Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Here's another thing I like about Bollywood

I just got finished reading some news of Bollywood on various internet sites and it struck me that one of the things I love about Bollywood is because they make so many films, everyone can find one they like. Everyone can find actors, actresses, backup singers, directors etc. that they like.

I began to realize that those who criticize SRKs for his "feel good" movies were people who preferred stories with more "realistic" aspects. They seem to qualify "feel good" movies as being less appealing intellectually, or creatively. But, in the world of artistic expression there are a variety of styles, as it should be.

SRK is India's "Disney." Pardon my comparison to Hollywood.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Shah Rukh Khan is Coming to the MCI Center 9/4/04

The minute I wrote that headline, I panicked.

The United States is in a terrible place right now. Our government is considering postponing our national elections due to threats of terrorism. September is close to November when elections are held. Fear and concern ran through my mind. I pray SRK and his troupe come to the USA without any hassles or harm.

Anyway, SRK and a troupe of Bollywood stars are coming to the MCI Center in Washington, DC on Saturday, 9/4/2004. For more information, call 1 800 551 7328, 703 658 3171, or email: bollywoodc@aol.com.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


A quick note, I am disappointed that three of Shah Rukh Khan's films were not fully appreciated. They are Asoka, Dil Se, and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

Asoka was my introduction to Indian film. After watching the movie, I knew it was unique. I read various comments about Asoka. It was viewed as a risk because it was a semi-historical film. Critics found fault with its facts. Sometimes films are meant to convey an impression not to enact an exact reality. Because of Asoka, I did a lot of reading about India's history and about the career of SRK. I found both absorbing.

By the time I saw Dil Se, I had watched many of SRK's early films. I found Dil Se beautiful. A sad film can be beautiful. The story treated the subject of terrorism with realism and compassion. There was something about SRK's performance I had never seen before, to say he was more natural isn't quite right; I think it was his most emotional role. The choreography was more than striking; it was inspired.

Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, a SRK production, to my mind was a love letter to the Indian people. The story is about a father who kills his daughter's rapist, a government employee shielded by influence. It is also a story of how the corruption is uncovered and how the Indian public comes to support the father. Plus, I think it is SRK's funniest role. He likes comedy and I think his parody of himself and others as media idols is a stitch. Juli Chawla is also wonderful in this movie. As with many Indian movies, humor, tragedy, romance, and drama are woven into the story.

All this does is remind me I need to catch up on so many stars like Juli, Ash, Manisha, Maduri, Kajol, Anil, Chandrachur, Jackie, Sanjay, and so many more. For each time I branch out, I find more to love about Indian films.

(c) 2004 Canary Press Co.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Main Hoon Na--It's also about having fun

Almost everyone knows about "Main Hoon Na", the Shah Rukh Khan backed film debut by director, Farah Khan.

I am sensitive to violence and try to avoid it but with Indian movies that has proven hard to do. The underlying theme of Main Hoon Na is the tense relations between India and Pakistan. There are several scenes with violence. While I could cover my eyes, I couldn't block out the sound.

I appreciated the underlying story of attempts to make peace with Pakistan and to illustrate the horrors of past conflicts. This is another thing I appreciate about Indian films. Most call them escapist but they are hardly that when many feature subplots regarding corruption, deception, abandoned children, abused women and, of course, violence. These elements are not far from the reality of many Indians. Most Indian movies try to end by solving the plot conflicts, by having the bad guy get captured, jailed, killed, or in some way punished. Indian films raise many social issues and attempt to correct injustices.

In the film, terrorists threaten to disrupt a fragile peace process by threatening the life of the Army General's daughter. Major Ram (SRK) is sent to her college town to act as a student and serve as a bodyguard. At the same time, he is on a personal mission to find his half-brother Lakshman (Zayed Khan) and heal old wounds.

