Saturday, January 31, 2009

Japanese School Girls in Knee-socks

From The Onion via. Jeff Yang on Facebook.

AOMORI, JAPAN—At first glance, 17-year-old Misaki Nakajima seems like any other shy and submissive Japanese schoolgirl. She loves shopping, text messaging, and the color pink. But beneath her wholesome exterior lies a wicked secret: Misaki Nakajima is consumed by sexual fantasies involving sweaty, middle-aged American men.

"I can't explain it," said Nakajima, dressed in a pleated miniskirt and pure white knee socks. "There's just something about American men who are at least twice my age and nearly three times my body weight that totally drives me wild."

Added Nakajima, "They're so hot."

Though she finds all pasty, middle-aged men intoxicating, Nakajima said balding Midwesterners who carry most of their weight in their stomach particularly turn her on.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009



Patrick Goldstein

Dennis Lim

Daily Variety

Lim's view is, I think, overstated (as befits a former Village Voice ideologue-critic) but corresponds most closely to my reservations about the film: that its splashy, exuberant style and the more horrendous scenes of poverty and child exploitation are a queasily awkward fit. This is not a political objection but a nagging doubt about Boyle's sensitivity. That doubt, and the central deficit of a somewhat inexpressive leading man, kept the (splendidly staged) finale from being quite the emotional lift off for me that it has been for others.

Possible "inspirations" I haven't seen mentioned: Rohinton Mistry's great novel A Fine Balance, for the scenes of organized beggars deliberately mutilated to make them more effective, and Anurag Kashyap's dogged docudrama Black Friday, for its breakneck, hand-held chases through the Dharavi slums. LA Weekly review here. (One of the sources Boyle and Slumdog screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have acknowledged is Suketu Mehta's excellent book Maximum City, which covers many of the same events as Black Friday.)


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")


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


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).
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.

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!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Slumdog" in India

Los Angeles Times.


Flashback: The right one is "Tell No One"

Google cache even preserves links. Hope they still work.

But I do have to tell you...

posted 07/14/08

...that the French thriller Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) is the most exciting European movie-movie I've seen since Run. Lola, Run--though this director, Guillaume Canet, has a richer, more sensuous style than Lola's hard-headed Tom Tykwer, perhaps a great one that is still evolving (the 2006 TNO was only his second feature). Even some people who love movies can be oddly blase about thrillers. They think they already know what they're going to get. This one will amaze even the jaded. __I've been suggesting in conversation (and on Facebook) that people who profess to love this movie but wouldn't be caught dead reading the Harlan Coban novel are guilty of Francophile snobisme. But even as I was watching it I had a feeling that a lot of the texture must have been added by Canet. People who can plot as deviously well as Coben tend to be rather short on poetry (Raymond Chandler, on the other hand, couldn't plot his way out of a paper bag).

Guillaume Canet is an actor turned director; actually a rising star who has yet to direct his third film. (I've seen only one of his star vehicles, Love Me If You Dare, in which he co-starred with g.f. Marion Cottilard; he also plays the highly significant small role of Philippe Neuville in TNO.) I never would have guessed this, however, because Canet avoids the common actor-director's tendency to indulge showy performers. In fact what's most impressive here is a rigorous understatement bordering on constraint, in which surging emotion is kept sternly under control, never quite overflowing its banks. (Except, in one case, in a witty long shot--and that turns out to be a bluff) An indication that the way to "transcend" the normal limitations of a genre piece is not to toss out or ignore the rules but to build on them as a strong foundation.
UPDATE: David Denby:
"Animated and charming with children and their parents, Alex, in the rest of his life, has become a stubborn, bitterly reserved man, opening up only to his sister's girlfriend, played by the English actress Kristin Scott-Thomas (whose French is good). [Francois] Cluzet, a mainstay of French cinema for more than twenty years, has thick dark hair and a fleeting physical and spiritual resemblance to Dustin Hoffman. Like Hoffman, he's a preternaturally attentive actor who seems to see more than other people do. The dramatic life of "Tell No One" is centered in Cluzet's eyes. ... "Tell No One" jumps all over the place but invariably returns to Alex's need for his wife, who, it turns out, was involved in relationships years ago that he didn't understand. Past events, like restless ghouls, keep barging into the present, and the many mysteries have to be explained in a long confession at the end. We know the material is artificially-even deviously-constructed, and we enjoy being manipulated by people who know what they're doing. But it's Cluzet's intense performance that makes this genre piece a heart-wrenching experience." (C.I: Micheal Blowhard.)
The image of a strong animal straining at a short leash is excellent. The constraints are Coben's tight complicated plotting and a highly controlled film style. This makes possible some virtuoso supense effects, including the only truly nerve-wracking scene I can recall in which a hero waits for something to download on a computer. But the tension between the feeling that wants to explode and the discipline that prevents this from happening could be defended not only as an aesthetic but also a moral choice.


Flashback: A.R. Rahman

Not as much as I would have thought. May have taken his greatness somewhat for granted.

Sat, 22 Jun 2002

The English lyrics in the A.R. Rahman song score for Bombay Dreams produce an odd effect. Not quite as off-putting as the "I'm in love" chorus in Lagaan, but almost. If Hindi was our first language, would the lyrics in most Bollywood film songs seem this ungainly? I tend to think not. Both of the core languages of Bollywood, Hindi and Urdu, are famously well suited to poetry, and by long tradition the leading writers of film song lyrics (from Sahir Ludhianvi to Javed Ahktar) have been published poets of some renown. Hard to imagine Don Black's lyrics appearing in book form; it's sub-Rod McKuen doggerel at best. The great danger here is that Rahman (whose music is as wonderful as ever) will now be booted out of the cool group by the world music gatekeepers. Nothing like working with Andrew Lloyd Webber to make a person uncool by association.

Sun, 23 Jun 2002

[Tulkinghorn] has pointed out an additional problem with Bombay Dreams. A.R. Rahman's music characteristically has a gliding, sensuous flow, into which vocalists in the subtly modulated Indian tradition (which I don't even really know how to describe) blend effortlessly. This can be confirmed by listening to either of Rahman's most recent soundtrack releases, for Mani Rathnam's Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek) or Rajkumar Santoshi's The Legend of Bhagat Singh (both Tips, 2002). The full-throated belting favored by musical theater performers like those in Bombay Dreams cuts through the beautifully woven shawl of sound like a knife. It could be that the problem with this show is that the two performance styles, the Western and the Eastern, have simply been plunked down side by side on the stage, without the adjustments or compromises being made on either side that might have produced a coherant hybrid.

Bollywood in Naperville
Mon, 28 Feb 2005

I was interviewed recently by a suburban Chicago newspaper for this story about the proliferation of neigborhood Bollywood video outlets. The enthusiastic writer, Josh Larson, suggests that as the Indian diaspora continues to disperse, Hindi cinema will be an increasingly familiar feature of the American landscape. In the Los Angeles area, Artesias's Little India is no longer the whole story. There are now smaller NRI enclaves in Culver City, Koreatown, and Faircrest Heights, and throughout the San Fernando Valley. Bollywood movies are crowd pleasers to their fingertips and will always be able win over a solid percentage of the people who are exposed to them. If you can respond to a "discovery" article like Logan's by stepping around the corner to rent a subtitled DVD of Swades, a favorable outcome is inevitable.

