26 June 2008

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.

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