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Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Funny…….but not rolling on the floor with laughter funny; so a bit disappointed.

Some of the humor is extremely crude and unfortunately, the best jokes have been already shown in trailers. Also, I was hoping it would be even more irreverent – some of the Borat appearances on The Ali G Show (as well as the other characters, Ali G and Bruno) were by far edgier and un-PC (this could have something to do with rating issues in the US – apparently there are many deleted scenes). Perhaps a case of too much expectations. Still, scenes like the ‘chick-magnet’ at the car-dealership and the National Anthem of Kazakstan are probably the price of admission (though you could probably catch them on Youtube as well).

Oh – about the bits on ‘exposing’ the  homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and chauvinism of middle-America – those were fairly predictable. Don’t tell me anyone is expecting a gay-pride parade at a Rodeo ? And the sexist comments by the drunk frat-boys of University of South Carolina – they are fairly lame compared to stuff I have heard back in college (in India) being discussed by guys in a sober state. Mind you, I am not condoning the actions of any of these people.

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November 17, 2006 at 10:17 am

The Departed

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Watching (and subsequently reviewing) the latest work of a cinematic legend like Martin Scorsese, one is faced with a dilemma; does one view the work in absolute terms, perhaps simply comparing against the genre and the contemporary films, or should it be judged against the high standards of the artist’s oeuvre? My personal take has usually been the latter. But after the disappointment with the gaudiness of The Aviator, I wanted to avoid the pit-falls of such high expectations. This time I completely ignored the pre-release publicity of The Departed, hoping to watch the film without bias. Still it was difficult to think of it in isolation and I have to admit that the feeling I came out of the theater was that while much better than his last feature, Scorsese’s latest matched neither the psychological intensity of Taxi Driver or the sweeping drama of Goodfellas (or even Casino for that matter), a film about crime and criminals that will draw inevitable comparisons.

Nevertheless, one cannot blame a director for his past greatness and I should quickly add that The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong cop-flick Internal Affairs, is certainly a very entertaining, action-packed, hard-boiled crime drama.

Not to sound like a 70s Bollywood movie trailer, but the film has it all – edge of the seat excitement, suspense, thrills, incredible fight sequences, some tremendous acting (with an exception, see below), taut and witty dialogues, a sexy heroine and importantly, an edgy soundtrack1 to go along with the high-octane action. Where is falls shorts of expectations is the ending, which was underwhelming to say the least – with the final scene being downright ‘cheesy’ (the quotes will be obvious for those who have seen the film). Also, there are a few plot holes and coincidences that are a bit too convenient.

The fast paced story shows the parallel lives of two characters, Billy Costigan (Leo Di Caprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), both hailing from the largely Irish-American South Boston neighborhood – also the heart of Irish Mafia activities – and both recent graduates of the State Police Academy. Billy’s background and links with elements of the Irish criminals makes him an ideal candidate to go deep undercover and secretly infiltrate the crime syndicate of Frank Costello, the Irish mob-boss, played by Jack Nicholson with enough cold hearted, ruthless menace to make a Quentin Tarantino villain look positively angelic in comparison (Among others, he kills a woman and says "She fell funny").

Colin Sullivan meanwhile (as you might have already guessed) is Costello’s inside man, having grown up under the latter’s auspices and training. Placed within the police with much foresight to provide tip-offs, Colin uses his suaveness and smart gab to rise up the ranks and become a member of the Special Investigation Unit assembled to nab Costello. Beyond his obvious allegiance to Costello, however, lurks an independent ambition (expressed brilliantly, IMO, through a pithy scene where he talks to a real estate agent about buying an upscale apartment overlooking the state capitol building).

Once this basic premise is set-up, much of the latter part of the film involves tense stand-off, with the police attempts to nab Costello being deftly thwarted by Sullivan and the respective moles trying to uncover each other. In several juxtaposed but tightly edited scenes, the film flips back and forth between the two protagonists. Predictably, as the film rolls on, there is a blurring of moral boundaries; as Costello says :"……they would say you could become cops or criminals. What I’m saying is this: When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference? ". Interspersed within the hard-hitting violence, however, are cleverly placed scenes of droll humor and witty satire (a police chief during a surveillance, cries out with the glee of child in a candy store, "Patriot act …Patriot act……I love it !!").