A.R. Rahman’s anthemic theme for Swades, “Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera,” is my single favorite Bollywood film song in something like five years, edging out even Shankar-Eshan-Loy's bhangra-til-you-drop number Maahi Ve in Kal Ho Naa Ho. The song, like the movie it represents in microcosm, is something surprisingly big and moving assembled patiently, piece by piece and with great skill, from simple materials. If there is an Indian Sweets & Spices shop now in your neighborhood, both the DVD and soundtrack CD for Swades are only minutes away.

For the record, this was the very first HG blog post:
Wed, 19 Jun 2002

A pretty decent new horror film by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) is getting the straight-to-video bum's rush from Lion's Gate. Dagon is another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, in which a hideous race of inbred mutant amphibians has been smoothly relocated from New England to a fishing village in Spain. Even though Gordon settled (or was forced to settle) for an R rating this time out, his leading lady, Raquel Meroño, is a worthy successor to the unrated Barbara Crampton. I love this phrase I came across on a Spanish fan site devoted to Meroño: "esta chica de curvas vertiginosas."


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jai Ho!

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008): Alexandre Desplat
  • Defiance (2008): James Newton Howard
  • Milk (2008): Danny Elfman
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman
  • WALL·E (2008): Thomas Newman
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman, Gulzar ("Jai Ho")
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008): A.R. Rahman, Maya Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) ("O Saya")
  • WALL·E (2008): Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman ("Down to Earth")
Tulkinghorn surely recalls that it was he, back when he got out more, who introduced me to the melodious emenations of A.R. Rahman's genius, in the form of a casstte tape of the Hindi version of the song score for Mani Rathnam's Roja, hand-carried all the way from Bombay in '92 after a business excursion for Disney.

In 1994, in Toronto, I covered the Rathnam retro for Film Comment and bought, in the city's Tamil quarter, six or eight Rahman CDs, including (just to tie things in a bit) the tunes from K. Muralmohana Rao's early headbanger Super Police. I've bought pretty much every Rahman CD I've come across since, though my collection falls far short of the 108 titles listed on IMDb.

Ain't life grand?


Monday, January 19, 2009

Flashback: Fleeting fame in "IndiaWest"

Since the name of Chairman Bruce has re-surfaced, recently, here's a reprise of his last major HG appearence:

An article in the June 23 issue of India West (no link to the complete story, but IW is a good paper well worth picking up at your local Sweets & Spices) quotes yours truly, Chairman Bruce, and several other Old Bolly hands extensively.

India-West, June 23, 2006:

Hard-core Bollywood movie fans are easy to spot - they religiously track down every Shah Rukh Khan release and can rattle off a laundry list of his greatest performances, in order of comic to tragic. Bleary-eyed from marathon DVD-viewing sessions, their fingers callused from abusing the "rewind" button on their remotes, they swap impassioned reviews on the Internet.

One even keeps a list of 100-plus of her favorite movies on her computer, and carries a small printout with her to the video store, because her mind is so boggled by Bollywood that on any given day she honestly can't remember which movies she's seen and liked.

These film fans are different, though, because they're not Indian - they're Americans.

"It's a very different, refreshing perspective," said Patricia Leslie, a dog therapist in Richmond, Calif., explaining why she and her husband, Karl, love Hindi movies so much. "These days, real life is depressing enough, so we appreciate the upbeat endings that most Bollywood movies have, even when they are contrived or involve more willing suspension of disbelief than usual," she told India-West.

Leslie, who brings her typed film list on her frequent visits to Infinity Ventures, a popular video rental shop in Berkeley, Calif., is part of a growing trend - Bollywood fans who aren't Indian but who feel that mainstream Hindi movies are a true artistic treasure, an art form to be appreciated without smirking. Sure, these days lots of goras (a slang term denoting whites, or non-Indians) might have seen something sort of Bollywood-inspired at least once - Gurinder Chadha's Bride & Prejudice, maybe, or Monsoon Wedding, Deepa Mehta's Bollywood Hollywood, Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan, or even the stage musical "Bombay Dreams" - but few have the stamina or desire to take it to the extreme.

Their numbers may be small, but these are passionate fans indeed, says Meredith McGuire, creator of Bollywhat?, a funny, irreverent yet detailed and info-packed Web site for Bollywood newbies and aficionados alike. The site, which attracts up to 200,000 visitors per month, has a glossary of Hindi terms, English translations of songs, and an FAQ section with such burning questions as, "Why don't the characters just kiss already?"

"Bollywood films engage you in a way Hollywood films don't," McGuire told India-West from Chicago, where she is working on her Ph.D. in anthropology. The whole process of seducing the viewer is more drawn out, adding to its appeal, she said. "It starts with the soundtrack," which is released weeks before the film. "You hear the songs, and fantasize the picturizations, wondering what they'll look like. Then, you go to the theater and it's a much more active process of communal engagement; and once you leave the theater, the music and choreography follow you, too," she continued.

"And there are the intertextual references to other films, such as the charade scene in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. There's an addictive sense of participation with these films that we just don't find with the Hollywood films."

McGuire feels that many American films are imbued with a sense of pessimism or cynicism that for the most part is missing from Hindi films. "The films have family values," she said, with no hint of irony. "There's a sense of wonder - these are like fairy tales for adults."

Like most Americans who are fanatic about Bollywood films, McGuire remembers her very first time. "It was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and I was in Jodhpur. There was no air conditioning in the theater," she laughed. "Shah Rukh Khan came onscreen. I thought, 'Who is this chinless man with a huge beak of a nose?'"

But after a few minutes of the film, McGuire was hooked. "He is a different sort of hero, with real charisma," she said. King Khan ranks as the top star for almost all of the non-Indians polled for this article, and Amitabh Bachchan is a top draw as well.

So, too, do the classic stars of yesterday strike a chord. "Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor," lists Therese Hayes of Palm Springs. Hayes, who hosts weekly screenings of Bollywood films in her home, travels the world to seek out new Indian and diaspora films and is a programmer of Indian and Asian films for both the Bangkok and Palm Springs International Film Festivals.

And as for heroines? Despite all the hype about Aishwarya Rai being the biggest crossover star of her generation, she has only lukewarm appeal among America's Bollywood fans.

"Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta" are far more interesting to watch, McGuire told India-West. Hayes lists Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan as favorite actresses; while Ian Miller, a hardcore Bollywood fan from Oakland, Calif., likes Kareena Kapoor. "I feel Aishwarya Rai is overexposed," he said.

Non-Indian fans usually get their films on DVD from Netflix and local Indian video stores like Berkeley's Infinity Ventures or India Music in West Los Angeles. Blockbuster has started carrying an impressive selection of Hindi films in some, though not all, of its stores, depending on local demand. The company also rents from its Web site, where "Devdas and Fire as well as newer releases like Swades and Paheli" are popular, said Jeff Sieg, a spokesman for Blockbuster.

