Laaga Chunari Mein Daag – There’s nothing like a good cry

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-10-53-07-pm-1Laaga Chunari Mein Daag [My Veil is Stained] is an old fashioned type of melodrama, and I ate it up with a spoon.  I hadn’t had a good cry watching a movie in quite awhile, and there’s nothing I love more than Ranishek.  There’s something about their jodi that I just adore.  I don’t know if it’s how tiny she is, and how tall he is, and how he looms over her protectively.  Abhishek Bachchan is just swoony paired with Rani Mukerji, and especially so in this film.

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This film also passes the Bechdel test spectacularly.  Rani plays the older of two sisters who grow up in Benares on the banks of the Ganges.  They live in a big ramshackle old house with a father who is too ill to work (Anupam Kher) and a mother who’s struggling to keep the family afloat financially (Jaya Bachchan).  Konkona Sen Sharma is Chutki and is still in school, whil Rani Mukerji as Badki realizes she needs to find work to take the pressure off her mother.

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-3-56-49-pm Rani goes to Mumbai, and since she had not finished school and cannot speak English, she has trouble finding, and keeping any job.  When her father is hospitalized and she calls home, Jaya in exasperation quarrels with her on the phone and tells her she can’t come home.  In desperate straits, she becomes a high class escort with the name Natasha.

Okay, this part was a bit far-fetched as while she is duped into losing her virginity, she somehow easily becomes a high-fashion wearing high class escort with the help of a friend.  She sends money home to her family to pay for her father’s medicine as well as to put her sister through college.

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She is the mistress of an executive who makes her an “event planner” or some made up position and travels to Zurich with him on a conference.  That’s where she meets Rohan, an attorney, and they have a magical day together.

Away from her normal life as a courtesan, she can imagine that she’s just a girl on a date, but reality calls her back.

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Her sister surprises her by just showing up at her apartment as she has a new job in Mumbai after completing her MBA.  Konkona has her own romantic storyline with the creative director at her office played by Kunal Kapoor.  (I do love Kunal and Konkona together.  They were great in Aaja Nachle, too.)  Rani has done everything she can to hide her true profession, but her sister’s wedding brings everything to a head.  Jaya, her mother doesn’t want her to come home as people will talk.

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What I loved was that when Rani’s sister learns the truth, she realizes the sacrifices she made on the family’s behalf.  She doesn’t judge Rani at all, and insists she come home for the wedding.  And that’s when Rani finally gets her happy ending with Abhishek.  It’s so wonderful, because she’s so afraid what he would think if he knew, but he knew all along and loved her anyway.  The tears started when Rani’s sister accepted her, and just poured down my cheeks in the final scenes.

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There’s also a fantastic cameo in the film by Hema Malini who plays a famous courtesan in Benares.

Yes, it’s a big melodrama, but it’s a Yash Raj Aditya Chopra produced melodrama so I loved it.  And Ranishek.  You just can’t beat swoony Ranishek.

Four stars out of five.

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Wake Up Sid – Slacker Ranbir Coming of Age

wake-up-sid-12hI liked Wake Up Sid more than I thought I would.  To be honest, the story is a bit too close to home, as my son has graduated college and is trying to find his way in the world.

Ranbir Kapoor is Sid.  He’s a rich Bombay kid who flunks his college finals.  Anupam Kher is his father (who else!) and tells him he has to go to work in the family plumbing fixture business.  When he walks out, Sid and his father have a huge fight and he is kicked out of his family home, his credit cards canceled.

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Sid can’t think of anywhere to go than to the apartment of his new friend Aisha ((Konkona Sen Sharma).  I think Aisha was supposed to be 27 and Ranbir much younger as he was supposed to be a college graduate (maybe 23?).  Anyway, it’s unusual to have the woman be older in any Bollywood relationship so brownie points for that.  Aisha is new to Bombay and starting a new job and an independent life.

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Sid learns all the real life skills that he has had no clue about in his sheltered life, like laundry, fixing up an apartment and cooking an egg.  Sid has a passion for photography and ends up getting a job at the magazine where Aisha works.

It sounds trite, but the script is actually pretty clever.  This is the debut feature film of director Ayan Mukerji who also wrote the story of the film.  He won the Filmfare best debut director deservedly.  Wake Up Sid was quite the success, and his second feature is the mega-hit Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.  His films both have characters and situations that while filmi, still feel grounded in reality, aa specific young urban reality.   (I’m a little leery that his next project is reported to be a superhero film, also starring his muse Ranbir Kapoor, Dragon.)

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The romance evolves organically.  They’re just friends at first and sleep on separate pallets in the same room.  Aisha tries not to fall in love, because Sid is at first such a mess and so purposeless.  But this is charming Ranbir after all, she has no chance.  Once he reconciles with his parents upon getting his first magazine job paycheck, he moves out, and that’s what makes both of them realize how their feelings have changed.

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Fortunately, the film doesn’t just focus on Sid and his travails.  Aisha gets her own storyline with an almost romance with her sophisticated jazz-loving boss.  It was nice, frankly, to see Konkona Sen Sharma get a juicy big part like this in a romantic film.

My feelings about this film are just tinged by the fact that I’m living this right now with my own son.  So it’s not exactly escapist fare for this mom.  Sid only took about a month to wake up.  Sometimes the process is longer.

Still, I think the director is fantastic, and I look forward to all his future projects, even if he makes Ranbir a superhero (gulp!)

Four stars out of five.

 

 

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.