Tag Archives: Mani Ratnam

Marketing Hindi Movies as Art Films

Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.

Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.

Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”

The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.

Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.

Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.

Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.

If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.

The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.

Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.

Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.

Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.

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Opening June 30: I Hate Luv Storys

The Hindi movie I Hate Luv Storys opens in the Chicago area on Wednesday, June 30, even though the film’s website lists its release date as July 2. I’m not sure why we get it two days early in the U.S., but I’m not complaining. The romantic comedy stars Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor as an unlikely couple who find love on a movie set.

In the Chicago area, I Hate Luv Storys opens on Wednesday at the AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 (formerly the AMC Cantera 30) in Warrenville. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

Mani Ratnam’s Raavan carries over for another week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing around Chicago over Independence Day weekend include Pappu (Telugu) and Raavanan (Tamil) at the Golf Glen 5.

Movie Review: Raavan (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s latest, Raavan, is his modern retelling of an ancient Indian epic, The Ramayana. By shifting the focus away from the poem’s hero and onto the villain and his victim, Ratnam successfully updates the classic story.

In a nutshell, the Ramayana (at least the part Raavan is about) tells of the kidnapping of Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, by the demon king Ravana. With the help of Hanuman, the monkey-god, Rama rescues Sita.

The story’s denouement has always troubled me. After the rescue, Rama asks Sita to prove her purity by stepping in to a sacred fire, since she had spent a long time with Ravana as his captive. She steps out unharmed, thus proving that she hasn’t been molested (and therefore unfaithful) during her imprisonment.

The couple rules happily until unfounded rumors about Sita’s purity crop up again. Rama banishes his pregnant wife to the forest. Years later, Sita arranges for Rama to meet his twin sons. After they win his approval, Sita asks the ground to swallow her up, and she disappears.

Perhaps if I’d grown up with the Ramayana as my source for spiritual parables, I might not find the ending of the story so sad for poor Sita. Due to her unflinching loyalty, she’s considered the pinnacle of wifely virtue. I’m happy to be an imperfect wife if it means not being burned, banished and buried alive. But Sita gets her say in Raavan.

The movie begins with a wave of attacks on police officers in a remote, forested area of India controlled by a warlord named Beera (Abhishek Bachchan). During the chaos, Beera kidnaps Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the wife of the new police chief, Dev (Vikram).

Beera’s plan is to wait fourteen hours and then kill Ragini. Beera changes his mind after she jumps off of a cliff to avoid giving him the pleasure of killing her. Ragini survives the jump, and her fearlessness intrigues Beera. He holds her captive, as Dev searches for his wife with the help of a spry forest ranger named Sanjeevani (Govinda).

Raavan is undeniably gorgeous. Perpetually overcast skies saturate the greens and browns of the forest, and Ragini’s mustard yellow dress makes her glow like a flame. It’s hard to believe the exterior locations where the movie was shot are even real, so amazing are the rivers, rocks and waterfalls that populate Beera’s realm.

The first half of the movie is mostly a chase, as Beera draws Dev further into the jungle. I began to fear that there would be no explanation for why the two hate each other, apart from the fact that Beera’s the villain and Dev’s the hero. But the second half explores why Beera and the villagers who harbor his gang are at war with the police. As Ragini learns more, she prays for the strength to stay angry at Beera, even as she starts to sympathize with him.

Bachchan’s performance as Beera is generally strong. In the epic, Ravana has ten heads. In the movie, Beera exhibits some schizophrenic symptoms, arguing aloud with the voices in his head. His quirks are more distracting than menacing. There’s no doubt that he’s a violent man, but there’s a moral code governing his actions.

The Rama and Hanuman characters get second billing in Raavan. Govinda is well-suited to play the fidgety sidekick. Dev’s duties are pretty straightforward: find the girl, kill the bad guy. Yet he does many things that aren’t heroic at all. Eventually, these dubious actions form a pattern of behavior. Is he perhaps the story’s real villain?

Throughout Raavan, Ragini transforms from fighter to observer to negotiator. She has a powerful will to live on her own terms, refusing to be a victim, yet with more flexibility than either of the men in her life are capable of. Rai Bachchan endows Ragini with both a savage sense of self-preservation and dignity — fitting for a modern version of the ever-loyal Sita.

Note: The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min., but it’s closer to 2 hrs. 15 min.

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Opening June 18: Raavan

Friday’s new Hindi release is a big one: filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, a reimagining of the ancient epic poem the Ramayana. Ratnam filmed a Tamil version of the movie titled Raavanan simultaneously with some of the same cast, then dubbed that into Telugu (Villain). All three movies open worldwide on June 18, 2010.

In the Chicago area, Raavan (Hindi) opens at:

Click here for a complete list of U.S. theaters showing the movie, which has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

The other versions of Ratnam’s movie — Raavanan (Tamil) and Villain (Telugu) — will both play at the Golf Glen 5. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove is also carrying Raavanan, with its first showing listed at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17.

Raajneeti, having earned a total of $1,287,416 in the U.S. so far, continues for a third week at the Pipers Alley 4, South Barrington 30 and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

The only other Indian movie showing in the Chicago area is Vedam (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.

Retro Review: Yuva (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

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.