The support cast is as expected, quite excellent: Alec Baldwin as a slick detective chief concerned as much with catching the bad guys as his own status, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg, playing the good-cop/bad-cop duo in charge of running Billy Costigan and keeping him a secret from the rest of the police department, Ray Winstone as Costello’s trusted deputy and butcher-in-chief. The only jarring note in my opinion was struck by relative newcomer Vera Farmiga, who plays the role of a psychoanalyst employed with the police. In a one of the convenient coincidences I mentioned earlier, both Billy and Colin manage to fall in love with her, albeit in different ways in keeping with their characters (Billy’s is more of raw emotion and vulnerability while for Colin, you will get the feeling it is a part of a calculate move for rising up in the world). While her chiseled angelic features and ultra-expressive eyes, she’ll take your breath away for most parts, but somehow her role does not blend in with the rest of the narrative.

In the final analysis, this is obviously a film you won’t want to miss. I haven’t been to the theatres a lot recently, so there isn’t much basis to compare it with the year’s output, but if the internet buzz is to be trusted, it is certainly one of the best (with the so-called ‘Oscar season’ of releases coming up – expect a whole lot of similar meaningful, award-contender quality films to crop up in the theatres right about now). But to get back to where I started, the film isn’t a notch on Goodfellas. Apart from the obvious difference in milieu and perhaps genres, Scorsese was working with a richer tapestry in Goodfellas, and with its laid-back narrative, brought out an aura of the mob-culture, which I enjoyed more than the throbbing action of The Departed.


1: Two tracks stood out during the movie. First was "Comfortably Numb" – the version sung by Van Morrison during Roger Water’s 1990 staging of The Wall in Berlin. Second was rock number I hadn’t heard before with a catchy bagpipe in accompaniment – an google search revealed it as "I am Shipping off to Boston", an original Woody Guthrie number covered by the band punk band Dropkick Murphys. I listened to some sample’s of the band’s numbers and liked what I heard. The band, according to their website, wants to "blend the musical influences we had grown up with (Punk Rock, Irish Folk, Rock, and Hardcore) into one loud, raucous, chaotic, and often out of tune mix that we could call our own" .

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 10, 2006 at 8:54 am

Ghost Dance from Goopy-Bagha

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Via Amardeep and others, noticed that Boing Boing linked to a video of the ‘Ghost Dance’ sequence from "Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne" – Satyajit Ray’s musical classic.

The film highlights the multifaceted talents of Ray. As was usual for him since Teen Kanya, Ray composed the background score; he also composed tunes for all the songs in the film (which I believe he wrote the lyrics for as well) – apart from writing the screenplay (based on a fantasy story by his grandfather Upendrakisore Ray Chaudhury), and of course, directing the film.

This particular segment is pure genius. It was conceived and executed with brilliance: unspoiled by CGI, using only camera ‘tricks’ for the special effects, blending in various musical instruments and forms (folk music, both south and north Indian classical music and dance forms) – it used to be a delight to watch as a kid. As I grew older, I also appreciated some of the socio-political sub-texts of class and caste: the various ‘forms’ of ghosts – the warriors, the priests, the ‘saheb’/ruling class ec and the infighting among them in the course of the dance.

The ‘explanation’ of the clip at the Google video site was rather unsatisfactory – it describes the whole film rather than just this sequence. I wrote the following as a comment on Amardeep’s blog:

Btw, the the ‘explanation’ is really about the whole movie – not just this clip.

This particular ghost dance has nothing to do per se with the musical abilities of Goopy (the singer) and Bagha (the drummer). Having been banished from their respective villages for their atrocious musical qualities, they happen to meet in the middle of the forest in the evening hours. Relieved at being spared by a tiger, they start singing and drumming – this ‘musical’ bedlam raises the ghosts in the forest area, who break into the dance routines shown in the video.

(after the dance, the King of Ghosts makes an appearance and grants the duo three wishes. They use one the wishes to gain musical talents)

Of course, goes without saying – it is a must-watch film (I am sure there aren’t too many Bongs out there who haven’t seen this).

