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!

Song of the Day – Evare/Malare from Premam

Ever since I watched the Telugu remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Premam, I have been playing the song Evare, and the original Malare over and over.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical voice of Vijay Yesudas in both versions just transport me into a place of peace.

The Malayalam song video I found has English subtitles.

Premam – Naga Chaitanya shines in this Telugu Remake of the Malayalam blockbuster

Premam [Love], the Malayalam film starring Nivin Pauly was one of the first Malayalam films I ever saw, and it remains one of my all time favorites.  When I heard they were making a Telugu remake of this massive hit film, I was filled with dread.  They’ll ruin all that made it special, no one could match Nivin Pauly’s charm in the three different ages, etc.  Then I saw Naga Chaitanya in Manam and discovered he was the lead in the Telugu Premam.  Now I HAD to see it because he was so adorable in Manam.  I saw one of the last screenings at my local theater, all alone.  For the most part, Naga Chaitanya captures the magic that is Premam.  He’s great in the three parts, playing Vikram (Vicky) at 16, 20 and his late 20’s.

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First, one of the best decisions of the remake was to have two of the actresses reprise their roles.  Anupama Parameswaran returns as the wild haired teen that is the object of 16 year old Vicky’s massive young love crush.  In the Malayalam film, she is the Christian Mary, here she is Suma.  The Telugu love song sequence references that great wild hair, slightly tamed in the Telugu remake.

In this first section of the film, I nearly thought that Chaitanya was doing an impression of Nivin Pauly as a teen.  He must have really studied Nivin’s performance, because so many expressions were similar and head tilts and so on.  If you’d never seen the Nivin Pauly film, you would love this Telugu film unreservedly.  One thing from this early sequence that differs is that I think the Malayalam film was in a more rural setting which added to the feel of innocence about the adolescent love story.

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The middle section is the strongest in the Malayalam film, and the weakest in the Telugu.  And that’s not Chaitanya’s fault.  He is fantastic as the college rowdy.  Since it’s a Telugu film, and they probably had a higher budget than the Malayalam, they take the initial explosion prank in the first college scene up a notch.  It’s a huge fireball explosion of a transformer instead of a little firecracker to disrupt the festival performance of their rivals.  And then the fight is not just a simple mud fight, but a big slow mo fight sequence in a construction sight with big sprays of sand, and bricks flying and what have you.  There is also a typically Telugu cameo of star Daggubati Venkatesh as Vicky’s uncle.

The issue with this middle section is that Shruti Haasan is no Sai Palavi.  The filmmakers have basically admitted that including Shruti in the remake was for financial reasons to have a name star.  She just does not have an ounce of the charm and for lack of a better word, gravitas, of Pallavi.  The romance doesn’t seem as deep.  I remember Malar and Vicky talking marriage in the original, but it doesn’t seem to go that far in the Telugu.  Since the romance isn’t as deep, the tragedy isn’t as deeply felt either by the audience.  Chaitanya doesn’t handle that overcome with grief scene as well, but granted, it’s probably one of the best Nivin Pauly acting scenes of his career.

In the Malayalam, part of what made this college romance section so special was that the rogue Vicky falls, and falls hard for a young woman with acne, and not just a little facial acne.  His friends mock him and don’t understand what he sees in her, but we the audience see how beautiful she is through Vicky’s eyes.  Shruti Haasan with her flawless porcelain skin?  Who wouldn’t fall for your teacher when she looks like that?

They used the same melody in both films for this beautiful love song  (Malare becomes Evare), and the scenery in this Telugu version is just jaw droppingly gorgeous:

One nice addition to the Telugu remake is that Vicky wins over Sithara (Shtuti) by making her a (Marathi??) traditional sweet for a holiday.  So that when we get to the final section of the film, and Vicky has become a prominent chef with his own restaurant, you see that he has taken his love of cooking from his college romance.  In the Malayalam the final section, where Vicky finds his bride was the the shortest and an underdeveloped romance, and the fact that he owned a bakery/sweet shop seemed to come out of nowhere.  This is supposed to be the love of his life and his bride, and maybe they ran out of money or Madonna Sebastian didn’t have longer dates for filming in the Malayalam version.   I had always wanted a bit more, and the Telugu gives it to me.

