Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam - You WILL Want All The Clothes

You have probably begun to notice that a principal element of most Bollywood movies is the Eye Candy factor.

As humans, we are naturally drawn to beauty - in art, in nature, everywhere, and all those millennia of practice are evident in every South Asian art form, from the most ancient to the newest.

In fact, the newest, it can be argued, are basically vessels to contain those ancient forms.

That's how it is possible for you, sitting somewhere in Peoria, to experience, within the course of one day, everything from Bengali architecture to Rajasthan embroidery and back again, with a side trip down the lane of Tamil floral arrangements, whether you choose to travel by movie, website photo gallery, or satellite TV.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam may not be a masterpiece of cinema, but it is unquestionably packs more concentrated Apparel, Accessory and Interior Decor Envy per frame than many of the classics the serious film critics will insist you should see - and which you should, and when you are ready, you will do so without being told to by me.

In the meantime, however, I will tell you to revel, no - wallow - in the sheer visual delight that is HDDCS.

The story is a relatively simple one, and if you've been engaging in any independent study at all, you'll also recognize the plot as a Bollywood favorite: Boy meets Girl, they fall in love, Girl's family insists she marry somebody else (who has also conveniently fallen in love with her at first sight).

Intermission. (Bathroom. Replenish snacks. Re-arrange pillowage).

Which Boy will Girl choose? Will she stick by tradition, and go for the dude Daddy said, or will she Make a Statement and follow her heart like an Independent Woman of Modern Today?

That's HDDCS in a nutshell.

The twist is, Boy, in this case is a half-Italian, half-Indian guy (played by Salman Khan, widely considered to be an Official Cute Boy) who has come to Rajasthan to study with Girl's father, who is a famous guru of singing. Girl is played by Aishwarya Rai, who you may recall, won the Miss World pageant back in 1994, and has since then become a Bollywood superstar, and is still frequently referred to as The Most Beautiful Woman In The World.

It is not necessary for you to agree with popular opinion about the hotness or lack of it of the stars in order to enjoy the clothes and jewelry in which she (and all the rest of the cast) are drenched by the HDDCS costume designer.

I mention it only to emphasize that knocking you senseless with unrelenting beauty was the clear intent of the movie - we can assume that the director believes he is a Cute Boy, and she is The Most Beautiful Woman In The World, but as you will see, it really doesn't matter. You could put these clothes on Danny DeVito, or hang them out on a piece of string hung between two trees, and lay the jewelry out on the bare sand of the desert without losing a scrap of beauty, or making you want them all any less.

Advanced Placement Note: More sophisticated BollyViewers, which means pretty much everybody in South Asia, are not going to have such a simplistic and dismissive view of the plot, since unlike you, they've seen 79 gazillion variations and interpretations of that theme since their first conscious memory.

I am not going to get into discussion of didactic or message or debates about "regressiveness," because Bollywood for Dummies is all about the Unabashedly Superficial Enjoyment View, but it is also about proceeding at your own pace, so if your own pace has you googling around, you will find some very lively and thought-provoking discussions about HDDCS, even by people who decry it for being a Piece o' Fluff as vigorously as I appreciate it as a Treasure Trove of Visual Delights Piece o' Fluff.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Delhi-6 - A Vicarious Adventure In Culture Shock!

If you've followed my recommendations, in the recommended sequence, you've now seen Mother India, HAHK, HSSK, and Parineeta, in that order. Maybe you've also seen one or more of the major crossover films, like Lagaan, Slumdog Millionaire, etc.'s

Now that you've gotten your feet wet, lets wade out a few wavelets and enjoy a special treat!

Delhi-6 s a terrific movie for Bollywood newcomers, especially western ones. Actually, it's a terrific movie for anybody, because it's - well, a really good movie.

But western-hailing Bollyn00bz will get a particular kick out of it, because it's about a guy born and brought up in the US, who goes to India for the first time, and a whole lot of stuff, including hilarity, ensues.

When Roshan accompanies his ailing and elderly grandmother back to her native Delhi, his Indian ethnicity provides absolutely zero cushion for the tsunami of culture shock. If anything, it makes it worse, because it seems that people expect him to know and understand things that he just plain doesn't!

What makes his experience any different from that of the average Anglo-Merican tourist is that instead of staying in a hotel that caters to western visitors, and going places and seeing things that are found in guidebooks and itineraries prepared by travel agents, Roshan goes directly from the airport to his grandmother's - and his - ancestral home.

