Friday, February 24, 2006

Sholay: A Flash from the Past

Sholay (Flames)

1975; 204 minutes; Hindi with English subtitles

Director: Ramesh Sippy
Producer: G.P. Sippy
Writer: Javed Akhtar, Salim Khan
Music: Rahul Dev Burman
Cinematography: Dwarka Divecha
Playback singers: Rahul Dev Burman, basu Deo chakravarty, Babu Ghanekar; Shankar Lal; Maqbool
Dances: P.R.L. Raman
Cast: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri, Amjad Khan, A.K. Hangal, Satyen Kappu, Leela Misra and more

Sholay is considered an Indian movie classic. I enjoyed most of this film, which starts with an eye-popping shoot-out, followed by chase scenes through the backcountry, and canyons of rural India. The cinematography is excellent. The camera work is a blend of styles including fast action, slow motion, and panoramic views. But, eventually, the relentless scenes of violence wore me down.

Many of the performances were enjoyable. I thought Dharmendra (Veeru) was smashing and Amitabh Bachchan’s (Jai) onscreen persona crackles with energy and emotion. Sanjeev Kumar plays the village chief, Thakur Singh, with dignity and Hema Malini’s character, Basanti, bounces with charm.


In essence, the village chief, Thakur Baldev Singh, a retired police officer, asks a fellow police officer to track down two criminals (Veeru and Jai) he met in the past to ask them to come to his village and help him end the tyranny of a local thug, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) because he thinks they are brave and have the potential to be decent human beings. When the police officer questions his judgment saying, “A fake coin is a fake coin.” He replies, “a man is not a coin.”

The criminals, Jai and Veeru, have been a team for sometime and travel from con to theft to scam as they escape just ahead of capture, most of the time.

What starts out as a buddy flick becomes a civil war between Thakur Baldev Singh, Veeru and Jai, and Gabbar Singh’s gang of thugs.

Many other characters intervene in the story like S. Bhoplai, the greedy shopkeeper; the inept prison warden, a Hitler look-alike, who states he doesn’t believe in reform because “How can you change, if I can’t change?”; Hariram, the jail barber and squealer; and the chatty buggy driver, Basanti (Hema Malini).

Gabbar Singh, the thug who terrorizes the village, is a piece of work. He plays Russian roulette with his men when they run from the village under gunfire. While at first, none of the men are shot, you know what’s coming.

Thugs attack the village and the village protectors retaliate, back and forth, with one horror after another. When the thugs break up the village Holi celebration, it’s like a shoot-out at the OK Corral.

Thakur and Gabbar have a long history. Gabbar killed Thakur’s brother’s family as revenge for Thakur imprisoning him.

Scenes of normal events of life break the flow of constant conflict. Veeru has fallen in love with Basanti. Jai goes to Basanti’s Aunt to plead Veeru’s case. Instead, he paints a poor picture of his friend’s lifestyle scuttling Veeru’s chances to marry Basanti. But, that’s not the end of this substory.

Veeru wants to settle down. Jai isn’t ready though he shows a quiet interest in Thakur’s widowed daughter-in-law, Radha (Jaya Bhaduri).

In one raid, Gabbar kidnaps Basanti. Veeru follows and is captured. Gabbar forces Basanti to dance to save him. When Basanti dances, she endures many humiliations and agonies showing her strength of will much like a fight scene does for the hero.

So much horror and tragedy is perpetrated by Gabbar, I wanted to shoot him myself just to end the relentless torture.

At one point, the villagers have had enough of the violence, too, and question whether all the killings are worth the refusal to give Gabbar the protection payment. One man says, “We are farmers not soldiers.” Another replies, “To lead an honorable life, there is a price.” When an elderly and blind villager loses his son to the violence, he refuses to give in to Gabbar’s violence and threats saying, “An honorable death is better than a life of humiliation.”

The ending is a mixture of sorrow and survival.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chocolate is not Sweet

WARNING: this movie shows scenes of gang rape, group sex, prostitution, and gratuitous violence as pleasurable and desirable activities.

Most offensive scene: a glimpse of a gang rape was subliminally slipped into one of the pornographic song and dance routines. This is mind rape not “entertainment.”

Some Bollywood critics complain their movies need to be more realistic, more “westernized” to be accepted internationally. If this film is an example of a “westernized” Bollywood film, then the soul of Bollywood has been lost.

This is a gangster movie produced by those who want to see the criminal lifestyle glamorized and to make money off portraying titillating acts of violence, murder, robbery, pornography, and prostitution geared toward a youthful male audience.

This is not a family movie.

The theme of this movie is “money is power and with power you can do anything you want.”

The story of how two members of a London musical group came to be arrested for murder and robbery is not a story about good versus evil. It is just a story of evil.

The acting is sullen and unimaginative. None of the characters are sympathetic. I never cared what happened to them. They were middle-class, self-absorbed petty criminals.

