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“Barfi!”

I watched this movie because everyone was talking about it a few years ago, but I honestly wasn’t expecting much from it. Two of the three main characters are disabled, and the average Bollywood film tends to be less PC than the average Hollywood film when it comes to the portrayal of disabled characters–and we all know that your average Hollywood film could stand to do better. So like I said, I wasn’t expecting much, but I gave it a try, because seemingly *everyone* was talking about this movie in 2012.

And deservedly so. While it’s by no means perfect, it really did deserve all of the accolades it got. Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra are both amazing in their roles, and the story itself manages to not stray into sentimentality while letting the characters be full and complete and above all else dignified human beings. It really far, far exceeded my expectations, and I highly recommend it.

The plot is really too complex to sum up, and this is a movie where a lengthy summation of events really will spoil the film, but there’s at least one untimely death, a kidnapping, some baby goats, dancing, Family Drama, a really amazing amount of superb physical comedy, and you’ll probably tear up at the end unless you have a rock in place of a heart. It’s really a charming and delightful film. And there is stellar acting. Really truly.

I don’t usually post trailers, as they can be very misleading, but this one really does give you a good idea what the film is like. The score is obviously very heavily influenced by Amélie, and if you like that sort of quirky film, you’d probably like this one too. (It takes places in the Himalayas and Calcutta in the 70s, if you were wondering.)

Barfi

Source: Netflix, but I have since bought my own copy

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This is, more or less, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. With a few minor excursions, and a couple of additions. I loved it.

Ram and Leela are the offspring of two families on opposing sides of a local gang war. They meet during Holi, and Ram falls in love after Leela threatens him with a loaded gun. He sneaks into her room later that night, and they profess their affection for each other–despite Leela’s engagement to someone else, not to mention the danger of being seen with a mortal enemy. Eventually their families figure out what is going on, Ram accidentally kills Leela’s beloved elder brother, and our duo runs away and secretly marries.

I’m sure you see where this is headed?

But wait! Leela’s cousins find them, thanks to Ram’s loser friends who rat him out, and haul Leela back home. An assassination attempt of Ram fails, instead badly injuring Leela’s mother, forcing Leela to temporarily take over the criminal empire–oh yes, it’s the women who run things in that family, and you DO NOT want to cross them. Ram and Leela carry out a bitter negotiation session in their respective roles as heads of families (Ram’s father passed his position on to his son without having to die), and essentially declare their relationship to be over, except not. A massacre is planned by devious traitors in both houses, our lovers reunite, and we all know how this one ends.

IT WAS AWESOME AMD I LOVED IT.

Confession time: I am very fond of the violent, intelligent gangster subgenre of Bollywood films, and there are a lot of really good ones out there. It’s seen a renaissance in recent years. There are some doofy ones, but the good ones are amazing. This one is definitely in the good end of the spectrum, but it’s not my all time favorite. Sanjay Leela Bhansali tends towards the overwrought and overdramatic, but seeing as this was billed as the start as a reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet, the theatricality works here.

This is how Ram makes his entrance. It was amazing, and I think Jazi and I watched it…twice? Three times? More than once, in any case. The music was really good, and all of the songs were gorgeous. I’m going to have to get the soundtrack too.

So if you like violent modern gangster interpretations of Shakespeare, with song and dance numbers (see also “Omkara”), this is the film for you.

Ram-Leela

Source: personal copy

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I saw this film on a whim, more or less, after reading the review over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books. It’s much better than your average kids movie–not that I go to all that many, but I judge them quite harshly based on the trailers I see–and has several things in its favor:

  • The animation is gorgeous. In an interview I read somewhere, it was said by one of the producers that they wanted this movie to look like other movies concept art coffee table books. And it does. It’s colorful and vibrant and alive and just unlike  anything else I’ve seen. There is always something to look at, and I could watch this another two or three times and catch details I previously missed.
  • The vast majority of the cast is non-white, and that is so refreshing. For that fact alone, I hope this movie makes a bazillion dollars and multiple sequels. Take note Hollywood! It’s possible to make movies without white people! You should really try it more often!
  • Related, there is so much cultural awesomeness packed into this movie, from the physical aspects of each character, to the designs of the town, to the overwhelming visual complexity that is The Land of the Remembered, and more. I know there are jokes and cultural nudge-nudge-wink-winks I am missing, and that’s perfectly ok! I don’t need to be in on every last nuance! I like that it’s a setting, complete with its own fantastical underworld aspect, that I don’t already know backwards and forwards and am bored by. MORE PLEASE.
  • And maybe my most favorite thing of all: the way it dealt with death. Given that it’s a story very much framed by Day of the Dead celebrations, death is obviously important to the characters and a normal part of their lives. Such a healthy attitude, and something I think most viewers of the film could probably stand to work on themselves.

