Archive for Random Ramblings

Bollywood Goes Blu

Dearie me. Out of sheer curiousity, I opted to glance at the date on which I last posted on this journal and it just happens to be one whole year ago. Two-year film courses are rather time-consuming. While the holidays are still ongoing, I shall take the opporchancity to make mention of the most news-worthy item Bollywood’s now-struggling industry has spluttered out in 2010 - that being the full-blown arrival of Blu-ray to Indian film releases.

It’s truly a treat to witness India’s movie output receive a more worthy treatment on a home video format which it has thus far failed to achieve (DVD now being an inexorably useless way of viewing Bollywood films with any thought given to quality). Such detail, clarity and crisp motion not before seen outside of a cinema can finally be enjoyed watching a Hindi film. This being Bollywood though, screw-ups were inevitable. While many Blu-ray discs offer outstanding quality, others do not - marred as they are by out-of-sync audio, botched brightness levels, waxy noise reduction (an annoyance even certain Hollywood Blu-rays are plagued with) and that old favourite: nonsense subtitles. Here is a choice selection of 10 recommended films currently on Blu-ray that have been given a reasonably high standard presention:

The Blue Umbrella, Dil Bole Hadippa, Dil To Pagal Hai, Dilwale Dulhanie Le Jayenge, Guru, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Jodhaa Akbar (UTV), Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Om Shanti Om, Taare Zameen Par

Sadly, equally as good movies are also available in less-than-stellar quality. Avoid the following 10 mucked-up discs:

Chak De India, Cheeni Kum, Devdas, Dil Chahta Hai, Fanaa, Jodhaa Akbar (Big Home Video), Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Swades, Tere Naam

Many more high quality discs are on sale, however the films themselves are less exceptional. Unless lots and lots of Akshay Kumar movies are your thing. Fans of Tamil cinema will also be chuffed to hear that 99% of the Blu-ray releases from distributer Ayngaran are of tremendous quality - though subtitles are, as ever, problematic.

Next week: More YouTube song clips. They’re easy to post!

Posted by Stephen on January 3rd, 2011

Rani Mukerji: Bollywood’s Miss Dependable

Rani MukerjiAsk your average Hindi film fan to name a few of today’s hottest Bollywood actresses (or ‘heroines’ as they as popularly referred as) and they’ll likely drop names such as Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor and Preity Zinta. All are undoubtedly blessed with good looks and have given some fine performances in recent years, but there is one other actress out there who is equally as beautiful and even more talented - having delivered more hits at the box office during her career than any of her female peers. And yet despite a slew of awards, acclaimed performances and blockbusters to her credit, somehow her name always seems to get lost in the shuffle. It’s the industry’s finest regularly-working actress today; Rani Mukerji.

Daughter of Bengali film director Ram Mukherjee and playback singer Krishna, Rani Mukerji was born in West Bengal’s capital of Calcutta (now Kolkata). Initially hesitant at becoming a movie actress, she did so at the encouragement - or more accurately, insistence - of her mother, who would go on to decide a large number of Rani’s film choices herself… with at times disastrous results. Her debut came in the form of 1996’s hideous ‘romantic’ drama Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat in which her character of Mala marries her rapist by order of court. This moronic piece of drivel deservedly sunk without a trace at the box office. Two years and one college degree later, Rani re-entered Bollywood for another try in 1998 with far more success this time around thanks to her turn in the action drama Ghulam alongside superstar actor Aamir Khan. Though her supporting role of the generic romantic interest offered her little screen time and the film itself was largely unremarkable, her performance was nonetheless a memorable one due to her and Aamir’s comedy song number ‘Ati Kya Khandala’ (‘Let’s Go To Khandala’) scoring with the public and setting India’s music charts on fire.

