Upcoming Releases, and The Bird that was Faint with Thirst

Hope you're all having a good start to 2010! I've been dedicating a lot more time to work, life, and travel for both, and it doesn't look like that is going to stop any time soon.

Lots going on in the mean time.

The Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) Disney DVD is finally available in the U.S.! (Get it at Amazon.) The Sundance Film Festival starts this week, and shall, for the first time ever (I believe this is accurate, please correct me if your understanding confirms otherwise), feature an Indian film! It's Peepli Live, a satire from Aamir Khan Productions, directed by debutante Anusha Rizvi. From Aamir's blog:

PEEPLI LIVE is a satire, a black comedy about rural life in India. Except for Raghuvir Yadav, most of the actors are facing the camera for the first time, so a predominantly new cast, many of them of Adivasi origin from Madhya Pradesh. And what performances! I have been acting for 20 years and there was so much that I learnt from watching them.

The regular January and February Bollywood release calendars are all about Veer (January 22; official website) and My Name is Khan (February 15; official website).

I'm more excited to see Veer, what with it being a period film (a favorite genre) and starring Salman Khan the Superhero. The soundtrack (Sajid-Wajid) isn't bad, but that kind of comment has always been a quiet, back-handed slap. Never mind bluegrass music (elements of which are found in 'Meherbaaniyaan') didn't exist in the nineteenth century. The issue I have with the soundtrack is that there's hardly a consistent identity it lends to the film. Salman has overcome that often, and we know not to discount his presence. Let's hope the film satisfies the history geeks, hopeless romantics, and hero worshipers in us! :o)

It's prudent to look forward to any film starring Kajol. In her upcoming film, she's paired opposite Shahrukh, whose last name is Khan. Appropriately, then, the Karan Johar-directed film is titled My Name is Khan (MNIK). As an American Muslim, my view is the last couple of films from the Johar camp on this subject -- New York (2009) and Kurbaan (2009) -- were rather hollow and filled with cultural and legal inaccuracies. (I'd rather not discuss further, please excuse me for this.) That's the major concern here. Does one trivialize issues for maximum entertainment value, or does one tackle the issue head-on?

It's guaranteed to be a commercial biggie, regardless. The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is a definite complement (I'd rate it at a 3.5/5; the qawwalis could've been way more authentic instead of very filmi) and carries an identity and that bodes well for the film it's for.

Other films to look out for include Ishqiya (official website), with a great cast including Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, and Arshad Warsi; and Rann (official website) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Mohnish Behl, Paresh Rawal, Rajat Kapoor, Gul Panag, and Rajpal Radav (whew, talk about tons of talent!). Both Ishqiya and Rann release January 29. Not too thrilled with the soundtracks to either, but wouldn't be surprised if they were the more engaging films this month.



A bird was faint with thirst,
The breath in his body was heaving like waves of smoke.
He saw a diamond in the garden:
Thirst created a vision of water.
Deceived by the sunbright stone
The foolish bird fancied that it was water.
He got no moisture from the gem:
He pecked it with his beak, but it did not wet his palate.
"O thrall of vain desire," said the diamond,

"Thou hast sharpened thy greedy beak on me;
But I am not a dewdrop, I give no drink,
I do not live for the sake of others.
Wouldst thou hurt me? Thou art mad!
A life that reveals the Self is strange to thee.
My water will shiver the beaks of birds
And break the jewel of man's life.
The bird won not his heart's wish from the diamond
And turned away from the sparkling stone.
Disappointment swelled in his breast,
The song in his throat became a wail.
Upon a rose-twig a drop of dew
Gleamed like the tear in a nightingale's eye:
All its glitter was owing to the sun,
It was trembling in fear of the sun.

A restless sky-born star
That had stopped for a moment, from desire to be seen;
Oft deceived by bud and flower,
It had gained nothing from Life.
There it hung, ready to drop,
Like a tear on the eyelashes of a lover who hath lost his heart.
The sorely distressed bird hopped under the rose-bush,
The dewdrop trickled into its mouth.
O thou that wouldst deliver thy soul from enemies,
I ask thee -- "Art thou a drop of water or a gem?"
When the bird melted in the fire of thirst,
It appropriated the life of another.
The drop was not solid and gem-like;
The diamond had a being, the drop had none.
Never for an instant neglect Self-preservation:

Be a diamond, not a dewdrop!
Be massive in nature, like mountains,
And bear on thy crest a hundred clouds laden with floods of rain!
Save thyself by affirmation of Self,
Compress thy quicksilver into silver ore!
Produce a melody from the string of Self,
Make manifest the secrets of Self!

