“Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela” (2013) starring Ranveer Singh & Deepika Padukone

This Bollywood movie (directed by the prolific, yet shallow, Sanjay Leela Bhansali) uses Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as a frame; it is also influenced by works of American director Quentin Tarantino and (in my opinion) Aussie director Baz Luhrmann. In a village in Gujarat, Ram (Ranveer Singh) is more of a flirt (Romeo) than a fighter. Though his hardened father’s gang deals in guns, Ram manages a small theater showing porn films. In another part of town, Leela (Juliet) is the spirited daughter of a petite boss lady dealing in spices. Of course, their families hate each other; these communities (the Saneda and Rajadi) have been enemies for 500 years. Ram sneaks into Leela’s part of town for Holi w/ his pals; they fall in love at first sight. This movie brought these two actors together (in real life); they were recently married.

The landscape of this movie (shot primarily in Udaipur) reminded me of Westerns (of the American Southwest), This movie has (for the most part) good/catchy songs, most notably the mega-hit Nagada Sang Dhol (sung by one of Bollywood’s best voices- Shreya Ghoshal- and Osman Mir). In order to perform the fast-paced/energetic choreography for this dance, Padukone had to learn to do garba (dance). The costumes are unique, intricate, and colorful, as seen in other recent Bhansali films (Bajirao Mastani; Padmaavat). There is a mix of modern (incl. ripped jeans) and historical fashions. The chemistry between the leads is obvious; the director had them spend time together alone and at various events.

If there weren’t cell phones, movies, bullets, or guns shown, it could easily be a historical film. Guns are fetishized throughout; this may put off some viewers. The title translates to A Play of Bullets: Ram-Leela. Rifles are being sold openly in the village market, a visitor is shocked to see. At the slightest insult, men and boys from opposing gangs start shooting (like the Wild West). There is very little blood shown, as that’s the norm in Bollywood. Even the chilled out Ram wears an embroidered pistol holder at his waist. The lovers flirt using pistols; it was unexpected and ironic. There are Gujarati slang terms and curses which Ram uses, some viewers/critics pointed out.

This movie clocks in at 2 hrs and 30 mins; this isn’t unusual for this genre. Padukone comes off as confident and natural; her large/expressive eyes are her finest asset. There are not many well-developed supporting characters. Leela’s mother, Baa (Supriya Pathak Kapur), makes a big impression as the villain She has very imposing looks and a rough/world-weary voice. We don’t learn much re: Ram’s father, his older brother, or Leela’s scheming male cousins (who want to succeed Baa). Instead of the old Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (or feisty Anita in West Side Story), we have Leela’s sister-in-law, Rasila (Richa Chadha). She tries to help the star-crossed lovers escape town. Bhansali chose Chadha for her more “typical Indian features and dusky skin” (which is in contrast to the leading lady). In one standout scene, Rasila (who has confidence and toughness) escapes being raped by Ram’s friends! I’m sure that scene will be upsetting to some viewers, though it is a common trope in Bollywood.

Priyanka Chopra dances during the song Ram Chaye Leela Chaye Ram; she was up for the role of Leela years earlier (after Kareena Kapoor turned it down). Chopra (now famous worldwide) is a rather limited actress. I though that this dance was unnecessary; it didn’t flow w/ the movie and mainly involved moving her (quite toned) stomach. Chopra got a more meaty role in Bajirao Mastani. Speaking of abs, Singh was put on a diet of mainly fish, broccoli, turkey, and green tea to help achieve his look. He also worked out at a gym built specifically for him. However, great (or defined) abs don’t equate to great acting. I don’t see the point of having actors (male and female) go to such lengths when their time would be better spent in acting classes. Also, with this type of (shallow) material, actors can’t do much!

Big in Bollywood (2011) starring Omi Vaidya

How would it be like if the unassuming, humble, “boy-next-door” made it big in a Bollywood film? This is the premise of this doc (now streaming on Netflix) by former college friends of 27 y.o. Indian-American actor Omi Vaidya. Though he spoke very little Hindi, Omi was chosen by a famed producer (Vidhu Vinod Chopa), then a respected director (Rajkumar Hirani) to play a pivotal role in 3 Idiots (2009). The SoCal-raised actor, who attended UC Santa Cruz and NYU, is referred to as “the fourth idiot” during public appearances by co-star/superstar Aamir Khan. 

