Sorry for such a long break, but being back in Vancouver for the holidays I just couldn't manage another post other than my celebrated(!) ire filled Bakwaas List. But I thought I'd finally air my views on some of the good parts of 2010, because always going against the crowd I thought it was not such a damn awful year for Bollywood in 2010. I'm gonna approach this from a cinephile/pretentious filmi nerd stance, because being in a small town with nothing much to do, I've been reading half the books in our library by the early French and New Wave critics, and they have a point!
The Critics: Francois Truffaut, who I'll appoint a Masala Pradesh Saint Truffaut Bhagwan, talks about straddling the two categories of films, the Masala and the Arty Farty in our case, and what I've definitely noticed in 2010 that critics do not know how to balance the two. For instance, he goes on about loving a film like 'A Face in the Crowd' by Elia Kazan with it's subversive messages about the media, but also heaps praise onto something Hollywood spectacle like 'Samson and Delilah.' Now maybe it's because I'm a journo type that loves my Masala and my Arty films, and because I approach a film liking the director or star, but I don't treat a Tees Maar Khan like an Udaan, because they are miles apart. Critics in India, have this awful problem and their outrageous reactions to films like Tees Maar Khan by expecting it to be another Main Hoon Na or the height of Masala brilliance. It's their close-minded and editorializing to a sniping degree, where they insult the filmmaker or actor, it's just not objective. All reviews should air what was good about a film like highlighting a good performance or script, and if they hate it, they really have to sell it to the viewer why and not cop out by unfairly and unnecessarily bringing personal gripes and grudges into it. That's why in 2010, the gaping disparity between what the masses flocked to and what the critics favoured, was so gaping wide. If critics want to repair their relations with the audience that is rapidly dwindling and turning to word-of-mouth and the internet, then they really have to consider what the masala and arty intake the average filmgoer can handle, they really should STOP sounding so smug and think about who they're writing for.
END OF RANT! I'm sorry, I've read many reviews from the vintage Stardusts, FilmIndia's, and other film mags over this summer and the journalists and critics back then, who were also very catty, but the reviews took into account that people would immediately be in seats for something with Amitabh being a Moody Vijay but they also recommended films like Bhumika.
I know I can't blame the critics the whole time, it's also the filmmakers who throw out bakwaas like Break Ke Baad, Hollywood style romcoms that just don't connect with the audience and vanity projects like Khelein Hum Jee Jhan Se, which just exhausts and bores. Earnest intentions by all these big directors would normally win my own heart, HELL I loved Veer, which was another earnest piece of shamefulness, but they also need to find interesting stories and not go overboard with their delusions of grandeur, looking at you Mr SLB! The audience in India is a fickle bunch, one thing like an No Problem, the usual Aneez Bazmee fare which they lapped up before was a super flop, but something like a Peepli Live did well. I think the films of 2011 need to be toned down in their OTT publicity monsters because a Tees Maar Khan, which did the rounds was so hyped that although it did somewhat alright, people were disappointed as a result of that as well.
ANYWAYS! I'd like to share my eclectic mix bag of faves this year, irrespective of box office, there were many movies which were brilliant, good, and alright! But enough rambling and ranting here it is, in no particular order because that's far too hard and I would ponder like a philosophy student!
1. Ishqiya - Truly one of the best films, which finally gave a career Renaissance of sorts to Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan both brilliant actors who were stuck in a comedy and romance/fashion rut. Vishal Bharadwaj's stories always feature such expressive and profane language that was perfect in this film, he has such an ear for the rustic dialect that is so acute and in this film he excelled as a screenwriter, which we all know from his adaptations of Shakespeare to rural Bihar in Omkara and Mumbai for Maqbool. But I think this film won all it's praise for it's performances by Arshad Warsi, who dropped all the second banana roles to play the lusty Babban. He is such an untapped actor that directors need to use far more, and he creates a full blooded man full of passion, and humour. And it's such a good neo-noir as well, of course adapting it to a Bihar setting makes perfect sense, because I'd rather have the femme fatale in a sari like Vidya. Sensuous and dangerous, Vidya makes Krishna a dame worth stealing for. And that kiss! As much as it's great that Bollywood is doing snogs and all, but this one was less of the tender and quick pecks we see, but pure animalistic hunger and it was HOT! I haven't mentioned much of the director Abhishek Chaubey, who aided in the screenplay and is definitely a director I want to see more of, but this is one of those films that is dominated by the presence of it's auteur producer/music director, and that's one of it's best points. Bhardwaj's flair for the ribald dialogues of Bihar and setting it in small town India makes this a neo-noir that is just as stylish and beautiful as his city-set films like Kaminey.
