05 June 2013

Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani

Directed by: Ayan Mukerji

I've not been excited for an Indian film in so long I almost cried when I saw the first teaser for "Badtameez Dil" a couple months ago. Finally, I thought, a super happy, super bubbly Bollywood blowout! 

I managed to make two viewings on the opening weekend despite every showing in NYC being sold out for 4 days straight, and I will admit I was unimpressed the first go through, thankfully the second time charmed me. Overall, I was impressed by this film and the strides it made in its storytelling.

The caveat, of course, is that I was very frustrated by a few things that cannot be overlooked:

1.  In NO world and under NO circumstances can I tolerate or condone a group of eight-year-old girls dancing to “Desi Girl” and doing mini-thumkas.  I don’t care if it’s at a sangeet, I don’t care if it’s supposed to be “cute”—it’s distasteful and unfortunate that little girls are entertaining a crowd by shaking their hips and proclaiming themselves to be “the hottest girl in the world”.  

2.  “Lara the rhinoplastied sex object. I understand that some women are flirts and they are just… like that. We all have our moments of being the Walking Stereotype of Feminine Idiocy but to write in a character that is nothing but a vessel for sexual objectification is disgusting.  

While I had a handful of other feminist objections those two stood out as most offensive to me. 

Issues aside (and they should not be discarded lightly), YJHD did a lot of things right.

Naina (Deepika Padukone) is an introverted, study-minded med student. Instead of focusing on a pre-glasses, post-glasses physical makeover YJHD gracefully allows the character to grow personally, watching Naina "find herself" and become comfortable in her own skin was as refreshing as watching half of the film from her perspective. Use of a female narrator is not commonly used in commercial Indian Films and it was absolutely brilliant. I never feel as if I know who the women in films are--and thankfully--I was able to really meet and understand Naina. Deepika--whom age favors--pulled out an amazing performance. 

"Bunny" (Ranbir Kapoor) represents the person we all want to be--the go getter, the man who has it all, who achieves all of his goals--and the total opposite of Naina.  The second half of the film is dedicated to Bunny's growth and humanization. Switching the POV to him suddenly before intermission was clunky and awkward but allows us, sadly, to segue into the more traditional male-focused love story. While I won't deny that Ranbir Kapoor does a fine job I do think that Bunny's "second half" is less developed and full of abstract staring into space. A lot is sacrificed by taking power of narration away from Naina--but alas: it's a Hero's world. 

As a couple Bunny and Naina felt real, and thankfully they were allowed to be together after they had both become their own, independant person. They brought out the best in each other and realized that what's most important is not how different they were but how they felt together, which was happy. The takeaway line in this film is (paraphrased): "sometimes just being with one person makes everything better"and both Naina and Bunny realized that.

A short note on Kalki Koechlin: I am in love with this woman. I haven't always felt this way but I thought she brought a very centered element to the screen with her "Aditi". While Bunny and Naina can feel like characters of two extremes I found Aditi to be the normal element for them to both bounce off of and humanize them. 

As was to be expected from a Karan Johar backed flick you get tastes of all of his films. Wouldn't it be nice if, for once, a director stopped sucking up to KJo's dick ego and made a film that supported itself? I'd love that.

(Karan, I love you.  Mellow out.)

While I won't call Yeh Jawaani Hai Dewaani the next DDLJ I do think the film has an important role to play in the development of new films. Give me more movies from the perspective of women and tons and tons of over the top RomComs. I'm drowning in a sea of Police Flicks and I can't stand it.

25 May 2013


Directed by: Atul Sabharwal

Lately a lot of people have worked the following question into casual conversation: “So…are you still into Indian films?”  It has been a terribly tough question to answer.  My gut reaction is to say “of course!” but my head knows that after Jab Tak Hai Jaan and a string of crime-and-violence-centered flicks and the continued objectification and violence toward women in Indian film I was a little burnt out. 

Naturally, I went to see Aurangzab after hearing from multiple people that it was one of Yash Raj Film’s better releases in the past five years or so.  Since I was already turned off by hyper-violent films Aurangzab did not sit well with me—in fact I was greatly upset by it; but I cannot deny that the film was extremely well made, the story incredibly developed and exciting.

In a throwback to the days of “Good Twin vs. Bad Twin” Arjun Kapoor pulls a stunning performance as both Ajay—the entitled, hotheaded son of Mega-Don Yashvardhan(Jackie Shroff)—and Vishal—the quiet, innocent and sweet natured twin brother who had been taken from his brother and father by his mother in early childhood.

Exchanging the good twin for the bad in an effort to bring down Yashvardhan’s empire, Rishi Kapoor’s DCP Ravikant incites a storyline where the audience ends up sympathizing with the goons, and suspecting the police. Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Arya, another police office, holds the moral center in the film, and is ultimately rewarded. 

Production, performances and etc were on point in this film, and the efforts of the cast and crew should not go upraised. However; had there been a moral, a lesson or a redeeming quality to the film (besides vengeful violence and overtly sappy “Maa moments”) I would have found the film easier to swallow.

21 May 2013

Promise Land

Directed by: Kevin Dalvi
It is a special thing to go to a film premiere in your hometown, but it’s especially touching to see the red carpet premiere of a film written, directed and produced by members of your Twitter Circle.

I had the privilege to watch Promise Land with the cast and crew at their NYC, Times Square primer this last weekend. Touching on hot topic issues—homosexuality, racial profiling, immigration—Promise Land uses three storylines to present the topics, and flesh them out with impressive humility and an incredible agility for making the conflicts personal to the viewer.

Regardless of your background all viewers can relate to the on-screen action. Blending three stories together with humor, heartache and hope creates a seamless, compelling film.

Four more screenings of Promise Land will be presented in AMCs across America—please support the efforts of this wonderful cast and crew and catch the show!