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Banno Outtakes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you

  1. are wondering what the hell happened to it
  2. know friend-of-the-blog Banno from Banno, Dhanno and Teja in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land

And while you’ll have to keep wondering about the blog for a little longer, I’m happy to share that I interviewed Banno for Women’s Web and we discussed things like how awesome she is and how difficult it is to be an indie filmmaker in India. No, seriously, check it out! And once you’ve read it, come back to read the outtakes.

Yes, of course there are outtakes! The interview was done in my usual expansive style, after all. I have been away a long time if you can’t remember how I like to go on and on.

Thanks, Banno!

***

Amrita: Let’s talk about India Reborn.
Batul:
India Reborn was a series for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. One of the episodes was on the Indian economy, and I worked on that as the Indian producer. An international documentary crew is typically very small, a director, a cameraman, a sound recordist, and a local producer like me. This one had a producer their end as well. My job usually is to help with finding stories, research, interviews, apart from the logistical co-ordination. I loved this job because after a long time, I worked with people who were still old-school journalists, we travelled through the country, and I learned so much about the Indian economy.

Amrita: I know from your blog that one of your British documentaries affected you deeply on a personal level.
Batul: The Slumdog Children of Mumbai came in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire‘s success. It was part of a year-long programming by Channel 4, UK. This was one of those jobs where we worked for long months, also the only job I did which was entirely during the monsoons. We had the tiniest crew: Nick Read, who was the producer, director, cameraman and sound recordist and me, working as an associate producer, conducting the interviews, etc.

It was physically grueling, the combination of rains and slums made things very, very difficult to bear at times, and I did come out of this experience traumatized.

Amrita: Any war stories?
Batul: I think the day I landed in Bhuj after the earthquake on Day 2, is the single most devastating day of my professional career. The dead bodies, the smell, the destruction of the entire city, people’s homes, and in the midst of it all trying to get a story. At that time, I was working as an associate for a cameraman who was shooting the International Rescue Corps.

I learned the gruesomeness of news in that one day, and in many ways, my own docu-feature 150 Seconds Ago was a back answer to that.

Amrita: Tell me about that experience.
Batul: 150 Seconds Ago was based on the lives of a few people in Bhuj, over the span of a year after the earthquake there in 2001. The people I followed included a rickshaw-wala, the erstwhile Maharajah of Bhuj, a doctor, a school teacher, and so on. It was very observational and exploratory, with no fixed narrative. The film travelled to many prestigious festivals including the Cinema du Reel, Paris, and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Japan. The Yamagata Festival curators then included the film in their traveling festival package and showed it around Japan for a year.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2011 in Entertainment, Life, Movies, Newsmakers, Video

 

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Breaking Radio Silence

Surprise! Thought I’d forgotten all about you lot, didn’t you? Not at all! I’ve just been going quietly crazy trying to get my life back on track. Which is not going well, thanks for asking. So I’m still stuck in limbo and the hiatus stretches on.

I know, I know. Boo, Me.

But! I have been mucking around here and there on the internet and perhaps you would like to read those efforts? My chat about Dhobi Ghat with friend Filmiholic, for instance!

Warning: it is very, very spoilery as befits a movie that has been out for a month.

