Film History, Movies, Reviews, Tribute

Bloodstone: When Rajini went to Hollywood


It’s that time of the year again. Rajinikanth, or Thalaivar (The Leader) as his worshipers affectionately call him, has set screens ablaze all across the world with his latest tour de force, Enthiran/Robot. Facebook, twitter et al are bursting with reviews, anecdotes, videos, articles about the star. Slate, the world renowned online magazine devoted to the arts, posted an article on him, which introduces him thus:

Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia…The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.

That’s Rajini for you; you can love him, adore him, dismiss him or laugh at him, but you can NOT ignore him. He’s literally, and I mean literally, worshiped by those hailing from South India, particularly the state of Tamil Nadu – but his fan following is spread all across the world – from Japan and Korea to the US and UK.

And he enjoyed the same adulation and praise in the 80s, so much so that a certain Ashok Amritraj (brother of ace Tennis player Vijay Amritraj), decided to co-produce a Hollywood adventure spectacle a la Indiana Jones films or Romancing the Stone, set in India, starring Rajinikanth. Thus was born Bloodstone. It was written by B-Movie Mogul Nico Mastorakis, and directed by Dwight Little (known for films like Halloween 4, Rapid Fire, and Murder at 1600).

Bloodstone is Hollywood B-Movie in all its glory. It is about a mythical Indian stone – a ruby, looted by the British in colonial times, which is smuggled back to India by a cold blooded Dutch collector named Ludwig Van Hoeven, who’ll go to any extent to get his hands on it. An American tourist couple (played by Brett Stimley and Anna Nicholas), unwittingly become a party to the crime, and the wife is kidnapped by Van Hoeven. To the rescue comes Shyam Sabu, the most colorful and talented cabbie in the whole wide world, who can drive an Ambassador and a knife with equal panache – played by who else – Rajinikanth!

The film is a delightful action-adventure romp, the kind that you laugh off but enjoy all the same. Full of all the stereotypical imagery and iconography that India invokes in the western psyche – Maharajahs, Princesses, gold and riches, cursed diamonds, snakes, tigers and elephants, the most persistently annoying and irritating factor of the film is a buffoon named Inspector Ramesh. Lord Almighty knows (does he?) why the makers chose to let an American (Charlie Brill) essay the role – the fake accent and mannerisms get extremely tiresome for the poor viewer. But whatever misgivings you might have with such a film, is compensated many times over by Rajinikanth’s awesome presence. Even with the cute accent (“Money, money, money – that’s all people talk about – whatever happened to lau?“), he exudes the charm and charisma that he’s known for. Even the Rajini Antics like throwing the knife from one hand to the other back and forth, lighting the cigarette in style…they’re all there. He even throws in a dance move, even if for a split second…

There he goes..

Must-watch, all Rajini fans out there!

Film History, Movies, Tribute

The Best Hollywood-Bollywood Remakes (Copies) Ever – Part III


8. The Westerns

Yes, we’ve always had our own brand of ‘Curry’ Westerns, complete with guns, horses and the barren landscape. Feroze Khan was the poster-boy of this genre in Bollywood, but once in a while, every star worth his salt has tried his hand at it. One desi equivalent of the Western Outlaw, the ‘daaku’ genre, was also immensely popular in the 70s and 80s (the genre merits a list of its own, having spawned scores of exploitation movies like Daaku Hasina and Phoolan Hasina Ramkali)

First the Big Daddy of ’em all…

Sholay

Mera Gaon Mera Desh

Here comes Feroze…

Kaala Sona

Khote Sikkay

Kachche Heere

Wanted

Joshilaay

Zalzala

To be continued…

Film History, Movies, Tribute

The Best Hollywood-Bollywood Remakes (Copies) Ever – Part II


3. The Reincarnation of Peter Proud

This relatively lesser known film is the only one in the list that has the distinction of ‘inspiring’ a classic in Bollywood, which in turn, was ‘remade’ several years later, in 2008. To add to the confusion, our dear David Fincher is working on an official ‘remake’ of the original.

Karz (1980) Dir. Subhash Ghai, Starring Rishi Kapoor, Tina Munim, Simi Garewal & Pran

Karzzzz (2008) Dir. Satish Kaushik, Starring Himesh Reshammya, Urmila Matondkar, Danny

4. A Better Tomorrow

Aatish Dir. Sanjay Gupta, Starring Sanjay Dutt, Raveena Tandon, Atul Agnihotri

5. On The Waterfront

Kabzaa Dir. Mahesh Bhatt, Starring Sanjay Dutt, Amrita Singh, Raj Babbar, Paresh Rawal

Ghulam Dir. Vikram Bhatt, Starring Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Rajit Kapur, Sharat Saxena

6. An Affair to Remember

Ok, a footnote here. The above film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, widely considered a classic, was itself a remake. Actually, both the films were directed by the same man. Leo McCarey. He made Love Affair in 1939, and 18 years later, made An Affair to Remember, based on the same script. One wonders why.