But viewers agree that watching a movie in a theater is the best way to go. "The Naz 8 Cinemas in Artesia is a glorious resource," said Joseph Nagy, a professor of English at UCLA.

Hindi films seem to be filling a void for these American movie watchers.

"Whatever one may feel about traditional gender roles in India, when a Bollywood film affirms the importance of family and of friendship, it is with a sense of conviction that Hollywood is rarely able to muster," said Victoria Simmons, a scholar and bookseller in Los Angeles. Simmons likes to describe Bollywood films as a cross between a 1950s MGM musical and grand opera.

Leslie Jones, a writer, folklorist and trained bellydancer living in Los Angeles, watches from two to six Bollywood movies per week. "I became addicted to Bollywood literally the day after the 2004 election," she said, remembering that her first film was Hum Apke Hain Koun. "I was so depressed by the results that I could barely think. Watching movies with subtitles forces you to focus on the movie and nothing else ... by the time I was undepressed enough to allow my thoughts to wander, I was so immersed in Bollywood that I couldn't get out. Not that I would want to.

"As a folklorist and mythologist, I also enjoy the implicit and explicit mythological elements in the movies," she added.

Bruce Sterling, an author and journalist living in Belgrade, picks up Bollywood DVDs on his travels, most recently from a kiosk in Serbia. "A flick like Sunny Deol in Hero: Love Story of a Spy really attracts my attention, not because it's good cinema ... but because its social messages are loud, aggressive and easy to deconstruct," said Sterling in an email.

Director Ashutosh Gowariker, whose Oscar-nominated Lagaan (2001) introduced a generation of Americans to Hindi films, agrees that the themes of many Indian films are the attraction. "Lagaan was about how people from many different backgrounds came together to fight an enemy," Gowariker told India-West by phone from Los Angeles on a recent visit. "In today's times, we have so many differences between ourselves, but these movies give a sense of belonging."

To other fans, though, the sheer absurdity of the dishoom mentality and images of grown men and women running around trees is so nutty that they've become instant fans.

An hilarious spoof of a Hindi song is currently making the rounds of the Internet on YouTube and Google Video. Informally titled "Bollywood Comedy," the three-minute sketch is nothing more than a Canadian standup comic pantomiming to a Bollywood song - both the man's and woman's parts.

Comedian Winston Spear, who performs the piece and is bemused that it's become so popular, said he once saw a video of a Bollywood song on TV and was so charmed that he had to put it in his act. Lipsynching to the song "Pyar kiya to nibhana," from Major Saab, Spear swivels his hips, throws out his arms, and cocks his head like a true filmi hero, and acts out the role of the singing heroine with a hand puppet. When he first did it in his act, he said, "I thought, oh my God, I have no idea whether this is funny, or ridiculous or insulting, or what," he told India-West by phone from Toronto.

"After a show, some Indian people came up to me and said they loved it. I have no idea what I'm singing!"

Writer David Chute of Los Angeles said, "The American director Willard Carroll, who has put his money where his heart is in the upcoming Bolly/Holly crossover Marigold [with Salman Khan], calls the secret ingredient 'an affirmative approach to entertainment,' as if Indian moviemakers still believe there is no higher calling than making enormous numbers of people happy. And who could argue that we all benefit whenever the sum total of positive feelings increases?"

Chute, who sees a film a week, has written extensively on Bollywood movies for Film Comment and other outlets, and frequently reviews Hindi films for LA Weekly and OC Weekly.

Chute loves the films, but he is equally pained by some trends he's noticed: "Like many non-Indian fans I am concerned that just as a genuine fan audience is beginning to develop outside the Indian community, the industry is increasingly moving away from the qualities that attracted us to its products in the first place.

"The proliferation of carbon-copy remakes of American films is only the most obvious symptom. Others include the alarming impulse to go songless in order to appear hip and serious, and the sleazy morality of films that try to pander to youth, such as Neal 'N' Nikki (thank God it flopped)," said Chute.

"My selfish hope is that filmmakers there will take more pride in the aspects of their approach that are distinctively Indian, and will waste less of their energy imitating the West," he added.

Joseph Nagy agrees. "I don't like the current trend of overtly imitating American film styles and topics, to the point of obligitarily having an English-language refrain in the song lyrics," he said. "Especially for me as a native, 'American' rap and so on is not exotic."

Victoria Simmons adds: "Bollywood films are often criticized for being (to put it kindly) behind the times, for being silly and unrealistic, for the actors not doing their own singing, and even for not being able to compete technically with other film industries."

Back in the early 1990s, when this reporter started watching Hindi films in theaters, they almost never had subtitles, making it an even more cultish venture than it is today. But with the proliferation of subtitled DVDs and now, subtitled theater prints, Bollywood movies are more accessible than they've ever been.

For non-Indians, they've also become tools for learning Hindi. Most of the non-Indian fans who spoke to India-West have picked up a few Hindi words - usually, variations on pyaar, ishq, mohabbat and other words for love.

"I learned the obvious words: dil, pyaar, shaadi, ek, do teen," said Chute. "I've also been calling people yaar [pal] a lot, though my daughter finally put her foot down and insisted that it was NOT cool to say 'Drop the tension, yaar,' at every opportunity. And she should know."


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crucial Crime Novels

From The Guardian, via Tulkinghorn: The Crime Novels Everyone Must Read. Not bad, though it misses Charles Willeford, Westlake/Stark, James Crumley, and a few others. Click through for parts two and three.

Willeford's great Hoke Moseley novels are now conveniently available as overpriced Vintage trade paperbacks. Perfect for those who...oh, never mind.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Telegu action hotline

Chairman Bruce blogs the blogger.


"Ghajini smash!"

"Ghajini Scores" is right. It's now officially India's "biggest domestic earner," according to the Hindustan Times:

"Aamir Khan starrer Ghajini, which released to packed houses on December 25, is on its way to create history by taking over the mantle of the biggest domestic earner so far, leaving behind Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Ghajini, a romantic action thriller that explores the life of a rich businessman who suffers from short-term memory loss following a violent incident, has earned Rs 2 billion ($41 million) in less than two weeks from its release.

The film has grossed Rs 1.62 billion in domestic markets and Rs 390 million have come from overseas markets till end of second week. The film is still running to packed houses and may cross more milestones.


In the overseas market, it is now second only to Karan Johar's hit film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham which collected Rs 440 million."


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Spaghetti Western Database presents...

QT's list of the Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns, by way of the Tarantino Archive group on Facebook.

Don't say I never did anything for you.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Tuesday's short version in the Voice

Wednesday's longer, canonical LA Weekly version.

Whatever our reactions, we're stuck with them. We put down what we have to say. That's the Code of the West. But there are certainly times when you wish your reactions were different; which is to say, that the movie was better. An Indian movie made in China (not the first, I suspect; Shammi Kapoor got pretty close in Singapore)? An intersection of Bollywood and the martial arts? Part of what we're regretting is the movie's failure to rise to a memorable occasion. With a premise that rich it should have been at least a hundred times better.