That being said, there are also some downers:

  • The love triangle is lame. Super lame. It’s obvious from the moment it is introduced who the hero is and who will therefore get the girl. So much potential wasted. Sigh. (I do like Manolo, he’s a very nice boy, but.)
  • I wanted to see more of Maria’s point of view, and Joaquin’s. And all those awesome relatives that are introduced in the Land of the Remembered! So much potential wasted. Sigh.
  • But I heard a rumor on the internet that this is conceived as the first in a trilogy. And we all know that internet rumors are never wrong. So maybe the next two movies will focus on the other two main characters? Please?

My final verdict is recommended, with reservations. But if you have children who need to see a movie, pick this. It’s better than 95% of the other options out there. And the music is good too.

The Book of Life

Source: saw in theater

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Earlier this fall I went to Chicago to see the SLAM! tour. Which was quite an experience, and really fun. (Minneapolis is not big enough/home to a large enough South East Asian community for a show like that to come here, hence the road trip.) And since we were already in Chicago for one Bollywood event, why not watch “Dhoom 3,” which is largely set in Chicago, while we were there? So we did, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

“Dhoom 3” is the latest in the Dhoom franchise. There’s not really a lot of plot continuity, so you can watch them in any order, but the production values do increase for each one. They are fun and fairly brainless pieces of fluff, and I really do enjoy them. They are nominally cop caper films, but really, especially as the series has gone on, the focus has shifted far more to the villain of the film. At this point he’s really more of an anti-hero than a villain, to be honest–you sympathize with him, and understand why he’s doing bad things, the anti-hero in this film is trying to right a greater wrong by committing lesser crimes.

Perhaps I should move on to plot summary, now that the analysis has been taken care of.

The Great Indian Circus in Chicago has fallen on hard times, and Mr Anderson of the Western Bank of Chicago is unwilling to extend any more leniency to Iqbal Khan. So Iqbal Khan kills himself, leaving his young son Sahir to fend for himself (WORST FATHER EVER), not to mention all the rest of the circus employees. Flash forward to 2013. Sahir has managed to reopen the Great Indian Circus, and is also leading a secret double life as a bank robber who is targeting branches of the Western Bank of Chicago. There are thrilling chase scenes involving motorcycles and lots of Chicago landmarks; plot is invoked. We travel back to India for a brief moment to pick up Jai and Ali, the nominal heroes of this franchise, but they really hardly feature in the film–it’s all Sahir, all the time. There’s another bank robbery, and this time the chase scenes are on the water! the motorcycle transforms into a jetski! It’s all very thrilling. And there’s also circus story, including the hiring of Aaliya, who’s sort of a love interest. There is also a Plot Twist, which if you’ve seen any Bollywood from the 60s or 70s or seen or read “The Prestige” won’t really be a surprise (but knowing what it is won’t spoil how it’s executed in the film) and more chase scenes. And then there’s a rather surprising ending which I wasn’t expecting at all.

So…it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece for the ages, but it’s fun. And really engaging to watch. The songs are all good, with great costumes and interesting choreography, and many feature vaguely steampunk Aamir Khan in a leather vest and tight pants, so that was really ok with me. But I think my favorite song was the opening number, the by this point obligatory reinterpretation of “Dhoom Machale” that each entry in the franchise does. I still really really like the visuals of the Hrithik Roshan version, but the lyrics are terrible. And yes, I recognize they are probably terrible because they are in English and my Hindi is weak enough that I don’t understand enough to have Insipid Lyrics Alerts going off, but ugh. Come on.

Dhoom3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Netflix subscription

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Sekhar Subramanium is a game designer based in London. His son Prateek thinks that all games are too easy because they have villains that are simple to beat, and scorns his father’s skills. So Sekhar designs a game for his son that has a truly unbeatable villain: RA. One. The game incorporates new technologies that allow RA. One to escape the confines of the virtual world he was made for and seek revenge on Prateek for almost beating him in the real world. Unfortunately for the Subramanium family there are unforeseen consequences (involving awesome car chases) that force them to flee to India. Eventually Prateek and G.One, the hero of the game, persevere and save the world.

