Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The spin and reel of it

I sometimes wonder whether some of us (film reviewers especially) are losing the ability to be entertained. Or whether we like to set ourselves up as tough customers, who put up intellectual barriers between our minds and a movie, where having fun is not a virtue unto itself. What else could explain the negative/wishy-washy/pursed-lip reviews that Jhoom Barabar Jhoom has been getting?

Is it because we no longer enter a theatre with a little skip in our pulse, and when the lights go dim, our hearts do not thud with the anticipation of being whisked off into a different world? Is it because 'real' can only be equated with dark, gritty, gory, violent, depressing? Is it because we ourselves have lost faith in the power of fantasy, and we no longer believe in simple premises like girl-meets-boy-at-a-railway-station?

Or was it because some of us are so alienated from our own cultural contexts, that we just do not get the 'reality' of this fantasy? A fantasy in which ordinary people tell lies, not necessarily to get out of trouble, but also because those lies are their dreams. Dreams in which your lover is rich, foreign, exotic. And willing to marry you. Dreams in which you acknowledge your hard-headedness, your greed, your crookedness, even your self-defeating racism.

Is it that a whole generation has grown up without those classic, allovertheplace, Bollywood films that this film is contantly referencing? Do they not understand the slightly accented Punjabi peppering most of the dilogue? Do they not hear their mothers talking, when the mothers in the film talk? Do they not hear their own happy, romantic subconciouses tumbling towards the inevitable happy, romantic climax?

I, of course, loved Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Saw it last night and could see it again tonight, if only movie-watching was not so expensive. If only I had the option of a third-rate theatre where tickets cost Rs 12, or even Rs 25, and the cold-drink man comes 'cold-ddrrrrink' clinking glass bottles with the metal opener during the intermission... If only, I could go see it again and again, every weekend for the next month.

Lest it appear as if I'm saying that 'it's a Hindi movie, so why not leave your brains outside the theatre', I'm not! This is actually a fairly intelligent movie. Not only does it experiment with the story within a story mould (which many people have done before in different ways, and of which Roshomon is the most obvious, most famous example), it also seeks to tweak the mould. I don't think we have seen this particular format of storytelling in mainstream Bollywood, so far. Nor have we seen a single theme song being used so cleverly, so successfully, so constantly in any other film. It is terribly hard to listen to the same song - high on beat and lyrics, low on quiet melodiousness - for half an hour or more. But here, the audience is begging for more of the same, because it never is quite exactly the same.

What's more, the filmmaker Shaad Ali has his finger on the pulse of the people. Not the whole nation; I don't mean that he's familiar with, or bringing to life, each class and caste in each corner of our very diverse counry, but he's very definitely got a grip on one vein - that of the aspiring, small-town Indian, who may not be hungry for food but is hungry for love and adventure and exotica and money and bigger, wider canvases. This was very evident in Bunty Aur Bubli (beautifully summed up in the song - chote chote shehro.n se, khaali bhor-dupahro.n se, hum to jhola uthaa ke chale), and to a smaller degree, in Saathiya (two subtly poignant scenes are stamped upon my memory - one is when Rani Mukherjee's family is sitting down in the evening, playing cards; her father is drinking alcohol, the mother and sisters are drinking tea. The other is the scene in which Rani wants to hug her husband in the film, after a hard day at work, and he is embarassed because she's doing so in the balcony, with other peole looking on; her resentment and frustration is a remarkably fine mix of just about everything in that frame, that moment, that life.) In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Shaad Ali has taken one step further, and opened the door between the audience's fantasy and that of his characters. For instance, there is an obvious reference to Punjabi illegals (immigrants) in the UK, and this was all the more delicious for me, because I have covered that story, and know just how big that aspiration - and that racket - is, and what a huge deal it is, to have made it from Punjabi Indian or Pakistani, to British Citizen.

Speaking of characters, all are well-sketched, well-cast. All four of the major roles are meaty in their own right. Of course, they're stereotypical too. But the beauty of it is that, because they're a fantasy, because they are and are not themselves, they have the scope for stereotypical, overthetop representation.

For those who like to read stuff in lists and boxes, for the following reasons, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is immensely enjoyable:

1] The title came to the screen studded, as if with little fake diamonds.

2] Abhishek Bacchan's mobile phone's ring tone. It goes 'Ae Handsome! Ae Handsome!'

3] Hearing Lara Dutta abuse - like a good, authentic desi. The scene where Preity Zinta attempts an impromptu slanging contest with Dutta is particularly, er, endearing.