Amrita: Also, this is proof positive that more women need to make movies. The way the camera followed the actors, especially the male ones, was significantly different from how a male director would have presented them. For example, there’s that scene in which Prateik is standing under the glow of a naked lightbulb and he’s all sweaty in these gross surroundings, and they shoot him in profile – it’s a shot I’ve seen in so many arthouse movies made in India before: “sweaty poor person in grotty urban shack”. I think people like Om Puri spent the entire 80s doing shots like those. But this time, there was a certain vulnerability and sexiness to that shot. We weren’t just watching a character, we were also being presented with the maleness of that character in a way. Obviously this has to do with Prateik being a hottie but even so… What do you think?
Filmiholic: And he (Munna) was so guileless. I remember being really touched and impressed by Prateik in Jaane Tu… so I had good expectations for him here, but he so exceeded them. Yes, agreed, he is indeed a hottie. But the way in this role he was also vulnerable, and a stand-up guy, and unaware of the effect his smoking hotness was having on people around him. Like when he does that shirtless pose when Shai’s photographing him,
Amrita: Yes! Great scene!
Filmiholic: I really just took that as him aping what he’s seen filmi guys do, not him thinking “I’m too sexy for my shirt” And by the way  it just occurs to me now, but three cheers for how the wardrobe people got his clothes right. When watching those Saturday morning desi entertainment shows here in the US, whenever I see them interviewing Bombay guys exiting cinemas to ask them about X or Y film they just saw, even if you can tell the dude may not have a stack of money in his wallet, 9 times out of 10 he’ll be wearing a somewhat flash, fashion-forward shirt, and probably with some accessories, and I’ve even observed this just being in the city – Mumbai guys often have quite a particular style and daring and a bit of the peacock about then, and I don’t observe the same in Madras when I’m there, no offense intended to the lovely men of Tamil Nadu, who have their own different vibe going on.
Back soon with other updates.
 
12 Comments

Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Entertainment, Movies, News, Personal

 

Break ke Baad: Dear John

<i>Break ke Baad</i>: Dear John

Dear Movie, we have got to break up. Wake up Sid, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Anjaana Anjaani, I Hate Luv Storys, Bachna Ae Haseeno… and now Break ke Baad, directed by Danish Aslam. The title of which made me laugh because we’ve essentially been watching the same movie starring Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan in turn, over and over and over again.

If I see one more middling movie about a likable pair of youngsters (the male confused yet ultimately correct; the female focused yet ultimately proven wrong) who stumble around in the dark before finding each other without too much fuss… well, I guess I will be well-rested because I’ll just turn over and go back to sleep. It’s not like I’ll lose my temper because that would be an actual reaction which is more than these things aim for.

[Digression 1: That's not strictly true. The first couple of times I saw this plot, viz. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Wake Up Sid as well as parts of Bachna Ae Haseeno, I was interested. With each subsequent installment, I quickly got over it.]

I’ve been wondering why this is, this utter lack of any response other than a shrug and a meh. Was it the careful result of much planning on the filmmakers’ part – did they deliver the innocuous movie they set out to make? Or was it inadvertent – an attempt to speak Gen Now gone terribly boring?

It finally struck me as I was watching Break ke Baad that (as a member of Gen 10 Minutes Past) the problem appears to be the romance. On their own, as angsty young people, all these movies feature interesting characters.

In Break ke Baad, for example, Abhay Gulati (Imran Khan) is that guy from college who kind of coasted along, uninterested in reaching for anything because he knew his (extremely unvillainous, terribly nice and supportive) father had an office all ready for him at home. And then once he got into that office, it began to pinch because he was like a balloon filled to bursting with all these half-formulated ideas and desires that had never been expressed because he hadn’t even tried to put them into words before. And yet, nothing short of a life-changing event can knock him out of his stupor and into experimenting a little with his idea of self.

Aaliya Khan (Deepika Padukone) is that girl you’re friends with because life is always so much more entertaining when she’s around to fuck things up. Your boyfriend hates her and thinks she’s a terrible influence on you, your other friends wonder what you see in her, and you shrug them off because your friendship is inexplicably based on giggly minutes spent fixing your makeup after throwing up in the restroom of a club or convincing a bartender to slip you free drinks. Everyone else got you really nice, safe, thoughtful gifts of books and knickknacks for your birthday but hers is the one you’ll always treasure – she made it herself, it serves absolutely no purpose (not even decorative because it’s fucking hideous), and is absolutely perfect to remember her by because you know and she knows that once these brief, few years are over, you’ll probably never meet her again although you’ll never forget her.

The difference between these two characters is that when they get to the big screen, Abhay is still sympathetic enough to be portrayed as he is while Aaliya turns into this monstrous vampire that feeds off the emotional energy of other people. In other words, you’ll see those exact scenes in Abhay’s portions of the movie, while the Aaliya I described above is crammed into a few scenes of pottery in a sunny courtyard and drunken revelry in inappropriate places. Even so, there’s a sense of drama lurking under the surface in her interactions with her mother, her frequent references to her adulterous absentee father, her determination to hack her own path and give no quarter.

