Thursday, May 31, 2007

Naseeb: Brings back nostalgia for an old masala movie

I was watching a typical masala movie on TV a few days back, and was thinking about Naseeb, which is a good example of a masala movie, the way it should be made. And .. it was running on another channel when I switched. Enough coincidence that I thought about writing a post on it.
Naseeb in my mind has always been the original masala movie, and it has been now 26 years since it was released (in 1981). It combines all the elements that make it a good masala movie, with action, drama, theft, revenge, crime, romance, sacrifice, brotherly love, and so on. It also had a large star cast, starring the popular actors of that time: Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Rishi Kapoor, Reena Roy, Hema Malini, Pran, Kader Khan, Amrish Puri, and so on.
It also had the innovation of a revolving restaurant.Plus, it introduced the concept of bringing in a number of other stars for pure guest appearances, with the song 'John Jani Janardhan' where there were short guest appearances by a number of other stars such as Dharmendra, Raj kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Shammi Kapoor, etc. It would have been difficult to refuse Manmohan Desai his requests for a short guest appearance. This sort of short appearances has been utilized in a number of other movies after this movie.
Naseeb was a movie set across 2 generations. 4 friends get a lottery ticket, and when the lottery 'coincidentally' comes out on that ticket, 2 of the friends turn decidely unfriendly, they kill 1, and blame the other. He is convicted and spends quite some time in jail. Now their children grow up. Amitabh and Rishi are the sons of the jailed friend (Pran), while Shatrughan is the son of Amjad Khan. Amitabh and Shatrughan are friends, although Shatrughan is rich because the 2 murdered friends used the lottery money to make it big, while Amitabh is poor and lives in a poor area.
To make it somewhat confusing, Reena Roy has always loved Shatrughan, while Hema and Amitabh love each other; and after seeing Hema, Shatrughan falls in love with her. And there is another love story in the offing where Rishi and Kim are in school/college and are in love with each other. So, there are sacrifices made for friends along with the giving up of one's love; then there is the revenge drama enacted where Pran wants to get revenge once he realizes the truth. In the end, there is the only possible thrilling end to such a masala movie, an escape from a burning hotel.
This was a brilliantly executed masala movie, such that even though there are several flaws in the movie, you still enjoy it. I find it difficult to enjoy current masala movies to the same extent, with the masala movie that I found somewhat brilliantly executed was the Govinda starrer 'Aankhen'.
Songs of the movie are excellent and can be listened to at this link.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Provoked: Tale of a battered wife

I was watching Provoked just a couple of days back, and after thinking it over a few times, came to the following conclusion. It is a good movie overall, but I somehow felt that the movie was itself not provocative enough to elicit the desired horror of torture against a spouse. On thinking about the movie again, the focus seemed to be more on the cause of getting Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai) out of jail and free from her sentence. The movie focused on the incidents in her life, regular torture (emotional and physical) at the hands of her husband, burning of her husband by fire and the subsequent legal punishment. But the focus of the movie was more about the argument that her regular torture caused her to snap and finally kill her husband. I guess that was the intention of the movie, but the other cause of marital violence does not get covered enough.
The movie was impressive to some degree, especially given that nothing gets very highly melodramatic, and the legal case was interesting, giving an insight of the British legal system. So what was the story all about ? This was about a Punjabi girl, Kiranjit Ahluwalia who marries an Indian man settled in England. She comes with a lot of hopes and wishes, similar to what a newly married girl would want. However, her hopes over a period of time get crushed. Her husband mistreats her, beating her, subjecting her to sexual exploitation, emotionally abusing her. She is submissive against his nature, and does not get any support from family to protect her (in one evocative scene, her husband mistreats her in front of her mother-in-law, and does not face any kind of reprisal). Her only support is her 2 children who are the treasures of her life.
The mistreatment continues, and in the most controversial part of the movie, she decides not to take further punishment (and maybe pushed over the edge), she burns her husband by putting a gasoline soaked run on fire where her husband is sleeping. Her husband is now in intensive are while she is being investigated; when he dies of complications, she is faced with a murder charge. And this is where the legal system is faced with a puzzle. She has committed the crime of murder, and no society can easily afford to let people commit deadly violence (unless faced with a life threatening situation, such as self-defense). Accordingly, she is sentenced to life in jail, with not much recognition of her abuse. In an advanced society such as the United Kingdom, it must be real puzzling to have a marriage continue with so much unhappiness; rules and laws against such violence are pretty strong.
The remainder of the movie is about her time in jail, about her close friendship with her cellmate and the attempts of a women's organization to get the legal system to recognize
her torture and its effect on her state of mind, in essence, that she was 'provoked' to commit this crime.
I was somewhat puzzled after the movie, in terms of a message. The movie depicts a real-life situation, and caused a change in the way the law looks at marital violence and its trigger on emotions. At the same time, taking the life of a person (unless in a legal way) is a no-no. If a marriage is beyond the point of return, or there are circumstances which cause such kind of trauma, then it is better to separate (although I am pretty sure that this is not a easy step at all). I wonder what other people who saw the movie thought about this?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Garv: A slightly kludgy tale

