Even with so many good titles now on Netflix — Shanghai, Company, and the underrated comedy The Shaukeens among them — the new addition I am most excited about is the batshit crazy 2003 crime caper Boom. Katrina Kaif’s film debut costars Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, a Bo Derek-obsessed Amitabh Bachchan, and Jackie Shroff, whose character has a secretary that lives under his desk. You have to see Boom to believe it, it’s just that insane.
For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check out Instant Watcher.
Legendary film composer A. R. Rahman will receive an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston on October 24, 2014. To mark the occasion, Rahman will perform a concert with the school’s Indian Ensemble. Proceeds from the concert benefit a scholarship in Rahman’s name that provides funds for Indian students to attend the school.
Though the concert is sold out, it’s going to be streamed online starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Here’s where you can watch the concert live. If you need more incentive to watch — “Free A. R. Rahman concert” isn’t incentive enough? — check out the video below of the Berklee Indian Ensemble performing Rahman’s “Jiya Jale” from Dil Se. They’re fabulous.
My recent (and long overdue) viewing of Dil Se sparked my interest in other films by Mani Ratnam. I thought 2007’s Guru was okay, and I was interested in watching some of the director’s previous films. I was pleased to discover a copy of Yuva at my local library and even more pleased by the movie itself.
Yuva (“Youth”) begins with a drive-by shooting on a bridge. Arjun (Vivek Oberoi) sees Lallan (Abhishek Bachchan) shoot Michael (Ajay Devgan), the stranger who’d just given him a ride on the back of his motorbike. The context for the shooting is provided in three flashbacks, one for each of the young men.
Lallan is a career criminal who does the dirty work for his older brother, Gopal (Sonu Sood), an aide to the corrupt politician Prosonjit Bhattacharya (Om Puri). Violence permeates his life. When Lallan isn’t beating up student protesters, he smacks around his wife, Sashi (Rani Mukerji), who clings to the hope that he’ll find a respectable job. That becomes unlikely when he’s contracted to kill Michael.
Michael is a student leader who inspires disenfranchised village voters to stand up against politicians like Bhattacharya. When need be, he’s not afraid to resort to violence, just like the politicians he opposes. The contract for Michael’s death is issued after he and dozens of students invade Gopal’s home as a means of intimidation.
Arjun is a recent college graduate who dreams of moving to the United States. He considers changing his plans after meeting Mira (Kareena Kapoor), who’s engaged to someone else. He stops Michael on the street and begs him to chase after Mira’s taxi, which they catch up to on the bridge.
The trend in American movies and TV shows with a similar construction is for the opening scene to double as a climactic scene, but Yuva’s opening scene returns to end the first half of the movie. The second half sees the three men decide whether to continue on their present paths, or make a change for the future. Their lives intersect again in the climax.
While the plot is generally about politics, Yuva‘s main theme is violence. It’s a gory film, compared to other Hindi movies. Even though most of the violence involves fists, it graphically shows just how much damage a punch can do.
The three main characters relate to violence in different ways. It defines Lallan, who learned to fend for himself after being abandoned by Gopal at a young age. He can’t get away from it, even for the sake of his pregnant wife.
Arjun fights as a matter of self-preservation. As the witness to a violent crime, his life is in danger unless he’s prepared to defend himself.
Michael’s relationship with violence is the most complex. As a student leader, he opposes the brutal tactics of intimidation employed by some established politicians, yet he’s happy to pick a fight with their goons to achieve his own ends. He’s more of a populist than Bhattacharya, but one wonders if he’s really interested in changing the political culture.
Yuva is engrossing and fascinating, as it seems to present a practice of politics so different from that in America. But with a man bringing a gun to a presidential rally last summer and an armed march in April to demand Second Amendment rights, it might not be as different as we think.
Over the years, several people have recommended Dil Se to me. Based on the DVD cover, I expected a good but fairly typical romantic drama. Boy, was I wrong. Dil Se takes the genre in unexpected directions, enhancing a well-told story with surreal dance numbers.
The couple on the DVD cover meet on a train platform on a cold night during a downpour. Amar (Shahrukh Khan) assumes that a figure huddled under a blanket is a man and asks him for a match to light his cigarette. A gust of wind blows the blanket away to reveal a lovely woman named Meghna (Manisha Koirala).
Amar flirts clumsily with the taciturn beauty, until she finally asks him to buy her a hot cup of tea. While he’s helping the sleepy tea vendor prepare the chai, a train pulls into the station. Amar arrives on the platform, cups of tea in hand, to see Meghna seated on the train with some rough-looking guys. She gives him one last look as the train pulls away.
They meet again a short time later in Northeast India, where Amar is covering the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence from Britain, for the national radio station. What should be a happy time is marred by ongoing clashes between the army and groups of separatists. Amar interviews the revolutionaries to better understand their goals.
When, in the course of his work, Amar comes across Meghna, she pretends not to recognize him at first, which only intensifies his pursuit. Amar’s pursuit is aggressive, almost as though he feels entitled to her. Still, she doesn’t reject him as forcefully as she has grounds to. She eventually tells him that she’s married. Amar’s attempt to apologize results in him being beaten up and left in a ditch by the men who were on the train with Meghna the first night they met.
Amar is understandably confused, as is the audience. Who is this girl? Is she interested in Amar, or not? Is she telling the truth? It’s no wonder why he finds her so alluring, despite the danger to his personal safety.
There’s an aura of danger surrounding Amar as he files his reports. He’s in essentially foreign territory; he doesn’t speak the language or understand the people. His bravado masks the fact that he’s out of his element, whether talking with terrorists or walking through the desert after his bus breaks down. The only thing he understands is how he feels for Meghna.
Enhancing that feeling of disorientation are the movie’s musical numbers, arguably the best part of the movie. It’s easy to incorporate a song-and-dance number by having the characters join in a parade that just happens to be passing by. It takes guts to make the romantic leads run from soldiers as the city explodes around them during a love song.
The numbers are symbolic rather than literal. This is the ideal way to include musical performances in a movie, as it provides a visual representation of a character’s mindset. It elevates the performances beyond mere devices for selling soundtrack CDs, especially since A. R. Rahman’s amazing songwriting sells itself.
I’m not qualified to say if the choreography in Dil Se is the best ever, but I’m confident that it is some of the most challenging and well-executed. Choreographer Farah Khan demands that actors throw themselves into her dances whole-heartedly. There is no way to half-ass her moves.
The most impressive dance number in the movie, “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” takes place on top of a moving train, traveling through tunnels and over bridges. It’s nearly seven minutes long. The dance is so technically stunning and the setting so precarious, thinking about the practicalities of its filming temporarily brought me out of the movie. Still, it’s so cool that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.