For the moment she was at least now famous if not respected as an actress, but that too would soon change after debutant director Karan Johar needed someone to fill the role of the glamorous Tina in 1998’s biggest hit of the year, the glorious rom-com Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Johar had already been turned down by just about every major actress in Bollywood by the time the role was eventually offered to Rani, whom Johar was reluctant to hire even then because of her dark skin, round face, husky voice and plump figure - all no-no’s in Hindi cinema’s shallow world of casting. While Rani lit up the screen in KKHH with a charming and assured performance that betrayed her mere two years in the biz and earned her a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Filmfare trophy, her newly-found mega-stardom did not come without its, erm, modifications. Her so-called ‘ugly duckling’ appearance was deemed such a problem by filmmakers that she would be continually caked in layers of white make-up before being washed out by blinding stage lights for good measure. Her voice too was considered unacceptable for a time, being as it was dubbed for the whole duration of Ghulam and was about to be again for KKHH before she managed to persuade Karan Johar to allow at least her voice to be natural.

Seen but not heard: A dubbed Rani finds fame in 1998’s Ghulam

Still, having her looks tampered with and settling for being second, third or fourth choice for a part was something Rani would have to get used to in future. In the meantime, her mother continued to hand-pick a poor selection of garden variety masala movies for her to star in, resulting in a multiple-year box office dry spell as well as media allegations of an affair with frequent co-star Govinda (which was strenuously denied by both sides). The damage to her image and career proved only temporary however; she impressed critics with her deglamorised role of the ill-fated Aparna in South Indian actor/filmmaker Kamal Haasan’s mesmerising and disturbing take on Partition - 2000’s Hey Ram - before later securing her first hit in years alongside Vivek Oberoi with 2002’s Saathiya, a remake of the Tamil romantic drama Alai Payuthey. From there, Rani never looked back and over the course of the next few years eventually rose to the top of the industry - churning out hit after hit, including 2004’s When Harry Met Sally tribute Hum Tum and the epic romance Veer-Zaara, in which she earned more plaudits from film journalists with her portrayal of a Pakistani lawyer.

Frustratingly though, despite her proven audience pulling-power and having never delivered anything less than accomplished performances, Rani continued to find herself low down on the wish-list of Bollywood producers and directors obsessed with hiring slim, fair-skinned heroines. This even remained the case in 2005 when filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali sought to cast the part of Michelle McNally - a blind, deaf and dumb character - in the magical and riveting drama Black. Bhansali had written the role for Kareena Kapoor, but after co-star Amitabh Bachchan refused to work with her (huffing at her sister recently dumping his darling son), Rani yet again found herself stepping into shoes not meant for her yet making them her own undeterred. Her breathtaking performance as Michelle set new standards for both herself and others in Hindi cinema, and once again the awards came rolling in faster and in larger quantities than ever before.

The last laugh: Rani acts up a storm in 2005’s Black

Nowadays, Rani remains the darling of both Bollywood fans and critics, and the cross to bear of gossip columnists and filmmakers. She’s a simple girl, in every sense. Conservative, unassuming and always politically correct, she denies the tabloids the controversy other stars provide in abundance and her unconventional looks still find themselves hidden under a camouflage of white light and make-up by directors. Still, they really should thank their lucky stars. She may not be their ideal vision of what a Bollywood heroine is meant to be, but when there’s ever a top role going spare in Hindi cinema, Rani Mukerji will always end up as their Miss Dependable.

Posted by Stephen on May 15th, 2007

Get well soon, Eros

Lage Raho Munna Bhai
“Look what those mamoos at Eros did to our film, bhai!”

My latest review at DVD Times is up for one of this year’s biggest and most loved hits, the comedy sequel Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Unfortunately, the release from junk label Eros Entertainment offers one less than pleasing DVD.

Click to read, mamoo!

Posted by Stephen on December 5th, 2006

Don’t go, Jo

JothikaOn Christmas Day, a Tamil film by the name of Pachaikili Muthucharam will hit cinemas in India. Said to be a partial remake of 2005’s dull Hollywood thriller Derailed, the movie holds little interest save for one distinction - it will be the last silver screen appearance of beloved south Indian film actress Jothika. On September 11th, she married fellow actor Surya and shortly thereafter announced she was retiring from the movie industry after eight years. The news came as anything but a shock, as it has been the practise for years for Indian actresses to call it a day after settling down. However, unlike in Bollywood where there is a clamouring for wedded women such as Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi to make a comeback, the more conservative southern population are happy for the wives to stay at home rather than carry on working. So while Jothika’s adieu made few headlines in Kollywood and Tollywood, it didn’t even make so much as a blip in the north where she is almost unknown thanks to the minute exposure most Tamil and Telugu movies receive outside their own territories. After being one of India’s most successful and celebrated superstar actresses of the past decade, it seems a shame her departure will meet with little more than a shrug from so many.

