Lagaan (2001): At 12, Still a Benchmark, Still Loads of Fun

12 years this day. As I've written here before, and as we all well know, Lagaan also marked a turning point for Hindi cinema. A well-crafted, critically-acclaimed film that could serve the function of a popular movie (and earn box office collections like one) wasn't necessarily perceived as a viable option. Lagaan changed that. This change is also mentioned in this interesting two-episode BBC Documentary series, "Bollywood Breaking Barriers."


The Lagaan post archive is available here, and via the permanent banner in the sidebar (to the right).

Last month marked 100 years since the first Indian feature film was released. That was the subject of a great, fun film Harishchandrachi Factory, discussed here.

Hope you are all well and enjoying your movies!

Best wishes and love always.

tBF

Guest Post: Talaash (2012) Film Review

I am very pleased to have my good friend Caitlin write this review. 'The Mighty Mango' -- as she is known at the Bollywood Queens blog to which she is a frequent contributor -- lives in Florida, holds degrees in literature and journalism, and is a newspaper copy editor and page designer for a rather well known news media outlet in the state. You might recall her fine contribution to Lagaan Week in this wonderful post. Thank you Caitlin!

If you've seen Talaash, what did you think? Liked it? Loved it? Didn't like it? What's *your* verdict? (If you've written about it, please share the link in a comment below.) 

And since December is upon us, here's wishing you and your families the very best. Merry Christmas and happy holidays! God bless.


I usually stay out of the buzz around upcoming movies because I like to come in with a mostly clean slate. But what I did see of the leadup to Talaash was lots of speculation about the plot because, it being a mystery and all, it was somewhat secretive. I usually like to think it’s a good sign when things are kept under wraps — meaning there might be a big twist. But I’m not so sure it worked out well in this case, though I can see why not knowing details is important in watching this film. So I’m going to try my best to talk about it without ruining anything.

I can tell you this: Surjan “Suri” Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) is a police inspector investigating the death of a young film star who inexplicably swerved on an empty street and crashed into the ocean. Suri’s not without his own problems — he and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukherjee), are grieving and at odds after the death of their young son — but the case opens up a whole web of blackmail and deaths linked to powerful men mixed with pimps and prostitutes. Including the mysterious Rosie (Kareena Kapoor), who flits around the narrative trying to help Suri with the case when she feels like it and trying to seduce him when she doesn’t.

I’ll take a minute to say that Aamir’s performance is entirely top notch. It’s raw and gripping and moving in all of the right places. Brooding, sleepless and emotionally tortured are hardly the qualities you’d expect from a hero, but Aamir is able to draw you into them. Rani Mukherjee is also stellar, but she ends up mostly as a tangent to the main plot, which to me was a great waste of an amazing actress who gives a brilliant portrayal of a broken wife and mother. She’s hardly the most beautiful character, always looking like she’s hardly slept and slightly out of her mind, but Rani plays Roshni just like she looks: raw.

On the other hand, you have an always overglammed Kareena Kapoor playing a mysterious prostitute. And not very well at that. I tired of her very quickly and think she might have done a better job with the role if all she had to do was be a frivolous streetwalker.

Another performer here who should not go unmentioned simply because he’s not one of that Big 3: Nawazuddin Siddiqui. I loved him in Patang earlier this year, but for Talaash, he turned supporting character Tehmur — pimp Shashi’s lackey, who is partly crippled and kicked around by everyone — into so much more than he probably would have been otherwise.

But if the performances are mostly stellar, the rest of the film is something of a mixed bag.

Talaash is dark. Make no mistake about that. In a very overarching way, the film is about death and people messing with death — and /* Spoiler Alert Roshni’s communicating with her dead son (through a very, very creepy neighbor, I might add) does not sit well with me. End Spoiler Alert */ But stepping away from that, the film continues to carry a dark tone. It’s primarily set in a rather seedy red light district. There are lots of dark emotions and a side of violence. Somehow the majority of actions seems to take place at night.

But in some ways, the dark tone is overdone. The plot doesn’t seem to bear out the level of darkness that the top-notch editing and cinematography provide. For all of the blackmail and malice that stems from the blackmail, the reasons behind it aren’t nearly as dark. Instead, it all comes back to desperation and poor decisions. There’s no instigating evil.

And I won’t spoil it for anyone, but the “twist” of the movie that everyone kept warning that I’d be spoiled on was really not so remarkable or suspenseful and certainly not unique. I had it figured out way before intermission, though I was hoping I was wrong and it wasn’t that simple. The “twist” and its resolution are a little too deus ex machina for me, but, well, without the deus. (In Latin-based literary terms, deus ex machina literally means “God from machine,” figuratively meaning that a resolution is engineered from the inexplicable supernatural, usually without warning.)

