“Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary” (2010)

The story is one we know and very simple: a former convict, Jean Valjean (Alfie Boe), tries to rebuild his life w/ adopted daughter Cosette after the death of her mother, Fantine (Lea Salonga). Valjean is pursued for years by a police inspector, Javert (Norm Lewis). Against the backdrop of student rebellions in Paris, a student named Marius (Nick Jonas) and the grown-up Cosette (Katie Hall) fall in love. The songs are also very memorable, incl. Who Am I? and Bring Him Home (sung by Valjean), I Dreamed a Dream (sung by Fantine), and On My Own (sung by Eponine). In a time when there are protests in cities (around the world) calling for racial equality and justice reform, this story still resonates.

Fans of the musical will notice that Salonga previously played Eponine in Great Performances: Les Misérables in Concert (1995)- the musical’s 10th anniversary. The petite (yet powerful) singer is the first full-blooded Filipina to have won the Olivier (1990), the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards (1991) for Best Actress in a Musical for Miss Saigon. In recent years, she was a guest star on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a comedy w/ musical numbers. Most famously, Salonga was the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the Disney animated movie Aladdin (1992). Not only is she an amazing singer, she also acts out every moment of her role here!

Samantha Barks (Eponine) played the same role in the 2012 film version. Jenny Galloway previously played Madame Thenardier (a crowd favorite) in 1995 and repeated her role in this production. Ramin Karimloo (Enjolras) went on to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert a year later opposite Hadley Fraser (Grantaire) as Raoul. Karimloo (who fled Iran w/ his parents when the shah was overthrown in the early ’80s) made his Broadway debut as Valjean in the 2014 revival and earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. Lewis is perhaps best known as Edison, a senator and one of the ex-boyfriend’s of Olivia Pope on the ABC TV series- Scandal. He became the first Black actor to play the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Unlike most of the other phantoms, he has a baritone voice (which is rich and very impressive).

At the end of the concert, we see the original 1985 cast, the international tour cast, and the current cast. We hear Colm Wilkinson (considered the best singer to portray Valjean), John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman, and Boe sing Bring Him Home. There is an appearance by Michael Ball (the original Marius in the London production; a big star in the UK), composers, lyricist, and producer (Cameron Mackintosh). You can rent this show on YouTube; it’s a must-see for fans of the theater (esp. since we’re stuck at home)!

The casting of Nick Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, is little more than a casting publicity stunt, and one which almost backfires catastrophically. Quite simply, Jonas is leagues out of his depth, and his voice has not the power nor range to do justice to the role…

So many excellent singers have brought such depth and strength to the character of Jean Valjean and Alfie Boe does an admirable job. His beautiful rendition of “Bring Him Home” really proves he has the chops to handle this role.

Norm Lewis, whose subtle facial expressions and genuine passion commanded the stage/screen, sang Javert with such power and depth that I actually, for the first time, empathized with his character.

No other musical has the power to raise hairs and bring goosebumps throughout, and at the same time bring entire audiences to tears…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Humraaz” (2002) starring Bobby Deol, Akshaye Khanna, & Ameesha Patel

…a look into the dark side of ambition. Each character has questionable motives, and the human drama alone kept me riveted through the film. The acting is convincing and the plot has many surprising twists and turns.

The plot was sneaky. You didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was totally shocked with the ending. They put a lot of work into the dancing, and it showed.

Abbas Mustan [the directing duo] lay pretty heavy emphasis on the villains in their films, and this film is no exception.

This is the Bollywood remake (or re-imagining) of A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. It was also somewhat influenced by Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954). The title of Humraaz (“soulmate”) refers to “someone who knows your secret or someone whom you have shared your secret with.” You can’t skip the songs here, b/c every great playback singer of that era sung in this movie! Karan (Akshaye Khanna), the head of a dance troupe and his girlfriend, Priya (Ameesha Patel), are two 20-somethings who have energy, passion, and talent. They audition to perform on a cruise ship owned by young industrialist, Raj Singhania (Bobby Deol).

They get the cruise job and put on a fun number (Bardaasht Nahin Kar Sakta sung by KK and Sunidhi Chuahan). Raj can’t keep his eyes off Priya. He sends her flowers, invites her to a fancy dinner, and they dance under the stars. Raj is quickly developing feelings for Priya; they go sightseeing in Malaysia (Dil Ne Kar Liya sung by Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik, my favorite Bollywood duo). Priya didn’t want to go out, b/c she vowed to walk barefoot all day (since the troupe had become “permanent status” on the cruise line). Raj decides to go barefoot also; he finds her beautiful, charming, and innocent (basically the girl of his dreams)!