A few months after their wedding, Omi’s PhD student wife (Minal), his mom, and friends  join the actor for the 3 Idiots premiere. Minal has to return to school after only 2 weeks in Mumbai. The film was a box office success- the biggest grossing film in India up until that time. Omi notices people looking and wanting to talk to him (for the first time in his career). He gets honors due to his well-loved role, yet also notices the dark side of fame. 

Omi’s mother (Bharati- who once aspired to be an actress herself) and three friends (Bill, Kenny, and Kevin) attend the Star Film Awards ceremony. They’re full of enthusiasm and high hopes for Omi, though he is NOT quite certain about his dance number, or if he’ll win an award (being nominated for two). 

AFI showed this film last week, then there was a Q&A session w/ Omi. He and Minal are currently living in Rockville, MD with their toddler son and new baby. Minal is a post doc at NIH; she studied Biochemistry. Though his young family comes first, Omi is still acting in TV and movies. His next film (releasing in 2018) is starring Irrfan Khan. Omi was part of the ensemble cast of Netflix’s Brown Nation (a comedy series starring desi actors). 

 

Dangal (2016) starring Aamir Khan

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

Indian superstar Aamir Khan is known as a perfectionist, even when it comes to posters.  When I lived in NYC, I used to regularly attend monthly meetings of SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Creative Collective); though I wasn’t an artist (like most of the women), I wanted to meet interesting desis.  One night, we had a presentation by the young lady who’d worked as the main graphic artist on Lagaan (before moving to the U.S.)  She was working late in her Mumbai studio, when Aamir Khan called her up re: a small change to one of the poster designs.  Wow, talk about attention to detail!

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Young Mahavir (Aamir Khan) gets ready for a wrestling match.

This film will definitely hold the viewers’ attention, even more so than Lagaan, thanks in part to its exciting/tense action sequences.  But this isn’t a historical epic, it’s a (real-life) family story, which MAY be even more compelling to some of you who regularly read this blog.  I didn’t know anything about the story before going to see it last week, aside from the fact that Aamir had gained and lost a LOT of weight for his role.  I later learned that three out of the four (VERY natural) young actresses in the film hadn’t acted before!  I esp. liked the chemistry between the two girls who played the sisters as pre-teens, as well as the charm of their older teen boy cousin. 

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Life is sink or swim- a lesson that Mahavir wants his daughters to learn.

Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a former national wrestling champion, wins medals and respect in the ’80s.  Unfortunately, he never gets the opportunity to prove himself on the world stage; there is NOT enough money/resources dedicated to his sport.  He loves wresting, so he spends time training other men in the mud pits of his village.  After a time, Mahavir settles into married life (w/ his wife Daya, played by Shakshi Tanwar) and a desk job in his home region of Hariyana.  He has high hopes for a son, whom he plans to teach to be an even better wrestler than himself, and win gold for India. 

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Young Geeta is cheered by surprised locals after winning matches.

His wife gives birth to four daughters though the years.  Mahavir’s family and his small community is disappointed, thinking that the dream for wrestling glory is dead.  But after his two eldest girls, Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnager), beat up two local boys who insulted them, Mahavir is spurred into action.  His daughters will become wrestlers under his coaching!  Gold is still gold, Mahavir is bold enough to think, and who’s to say that a girl can’t win one!?  Watch the trailer below.

 

Dear Zindagi (NOW PLAYING)

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Kaira (Alia Bhatt) working behind-the-scenes on a music video.

This is a MUST-SEE film (written/directed by Gauri Shinde) for anyone who has given up on Bollywood, thinking it TOO old-fashioned, formulaic, and obsessed solely w/ romance!  Kaira (Alia Bhatt, who also starred in 2 States) is a cinematographer in her early 20s who finds that avoiding romantic commitment does NOT always bring happiness.  She breaks up w/ her businessman boyfriend.  Then one of the other guys in her life, Raghu (Kunal Kapoor- who I first saw in Aaja Nachle), offers her a “dream job” in NYC.  And we can tell that Raghu wants to be MORE than friends!

