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!

Moviemavengal no spoiler video review of Bahubali 2 – I was interviewed by Kartik of BollyFools

 

Kartik of BollyFools was seeing the IMAX showing right after mine so he asked if I would do a short video review after seeing the very first showtime of Bahubali 2 in the US.  Salim of BollyFools then edited it down to this video they posted on the BollyFools Youtube channel.  Thanks for the opportunity!

Bahubali 2: The Conclusion — Does Not Disappoint! It’s Amazing! No Spoilers

With a sequel, especially one this anticipated, there is that fear that it just cannot live up to the first movie, or the hype.  I am here to tell you, after having just spent $40 to see the very first IMAX show of the day, that it satisfies.  It completely satisfies.  Rajamouli has done it again!!  It was absolutely glorious to see it on the huge IMAX screen.  Totally worth the money to me.  Kartik from Bollyfools Youtube Channel interviewed me moments after I came out of the screening:

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Everyone has spent two long years wondering #WKKB – Why Kattappa Killed Bahubali.  The first film left us with possibly the biggest mystery cliffhanger of all time.  I’m not going to spoiler the movie for you.  You need to experience it all for yourself.

I just loved how the movie circled back to the beginning in lots of ways — thematically and visually.  You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

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I loved being in a first day crowd that was whistling and yelling for the big entrances.  Prabhas is AMAZING!  One thing I really loved about the film is that it had some wonderful moments of humor.  After I saw Bahubali the Beginning, I sought out Prabhas’s other films, and in his rom coms especially he has such a mischievous sense of humor and play in his wooing.  And Rajamouli let him show that side.  Kattappa as matchmaker is just a delight.

Rana as Bhalladeva turns SO evil.  Shockingly so in some parts.  Great performance as the villain, and the final epic battle between Shivuvu and Bhalla at the end of the film is everything you could hope for in a mano a mano fight.  Really thrilling.

Anushka Shetty really shines as the proud warrior princess.  She does have flaws — I liked that she wasn’t just a perfect doll.  Unfortunately, Tamannah is only really seen in the final battle sequence.  This movie is more about the love story of Shivuvu’s parents.

There are great battle scenes, too, but much of the movie, which almost till the end takes place in the time of Bahubali the elder, is about the family drama.  What leads to Bahubali’s death?  Why did Bhalla chain Devasena in the courtyard?  Who put that arrow in Sivagami’s back?  All the answers are very satisfying.  You can guess where the story is mostly going to go, just from the first film, but there are still some surprises along the way.  Pride goest before a fall, is all I’ll say.

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Someone asked me if I like this better than the first film, and I can’t really answer that.  Because you can’t get back that feeling of wonderment the first time you saw the imagination and visuals of Bahubali.  Now you expect Rajamouli to blow you away.  There was one love song that literally went into a flight of fantasy that had me saying “Wow” out loud.

The score is particularly effective in heightening moments of tension and drama.  I don’t know that the soundtrack songs are quite as catchy earworms that the first film songs were.  But especially the beautiful harmonies of the female voices singing together in this one are growing on me:

I saw Bahubali the Beginning four times in the theater alone.  I don’t know how many times I’ll see this one, but I know I’m taking all three of my sons to see it for Mother’s Day.  I’ve told them this is what I want for my present — for us to see it together.  That will make the second Indian film they’ve ever seen, but the first in a theater.  I loved that at my 2:30 shows there were parents who had taken their kids out of school early to see the show.  I told one little boy that someone must love him very much.

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There are scenes and tableaus from this film that will always stay with me, but one in particular is Prabhas sleeping with his head in Sivagami’s lap.  Since I don’t speak Telugu, I didn’t realize some of the songs lyrics talk about that.  This film does have a romance and brother rivalry, but at the core it’s about the relationship of a son with his mother.

This is such a great film!  I left ecstatic and wishing I could see it all again right away.  There’s revenge that’s sweet, and redemption, too.

Bravo S. S. Rajamouli!  Bravo Prabhas and the rest of the cast!  You’ve done it again!

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Just How Much Do I Love Bahubali?

A LOT!  That’s how  much I Love Bahubali.  (Is it Baahubali or Bahubali??)  It is one of my favorite films of all time, not just of Indian films.

