Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Madness Part I: The Classics (Shree 420, Tarana, Andaz)

The titular movie madness is my own, I have to admit. My time traveling (and imaginary regional traveling) got a little out of hand this month. [Currently looking for a time-travelers support group.] I can claim no propitious consumption habits, nor can I say how I even managed to jump from filmi bed era to filmi era without respite (and certainly not remorse). I will admit that I suffered from an extreme inability to maintain temporal exclusivity, focus, or even to rest upon my multiple successes. "More, more," I said greedily, eating multiple decades for breakfast in the course of a week. As it is, I currently feel so full that I'm not sure what to write or how to write (just like food comas, there are film comas . . . it's a very serious problem, don't laugh). This is not so much a comfortable fullness as it is a sense of having consumed more in a short period than I can properly digest.

In lieu of complaining, I think I will take some time to reflect on the ups and downs of this heady month. Feel free to process with me (or pass judgment on my greediness, I really won't blame you if you do).

Shree 420 (1955)


Ok, so this film has to be mentioned, if not completely written up in recap fashion, because  . . . well, it goes without saying that this one is a must-see for a reason. It's one of the Giants of Hindi Cinema. So much so, that I avoided it. Maaf Kiijie!

I swear I really did expect it to be an intelligent film. I expected something socially relevant. I expected something silly. What I didn't expect was something consistently entertaining and heartrending. Maybe I had read too much in the way of annoyance by other American writers about the ineffectual nature of Raj's Charlie Chaplin impression for those familiar with the original character. [Someone feel free to comment on the ethnocentric ridiculousness of this statement and my internalization of it.]

What I found was a story that was justly praised for it's social relevance, but certainly didn't come off as overly sentimental. I found a story with a romance that, although not as fiery or feminist as Awaara, said something else that resonated with my experience. Something about the un-changeability of the idealists among us, and their struggles to support the realists . . . those who, to succeed, choose to wear more than one face. (In fact, rather than upholding honest, untainted idealist paths for all, the film actually seems to underscore the need for cheats who will cheat the system. Especially if the system itself is rigged.)



I can totally understand why Raj's two-sided innocent/cheat act might not always work for the modern (especially non-Indian) viewer. I can totally see why some people might find it over-the-top or obnoxious. But let's just say that almost all of it worked for me. It really did. Not even the lengthy Charlie Chaplin homage/copycat routine (depending on your POV) bothered me. I had already seen Awaara, and I still didn't find Shree 420 to be repetitive (the titular tramp doesn't pretend to be masoom for much more than one song in Awaara, anyway). And Charlie Chaplin's film, "City Lights" is honestly one of my most beloved films of all time, but I still loved Raj's own spin on the tramp.

Also, Nadira is now one of my favorite cinema vamps evah. 



Mostly, I connected with Raj's character's conflicting desires to both remain in a state of simple idealism, and also to survive in a harsh world. And it made perfect metaphorical sense that he would choose to wear two masks, depending on what the situation calls for. [Don't we all?]  For example, though he may choose to remain guileless with his lady-love, the same attitude almost gets him eaten alive by the vamp. And I literally gasped at the moment of pure Raj-brilliance when he switches consciously from the tramp-to the cheat at the first "rich people's party" he attends.

For me, all this was actually a great counterpoint to the arguably more straightforward message of City Lights. It is comforting to see pure idealism survive, if no where else, at least in an iconic character onscreen.  During one very rough period in my life, City Lights was exactly what I needed. It's cathartic to watch and feel a character NOT lose his idealism even when he should be beaten down and embittered by the world . . . as happens in City Lights. And yet, it is equally comforting to see a character's ideals develop and converse with the world, and beat the world at its own game . . . as in Shree 420.





And Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua has to be one my favorite song/picturizations I've seen thus far in Bollywood. It's a almost a standalone love story in itself.

Tarana (1951) 


In comparison to the other two films in this post, Tarana feels tiny and soundstage-bound. I haven't personally crunched the numbers, but my guess is that Tarana didn't have much of a budget to speak of. But no matter, because any budget would have gotten upstaged by Chemistry, anyway.

This film can basically be summed up in the screencap/bit of dialogue below.

Yes, I remember it, too. Good times.

Correct translation or not, "incident" (after incident) is a good way to describe the romance between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala's characters in this film. The plot, the crazed villagers, the crazed forgotten fiancee, the cackling hero's papa (Jeevan) . . . it's all cranked up to 100, and yet, you mostly can't see anything but the two lovers at the center.

The plot is mostly nonsensical. Dilip's character, a wealthy surgeon, is stranded via commercial plane crash (from which he and one other woman seem to be the only survivors) in a rural village. A village that is only reachable by oxen cart in one section of the film, and then seems to be reachable by car later. The village belle (Madhubala) and her father take him in . . . and both are wooed by his cityfied manners and general charm. Though, throughout the film the father can never seem to remember if he loves his daughter and trusts the great doctor, or wants them burned at the stake.



Obviously, Dilip woos Madhubala quite epic-ly (I mean their characters, geez, I didn't say ANYTHING about their long affair beginning at this time) and by the end *spoilers* . . . though love may win, sanity is is proven to have no place in their claustrophobic, hyperventilating world. Also, any belief or pretense to chastity/societal mores pretty much goes out the window by the end as well. The last shot is the least subtle pan-away I've ever seen.