Other reviews have dealt with the various subplots and pivotal scenes, suffice it to say that the General's daughter; Sanjana (Amrita Rao) and Lakshman are used by Raghavan (Suniel Shetty), the terrorist, in an attempt to derail the exchange of Pakistan and Indian prisoners of war.

Luckily, most of the movie focuses on the college antics of Sanjana, Lakshman, and their classmates which spells out lots of songs, dances, and fun as Ram gets to know Lakshman, his mother, Sanjana, and the college chemistry teacher.

I loved so many scenes, the opening dance number, Ram’s comic fashion changes, the fantastic song and dance dream sequences, and the humor.

I did appreciate the special effects in the confrontation scenes with Ram and Raghavan. I have to say though, I hated to see SRK take the body blows and falls. I winced because I was aware of his back problems.

Zayed Khan (Lakshman), who stepped in to replace Hrithrik Roshan, did a great job; some reviewers dissed his dancing skills. But, I say hey, the guy dances, for me that's more than enough plus he has his own sweet style. I love men who dance.

Sushmita Sen as the chemistry teacher was elegant. Amrita Rao has a lot of style. Her acting was very convincing and her dancing was charming. I don't know how tall she is but she looks like a sprite, so tiny and delicate. The supporting cast was great, too.

I loved the ending of the film when they introduced the credits. The various scenes make me laugh and I dance to the music. The only disappointment was Gauri Khan, the producer and SRK's wife, did not put in a personal appearance. My guess is that Main Hoon Na credits may be the only film credits that are read in their entirety.

I also appreciate the fact that SRK is so open in his interviews; I have learned a lot about film making from him. I appreciate the fact that he wants all his films to succeed on many levels and he is willing to go the extra mile to achieve that. After months of hard work, the filmgoer is transported for a few hours.

For me, Main Hoon Na is like the end of a long pleasant trip. I have followed SRK’s career since 2002, purposefully going back to his early films in an attempt to watch him grow as an actor. I think I achieved that. Khan has grown as an actor. While watching Main Hoon Na, it was hard to remember him in Deewana as the young man in love, who shook with the realization that he now wanted something in his life, a woman, a wife, and who cried bitterly as he pounded a brick wall. He jumped with energy, had a baby face and flying, black hair.

Khan has grown into a handsome man with chiseled cheeks, his hair trimmed and slicked back. His acting is polished. His emotional expressions while forceful are more tightly controlled. He's the adult now mingling with youth. A role reversal. But, his energy and joy of life still shine through. Now that I am watching SRK in real time, it's interesting to see the various mature roles he is taking on in films like Montabbein, Devdas, Chalte Chalte, and Ka Ho Na Ha. This is another thing I like about Indian movies, Indian movie stars really work hard their whole career and since Indian movies are multi-generational, stars can play a variety of characters their whole lives. To my mind, western movies focus almost entirely on youth.

In human relations, Shah Rukh Khan's generosity to others is paid back like some law of physics that says the more you give the more you get.

There are many reasons why Shah Rukh Khan is a star. One basic reason is the camera loves him. He looks good from any angle.

What will Farah Khan do next?

I think Ms. Khan has the right approach to her work and it's a similar one for SRK, do what you love. Farah loves to dance and now she loves to direct. But, she says she has no new project in the works because nothing interests her. Boy, wouldn't I love to take a break from work and only do the jobs I liked. It's really not a bad idea, because when you love something you give it your best.

(c) 2004 Canary Press Co.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Devdas 1955 vs Devdas 2002

After seeing the 2002 remake of Devdas, I wanted to see the 1955 black and white version.

I have a lot to say about Devdas, the 1955 version and the 2002 remake.

To gain a better understanding, it's always better to watch a film more than once. Contrary to Dilip Kumar’s adversity to making comparisons, I find sometimes comparisons can add a depth of understanding to a story. Comparisons can also enhance appreciation of an art form.