There are a large number of movies that get made on the topic of a policeman against the politician and his seniors, and a lot of them are made with an extreme amount of gore and blood. A lot of these movies strike a chord with audiences because there can be no better image that that of a honest policemen dedicated to his duty, honest to the bone, and able to thwart (or kill) the evil henchmen, politicians, criminals, etc.
Why suddenly get into all this ? A TV channel was showing a Salman Khan movie called Garv, and I am not ashamed to admit that if given a chance, I will watch it umpteen times on TV reruns. The story is not very different; 2 honest cops along with their colleagues, determined to fight it out with the underworld and anybody else getting in their path. Evil men are equally determined to have their way, and will move or bring in governments to ensure that their writ runs, and are determined to even threaten physical harm to the family members of the hero in order to quell them.
Then the tide starts turning; government is not supportive, one of the heroes (Arbaaz Khan) is killed in a battle, and evidence planted to show him as a Pakistani spy. This besmirches his reputation. At the same time, the sister of the hero is taken by the evil guys and she is exploited by all of them as a sort of punishment. Hero comes, kills everyone, but then refuses to tell anyone the reason for this mass killing (18 evil men) and is prosecuted. In the end, sister comes to trial, reveals the real reasons and hero is set free.
There are many so so moments in the movie, such as the way the policemen will typically beat up all evil people easily, about standing up to the might of a chief minister, and so on; but the movie has an appeal (of course, if you don't like Salman Khan, then you are going to hate the movie).
The part of the movie that was interesting was how they get a mandate to do encounter killings (as the Mumbai police did once some years back, and was incredibly successful at scaring the mafia, until it got stopped); and how they were able to explain this encounter policy to press people. Encounter killing is a double edged sword, it satisfies a large section of the population that does not see justice happening, but it can easily be used to kill innocents, as happened in Gujarat, where the wife had to be killed to hide the encounter details. And of course, you kill them all, so no issues about a trial, or witness recanting, and so on.
Another thing that I found interesting was the court room drama, as typically such movies end in an orgy of violence, while this movie ended somewhat tamely in the courtroom, although the flashback was full of gore and blood. Why do I like the movie ? It seems a very clean movie, with people being either good or bad :-) (no shades of grey), storyline being fairly simple and concentrating on the fight between the good guy (Salman & Arbaaz) and the evil guys. There is a heroine in the movie, but you actually don't notice her.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nayak: A movie that you yearn to see happen