4] The guy playing Abhishek's friend-mentor, Hafiz Bhai. His tone, his diction, his dialogues, his expressions are priceless. (what's his name?)

5] Amitabh Bacchan is NOT playing sutradhaar, again.

6] It's funny. I was laughing out loud every five minutes.

7] The boys' costumes are to die for. The women's clothes are nice too, but to see silk and colour and glitter on men, for a change, is such joy.

8] The theme song (and dance) grows on you, and it assumes a special growth curve when you 'see' it. Listening to it is just not the same thing. Once you've seen it on the big screen, the song somehow slips into your blood and throbs there, willing you to get up and jhoom-o-fy.

9] Bobby Deol as he is in the second half.

10] The sizeable flirty young desi girl, with the spectacles stuck in her cleavage, and her Punjabi invocation of mum's advice.

11] The Mr and Ms Southall contest.

If anybody hasn't yet, go watch it. And if you've been to see it, and didn't like it... oh, forget it. Go see Roshomon.

Footnote: I hadn't been keen on film initially. The half-wit print interviews with the stars of the film had a lot to do with that, I suspect. None of the fun, none of the spirit, none of the cheek with which the film was made shines through.

UPDATE: Saw it once again! Yay!

UPDATE 2: Saw it once yet again!


roswitha said...

Applause! I agree whole-heartedly - I can't remember the last time I had so much fun at a film. :)

Bikram said...

Haven't seen it yet but planning to go for it this weekend. One thing I can say is that any movie from 'YRF' banner is worth a watch. If nothing else, it is one time great time pass.

Specifically about 'JBJ' - though I quite didn't 'Jhoom'ed to it's songs as I did for 'TRRP', I luv it's song 'Bol Naa Halke Halke'. It's so soothing to the mind.

And ya, I liked your 'cold-ddrrrrink' bit :D . MAde me remember my hometown theater. Those are extinct on this age of multiplexes. :(

Jabberwock said...

Felt the same way about the indifferent critical response to Jaane-mann (the first half, at least). Have you seen this review of JBJ by Baradwaj? I particularly like what he says about this being the Bollywood formula taken to its logical end: surrealism.

One thing I find a bit annoying is how Bollywood buffs turn their noses up at these unabashedly entertaining films by saying "there's no storyline" and such - as if all the other films have such profound, original plots.

Anonymous said...

I visited your blog after a long time as your posts are interesting read, but only to be disappointed and surprised to see how you can enjoy and moreover praise such a movie. I am a movie buff myself and just cannot believe someone like you defending a movie like this. Fantasy ? pulse of the people ? well-sketched characters ? and well-cast ? Well, well-cast maybe, but do not discredit a whole country's intelligence by saying that this is what our dreams are made of or shaped because our cinema has been feeding us such quality of movies all along. Its only saddening to see such a large banner and famous stars, well capable of delivering a masterpiece, denigrating to such levels only because they felt they had a finger on the pulse of the 'right' people. Maybe they'll still make the money, but thats what it boils down to - dump the script and everything else and continue to bank on the foolishness of one whole country to appreciate and reward such a faaltu movie. For once be glad that the movie is faring the way it should. And sorry, but you should not be mentioning JBJ and Roshomon in the same breath.

AakASH!!! said...

You provide a very different perspective. I suddenly 'want' to see this film, even if only to re-affirm your premises.

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Thanks for the heads-up (you and Rangan both). Shall go and see it this weekend.

V above, why don't you go watch Prakash Jha's 'Damul', it's haemorrhoidal enough for you to feel virtuous about.

Anonymous said...

Arthur - Damul is a much better 'cinema'.
This is why you don't know the names of such actors playing Hafiz bhai's role (Piyush Mishra - you would know him instantly if you've seen Matrubhoomi and Maqbool), but would merrily jump and go for a star-studded film even though it has nothing (not even some proper laughs) to offer. But then, I guess you don't set your expectations too high, do you ? After all, its about bollywood, and not the least about cinema.

Mudra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mudra said...

Hey Annie,

I'm the Editor of Sans Fronti�res, the official Umang magazine. Umang is an inter-college fest that takes place in Bombay every August, with over 31000 college students coming as audience from the Bombay as well as other cities. Sans Fronti�res has a readership of over 2000 people (again, all students).

I think your short fiction and poetry are both very interesting and I'd love it if you could write for us. Please email me at umang.sf@gmail.com to know further details. I look forward to hearing from you. :)

D said...

Are you Shaad's friend trying to do him a favour?!