On her birthday, Raj throws a big bash, and asks Karan for a “special song” (Piyar Kar sung by Udit Narayan, Shaan, and Kavita Krishnamurthy). The lyrics fit very well w/ the story. Later on deck, Raj offers Priya a ring. For a brief moment, Priya looks conflicted, but then puts it on, saying “some dreams do come true!” Priya reveals to Karan that she’s engaged. At first, Karan looks shocked, but then smiles and hugs her, exclaiming “I can’t believe it happened so fast.” It was their plan all along- get Raj to marry Priya! One of the guys in their troupe watches from afar, wondering what is up.

Raj takes Priya to his family estate in Jaipur. Dadi (Raj’s grandma w/ whom he shares a close bond) declares the couple will be married ASAP. The family and guests celebrate w/ a sweet/hopeful song (Life Ban Jaayige sung by Sonu Nigam and Jaspinder Narula). On their wedding night, Priya tells Raj that she took a vow of celibacy for one month (b/c destiny had brought them together, as she’d prayed). Raj is surprised, but then says he respects her decision.

Raj and Priya hold a reception at their house; Karan comes to congratulate them. Raj describes his new life and the many emotions w/in him (Tune Zindagi Mein by Udit Narayan). This song starts off as pretty innocent, but we get some lines where Raj talks about jealousy (foreshadowing). More drama (life-altering) ensues. We see more of the violent side of Karan (as in the opener). One morning, Priya realizes that she does love her husband! We get the title song (Sanam Mere Humraaz sung by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik). From here on (the last 45 mins or so), the movie takes dark turns (w/ scenes that are guaranteed to shock some viewers)!

Are you missing the (loud/colorful) hair and fashions of the ’90s? FYI: Khanna is wearing a hairpiece (as he started losing his hair before his mid-20s). Do you get a kick out of seeing (old) technology? Then this may be the movie for you! It’s around 3 hrs long (no joke), so it could take 2 days to watch. The first 90 mins go pretty quickly, thanks mainly to the musical numbers. The dancers here are also supporting actors (which is rare for Bollywood). I’m a fan of Khanna; his older brother (Rahul Khanna) is also actor. Rahul is seen in indies and TV shows (in both the US and India). I recently came across an article re: Patel (who is now 44); she celebrated 20 yrs of working in Bollywood. She still looks youthful and fit; she is producing movies now.

The comedic supporting characters are mostly one-note; they are present to serve the larger story. Raj’s loyal personal assistant, Mr. Darshan (Johnny Lever) is a veteran of Bollywood. In one scene w/ Karan, Darshan (who is always worried re: “what ifs”) sums up the entire story! After leaving school (lack of funds) as teen, Lever worked on the streets (selling small items) and copied famous actors. He worked at Lever’s soap factory in Mumbai, where he entertained co-workers and earned the nickname “Johnny Lever.” Eventually, he studied comedy and toured in variety shows. In the ’80s, he met Amitabh Bachchan and started getting small roles in movies. Lever is short, stocky, curly-haired, and dark-skinned. He is from Andra Pradesh; Telegu was his first language, not Hindi. In Bollywood, there are few actors like him who have become a success.

Blinded by the Light (2019) directed by Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha (a British Asian Sikh journo turned filmmaker) made a big splash w/ the 2002 indie film, Bend it Like Beckham, starring Parminder Nagra (a theater actress who US audiences watched on ER) and a teen Keira Knightley (who became a worldwide success). At first, Chadha (now a mom of twins w/ her writing partner/husband Paul Mayeda Berges), felt that Blinded was too similar to her previous film. After Brexit happened, she was determined to tell the story (based on the life of a journo of Pakistani/Muslim heritage Sarfraz Manzoor). The movie was approved by Bruce Springsteen two years ago; after a private screening, The Boss told Chadha: “I love it. Don’t change a thing.”

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 16 y.o. living in ’80s Luton, England; it’s not a good time to be Pakistani, Muslim, or a dreamer who wants more than what’s planned by his parents. Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister. The National Front (NF) supporters spray hateful graffiti on mosques and homes, including in Javed’s working-class neighborhood. Though he (secretly) wants to be a writer, his immigrant father- Malik (Kulvinder Ghir from Goodness Gracious Me)- wants him to be a doctor, engineer, or estate agent. Jobs are scarce in this town; money is tight in the family; the parents are anxious re: upcoming wedding of Javed’s older sister. Javed and his mom give their earnings to Malik; this was a surprise to many people in my screening.