I am watching Nayak (The Anil Kapoor, Amrish Puri and Rani Mukherji starrer), and even though the movie is slightly over-dramatic, I do like the movie. The scenarios that it outlines initially as problems, such as corruption by ministers, caste based identities, stealing by public servants, indifference by the police, government doctors preferring their clinics, etc are all very realistic, and most of us know about these problems when reading about them in papers or from personal experience. Those who have actually worked for the government know far more about these problems.
The movie has a touch of unrealism, from the scene where the journalist is able to beat dedicated goondas, or when the chief minister tried to be too clever and offers him the post for 1 day (such things don't happen, and after seeing the movie, will never happen), or the bombs detection scene, or the fact that a novice could sweep the entire polls. Some of the songs seem inserted without any rhyme or reason such as the songs where some amount of special effects such as snakes, etc are inserted. I typically grin and bear the songs when they come.
However, people are desirous of quick action against the amount of corruption in the country, and would like nothing better than the corrupt to be removed from public posts, and the image of a man strong on his convictions and honesty is a very appealing one.
Ok, this is the story. Anil Kapoor is a journalist following the chief minister, including in a local village where Rani Mukherji speaks the truth inconveniently when Amrish Puri (CM) is touring. Anil notices her and is smitten, and after some time, she is equally smitten. During a riot (starting due to a fight beween a student and a bus driver), things escalate quickly out of control and Anil notices the Chief Minister ordering the police head not to take action due to his supporters being involved. In a interview, Anil strips the Chief Minister over this incident with actual proof, and in the course of this interview, Amrish offers Anil the Chief Ministership for one day, and Anil accepts hesitantly. In the course of this one day, Anil does a lot of direct positive action and then finally jails Amrish Puri for corruption.
Amrish takes action against Anil and his family (including a fight with slow action Matrix type of steps) and then gets bathed in milk. Later, he sees his house getting demolished. He is urged to contest elections, and he is very hesitant. At this point, Paresh Rawal gives him a long speech, which to me was the high point of the movie (essentially, if honest people refuse to get into politics, then they have no one to blame). He finally accepts and becomes chief minister due to his honest image. In the meantime, Rani's dad refuses to accept the match since he is into politics.
He suffers from the machinations of Amrish Puri, including 2 assassination attempts in which one of them kills his parents. After a lot of such problems, he finally turns political, killing Amrish Puri in a legal way. His comment in the end, that he is finally into politics is a sort of bitter-sweet end in the sense that he got his way after doing an action against his principles.

Gangajal: Worth watching again

I was watching Gangajal coming on some channel, and was so impressed again with the movie that I thought that I would write about it. Gangajal is a movie that was released a few years back (2003) and stars Ajay Devgun, Gracy Singh, Mohan Joshi, and is directed by Prakash Jha, a filmmaker who makes movie with social contexts.
The movie depicts the life in rural Bihar, and seeing it, you wonder as to whether this is what the Indian state has evolved into. The criminal-politician-babu nexus is incredible, with the local criminal having an unchallenged run of the place through his contacts in the police (essentially getting the police onto his payroll), and through contacts with the politician, who is as venal as the criminal or local mafia. Once the criminal has his run of the place, nobody can stand upto him, and with the support of the police and authority, nobody can challenge him. He takes what he wants, exploits whom he wants and does what he wants.
The police, supposed to protect people, is an equal exploiter; using their stamp of authority to do what they want. Hence you have a dual depiction of police nature, being compliant with the local don, as well as at the same time, even when they are good, having the stamp of unchallenged authority. In this obvious vacuum of good governance, rule of law reverts to the brutal, and society starts endorsing quick punishments (tantamount to a public lynching of criminals), with the mob showing the path.
The movie is about the good cop versus the bad system and his efforts to make people believe again, so in the sense it is old hat, but whereas most such movies are set in urban areas and about challenges with a genteel criminal, this movie is about the challenge in rural areas, with corrupt policemen and a suppressed society.
The movie is based to a large extent on the Bhagalpur blindings of 1979, where justice had broken down to such a degree that policemen delivered brutal justice by blinding under-trials and society enthusiastically endorsed their moves in the wake of a collapse of normal law and order. Ajay Devgun is the young SP of Tezpur district who had joined this area. He comes in, given a normal lecture on no corruption, etc which is ignored by his policeforce. But he starts walking the talk, unwilling to take things at face value.
He is not appreciative at all of the local don (Mohan Joshi) and his rowdy power-mad son. But his own police force is a divided force, with some of them bowing to the don, and others to the DIG (who has his own agenda). As the movie progresses, you can see him trying to improve things. The man brought to the police force by the don, Bachcha Yadav (Mukesh Tiwari), kills 2 local rowdies and claims them as an encounter. Ajay is not convinced, and starts putting pressure on him, this pressure makes him more resistant to the orders of the don.
Eventually, Bachcha Yadav tries to get the son of the don arrested, and then, in a move that is quite chilling, when two henchmen of the don are arrested, the police force, in the confines of the police station, rupture the eyes of the men and then pour acid on the eyes. This is the mark of the movie. Battery acid (equal to the cleaning powers of holy water of the Ganga (gangajal)), will cure the society of such criminals. It may sound good for punishing criminals for their crimes through such means, but mob or vigilante action is never good for society.
The Bachcha Yadav is likked by Sadhu Yadav (son of the don), and all hell breaks loose. The true power of the police is depicted, as they will turn the district upside down to find the killer, and even a hardened criminal knows that once he is in the police's hands, there is not going to be any mercy. And this is what happens, when Sadhu Yadav is caught before being able to file for anticipatory bail and taken to police remand room, and regularly thrashed.
Hi father is distraught, and uses the politician (the state home minister) to get Ajay out of the picture so that bail can be given. Bail is given, and Sadhu is finally out of jail, and promptly proceeds to try and force a wedding with his loved one (who detests him), with the police standing by mutely. At this point, the girl commits suicide, and a mob starts chasing the son and father and corners them. At this, the cry of gangajal rents the air, and everybody knows that they are actually asking for battery acid so that the father and son can be dealt with then and there. Ajay intervenes, admonishing the crowd for trying to usurp the power of the justice system and for equating holy water with battery acid.
This was a very powerful movie, and if such things happen in real life a lot in the interiors, you can almost start to realize why groups like the maoists and naxalites thrive. Of why people can be influenced to not contact the police, anyhow knowing that the police is equally involved.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Zanjeer: The dawn of a new star

