26 June 2008

Waiting in the Wings, II

(originally begun on 3.3.08, this is part of the "Oh, look what I found!" series)


When I was a little girl, I went through a phase, as most American girls do at about age 6 or 7, of wanting to be a dancer. I still appreciate dance, but although I live in the town that hosts the American Dance Festival, I do not seek out live dance. It used to be that I could be found at dances, even occasionally at clubs; I move pretty well, but I don't seek out opportunities to dance, except in my mind. Bollywood gives me a chance to have all the dance I want in my life and sometimes more.

When someone told me that Amitabh Bachchan was dancing like that on purpose, I laughed, thinking he was kidding. I can get with the whole "cool" aesthetic, but only if there's some actual dancing going on, and, well, there's not. Abishek is getting better than he used to be (Aishwarya's influence?), but he still seems confused by having a body that moves. (Let's hope that confusion doesn't spread to other areas of his life.)

I love watching Shah Rukh Khan dance. Just as in his acting, there is attention to every detail of what his body is doing. Even in "Deewangi Deewangi," when he's clowning around with other actors, every move has intention, and even the most pedestrian dance moves show a presence of being. Maybe it's because he and choreographer Farah Khan adore each other, but he's not there to just walk through anything.

Granted, though, I've heard that it takes a few takes for him to get a move right, because dancing is not his strongest suit. If his mangling of the Foreigner song "Waiting for a Girl Like You" in Swades was any indication, neither is singing. That won't stop the wild adoration I feel from him.

Bollywood editors, take note: Hrithik Rishan is the best male dancer in the country. Stop cutting the film every few seconds to be trendy; let's see him move for a few feet without showing off the high-tech gadgetry, as happened, sadly enough, in "Dhoom Again." The dance number was a high point of the movie, so why interrupt the man when he's doing his thing? The man has joints in his legs and back that the rest of us don't. Some people are thoroughly taken with his glossy buff-ass self, and they're allowed. As one never very taken with beefcake, though, that's not what grabs my attention. Instead, I am impressed with his knowledge of the physics of dance. Tricky camera work and fancy editing just get in the way of that.

Look! There---in the back row!

I'm hesitant to bring this next topic up. We aren't supposed to notice dancers in the chorus, although that is what they pray for. They are supposed to be mobile scenery, providing a context for the leads without asking us to actually see them, unless, of course, the plot includes a shy, earnest young woman or man in the chorus who is giving his or her all to The Dance, is working three degrading jobs just to make it, is taking care of his or her ailing grandparent with perfect good graces, and is far too ethical to fuck anyone for a part, not even the cute, kind, overattentive, misunderstood director who later learns some social skills, reveals that he or she was misunderstood in his or her advances, and becomes dateworthy---but if that were the case, the cameras would let us know about that plot device early on.

And yet.

And yet.

I think I first saw this dancer as part of the chorus in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, a thoroughly missable movie, except for two or three short scenes and whatever sequences this man shows up in. (He's in this picture over AB's right shoulder in the blue shirt and overalls. And he's over AB's left shoulder in the black tank top here.) Then he showed up in the NY scenes in Aaja Nachle. Let it be known, please, that:
  • I adore Madhuri Dixit, but in the dance studio sequences, it was hard to take my eyes off of this man. AND
  • I know that I prejudiced by my belief that most men look good in long(er) hair, but it's not that I find him particularly handsome. AND
  • I am suspicious of the anorexic-looking European white women who find themselves dancing in Bollywood movies, often in costumes too brief to be considered acceptable on South Asian women. There is not, fortunately, much of a parallel that I can see for non-South Asian men in Bollywood movies. Who knows what this man's ethnic or cultural identity is? Not I. But that's not what I find attractive about his wolfy self. AND
  • I'm sorry to be boring, but the man can dance. He's got great attitude without seeming to try to upstage anyone, he's got precision without being robotic, and he looks as though he's enjoying himself. He makes me want to dance. Not necessarily with him, mind you, but he makes me want to dance.