Anonymous said...

Hey Annie,

Over the past couple of days I've gone through your entire blog. Skimmed some post.. read through some and stared unbelievingly at some of what you'd written.

Just wanted to drop in a line and say that I like the way you write, moreimportantly I like what you write about. Shall come back for more.


Annie Zaidi said...

roswitha: read your post too. and yes, it is so much fun!
vicky: i didn't like the tara rum pum music, and didn't go to see it. but soothing music is to listen to. JBJ musi is to look at!
jabberwock: read that review.... don't know if i agree with the surrealism theory. honestly, i don't think that much about surreal/real etc. and i don't even think that it is fair to lump all of bollywood into one single formula. there never has been any one single thread. but i do agree that this is an exciting time, for Indian movies. there are all kinds, there's an audience for all kinds. the only kind that's missing is, of course, the kind that caters to, and arises from, the farmers and labourers and factory workers. but that's a whole different story, and Javed saab has written it already.

v: hmm. you seem to show contempt for 'stars' but then also say that you expected masterpieces from these stars and such a big banner. don't think this banner has ever delivered a masterpiece, but with good directors, you get good films.
our cinema has not been feeding us such quality all along! i wish it had, but it hasn't. our cinema has fed us some mediocrity and some sort-of-interesting stuff through the year. this one was much more fun.
and if you didn't enjoy it... well, like i said, stick to Roshomon. :)

as for not knowing Mishra's name (thanks for telling me), have seen both Matrubhoomi and Maqbool, which was excellent, but I really am not so much into cinema that I'd bother to find out the names of everybody in the cast. not unless i happen to especially notice a character. why should that be held up as a negative, or a confirmatory sign that I don't know my 'cinema'?

aakASH: hope you enjoy it. even if you don't reaffirm my premises, just relax and let the film take over.

Arthur QC: you're welcome.

Annie Zaidi said...

D: nope, don't know him from adam.
arpit: thanks :) much flattered. and please do

the mad momma said...

ok.. between you and brangan, i am going to watch it.

WillOTheWisp said...

I am not too sure about the "surrealism" and "meaty / fleshed out" bits. The premise and structure of the movie called for some really good scripting which was sadly missing - the dialogue was jarring and the music / glitter the only relief.

I do not know whether to call it a good movie or not - I saw it and that's about all.

small talk said...

Hi Annie, you are in such a minority. Everyone I know seems to have hated the movie. I am glad you wrote a good review - if only for Lara Dutta. I like her, think she is pretty hot and feel bad that she has not made it big. Was hoping this movie would catapult her into the big league. Does not look like it will, judging by the box office receipts. I will surely pick up the dvd though.

Titash said...

Since I haven't seen the movie, so won't jump to callous conclusions. But what I reflect after reading this post that may be you enjoy the feeling of watching cinema, more than the movie itself.
Here where you mention,

"Or was it because some of us are so alienated from our own cultural contexts, that we just do not get the 'reality' of this fantasy?"

None of Yash Raj's movies even come close to our "cultural" pattern. Saathiya may qualify as an exception but rest (KANK, KHNH) are too distant for me to relate. And the reality of the fantasy is the fact that they do so well overseas.

Raza Rumi said...


This was a good review. I had the [mis]fortune of watching JBJ last week. Let me also clarify that I am a great fan of Hindi (mainstream) cinema so my comment is not based on the cliched junk: 'O I don't watch Hindi films".

JBJ was excellent in the first half. The innovative style, chemistry between the Abishek and pretty Priety made it most entertaining. However, with the second half, it just dug its own grave and became too much of silly fluff with the title song repeated a couple of times. Great song but the novelty goes away when you hear it umpteen times.
The whole 'drag' at the Jharoka club took much too long and it appeared as if the viewers had to experience it in real time sense.

In short, innovative and pleasurable in bits, but the storyline and lenght could not avoid the cliched format.

questionairre said...

I loved it too:). Twice already:)And liked it more the second time. And somehow I did think that you'd enjoy it. Was even thinking of calling u and telling u about the film:).
Last few yash raj films were definitely not upto the mark, yet dhoom2 and fana were huge hits. Sad that their most experimental films are not liked (earlier Kabul express and now this one).
This must be one of your most commented upon posts. Any idea why people are hating it with so much passion?
How about a crosspost on caf where people are having a ball junking it? :)

questionairre said...

And titaash,
both KANK and KHNH were not Yash Raj films.

Aishwarya said...

Annie - where might one email you?