Instead of tour guides and hospitality industry staff specially trained to communicate and interact with monolingual US English speakers who are barely aware that India is in Asia, who desire and expect everything to be just like it is in the US, but with different scenery, the people around Roshan are just regular people who live in Delhi - his grandmother's neighbors, relatives he's never met before, people who knew his father.

His Hindi is sketchy, and his familiarity with everyday cultural realities is even sketchier.

In short, despite his ethnic Indian-ness, Roshan makes a most creditable, accessible, and universally identifiable-with "Mikey Sue" for anybody of any gender from anywhere.

Another thing that makes Delhi-6 an excellent choice for your 5th step up the ladder of Bollywood Awareness is that it was made in 2009.

The most recent of your previously-assigned movies, Parineeta, was made in 2005, and let's face it - if you're a younger hiker starting out on the Bollywood trail, 2005 was a long time ago!

In addition, you'll notice that the shape, the ambience, of Delhi-6 as a movie is more familiar, in very noticeable and perceptible but undefinable ways.

While the Bollymovies you've seen, especially HAHK and HSSH, are ubabashed musicals that may have felt almost operatic at times, Delhi-6 will feel more like what you may think of as a "regular" movie.

There is of course some song and dance - few South Asian movies have none at all - but their role is more condiment than main dish.

And, like most South Asian movies, it is longer than the average Hollywood product - about 2 hours & 20 minutes - but well short of epic length.

So Delhi-6 is your number 5, and by now you know the drill:

Turn off the phone, arrange those pillows, pile up the snackage, get on that plane with Rohan, and off you go to India!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Parineeta - Great Moments In Cinema Await You!

The 2005 version of Parineeta is one of my all time favorite movies!

There are movies that make us laugh, some that make us cry, and some that make us roll our eyes and groan, but only Bollwood can make us do all of those things simultaneously for two (usually closer to three) hours solid.

Parineeta will make you do all those things and do them hard.

I was mysteriously captivated, held rapt, when I first saw it, and subsequent viewings have only intensified this.

It has become my go-to mood elevator, right up there with the first season of The Beverly Hillbillies!

Sooo many scenes are indelibly and eternally etched into my neural pathways -

Oh! Oh! Saif Ali Khan in his wife-beater, embracing his Inner Elvis with that lip-dangled cigarette and precious little product-driven hair pouf!

Great Moment in Cinema!

Anyone who has not seen Parineeta should rectify that sad circumstance immediately, if only for that image alone!

It does not matter whether you know who Saif Ali Khan is or not.

But I think my favorite part is the legendary Miss Rita Languly bestowing the gift of Dhinak Dhinak Tha upon earth residents!

The songs in this movie have a staying power comparable to Gorilla Glue.

This can be a very good thing, as in Dhinak Dhinak Tha, or it can be a most disturbing thing, as in Piya Bole, and its coordinating leitmotif.

It is an extreme situation. Even thinking of Parineeta, as I am doing now, invariably results in that adjective-defying ditty embedding itself firmly in my head for hours, days. Yes, weeks have happened.

Oh! The family all piled up on the bed playing cards - I loved Sanjay Dutt in this! He even kept a straight face during that whole semi-soliloquoy at the end.

And Oh, the End! Chill, I'm not going to spoil it. To do so would be to deprive future viewers of the cardio-vascular benefit of hearty laughter. I can state with confidence that Parineeta taught me the true meaning of the phrase "hilarity ensues."

Special Features:

Fun trivialett: We are told that the year is 1962 but the "newest Elivis record" BFF homie dude brings into Shenkar's bedroom has cover art of White Jumpsuit Fat Elvis, who was not invented until the 70s.

Fun head-bop with the culture club: Roughly 25% of the scenes involve somebody or other just waltzing into Shenkar's bedroom, whether he is awake, asleep, no knocking, no yoo-hoo, no nothing. Pradeep Sarkar captures perfectly that exhilarating cultural feature of privacy as a file not found, so popular in both subcontinents and beyond.

Advanced Placement Note: Parineeta is based on a novella (meaning short novel, not to be confused with the Spanish novela, or soap opera) written in 1914 by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay (aka Sharat Chandra Chatterji), a famous Bengali author. Noble saintly women consumed by selfless love for a men who descended way on past flawed and into the nasty territory of sorry-assness were among his favorite tropes. The 2005 version discussed here is the 4th film adaptation of Parineeta.

