Raees – A Great Character for SRK and a Crowd pleaser of a Film

I mostly loved Raees.  If you’ve read my last post, you know I have had a difficult month with my father having been in the hospital for a couple of weeks.  He’s better but things are still rough.  I’ve been so looking forward to this date — finally a new Shahrukh Khan film.

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Raees is a great character for Shahrukh.  He’s playing a gangster — but a bootlegger with a heart, who makes dinner for his wife.  He’s got a lot of swagger and panache to him, and we are totally on his side as he seems to only kill bad people.

I love how the film starts, with the child Raees who works as a lookout and a mule for the local bootlegger.  Even as a kid, he has lots of moxie, and you never, ever call him four-eyes.

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Raees has a great foil in the police inspector played by Nawazuddin Saddiqui.  What a dream to see these two actors going head to head.  Nawaz’s introduction scene left me in stitches.  He’s so by the book about illegal liquor in Gujarat, that his superiors don’t know what to do with him.  He won’t play the game, and keeps getting transferred around.  He’s like Wile E. Coyote against Raees the Road Runner, outsmarted at nearly every turn.

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What I absolutely loved about the film was SRK’s relationship with Mahira Khan in the film.  Their romance is already existing at the beginning of the film, and the scene we discover that is amusing.  Mahira as Raees’ wife is steadfast, and the only one who can put him back on his heels.  They have a teasing relationship that feels real and adult — not a kid romance.

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Besides the setting in the 80’s and all of Raees’ cool glasses, there is a wonderful homage scene to Amitabh and the classic gangster films of the past.  I haven’t seen Deewar (I know, I know, it’s on the list!), but I have seen another great Indian gangster film, Nayakan.  This has some of the same elements.  The gangster who becomes the champion of the people.

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In Raees, he becomes a politician at one point to get past people who are standing in his way.

Is Raees a perfect film?  No.  I think Shahrukh had to stretch more as an actor in Fan.  But Raees is a crowd pleaser.  It has the music numbers, some romance, and the cool slow-mo shooting with a shot gun while falling type scenes.

I was tired going in to the film, even though it was a 2 p.m. matinee (I had to get up at four a.m. today)  And I was in a theater that had those reclining Laz-E-Boy type seats which didn’t help – but to be honest, it felt like the film lagged a bit in the middle at points.  I don’t think it was just that I was so tired.  I don’t think the film kept the tension going consistently.

Still, Shahrukh Khan had a great character to play, and it’s just a joy seeing him play a serious role like this, especially opposite Nawaz.  This is sort of like a Godfather type film, which Nayakan is an homage to, but somehow it didn’t quite have the pathos.  The Godfather and Nayakan deal with the tragedies in multiple generations, and Raees’ child is still a toddler at the end of the film.  While Shahrukh acted well in the parts where he was supposed to be a brash young man, he is getting a bit long in the tooth to pull it off.

It’s a very enjoyable film, just not a great one for the ages.  It’s nice to be arguing that kind of point about a Shahrukh Khan film.  It’s one I’ll be seeing again in theaters, and will be fun to rewatch.

Plus, Shahrukh dancing garba is always a good thing.  😉

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Dear Zindagi – Alia Bhatt is wonderful in this portrait of a complex young woman at a life crossroad.

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I unabashedly loved Dear Zindagi.  It’s a true measure of my love of my family that I didn’t see Dear Zindagi the day it came out in the US due to our Thanksgiving holiday travels.  I have been looking forward to this movie for some time, hoping it would live up to my sky high expectations, and it did.  I have yet to see director Gauri Shinde’s feature film debut English Vinglish, which evidently deservedly garnered accolades.  (I actually downloaded English Vinglish to watch on my trip but the subtitles were in Arabic. ARGH!)

