Podcast with Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood!

 

How we met through her masters thesis project, and how we both started watching Indian films!

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Kaatru Veliyidai – Mani Ratnam’s latest romantic film with complex characters

Screen-Shot-2017-03-15-at-4.04.28-PMA new Mani Ratnam film is an Event with a capital “E”.  He is one of the top Indian film directors and an auteur.  He makes the films he wants to make, and doesn’t just try to chase commercial success.  I’m lucky in that there is a theater five minutes from my house that shows Tamil and Telugu films.  I was able to catch a matinee of Ratnam’s latest film, Kaatru Veliyidai today – the title translates to something like “Breezy Expanse.”  I haven’t seen tons of Tamil films, but the ones I’ve sought out are mostly Mani Ratnam films, Roja to OK Kanmani.  He is the master.

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Kaatru Veliyidai is a romantic drama set around the Kargil War.  Karthi plays Varun or “VC”, a cocky fighter pilot, and Aditi Rao Hydari is Dr. Leela Abraham.  I have never seen Karthi in a film before, but I could tell he is a STAR and quite a good actor.

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I looked him up when I got home, and he’s the younger brother of Tamil Superstar Surya, who I really enjoyed in 24.

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Aditi I did not realize I’d seen before in a small role in the Hindi film Khoobsurat.  She is just luminously beautiful in this film, especially the way Ratnam films her.  She’s quite a good actress as well.

The film opens with VC flying his jet in a mission somewhere in Kashmir.  His plane is hit and he is forced to parachute, leading to his capture by the Pakistanis.  The film is a series of flashbacks from his time in prison to how he meets Leela and falls in love.  He gets in a car accident, and she tends to his injuries on her first day as a doctor in the general hospital in Kashmir.  There are some amazing feats of cinematography in these hospital sequences as VC goes in and out of consciousness and we see Dr. Leela reflected in his dilated eye.  He sneaks out of the hospital once he awakes, and Leela doesn’t meet him again until the Air Force ball, which is gorgeous tango dance sequence.  VC is so cocky in his attitude — his whole demeanor made me think of the film Top Gun.  He’s shocked when Leela stands him up to his invitation for a flight over the Himalayas.

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At first their relationship seems to follow a familiar path, but VC’s cockiness is also an arrogance and self absorption.  The relationship has some dark tones to it.  VC can be cruel and thoughtless.  Leela wonders why she keeps going back to VC again and again.  One scene struck me particularly when he gets her back and proclaims to his buddies in front of her, “I told you I’d bring her back.  She’s MY girl!  You owe me a whisky!”  Was it all for a bet?  Or can he really not live without her?  They have such a volatile passionate relationship, it’s really an open question if they should be together.  It reminded me in some ways of Rani and Abishek in Yuva.

Just at the moment that I was worried that Leela was turning into a dishrag at a critical juncture, she takes her life in her own hands.  And while there is one of those key “confrontation with the girl’s parents” scenes, it’s key that while they are NOT pleased with Mr. Varun Chakrapani, they don’t scream and yell.  It’s Leela who asks him to leave.  She is an adult, and she makes her own decision as to the direction of her life.  Mani Ratnam writes such great roles for women.  Both of these characters in this romance are wonderfully complex, but especially Kartihi’s VC character.

As we flash back to the prison scenes, his goal is to escape and to get back to Leela to prove he is a better man.  That leads to some gripping action scenes in the second half of the film.

I don’t think this is Mani Ratnam’s greatest film, but he truly excels at complex relationship films.  I left thinking about Roja, and Dil Se.  This is not a film about terrorism, but it does return to the theme of Kashmir.

The score is by A. R. Rahman and has some stand out songs — Rahman saves his best for Tamil cinema, and his very best for Mani Ratnam.  Ratnam has a really clever way to include the most commercial song, Azhagiye.

 

VC sends Leela a videotape (VHS! It’s 1999!) with a Marry Me song filmed with his air force buddies.  It’s sounds like the a cappella groups like Penn Masala.   It reminded me of all those amateur Youtube videos of  soldiers or sailors lip syncing and dancing.  Brilliant!

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There’s a family wedding setting for another great song, Saarattu Vandiyila.  That shot with the red powder!  Breathtakingly beautiful!

The ending left me satisfied, but yet wishing there’d been a little more.  I do like to see my rogue heroes grovel quite a bit to earn their HEA.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more films with both of the stars, especially Karthi.  Dear Reader, if you have any to recommend I watch first, let me know in the comments.

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OK Jaanu – Adiya Roy Kapur is adorable in this decent remake of OK Kanmani

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I’ll be honest that I’ve been dreading OK Jaanu [OK Darling] because I love OK Kanmani so very much.  I went to an A. R. Rahman concert in Chicago and I heard the song Mental Manadhil for the first time, and I was completely blown away.  Rahman played this video while he sang the song, and I just had to see this movie.

