Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. 55

Now I get it.

This film is both a social commentary and a comedy. The opening scenes sets the stage for "Women's Liberation" versus "love and marriage." An unemployed cartoonist, Pritam (Guru Dutt), has an accidental meeting with a lovestruck, well-to-do girl and becomes infatuated. The girl, Anita (Madhabala), lives with her aunt, Seeta Devi (Lalita Pawar), who is a women's suffragette.

Anita's grandfather has died and left Anita his estate on the condition she marry. Because the aunt wishes Anita to have freedom from the ills of marriage, she seeks a groom willing to marry her niece on the conditions that he not see her after the marriage and that he divorce her soon after.

Pritam accepts the job offer without knowing the details. Once he learns the details, he refuses to be bought but when he finds out the girl he was to marry is Anita, he changes his mind and accepts the offer.

One of the funniest moments in the dialouge is when the aunt, who visits Pritam's humble abode, a rented room, asks, "Are you a communist" and Pritam replies, "No, a cartoonist." Pritam is a man content to live a simple life as long as he is free to live with dignity. He is not interested in material goods.

Meanwhile, Pritam and Anita meet on several occasions before the marriage. Anita is unaware Pritam is her intended groom. Affection grows between them. Early interactions between Pritam and Anita reflect a playful subtext regarding the battle of the sexes.

Anita does not find out Pritam is her future husband until they enter the Judge's chambers. After the civil ceremony, she turns her back on Pritam and refuses to speak to him because she feels he deceived her and is a greedy person.

Soon after Anita and Pritam marry, he gets a job. Unbeknownst to Anita, Pritam has not cashed any of the checks he received in payment for marrying her.

Soon the aunt demands that Pritam divorce Anita. Instead he "kidnaps" her and takes her on a long trip back to his family and his village. Along the way, he continues to try and charm Anita to convince her of his love.

Pritam acts the gentleman and Anita observes his family. In conversation with his sister-in-law, she sees a different side to marriage. The wife expresses a great sense of joy and cheerful duty in caring for her home, husband, and children. My only objection to the sentiments expressed was when Anita asks her if her husband beats her, the wife does not answer directly but says her husband gets angry if he finds his rice has not been perfectly cooked. To include occasional abuse as part of a "happy marriage" is inappropriate.

Anita has grown fond of Pritam but can not sort out her feelings because so many have manipulated the relationship. Her aunt comes to Pritam's village to retrieve Anita. In a burst of frustration with Pritam, Anita returns to her aunt's home. Pritam accepts his fate and stages a photographic session to make it appear he has engaged in dishonorable behaviors so Anita can get a divorce easily. He takes the photographs and the uncashed checks to the aunt. This is where the aunt shows her true colors. Rather than recognize that Pritam has committed a selfless act of love and that he is an honorable person, she pressures Anita to divorce Pritam using the photograph as evidence but does not tell her the source of the photograph or that Pritam returned the checks. Soon Anita learns from Pritam's friend that he staged the photograph and returned the checks.

Anita confronts her aunt with the truth -- and tells her to "go and gain real life experiences rather than giving lectures," because maybe many women are happy in their marriages.

Anita rushes to find Pritam who has made arrangements to fly to Mumbai. As you can guess, the two meet again and make-up.

While the film exaggerates stereotypical negative views of women's suffrage, men should not be rewarded for bad behavior by forcing women to stay with them. The flip side of "women's suffrage" are examples of men who divorce their wives of longstanding for younger wives. The ability to utilize the legal system to redress or remedy injustice or criminal behavior should be available to all.

Madhabala, Guru Dutt, and Johnny Walker provide fine performances. Madhabala's Anita is a bit pouty but she gives an energetic performance and looks wonderful in a black sari as it blows in the wind as she walks through Pritam's village at night. Guru Dutt, who also directed the film, cuts a fine figure and has a good sense of comedic expression as well as an understated expression of emotion. Johnny Walker as Pritam's sidekick is funny. Other secondary characters like the aunt's secretary and Walker's girlfriend also provide fine performances.

Shot in black and white, Guru Dutt made excellent use of shading. At times, the intense contrast added to the mood of various scenes.