ALSO: ""Chandni Chowk to China" won't attract many fans of kung fu -- or Adam Sandler, for that matter. The title and the ads will cause them to think for a second, an unacceptable delay for fanboys. It will appeal to the large Indian audiences in North America and to Bollywood fans in general, who will come out wondering why this movie, of all movies, was chosen as Hollywood's first foray into commercial Indian cinema. I don't know a whole lot about Bollywood, and even I could name some better possibilities." -- Roger Ebert


Entertainment Weekly.

Bollywood Hungama. Hilarious.


Take that! And that!

On the heels of some recent loose talk about the "pile-driving Southern style" of Indian action cinema comes this (too brief) trailer for a Telegu classic of the future:

C.I.: GoJoe appends the pertinent:

The film titled Srisailam, starring Srihari and Krishnamraju, is being produced by Thadivaka Ramesh Naidu under the banner of Image Films and directed by KS Nageswara Rao. The female leads are played by Sajita and Suhani.

The theme of the film is about terrorism that has become a threat to society. Srihari plays the role of a bus driver in the film and as the protagonist fights terrorists. Producer says, "When it is a film of Srihari, the audiences expect good action scenes and they are in abundance in our movie."

The star cast includes Brahmanandam, Venumadhav, Nagababu, Suhasini, Sindhu, Akshaya and others.

Srisailam is being planned for release in the fourth week of January.
GoJoe continues:

The first few seconds of the preview consists of clips from previous collaborations between “Real Star” Dr. Srihari and director KS Nageswara Rao, presumably to raise expectations for this latest effort. Anyone who has seen Police knows that the mayhem about to follow that shot of our mud-spattered hero advancing down a hallway would make any 80’s action icon green with envy.

The underappreciated Dr. Srihari also has a supporting role in the considerably higher-profile King, the new Nagarjuna vehicle, unfortunately not playing at a theatre near me. (Also here.)

Many Real Star faves -- Police, Badrachalam, Ganapathi, etc., remain unsubtitled on DVD. The stories, however, are not difficult to follow and their visceral pleasures transcend language. Of the Netflix titles, I would recommend Hanumanthu, one of the rare Srihari pictures to garner a little critical support. Not available on Netflix but subtitled on DVD is Vijayaramaraju. Srihari’s devotion to his country in this picture makes Jack Bauer look like a softie. The events leading to the climax are mind-boggling, hardly subtle but certainly something to see.

I suspect Mahanandi (appears Netflix forgot an “n”) represents, like Dhee, Srihari’s recent turn toward supporting roles in bigger-budgeted, higher-profile films. I’ve seen a couple and they were enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but personally I prefer the low-budget potboilers in which he is the main attraction.

The Ghost adds:

I feel quite behind the curve on this stuff. Have barely even explored the un-subtitled riches of Telegu and other-non-Tamil Southie cinemas. Clearly the "South Indian Action School" deserves a research push followed by a massively detailed survey article with precedents and evolution, keys stars and directors, a list of essential titles (available on DVD with subtitles); the whole nine yards.

But for whom would such a piece be written? It might have been welcome at the pre-downtown-effete Film Comment. Today I fear it would be niched to death.

AND PLUS: "An expert is just an enthusiast with an assignment and an expense budget" (as below). I tended to seek assignments (when there were still assignments to be had) on subjects that caught my interest that I didn't know much about. I was the the exact opposite of an academic pontificator in that respect. I wanted a patron to pay me to look into them. (Also, as a would-be grown-up, I felt I needed a professional, profit-making justification to geek out.)

It goes without saying that no amount of research can replace the second-nature understanding that comes from having grown up in a culture. NB: Stephen Teo on Hong Kong cinema. Certainly without it you run the risk of making mistakes no native would ever stumble into. By the same token, as my revered professor used to say, "What is familiar is not known." It can be, but the knowledge is an additional acquisition. The oral culture of enthusiasts is just as much a giant game of telephone as every other oral tradition. Sometimes there's no substitute for book learning.

(Is it it already a commonplace among Inter-pundits that Cyberspace is essentially an oral culture?)


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Flashback: L.R. Munna Bhai

Pass the ghee, yaar
posted 09/07/06

Bollywood coverage continues at the LA and OC Weeklys.

The latest expedition was one of those occasions on which the quality of the movie was redeemed by the excellence of the food and the company. So when, mid-afternoon, well into the post-movie video and CD shopping phase of the excursion, Ramesh suggested that it was actually more about the food for me at this point than the movies, I found myself hestiating a moment before denying it. I then told him a story that Nora had already heard a few times too often, about the Chinese food feasts that always accompanied our trips to China Valley in the '80s and '90s, with Dennis and Jeff and Andy and Matt, to watch Hong Kong films. (Even when the picture was terrible the "Pork Pump" [sic] at Lake Spring was always tasty.)

A few years later, long after all the Chinese-language movie theaters had been killed by video, a well-dressed expert from a Far Eastern festival asked me pointedly if I had ever had a Chinese girlfriend. To my credit, I knew exactly what he was insinuating: a prominant critic in the field had published an essay a few years earlier about a phenomenon he dubbed "the Lawrence [as in T.E Lawrence] critics," which was soberly discussed by other experts as if it was a phenomenon of some significance, but was in fact an ad hominim rabbit punch aimed at just two people, pioneering English-speaking popularizers who were also men of large appetites. The Far Easterner's question, in other words, was about ulterior motives; wondering if an aesthetic enthusiasm had been adopted to mask a more primal inclination. I was able to say no to that one, but I asked Ramesh on Saturday if he thought food was close enough, and he said he thought it might be.

At least in cases like this, when the movie seems to be an excuse for the food rather than vice versa.

This odd duck sequel to one of Bollywood’s smartest recent crowd pleasers edges perilously close to repudiating the beloved original, Rajkumar Hirani’s Munna Bhai MBBS (2003), in which a lovable hulk of a soulful Mumbai gangster (Sanjay Dutt) bullies his way into medical school to win the respect of his estranged parents, and his unselfconscious street wisdom transforms dozens of lives. With a script as clear and simple as a fable, and frequent injections of street-thug sarcasm to cut the sentimentality, Munna Bhai was an almost perfectly calibrated mainstream entertainment. (Mira Nair’s looming U.S. re-make, Gangster M.D., has been offered to Chris Tucker.) Writer-director Hirani’s new Lage Raho Munna Bhai (Keep On Going…) squanders most of the good will generated by part one, banishing most of its supporting characters to the Shadow Zone in order to start all over again from scratch, with Dutt’s still engaging sad sack goonda re-imagined as a lonely-guy mobster with a moony crush on a popular radio personality (Parineeta's Vidya Balan). Munna spends so many sleepless nights studying Gandhi to impress her that he ends up hallucinating the ghost of the Mahatma, who materializes tagging along behind him offering advice, like the spirit of Bogart in Play it Again Sam. The obstacle that Munna is determined to overcome with his new-found non-violence is the greedy developer (Boman Irani as a stereotyped Sikh vulgarian) who has evicted the residents of a retirement home. The only suspense factor is how often Hirani will feel obliged to cut to a close-up of expert comic scene stealer Arshad Warsi, who gets most of the big laughs, mouthing off irrepressibly as Circuit, Munna’s right-hand stooge. (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8.) (David Chute)
Of course the weekend family excursion w/ movie used to be a common thread in a lot of American moviegoing, when whole families still attended together, and it was still wholesome. As early as the 1980s this was no longer the norm in China Valley, though it did still apply for a few more years at the Spanish-language theaters on Broadway, downtown. The day began with mass, followed by a family restaurant meal and the new Vincente Fernandez at the Million Dollar. The model does still apply for the NRIs who head to Little India on the weekends, and part of the fun of going there for an outsider is the sense of participating in the last surviving variation on a winning social ritual.

