Bawarchi

BawarchiBawarchi is simply a charming film and one that always makes me smile, even though it’s heavy on moralistic aphorisms and homely words of wisdom. Rajesh Khanna plays the cook who takes on the task of transforming a dysfunctional and argumentative family with his simple outlook on life; although there are numerous hints throughout that he may not be quite what he seems. The strengths of the film are the all-star cast who all fit into their roles perfectly and Gulzar’s well written dialogues that ensure the petty family disagreements are realistic and believable. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s screenplay is based on Tapan Sinha’s 1966 Bengali film Galpa Holeo Satyi and Sinha is credited as the writer for Bawarchi. For anyone trying to track them down, both films are available on Youtube, although sadly the original Bengali film seems to only be available without subtitles.
The story revolves around the household’s transformation from an unhappy and argumentative group of people to a caring and considerate family. Along the way there are songs, a dance competition and even a romance thrown in for good measure. I love the opening graphics which use the cooking theme to good effect, but there are only a few before Amitabh Bachchan takes over, announcing the credits against a rather oddly static red curtain, and carries on with a voice-over introducing the various characters in the drama. Firstly there are the fractious Sharma family members who live in the ironically named Shanti Niwas.

BawarchiBawarchiThe never-ending conflict in the house means that the family cannot keep their servants, which in turn leads to further discord and argument. As the story opens the family are in the process of losing their last servant – the family cook – who has decided to move on despite his new job paying less. The family is ruled by the ageing patriarch Shivnath Sharma (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) who complains about his sons, his daughters-in-law and the lack of a decent cup of tea in the morning.

BawarchiBawarchiDespite his grumpy demeanour he is the only person in the house to think about the welfare of his late second son’s orphaned daughter Krishna (Jaya Bachchan as Jaya Badhuri). Harindranath Chattopadhyay is perfect here and his complaints are used to good effect to illustrate the trivial nature of most of the family disagreements. Krishna is at everyone’s beck and call, and yet she has a pleasant and sunny disposition which leads her to wait on everyone with a smile and not much thought of her own comfort. Just as well perhaps since no-one else thinks about her comfort at all.

BawarchiBawarchiAlso in the house are Shivnath’s eldest son Ramnath (A.K. Hangal), his wife Seeta (Durga Khote) and their daughter Meera (Mansiha). Ramnath is a harried clerk whose family life is impacting on his work. To combat his woes and possibly also to help him deal with his complaining wife and daughter he also drinks, although this actually makes him more pleasant to deal with, so perhaps it’s not entirely a bad thing. Seeta complains of her gout which makes her unable to help with the various household chores, while Meera is just plain lazy although she does get out of bed for her dance lessons.

BawarchiBawarchiShivnath’s third son Kashinath (Kali Banerjee) is a rather pompous school-teacher who lives in the house along with his wife Shobha (Usha Kiran) and their son Pintoo (Master Raju).

The last member of the family is Shivanth’s youngest son Vishwanath (Asrani) aka Babbu, a music director for films who, as Krishna so aptly puts it, copies English songs, adds Hindi lyrics and records them. It’s just one of the examples of tongue-in-cheek poking fun at the Hindi film industry which Hrishikesh uses to add some more gentle comedy, almost as if he’s letting the audience into a big filmi secret, even as he himself still sticks to type of BW conventions he mocks during the film.

BawarchiBawarchiBawarchi - ShobaBawarchiThe final two characters in the drama are Meera’s dance teacher Guruji (Paintal) and Krishna’s tutor Arun. Arun is Krishna’s love interest but their romance is only a small part of the story, although it does become more important towards the rather clunky end of the film.
The family squabbles are based on their own selfishness, and none of them wants to take on the responsibility of looking for new servants. Into this unhappy household steps Raghu (Rajesh Khanna) who just appears on the doorstep one day volunteering to be their new cook.

