Monday, February 25, 2008

How Jalaluddin becomes Akbar and gets his girl

Ashutosh Gowrikar begins at the begining, to explain to us WHY Jalauddin marries Jodha. Jalal wants to blend in, not forever spend his life as an outsider bent upon conquering and pillaging India. Then, to bring out the romance between Jodha and Akbar, Ashutosh wanted to delay the consummation of wedding, which means he has to come up with valid reasons for the same. So in come the issues Jodha has with the cross-cultural marriage. I have started thus, because a lot of people have accused JA of being rather long and pointless at times.

Maybe in reality the proceedings between Akbar and Jodha were tad less romantic. Akbar was short and stocky and had an unsightly mole on his face. Jodha’s clothes were possibly not this well co-ordinated. I dont know how fastidious the couple was about physical hygiene. I even read somewhere that Jodha converted to Islam, her children were certainly brought up as Muslims.

But then the whole idea of romance is to throw a beautiful veil over reality so that we are left clutching our breast and sighing as a beautiful royal couple inch closer to each other throughout the movie. There was a happy couple seated next to me in the cinema hall and the girl had her head on the shoulder of guy during the consummation scene (Sigh Sigh).

The movie moves at a slow pace, savouring the twists in the plot, lingering over made up history. In the meantime, there is plenty to admire in the movie, the grand landscapes, the elobrate forts, grand rooms, the wonderful clothes, the breathtaking jewellery. My eyes widened at Aishwarya’s beauty showcased in those gorgeous clothes and jewellery. She quite looks the part of a regal princess, and for a change, does not botch up the acting. Thank god, she had no ’Sunehri’ lines here. Hritik makes a handsome king, he carries off the arrogance, the urdu diction , and the topi quite well. The expressions flit across his face. Here is an actor totally comfortable with what he does. He is completely believable as Jalaluddin Mohammed.

I quite liked the supporting cast, Sonu Sood as the unhappy Surajmal. Ila Arun as Mahamanga, Punam Sinha as the Begam, the hunky villian Nikitin Dheer as Sharifuddin (he rocked in the final hand to hand combat).

Now for my take on the story. A very Hindu Jodha finds herself married to Jalaluddin Mohammed and is sure she is going to be miserable. But she finds at the outset, that her mother-in-law is a warm and a loving person. She makes Jodha feel at home. The nasty king is actually a handsome well mannered creature who (surprise surprise) RESPECTS her. But our skittish girl leads the king to a merry dance before he can get into her royal bed. In fact, his riyaya ( sorry urdu hangover - meaning his janta) accepts him before Jodha does. Thanks to his summary dismissal of the hindu pilgrimage tax, they bestow upon him the title of AKBAR which means GREAT. But he has to vanquish some more enemies before he can live happily ever after. For this we get a wow hand to hand combat scene which could have been right out of WWF. After which Akbar shows the meddling clerics who is the boss, and gets to plug for Hindu-muslim ekta. As history shows Akbar really did care for all religions, I will not say Ashutosh was trying to put in a pop message for highlighting this.

Haider Ali (the writer) tries not to use too many esoteric urdu or hindi words, and confound the modern viewer. I liked the music, it was very apt. As the marriage immediately benefits the pilgrims to Ajmer Sharif, it is appropriate that the wedding was serenaded by Khwaja Mere Khwaja. It seems that the people who were put off by the song have not heard of the spinning dervesh and the sufi qwaali during which the devout would often get up and dance. Azeemoshan Shehenshah was a magnificent presentation. Kehne ko jash baharan and Inn Lamhon ke daaman are also well presented and very romantic.

The length of the movie did not bother me, I was totally engrossed. I loved the historical references
(faulty at times), I loved the grand spread and I loved the romance. Maybe the younger generation was a bit put off by these factors, but not me.