Starring: Guru Dutt, Madhubala, Lalita Pawar, Johnny Walker, Yasmin, Kumkum
Screenplay and Dialogues: Abrar Alvi
Cinematography: V.K. Murthy
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Music: O.P. Nayyar
Produced and Directed by: Guru Dutt, 1955

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What I learned from Shah Rukh Khan

In early 2002, after buying a VCR, I began purchasing films. As my film library grew, I decided to broaden my horizons and check the foreign film selections. Among the first foreign films I bought was an Indian film called Asoka.

My previous experience with Indian films was Gandhi. After Asoka’s closing credits rolled down the screen, I was transfixed. Indian films were different from western films. They were three hours long with song and dance routines dispersed throughout. Female actresses looked like real women not like the skinny twenty-year-olds in western films. Men expressed emotions, and multiple generations were represented. Though the dialogue was Hindi, the stories and body language were universal.

I wanted to know more, so I entered the male star’s name, Shah Rukh Khan, into Google and it came up with over a million hits.

It didn’t take long to realize Shah Rukh Khan was a major Bollywood star. To learn more I read about Khan’s life and career. I also immersed myself in his films I got from a local Indian video store.

Some of the best parts of Indian movies, for me, are the song and dance routines, the women’s saris and jewelry, and the doti of the men. I love the energy and style of the dancing, especially the choreography of Farah Khan and Pandit Birju Maharaj. Every woman, no matter her age or shape, looks great in a sari and the men look regal.

Because of many changes in my life during this time, I was grateful to escape into the world of Indian film because it wasn’t here. I could lose myself in another world. I bought a sari and Indian jewelry. I learned a few words in Hindi, drank chai tea, ate Indian food, followed Indian news, and got an India travel guide.

Often when watching Indian movies, you are watching both the story on the screen and also the story of a changing culture. I struggled with the concept of understanding India through its films when I asked myself, “Did western films really reflect the history and culture of my world?” I didn’t think so. But, for the moment, Indian films were all I had.

India’s history is thousands of years old (2500 BC). With a population over one billion, with hundreds of different nationalities and religions, conflict was common.

As I followed Indian news, I watched the nation struggle with cultural conflicts, religious and political, that were often violent. In fact, during the height of my obsession, I had hoped to make a short trip to Mumbai but when the Victorian train station in Mumbai was bombed, I changed my mind. I continue to follow the news in all 29 states and 6 territories of India as they struggle with political unrest, varying economic conditions, corruption, poverty, and the struggle over the sovereignty of Kashmir. India claimed independence from British rule in 1948 after many bitter struggles and the establishment of a Muslim nation, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Kashmir remains, today, a disputed territory.

Indian films reflect these issues and more. In Indian films, you get drama, humor, tragedy, suspense, and celebration.

On screen emotional struggles are often raw and awkward in contrast to the slick dialogue of western movies. In Indian movies, characters are portrayed in exaggerated terms leaving no doubt who is good or evil.

One common conflict in Indian films is forbidden love. Arranged marriages are part of India’s culture but India’s youth are pushing for finding their own love matches, so Indian films reflect this cultural schism.

Another underlying motif of modern Indian films is the historical territorial power struggle of powerful Rajas transferred to political families, large corporations, or corrupt gangs.

Scandals in 2003 about mafia influence in the Indian film industry exposed the corruption that Indian society has not brought under control.

The Indian film industry produces over 800 films a year. It is the biggest film industry in the world.

By the time, I watched Asoka, Khan had become a producer as well as actor. He had been married for over 10 years and had two children.

As I continued to watch Khan’s films and other Indian films, read film reviews and interviews, I came to admire Shah Rukh Khan. His personality shone through in all of his characters. He is a good person. He is generous and passionate. He is energetic, expressive, funny, and attractive.

His philosophy about acting is focused on his audience: “I was here to ask for love. I was here to woo them not impress them. I was here to make them realize I was just one of them, like them, except that my job puts me in different situations and stories. And if I was able to hold up this mirror to everyone I was sure my audience would appreciate me because they would reciprocate their love to one of their own….”

Khan was accessible. He was open and honest in his interviews. He was also humble and some say arrogant. He handled his rise to stardom well. He never lost his sense of himself. He gives god credit for his success. He puts his family and friends first. He is loyal to those who supported him in his career. He took risks. He had become phenomena as one of the most widely recognized and admired stars in India, Asia, and Britain.

