Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mrityudand (1997)

The state of Bihar in northeast India is a place almost universally ignored by both the government of India & Bollywood alike. It is among the least developed states of India and has a per capita income of $155 a year against India's average of $255 & 30% of Biharis live below the poverty line against India's average of 22%. There are many factors for this problem but many believe that caste-dominated politics and rampant corruption by politicians & bureaucrats have been the main cause of the lack of development of the state. Bollywood has it's favorite locales to do films in - namely Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan much like how Hollywood sticks to either LA or New York - both tend to ignore the less glitzy parts of their respective countries and in my opinion, are ignoring a rich cultural well from which to draw ideas from.

Prakash Jha's, 'Mrityudand' (Death Sentence), is a top notch art film told from a feminist viewpoint by someone with an insider's intimate knowledge and the despairing rage of a commentator who can tell the history of his native Bihar with surprising objectivity. Combining the star power of Madhuri Dixit and the thespian brilliance of Shabana Azmi, Jha gives us a movie that combines the arthouse & mainstream cinema perfectly. The movie explores the emotional & physical violence that Bihari society inflicts upon it's women and three very different ways in which the women in the movie fight back & ultimately bond to help eachother overcome this tyranny. I especially enjoyed the wonderful relationship portrayed by Shabana Azmi & Om Puri whose masterful performances in their roles showed why they are considered legends in Indian Cinema. For a more detailed look at the movie please check out Carla's review at Filmigeek.

The song for this week is the sweet love duet Kehdon Ek Baar Sajna by Udit Narayan & Alka Yagnik that is almost out of place in such a serious film but is actually well placed in the story - see it & why we fell in love with Madhuri Dixit below. The lyrics are by Shabana's real life husband Javed Akhtar and it seems that he had his bride in mind when he wrote them as they are sweet without being syrupy with a melodious backing score provided by Anand Milind. Incidentally this movie won a host of awards, the biggest being the Special Jury Award for a Feature Film aka the 'Cinéma Tout Ecran' from the Geneva Film Festival in 1998.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Salman Pirzada

I love discovering music whether hearing it on the radio, having someone recommend it to me or completely randomly - which is how I happened upon the music of Salman Pirzada - a paraplegic cricketeer/pilot/singer who was born in Karachi and currently lives in Houston. I was surfing Zee TV late one night watching those videos that they play in between movies when I heard a catchy tune sung by someone who I had never heard of. I wrote down his name and stumbled upon his website where I found quite an amazing story. Salman was an avid sportsman and competed on a national level in the field of cricket before an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. His family moved to Houston to seek further medical treatment but sadly his condition remained permanent. He shifted his life's focus to learning how to fly, became the first South Asian paraplegic to parachute out of a plane and began to record & sing professionally.

As you can see by his pictures he has been doing pretty well for himself and has not let his handicap stop him from reaching his goals. If you like the song that I put up, Ghar Aaja Pardasiya, then check out his website for more songs, pictures and videos. The picture below was taken when he was invited to London to sing with Daler Mehndi for the cancer hospital that Imran Khan built in Lahore. Good music is just that, good music, but sometimes the story behind the music can be just as interesting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chitchor (1976)

'Chitchor' is a sweet tale that tells the story of Geeta (Zarina Wahab) who is the daughter of the headmaster of the village that she and her family live in. One day her father gets a letter from Geeta's older sister (who lives in Bombay) telling him about an engineer that she thinks will be a perfect match for Geeta. They arrange for the engineer to come to their village and when Vinod (Amol Palekar) comes to visit there is an instant attraction to Geeta. She reciprocates his feelings and falls in love with him as does the rest of the family. What happens next? Well dear reader, you have to watch the film to find out but know this is Bollywood so all is not what it seems but a happy ending is inevitable! The director of the movie, Basu Chaterjee, had much acclaim in the 70's and was often compared to Hrishikesh Mukherjee as both of their films explored social issues affecting the middle class with humor, grace and dignity.

The songs from 'Chitchor' remain favorites of mine to this day since the day I first heard them from my parent's music collection. But I did notice that the singer was someone who I wasn't used to hearing but whose voice was nonetheless soothing and melodic. That singer was Yesudas, a well known South Indian singer who has won the prestigious National Film Award seven times and has recorded over 40,000 songs in almost every Indian language. He won the Filmfare Award for the classically inspired duet he sang with Hemlata for the song 'Tu Jo Mere Sur Mein' seen here. But my favorite song by him (as well as one of my favorite songs of all time) is the other famous one from the film, Gori Tere Gaon, seen here. The stars, songs, direction and locale make this film truly special, 'Chitchor' - Stealer of Hearts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Teesri Manzil (1966)

R.D. Burman had barely broken out of his father S.D. Burman's shadow when he was introduced to the legendary Nasir Hussain for the musical composition of his latest movie, 'Teesri Manzil'. Star Shammi Kapoor was not too happy about the decision as he wanted to go with more established composers but once he heard some advance tunes that Burman had sent he changed his mind. R.D. Burman had the luck of entering the world of Indian cinema just as rock & roll was hitting the shores of the West and he combined those new beats with old school Indian styles to make something truly different. It was distinctive enough to not just be spectacularly popular back then - but has come full circle in a way and was recently featured in the Hollywood movie 'Ghost World' (the must see trailer below).

For a full review of the movie see Carla's post at Filmigeek. 'Teesri Manzil' is a murder mystery that has been called "the romantic-comedy-whodunit to beat in Hindi Cinema" (the victim - Rupa - shares the same name as my mom!) and is actually quite fun to watch given it's great stars, excellent direction, awesome outfits and of course the groovy tunes. The first song is the incredibly catchy Oh Mere Sona sung by Mohd Rafi & Asha Bhonsle - who was Burman's favorite female singer of the time as she knew how to mix Eastern & Western melodies just perfectly. The second number is a duet originally sung by Mohd Rafi & Asha Bhonsle called O Haseena Zulfon Wali. I decided to something different and put a version sung by two contemporary singers, Abhijeet & Sunidi Chauhan, to contrast the different styles of the singers and also to show that, even today, the songs hold the same spell over Bollywood they did back then.