Sunday, July 29, 2007

Armaan (2003)

'Armaan' starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Gracy Singh and Preity Zinta is a movie that can be described as pleasant, graceful & mature - words not usually reserved for directorial debuts (in this case Ms. Honey Irani). The dialogue (written by the inimitable Javed Akhtar) certainly is a big part of the success of this film as well as the understated acting done by all the major stars. Indeed, Preity Zinta was nominated for a Filmfare Award in 2003 as 'best villain'. It tells the story of a father & son - both doctors - who work together in a hospital that the father dreams of making into something truly memorable. The son falls in love with an assistant who comes to work there but then tragedy strikes (doesn't it always in Bollywood?) and the son is forced to make a difficult decision that may cost him his true love but will honor his father's dream. But for me it was the story behind the story that was most intriguing.

"Come on" Honey Irani once said, "there are more photographs of Shabana than me from Farhan's wedding. We are all mature now. Ab woh budhe ke liye kya ladna (Why fight over the old man now)?" and followed up by laughing so hard she actually had tears in her eyes. Farhan is her son, Farhan Akhtar and director of 'Dil Chatha Hai', 'Lakshya' and 'Don'. Shabana is the other woman, Shabana Azmi with no introduction needed. And the budhe is her ex-husband Javed Akhtar, legendary screenwriter and lyricist whose screenplays (beginning with Amitabh Bachchan's first hit 'Zanjeer') are still being used to teach students at the Pune Film Institute's screenwriting courses.

Javed left his wife Honey in 1990, an event which she described as a 'shattering experience' for Shabana Azmi. The former child star was left to raise two children alone and could have easily resigned herself to forgo her dreams to do so. But she went against the norm and in 1991 wrote the screenplay for 'Lamhe', followed it up by writing nine more films and is now among one of the most sought after & highest paid screenwriters in Bollywood. For her directorial debut she enlisted the help of her ex-husband Javed to write the screenplay & song lyrics - an offer he simply couldn't refuse. My favorite song in the movie is Mere Zindagi Mein, a sweet duet sung by Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy 40th anniversary to my folks!

This past weekend we got together with family to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the picture taken above in Ahmedabad, India. My father (Ashwin) was a dashing young professor of Sociology at Swaminarayan Arts College and whose good looks & sharp outfits sent all the girls hearts a flutter (so says my uncle). My mother (Rupa) was a pretty & talented student at the very same college and quite active in the fine arts but was never in any of my father's classes. She met him through mutual friends and the rest as the say is history.

Their marriage was a (GASP!) love marriage that is still a relatively new custom in India today and was pretty much unheard of in 1967. They went to visit my dad's brother in Bombay shortly before they were married which was another big no-no but my parents didn't really let anyone tell them what they could or couldn't do. They stayed there for a week and recently told me that the first Bollywood movie they ever saw together was 'Anupama'.

'Anupama' is one of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's best films but one of the least known as well. Sharmila Tagore stars as Uma, a shy woman whose mother died during childbirth and who pines for the affection of her father who has never gotten over the loss. Sharmila does an amazing job while providing a performance with little more than eye gestures and very little dialogue. In fact her first words in the movie are almost an hour in with a lovely song by Lata called Kuch Dil Ne.

Hindi cinema has produced many excellent actors who are grossly underrated and none more so than Dharmendra (right Daddy's Girl?;) who is not really remembered today for his sensitive portrayals or his flair for comedy. Here he plays Ashok, a writer from a modest background whose keen mind is quick to notice Uma's angst. An unspoken love develops between Ashok and Uma that threatens to die unrequited. Ashok understands the father's grief but resents his ignorance and neglect of his daughter. The song Ya Dil Ki Suno sung by the peerless Hemant Kumar (one of my parent's favorite singers) and who also scores the music is just hearbreaking. It alone is worth the price of the admission. Written by Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), it poetically describes the insensitivity of the father... "when a flower has bloomed in nature, the gardener has no love for it".

It's been a fun first 40 years - here's hoping the next 40 are just as good

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Taj Mahal (2005)

Akbar Khan's 'Taj Mahal' was released last year with much fanfare, extravagant sets, exquisite dialogue and promptly flopped miserably at the box office. Why it did so poorly remains a mystery to me as I enjoyed the movie and it lovingly brought to life the tale of one of the greatest architectural monuments in modern history. For those not familiar with the story - the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan over a period of 22 years in the memory of his Empress Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1631 after delivering their fourteenth (!) child. He had planned to built a tomb for himself that would be a twin to the Taj Mahal, only in black marble, on the opposite side of the Yamuna River and connected to the Taj with a marble bridge. But Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and spent his last years in confinement in the Red Fort gazing at the tomb of his beloved. During the time of Partition there was actually talk of disassembling the Taj and moving it to Pakistan but it never happened. In 1965 following the 3rd war over Kashmir, Indian films were formally banned in Pakistan. They never really went away, just underground. But 'Taj Mahal' became only the 2nd film (the first being 'Mughal-E-Azam') to be officially released there to great fanfare, link.

I still remember seeing the monument for the first time and was fully prepared for the sight having seen multiple pictures of it as well as growing up with a replica prominently displayed in our living room like every other Indian family in the world - or so I thought. Having paid our 750 rupees (as opposed to the 20 rupees charged for Indian nationals) we entered and the sight literally took my breath away, I just had to sit down and stare for the first few minutes. Walking around the gardens, seeing it in the reflection pool and studying the intricate inlays up close just added to the majesty of the whole experience. The government could charge 10 times that price and I would make the journey all over again. The new '7 Wonders of the World' list that was decided upon by a worldwide online & text message vote has the Taj on it (as it very well should). UNESCO has called the list a sham but needs to lighten up a bit as 6 of the original 7 no longer exist, link.

The musical score for the songs in the movie were the final composition for the legendary Naushad who died last year. While the movie may have not been to everyone's liking the songs were universally praised as the swansong of the aforementioned maestro. Ishq Ki Dastaan is the rare all female quwalli and to me seemed to be a loving tribute to a similar song in 'Mughal-E-Azam'. Ajnabi Thero Zara is the grand love duet in the movie and one can just imagine the Taj bathed in moonlight listening to it.