Javed has been keeping journals for many years; he also writes songs for his best friend/neighbor Matt’s (Dean Charles Chapman from Game of Thrones) band. Things start to change between the long-time pals when Matt gets his first girlfriend and Javed goes into the sixth form (in preparation for university). Javed’s new English teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), sees potential in his work. She explains that he has an unique voice. Another British Asian kid in school, Roops (Aaron Phagura), introduces Javed to the music of Springsteen. Roops is based on the (real-life) best friend of Manzoor, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Javed falls in love w/ this American rock music (which was fading from popularity- FYI), feeling that Bruce is singing about his life!

Suddenly, Javed’s father is laid off from the factory job he’s had for 16 years. From the nightly news clips, we see that many people in factory/industrial towns are out of work. His mother, Noor (Meera Ganatra), has to take in more sewing to support the family; she works well into the night w/o complaint. Even Javed tries to go back to the bread factory where we worked the last summer, but there are no jobs. About half-way through the film, we get a (touching/sensitive) scene between Malik and Noor. I don’t think another filmmaker would have done it as well as Chadha. The parents would’ve remained more stereotypical, one-note, and unchanging. One critic esp. liked how they showed how much Malik cared for his fellow Pakistanis and mosque.

Javed’s younger sister, Shazia (Nikita Mehta), doesn’t understand why he’s so into Springsteen. We later learn that Shazia has a bit of a rebellious side also; she goes to “daytimers” (parties featuring bhangra music w/ fellow British Asian students). I had never heard of these events before- they look fun! Though this story is centered on a boy and his dad, it’s great to see a bit into a girl’s life.

One of the girl’s in Javed’s English class, Eliza (Nell Williams), is an activist who is impressed by his writing and personality. We eventually learn that she’s from a wealthy Tory (politically conservative) family. Her parents comment that Eliza dates boys who are “controversial” in the scene where Javed goes to their house. Aside from his obsession w/ Bruce, Javed is “a good, straight arrow kid” (as a film critic noted), so there isn’t much for her parents to worry about.

There is more to this (optimistic) story; you should check it out if it’s playing nearby. It doesn’t shy away from (in your face; period accurate) racism. FYI: People in my screening were shocked by a few scenes. A desi man in my audience commented after the film: “I grew up in Birmingham; it’s pretty accurate.” There is lot to like about this film, but it’s not perfect. The musical scenes may put some people off; a few viewers in my audience and critics considered them “cheesy” or “cringey.” They didn’t always fit well w/in the story; I was expecting them to be more naturalistic. FYI: 19 different Springsteen songs were featured through the film- WOW!

White Christmas (1954) starring Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye

My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left. -Phil comments (re: Bob’s bachelorhood).

When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply. -Bob says, confused.

Having left the Army following WWII, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) team up to become a successful song-and-dance act. Phil (playing matchmaker) introduces Bob to the talented/beautiful sisters of an Army buddy, Betty (Rosemary Clooney- aunt of George) and Judy (Vera Ellen) Haynes, who are an up-and-comers in show business. When Betty and Judy travel to a Vermont to perform during the holidays, the men follow (Phil convinces Bob- he saved his life during a bombing raid). The men find their former commander, General Waverly, is the owner of Pine Tree Inn; w/ the lack of snow and guests, he’s losing hope. A series of romantic mix-ups ensue as these performers try to help him out.

It’s cozier, isn’t it? Boy, girl, boy, girl? -Phil asks the Haynes sisters re: his seating plan.

This is a holiday classic (now streaming on Netflix) that my family and I watched almost every year growing up. There is singing (Crosby and Clooney focus on this aspect more), dancing (Kaye and Ellen are more involved in this), fabulous clothes (esp. the gowns chosen for Clooney- IMO), comedy (wordplay, physical humor, Mary Wickes’ as the inn’s housekeeper, etc.) and romance. Irving Berlin composed the music, which is quite memorable. Things get complicated b/c Phil (and later- also Judy) plot to throw Bob and Betty (who are BOTH concerned re: their careers and “slow movers” in romance) together.

Imagine a girl in show business today wanting to settle down and raising a family. It’s so refreshing, isn’t it? -Phil asks Bob, while Betty and Judy look on.

Pushing, pushing. -Bob mumbles into his glass of water.

There is some cool trivia behind this film. According to Clooney, the “midnight snack” scene in which Bob Wallace expounds on his theory of what foods cause what dreams was almost entirely improvised. She said that the men’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. Crosby and Kaye were clowning around on the set, and director (Michael Curtiz) thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, as he was unable to hold a straight face due to Kaye’s comedic dancing. The filmmakers had a better take (where Crosby didn’t laugh), BUT test audiences liked the laughing version better. I noticed this a FEW years ago- one of the background dancers is George Chakiris, who later won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his role as Bernardo in West Side Story (1961). Bob Fosse was one of the choreographers (though he is uncredited).