Kunal Kapoor is not a great dancer; like the Bachchans, he always seem surprised by how long his legs have become since the last time he checked, but his math is better, and even if it weren't, I wouldn't care a bit. He could be in sequences until we're all very old in which we hear the choreographer off-camera yelling, "One, TWO, one, TWO," and I wouldn't mind. The man can act, and he's far more handsome than anyone has a right to be. Oh, my---call the law. He's perfect with Konkona Sen Sharma, who's fabulous. They were paired in Aaja Nachle and in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, a pretty good movie whose name I can never remember. Whoever thought of that match-up needs a raise.

I'm feeling as if I need a Bollywood fix, so off I go....

Waiting in the Wings I

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Neither of my readers will be surprised to discover that I have had two posts mostly written but had not finished them nor put them here. I'll spare you the excuses. Here's the first, which includes an update.

The Yearbook Time Warp and Madhuri Dixit

I don’t pretend to understand the psychological processes at work, but when I look at a photograph that was taken of people who were born before about 1950, they almost always appear to be older than I am now, even if they were 18 at the time. The student pictures in a 1945 high school yearbook are of people who look older to me than my own 47-year-old face. Maybe it’s the hairstyles or eyeglasses, which I mentally transpose onto the members of the class of ’45 whom I see in the grocery store. Maybe it’s the style of photography.

Every now and then, though, I look at a person and make the same error. I usually forget that Anil Kapoor is only a year older than I am; in my mind he is another half-generation out. Maybe his staid character in Bewafaa fooled me into thinking he was older. Madhuri Dixit, whom I adore, is another such case. I first saw her in Devdas, and perhaps the first image of her looked as if it were from an old movie. Maybe it's because she appears neither underfed nor plastic surgeried and made-up beyond recognition, so I assumed she was from a time that saw beauty differently. (She is a gorgeous woman and doesn’t seem to work at it, which always impresses me. I get the feeling that she hops out the shower looking stunning.) But I kept being surprised that she was Shahrukh Khan’s (secondary) love interest, because she had registered in my brain as being one generation older than his character.

Shahrukh Khan was born almost exactly five years after I was, and Madhuri Dixit is another year-and-a-half younger. I don’t really have a good excuse.

Bad hair years

OK, so I’m usually clever enough to get out of my own way, but several weeks ago, in a local Bollywood palace, I saw a DVD entitled Dard-e-Disco: Best of Shahrukh Khan, and promptly lost my mind. Maybe it as the striped AND polka-dotted shirt coupled with sideburns. Maybe it was the blurb “BEST VISION WHICH U NEVER SEEN BEFORE” running around the box. Maybe it was the picture of a bare-chested, kneeling SRK with his hair blowing back. (Sorry, I can't bring myself to search the 28,203 pictures of SRK that Yahoo! images has listed to find that particular image. Try this or this or this instead. sigh!) Whatever was to blame, the mental maelstrom was so powerful that it temporarily washed away my aversion to bootlegged DVDs and my conviction that if I want Bollywood to be an honest business, I need to deal with it honestly, and I didn’t even check to see if it was a legitimate release.

Readers, I bought it.

It includes 65 song sequences, only two of which are from movies I had not seen (Shakti and Koyla). I have been watching in bits and pieces, and on the day I started this post, I saw “Dekha Tujhe To” from Koyla. In it, SRK and Madhuri Dixit dance around a mountain top, but it is difficult to actually see them. Look at the video, and see what distracted me.

I am trying to determine which are buried under more padding: Shahrukh Khan’s shoulders or Madhuri Dixit’s breasts. Late 80s style at its worst. Don’t ask me about the mullet, or I may cry.

I’ve seen Koyla since, and I liked it, for the most part. But I made the mistake of discovering that the movie was not made in the 80s, as I had assumed; its release date is said to be 1997. Too early for retro kitsch, too late for irony, no historical markers necessary---so what the hell were they thinking? I was almost embarrassed in one scene when all of Madhuri was lying down except for her breasts, which formed oddities never before created by biology nor architecture. (And I thought of the scene in Shashi Tharoor's Great Indian Novel in which our hero sneaks a peek at the breasts of his favorite Bollyood diva only to discover what he had seen was obviously padding. What kind of movie and sexual naivete could have kept him from knowing?)

