Monday, May 18, 2015

My cousin Rachel - 1952

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My Cousin Rachel was written by Daphne Du Maurier, a lovely noir romance about a femme fatale who could be murderous as well.  It was made into a Hollywood film starring Olivia de Havilland as Rachel and Richard Burton as Philip Ashley.

Philip Ashley
I had an inkling that Hollywood would mess up with this story and spent a major part of my day reading the book.  It was a page turner and I had no problem in reading it at a stretch.  Here is my review of the book.

Philip Ashley (Richard Burton) is a young orphan brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose. They live together happily on their estate in Cornwall.  As he gets older Ambrose Ashley finds he cannot bear the Cornwall winters anymore and goes to Florence.  On one such visit, he meets his cousin Rachel there and after a short courtship, gets married to her.  Soon after his wedding he falls ill.  He sends some letters home accusing Rachel of trying to kill him. 
Is that poison in my tea?

Another murder?
A distraught Philip goes to Florence but finds Ambrose dead and buried.  His wife has gone away from Florence for some unknown destination. Philip is convinced that Rachel had a hand in Ambrose's death.  When Rachel visits Cornwall, Philip invites her to stay with him and wants to have a showdown with her.   Rachel disarms him with her charm and wins him over. He is soon eating out of her hands.  But should he beware of her?

Olivia de Havilland is good as Rachel though she does look a little placid and matronly in places. Rachel needed someone sexy and mysterious. Richard Burton  is perfect as the impetuous Philip who is drawn to Rachel yet cannot help suspecting her of murder.
Rachel and Ashley

What is a big let down is the script which fails to follow the book to the letter and loses out. I am mystified about the reasons the makers of the film had to alter the end. The end of the book was so much better and the film would have been so much better if they had stuck to the same end.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pride and Prejudice - 1940

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This is the 1940 movie version of Pride and Prejudice made by MGM and directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  It stars Laurence Olivier as Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is the man I have a serious crush on at the moment.  I became a recent entrant to his fan club after I watched him play the delicious Maxim De Winter in Rebecca.

I saw him years ago in The Prince and the Showgirl, and I am afraid I did not like him much in that movie.  I revised my opinion after I saw Rebecca and am currently hunting for any Laurence Olivier movie I can lay my hands upon.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
We know the story of Pride and Prejudice well enough,  If you have not read the book, I expect you have seen the famous 1995 BBC series starring the Mr. Colin Firth.  This 1940 version differs from the novel quite a bit.  It is much higher on comedy and wit.  Not much of a surprise, as it was based on a stage adaptation of the novel by Helen Jerome.

Mr.Collins proposes to Lizzy
This version sparkles and has the viewer smiling constantly at the witty repartee and the uppity manners of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley and the silly antics of Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters.  Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her daughter, Anne, Mr. Collins also get a comic makeover.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Laurence Olivier has to look very haughty but manages to smile and exchange light-hearted repartees with  Greer Garson who plays Elizbeth Bennett.

Mr. Darcy being attentive to Elizabeth at Rosings
The first ill-worded proposal by Mr. Darcy

The happy ending in a lovely garden.

A purist may frown at the liberties taken with the script.  The overall effect of the movie is not spoiled, in my opinion.  Some events were completely chopped, like Elizabeth visiting Pemberley which was such a major part of the novel. Lady Catherine is not so villain-ish here.  I learn that the novel was set a little later in time so the characters could wear more ornate dresses.  The clothes that the Bennet girls wear belie their reduced circumstances. 

The movie is well made and completely entertaining. Greer Garson is wonderful as Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier looks very dashing as Mr. Darcy.


The actors are perfect in their role,   I always felt Mrs. Bennet should be a very attractive woman as she is the mother of such lovely girls.  I was glad to see a very attractive Mary Borland excel at playing Mrs. Bennet. Edmund Gwenn delivers the witty lines of Mr. Bennet with aplomb. In fact, it is hard for me to pick one favorite actor here, they are all so good.

Here is a list of the cast of the movie for the reader's reference, picked from the Wikipedia page of the movie.






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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wuthering Heights - 1939

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This 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, is more like an abridged version of the book. The story is limited to Cathy and Heathcliff, some parts tweaked to make the tale simpler and more palatable. Emily Bronte's novel is complex, with much coming and going between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as the story progresses. 
The movie opens with Mr. Lockheed (Miles Mander) arriving at Wuthering Heights on a stormy night and finding that he has to stay there perforce as his landlord, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) will not allow anyone to escort him back to Thrushcross Grange, which he has taken on rent.  At night, he is shown to Cathy's (Merle Oberon) old room and as the readers of the novel expect, there is a knock at the window in the middle of the night. Mr. Lockhead cries for help as he spots someone at the window.  Heathcliff throws the window open looking for Cathy and later, rushes out into the night crying her name.

The housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, Ellen (Flora Robson), then sits down to relate the strange tale of Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The movie goes into a flashback, and we see Mr. Earnshaw returning from one of his travels with a dark, ragged boy by his side.  Cathy takes to him readily and dreams up stories about his exotic past.  Hindley, her brother, is not happy with the new entrant into the family and beats him up at any opportunity he gets.  When his father dies, he banishes Heathcliff to the stables.

Cathy and Heathcliff run off to the moors at every opportunity they get and spend time together. They profess love for each other and are happy together. One day, Cathy hears music being played at Thrushcross Grange and goes over to the house to explore.  She is delighted by the sight of beautifully dressed ladies dancing.  She is thereafter torn between the genteel charms of Edgar (David Niven), the heir of Thrushcross, and the wild passion of Heathcliff.

Who does Cathy choose?  How does Heathcliff turn into a moneyed gentleman from a ragged stable boy?

I was eager to see the film as it starred Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.  It was a treat I did not want to miss. I was not disappointed, Olivier Laurence's dark good looks make him very suitable as Heathcliff.  He does full justice to as much of Heathcliff as he is allowed to portray. Of course, the script does not allow him the full scope of the diabolical Heathcliff of the novel, which is sad.

 I have never seen Merle Oberon but have heard a lot about her.  She is a pretty girl, no doubt about that. She makes a lovely Cathy.   David Niven cut a dashing figure as the gentle Edgar. Geraldine Fitzgerald put in a spirited performance as Isabel, Edger's sister.

The movie is beautifully made and beautifully acted by all. It does not do full justice to the book, which is one my favorites. I can see how hard it is to depict three generations of Earnshaws and Lintons in a movie.  On the other hand, a trilogy (a la Lord of the Rings) or a TV series would have been a better vehicle. 









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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miss Austen Regrets - 2007

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BBC Production - 2007

Gwyneth Huges imagines the last few years of Jane Austen's life in this BBC movie of the year 2007.

The movie starts with the big occasion that Jane supposedly looks back upon, the time when she accepted and then refused, the very next day, the proposal of marriage from Mr. Harris Bigg-Wither. We know when we learn what Mr. Bigg was really like, that Jane was right to refuse him. Her principled stand caused her to live in poverty for the rest of her days. It befits the writer of the best romance novels ever, to decide in favor of love and forgo thoughts of material comforts.

This is also the advice she gave Fanny Austen Knight, her niece when asked for her advice on whether or not to accept a proposal of marriage. She writes, "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".

Jane Austen remained single all her life. The movie imagines her last year and tries to work out whether she felt any regret at refusing Mr. Bigg. The movie also imagines a more suitable suitor for her, the one who could not wait and wonders if she felt any regret for having refused him.

It is a lovely script. It does not stray too far from the facts. There is a lot of witty dialog in here worthy of Jane. She admits that a man as perfect as Mr. Darcy can only be invented.

Olivia Williams does a wonderful job as Jane Austen, as does Greta Scacchi as Cassandra. Fanny Knight, whose quest for a partner is also a theme of the movie, is very effective. It is through her eyes that we get to take a look inside Miss Jane. We get to see dishy men like Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Bonneville too, for can we be far away from dishy men when we are reading Jane Austen?

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Aah - 1953

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Aah is a Raj Kapoor Nargis romance, a journey that began with Aag and ended with Chori Chori.  These movies have a very intense romance at its heart, a Heer Ranjha kind, where the hero and heroine are prepared to die for each other.

These movies were also an example of a very polished cinema, good story, interesting situations, lovely songs and lots of glamour.

Aah begins with a picture of an industrious Raj Kapoor, as Raj.  He is the son of a rich businessman, but loves to work.  He is busy on a building project that keeps him in an idyllic spot, full of lakes and waterfalls and greenery all around.  His father is eager to see him married to a girl that his mother ear marked for him. A Miss Chandra (Vijaylakshmi), who belongs to a well-to-do family.  Raj wants to know the girl better before he can commit himself, so he writes to her.

Chandra is not pleased.  She does not want to go and live in a jungle, and asks her younger sister Neelu (Nargis) to write on her behalf.  Neelu is charmed by the poetry in Raj's letter.  She responds warmly, and soon they are corresponding with each other.