For Amitabh Bachchan, Zanjeer was not his first movie. But it was a landmark movie, the movie that set Amitabh as the angry young man, as the movie that laid the foundation of a career that reached tremendous heights. Before Zanjeer, Amitabh had done a few films such as Reshma and Shera, Anand, Namak Haram, etc. His depiction in these movies was not very positive, and even in Anand, he played the sober self to Rajesh Khanna's chirpy yet doomed character.
Then came Zanjeer. Released in 1973, those were turbulent times in India. Indira Gandhi had started losing her sheen gained after the Bangladesh War of 1971, and society was starting to feel the angst of a general decline in the country. This was a perfect time for such a film and character to catch on, and it really did, released by Prakash Mehra.
The film by itself was a very unglamorous movie, set in the theme of a revenge motif that ran throughout the movie. Taking revenge after a number of years was not a very common movie concept, and the concept of a chain (worn in the hand of the killer) completing the circle inside the movie (death, growing up, and revenge) was a very dramatic concept. Even the romance in the movie (between Amitabh and Jaya) is unlike most romances, without a flair in it. The movie is primarily remembered for the way that Amitabh essays the role of a police office, lean and brooding, and suddenly bursting into action.
The story is again not very complicated: As a child, Amitabh witnessed the murder of his parents, and all he witnessed was the hand of the criminal, with a chain hanging on the hand. When he grows up, he becomes a policeman, ready to punish all offenders for their crimes with an iron hand. He is haunted by his parents murder, an unhealed wound on his mind.
He bumps into Ajit (his parents murderer), who is a crook whom Amitabh wants to catch. Over the storyline of the film, he finds an incredible friend (Pran) who is a local badman until beaten by Amitabh in his own area, and the love of his life, Jaya who is a street-wise gypsy girl. He eventually discovers that Ajit is the killer of his parents, and is able to get his revenge.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eklavya - a taut view of a revenge drama

I just sat through a morning show of Eklavya. A pretty interesting movie, pretty taut. And it had only one song, and that too a short song. The last movie based in Rajasthan that I watched was Paheli, which had too many song and dance sequences; in that respect, the time that I spent watching Eklavya was well spent.

Now I am an amateur student of cinema. What that means is that I have not done any kind of studies about the art of cinema, so if I get over-enthusiastic about some part of the movie, keep in mind that this is from an amateur mind. The movie is pretty short, it started at 11:58, and including a short break, ended at 1:45. Not more than 1 hour 45 minutes long.