I have an ally at the local Bollywood palace who has been suggesting late 1970s Amitabh Bachchan movies, and seeing his lean self in drag-on-the-ground bell-bottoms makes it clear why some people refer to him as Daddy Long-Legs. He must have a 48" inseam. Whether he's moralizing or clowning around, he's great fun, too! Badly choreographed (dishoom, dishoom!) fight scenes and the fact that he can't dance notwithstanding, I am liking these older movies.

So, now that I'm learning a little Bollywood history, maybe I can figure out how to count and estimate people's ages. Or figure out how old I am. A case could be made that that is the core problem.

12 February 2008

Rethinking Kareena Kapoor

I don't know why this is news, but it is. It surprises me that I don't hate Kareena Kapoor. I am assessing her here as an actor; she may well be a terrific human being.

I had seen her in my first for-real Bollywood movie, Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon. (Why I returned for more, I don't know. Well, I do, but I'll save that story for another time.) Then I saw Bewafaa, which I mostly liked, even though she didn't thrill me. After this, I think I saw others. By the time I saw Omkara, I had seen her enough to be surprised. "Hey! I don't hate her in this!"

In Don, she was a vapid attempt at eye-candy, which can happen to lots of women in movies. Then I saw Chup Chup Ke, in which she played a young woman who was, inexplicably, mute. "Ugh," I thought, and worse. Who thought that someone could be a worse actor when silent than when speaking?* I avoided everything she was in, even when her co-star was one of my favorites. I said vile things under my breath while refusing to rent a large number of movies.

Then I saw Jab We Met. My inner straight woman 25-year-old just adores Shahid Kapoor. (My inner 25-year-old gay man wants John Abraham in the worst way.) "Hey," I thought. "She's not thoroughly annoying in this!" which was nearly high praise at that point.

I forgot about that, then saw Asoka this last weekend. While I am not prepared to cut her the same slack I do Preity Zinta, whom I like even when she's bad, or Juhi Chawla or Rani Mukerji or Kajol or Sushmita Sen, whom I would continue to wildly adore even if they were dreadful, I was impressed. She carried a challenging role with guts and brains.

I know I run the risk here of appearing far too superficial to do myself or anyone else any good, but since I may be the only one who ever reads this, I think I've figured out one thing I have disliked about Kareena Kapoor. Whoever does her makeup often draws too much attention to her mouth and makes her eyes too close together. She sometimes reminds me of Karen Black, armed with pounds of lethal lip gloss. It hurts my feelings. I want to see women in movies and real life who have more substance and less frou-frou shit. When Kareena Kapoor is not preceded onto the set by petroleum products carefully applied with a backhoe, I get to focus more on her acting, which can be OK.

But please don't ask me about Karisma.

*It amazes me. The same industry that accepts and even loves Hrithik's thumbs deals so badly with other atypical health conditions by
  • blatantly ignoring the realities of blindness (most blind people in Bollywood movies that I have seen, and not just those that are faking blindness, can not get out of a room once they have entered it unless they are assisted by someone sighted, flail their arms and heads around as if suffering psychotic episodes (don't get me started on Black), and can not tell where a speaker's voice originates) and
  • not requiring actors to limp on the same leg consistently during one movie and
  • making mental illnesses include lots of drooling, unless the person is a lovely young woman.

20 January 2008

Use your words, _Dil Se_

Believe me when I say there will be plot spoilers ahead. I'll give another warning when I get closer. If you haven't seen Dil Se and want to see it without knowing what I think of it, and without knowing important points of the plot, stop when you see "PLOT SPOILERS IMMEDIATELY AHEAD."

When I taught day care a billion years ago, wee ones were told, "Use your words" in the Brady Bunch-est tones of voice. We did it as a way of encouraging them to say things like, "Hey, Phil, that's my fucking Play-doh!" rather than using copies of Goodnight Moon in a way that would make certain unnamed intelligence agencies envious.

It didn't always work, but I can get with the idea. I'm a word person.

It always pisses me off in (non-Indian) movies when kisses are used to answer questions. The music and lighting tell me that I am supposed to interpret these responses as being terribly romantic. "Do you love me?" Smooch. "Do you have to go?" Smooch. "Will you marry me?" Smooch. "You're pregnant?" Smooch. "What's our ZIP code?" Smooch.