[Digression 2: Aslam joins his long line of fellow debutant directors in making a movie in which the parent-child relationship comes off as much more genuine and heartfelt. A trend that first came to my attention in Wake Up Sid.]

Drama. Which brings us back to my big problem with movies like Break ke Baad – these are the most comatose romances I’ve ever seen in my life. I appreciate that they’re trying to set a tone that isn’t as hysterical as your classic Bollywood romance can be, with cruel parents and promises to die with sweeping background music. But as much as things have changed, falling in love is same old hysterical business, I’m afraid. Lovers are still fighting over trifles, irritating and boring their friends in turn by assuring them that none of them know the true meaning of love, bursting into storms of tears and accusations and other sappy stuff.

Compare that to movies like Anjaana Anjaani, which turned even the concept of suicide for love’s sake into a drawn out yawn. I know a real life version of that story and it is so much more entertaining. Meanwhile, people in these movies are so articulate, so soft-spoken, so polite I imagine their sex life consists of strenuous cuddling. In Break ke Baad, when Aaliya flips out at Abhay in the midst of the most uneventful beach rave Australia has ever hosted, the best she can do is grit out that she’s on a break in a half-raised growl before throwing the phone on the soft sand of the beach. I mean, she doesn’t even destroy her phone! What kind of tantrum is that for a capricious, self-obsessed creative? And yet, not a single character in the movie misses an opportunity to inform us that Aaliya is indeed all those things.

[Digression 3: Apart from Dev D, which is really a beast of a different sort, and perhaps a bit of Jaane Tu... how come all these cool, hip young folk go to the most boring parties where nothing ever happens? No brawls, no skeevy middle-aged men scoping out the latest batch of teenage girls, no catfight in the restroom, no puddles of vomit in random corners, no idiot adolescent tripping out for the first time and nearly killing him/herself, no cops who've totally been paid off, no sleazy waiters who know all the shady gossip about all the patrons, no drug peddling kingpins recruiting fresh customers... Aaliya would have found much better parties in her hometown of Delhi instead of going all the way to Australia to play with a surfboard.]

I sat there, one part of my brain watching Break ke Baad while the other ran through all the lovelife drama I’ve witnessed over the past year alone and no contest – every one of my friends had a more eventful, drama-filled story to tell. And this includes the ones that aren’t even in a relationship! Hmmm. Maybe I need new friends! :P

Having said all that, if there are young kids out there who’re watching these movies and coming away with the lesson that it pays to treat each other with respect (which, to give these movies their due, is a statement they eventually deliver) in a relationship, I couldn’t be happier. I’d rather watch a million versions of Break Ke Baad than a single Kambakkht Ishq.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Listen!

Just a note to remind you all that Masala Zindabad is now up and running. We take no prisoners in this week’s podcast about Current Actresses – what’s wrong with them and how do we fix it?

Keep the red sweater but teach them some table manners, probably.

If there are topics you’d like to see covered, drop us a note. We probably won’t use them but it’ll be nice to know how far off base we are. :P

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, News, Personal, Video

 

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On Guzaarish

On <i>Guzaarish</i>

Everything that’s wrong with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie-making is evident in the opening scene of Guzaarish: Sophia (a deliciously zaftig Aishwarya with heavily painted face, wearing some Victorian granny’s trousseau) carefully wakes and takes care of quadriplegic Ethan (Hrithik, in the one avatar left out in Kites: Jesus on the cross). It’s a great scene – or it would have been if we didn’t have Dominique Cerejo singing Smile in the background, reminding us that sadness lurks just beneath the artfully bleached surface.

Everything that’s right with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie-making can be seen in the song Udi by Sunidhi Chauhan: the normally contained Sophia takes Ethan out on the town to celebrate a rare outing and throws off her inhibitions to do it. Ethan is a man who likes to make jokes about all the sex he isn’t getting (among all the other things he can’t do any more) and needle Sophia in the process if he can; Sophia is a woman who keeps tight control of her feelings, quicker to scold than coddle. They’re surrounded by people as she taps along to the rhythm, strums an air guitar, and occasionally breaks into dazzlingly graceful steps – he never takes his eyes off her for a second and she meets them at the end of her uncharacteristic performance, making it absolutely clear that it was all for him.