And generally thrillers like this want to get you thinking, but once my mind got turning on this one, it couldn’t stop churning out supposed plot elements that are picked up but then ignored.

An officer at the beginning alludes to other unexplained deaths that have happened in the same way as the film star’s, in the same place. Who are the others that have died on the road? How and why did they die if they weren’t linked to what actually killed the film star there? /* Spoiler Alert And by the end of the film, Suri’s superiors have some doubt in his sanity, but for some reason, they want to keep him on — why? And where did the pimp Shashi disappear to before he was found killed? Even worse — who the hell killed him?!
End Spoiler Alert */

The ending also leaves lack of resolution on too many points for my liking.

Does Suri leave the police force? Is he crazy? How does Roshni deal with what her husband has been through — does he even tell her what happened?

But the ending does leave the film’s emotional rollercoaster wrapped up. And maybe that’s what the point was. So if you consider plot tangential to the film and treat emotion as the centerpiece, darkness and all, then the film is fantastic. But if you’re actually looking for a thrilling plot that keeps you thinking and guessing, Talaash leaves something to be desired.


A Yash Chopra Romance (1932 - 2012)


Sad, sad news today of Yash Chopra's passing, another in a series of recent deaths of some of Bollywood's most respected elders. Incredibly sad.

We all know about his movies. (Filmography at this IMDb link.) Deewaar (1975) and Naya Daur (1957), for which he served as director and assistant director respectively, are by far my favorites. From a higher-level view, just think about his influence in giving rise to the term 'Bollywood' and the perceptions attached to the term. 

Also, can we go back to calling the upcoming Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), A Yash Chopra Romance? Surely, his record in film was nothing short of a romance no matter how we look at it.


Ek Tha Tiger (2012): 10 Spoiler-Free Observations


Let's begin with an excerpt from my review of Bodyguard (2011) around this time last year:

I’ll have to use discussion on Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010) as a lead into this brief discussion on Salman Khan’s latest movie and, as box office collections are illustrating, perhaps greatest in at least some respects. ... I am admittedly biased in favor of Salman, but he’s bringing the fun back into core, made-for-cinema Bollywood, and that cannot be a bad thing, can it?!

We're a week in, and the overwhelming box office success of this year's Salman starrer -- Ek Tha Tiger (There was a Tiger) -- is well-documented by now.  The streak is alive and well. For our 2012 update on Salmanisms (coining the term here, folks), here are some key observations on or from the movie.


Aamir Khan and Satyamev Jayate in The New York Times

Thank you to Bollywood Food Club for directing me to a couple pieces in The New York Times. The first article points to some data on the cumulative viewership of the show and an interesting view on its relationship with Lagaan (which we discussed here last month).

I don't think Aamir rediscovered himself after Lagaan.

I think India rediscovered Aamir after Lagaan.

The interview is more telling, and I like the allusion to the role of the lobbies, and this: “Satyamev Jayate is as much a part of my life as Dhoom 3."

Bollywood Star Remakes Himself Into TV Conscience
July 26, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/business/media/aamir-khan-a-bollywood-star-remakes-himself-into-tv-conscience-of-social-ills.html?smid=pl-share

A Conversation With: Bollywood’s Aamir Khan
July 27, 2012
http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/a-conversation-with-bollywood-actor-aamir-khan/

I'm turning off comments here, discussion is always welcome and encouraged under comments to this related post.

7 Khoon Maaf (2011): 7 Relationship Lessons for Men


7 Khoon Maaf (Seven Murders Forgiven) is not as serious as its title suggests. 

What we knew going in to see the film based on Ruskin Bond's "Susanna's Seven Husbands" was that it’s about a woman marrying seven times and ensuring each husband is dead by the time she’s through with him. What I didn’t expect was that the film could be fun.


Surprise! (On Satyamev Jayate, Lagaan)

*Thunderous applause for the Lagaan (2001) team* 

Well, not much of a surprise, is it?

The film Lagaan celebrated its eleventh anniversary this past Friday (June 15). This year, I won't be hosting a Lagaan week at this blog. This is not because I've run out of ideas for posts on the film that I've credited for a lot at so many levels. It's just that work and life have me adapting to enough changes professionally and personally that I've had to put on hold some of my recreational pursuits. My movie consumption frequency and, of course, this blog, have suffered as a result. But I'm hoping to change that. At least I've been watching more movies. :)

Our great friend (and far more committed blogger) Darshit (@dunkdaft) has this post at his blog in celebration of the Lagaan anniversary. Lagaan Week posts from the past are available at this link.