(Note: Boing Boing links to the Google Video, which for some reason I could not embed in this post – hence I linked to Youtube. )

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September 22, 2006 at 7:06 am

The universal appeal of Bollywood

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Via Manish Vij, came across this interview of Vikram Chandra, who has been in news lately with the release of his book, Sacred Games. When asked about the awareness of Bollwyood in the US, he had this to say:

Ten years back, the interest would be limited to only people from Africa and Middle East or the erstwhile Soviet Republic.

But now, even the American student is aware of Aishwarya. I remember going out for a family dinner at an Italian restaurant in Detroit.

The Italian waiter overheard our conversation on Hindi cinema and asked me, “Do you know Amitabh Bachchan?”

Apparently, he had watched Deewar in his village!

This echoes one of my own recent experience. Last winter we were dining at a bistro in the Georgetown area of Washington DC when our French waiter with a very dude-like attitude asked if we were from India and if we watched Bollywood movies. When we replied in affirmative – he asked if we had seen ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ (he pronounced it Kay-bi Kushi Kay-bi Gum). Apparently he had, not just once but five-six times and had been totally blown away. ‘It made me cry’ – he said. And he had fallen in love with Kajol. By this time, I admit I was chortling – but this guy was honestly serious.

Given that the last time (by my perception) Indian films conquered French hearts was with the celluloid poetry of Satyajit Ray, I was a bit taken aback at the thought of a someone, anyone, getting emotional over this overtly melodramatic, hyperbolic kitsch!

But as Chandra explains, it could be possible:

The audience of Hindi films in the West are constantly being pulled by two different kinds of reactions.

They have been taught to cultivate a distaste for the supposed escapism of Hindi cinema. Some find it kitschy and yet also connect to it in certain ways.

I have come across so many westerners who weep buckets after watching our films. For many, the concept of the psychological realism being the only realistic way of representing realism is so false and cucooned. Perhaps, one can’t ignore the subterranean presence of Hindi films these days.

To each his own I guess.

However, before the west ‘discovered’ it, Bollywood movies have always been popular in African and south-east Asian countries. More than twenty years ago when I was in Indonesia for a while, the Amitabh-Rakhee starrer ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ was a big hit out there. You couldn’t step into a restaurant, even in the remotest town of the country, without being recognized as Indians (if not anything else, my mom’s saree would give it away) and being greeted with exclamations of ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 22, 2006 at 11:07 am

The World’s Fastest Indian (mini-review)

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The Worlds Fastest Indian (2005)

"……You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime.."

That was Burt Munro, the real person whose life is depicted in the movie The World’s Fastest Indian, replying when asked if he was sacred of being killed in a crash while riding his motorbike at incredibly high speeds. As the title suggests, this film is about pushing the limits of speed – but then there is a lot more – it is about the love of a man for his machine; it is also about dreaming and a dogged persuasion of the dream. As Munro says in another of the many philosophical moments in the film, "If you don’t follow your dream, you might as well be a vegetable…..a cabbage….".

The film opens in 1962 in Invercargill, New Zealand ("the southernmost tip of the British Empire") where Munro, a retired old codger, lives in a tiny, messy shack, indulging in various eccentricities. The chief among them involves endless tinkering with an old but beloved motorcycle, a 1920 Indian Scout. Over the years, the bike, originally manufactured to reach top speeds of 50 miles per hour, has been tweaked upon with geeky affection by Munro. And like a true mechanical geek, he hand-crafts his parts, often using unconventional techniques, and many of the modification involve ordinary household items: a hinge from a kitchen door, or a piece of cork from a brandy bottle. His shack, doubling as a garage-workshop, is dedicated as a temple to ‘the Gods of Speed’, with various hand-made motor parts as offerings.

While working on his bike, Munro has nurtured a dream for over twenty-five years: to set a land speed record with his trusty Indian at the salt plains of Bonneville, Utah during speed week, a veritable Mecca for speed chasers. When he suffers an angina attack, Munro is spurred by the reminder of his mortality and finally decides to undertake the journey, cashing in his meager savings. The movie chronicles the adventures, as he follows his dream from the backwaters of New Zealand to the salt plains of Utah, via the glitzy (and mean streets) of Los Angeles and through the lonely American hinterlands. (There is some interesting fish-out-water experiences depicted as Munro grapples with life in America, particularly driving on the right side of the road, which many recent visitors here will sympathize with). However, even after reaching Bonneville, his journey is far from over, as it turns out he hasn’t pre-registered and his machine is considered ‘unsafe’ to try a speed trial. But Munro’s affable personality, combined with the dogged determination wins over other participants and officials and he is allowed to make an attempt.