BawarchiBawarchiBawarchiBawarchiRaghu seems to be the answer to everyone’s prayers as he insists in a low salary, cooks amazing food and also has talents as a philosopher, singer, composer, and dance instructor to name but a few. Raghu seems to be a gift from the gods as his unfailing happiness and good cheer start to have an impact on the family, as does his willingness to tackle even the most demeaning of tasks.  This is a man who does the ironing – nothing else needs to be said!
Raghu does however seem to have an unhealthy interest in the large box chained under Shivnath’s bed.This happens to contain the family jewels, and added in to reports of a thief in the area makes Raghu’s sudden arrival more than a little suspicious. However his ability to cook and his constant stream of knowledge about anything and everything soon make him indispensable to the family.

Bawarchi - happy songsBawarchiBawarchiBawarchiRajesh Khanna plays Raghu as a cheerful and somewhat bossy servant and he uses this relaxed outspokenness to stop the stream of advice from becoming too preachy. Despite his constant chirpiness Rahgu never seems too sickly sweet to be true, something which is helped by the suspicion that he may in fact be a thief and is simply putting on an act. Most of the films I’ve seen with Rajesh Khanna have been romances, but there is something very special about those few films where he doesn’t play the typical hero. Here he has an irrepressible twinkle in his eye and such a beautiful smile as he guides the family to an actual ‘peaceful abode’. It’s a wonderful performance and Rajesh Khanna is definitely a large part of why I love this film.

Just as amazing though is Jaya Bhaduri as she portrays shy innocence and naiveté with ease, and yet makes Krishna a normal down-to-earth person, trying to do her best with the lot she has been given. She’s sweet and natural with her grandfather, properly demure and respectful to her aunts but cheekily mischievous with her youngest uncle.  It’s hard to believe that this was one of the early films in her career as she definitely holds her own with the rest of the more experienced cast.

I also love the sets here which make the house look homely and lived in.  The locked case is impressive in it’s ‘look at me – I contain something valuable’ obviousness but there are also some wonderful lamps and clocks and Babbu has some very cool looking records on his shelf.

Bawarchi - the caseBawarchi - clockBawarchi - lampBawarchiThe only let-down in the film for me is the end, which seems a little too contrived as Raghu creates a rather unsophisticated solution to the final family problems. I feel it’s a little too simplistic considering some of the earlier scenes and the way Raghu’s character has evolved. However it’s a small quibble, particularly when the rest of the film is so enjoyable.  Bawarchi is definitely recommended for those times when you want to escape into a wholesome family drama that’s guaranteed to make you smile. 4 stars.

 

Manam (2014)

Manam

Manam is a beautiful film and a breath of fresh air in an industry usually dominated by beat-‘em-up heroes and the same old innuendo masquerading as comedy.  Featuring three generations of the Akkineni family and Nageswara Rao’s final screen appearance, it could very easily have tipped into trite sentimentality, but Vikram Kumar’s screenplay keeps the film on track with an novel storyline, sweet romances and genuinely funny comedy.  I have to admit that I almost didn’t buy a ticket when I read that Manam was being advertised as a comedy, since without subtitles most of the humour tends to pass me by (even with subtitles in some cases!) but Manam would have been a watchable and entertaining film even without subs.  As it was, being able to understand the jokes and laugh at the same time as the rest of the audience was excellent.  Long may this trend for subtitled Telugu films continue in Melbourne!

Manam Manam

The film starts in the 1980’s with the unhappy marriage of Radha (Naga Chaitanya) and Krishna (Samantha) who bicker and fight even on the occasion of their son’s sixth birthday.  The very next day they are both killed in a car accident, leaving the young Bittu an orphan and his wish to see them happy together unfulfilled.  This doesn’t seem to have held Bittu back however, as the film moves to the present day, and the now grownup Nageshwar Rao (Nagarjuna) is in Mumbai to receive the Businessman of the Year award.  However, on the flight back to Hyderabad, Nageshwar is seated beside a young man who is the image of his late father, and this begins his crusade to bring his ‘parents’ back together again.  Nagarjuna is absolutely perfect here and his child-like wonder at discovering ‘his father’ is brilliantly portrayed.  The scene is well written too, with the just the right amount of comedy to keep it from cloying sentimentality and Vikram Kumar even manages to make the suggestion of such an occurrence seem perfectly plausible.