I’m not saying a male director can’t tell the story of a woman, but there’s a different special perspective a woman writer/director brings to a film.  Alia Bhatt’s Kaira (Koko) is allowed to be a complex young cinematographer who is troubled, and frankly, sometimes unlikeable.  She is no manic pixie dream girl for anyone.  And that is just refreshing to see in itself.  The film totally passes the Bechdel test!  Kaira has a tight knit group of friends who she can be totally herself with, but a tense awkward relationship with her parents.

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She has a working and romantic relationship with producer Kunal Kapoor.  He offers her a dream job directing her first feature film in NYC, but admits his ex-girlfriend will also be working on the project.  He wants to make his relationship with Kaira more serious, but she demurs.  Then she can’t sleep thinking about her quandary — should she go to New York even though it will be incredibly awkward?

Kunal is one of 4 men in her life in this movie (not including SRK).  There’s Sid, the handsome restaurant owner (Angad Bedi) and Rumi (Ali Zafar), a charming musician she meets when she returns to her hometown of Goa.  She has to go back to Goa because her landlord in Mumbai makes her move out because she’s a single woman.  And he’s not the only one harassing her for being single, once she gets home she is barraged by her parents and her aunt and uncle for continuing to work, and not settling down.

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She happens to overhear SRK speaking at a therapist conference and goes to see him.  If only all therapists looked like Shahrukh Khan.  When through several sessions, they get to the root of her insecurities, I was crying right along with Alia.  She is just fantastic in this film.  She has this quality about her that reveals her vulnerability and she sucks me right in.  It’s hard to believe how far she’s come as an actress since Student of the Year.  Highway was my first glimpse and then this year she was devastating in Udta Punjab.  I can’t wait to see her work in the future.

Some reviewers have questioned the epilogue at the end of the film, but I liked it.  As suspected, Aditya Roy Kapoor is the final cameo man in her life.  I liked that the movie left us at a hopeful point — that she’s moved on and is ready for new possibilities.  I like that kind of ending in my romance novels, and I liked it here.

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Shahrukh Khan is fantastic in this as her therapist and mentor.  He has unorthodox methods, like playing Kabbadi with the surf on the beach outside his office.  But best of all is his message to young girls through the words he says to Kaira (Alia).  She thinks everyone thinks she’s a slut because she’s had relationships with more than one man.  SRK asks her if she’s ever bought a chair.  “Did you buy the first one you saw without trying it out?” as he pops from chair to chair in his office.  He gives her permission to live her life without worrying so much what “everyone” else thinks.

The music in the film didn’t send me, but the title track is decent.  It’s not that kind of movie.  There’s mostly montage type song sequences.  Really this is sort of a bridge film between Parallel type cinema (The Lunch Box, etc.) and mainstream Hindi fare.

I’m glad Kaira found support with her Dr. Jehangir Khan, and that director Gauri Shinde has backing from producers SRK (Red Chilies) and Karan Johar (Dharma).  She’s a great talent.  Loved this film, and already have plans to see it again in a few days.  I’m taking some friends who don’t even watch Bollywood films.  This is a great crossover type of film.

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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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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – Karan Made Me Cry! Modern Relationships Can Be Complicated (Spoiler Free)

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I realized that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is actually the first film directed by Karan Johar that I have seen on the big screen.  Sure, I’ve seen Johar/Dharma productions, like Kapoor and Sons, on the big screen in the two plus years that I’ve been watching Indian cinema, but this is the first totally Karan Johar film.

I went to the first day, first show, at my local theater and they were NOT prepared for the Diwali crowds.  The theater was pretty full, and there was a long line at the ticket window.  Interestingly, I was not the only non-Desi there.  There were two women who were fans of Aish from Bride & Prejudice, but didn’t even know what the title of the film meant or who SRK is.  (!!!)

This will be as spoiler free a review as I can make it.  We know the film is about unrequited love.  If you think about it, many of Karan Johar’s films are about unrequited love, be it from a lover or a parent.