My next door neighbor Nish two years ago asked if I’d want to go to this South Indian film her coworkers had said was really good.  Sure.  I’m in.  Then we go and the price was $20!  Twice the normal movie ticket price.  “This better be worth 20 bucks!”

Oh. My. Gosh.  It SO was.  I unabashedly fell in love with the film, and I ended up seeing it 4 times in the theater alone.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen the film since it became available on Youtube.  I own the Hindi dub on Blu-ray, but I can’t really stand to watch it without my beloved Prabhas’ own voice.  (For the love of all that is holy Rajamouli, make the Telugu available on Blu-Ray!!)

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This image was my Ipad lock screen for two years, until I replaced it with a new image from Bahubali 2.  I fell in love with Prabhas from this movie, and now own several of his films on DVD.

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I was captivated, jaw hanging open from the opening sequence with that huge waterfall and the kick-ass queen fighting two soldiers with an arrow sticking out of her back — while holding a newborn!

The visuals in this film just knocked my socks off.  I don’t know how many times I watched the Dhivara video!   I explain this film to people who don’t watch Indian film as The Lord of the Rings of Indian Cinema.  It’s mythic and grand in scale with fantastic CGI world building.  S. S. Rajamouli is quite simply a genius filmmaker.  He has a huge vision, and he’s one up on Peter Jackson because he wrote the damn story himself, instead of just adapting a series of books.

After I saw Bahubali, I sought out Rajamouli’s other films, and I was even more gobsmacked.  Who else but the master, S. S. Rajamouli would reincarnate his hero as a FLY?

Even his early film Chatrapathi with Prabhas showed crazy imagination.  Prabhas introduction scene has him fighting a SHARK!

 

Bahubali has amazingly compelling characters.  Prabhas even gets to play two!  Shivu and his father Bahubali in the flashback second half. My personal favorite is the queen Sivagami, who raises both her own son Bhalla and Bhahubali:

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This scene after she squashes a rebellion, knifes an attacker while holding a newborn (!!) and then nurses both infants after mounting the throne is my favorite!  I love her!

Rajamouli has made a film with strong women characters even though the main thrust of the narrative is Prabhas’s story, both as Shivu and Bahubali.  Yes, there is that problematic scene that some call a rape, but my first take was the same as Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood’s.  Tamannah’s warrior is living a harsh life devoid of beauty and joy, and Shivu delights in showing her beauty and love.  And that sexy nibble of her jewelry on her belly gets me every. single. time.

 

I love all the music of the original Bahubali film, and tortured my family by listening to the soundtrack non-stop for weeks and watching the videos over and over.  Especially Manohari.

 

The film does have a few flaws.  For my birthday last summer, I sat down my two younger sons and had them watch the film with me -the only Indian film they’ve ever seen.  (Mother’s Day this year will be all three of my sons going to the theater to see Bahubali 2.  I’ve warned them this is my present!)  My son Zach really liked the Avantika character, but then was upset that she just gets that hurt ankle, and as he put it, “Then, nothing!”  I’m holding out some hope she will have a strong part in the Bahubali 2, but the trailer seems to mostly emphasize the romance with Anushka from Bahuabli’s past.

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And then there’s the racism.  Really, Rajamouli?  Actual blackface on the villain Kalakeya tribe?  Ugh.

The battle scene in the second half also goes on for a very, very long time.  Yes, it’s super cool, but frankly, I’m more interested in these characters than watching Gladiator movie style battles go on and on.

Watching Bahubali set me on a journey of watching more Telugu films, starting first with the older films of Prabhas and Rajamouli.  I’ve learned about comedy uncles, and machete fight ratings, and on.  I kind of like all the violence and the machismo and larger than life Telugu star heroes.  The comedy uncles I could mostly do without, to be honest.

I even dragged Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood to her first showing of Bahubali (No, you HAVE to see this one!) and then she surpassed me by seeing it what, SEVEN times in the theater alone?

The first Bahubali movie was such a phenomenon.  All over India, and all over the world.  It’s been a long wait, but tomorrow I will finally learn #WKKB – Why Kattappa Killed Bahubali!  I have my $40 IMAX ticket purchased already to the first day, first matinee show of Bahubali 2 at my local theater.  I am beyond excited that it is releasing on IMAX!