This poem by Muhamad Iqbal (from his book 'Asraar-e-Khudhi', or 'Secrets of the Self', the above translated by Reynold Nicholson) is probably a good starting point to a discussion around 3 Idiots (2009).

Students who give up a significant piece of their lives to get to a top-tier institution of learning are hopefully driven by a 'thirst' for knowledge.

There are those with 'vain desire' -- those who revel in and are motivated by the glitz and glamor of it all, not by the desire to learn and to use what is learned to contribute for the benefit of those around them. They are 'greedy'.

There are those who never perform to their capacity (to use a machine-friendly word, I really meant 'ability' :) for 'fear' of 'failure' and its consequences. They are weakened.

There are those who, in their quest for success, fail to let their definition of success evolve as they evolve. They are 'deceptive'.

And the cure to it all? Self-awareness and self-regulation, with a focus on achieving excellence, and embedding happiness in its achievement, for the sake of the self and for those who surround the self. Chances are, success will follow. Even if it doesn't, at least one isn't a price tag or a bad investment (or bad investment manager) away from despair and hopelessness. What was it Aristotle had said? From a T-Shirt I'd made (for me alone, which is legally permitted, but don't ask me to quote guidance, please) a few weeks ago:

It's not novel (pun intended :D), but it is a powerful overarching message that 3 Idiots hammers away with.

Let there be no doubt the portrayals throughout this film are quite brilliant. The film is, too. If you've attended school in India (or anywhere in South Asia, really, I say this from my experience attending schools in India and Pakistan), you will easily identify with at least several characters (and the language they use). Everyone from the principal and lab instructor to the students, the college ambiance, and dorm helper (Millimeter) are brilliantly portrayed. Finer details are too, such as the throwing in disgust or anger of a piece of chalk by an instructor. Instructors' incessant use of the word 'eeediot', and the accuracy of its delivery. The heartlessness of some of the best brains in academia. All beautifully captured.

One could go on and on about how relevant the storyline is, but that has been well-established for a while, now. Even in Hindi cinema. It was well-established with Aamir's own Taare Zameen Par (2007). It has been applied to higher education with 3 Idiots, but is a lot less subtle here. (The core messages are what they were when Aamir hosted a discussion with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton several months ago; link via Bollywood Food Club.)

I agree to a great extent with Joanna, who has a much better and more detailed movie review in this post. Playing devils advocate for a moment, here are some thoughts on what could've been better or better-defined in 3 Idiots (limiting the self -- since that's the theme here -- to four items):

  1. The message presented is one I agree with, but it ignores the 'survival of the fittest', which inherently applies in every academic framework that is hierarchically linked to an economic one (is there one which isn't?). In other words, it defines the problem very well, but steers clear of presenting a solution other than 'pursue excellence'. (And no, I'm not saying silly old me has the magical solution. :) The message is not near as impactful as those of Rang De Basanti (2006) or Taare Zameen Par (2007), but I don't think it was intended to be.

  2. I enjoyed the integration of the music, but the music continues to not meet expectations of an Aamir film. Probably a biased criticism here, because Aamir's conditioned us to expect better. While the background score is beautiful, can you imagine what magic A. R. Rahman would've weaved into this with the songs, especially? It wouldn't have been another Jaane Tu, and even if it were, it would've had exponentially greater repeat value.

  3. Bollywood will eventually grow by a lot in North America, and you can bet the first thing demanded of it by a bigger audience of non-Indians will be facilitation of better comprehension via textual aids to accompany motion picture and sound (keeping with the spirit of Rancho's definition of 'book'...I meant better subtitles, of course. =) It's one thing to use 'the today' instead of 'the present', quite another to be simply incorrect. Good news is, there's only one direction to go from here.

  4. This one's personal, but hopefully that doesn't make it any less substantive: The film almost ridicules my kind (science freaks who switch to business), but what good would science be without its practical applications in or via business? How would research be funded in isolation? And what if I said the righting the wrong I did to switch from core science to the business of science was precisely a result of being turned off by the static-mindedness and impractical approaches to life and purposefulness of academia many scientists all over the world seem to employ?