The song and dance scenes are pornographic and inconsequential. Visual pornography, in my mind, is when scenes of gang rape, group sex, or other sexually twisted behaviors are shown in their entirety as if to fill the minds of the audience because they lack an imagination. Pornography is meant to make those who feel powerless in life, to feel powerful momentarily. Pornography usually shows one or more persons in a “dominant” position, a position with the power over the life of a “submissive” person. Pornography usually shows the “submissive” person performing degrading acts of sex or violence or having degrading acts of sex or violence performed upon them. Pornography is joyless and humorless.

The person, who participates in pornographic acts of gang rape, group sex, or other sexually twisted or violent behaviors because they think it is cool, do not realize they have sold their soul in the process.

In addition, pornography, which can be visual or verbal, is made to stimulate a primitive part brain that responses, psychologically and physically, to violent or sexual stimuli, in attempt to encourage people to enjoy this type of behavior, to give them a momentary sense of power, and to numb them to the consequences of this behavior so that they begin to accept this behavior as “normal.”

Ask yourself – who controls your mind?

Regret: I am sorry Anil Kapoor lent his name to this film. He plays a London lawyer attempting to help the two arrested Indian musicians.. Anil’s character, Krish, seemed laden with accoutrements like he was drowning in an excess of material goods and self-advertisement.

(image source: )

Producer: Spice Entertainment
Director: Vivek Agnihotri
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi, Suniel Shetty, Emraan Hashmi, Tanushree Dutta and Sushma Reddy.
Lyrics: Mayur Puri, Praveen Bhardwaj, Dev Kohli, Ajeet Srivastava

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Film Festivals and Bollywood

One way to show your enthusiasm and support for Bollywood films is to attend a film festival showing Bollywood films, especially new ones.

The link above is just one of many that lists a variety of film festivals.

In Washington, DC, near where I live there are several film festivals --

DCIFF (DC Independent Film Festival)
March 2 - March 12
There are several Indian-based films in the festival.

In Quest for the Spectacular by Aunshuman Apte
About an actor in Mumbai trying to make it in Bollywood.
Sunday, 3/12/2006 2:20pm
Avalon Theatre

Lucky by Kristen Palana
An young Indian American woman faces an arranged marriage while trying to live the American dream.
Friday, 3/10/2006 9:10pm
Jewish Community Center

Ordinary Lives by Sheetal Agarwal
Documents the struggles of a family of ten living in a 180 square feet shack in Mumbai.
Wednesday, 3/8/2006 12:00 pm
Gala Theatre -- Tivoli

Truck of Dreams by Arun Kumar
Parallel stories of Bollywood -- of a truck carrying Bollywood movies to outlying villages and the dreams of a village girl.
Friday, 3/10/2006 9:10pm
Jewish Community Center

DC Film Fest
April 19 - April 30, 2006
In last year's festival, several Indian films were shown such as Raincoat, Dil Se, and Mughal-e-Azam. Films are shown at several area theaters. The website does not list the 2006 film program yet, so keep watching the site for the listing.

Maryland Film Festival/Baltimore
May 11 - May 14

Silver Docs
June 13 - June 18

Will update post with information as I find it.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rang de Basanti

Director: Rakyesh Mehra
Producer: Rakyesh Mehra, Ronnie Screwvala
Cinematography: Binod Pradhan
Music: A.R. Rahman
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi, Nacim and Blaaze
Screenplay: Rensil Dsilva
Art Direction: Allan Amin
Cast: Aamir Khan, Alice Patten, Madhavan, Soha Ali Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Siddharth, Sharman Joshi, Atul Kulkarmni, Kirron Kher, Waheeda Rehman, Anupam Kher

Quick Take: Historic events of the Indian revolt against British colonialism are set against the backdrop of the lives of present-day college students. The film is beautifully shot. Scenes are fluid and realistic. Music is treated as background more like Muszak than performances. Aamir Khan’s acting is layered, subtle, and superb. He generously shares the screen with the other actri, each of whom portrays their varied characters with energy and believability. The story is a call to idealism with a terrible twist at the end that echoes with images of Tiananmen Square.


The opening prison scene in sepia sets the stage for the blend of past and present as reenactments of British acts of brutal suppression of Indians seeking freedom from their colonial yoke mix with images of rowdy college students filming a documentary of Indian revolutionaries Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Durga Bhabhi and Chandrashekhar Azad.

The story of a young British woman’s goal of making a documentary of the Indian revolutionaries inspired by her grandfather’s diary wraps around the present day story of the lives of young college students. Her grandfather, Major McKinley, participated in Britain’s attempts to squelch rising protests after World War I by capturing, torturing, and hanging the young revolutionaries. His diary entries foretell the fall of Britain’s rule of India.

After Sue’s (Alice Patten) production company nixes the project she has been working on for two years, she packs up her materials and goes to India to make the documentary on her own. She stays with a friend, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan) on a college campus and begins to audition students for the roles. The auditions are humorous much like “American Idol.” Frustrated she has not found anyone to play the revolutionaries, Sonia, takes Sue to a party to lift her spirits.