2. Tees Maar Khan - I'm with Kara/Filmigirl on this one, this was a good film in all the ways I wanted it to be, paisa vasool entertainment full of masala madness and meta-snarkiness that wins a reference spotter like me over! Now I know people saw this and were supremely disappointed with it, but there's an indicative moment where Farah's hubby Shirish Kunder sweeps up all the Oscars at the end credits. Shirish, has an irreverant humour that we witnessed in Jaan-e-Maan, with it's plot elements all thrown in and framing the songs like Broadway songs, and it worked for me at least. This was a Farah film framed through Shirish techniques, and I loved it. I just saw the Peter Sellers original 'After the Fox' and while the two are extremely similar, both were hot messes affected by every actor doing their own thing and just generally HAVING FUN, and that joyful abadonement of details and contrivances makes them so enjoyable. Tees Maar Khan has all the great packaging, great songs and fluid and music video style cinematography, but it won me over for the two A's: Akshay Kumar, who probably put his everything into this movie, and it's fun to watch him cut loose in a film that caters to his strengths of being a very physical actor and trying anything, in a way that none of his Priyadarshan films do. And Akshaye Khanna, what a gleeful role as the Oscar hungry Atish Kapoor, he really went to town with that role and was a complete scene-stealer. And lastly Katrina Kaif, who I kinda like and she was hilarious being a vain wannabe and she looked like she was enjoying herself and stole the show in her small role.
3. Raavan/Raavanan - Two movies, same story, both different experiences that were both interesting experiments. Critics again jumped on the 'Let's shoot this down' bandwagon for Raavan, to be honest Raavan was an experiment in mood, and story that only partially worked. But I had to add this to the list alongside it's better counterpart, because I have a feeling both will be appreciated much later down the road, and lol I might have to turn producer and give these two their own Criterion Filmi Collection, because they are both great pieces of cinema as Mani Ratnam took a chance on two wildly different actors to interpret B/Veera, the supposed villain of the piece and turned the Ramayana tale on its head, by blurring the lines of good and evil between B/Veera and Dev, two men jostling for power, and I'm gonna admit I really liked Abhishek's interpretation. It's the damn earnestness of it all, they tried so hard to make something weird and wonderful and I think it will be one of the hotly debated classics of Indian cinema. But what is consistent in both, the acting by Aishwariya Rai is absolutely phenomenal and she shares great chemistry with both Abhishek and Vikram, but I appreciated Abhishek's performance because it is OTT, manic, and definitely something I'm sure he's secretly proud of. But Vikram does the more subtle, manic, super-cali-fragi-fuckinamazin-docious portrayal because he made Beera, more sensuous and sexual being than Abhi which is why pitting the two portrayals next to each other is such an interesting comparison, because it just adds to the many layers Raavan had. Sorry I just need this to be on a Criterion Collection dvd right this minute for me to geek out over!
4. Rakt Charitra 1+2 - Everyone loves a good comeback, and I'm one of those suckers and seeing as it was my underrated fave Viveik Oberoi then I shall be heralding his comeback as the best for an actor who made a resounding Dishoom entrance with Company and to return with a forceful performance with his mentor RGV. And I'd say both director and star benefitted from the hype, even if the Hindi version didn't do so great, but the other ones did. Viveik is a strong actor that was blacklisted unfairly for his press conference debacle about Salman, and I kinda admire him for that, but this was the best way for him to reclaim his territory as the new Angry Vigilante on the block. Viveik imbues pathos into Pratap so we feel his pain and understand as he sloly turns into a monster and are shocked by his sudden urge to lop off heads, and knife people! And I think Ram Gopal Varma is back in form again, he has a contentious visual language of the loud chanting, odd camera angles (i always love his trademark from above a glass table shot, which is soo Masala because Feroz Khan did so many of those shots in Dharmatma!) and he's uncomprimising on the way he shoots his films and his subject matter which makes him stand alone from the rest of the directors out there today. Part 2 was obviously dominated by Suriya making a bombastic debut in Hindi films, but Viveik still managed to create a sort of Michael Corleone gone far worse. The assasination scene was just amazing. Both were full of non-stop even bloodier Pekinpah carnage, which was necessary for the murky politics of revenge and power.
5. Udaan - I really don't know why people bash this movie so much, but I do realize that movies like these are catering to a niche urban audience and not everyone's gonna jump on this Indie-Amazingness film! I just like movies about 'rites of passages' and 'coming of age' ones like these, but this one had a universal story of family pressure. It becomes so much more than that, with the lived in and stunning performances by Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy, and Ram Kapoor. We see Rohan wanting to be free from his stifling and abusive home life of routine and boredom, he wants to be a writer and poet. While critics and others found that it emphasized a more literal freedom from his harrowing home life, I thought that that was only way he could flourish as a writer and as a person was to finally take his brother and run. The row scenes are so raw and hard to watch at times, yet another one of those typical 'root for him to escape' moments that would be cliche, but I honestly cared for the two boys and it enahnced the emotional experience. It reminded me of Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows' which was repetitive in that showed the young Antoine Doinel navigate through his school and bad home life, going to school coming home, running away and all over again, and this film in its symbolic shots of the factory instruments pounding and crushing his dreams, writing in the fields, and contemplating. And it's these moments we don't see much in films where we can see a character really soul searching and contemplating his freedom and life, usually if a hero is trapped then by the end he'll have a job and a happy life and all that. I know I'm rambling but I like thoughtful characterization of heroes that are aimless and trapped, although it is suffers from problematic characterization of Rohan's dad, who is just awful and abusive, and drinks all day long, he isn't offered any other side which is off-putting at first but Ronit Roy does such a wonderful job of the character that we just feel he's been trapped in his own set ways and can't bend at all.
