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Geek. Dilettante. Over-analyzer of Hindi movies. World music addict & DJ. Anthropologist of enthusiasms. Other stuff.
Interests: At the moment: India and Hindi films, languages and linguistics, world music, world history, health and fitness
Recent Activity
More thoughts on Moimeme's comment. On further reflection I am more and more intrigued by the analysis of HAHK as a character-driven story. Amazingly - I love this, I have thoroughly amused myself this morning - it was watching Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali and reading various critiques of it that drove me back to this line of thought. Pather Panchali is full of scenes that gently build relationships between characters. Some obtuse critics at the time (perhaps not today? I don't know) expressed frustration with the movie's slowness, asserting that there are too many stretches in which nothing happens. The mistake these folks are making, of course, is failing to see relationship-building and character-sketching as something happening. I was trying to get at this thought above, when I asserted that "no plot" is an ill-chosen shorthand for "no conflict". I don't think I got all the way there, but I now understand Moimeme's assertion that HAHK is character-driven as getting at something like this. Like Pather Panchali, HAHK contains many scenes that establish relationships, which are perhaps misinterpreted in the same way, as scenes in which "nothing happens." But where the story IS the relationships, or where the relationships ARE the story, these scenes are crucial. And as long as the audience is invested in the relationships (which some are and some are not, cf my exchange with Ravi above), they should be just as compelling as when "things happen" in more plot-oriented narratives - for some of us, maybe more so. I do not think I was ever in disagreement with Moimeme about this point - after all, I have always loved HAHK, loved the interplay of relationships, and found it anything but slow and boring - but I do think I had not articulated these ideas well, either in my mind or in my post or comments. Thank you, Moimeme, for giving me such flavorful food for thought. Hats off.
Toggle Commented 5 days ago on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Thank you Anu. I didn't say it was difficult to imagine the friends being supportive of Aditi. What I said was that they were the only representatives of the outside world, and there is no way the outside world would be uniformly supportive of Aditi. (Actually there was another representative, the son's fiancee, who was ALSO supportive of Aditi.) The film's message is considerably undermined by presenting it as one person's - Shree's - unreasonableness against a unified front of progressive, sympathetic people. It's true that the son also very briefly takes his father's side - but the film is too abbreviated and too expositional for this to provide any kind of satisfactory balance. And at any rate, he doesn't represent the outside world, either. I would say that from a narrative point of view, Shree is a unnuanced. I have no doubt that there are people who take his views on the matters set forth in the film. (Your mention of your mother-in-law underscores my first point - where in this film is the opprobrium of all the people NOT personally affected by Aditi's choices?) But as a matter of narrative structure, of filmmaking craft, there is no artistry in the way he is portrayed. He acts like a jerk, the people around him are shocked, we are cued that we are supposed to be shocked too. As to the ending - it was my favorite part of the movie, as I thought I made clear in. It capped a narratively lazy, unsubtle, and frankly boring film that seemed to be made by people who thought all they had to do was show a Woman's Issue and that would be enough to make good cinema; no delicacy or artistry required. It should have been a thought-provoking film. Instead it's an artless brickbat. Feh.
Toggle Commented 6 days ago on Astitva (2000) at Filmi Geek
अस्तित्व Dir. Mahesh Manjrekar I give Astitva full marks for trying. It is courageous in its determination to say things about female desire that are rarely said, not just in the movies but in societal discourse at large. It offers... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Filmi Geek
I can't believe I forgot to mention the Aruna Irani number. I wrote this review in my notebook during a jazz festival and was clearly off my game. I have to not look too closely at Inspector Shyam's character. It seems he lied to Neeta about his job until pretty deep into their romance, and yet became rather haughty about his duty and responsibility to toss her father back in jail. He also had the tired old "The father is a criminal so what should I expect of the daughter?" reaction when he caught Lily-as-Neeta. UGH, is that all your love and relationship with her is worth? But it is easy to set that aside, because as you note, he's actually not all that important. The story is bigger than those characters. And his long-suffering byplay with Rajendranath (whose character really is insufferable in the most hilarious way) is really, really funny.