Below is a video of one of the BEST dance numbers from the film.

Viceroy’s House (2017) starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, & Huma Qureshi

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie (now showing in wide release in the US).

[1] If you saw something similar in a high school world history class it would be interesting and effective. As a theatrical movie it misses the mark.

[2] ...as history, it is inevitably selective. Most glaring is the benign portrait of a compassionate departing colonial power.

[3] It’s interesting to see, but it’s by no means a cinematic masterclass.

[4] What could have been an epic, ends up being too pedestrian. It is this failure in character development which pulls the film down harder than all the other negative factors combined.

[5] A special mention needs to go to Gillian Anderson. Her performance as Lady Mountbatten is wonderful. The received pronunciation was perfect. Her character adds heart, she adds a moral core, to both Lord Mountbatten, and in my eyes, to the film in general.

-Excerpts from reviews on IMDB

I saw this movie (ONLY available in SD- ugh) last night on FIOS On Demand. I had been anticipating it for almost 3 mos, so was VERY excited. (American actor Manish Dayal was posting bits about it on his social media.) I was a big fan of Bend it Like Beckham, British director Gurinder Chadha’s breakout indie hit. I thought her Thanksgiving-themed film (What’s Cooking?) was pretty good. The posters didn’t appeal to me- TOO slick and stereotypical of a historical drama. I liked the trailers that I saw; the high production value was evident (which viewers expect from this caliber of film).

Sadly, Viceroy’s House was NOT what I expected. After it ended, I wondered: “There MUST have been MORE to this film!” It seems edited down (to a mere 1 hr 46 mins); however, it seems longer b/c of it’s plodding nature (at least in the first half). Maybe it needs to be seen on the big screen (for its sheer scope and spectacle)? Or maybe it would’ve been better as a miniseries or movie on HBO (where directors and writers have more creative control)? MANY critics/viewers felt that Hugh Bonneville was miscast as Lord Louis Mountbatten. Hmmm… maybe it’s TOO close to his role as head of Downton Abbey? Gillian Anderson (who plays Lady Edwina) is given some of the best lines in the movie; she does well w/ in her role. (You should check Anderson out in British work, incl. The Fall on Netflix.)

The veteran actors who play Nehru (Tanveer Ghani), Jinnah (Denzil Smith), and Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) do what they can w/ what they are given. Basically, they sit around and debate w/ the Brits on if and how to divide India and the new Muslim majority nation- Pakistan. Some of you know that Gandhi didn’t want India divided; he imagined a land where ALL religions live together in peace (as before the Brits arrived and used their “divide and conquer” strategy to rule). Some Pakistanis were NOT pleased w/ the portrayal of Jinnah, who comes off as duplicitous.

Michael Gambon plays Gen. Ismay, a cold/intimidating man who doesn’t care what happens to the Indian people. He wants to get the boundaries created ASAP and get back to England. Simon Callow ‘s overwhelmed character, Radcliffe, says that it’s impossible to make these decisions in such a short time frame. Ismay finally shows him a plan from 1945 which already lays out exactly how India and Pakistan should be divided (NOT sure how accurate this is in reality)!

The recently deceased international Indian actor, Om Puri, has a small, yet effective/touching role. (He played Dayal’s father in The Hundred-Foot Journey). In this film, Puri plays Ali Rahim Noor, the blind/elderly father of Aalia (Pakistani actress Huma Qureshi), the Muslim woman who has captured the heart of Dayal’s character, Jeet Kumar. Ali Rahim was a political prisoner in the jail where Jeet worked for 2 yrs as a guard. Now, Jeet is a manservant (alongside his Sikh friend, Duleep Singh) for Mountbatten. As Dayal has said, Jeet represents the Hindu perspective in the film. He is an earnest/optimistic young man who feels that his destiny is to marry Aalia.

One of the servants (among 500+ in the viceroy’s household) who stirs up trouble is Mohsin (Samrat Chakraborti, an American actor/musician whose career I’ve been following since 2005). He also has a crucial role in Midnight’s Children (check Netflix to see if it’s still available). Another pleasant surprise is the original music by A.R. Rahman, an internationally recognized composer. I thought he did a esp. fine job in the last section of the film, when we see large crowds of refugees streaming into the palatial estate.

Related Videos

Two (differing) reviews of the film

BBC interview w/ Chadha (12:16)

BUILD Series interview w/ Chadha & Ghani (34:29)