Mann Dir. Indra Kumar, Starring Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala

7. West Side Story

Mere Apne Dir. Gulzar, Starring Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Meena Kumari, Asrani, Danny, Mehmood, Yogita Bali

( Mere Apne was an official remake of a Bengali Film called Aponjon, which itself was heavily influenced by West Side, with political undertones)

Josh Dir. Mansoor Khan, Starring Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Chandrachur Singh, Sharad Kapoor

To be continued…

Film History, Movies, Tribute

The Best Hollywood-Bollywood Remakes (Copies) Ever


Have been unable to post much in the past weeks. Life has been throwing some nasty surprises. Anyways, let’s get down to business. Today’s list will cover Bollywood remakes/ (ahem) adaptations of Hollywood movies. Our filmmakers have always been inspired by Hollywood. Right from Raj Kapoor’s Chori Chori (1956) which had ‘elements of’ Frank Capra’s Clark Gable starrer It happened One Night (1934), to the more recent Kareena-Shahid Kapoor debacle Milenge Milenge (2010) which was a shoddy copy of John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale blockbuster Serendipity (2001).

Here goes:

1. The Godfather Inspirations:

Dharmatma (1975) Dir. Feroze Khan, Starring Feroze Khan (Michael Corleone), Prem Nath (Vito “The Godfather” Corleone) , Hema Malini & Rekha

Zulm Ki Hukumat (1992) Dir. Bharat Rangachary, Starring Dharmendra, Govinda, Shakti Kapoor, Paresh Rawal & Kimi Katkar

Aatank Hi Aatank (1995) Dir. Dilip Shankar, Starring Aamir Khan, Rajinikanth (Sonny Corleone), Juhi Chawla, Pooja Bedi

Aamir Khan and Rajinikanth in Aatank hi Aatank

2. James Bond Fan Club:

Golden Eyes Secret Agent 077 (1968) Dir. Kamal Sharma, Starring Sailesh Kumar, Mumtaz, Helen

Sailesh Kumar as Agent 077 in Golden Eyes Secret Agent 077

Aankhen (1968) Dir. Ramanand Sagar, Starring Dharmendra, Mala Sinha, Mehmood

Dharmendra as Agent Sunil in Aankhen

Inspector (1970) Dir. Chand, Starring Joy Mukherjee, Helen, Rajendra Nath

Joy Mukherjee as Agent 707 in "Inspector"

Agent Vinod (1977) Dir. Deepak Bahry, Starring Mahendra Sandhu, Asha Sachdev, K.N. Singh

Surakksha (1979) Dir. Ravikant Nagaich, Starring Mithun Chakraborty, Ranjeeta, Jeevan

Mithun as Agent Gopi/ Gunmaster G-9 in Surakksha

Wardaat (1981) Dir. Ravikant Nagaich, Starring Mithun Chakraborty, Kaajal Kiran, Shakti Kapoor, Kalpana Iyer

Bond 303 (1985) Dir. Ravi Tandon, Starring Jeetendra, Parveen Babi

Mr. Bond (1992) Dir. Raj N. Sippy, Starring Akshay Kumar, Sheeba, Pankaj Dheer

And, finally…this one’s more of a Jason Bourne clone:

Prince (2010) Dir. Kookie V Gulati, Starring Vivek Oberoi, Nandana Sen, Neeru Bajwa & Aruna Shields

…..to be continued

Film History, Movies, Reviews, Tribute

Tintin and the Golden Fleece/Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’or


Tintin and the Golden Fleece/ Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’or (1961) is one of the two live action films ever made on the eponymous adventurer, the other being Tintin and the Blue Oranges/ Tintin et les oranges bleues (1964). Steven Spielberg nursed dreams of making a live action version of his own for more than 25 years, until Peter Jackson (LOTR, King Kong) convinced him that a Weta-Digital-branded-motion-capture-animation is the way to go.