An additional angle on the story is that most of the NRIs who assemble in Artesia on the weekends don't live there. Which is apparently why the town's mostly Hispanic politicians keep rejecting attempts to officially re-name the area "Little India," or to add a promotional/directional sign off the 91 freeway. Even though the businesses on that one two-block stretch of Pioneer, operated by the area's most important "minority group," generate a hugely disproportionate share of the burg's tax revenue. You could cut the irony with a hacksaw.


"Seig Heil, y'all."

There were two anchovy olives in Honey's martini.

She said, "I take one of the olives in my mouth, like this, crush it between my teeth and sip the ice-cold martini, the silver bullet. Mmmmmm."

He said, "They get you feeling good in a hurry."

"Yes, they do."

"If you aren't careful."

She said, "Even if you are."

-- Elmore Leonard, Up in Honey's Room (2007)


Friday, January 9, 2009

Bollywood and Ghajini - all comments, no spam

Herewith archiving a comment thread I was quite enjoying from the ex's "Thompson on Hollywood blog, before TypePad's comments application developed a cannibalistic glitch.

The "Ghajini" review can be read here, and I'll paste it in at the end because the statute of limitations has now run out.


This movie was dull on so many levels. Except for one song, remainder of the music scores are anything but hit. Aamir Khan plays a phenomenol part in otherwise a dry film. The movie lacks climax and does not provide any heart pulsating thirl. Jury is out on the film: Skip it.
Posted by: Jake | December 27, 2008 at 11:14 PM

the movie was crap. Another bolly film that you wish someone stateside would sue for copyright infringement. With distribution in more trouble than ever you'd hope that someone would put a stop to the corruption of india's filmmaking core.
Posted by: seanH | December 27, 2008 at 11:25 PM

It is a shameful day for the Indian cinema and Aamir Khan to act in a film which does no justice to the original director, Chirstopher Nolan. Go out and rent Memento, if you haven't watched it already, and see how original ideas are created and shaped into an awesome movie. Copyright infringement.. you bet!!
Posted by: Jake | December 28, 2008 at 11:53 AM

Wow, you guys are tough. The filmmakers are open about the movie being based on Memento. Hollywood remakes foreign films all the time. So does Bollywood! While I grant that I may be less critical of Bollywood movies because I'm going to have a good time, truth is, I usually do. While Ghajini is far from high art and was a tad too violent for some of us, we all had fun.
Posted by: * | December 28, 2008 at 12:28 PM

The lifts from "Memento" are superficial.
What's more interesting is that this "Ghajini" is, for much of its length, a shot-for-shot remake of the Tamil original: same writer-director, mostly holdovers in the central cast, even the same credit sequence. (Major improvements: the addition of Aamir, and A.R. Rahman's music.)
Tempting to wonder if Mr. Khan was experiencing a mid-life yen to be a god-like South Indian action behemoth and, crafty career-builder that he is, simply took the shortest available route to that goal. He may be onto something, considering how convincingly Bollywood's ass has been kicked recently by Southie icons such as Superstar Rajnikanth.
For a full-strength taste of the South Asian head-banger style, check out this clip from an earlier film by "Ghajini" auteur A.R. Muragadoss, the Megastar Cheerajeevi vehicle "Stalin: Man for the Society."
Posted by: David C. | December 28, 2008 at 12:58 PM

That's a nice little jotting. I looked to see if you reviewed it earlier and got that sad message at journalspace. I'd never heard of "South Asian," it looks so Hong Kong.
Posted by: T. Holly | December 28, 2008 at 02:44 PM

Actually I should have typed "South Indian." The regional cinemas that speak Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam. Hong Kong is a good comparison: that clip is from a film that was first recommended to me by a long-time HK action buff.
Posted by: David C. | December 28, 2008 at 03:33 PM

Asim turned in a terrific performance. Some of us were comparing her to Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky. YES.
Posted by: RGM | December 28, 2008 at 06:54 PM

As an Indian, I am so embarrassed by this Bolly crap. (yes, I saw this terrible movie over the weekend).
Come on, Bollywood! Look what DANNY BOYLE did with Slumdog Millionaire! Can we Indians even make one bloody good film that doesn't fall into Bollycrap????
Aamer Khan is one of my favorite Indian actors and I am disappointed with him for doing this piece of crap.
Posted by: UGLY PUNK GURL! | December 29, 2008 at 07:36 AM

A lot of you are biased against bollywood. while it's true that b'wood throws a lot of crap at you, Ghajini was an exception! I saw Ghajini over the weekend and thought it was fantastic! 
The story was gripping and held my attention all throughout. Both aamir and asin did fabulous jobs acting. The movie had everything - horror, violence, romance, comedy. By far, b'wood's best movie this year. 
To David, who claims that Ghajini was copied from the tamil Ghajini, they're by the same damn director!!
Also, a lot of Hollywood movies even are inspired by foreign films. What's the big deal? It's a great movie in its own right.
Posted by: tiny taurus | December 29, 2008 at 08:32 AM

II don't think I can be read as suggesting that Murugadoss stole "Ghajini" from himself. He remade his own movie in a different regional language, and exceedingly closely. This is more interesting to me than the borrowings from "Memento," which are obvious enough.
"Bollywood throws a lot of crap at us"? Sure it does. So does Hollywood. So does every cinema on earth. "90 percent of everything is crap," as per Sturgeon's Law. In most cases we only see the tiny hand-picked minority of films that make it past the gatekeepers into film festivals.
Posted by: David C. | December 29, 2008 at 10:50 AM

Ghajini also ripped off "Amelie." See the scene where Kaplana helped the blind man across the street?
How absolutely infuriating and embarrassing.
Posted by: UGLY PUNK GURL! | December 29, 2008 at 11:17 AM

*Kalpana, my bad.
Posted by: UGLY PUNK GURL! | December 29, 2008 at 11:17 AM

Forgive me for possibly reading too much into your choice of a single word, but...why "embarrassing"?
Posted by: David C. | December 29, 2008 at 11:45 AM

David C., you even had to ask me that? We're talking about Bollywood, you realize that? Enough said.
Posted by: UGLY PUNK GURL! | December 29, 2008 at 01:59 PM

