Bollywood-ish

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Satyam Shivam Sundaram

Directed by: Raj Kapoor
Starring: Shashi Kapoor, Zeenat Aman
Released: 1978
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great amazing – experience


I guess every director has a bad movie or two (or all, righ, Mr. Bazmi?) and Raj Kapoor is no different. Or perhaps Satyam Shivam Sundaram is not „bad“ per se, but the story is just so prepostrous and Shashi Kapoor such an asshole in it, that I cannot help but hate it. And mind you, I am among Raj Kapoor´s most ardent fans. And Shashi Kapoor´s. Which makes it even harder to forgive.


The story is that of a young girl Roopa, whose mother had died while giving birth to her, and who, because of an accident from childhood, has the right part of her face and neck covered in ugly scars. Considered „cursed“ by one and all in her village, Roopa still remains a good soul with great trust in God. Her love for the Creator is only matched by her love for a handsome young engineer (Shashi), who arrives to the village to supervise building and reparations of a nearby dam. He falls in love with her too. Or rather – her voice. Because that is the problem you see: he has never seen her face, which she carefully hides whenever they meet. And she is all too careful never to show herself to him, since he cannot tolerate any ugliness. He doesn´t dislike it, neither he is „not comfortable“ with it – he cannot tolerate it, not even his own reflection in a joking mirror at a fair (seriously, dude?) When a bit later in the film Roopa asks him if he would love her still should she not be beautiful, he completely avoids answering by stating some shit about „not possible you have to be sundar cause you sing so well.“


Ultimately he marries Roopa, and only after marriages sees her face. He is horrified and convinced she is not his beloved. And so poor Roopa chooses to serve his selfishness and in disguise keeps meeting him outside their home, instilling the twisted belief there are two women instead of one even further. (yeah, that would totally work in her favour. Geez girl, have some self-respect!) The whole thing with a covered face may have worked a lot better if it actually remained covered throughout. However the character of Shashi sees almost all of Roopa´s face, more than once, and so his argument about „I´ve never seen it“ makes no sense at all. Further more he never questions the girl as to why won´t she show herself to him. And finally, in the end he recognizes her by her voice. And me, already fed up with all the nonsense and Shashi´s asshole ways, couldn´t understand for the life of me why she just didn´t sing to him an hour ago, which would have saved her loads of humiliation and me thousands of brain cells.

He sees THIS much of her face.
And THIS much. 
And how much more do you need to see???? WTF man???
It is, indeed, the story which makes the whole film an unpleasant experience. One cannot protest about the production values, because they are (for the time the film was made in) excellent. From colour play of the early morning in the temple to a bit psychadelic fantasy song, the camera presents everything beautifully. The music is actually a highlight, and till now I have goosebumps listening to Lata Mangeshkar´s voice in the title song. 

Performances are fairly good (aside from Zeenat´s emotional scenes which reveal her limitations as an actress), unfortunatelly 90% of the characters are unlikeable. I have never imagined it was possible for me to dislike Shashi Kapoor in any avatar, but his own brother made it possible. To see little Padmini Kolhapure in Roopa´s chidhood avatar was a sweet surprise for me and she did very well, especially considering how awful most of Hindi cinema child artists are.


Semi-nudity in Raj Kapoor films somehow never bothered me (be it Simi Garewal´s butt in Mera Naam Joker, Mandakini´s breasts in Ram Teri Ganga Maili or Roopa´s overal semi-nudeness in this), even though I realize what effect it must have had on certain parts of the audience. I suppose that what makes the marginal difference lies in how the people on screen react to Roopa. She chooses to wear the clothes she wants, and others around her are unconcerned. They would have treated her the same (awfully or well) had she been fully covered from head to toe. Roopa is also obviously at peace with her body, so why should I be concerned? It is not like she is selling herself at the market. She bathes. She changes clothes. She walks the fields under a blazing sun. Now, if people off-screen see her only as a titillating sexual objects because of the clothes (or rather lack of it), it is above all because they have a filthy mind.


Satyam Shivam Sundaram is definitely, so far, the weakest Raj Kapoor film I have seen.


Friday, 15 August 2014

Veergati

Directed by: K.K. Singh
Starring: Salman Khan, Atul Agnihotri, Himani Shivpuri, Farida Jalal, Divya Dutta
Released: 1995
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing – experience


Veergati is one of those film made by and for men who consider themselves awesomely macho. Or who think being awesomely macho is the coolest thing ever. The 90s have given us some real gems of Indian cinema, but there is also a dark side to them, and from its darkest depths of all stuff regressive comes this story of an orphan played by Salman Khan, weirdly dead-eyed and foreshadowing his non-acting today, even though back then, in other films, he has always beamed with energy.

I have no love interest in the film which already gives you the idea I will die in the end.
It is all very bizarre and WTF from the very start. Upon bringing home a helpless baby he had found abandoned in the streets, a soft-hearted police officer needs to deal with a hysterical wife, who leaves him because one day the baby will surely make her yet unborn daugther a prostitute (if this sentence doesn´t make any sense to you, do not ever try watching the film). The policeman lets the pregnant wife leave him forever to raise up the baby. The kid grows up into a very disagreeable hero, who is supposed to be good in heart, but to be honest he acts like an idiot. To people he supposedly loves he is consistently hurtful, never failing to cry over the fact he has been thrown into the gutter as a baby, completely omitting how lucky he was to be found and brought up with much care and love. He also gets insulted because of his origin, and all in all the filmmaker expects you to embrace the character and pity him. Well, then maybe they should have tried a bit harder in actually making him less of an agressive maniac.