Now about the movie itself. It is about the palace guard, who is responsible for the safety of the 'rana' (essentially the prince of old, and now in a democratic India, more of an important personality held in awe and respect by the surrounding people). This protection job has been in the family for nine generations, and they hold this job in great respect and tradition. The current holder of this position is 'Eklavya' (Amitabh Bachchan) who is getting old, and unable to see properly in strong light, but who has excellent hearing. He is dedicated to the whims and fancies of the rana (Boman Irani).
He is actually more devoted to the family than you would care to think, being responsible for fathering the heir to the line when the rana is unable to do his duty. The rana does not discover this until the queen is on her deathbed, at which point he gets incredibly jealous and angry.

It is at this time that the whole sequence starts to spin-up. The movie pulls in the son (Saif Ali Khan is considered the son of the rana and in reality of Eklavya), and the repressed and greedy brother and nephew of the rana (Jackie Shroff and Jimmy Shergill, respectively, in short roles).
There are a whole lot of conspiracies ongoing, finally resulting in the deaths of the rana and then his brother and nephew. Vidya Balan plays the role of Saif Ali Khan's love interest, but one gets the feeling that such roles are not going to do anything for her, since she really does not play a significant role.

The movie essentially revolves around the characters of Eklavya and Yash (Saif), but since the movie is so short, there just does not seem enough time for the characters to develop. For example, a bit more about Jackie Shroff in the movie would have been helpful, since that would have helped in depicting his character in more detail. In addition, Sanjay Dutt plays the role of a DSP (although I think in the scenario, an inspector role would have been better). The way his role is shown somehow does not depict a DSP. His role is essentially that of a person who made his way up from rags, and who does not forgive the rana for the way he and his ancestors have mis-treated the untouchables.

Aside from all this, I loved the cinematography. The shots were incredible, in fact, if for some of them, I could get still posters, I would love to have them and put them up on my wall. The scene with Amitabh showing off his knife throwing prowess was great, but it ended up feeling a bit stretched at the end. Again, the scene with the train and the camels and guns was good, but somehow, it did not have the proper tautness in the scene. That part just did not seem slick enough. But if the trend is towards making such a slick movie, then I am all for it.
Overall, a good movie, and I would certainly see it again (as my wife did, since she was watching it for a second time). Buying the DVD later may just happen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Golmaal - The Amol Palekar one

Hindi cinema has a number of movies about identical twins and more (most hilariously in Angoor, but also there in Chaalbaaz, Seeta aur Geeta, Kishan Kanhaiya, Judwa, and not so good (triples) in Dilip Kumar's Bairaag and Amitabh's Mahaan). The Golmaal made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee did not have doubles, but showed the problems that can occur when you are forced to manufacture a double. This movie is a laugh riot, I have not found a singler person till now who did not like this movie. The scenes look natural, not contrived (although the sequences including bigger stars was really not necessary). The movie was released in 1979 and held its own among the various action movies that were popular in that era.
Golmaal is the story of Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt. Ram Prasad Sharma (Amol Palekar) stays with his sister. He is freshly minted accountant and one day his uncle advises him to try for a job in Utpal Dutt's company. With a warning to appear simple, not show any knowledge of sports or any subject other than his own (accounting) since Utpal Dutt does not like youngsters focusing on things other than their main work, Amol Palekar reaches the interview, dressed simply and with a moustache (very important for Utpal Dutt). He gets the job and all goes well till the time he wants to attend a hockey match (after making some other excuse).
Coincidentally, Utpal Dutt is also there at the hockey match and spots Amol Palekar, and life changes for him after that. Confronted at the office, he spins a story about his identical younger brother (without a moustache) called Lucky (Lakshman Prasad Sharma), totally opposite in values. Utpal Dutt unexpectedly engages Lucky as a music teacher for his daughter (Bindiya Goswami) who falls in love with him. His moustache had to be sacrified long back, and now he sports a false mush whenever he is in office. He also has to invent a mother, and then scrambles to get one when Utpal Dutt wants to visit. So Dina Pathak comes on the scene.
Things are going on with humour, and then start moving to a conclusion. Bindiya tells her father that she loves Laxman, and Utpall Dutt promptly refuses to entertain any such request. He tries to push Ram Prasad towards her, and she cannot stand him, till the time he reveals his true identity to her.
Just after, Ram Prasad's moustache slips and Utpall Dutt confronts him with jail, and thus starts a wild chase (another comedy sequence with Keshto Mukherjee is included). Finally everything is revealed and all's well that ends well.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron: A comedy classic