OK Kanmani is a Mani Ratnam Tamil movie about two young people who are working in Mumbai, and thrilled to find another Tamil speaker.  I didn’t know at the time that Dulquer Salmaan is actually from Kerala and known for his Malayalam films.

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So Adorable!

I’ve become like all those people in South India — the Southern original is so much better!  There is an undeniable magic to the Mani Ratnam Tamil original.  The chemistry between Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menen is amazing.  And it’s one of my all time favorite A. R. Rahman soundtracks.  I listen to it all the time.  O Khadal Kanmani is the movie that started me on my journey of watching Malayalam films, because I just had to see what other films Dulquer and Nithya had done, which led me to Bangalore Days and on and on.  It all started with the Tamil OK Kanmani, which I have watched multiple times.

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So, I had trepidation about OK Jaanu.  I like Aditya Roy Kapur okay, and Shraddha Kapoor.  I saw Aashiqui 2, and they do have decent chemistry together.  Then the Humma song came out, and I got excited.  The song from this scene in the original movie is cute, but one of the weakest of the Tamil soundtrack.  This is waaay sexier.

Then, something happened a week ago.  My father became very seriously ill and he has been in ICU at the hospital for this entire past week.  It’s been incredibly stressful, but he seems to have come out of the crisis.  I’ve been exhausted and spending all my time at hospital with my parents.  When I’ve had a moment to wind down, I’ve turned to Bollywood song videos as my sort of comfort food.  And tonight, I decided I deserved a break, and went with a neighbor to OK Jaanu.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  It took me away from all my cares and worries for a few hours.

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I think this is the best movie I have seen Aditya Roy Kapoor do.  He was truly adorable.  Because I know Dulquer’s performance in the original so well, I could tell when he was even trying to match Dulquer’s mannerisms, but he made it his own.  Shraddha is no sparkling Nithya but she was good enough.   Aditya was good in Aashiqui 2 and, not horrible in Fitoor (that movie had other problems), but I like him so much better quirky and cute like this than brooding and angry.  I’m also one of the few people who liked most of Daawat-e-Ishq.  (Not Aditya’s best look, but I still love this title song!)

The plot of OK Jaanu is basically identical to the original.  Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur) is a young video game designer who has just arrived in Mumbai, and is staying in a room of the house of his brother’s former boss (Nasureedin Shah).  Nasureedin’s wife has Althzeimer’s.  Adi meets Tara and a torrid romance begins, but they both vow they never want to marry.  He’s determined to move to the US, and she wants to study architecture in Paris.  They convince Adi’s landlord to let them live in sin together in his room.  All comes to a head when they both have to leave to follow their careers — will they choose love or their career?  It does have a fantastic message that a girl shouldn’t have to give up her career for marriage — her career is just as important.

 

Some of what made the original special is lost in the Hindi translation.  Part of what drew Adi and Tara together was that they were two Tamil speakers alone in the big city of Mumbai.  That plot point is gone. Naseeruddin Shah is of course his excellent self, but I so adored the big hulking Prakash Raj, who so often plays the big villain, being the tender devoted husband to his ailing wife in the Tamil OK Kanmani.  The sets are certainly bigger and more expensive looking.

One thing that is a welcome addition are the new songs.  Enna Sona, sung by Arjit Singh is gorgeous, and the film turns black and white during this sequence as Adi is missing Tara while she’s away on a work trip.

My neighbor thought OK Jaanu was better than the original.  But she doesn’t really speak Tamil (her husband does) and watched it without subtitles.  She said Dulquer Salmaan’s accent was so thick she couldn’t understand him.  The original will remain one of my favorite films, and if you live in the US, I urge you to watch it on Netflix.   But, the Hindi remake is quite enjoyable.  It’s partly my frame of mind with all I’ve been going through but, this movie allowed me to forget my troubles for a few hours.   Thank God for Indian Cinema and that it is there whenever I need it.  I told my husband what a comfort it is to me in times like this.  I think I’m being more generous than some other reviewers may be, so sue me.  It’s no hardship to watch Adiya being this adorable for a couple hours!

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Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo – Very Satisfying Romance Thriller with an excellent Naga Chaityanya

saahasam-swaasaga-saagipo-movie-ratingOne of my followers suggested I try to catch Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo (Live Adventurously) with Naga Chaitanya in theaters this week, after he read my Premam review.  I’m so thankful T.J. told me about it before it was gone!  It’s the start of the hectic holiday season here, and I did not even realize Naga had a new film in theaters.  I caught the ONE showtime it played today, and it was pretty darn good.  Guarav Menon filmed it concurrently in Tamil with another lead actor, but the same lead actress.

