound effects are unremarkable for somebody used to the Rohit Shetty school of filmmaking. They just are - mixing into the background to provide ambiance, like canned laughter in a sitcom.

Still, it's not everyday you get to read a review of a Bollywood film written from somebody whose idea of "international" cinema is probably closer to Mr. and Mrs. Iyer than Golmaal: Fun Unlimited. Maybe he should read the Foreign Policy in Focus Bollywood for White People article to get some better ideas of movies to watch.

But... okay - Gossip.

* Gopichand and Prabhas's new film is going to be called Partners. Although the article mentions that Gopichand plays an "encounter specialist" in the film he's working on now. What does that even mean?

* I might have mentioned this before but Bebo is looking certain for Ra.1.

* Golden Star Ganesh is filming in Goa!

* Kurbaan is going to feature a music video of Saif surrounded by images of Kareena.

* Shashi Kapoor will be honored at the Mumbai International Film Festival!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

De Taali: Ritesh, Ayesha, and Archie Comics

Today's review transferred from my old blog is one of an older film - I don't quite remember why I saw De Taali but I'm glad I did. It's a sweet little film and finally convinced me to like Rimi Sen. The reason you're seeing it today - Ritesh Deshmukh, whose first big budget HERO film, Aladin, opens tomorrow.

I vaguely remembered hearing Ayesha Takia on BBC’s Love Bollywood back when De Taali came out. She set it up as being like Archie comics come to life. Now, if there is one thing that I love, it’s Archie comics. And Ayesha wasn’t completely off the mark by describing De Taali in that way. The film is an odd – but utterly charming – mixture of an American teen comedy and Golmaal: Fun Unlimited.

Aftab, Ayesha, and Ritesh are three best friends.

(I dare you not to be charmed by the opening number.) Ayesha is a total tomboy; Ritesh is a dork; Aftab is always falling in love. They are always hanging out and doing stuff together… until one day the seed of a crush is planted in their fertile young adult midst. A series of events triggers Ayesha to develop a total crush on Aftab. It’s all done in this very natural way – no bells or whistles or little dogs from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…!.

The innocent crush is nurtured by Ritesh, who thinks he’ll be better off with Aftab dating his good pal Ayesha than with some dumb bimbo. Unfortunately, the dumb bimbo Aftab ends up with isn’t so dumb…. Enter Rimi Sen as the Veronica to Ayesha’s spunky Betty.

What follows is classic Bollywood screwball comedy as Ayesha and Ritesh gang together to push Rimi out of Aftab’s life while keeping his friendship. Small events snowball into more and more extreme events until the whole thing ends in a wedding showdown – naturally. But all of that is fairly standard stuff. What makes De Taali so much fun are the details.

Aftab’s character is a huge Amitabh Bachchan fan and the movie is filled with jokes about the Big B. Wouldn’t you fall for Anthony Gonsalves at the Big B Charity Party? Not to give too much away, but Pran’s qawwali in Zanjeer may be referenced at some point in the film.

Ritesh has great chemistry with both the leading ladies!

Ayesha Takia was wonderful. She is plump and gorgeous and just full of life! The three friends all have a wonderful filmi friendship and lots of small moments play off the gang’s friendly chemistry. This is what was missing from Jaane Tu for me. The sense that we were seeing real emotions between friends, rather than sacrificing everything for the chimera of romantic love. That particular trope no longer rings true for me, which is one reason why Jaane Tu didn't work.

One of the things that I’ve realized over the last few years of watching Bollywood films, is that one of the big differences between Bollywood and Hollywood is that Bollywood aims to unify the community within the film by the end. Hollywood doesn’t care about that. So, something like De Taali has everyone find their place – even Rimi - tying up the knots satisfactorily. Jaane Tu is more concerned with the individual’s pursuit of that ultimate self-interest: romantic love.

The songs were a lot of fun, too! The dancing was great!

In fact, the one small thing I took issue with in De Taali was that Aftab is such a boring actor that I never really cared what happened to him. I was rooting for Ritesh with both the ladies, although I knew Aftab would probably have to end up with one of them.

In short, De Taali isn’t anything groundbreaking or super meaningful, but it is a lot of fun! And it’s got me imagining a Shahid/Ritesh best friend movie (with Ayesha!) where the two guys have a big fight over something but then make up. Or they are co-workers who don’t get along and are forced to go on a business trip to their boss’s home town but then a lot of hilarious stuff happens! Yes! I will watch that movie now!