It’s a searingly intimate moment for these two people. Sophia who knows every inch and working detail of his body, and Ethan who will never see more of her than what she allows him. Some movies can’t evoke that sense of amour even by making the actors take their clothes off.

And that to me is Guzaarish‘s big problem: it’s half a great movie. Because it’s made by that most tragic of beings, half a great film maker.

Personally speaking, here was a subject that pushed my buttons. It’s partly because euthanasia is a topic close to my heart for a number of reasons, not least of which is family history. But also because it addresses my greatest fear: a loss of control.

There is a scene in which Ethan proves a point to the cartoonishly unsympathetic prosecutor (Rajat Kapoor) by locking him up in a box. “I couldn’t move at all!” says the indignant lawyer, gulping in deep breaths. Well, sure. But the bigger issue was that for those terrifying 60 seconds, he was absolutely powerless.

The most vile crimes in our world are when man forcibly exerts control over his fellow man. Torture, rape, murder, home invasions, kidnappings… to find yourself at the mercy of a fellow human being, to have your agency stripped away from you, is grotesque. Ethan, of course, is not victimized by those around him – but the results of their good intentions are the same. And his life is a series of confrontations where he is forced to accept his helplessness. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a nightmare.

A less sentimental filmmaker would have let Ethan’s tragedies speak for themselves: his empty threats that turn to pleading, his fantasies of feeling the surf rush through his elegant feet, the dreams in which he soars on beams of light, the easiness with which people grant or withhold his desires, the way he’s repeatedly urged to remember what his life means to others as though that’s the reason for his existence.

These are not experiences that need particular emphasis or gilding. You’d have to be an unimaginative, insensitive moron if you can sit through a scene in which a doctor (Suhel Seth) threatens to declare his perfectly rational quadriplegic patient mentally unsound if he explores all his legal options and fail to be enraged with an overwhelming sense of WTF.

But storytelling, in all its forms, requires a certain amount of manipulation. You need to take your audience with you. Bhansali, ironically for a man who made a paean to the right to make your own decisions, is hell-bent on dragging you by the arm to a foregone conclusion.

He manages to sneak in a couple of renditions of What a Wonderful World – one by Marianne D’Cruz for a picture-perfect Nafisa Ali and one by Hrithik himself – and underscores Ethan’s utter helplessness with the help of a leaky roof and (a hilariously out-of-place) Makrand Deshpande among other things. He even throws in a languidly morose ex-girlfriend (Monikangana Dutt) who apparently lives in a mausoleum sans furniture and repentant nemesis (Ash Chandler). Worst of all is his protege Omar (Aditya Roy Kapur, lately of Action Replayy), an imbecile wrapped in a hideous pink bow – I kept hoping Sophia would take a knife to him some dark and stormy night but she never did, alas.

More mystifyingly, after making a huge hue and cry about how absolutely everybody is against his decision, the movie is at great pains to show public opinion careening on to Ethan’s side, complete with banners and slogans. “Good luck, Ethan!” smiles a reporter on TV as the judge prepares to deliver his verdict. I mean, I’m sure he appreciated it, but… you know? A little tact, lady.

When Guzaarish fires, though, it’s the hands-down weepie of the year.  “I can’t live without you,” a battered Sophia tells a sulky Ethan. It’s one of those things people say when they fall in love. And then she offers him a way out, because when you love somebody so much that you can’t live without them, you do things for them you would never dream of doing for anyone else.

PS: Because I simply couldn’t resist – here is Robert Downey Jr. (who played the lead in Chaplin) singing Smile.

What? I’m not crying. I have allergies, okay!

 
13 Comments

Posted by on November 24, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Masala Zindabad

Yup, it’s up and running.

We kick things off with a podcast featuring MemsaabStory – part one of a wide ranging discussion about the largely forgotten/ unknown/ nameless character actors of Hindi cinema. The feed is in the sidebar.