Thomson and Thompson

The film is an absolutely enjoyable action-adventure spectacle. Anyone who grew up in the 70s/80s, especially the Bengalis, will be reminded of all the children’s detective novels and comics that used to be an integral part of growing up those days, with regular doses of the Feludas (a Holmes-like super sleuth created by Satyajit Ray)  and the Tintins, and a little bit of Hardy Boys and Famous Five thrown in. Tintin and the Golden Fleece is very much a part of that space. And it hardly matters that the language here is French. Snowy is Milou, Thomson and Thompson are Dupont and Dupond, so on and so forth… but to Tintin aficionados, the characters are so recognizable, the changed names don’t take away from the experience (after all, Tintin IS a French/ Belgian character).

Captain Haddock in action

It’s a regular Tintin adventure in  celluloid. Period. Conscious effort seems to have been made to ensure that the characters, the settings, the milieu, the plot, everything looks straight out of a Tintin comic. In that sense, I’m not sure how it’ll appeal to those not exposed to that world. Georges Wilson as Captain Haddock does a hell of a job – especially the scenes where he goes absolutely nuts with his name-calling and all that (again, those who’ve followed the series know what I am talking about). Jean-Pierre Talbot makes a great Tintin (albeit a bit too cold and unfunny for the character maybe); this film along with its sequel, are his only claims to fame as an actor. Ironically, he remains the only actor who’s ever depicted the character on screen, in its live-action-flesh-and-blood avatar. Ditto for the Director Jean-Jacques Vierne, who’s probably only directed three other features in his lifetime (surprising, considering he assisted the illustrious Jules Dassin, on the even more illustrious Rififi).

The plot is simple. One of Captain Haddock’s old pirate friends leaves him a rusted old ship before dying. To honor his wish, Captain flies to Istanbul, Tintin and Snowy in tow. The vessel, apparently of very little value, is sought for an astronomical sum by a shady businessman. Why? That, friends, is the mystery of “The Golden Fleece”, which is what the ship is called.

And for the Billions of Billious Blue Blistering Barnacles!

Film History, Movies, Tribute

Five All-Time Best Comedies in Hindi


 5. Hera Pheri (2000)

Hera Pheri

Priyadarshan’s breakout comedy caper was 2000’s surprise sleeper hit. A namesake of the 70s Big B starrer heist classic, it was the inspired rehash of a Malayalam film called Ramji Rao Speaking (1989), which was also remade in Tamil as Arangetra Velai (1990). It’s about a trio of buffoons, a woman (but of course), mistaken identity, and loads of cash… Paresh Rawal is still remembered for his stellar performance as Baburao Ganpatrao Apte, a myopic, foul-mouthed simpleton with a heart of gold.

4. Andaaz Apna Apna (1994)

Andaz Apna Apna

 In 1994, ace director Rajkumar Santoshi landed a casting coup that has not been bettered ever since, not even by Santoshi himself! Two of three reigning Khans of the time, Aamir and Salman Khan, co-starred in a crazy, madcap comedy called Andaaz Apna Apna. It was a box office bomb, but over the years, it has gained a strong cult following. The film was full of in-jokes and film references: the two leads were named “Amar” and “Prem” respectively, Paresh Rawal in a dual role of Ram Gopal Bajaj and Shyam Gopal Bajaj, Amar and Prem’s dads were named “Murli” and “Bankelal” respectivley (played by Jagdeep and Deven Varma), Shakti Kapoor starred as Crime Master Gogo (“Mugambo ka Bhatija”), Karishma Kapoor’s character was called “Raveena” disguised as Karishma, Raveena Tandon’s character was “Karishma” in the guise of Raveena…confused? Watch the film!

3. Half Ticket (1962)

Half Ticket

Back in the early 1960s, Kishore da was a major star. He was an acting, singing, dancing sensation. A true maverick. Half Ticket has him playing a young man, his mother, a 10 year old boy, a dancing girl… Add to it the dazzling presence of Madhubala in her prime, and you have a memorable classic in your hands.

2. Gol Maal (1979)

Gol Maal

Gol Maal is the story of the encounter between Bhawani Shankar, an old disciplinarian and idealist whose code of honor has a lot to do with sporting a moustache, and a young man named Ramprasad Sharma who gets a job at the former’s office. The inimitable chemistry between Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt forms the core of the movie. The fuming Dutt and the stuttering Palekar keep you in splits all throughout.

1. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983)

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

And then, the Baap of all black comedies. Who can forget the extended Mahabharat/Mughal/Ramayan stage play sequence? A satire on the corruption plaguing the media and nexus between real estate cartels and the government departments, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was unsuccessful at the BO on release. But as time went by, quite a cult developed surrounding the film. And its on the rise. Amen!