We get a love song in the Telugu!  It shows their developing relationship in the film, and when she reveals that her parents have arranged an engagement, the betrayal hits that much harder for Vicky.  I think Chaitanya really came into his own in this final part of the film.  Nivin Pauly played the older Vikram as reserved and lonely.  Here, Chaitanya’s Vikram is a busy chef who doesn’t care about the marriage arrangements his sister is trying to make in a phone call.  I really liked that they beefed up this section a bit more.

The wedding scene however, doesn’t have quite the same punch.  Shruti sees that same dessert on the buffet (that Vicky had made for her) and that spurs her memory, and she just looks back a little wistfully.  Again, she’s no Sai Pallavi.

So, not spoiling it, if you’ve never seen the Malayalam original ( and you should because it’s fantastic!), but this is a worthy remake.  The plot is nearly identical, with a few nice additions.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s no hardship watching Chaitanya for a few hours!  His father Naga Nagarjuna has a nice little cameo at the end as well.

Also, one of the things that had me laughing so hard out loud happened when a certain character is tied up and being beaten up.  His tormentor yells, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?!  Tell me!!”  LOL  Gotta love Telugu films.

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Action Hero Biju – Nivin Pauly is excellent in a complex portrait of a policeman

bijuAction Hero Biju’s title leads you to think that it’s a cartoon type cop story, maybe something over the top like Singham.  What it is, is really a surprise — a complex story of what it would really feel like to ride along with Sub-Inspector Biju Palouse throughout his day.  From the rare exciting chase down of a criminal, to acting as a sort of family court judge in mundane every day issues.

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Nivin Pauly is just fantastic as Biju.  He is what I guess is equivalent to the police captain of his station.  He deals with lots of small issues himself, as judge and jury.   When a young girl is bitten by a dog — a dog sent to attack her by a rich jerk — Biju is on the case.  He nabs the guy, and humiliates him, not bowing to the pressure of politicians trying to get him to ignore the case.  It’s glorious to watch.

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When a young woman comes in because she’d worked for 50 days for a company and only received the 1000 rupee advance.  Biju calls in the company owners, and then when they won’t pay the woman, he demands their company paperwork.  Finding a technicality he can charge them with, he then turns on his righteous anger.

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Biju is almost like an Andy Griffith type character,  complete with bumbling deputies who lose their radios and accidentally shoot their guns in the station.   But I wish that he could just solve everything with words like Andy Griffith.

Biju uses discernment, going after the drug dealer plaguing a school, but letting of the kids found with him off after scaring them half to death.  And that’s my main issue with the film.  Nivin Pauly is masterful at dealing with all the people that come before his desk, except he resorts to beating people with a coconut wrapped in a cloth.  He doesn’t just give people tight slaps in the heat of them moment, or roughly throw suspects down as he’s chasing them down.  He uses beating as his judgement and as a scare tactic.  He doesn’t do it in a fit of anger, but just part of his methods.  His anger he can turn off and on, manipulating those brought before his desk.

When a protester comes into his office to talk with about the accusations of beatings, he mocks her and his husband.

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I loved so much about Nivin Pauly’s character Biju in this film.  He was so sweet with his fiance.  And when finally the big action scene comes, he takes on five guys single-handedly in a fantastic fight, complete with big declarative speech.   I loved how the film shows not just the exciting big fight catching the hardened criminal, but all the little moments in his day where he really helped ordinary people in his jurisdiction.

I didn’t recognize all the character actors, but the film’s structure was almost like a series of short stories or short films for each case Biju dealt with.

I have very mixed feelings about this film.  I thought it was a great script and structure, and the acting was fantastic.  This is about as good as I’ve ever seen Nivin Pauly.  It’s great seeing him play a mature character, and not a coming of age story.

But I just can’t get past the police beatings, and how matter of fact they are.  As I said at the beginning, Nivin Pauly’s Biju is no 2 -dimensional cartoon character.  He’s very complex.  He’s a hero, even an action hero, and he serves his constituents well.  He’s certainly not corrupt, but I just wish he didn’t have to beat suspects as a matter of course. It’s precisely because he’s not presented as larger than life.