Annie Zaidi said...

momma: please do.
willothewisp: dialogue jarring? ok... I guess we just have very different sensibilities. i loved the dialogue.
smalltalk: do, do. i like lara dutta too.
titash: reality has many sides. the NRI and would-rather-be-NRI reality is one. there are others. the best movies combine three or four.
raza: i loved the jharokha sequence. i absolutely loved that it was long and almost in real time. i love dance competitions in hindi movies :)
paawan: trying to understand why myself. which was what the first half of this post was about. i think, perhaps, it is the lack of a linear narrative. or the overt lack of attempt at any one sort of narrative style. but with multiplexes, it is hard to tell what, really is right/wrong? would the masses have loved it? what if it was showing with tickets at rs 25? would it be a bigger hit than any others? who can tell? all we know is that the middle classes like it less than they liked tara rum pum. and maybe, the fact that much of the dialogue was in english or punjabi was a factor?

Anonymous said...

Annie, a bad movie is a bad movie, no amount of justification or positive reviews can revert that fact. But if you have genuinely liked it and thats the reason for your post, why should I or anyone else have a problem. So though its hard to imagine, I agree that you might have liked this movie. Lets end it there; please do not start considering the extent of english/punjabi known by the middle classes. This movie comes nowhere to a good non-linear narrative or even good ones without any definite narrative, just because the content, so important but ignored in most cases, was missing. It was more of a Usual Suspects tried in a romantic format but with zero content.I am not discounting Habib altogether, but maybe he needs to write a script outside this banner. Well, no point discussing it further, I hope Shaad gives me a good reason with his next movie to restore my faith in him.

Out of curiosity, I would like to know some other movies which you have really liked in the recent past.

Anonymous said...

Annie, read your review a few days ago, and Brangan's this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie- the title song is, in any case, an insistent earworm. Having seen it I guess it's taken up permanent residence in my head.The scenes shot in Delhi were especially beautiful- perhaps it'll appeal more to Delhi-wallahs with their eternal love-hate relationship with the Punjus. I liked the depth of your analysis, also Shaad Ali's penchant for not at all heroic, yet street smart protagonists. Bobby as the good little mamma's boy was hilarious, and Lara in her French avatar was really charming.
The gaali competition was a riot! In sheer scale and richness it reminded me of the musical Chicago, again with unheroic yet lovable protagonists.

Annie Zaidi said...

dipali: glad you liked it.

V: well, we'll just have to agree to disagree then, won't we?
and about the sort of films i like, you could read an older post here -

Pareshaan said...

Well I guess Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom is finally getting it's due right here on your blog - loved it though AB needs a rest - thank you for sying it like it is.

Shantanu said...

Come to think of it, most reviewers seem to get swayed in the direction of the initial buzz. If the intial reviews have been bad, the rest of the reviewers (even those in the blogworld) seem to get impacted, and I have rarely seen contrarian reviews. And therefore, this review of JBJ is unusual.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

I have liked good fun commercial cinema like Salaam Namaste and even Kal Ho Na Ho for its slickness but with these exceptions the foreign-set big budget movies really irritate me for their (usual) lack of strong story plus the fakeness of the settings or the extravagant opulence.

I dont know about JBJ, my friends have told me its "bakwaas" but may give it a try.

OTOH, it will be good for a star-studded multi-crore movie to come crashing down. I imagine that after running thru all possible reasons they can think of, like:

- did we need extra fake glitter in Amitabh's fake ponytail?

- more side dancers?

- a dance in Buckingham Palace?

they might finally and actually work on improving story/plot/ dialogue etc.That would be a good thing.

This is a general comment, havent seen JBJ so dont know how much it applies to that.


Anonymous said...

Hey Annie, have read your previous blogs and liked them, especially the Sain Zahoor one. It was fantastic. This is why it is quite frightening to see your love for Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. It's as if somebody intelligent has been completely brainwashed in a single stroke. My favourite artists are surrealists, but this is not surrealism. This is designer stupidism. If you want to be entertained, really entertained, try Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, by far the best entertainer of the year that nobody saw. Funny, inventive, magical and at points, yes, surreal.


Jeet said...

I'll still pass and watch it wen it comes out on DVD...Last indian movie I watched in theatre was Namesake. I dont know how he does it but Irrfan can say so much without uttering a word..brilliant!

Anindita Sengupta said...

Completely agree! Was beginning to wonder if I had lost it because I enjoyed the film (despite misgivings because of bad reviews) but you have explained it so well :). I thought a lot of stuff was very tongue-in-cheek and clever as well--the fantasy element lets Shaad Ali make fun of some stereotypes as well.