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Kaira (Alia Bhatt) jokes with Raghu (Kunal Kapoor)

Kaira’s close friends, including Fatima (Fatty) and Jackie, grow concerned about her changing attitude and personality.  Anger bubbles up out of nowhere, she can’t sleep for MANY nights, and loses her Mumbai apartment (when tenants decide that ONLY married couples should live in their building).  Kaira is forced to go back to her hometown (Goa) and reevaluate her life.  To make things worse, Raghu suddenly gets engaged to his ex-girlfriend after they reconnect on that NYC movie set!

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Kaira meets with her therapist Dr. Khan (Shah Rukh Khan)

Finally, Shah Rukh has chosen a role that is apt for his age. His screen presence is definitely a treat to his fans! Alia Bhatt is definitely lucky in the aspect that she got a good role that aligns with her personality and of course she has excelled it!  -Excerpt from a IMDB review

Enter Dr. Jehangir Khan(Shah Rukh Khan), an psychologist who happens to love ripped jeans (just as Kaira does).  She is VERY reluctant to open up about her life, BUT he gains her trust w/ his patience, unorthodox methods, and (most crucial)- a judgment-free mind. At a beachside bar, Kaira and Jackie meet Rumi (Ali Zafar- who hails from Pakistan), a free-spirited singer/songwriter.  Zafar reminded me of Gael Garcia Bernal; his songs were pretty good, too. 

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Kaira listens intently to Dr. Khan during one of their sessions.

Kaira is eventually able to discuss her friendships (which she needs to pay MORE attention to), past romances (which she cut off when then men got TOO close), and her family (overbearing w/ their traditional expectations).  Aside from the typical pains of life as a young adult, there is something specific in Kaira’s childhood that is holding her back from the life that she wants.  

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Dr. Khan and Kaira sing an impromptu little song

Pluses- story, acting, cinematography; second half, the scenes which feature SRK and Alia. The family moments of Kiara and her family, her friends. The execution of the entire movie from event to event. The whole final act which leaves you in a happy mood. The breakdown sequence. The maturity in the direction which takes the movie into a new level. The dialogue given to SRK. Negatives- The music is good but isn’t great. The editing in the first half could have been better.

-Excerpt from another IMDB review

There were a FEW moments in where I was reminded of In Treatment (HBO), BUT this is an original story which has (probably) never been told in a mainstream Indian film.  Going into therapy is demystified in this film, which I think could be it’s best legacy.  

2 States (2014)

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Book cover and film poster

This rom com (based on the memoir of the same title by Chetan Bhagat)  came out in Spring 2014; I saw it two weeks back.  This is a fun, yet realistic film, that’s NOT only concerned w/ two MBA students falling in love, BUT what comes after (getting to know each other’s families and the drama that ensues).  To add a twist usually NOT seen in mainstream Indian films- Ananya (Alia Bhatt) is from the South; Krish (Arjun Kapoor) hails from the North. 

So, what’s the biggie here- they’re BOTH Hindu, right?  Yes, WE American desis MAY feel that way!  BUT their families who speak different languages and follow different customs, along w/ ALL the typical baggage (which you’d see in a film like Meet the Parents). 

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Chetan and Anusha Bhagat- the real couple behind this film

When they first meet in grad school, Ananya is annoyed that there is no beer at the local café.  Krish explains: “Gujarat is a dry state.”  He gets interested in her first, BUT thinks she’s “out of my league.”  Krish offers to help Ananya w/ Economics (which is her weak subject).  Their friendship quickly grows into love after he declares one night that he doesn’t ONLY want to be her buddy. 

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Ananya (Alia Bhatt) and Krish (Arjun Kapoor)

There are only a FEW songs in this film (which are quite good); you can get them from iTunes.  The music blends pretty well into the actions/emotions.  The students/dancers in the background actually look like real/average people, NOT models.  The run time could’ve been shorter.  I recommend it for ALL of you who wouldn’t usually give Bollywood a chance!