Saturday, July 30, 2005

Revisiting Taal

Producer: Raju Farooqui and Subhash Ghai
Director: Subhash Ghai
Music: A.R. Rahman
Cinematography: Kabir Lal
Art Direction: Sharmishta Roy
Choreography: Shiamak Davar, Ahmed Khan, Saroj Khan
Playback Singers: Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Srinivas Patro, A.R. Rahman, Anuradha Sriram, Sujatha, Alka Yagnik
Starring: Anil Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Aishwarya Rai, Alok Nath, Amrish Puri,

An Indian friend of mine from New York loves the movie Taal. We are both fans of many of Bollywood's leading actri.

Often when we correspond, she would throw in a good word for the movie Taal.

I had gotten the video of Taal and watched it once, maybe twice. I just couldn't see the attraction. But, Taal kept being mentioned in various Bollywood articles and reviews as a great movie. So, I decided to watch it one more time, to see if I could figure out its appeal.

I am glad I did. I think it's always wise to watch a film more than once because so much is missed in one viewing. Since I had already watched Taal more than once, I did not expect my view to change.

My original conception of the story was -- Rich boy meets poor girl. They fall in love. Their families clash over the relationship. The couple separates. Fame sidetracks the young girl. A crass music producer/director lures her into the entertainment business and for the sake of her family she complies. In the meantime, the young man takes steps to convince his family he is truly in love with the girl and believes they will come to accept her. He haunts the girl's workplace to remind her of his undying love. But, because of unresolved insults to her family, she does not relent and eventually accepts a marriage proposal from the music producer.

At first, it was hard for me to buy into the drama of the clash between the two lovers, Mansi and Manav, (Aishwarya Rai and Akshaye Khanna) and their families. Because one family was from a village, the other from the city, one poor, the other rich, a clash was inevitable.

Also, when I first viewed Taal, I had a image in my mind of Anil Kapoor's acting abilities. For some reason, I did not like his character in Taal, a profit-obsessed, shallow businessman.

While Aishwarya Rai played her character beautifully and the movie showcased her beauty and talent superbly, I did not feel the same about the other characters.

I think my first impressions colored the rest of the film for me and I missed some of the subtle changes. In addition, remember, while body language is universal, I only have the captions to give me an idea of the conversations.

But, when I watched it again, I found the underlying themes in the story more interesting. In addition, the movie was also a cautionary tale highlighting the unglamorous side of the entertainment world.

Amid a complex relationship between their neighboring families, London-educated, Manav Mehta, son of a rich man, meets Mansi, daughter of a poor folk singer, in a variety of ways -- first as a image captured from a picture, then in glimpses of her in her village, after he falls down a mountainside, at a visit to her home, at a party at his home, at a friend's wedding, at her secluded spot in the mountains where she practices yoga, at a public ceremony, and so on, until the two fall in love.

Manav predicts the future clash of their families but he also promises Mansi a true and undying love. One underlying theme presented here is that people find god in many ways, in books, in idols, in the flame of a lamp, or in myths and beliefs. For Manav, god resides in his heart. He speaks and acts through the god in his heart. He says he is honest, true, loyal, and gentle and Mansi's love for him is a belief and trust in him.

The film revolves around music both as tribute to magical and beautiful music and as an illustration of the unsavory side of the music business. Mansi's father is a poor folk singer. Mansi and Manav's families have already clashed by the time they visit Vikrant Kapoor (Anil Kapoor), the music producer/director. They learn how Kapoor steals folk music, including Mansi's father's songs, and reworks them into popular songs. Kapoor offers Mansi a job -- as a singer. She accepts.

In the meantime, Manav works to convince his family to accept Mansi. He also learns of the humiliation Mansi and her father suffered in a visit to his home. Using reason and commitment to his promise to Mansi, he challenges the basic belief that a family can be ruined by a poor choice of in-laws. The family sees it as a clash between sophistication and simplicity, implying that the rich are morally superior to the poor, but their actions and behavior demonstrate otherwise.

As an Indian woman, Mansi walks a fine line. She does not publicly voice strong opinions but must be quietly fierce in defense of her honor and the honor of her family. As Mansi's career develops, she slowly adopts some of the business's characteristics. She cuts herself off from her feelings. We are asked to see that success does not always bring happiness.

Aishwarya Rai is showcased beautifully in multiple song and dance routines -- music video style. The film's music also illustrates many of the film's themes.

The beauty of women has been used since humankind rose from the mud in many ways. In images and words, beauty is defined by a woman's body; but women's bodies have also been used to embody evil or as resources to be conquered and subjugated. Humankind uses woman's body as an expression of its aspirations and its ills.

Indian filmmaking uses images of beautiful women as the embodiment of purity and spirituality as well as images of women as the embodiment of vice and base emotions. In Taal, you see Mansi peek out from her head scarf in public gatherings. You see her dance and sing in her village and then on stage in scenes of pastoral beauty and lavish glamour. Whereas, Manav's aunts, dressed in suits, wear grim faces as they watch Manav and Mansi's relationship develop and as they attempt to derail it.

