Thursday, 24 September 2015


Directed by: Yash Chopra
Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Sridevi, Vinod Khanna, Waheeda Rehman, Anupam Kher
Released: 1989
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Chandni is iconic. No doubt about that. Even if only for introducing the myth of Yash Chopra´s „eternal woman in white“. Myth, because after Chandni, she hardly appears in any other of his films. Yet so deep is the image of Sridevi dancing an enticing tandav engrained in all our minds, that we accept her as something definite. Yash Chopra´s „woman in white“ has always been adn always will be Sridevi in Chandni, and no one else. However much like another film that set certain standards - Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - Chandni too is a movie that has its own problems, and though iconic, it ain´t untouchable. So let´s touch it today, with some delicacy and some less delicacy as well.

Rishi Kapoor plays an obnoxious rich dude who employs all the annoying, forceful ways of getting closer to a girl he likes, and pretty much gives her no choice in matter of loving him back. When life turns tables on him and does not go the way he planned it to, he falls into depression, gives up completely, and slips into a hardcore self-pity mode. In short he is a douche. Sridevi plays beautiful, annoying in her childish mode, touching in her serious mode, Chandni, who likes to dance in the rain and is... well... beautiful. That truly seems the most prominent feature that Yash Chopra chose to endorse in his heroine that time. Sridevi with her thick mane of hair, long limbs, shy smiles and of course those huge eyes looked like a fairy-tale come true. The first half is cruel to her character though, as she is merely dragged along by Rishi and his family. But Chandni also manages to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart and make a new life for herself, complete with a successful career job and a new man who falls in love with her.

Enter grief-stricken Vinod Khanna, whose mother Waheeda Rehman is probably closer to him in age than his first pyaar Juhi Chawla, who appears in a small but sweet cameo. He is all that Rishi Kapoor (in this film) is not. Thorough gentleman, principled, going after his desires but not forcing himself where he is not wanted. So naturally he does not get the girl in the end, because Rishi suddenly decides he wants Chandni back – and much like in the beginning he blackmails her into a renewed relationship. Sigh. I was ready for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam after this, to heal my aching soul. The score of the film did its share of healing too, for if there is something worth going back to, it´s the music – yes, including the out-of-tune Sridevi parts of „Oh meri Chandni“. The already mentioned wild tandav in nature is stunning and „Tere Mere Hoton Pe“ remains possibly my favourite track ever picturized on Sridevi. Chandni is also, quite possibly, the last film in which I was ready to accept Rishi Kapoor as a romantic hero. No matter what problems the characters displayed, all the actors did a good job with their roles, even if Anupam Kher going around and mouthing tutotial on life and love was boring. Again, I much prefered his meddling in Lamhe than here.

Did I mention these two get their own Switzerland song?
Chandni is one of the best known Yash Chopra films, and was one of his most successful ventures, however compared to let´s say Lamhe it lags behind, as a nice, but all in all average film. It is a notch better than Kabhi Kabhie though, being more tight in screenplay and not bothering about too many characters. Furthermore in spite of the obnoxious boyfriend (hell he even tricks the girl into getting drunk in pursuit of bodily pleasures), Chandni must have been a revelation at the time when action masalla had its boom. It aimed for simplicity and lots, lots of romance, on which it delivered (though there is still the question of the douche who initiates it all. And the whole Switzerland bit was unneccessary.). I have given up on Yash Chopra films being great in terms of script, rather it is best to simply let go and try and enjoy the atmosphere he managed to create. With this film he succeeded in conjuring up a charming little thing, even if only with help of Sridevi´s beauty and lovely music.

Monday, 21 September 2015


Directed by: Abbas Mustan
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Amrish Puri
Released: 2004
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Few films are as problematic for me as Aitraaz. On one hand it seemingly adresses the issue of male rape and false accusation, on the other hand it outright condems women who are ambitious and demonizes statements which, taken out of context of the movie, are true and should be respected (i.e. This is my body and my decision if I have a child.) However what could have been a good psychological drama ultimately twists and turns and becomes a clichéd glorification of „traditional Indian values“ in opposition to wicked western ideas of sexual independence. Mind you, Priyanka Chopra´s character, the bearer of the „western“, is unlikeable and definitely the worst example of any culture one might think of. She is shown as highly manipulative and vengeful. Still I resented how she was made an unredeemable demon, while Akshay Kumar an innocent angel. But as the poster suggests, it is a „women´s world“ and men who do not conform suffer (ha!).

