Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

K3G is an indulgence that I only allow myself to luxuriate in occasionally.  While I love the first half of this film, despite all its flaws and typical Karan Johar extravagances, I just wish that the second half came anywhere close to the emotional appeal of the opening melodrama.  Considering the stellar cast it’s particularly disappointing that the whole doesn’t live up to the promise of its parts, but at 3 ½ hours maybe only watching the first half isn’t such an issue.  It also contains my all-time favourite Shah Rukh song with plenty of shots featuring SRK in those lacy see-through shirts, which is probably enough of an explanation for my love of this film, but K3G also brings back memories of learning Hindi and actually starting to understand dialogue without subtitles.  Special for a few reasons then, but this song is still the best part of the film.

For those who haven’t seen K3G, it’s a fairly routine story of your basic multimillionaire family and the ups and downs of their domestic relationships.  The Raichand’s live in a large ostentatious stately home which seems as far removed from India as it is possible to get despite the fact that it’s supposed to be relatively close to a lively market in Chandni Chowk.  It’s the kind of family where running late means having to hop on the helicopter to get home in time for Diwali celebrations, but despite all the lavishness of their lifestyle, it’s a family where there is a lot of love.  This is emphasised in the opening credits as Nandini Raichand (Jaya Bachchan) plays with her young adopted son, but it’s also obvious in the interactions between Rahul (naturally this can only be Shah Rukh Khan) and his father Yashvardhan Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan) as well as in the later scenes with his mother and younger brother Rohan (Kavish Majmudar).

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Problems arise when Yash decides that Rahul will marry Naina (Rani Mukerjee) who seems ideal for the position of rich man’s wife entrusted with carrying on the family traditions.  However Rahul has other ideas as he has fallen in love with Anjali Sharma (Kajol), the daughter of a local shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk. Just to keep things in the family, Anjali is the niece of Rohan’s nurse Daijan (Farida Jalal) and has a younger sister Pooja who is roughly the same age as Rohan.  This helps later on in the story, although initially it just seems another way of emphasising the gap between the two families.

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The first half of the film sparkles with the romance between SRK and Kajol while the various family relationships add depth and interest to the story.  The two grandmothers, Achala Sachdev and Sushma Seth, ensure a typical Indian family feel despite the Anglicised mansion, while the glaring discrepancies between the Raichand’s home and the (somewhat sanitised) streets of Chandni Chowk are used to good effect.

Kajol is lively and boisterous as Anjali, while SRK is more retrained and less dramatically emotional which helps keep things under control.  There is a smattering of comedy in the romance too, which both SRK and Kajol handle effortlessly, and the appearance of Johnny Lever in comedy uncle mode is thankfully kept to a minimum and doesn’t disrupt the story.  The other characters all fit in too – the young Rohan is petulant and spoilt, just as a rich kid should be, while Anjali’s younger sister Pooja (Malvika Raaj) is bratty and approaching obnoxious at times, which does actually tie in reasonably well with her later persona.

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Naturally Rahul chooses love over duty and ends up cast out of the bosom of his family, although he does have Anjali and her sister Pooja as compensation.  Of course, this is a Karan Johar film, so it’s no surprise when we reconnect with Anjali and Rahul ten years later to find that they are living in a large and opulent home somewhere in London, despite the fact that Rahul left with nothing – pretty impressive work!

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But things start to fall to pieces once Kareena Kapoor enters the picture.  This was the first time I’d seen her in a film and it was also the last for a very long time – based solely on this dreadful performance. Hrithik Roshan as the grown up Rohan is also sufficiently unimpressive, seemingly unable to decide between the role of hot and macho student running amok in ridiculously expensive cars, or emotional wreck searching for his brother.  The two completely derail the romance and it’s hard to come up with any reason why Pooja has to dress like a call girl and act like a complete airhead.  The film also dives deep into overindulgent farce as Anjali complains about her son becoming too English (hmm, could this be because they’re living in England and he’s attending an English school?) while Rohan decides that staying with his brother while pretending to be someone else would be a good way to reconcile his father and brother.  Because that would definitely work.