Only thing that mystified me was the thanks offered up to Shatrughan Sinha in the credits. Why? For letting his beautiful wife act in the movie?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Best Friend's Wedding - 1997

The first time I saw My Best Friend's Wedding, I did not appreciate it at all. I was in a bad mood maybe and was horrified at the successful career woman Julianne running after an obvious MCP Michael and his doormat-in-the-making girlfriend Kimmy. I have some recollection of writing something on it, kind of an early blog, along the lines of - 'Please Julianne, do not demean yourself.'

I have mellowed now, a movie is a movie. It is one of those eternal timepass movies, the equivalent of a good Mills and Boon, where you can suspend your better judgment and just be swept away in beautiful visuals, good acting, and marvelous songs. It seems to actually get better with each viewing.

The story is about a couple of out-of-touch best friends Michael and Julianne who had a torrid affair once. Michael and Julianne have teetered deliciously on the edge of friendship and love ever since. Julianne is a successful food critic based in New York and Michael is a sports journalist based in Chicago.

One day Michael calls up Julianne and announces that he is getting married and wants Julianne to see him through that.

 "It's amazing the clarity that comes with psychotic jealousy. "

Says George Downs Julianne's Editor and her current best friend when Julianne suddenly realizes that SHE wants Michael and runs off to Chicago to break up her best friends wedding.

The movie looks like a wedding planner's dream come true. The bride's side is always dressed in some pleasing shade of pastel, some variant of the color pink, blue, orange or floral. Julianne, the sensible career woman is dressed in browns and grays. The father of the bride owns a sports channel and is stinking rich. This allows the film to have several lavish sets. Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) looks ravishing with her blue eyes and babydoll clothes and hair. Julianne (Julia Roberts) looks amazing with her big hair that curls all over the place, a wonderful shade of warm brown, and with her equally warm brown eyes. Michael looks like a boy next door that girls always flip for, not forbiddingly handsome, but very likable. And don't even get me started on Rupert Everett. He looks very, very handsome.

Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) is the girl who has knocked the socks off Michael. Young, soft, yielding Kimmy seems totally romantic and impulsive. She believes that if you love someone you say it right then, and out loud.

Michael (Dermot Mulroney) is the wholesome middle-class guy who lives by his sweat. He works hard as a sports journalist and loves his job. He enjoys it despite the long hours, erratic schedules and a lousy pay. He always thought Julianne was his kind of a woman until he meets Kimmy.

Julianne (Julia Roberts) is the total career woman, the New Woman who does not think she lags behind men in any aspect. She is able to handle her career quite well, thank you. She can knock back drinks and not resort to any feminine wiles to woo men. She is a tomboy grown into a gorgeous woman in a sort of a denial of her charms. She is a commitment phobic and does not have any relationship that lasts a couple of weeks.

George (Rupert Everett) is Julianne's editor and her current best friend. He has this quizzical expression when dealing with Julianne because she surprises him constantly. He is smart, urbane, well entrenched in the art circles of New York yet is grounded enough to be able to see things as they really are. He is willing to stand by his best friend, Julianne forever and not pass a judgment on her. At the same time, he can give her hard-headed advice too, as a true friend should. What I love best is the way he drops everything at hand to be with his best friend in times of need. He looks divine, gorgeous, yummy.. somebody stop me.....

The film has a lovely soundtrack. 'Wishing and Hoping' the title track performed by Ani Defranco is really sweet. The topping on the cake is obviously Diane King covered 'Say a little prayer for you' which is practically the theme song of the film. There are other nice songs in the movie, but I like these the best.

There are some wonderful sequences in the movie, which are heartbreakingly poignant. When Michael tells Jules, "Kimmy says if you love someone you say it, you say it right then, out loud. Otherwise the moment just...passes you by". Jules has this bittersweet look on her face because she knows that the moment has passed her by. Then there is the difficult confession towards the end when Julianne knows she has to come clean and confess to the dirty tricks she has been playing to get Michael.  After that, the feisty catfight scene in the ladies washroom when the docile Kimmy springs her claws and goes publicly for the scheming Julianne.