Daughter of film producer Chander Sadanah and sister of actress Nagma, Bombay-born Jothika Sadanah began her career in Bollywood with the lead role in 1998’s Hindi musical Doli Saja Ke Rakhna alongside Akshaye Khanna. An unremarkable romantic drama (made livelier thanks to the stirring music of A.R. Rehman), the film bombed at the Indian box office upon release. Jo’s own performance too lacked spark and she soon decided to try her luck in Madras’s Tamil movie industry instead. Worlds apart from Bollywood’s candy floss productions, Tamil cinema for the most part has stuck to a rigid crowd-pleasing formula of heavyset, mustachioed heroes, fair-skinned heroines just turning 21, violent and bloody (not to mention badly choreographed) action scenes, irrelevant song numbers/comedy interludes and some themes of political corruption and family values thrown in for good measure. But despite a lack of decent female roles and Jo’s own inability to speak Tamil, her transition to southern films was a successful one thanks to an excellent dubbing artist, a bubbly personality transplant and a good few pounds added on which made her stand out - in more ways than one.

Jothika burst onto Tamil theater screens in 1999 with the Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge-esque romance Poovellam Kettuppar, co-starring future spouse Surya. Her introductory song, set amongst a sea of flowers, saw her exude exuberance with some simple yet well-performed dance moves. Her chubby-cheeked grin and cheerful charisma shined brightly - this was clearly a different Jo from the demure girl last seen in DSKR. After Poovellam Kettuppar proved to be a hit with the masses, it seemed Jothika had found her home. She soon solidified her newly-earned success in 2000 with Kushi (’Happiness’), a romantic comedy with Vijay that is best remembered for her outstanding rain song ‘Megham Karukkudhu’ picturised with Jo dancing with gay abandon in a rural village. The movie was later remade with the same title in Bollywood starring Kareena Kapoor, but Kareena’s skinny frame and forced enthusiasm were no match for Jo’s thunder thighs and effortless charm.

Jothika in 2000's 'Kushi'
Making a splash: Jothika in 2000’s Kushi

Jothika spent the following years enjoying further success, expanding into Telugu cinema as well as starring alongside virtually all of south India’s biggest male stars such as Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanth, Ajith Kumar and Prabhu Deva. By sticking to the most commercial of film roles, she managed to maintain her popularity, all the while continuing to steal the show with her high-spirited, OTT antics. By the time 2005’s spooky comedy Chandramukhi with Tamil megastar Rajnikanth came along (one of the biggest Indian hits of the decade), she was the undisputed queen of south Indian cinema. It could be said that Jo’s choice to stay a star rather than dip into some less-mainstream movie parts severely limited the kind of career she could have had. Indeed, few of Jothika’s thirty-one films play that well outside of south India and none can certainly be considered classics. One very special thing does stand out in all of them though, and that is Jo herself. Her performances were always entertaining no matter what kind of bog-standard masala trip she found herself in. Jothika brought such a strong personailty and fervour to her films, the likes of which her true fans will never forget.

Don’t stay away forever, Jo!

Posted by Stephen on October 23rd, 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

Getting there…

What a difference a lovely coat of paint makes. Things are now looking a little more presentable. More content to be added in the days to come. In the mean time, here’s a rare photo of Hindi cinema’s most beloved actress of the modern era - the one and only Madhuri Dixit…

Madhuri Dixit

Posted by Stephen on July 27th, 2006


Welcome to ‘Bollywood Banter’, a wee journal/blog of mine that I’ll be dipping into now and then to air some various brief thoughts on Indian films, DVDs and the like. My more in-depth Bolly reviews can be found over at DVD Times.

Things are obviously on the bland side at the mo, but I’ll soon be adding some colour and style to hopefully make things a tad more pleasing to the eye. ;)

Posted by Stephen on July 26th, 2006
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