Bottom line: Very few things in life are absolute, and many of the messages in this film aren't, either. Not an issue in the bigger picture, and when taken in context. At the end of the day, it's a mass entertainer, and boy does it excel at that! Simply put, great fun and a laugh riot if there ever were one. It works wonderfully well. I don't remember when I last laughed so much. I think there was a period of 10 minutes where I couldn't stop crying with laughter (think 'chamatkar' :D)! Well done everyone involved with this!

Aside: Since I collect neckties, some day, I might do a post on Bollywood ties and the lack of dimpled knots :'( Would've been easier for Virus, who wore them with clips!

Would it have been a better movie if the messages were deliver with more subtlety? I'm not certain. The humor is such an integral part of it, and its kind demands stating the obvious, often. Besides, perhaps we have so many distractions in a world more connected than ever, that there's more value than ever in stating the obvious!

What I am certain about is that 3 Idiots summarizes what I love about higher education in America. It's the breathing room afforded to students in higher education here that makes the university experience, on average, far more enriching than stressful. "Learn to learn," is the motto. (At least it was at the university I attended.) I am thankful to appreciate that that kind of learning process isn't ever going to stop. And that's not to say it's better or worse in India or the U.S., that is just to say the fierce competition which thrives there is borderline insanity, and I have seen it impact those around me more negatively there, on average.

(Relevant to this discussion, you can also have some fun reading a couple of blog posts at CNN-IBN. Entertained at Any Cost by Rohit Chandavarkar ignores the definition of a commodity. Sagarika Ghose, whose writings I follow and tend to agree with, says exactly what the film advocates against, in her piece From Three Idiots to Nation of Idiots. To her, it's about delivering babies with vacuum cleaners. To the Idiot, it's about saving a life with a practical application of what is learned. And finally, A Knight in Comic Armor is a very interesting Tehelka piece on Raju Hirani, his brand of cinema, and its inspiration.)

Said this countless times before, and let's say it again. That a film can provoke thought and generate debate is a triumph of cinema, no matter the echelons of activity. 3 Idiots happens to have reached almost all imaginable, and is loved by audiences and critics alike. The fondness is well-deserved.

There's not much more I ask of any film. This one's a keeper. Four and a half stars, perhaps slightly more, absolutely! Aal izz well. Indeed.


Filmi Girl said...

Hey!! I'm really looking forward to Veer - and not to nitpick but "Meherbaaniyaan" is actually a big-band song... as in jazz. :)

I actually enjoyed the OST as a whole. To me it sounded like Sajid-Wajid took inspiration from Rahman's Jodhaa-Akbar and Lagaan OSTs and filtered them through their populist and upbeat proclivities.

The other film I'm really, really excited about is Ishqiya! It looks simply fantastic!

shell said...

First of all, it takes a while to come up with a response that sounds as intelligent as this great post! Secondly, I think that this is one of those movies that not only elevates our expectations of films to come, demanding more from producers and directiors, but validates our motives for watching Hindi cinema in the first place. 3 Idiots hits the nail on the hammer on all points. It is thoughtful and deliberately social but also hilarious and 100% entertaining.
One small point I agree with is the message learn to learn. When I entered into college I took classes I didn't enjoy for a degree I didn't want. It wasn't until I changed my major that my grades went up because I was excited about what I was learning. I wanted to be in class and couldn't wait to discover new things. Now that I'm typing this I'm not sure if it fits under the learn to learn category or the follow your dreams category, but either way the movie housed both of those theories.
On an idiot-free note: I simply can not wait for MNIK. Despite the ultimate let down and failure of Kurbaan, I really feel like this movie is going to be one of those movies (not unlike 3 Idiots) that is going to be intensely thought provoking. I expect career bests out of Kajol, Shah Rukh and Karan. My expectations may very well be as tall as the Himalayas, but I don't think Karan will disappoint us again.

Joss said...

Good to see you again, tBF. We've missed you. I have now been to see 3 Idiots so I'm glad you are writing about it. Needless to say, we absolutely loved this film and I don't know if I can wait for the dvd to watch it again. I may be revisiting the cinema this weekend. (Glad I saw TZP twice because I had to wait two years for the dvd! But I have it now, all three discs! At last.)

The screenplay was fantastic, and the acting was breathtaking. (If the music had been better that would have made the whole package perfect.) I have never seen such strong performances from any of these actors. Such talent... especially from Omo Vaidya and Sharman Joshi.