The first time I saw this movie was immediately when it was released, and it struck a deep chord in me that time itself. I was very impressed, partly because there were so many scenes in the film when I could not stop laughing. At the end of the movie, the feeling was that I really would not mind seeing it again; and I have seen it again many times since then. The movie was made in 1983 by Kundan Shah, and was a low budget movie, costing not more than 10 lakhs, it had numeous characters, but really did not require any extravagant scenes or big sets or big stars.
Starring a host of comedy stars, Naseeruddin Shah (not a comedy star), Ravi Baswani, Satish Shah, Pankaj Kapoor, Om Puri, and so on, one never got an impression that there were too many characters in the plot. In addition, the story about a murder and incidents related to that was treated in a manner that was extremely comic. Even now, now too many people will remember the story, but they will remember incidents such as 'thoda khao, thoda pheko', and the Mahabharta scene in a very different light.
Story: Naseeruddin and Ravi are two photographers, pretty bumbling ones, as you would expect in a comedy. They get an assignment from the editor, Shobha of an activist magazine Khabardar. As a part of this, they find out that one of the biggest builders in Bombay, Taneja is trying to get Municipal Commissioner D'Mello (Satish Shah) to favour him by paying money, but D'Mello takes money from Ahuja (Om Puri). Taneja murders D'Mello, and how do they find this ? This is from a chance photograph, enlarged.
They try to locate the body, but it disappears. There is then a merry go around around the corpse, and that forms the rest of the movie. There are many comic scenes, with the corpse in a coffin being chased on the road (the coffin is on wheels), Ahuja being drunk and not recognizing D'Mello as a corpse, or the Mahabharta scene. That scene is a killer, and very very entertaining.
This movie is worth watching, and keeping.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Pure entertainment: Mr. India (1987)

Mr. India was a hindi movie that was extremely entertaining. Without getting too much into detail in the messaging (patriotic, anti-corruption, etc) of the movie, the movie was a good misture of action, romance, humour and general thrills. There was some tragedy, but the overall effect was good. It touched the right spirit of caring for poor people, anti-corruption, anti-crime, and a common man being able to beat the criminals.
The movie was released in 1987, at a time when Anil Kapoor and Sridevi were at their prime, and this movie was a grand success, giving a good boost to their careers. The main starts of the movie were Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Satish Kaushik, and the late Amrish Puri (his character, Mogambo, became very famous). Music of the film is available at this link.
Storyline: Anil Kapoor runs an orphanage type of home where a lot of orphaned children live along with Satish Kaushik (called 'calendar'). He is perennialy hard-pressed for cash, and wants to get somebody to take a room on rent. When he goes to advertise for his room, he meets Sridevi by accident in the newspaper office. She is a reporter who works for Anu Kapoor (in a comic role, always getting wrong numbers). She agrees to take a room when she learns from him that he has no children (later realizing that he had a number of children in the house).
Mogambo wants to spread panic in the streets, and then decimate the military and rule India. As a part of this, he goes on for robbery and terror. In the meantime, Anil Kapoor learns of a watch that gives the property of invisibility (except in red light). He starts using this property to catch the criminals, and hurt the operations of Mogambo. No one knows who he is, except that Sridevi becomes closer to him in his role as the invisible Mr. India. There is even a memorable wet saree song related to this romance 'Kate nahin katti ..'
Mogambo wants the house, and wants the watch. He believes that Mr. India is very caring about these children, and so kidnaps all of them. Anil Kapoor lands up in his den, and after some major fights, manages to destroy Mogambo and his lair, and escape from there. All is well that ends well.