That’s the short version. The long version involves so many convoluted plot twists that I could never even begin to keep them straight when trying to write them out. Suffice to say, there is danger, action, dancing, wire work, and the need to utterly and completely suspend your disbelief. It’s also fun to play Spot the Inspiration–pretty much every sci-fi movie of the past 20+ years has contributed something to this one.

Is this movie as ridiculous and over the top as it sounds? Oh yes.

Did I see it twice in one week because it’s a super fun piece of fluff? Perhaps.

Am I going to buy the DVD when it’s released? You better believe it.

Official site

Source: saw in theater

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Jai and Aditi are best friends. They are also absolutely perfect for each other. Everyone knows this: their gang of friends (Rotlu, Jiggy, Bombs, and Shaleen), their parents, all the other students at college, EVERYONE. Everyone except Jai and Aditi, of course. They are convinced that they’re just friends, and that they would never be right for each other. So they decide to play matchmaker. Aditi promises to find a sweet and gentle girl for Jai, and Jai is on the lookout for a macho stud for Aditi. Unsurprisingly, things do not work out as planned. Jai ends up spending all his time with Meghna, which makes Aditi jealous–not that she admits she is jealous. Aditi ends up getting engaged to Sushant, the BIGGEST JERK EVER–not that anyone immediately realizes how awful he is. Finally, after a Rajput rite of passage has been achieved with help from several unexpected sources, Jai and Aditi realize their true feelings for each other.

Yes, the story is predictable: you’d have to be pretty dense to not realize how it’s going to end after the first half hour of the film. There are enough charming, funny, and unanticipated detours along the way, however, that it’s never boring to watch. But my favorite part about the movie is the group of friends surrounding Jai and Aditi. Rotlu, Jiggy, Bombs, and Shaleen are all well-rounded, fully realized characters. Secondary characters, to be sure, but none of them are reduced to the shorthand stereotypes so often used. They’re all real people, with their own stories happening on the periphery. An extra special added bonus is that all of the actors are the appropriate age to be playing college students. It’s quite refreshing!

(The above two criticisms I level equally at Hollywood and Bollywood films, in case you were curious.)

This is my favorite song from the movie. I’ve really become quite fond of all its tacky and catchy glory. Be warned: it will be in your head forever.

Source: Jazi’s copy, but I’ll be buying my own for sure

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Khalujan and Babban are two criminals on the run from their boss Mushtaq. Desperate for a place to hide, they eventually find themselves at their old friend Verma’s compound. Unfortunately, Verma is dead, but his widow Krishna agrees to hide them. Before too long, both men are courting her, but Krishna’s true feelings are anything but obvious. And then the money that Khalujan and Babban stole from Mushtaq and hid in the compound is missing, and cannot be found. Suspicions and accusations fly. Krishna eventually convinces them to kidnap a wealthy businessman so that Mushtaq can be paid off (with enough left over for the three of them, of course). But as events quickly spiral out of control, it becomes clear that Krishna is ruthlessly pursuing her own personal agenda.

Is Krishna playing both men for fools? Will Khalujan and Babban manage to get the money they need to pay off Mushtaq? Is the metaphoric gun that was prominently featured in the first act destined to go off? How will it all end???

I knew the very basics of the story before I watched this, but holy cats. There were so many twisty plot turns, and so many possible ways for the story to end, that the movie ended up being absolutely nothing like I expected. It was AWESOME. Jazi and Libby and I spent the last 45 minutes of the film desperately trying to figure out what was going to happen–we never ever guessed right, but all three of us agreed that that made the film even better. It was utterly unpredictable, in the best possible way, but everything did make sense once the credits finally rolled.

And now I need to watch it again to catch all the tricksy foreshadowing.

The opening credits are over a song about Ibn Battuta. I mean, come on, how can this movie be anything but fabulous!

I’m fond of both Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi, and neither disappointed here. Vidya Balan was also excellent, and I clearly need to see more movies with her. As an added bonus, I got to practice my, er, colloquial Hindi–thanks to several books I’ve read, I usually knew what the coy “…” in the subtitles meant. Jazi and Libby appreciated my knowledge.

Source: personal copy

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