Whereas Priyanka in the film never gets a chance to elaborate on her motivation (unless one is ready to accept she is simply a basic and greedy bitch), Akshay plays the martyr with the help of the law-student-turned-domestic Kareena Kapoor (with really weird blond hair). His character, though, makes few questionable moves himself. He lies to an unknown girl because he likes her. He deceives her to win her affections. Fortunately for him she finds it cute and loveable, had it been me he would have a shoe in his face. He has a history of hitting women when angry. Upon Kareena introducing herself as Priya Saxena he only manages to stammer „Priya Sex.“ In other words veritable Prince Charming.

Alongside this suffering Romeo, Priyanka and Kareena represent the already mentioned two poles – the devil in anything not sanskaari versus Indian goodness, innocence and tradition. Heck, Kareena is even FULLY clothed while dancing on the beach, while bacground dancers are in bikini. The greatest difference between them however lies in their reaction towards pregnancy. Kareena is happy. Priyanka gets an abortion. One would have though that by 2004 Bollywood has outgrown the formula of the angelic/devious extremes, but unfortunately that was not the case.

On the whole Aitraaz comes as awkward. From Kareena´s hair colour to Priyanka´s seductive rolling on the floor. And the whole choreography. In the end I cannot shake the feeling that the whole movie did not really care for exploitation of men, and only used it as a veil for yet another film that demonizes women. The double standarts set by Akshay´s character are obvious too. He has no problem with oggling over a bikini-clad woman on the beach, but is insulted when other men react similarly to her when they see her photoshoot. Maybe I am wrong. That´s why the film remains problematic. Even if it was not, however, it would be a mediocre venture, with outdated sets, forgettable music, sloppy script and half-hearted performances. The only one truly into the character was the vamp - Priyanka Chopra, whose acting chops were not great back then. She is utterly beautiful in the movie still, and already showing the future Priyanka, who would not be shy of experimenting with her roles by taking a negative lead.

Devotional dance by the righteous to close this review.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Om Shanti Om

Directed by: Farah Khan
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Kirron Kher, Shreyas Talpade
Released: 2007
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

While I do not hold Farah Khan in high esteem as a director, she did something remarkable and created a film which has been terribly important in my personal Bollywood journey, and so enjoyable that it easily ranks in my top ten Indian films. Om Shanti Om is like a gigantic puzzle box. There is truly everything you may ask for in a film – puppy love, eternal love, slapstick humour, subtle humour, tragedy, action, memorable dialogues, great soundtrack.... and when it all comes together it just clicks and works wonders. Nothing speaks more in favour of the film that even though it is stuffed to the broom with film-references and making good-natured fun of the style of Indian filmmaking, it has become my number one choice of recommendation whenever Bollywood beginners ask me to show them a film. They know nothing about Bollywood, yet all of them like Om Shanti Om with all the quirks and in spite of not understanding any of the underlying jokes (and having no idea who that bunch of people randomly appearing in Deewangi Deewangi are).

Shahrukh Khan is allowed to over-play his already dramatic antics and as a result we get two delightfully different, yet both completely over the top heroes: Om Kapoor the goofy, star-struck movie fan, who lives only for his dream of becoming a star and gaining love of the gorgeous Shantipriya, the dream girl of the silver screen; and Om Kapoor the spoilt brat and arrogant actor who takes everything for granted. They only really become one and the same person as they near their destiny – the goofy bubble-gum 70s Om finds his doom in flames, that also shockingly take away Shantipriya, the irritable 00s Om upon realizing that he has unfinished business from his previous life. His over-dramatic acting is spot on and exactly what the film needs. And Dard-E-Disco is the greatest item song Bollywood has produced and you cannot tell me otherwise, capturing both the fun and ridiculousness item songs stand for.

