Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sierra Madre Public Library Bollywood Starter Kit™

Sierra Madre Public Library Bollywood Starter Kit™ This is being posted to provide additional information for people who attended my presentation on Bollywood movies at the Sierra Madre Public Library on January 17. It was great to hear that several of you are interested in exploring further this "movie industry that is also a genre." To that end I've collected a few links and recommendations that I think might be helpful.

I led off the Sierra Madre session by asking what people had heard about Bollywood: That all the films are very long musicals. That it is the world's largest film industry. 1,000 + titles a year in a dozen regional languages. (Number three after the US and India? Nigeria.) That the wish-fullfilment plot and the release of emotion in song and dance in "Slumdog Millionaire" is very Bollywood. All true, IMO.

The stereotypes have some validity but need to be tempered. This is the trailer for the most successful Bollywood movie of the last few years: Ghajini Not just the urrent Indian box office leader but one of their biggest hits ever. A moony-Juney flashback romance (music by "Slumdog" Oscar nominee A.R. Rahman) interpolated with sledgehammer bullet-time action sequences..

A few notes on where the conventions originated can make them seem less outre. Bollywood is not just an arbitrary hodgepodge. Proximate sources are village pagants based on the Hindu epics, which were laced with music; the British-influenced Parsi theater companies of Bombay, which furnished personal to many Indian silent films, and to early Hindi sound films that had as many as 30 songs.

Here are some clips that bounce through Indian film history several decades at a time, like the giant-frog-like superhero in Ang Lee's Hulk:

Devdas (1936) "Dukh Ke Ab Din" Mus: Timir Baran
In the early talkie era, singers were the only superstars, and K.L. Saigal was one of the most revered. Sitting under a tree feeling sorry for himself -- a far cry from the acrobatic showstoppers of today's Bwd.

Shri 420 ("Mister Grifter"), "Mere Joota Hai Japani" ("My Shoes Are Japanese")
Raj Kapoor became an Indian icon as this Little Tramp derivitive, and the character's introductory number is arguably the most famous of all Bollywood film songs, quoted by everyone from Mira Nair to Salman Rushie.

Pyassa ("Thirst"), "Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi") ("So what if you win this awful world?")
This classic Guru Dutt lament is one extreme, certainly, of the variety of moods that can be expressed in the Bollywood film song format. It isn't all hoop-ha wedding dances.

Teesri Manzil ("Third Floor"), "O Hassena Zulfan Waali" ("Girl With Beautiful Hair") R.D. Burman
Shammi Kapoor, brother of Raj, "The Indian Elvis," as a hotel bandleader named Rocky embroiled in a murder plot.
The Three Khans: Dominant stars of the 1990s and beyond.

Shah Rukh:

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ("The Brave One Will Win the Bride") ("Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane")

Salman:

Maine Pyar Kiya "Tum Ladki Ho"
Not quite as pumped up (or as self-absorbed) as in his later films.

Aamir:

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak ("From Doomsday to Doomsday") "Papa Kehte Hain" ("Papa told me...")
Aamir Khan's first adult screen appearance, circa 1989. Note that the papa in question, released from prison that very day, is lurking at the back of the room, listening tearfully. Pure Bollywood!
Lagaan ("Land Tax") "Chale Chalo" A.R. Rahman
Aamir Khan in only the second Bollywood Best Foreign Oscar nominee (after 1960's Mother India). And another number you might like even more.

Kal Ho Naa Ho "Mahi Ve" ("My Love") Shankar-Ehsan-Loy.
Greatest. Bollywood. Wedding song. Ever.

Don (1978) "Khaike Paan Banaras Wala" ("Eating a Paan from Benares") Mus: Anandji-Kalyanji
The great Amitabh Bachchan dances in character, as an ordinary man blowing off steam.

Don (2006 remake) "Khaike Paan Banaras Wala"
Also a great scene, but noticeably more of a choreographed production number than the original.

Abishek and Hrithek: pretenders to the throne(s)

Dhoom 2 (title song)
About as far as you can get from K.L. Saigal sitting under a tree.
Trailer here.
Here are some good Bollywood films available from the online rental service Netflix:
Kal Ho Naa Ho
A good bet as your first-ever Bollywood rental. Definitive Shah Rukh Khan star vehicle with great music by S-E-L, including the all-time wedding-dance number "Mahi Ve" (see YouTube link below).
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An Evening in Paris
This is a stand-in for the Shammi Kapoor title clipped at the event, Teesri Manzil; not available on Netflix, for some reason -- though inexpensive sale copies abound.
Mani Rathnam: From Kollywood to Bollywood

Dil Se ("From the Heart")
Shah Rukh Khan and the great Tamil director Mani Rathnam (Guru) attempted to make a Bollywood musical about terrorism. And it even kinda worked, except at the box office.