Beatings aside, this is a very enjoyable film to watch.

Four stars out of five.

Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood delves even deeper in her glowing review.

 

 

Neram – I was disappointed in this early Nivin Pauly film

neram-tamil-movie-poster-1The Malayalam film Neram was disappointing for me.  Watching comedy in Indian movies can be very hard for a non-Desi like me.

For the first movie I picked to watch from the big MyIndiaShopping order from Kerala I gifted myself for my birthday, I picked Nivin Pauly’s Neram (Time).  It’s an action-drama-comedy from 2013, and Nazriya Nazim (from Bangalore Days) is his love interest in the film.

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Neram was disappointing and just not very good.  The romance between Nivin and Nazriya is pre-existing, and frankly they had more of a best friends chemistry than romantic.
Nivin borrows money from a loan shark because he’s lost his job and has to pay for his sister’s wedding.  He can’t find a job to pay the loan shark back and on the day payment is due, the packet of money a friend gives him to pay it off gets snatched out of his hand by a mugger.  He has to pay back the loan shark by 5 p.m., thus the Time (Neram) of the title.
So it has bursts of action, and is sort of a farce with all sorts of misunderstandings and close shaves and farcical elements of different robbers scamming each other.  But it just didn’t hold together.
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It’s set in Chennai, so there’s some people speaking Tamil, mainly the bad guys.  There are many misunderstandings and mispronouncing between the Tamil and Malayalam which I guess was meant to be funny.
But since I don’t speak either all that went completely over my head, and the subtitles didn’t help.  (Some films like Happy New Year clue you in to the word play)
Nivin Pauly was just okay, and this is the first movie of his I would say that about him.  It’s from 2013, early in his career, but I did love him in his earlier 2012 film Thattathin Marayathu.  Nazriya is not given a lot to do, and mid-way she gets kidnapped and stuffed in the trunk of a car for the rest of the film.
The editing needed to be snappier and quicker, but the camera work was at least more interesting than most.  It was just meh.  And from Malayalam cinema I’m used to expecting much better than meh.
About half way through, I told my husband it wasn’t that good, and he asked me why I kept watching?  How to explain that the second halves of Indian films can be dramatically different.  The second half did improve, but not enough.
Two and a half stars out of five.

 

1983 – A Sweet Cricket Sports Drama Starring Nivin Pauly

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I’m not a huge sports movie fan, but 1983 was touching and enjoyable.  I also don’t know anything about cricket, but that is no hindrance in watching Nivin Pauly’s love of the game.

The first half of the film shows us Rameshan (Nivin Pauly) as a child obsessed by cricket.  There’s one TV in their small Kerala village and he and his friends are forever changed by India winning its first Cricket World Cup in 1983.  They sneak away from chores and skip homework and studying for tests to play cricket together.

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Nivin hits a girl in the head with an errant cricket ball, and has a wonderful childhood romance.  But she’s good in school and moves on to university, while he is left behind in the village working for his father.  He marries another girl in an arranged marriage, and horrors, she doesn’t even recognize a picture of Sachin!

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In the second half, Nivin still plays club cricket with his old pals, and sees the glimmer of talent in his son.  To the disgust of Nivin’s father, who still thinks cricket is a waste of time, Nivin seeks out coaching for his son.  They take a bus hours away every weekend to the next big town to try for a spot in a sports school.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nivin Pauly play a father, and that was some of my favorite parts of the film.  I also liked his relationship with his wife.  She supports him and stands up for him with his parents.  They don’t have a grand passion, but they work together as a couple.

This movie has the leisurely pace of Malayalam films.  Maybe a little too leisurely at times.  It’s not a surprise that this is the debut feature of the director, fashion photographer Abrid Shine.  But it’s still an enjoyable watch, and Nivin Pauly, as usual is great.  1983 is beautifully shot, and even though I’m a no-nothing with cricket, I could follow the exciting parts of the cricket games.  It wasn’t confusing to me as it sometimes is.  Sometimes cricket games are filmed in Indian films expecting you to know what is happening, but here I could tell Nivin was good and the way the games were shot highlighted that.

Three and a half stars out of five.  1983 is available for rental on Amazon Video.

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.

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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!