Because I found his life’s story interesting, I wanted to understand how he made some of the major decisions in his life. How did he decide to become a film actor? Where did he meet his wife? How did he handle success? How did he handle conflict? How did he choose his films? What were his future plans?

All my questions made me wonder about the concept of a role model. Who were my role models? Should film stars be considered role models? How does one feel about this additional life-long role assigned to them?

Khan has great praise for his parents. His parents were his role models. His mother, Fatima, was an Oxford-educated magistrate. His father, Mir Taj Mohammed, was a freedom fighter and a sensitive, intelligent man. They encouraged him and expected him to do well, but did not put many restrictions on him. His father had started several businesses but was not a great businessman. His family’s economics fluctuated but Shah Rukh Khan never felt deprived.

Khan was intelligent and had determination. When faced with getting a zero in learning Hindi in grade school, he studied late into the night until he got tens.

In college, he majored in mass communication and enjoyed advertising art. He also excelled in sports and wanted to pursue a professional sports career. But, an injury changed those plans. “One cannot be sure of one’s best efforts…. as sometimes your best is just not good enough. And that is one truth I live by even today. One should not get disappointed but try hard next time.” A friend suggested he try television. Khan always turns a negative experience into a positive one.

He loved his parents but lost them early in his life, his father at 15, his mother in his early 20s. He openly grieves their loss in most interviews. “Mother taught me that nothing is permanent…. So enjoy what you have this moment, for it can be taken away from you the next. Everything is transient.”

At 19, he fell in love with Gauri Chibber, a Hindu girl. Khan is Muslim. They dated in secrecy because mixed marriages in India are frowned upon. His future wife’s family disapproved of their engagement, so much so his fiancĂ©’s mother went on a hunger strike. Alternating crowds stood outside his home in Delhi to protest their marriage. Hindus came in the morning, Muslims in the evening.

Undeterred, Khan eventually charmed Gauri’s whole family. On their wedding day, he eagerly participated in the Hindu wedding ceremony, which has many rituals. Khan wanted to know the meaning of each one. As he and Gauri, prepared to leave, her family wept over losing her. To ease their pain, Khan offered to let her stay and he would just visit frequently.

He is known for professing his love for his wife, Gauri, and their family.

Khan was a good student but for some unknown reason, Khan’s college dean discouraged him from continuing in college. Yet, Khan is philosophical about the detours in his life, he feels "no experience that you have in life can ever be wasted."

He had success in several television series and decided to try film, so Khan, his wife, and sister moved to Mumbai. In India, it is common for extended families live together.

Khan has won many awards and made box office history with the movie, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Braveheart Takes a Bride), which ran to packed houses for over five years and is still running today. Khan is practical about his acting talents, he feels he has a limited range of expressions but he says “If you can pull it off, it’s a performance, if not it was just an accident, try and do it again and again till one day you die.”

Khan's philosophy about business and money is "These four principles cover my business philosophy: You should work for it, you should not lose money in any business, you should make enough money so that you are in a position of choice. And finally, if you start a business employing a lot of people, the end result, regardless of whether it made money or not, should be that all those people involved should be happy that they gave it a shot. He also believes one should have a greed for: knowledge, money so that you can have choice, and love.

Shah Rukh Khan loves New York City, and came to promote Asoka in September 2001. He and his family were only a few blocks away on September 11. As Khan notes, “We could see the clouds of dust and smoke that engulfed the sky…. the situation was so surreal.” Khan sat by the window for hours, “the police coming, the smoke rising and everything, it was very shocking.”

This was my first experience with fandom. I had never been so taken with a star or an industry. I began to see the positive side of fandom as well as the negative.

Life often requires us to review our perspectives, our feelings, our attitudes, our values, and our actions. I had become stale and rigid in my routines and my views of the world and life. Shah Rukh Khan became a role model for me because I learned from him some of the qualities about making good choices, and the importance of hard work, determination, humility, gratitude, loyalty, humor, love, and joy.

In March 2003, I learned Khan was going to have surgery to correct a longstanding back injury. I, along with millions of others, sent him get-well wishes.

Caring about someone even from afar made a difference in my life.