Shifting gears a bit now...

...so, who has been watching Satyamev Jayate? (Official website: SatyamevJayate.in)

What do you think of the show?

I'd been so disconnected from it all that I didn't realize the show had started airing until I saw this a few weeks ago:

Yes, I might've been living under a rock for a bit.

From what I'm seeing, this Aamir Khan Productions product is fostering a more widespread discussion on core, hard-hitting issues facing India than any of the films of the production house (some of which have aimed to do just that while entertaining), and if you've seen any episode, you probably would agree in thinking it's perhaps rightfully so.

Similar to the most popular of popular films but unlike most television shows, it appears Satyamev Jayate is slowly raking in and somewhat uniting Indian viewership around the world, coming to them (all episodes are available online for free on the show's YouTube channel) instead of waiting for the prospective audience to take more action than simply tuning in. In other words, the distribution channels are correct and the superstardom of the actor is probably at its peak to take advantage of the opportunity. The hope is, of course, that something good comes from it all, no matter its magnitude.

As Bhuvan says in Lagaan right after accepting the proposed challenge to play a cricket match to relieve his village of tax, all that's needed sometimes is a chance to make a difference.

Satyamev Jayate has created that chance.

Am I the only one who wants to partly credit the success of Lagaan 11 years ago with the show having that chance today?

Peace.

Rockstar (2011) Lyrics and Translation: Kun Faaya Kun


While I devote this post to one song in particular, I hope we can discuss other songs from the soundtrack in the comments section, as well.

As I start writing this post, I have yet to listen to the soundtrack to the upcoming film Rockstar (releasing 11/11/11) in its entirety, but if I have ever enjoyed a soundtrack enough after consuming only a small sample of tracks to conclude that I'd recommend it highly, this has to be it.

A question this leads to is whether this has as much to do with the state of the Hindi film music overall, as it does with the greatness of A. R. Rahman. (Rahman is, as any objective comparison of the last 10, maybe 15 years of Hindi film soundtracks would indicate, simply way ahead of his peers in Hindi cinema.) Like most things, it's probably a combination of both. But I digress. Rather than dwell on the question, aren't we just better off enjoying the talent Rahman is blessed with? What's wrong with just appreciating divinity at work? (Assuming we believe in some divine force.)

Bodyguard (2011)


I’ll have to use discussion on Wanted (2009) and Dabangg (2010) as a lead into this brief discussion on Salman Khan’s latest movie and, as box office collections are illustrating, perhaps greatest in at least some respects. There’s the action element we’re accustomed to. There’s more comedy and romance. There's a star actress in Kareena Kapoor. There are the familiar characters by Raj Babbar and Mahesh Manjrekar in familiar roles. There’s decent music made more enjoyable by strong on-screen personalities and good choreography. And they all work rather well for what has got to be among the most entertaining movies of the year. I am admittedly biased in favor of Salman, but he’s bringing the fun back into core, made-for-cinema Bollywood, and that cannot be a bad thing, can it?!


Guest Post: Pyaasa (1957)

I'm privileged to have my friend Max (who goes by 'maxqnz' here and on Twitter), write this post. Max is a field manager for a couple market research firms. He lives in New Zealand, where he was born and raised. He first got into Hindi films seriously about eight years ago, when he decided to teach himself Hindi. The first three films that he remembers choosing himself were Lagaan (2001), 1947: Earth (1998), and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). Suffice it to say that ever since then, he's been hooked! You can read more about his journey at his blog at this link.

If there's one thing we know about Guru Dutt's Pyaasa, it's that the film can be read in countless ways without compromising its many complex layers. That quality is reflected in this post, a tribute to both the film and to the writer willing to question his fondness of it by making it personal. And that is where any piece of art is at its strongest. Please join me in thanking Max for sharing his journey with and excellent viewpoints on this remarkable and awe-inspiring, indeed strong film. Thank you, Max!


First, a BIG thank you to thebollywoodfan for his generous invitation. When I was offered the chance to write this, I had a sudden insight into the meaning of the phrase "mixed emotions". I love this film with a passion, and that's part of the reason why I was so scared of writing about it. It is an acknowledged masterpiece, and has been analysed, dissected, lauded, and critiqued so many times by so many people much more qualified than I. It is an honour to be asked to write about it, but how can I do it justice? Happily, the genius of the film shows me the way.