Alaipayuthe ("Waves")
One of Rathnam's most perfectly realized films; a beautifully textured middle-class love story with a couple of startling plot twists.

Kannathil Muthamittal ("A Peck on the Cheek")
An activist political epic with gorgeous stars and A.R. Rahman music: remarkably effective.

Guru
Abishek Bachchan in the title role in Rathnam's rousing bid to create a capitalist/entrepreneur role model for the new India.
Lagaan ("Land Tax")
Only the second best Foreign Oscar nominees in Bollywood history, after Mother India (1960). Irresistible entertainment. Music by A. R. Rahman.

Dil Chahta Hai ("The Heart Desires")
Pioneering yuppie/buddy romantic comedy from producer-star Aamir Khan

Munna Bhai MBBS
A lovable gangster strong-arms his way into medical school to make his parents proud. One of the best Bollywood comedies of the past decade.

Rang De Basanti ("Color Me Saffron")
The rallying cry of the Indian independence movement energizes a group of contemporary slacker college students in this surprise hit. More great A.R. Rahman music.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom ("Dance Baby Dance")
Song and dance as a way of life. Close to perfect. Music: S-E-L.

Dhoom 2
State of the art for big budget Bollywood action, dance and star glamour.
And since I argued so strongly, on the day, that you should try to see at least some of these films in theaters (and ideally in Artesia's Little India, for the full gustatory/cultural experience) here are the titles of some upcoming theatrical releases that I think stand a good chance of being interesting -- though of course there are no guarantees. (Note that even though some of the trailers are not subtitled, the movies almost always are.)
January 30: Luck By Chance
A satirical look at Bollywood by the younger generation of "star kids." Excellent cast includes a cameo by megastar hunk Hrithek Roshan (Dhoom 2). Songs by the top composer trio Shankar-Eshan-Loy. (LA Weekly review here.)

February 13: Billu Barber
The wonderful actor Irfan Khan (the dad in "The Namesake" and the cop in "Slumdog Millionaire") has his first mainstream Bollywood leading role as a village barber whose long-lost childhood best friend is a movie superstar (Shah Rukh Khan) shooting on location in the area. Songs by the most pop-oriented of the newer composers, Pritam. (More here)

February 20: Delhi-6
An autobiographical exploration of emigration and return by the excellent writer-director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra (Rang De Basanti; see DVD list below), with the top leading man of the younger generation, Abhishek Bachchan. Songs by "Slumdog's" Oscar-nominated A.R. Rahman.
Here are some theaters in the Los Angeles area where Bollywood movies are shown regularly.
Naz 8, 6440 South St, Lakewood, CA 90713 (Little India)

Academy 6, 1003 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena , CA 91106

Culver Plaza 6, 9919 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City , CA 90232

Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, 6731 Fallbrook Ave, West Hills , CA 91307

AMC Covina 30, 1414 N. Azusa Ave, Covina , CA 91723

Norwalk 8, 13917 Pioneer Blvd, Norwalk , CA 90650

Orange Stadium Promenade 25, 1701 W Katella Ave, Orange , CA 92867

Laguna Hills 3, 24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Laguna Hills CA 92653
The only paper in the LA area (perhaps in the entire country, outside the Indian community) that lists and covers Bollywood film openings regularly is (ahem) my own frequent outlet LA Weekly. Because the films are rarely screened in advance, reviews tend to run the Thursday following a Friday opening.

Please feel free to use the comments section below to ask questions.

Thank you!

7 comments:

GoJoe said...

Cool beans, Chute Saab.

Friends are always asking for an accessible, succinct primer like this, now I have a link I can send them.

Pardon my ignorance, but is BILLU BARBER a remake of KUSELAN?

Generic said...

Well, it's a remake of the underlying Malayalam film, Katha Parayumbol.

And, yes, I had to look that up.

GoJoe said...

Ha! I wasn't aware KUSELAN was a remake! Now I know...

Christian Lindke said...

You know what would have been awesome?

An email promoting this event. I couldn't have made it, I was in El Centro, but some of the kids I was driving down were watching B-wood films on the trip and it would have given me one more fact to add to the conversation.

c said...

i reserve all comment n this story(said with the utmost restraint)

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Very comprehensive post buddy. Great job. I've got to get those clips soon.