6. Band Baaja Baaraat - I will herald my love for this film all day long, although I saw it after all those shitty romcoms that came before it, this movie again has a love story that's simply revolutionary for not piling on the montages of singing in on a beach style love, and creating fully rounded reality steeped characters that we can root for! Is it really hard to tell that romances set in India like this and Ishqiya, are consistently trumping the NRI montage-quick lets fall in love in style romances like Anjaana Anjaani? But what I have to rave about is Ranveer Singh! What an absolutely wonderful debut for him, it definitely shows how a godfather/mother/Masala Filmi animal connection (Moti the dog can only help so much, kids!) doesn't bring you success and give you that magic spark that the audience immediately connects with. Ranveer has screen presence that most first time newcomers don't have, he's an instinctive actor as his intro scenes are so charming and I know I have a new crush of the month. But I think what's most appealing about him in this film, is ability to project a very Everyman quality to him, he's not exceptionally beautiful like a Hrithik (I certainly think he is) but he makes Bittoo his own, an aimless college boy that loves his food and loafing around. We don't have enough of the Everyman-type heroes that an Amol Palekar or a Jack Lemmon specialized in, and I think if he continues to be so spontaneous and fresh in his next few films then he's here to stay. And of course Anushka Sharma is fabulous too, her reaction to the morning after rejection is just heart-breaking. Of course the audience connected with this movie because it was well-written by Habib Faisal and Maneesh Sharma, they manage to steep a Yashraj production which has a penchant for the 'let's strut' montages, 'let's fall in love in our beachwear' songs, into a filmi reality that just works!
7. Dabangg - Let's all bow to the revisionist Masala Pradesh approved Saint Salman! We are not worthy! If 2010 publicity was good in one area, it was the hype for this deserving movie. Masala has been coming back to the fore for a while now, especially with 2009's Wanted and even before that the homage hot mess masala Tashan. But Salman and Abhinav Kashyap capitalized on this hunger for a film where the sheer angriness of the hero can make his shirt automatically tear off, where the villain can snarl/have an super OILY well sculpted body/and act goofy, where Arbaaz has a meta-dishoom fight with his actual reel/real bhai, and just the absolute faithfulness to a masala concept. This wasn't a perfect film, it had loopholes, but we overlooked all of that because Salman dominated the show and meshed all of his cool guy schtick, lack of pretentious acting and his stoic personality into one character that hypnotized us. Let's not forget the Great Female Hope in Sonakshi Sinha, an actress that made a great impact in her few small scenes and of course her thankless task of bringing a healthy sized heroine back to the screen that was sexy and alluring! The film is a testament to the director and star, who captured the masala zeitgeist and instead of turning it into a vanity project, they made a paisa vasool film which even some of the critics begrudgingly admitted entertained, which is what it all comes down to. A masala movie is meant for gratifying the audience's need for a good time and being a clever smart at that too!
Plus it had the debut of our Masala Pradesh Filmi Animals Sheroo-the Wonder Bird and Allah Rakha's younger and more agile cousin, Sheroo Part Do!
Raajneeti - Loved it in the cinema for all those speeches, and gargantuan Mahabharata backstabbing, but criminally underused Ajay Devgn in the key role as Karna, lovely Katrina show glimpses of a really earnest and untapped potential.
Peepli Live - I honestly was turned off by Aamir's hype of this being a satire, it really wasn't, it was far too garbled a message for that. More of a black comedy which veered into farce. But definitely the right choice for the Oscar entry.
Once Upon A Time in Mumbaaaaiiii - Numerology works in some cases! Spot on homage to the crime films of the 70's, fabulous dialogues and a psychotic Emraan Hashmi stealing the show, although again criminally underusing the gals only as the Apprehensive girlfriend or the Love of a gangster's life and only that.
Do Dooni Chaar - A lovely slice of life film which had Neetu Singh and Rishi back together in such an apt film for a co production with Disney to be, unlike Warner Bros helping out Shameful Classic 'Chandni Chowk to China' A bit annoying with narration but a film with absolute heart. I died of a dil-squish through many moments of it!
Aisha - Shameful admission of this one, because when I'm not shouting of the glorys of TCM and masala films, I do like a good old chick flick. Of course I muttered throughout 'that Aisha is such a meddling bitch' even through Emma, which is not one of my fave Austen novels. Dammit it had such a freaking gorgeous wardrobe for everyone, Sonam even showed sparks of dimmed potential, and Abhay, despite his petty comments after it did moderately well in places, was a studly Colin Firth type and had suprisingly good chemistry with Sonam.
Well thaaaat's all folks! Thanks for bearing with my egregiously long rambles about my ire and my favourites! What are your hopes for 2011? I for one am hoping for more set at home romcoms that are smart like BBB and more indie films getting better distribution!