If you can ignore all the self-indulgent weeping from Rohan and the insufferable unpleasantness of Pooja, the rest of the film is endurable, although unbelievably long and drawn out with a ridiculously contrived ending.  Karan Johar goes overboard trying to tug on his target NRI audience’s heartstrings with a rendition of the Indian National Anthem which seems totally out of place, and there are far too many references to ‘loving your parents’.  Even apparently when they don’t love you and repeatedly tell you so.  There are a few moments where the easy flow of the first half is almost recovered, but overall the second half is disappointing at best, particularly after such a good beginning.

Thankfully though there is still SRK, who is as charismatic as always, and the Shah Rukh and Kajol jodi works even while the story around them falls to pieces. If only the whole Kareena Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan storyline had been cut, this would have been a much more enjoyable film, although still not perfect.  Still, I do recommend watching right up until the interval – after that it’s at your own risk!   4 stars for the first half, but only 1 for the second.

Bombay Talkies (2013)

Bombay-Talkies-Poster

Apologies – this post is brimful of spoilers. Mind you, no one who edited the trailer or the geeks writing for Wiki or reviewers for some major papers seems to give a toss about giving away details.

Bombay Talkies sounded like an odd but potentially brilliant project. Four directors, four stories with the only connection being an homage to the Indian film industry. And I liked it a lot. Not all the stories are equally strong but they each have something that has stuck with me since seeing the film last week.

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English Vinglish

Finally Sridevi returns to films! A low key and female centric family drama, English Vinglish allows ample opportunity to show off her great range and perfect timing. Gauri Shinde has written a nice story with a whiff of “Shirley Valentine” about it, and directs with assurance.

Shashi (Sridevi) is a wife and mother, taken for granted by her family – husband Satish (Adil Hussain), bitchy teenage daughter Sapna (a very convincing Navika Kotia) and son Sagar (the endearingly cheeky Shivansh Kotia). She is a good cook and keeps a lovely home as well as running a business making and selling ladoos, barely having a moment to herself. Shashi is accomplished and loving, but that is what is expected of her so she gets no credit for that. The family mock her for her lack of polish and poor English. The cheap shots are also a way of father and daughter bonding and excluding Shashi. Shashi is gracious and rarely retaliates, instead letting her beautifully expressive eyes show the pain.

When Shashi’s New York based niece Meera is about to be married, Shashi is sent ahead of her family to help with the preparations. Nervous at leaving her kids and husband, she is forced to go where she can be useful. Again, her feelings are ignored for the sake of convenience.

Shashi stays with her sister and niece Radha (the sparky Priya Anand) and spends her days missing her family at home. Daunted by America and feeling left out, Shashi secretly enrols in a dodgy “Learn English in 4 Weeks” class.

This is where the film detours into “Mind Your Language” territory. Taught by David (played by one of the worst actors I have ever seen, and I am including Mimoh in that list) and along with her fellow students, Shashi begins to come out of her shell. One of the students keen to get her right out of her shell is the dishy French chef, Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou). The tentative stirrings of romance between Laurent and Shashi are very well played even if his lines are cheesy.

The rest of the class start off as a collection of broad stereotypes, but the actors develop their characters really nicely. Sumeet Vyas, Rajeev Ravindranathan and Maria Romano are particularly good fun. I also liked the way food played a role in communication and relationships.

The story isn’t really about learning English as a road to happiness, but it is about getting your mojo back and gaining the respect of your loved ones. There is a theme of English language undermining Hindi and excluding people in their own country, but really she could have taken a pottery class or something else.

Much as I cheered when Shashi managed to navigate her way into the city or order a coffee, and I loved seeing her grow in self esteem and happiness, I have a slight problem with the character. She was so passive aggressive, even considering of her lack of confidence. Why make Radha cover for her so she could sneak to class? Why not just ask her sister to keep it quiet as a surprise for the family or at least not ask Radha to be an accomplice. Telling Laurent about her family in Hindi seemed at least partly a lie by omission rather than purely an outpouring of the heart given their level of conversational skills. Her final speech was two-thirds guilt-trip inducing perfect filmi Ma (and the opposite of the real situation) and finally one-third honesty about what she believed was needed for happiness. It made me like her less than I wanted to and I felt heavily manipulated at times as she is clearly meant to be the morally good person in the frame.

Shashi lost me at times, but Sridevi never did. Her performance was beautifully nuanced. As her self-confidence grew, Shashi’s expressions became less guarded and her eyes lit up. When Sridevi smiled she was radiant. I really wanted Shashi to be happy, despite my reservations. I think this was more about Sridevi than Shashi though – I am so happy to see her working in films again.

