Archive for August, 2006

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE (1995, d. Aditya Chopra)

Dilwale Dulhania Le JayengeProbably the finest example of Bollywood romantic comedy musicals and all of their grandest traditions (or cliches depending on your viewpoint). Everything from boy-meets-girl to disapproving parents to songs in the rain are on display here. And while even in 1995 at the time of the film’s release this may have sounded old hat, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (’Braveheart Will Carry The Bride Away’) had its story told with such earnestness and enacted with such gusto, it seemed as though it was as fresh as ever - and still does more than ten years later, where it continues to play in Indian cinema halls.

‘DDLJ’ depicted NRI (non-resident Indian) life in a resoundingly positive way for the first time in Hindi films. Its lead romantic pair of Londoners Raj and Simran - played by young up-and-comers Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol - were shown as being completely and happily integrated into Western culture and society, but still deeply cherishing their Indian roots. Their ensuing love story sees them defy their elders not in a reckless way, but in a sly, intelligent fashion that maintains both their parents’ traditional values and their own modern ideals. This smart, progressive scripting catapulted Bollywood popularity overseas and made Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol the massive stars (and most beloved on-screen couple) they are today.

Field of dreams: Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ

‘DDLJ’ is available worldwide as a two-disc DVD set from distributor Yash Raj Films. The transfer could be doing with more vibrant colours and a cleaner print, but is acceptable overall. A well-translated English subtitle track is included as well as plenty of interview and documentary footage on the second disc.

Posted by Stephen on August 15th, 2006

Hey Ram

HEY RAM (2000, d. Kamal Haasan)

Hey Ram

Arguably South Indian megastar Kamal Haasan’s most accomplished work both as an actor and filmmaker is the enthralling and exhausting 202-minute period drama Hey Ram (’Oh God’) released in 2000. Set against the backdrop of India’s impending Partition in 1946, this incredibly dark, powerful epic traces the journey of Saket Ram (Haasan), a Tamil archaeologist haunted by the rape and murder of his Bengali wife Aparna (Rani Mukherji) by Muslims rioting over the issue of the about-to-be formed Pakistan. Brainwashed by Hindu fanatics, Ram slowly descends into the brink of insanity as he dedicates his life to assassinating the man he holds responsible: Mahatma Gandhi.

A labour of love for Haasan, Hey Ram (which he wrote, directed, starred and even sung in) is a disturbing, multi-layered masterpiece that re-opens deep wounds from India’s past as it attempts to deliver a message of peace. Political, controversial and featuring numerous scenes of unglamourised violence and sex, it was banned in many areas of India and virtually ignored in the regions in which it was not. Reviews from the media were lukewarm - critics praised the film’s performances and technical prowess, but played safe and steered clear of voicing an opinion on its artistic content. Regardless of one’s standpoint however, it cannot be denied that Hey Ram is a mesmerising experience that runs a whole gamut of emotions. Its hypnotic imagery, brooding score and compelling narrative encapsulate the viewer in a dark world that is at times difficult to watch, but even harder to turn away from. Even those unaware of the movie’s many religious and political subtexts shouldn’t find it any less riveting.

Just as wondrous to behold is the movie’s eclectic all-star dream cast that includes Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, classically-trained singer Vasundhara Das (best known to Western audiences as the reluctant bride in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding) and veteran actor Naseerudin Shah, heavily made-up as Gandhi. The entire ensemble deliver powerhouse performances and seeing Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood’s number one romantic comedy actor, sporting a beard and turban and standing side-by-side with Kamal Haasan for the first time in movie history in the film’s bloody climax is a particularly exciting sight to behold for any Indian cinema fan.

Face to face at last: Shah Rukh Khan and Kamal Haasan in Hey Ram

Hey Ram was filmed in sync-sound in both Hindi and Tamil back-to-back and of the two available DVD releases, the Tamil disc from U.S. distributor BMD offers a superior anamorphic transfer, but sadly terribly out of sync subtitles. First time viewers would be advised to instead seek out the Hindi DVD from Eros International which only features letterboxed video, but far clearer subs.

Posted by Stephen on August 7th, 2006

10 Favourites

It’s an impossible task to put together a definitive list of the ten greatest Bollywood films since opinions will vary wildly on the matter. Some who stick to the frivolous, more escapist side of Hindi movies will never take to dark Deepa Mehta fare while those favouring said serious cinema might rather chew their own arms off rather than be caught enjoying a Salman Khan rom-com. My tastes tend to lie somewhere inbetween and so I’ve come up with a list of ten (mostly recent) of my favourite Indian films that also acts as a good starter for anyone looking to get into commercial Indian cinema. They are, in alphabetical order…

ANBE SIVAM (2003, d. Sundar C.)
AWARA (1951, d. Raj Kapoor)
BLACK (2005, d. Sanjay Leela Bhansali)
DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001, d. Farhan Akhtar)
DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE (1995, d. Aditya Chopra)
HEY RAM (2000, d. Kamal Haasan)
KANNATHIL MUTHAMITTAL (2002, d. Mani Ratnam)
KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI (1998, d. Karan Johar)
LAGAAN (2001, d. Ashutosh Gowariker)
SWADES (2004, d. Ashutosh Gowariker)

I’ll be posting a mini-review for each in the coming weeks.

Posted by Stephen on August 3rd, 2006
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