Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some Navel Gazing on Rangeela

This is something I put together in response to this post from Veracious. She ended it with something that I took as part challenge and part inspiration:

There's always going to be a million and one Indian films you could watch. But your choices are yours, as are your views. What we can give to each other is knowledge of what we've yet to look into, recommendations, and stories. And I think we should tell more stories of how we watch films, instead of just talking about the films, to give context to our own film experiences. But coincidentally, I may actually be the only one.

I thought and thought about what story I could tell about first starting to watch Bollywood – something meaningful. Usually when people ask me how I first got interested in Bollywood, I give them my standard spiel: a friend gave me a cassette tape of the soundtrack to
Maine Pyar Kiya when I was about 16 or so; I fell in love with it and started watching the films that went around the songs. While factual, this isn’t really the whole story. Life can’t be summed up so neatly and certainly my obsession with Bollywood can’t be boxed up like that. I’m sure many of you reading are like me – I don’t just watch the films, I feel them.

So, in response to Veracious’s challenge, here is the story of the first Bollywood film I fell in love with -
Rangeela (1995).

I’ll start at the beginning.

I am a misfit and, by misfit, I’m not referring to either the punk band or the cartoon band by that name, although I like them both. What I mean is that I spend a lot of time not fitting well into social situations of all kinds. Part of this is definitely personality. I get caught up in my own thoughts a lot of the time and my active imagination provides me with ample day dreams of all sorts.

Maybe I could have learned to deal with all of this much earlier than I eventually did but the fact that my father’s work kept us constantly moving until I was about 15 meant that I never had a chance to settle down and adjust. Add to that the fact that we were poor when I was growing up – and by poor I don’t mean I could only get one Nintendo game at the store, I mean I was bussed with all the other underprivileged kids (and me pretty much the lone little white girl) to the nice school in the nice town nearby. And by poor, I mean I mostly wore hand-me-downs from my cousins until I was about 12 or so and remember what a big deal it was to get to pick out an new outfit from the discount store. You see where I am going with this.

For assorted reasons, that maybe I will get to in another post on another day, I was a miserable teenager and for all intents and purposes moved out of my parents’ house when I was 16 and never looked back for ten years, when I finally returned back to the Washington, DC area. I know what it’s like to have to rely on yourself and it’s not easy. I’ve worked two jobs. I’ve worked 7 days a week. Everything I have now, I feel I earned myself with my own sweat and blood and tears.

Maybe this explains a bit, too, why I’ve never felt drawn to the epic family-romance sagas. The Karan Johar genre, and the glossy NRI genre in general, have never held the spell over me that they do over others. Besides my lack of interest in the marriage game in general (another subject for another day, perhaps), the upper (or sometimes upper middle class) lifestyle is not one I’m comfortable with. The Heroes who capture my heart are the ones like Akshay Kumar – no matter how rich the guy he’s playing, we poor folk always know in our hearts that
he’s one of us.

I’ve never wanted a Prince Charming.

Munna, Aamir Khan’s character in
Rangeela, is exactly my kind of Hero. And independent, career-driven Mili is my kind of Heroine. Munna and Mili (Urmila Matondkar) are like the two halves of my personality. There is much that I love about Rangeela - the songs, the dances, the romance, and Urmila’s revealing outfits – but what speaks to me is perhaps best summed up in the scene where Munna takes Mili out for lunch at a fancy hotel.

Picture, if you haven’t seen it, Aamir Khan decked out in a tacky, lurid yellow outfit, made all the more awkward because he doesn’t realize how inappropriate it is for the refined atmosphere of the hotel. He thinks he looks really classy and specially picked it out to look nice for his date. And you have middle class Mili, who doesn’t realize that this is a date, trying to steer her friend Munna away from the hotel because she is trying to keep him from being embarrassed or spending too much money. When the waiter comes by to take their order, he does it in English – which Munna doesn’t understand, although he pretends to. After another painfully awkward exchange over what they will be eating, Mili spots her brand new co-star Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff) and runs over to say hello, abandoning Munna, who sits there alone as his strange Western food is delivered to the table.

Munna is crushed. He spends the entire film aware that he has no hope of making Mili ever see him in a romantic light and yet still yearns for her. Mili is lost in her daydreams and doesn’t realize that Munna (and Raj Kamal) are in love with her. And I feel for both of them – but mostly Munna. How painful to always be wearing the wrong thing, to always be apart, to realize the person you like doesn’t even think of you that way… and yet he bears it all admirably, just trying his best.

While I never owned a canary yellow shirt, the years I spent only able to afford to shop at thrift stores left me with a taste for lurid that I’ve mostly had to tone down since I’ve become respectable – but I understand the impulse. When you don’t have much, why not make the most of what you can afford? And maybe the reason I’ve always identified more with the misfits in Bollywood films – the Miss Kittys and Miss Rubys in their feathers and generously applied eyeliner. (You know Miss Kitty and I have more fun anyways!)