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2014 on The Train (1970) at Filmi Geek
Hilarious! I love the way the adaptation crosses languages and cultures, such as the way turning an English nobleman into a Nawab opens the door for the type of linguistic humor that I love so much and learn so much from. That "Goyake chunanche" joke was a bit of linguistic humor that was just out of my reach. I had to do some dictionary-examining and internet-searching to make sense out of it. Near as I could understand, these are two different Urdu words that both mean roughly the same thing as "jaise ki" and both having fairly high register. Sheru, playing the Nawab, uses them together, which is over-the-top and rather gives away his complete non-mastery of high Urdu, which is too much for poor Dhoop Chaaon who cannot bear to see the beautiful language abused. Did I more or less get that right?
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2014 on Manoranjan (1974) at Filmi Geek
I'm not in a position to reconstruct the conversations I have had about this piece or its significance to other people; only to report that I've had them. If it doesn't make sense to you, then it doesn't; with luck some day I will be able to continue some of those conversations and probe further, or entice one or two of those people to come speak for themselves here instead of my feeble proxy. At any rate your points about the sex-education function of certain rituals around marriage and childbirth are both well-taken and very interesting, and just the kind of thing I enjoy learning about from these discussions, so they are appreciated. We modern humans are complicated and operate on several planes at once, and as a result we all see things through multiple lenses. When I am alert I can watch and enjoy a Hindi movie through the lens of what I know of and what I am learning of various aspects of Indian cultures. But at the same time I can - must - also watch through the lens of my own background and cultural conditioning, and sometimes I see things through that lens that are different from what was intended, different from what the intended audience would see, but are also enjoyable to me. The best I can do is be mindful of the difference between the two. So I am grateful to those of you willing to engage to help me keep that in mind.
Toggle Commented Aug 11, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Dir. Ravee Nagaich Notwithstanding a fairly unremarkble (if not downright dumb) plot and a start I do not especially like, The Train is a terrifically fun mystery-suspense sort of movie that more than makes up in style what it lacks... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2014 at Filmi Geek
"I'm sorry to say that the nearly decade of time and hundreds of Hindi films you've watched since your first review don't seem to have materially improved your understanding of this film." Wow, that is a pretty harsh opening. :/ I'll take your point, up to a point. "There is not plot" is not my own criticism, but rather my acknowledgement of a very commonly heard criticism that haters make about this movie. I should have been clearer, and say that what I acknowledge as correct in this criticism (whether you agree with me or not) is that there is no, or very little conflict. "No plot" is a poorly-chosen shorthand for "no conflict." Stories, whether character-driven or not, generally do rely on some conflict as an engine of forward motion. I'm pondering whether I agree with you that HAHK is in fact a character-driven film. Nisha and Prem are archetypes as much as any Hindi film characters are; I'm not sure whether there is enough dimension or complexity to them for their characters to drive anything at all (again, no conflict). Having said that, there is some interesting backstory among the older generation, which comes out in the sweet interactions between Alok Nath and Reema Lagoo in "Aaj humare dil mein." I glossed over that stuff although it's part of why I enjoy the film - it hints that there is more going on in this universe than the unalloyed joy that we have dropped in on. But still, backstory is not the same as character. On the religious symbolism of the dog - I do hope you will take the time to explain to me what you are thinking here, because it sounds very interesting and just the sort of thing I like to learn about from watching movies and talking to people about them. I see the sequence as Krishna employing Tuffy as an instrument to enact his will that Nisha and Prem be united; I would love to learn more about what's implicated here. "I always get amused when LGBT's from the west get excited by what they perceive to be nods toward them in Indian cinema by such things as cross dressing characters" I don't know whether you read my discussion with Ravi in the comments above yours, but in fact my interest in this particular instance of a cross-dressing woman is in part driven by discussions with Indian women who have found it of significance in their own lives. When you are starved for representations of yourself and your feelings, any scrap that you can find is refreshing and affirming, whatever the intent of the folks who put the scene together. At any rate I should emphasize that my own enjoyment of cross-dressing female characters is not meant to over-read them. I like them because I like them. And I like them better than images of men romancing men for a few reasons. One, I am a butch woman and a lesbian, and so they tickle me more personally than images of, say, Salman Khan romancing Laxmikant Berde. Too, male-male "romancing" sequences are not that uncommon, and are usually presented in that jokey way that builds on the general societal discomfort around men being feminized. They are usually presented as humor (often weak humor) drawing on homophobia, and as such are not especially subversive of the dominant paradigm of gender roles and interactions. I find the power dynamic of a member of an oppressed class (women) taking on the trappings and roles of the dominant class (men) much more interesting than the reverse. (That said, I could watch "Aake seedhi lagi" from Half-Ticket over and over again and never get tired of it!)