Please. The only question a kiss ever answered, in the history of the world, is this one: "Will you kiss me?" (OK, it may also answer the question, "What did you have for lunch?" but that rarely is a major point of plot development. And, OK, escape artists were said to receive the key to their locks in a kiss from their wives or girlfriends just before being locked in a barrel and sent over the falls, so perhaps the question answered there is, "Are we going to make a mint from this crowd or are you aiming for wealthy widowhood?")

All this is a long way around to saying that I didn't understand Dil Se (From the Heart) when I first saw it. I bought it in the fall's Bollywood Buying Binge, which required several explanations to people who receive packages at the front office at work that "Eros Entertainment" sells Bollywood movies, which usually don't include kissing, let alone anything steamier. (The fact that the announcer pronounces it as "ehr-OSS" and identifies the company as being named after "the goddess of love" cracks me up irreparably, I fear.)

It didn't help that it took me five or six days to watch the movie, in shifts. I don't remember why; I tend to have a better attention span for movies, especially those with Shah Rukh Khan (sigh), for reasons I will have to take up in other posts.


When I saw Dil Se in the fall, I wanted words. I couldn't understand why these two characters liked each other at all. He was obsessed with her with very little encouragement; she was distant, pouty, clingy, alternately indecisive and aggressive. She was Doctor Doolittle's pushmepullyou, an animal that only I seem to recall from the book, even though I don't think I ever read it. It's a two-headed llama-like mammal. (That could be bad for knitters; with no flanks, there's less acreage for growing yarn.) When the beastie wants to move, it tries to go in two directions at once. I don't find pushmepullyou people very enticing as potential partners, and I don't understand people who do.

I have had the Dil Se soundtrack in my car for weeks, alternating with Saathiya. A.R. Rahman is brilliant. The music does a fine job of moving the characters into position as soulmates, but the rest of the movie does not.
  • Part of this is because, as I said before, I need characters to use words, and most of the questions in Dil Se, by design, go unanswered.
  • Part of this is because most of the romantic connection between the characters is established in fantasy sequences; in their real lives, most of their communication is done with varying shades of irritation. She wants him to go away, he wants her to explain why she holds him off.
  • Part of this is because they communicate so much with eyebrows.

Shah Rukh Khan's eyebrows are just about trilingual. When I first developed my embarrassingly prepubescent Tiger Beat-worthy cinematic crush on him, I set about collecting pictures of him from the Internet. I couldn't figure out why none of them were adequate. I realized that one of the things I like about his acting is that his face is constantly in motion, acting and reacting to the situation his character faces. That means that still pictures will rarely capture the emotion that he exudes. This may well be what makes some people dislike him as an actor.

Monisha Koirala has expressive eyebrows, too, of the sort that would inspire poetry about small frightened birds and elegant butterflies and stuff. Some people would want to protect her, but after a while, I was thinking of medication for PTSD.

Now, I can get with eyebrows. I am very glad to have two. One arches menacingly, flirtatiously, full of question and caution and wry humor, as the situation requires. But my damned eyebrows can't be expected to carry a novel.

"Satrangi Re" ("[You] of the Many Colors," according to Bollywhat?) is one of my favorite Bollywood songs. The sequence illustrates difficulties in showing the struggle of the characters who are coming to terms with their love for each other. It's a mixed bag. The song includes some of the sexiest vocals (there's an alto!), but the choreography is, for the most part, pedestrian. (Perhaps after the amazing "Chal Chaiyya Chaiyya" Farah Khan got exhausted and farmed out this bit to her assistants.)

The staging is excellent, and there are a few good parts, but there are not many inspired dance moves in this sequence. The section in which the characters are in one costume, alternately adoring their metaphorically sexual connection, which is not the least bit foul, and then struggling to move apart, is great. I also love the section that's played backwards. It lends an otherworldly David Lynch-like air to the swirling garments without too many weird reminders of lines such as, "Sometimes my elbows bend backwards," or whatever it was that Laura Palmer said. The "Lovers' Pieta in the Snow" bit is lovely. But these are thirty-second stagings, not dance.

There are times when the characters' romantic conflicts get played out in this dance sequence with inadvertently comic results. The choreography and costume departments conspired on a "hearts in bondage" trope, a decidedly non-erotic scene, in which Monisha Koirala is wrapped in the stern lines from the QE2 and does a hobbled little sideways Charlie Chaplin-esque dance. What possessed them, I just don't know. In the scene where she is wearing a purple dress and shawl, the wind gets the better of her, and the lack of choreography is tangible.