Neelu and Raj decide to bring their story to the notice of Neelu's father and set things right.  But Raj fails to make an appearance on the appointed day. Neelu is distraught and nearly turns mad.  She feels even worse when Raj appears in her house, but as the beau of her sister, Chandra.  Will she be able to survive this cruel blow to her heart?  More importantly, why is Raj behaving this way?

Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Pran own their parts.  These actors acted in so many different movies, but even so, they allow themselves to inhabit the identity of the Neelu, Raj and Kailash completely.  We are carried along the story, and moved by it.  Even though it takes a melodramatic turn here and there, and we are on tenterhooks about certain characters being on verge of death.  For a while I was sure that the film was going to go downhill after the first hour was up, but the plot threw a googly at me and I was riveted.

Unlike so many movies of that era, where the songs were the only saving grace of the film, in this film the songs complement the movie, instead of being the only stand out point.  And what lovely songs these are:

1. Aaja re, ab mera dil pukara
2. Raja ki aayegi baraat
3. Raat andheri
4. Jaane na nazar, pehchane jiga
5. Jhanan Jhanan ghoongarwa baaje
6. Ye shaam ki tanhaiyan, aise me tera gham
7. Chhoti si yeh zindagani re
8. Sunte the naam ham

Here is a link to a jukebox filled with the songs of Aah.

Vijaylakshmi as Chandra also acquits herself well, she gets to sing the beautiful Sunte the naam ham. Pran plays the role of Kailash, Raj's best friend and companion.  He has very few lines, but as he is privy to all the drama that is going on, his sympathetic silence is very evocative.

The plot of the movie is very uncluttered.  There is no comic sub-plot, and the main story has enough twists to carry the film on its steam.  It is a very good example of a strong script that is the most important thing in a film.

A lovely film from the 50s that should not remain unseen.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rang Rasiya II - 2014

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Rang Rasiya was a visual feast. Raja Ravi Varma is played by the handsome Randeep Hooda, his muse Sugandha is played by the beautiful Nandana Sen. The canvases of Ravi Varma are presented in their beautiful glory. But how much of it is factual?

I knew nothing about the life of the Painter, and wikipedia is not always the best means to gain knowledge, not if you want to a lot about the subject, that is.  Hence, I read a book by Deepanjana Pal called The Painter.  I have written about the book separately here, and will not be going into it again.
What I want to do here, is to verify the story used in Rang Rasiya. 

The story of the movie goes thus.  (The plot is laid out in entirety and hence full of spoilers). Ravi Varma faces a trial in court for painting obscene images.  He faces an accusation that he used the title Raja wrongly.  He is also charged with mooching off his wife's money.  This is the cue for Ravi Varma to go into a flashback.  He was married to the Princess of Mavelikara.  He spent his time painting which was looked down upon.  His wife's taunts disheartened him.  Hence he started painting portraits of a servant woman.  The servant lady also seduced him.  Enraged, his wife threw him out.

He went to the court of Travancore where he was bestowed the title of Raja. The brother and heir of the king was jealous of this attention. When the King died, his successor threw Ravi Varma out.  The old Dewan of Travancore arranges a meeting between Sayaji Rao of Baroda and Ravi Varma.  This is where Ravi Varma discovers Sugandha praying in a temple.  When Sayaji Rao commissions a set of paintings, Ravi Varma decides to go on a tour of India.  On a night in Benaras, Ravi Varma sees Sugandha as a goddess and comes back to paint her.

He has a torrid affair with Sugandha.  At the time he also meets a Parsi girl Frenny (Feryna Weizhir).  His relations with Frenny are platonic, though he does go around with her.  After a while he decides to establish a printing press to reproduce oleographs of his art.  He faces setbacks in his business, his press is burned down, he has to face a court case and loses Sugandha.

Frenny helps him out of his despondency and urges him to take up painting once again.  He feels Sugandha is still close to him and picks up his brush.

These are the points, as far as I could detect, where the story of Ravi Varma differed.

Ravi Varma's use of the title Raja was never contested in his lifetime, but it was a bit of cheating on his part to use it.  He did claim that he was prefixing the name of his uncle - Raja Raja Varma - as a mark of respect.

Raja Ravi Varma never faced the court in his lifetime.  He did attend a trial of a case of obscenity against another printing press.  He was anxious about the outcome, as the result of the case could affect him as well.  Some of the prints he produced were provocative.  He was relieved when the case was dismissed.

Ravi Varma's wife was seen as a shrew in the movie, A lady who forbids him to paint and acts all vampish around him.  It is indicated that Ravi Varma left home because of that and never had anything more to do with her.  In reality, Ravi Varma visited her often, and they had five children together.  They did stand by each other.  Ravi Varma was a fond father who took care of the art training of his sons.  He arranged for his granddaughter to be adopted by the royal family of Travancore.