Samantha and ChaitanyaManamNageshwar reasons that if his father has been reborn, then his mother must be around somewhere too, and to this end he scours the streets of Hyderabad until he tracks down Priya (Samantha) who is the image of his mother and, luckily for Nageshwar and his plans, she immediately feels a connection.  Again Nagarjuna’s determined search is neatly summarised in just a few shots and the obvious unlikely coincidences feel much less contrived than expected.  It help that both Nageshwar and Priya are very likeable characters and Nagarjuna and Samantha ensure their interactions are full of genuine warmth and respect.

ManamNagarjuna

Having found his re-incarnated father and mother, Nageshwar has to find a way to re-ignite their romance.  In the midst of his attempts to bring about true love, Nageshwar finds love himself when Anjali (Shriya) commandeers his car to carry a sick man to hospital.  As it turns out, the older man is Chaitanya (Akkineni Nageswara Rao) who has seen his parents Seetharamudu and Ramalakshmi  reborn as Nageshwar and Anjali.  It’s then his turn to explain the past and try to reunite the lost lovers.

Manam

ANR is the absolute star of the show, and seems to take great delight in playing the octogenarian matchmaker.  He is mesmerising every time he appears, and his facial expressions and reactions to every other character are superb.  For his part, Nagarjuna is quietly competent as Nageshwar Rao with a subtle but effective performance, and his romance with Ramalakshmi in the second half is an absolute delight to watch.  There seems to be something in Temple’s theory that Shriya Saran’s irritation factor is related to the length of her hair, as here she has long hair and is actually pretty good.  Shriya looks beautiful and displays an engaging personality as a 1920’s traditional villager, and she is just as stunning as the cool and efficient Dr Anjali.  I vote Shriya always has long hair in her movies!

Manam

Nagarjuna and Shriya also share good chemistry together, which is sadly conspicuously absent in the romance between Samantha and Chaitanya, although to be fair the script really doesn’t ever let them develop much sparkage except in the way of confrontation.  Despite the lack of passion with Chaitanya, Samantha shines as Priya / Krishna.  She sparkles in her songs, and is full of bubbly enthusiasm as she meets Nageshwara, but her pain at her perceived husband’s betrayal is obvious as is her contempt of Chaitanya’s Nagarjuna.  Chaitanya is also better than usual, although that may be because his role mainly requires him to play a drunk and obnoxious college student which he seems to fit well.  The usual suspects pop up as various mothers, fathers, cousins etc, but do watch out for the brief cameo appearance of Amitabh Bachchan which garnered plenty of cheers from the audience.

Manam

It’s not all perfect though – the inclusion of Ali as a dance teacher is unnecessary and M.S. Narayana’s role is too obvious and crude to fit with the rest of the characterisation.  However Brahmi is good as Nagashwara’s assistant and without any misogynistic humour, he manages a restrained performance that proves he can act perfectly well when required.

Manam benefits from a sweet and  simple telling of a relatively convoluted story.  There are no exciting car chases, no big fight scenes and no cliff-hangers (even though the last few minutes attempt to raise the dramatic tension), but overall it’s an entertaining and watchable film.  All praise must go to Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nagarjuna for their exemplary performances, but the younger generation hold their own, with even Chaitanya showing that he learnt something from the rest of his family while on set.  Definitely recommended viewing and a last performance to savour from one of the legends of Telugu cinema.

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).

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

 

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.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

 

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.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

 

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!

Kabhi Khushi Kabhi GhamKabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

 

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!