The 1955 Version


The 1955 Devdas was in black and white starring Dilip Kumar, Suchitra Sen, and Vaija Yantimala. The 2002 remake was in color starring Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit.

Most of the Indian movies I had watched previously were shot in the 1990s or 2000s with the exception of the 1970s Bobby, and Mother India, so I was surprised at the rural setting and the bare staging of the 1955 version. The remake was considered the most lavish Indian film to date.

The 1955 movie spent more time desccribing the youthful relationship between Devdas and his childhood friend, Paro. You get more of a sense of separation. The two families, Devdas's and Paro's are neighbors but come from different castes. So, early on it is established that the relationship is fated for failure.

In the 1955 version, you see Devdas and Paro as young children. Devdas is a rascal. He is always getting into trouble. Paro is his faithful playmate. Eventually, his parents send him to Kolkata to stay with an Uncle hoping he will settle down and study.

When Devdas returns home after his long absence, he assumes he can resume his relationship with Paro but the politics of his family intrude. A battle over money is one source of the conflicts.

The expression of emotions in Indian films is both constrained and bold. So, the meetings between Paro and Devdas are brief. While little is said enough is conveyed to communicate that Devdas and Paro are in love.

At first, they thought their parents would agree to their marriage, but both fathers had reasons to object. Devdas’s father objected because Paro’s family was of a lower caste. Paro’s father objected because he felt dishonor in approaching Devdas’s family regarding Paro’s marriage and felt he could find her a richer husband.

When Devdas returns, he seems more subdued, more introspective. Yet, when he is confronted with the conflicts that arise from the prospect of marrying Paro, he is torn. He wants to please his parents, but he also wants to marry Paro. When he cannot resolve the conflict, he returns to Kolkata with the idea he will forget Paro and she him.

In the meantime, Paro is betrothed to another man. The rest of the movie deals with Devdas’s inability to forget Paro and Paro’s acceptance of her fate.

A friend, Chunni, introduces Devdas to Chandramukhi (Vaija Yantimala), a courtesan in a brothel. Devdas expresses distain for her. But, she falls in love with him. Eventually, he begins to drink.

Even though Paro has married, she carries Devdas in her heart. Her approach is more practical and more accepting of her fate. But, her plight illustrates that she yearns for a life with her love.

Chandramukhi seeks to find out where Devdas is and how he is. He visits her now and then and sometimes when he is under the weather. Under the influence of her love for Devdas, Chandramukhi changes her lifestyle and gives up prostitution. In contrast, Devdas adopts self-destructive behaviors.

While there were songs dispersed throughout, only Chandramukhi’s character dances.

Eventually Devdas ruins his health. Chandramukhi has found him in the streets, drunk. She brings him home to care for him. After Devdas recovers he professes a love for Chandramukhi. But, he also feels a need to travel, to find himself. During the trip, a friend encourages him to drink. He becomes ill. He feels close to death, so he finds a carriage and driver to take him to Paro’s home one last time. He had promised Paro he would come to her door when he was in need.

In the 1955 version, the other characters, family and friends, are not well-developed. Their relationships are hinted at—such as Devdas’s conflicts with his brother and sister-in-law.

When I watched the 1955 version again, I enjoyed the movie much more; I was able to focus on the emotional struggles of Paro and Devdas. I felt many could identify with Devdas’s predicament. Also, I felt that the emotional struggle was heroic in some ways.

The movie explores in my mind how a person is affected by the web of relationships in their life and how many aspects of one’s life are decided by others, which is what makes the movie universal.

Dilip Kumar won “Best Actor” and Vyjayanthimala won “Best Supporting Actress” for the 1955 version. The character Devdas and his story have had a wide effect on Indian cinema and culture. The 1917 story of Devdas has been made into film nine times. “Every Indian grew up sensitized to the saga of Devdas.” (Barrow and Krishnaswamy, Indian Cinema) Many Hindi film characters have been modeled after Devdas.