Toggle Commented Aug 10, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Thanks Anu. I am not sure I knew (or perhaps I did but forgot) that HSSH hewed closely to the Ramayana. I have only read one adaptation of the Ramayana and I found it very disappointing, but I wasn't sure how much of that was the fault of the translation/adaptation and how much was due to the content of the epic itself. This is an avenue for further explanation - even though you don't enjoy HSSH as much as HAHK, you've piqued my interest in watching it!
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Ha, thank you! There are folks out there better qualified than I to write about both feminism and queer issues, especially as applied to analysis of Hindi films - but that won't stop me from trying. ;-) You said, "I don't think the idea of queerness comes into play in the Bollywood films where someone briefly cross dresses." This gets to what I meant when I said that subtext matters, whether it's intentional or not. I have talked to a few queer women in India for whom this very scene was world-expanding - there is probably a whole generation of them. To some people it may just look like a playful scene in which some unnamed relative of Prem dresses up as him to make fun of him. But to a young woman coming to grips with her own feelings of queerness in a society that didn't have any open discussion of such things, it opens and even legitimizes a whole range of fantasy and expression.
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
This is such an interesting comment. HAHK does seem to have caught lightning in a bottle. And it is also true that in most satisfying stories, people weather conflict and emerge with their bonds intact, if not even strengthened - but my mind would always run to more "serious" examples. I would not have thought of the Simpsons as a comparison but it is a very evocative and intriguing one. I would love to hear what you think if you do end up watching HAHK again.
Toggle Commented Aug 8, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Thanks Anu. I briefly thought about doing as you suggest, and not obliterating the original comments, but my impulse to revisionist history is to purge Filmi Geek of all its early and ignorant references to "typical Bollywood" and whatever similar uninformed generalizations I might have made. ;-) Another problem I had with the original post is that back then I hadn't thought through who my audience would be. So posts of that era have stupid qualifications like "Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan" as if such things need to be said to anyone who would be reading my reviews. Nowadays when I write a review of a movie like HAHK, I know I do not need to waste space giving a plot summary or explaining who Madhuri Dixit is. Trust me, it's better this way! How interesting that HAHK grew on you over the years. I love the innocence and sweetness of its world.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Ravi, thanks for the comment and for those interesting items of cultural background on blending of male and female roles. I find there is something especially subversive about women posing as men and/or taking on gender roles assigned to men, because of the power dynamics that are implicated; In that direction, a member of an oppressed class (women) claims for herself the power that belongs to the dominant class (men), which is to varying degrees threatening and alien and fascinating depending upon the context. (The same dynamic is not implicated when a member of the dominant class temporarily takes on the trappings of the oppressed class, although other dynamics are.) But an important qualification is that my perspective is that of a western feminist; the power dynamics I perceive also exist in Indian society but are embedded in a vastly different cultural substrate, and the more of that substrate I understand the less of an ass I make of myself when I talk about such topics or ask questions about them. :) As to the film, I like your observation that you feel a distance from all the joy in the film, like a spectator rather than a participant, whereas I had written about the pleasure of visiting this universe where families just get along and love each other and have a wonderful time. I wonder if it's just a matter of individual experience, whether one finds that fantasy drawing one in or alienating one from its world. Do you find that other films did not try to adopt the HAHK non-plot formula, in the wake of its success? Or did some films try and just fail so abysmally that they have been utterly forgotten? I still have not watched Hum Saath Saath Hain, which I have been told comes close, but is of course another Bharjatya so perhaps doesn't count.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