Film History, Movies, Reviews

Harishchandrachi Factory: The Lost Art of Simplicity


Harishchandrachi Factory is strongly reminiscent of Malgudi Days and other DD serials, Hrishikesh Mukherjee & Basu Chatterjee oeuvre of films, snugging into the quilt with Grandma telling a story… In short, the Good Old Days. Days when films were not merely about form or technique, but about the simple pleasures in life – about a fast-disappearing tribe called the middle class. When intelligence and simplicity were not mutually exclusive, in the realm of films. Today, cinema consists of either way-too-complex-see-how-intelligent-I-am films or way-too-idiotic-audience-is-stupid kinda trash! Along comes a film like Harishchandrachi Factory and you start believing  all is not lost – beside the banal and the super intelligent, the simpler, fun way of story-telling still exists.

Dadasaheb Phalke

Harishchandrachi… is the fable of how Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, better known as Dadasaheb Phalke, almost literally, gave birth to Indian Cinema with its first ever film Raja Harishchandra (might add here, two other contenders for the first film maker in India are Dadasaheb Torne and Hiralal Sen, although the first filmed plays being staged and the other was a shorts and ad film maker). It’s the story of his obsession with the medium, his struggles to prove that it can be done in India and that he wasn’t crazy (literally), the sacrifices he and his family made to realize the dream, casting of the film and how it was finally shot. With such a seemingly sombre and high brow plot line, one would expect a somewhat serious biopic of sorts. What debut ante Director Paresh Mokashi does is turn this very notion on its head by making a very light hearted, simplistic movie, filled with various hilarious and touching incidents. This film lives in its moments.

For example, when Phalke runs outs of funds to make his film, he ends up selling his cupboard and other pieces of furniture – with the money, he buys some books on film making. When he returns home, his house is crowded with neighbours, all tearfully consoling his wife. He feels something is amiss, walks up to his wife and asks what is wrong, only to realize they had been consoling her on the loss of the cupboard! Precious… Or when the son goes looking for his father in the dead of the night, or the story of the casting – one by one, all such pearls sewn by Mokashi into this priceless necklace of a film. One may say that the complexity of such a momentous occasion in history has been rather too “simplified”, but hey, who’s complaining?

As with most Marathi productions, this one too is full of stellar performances. Nandu Madhav (last seen by Hindi film audiences in Jis Desh Me Ganga Rehta Hai) as Phalke proves himself to be an actor of immense caliber. Vibhawari Deshpande as Saraswati Phalke and the child actors support him suitably.

Watch!

Film History, Movies, Reviews

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes: Getting Wilder


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes(1970) is one of Billy Wilder‘s least known works. It is one of the ‘revealed’ Holmes stories, and is not part of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon. The film takes a satirical look at the Holmes-Watson equation, and, as the name suggests, touches upon the private life of the genius sleuth – who was decidedly misogynist. But the name is also misleading in one respect – it does not mention even once, the reason of Holmes’ contempt of women – that femme fatale named Irene Adler.

Billy Wilder

In his almost 50 year long career, Billy Wilder had made acclaimed Film Noirs (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), Rom Coms (The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot), War films (Five Graves to Cairo, Stalag 17), Satire (The Apartment, One, Two, Three), even a Courtroom Drama (Witness for The Prosecution). A prolific and extremely versatile film maker, Wilder is perhaps best known for his Noirs and Romantic Comedies (talk about versatility!) Even in such a diverse career, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes somehow stands out – not that it’s one of his masterpieces – far from it. As a matter of fact, as Wikipedia mentions, it was originally intended to be a roadshow attraction, with limited release in bigger cities. Why it stands out is that the film takes a well established myth, breaks it down to the basics, laughs at it, yet somehow retains the aura and dignity of the original work.

The film opens with the shot of a box in a bank vault with John H. Watson, M.D. engraved on it. It is intended to be opened only half-a-century after Watson’s death. They supposedly contain stories which he, ‘for reasons of discretion’, has withhold from the public. With that, Watson’s voice-over takes us to the beginning of one such ‘untold’ adventure. The very first conversation of the duo is one of the high points of the film, where Holmes accuses Watson of fabricating and romanticizing his exploits, and exaggerated his skills and abilities. After a hilarious encounter at a Russian Ballet, where the Ballerina propositions Holmes and he refuses suggesting (get this) that he and Watson are romantically involved (!), we meet a mysterious woman who’s suffering from amnesia, and is looking for her missing husband. Thus begins another Sherlock Holmes adventure, only this time gift-wrapped by Wilder, with his customary wit and dry humour thrown in.Mycroft makes an appearance too. Lestrade is sorely missed though.

Highly recommended.

