Saturday, February 24, 2007

Water (2005) - for your consideration

"A widow should be long-suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste"
So begins Water, with a quote from 2000 year old sacred Hindu texts - 'The Laws of Manu'...

Although officially submitted by Canada, 'Water' becomes only the fifth Indian movie to be nominated for an Academy Award. The first winner of that group (in the Best Documentary category) was 'Born Into Brothels' last year and I hope 'Water' will continue that tradition. It combines a controversial story, tremendous acting performances and beautifully shot scenes making it one of my two favorite Indian movies of the year (my favorite one will be reviewed in the next few weeks). 'Water' is one of those rare movies that captures you from the first scene and doesn't let you go until the final one. Each line of dialogue is perfectly written and every actor delivers a stunning performance. The simplicity of the sets adds to the grace and power of the film's message.

The shooting of 'Water' was interrupted by Hindu fanatics for 5 years as they objected to the subject matter of how widows are treated in Indian society. A crowd of 2000 rioters burned down the sets in Benares and issued death threats against all those involved in the making of the movie. The production eventually was moved to Sri Lanka where filming resumed under a fake movie title and the film was finally finished 5 years after it was begun. The three female leads all provide memorable performances but none more than Sarala, the eight year old child who plays Chuihya. Sarala had never acted before making this movie nor did she speak a word of Hindi - astonishing considering how naturally she disappears into her role.

My favorite song from the movie is the haunting Piya with music composed by A.R. Rahman (who has said this is the most artistically complete album he has ever created). So tune in on Sunday night to see if the most successful Indian movie to be released in the US (and still unreleased in India) can become the second one to take home the Oscar gold.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

10 years on...

Sometimes art imitates life and sometimes life imitates, well, Bollywood. Allow me a moment of self-indulgence to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary. Now I could wax poetic about how much we care about each other (we do) or how we couldn't imagine our lives with anyone else (we couldn't). But since this is a blog about Bollywood and the music inspired by it we will keep the lessons we have learned over the past ten years limited to how Bollywood has taught us to go about finding one's true 'yaar' (best friend/lover)...

-A true love will wait for you (even if she doesn't say it out loud) while you are imprisoned in a foreign jail somewhere for 20 some odd years - Veer Zaara.

-A true love will dance on broken glass in the stifling heat surrounded by really bad bandits to save your life - Sholay.

-A true love should live every day like it's their last because it really could be - Mohabattein

-A true love will spurn the advances of a very pretty British memsaheb for his spunky small town village girl with a heart of gold - Lagaan.

-A true love should be your best friend. The one that knows all about you but loves you anyway. Just don't let her get away as you go after the new hot babe at school who can recite religious poems and wear the latest fashions with equal conviction - Kuch Kuch Hota Hain. (Or you are going to have to wait for some REALLY tragic circumstances to get your true love back.)

The two songs presented today are from our wedding day and still resonate with very special meaning for us. The first song is Yeh Dil Aur by Lata from the movie 'Prem Parbat' - it is the song that was playing while the flower girls filed into the wedding hall. The second song is Aankhon Mein Humne by (who else?) Kishore Kumar & Lata from the movie 'Thodisi Bewafaii'. It was our first song that we danced to at our reception - the lyrics & music are pure poetry.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Guru (2007)

As hype goes, 'Guru' certainly had it's share of it and for good reason. It was made by one of the most preeminent directors of our day (Mani Ratnam), with music by one of the industry's finest composers (A.R. Rahman), lyrics penned by a legendary poet (Gulzar) and of course headlined by the hottest movie star couple of the day on & off-screen (Abhishek Bachchan & Aishwarya Rai) - the result? A potentially great movie that ultimately collapsed under the weight of it's own ambition. The movie is loosely based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani and tells the story of how an ordinary man became one of the richest and most powerful men in India. The performance of AB was very good as he completely disappeared into the role (looking eerily like Hollywood actor Alfred Molina). However the finest acting job was by none other than the 'Disco Dancer' star himself, Mithun Chakraborty. His role in the film was unlike any he had undertaken before and served as a validation of his long and storied career in Bollywood. But while the plot was intriguing, the story did not flow, and in the end, the audience was left with more questions than answers.

In the final analysis I would recommend this movie not because it was a great film but because it touched me in a very personal way. It allowed me to experience the India of my parent's youth and my imagination. The uncrowded and unpolluted streets, the fields being tilled by hand, the smattering of my native Gujarati being spoken every so often and the simple way of life uncluttered by the litany of modern conveniences. The train station scene in which Guru is being seen off by his family was particularly affecting for me as it took me back to what it must have been for my father when he came to America. The picture above is of that actual day in 1971 when he did and that is me he is holding. My mother is to his left and surrounding him are various friends that we keep in touch with till this day. The look in his eyes says it all (much as Guru's did in the film) - that dreams are not worth having unless you are willing to go out and live them.

The music selections are Barso Re that depicted the India of that era so very nostalgically and gave Aishwarya her signature song for the movie. The other song is Tere Bina and is used throughout the movie at various points. It's background vocals are sung by none other than A.R. Rahman himself and it is easily the best song on the entire soundtrack.