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Anushka and Ranbir meet when they are both fighting with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  They kiss and Ranbir sweetly hugs her, and Anushka pulls away.  “What kind of kiss was that?  Save those kinds of hugs for your family!”  There is no sexual chemistry from her side, but they are soul mates in every other way.  They both love old 80’s films, quote dialogue to each other and sing old song lyrics to each other.  I caught some of the filmi references (like them doing the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai finger to the noise bit), but there were many I didn’t catch.  (Can’t wait for Margaret to do a full summary on Don’t Call It Bollywood where she can instruct me on all the ones I missed!)

We knew about the Shahrukh Khan cameo as Aish’s ex, but there are some other fun ones.  Alia Bhatt and Lisa Haydon!  Fawad Khan’s role has been cut down so much that it’s not much more than an extended cameo.

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I wish the songs in the film had had subtitles, because I felt like I was missing meanings from the lyrics now that I was seeing them in the film itself.  Anushka is his friend, his best best best friend, but we can see that Ranbir wants more.  He declares himself after she returns to her former love, but it’s too late.

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Then he has the passionate relationship with Aish, and I loved her as this mature seductress!  She and Ranbir had great chemistry, and the cameo with SRK was a delight.  Shahrukh and Aish just give off that old lovers vibe and it was perfection for this film.

There is a twist in the final 15 minutes or so of the film that I mentally said to myself, “Oh, Karan, really, you’re going there?”  But damn it.  Karan made me cry!  It was predictable, but he played my emotions like a violin and the tears were running down my face.

The music as we know, is just sublime in this film.  The title track and the way Ranbir perform it is so amazing.   Really his performance through the film is excellent.  But I was most impressed with Anushka.  She just gets better and better with each film.

Anushka criticizes Ranbir’s singing in the film (he wants to be a singer) and says he can’t really sing with emotion until he’s experienced heartbreak.  And that, I think, is ultimately the message of the film.  Great art, be it film, music or poetry, comes from heartbreak and pain.

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Dil Aashna Hai – Lace remake only for the biggest SRK fans

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Dil Aashna Hai (The Heart Knows the Truth) is my 50th Shahrukh Khan film.  This film is Camp with a capital “C”.  Dil Aashna Hai came out in 1992, and is one of SRK’s earliest films.  The DVD is hard to track down, and Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood let me borrow it.  I’m on a quest to watch every one of Shahrukh Khan’s films, from the sublime to the not-so-great.  Fully a quarter of all the Hindi films I’ve seen have been Shahrukh Khan movies.

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Dil Aashna Hai is a Hindi adaptation of Shirley Conran’s 1982 novel Lace, which was also a huge TV mini-series in 1984.   “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” TV Guide listed as one of the best lines in TV history.  I don’t remember much about the Phoebe Cates starring mini-series, but Lace the book was one of the first romance novels I ever read.  It was scandalous and racy, a book passed around from high school girl to high school girl, sex scenes marked and dog-eared.

The book was reissued on its 30th anniversary in 2012, and Sarah Hughes wrote in The Guardian that the book wasn’t just a bonkfest, it had a strong feminist message.   The flashbacks in the book as Lily tries to find which of three women is her real mother show the three women each pursuing their own career paths:

Along the way Conran tackles everything from teenage abortion and the iniquities of the porn industry to double standards around one-night stands. We remember the vividly described sex scenes, but in reality the book is filled with pages of argument about a woman’s right to work, the need for equal pay and the juggling of children and career.

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Major details of the original plot have been changed for the Bollywood remake, but at its core it’s still the tale of four women, and that alone is something to be celebrated.  That’s I’m sure what attracted director Hema Malini to the story.  Shahrukh Khan, no matter the size of his picture on the poster, is not the star of this film.  He’s a helpmate and support to Laila (Divya Bharti), a courtesan singer he falls in love with, who works at his father’s hotel.

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Kabir Bedi plays SRK’s evil father, who is not thrilled that SRK wants to marry a girl who grew up in a brothel!  (Side note, Kabir was pretty hot back in the day!)