The music by Amit Trivedi mostly ranges from bland to twee. I’ve never been a big fan of his and the tweedly emo guitar thing is not my style. The songs are mostly in the background or used in montages of Shashi looking sad. It was all appropriate to the tone of the film but I won’t be listening to the soundtrack anytime soon.

Whether it was Gauri Shinde or former co-star Sridevi who won him over, Amitabh Bachchan makes a fun appearance. He plays a rambunctious man of the world and gave Shashi some much needed confidence and sensible advice. Priya Anand is a standout. I liked her sassy style in her debut (Leader) and she was very natural as the lively college student Radha. Adil Hussain is also excellent as the thoughtless Satish, and the children are perfect for their roles. Maybe too perfect – that girl is a right little cow. The random extras at the wedding were energetic and got into the dances.

The visual design is excellent. Shashi’s house in Pune looked lived in and real, even if her saris were a bit too fabulous. I drooled over some of her outfits; all of them in fact, except the dark pink one (I don’t like pink) and the mauve (it was a bit too shiny). The NRIs lived in a very American suburban house with Indian touches in the decor. It was a nice representation of their life abroad and the connection to home.

I saw this with four friends and at least three of them cried several times during the movie and we all laughed a lot. It’s a film I would have loved to see with my mother and then go out with her for coffee. It’s a well crafted film, with a good story and some fine performances. Despite some issues, I highly recommend it. Welcome back Sridevi!

Namak Halaal (1982)

There is no shortage of plot in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal and yet, when you boil it down, not a lot really happens. It is by no means a great film, but I am inordinately fond of the excesses of masala story telling and I have a sneaking affection for this one. Released in 1982, it has a very 70s masala feel right down to the casting and music, with a touch of cartoon action and comedy. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor star, supported by Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Om Prakash and Parveen Babi.

Savitri (Waheeda Rehman) and Bhim Singh (Suresh Oberoi) are devoted to their employer, Sanyal (Kamal Kapoor). When Sanyal is killed by enemy Girdhar in an ambush, a dying Bhim Singh makes his wife promise to look after Sanyal’s son Raja even if it means losing their own boy, Arjun. It is a veeeeeery long deathbed speech with lots of detail. Savitri takes Arjun to his grandfather (Om Prakash) and the old man blames her for his son’s death. She cannot prove her innocence so leaves and agrees to stay out of Arjun’s life. Savitri is honest and a competent businesswoman and manages the hotel empire while Raja is educated abroad.

The adult Raja is played by Shashi Kapoor. Looking a bit old and tired for the playboy role, Shashi nevertheless makes a stylish entry via a downhill ski race assassination attempt.

The beanie is not a good look, especially compared with Bob Christo’s splendid headgear.

Meanwhile Arjun has been raised poor but honest in Lakhanpur. His grandfather despairs of Arjun being able to stand on his own feet once the old man passes on, so decides to send him to the city to make a man of him. Prakash Mehra posits a correlation between libido and intelligence that I found quite amusing – hopefully it was meant to be a joke! Arjun is simple but not stupid, and quickly takes the measure of those around him. Amitabh’s performance is the element that holds everything together. He gives as much nuance and conviction to the silliest dialogues as he does to the most dramatic moments. His physical comedy is a treat and even when scenes drag on far too long (e.g. a fly induced slapstick fight) he keeps me watching.

Mumbai being the vast metropolis it is, of course the same dozen or so people see each other everywhere. Thank heavens there are no actual bells that sound for every cosmic coincidence in the film or I would have been deafened. Arjun is helped by his friend Bhairon and via the classic Pag Ghungroo (mixing comedy, dancing and lyrics that give the club audience a dressing down), scores a job interview at a fancy hotel owned by Raja and managed by Girdhar’s son Ranjit (Ranjeet) who is out to kill Raja on daddy’s instructions.

Ranjit took very little persuasion to go to the dark side, but his outfits were very subdued, one of my few real disappointments in this film.

Raja has become convinced that Savitri is trying to kill him to inherit the family fortune. His bitterness is evident in cryptic dialogues and he tries to offend her at every turn. In contrast, Arjun is a happy, simple fellow whose life is good. Arjun is a loyal employee and quickly tumbles to the danger his boss is in.