Culmination of the story illuminates much of Kapoor's character. Underlying the tough facade is a sensitive man. In one scene, he defends the honor of all women by refusing to let any of his "stars" appear in lingerie or nude pictures. In the final scene, Kapoor recognizes that Mansi is still in love with Manav and releases her from her promise to marry him as he steps back into his role of music director. He directs her to run to Manav. Anil Kapoor did an excellent job portraying the complex character of the music producer.

Critics of Bollywood say Bollywood films are simplistic, or unrealistic, or unpolished, or too long, or.... I say Bollywood films are multi-layered. On the surface, they can appear as caricatures of human interactions, but if you catch some of the underlying themes, the stories take on a deeper universal meaning. Also, it is Bollywood's style to make it clear who is good and who is evil. As for length, often Bollywood scenes are generous, they allow time for various aspects of the characters and story to develop. Taal exhibits some of these qualities.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

2005 Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge Celebrates 10 Years of Continuous Screenings

Released 10/20/1995
Producer: Yash Chopra
Director: Aditya Chopra
Screenplay: Aditya Chopra
Music: Jatin Pandit, Lalit Pandit
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Cinematography: Manmohan Singh
Art Direction: Shamishta Roy
Choreography: Saroj Khan, Farah Khan
Playback singers: Udit Narayan, Lata Mangeshkar, Kumar Sanu, Asha Bhosle & Abhijett, Pamela Chopra and Manpreet Kaur
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Anupam Kher, Farida Jalal, Amrish Puri, Satish Shah, Pooja Ruparel, Himpani Shivpuri, Mandra Bedi, Parmeet Sethi and more.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave-hearted Will Take the Bride) is India's "Casablanca," a film made without any idea of its future success and fame. It captured a nation's heart and changed Bollywood filmmaking. This year, DDLJ surpasses 500 continuous showings setting a record. The film is still shown in Maratha Mandir Cinema in Mumbai and has been featured in various film festivals, nationally and internationally.

From my perspective, it is story about the fulfillment of a young girl's romantic dream of love.

The overall tone of the film is light-hearted, joyful and playful -- for example, early in the film, Simran (Kajol), the oldest daughter of a London-based Indian family, sings of a dream lover and dances with joy reflecting youthful innocence and exuburance. When her father Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Amrish Puri) receives a letter from his old friend back in his Indian village, Simran is reminded of her arranged marriage to her father's friend's son. Her dream is shattered.

Simran's friends convince her to take a month long trip with them on Eurorail. Simran persuades her father to let her go as a last outing before her marriage.

Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan), the carefree, mischievous son of a rich business man, has also planned to take a trip with his friends on Eurorail before he enters his father's business. Simran and Raj cross paths during the trip and after a series of misunderstandings and misadventures, they fall in love.

The crux of the story is how will Raj and Simran get back together. Simran has gone to India to get married. An Indian marriage ritual is celebrated for several days before the actual marriage ceremony. Raj has just a few days to figure out a way to charm Simran's father into letting him marry Simran. This appears to be an impossible task because promises have been made and Bauji's honor is at stake if Simran does not marry his friend's son.

Even Simran believes it is impossible when she pleads with Raj to elope with her. But, Raj wants her father's permission to wed Simran because while he, too, has lived in London all his life, he is Indian in his heart and wants to uphold tradition.

Vignettes of members of both the bride and groom's family illuminate their outlook and character. Simran's mature younger sister is her confidant. Simran's mother is her friend. At one point, Simran's mother (Farida Jalal) offers to assist the young lovers in eloping but Raj convinces her that his way is right. Ajit Singh's son, Kamalijeet, is portrayed as a selfish, brutal man. Simran's Aunt plays Raj's father's romantic interest. Grandmothers, Aunts, Uncles, siblings, and friends fill the house with activities surrounding various stages of the marriage preparations and celebrations.

The movie is full of humorous moments. Raj flirts with Simran, his piano-playing gymnastics are a hoot, and he continues to tease and play jokes on Simran. I appreciated the subtle humor of the love song between Simran and Raj as they revisited their time together in Europe in fantasy. Now all the times Raj was inconsiderate, he is sweet and thoughtful, and all the times Simran was angry or ungrateful, she is cheerful and affectionate.

Interlaced with wonderful song and dance routines, the movie maintains a fast pace. Early in the film, while the group of Eurorail travelers attend a party, Raj's surprise song and dance routine that he performs to entertain his friends is funny, full of energy, and flirtatious as he sings to Simran. Plus, Simran's drunken escapade through the streets of Switzerland is wonderfully funny as Raj races after her. Also, during the marriage celebrations, Raj slips his way into the proceedings and leads a wonderful counterpoint dance with the ladies.

In the end, while the young people do not follow the traditions of their elders in the same manner, they retain what they perceive as the important facets of their traditions, chastity, loyalty, respect, commitment, and honor.

Music ties the story together with the recurring haunting notes from the song, Tujhe Dekha.

DDLJ Info Bits ----

According to author, Anupama Chopra, DDLJ director, Aditya Chopra, son of director and producer Yash Chopra, has become an enigma. He rarely gives interviews and prefers anonymity because he likes to go to movie theatres to watch new releases without being noticed.

DDLJ's theme is that generations of non-resident Indians the world-over can still hold traditional Indian values. That sentiments about non-resident Indians are expressed at all, I find interesting. I wonder if it is India's strong emphasis on family ties that reaches across borders to distant relatives and countrymen.