Hum Saath Saath Hain The Happiest Family EVER on Steroids!

Hum Saath Saath Hain is Hum Aapke Hain Koun on steroids.

Auteur Sooraj R. Barjatya lavishes upon us another even more perfect, happy, (and fabulously wealthy) family! This one isn't just perfect, it's Super-Perfect!

Ram Kishen and his wife Mamta have not one, not two, but three, count 'em three (3) sons!

One's a business whiz with a heart of gold, one looks sad whenever he sees anyone poor or suffering, and spends his spare time reading about Mother Teresa, and a Peter Pan one, all fun and innocent who has an alarm clock shaped like a dancing pink hippo. And a beautiful daughter! Actually, the whole family is beautiful.

They are, as noted, fabulously rich like their Hum Aapke Hain Koun counterparts, and like them, they always wear beautiful clothes, and since this is Bollywood, of course they can all sing and dance, and burst into frequent choreographed production numbers, most with religious overtones, because they are also all joyously devout, and every moment of their lives is spent expressing their love for each other and sublime happiness.

Important Viewing Note: You will notice that this movie not only features a lot of the same actors you saw in HAHK, but to your bemused surprise, quite a few of them are playing pretty much the same roles. And it's a BIG cast - even for a Bollywood family love extravaganza. (Though alas, this one doesn't have a fluffy white pupdog).

For that reason, it is best not to spend too much time trying to figure out all the various relationships and who's who - not only because there are so many of them, but because the girls are all styled to resemble each other - just like The Hills and many other US shows, only instead of long blond hair, smoky eyes and a pound of clear lip gloss, the Bollywood Look is often characterized by long dark hair, more definite lip color, and a pound of eyeliner and another pound of lashes.

Also, if you are not familiar with eastern dress, it may take some time before you can perceive and process distinct differences in detail without pausing specifically for that purpose. Films like HAHK and HSSH tend to be such sumptuous visual banquets that the unaccustomed eye darts around wildly - there is just a lot more to look at than you may be used to!

Not to mention Sooraj's penchant for having the principal family under intense and unrelenting Visiting Friend Siege. As one reviewer (who didn't like the movie so much) snarked, "don't any of those people have homes of their own?"

But never mind the haters. You are not watching this for purposes of profound artistic analysis anyway. You are just here to enjoy a never-ending parade of fantabulousness, get a basic grip on some of those Bollywood Basics in a painless, enjoyable way.

So - where were we? Oh yeah. Each son has a beautiful girlfriend, even the business whiz who also has a bad arm, but that's OK because his beautiful girlfriend, who of course he was ready to renounce, so as not to saddle her for life with a husband with a bad arm, loves him anyway, and the noble, kindly father has promised his wife that as soon as all 3 sons are married he will retire. Just as the other 2 sons are about to announce their engagements, though, a Problem clouds the family's blissful sky.

I won't try to explain the Problem, because it would involve going into a whole bunch of cultural stuff, but basically it has to do with some of the family's in-laws, and some busybody friends of the saintly-but-still beautiful mother of the family poisoning her mind with worries, and next thing you know -

Whoomp! There it is! Let the violins soar!

The main reasons for the family's epic happiness is not their vast and untold wealth, oh No! - but that they all live together, in one house (well, OK, one huge sprawling mansion) and are all going to continue living together all the sons with their wives, all their lives, and including any and all prodigy that may issue forth in the event that any of them dance around trees, etc, and the Problem that comes up causes them to cease this practice.

So naturally that destroys everyone's perfect happiness.

Which is why there is no point trying to explain it, because unless you happen to define perfect happiness as spending your life living in the same house with your parents and 20 or so other relatives, it won't make much sense.

See, her sophisticated late-sleeping city friends persuade her that if the father makes the oldest son the head of his huge conglomerate, that he may kick the other two brothers out, like what happened in the daughter's husband's family.

It's important that these are wicked city women because the Epically Perfect Family are of course all simple village folk at heart, and the only reason that the old dude started a huge conglomerate in the first place was to help his fellow simple village folk, who unlike him, weren't born with a stately ancestral estate and the wherewithal to start a huge conglomerate. Noblesse oblige. As one of his perpetually visiting friends says of Ram Kishen "His entire life is exemplary!"

