Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I have been watching lately PART II

Return to the Battle of the Khans

Here's where I review a handful of Shahrukh Khan's films that I have been watching. Another current Bollywood megastar, Shahrukh seems to take fewer risks in his characters and films overall than Aamir which makes them an interesting contrast. I enjoy Shahrukh's films, but in a different way.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008)
A middle-aged man who has lost his love for life recovers it through the love of a vivacious young girl.

Ah, if only that remained the focus of the film...

Like school buddy films, I love a good loser trying to get the girl film. I really liked the parts of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where Sharukh played the simple, middle-aged man Surinder. Surinder is a good man, but keeps to himself, lives alone, etc. Then you have the lovely and lively Taani (Anushka Sharma) who loses her fiancee on the eve of their wedding. Taani's father is a long time mentor and former professor of Surinder, and upon growing ill tells his daughter that he can only rest well knowing that she is well cared for by the man he trusts most in Surinder.

Their marriage is arranged to fulfill the father's wishes, despite Taani not really wanting to and Surinder feeling embarrassed and possibly ashamed. Taani lives a depressed life, mourning her deceased love still, and Surinder begins to love her from afar, unsure how to make her happy.

I would have liked this film to have developed from this story alone, but that wouldn't be Bollywood enough, no? What we end up getting is a sort of douchebag Superman where Surinder poses as a handsome cocky type, Taani of course not recognizing him, trying to get to know her this way. He believes Taani will only associate his geeky self with pain and remain sad.

The humor is broad  and the story unrealistic, but ultimately I did enjoy this film for what it was. You certainly have to suspend belief, and just enjoy the colors, dancing, lighthearted story, etc. I fucking loved the song Surinder sings first in the film titled Haule Haule, when he first begins to think that maybe a movie star type is what Taani wants in life.

Not sure what it is, but it just caught my corny ass at the right time.

Shahrukh is cheesy, but does a solid job, especially as the loveable loser persona. Not the greatest film ever, but I liked it more than I thought I would.

Score: 7.25 / 10

Om Shanti Om (2007)
In the 1970s, Om, an aspiring actor, is murdered, but is immediately reincarnated into the present day. He attempts to discover the mystery of his demise and find Shanti, the love of his previous life.

Now talk about suspending belief. Om Shanti Om was a film I heard high praise for from friends, and thus saved it until last in my mini-Shahrukh watching spree. I was a little let down by the end of the film, but it was a fun trip getting there.

The best parts for me were the production and set design, and the first half of the film that takes place in the 1970s. Shahrukh's hammy side was certainly at home here as this (and into much of the second half) serves as a loving spoof of the Bollywood film industry. Everyone and everything is intentionally over the top and colorful. There's a cool musical number at the outset, showing the gorgeous main actress Deepika Padukone dancing through scenes of famous Bollywood films. (She is digitally inserted into them and it looks pretty cool. I wish I knew the films better, and I think I could appreciate the scene more)

There are a few jumps in plot in the second half that we not well done in my opinion, one big one in particular that I won't spoil here, but it all leads into a story at the end that I just didn't care for.

At least it looked good up until the very end!

Also, watch for the extremely catchy Deewangi Deewangi (many people will recognize this song from somewhere outside the movie... it's actually driving me crazy that I cannot place it.) In his song/dance number, you get brief cameos from loads of Bollywood stars. I recognized a few, but someone more versed in Hindi cinema will have a lot of fun here I think. It's not my normal style of music by any means, but I enjoyed this scene a lot. Hell, even if you hate the song, you're gonna be singing the Ooooom shanti ooooooom in your head all day!

This film is a cool little twist on the Bollywood formula, but didn't consistently hold my interest. It just started to lose me when the main plot began to take shape.

Score: 6.25 / 10

My Name Is Khan (2010)
Rizwan Khan, a Muslim from the Borivali section of Mumbai, suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism that complicates socialization. The adult Rizwan marries a Hindu single mother, Mandira, in San Francisco. After 9/11, Rizwan is detained by authorities at LAX who mistake his disability for suspicious behavior. Following his arrest, he meets Radha, a therapist who helps him deal with his situation and his affliction. Rizwan then begins a journey to meet US President Obama to clear his name

OK, I'm too lazy to rewrite that synopsis, but I suppose it is approaching what actually took place in My Name Is Khan... Yes, he is on a journey to tell the president that he is not a terrorist, but there's a lot that leads up to this, and his Asperger's certainly plays a part in this decision.

What I took from this film wasn't so much the story first, but rather that it felt like a project that Aamir Khan would take on instead, which is why I chose to put it here as opposed to some other of Shahrukh's films that I have seen lately. Everything else I have seen with him he has ben portrayed as a hunky and/or romantic lead, but here is essentially the Indian Rain Man. I thought Khan did a really nice job here... as did the actors around him. I really liked seeing Kajol who has appeared in quite a few films with Shahrukh Khan. Let's not be misleading at all here though, this is certainly the Shahrukh show.

At it's heart, this is a great story and film. It is very nicely shot and tackles some admirable topics. But those topics are the main thing that weighed down the film for me. There is way too much crammed in here for proper resolution of any of it, really. We have Muslim/Hindu relations... post-9/11 Muslim treatment in America... a mourning mother and family... the Asperger's challenge itself.... Bush and Obama... terrorism at a mosque... terrorist detainees being mistreated... a fucking hurricane that is more like an unrelenting monsoon (Katrina references abound).

It all ends up gumming up the works and making the film feel more shallow than it could have been.

One problem I think American audiences will take from this film is how Americans themselves are portrayed. Almost every white face here is an asshole at some point, and the small town in Georgia has some very stereotypical black characters. It was kind of annoying as I was watching the film, but after it was over and I thought more about it, I realized that this film was most likely made first for an Indian audience. Some characterizations had to be done in the context of the story to get a point across.

And as for the Georgia town with dirt paths that floods uncontrollably and is only visited by citizens... I believe this is more a representation of a very rural Indian village. It was made more familiar to that audience. Even with the government's problems at handing the Katrina disaster, there was still a presence by the National Guard at some point, and normal citizens could not just wander into the area to help those forgotten. It was all told in hyperbole in the film for a reason, but didn't exactly work for me.

I'm not gonna lie, this movie teared me up a few times. But some of the negatives just drug down the overall experience.

An interesting real life story actually had Shahrukh being detained for hours at an American airport because of his last name when he was coming here to promote this film in which this Muslim man is detained at an airport because of his name. People that worked at the airport were asking for his autograph while the whole process was going on.

Score: 6.5 / 10

Shahrukh seems to more embrace his Bollywood fame and status. He's a good actor, but his films entertain mostly in a different way. There are certainly exceptions, such as the outstanding Swades: We, the People, and obviously My Name Is Khan, but you are definitely doing to see Shahrukh with his shirt open and hair blowing in the wind before Aamir at this point in their careers. Shahrukh is going to have 3 Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghams and Devdases (both good, colorful films in their own mega-melodramatic ways) for every Swades it seems to me in my limited experience.

Well, there you have it. The "outsider" and the "superstar." My foundation thus far for Bollywood of the past 10 or 15 years.

I'll be covering more genre-style Bollywood films coming up, don't you worry your pretty little head. Amitabh is coming!!

1 comment:

Copyboy said...

I love learning about stuff I never get exposed to on a daily basis. I guess I'm bollywood bound next time I check my Netflix queue.

Cool blog!