While it may sound as a cliched ‘under-dog overcoming all odds’ film, two things prevent it from going the campy Disney way. One: writer-director Roger Donaldson, who keeps the story on leash and does not let the melodrama run away. For Donaldson too, this film was the culmination of a dream – having started with a documentary on Munro at the beginning of his career. Two: The Man Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is among the rare breed of actors who can convey a truck-load of emotion by a simple, almost imperceptible twitch of the facial muscles (watch The Remains of the Day for the best example of this). He delivers another flaw-less performance here.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 25, 2006 at 2:55 pm

Some recent films

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Short comments on some films seen recently (meaning two weeks ago).

The Da Vinci Code: I initially had reservations about Tom Hanks essaying the role of Robert Langdon, but I needn’t have worried. Hanks is a master performer and I thought he played the role to perfection. Unfortunately, that’s the only postive thing I have to say about the film. The biggest let-downs were Tatou’s and Jean Reno’s role. Both are great actors – but were constrained by some wooden and often cringe-worthy, cliched dialogues.

So I have little to add to what others have already said, other than the fact that I feel I was wrong about the book being easy to adapt into a film. The book was bad, really bad from the literary standpoint, even after conceding the pulp thriller genre. Forsyth, Ludlum et al wrote in the same genre, but their prose was much superior and more readable. But at least TDVC read like a screenplay – so a good film was expected. But while watching the film, it struck me where I went wrong in my conjecture. There are scenes and actions that during reading – we are willing to accept – just by the manner in which the author communicates. But the exact same action is not always believable when seen on the screen. For example, the first scene with the curator being shot and leaving clues all around him – when I read it in the book, I was willing to believe that a dying man, shot through his chest could think with such clarity and run around writing with his own blood. On screen, just because we were seeing the action, it stuck me as more absurd. (The alternate explanation is that I was absolutely brain-dead while reading the book. This could be true since the book was actually my ‘leisure’, non-brainy diversion while I was writing my thesis).

The Break-Up: Although critics have mostly panned the film, I found it enjoyable. Not rib-tickingly funny – but chuckles all around. Some of the issues of living together seemed to hit home 😉 I quite like Vince Vaughn and his fast talking style. The ending, however, was a bit stretched and overly sentimental. It was almost as if the film wanted to be taken itself a bit seriously and not remembered as a goofy comedy.

The Irony of Fate: or Enjoy your Bath: This delectable mid-70s Russian comedy was recommended by a Russian colleague and is apparently a staple feature of New Year’s day TV line-up in that country (much like The Christmas Story is in the US on the 24th of December). The spirit of the film is quite similar and will remind you of the 70-80s Hrishikesh Mukherjee made warm and tender romantic comedies.

The story is about a usually shy and reserved middle aged man Zenya, who on New Year’s eve, gathers enough courage to finally propose to his girlfriend. He plans to spend that evening with her to formalize the proposal. However, during a traditional New Year’s eve meeting of friends at a Moscow public bathhouse, they all get stoned drunk on vodka and beer. Consequently, when his friends mistakenly put him on a plane to Leningrad (a different person in the group was actually supposed to fly), little does Zenya realise that he has woken up (still drunk) in the airport of a different city. Now here is the fun (and a slightly suspended disbelief) part: when he gives his address to a cab driver, he is taken to a building in Leningrad that is on the same street name and number and an exact replica of his apartment building in Moscow (a dig at the sameness of the Soviet communist-era mass produced buildings and town planning) ! So he ends up falling asleep, in the apartment (even his keys work!) of Nadya, a slightly past-prime but still very beautiful lady who is herself waiting to be proposed by a steady, if not particularly exciting or adventurous man. What follows is a regular comedy of errors as the mix-up gets sorted out and a predictable, but tenderly developed, blossoming of love between Zenya and Nadya.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: There is probably something wrong with me. I simply could not finish watching this film. Now, I will confess that I am not really a fan of Rowling and the Harry Potter series. Yes that is sacriledge to a great number of people – but there it is. I have nothing against HP and wish well the people who go crazy over the books and the characters – it is just that the series has never excited me. There is still so much sci-fi fantasy literature out there that I have not covered (Gaiman and Pratchett are the two that immediately come to mind) and presently I have limited reading time.

