Sunday, December 19, 2010

Katrina Kaif Week Day #1: Namastey London!

I know many of you may be questioning my decision to celebrate an entire week of Katrina Kaif films. While she is one of the most bankable actresses in Bollywood, Katrina has surprisingly few champions among the critics and on the blogosphere.

While I fully admit that there are better working actresses in Bombay, I don’t think anybody else brings to the table what Katrina does. Her reel life charisma reminds me a bit of Marilyn Monroe – womanly yet somehow still vulnerable, a combination that I’m sure is responsible for much of her box office appeal for the masses.

On top of that, a look at Katrina’s films is also a look at a good cross-section of contemporary Bollywood and, so, even if you don’t find her as charming as I do, I think you might still find something of value in looking over her filmography.

Please note: some minor spoilers lay ahead.

Every time I watch
Namastey London, I end up taking away something new. The film’s premise is simple – “Funjabi” boy meets British girl, love follows. Yet, it has taken me numerous viewings over the years to pin down the complex stew of identity politics that frame that adorable and timeless ‘boy meets girl’ story.

The first time I saw
Namastey London was when it was released in theaters. I hadn’t known Akshay Kumar could be so romantic. I was smitten. Further viewings gave me an appreciation for Katrina Kaif and her uncompromisingly English character “Jazz” and then led me to be frustrated with what I saw as the retro-gender politics of the ending and what I perceived as anti-Western views.

But viewing it with fresh eyes a few days ago for this blog post, I was surprised again. While I’m still smitten with Akshay and charmed by Katrina, I didn’t find the ending to be a guilty verdict for the “modern” and “Western” girl at all; I had been misreading the film. Instead, what stood out to me was what the film had to say on the generational divide – and it was quite harsh on the old lions of Rishi Kapoor’s era and the pressures they put on the young generation.

Let me give you a quick recap of the story. Jazz (Katrina Kaif) is a carefree English girl. Her father (Rishi Kapoor) is desperate to see her married off to a nice Indian boy. Jazz gets a proposal from a douchey white English guy named Charlie Brown and Rishi quickly sweeps Jazz off to India, tricking her into thinking it’s a vacation when really he is trying to set her up with some guys. While visiting family friends in Punjab, Jazz’s father arranges for Jazz to be married off to the son of his best friend – a nice young man named Arjun (Akshay Kumar). Backed into a corner, Jazz tricks her father right back and marries Arjun but insists on returning to London before they finalize the paperwork or have their honeymoon night, meaning that she considers herself not married at all. She is so single, in fact, that she is accepting Charlie Brown’s proposal (
Take THAT, Dad!)

Arjun is crushed but decides to stick around in London until she actually gets married and, well, true love does wait for Arjun and Jazz.

What had seemed to me a regressive is actually very forward thinking. While Rishi may
think that he wins in the end when Jazz chooses Arjun, the man that Rishi wanted her to marry, I’ve come to understand that he actually loses. You see, in the film, Jazz chooses Arjun in spite of her father, not because of him. And Rishi learns that he has to accept her choices and let her make her own mistakes – the happy ending is that Jazz figures out that just because she can do something doesn’t mean that she should. And Rishi learns that if he lets his daughter make her own choices instead of forcing things on her, she may just choose to do what he wants.

There is a line early on in the film from Bobby Bedi (Riteish Deshmukh), a potential suitor of Jazz’s, about how he wants a girl who is Western on the outside but traditional on the inside. This “ideal” is later echoed by Jazz’s father, who is embarrassed by his wife’s poor English and her dress sense but is also furious as his daughter’s desire to hang out with her English friends and do things like go clubbing. Jazz is 100% English; her mother is 100% Indian and neither is good enough for him.

(Bobby Bedi, or "BB" as he prefers, practicing his line.)

Jazz from the beginning is a relatable, modern British girl. Sure, she is a bit flighty and impulsive and spoiled but she owns it. The main conflict in her life is with her father, who has impossible ideals for her to live up to. He pushes her too hard to be that “ideal” of Western on the outside and traditional on the inside, not understanding that it is an impossible combination for Jazz. Her rejection of her heritage is not so much a rejection of her
heritage as it is a rejection of her father’s desire to control her.

The same is true for Jazz’s rejection of Arjun, a man that she turns out to genuinely like once she is not being forced to marry him. Once she is allowed some freedom and some breathing room, Jazz comes to understand a bit of her father’s desire to pass on his Indian identity to her and his pride in his heritage and finds that maybe it isn’t so bad after all – on her own terms.