Actually if you don’t already know what Namak Halaal means, you will by the end of the film it is said so often! He takes it upon himself to protect Raja.

Waheeda is elegant as ever, and she gives Savitri both backbone and presence. Savitri speaks up for herself and refuses to accept blame when she is not in the wrong, but is pragmatic about her ability to change anyone’s mind. It was odd seeing her as Shashi’s Ma when they are around the same age but she was far more convincing as Savitri than he was as Raja! The filmi principle that you can’t grow up to be a complete person without being raised by your birth mother is quite strange to me. I was really pleased to see Arjun stick up for Savitri when Raja dismissed her as not a ‘real’ mother.

Of course as soon as he finds out his mother is alive and who she is, his life is perfect and she insta-loves him back, but whatever. I did giggle a bit at his definition of maternal love.  Eventually even the very obtuse Raja forgives the blameless Savitri albeit for the flimsiest of reasons.

Poonam (Smita Patil) can’t resist Arjun and he is certainly smitten with her. She works at the hotel and lives alone with her blind brother, and I think feeling supported and having a laugh were probably the things missing in her life. Smita Patil is a good match for Amitabh and their characters are the most likeable in the film. They have issues, but after an initial jump to conclusions they talk things through and it seems so nice and sensible. Maybe that is just in comparison to everyone else. They share one of my all time favourite rain songs. I like the way their relationship plays out, Amitabh is so gleefully naughty, and the backdrop is like a mini-golf course version of Bombay. It’s just a delight. And Smita must have been in that rain for a while as the colour bleeding from her sari border is quite noticeable at some points.

Parveen Babi is terrible as Nisha, the femme fatale caught under the thumb of Girdhar. She has such a lovely face, but only one expression. The sparkly costumes display her figure to good effect but her dancing is awful. She has one of the best ever disco cabaret stages in Jawani Janeman and her sole contribution is to block the view of the sets.

As she is supposed to be a seductress it might have been nice if it looked like she had a pulse. But she and Shashi are well matched as both are at less than their best.

Om Prakash is his usual grandfatherly type here, and he does some not very funny comedy when he tries to surprise Arjun. It did result in the fun drunking song Thoda Si Jo Pee Lee but still, overall I could have done with less of Daddu and his woe-is-me-ing. The support cast includes Kamal Kapoor, Satyendra Kapoor, Suresh Oberoi, Viju Khote, Chandrashekhar, and Ram P Sethi all doing what they do. Tun Tun makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as a party guest.

Bappi Lahiri provided the music with Kishore Kumar in excellent singing form for Amitabh and Asha Bhosle adding fun and flirty vocals. It’s a fun soundtrack that works best in conjunction with the picturisations.

Beth kindly listed many of the insane goings on, so if you feel the need to do more research before jumping in do take a look at her review. Otherwise, just take the plunge! I can almost guarantee that you won’t have seen anything quite like this. 3 ½ stars!

Department

Someone needs to take all of Ram Gopal Varma’s gadgets, lock them in the toy box and hide the key. A potentially interesting thriller, Department was swamped by RGV’s ‘rogue’ methodology. My guess is ROGUE stands for Ridiculously Overindulgent Gimmickry Undermines Everything. The nauseating (literally) camerawork and a dearth of story and character development made this a disappointing experience. But there were a few positives including an excellent effort by the wardrobe department and a handful of quite good performances.

Had the gimmick of cameras mounted on actors and props been used with restraint it could have been really striking.  For example, a chase around the Crawford market area – it looked great as the camerawork enhanced the sense of speed and confusion of the pursuit. But it is hard to appreciate someone’s acting when the camera crawls up one nostril and emerges from their ear, or is spinning around the bottom of a tea cup. The background score is what I’ve come to expect from RGV – loud, intrusive and annoying so combine that with the dizzying visuals and it is unpleasant.

The story is a standard of the cop genre: a young, slightly idealistic officer is teamed up with a shady older legend on the force. Sanjay Dutt and Rana Daggubati had a good dynamic between their characters and they played off each other well. Sanjay has a brooding reserve that suited Mahadev’s moral ambiguity, and he was world weary and cynical to the core. Mahadev has his own agenda, which is revealed all too slowly. Shivnarayan was no young ratbag to be easily distracted or lead astray– he was focussed on his career and working towards his goals. But he is realising there are many more shades of grey than he expected. Rana is a competent actor, and he certainly looks right for this role. He seemed more at ease in the second half when the action ramps up.