When the woman Laila has known as her mother on her death bed confesses that she was not her biological mother, Laila and Shahrukh go on a quest to find her true mother.  In the book, Lily is a famous film star, and has the money and power to go on her revenge quest on her own.  Here, Shahrukh proves his love for Laila by finding the orphanage she was stolen from by the brothel pimp.

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Through flashbacks we see three young college girls played by Dimple Kapadia, Amrita Singh  and Sonu Walia fall in love and one of them becomes pregnant.  That is the same as Lace, but the blackmail of the headmaster of the college is cut from the Hindi movie.   The great thing about this movie is seeing these three actresses act together as young girls, and then mature women.   They rent a house together and enjoy all being mothers together of the young baby, but plan that the first to marry will adopt the little girl.

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The movie just doesn’t have the same bite as the original, and it’s all saccharin sweet.  The romance between Laila and Shahrukh only gets one nice love song, but not so much screen time.  While it’s great that for once the women are center stage in a Bollywood film, if you’re looking for a great SRK romantic film, this is not the movie for you.  He’s adorable, and great playing the supportive boyfriend, but there’s not much here for him.

 

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Divya Bharti overacts her way through the melodrama, brandishing the locket left with her at the orphanage in her confrontation with the three women.  It’s  all very campy, but not “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” deliciously campy.  It’s been watered down.

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Now I can say I saw one of SRK’s earliest films, but it’s certainly not going down as one of my favorites.  Margaret loves it, but I’m not as fond.  She discusses and compares it to the original mini-series in her review.

Two stars out of five.  Only for the biggest SRK fans who need to see every one of his films.

Song of the Day – Palat Tero Hero Idhar Hai

 

Happy Birthday Varun!

Margaret on Don’tCallItBollywood has done a great post on why Varun could be the next Shahrukh.  I completely agree.

He proved he has the drama chops with Badlapur, and he’s a great dancer.  But what I love most about him is that he has that same zany lovable rogue persona that SRK did in his early films.  Humpty Sharma was an updated Raj from DDLJ (the character even cries watching the movie!) and this, my favorite number from the delightful film Main Tera Hero is called even Palat after my all time favorite scene in DDLJ!

Still thinking about Brad Pitt’s cheeks on SRK

 

Oscar winning makeup artist Greg Cannom did the amazing prosthetics and makeup for Gaurav’s look in Fan.  He worked with Brad Pitt on Benjamin Button, and took the mold of Brad’s cheeks to make prosthetics for Gaurav’s face.  He also did the age makeup for Rishi Kapoor in Kapoor and Sons.

 

 

 

Super Interesting Making of Gaurav from Fan – SRK has Brad Pitt’s cheeks!

YRF released this behind the scenes Making of Gaurav video for the movie Fan.  I had so many questions after watching the film a second time, and really looking at how different Gaurav is from Shahrukh.  Besides the big cheeks, the eyebrows are different, and he just looked slimmer and smaller over all.

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This 14 minute video answered a lot — it was prosthetics and lots of VFX on top.  This is the same special effects makeup artist who worked with Brad Pitt on Benjamin Button.  So he looked up in his work shop and saw a mold of Brad Pitt’s face, and decided to use those unique cheekbones to make Gaurav’s look.  Fascinating!

 

Song of the Day – Ishq Dance

One of the little Easter eggs in the film Fan is that they used scenes and music from Shahrukh’s own past films.  In one scene he’s rehearsing for a stadium concert in London, and this is the music Aryan’s dancing to — Ishq Dance by A. R. Rahman in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.  Because this scene from JTHJ was in London!  I loved that attention to detail.  Now, if only SRK had had the same VFX and makeup team to make him look 25 in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.  My husband (who is Shahrukh’s age) and I have a private joke because he has a plaid hoodie like Shahrukh’s in this scene that he likes to wear ALL the time.  It’s not my favorite, and he just says, “I’m just trying to look 25 like SRK.”

