The Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi 2008 opened last night with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's production of Padmâvatî, recently at Théâtre du Chatelet. There will be one more performance tomorrow, and the festival runs through July 13th.
The Hindi Film Industry
* Notes *
Krazzy 4 was a bit of a disappointment, it wasn't quite as fun as it could have been and then was also strangely moralizing (society is crazy, not crazy people). It was no fault of the actors: Arshad Warsi, Rajpal Yadav, Irfan Khan, Suresh Menon were all charming as the quartet of mental patients mentioned the title. The music was not bad, but the dancing was particularly amusing, especially Shahrukh Khan's item number, "Break Free." Certainly my favorite was "O Re Lakad," as the dance moves were just so fun to imitate. Also, goats were featured in this part of the film, which made the trip to Fremont worth the effort.
* Tattling *
Not much to say on the tattling front, the theater was close to empty, as the movie has been out for over a month. There was some giggling and dancing along.
* Notes *
Shot in South Africa and Dubai, the fast paced film Race came out at the end of last month. The plot is fantastically ridiculous, with an alarming plethora of twists and turns. The songs are fun, though some of the dancing from Katrina Kaif and Bipasha Basu was less than convincing. The baby-blue faux flapper outfit that Ms. Kaif wore during "Zara Zara Touch Me" was also particularly unflattering. However, overall the movie was entertaining and the production values were quite high.
This certainly is the raciest Indian movie I've seen, no on-screen kisses, but exposed torsos of both leading men and an almost graphic love scene. I could have really done without seeing Saif Ali Khan play guitar without a shirt on at the end.
* Tattling *
There were hardly any people in the theater, and it must be said I was unsubtly the most badly behaved. I could not stop laughing for most of the two and a half hours of the film, as I was so amused. Apparently this film was inspired by Goodbye Lover, which, thankfully, I have not seen.
* Notes *
Ashutosh Gowariker's historical epic Jodhaa Akbar was finally released on February 15, after being pushed back four times. The film is doing well at the box office, grossing $2,505,703 so far in North America. Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan give restrained and elegant performances as Mughal emperor and Rajput princess, respectively.
Filmed in Karjat, the scenes are all rather lavish, like Mughal miniatures come to life. A. R. Rahman's music tended to be heavy-handed and overly-dramatic, though "Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah" was suitably grand, and the choreography was impressive. The battle scenes were considerably less magnificent, though the shots of cannon fire were remarkable. Overall, the movie was extremely beautiful to look at, but the overt moralizing was a bit tiresome. However, it was nice to see a Muslim portrayed in a positive light for a change.
* Tattling *
There were quite a lot of people in the theater for a weeknight showing. Many cellular phones rang and were answered. Some children next to me would not stop moving for the 213 minutes of the film, they ran around, fidgeted, and whispered the whole time.
Jodhaa Akbar was not released in Rajasthan, as some Rajputs protested against the film's historical inaccuracies.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali denies rumors that he is to marry choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant. The director turned 45 last Sunday and says working on the opera Padmâvatî, which opens in a little over a fortnight, has been fun.
Théâtre du Châtelet is putting on Roussel's opera ballet Padmâvatî from March 14-24, 2008. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who directed the films Saawariya, Devdas, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, the dancing will be choreographed by Tanusree Shankar.
* Notes *
Rohit Shetty's comedic thriller Sunday opened a couple of weekends ago, and failed to become the first blockbuster of 2008. Ajay Devgan was entertaining as the corrupt ice-cream eating policeman ACP Rajveer Randhava, and Ayesha Takia was perfectly adorable as his goofy and forgetful dubbing artist love interest Sehar Thapar. Arshad Warsi (Ballu) and Irfan Khan (Kumar) were often hilarious comic relief and their fight scenes were particularly funny. The movie had quite a few jokes about other movies in it, and generally was all over the place, perhaps because of the mixed genre.
The muddled plot was not helped by the rather dull music, nor by the dancing. The word "Sunday" is incessantly repeated in the lyrics, and helpfully translated in the subtitles again and again. Esha Deol looked very pretty in her item number, but her appearance just added to the marked lack of focus overall.
* Tattling *
Along with making fun of other Hindi films, Sunday also includes a silly East Asian martial arts caricature, one of the minor characters is a small, ineffectual karate "expert" who emits high-pitched noises that are said to sound like Chinese.
The showing I went to in Fremont was poorly attended, there were barely a dozen people in the theatre.
A few weekends ago the BBC Asian Network's Love Bollywood reported that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Beyoncé Knowles will be in the forthcoming film Kambakth Ishq. Set in Los Angeles, the film is set to be released in India in May 2009, and stars Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor.
