Bollywood Kathayen
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Future cats: Laila and other upcoming bollywood movies that are obvious copies of Hollywood
Catching copycats is more fun that I thought! I'm extending it to describe what I believe are copycats not yet released - based on the description of the movie as I read somewhere.

The top of the list is Laila - the upcoming movie of Payal Rohatgi (infamous Tauba Tauba girl) which is gaining some notoreity because the number of kisses in the movie are supposed to be more than what Mallika Sherawat did in Khwahish ... The description of the movie pegs is squarely as a copy of recent Melanie Griffith (The Working Girl star now known more as Mrs Antonio Banderas) movie Heartbreakers. In the latter, Melanie and daughter Jennifer Love Hewitt (I Know What You Did Last Summer - yet another slasher movie recently remade in Bollywood) go around conning rich men. Melanie marries them and Jennifer traps them in an extra-marital affair that allows the mother to divorce the nitwit and make a bunch of money in the process. Laila apparently is based on the same premise, except that the protagonists are 2 sisters ... Payal is old enough to be a teacher in Tauba Tauba but definitely not old enough to be the mother in the duo. Funny, the Melanie character hardly had any love scenes coz she uses her frigidity to drive the husband into the arms of an eagerly waiting secretary. The story seems to be different in Laila ...

A similar upcoming copy (at least I believe it is upcoming, I never heard about the movie's coming out after I read up on it a while ago) is 'Hum Kaun Hain', an Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini starrer which is clearly a copy of Nicole Kidman's The Others. Of course the title of the desi version ends up giving up most of the suspence of the movie. I guess they figured they had to make it more explicit for apni desi janta. If you haven't seen many desi movies, fyi, they are more like stage plays with exaggerated pauses and with highly detailed explanations of the most obvious situations, but then they do have to cover 3 hours ...

So here we are. Maybe Nicole could do something before being replaced by Hema Malini (I'm assuming). Or Melanie could sue Payal for the implications by her chosing to be a sister and not a mother!
Friday, March 18, 2005
Shakti Kapoor and the Bolly Sleaze Video
The latest raze in Bollywood ... Shakti Kapoor propositioned an under-cover reporter acting as a starlet who invited him over and plied him with alcohol. All to prove the existence of a casting couch. It was all video-taped and selected pieces were shown on a TV channel ...

Of course it immediately led to strong statements from all quarters - Preity Zinta, who appears to have found a new identity and is probably ready to follow Shaban Azmi and the Ramayana Sita actress into the world of politics, immediately denounced me. And a whole bunch of others defended him (btw, when did Govinda become an MP?).

Apparently this video is one of the most searched items on the web these days.

Now I'm all for investigative journalism. Tehelka created quite a stir in India. But this doesn't sound like no Tehelka. If you have to expose casting couch in Bollywood, picking Shakti Kapoor seems just bad! The guy could just get away easily claiming he was in character for a new role! This is after all, all he does in the movies anyways!

Or maybe it is indeed what happened to the Tehelka team that drove the new bold breed of reporters into Bollywood. Even there they didn't touch the issues like underworld relations (then again maybe that's already been handled - and maybe Preity was ready with a statement coz she thought that's what it was going to be about!).

With all the sleaze in Bollywood these days, it is weird that they need to pair up a starlet with a drunk Shakti Kapoor to get a video when so many of leading pairs these days are practically willing to give an appointment for one any time!

Maybe they were inspired by Times of India, that newspaper of repute decades ago, that seems to have become more of a tabloid day by day! They probably made this story famous anyways!

As I said in my first entry, bollywood is the source of most entertainment in India. Even the music videos, a relatively new phenomenon, have been relying on replaying old songs a lot. This incident goes on to show how even the news creation is now depending so much on bollywood!
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Chori Chori: A nice desi version of Housesitter
Movie: Chori Chori
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Rani Mukherjee, Sonali Bendre, Kulbhushan Kharbanda

Steve Martin's movies tend to have desi movie type stories. Father of the Bride is a prime example. The 1992 movie Housesitter with Goldie Hawn was a relatively milder story that didn't quite fit either of them as well, primarily because the actors were too old for their dreamy young characters.

That's the reason why the desi remake feels so much better. Ajay is an architect who is a dreamer (one good thing about this bollycat business, desi movie heroes have had a wider variety of characters, earlier they all used to go to some non-descript 'office' and do a lot of pen pushing!). He proposes to the very beautiful Sonali Bendre by offering her a new house. Despite what would appear to be a very responsible act by someone who is an architect himself, Sonali sees this as another in a series of impractical moves on his part and so refuses. He decides to do 'gham galat' in the traditional desi movie escapist route - booze in an office party.

Much like Goldie who was a bar waitress, Rani is catering in that party and hears his sob story. Later as she is kicked out by her boss, she decides to go stay in his dream house in Shimla ... the rest is standard fare with mixups around parents and a now jealous Sonali ...