 

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City of God – Lijo Jose Pellissery’s moving hyperlink New Generation Malayalam film may have been ahead of its time

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After seeing the fantastic Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries last week, I couldn’t wait to seek out director Lijo Jose Pellissery’s other films.  City of God was the one recommended to seek out first, and glory be, it’s on Google Play for rental and purchase.  At $4.99 to buy, I snatched it right up.

City of God is part of the New Generation of Malayalam films with a hyperlink non-linear narrative of four interlocking stories.  It came out within months of Traffic, the first of the new wave Malayalam cinema, but City of God was pulled within a week of release.  It may have been a bit ahead of its time.  It felt much grittier and more violent than Traffic, and isn’t really suited to a broad family audience.  I felt Traffic relied a bit too much on the audience’s familiarity of all the actors in that multi-starrer, and I didn’t really get to know any character that well.  I liked City of God much more.

A signature of Malayalam New Wave films is an accident, and coincidences that bring people together and set off the events of the film.  City of God starts with a horrific car crash.  Prithviraj is driving a car that crashes into a street light pole, after hitting a motorscooter with a young couple.  There’s also a van full of toughs that pile out to confront Prithviraj after the crash, and then we flash back.  We see the events of the film from several perspectives, replaying various key scenes from the point of view of different characters.  This is a movie where you have to pay attention a bit to catch on to what is going on.

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Prithviraj is sort of a capo or enforcer for his rich friend Sony (Rajeev Pillai).  He gets lots of very cool fight scenes, mostly just kicking and punching his way out of various jams, but in the photo above wielding a firehose like a urumi sword!  Prithviraj looked pretty bulked up, and this film was around the time of the filming of Aiyyaa.  Hubba hubba.  It was super fun to see Prithviraj be a sort of gangster tough guy, smacking people down first, and asking questions later.

Sony is obssessed with a young actress, Surya (Rima Kallingal).  He had a romance with her in the past, but his parents made him abandon her, and he’s trying to get her back, even though she’s married to an abusive husband.  Surya is a big actress, and one of the big musical numbers is cleverly one she’s doing for a film within the film.  The director was very clever about the songs.  There  was this one during a film shoot, one big one at a wedding, and then a couple more playing on a radio and so on.

There’s a complicated land deal going on between some corrupt business types, Sony, and some mafia.  Prithviraj is sent out to “deal” with one guy, and his wife then vows revenge.

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My favorite story line involved the migrant Tamil laborers who were working on the building project for Sony.  My reader Mohzin let me know that half this film is in Tamil, including half the songs!  He said that the Malayalam audience didn’t need subtitles for the Tamil speaking parts.  The love story of Swarnavel (Indrajith) and Marathakam (Pavarthy) is just so wonderful.  It’s the heart of the whole film.  Marathakam has fled Tamil Nadu and her abusive husband.  Swarnavel obviously loves her, but holds back as she is already married.  Marathakam’s friend Lakshmi (Rohini from Baahubali!) urges her to marry again, but Rohini has other ideas than poor Swarnavel.  She tells both the other thinks of them as either brother or sister, and so Marathakam, heart broken, agrees to marry a supposedly wealthy man.  Then comes my all time favorite scene of the whole film.  The  cops come and arrest her husband, and then she finds the drunk Swarnavel to chastise him for letting her marry this thief.  Then the sparks just FLY once they realize they don’t view each other as siblings AT ALL!  When he breaks off her mangalsutra — so hot!  Another favorite thing is that she won’t kiss him as he’s drunk, and sobers him up with a bucket full of water over his head!

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This is the couple from the opening scene accident who were on the motor scooter.  Why they were so frantically racing on that bike gradually is revealed.

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Prithviraj doesn’t get a full on romance in the film, but he does rescue a damsel in distress and gives her very swoony longing looks through the rearview mirror.  Mostly, in this film, he just gets to kick ass in very cool fights, and he seems much more savvy and smart than anyone around him.  But then Prithviraj usually does seem like the smartest one in the room.

The tone of the film can change dramatically from scene to scene,as we’re going from one character’s point of view to the next.  There are several side characters who have comedic moments — quite a few sort of comedy uncle characters.  The main actors were all pretty good, but the guy playing Sony didn’t make much of an impression on me.  Prithviraj, Pavarthy and Indrajith were the standouts. Indrajith stole the whole movie, in my opinion.  I don’t really remember him from Classmates, but he’s in Amen, which I’m going to try to watch next.  Pavarthy looks so completely different from any other character I’ve seen her play, that I honestly did not recognize her until I saw her name in the end credits.  Once I went back and rewatched that HOT love scene song, I could tell it was her, maybe with darker makeup?  Quite the different look than in Bangalore Days or Charlie!