I was interested to read your comparison of higher education in US with that in India. There is just as much competition, but in with fewer casualties in the former. I was shocked how old-fashioned the Indian education system seemed - everything we are striving against here.

Finally, I think my son found this film very inspiring. At 13 he is not yet old enough for higher education but has given thought already to self-realisation. I would say he is already doing what Rancho recommends - what he loves, which is computer animation. I think this film gave him much encouragement. When he came out he was much more talkative than usual, especially about technical things. I loved how the film changed him (because he is a sullent teenager the rest of the time). I too felt changed, because like my son, I am already doing what I love, which is one-to-one English tuition. Doing the best I am capable of (Joanna put it better in her post.)

Lastly, I've just listened to the music from My Name is Khan, and I absolutely love it. It's very simple, but extremely moving. I shall go to see all three Khan's movies in the theatre this time. What a great time for Hindi cinema.

Joss said...

Oh, and the thanks for the heads up about Peepli Live. We watch lots of films shown at Sundance so an AK production would definitely be one to look out for.

bollywoodeewana said...

Happy 2010 bollywoodfan, 3idiots without doubt was my favourite film of 2009, total paisa vasool all the way, as much as i loved it the film felt a bit formulaic which is why i would score it between 3.5-4 points. Love your point about education in the USA, about room being afforded to students, i've never schooled in the US but that whole room being afforded to student thing applies here in the UK, its something i enjoyed about my education here in England it was more about the student experience more so than the grades for me

Darshit said...

the discussion about 3 idiots is really intersting. Can't get better than this. The piece from Secrets of the self - is another complement. Beautiful story.

Peepli Live looks intersting. Also interesting is how Aamir keeps it low untill release comes nearer. We can not get to know even where the shoot is being done!! ..umm a correction about Sundance - Lagaan was screened there. Check wiki - under "release" header.

One movie i would like to add to release list - Striker. Starring Sidharth - it holds a really abosorbing OST. must check it out.The movie looks intersting by promos - and you can't go wrong with Sidhu-the charmer.

Anonymous said...

tBF, i just wanted to say i admire how you go from looking forward to veer, to quoting iqbal. you are one of a kind o_0

theBollywoodFan said...

Filmi Girl: I'll look forward to your views on Veer. I'm kinda surprised you're looking forward to it, I remember you were fiercely opposed to the mere mention around summer 2009! ;P

From what I've read about it elsewhere, it appears to have met my expectations, LOL. As if Salman Khan wasn't He-Man-like in 'Wanted', he's now pointing a sword skyward as Prince Adam does!

You're the expert on music and musical arrangements. I intended to say elements of bluegrass, which I think do exist in the song. Maybe they did in big band songs of the 1800s, but I'll defer to you on that. Thanks for the note. :)

And my view is, Sajid-Wajid could do so much more if they'd shed some of their proclivities, but then they wouldn't be who they are! And Salman probably wouldn't swear by them!

theBollywoodFan said...

Shell! Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post. :) The entertainment value in 3i really did it for me, more than anything else.

Thanks also for sharing those notes on your experience in college. Isn't it fun to 'learn to learn'? My experience with it was interesting, because I don't recall having appreciated it enough until I faced some ambiguity with respect to starting points in grad school research. The realization can be quite a powerful thing. And the beautiful part of it is, it never stops!

I'm quite looking forward to MNIK. (Aamir's been encouraging his fans to go see it, too; not that I'm too influenced by his recommendations, but every SRK fan should know this, at least) Hope your expectations are met! They're certainly warranted. I think, given my proximity to the theme, I'll find MNIK *way* more thought-provoking than 3i. (Already do, in fact.) But it's this familiarity with the theme that could also break it for me, and that is why I'm slightly cautious in not setting high expectations, given precedence. On the flip side, I'll blindly (and gladly) trust Kajol! ;)


theBollywoodFan said...

Joss: Really glad you got to see 3i, and I agree whole-heartedly with everything you've said about it! (And Yay, you have the TZP DVD!!!)

Omo Vaidya was a major surprise, yes. (The rest we could almost predict after Rang De Basanti.)

I like your point about competition in academia in the west, which is true. The part where India suffers immensely is in scalability. There just aren't as many seats in the really good universities (few to begin with, relative to the population) to make room for the number of students who want to make it there. So they enter a whirlpool, for the most part, which is also the source of the casualties you refer to.

