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.