Such a good point about 70s films. Amar Akbar Anthony was my first 70s film and I loved it fully, without fully appreciating how rich it is in substance and symbolism relative even to other masala films. Later on I came to appreciate it (and certain other Desai films) as a sort of apotheosis of the genre - masala films not thrown together in cynical haste but rather approached with thought and with craft. For a westerner, this can be difficult to appreciate at first, where the low production values, archetypal characters rather than "realistic" characters, and melodramatic story-telling modes are alien, and where we are socialized to think of these features as inherently inferior to the way stories are told in the west. Anyway I may have been watching Hindi movies longer than you, but I'm not sure that I've seen more of them than you have, at this point. At any rate you have seen a great number of films that I have not. And it's the experience that gives the perspective, at least as much as the time.
Toggle Commented Aug 6, 2014 on Hum aapke hain koun...! (1994) at Filmi Geek
The first fifty or seventy-five posts on Filmi Geek are mostly an embarrassing relic for me; I leave them in place for completeness, but they are largely movies seen before I understood very much about what I was watching, and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2014 at Filmi Geek
Jem, I award you 5 internets for this awesome comment.
Toggle Commented Aug 5, 2014 on OMG - Oh My God! (2012) at Filmi Geek
Hello Zinta, thank you for reading. I hope you will leave more comments! I'm looking forward to seeing more of Ali Fazal in the future.
Toggle Commented Aug 5, 2014 on Bobby Jasoos (2014) at Filmi Geek
Thanks for the comment, All That. I have spilled a lot of virtual ink over the years defending Deepa Mehta in related terms. Deepa Mehta's Fire was the sine qua non of my entry into Hindi films and the study of India; I've now talked to hundreds of Indians and taken two trips to the country which would not have happened if not for Deepa Mehta. I often remind people who deplore her of this fact; though her methods are sometimes sensationalist and she makes movies that are aimed at a western audience, nevertheless she created me, an earnest student of India, a person who can tell the difference between Orientalitst sensationalism and authentic Indian storytelling and sees a little bit of both in Deepa Mehta. However, I do not see both in Maya, which is an awful movie that errs way to far on the side of Orientalitst sensationalism, way worse than anything Deepa Mehta has ever produced. I think that sometimes when people execrate her they are conflating her movies with movies like this one. I agree with you that some shocking movies can do a lot more good in educating and raising awareness than they do harm in exploiting and reinforcing stereotypes. However, for the reasons I set forth in the review, Maya is the last movie I would go to in support of that argument.
Toggle Commented Aug 1, 2014 on Maya (2001) at Filmi Geek
By email, Anu added this: "Carla, what he said was that he and Geeta Bali and Billy Wilder had watched the French musical on Broadway together. I still cannot trace the video clipping where he talks about it, but here is something I found... " Anu, I don't doubt that Shammi made this claim - I am just a little skeptical that the claim is the entirely true. :/
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2014 on Manoranjan (1974) at Filmi Geek
Hello Sandeep, thank you for the comment! It is interesting that you mention the studio-bound aspect. As I noted in my reply to Anu above, I found the sets very reminiscent of the sets in Irma La Douce, and I really liked them. It was a kind of fantasy Bombay, movie-Bombay-meets-movie-Paris, and that kind of fantastical set is a nice subconscious reminder that when you watch this movie you are entering a world where the rules are just a little different from the rules of the world that you and I live in. Secondly they have a lovely color and vibrancy to them that just enhances the overall festive feeling of the movie. However, with a few exceptions, most of the movie takes place in just a few rooms - it does trace its lineage back to a play - and I can see where that could get a little claustrophobic as you describe. Oh, but do at least watch "Aaya hoon main tujhko le jaaunga," because its sets are MARVELOUS.
