Saturday, August 30, 2008

A love song for Bobby Long (2004)

As I write this entry on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (before entering self-imposed exile outside the boundaries of the fair city of New Orleans) I realize that it doesn't make much sense to write about this movie on a Bollywood blog. But in an odd way maybe it does. Most Indian people that choose to live in this very unique American city do indeed feel oddly at home. Residing in New Orleans is more like living in India than people realize - omnipresent heat/humidity, flood prone streets, corrupt politicians, mosquitoes that have been adopted as the unofficial state bird and heart breaking poverty. On the flip side many of the things they love about India are here as well - great music, fantastic food, a laid back attitude about life and a certain joie de vivre found nowhere else in these United States. Where else can you look out the window in the afternoon and see a full blown jazz parade break out for no apparent reason? And then look out that window the same evening and see people on horses ride up to the neighborhood bar for a drink? Yes I saw both of those things happen last month and it put a smile on my face as I thought 'only in New Orleans'.

Whether you are planning to visit or have been here enough times to call it home away from home I encourage you to watch 'A love song for Bobby Long'. It's a love letter to the New Orleans of old and was released a year before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The movie captures the mood and attitude of the city perfectly and will make you miss the city - even if you have never been here before. The broken but lovable characters gather in the evening on couches and recliners in the garden who sip drinks as the sun sets behind are the reason this movie works so well. And like so many of us they are made whole and heal only through their relationships with each other. For it's the people who live here that make this city so special and who, as a local Pulitzer Prize winning writer put it, are continually 'dancing at the center of the universe'. It implies to me the disappearance of all outside influences, distractions and disturbances -- and lends credence to the notion that where you are and what you are doing is the most important thing at that time, in that moment, in the world. So say a little prayer for New Orleans and let's hope this city makes it - again. For we all need this kooky and quaint (but never boring) place alot more than we realize. The song for today is Lorraine's Song by Theresa Anderson.

As we make plans today to evacuate from the path of Gustavo I am reminded that there was a time before Katrina that no one ever left town due to a hurricane. In fact everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - participated in something that is very unique to this city that when you think about it is quite mad. The Hurricane Party. For the uninitiated, a hurricane is the name of a powerful drink that is native to New Orleans and to my knowledge the only one named after a powerful force of nature. Anyway, we would all get together and have drinks/music/camaraderie at whoever's house had the best porch and just dare the storm to take away our good time. When the lights would inevitably go out, we would light candles and keep the music and drinks going till the thing passed. After Katrina, hurricane parties became a sweet yet haunting reminder of days gone by. On the first Jazzfest after Katrina a local band, The Meters, decided to open their set with one of their signature hits named appropriately enough, 'Hurricane Party'. As soon as the opening chords were played all the power to the stage blew out - for the first time in Jazzfest history. When the power was restored a few minutes later the band decided to go with another tune and 'Hurricane Party' has not been played at Jazzfest since then. Above photo taken by our friend Eric Olson.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) - Independence Day

Greetings on this 61st Independence Day of India and a tribute to one of her most endearing freedom fighters - Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The movie starring Ajay Devgan was a critical success but a commercial failure that is definitely worth a viewing. It won the critics choice at the Filmfare Awards and Devgan nabbed the prestigious National Award for his portrayal of the legendary freedom fighter. 'The Legend of Bhagat Singh' is one of those rare movies that manages to simultaneously entertain as well as inform and does so with a minimal amount of rewriting history in doing so. I really enjoyed this movie as the attention to detail is amazing and being a huge fan of period pieces, it was especially a treat for me. The majority of the movie takes place in Lahore, Punjab (now in Pakistan) which is fondly remembered throughout the movie in both name and image. It was a sobering reminder that although independence was a joyous event it also resulted in the partition of India, the aftermath of which is still felt to this day.