I could not but oogle over Deepika Padukone (and her stunning, stunning wardrobe throughout the film), who, though dubbed, gave a very confident and good debut performance. Her expressions and eyes speak a language of their own, even if the voice is not hers. She is glamorous and perfect as Shanti. The whole supporting cast is apt and excellent, Arjun Rampal giving you the necessary creeps, Kirron Kher both amusing you and breaking your heart as typical filmi Maa, Shreyas Talpade with his adorable and undying support to Om´s dreams. Not to mention all the array of stars and superstars who agreed to do a cameo. The whole Filmfare awards bit was utterly hilarious also thanks to impeccable comic timing of Abhishek Bachchan and Akshay Kumar. And how heartening it was to see Rishi Kapoor and Subhash Ghai, who “opened” the whole film, fighting over a microphone? That is one of those golden moment that make Om Shanti Om so endearing.

OK (did I mention I am pyrophobic?)
The film is visually opulent, nothing short of Bhansali level of opulence actually. The aesthetics of it appealed to me greatly as they stem from my beloved Art Noveau, which gives for example the green-rooms corridor almost a fairy-tale look. Another wonderful thing are all the beautiful painting by Alfons Mucha on the walls. The songs are skillfully choreographed and also magnificent, from romantic randez-vous in a film studio for Mein Agar Kahoon, to fabulously theatrical Dastaan, clearly inspired by the big masquerade scene from the Phantom of the Opera. And they are all beautiful. Except for Dar-E-Disco which is not beautiful, but totally fab in its own right as mentioned above. The lyrics “Now I am a wanderer, and a lover of disco, as I wander around London, Paris, New York, L.A., San Francisco!” are a true gem.

.....hear his heart breaking?
As you can already tell, I adore this film. I dare to go as far as to compare Om Shanti Om with another Bollywood extravaganza – Amar Akbar Anthony – even though the latter is without doubt on a whole another level of iconic. The right mix of stuff that ranks from touching to pretty much crazy, with logic loopholes that one couldn´t care for any less, since it is simply all just too much fun. It is a well known fact that Om Shanti Om is an unofficial remake of Karz, which in turn was a remake of Madhumati, all films dealing with the themes of revenge “from beyond the grave”, with reincarnation being the turning point. It is also remarkable that unlike another set of remakes (based on the trope of separated twin siblings), all these films are memorable and great. Farah Khan simply took the story and filled every scene with potshots on almost every aspect of Hindi films. However these are all taken with much love and never even border on insulting. Om Shanti Om is both a parody of Bollywood and at the same time appreciates most of what makes it distinct and special.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Bombay Velvet

Directed by: Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar
Released: 2015
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

It was supposed to be larger than life movie, the new triumph for Ranbir Kapoor. It was supposed to wow the masses and gather laurels from the critics, and Anurag Kashyap was supposed to be basking in tsunami of appreciation. It was not to be though and Bombay Velvet, boasting of unheard-of amount of money poured into it, took leave of the cinemas way too soon for any profit. What went wrong? How come all the heralded opulence failed to attract the crowds? Perhaps the lengthy story telling was partly to blame, but truth to be told, this is another of those famous flops which I personally was intrigued to watch.

Bombay Velvet is sure interesting. Different. It takes the outline of some of the popular tropes, but then strips them of their basics. And so the main protagonist Johnny Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) is one of those ill-treated children from the streets, rising to opportunity through the wrong means, but unlike so many heroes before him he does not have an ailing Maa and nobody raped his behen, nor a dead Petaji to avenge. Indeed, there is no excuse for his damnation-worthy lack of values, which teach us that it is better to starve than to get involved in any dishonest deal. Johnny could not care less. He wants to be a “Big Shot”. He is ruthless, but not completely without conscience, and what he does best is really to look after himself. Perhaps that is the source of conflict that has arisen in the viewers´ minds? The hero is actually no hero. His desires are common and average, and Johnny actually does not act out of ordinary in any way. I mean, sure, he sometimes kills a person or two, but given his “job” and circumstances, isn´t this how most people would behave. Johnny does not even have any super quality. He does not outsmart the smart ones, he does not break tables by punching twenty villains at the same time. To me Johnny Balraj was really just a simple crook with dreams that were not even that big. Just give him some dirty izzat, some money, the girl he loves and he´ll be just fine.