I LOVE the film allusions right in the dialogue itself.  First there’s a title card that says “Inspired by a scene in The Godfather“.  It has been a loooooong time since I saw The Godfather, so I had to look it up when I got home.  It was the hospital scene.  That is key to the action second half.

Another interesting thing is that the hero’s name is never revealed until the very end of the film, and it has a dramatic punch when it is revealed — And a touch of humor to it.  The heroine doesn’t even know his name until almost the end.  She jokingly puts his number in her phone under “Unknown”.

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The first half is swoony innocent romance and the second half action thriller.  Sort of like how Kali had two very different moods to the two halves of the film, but here the romance is almost Premam level innocent and sweet.
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There’s a prologue where we see a man and woman attacked in their home, and then we see our hero beat up 6 guys who had been harassing his sister.  “Stalking like that is so 80’s!”

He sees them approach backlit and there’s overlay voiceover that had me chuckling.

“Four men suddenly appeared approaching me like in a Mani Ratnam film so I knew I was in trouble.”  LOL!  He dispatches them easily and comments on how it was his first taste of violence.

Then the friend of his sister, Leela, moves into their family house for a few weeks, and they shyly say not much more than “Hi” to each other for awhile, and then gradually, sweetly become friends.  Naga finished with school and wants to travel before settling down, and plots to hit the road on his motorcycle with a friend “His girlfriend probably won’t let him go.”

Leela unexpectedly shows up when he’s leaving and asks to go with him.  I LOVED this.  That she asks to just be one of the guys and share the adventure, not be his girlfriend/lover right away.  They have a wonderful trip to Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of Tamil Nadu to see the sunrise.  It was spectacular scenery of a place I’d never seen before.

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There is a really exceptional “I’m a good decent boy” moment in the romance.  For money’s sake, they book a hotel room in Kanyakumari with two twin beds.  When it’s her turn to shower, he offers to leave the hotel room so she’ll be more comfortable.saahasam-swaasaga-saagipo-movie-stills-05

THEN the whole movie turns on a dime into a thriller. They should part, as she is due home in Maharashtra, and he offers to take her all the way home.  Their trip has been a secret from everyone.  Neither family knows they are together.

There’s a road accident, and then The Godfather moment comes.  It was her parents that were attacked in the beginning, and our hero rises to the occasion to protect Leela and her family.  The cops are corrupt, and there’s one particular bad cop that is their nemesis.  The action is pretty gripping and I didn’t know what was going to happen from one scene to the next.  Not quite the unbearable tension of Kali, but pretty darn good.

The final resolution ending is SO satisfying as only South Indian films can be.  They’re so violent, but there’s just a YEAH!! moment when the villain is vanquished and the hero is triumphant.

The lead actress, Manjima Mohan, was okay, but I am continually impressed by our boy Akkineni Naga Chaitanya.  Innocent romance he excels at, and he was very, very convincing as an everyman who rises to the occasion in the action sequences.  He was very good in the fight scenes.  I think the cinematographer was non-Indian, maybe from Hollywood because it was more of a Hollywood close camera work kind of style in the fist fights.

The music is A R Rahman which is always good, but it didn’t blow me away like Mental Manadhil from O K Kanmani.  I did really like this haunting love song which in the film is intercut with the road accident, which was a really interesting editing choice.  This slow passionate song –

So, T.J.  thank YOU for giving me another reason to be thankful this week of American Thanksgiving!

On a shallow note, I was also thankful that Menon gave us a few Naga shirtless scenes (he’s been working out!) and this particular shot.  😉

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Mohenjo Daro – a somewhat enjoyable hot mess

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Nearly two years is a long time to wait between Hrithik Roshan movies.  My neighbor and I didn’t care what the reviews said, or the mocking of her husband.  We were bound and determined to spend two and half hours with Hrithik.

My neighbor had no idea who the director was, but expectations naturally run high when Ashutosh Gowariker, whose works include Lagaan, Jodhaa Akbar and Swades returns to the helm after a six year absence.

And therein lies the rub.  The reviews have been harsh, because we expect so much, both from Gowariker and Hrithik.  This film was a swing for the rafters and a big miss.  The trepidation started with the trailer.  That fight with the crocodile looked fake, and the story didn’t seem very compelling.

Annnd, my fears were born out.  I think it was good that I had read a few reviews, and watched Anupama Chopra’s disappointed savaging.  I went last night knowing it would be a hot mess, and just went along for the ride.

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Hrithik’s costumes I liked, but the headresses of Pooja Hegde were absolutely ridiculous and distracting.  It’s classic poor farmer comes to the city and falls in love with the beautiful girl from the rich side of town – with a bit of Aladdin thrown in (I kept humming “Riff Raff, Street rat“)

Pooja as the high priest’s daughter is pretty enough but she doesn’t have much sparkle to her.  I kept thinking how much personality a Deepika or a Priyanka would have brought to this role.  Pooja is fine, but she’s not enough to carry this film, when there’s so many other issues with it.

