Paheli – My Kind of Ghost Story

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Paheli, Shahrukh Khan’s 2005 movie about a ghost or spirit is one of my all time favorite Shahrukh Khan movies, even if it is not one of his blockbusters.  It’s not a scary Halloween movie (like maybe Darr, which is more creepy than scary), but it does have a ghost!  Paheli means riddle.

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Fantasy film seem to be unusual in Hindi cinema, and in this film Shahrukh Khan plays both a number counting merchant husband, and a bhoot, or 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.  She laughs at first, because it sounds ridiculous!  But her real husband barely noticed her, and wouldn’t sleep with her on their wedding night, but this ghost is obsessed with her every since he saw her at the well he haunted.

He could have lied and just taken her in the guise of her husband, but he loves her enough to give her the choice.  Swoon!

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Rani and SRK have always had great chemistry, but man do they smolder in Paheli.  Yowza.

The costumes are just stunning, and the music in the film is just fantastic:

 

Amitabh Bachchan has a fun cameo as the wise shepherd who must solve the riddle of the two husbands.  Juhi Chawla, who co-produced the film, plays Rani’s sister-in-law whose husband (Sunil Shetty) had disappeared.  Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak play puppet narrators and of course Anupam Kher is the father.

tumblr_n1rdaglgnt1qmz4s4o1_1280I love Shahrukh in double roles and these two roles he makes completely separate people.  The husband is comedic and obtuse, and the ghost playful and sultry.

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Plus, I love the idea of a ticklish ghost!  Paheli has been overlooked but I love it.  And I love its message of female empowerment and choice.

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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.

Aiyyaa – How can a movie be so sublime and so awful all at the same time

I love Rani Mukherji so Aiyyaa was on my watchlist, but it moved right up to the top after I saw this video:

I have only seen a few Prithviraj films, and my impression was of a very good serious actor in Ennu Ninte Moideen, Classmates and Mumbai Police or even Aurangzeb.  But I hadn’t seen him like this:

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Holy moly.  (Is it getting hot in here?)

Aiyyaa means Oh, My!  Aiyyaa was a comeback film for Rani, but was Prithviraj’s Bollywood Debut.  (He made Aurangzeb around the same time.)  The film was produced by Anurag Kashyap and was directed by Sachin Kundalkar.

Rani is Menaskshi, a young woman who loves zany Bollywood films, the more over the top the better.  The songs in Aiyyaa are her fantasies.  She imagines herself at the beginning as Madhuri, Juhi and Sridevi.  Her parents want to arrange her marriage, but first she gets a job at the local art college.

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She is struck speechless by the appearance of art student Surya, and is entranced by his smell.  (The director Sachin Kundalkar, had done a previous Marathi film about the senses.)  She asks around to learn more about her crush Surya.  He always has red eyes so the rumor is that he’s on drugs or spends all his nights drinking.  He barely ever speaks to Rani, and is very mysterious and standoffish.  She finds him sleeping in doorways and hallways.  She knows he speaks Tamil to the chaiwallah boy, who she bribes to teach her to speak Tamil.  “How do I say I like dark skin people, not fair skin?”  The chaiwallah recommends she watch the Tamil Midnight Masala TV channel.

Rani dreams she’s in a Southern Masala film, and we get this insane number that made me just laugh in delight:

As Prithviraj said in an interview — it’s Bollywood’s crazy view of Southern films.  What I absolutely love about this song sequence is that I’ve never before seen Prithviraj so silly, and you can just see him going for it with gusto.

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He just has this crazy grin through the whole song.  They rhyme humping and thumping, and he bobs his head following her waist gyrations.  Prithviraj’s having his own fun spoofing regional song sequences.  Having seen several South Indian films, I felt like I was in on the joke.

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Rani’s eccentric family have placed a matrimonial ad and she grits her teeth through meetings with several suitors.  One very nice average guy she reluctantly agrees to see again.  He’s kind and sweet, but he just doesn’t float her boat like Surya – who seemingly doesn’t even know she exists.  While shopping for wedding saris, she has the lustful Aga Bai fantasy song from the top of the review.

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I wouldn’t have minded if Surya had just been a fantasy and she ended up with the nice average Maadhav (Subodh Bhave).  On the day of her engagement, she escapes the house and follows Surya.  Finally she discovers the source of his intoxicating scent, and they connect.  The romance is just so swoon worthy.  It’s sublime.

But unfortunately, Prithviraj, Subodh and Rani aren’t the only people in the film.  Rani’s family is at first amusingly eccentric.  In the first half, it’s not so bad, but her brother character especially in the second half just goes off into crazyland.  The very worst character is her co-worker Maina, who has big buck teeth and comes to work with vodka in a bear shaped water bottle.  She’s not only un-funny, she’s just blatantly offensive.  The writer-director was going for zany, and he veered too far on the wacky spectrum.  You know it’s bad when Johnny Lever would have brought subtlety to this film. If this film instead had had the comedic tone of something like Dum Laga Ke Haisha it would have been perfect.   It was just so uneven lurching between the extreme awful comedy and then the swooniness of the romance.

I loved the romance bits of this film so much I have rewatched it already, but I fast-forwarded through all the family scenes and the Maina bits.  Rani in her fantasies in Aiyyaa reminded me a bit of Amelie, that magical realism French film:

 

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So dear reader, I have trouble whole-heartedly recommending this film.  The film has a great message about cross-cultural romance and even with a male director is interested in the female gaze and point of view.  If you’re a big fan of Rani like I am, you’ll agree that she was fantastic as Meenakshi.  If you love Prithviraj as I am beginning to, you’ll love seeing him be almost Mr. Darcy like, and also having zany fun being a sex symbol.  If you can stand to watch not so great films for the transcendent good parts, just do yourself a favor and keep your finger on the fast-forward button.

Three stars out of five.  Aiyyaa is available on ErosNow, which is where I watched it.

 

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna – 10 Year anniversary appreciation

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I actually like Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, although I know it is not most people’s favorite Karan Johar movie.  It’s certainly not my favorite Shahrukh Khan film, but it does have some great moments for me.  Today is the 10 year anniversary of KANK’s release date.

While it is about mature adults, and not young lovers,  the subject of adultery is not one that everyone wants to watch in a film.  I do love the music, too.  I really like seeing how Karan played homage to Silsila especially in this song sequence.  He copies the exact poses of Rekha and Amitabh.

But what I really take from KANK, is the gay subtext.  It may have also been about Rani Mukherjee’s real life relationship with Aditya Chopra.  But I think when Karan explores the sexual incompatibility of Rani and Abishek’s character’s marriage, and how Rani feels things with Shahrukh that she has never felt before — ding, ding, ding — we’re supposed to read into that a gay subtext.

Here’s an example when Shahrukh and Rani play act how he should greet his  wife while they are in a department store.  The first few times I watched this scene, I was focused on Shahrukh’s reaction, but look at Rani’s face at about the 1:17 minute mark.  She realizes she’s feeling desire for Shahrukh that her character has never felt with Abishek.  She wasn’t expecting to feel it, and she stops immediately, but she can’t stop thinking about it from this moment on.

I don’t believe that adultery is right, but I also don’t think people should stay in marriages where they are miserable.  And that’s the real message that Karan is trying to tell us, whether the couples are gay or straight.

The whole soundtrack of this movie is fantastic.  Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood posted today about how the song Mitwa  deconstructs the typical fantasy song.