Ranbir Kapoor as Johnny is quite brilliant, as usual, changing in front of the camera yet again, as easily as chameleon changes colours. There is not a single moment when you wouldn´t think of him as the character, his body language, his intonation, everything is on point. Performances are strong overal – for the first time I was truly impressed by Anushka Sharma. Once I decided to ignore her infamous lips, I was drawn to her silent force. Indeed, her eyes did all the talking for most of the film. But she too is atypical heroine. Far from virginal, far from lamenting her fate, she does not expect a hero to rescue her from her plight, and once she actually finds a guy who genuinely loves her, she throws any previous obligations out of the window. And she has very few regrets. Sadly her re-introduction as Rita is one of the most bewildering and puzzling decisions one could think of, marring the logic of the movie.

The surprise package of the movie has to be Karan Johar. Previously known on the big screen as “the nerdy friend from DDLJ” he cuts a very decent villain, in spite of his feeble voice, there is nothing cartoonish about his. He generates enough threatening feelings for the film to run smoothly ahead. The one walking away with the short stick is Raveena Tandon, who appears without reasons during two of the songs, all covered in peacock feathers. Lots has been promised as far as the sets, costumes and visuals go, and while everything seems appropriate, fitting, I never had the larger than life feeling which I get when watching anything Bhansali. In fact most of Anushka´s outfits seemed in bad need of fixing, some looked simply cheap. I actually had to wonder where all the money went...

When Bombay Velvet promos first appeared, people kept blasting them, saying Ranbir is merely hoping for his own Agneepath. Bombay Velvet is nothing like Agneepath or any other film in that vein. There is no redemption, no justification. For all the megalomanic claims it remains a touching, interesting, but believable story about normal people on the darker side of the society.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Mr. and Mrs. 55

Directed by: Guru Dutt
Starring: Guru Dutt, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar, Johnny Walker
Released: 1955
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

What to do when your daddy has left you millions but only on condition of marrying within a month? Why not hire a poor, honest man to marry, and divorce after a while, with millions secured? Especially since divorce bill has finally passed? But what if your perfect plan does not include possibility of falling in love with your victim? Mr. and Mrs. 55 promises, at first, to be simply loveable, but though it does not lack good moments, performances and humour, it is one of those film of the past that are simply problematic today. For where to draw a line for „acceptable“ amount of traditional sexism?

But let´s focus on good thing first. There is something tragically attractive and beautiful about Guru Dutt, about his whole persona. The moment he appears on screen and stares at Madhubala who has seemingly fallen down from the skies, I am lost. I don´t think even Shahrukh Khan with his intent gazing can surpass him in „looking at a woman as if she was the most beautiful thing walking on the Earth. And while this time I did not experience the familiar tingling around the heart (a feeling I get when seeing Guru with Waheeda Rehman), the lead pair in the film is both likeable and talented. Madhubala induces her character with innocence and obstinacy, decorated with delightful comic timing, while her counter-part is more subdued (and quite himself in a role of poor, mistreated-by-society artist). Johnny Lever and Kum Kum are not as over the top as usual, and Johnny actually acts as as pivotal character. Furthermore his little romance is quite amusing, and in contrast to the drama between the two leads. Or at least neither Johnny not his lady love feel the need to discuss who should be superior in the relationship.

What an utterly delightful film this might have been, had it not, as already mentioned, been so damn old-fahioned-ly sexist. I understand that it was released in the 50s, but that does not change the fact that the more it progresses the more it grates on my feminist nerves. And the worst part? It is not the man to have a a fiery, passionate speech about women´s duties and izzat, it is the heroine. Do not take me wrong. In many ways Anita (Madhubala) is a character who does things her way, even if she starts of as childish. However the complete disregard of women being unfairly treated by society annoys me. Anita´s greedy aunt (who makes sure to pinpoint she learned about „freedom“ from women of America and Europe aka continents of hoes where men need to be pitied) is exactly the type of a „feminist“ who gives feminism the bad name with her misandry, and who does not regard another woman´s own choice of way of life as right and normal. Which, ironically, is actual feminism.

At the same time we have the saintly bhabhi (who has somehow managed to have three school-going children in just four years into marriage) who believes that even when her husband beats her occasionally it´s really all just marital happiness. Urgh. Maybe the mean aunty was not wrong about everything.