This movie also includes a line that may work a lot better in Hindi, but in English subtitles, it's sadsadsad. At one point, he has been beaten up by her comrades (for the second(?) third(?) time) , and he calls her on the phone, asking, "Don't you feel our love is more important than terrorism?"

But I knew there was more there than I could see the first time, so I watched the movie again. And this time, I got it. These characters can't say what they mean. He, as a journalist, needs words to understand and connect, but he'll settle for the nonverbals because he needs something in his life that is not business. She relies more on gestures and action because she has had her words stolen from her by violence, but at the end she will settle for his words because they are more comforting, more personal than the words of her comrades in violent revolution. In the last scene, just before the explosive ending, she accepts his words as he accepts her actions.

And though I can not accept double suicide as the height of romance, within the context of this movie, these characters, I get it.

19 January 2008

The Musical Stylings of Knit King Cole

"Malabrigo, Malabrigo, I adore you,
Yarn that I would like to eat, read, knit, and purl.
I’d give up tofu and dark chocolate just for you,
And become your cute and sweet and loyal sweater girl."

"Damn, damn, damn," she said, awestruck. I recently bought two skeins of Malabrigo worsted in a Duke-esque blue to make a hat for a friend who loves his alma mater, and it's perfectly cracklike. I mean, this is consider-selling-the-books, occasionally-rent-out-the-dog-for-children's-parties, and eat-nothing-but-pasta-for-three-weeks-a-month yarn. It's like knitting with well-conditioned dreadlocks offered when there's no money for yarn by someone you love who has read "The Gift of the Magi" too many times. Maybe dreadlocks don't strike you as soft, and perhaps the image of someone donating dreadlocks to be knit into a hat doesn't cue the romantic music in your head.

I dated a guy with dreadlocks once (he had been adopted, and his birth certificate claimed he was white, even though his baby picture looked like a little James Brown) and, after I convinced him that maybe he didn't need to bury a half-cup of shampoo in his hair with every washing because his hair wasn't dirty, regardless of what his white suburban parents who didn't know shit from dreadlocks told him and after I had him dunk his head in a sink full of a water to which a liberal dose of vinegar had been added before rinsing it several times and after I administered a much-needed hot oil treatment, his hair was wonderfully soft. Yum.

What was inside his head needed more intensive therapy. He's just another few entries in The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders VI; you know, the one that will be completely illustrated with pictures of my ex-boyfriends.

Maybe it's because he was so skilled in the sack that I think of dreadlocks as being intrinsically sexy, which affects how I feel about this yarn. Don't worry, there's nothing sick going on here; the yarn just makes me sigh occasionally.

(This is as close as I will get to giving excuses for not posting for so long: When I tried to get Blogger to remind me of my password for this blog, it wanted to be clever and tell me that I have other accounts, and to link them to this one. But my other accounts are for work, and I don't need the little darlings having access to all of my fucking life. I can't remember how the solution presented itself. It did. Here I am.)

So I'm in the coffeeshop, which ought to be one word, damn it, listening to Algerian rai music, some of which sounds pretty Bollywoodish to me. (Related to Aishwarya Rai's name, perhaps?) I recently discovered two musical distractions that may keep me permanently plugged into the Internet: here and here. The first is from National Geographic and has information about and videos of music from all over the world. This is one song that I have to hear a few times every week. It's that good. The second is an all-Indian music station from (where else?) Paris. So far, I have heard no more than three songs in a row without knowing or recognizing a song from a movie I've seen. I've also figured out that I know Sanjay Dutt's singing voice. I'm good.

The good folks at the coffeeshop are closing up, so I must go. Topics for the next go-round may include: rewatching Dil Se and actually getting it, what I'm knitting and what's waiting to be knit, why the urge to shop for yarn is becoming troublesome, being a single white woman in Bollywood theaters, the book covers I'm planning on knitting, why I never want to knit anything with the hair of my dog Gabriel, Shah Rukh Khan's biography, and why Kunal Kapoor should just move to North Carolina.