And then there is the ending – a simple reunion between Mili and Munna.
Nobody gets rich or gets married.

For a young(er) Filmi Girl who was struggling with money problems and with her life in general, Munna and Mili were infinitely relatable. The film clicked with me in a way those glossy fables about finding the perfect boy just didn’t – Hollywood or Bollywood.

And I suppose that’s enough navel-gazing for today.

I posted a ton of caps from
Rangeela back in September - click here to see!


Anishok said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Filmi. Really :)

Christine Menefee said...

Wonderful piece - I never thought much about the context of how we oddballs happened to get into our Bollywood worlds in the first place (as far as I know, I'm stil the only one in my entire small city, though I have succeeded in cultivating a degree of interest among some friends) and I agree it's a good thing to consider.

My story is very different from yours in some details which would dominate in a conventional American narrative, yet the story you tell is about a different thing - a quality of outsider consciousness - that I understand too though I came to mine by a superficially different route. If that makes sense.

When I first discovered these movies, I fell in love with actors, directors, composers, choreographers, and individual films.

Once I had a lot of fillum watching under my belt, lately in my fanworld I've been finding a supporting network of fanbloggers who give me, yes, context, for all this. Of all those, your blog is #1in my book by the way - I would have said mainly because I love your fabulous sense of humor, but now that my view has panned back and I see the bigger picture, it's even better! OMG I just realized my inner English Major just tried to take over. Note to self: Quick - grab a Rangeela!

lvrplfc4l said...

I think I like the Johar genre because of the sense of family and belonging they have; something I never had. Growing up as a loner (misfit if you will) I always wanted what I thought others had and I didn't. I've outgrown that illusion but I enjoy films like K3G anyway.

Filmi Girl said...

@Christine Thank you! :)

I think we non-desi Bollywood fans are certainly a mixed bunch for sure - I don't think any two people will have the same stories.

@Lvrplfc4l You know, I like the films where the misfit is incorporated into a family rather than just sagas of family, which is maybe where we differ on the K.Jo. It's not that I don't like his movies - I do - but I'm not in love with them, you know?

Kiran said...

What a wonderful from-the-heart piece filmigirl. Thanks for sharing.
I had a pretty decent childhood & i grew up watching tollywood & bollywood. I'm with you on this - the Kjo kind of cinema never ever appealed to me. Especially when you consider that over 70% of my countrymen are poor. It just feels that kind of cinema is in such a bad taste(having a helipad @ your home etc). I always root for the underdog. That's why i love Rangeela too. I hope Rgv take a small break from the underworld sagas & make more movies like that.

Ness said...

I love this story. It's always good to have context and it's SO INTERESTING! I want to know everyone's stories. More! More!

Plus, it makes me want to watch Rangeela. Making Filmi Girl an integral chapter in my own ongoing Bollywood discovery story.

Filmi Girl said...

@Kiran I always root for the underdog, too! And KJo can be fun but I wish that more movies showed regular people instead of the rich-rich all the time!

@Ness Thank you! Have you not seen Rangeela yet?! *dies*

eliza bennet said...

Thank you for sharing Filmigirl! You are a good writer and next time I watch Rangeela I'll think of you.

The Bollywood film that made me fall for Bollywood was Khakee and I loved the lead character since he reminded me of my father (who passed away years ago).

Filmi Girl said...

@Eliza Thank you so much. :)

I need to re-watch Khakee - that film always makes me cry... and now I'll think of you when I watch. :)

Daddy's Girl said...

Really loved reading this... I feel you on not liking to talk about personal stuff and 'feelings', I really don't like to do that either - it just feels weird... but I think going beyond your thoughts and opinions to share life experiences is always a great gift for the reader. So I'm really glad you did this post. I love Munna too, he is such a memorable and relatable character and I still count him as one of Aamir's top 5 performances.

Filmi Girl said...

@Daddy's Girl Thank you! :) This probably won't be something I do often but once in a while, it's nice to share something, I think. :)

never-evil said...

Interesting post Filmi Girl, thanks for sharing! And suddenly I have Rangeela cravings...

Shell said...

Beautiful post Kara. It is sometimes very difficult to personalize blog posts, esp when the desire for some to remain an anonymous voice is often there. When I look back over the last year that I've been blogging, my early stuff feels very stiff, strictly about the film, and it's only in the last couple of months that I've felt comfortable enough to share little tidbits of my personality within reviews, etc. I think it's very interesting what veracious says in her post, and those personal reflections are what really makes something interesting to read. I have noticed that posts that are more personal (aside from filmi picture posts like my beard one that got tons of reaction), seem to garner more response.
One final note: I loved Rangeela for everthing it was and everything is wasnt.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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