Friday, September 30, 2005

Paheli and the Oscars

Everyone has an opinion about the choice of "Paheli" for India's Oscar submission. Some feel other films should have been chosen for various reasons. Others agree with the choice.

For me, as long as the discussion remains on the various aspects of filmmaking, I think it's good to talk about how films are chosen for awards.

I appreciated "Paheli" for many reasons. I liked the idea of recreating a folk tale of a far-fetched idea of a ghost falling in love with a woman. I also recognized that folk tales can also relay wisdom and insight, or serve as cautionary tales. Folk tales hold universal appeal for all audiences.

"Black" and "Mangal Pandey -- The Rising" were among those considered for Oscar submission. Whlle, "Black" is an incredible film -- beautifully crafted and portrayed, the Helen Keller story is well-known and that is one reason why I think it was not chosen.

"“Mangal Pandey -- The Rising"-- is also a well-crafted film and while the idea of seeking independence and overthrowing suppressors has universal appeal, it is an adult theme. Plus, its theme is similar to Lagaan, a recent Oscar winner.

"Paheli" is many things. It is well-crafted and portrayed. It is also colorful, funny, gentle, sweet, sad, and surprising.

I stopped watching Western films many years ago for many reasons. The stories seemed silly or violent for the sake of violence. Every other movie seemed to be about some freak terrorizing teens, or it would be another shoot-em up, car chase, sex for the sake of sex movie.

I walked out of "Monsters Ball" which won several academy awards. I also walked out of "The Green Mile." Both movies seemed emotionally dead and violent for the sake of violence to me. Many fine Western movies have not been nominated for an Oscar, an example is "Frequency" (2000), a successful, well-crafted movie. I understand the reason for awards but just because a movie is nominated or is not nominated does not necessarily mean it is a good or bad movie.

What I seek to take away from any discussion on film-making is a greater appreciation for the craft of making a film in all its various aspects. Plus, I gain a wider perspective of the world when others share their views.

I have noticed one thing since I began reviewing Bollywood films and this observation holds true for all filmmaking. There seems to be two mindsets for how a story should be portrayed. One perspective is what I call "hard-core realism" -- people in this category seem to view the world as a harsh, cold, survival-of-the-fittest place where you have to watch your back and you have to acquire more "stuff" to survive. The other perspective is what I call "Optimistic" -- people in this category seem to view the world as a friendly, hopeful place, where cooperation among family, friends, co-workers, and strangers are the basis for a healthy civilization. Both views are real.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Quick Take: Mr. India, Mr. & Mrs. 55, The Hits of Udit Narayan, Bollywood All Time Hits V2, Yours Forever--SRK, Main Hoon Na companion DVD disk

Mr. India -- I can see why this film was so popular. It's intrepid girl reporter tracks crime stories; It's megalomaniac wants to destroy the world with high tech weapons; It's mad professor discovers great invention that could be misused by criminals; It's Invisible Super Hero saves the day. All interlaced with some sweet and comical song and dance routines. Amrish Puri (Mogambo) is such a good bad guy. Anil Kapoor (Arun Verma) plays an innocent, compassionate, and sometimes lonely young man, who has made it his life's mission to raise orphans, with a genuine sweetness and depth of character. I loved the camera work that made Arun become invisible and also when it allowed the audience to see his presence in various scenes. Sridevi (Seema Sohni) is very funny and the children are great.

Mr. & Mrs. 55 -- I need to watch this one again -- it is fast-paced, so I lost track of the storyline but I loved the "funny" opening scenes where women's liberation is touted and then the mood shifts to a young woman who is in love with love. The twist is that Anita (Madhubala), the young woman, must marry in order to inherit her grandfather's fortune. Her aunt seeks to find a suitor who will agree to marry Anita for a price, so she can get the inheritance, and then divorce her. Anita is unaware of these arrangements. This is where I got lost. The aunt, Seeta Devi (Lalita Pawar) finds a struggling cartoonist who agrees to marry Anita. Unbeknownst to the aunt, the cartoonist, Preelam Kumar (Guru Dutt), who, by the way, is gorgeous, has already met Anita and is intrigued with her. I fell in love with Johnny Walker, Preelam's sidekick. He moves so fluidly -- his comic timing and his body language are wonderfully funny. I loved his romantic song duet with a secretary under a table. You can't help but smile when he is in a scene. This movie is a classic and I can see why -- dramatic camera work, satirical social comedic script, and great performances.

The Hits of Udit Narayan -- a collection of 32 song-and-dance routines sung by playback singer, Udit Narayan. Many of these songs were new to me. It was Udit's song, "Ruk Ja O Dil Deewanne" from DDLJ (song is not in this collection) that caught my attention. His voice has a wonderful lilt. Often if I like a song from a collection, I will watch the film.

All Time Hits V2 -- collection of 50 song-and-dance routines from Bollywood hits. This collection has many of my favorites including Ishq Kamena, three from Devdas, and several Anil Kapoor numbers. Anil has a wonderful classical dancing style.

Yours Forever...SRK -- includes 25 song-and-dance routines, film highlights, several interviews and film clips.

Main Hoon Na -- the companion DVD disk -- includes Director's commentary, the making of Main Hoon Na, Deleted scenes and outtakes, and more. The absolute best part of the DVD is Farah Khan's commentary as the film runs -- what an introduction to filmmaking -- she answered one of my questions about the film--Why was the underground space where Raghavan and his cohorts planned their terrorist schemes in Darjeeling ankle deep in water? Because for some reason, Farah Khan was unable to get the floor painted black as originally planned.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mangal Pandey -- The Rising

Directed by : Ketan Mehta
Producer : Bobby Bedi
Music : A. R. Rahman
Cast: Aamir Khan - Mangal; Rani Mukerji - Heera; Amisha Patel - Jwala; Toby Stephens - William Gordon; Coral Beed - Emily; Kirron Kher, Lol Bibi....
Cinematrography: Himman Dhamija
Screenplay: Farrukh Dhondy
Choreography: Saroj Khan
Music: A.R. Rahman

The topic of this film -- an early rebellion against British rule in 1847 -- is a serious subject.

While the film was cinematically well-done and well-acted, it lacked an inner fire for me.

The story is illustrated through the friendship of Mangal Pandey, a Sepoy employed by the East Indian Company (EIC), and an EIC officer, William Gordon. This brought the story into the personal realm.

The film raised a thousand questions for me like:

Must all rulers be cruel?

What are the true functions of capitalism?

Why do we tolerate slavery?

The list goes on.

What made the film poignant was its timing. It was released just prior to the 58th anniversary of Indian's independence from British colonization (8/15/1947).

I admire Aamir Khan's vision to produce this film. While historical films often do not do well at the box-office, they are necessary to bring history alive and to remind us of forgotten times and forgotten heroes and heroines.

SRK Calendar

USA --

Sept. - Dec. , 2005, - Filming of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - New York, USA (the exact dates - TBA)