"I broke his arm and kicked his dog!" "So cute beta!"
Also, for a person constantly cribbing about how he doesn´t believe in relationships and gambles away, he becomes hell of a preacher (and „slapper“ of young girls) on moral codes when other people are not respectable towards their elders. Nothing about Salman´s character makes sense. The acting is awful from his part, and while the rest of the cast do whatever they can (the extremely lovely Divya Dutta sucks in this though), nobody saves the day.

The awful moaning of women being raped creates an eternal soundtrack to the villain´s den or even his mere presence on screen, showing his power of the underworld in the only form Bollywood knows – by inflicting injustice to women. One even more fondly remembers Mogambo who had it all sorted and though he was a highly caricatur-esque character in a comedy film, he still commanded more respect and caused you worries than any filthy pimp whom just one cleanly shaved guy can destroy by shaking his muscles.

In case you have not noticed this guy is evil, he has an ugly black mole to help you.
Perhaps you are confused why I have skipped describing the story, but there is not much to describe. Veergati is a diary of voes of a self-pitying agressor, who happens to be surrounded by people who never get angry with his annoying whining and abusive behaviour, and people who are just insane (yeah, still talking about the policeman´s wife). There is also a subplot revolving around the character of a friend, who is trying to raise money to get married to a wealthy girl he loves, but who cares really. In the end Ajay looses most of the people who are family to him (read: people who endless put up with his asshole ways), dresses into white sheets and goes on a vengeful killing spree mouthing some deep spiritual stuff in between increasing the death rate of the film.

Hello sir.

I have come to you to talk about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Neither well shot, scripted or acted, Veergati is more 80s than 90s, with all the darkness of bad cinema you can imagine under that tag, and a woman only having worth if she is a Maa.


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Swades

Directed by: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Shahrukh Khan
Released: 2004
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good  great amazing – experience


Ghar aaja pardesi! That is pretty much what every scene, every dialogue and every frame of Swades screams, pleads and sings. Ghar Aaja and bring your potential with you, stop wasting it on other countries. But to be fair, even though Swades is about India, the message it sends is for all foreigners living beyond their borders, and what could have easily become the stereotypical „bad West, holy India“ film remains a very honest effort to share an idea. If one relates to it or not is personal business. Mohan relates.


Played by Shahrukh Khan at his handsomest best, NASA engineer Mohan, settled comfortably in a luxurious flat in the US, can boast of illustrious career and success, and all he lacks is a bit of love. And for that special kind of love he needs to go back to India, where his old nanny lives in an idylic village of Charanpur. The plan is to relocate her loving arms and care to America, however the longer Mohan stays among villagers and is confronted with their everyday troubles, which previously he was aware of, but never truly gave a thought to, the more he feels a need to do something to bring on the change for the better.


What struck me about Swades the most was that, even though idealistic, it had a very human touch thanks to all the characters, among which we do find certain figures that often fall prey to stereotypes, yet even though they have their peculiarities, they are never turned into caricatures here. Mohan himself too has a very normal vibe, and his interaction with the villagers and their customs give one a good idea about his character. He obviously feels awkward at times, thinks certain issues ridiculous, but he also never shows slightest disdain or disrespect. Finally the villagers and Nasa engineer find a midle-ground comfortable for them all. Finally, while the film criticizes poor living conditions of certain classes of people, there is no sadistic poverty porn included. It is not needed for making a point. At least me and Mohan got it without it.


In many ways I felt Swades was Shahrukh Khan´s Lagaan, just without nasty Englishmen and criket. More realistic, but the problem is the same. It is too damn long. While Lagaan insisted on having a whole criket match (that really does very little or nothing to people like me, who are not familiar with the sport and do not care for it), Swades takes about hour and a half for things to actually tak√© shape and start moving along a bit. On the first watch I found the film quite boring, it was only later, when I rewatched it, knowing I shouldn´t expect any great action, that I could appreciate it more and actually notice charming details and nuances that, ultimately, do somehow make up for the lack of happenings. The other minor crib would be that the lead pair doesn´t share any chemistry whatsoever.


All the actors do a very good job, the star of them all being of course the already mentioned SRK. Devoid of any mannerism he is known for, he delivers one of his finest performances ever. His Mohan is charming and adorable (watch out for his „bathing“ scene), and his depression in the serious parts of the film is as real as the laughs he eludes from the viewer in others. I truly wish this Shahrukh would return to us, and serve us another well-fleshed out character he could bring to life, rather than seeing him playing himself, which he had contentedly done so for several years now. Swades is, among other things, also a collection of seemingly ordinary, touching moments. Unlike other movies of the same kind it is not obsessed with parampara, but sees traditions as a fertile soil from which progress should sprout, if treated right. Oh and a special shoutout to Geeta for being a great feminist character!