David C, you and I have usually been near the same page through out the year.
I've produced a tv show in India, had indian roommates in college, and have been there several times while seeing various indian movies... had occasional drunken fling with indian girls.
This movie shares the worst of bollywood movies to me. And yeah, stories and themes are stolen and similar through most films. But this is a large scale Indian rip off that isn't giving any royalties to Nolan or his brother.
There's so much more story and culture to be shown through India than them to be ripping off American films (and badly at that) . That's why I've been impressed with the Indian filmmakers at USC, AFI, and NYU (keep the name Sushrut Jain, who filmed his entire thesis in mumbai this year on your radar).
I admit, I have Indian friends who are all about the remakes. To note the one of the highest grossing Indian film was simply a rip off of the Richard Gere/Diane Lane movie Unfaithful. But all and all most of my hindi friends are always upset about the ripoffs more than the much as they get po'd with the typical bolly movie about an arranged marriage between two people who don't like each other but end up falling in love w/ another anyways.
Posted by: seanH | December 29, 2008 at 02:50 PM

UPG: Expressing your blanket dislike of Bollywood as personal embarrassment is not something that can be taken at face value. Sorry.
seanH, all I can say is, get real. We're talking about a movie industry that, like Hong Kong's, is aggressively, single-mindedly commercial. That's the context in which all of this stuff is being produced, and you're either comfortable with it or you're not.
As an old-time "Sullivan's Travels" fan, I tend to think that lifting people's spirits is a high calling. Your milage may differ.
Posted by: David C. | December 29, 2008 at 04:00 PM

Terrible movie, what in the world are you guys thinking.
Posted by: arif | December 29, 2008 at 04:13 PM

Aamir's previous film "Fanaa" was also two movies in one. Before the intermission it was a love story and then a terrorist thriller after. I wondered if I'd wandered into the wrong screen! Not sure I want to see this althought I heard the music was great.
Posted by: Shali Dore | December 29, 2008 at 06:13 PM

At the mid-point of "Fanaa," when tapori tourist guide Aamir walked into an airport men's room and emerged as a sleek international terrorist, one member of out party (a certain eminent blogger) rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, please!" At which point one super-intelligent young lady leaned over with the perfect squelch: "Mommy, if you can't get past THIS, maybe Bollywood is not for you."
Posted by: David C. | December 29, 2008 at 07:13 PM

Well, some of us do have some standards to maintain!
Posted by: * | December 29, 2008 at 08:50 PM

The only people who will watch this movie are people on honeymoon from Slumdog Millionare, which this film is a direct to dvd steven seagal movie compared to. I guess I'm just a bit shocked in the thumbs up from the big V on this one.
But all and all I hate the majority of Bollywood and hold some hope that the generation of filmmakers studying over here take their talents back to India to make better movies than this one. The actresses are simply beauty queens and the actors are too perfect to feel compassionate about. Oh well, that's probably what the rest of the world thinks of our movies anyways. To each his/her own in their own world.
Posted by: seanH | December 29, 2008 at 10:19 PM

I'm sorry but Ghajini was a fantastic film, the love story was pure and amazing. i have no idea what film you guys saw, but Aamir Khan did full justice to this film. Also, this is a TAMIL remake. It's a remake of a TAMIL film. You people obviously don't know anything if you didn't even know that. Aamir has given full justice to the film, by roping in the same ACTRESS and DIRECTOR of the tamil film.
Posted by: Yasin | December 30, 2008 at 08:54 AM

Ghajini was good action movie for Indian cinema, never seen this sort of movies before. Anyway enjoyed watching.
I think one movie you should not miss is Chandni Chowk to China, starring Akshay Kumar and beautiful Deepika Pundkar, this is first Indian Movie of Warner Brother and they are planning to release this one all over the world, don't be surprised it this movies breaks into all time great movies!!!
It is releasing on January 15th or so. you can find promo on youtube or check website
Enjoy this one don't miss life time opportunity and of course will change your views on Indian Movies.
Posted by: Don | December 30, 2008 at 09:17 AM

seanH: You may simply be a more serious person than I am. In fact, the older I get, the less serious I seem to be. I could argue that the world is a better place because it includes movies in which beautiful people lip synch and dance together on gigantic piano keyboards; that any addition to the overall fund of high spirits is a Good Thing. But that would misrepresent what I love about this stuff, which is frivolity for its own sake.
But consider this: Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy says he felt compelled to add a love story when adapting "Slumdog Millionaire" because the culture of the Mumbai slums, as grim as it is, is also "saturated with romance." And a friend of mine, a quite serious person, was like many Westerners unprepared despite all she'd read for the sheer scale of the city's poverty. But she told me that she came away from it with a new respect for Bollywood; a new understanding of the cultural service it provides: extreme escapism from a correspondingly extreme reality.
Do you think Preston Sturges would approve?
For the record, "Ghajini" is not the movie I would fall back on as a make or break test case for Bollywood. The romantic melodrama "Kal No Naa Ho" or, better yet, the exuberant comedy "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom" would be much closer to the mark.
I reviewed the latter as follows for the LA Weekly:
JHOOM BARABAR JHOOM Now this is more like it: Flirtatious repartee between glamorous stars in travel-poster international locations; a gratifyingly simple plot with puzzles and sleight-of-hand surprises; and, at regular intervals, outbursts of gaudy, energetic dancing. After a dispiriting series of summer films from both Hollywood and Bollywood that aimed at nothing more than fun and failed to achieve even that, Shaad Ali’s nutritious and filling (and glossy and sexy and inventive) Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is light entertainment so gratifyingly well crafted that it’s uplifting. It restores our faith in the High Show Biz calling of making people feel good. The central romantic situation couldn’t be simpler: Preity Zinta and Abishek Bachchan, playing off each other like longtime sparring partners, are two strangers who meet at a café in London’s Waterloo Station while waiting for their respective fiancés. Or so they claim. But JBJ distinctly resembles two other recent hits, both about gifted deceivers: Bunty aur Babli, made by the same producer-director team, and Bluffmaster, in which the dashing young Bachchan played a high-stepping con artist. So we can’t help squinting at this film’s flashbacks, searching for evidence of some elaborate hustle. (When the underlying agendas are revealed, they may seem to be a cheat in genre terms, but they reward our affection for the characters, and this is a higher code than the rules of any genre.) The entire last half hour of the film is one long blowout of a production number, a dance contest at which all the relationships are sorted out. Dancing, in fact, is the movie’s governing metaphor: The title translates as “Sway Baby Sway,” and it clearly refers not just to a dance step but also to an attitude toward life. The dancer who expresses this best, in what is finally little more than a running cameo appearance, is young Abhishek'’s father, the veteran superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who lips synchs in the first person as a Greek-chorus-like street performer, with hippie hair and a Technicolor dreamcoat, who effortlessly invests a minimalist, Zorba-style, macho two-step with the charisma of a lifetime. (Naz 8; Fallbrook 7) (David Chute) Posted by: David C. | December 30, 2008 at 11:19 AM