The cinematography was quite interesting.  Some cool different angles to many shots, and great editing.  The fights didn’t feel quite as intimate as the recent Angamaly Diaries.  There was a steadicam being shook up, I guess to  imitate the Bourne films, but it just made me dizzy.  It worked in Angamaly Diaries, and didn’t work for me here in the same way.

As I said earlier, I didn’t really enjoy the hyperlink in Traffic, as there were too many shallow stories that weren’t developed.  Here, there were four key stories that interconnected, and the characters were more fleshed out.  This film can be gritty and violent like Kammatti Paadam or Angamaly Diaries.  Maybe the audience 6 years ago wasn’t quite ready for an innovative film like this.  Angamaly Diaries is still the better film, but it was really fascinating to see this director developing his signature style.

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Omkara – Shakespeare’s Othello works extremely well in this modern Indian adaptation by Vishal Bhardwaj with a stellar cast

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I was blown away by Vishal Bhardwaj‘s Haider, an  incredible adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Shahid Kapoor.  Omkara is part of his Shakespeare trilogy (Maqbool, Omkara, Haider).  Omkara works extremely well as a modern adaption of Othello in rural Uttar Pradesh India.  This is a stellar cast, and some of the best performances I’ve ever seen of some of these actors.  I have been sitting on this DVD for Netflix for some time.  I knew it was going to be excellent from everything I’d read, but it is such a depressing story!

I think I read Shakespeare’s Othello play in school, but to be honest I’m more familiar with Verdi’s masterpiece opera Otello, which I’ve seen a few times at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.  Otello focuses much on the relationship of Desdemona and Otello and the intense emotions and drama lend themselves very well to opera.  It became a signature role for Placido Domingo, even if it’s a bit bizarre to see blackface in a modern stage production.  Giuseppe Verdi is like Vishal Bhardwaj in that he adapted Shakespeare in three Italian language operas:  Macbeth, Otello and his final opera Falstaff.

The music added to a play like Othello only enhances the inherit drama, and if it works so well in opera, then I knew it would translate well to an Indian drama.  The music enhances the contrast between the love between Omkara (Ajay Devgn) and Dolly (Kareena Kapoor) and then the final death scenes.

Otello the opera starts in the middle of Shakespeare’s play and skips the early statecraft plot points, and the bits with Desdemona’s (Dolly’s) father.  But Bhardwaj keeps that all in, to great effect.  The opening scene shows Langda (Saif Ali Khan) [Iago]  telling Dolly’s groom Raj that his bride Dolly is not going to show for the wedding, Omi (Omkara) has stolen her away.  There’s then a confrontation between Dolly’s father, and Omkara.  Ajay has a dramatic entrance wearing a black shawl that looks like a big cape.  Dolly’s father doesn’t intimidate him in the least, and then there is a scene where Dolly admits to her father she went willingly to elope with Omi.  Ajay Devgn is naturally darker skinned than many actors in Bollywood and Kareena Kapoor has very light skin.  The Indian update to Othello being a “Moor” is that Omkara is half-caste, his father a Brahman and his mother a low-caste mistress.

Omkara (Ajay) is described as a Bahubali.  When I first heard this word in the movie, my ears pricked up because I’ve never heard the word except, of course, in the Telugu blockbuster Bahubali.  In the subtitles of Omkara, it’s translated as General.  I looked up the wikipedia article and this is how Omkara’s character is described:

Omkara Shukla or Omi (Ajay Devgan) is a bahubali, a sort of political enforcer. He is the leader of a gang which commits political crimes for the local politician

So interesting!  As I thought that was a Telugu word specific to Rajamouli’s movie.

