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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Aashiqui 2 -The Hindi remake of A Star Is Born

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NOW I get it.  When Aditya Roy Kapoor did his solo numbers at the Dream Team concert in Chicago, the girls in the crowd went crazy, especially when he covered one of the dancers with his jacket.

And it was because he was lip syncing the two big songs from Aashiqui 2 [Love]Sunn Raha Hai Na Tua and Tum Hi Ho.

I’ve been suffering with what I think is a bad sinus infection for days and haven’t felt up to watching anything with subtitles as I couldn’t even concentrate.  Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood mentioned that she’s going to write a review of Aashiqui 2 soon, and I realized that I should really watch it before OK Jaanu comes out next weekend.  I rented it last night from Amazon streaming, but I’m a little worried something may have been cut in their copy as the run time was only 2 hours 6 minutes.

I have not seen the classic 1954 Judy Garland A Star is Born, but I have the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version from the ’70’s.  Aashiqui 2’s plot is completely A Star Is Born.  Successful male takes talented woman under his wing, and then her career eclipses his as he declines into alcoholism.

While Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor had decent romantic chemistry in Aashiqui 2 and acted, well, okay… there are so many flaws in this film.  I could totally believe that Aditya was a rock star.  With Arjit Singh singing those songs, he had the swagger to pull it off.  Shraddha’s character is this young naive ingenue, scraping by singing in a bar in Goa when Aditya stumbles in to hear her sing his song, Sunn Raha Hai Na Tua.  The problem is her singing voice in the film is not a powerhouse raw talent.  It’s tinny and thin sounding.  She looks up to Lata as her inspiration, but her singing did not blow me away AT ALL.  That is the whole point of A Star Is Born — this talent that is just so amazing, that the male lead has to share it with the world.

When I was growing up, you could not escape Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen from the 1976 film.  Kris Kristofferson was well cast, because while he is a talent, he’s not the legendary BARBRA.

So, from the get go, I’m not buying Shraddha as this big talent, but the romance plot in the first half is nice and it is refreshing to have a male Indian lead doing everything to support a woman’s career.  But oh that demon alcohol.

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You can tell Aditya is a real alcoholic because he drinks straight from big bottles!  The addiction storyline here is treated so ridiculously.  Shraddha remains a naive ingenue to the end, convinced that she can solve his addiction just by taking him away to the mountains and giving him a nice shave outside to get him clean.

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Your boyfriend, who never even mentions marriage and is fine living with you and ultimately off your earnings, goes into drunken rages and pushes you to the ground, and you can just hug him even tighter and it will all be okay?  Blech.  I wanted to shake some sense into Shraddha in this movie.  This is not 1954!  Surely, her character could have had a little more spine in this day and age or even some character development.  And sorry for the spoilers, but gee, alcoholism can’t be solved by love alone.  And it’s noble to kill yourself rather than go to rehab or accept your father’s help because even though you didn’t marry the poor girl, she’s ready to give up her career for you?   If you’re going to copy the entire plot of A Star Is Born, then I guess you have to end it that way, but it could have been portrayed as more dark and desperate rather than noble and misguided.

 

The music is central to a film like this, and this film has a couple of amazing blockbusters.  You can’t help but love this soundtrack.

350827-aashiqui-2So, in all, glad I finally watched this first pairing of Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor.  But I think they look like they have even better romantic chemistry in the trailers of OK Jaanu.  I hate to see OK Kanmani remade (because it is perfection) but hopefully they won’t screw it up too much.  Aashiqui 2 won’t be a film I want to rewatch, but I will definitely be downloading the songs.

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And now there’s going to be a new Hollywood version of A Star Is Born with a release date in September of 2018 starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  Cooper will not only act in the film, it will be his directorial debut.  Lady Gaga is the kind of powerhouse talent perfect for the role. Bradley’s acting is Oscar caliber, but I hope his directorial skills will be up to the task.

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Some of My Favorite Indian Cinema Rom Coms

Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order, although number one is my top favorite.

  1. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi — Can’t even count how many times I’ve watched this one.

2.  Jab We Met

3.  Band Baaja Baaraat

4. Dil Chahta Hai

5. Hasee Toh Phasee

6.  Dum Laga Ke Haisha

7.  Khoobsurat — Fawad Khan Fever!

8.  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

9.  Tanu Weds Manu

10. Queen

11. Bunty Aur Babli

12. Dostana

13.  Bang Bang

14.  Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

15. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

16. Main Tera Hero

Does DDLJ count?  🙂

And if you’re willing to go outside Hindi cinema, I have a few South Indian films that are great rom coms:

OK Kanmani – 2015 Tamil Mani Ratnam film (currently on US Netflix streaming)

Bangalore Days (Malayalam) – Multi-starrer about three cousins and their romantic adventures

Ohm Shanti Oshaana (Malayalam) – A fantastic female centric coming of age romantic story.

And a Telugu film-   Mr. Perfect, a rom com with Prabhas of Baahubali fame:

(This post is adapted from a Quora answer.)

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!!