David C, thanks for the really cool , detailed response. I probably wouldn't get that at any other site.
I don't even really love the love story in Slumdog. I kept on thinking that we were missing one scene to see that she loved Jamaal.
I don't consider myself to be that serious as a person. I love movies like Bad Santa, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and Wall E was probably my favorite movie of the year.
Some people will go into this movie and want the experience that you just mentioned. They order a dish and hope it tastes exactly how they want it to and to be honest, I think a lot of people will be happy with this film if they have an inkling of fun Indian cinema.
A great cinematic experience to me is going to a see a film that constantly toys with my predictions of where it will and won't go. I probably see somewhere between 90-150 feature films a year and like (on a good year) 8 of them.
Since 2001 I've seen a ton of bollywood movies and every time I just want to find one that goes against the traditional template that Anne speaks of. Imagine if There Will Be Blood had Daniel Day bursting out in song with the same instrumentals played in every movie ever played and he was a bit of a crazy oil driller but he also had an Elizabeth Bennet that competed with him who would get into some trouble with horribly played villains.
A few days ago I had lunch with a few indian born directors and we all hope what the Red Camera will do to Indian cinema. The inexpensiveness of it all will hopefully allow the growing middle class will begin to begin an indpendent wave of cinema that has never been allowed (unless a indian would travel to England or the US to persue work). Both CAA and William Morris are going to be starting camps in Dehli and hopefully set up infostructure with the Indian world (which really works without agencies or management - or hollywood like studios for that matter)
Watching bollywood films, to me, is almost like watching communist china at work. The producers that make the movies as well as most of the people who have their hands in the honey jar (including the government) don't really allow the typical template to be broken. One story that you'll hear often from independent filmmakers that travel to India is that the logistics of getting any non-bollywood template film made in India is near impossible. There is no crowd control, you'll want to hire one PA and the person will bring in 10 gaffers, equipment usually gets stolen even if you hire a speciality security service, controling sound is simply impossible, there will be thousands of issues with so-called government officials, and any non-indians will get stomach flu from the catering. By the time everything is made you have to get your film past customs and customs isn't the same as canada. A true producer will spend hours fighting for the right for the film to travel back to the states without any harm being done to the masters.

I will have to check out the film that you did review (and very well) once I get past my Doubt and Wrestler screeners this week.
Posted by: seanH | December 31, 2008 at 12:42 AM

Enough of crap tell you the truth I watched the movie this weekend...All the crap abt the movie being inspired from some other movie is intresting..Just think guys and tell me who is not inspired in this world by some or the other thing..Be it good or bad..If some one does good to you or you see something gud you will get inspired..Ditto with the bad things...So let's just forget the crappy shit and give the due where it is supposed to be..A good movie is all about gripping story, good direction and if the movie excels in all departments like acting, music, cinmatography direction and all other things, you cannot call a movie a bad one-even if it is a remake or has some sceanes from some hollywood, tollywood or bollywood movie..i am sure you will agree that a movie excels if it is good in all departments..I am sure that a badly made movie with an original story would be a dud as well..So let's forget the movie being remake and enojoy as it is a good watch..
Posted by: Amit | December 31, 2008 at 02:20 PM

uh Im an indian that completely hates many (many many) bollywood films others usually like, and I loved gajini.
I think it's a Ravi K Chandran (cin) film from start to finish.
I just think its too infradig to write a review for it because know...remake ...and all that...
I understand you got to pander to a certain cell phone owning tycoon, and remake films inspired by Hollywood with much singing and what you gotta do, but don't expect me to be writing reviews for it.
Ugly punk girl, I’m not going to be banging you. thanks.
Posted by: Ramesh | January 03, 2009 at 12:30 PM

I want to offer you a serious response, though with TypePad's recent comments weirdness I'm not sure you'll ever be able to read it. But still:
"A great cinematic experience to me is going to a see a film that constantly toys with my predictions of where it will and won't go."
That's certainly one kind of cinematic experience that I savor also--and when reading and listening to music. But I would insist that most Bollywood movies are genre movies--correctly described by Robert Warshow in his essay on the Western as "an art form for connoisseurs, where the spectator derives his pleasure from the appreciation of minor variations within the working out of an established order." The most revelatory description I've ever read, in, fact, called Bollywood "the movie industry that is also a genre." Certainly not the only kind of movie I enjoy watching, but the kind that for me is the most fun to write about.
If the people you are talking to in India are mostly from the parallel or indie movie realm, I would respectfully suggest that they have an axe to grind. From their perspective the commercial monopoly of the Bollywood idiom must seem infuriatingly oppressive and exclusionary. I have the admitted luxury of standing out side all that. But if their contention is that if they only had access to the means of production they could make movies that would win the mass audience away from Bwd, I have to say, I think they're dreaming. The industry seems to be doing a fine job of giving the large Indian audience exactly what it wants.
Communist China? In the sense of cranking out propaganda for an establishment world view? Well, maybe. But wouldn't the film theorists say that all cinemas do that? I agree to the extent that Bollywood is not a cinema of discontent but a cinema of reassurance. (I coined that description, but you should feel free to use it.) There are plenty of worse ways to use the medium, IMHO.
Posted by: David C. | January 03, 2009 at 02:32 PM

GO GHAJINI Aamir Khan, a teen idol in the early ‘90s turned dashing romantic leading man, has for several years been Bollywood’s most exportable overachiever: producer-star of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, director-star of this year’s Indian Oscar submission Taare Zameen Par. In his latest offering, Ghajini, Khan goes aggressively down-market, indulging a midlife urge to kick ass and snap necks in slow motion, like some of the South Indian action behemoths who have recently been kicking Hindi cinema’s ass at the national box office.
The result is an experience almost too stimulating for the non-Indian nervous system, a blockbuster layer cake of full-strength escapist entertainment. In a series of gaudy, tuneful flashbacks, Khan is the sleek CEO of a cell-phone company, a prince of industry passing as a commoner so that a radiant young actress will fall in love with his soul and not his money. In the much darker present-day sequences, he’s a revenge-obsessed victim of anterograde amnesia, complete with shaved, scarred cranium, bulging muscles crawling with tattoos, and a pocketful of annotated Polaroids.
The movie does, indeed, owe a large debt to Memento, albeit once removed: This version of Ghajini is an exceedingly detailed redo of a 2005 Tamil/Telegu hit of the same name that lifted the trappings of short-term memory loss from Christopher Nolan’s film. Although there are some variations, especially in the second half, long stretches of the two Ghajinis are virtually identical. The cast also includes several prominent holdovers, including leading lady Asin Thottumkal, bad guy Pradeep Rawat, and muscle-bound cop Riyaz Khan, with Aamir Khan seemingly pasted in over original star Surya, who won a regional Best Actor award playing the tormented yet brawny hero.
If Khan was hoping some of the commercial mojo of South Indian action icons such as Superstar Rajnikanth (Sivaji the Boss) might rub off, he could scarcely have picked a better collaborator for the project than A.R. Murugadoss, the writer-director of both versions of Ghajini, auteur of the legendary headbanger Stalin: Man for the Society (2005), and a master of the pile-driving Southern style. (Key YouTube clip: “megastalin intro.”) The reinvigorated performer strides into battle in Ghajini haloed with bullet-time clouds of glittering water droplets, wrapping his opponents around tree trunks and perforating them with iron pipes, already half-transformed into Superstar Aamirkhanth.
(Culver Plaza; Fallbrook 7; Laguna Hills Mall; Naz 8 Artesia; Naz 8 Riverside) (David Chute).


