Sunday, September 17, 2006

Don (1978)

The remake of 'Don' starring Shah Rukh Khan releases in exactly one month from today. My 1st reaction to hearing that news was... Why? Why remake the 1978 classic starring none other than Amitabh Bachchan? Could Farhan Akhtar (whose father co-wrote the original) really direct this movie any better than what it was? I thought about the remake of 'Charlie & The Chocolate Factory' and the similiar feelings of contempt I had before watching it. Gene Wilder was brilliant in the original - there was no chance of Johnny Depp improving on perfection. And Depp didn't - but he was still brilliant in the remake without spoiling our memory because he made the role his own. Plus, millions of kids got to see the movie for the 1st time for no other reason except that it was 'new' and the original enjoyed a whole new audience as well. So to that end I wish Shah Rukh the best of luck & hope he tries to do the same - and not try to improve on the genius of Amitji.

I recently saw the original 'Don' on the big screen with my buddy Gurmanjit in Austin, TX. It was playing at the Alamo Drafthouse as the opener to their 'Tribute to Bollywood' week. The theater was housefull & as the lights dimmed on the audience (90% non-Desi), the palpable anticipation in the air gave way to the psychedelic opening. At that point everyone realized they were in store for something very special indeed. Sure, the audience had to be goaded into the fun by the both of us talking back to the screen (ala 'Rocky Horror Picture Show') during certain scenes. But we knew they got it when the movie received a standing ovation as the end credits rolled.

'Don' was born of concentrated 1970's extract... as one critic put it "it's cheesier than a McDonald's cheeseburger where they forgot to give you everything but the cheese - and when you go up to the counter to complain, they just give you more cheese . But even though you know it's probably going to make you fat and give you spots, you can't help going back for more. 'Don' just happens to be the rarest of substances - nothing but pure entertainment." It is so over the top that you have no choice but to sit back & just enjoy the ride. The plot is just an excuse to give the audience: Amitabh in one of the best double roles ever with dialogue only he could pull off, the gorgeous Zeenat Aman in green pant-suits doing spectacular kung fu, goondas with wide lapels in polka-dot suits, crazy camera angles, incredible car chases and last but not least - the tunes. 'Don' has it all & more - did it really need to be remade? See the trailer for the remake, watch the original & then judge for yourself. Next thing you know they will be remaking 'Umrao Jaan' & 'Sholay'...

Khaike Paan is a bonafide classic still lovingly overplayed at any Desi wedding reception to this day (including mine where my friends did a dance to it as well). The dapper Don hanging out with his village kinfolk while extolling the pleasures of paan AND bhang can be seen here. The Kishore/Lata duet, Jiska Mujhe, is the other great song from the movie. See Zeenat Aman looking simply breathtaking, Amitabh being seduced by her while drinking a martini & a scorned extra with the most unfortunate hairdo I have ever seen here. The original 'Don' - guilty pleasures never felt quite this good.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

2 songs from 2001

Everyone remembers what they were doing 5 years ago today. First came the feelings of disbelief while watching the images on TV. Then being glued to those same television sets for weeks afterwards, finally becoming too numb to watch anymore. Plenty of people have their opinion on the state of the world today because of what happened (from the war in Iraq to getting to the airport early because you can't carry on bags anymore) - thus I won't bore you with mine. There is plenty of media coverage on this topic for anyone interested.

The 2 songs for today were released just prior to the events of 9/11. The films they hail from aren't all that memorable but the songs remain favorites of mine to this day. Just reminders (at least for me) of life in simpler days. The 1st selection is Kismat Se Tum, an absolutely incredible song from the movie Pukar. It was (and still is) the only Bollywood song filmed on an Alaskan glacier. Madhuri Dixit has said that it was one of the most difficult shoots of her life - see her lips actually turn the colour of her chiffon blue sari here. The 2nd selection is Chalo Chale Mitwa, a sweet duet from the movie Nayak - it's safe to say Rani Mukherjee wasn't nearly as uncomfortable during the filming.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Slide Guitar - not just for the Delta blues

While American bluesmen would probably like to believe otherwise, the slide guitar has been developed in many cultures. The earliest reports of Hawaiian slide guitar come from 1876, while Indian culture can trace the use of a slide instrument upon strings back to the 11th century. The distinctive sound of the slide guitar is an intrinsic feature in blues, Hawaiian and Indian music. On Mahima, these traditions meet in the capable hands of two of the world’s greatest slide guitarists, Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman. In the process, the two have created a true hybrid, a spectacular union of guitarists on a very unique album.

Indian raga music thrives on improvisation. No two performances by the same musician produce the same result. For a musician with substance the sky is indeed the limit. Debashish Bhattacharya's improvisations within the framework of a raga or within the limitations of the instrument he plays become a novel experience for himself as well as his listeners. Some artists go beyond what is known and open new horizons in the field of their work - this is one such artist.

Both of today's song selections have the artist's sister, Sutapa, accompanying with vocals in her native Bengali. The 1st one, Loomba Re Loomba , is a folk song from the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan. Here the camel is a primary mode of transportation and thus considered a revered member of the community. The women of Rajasthan sing this song at festivals where they decorate the camels with traditional jewelry. The 2nd one is Sujan Re and it's meaning is a term of endearment. It is the song of a newlywed bride whose fisherman husband has gone to sea & not returned. As she sings, her sense of invincible love gives way to the realization of lost hope. You don't need to know a word of Bengali to appreciate the sad beauty of what she is feeling - just close your eyes & let her voice tell the story.