On a related note, you might find this piece in a Phi Beta Kappa publication worth reading. It's specific to the U.S., and while I'm unaware of how this plays out in the U.K., it is decent reading material, regardless. (Especially for an English tutor.)

Great to know your son found 3i inspiring! The self-realization never does stop, does it? He'll surely be better-prepared for college once he gets there, given he's putting more thought into his likes and dislikes already! Splendid!

Glad you're enjoying the soundtrack to My Name is Khan, I like its focused approach. (Please see my comment to Shell above.) It is a great time for Hindi cinema, and I can't wait to Peepli Live too! (But please be sure your son is not anywhere near you when you see it! :)

And finally, thanks, as always! I've missed being more regular here, too. Probably going to remain this way through the first quarter of the year, but I'll keep trying.

theBollywoodFan said...

BollywoodDeewana: Happy 2010 to you too! It's such an asset to have had room to grow in ways other than strictly academic, good to know it applies to you too. Glad you liked the film! I didn't mind the formulaic bits too much, given how funny it all was.

Darshit: Thanks bro! I'd definitely recommend you read that book by Iqbal. 'The Secrets of the Self' is sublime stuff!

Peepli Live should be interesting. Thanks for the note about Lagaan (of all films!) at Sundance, although the BBC reference to it in the Wiki article doesn't have the mention. Aamir's said it might be the first, so my guess would be Lagaan wasn't (?) Maybe it was screened outside a competition?

Oh, and thank you for the note on Striker! I have fallen behind on these releases and their music, so I'll hope to check them out soon. Always gotten good music recommendations from you, Darshit, thank you as always! Cheers.

theBollywoodFan said...

Anonymous: I'll take that as a compliment! :o)

theBollywoodFan said...

Joss and Shell: You might enjoy this piece from TIME magazine. An excerpt, speaking of competition in the classroom. So maybe the 3i premise is flawed for a country striving to be an irreplaceable tech services giant? J/K :D

The study of high-achieving high school students conducted by Ohio State's Demerath was noteworthy for more than the stress he found the students were suffering. It also revealed the lengths to which the kids and their parents were willing to go to gain an advantage over other suffering students. Cheating was common, and most students shrugged it off as only a minor problem. A number of parents--some of whose children carried a 4.0 average--sought to have their kids classified as special-education students, which would entitle them to extra time on standardized tests. "Kids develop their own moral code," says Demerath. "They have a keen sense of competing with others and are developing identities geared to that."

Demerath got very different results when he conducted research in a very different place--Papua, New Guinea. In the mid-1990s, he spent a year in a small village there, observing how the children learned. Usually, he found, they saw school as a noncompetitive place where it was important to succeed collectively and then move on. Succeeding at the expense of others was seen as a form of vanity that the New Guineans call "acting extra." Says Demerath: "This is an odd thing for them."

That makes tactical sense. In a country based on farming and fishing, you need to know that if you get sick and can't work your field or cast your net, someone else will do it for you. Putting on airs in the classroom is not the way to ensure that will happen.

ajnabi said...

Can I be honest? I simply can't bear the thought of MNIK. One of my favorite jodis, a director who's brought me some of my favorite filmi moments... And I can't stand to think of it. So I just pretend like it's not there. Films hardly EVER get Aspberger's syndrome right, and... I'll just stop myself there.

Ishqiya, on the other hand, I can't wait for. I'm hooked on the promos.

As far as your thoughts on 3i goes, I don't have anything intelligent to add. However, thank you so much for posting the translation of Iqbal's poem... It's so lovely.

theBollywoodFan said...

Ajnabi! I'm sure you'll have tons to add once you see 3i. (It should be made available on YouTube in a few weeks!) Glad you enjoyed the Iqbal poem, there's such a wealth of knowledge in his works.

Ishqiya sounds cool, Darshit's reviewed it here.

As for MNIK, I'm concerned with Karan Johar's involvement more than SRK's or Kajol's. Plus, it's releasing around V-Day, and the potential for fluff is incredibly high, isn't it? Wish Ashutosh Gowariker had directed it, but then, I probably say that about every film, LOL.

theBollywoodFan said...

All: While on 3 Idiots, please head over to this Apni East India Company review of the film. Always a privilege, Shweta!

Anonymous said...

hi guys so happy to be between you yayaay love the blog soo much ^^

theBollywoodFan said...

Hey there Anonymous! Thanks for stopping by. :)