But then, I usually do enjoy the Potter films. This one, I thought, started off very well. The special effects were well done and not too noticable The story was quite gripping as well till the end of the first competition. Then I started dozing off around the middle bit. Perhaps some other day when I am less tired, I shall finish it. Also, I take it that the original book had many sub-plots that could not be covered in the span of the film – perhaps if I was more familiar with the book, I would have appreciated the movie better.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 23, 2006 at 7:46 am

Best Hindi Movie Quotes (Repost)

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Since I am still feeling too lazy to write some actually meaningful posts (even though no one has ever accused me of writing ‘meaningful’ stuff), I thought I will borrow a page from this blogger, and repost some of my older stuff. I wrote this piece on Hindi film dialogues a little less than a year back when I had a different blog (on Blogger) and subsequently migrated it to the present blog. However, according to WP’s ‘Blog Stats’, this one actually gets the highest viewership among all the posts in my blog, easily beating the writings on Immigration or Quizzing (both of which got some exposure through DesiPundit). Much of this traffic comes by the way of searches for ‘Top Hindi movie dialogues’, ‘famous hindi film quotes’, ‘romantic dialogues ‘Amitabh dialogues’, and variations thereof. So why not bring it back to the top of the heap anyway ?

Here goes:

Last week, I was watching American Film Institute’s 100 years…..100 movie quotes (with which I have some issues with but maybe more on it later) and I started thinking about famous/classic quotes from Hindi movies – or ‘dialogues’ as one should say since in almost all Hindi films you will find credits for ‘Dialogue’ in addition to the usual ‘Screenplay’ and ‘Story’.

However, in spite of having this dedicated person penning the dialogues, most of them are quite banal and used repeatedly in various films (e.g look here, here and here). Still some quotes like ‘Kitne aadmi the’ transcend the clichés and live in our memories. So I set out to compile the top 10 memorable/classic quotes from Hindi movies. Lists are always subjective and I am by no means a voracious watcher of Hindi films – hence I may have missed some – anyone reading this are welcome to come up with their own list or add to this.
(Additionally, one could argue quite persuasively that all good dialogues are either in Sholay or uttered on screen by Amitabh – but I have tried to mix things a bit).

10. Dosti ki hai – nibhani toh padegi Maine Pyar Kiya : I know, I know – very tacky – but it had become quite famous at the time of its release. Also, I had to have one ‘romantic’ quote.

9. Mooche ho to Nathulal jaise ho….warna na ho Shaarabi – one of the many funny Amitabh quotes (incidentally most of them are spoken when he is drunk)

8. Sara saher mujhe lion ke naam se jaanta haiKaalicharan – the quote that spawned hundreds of ‘Ajit jokes’.

7. Police ne tumhe charon taraf se gher liya hain – apne aap ko kannon ke haawale kar do – I know – its one of those hackneyed dialogues – but I included it since it was used so many times by this one actor Iftekar, speaking into a megaphone !

6. Paanch ruapiya bara anaChalti Ka Naam Gadi – the most memorable monetary transaction ?

5. Babumoshai…. Anand

4.…ki…KiranDarr – The beginning of SRK’s endless hamming.

3. Mere Paas Maa HaiDeewar – One of the very few times perhaps when Amitabh’s co-actor has run away with the better dialogue.

2. Mogambo khush huaMr. India Rahul has an entire post on this.

1. Kitne aadmi theSholay – I am sure there will be very little arguement on this. (Btw, check this post)

Other contenders:

Chal Dhano! Aaj teri Basanti ki izzhat ka saawal haiSholay

Hum jaha pe khade ho jaate hein, line wahi se shuru hoti haiKaaliya

I can talk in english, i can walk in english, i can run laugh in english….because english is a phunny languageNamakhalal

I am sure there are some more out there – can’t remember them now.

As mentioned, please do feel free to append/change/criticize the list to your heart’s content.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 27, 2006 at 7:48 am