Anand said...

:-) main is syaape ke liye phir se aamada hoon. blimey! btw, the killer dialogue in the film was the boy from bhatinda saying, 'main chelsea ki jhooti kasam kyon khaaonga!"

Annie Zaidi said...

pareshaan: which AB? though i have to say I personally thought he was rather good, here.

jai: i didn't like salaam namaste all that much. JBJ has very little opulence. and the side dancers were actually quite good. don't knock their presence.

HAL 9000: i never said this was a surreal movie. am not sure what qualifies as surrealism anyway. i just said that i loved it. i missed ek chalis... am sure it is great, but if you thought JBJ was designer stupidity, then perhaps, i ought not trust your taste that much :p

jeet: didn't really like namesake that much. irfan and tabu are great actors and they made it tolerable, but the movie failed to move me, except in stray scenes.

n: exactly!

anand: my personal favourite was 'i know hindi... kameeni.'

dipali said...

Need to see it again! Don't know if my 'Ae Handsome' will be game for another round....Dekhte hain:)

Anonymous said...

Yay! Am hopefully going for it a third time. Sigh.. All the best ones never do well.

AakASH!!! said...

Again! I havent managed a singular view yet! :(

Anonymous said...

did you say you liked Bunty and Babli? I loved it!!!!!!!!!!! Here I go to Jhoom

Vijayeta said...

I loved your review of JBJ. I quite enjoyed it too. As in, yeah there were no deep, profound truths about Life, Universe and Everything emerging in the end. But I guess people who want "meaning and substance" from Bollywood films should basically stop watching Hindi films altogether. I am tired of arguing with them even and making them try see sense.
Having said that, let me state how difficult it is to sit and write a script. All the scriptwriters currently are extremely well-educated, well-read people who have great writing styles etc. But no one knows what the audience wants. The educated city people scoff at films like Apne, Aap Ka Suroor, Namastey London etc. But the truth is, those films are huge hits in what we call the "interiors". People in Punjab, UP etc. are actually going for repeat shows of all these films. How many of us have watched it in our multiplexes in the Metros?
Logic aside, trashing a film is the easiest thing to do. It's that famous bicycle shed arguement. If films were rocket science, no one would say a word 'cos they wouldn't be qualified to.
Films ka kya hai... Story to koi bhi likh deta hai... Gaana bhi koi bhi compose kar leta hai... I wonder if anyone in the metros really goes to watch a film to simply sit back and enjoy it. Why do they have to carry their immense personal baggage and sit and offer tips on how each frame could have been better!
Another thing that troubled me in one of the comments above was someone saying it'll be good for a multi-crore movie to come crashing down?
Why? Are we in Communist Russia or what? End of the day, good or bad, a film requires sheer effort and hard work by over 300 people. I wish people respected that at least!

I, of course have a lot of personal angst about this :)
Won't hog your comment space ranting now!
But BIG HUG for writing this post :)

Anonymous said...

"...Another thing that troubled me in one of the comments above was someone saying it'll be good for a multi-crore movie to come crashing down? ..."

That was me. I didnt mean to scorn at the efforts of the film makers, I am sure its hard work.

I was coming at it from K3G.
What upset me was that instead of putting in 1 crore for arranging a palace, helicopter etc. for AB family they could have spent that money on improving story. It was painful to watch even the talented Kajol in her overacted comedy bits, there is not one thing abt that movie I like. But I've liked Salaam Namaste and even Kal Ho Na Ho.

I swear by the copy of Rashomon that I do not have and havent seen, that I wish K3G tanked royally and absolutely.

I'm not expecting life improvement lessons or gritty all the time and agree that if all movies were like Satya / Maqbool we'd all run for the silly stuff.

Maybe JBJ is different looking at how ppl here are OK with seeing it twice/ 3 times ?!!

For an Annie Zaidi comment thread, this one resounds with lots of uncharacteristic labelling/ slotting-in... and that too over a movie!


Anonymous said...

an insider's views on choosing films....

Vijayeta said...

And er, how do you spend a crore "on improving the story"? And do you think the Art Direction depts. of any film are so irrelevant that you can merrily dip into their kitty and dole out an extra crore for "improving the story?"
I don't get this... What do you mean? Pay the writers more? Gove them an expense account? ...What exactly?
Oops! Is there any labelling etc. going on? I didn't notice

Anonymous said...

I love you hon't you?ey...give me a call sometime. You're from lucknow, aren

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