One thing about names in desi movies. Heroes never used to have last names (Mr Rajesh, Mr Vijay etc). Heroines' names too follow a trend. Pooja was made popular by Madhuri Dixit and for the longest time every heroine was named Pooja. In parallel, Khushi commonly became the name for a girl who was bound to die of blood cancer at the end of the movie! In this movie, Sonali is called Puja while Rani is called Khushi. That should make you wonder how the movie is going to end!
Aitraaz: An okay rehash of Disclosure
Movie: Aitraaz
Cast: Akshaye Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra

I have mixed feelings about Michael Crichton as a writer. He brings in a lot of new science and presents it in a pop culture format. But he isn't a great story teller. The science and its misguided creations take more importance in his novels than the story itself. Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the sphere in Sphere, and the high-tech Singaporean fab in Disclosure.

One of his major shortcomings is that he creates multiple climaxes in his movies. In Jurassic Park the movie, for instance, we can see so many climactic situations. But there were more in the book. The scene in the sequel where one of the characters is devoured by an army of scavenger dinosaurs was actually the last climax in the first book. Steven Spielberg of course is a much better story teller and he wisely removed that last climax. Allowed him to also keep Richard Attenborough alive for the sequel!

So why are we talking about Crichton? Disclosure was his novel that had less current science than other ones. The main scientific piece was this high-tech chip plant based in Singapore which was generating bad processors and there was this virtual reality display to move around files - Micrsoft VR games meet Microsoft Windows Explorer!! Otherwise, the story was on sexual harrassment. Once again, there were multiple climaxes in the book, and this time they were faithfully reproduced in the movie where the leads were played by Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.

Now come our desi version - Aitraaz. Akshay plays Douglas while Priyanka Chopra plays Demi Moore. Kareena plays a couple of characters from the movie - Douglas' wife and his female lawyer. The movie is replete with phrases like Sexual Exploitation and is at times a frame by frame copy of the original. It ends up doing one better than the original though, but sticking to sort of one climax (though widely anticipated and expected) and keeping the VR system and the fab plant out of the story. Of course it might have been interesting to watch an outsourcing story based in India for a change!! Instead they tie the threads neatly together by making Akshaye work for a cell phone company.

Priyanka got awards for a role that mostly required staring steamily at Akshaye with a slightly twisted smile and copying Demi perfectly. She has since been heard to say that there will be no more role like that for her - 'there is one Godfather, and one Aitraaz'. Well, it is easy to do a vamp when you can copy someone else who has already done the role, but it is much more difficult to do it as an original. Not that she'd have had a chance to do an original to start with!

Aitraaz is watchable if you haven't seen Disclosure. If you have, all the suspence (if any) is gone and unless you love Priyanka, you might as well as stay away!
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Bollywood inspired by Hollywood! A bit too much
Heard recently about a new site - that keeps track of plagiarism in desi movies. I've been meaning to do something like that.

A fairly high number of Amitabh's movies are inspired by Hollywood creations. Though it is the same for almost all actors and actresses, Urmila has had a high share of copycat movies too!

Here's a small list ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Hungama: A treat to watch
Movie: Hungama
Director: Priyadarshan
Actors: Akshaye Khanna, Aftab Shivdasani, Rimi Sen, Paresh Rawal, Shakti Kapoor

I'm not one to watch the same movie several times. Sometimes it is inevitable though with the re-runs that we see on the few Indian cable/satellite channels in US. Thus, I ended up seeing Hungama again recently.

Paresh Rawal goes from strength to strength. I remember seeing his first movie Naam where he was a scary 'head hunter' cum smuggler snaring Sanjay Dutt. He has played a multitude of roles since then. Another great actor Sadashiv Amrapurkar had once said in an interview that he doesn't need to rely on histrionics to do good acting like some other actors. The snide was meant for Rawal I think. I don't mind his histrionics though! It makes for great cinema, and he puts his theater experience to good advantage.

Hungama is a tightly paced comedy with a series of mishaps guiding the stars - Akshaye Khanna, Aftab Shivdasani, and new comer Rimi Sen. The screen play is strong enough that the old identity mixups based gags look quite novel and funny. The cast is supported by terrific bits by Shakti Kapoor, Ashalata, and a great turn by one of the new actors (I keep on forgetting his name though) who plays the role of the zamindar's son who wants to marry Rimi, the hottie.

I am a big fan of Akshaye Khanna. I think he has gone way beyond his father - Vinod Khanna (discussed in the review of movie Lekin in this blog) in his acting talents. The fact that he doesn't wear a rug in this movie like some others he has been wearing in, is a likeable trait too, in my opinion. Time to give rogaine-hating baldies a respectable look!!

Aftab has a simple and sweet role. Though he doesn't share as much screen as AK, and there are unanswered questions about his career, he has a nice screen presence and it comes through!