Film History, Movies

God of Small Things: Meeting Anurag Kashyap


August 03, 2010. Landmark, Andheri. There he was, in his full glory, beard and all, looking almost a saint. The Messiah of New Age film making.  The man who wrote Satya (1998), Shool (1999), Kaun (1999), and directed Paanch (2003), Black Friday (2004), No Smoking (2007), Dev D (2009) and Gulaal (2009). Anurag Kashyap. In person. Flesh and blood. Standing merely a few feet away from me, browsing through the seemingly endless array of DVDs at Landmark. I went numb, blood rushing to my face and all that sort of thing. I mean, how often do you get to meet, in person, someone who you’ve admired, inspired by, and been deeply in awe of?

To me, right up there with Satyajit Ray, Naseeruddin Shah and the Big B himself, Anurag has always been an inspiration. A small town underdog who comes to Mumbai to become a film maker, and in time becomes one of the most respected auteurs of his generation! Whoever has read his blog posts and writings and rantings will understand what I mean when I say to a lot of us, he is nearly Howard Roark. Ayn Rand’s ideals of Objectivism and Individualism somehow seem to converge in his thoughts &  writings (In Defence of the ‘I’, Who the fuck I think I am?). Today, his films premier at Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, his protege Vikramaditya Motwane (who’s an excellent film maker in his own right) rubs shoulders with none other than Jean Luc Godard himself at Cannes, and in 2009 he was part of the Jury at Venice Film Festival. To think that when he came to the city, he practically lived on the streets and did group theater for a meager pay.. but all this while, that unnamed thing, call it passion, call it ‘fire in the belly’ – he kept it alive. This evening, at Landmark, Infinity Mall, I saw a glimpse of that fire. It’s still alive. And kicking.

Having explained all the nervousness, numbness and sweating palms, let me tell you that I did finally somehow limp up to him and say, “Sir, I am a great admirer of yours, and right now, I am speechless – don’t know what to say” or something to that effect. He smiled those zillion watts (see pic above) and shook hands. The next thing I know, we were discussing That Girl in Yellow Boots, his newest baby. I’ve seen some of the clips, and they pack quite a lot of punch. He also spoke about the Doga standstill. He said he has a script on Bahadur (Indrajal Comics, remember?)imagine! But as ususal, the high and the mighty (read losers) are just not interested. And he also spoke about Paanch – he seems to have kept it behind him and moved on – such a pity… I mean, torrents etc. are all fine, but don’t the people have a right to get to watch it in theaters?

The man just loves books… he kept picking stuff from shelfs and recommending them to me saying ‘check this out, it’s simply awesome’, ‘ don’t you read some great stuff, or what?’ He has a special affinity for pulp fiction and crime (Read Bloody Murderers of Cult, highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested in Crime Fiction) , and he handed me two gems: Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie, and a highly acclaimed Graphic Novel called 100 Bullets. I’ll treasure them. And this evening too.

It was truly an honour and a privilege. I thank you, sir, Mr. Kashyap…

For the rest of us, check this out – one of the best Rock numbers ever done for  a hindi film:

Film History, Movies, Tribute

Jaane Bhi Do…


Above is a shot from Chashme Buddoor (1981). I draw your attention to the guy in the middle – yes, the one with all the bandages on him. Inevitably evokes laughter, doesn’t he? What if I were to tell you this person passed away yesterday?

Ravi Baswani died yesterday, July 27, 2010. He was returning from scouting locations in Nanital for his directorial debut film. When I read of his demise in the papers, my first reaction was more of shock than sorrow. For those of us who grew in the 80s and 90s, his was one of the faces that essentially represented fun, laughter and everything else that comprised ‘comedy’ for us. To associate that face with the morbid idea of death is inconceivable. Only the other day, I’d spotted him in a soft drink ad, co-starring South heartthrob Asin Thottumkal!

So many memories came rushing back. In the early 80s, Baswani was a regular in an immensely entertaining DD Serial named Idhar Udhar, sharing screen space with the likes of Ratna Pathak-Shah and Supriya Pathak. He also starred in a popular adolescent romance-themed series on Sony entitled Just Mohabbat. But of course, the two pillars of Indian entertainment history everyone remembers him for are Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) and Chashme Buddoor. One could go delirious with laughter at his wafer-thin features and queer gait in Chashme..In Jaane Bhi Do, his unforgettable turn as Bhimsen with the inverted Gada is funny even the zillionth time you watch it! Ravi Baswani also represented the innocence of those times… an era ends with his passing on. Sad.

But then, had he been here now, he’d probably shoo all that serious talk with a wave of his hand and say, “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro…”!