Chemistry Experiments: The Group Watch

It's a delicate thing, "making" people watch a film with you. 
As a person who discovered Bollywood not that long ago (but who feels like she was circling in on it her entire life), Hindi films have only rarely been a social discovery. Sure there are other bloggers, sure there is the parade of family and friends I have begged, bribed, and blackmailed to watch things with me; not to mention some new friends I made in Hindi class last semester.

However, it's still a treat to watch Bollywood NOT by myself, and it's an ongoing class in filmi chemistry to see which films go with which situations (and which people!).

Like watching something that I probably wouldn't enjoy by myself . . . and finding that with a friend, the film transforms becomes a different entity altogether. For example, I watched Karan Arjun (1995) recently with my saheli from Hindi class, Kayshree. By all rights, it shouldn't have been my thing at all . . . but still. Even though I knew it was likely to be problematic in certain areas, but still. I knew that even Bad Wolf,with the nuclear power of all her Shah Rukh love, couldn't find it in herself to like it, but still. And I knew that Rakhee was likely to be a disappointing shell of her former 70's glory, but still.

All those "but stills" really mean that it was Kayshree's favorite movie, so I couldn't exactly say I didn't want to see it. And to be honest, I was kinda more than a little curious.

Proving that sometimes Tumblr is really the best
thing ever. 
I'm glad I said yes, 'cause boy, did we have fun. And I don't think it was as awful as it has been painted. On a 'B' movie level, I think it totally exceeded my expectations. Amrish Puri's "Jai Ma" song at Kali's temple alone . . . I think it was the strange Bollywood antidote to THAT scene from Temple of Doom. There was some fabulous stuff in between the madness, which sometimes is all you can ask of a film.

But would I have enjoyed it as much without a movie watching buddy? I mean, yelling a secondary villain's catchphrase at the screen every time he walked on? "What a joke," indeed. Luckily, for all her Karan Arjun adoration, Kayshree was was totally secure enough in her long-term relationship with the film to be able to laugh at its foibles and freakishness. 

And then there was Gaddar. 

Ok, every bollyblogger and their mother discovered this film (from 1973) in the last year or two. So much so, that when I was first stalking filmi blogs, I couldn't get away from it. And I had absolutely no idea what anyone was talking about. I'm sure it was the first Hindi film from the 70's I ever stumbled across in recap/review form. Originally, still in the couple of month dark period of newbieness, my eyes were blind to anything more than 15 years old, and I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it. (Plus I saw a bunch of screencaps of snow sans romance or saris, and that was just confusing. . .) 

But by last fall, it was a very different story. I tried ordering this film from several different places, with no luck. Amazon failed me. I got charged for it, but received no copy in the mail. I had lost hope, and figured I'd have to order a sketch copy from India (which seemed scary at the time). Long whining story short, I finally got my copy right around New Years.

I watched it with my brother . . . a plan I had been cooking up for a while, mostly involving strategic name and theme dropping. No matter that I hadn't seen it, yet. It just seemed like our kind of thing . . . we both have a huge fondness for ensemble heist films. Plus, he's in the movie business himself, so he's all about films that showcase character actors.

And then there's the soundtrack straight from Ennio Morricone's personal sheet music, and the accompanying homages to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and other spaghetti westerns. . . not to mention classic tales of greed like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. My brother and I LOVE westerns (and we're picky about them to boot), and I never expected to see a western set in Himachal Pradesh. Although, perhaps I should take a cue from Russian cinema and call it an Eastern, instead.  

I also felt like like I had been waiting for this "villain celebration qawwali" my entire life. 

This film is awesome, no matter how you look at it. But it certainly would have been harder to approach on my own. I had heard SO much good about this film that I really needed someone to watch it with me and KEEP me out of my own head/expectations. It worked. 

P.S. My brother also watched The Train (1970) with me, on my second viewing. This also got high marks (surprising for a Rajesh Khanna film--an actor I love, but wouldn't especially ask anyone else to like), for its' innovative cinematographic style . . . a style my brother pronounced the most intuitive and refreshing he has seen in any Bollywood film thus far. Also, Helen.