Of course it is tough to imagine Rimi from the same village as the zamindar and Paresh Rawal's family, but you don't stop to think about such things. There is enough romance as expected in a movie with 1 heroine and 2 heroes.

Lots of funny situations later, the movie is nicely tied together.

The songs are pretty good. I'm becoming a big fan of Sonu Nigam. It was also good to see Shan and Sadhna Sargam sharing screen with their celluloid counterparts. More of the behind the scenes people should get a chance to be visible. If nothing else, their pictures should come along with their names when the credits roll!
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Review of Hindi Movie Lekin from Gulzar
Movie: Lekin
Director: Gulzar
Actors: Vinod Khanna, Dimple Kapadia

I know it's an old movie but I was always a bit reluctant to see it. Well made movies draw me in and this movie had all the marks of a sad one. One of the interesting things about US is the public library system which has rekindled my love for reading. San Francisco Bay Area and South Bay (Silicon Valley) libraries have some good surprises for South Asians - plenty of Hindi movies (as well as some in other Indian languages) as videos and DVDs. Still, most good ones are always taken by the time I get a chance to pick any. Like window shopping, it is fun to browse the remaining ones though. I had past by the cassette several times, when once I couldn't resist it and picked it up. I kept it for 10 days, incurring late fine, but didn't feel like watching it. Then one fine day, I decided to return it, and figured I'll scan through the movie to stop at the songs (usually I do it the other way, speeding through inane songs, but Lekin's songs are a rare treat). If you have seen the movie, you can imagine how I was hooked from the first shot.

Very few movies have captured the beauty of Thar. Movies based in Rajasthan like Gulaami, Lamhe etc have done it quite well in different contexts. Lekin brings out the haunting loneliness of the vast desert beautifully. As can be expected from a Gulzar creation, the movie is quite lyrical. The actors were perfectly cast. Too many bare chested shots of ex-Rajneesh-gardener Vinod Khanna though, showing where Salman Khan's been getting his ideas from! And Dimple looks haunting as her character justifies!

The movie starts in a train where Vinod Khanna is chided by a fellow passenger for cutting his nails at night - you will haunted by a witch - he says, and that sets the tone of the movie. Tasked with clearing out an old palace in a sleepy desert town where his friend Shafi (played by Amzad Khan) is a collector, he frequently meets Dimple in strange circumstances and comes to believe that she's a spirit lost in a moment of time and a particular place. He decides to help her release from the fold.

Gulzar, one of the best Hindi/Urdu poets around, great songs as expected. Lata's voice lends itself to such masterpieces as - Yara sili sili, Main Ek Sadi Se, etc. The movie's ending is quite predictable though there are some interesting situations where Khanna is looking for Dimple's older sister, played by Hema Malini. Beena shows up in a nice compassionate role as the hindu wife of a muslim Amzad Khan. Alok Nath has played the role of a classical vocal teacher before. He plays the role well in this movie.

It's of course not all perfect. I feel that potentially the most powerful situation wasn't exploited as well in the movie. The young dimple was incarcerated when her older sister Hema fled from the clutches of the Raja (played by Vijayendra). The next time we see her is 8 years later as a grown up woman having lived in solitary confinement all this while. I think the younger actress lost a great opportunity to play a great part showcasing her misfortune! And I'd have liked to see the older Dimple described by Hema. Instead, as in some other places, Gulzar relies on descriptive dialog instead of showing the actual situation.

I'd recommend the movie to just about anyone who likes well made movies. Fans of Vinod Khanna and/or Dimple would especially like it. If you have never heard the songs, buy a CD today!

Saturday, January 15, 2005
Tinsel Town
For the uninitiated, Bollywood is the Indian version of Hollywood. Based in Bombay, the name started as a joke and later stuck. So much so that the seat of Tamil movies in India is called Tollywood etc.

Just like the name is a copy, so is what's been happening with the movies. There is a new crop of stars, producers, and directors, almost all of whom ape the movies from Hollywood and create 'clean' copies. Most of the movies end up being B movies of the west. It is almost worth watching them in Hindi instead of the trite English version!! Sometimes the songs can ease the pain of sitting through them :-)

I have been watching Hindi movies all my life. Growing up, this was the best form of entertainment available in socialist India. The cheapest tickets' price across the country used to be fixed and that reserved the front seat (or the first few) for a particular type of crowd that defined a lot of what went into these movies. The other reason was the preponderence of very large theaters. A movie had to appeal to the 'masses' to ensure that the theater would fill to capacity and the movie recouped its costs. Western movies were not especially welcome, and one way to ensure that was the stiff taxes imposed on such movies. This meant we grew up watching either hollywood blockbusters - James Bond, King Kong etc, or the sleaze, often with quite imaginative titles (translated into Hindi).

It's a much more different place now of course. The opening of the skies to western satellites and the spread of private TV channels has led to a wide variety of entertainment available in every house. There is a new breed of multiplexes around which enable development of smaller budget movies with their own niche.

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