Dilip Kumar distances himself from the Devdas character, for him it was just another role. He did not always agree with the characterization of Devdas especially when Devdas struck Paro. (http://www.rediff.com/entertai/2002/jul/03dilip.htm)

The 2002 Remake

In the 2002 remake, Shah Rukh Khan plays Devdas and Aishwarya Rai plays Paro. The remake is considered the most lavish Indian film to date. Here the neighboring families of Devdas and Paro live in elaborate mansions filled with stain glass windows, painted floors, and works of art. The costumes are colorful and rich.

The movie opens with Devdas’s family preparing to celebrate Devdas’s return; references are made to childhood events throughout the movie.

In interviews about Devdas, Shah Rukh Khan explains that he saw the Devdas character as weak and played him as such.

Many of the characters and their relationships are well developed. Devdas’s and Paro’s mothers play a big role in the story. Devdas’s brother and sister-in-law are seen as weak and scheming, respectively.

There are songs and dances in the remake featuring many lavish numbers. Maduri Dixit shines in her role of Chandramukhi. Her dancing is superb.

The remake stays true to the story in many ways keeping most key scenes such as:

Paro hides from Devdas upon his arrival
Paro and Devdas meeting at the water’s edge
The conflicts over caste and money
Paro and Devdas believe they would be able to marry
Devdas striking Paro
The meeting of Pavarti and her new step-daughter and gift of jewelry
The ending

In the movie, all three characters, Devdas, Paro, and Chandramukhi love and believe in a love that transcends self.

Most scenes are more elaborate than the 1995 version, such as

--when Devdas visits Paro after his return. She has run away into her room. He follows. She hears his steps and lights a wall lamp. He enters as the light casts a glow on Paro’s face. In the remake, the lamp has come to represent Paro’s undying love as she has kept a lamp lit for Devdas since he left.


--Paro’s nighttime venture to Devdas to see if he is committed to their relationship. In both the 1955 version and the remake, Paro and Devdas discuss her possible dishonor and how to view their parent’s objections. In the 1955 version, it is a simple scene. In the remake, the language is more frank. Plus, Devdas’s father confronts Paro and calls her and her mother indelicate names. Paro’s mother lectures Paro on family honor.

Both films have Devdas back in Kolkata after the conflict has driven him away. He writes to Paro to persuade her that they should consider themselves friends.

In both films, Paro is engaged and Devdas returns during the ceremonies. When he and Paro meet, he tells Paro that he was wrong to send the letter and that he loves Paro. Paro by this time has accepted the fact that Devdas will not take any action to bring about their marriage, so they have cross words. Devdas responds by striking Paro, leaving a wound on her forehead.

For me this was the turning point in the film, it is Devdas’s admission of failure and his weaknesses.

In the remake, the scene is more poignant because after striking Paro, Devdas leads her to her wedding procession and later carries her bridal litter as she heads towards her new home. After her marriage ceremony, Paro goes to meet Devdas once more. Both Shah Rukh Khan and Dilip Kumar play these scenes with a mixture of pain, meanness, and sadness expressing the unbearableness of the situation.

The wound becomes a symbol of ownership which Paro takes pride in.


In the 1955 version, Paro and Chandramukhi are aware of each other, but they only pass on the road. In the remake, they befriend each other.

In both films, a friend of Devdas’s leads him to a local brothel to help him forget his troubles. Jackie Shroff in the remake gives an excellent performance as the friend, Chunni.

The dialogue in the remake is fuller with more illusionary references.

The difference in brothel settings is striking. In the 1955 version, Chandramukhi’s outfits are simple and she dances alone in a small room in a boarding house. In the remake, Chandramukhi lives in a lavish temple-like dwelling and dances with over eight other dancers. Her outfits are embroidered with gold and jewels and she wears a wealth of bracelets, necklaces, earrings and anklets.