But the scene I can watch many times over without tiring is the lunch scene where George joins Julianne as her newly declared fiance. Kimmy's mother leans over and asks George how he met Julianne. Julianne says, "Oh, he is my editor". But our flamboyant George is on a romantic roll and this is too bland for him. He launches into a hilarious over the top purple prose like description of their first meeting closing with all the guests at the lunch happily joining in as he sings 'In the morning when I wake up, before I put on me make-up, I say a little prayer for you'.

For me, the movie stands out for the lovely performances by the leading quartet of Cameron Diaz, Dermot Mulroney, the incomparable Julia Roberts and my favorite Rupert Everett. He starts the movie with Julia Roberts and rightfully closes it too, dancing with her to cheer her up. The movie would surely not have been the same without him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A rose is a rose

Anyone who reads books has heard about The Namesake, written by Jhumpa Lahiri. It won the Pulitzer prize and was on the bestseller list too, the blurbs tell us. Mira Nair even made a successful movie on the book.

A friend of mine who read the book raved about it, and lent it to me. Luckily I had some free time on my hands at the time and read through the book almost at a stretch.

The book started a little jerkily, just before the arrival of Gogol in the world. Ashima Ganguly, displaced from Calcutta to USA, is yearning for taste of home in her pregnancy and has made a bit of chivda (or whatever the bengali's call it). She suddenly feels the labour pains coming on and is rushed to the hospital. She gives birth to a baby boy. Ashima and her husband Ashoke cannot even think of abandoning the conventions of their culture. Back home, the baby would have been named lovingly by some elder in the family. In fact, the name is on the way, posted by way of a letter. The baby's formal name is put on the hold, and the child is given a pet name, Gogol. Through a series of circumstances, Gogol never acquires a formal name.

The story, of course, is about how easily Ashima and Ashoke balance their Bengali and American way of life, and how hard it is for Gogol/Nikhil to do that. His attitude towards his name reflects his attitude towards the Bengali way of life and also towards the American way of life. He goes through his life, picking up american girlfriends, and an indian wife. How he finally makes peace with himself when he says at one time "Actually there is no such thing as a perfect name".

As we live, we learn more about ourselves (atleast some of us do). And it is these lessons that are the most valuable.

However, the standout point of the books is not so much the theme, good as it is. The standout point is the style and language. NEVER PRETENTIOUS. So much so, that the first couple of chapters almost sounded humdrum to me. Then the effect kicked in. The author was skillfully picking up sounds inside the heads of various characters and relaying them to us. She knew exactly how much to tell us about the character and at what time. Some facts are held up to whet our curiosity, and when we learn about them, it makes shivers run through us.

I was blown away because the story is so ordinary, and is so well told that it seems extraordinary.

I have always loved the short stories of Nikolai Gogol. He was a favorite of Ashoke Ganguly as well. He was once in a train accident when he was a young man in India, and reading a book by Gogol at the time. This accident and his surivival is his most life-altering moment, and is inextricably linked to Gogol. When time comes for him to name his firstborn, he thinks of Gogol. His son does not share his sentiments fully and hates Gogol the writer. At the end of the book, when he is at peace with himself, he picks up a book by Gogol, gifted to him by his father, and starts reading it.

Our names are the legacies bestowed upon us by our parents. Ram Khilawan may get a fancy schooling later and try to mask his downmarket name by calling it RK, or Ram K Prasad. Not being named flamboyantly like Amitabh Bachchan, poor Jatin Khanna calls himself Rajesh Khanna. Ava wrestles with her unusual name and bears the jibes of her classmates and some insensitive elders. What kind of a name is Ava? ask the philistines who never heard (in those times) of Ava Gardner.

But alas, I do not have the writing style of Jhumpa Lahiri and cannot write a book about my ordinary life and make it linger in the minds of readers like the fragrance of fresh jasmine.