Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Govinda Week: Salaam-e-Ishq, O Meri Jaan!

My reactions to Bollywood films tend to run counter to both the Indian press and the majority of my fellow Bolly-bloggers, most of whom
were indifferent to the charms of Salaam-e-Ishq, Nikhil Advani's salute to Love Actually-style storytelling.

Maybe the difference for me is that I don't mind compartmentalizing story segments or the fact that I am apt to provide my own backstory for thinly drawn characters - whatever the reasons, I find that I return time and again to
Salaam-e-Ishq as a pleasant (yes) timepass film. It's not a film that requires deep thought or ragged emotion, all that Salaam-e-Ishq asks is that you sit back and enjoy a showcase of Bollywood talent. Nikhil Advani may not have had a hit with anyone else but it managed it with me - and he also managed to pull good performances out of such Filmi Girl non-favorites as Priyanka Chopra and Akshaye Khanna, along with the terminally lazy Salman Khan and the usually wooden John Abraham.

There are two reasons I bring up
Salaam-e-Ishq for Govinda week. The first is that thanks to my recent move and current lack of Internet access, it is one of the few Govinda films that I own and the second is that it's the first film where I "got" Govinda's appeal. See, when I started watching Bollywood films, I started watching the NRI-fantasy world films. Those highly sanitized and very Westernized films where everybody has money and speaks English are worlds away from the explosion of raunch, crass, and psychedelic that makes up a stereotypical Govinda film. (Check out Ness's review of Aunty No. 1 for an example.)

For better or worse, it took me a little time to fully appreciate the full-on wonder of Bollywood films made for the Indian masses, as apposed to the ones made for the Western NRI community and Govinda is firmly a star of the Indian masses. He doesn't really speak English; he doesn't have a six-pack; he is unashamed to wear sparkly silver pants and thrust his pelvis at the nearest back-up dancer. In short, Govinda is the exact opposite of the Imran "Bollywood Sucks" Khans who make up a greater and greater percentage of the young actors in Bollywood. (You can make an Imran Khan film without songs but a Chi Chi film? What would be the point?!) This tension is played up in
Salaam-e-Ishq, where Govinda is cast as the working class taxiwallah who falls for the white memsaab he is driving around India on her quest to track down her sleazy boyfriend.

Govinda's story is one of six in
Salaam-e-Ishq but it is the one that, for my money, is the real heart of the film. Each of the six stories deals with a filmi love problem - mixed-religion matches, mistaken identities, young(ish) man forced to grow up and gets married (appropriately enough with Dil Chahta Hai's Akshaye Khanna), comedy lust, and the modern take on marriage and adultery (a la Life in a Metro). Sandwiched in between the upper and middle class ennui and pride, Govinda's story - the sole working class story - tackles that old fashioned filmi kind of love... fated love.

Govinda's performance is superb - given a chance to turn in a nuanced and subtle performance, he does just that. While actors like Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar have been proving their acting chops in art house films for years, it feels like nobody has thought to let Govinda try it. Or maybe (probably more likely) Govinda never felt the need to court the critics to balance out
Aunty No. 1 with a Parinda or two. Whatever the case, I'm glad that he is doing so now.

The fated love that takes place between Govinda and his white
memsaab works because of Govinda's performance which takes his character from "I am fated to be with a white lady" to "I love this white lady."

Salaam-e-Ishq is a not a great film but I do think that it's a good one and I'm sorry that it didn't do better because it did feature some career best performances from certain actors (Priyanka Chopra) but if for nothing else, it's worth looking at it again to see Govinda - the lone representative of the Indian masses in an industry that caters more and more to the Dil Chahta Hai upwardly mobile youth who are too cool for real emotion, those looking for Life in a Metro-style reflection of the ennui of everyday life, or those who need every bit of razzle-dazzle contained in ironic quotation marks. Those few of us who want an escape, a nod to real filmi magic, have Govinda.


Rum said...

Yaaay for Salaam e Ishq love! I really liked this film and like you I always come back to it because its got a bit of everything but mostly for my two childhood faves Govinda and Anil! But Govinda in a somewhat understated performance like this is a real winner to see him do his typical comedy shtick and underplay it beautifully!

Ness said...

I LOVE Salaam-E-Ishq - for SO MANY reasons! I love so many of the performances in it (Sallu! Sallu is SO FUNNY! John Abraham and Vidya Balan are SO HEARTBREAKING!) but like everyone who has a heart knows, Govinda OWNS this film with his performance. ADORE. S-E-I is one of my go-to comfort movies. I'm a dork like that.

ajnabi said...

I love S-e-I too, and especially Govinda in it. He's sooo sweet. Actually I like all the performances in this film, which is saying something given the size of the cast.

myrna-nora said...

I liked most of S-e-I. Sometimes, I hit the skip button and watch just the Govinda-memsaab story.

I'm looking forward to Govinda week. I must admit that the rest of my knowledge of Govinda comes from a few YouTube song clips. I always feel like that is enough Chi Chi. Maybe you can convince me to finally watch a full film.

Christine Menefee said...

Interesting post! I had to look up S-e-I to remind myself if I'd seen it but see I gave it an "I like it" number of stars on Netflix. Now I'd like to see it again - I have the feeling I'd appreciate it more now. Can't wait to learn more of Govinda. My own history of Bollywood watching parallels your own (starting with the surprisingly Westernized titles and moving toward masala) but I have a lot of catching-up to do (fun!).

Filmi Girl said...

@Rum @Ness Are we triplets or something?! :D

@ajnabi I totally agree about all the performances in it - not a single bad one in the bunch, which is definitely saying something.

@myrna-nora Hee!!! Sometimes I fast forward through the Anil Kapoor story...

@Christine You might like it more or you might like it less... I feel like as you get to know different actors, they carry varying shades of old roles with them...

Anishok said...

I LOVE S-e-I to death :D And Govinda is simply amazing in it!

myrna-nora said...

Eww, I hate the Anil Kapoor story. And this was the first movie I saw him in. So I found him creepy UNTIL I gave in and watched Mr. India!

dagnyfan said...

SEI is one of my favorite Bollywood films - I really don't get why it didn't work for others. Adnan Sami's music is fantastic. And I found the 6 tangential stories to be a rich treat! I think John and Vidya owned this movie. I wish they would work together again.

Myrna-nora - I echoe your sentiments about the Anil Kapoor story. It was the only one I didn't like - and I think the film would have been improved had that storyline been cut.

I LOVED the John and Vidya story best, and Salman and Priyanka second. I do think Govinda had a charm, but a person doesn't go from "If he marries someone else I'll kill myself" to "oh, my true love is this noble taxi driver I've known for 48 hours." That whole premise was too much of an annoying stretch for me.

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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