Sunday, July 19, 2015

False Dilemma Opinion Poll: Filmi Families


Weigh in with your choice of two famous family members in the comments below! You cannot answer "Both! Ufff, dono!" because this poll is unfair. Also, my apologies if examining any of these pairs feels like that trip to the eye doctor where they flip through different lenses asking, "1 or 2, 2 or 3, 5 or 14" and you really have no opinion one way or the other (because they amount to the same thing).

1. Kishore Kumar  or ... Ashok Kumar?

My answer: Hai, what have I done? Probably Ashok Kumar because of his onscreen staying power and consistently excellent performances. I can't or won't count the playback brilliance factor because that's NOT a fair fight.

2. Supriya Pathak or ... Ratna Pathak? 

My answer: With that growly voice and sometimes-swagger, Supriya is more compelling to me at this point. But I wish I had known them both in the 80s c. Idhar Udhar.

3. Vinod Khanna or ... Akshaye Khanna?

My answer: Duh. VK ... I am thus-far allergic to his sons' performances.

4. Tanuja or ... Kajol? 

My answer: I've actually seen Tanuja in more films at this point, and she's a good performer and all ... but she never really wins me over and often projects a kind of emotional strain that isn't pleasant to watch. Kajol can also be grating on screen, but I still like her in spite of it. So I suppose it's Kajol.

5. Vijay Anand or ... Shekhar Kapur? 

My answer. Better to ask, Mr. India or Blackmail? Based on the films I've seen so far, well, Shekhar wins by a one point lead (one can't forget Masoom, even if those Elizabeth movies were dull as paint and I haven't been able to stomach Bandit Queen in full). But if I see a few more early Vijay films I might feel differently.

6. Salim Khan or ... Salman Khan?

My answer: Salim of Salim-Javed over Salman bhaiya any day. [I will probably make a rare trip to see a Hindi film in the theatre for Bajrangi Bhaijaan, however.]

7. Salim Khan or ... Helen? 

My answer: [crosses self] Helen-ji, please forgive the question, we know not what we do.

8. Dharmendra or ... Hema Malini?

My answer: Aren't they one person now? Like some superimposed super-being? No? Then, hmm, Dharmendra by a very narrow margin (that should by rights not be able to accommodate a Deol thigh).

9. Sonakshi Sinha or ... Shatrughan Sinha?

My answer: I liked Sonakshi in Lootera (before I promptly forgot about the film), but I'm extremely fond of ol' Shotgun, not least because I'm amused that whenever I show my family a movie with him, my mother inevitably goes "Who's that?" and starts rooting for his nonsense rather than the hero's.

10. Sharmila Tagore ... or Saif Ali Khan? 

My answer: Saif Ali who? Where are my Sharmila movies? I need them to remain in my sight at all times and I'm concerned that I do not yet own a copy of Nayak (despite an attempt to purchase and receiving an Anil Kapoor movie for my pains)... especially given the fickleness of YouTube and the general slowness of Criterion to release a remastered edition along with all the other popular 60s Ray films.

And a bonus question: 

11. Yash Chopra or ... B.R. Chopra? 

My answer: Can I bend my own rule and say YC in the 70s and BRC in the 80s? No? Well, then I choose Ittefaq (it is my blog header after all) and thereby choose both.

There's no end to the rishta and khandaans (or even the Khans) of Bollywood, so I'll cap this here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Anatomy of a Debate: Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965)

After a recent re-watch of Jab Jab Phool Khile and several conversations about both its merits and flaws, I am again reminded that as a lover of JJPK in the Bolly-blogosphere, I am very much in the minority. For a series of reasons, this film tends to generate extreme reactions of both affection and disgust from modern viewers.

In my experience, people tend to sum up their opinion of Jab Jab Phool Khile in one of the following ways.

I imagine Yeh Samaa was a revelation for certain impressionable youths
1. "What a 'sweet' film, I grew up seeing those songs on Doordarshan. Mohammed Rafi was certainly in best form, then. And did you know that Shashi Kapoor studied and ate with shikara-wallahs to prepare for this role?"

Asking someone of this stripe to criticize JJPK would be like asking me to pass judgment on the home-sweet-home-is-best (but just for the woman) motifs in The Wizard of Oz (which is a film that appears in my earliest memories from age two, and continued to be my childhood obsession for long after). Even for those who have no special history with JJPK, this is an essentially non-critical, nostalgic, song-oriented position which holds that pretty + old = good.

ideallaedi here's the Lolita scene!
2. "The film represents a reactionary swing towards imagined rural values, and imposes them on the foreign-returned, educated, upper-class, city-bred female." 

For most of those who read the film this way, the (negative) critique flows naturally from the analysis itself. Progress is good, but Nanda is portrayed is bad, therefore Nanda is punished for her progressiveness, and even gives it up for the sake of the unreasonable reactionaries and cruel boyfriend! So much bakwaas. Dispose and delete. In contrast, though, I suppose there are also plenty of folks out there who, having read the film this way, would celebrate its championship of a simpler, traditional, and maybe already extinct way of life. [Also, if you happen to lean Marxist, you're certainly not going get caught rooting for a corporate zamindars' plan to control his daughter's marriage and thereby keep the daulat in the family and the bloodline pure.]