Bonfires, beer, music, and pranks entertain the crowd of students at the party. Sonia greets several students and laughs at their antics. DJ (Aamir Khan) is seen with a friend atop a stonewall drinking beer while bending backwards over the river below to see who can drink the most without falling in. As Sue watches, she realizes Sonia’s friends would be perfect for her documentary and enlists Sonia to help persuade them to act in her film. Sue joins in the party as the students dance and gyrate randomly on the beach to western music.

Scenes of fast cars and motorcycles, drinking, and seeking easy sexual favors from girls flash by as the students head toward DJ’s home. There, as the group eats dinner, scenes from the past blend with the present as the story of the revolutionaries continues in flashbacks. Sue implores them to help her saying, “They were heroes. They fought for their country’s freedom.” The students are unimpressed. Later DJ tries to explain to Sue why they seem aimless and why he and the others love college. Their country is over-populated, has major unemployment problems and other seemingly insurmountable problems. In college, we are masters of our destinies. After college, we are at the mercy of fate. At least on campus, I am somebody. But when I get out I will be nameless, faceless, lost in the crowd.”

Gradually, we meet each student. Karan’s father (Anupam Kher), who is rich, greets his son with questions. Has Karan decided which American college he will attend? When Karan (Sidddharth) mutters a few words, his father says in disgust, “Yours is the SMS generation, no conversation beyond four lines.” His father fails to see his son’s confusion and need for a goal beyond making money. A phone call regarding the sale of cheap airplane parts interrupts their interaction.

Laxman’s Muslim family berates him for his associations with non-Muslims saying “This country has never accepted Muslims.” To which Laxman (Atul Kulkarni) replies, “I can not fill myself with hate.”

India’s fight for independence from British Imperialism was harder for their nation than it was for the American colonies. The American colonists had vanquished the native population through murder, disease, and relocation, so they only had the British army to fight. Whereas in India, hundreds of tribes of various religious beliefs had existed for thousands of years, internal conflict among the various groups kept the population from uniting against British rule. But, the young revolutionaries were Hindi, Muslim, and Sikh. They had overcome their differences to fight for a greater cause, the freedom of their country. That Sue, a Britain, has to explain this to the students is ironic. One student remarked, “They would call you nuts today, if you said you wanted to fight for your country.”

Eventually, the students agree to do the documentary and many scenes follow of the rehearsals mixed with youthful outings and pranks. In the face of what they think their world has become, they do not feel they have anything in common with the revolutionaries they portray.

The massacre of hundreds of unarmed people in Jallianwallah Bagh on April 13, 1919, by the British, was the spark that set off the revolution. The event is reflected in horrific reenactment flashbacks. This act of violence turned a non-violent people into revolutionaries.

Music scenes are shot to blend with the story. Essentially, the students prance to a musical background of youthful songs as they carouse in the city streets.

Up until the interval, the film is replete with humorous asides such as when the students are leaving a movie theater and they explain to Sue, “That’s why India grows trees so we can dance around them.”

While roaming the countryside, Sonia’s boyfriend, Ajay, an Air Force pilot, asks her to marry him.

(Image source:

After the interval, the students watch the documentary they made. They are sobered by it. But quickly fall back to their previous perspective, “There’s nothing worth giving your life for. When we leave college, we will have to fight just for the basics. Corruption is in our DNA.” They believe it does not matter what you do, nothing will change.

Then, they see the news their friend Ajay (Madhavan), the Air Force pilot, has died in a plane crash. At first, there is speculation that the plane malfunctioned due to the purchase of cheap defective replacement parts. But, as public demands for an inquiry increase, government officials begin to denigrate the dead pilot’s reputation to place the blame on him.

His friends and family retaliate by holding a candlelight vigil to protest the defamation of his reputation and to support the investigation of corruption. The parts dealer, Karan’s father, reassures the Minster of Defence, “Public memory is short.”

When the vigil continues to bring pressure on the government, riot troops are called in and the crowd is beaten into submission. Ajay’s mother (Waheena Rehman) is beaten into a coma. This is how the Indian government answers its public.

When Laxman, is beaten up by his own family with his father’s consent for his acceptance of others, I knew how he felt.

The tenor of the film changed. The group of friends becomes comrade-in-arms as they plan their revenge against a corrupt and unresponsive government. One student notes, “The Defence Minster is suppose to safeguard the nation not sell it.”

Pleasures: I appreciated the modern look of the sets and cinematography. In addition, this is a great ensemble film shorn of excessive sentimentaility. Plus, I am a sucker for handsome men like Madhavan. His part may have been brief but he graced the screen with charm and electric good looks.

Regrets: I missed the full-blown song-and-dance routines but I understood what the director was trying to do with the music. My disappointment is that the solution the film offers seems as empty as the corruption it was meant to rectify.


While I understand this film is a call to idealism, I could not see how the ending would achieve that result. This film has many scenes of violence. While they may have been “tastefully done” there were still too many for me. I have strong feelings about the use of violence. I want to believe people can find more diplomatic ways to resolve their differences.

What did the director hope the response would be to his film? Does he think young people will take to the streets and begin killing anyone they decide is corrupt?