I swear we aren’t on meth. That’s just my poor editing skills at play. We did our best to follow the advice of all you lovely people who wrote in; I hope it worked.

Thanks for listening!

[pic]

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Personal

 

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Action Replayy: Q & A

<i>Action Replayy</i>: Q & A

Q. What is Action Replay?
A. British for “instant replay”; mostly used in the context of sports.

Q. No, no, the movie starring Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai.
A. Oh, you mean Action Replayy.

Q. Yes, excuse me: Action Replayy. Does that extra Y mean something?
A. They can’t spell?

Q. You’re going to be difficult about this, aren’t you? I can tell already.
A. Sorry. Action Replayy is a movie directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah (Namastey London, London Dreams) about Bunty (Aditya Roy Kapur), a commitment-phobe, who hops a ride back in time to fix his parents’ non-existent love story so they don’t end up unhappily married years later.

Q. And this takes place in London?
A. No, Mumbai.

Q. Oh. Well, that sounds sweet.
A. Eh.

Q. Come on! The kid wants to save his parents’ marriage!
A. Right after he said he doesn’t believe in the institution and wished that his parents had never got together. Not that I blame him. If you had two miserable people like Kishen (Akshay Kumar) and Mala (Aishwarya Rai) as the shining example of the institution in front of you, you wouldn’t be all that eager either.

Q. Why do they hate each other?
A. She’s a bitch and he’s a loser.

Q. O.o
A. Fine. She wanted him to pay attention to her but he was too busy with his work, so she tried to fill in the emptiness by buying things. A lot of things. About 9 crore plus change worth of things that must be extremely dodgy going by one example he carries around in the car with him. As for him, he thinks she’s always hated him and never wanted to marry him, might even have been in love with another man, except they were forced into marriage by their parents.

Q. That’s terrible.
A. Right. But! Conveniently for Bunty, his girlfriend’s grandfather Anthony Gonsalves (Randhir Kapoor) just built a time machine in their drawing room -

Q. Excuse me?
A. Built a time machine in his drawing room. At least, I think it’s his drawing room. I’m pretty sure I noticed a table lamp. Don’t worry, though, it’s not important – it’s one of those science-y things that you note in the “Oh Yeah, And This Happened. Continuity!” column. So he hijacks the thing and runs off into the sky with it and lands in Bombay 30 years ago. Where he finds out the awful truth about his parents.

Q. Which is?
A. She’s a bitch and he’s a loser.

Q. o.O
A. It’s true! She’s the terror of the neighborhood because she has no father and she’s trying to be the man of the house while he’s the neighborhood punching bag because he has no mother and he’s trying to be the woman of the house.

Q. Is this funny?
A. Occasionally? It’s the monstrous love child of that other movie made by illiterates, Singh is Kinng, and one of the director’s earlier efforts, Waqt: The Race Against Time, except this one is more of a movie rather than a collection of comedy skits and doesn’t have extended death scenes surrounded by plush toys. It must have helped to have Back to the Future as their Plot Guide for Dummiez. Also, they swapped in The Original Salman Girlfriend instead of The Girlfriend Doll, so she comes equipped with extra features like Be Convincingly Mean and Dance in a Variety of Styles. Thus Mala is both in spades: truly unpleasant and very hot. And there are weird scenes in which Bunty, the son, encourages his future father to think of his future mother as a potential hate-fuck.

Q. Sounds like an interesting movie.
A. It has its moments and most of them are unintentional.

Q. But you’re not offended by it.
A. I suspect I would have been if it wasn’t a variation on a very well worn theme: For True Happiness in the Indian Home, A Woman Needs to Know Her Place and A Man is the Only One Who Can Show It to Her. I mean, Mala+Kishen v.1.0 might have been textbook examples right out of Psychology 101 but there was a sense of real drama there, which just got reduced to Bollywood Characterization 101 via time travel. At a certain point, you just shrug and move on.

Q. Blah blah blah. Does it bring the pretty?
A. Sure. Well, Aishwarya does. The way she does.

Q. Sold!
A. I thought so.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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