Katrina Kaif does a superb job as Jazz and I suspect that anybody who didn’t like her in this probably won’t like her in anything. Katrina is like a breath of fresh air. Charming without being cloying. And her performance as Jazz is delightful to watch. Unlike other spoiled Western brats (i.e. “Poo”), Jazz is as completely unapologetic for her Western behavior at the end of the film as she in the beginning. There is no dramatic sari or salwaar suit makeover. Much like Saira Banu in
Purab aur Paschim, she just keeps wearing her miniskirts and doing shots of tequila until the end of the film.

She and Akshay Kumar do share a remarkable chemistry. You understand why Arjun is smitten immediately and is reluctant to let her go. And Katrina does a great job showing Jazz slowly falling for him in return. Much like Jazz is Western in all the ways that matter, Arjun’s thinking is very Eastern. He is unembarrassed by real romance. Unlike Bobby Bedi or the other fools that try to woo Jazz, Arjun isn’t playing from the “single rose and a bottle of wine” handbook. He is devoted in an old-fashioned hero kind of way. An Ashok Kumar-style dedication to courtly love – something that has been long forgotten in these post-modern post-DDLJ days.

So, in short, haters to the left.

Here is the scene where I fell in love with Katrina! She is attempting to get rid of BB by being his worst nightmare - a girl who looks "traditional" on the outside and is "Western" on the inside.

Oh, I do love to see Katrina smile!



Give me a girl who orders vodka at dinner! I love Katrina's expression here - so satisfied with herself.

Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots... everybody!

Jazz and Arjun's first meeting...

Those eyesssss... call me crazy but I think in a few years we'll be seeing Katrina giving performances as good as Aishwarya these days.

Salman Khan has a good eye for the ladies, that's for sure.

Jazz and her family!

She can do sad and distressed without being melodramatic or constipated.


Himesh Reshemmiya gets it right for once - "Chakna Chakna."

That smile!

There is much more Katrina Kaif to come, so stay tuned!


Rum said...

I totally agree with you here, Katrina does a good job with the Saira Banu bit in this modern-ish Purab aur Pacchim. And I think because she's so earnest in her acting like with Raajneeti I appreciate her a lot more for trying new things than all these new kids on the block who go straight for the romcoms.

Amaluu said...

Oh girl. Wish I could join you on this bandwagon, but alas, I just don't see it. But I think it's awesome that you champion your favorites and stick it to the haters. :-)

Bombay Talkies said...

I liked this movie, but in spite of Katrina, not because of her. Every time she opened her mouth she took me out of the film because her acting was just so bad. I think she's getting better these days, but it may be mostly due to getting better scripts.

Akshay was definitely the highlight of this one for me. Though I wasn't much of a fan of his speech--it was too preachy, even for Bollywood.

Filmi Girl said...

@Rum :)

@amaluu @bombay talkies We clearly just have different tastes in acting. Y'all like Abhi and I like Kat. I thought she was great in this.

I just prefer an over the top style and animated style of acting.

But that speech was preachy. LOL!

Emmie said...

As a former dancer, I will admit that filmi dance numbers are one of my preferred (and most reliable) ways of judging whether or not I'd want to watch a film. So when I first saw Katrina in the songs from Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, particularly "Tere Mere Love Story", I did let out an "oh, dear". But by the time I finished the film, I was impressed with her comic timing and the gusto with which she tackled her part -- she was clearly something more than Salman's arm candy, regardless of how much Filmfare & Cineblitz were ragging on her non-Indian origins.

With Namastey London, she proved that she was much more than a very pretty face -- the film would not have worked anywhere near as well as it did had she not been able to hold her own with Akshay. She truly complemented his performance, matching his energy and believability, and most importantly fully embodying the space opposite him on screen, so that you actually cared about also watching her side of the shot without the editor forcing you to through cuts.

Ever since, while she's far from my favorite actress to watch (like Konkona and Rani), or even one whose casting would cause me to watch a film I might otherwise overlook (like Aishwariya and Preity), I've been ever more impressed by her work (for example in New York), and would put her alongside Priyanka and Bipasha to round out my top 7 filmi actresses of the decade thus far. And with "Sheila" she finally has a dance number that can stand, well, OK, maybe not up to Madhuri, Ashwariya, or Malaika, but at least head and shoulders over many/most of the other actresses of her age. You go, Kat! [And keep the American accent, you "British" girl, you! :) ]

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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