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Omkara is a powerful political goon, and Langda (Iago) and Kasu (Cassio) are his lieutenants.  After Omkara elminates a political rival, their Bhaisaab (Naseeruddin Shah) is going to be the next representative at the national level, and Omkara will take his place at the state level.  There’s a ceremony to name Omkara’s successor, and the younger Kasu is picked to be the next bahubali over Langda.  Kasu is picked because of his connections to the youth and college students.  This is the source of Langda’s plotting and burning jealousy, that he was overlooked for this promotion, just as in Othello.  Again, the parallels Bhardwaj draws to the rough and tumble of Indian politics work so well, and this is definitely a realm of people taking offence to violent deadly extremes over slights of honor.

We’ve seen Omi (Ajay) be dominant, and quick to kill when someone offends him or insults his relationship with Dolly.  But we also see what a different loving person he is with Dolly.  Bhardwaj also composed all the music in the film.  This love scene has Omi coming to Dolly in anger after seeing her with Kasu, but her singing him an English love song (very badly) spurs this teasing chasing scene.  It’s one of my favorite sequences in the whole film.  With no one else can Omi show this tender side of himself. But one key difference in Omkara to Othello is that Omi does not marry Dolly right away.  He has abducted her, taken her to his home village and seduced her but drags his feet a bit on the wedding itself.  So Dolly is in a very precarious position, separated from her family.

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Saif Ali Khan is so excellent as the diabolical Langda.  (Langda means limp in Hindi, and he is described as having a leg and a half.)  He is Omi’s most trusted lieutenant and advisor, and cannot abide being passed over for the young Kasu.  I am really not a Vivek Oberoi fan to be honest, but he was perfectly cast as Kasu.  Saif also is no pretty boy here.  His teeth are stained from betel leaves, and he has a roughness about him, not his usual suave film persona.

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This is Saif Ali Khan’s finest role ever, in my opinion.  I think he mostly does action movies like Phantom at this point, and I wish he would not be so lazy and take on more work like this.  When he wants to, he really has the stuff.  He relentlessly manipulates Omi into thinking Dolly is cheating on him, gets Kasu drunk to disgrace him and so on.  When you have Ajay as Omkara, you need a worthy Iago, and Saif is just fantastic as Langda.  You hate his guts utterly, but admire the acting.

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I don’t have to tell you the outlines of the plot, and it’s pointless to talk about spoilers with a plot hundreds of years old.  But it’s interesting the Indian touches that Bhadwaj adds to the story.  Instead of the damning handkerchief of the original play, there is an heirloom bridal belt adornment that Omi gives to Dolly to wear, Langda steals and gives to Kasu, who then gives it to his girlfriend (Bips, our item girl.)  Omi completely loses his shit when he sees this loose woman shaking her tail feather wearing the family’s heirloom.  There’s also a clever modern touch with stolen cellphones leading to further misunderstandings.

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Kareena plays the innocent Dolly so, so well.  She’s completely loving, and just bewildered at Omi turning on her.  But she has her honor, too.  In their final scene, when faced with Omi’s wild accusations of adultery on their wedding night, she says, “Then  you’ll have to kill me.”  It’s devastating.

Ajay Devgn can be so brutal on film.  We’ve seen him play many mafia type leaders in movies.  If there’s any actor that can play someone who the audience believe would kill his own bride in a fit of jealous rage, Ajay is the one who can truly pull it off.  But Omkara shows his tenderness, his quick temper, and then his utter desolation as the truth of Langda’s machinations are revealed in the final scenes.

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I don’t really remember if Othello’s sister had as large a role in the original play, but she warrants his final duet in Otello the opera.  Konkona Sen Sharma is a standout in a stellar cast in Omkara.  She is Langda’s wife Indu, and a tough woman in her own right.  She is a friend and support to Dolly, willing to battle her brother when she sees Dolly bruised.  And it’s not Omi that finally serves justice on Langda but Indu.  Thank you Bhardwaj for including that and giving Konkona Sen such a powerful moment.  In the original play, his wife is what leads to Iago’s arrest, but that’s not the kind of swift justice meted out in Omi and Indu’s village.

This film is dark.  Almost relentlessly so, but the acting performances are absolutely fantastic.  This film won award after award, and rightly so.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Yamadonga – S. S. Rajamouli’s Fantasy film is so much fun – my first film with Jr. NTR!