Thursday! Thursday!

I'm glad everyone enjoyed the Mr. Singhs! I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for other gems like that photo shoot.

And the reviews for Ek Niranjan are in - the consensus is that it's only for Prabhas fans, which is fine because I am a PRABHAS FAN! Kangana is singled out for not looking South Indian and... the comedy track is supposed to be stupid. So, we can all wait for DVD.

Let's see what is happening in Tinsel Town!

* I cannot wait for London Dreams!!! EEEE!!! This interview with Vipul Shah isn't helping.

How about Ajay? He is also quite intense once the camera starts rolling. Do we get to see trademark Ajay intensity?
That's right, you will actually get to see Ajay in the kind of performance for which he was roped in. I also have to highlight another facet of his acting. Since he is also a director, he is very clear about what a filmmaker would be expecting from him. Also, he is technically one of the strongest people I have come across. He knows everything about filmmaking and that reflects in his act. He is very knowledgeable and visualises everything about the scene before coming up with his take. Since I had such experienced men on board, I didn't have to do much explanation for him on a scene to scene basis.

* Okay, you might want to swallow your coffee or tea before you read this one - are you ready?

Steel your nerves...

Sanjay Dutt is starring opposite KANGANA RANAUT in a new film about an assassin. EWWWW! Kangana!!! Unless he's secretly playing your father, I am not watching this movie. It was bad enough watching Sanju paw Lara Dutta in Blue - at least Lara is in her 30s.

* The director of Harishchandrachi Factory has been denied a U.S. Visa. The film has been nominated as India's entry to the Oscars.

* For all you Americans, a few more Bollywood films are going to be available on Hulu - including Gangster and Love Story 2050. The press release says something about how after the success of Slumdog Millionaire, it shows that the west has a taste for Indian films that are a little parallel and a little commercial - okay, fine, but what does Love Story 2050 have to do with that?

* Zoya Akhtar's next film is a road movie set in Spain and starring her brother. Just don't have him play "25" or something, Zoya.

* The Shahid-Ayesha starrer Paathshala will finally be releasing soon!

And, finally, pictures!!

Shruti and Siddharth launching their new film!

Ranbir and Katrina walking the ramp...

And Katrina getting ready for an NDTV appearance...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mr. Singh International Turban Pride 2009 Fashion Show

I came across these photos in my search for Bollywood promotional shots and thought I would share them - especially for Briyanshu!

I love the slightly wild and undomesticated look of the models - here is a style of masculinity that is not particularly appreciated in Western media, which, when it notices Sikhs at all, either confuses them with Arabs or shows them as taxi drivers and technical support.

Mid-week Slog...

Just think - it's only two more days until both London Dreams and Aladin!!! I can't wait!

I'm moving slowly this morning because I was out late seeing "Falstaff" at the Kennedy Center. What a wonderful production it was, too! There was a very funny twist with Titania/Nanetta and the fairies... Now, I just need to find somebody to come with me to the "Nutcracker" and my winter is set!

Anyways, I have a real scoop for you today!!

You may or may not have seen this picture of Karan Johar and Katrina Kaif:

Well, the media is loving it!! And the best part is - nobody is even pretending that it's a remote possibility that they are "dating."

* Speaking of K.Jo., Stepmom is going to be shot in Sydney.

* Abhay Deol has taken up producing.

* Kat and Ranbir are walking the ramp for Rohit Bal.

* Aamir Khan is a closet Facebook addict - now coming clean over his online disguise.

* Salman is a real piece of work - his latest trick is snubbing Asin at press meets.

* Okay, Times of India, just because you asked Ritesh boring questions doesn't mean you get to make up a headline like Ritesh Was Scared To Propose because upon reading said interview, I learned that a) he didn't propose to anyone and b) you didn't follow up on the hints of interesting things that he said. So next time, just ask better questions if you want better answers. Stars don't just go around telling reporters things for the heck of it unless they are a) Neha Dhupia or b) spreading rumors about a rival.

* Kamal Hasaan might be doing a film on Buddha's Tooth and is looking to Hollywood to finance it.

* This is sad - the development never came through for Smile Pinki's village.

Katrina Kaif flashing her gams while promoting Ajab Prem...

And flashing her eyes!

Neha Dhupia promoting something or other!

Bebo on Radio Mirchi promoting Kurbaan...

And poor Asin looking just miserable at the Dubai premiere of London Dreams. Her eyes are just calling out for help from the camera... POOR THING!

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