Anyway, of course everything gets resolved in the end, and the family gets to stay united, but the plot isn't why you should see this movie.

Unless you have a whole closetful of cultural hooks to hang it all on, the plot will not make much sense, and as previously noted you will probably not even be able to keep up with the ways the characters are related, even though they sing whole songs about this trying to make it easier for you.

Unlike Mother India, which I very plainly told you to watch first, HSSH is unlikely to win a spot on anybody's list of Seriously Greatest Cinematic Art Ever Produced By Earth Residents.

You should see it because it is a panoply of delightful entertainment of every flavor imaginable, and a few you probably haven't imagined, all positively dripping with Xtra Xtra Cheese.

Yet another good reason to watch the movie is because every frame contains such beautiful clothing. It's set in Rajasthan, so we would expect nothing less.

There are even a few shots of ordinary people, and they are also wearing unspeakably beautiful clothes, just to show you that it really is Rajasthan.

Hum Aapke Hain Koun - The Happiest Family EVER

Now that you've had your ticket punched by watching Mother India, you are hereby Officially Qualified to snack up, arrange your pillows, and settle in for a real treat.

Hum Aapke Hain Koun is a ginormous and colorful happy family spectacular, and probably the only movie in the history of all cinema to feature a 20-minute production number about hiding a pair of shoes.

OK, maybe 20 minutes is an exaggeration, and the shoes in question belonged to a bridegroom, and there is a wedding custom that involves hiding his shoes, and because Madhury Dixit is a joy to watch.

I guess you'll want some plotage. Well, it's a happy, loving, fabulously wealthy family who live in a beautiful home and always dress in beautiful clothes while singing and dancing about how much they love each other, how much they love their religious rituals (it's a happy, loving, fabulously wealthy and devout family). The eldest son is getting married, the younger son has fallen in love, the house is always full of laughter and song and love and friends and choreography.

But the best way to enjoy this movie is to let it be your very own magic carpet. Just sit on it and let it take you into this resplendent world of idealized and stylized exuberance.

There is only one Tragic Occurrence, so incongruously plopped in the middle of I lost count of how many hours of enchanting nonsense that you can just get lost in the sheer absurdity of it.

There's lots and lots of Madhury Dixit to marvel at, and if you're an Old School telenovela fan, you'll get a big kick out of how much Reema Lagoo is the spitting image of Maria Ruffo! Oh, and there's a fluffy white pupdog, too!

A note on movie titles: Unless you are a linguistics nut, don't knock yourself out trying to remember titles, or translate them. It is customary to abbreviate them, so Hum Aapke Hain Koun will be referred to as HAHK more often than not, even by lifetime Hindi speakers.

The most practical thing to do is make yourself a simple text file, and copy and paste the titles, along with any notes you want to make, like an IMDB or Wikipedia link, or a link to a review of it, whatever. If you are a nerd, you could make it a web page. The nuts and bolts don't matter, all you need is something that makes sense to you that will help you keep track of which ones you've seen and whatever else works for you.

Bollywood and You: The Time Has Come

I'm going to start out with the assumption that have never seen a movie made in South Asia, and have no idea why you should even consider such a thing.

Some perspective may help. A smoosh over 1 in 5 people on our planet lives there. Add to that the millions who have migrated elsewhere over the years, their descendants, and in turn their families and friends, and we are getting close to HALF of earth residents having some degree of close cultural tie to the South Asian subcontinent.

Pause to let the sheer immensity of that sink in, so you won't be too shocked to learn this:

More movies are made in South Asia than anywhere else on earth. Yes, even the US. In fact, you could add all movies made everywhere BUT South Asia, and pile them up, and South Asia would still win.**

What this means to your life is this: Whether you have ever seen a Bollywood** movie or not, wherever you go, chances are that the person standing next to you, regardless of ethnicity or national origin, watches them on a pretty regular basis and Shahrukh Khan's face is to them as instantly recognizable as Rob Pattinson's is to you.

So yeah, you're missing out on a big ol' chunk o' cultural literacy that is only going to go up in hugeness.

I want to help you rectify this unfortunate situation.

Other people want to help you, too. While I have unabashedly declared this blog to be a Safe Haven of Totally Superficial and Unadulterated Appreciation of Sheer Absurdity, Bollywhat? is, in addition to and beyond being intended especially for Bollywood n00bz, a great and esteemed resource, and has been nice enough to make you a splendid introductory FAQ, which has just about everything I would have put in a FAQ.