* Notes *
Madhuri Dixit made her return to the silver screen in Aaja Nachle, after a five year hiatus. She looks pretty great in the movie, considering she has had two kids since playing Chandramukhi in Devdas. Her dancing was lovely, and it was interesting to see a woman who just turned 40 as the main protagonist. Dixit was not completely convincing in the flashback scene from 11 years before the main part of the story, she just does not look like someone in her twenties. This is a minor point, Shah Rukh Khan does not always look like the 30 year old he was playing in Om Shanti Om either.
The film itself was charming. The plot is simple, basically about traditional culture versus capitalism, a dance school is threatened with demolition to make way for a mall. The heroine is strong and independent, she runs off to the United States and comes back to make good. Komal Nahata called the plot unoriginal, much like Lagaan, as that film involves villagers learning to play cricket so that they can cancel taxes they cannot afford to pay. In Aaja Nachle, the people of Shamli have to put on a musical version of Laila and Majnu. Certainly there are similarities, but I would argue it is a bit different, the transcendence of art being rather central to Aaja Nachle.
Though at times Aaja Nachle was slightly unbelievable and a little silly, for the most part it was quite cute. For instance, the production quality of the musical within a musical was far too good to be realistic, but it was good fun anyway. The music was not particularly catchy, and if asked, I could not hum a single tune from it.
The theater had less than 20 people in it, it was clear why Aaja Nachle was declared a flop.
Quite stupidly, I was on BART to Fremont just before a football game was to take place at the Oakland Coliseum. The fans screamed and such, and one jokingly threatened a person wearing paraphernalia of the opposing team. Indianapolis beat Oakland, 21-14.
I noticed that Masala Grill, near the Naz 8 Cinema, devotes an entire section of their menu to Desi-Chinese dishes such as sweet corn soup and ginger chicken.
Today NPR's Morning Edition aired a story on Sony and Saawariya, a film based on Dostoevsky's 1848 "White Nights." Saawariya was released the same weekend as Om Shanti Om, but was panned by critics, including Komal Nahata, the regular reviewer on the BBC Asian Network's Love Bollywood, who was interviewed for this story.
Both Saawariya and Om Shanti Om are still playing at the Naz 8 in Fremont. However, I was planning on seeing Aaja Nachle instead, though Nahata did not like it, Love Bollywood presenters Raj and Pablo did, and said the dancing was good. This is no surprise, given that Madhuri Dixit has training in Kathak, and the film Aaja Nachle is about saving a dance school.
* Notes *
I have this particular friend who has attended every performance with me at Seattle Opera. She is from the Bay Area, so we occasionally go to the opera in San Francisco when she is in town. Last year during the Thanksgiving holiday we spent 7 hours and 25 minutes listening to 3 operas in a mere 30 hours. This year I was not supposed to be around, so when my plans were changed at the last minute, I insisted that we see the opening of The Rake's Progress together, forcing her to travel from Fremont to San Francisco on BART early in the morning the day after Thanksgiving. Since she is moving to Germany at the end of the year, I figured I should let her spend some time with her family, and not drag her to see the Macbeth that showed yesterday and La Rondine, which was performed today. I thought the Macbeth would be particularly cruel to drag her to, considering she will be seeing plenty of Regieopern in Berlin. Additionally, the last time she heard Thomas Hampson was in Simon Boccanegra at the Met, and the last Macbeth she saw was pretty awful.
I regularly listen to the BBC Asian Network podcast of Love Bollywood, for I find the show rather entertaining. This year, their reviewer Komal Nahata has only liked one film, this being Om Shanti Om. The movie is also doing well at the box office. Since Fremont, where my dear friend is from and was staying this weekend, has a "Multicultural Entertainment Megaplex," I was sure Om Shanti Om would be there. As I suspected, the film was being shown every hour during the day, so I dragged my friend there 5 hours before her plane departed.
The film is absolutely hilarious, poking fun at the Hindi film industry with a charming light-heartedness. The first half is set in 1977, replete with fabulous costumes and glorious dance sequences. The second half is set in present day, and has tons of cameos and fun music. I laughed during many of the 168 minutes. Shah Rukh Khan was convincing both as a junior artist and a superstar. Newcomer Deepika Padukone makes a beautiful leading lady, she was suitably dignified when called on to be so, and also quite silly when necessary. The songs are good fun, I especially enjoyed "Dard-E-Disco" (Pain of Disco).
* Tattling *
We were nearly 10 minutes late to the cinema, but because my friend's flight was at 7pm, we were obliged to see the 2pm show. We sat in the center section, right in front of a pair of men. I tried my best to slouch. There was some speaking on the part of the audience, but it was not terribly distracting.
As I drove my friend to the airport, I admitted that I had enjoyed Om Shanti Om more than The Rake's Progress, but would only see the film once more, at least, so I can see the beginning. Undoubtedly I will try to hear William Burden and Laura Aiken at least two more times.