Andaz  (1949) 


Out of all the films mentioned here, this is easily wins a place among my *ahem* reviews. For, although it is highly entertaining, it's also a fairly offensive piece of propaganda.



My advice is to view it as just that, and just go along for the ride.

Cukoo shines as a supporting character, Nargis is in full-pouty heiress mode, Dilip is sexy, Raj is funny, the songs are excellent in terms of performance and story (if not exactly earworms after the fact).

*Brain stops working*
The story is actually extremely well-paced until the last twenty minutes, which is also, incidentally, when the propaganda takes over. Then, it's just a mess all over. Because of this, I have a feeling that the morality police may have gotten to this script. Such a drastic change in tone, although the earlier plot does forebode a bad ending for all (what good can come of a Dilip Kumar/Raj Kapoor/Nargis love triangle?), seems to point to external interference or pressure on the filmmakers.

I can just hear the conversation right now . . .

"What, the heroine (Nargis) is rich and wears trousers! What, she likes jazz? SHE HAS JAZZ PARTIES AT HER MANSION?! What, the woman keeps her previous engagement (to Raj) a secret from her middle-class admirer (Dilip) because she promised said first admirer (whom she is now bound to for the next seven lifetimes because she fell in love in 5 minutes) and second admirer gets humiliatingly friendzoned?!!! How dare she."

"Um. Yeah, I guess that happens. Kyun kharab hai?"

"Her fiancee and later husband will be hurt by this. His honor will be defamed. His wife has given some other man the wrong idea! Completely by accident! We must punish her. Her husband will do it. It is his right."

"Um, well, can we at least keep the whole character development thing where Dilip will play that amazing scene opposite Raj on the staircase where he tells the husband how ridiculous and without base his accusations are?"

"Yes, that is truly good cinema. Kya dialogues! Shabash. Just be sure to undermine it after that with a proper 40 lashes for the heiress, life in prison, something fitting."

"Thike, will do."

End scene.

"Isn't film-making a funny business? I can't stop laughing [Or are those tears?]" 




















But really, you should watch this one if you haven't already.

8 comments:

  1. Why haven't I visited your blog before? Or have I? (And promptly forgotten all about it?! That is also possible these days with just a single working brain cell!)

    Loved, loved, Shri 420 and Tarana and totally agree with you about Andaz!

    Have reviewed the first two on my blog, by the way. (Be prepared for l-o-n-g reviews!)
    http://anuradhawarrier.blogspot.com/2012/07/shree-420.html
    http://anuradhawarrier.blogspot.com/2012/03/tarana.html

    Have bookmarked your site. Now to read it at leisure.

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    1. Anu, good to have you on my blog . . let's say it's the first time, lol!

      Both your reviews of Shree 420 (which was more of an informative editorial essay than a post--bravo!) and Tarana (I totally love the unabashed romantic sighing and screencap saturation of that post!) are excellent, of course. In general I enjoy the Raj Kapoor love on your site--and all the backstage goodies you share about his films :)

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    2. Yes, I do plead guilty to really long reviews. :) I'm glad you liked them, despite that!

      (Oh, I adore Raj Kapoor! *grin*)

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    3. Agreed. I know a lot of people have issues with his alleged "over-the-top-ness" and some of the themes he liked to use over and over, but I guess I just don't get irritated by the same things as other people. SSS was technically my first Raj Kapoor film. (It was also the first 70 's Hindi movie I watched, probably about a year ago; before I knew anything about its history of controversy and censure, and before I had seen much Bollywood at all, to be honest). Maybe because of that extreme beginning, or because of my own liking for high drama, but so far I have very little need to criticize his particular artistic style. That said, I probably will never watch Ram Tera Ganga Maili, lol. No need to invite trouble.

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  2. Personally speaking, I found Ram Teri Ganga Maili artistically superior to Satyam Shivam Sundaram - the only film of RK's that I have hated with a whim and verve! Try it. I guarantee it will surprise you, because the so-called controversy happened only because the distributors decided to use a 3-second scene on their posters. I watched it in a theatre in Kerala with my parents and sister, amidst an audience that seemed to consist only of men (who obviously came in because of the poster) and honestly? Not one whistle or catcall or derogatory comment in the auditorium! And that, if you knew the Malayali audience, is something! Do watch. (And let me know how you liked it.)

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    1. That's quite interesting to hear! I've never really heard anyone say much positive about RTGM before. (Note: I actually do like SSS, despite it's many flaws. I don't have the cultural history and/or baggage with it, obviously, and the folk tale tropes in it just happen to work for me.)

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  3. Hello! Thanks for this great - even if short - review of Shree, one of my best-loved movies (Andaz interesting, but not as powerful, certainly. I also loved your choices of screencaps, and I too have a soft spot for Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post Yves :) Shree 420 has held it's own among my favorites since watching. It's certainly an inspiring film that asks a lot of questions and gives a lot of suggestions, without ever getting too pedantic. My favorite song now might be Ramaiyya Vastavaiyya, but Pyar Hua Iqrar Hua is a very close second.

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