In the remake, Devdas’ gradual deterioration is played out in many painful scenes. Whereas in the 1955 version a few scenes illustrate his decline but leave the viewer to imagine the details.

In the remake, many enjoy Devdas’s predicament, as if he got his comeuppance. But, the characters that take pleasure in bringing Devdas pain are not happy either and while their plans succeed in eliminating Devdas, their goal was power and resources not happiness.

In a sense, Devdas’s life questioned the concept of happiness. What makes one happy?

Within the confines of social conventions, Paro and others still try to save Devdas. Anyone who has had a family member or friend struggle with alcohol the scenes are realistic and the feeling of helplessness is true.

Devdas was a lucky man to be loved by two women. As Chandramukhi says, “Loving isn’t always about receiving. Love is a mirror in the soul. Amour god’s gift to life’s design”


What is also portrayed in the movie is the idea that Devdas has character, that he is worthy of love even though he has no direction in life and he is indecisive. For some it may seem odd that women would love a man like Devdas but again, I think the scenario is realistic in that few of us are heroic 100% of the time, some struggle with indecision often, and often we find ourselves in situations that are restrictive, where we are asked to subjugate our needs and wants for the sake of family or society. Family and society are not always right when it comes to determining what is good for each human being. It raises the questions, when is sacrifice good, when is it bad?

In another sense, the movie is about spirit and soul, which are not fed by wealth or position but by compassion, love, forgiveness, joy, humility, and charity. But the film implies that those who seek a soulful happiness don’t stand much of a chance. The movie also implies that those in power will seek to cast out those who do not abide by their rules or those whom they deem imperfect. In essence, those in power have the power of life and death. Yet, those cast out have the power to love.

I could identify with Devdas and his relationships with his family and his society. His mother, who claimed to love him, was blind to his true feelings and character. She allowed others to influence her perspectives. This is so true, it seems that many people are easily influenced by others to believe the worst about someone they know or barely know without question. The film also portrays to my mind that the struggle to be a good person is made more difficult by examples of those who are rewarded for bad behavior and evil deeds. When the sister-in-law does not suffer for her lies and schemes, it communicates that being evil is ok. Devdas and Paro are punished for their love.

Because Devdas does not take the route others take when faced with conflict or loss of a love, he is labeled weak. But, in one sense he is honoring his love by choosing to dwell on his situation. His father chooses people by their place in the caste system. His mother sees mercenary goals in others but is blind to her daugher-in-law's schemes and lies. Paro's mother is the only character who is fully aware of Paro and Devdas's feelings. She is sympathetic but when she is scorned by Devdas's family, she arranges a marriage for Paro because honor is more important than love. Chunni is casual about all relationships. Devdas' brother and sister-in-law are too shallow to exhibit any noble feelings, having money is their only value. Chandramukhi whose life has made her almost immune to love falls deeply in love and makes many scarifices to help Devdas. While Devdas loves Paro, in his confusion and conflict he sinks into a depression that curtails any useful decision-making that could help him. None of these scenarios bode well for love.

The underlying feudal power structure of Indian society is reflected in the film. Marriages are arranged to enhance familial power bases and wealth. Households while inter-generational also require a lot of servants drawn from surrounding villages illustrating a divide between the rich and the poor. Emotions are then defined along caste lines. Love and sympathy are given miserly and usually only to their own. For me the scene where Devdas is lying outside Paro’s new home dying and no one from the manor comes to help him expresses a power structure that says we only help our own, the rest are left to their own devices. This does not mean Indian society is unique in this way; all societies practice some kind of hierarchy.

When Chandramukhi stands up to the selfish aristocrat’s son claiming that brothels exist because of aristocrats’ behavior and values, her assessment was a clear indictment of any society that creates a pool of citizens who are deemed less than human or less worthy of respect for the benefit of those in power.

We all must make judgements on many levels when we choose to befriend or love someone, but that does not give license to disrespect those we don't choose.

(c) 2004 CanaryPress Co.