The true story of Bhagat Singh is even more amazing than the one on celluloid - not an easy feat in the glamorous make believe world of Bollywood. He was 13 when he began to follow the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and began to take part in protest marches as well as the burning of British schoolbooks. However he grew disillusioned with Gandhi's non-violent movement and became involved with a group who was linked with bombings of government buildings and the murders of some prominent pro-British politicians. His legendary fast for 63 days while in Lahore Central Jail for inhumane treatment of Indian political prisoners endeared him to the public and drew the praise of both Gandhi and Mohammed Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan). He was finally sentenced to death for his role in the bombing of the legislative assembly and his execution was set for March 24, 1931. However due to the overwhelming public opposition to the ruling, an emergency decision was made to hang him one day earlier to avoid a public spectacle. The bodies of Bhagat Singh and two other freedom fighters were cremated unceremoniously before his relatives (who were not allowed to visit him in jail) could perform the last rites. By all accounts he was fearless even on the day of his death and kissed the noose before the rope dropped - Shaheed Bhagat Singh was just 23.

The soundtrack's music was composed by A.R. Rahman and the songs as well as the background score have the signature Rahman stamp to them. He does temper his trademark sound to match the era of the movie and the result is a nice if not memorable
mix of songs. However there is one that stood out for me long after the movie ended and I am not sure if it was because it was such an amazing song or whether it's picturisation made it so memorable. It is the grand and sweeping Mujhe Rang De Basanti by Sonu Nigam and Manmohan Waris that plays while the three men are led to the gallows. It literally means 'color me saffron' with saffron (yellow) symbolizing joy, happiness, intellect and ultimately - sacrifice.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ajooba (1991)

Today's review of 'Ajooba' is a curious choice for a post over here at Doc Bollywood. When a viewing of it was suggested my initial impulse was to say no and sit in the corner just rocking back & forth from the bad memories. But wait I said to myself, just because there are moments in history that one dislikes, that is no reason to gloss over them like they never happened. 'Ajooba' is one such moment and too much time has passed since my initial viewing to submit a proper review of it. Instead I will attempt to provide an idea of the historical significance of this movie as it relates to the beginning of the end of the Amitabh era - an event that profoundly changed this Bollywood fan for years to come...

For all practical purposes, Amitabh Bachchan was THE biggest star in Bollywood from the early 70's (beginning with 'Zanjeer') right up until the early 80's. I remember going to movies in the theater in India as well as renting them in the US on that antiquated medium VHS and the general rule was that if it was an Amitabh movie - you just rented it, no questions asked. And for a good while the Big B delivered and did so with an amazing run of blockbuster after blockbuster. The runaway hit train careened off the tracks when he got hurt on the set of 'Coolie' - the news of which not only brought India to a halt but was covered on '60 Minutes'. His career lurched forward while he recovered with some movies that were sitting in production for awhile but then came 'Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi' and with it the Amitabh Bachchan party finally shut down for good. And although it would start up a few years later with 'Major Saab', it would never quite be the same. The unthinkable happened in the Indian community with 'GJS' - a general feeling that Amitabh was done, that his movies were bekaar and for a true old-school Amitabh fan it was (with apologies to Don McClean) - the day the music died.

'Ajooba' came along during that dark time and although some bad Bollywood movies are so bad that they are actually good, this one I just remember as being bad. I am sure that if I saw it again today it might be different but the memories of seeing my favorite actor reduced to playing a mythical hero donning an aluminum foil Mardi Gras mask were just too painful. Amitabh was rumoured to have done it gratis for his buddy Shashi Kapoor's debut as a director and the movie turned out to be his only directorial venture (thank goodness). The movie was apparently co-directed by a Russian film director and according to IMDB it was released in Russia a full three years prior to it's release in India. Shashi produced the entire thing and his son Kunal as well as the actor Feroz Khan served as executive producers. Alas, even an all star cast consisting of Dimple Kapadia, Rishi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Amrish Puri could not save this movie from being one of the costliest train wrecks in Bollywood history. But maybe I have too much emotional baggage attached to this movie and thus encourage you to check it out for yourself. Our friend Beth from Beth Loves Bollywood did and from the looks of it had a grand old time.

The musical score was provided by the legendary team of Laxmikant-Pyarelal and is one of their final efforts. While none of the songs was a bonafide hit (or even that memorable) they all had their signature sound attached to them. Are Tajub Hai is the one I remember the most for the sole reason that it brings back memories of one of my favorite Amitabh/Rishi Kapoor duets, Chal Mere Bhai from 'Naseeb'. The idea of seeing Shashi's nephew as well as one of his best friends on screen together knowing that Shashi is actually directing them in their scenes (along with the dolphin that I think Amitabh referred to as his mother) just might be enough to warrant a re-watch of this movie...