20 February 2017

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)

Directed by: Bharat Nallauri
Music: Paul Englishby
Starring: Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, 
Lee Pace, Tom Payne, Mark Strong, 
Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, 
Christina Cole
My husband had an unexpected holiday this past Friday and I decided to play hooky myself; since our son was in school, we could go out for lunch, catch a matinee, and be back home by the time he came back from school. Alas for best laid plans, I woke up to find the universe revolving around me. So instead of lunching outside, I curled up on the couch with a cup of tomato soup and a couple of slices of home-made bread, and asked my husband to look for something appropriately lightweight on Netflix streaming. I wasn't in any mood for a serious film. 

As he was browsing through the available 'comedies' (apparently Kal Ho Na Ho and Dilwale are comedies), we were struck by the title of this film. Both of us had vague recollections of having heard the name before, but we didn't know anything about it; but it starred Frances McDormand, whom we both like, and my husband is in love with Amy Adams (amongst other people), so we settled down to watch the film. 

16 February 2017

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

In a nation terrorized by its own government, one man dared to tell the truth
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, 
Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella, 
Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise

 Once upon a long time ago, I so badly wanted to be an investigative journalist. Now, films about good journalism fascinate me. Especially true stories.

Anyone who’s reading the news knows the state of my adopted country. It’s not hidden from the rest of the world. As the US faces its most divisive age in years, people who know their history hark back to another dark period in the country’s history.

8 February 2017

Phagun (1973)

Directed by: Rajinder Singh Bedi
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Waheeda Rehman, Jaya Bhaduri, 
Dharmendra, Vijay Arora, Om Prakash
Before we watched Satte pe Satta together-apart, Blog reader Shalini and I had watched Phagun, because she said she wanted to discuss that film with somebody. Phagun puzzled her, she said. So we decided to deconstruct the puzzle to see if we could make it less puzzling. As with Satte pe Satta, the watchalong was interspersed with several exclamations, many, many, many comments, much swooning over Dharmendra, irreverent (and irrelevant) musings, spoilers, etc. [Shalini’s comments in red. Mine in green.]

3 February 2017

In Praise of Waheeda Rehman

She is one of my favourite actresses of all time. Her beauty, her grace, her immense talent, that ability to be completely natural on screen – have all been rightly extolled throughout her career. Unassuming, but known to speak her mind, she has gracefully removed herself from the arc lights, and has no regrets about ‘losing’ fame and recognition. Waheeda Rehman. Immortalised forever as the eponymous ‘Chaudhvin ka Chand’ in a film that was not so deserving of her talent. I have written about her before – a post on what I think are her best roles, a review of her conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabeer, reviewed some half a dozen of her films… she also makes regular appearances on my song lists.

29 January 2017

Masoom (1982)

Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Gulzar
Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi,
Jugal Hansraj, Saeed Jaffrey,
Urmila Matondkar, Aradhana
The 80s were generally considered the nadir of Hindi cinema. It's when films became kitschy, loud, and spontaneously combusted in a riot of colours, pots, flowers, props... However, amidst all that noise and mayhem and violence, there were quite a few films that stood out for their quiet simplicity, excellent stories and direction, capped by great acting from the cast.  

Masoom is one of them. Director Shekhar Kapur's debut film as a director, the film was an adaptation of Erich Segal's Man Woman & Child. I had already read Segal's Love Story by then (What can I say? I was a precocious kid.), and had been thoroughly underwhelmed, and knowing the story of this film didn't endear it to me. Neither did its star-cast. I was barely a teen then, and the Naseeruddin Shah-Shabana Azmi didn't really appeal to a kid who was besotted by Amitabh Bachchan. 

However, we were wrapping up life in Bangalore (then), and for some reason, I remember, Gandhi, released earlier was still playing, and my sister wanted to watch it. Having been fed on a diet of Gandhiji throughout school, I was bored as hell, but wanted to watch Rambo-First Blood, which had just released in Bangalore, because my now-husband had recommended it. (Yes, he was not always a film-snob!) So we, partners-in-crime, decided we would 'suffer' through each other's choices. So we watched them back to back. And then noticed Jugal Hansraj in the posters for Masoom. So we decided we had to watch that as well. (Yup, that's how we chose which films to watch.)