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Unexpectedly Great: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Finally caught up with on DVD, and was amazed by, the savagely reviewed "The X-Files: I Want to Believe." It would be on my 10 Best list this year if I was doing one.

Rich production values but basically a very small story. No cosmic "mythology" material. Maybe that's what some people found disappointing. But simply stated this is filmmaking on a very high level: Gorgeously staged and shot in snow-bound small-town Canada by director Chris Carter; clever, creepy, simple, ground-level EC Comics type story about a Russian mafia organ-harvesting ring; amazingly intense performances filmed in intimate hushed tones; Gillian Anderson especially magnificent, recognizably the same Scully but with stronger currents glittering under the surface.

The movie is in effect a story about a passionate but doomed marriage. This is such an intense partnership that that's what it ultimately feels like: a marriage that really should work, considering how deeply the parties sympathize with each other, but that fails anyway, and for the most wrenching of reasons: because the partners' dedication to incompatible careers has moral dimension that can't be denied, a sense of taking on work they truly believe is important. Carter pulls off a scene toward the end in which M & S acknowledge this hopelessness in a way that makes them admire each other even more. A mixture of sadness and courage that is not sentimentalized. This would be an amazingly powerful moment in a movie of any kind, much less in a mega-budget major studio genre sequel.

American movie critics are such losers. Too often now they cast themselves as the guardians of the status quo, piling on anybody caught coloring outside the lines of the commercially orthodox. And if the critics don't support this kind of risk-taking (turning a big-budget franchise installment into a small-scale personal statement about love and honor!), who the bleep will?

Roger Ebert alone, apparently, among the major mainstream U.S. critics, shares this view.

Cool trackback. Which produced this comment in support of my position:

Kudos to Chute for praising the X-Files movie. I recently watched it and enjoyed it quite a bit.

But first a complaint: I thought the movie was structurally rather botched. Despite being intrigued by the plot, I found myself frustrated by it on more than one occasion. (It doesn't really accelerate like it should. As a horror-thriller, it feels hesitant.) But there's so much to like here in terms of sensibility, character, and approach that I can hardly complain.

Carter shows real courageousness in jettisoning the alien "mythology" that bogged down the show and the first movie and instead sticks with what always made the X-Files tick: Mulder and Scully (with a good bit of the macabre thrown in). Their relationship, which has always been romantic-comic in nature, is picked up in middle age, and it's mulled over in ways both concrete and abstract. The movie asks questions like: What brings people together? How do we keep ourselves going every day? Can anything we do in the present make up for the past? Is it possible to be both human and alone?

The snowy, expansive landscapes and the terrific lighting underscore this questioning, desolate mood, and the main subplots effectively accentuate the theme of people trying to come to terms with both themselves and one another.

In short, there's a lot of abyss-gazing going on in this little genre movie, and a lot of heart-rending. It seems to me one of the more pointed movies about aging and relationships I've seen recently.

Posted by Ron at January 26, 2009


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flashback: “Web Terror Stories”

Moving some books around on the shelf today I came across the only copy I own of one of the more outre magazines in the history of American pulp fiction. A web search coughed up some details of its publication history I was not previously aware of. And since we’re making a transistion from the JournalSpace version of this enterprise, and because a selective reprinting of “greatest hits” makes more sense to me than a wholesale ‘migration,” here’s my earlier post on the subject:

Pulp Fiction: Web Terror Stories
posted Wed, 23 Mar 2005 18:23:00 -0800

Web Terror Stories is a strange case. This was an ostensible horror-fiction magazine that published only eight issues in the early 1960s. But as I discovered when I purchased a copy from a newsstand in a small town in Maine around 1963, it was actually peddling a form of pulp S & M, neo-Gothic in which, invariably, “the lash bit into her tender flesh.”

No one has ever written anything about this magazine as an odd, brief excrescence of American underbelly culture. Reading it at 13, of course, I was thoroughly freaked out by the mixture of sadism and sexual stimulation, which was a commodity not as pervasive in the culture as it is now. I knew this thing was a hot potato and discarded it before my parents could stumble over it and express their disappointment.Recently I went on line to see if I had hallucinated the whole thing, and discovered that there is quite a flourishing market for back issues of this publication, with copies in good condition selling for upwards of $100.00---though none of the on-line references seem to be aware of what the magazine actually was -- and of course (though yellowed and brittle) still is. Unless that's a ruse, and the special character of this publication is now a watchword among B&D enthusiasts.

Best 10 of 2004:

The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson)

Swades (Ashutosh Gowariker, India)

House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, China/Hong Kong)

The Incredibles (Brad Bird)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano, Japan)

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino)

Collatoral (Michael Mann)

Lakshya (Farhan Akhtar, India)

Breaking News (Johnny To, Hong Kong)

Bang Rajan (Tanit Jitnukul, Thailand)

A Very Long Engagement (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France)


Saturday, January 3, 2009

She's also taller

Their engagement was announced this week.

Enormously encouraging.


Edd Cartier 1914-2008

ComicMix reports.

Gallery here.

Probably my favorite Golden Age SF illustrator, though I was too young to see his career-best work for Unknown in situ. In Astounding/Analog he often illustrated the Mack Reynolds space operas I greatly enjoyed then but now find unreadable.



Fantomas returns

Howard A. Rodman tips his Facebook friends to the pulp fiction breakthrough of the young new year.

Facebook being. apparently, cool enough for Howard, though not for some other people we know.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Donald E. Westlake 1933-2008

Bad news on his Wikipedia page:

Donald Edwin Westlake (born July 12, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, died December 31, 2008, in San Tancho, Mexico) was a prolific American writer, with over a hundred novels and non-fiction books to his credit.
More here.

And here. Scroll down to p. 3.


Superstar Aamirkhanth

This was available online last night, December 31, 2008, but its official street date means that this "LA Weekly" review of "Ghajini" qualifies as the first of the New Year.

I confess I may have gotten a little carried away this time. The body of the review was sort of built up from, or on top of, its final line, which tickled me unduly. But it may also be slightly misleading. There is a level of visual/rhetorical overstatement in the original version of "Ghajini" that seems to me characteristic of Tamil cinema, and that carries over into the remake. Beyond that...

Joe Leydon in "Variety".

Because I archived the Hungry Ghost Blog through August, 2008, and was able to find a couple of additional months' worth of posts via Google Cache, relatively little has been lost. The last couple of months has seen sparse posting, anyway. Links to my reviews of Roadside Romeo, Fix (scroll down), Yuuvraj (ditto), Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Waiting in Beijing and Dostana are hereby restored. Bet that's a relief.