The only really important things they left out are

1) Everyone in South Asia bursts into song and dance about every 20 minutes for no apparent reason. (And when you think about it, shouldn't we all?)

2) Until very recently, children were born as a result of a man and a woman dancing around a tree.

Aha! You are excited about this now, aren't you?

Let's get you ready. Good Bollyviewing habits are different from western ones.

Because movies play such an important role in community and cultural life, South Asian movies tend to be longer than their western counterparts. There will almost always be an intermission. That long, yes.

Think of people living in a very small town, where not a lot happens. No Cold Play concerts or Disneyland, no money to go to Vegas or Cabo or Nordstrom's. The movie theatre is about it, so movies are a Big Deal, and people expect a good long chunk of entertainment for their money.

So when you settle in for your Bollywood evening, plan accordingly, because we do mean the whole evening. Lay in extra snacks, and schedule essential tasks like going to the bathroom or post-snack flossing for the intermission. Unless you want to pause, and you so won't want to.

Of course, since you're at home, you get to decide when the intermission happens and how long it lasts, but the producers will have already provided you with a conveniently located one, right in the middle of the movie - so that's when you can pause, and go pack lunches, or fix more snacks, take a shower, get the clothes out of the dryer, and then come back and enjoy the thrilling conclusion.

If you'd rather, or for scheduling reasons you just need to, think of it like a 2-part miniseries, and watch it on two successive nights, but because the intermission tends to come at a very exciting and cliffhanging part, you will probably not want to go to bed and wait through all the next day before finding out what happens. So to avoid staying up way later than you meant to, my advice is to just give in, and give over that whole night to the movie, and start your evening very early.

The first movie you should see is Mother India (1957). Often referred to as South Asia's "Gone With The Wind," the only things the two films have in common is that both are mega-huge epically epicalicious epics, each one is, in its own way, a cinematic masterpiece, and both are movies that every earth resident should see at least once. Any list of Best Movies Ever Made worth its salt will contain Mother India, and the more credible ones will have it somewhere near the top.

It's old, but it will give you a good foundation to build on.

What's it about? Everything. Life. It tells one woman's story and it tells every woman's story, and every man's as well. It tells a little bitty fraction-of-an-eyeblink part of India's multi-millennia MegaStory. Real talk, there are no words that can even come close to doing it justice. Just watch it.

If Mother India, or indeed even the prospect of Mother India, leaves you not only trembling with awe at its Greatness, but also reeling from culture shock, take a step back and watch a popular "crossover" movie or several, like "Lagaan," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Monsoon Wedding" or "Mississippi Masala."

That will give you a chance to catch your breath, then you can plunge back in the pool.

My contribution will be tell a little bit about a few movies that I really like, as well as some that I don't.

Maybe you will want to try one or more of those. You may have a completely different opinion, which will be a very good sign, because talking about movies - Bollywood or Anywood - is just as much fun as watching them!

And just as is the case with Hollywood movies, 5 million people can have 5 million different things to say about one movie!

My personal recommendation for your first post-Mother India selections would be Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath Saath Hain, and you should watch them in that order.


This blog is intended as the most elementary Introductory Aid to Superficial Movie Enjoyment for people who know absolutely nothing about South Asian cinema, but who have enough basic common sense to realize that the time has come to change that, albeit slightly.

What will NOT be found here are erudite debates of fifth versus fourth generation, exposition on even the slightest allusion in this song or that to ancient Urdu couplets, treatises on historical linguistics, nor anything remotely lofty or scholarly.

The internets teem with websites about those things, many of them excellent august resources of knowledge and wisdom, and when and if your appreciation of movies made in South Asia should someday bloom, at its own pace, into such fullness that desires for all that erudition and exposition are awakened, those websites will find you.

This particular blog is guaranteed 100% knowledge and wisdom-free.

Advanced Placement Note: In that spirit, for the sake of convenience, at least in this infant stage of bloghood, "Bollywood" is used as an umbrella term under which also huddle Lolly/Kolly/Molly/Tolly ella ella ella woods.

People who do not yet yet know about any of the woods, anyway will discover and learn all about them, each in his or her own good time, and at some point, I will make a special post about this topic.