So we duly made our way back to Majestic, and stood in line for the tickets, as the crowd surged around us. It was playing to full house every show, and the lines snaked through the lobby from the ticketing window to the compound outside. As we waited, we watched the patrons of the earlier show coming out - everyone suspiciously red-eyed. 'Uh oh,' I thought to myself, 'one of those!' I looked at my sister and she had the same look on her face. But we had been standing there for nearly an hour, there wasn't another movie we wanted to watch, and we had come to watch a movie, and by God! We were going to watch one... so we stayed. 

I'm so glad we did.

10 January 2017

My Favourites: 'Kaun Aaya?' Songs

Hindi films are full of rhetorical questions to which everyone, including the people asking those questions, know the answer, and I find them amusing. Sometime back, I wrote a post on what I called ‘Where are you?songs, in a bid to answer one such question. It struck me that there were a few other existential questions that need answers. One such question is ‘Kaun aaya?’ The answer is obvious, of course (and the characters on screen know who has stolen their heart, resided in their soul, made them laugh…), but they ask (sing) the questions anyway.  

Well, I thought it might make sense to explain these songs to my readers [patting my own halo] so I began my research, my quest for the rhetorical, the unanswerable, the inexplicable...

6 January 2017

My Favourites: Songs of Promises

This time last year, inspired by blog-reader Neeru who provided me with the impetus, I wrote a post on Songs of Hope and Encouragement. At the time, I wrote that we had just come through a year of disaster. Very presciently, or so it seems in hindsight, I also wrote that it seemed things could only get worse. Because those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first turn mad. It appears to have come to pass, and we are teetering on the edge of the apocalypse. In less than three weeks, we will have handed over the reins of the free world to a narcissist who thinks governing one of the largest democracies in the world is something that can be done in 140 characters. If that's not a disaster of epic proportions, I don't know what else can compete. As John F Kennedy once said, ‘The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.’ Or as Simon and Garfunkel so pithily sang (The Boxer):
All lies and jests
Till a man hears
What he wants to hear
And disregards the rest... 

In the meantime, I'm also sickened by almost-daily reports of terror attacks targeting many hundreds of innocent lives all over the globe; the rise in racism, homophobia, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and sexism, all given validation, even normalised here in the US by a man who will soon hold the highest office in the land. Under the circumstances, you will forgive me for the utter despondency that washes over me, the complete absence of hope that anything will be better in the new year.
“And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"*
As always, I turn to the movies for succour, and seek refuge in the embrace of songs, old and new, to ease my pain, or at least make it bearable. My initial phase lay in soaking in songs of hopelessness, and while it proved cathartic, a longer dose of those songs would only have increased my feeling of despondency. Not a good start to the year. Instead, I decided to focus on the promise of a better tomorrow. There has to be one, right?

28 December 2016

The Year That Was

It's been a momentous year - any which way you look at it. Much of which I either wish hadn't happened, or that I could forget that it did. So in a bid to drown my sorrows, I fell back on my long-time solace, films. So I was thinking this year has seen some good films come out of the Hindi film industry. True blue superstars playing characters instead of themselves, films where the story was king, films that made us think, that made us love or hate them with equal intensity. Perhaps this is a good way to end the year, to list the films that I liked very much.

23 December 2016

Manichitrathazhu (1993)

Directed by: Fazil
Music: MG Radhakrishnan
Starring: Shobhana, Mohanlal, 
Suresh Gopi, Vinaya Prasad, 
Nedumudi Venu, Thilakan, 
Innocent, KPAC Lalitha, 
It’s been a long time since I reviewed a Malayalam film. I was dithering over one cult classic from the late eighties but if there’s one Malayalam film that came to define the cinematic sensibilities of a generation, it is Fazil’s Manichitrathazhu. Released in 1993, the film was both commercially and critically successful, and even today, more than two decades after its initial release, retains its magic when broadcast on television. There are few Malayalees who will not remember Nagavalli, or perk their ears up when they hear ‘Vidamaate?’ (You won’t let me go?!) A very unusual film that was part suspense, part horror, part psychological thriller, Manichitrathazhu became a touchstone for Malayali cinegoers, even if they were used to good movies. 

19 December 2016

The Legends: Asha Bhosle – Part 2

When a singer has had a career stretching over more than half a century, it follows that she will have an exhaustive body of work. Her ability to stay relevant was partly because she was open to experimentation. From exploring non-film albums with RD Burman, to recording ghazals with Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali, to exploring western genres with Boy George, the Kronos Quartet, and pop and disco, Asha not only carved a niche for herself in a field dominated by her elder sister, Lata, and populated with other well-established singers like Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum, but also withstood the influx of newer singers and the changing trends in music 

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