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I purchased the Telugu film Yamadonga [God of death thief or Thief Yama] on DVD months ago because it was highly recommended by a friend.  I kept picking it up, and putting it back down. Frankly, the cover image doesn’t do anything for me.  But I forgot that I bought it because it is by director S. S. Rajamouli (of Baahubali fame!)  Yamadonga came out in 2007 (between Chatrapathi (2005) and Magadheera (2009)).  Yamadonga was my first Jr. NTR film, but his third collaboration with Rajamouli.

Chatrapathi has that amazing CGI shark fight with Prabhas, and Magadheera anticipates Baahubali with its lengthy past life fantasy flashback.  And then of course, Rajamouli made the hero reincarnate as a FLY in Eega.  His imagination has no bounds, and continues to amaze me with every film.  I was blown away by Baahubali, which I saw four times in the theater alone, and cannot wait for part 2 next year.  Yamadonga is a delightful flight of fantasy as a thief insults Yama (the God of Death) and is sent to hell before his time.

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Jr. NTR is no Prabhas (my favorite Telugu actor), but he definitely has an impish charm.   I was trying to think what Hollywood actor he reminds me of.  He’s sort of like Chris Pratt – looks cool in the action sequences, but has that charm and sense of comedy silliness about him.

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Jr NTR in Janatha Garage

I know this is shallow of me, but I hated NTR’s hair in this film.  It just looked awful.  There were a few music numbers where his hair was much shorter, and he looked a thousand times better.  He has that same look in the poster for his next film Janatha Garage (with Mohanlal) coming out next month.

As children, the thief  Raja (Jr. NTR) meets Mahi.  She gives him an amulet necklace that had been blessed in a temple.  He can’t pawn it, and throws it away, but over his life, it keeps turning up.

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Mahi (Priyamani) grows up and is an orphan treated as a servant in her family’s household.  She’s sort of a Cinderella waiting for her prince.  (Isn’t it handy NTR is named Raja?)  NTR rescues her  but then tries to ransom her to her family when he sees a TV report that she is a wealthy heiress (which she doesn’t know.)

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For the first time, Mahi who had been treated as a servant, is waited on like a princess by Raja.  Raja has cursed Yama (the God of Death) to the heavens, and Yama vows revenge on this human.  Raja is killed before his time by goons sent by Mahi’s family and then half the movie is set in the fantasty realm of hell.  Raja is a thief by nature, and tricks Yama and steals his rope of death, becoming the ruler of hell himself.

The modern day parts of Yamadonga aren’t that different in plot than any other Telugu action romantic film, although the action scenes are great.  But the film takes off in the fantasy hell sequence and in a scene in heaven with all the gods.  The sets are glorious.  Mohan Babu is fantastic as the insulted god Yama.  The comedy uncle of pretty much every Telugu film, Brahmanandam, is Yama’s sort of clerk Chatragupta keeping track of the book of deeds of the human sinners.

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Raja proposes an election to have the demons of hell pick their new ruler between Yama and Raja.  Yama brings three goddesses to dance, but then NTR as Raja dances with them and brings out the spirit of his grandfather.  Jr. NTR is the grandson of the famous actor and (then politician) NTR.  Rajamouli uses CGI to have Jr. NTR and NTR talk and dance together onscreen (like Dhoom Taana in Om Shanti Om).  This Young Yama song reminded me of the song Manohari in Baahubali with NTR dancing with the three women.

 

NTR is a great dancer (he’s accomplished in Kuchipudi dance), and this sequence was one of my favorites in the film.

Raja returns to earth, but if he sins again, he will be returned to hell.  He’s about to marry Mahi, when Yama decides to trick Raja into sinning.  Yama takes the form of a woman to tempt Raja – Raja’s former partner in crime and money lender.

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Mamta Mohandas as Dhanalakshmi

Mamta Mohandas is Dhanalakshmi (Yama in disguise), and I loved her portrayal.  She’s seductive, but she has the air of Yama’s arrogance and swagger at the same time.

That’s the thing about this film.  Not only is NTR great, but so many of the supporting actors are simply fantastic.  Priyamani‘s performance is just okay as the innocent naive Mahi.  She has some great dance numbers with NTR, but her acting was not on the same level with the others.

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I had so much fun watching this movie.  Rajamouli never disappoints, and NTR provides a lot of comedy, great dancing and cool action scenes.  I have never seen a Ramayana TV serial, and I’m sure the hell scenes reference some of those, or Ram-Leela pageant plays.  But you don’t need that background, or even an understanding of the Indian gods to enjoy this film.