Toggle Commented Jul 27, 2014 on Manoranjan (1974) at Filmi Geek
What an interesting claim. I wonder if there is any truth in it. I have to admit I am skeptical, even though I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to Shammi Kapoor. It just seems awfully convenient, to say "well even though everyone rips off Hollywood right and left, I was actually the one person in the industry being honest (though not honest enough to credit my source), but my movie just happened to be delayed and came out a full 10 years after this other movie that is pretty much exactly the same." I would have to watch the play and both movies together to really make up my mind. There were a lot of gags in Manoranjan that I know existed identically in Irma La Douce. So the question would be, were these gags in the play, too? The other thing that makes me skeptical is the set of Manoranjan Street, the moment the film opened, looked more like. Hollywood set to me than any Bombay studio set I have ever seen. It looked like Billy Wilder's set. So, yeah, as much as I'd like to believe in Shammi, I remain skeptical. :/
Toggle Commented Jul 27, 2014 on Manoranjan (1974) at Filmi Geek
I really did love it! The melody that played during the Shabba Khair scene was definitely the Itihaas song, not the Junglee one.
Toggle Commented Jul 27, 2014 on Manoranjan (1974) at Filmi Geek
मनोरंजन Dir. Shammi Kapoor I was just thinking that it had been a while since I watched an instant favorite - one of those movies that I know on first watch will be one I return to again and again,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2014 at Filmi Geek
Gosh, Sev. I like to read but I always feel like I don't read enough. I have made a conscious effort over the past couple of years to read more. I really like lyrical writing, writing that is rich in metaphor and overloaded symbolism - this won't surprise you, it's entirely consistent with my taste in movies. (I am a little bit obsessed with metaphor; if there is one thing I strive for in my writing, it is to find evocative metaphors for concepts that I want to convey.) Some fiction that I have read lately and really enjoyed includes Hild, by Nicola Griffith; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (talk about overloaded metaphor, woof!). Also really excellent in the lyrical prose category, and favorite writers of mine, are Jeannette Winterson, Isabel Allende, Murakami. The other thing I really like in fiction is long, immersive stories. They still have to be well-written; a long immersive world-builder of a book written with a care toward lyricism is the Holy Grail to me. Murakami's 1Q84 does this, as does Hild which I mentioned above. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is another, although I didn't love that one as uniformly. George Eliot is perhaps my all-time favorite author of long, immersive novels, especially Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. A surprising entry in that last category is Neal Stephenson. He is perhaps a little pulpy but utterly brilliant at world-building and painting lovable characters. I read his books over and over again, even the 1000-page ones. Finally, non-fiction - lately I have been trying to read more film criticism because I want to get better at it. I've been reading populist criticism like Pauline Kael - I find her inspiring, because her reviews feel like what mine could be if I had 30 years more experience. I always read the Current Cinema column in the New Yorker (Anthony Lane and David Denby) for the same reason, even though I almost never see the movies. I've picked up some criticism of Hindi films lately so I'll keep you posted on what I think of that. What do you like to read, Sev?
Toggle Commented Jul 25, 2014 on Bombay Talkies (2013) at Filmi Geek
Thank you, Orissa. I am glad you are reading and very glad you are commenting!
Toggle Commented Jul 24, 2014 on Abhimaan (1973) at Filmi Geek