Fan Review – Some of Shahrukh’s best acting in years

When I first saw the trailer for Fan, I was frankly creeped out by the look of the character Gaurav (the Fan).  Through the use of prosthetics and major CGI, the filmmakers have made Shahrukh look just similar enough, and just different enough that it’s eerie.  The eyebrows are straightened out of their normal “S” shape.  The cheeks are too wide and the teeth different, and mostly, he looks so young!

But once you watch the film, it’s great, because Shahrukh Khan the actor has been able to create two distinct characters in this film.  Aryan Khanna is for the most part the real SRK, a little more arrogant and less warm maybe.  And Gaurav is the young obsessed fan from Delhi.  The prosthetics and CGI let you see them as two different people immediately.

I was fortunate to see Fan before I really read any reviews or saw anything about the plot.  Of course, I had my suspicions that this would be a darker psychological  thriller, and it most definitely is.  I was traveling for a conference in Las Vegas on Friday, and asked at an Indian restaurant which of the total two theaters in town showing Fan would be a safer neighborhood to take an Uber.  Totally worth it to see it the first night!  I knew a bit what I was getting into, that there would be no songs, but I think the audience I was seeing it with really didn’t know.  As the end credits started, the guys behind me said out loud, “What, no song?”  The tone and moment that the film ends with, I’m glad that we didn’t have that peppy Fan Anthem song over the credits.  It would have been jarring.  (Like the credit song was for Badlapur!)

I don’t want to spoiler the movie at all.  I’m just going to tell you that you should really see this film.  It is a return to Shahrukh the actor, which I had been hoping for!  This is acting of a level with Darr, with Swades, or Chak De!  Yes, it really is that good.  It’s up with all the great performances.  I’ve already seen the film twice and I plan on seeing it again in a few days with a friend.  For a Shahrukh Khan fan, there is so much to delight in references to real past movies of SRK’s.  Real old interview footage, footage from his SLAM! Tour in the US in big stadiums –  they even filmed at his home Mannat on his birthday to capture the craziness.

You can guess from the trailer that it’s about a super star, and an obsessed fan, and things are going to get crazy.  I’m giving it four and a half stars out of five, because I loved it that much, but there were a few logical leaps in the second half.  I’m not sure the logic of the thriller completely worked, but I just loved watching it unfold before my eyes anyway.  The action set pieces are really good, and Dubrovnic is gorgeous!!  (That’s the rooftop chase from the trailer.)

I’ve seen people say this is a copy of the Robert DeNiro/Wesley Snipes film The Fan, and it really isn’t.  Yes, you have an obsessed fan in both thrillers, but that’s where the similarity really ends.

None of the other actors in the movie are big names.  There’s another rival “star” in the film named Sid Kapoor that I think is supposed to be a take on Hrithik.  I recognized the character actors playing Gaurav’s parents, but really the movie is Shahrukh vs. Shahrukh.  I also admire Shahrukh for poking a little fun at his own stardom.  There’s a scene where Aryan is performing for a wedding for a huge fee, and even him punching the star Sid Kapoor at a party could be reference to real dustups that Shahrukh has had in his own life.  Aryan is an aging star, who has declining box office for his films, and Gaurav at first won’t stand for any rival to take his God, HIS star’s place.

What is fantastic in this double character study is that your sympathies go from one character to the other and back and forth again.  There are shades of gray to both characters, and I loved that.  This was writer/director Manesh Sharma’s dream project for years.  Yash Raj had him prove himself with a few other films first, and he started with Band Baaja Baaraat, and what a debut that was!  He had to wait fot the timing to be right for Shahrukh to be involved — really I don’t know if I can think of any other Bollywood actor more perfect for this dual role.  It’s a triumph for Shahrukh, Manesh Sharma and the VFX team.

I’m so excited for Raees now!