Note: I'm fairly certain that the above "feminist" critique represents the opinions of 90% of the Bolly-blogosphere.

3. "As in the later Dil Se, the romantic couple of Jab Jab Phool Khile embodies the ongoing ishq-nafrat relationship between India and Kashmir." 

Poetry, even poetic catharsis can be found here, if one is looking for it. And for the politically minded romantic, it must be something indeed to watch the final scene ... as the privileged Indian ladki almost kills herself trying to concede to the Kashmiri ladka's demands and win him back. Also, it's worth asking whether or not this is accidentally-on-purpose a Muslim/Hindu love story, on top of everything else.

4. "I liked it but I can't defend it. Still, you should see it, it's a classic." 

Fair enough.

5."Cute film. Liked the outfits. And the lake. The songs were catchy." 

O Enviable Being who can enjoy a film without feeling the need to reflect on every detail, teach me your ways.


But who in their right mind is going to root for this family's status quo?
In a richly layered film like Jab Jab Phool Khile, there's a little something for anyone (provided they take classic films seriously to begin with) to love or hate.

I can understand and respect most of the above views ... even those who long for "homegrown" values and simpler times have my sympathy. I have close family members who operate on a similar wavelength, people who are distressed by big cities and pollution and noise and promiscuity. What am I to say to them? No, you should enjoy that world's violence and artifice? You should jump on that train so you won't get left behind? Even if the destination repulses you? Someone in my family said, just last week, "I need to be living out in the country, you know. When I'm in big groups or at parties, I get overstimulated. I just see people's problems. There's too much noise."

The mythical deserted waterfront
As someone who grew up in the country, I understand this, even as I personally feel torn between the memory of the rolling hills of my childhood home, and the potential for new experiences and knowledge and culture that a city life brings. But I also know that peaceful pastoral days can eat up your life before you know it, never bringing a harvest ... and that fresh air is often intellectually stagnant.

As someone who grew up in a very conservative milieu, I also want to fight the traditionalist machine that only lives to reproduce exact copies of itself. So, in theory, I could rage at JJPK's dismantling of The Modern Woman's new-found independence. Still, I find myself dragging my feet, in this case.

While I don't pretend to know anything substantial about what it is to be Kashmiri or to live or travel in Kashmir, certain stories set in the region awaken for me the intangible essence of traveling from Mostar to Sarajevo and back to Zagreb. But if I can't describe the power of those more concrete travel experiences, I certainly can't describe the more abstract draw to a place I haven't yet been. My interest also might say more about connecting to an outsider's (Bollywood's) narration of a story that is not really its story to tell in the first place. [There are some powerful stories to be had here though, propaganda, one-sided-truths, romanticization or no.]

To those who want to dismiss this film based on the ideals of modern identity politics or feminist concerns, I can only say, "This is not your identity at stake here, this is a story. It's malleable. It can mean more than you think it means. Perhaps the central woman isn't a woman, but India. Or perhaps she's not India, but rather Modernity. Or could it also have less meaning than you ascribe to it? Perhaps the woman is just a girl who found something worthwhile outside her (grasping and villainous, let us remember) family and community ... and decided to make a sacrifice to keep it. If that's her personal choice, shouldn't one accept it based on those same political ideals of self-determination? Also, does the film require you to agree with her choice? You are just as free to see it as a cautionary tale."

And I could further talk about the value of subtext and performance over dialogue, and the Hindi dialogues vs. the English subtitles. I could argue that the film is more powerful in deed than in word, that Nanda and Shashi's performances are more in reactions than actions, and the film is *perhaps* less "offensive" in its original language. Even so, I could further argue that this is another time and place ... and shouldn't be weighed against our own. (As Filmigeek has done here, in a review I much appreciate).

Still, for me, most of these concerns were not much in my mind during my first experience with Jab Jab Phool Khile. First of all, it is a GOOD film, and as such, sent me far away from my own thoughts ... too far away to immediately judge or compare my opinions to that of others. I was more concerned with my own experience, frankly. To me, JJPK expressed the longing one can feel for someone or something or someplace that is not of one's own world. One fated day, the "pardesi" or foreign thing appears, captures the "desi" heart, and then leaves ... leaves you with no way to ever be whole again. Some part of you will always be with that far away place or person. It follows, then, that you will also never be completely home again. And yet, there is no way to fully inhabit that other, foreign life, either. Yes, Rita and Raja experiment with (mostly in Raja's case) each others' way of speech and dress. But ultimately, Raja will always be most comfortable in his phiran and shawl, and Rita her mod apparel. (Though I would pick Raja's any day over those satin gowns and skin-tight churidar-kameez.)

Like the protagonist of my earliest film obsession (The Wizard of Oz and its sequal), the lovers of JJPK have had a transformative experience, and now will forever be straddling two worlds. Raja will never be home without Rita, and Rita will never be whole without Raja. A neat filmi ending couldn't really resolve this tension, nor could we believe it if it tried. At least this film dares to give that struggle a voice.

"Jiska naam mohabbat hai voh, kab rukatee hain divaaron se."