I am proud to say that Helen is now a revered name in my family home. My family (barring my mother, who I still think is a little scandalized by 70's item songs, almost like she was a conservative Maa from the gaon circa 1965 . . . especially going by her talent for disappearing when they appear) LOVE Helen, and/or ascribe to her the proper respect. 

Speaking of the proper respect, one also finds in viewing Bollywood with random attendees, that not everyone is as easily seduced by the dulcet tones of Asha Bhosle. My middle brother's girlfriend, M, almost flipped out during a New Year's item number fest . . . looking like she was about to murder us for about three songs until we couldn't take the heat anymore. Apparently, bollywood songs are "screechy." I'd never heard Asha described as screechy before that. First time for everything.

But, to my brother's credit, he didn't let her get off so easy. I recently came home to find a group huddled 'round the TV, including M, watching Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. The evil Hindi villain in my filmi heart felt vindicated, and quite fuzzy around the edges. It's amazing what a year of FORCING urging your favorite people to watch Hindi movies can bring. (If anyone was wondering, M had nothing bad to say about RNBDJ. To my face at least, lol.)

I could also talk in hushed tones about Sharmilee (1970) and how I couldn't properly appreciate it's genius until I watched it with my sister. No, I'm not even joking! It was a fabulous sister bonding experience. The first time I saw the film, I didn't really enjoy it till half way through. But, the second time, with my sis, I realized how awesome the beginning was . . . we both swooned over the Shashi & Rakhee and the mountains and fuzzy animals and the fashion and the bad girl/good girl dynamics.

Through watching Sharmilee with my sister, I quickly learned that not everything good can be appreciated in a vacuum. Some films beg for a larger audience. Sure, there are certain romantic films that should NEVER be shared in full with another human (Blackmail, I'm looking at you), but should be kept secret and safe and all to oneself. And then there are masala films masquerading as romance films.

 Is this a sensual embrace? Or a criminal investigation? Even Shashi is confused.

I think Sharmilee fits in this category . . . which explains my early confusion with it I think. Perhaps Seeta Aur Geeta deserves a similar re-watch under the same conditions.

Namak Haraam (1973) 
The first Bollywood film I ever watched with anyone . . . the first with which I exposed my obsession to another person was DDLJ. It was about this time last year. And it was with my sister. A year later, I certainly can't say my family loves Bollywood ad nauseum as much as I do (let's be honest, would I cede that fangirl primacy to anyone?!) but I certainly know I love it more because they love it, too.

Plus, gosh, people who eat and breathe Bollywood make friends quicker than you can say "Dil Se."


  1. Lovely post - truly enjoyable read. I was chuckling in places when you were describing your feelings to family members reactions! The Train has some lovely songs and is good re-watch. If you want to watch Helen in a diff avatar, see Tum Haseen Main Jawan - Dharam and Hema are the lead but Helen has a good side role with Pran who again is a villain in a different mould in the movie.

    You have piqued my interest in "Gaddar" now. I usually avoid such movies even if they are from 70s but your all villian qawali caught my attention. I now have to add it to my list of DVDs to be bought when I visit India next

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Filmbuff! Watching Hindi films with the uninitiated is an alternately disheartening and rewarding experience. . . I think I have good luck with it about 2 out of 3 times.

      The Train is one of my favorite Hindi movies . . . in general, there's something about that director's style that I find extremely refreshing (esp. in Surakksha).

      I have seen Tum Haseen Main Jawan . . . and unfortunately, it didn't sit all that well with me. (Mostly because the comic "misplaced baby" trope and "poor child safety standards" may not bother some people, but it just gave me anxiety.) I agree that Hema is pretty fab in it--and like you said--there's something about that role that seems a departure from her usual characters. Plus, that blue wig/mermaid song is pretty fun.

      Gaddaar is indeed worth watching . . . over and over if you can swing it. Plus--you're a Vinod fan, right? I enjoyed seeing Vinod have fun without having to worry about the the sad ending he almost always has to contend with. Plus Pran and Iftekhar have this whole best-friend thing going on--very satisfying after seeing them play on the opposite sides of the law so often (Pran: villain, Iftekhar: police chief).


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