Mind you some of the dialogue is so stilted no one could make it work. There are great insights along the lines of “A mistake done intentionally is not a mistake”. If only I had been in charge of the Cliche Department, I would have found a much more inspirational desk calendar to pinch quotes from. A subtitle that spelled gangrene ‘gang-grin’ was another highlight.

The underworld aspect is less successful. Sawatya (wildly overacted by Vijay Raaz), and his opposition – a mysterious voice on the phone – are at war. But they didn’t provide adequate tension for the machinations of the plot to make sense or be interesting. Sawatya’s deputy DK (Abhimanyu Singh) is ridiculous, stupid, and not at all convincing. People keep banging on about Abhimanyu Singh’s intensity but I think he is just a really bad actor. Even as a corpse, he hams it up.

Amitabh as Sarjay Rao spent the first half chewing the scenery and the second being enigmatic. It wasn’t the performance I was hoping for although he was an interesting character. Excessive exposition drained the potential drama and made the characters less interesting as they did little thinking for themselves. The police would get news of their target’s whereabouts apparently out of thin air. There is no consistent internal logic, too many contradictions, and the story just doesn’t hold up. RGV seems to think he has discovered the concept of moral ambiguity and the idea is pounded home. It’s clumsy and tedious.

Lakshmi Manchu was quite good as Mahadev’s wife. Satya was from a police family so she had already worked through any moral issues she may have had about her husband’s activities. Shivnarayan’s fiancée, Doctor Bharti (Anjana Sukhani) made less sense. She seemed to have few concerns about her intended being an ‘encounter king’, and no thought about what it might mean to be married to someone who was pissing off gangsters at a rate of knots. Madhu Shalini as Naseer had a potentially interesting role – a female gangster who was as tough as nails. But her motivations weren’t clear or consistent, the relationship with DK was not believable and her acting ranged from terrible to mediocre. However I don’t think anyone would have fared well in the scene where she basically fellated a kulfi as she and DK fantasised about taking over and killing everyone. It was gross.

Nathalia Kaur got a lot of (RGV generated) publicity for her debut. Her assets are obvious and just in case you missed anything that camera gets right in there (the gold undies were unexpected and I am so glad she was wearing them). But for an item girl she lacks sensuality and relies on making what I can only describe as ‘porno face’.  Even with the minimal demands of the choreo, her ‘dancing’ was terrible. I don’t usually have a problem with the skanky item, and appearances by the likes of Mumaith Khan, Malaika Arora Khan, Rambha and others are often a highlight. This made me uncomfortable as between Nathalia’s performance and the dirty old man camera gaze creeping all over her body, it is just nasty.

Luckily someone in wardrobe realised the movie was off the rails and took a bold step that almost saved the day. Nasia and DK form their own gang – we dubbed them the Fashion Gang.

They dress really badly, over accessorise and spend too long fussing over their clothes when they should be running away from Rana. Meanwhile Shivnarayan has had an epiphany. He had temporarily lost his mojo once he was out of uniform and in civvies. There was some unfortunate double (acid wash) denim, and a regrettable lurex bandanna incident. But by the second half he had developed a signature style and was teaming jeans and a simple (very snug across the shoulders) linen shirt or a (so tight it looked painted on) polo shirt with minimal accessories – watch, shoes, belt and gun.

Classic and classy. He became the Fashion Police! He pursues and kills members of DK’s Fashion Gang – the guy in the green and purple stripy shirt, the guy in the gingham bandanna, the bedraggled beardy man, finally the leaders themselves. So when Sanjay Dutt turned up wearing double acid wash….well. It was riveting. Not enough to make this a film worth seeing, but it did keep me entertained just when I was giving up.

I feel bad for the actors in Department, especially Sanjay Dutt, Rana, Deepak Tijori and Lakshmi Manchu who I think gave solid performances. It’s a shame they have been undermined by RGV’s self indulgent antics and the lack of quality story and dialogue. Honestly I can’t recommend this is worth seeing. Unless you enjoy seeing those Crimes  of Fashion soundly punished!