Highly recommend this Rajamouli fantasy film.  Four stars out of five.  (It’s available on Youtube with English subtitles here.)

Now I can’t wait to see NTR in Janatha Garage next month.  NTR has a real screen presence, and I look forward to catching up with his other films.

 

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!!

Why I Love Indian Cinema

A few weeks ago, I answered a question on Quora, “Does anyone besides Indians watch Indian movies?”  This post is adapted from the answer I gave.  At first I gave a brief answer, but then people commented and wanted to know WHY?  Why would a non-Indian love Indian films?  Many commenters were at first incredulous, but then thanked me for showing them an outsider’s view of their cinema.   As of this writing, the answer has garnered over 170,000 views, and made me a Most Viewed Writer about Bollywood on Quora.  (Which still blows my mind.)

Netflix in the US has over 80 Hindi films at anyone time.  Because of the kind of films I enjoy, Netflix recommended I watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge about 2 years ago.  Since I fell in love with Bollywood, I’ve seen over 200 Indian films.  I’m lucky that in my area new release films play in a few local theaters.  I was able to see Kapoor and Sons just last night and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not the only non-Desi in America to love Bollywood movies, but I wouldn’t say it’s very common.

My father’s church has a monthly movie night, and he asked me to show a Bollywood movie last week.  I chose Dil Se, and showed it to 15 people, including my parents, who had never before seen a Bollywood film.  They all loved it!

Editing to add my answer from the comments below, WHY I love Indian films:

I also love old Hollywood musicals like Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly films.  Hollywood does not make them anymore.  I love the singing and the dancing in Indian cinema, but also the earnest love stories are not the kind of films that Hollywood makes either.  Rom Coms are becoming rarer and rarer in American films which tend to be more cynical.  The emotions in Bollywood films are something that is rare to see in Hollywood or English films.  People joke about how much Shahrukh Khan cries in his films, but I really respond to the emotions shown in Indian cinema.  Also, the colors on screen!  Bhansali’s film Ram-Leela is an example of this.

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I listen to Bollywood music all the time, as well.

Indian films just give me things I cannot get from Hollywood or other Western cinema.  Plus Shahrukh Khan.  I’ve watched 47 of his films alone (which doesn’t count the countless times I’ve watched DDLJ.)  🙂

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I do love South Indian films as well, and I have seen a little over 30 South Indian films.  I fell in love with Prabhas after watching Baahubali last year (four times in the theater!).  I now own many of his Telugu films on DVD.

prabhas-shivudu-role-in-baahubali-movie_143140913210

Recently, I’ve been watching quite a few Malayalam films, especially recent ones with Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan.  I have watched fewer Tamil films, but I asked my neighbor to bring me back some DVD’s from her recent trip to Chennai, and have been working through the dozen films she brought me.  Last week, I watched Raja Rani, and liked it.

For those interested, I keep track of all the Bolllywood films I’ve watched on Letterboxd.com, and here’s my list of Regional films I’ve seen, up to 32 now after watching the Malayalam film Classmates last night.

I asked for commenters to recommend their favorite Indian films — and oh boy, did they.  I’ve created a Letterboxd list now of all the films recommended there in the comments that I have not already seen.  Now up to 372 (!!) films in several Indian languages:  Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, etc.  The question now is will I live long enough to watch even half of them!

My first Bollywood film ever was Lagaan, back almost 15 years ago when it was nominated for the Foreign language Oscar.  That was back when you could only rent Netflix movies via DVD in the mail.  I then watched Dil Chahta Hai, because that also had Aamir Khan.  But it was not so easy back then for a non-Hindi speaker to find out about other Bollywood films.  The internet has helped so much, and Netflix’s recommendation engine is the reason I fell in love with Bollywood 2 years ago.  DDLJ was recommended to me, then I was able to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi right after that.  I texted my Indian next door neighbor for other suggestions, and she loves Hrithik Roshan and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was also streaming on Netflix and I was off to the races with my new obsession.

I have been mentored by two other non-Desi lovers of Bollywood who then suggested many other films for me to try, and in some cases pushed the DVD’s into my hand saying, “YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS!”

Kathy Gibson of AccessBollywood.net  and Margaret of DontCallItBollywood

Shout out also to the gang at Bollywhat forum!