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At the very end they show this famous dancing girl artifact from Mohenjo Daro tumbling in the water, and just look at the attitude of that young girl.  This is the girl I wish the movie had been about.  I want to know about her story – she has so much personality and moxie frozen in metal.

Hrithik gives over 100% in any role he takes on.  His dancing is graceful in Mohenjo Daro even if it’s absolutely ridiculous that he would be disguised by a bit of red eye makeup and a horn on his head.  His dance with Pooja in Tu Hai was my favorite of the film.  The rest of A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack didn’t send me, but I love this song.

 

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Hrithik’s very good in the action sequences, especially in this athletic battle against two cannibals.  (What is it with Indian movies and the dreaded cannibal warriors?)  Hrithik’s intensity is often expressed in just shaking with rage.  Literally shaking.  It gets to be a bit much, to be honest.

The main flaw in the film is not Hrithik over doing it, or Pooja under doing her performance.  It’s the story.  It’s just not enough somehow.  The script needed more work.

Kabir Bedi is a reliable villain, even if he’s getting a bit long in the tooth to be thrown around.  Arunoday Singh plays his son, Moonja, who’s betrothed to the young priestess.  Poor Arunoday just has that kind of face that looks like a slightly stupid villain, like he did in Main Tera Hero.

The very last part of the film is a big pretty unbelievable action sequence rescuing the city inhabitants from a dam breaking.  My neighbor informed me that excavations have shown that Mohenjo Daro was destroyed by water.  Maybe the film would have had more excitement to it if it had been more of a disaster movie than a pseudo political drama of an ancient city.

Mohenjo Daro is a bit of a hot mess, but it had some enjoyable moments.  It’s just not very good, and with Ashutosh Gowariker‘s pedigree, that’s really very disappointing.  And after Baahubali, the special effects in this Indian epic don’t measure up.

Two and a half stars out of five.

Song of the Day – Ishq Dance

One of the little Easter eggs in the film Fan is that they used scenes and music from Shahrukh’s own past films.  In one scene he’s rehearsing for a stadium concert in London, and this is the music Aryan’s dancing to — Ishq Dance by A. R. Rahman in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.  Because this scene from JTHJ was in London!  I loved that attention to detail.  Now, if only SRK had had the same VFX and makeup team to make him look 25 in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.  My husband (who is Shahrukh’s age) and I have a private joke because he has a plaid hoodie like Shahrukh’s in this scene that he likes to wear ALL the time.  It’s not my favorite, and he just says, “I’m just trying to look 25 like SRK.”

Some recommended films from around India

For my Hindi pick, Paheli is certainly not one of SRK’s biggest films but I love it.  Fantasy films seem to be unusual in Hindi cinema, and in this film Shahrukh Khan plays a number counting merchant husband, and a Ghost or spirit (sort of a genie, really) who takes his place.  Rani Mukerji is the bride who captivates the Ghost, with Amitabh as a wise shepherd in a cameo.  It’s a fable that is also about women’s empowerment, and the scene where SRK tells Rani he’s a ghost is one of my all-time favorites.

And the soundtrack!!

   

My Tamil pick is Mani Ratman’s 2015 film OK Kanmani, with music by A. R. Rahman.  A young couple (the charming Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya Menon) wants to live together because they are cynical about marriage.  They learn about true love from an older married couple.  Prakash Raj (who we’re used to see as a villain in Hindi films) plays a devoted husband to his wife with Alzheimer’s.  If you live in the US, it is on Netflix streaming, and I highly recommend this wonderful film.  I sought out this film after hearing the song Mental Manadhil at an A. R. Rahman concert.  So glad I did!

Dulquer Salmaan from OK Kanmani is usually in Malayalam films, and that’s what brought me to watch the Malayalam film Bangalore Days.  This is my number one pick of Malayalam films I’ve seen so far.  It’s a wonderful coming of age tale about three cousins and has a great ensemble of young Malayalam actors in it.  Ohm Shanti Oshana is also a great woman centered film (with the same lead actress above), but Bangalore Days, Bangalore Days, Bangalore Days!

For Telugu films, there can be only one — Baahubali!  I was so blown away by this film, I watched it four times in the theater!  This film is available dubbed in Hindi, but you can readily rent the Telugu version on Youtube.  Prabhas plays a dual role, Shivuvu and Baahubali.  It is EPIC.  It’s a fantasy with stunning visuals.  S. S. Rajamouli cannot be matched for his imagination in film (have you seen Eega where the hero is a FLY?)   The battle scenes rival films like Gladiator, and there are several kick-ass women characters.  Mirchi is my second favorite Telugu film I’ve seen so far, also starring Prabhas with Sathyaraj (Kattappa in Baahubali).  It’s so long to wait till 2017 for part 2 of Baahubali!!