His close relationship with his brother is well depicted in the movie, but the rest of his family is cut out.  In fact, he was a devoted family man who followed the customs and diktats of society as much as possible.

The movie cuts out some events of his life, which is understandable.  A movie has to fast forward and cannot linger too much on each event of a person's life.  Hence, the flashback on the Painter's life starts with his wedding to the Princess of Mavelikara. From there it jumps to his stint in the Travancore court.  The Raja of Travancore did not bestow the title of Raja to him.  He fell out of favor when the Raja died and his brother took over the rule.

The movie jumps again to the second Baroda Commission before which Ravi Varma undertook an extended tour around India.  Sayaji Rao had given a generous commission to Ravi Varma for creating 14 paintings of India, scenes from the scriptures and ancient tales.  He wanted the paintings to be generic to India, not belonging to any specific region.  In order to decide the generic look, Ravi Varma toured India.  His model-mistress did not appear till much later in his life.  But in the film this is where Sugandha comes into his life.

Sugandha can be seen as personification of all the models who inspired him to paint the way he did.  Most of his models were women of the streets, hence Sugandha is also a prostitute.

In the movie, the man who keeps Sugandha as a mistress is indirectly blamed for burning of the Press owned by Ravi Varma.  In fact, the press did suffer a fire, but only in 1975 which was way after the life of Ravi Varma ended.

Ravi Varma is seen as a colorful character who slept with women and was a sensual man.  He did have that sort of a reputation.  His love of social life was well documented.  He did have female friends, though there is no firm evidence of his philandering,  Given his circumstances, he could have been a philanderer.

As depicted in the movie, he was friends with Dada Saheb Phalke who later went on to be a pioneer in making films in India.

The chronology of events in Ravi Varma's life are fiddled with.  In the movie he has been shown as a young man for a long time.  Most events happened in his life when he was well into his forties.

All this apart, the movie does present the man and his art in a very attractive manner and has served to draw attention to him.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rang Rasiya - 2014

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I must admit, I went to see the movie for Randeep Hooda.


I saw him first in Monsoon Wedding.  He had a side role there. A good role, but not the leading role.  He made other movies, but I did not see any of those.  Not even the acclaimed D Company.  I happened to see Highway much after it released early this year.  The movie made me sit up.  Not only was it an amazingly well made movie, it also starred Randeep Hooda in the grey role of a criminal who falls for the girl he kidnaps.  He was fabulous as Mahabir Bhatti in Highway, and I wanted more.

Hence, when Rang Rasiya released, I wasted no time in booking my ticket.

I must also admit, I knew Raja Ravi Varma was a famous painter, and I had seen his prints here and there. I knew he was at times derided as a kitschy Calender Artist.  Then there was a sudden revival of interest in the artist and he was spoken of highly once again.  All this I knew, but knew hardly anything about him.

I did go to see Randeep Hooda, and he delivers magnificently as the artist. But I came away intrigued by this Painter. His life and times, as depicted in the movie, are very interesting.  Right away, I downloaded the book that the movie has been based on, Ranjit Desai's 'Raja Ravi Varma'.  I have also read a few pages of Deepanjana Pal's book, 'The Painter'.  Believe me, it carries a wealth of information about the times Raja Ravi Varma grew up in.

Ketan Mehta creates stunning visuals in the movie. The actors, all of them, act wonderfully.  Randeep Hooda is of course an accomplished actor.  The movie has Darshan Jariwala, Paresh Rawal, Ashish Vidyarthi, Tom Alter, Vikram Gokhle in several roles.  The beautiful Nandana Sen plays Sugandha, the muse/soulmate (as per the movie) of the Painter.  Nandana's Bengali diction gets in the way at times, but she is perfect as the woman who inspired the painter with her lissome body, her thick, curly tresses and grey eyes.

There is a bit of nudity and a few sex scenes in the film.  But it is done very tastefully.  There is one stunning sequence where the Painter and his muse color each others as a sort of an elaborate foreplay before making love.  It was handled so aesthetically that it was not titillating at all.

The movie can be classified as an art movie. Alas, such movies rarely draw crowds.  Years ago I saw the brilliant "Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi" which had just a few people in the hall.  This movie also had hardly any viewers.  It is sad that the same people who throng the halls for movies like 'Kick' and 'Happy New Year' will not step out for a lovely film like this.

This movie has beautiful songs as well.  The music is composed by Sandesh Shandilya and they lyrics are by Manoj Muntashir.  Here is one of songs which has been ringing in my ears.

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