New Reviews

This blog is on hiatus. While I still enjoy Bollywood tremendously, there are many other aspects of my life I’m enjoying right now in place of watching and reviewing more films. I hope that the information here helps those who stumble upon it to appreciate Bollywood films, to watch more, to collect some for their library, and to do further research of their own!

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Aaja Nachle, 2007

Directed by Anil Mehta, Story by Aditya Chopra

Image source:

It is clear that this film is solely a Madhuri Dixit vehicle, and by vehicle I mean advertising bicycle cart that she rides while shouting through a megaphone, twirling her so-2008 neck scarf and shaking her Calvin Klein-jeaned bootie. I understand that in real life, Madhuri lives in Denver now, so she can’t just pop over to Mumbai to play the mum or do a wink-wink cameo, but Aaja Nachle is not the right answer to “how do we throw fans a bone/gain new US fans?” She’s talented enough she could be cast in Hollywood movies, but that’s a doubtful possibility, since Hollywood’s not exactly known for pursuing older foreign ladies unless they have a British accent, spiderweb tats, and laudable bosoms or unless they have a British accent and don’t mind playing a grumpy witch.

The plot of the movie centers on a girl, Diya, from a medium-sized village; she is in a popular dance troupe but ends up running away with a National Geographic photographer on the night of her arranged marriage to a sad puppy-dog of a restaurateur. Once in America, the marriage ends, but not before a daughter is produced. Diya makes her living as a dance instructor until she learns her troupe leader  back home is dying and the dance troupe is defunct. Diya returns to her village to bring the troupe back to life and win everyone she wronged back to her side–and in the one surprise of the movie, she wins them back not by repentance but by persistent good spirits. Everything is predictable in this movie, but I have to give it props for hiring unknowns to play the role of the villagers who want to become the stars of the dance troupe. These actors looked and danced  like regular people. Unfortunately, that bit of realism doesn’t make the film any more enjoyable, since–let’s be honest–we watch Bollywood for the beauty of the actors and the dance, not its realistic charm.

The film contains several infuriating bits (which are in no way related to naughty bits). It is no surprise that Bollywood would have annoying sidekicks or inexplicable changes of mind, but Aaja Nachle tests the limits of audience’s patience. First, the annoying sidekick is Diya’s 12-year-old daughter—a frumpy, bespectacled, Hindi-accented cynic. The daughter grew up in New York, was isolated from Hindi friends and family, and can only speak Hindi poorly–yet she speaks with a heavy Hindi accent. Her whining, criticial nature may be meant to make up for the “Americanness” lacking in the rest of her–and for this I could cut them some slack, since movies everywhere can too easily cross the line when attempting cute precociousness.  The other main infuriating bit is that right before the main character elopes with the photographer, she tells him, “I’m an Indian girl. We only do this  [marriage] once.” Yet bam–she marries and divorces him within a couple seconds of narration. She must have meant, “We only do this once to Indians, but to everyone else we can do it as much as we want!”

Song Highlights

Source: Yash Raj’s YouTube account.

Aside from Madhuri’s presence, the songs save the movie. The title song, performed with what must be assumed is a crack team of expert dancers flown in to the village for a demo show, is energetic and slick, if meaningless. “Show Me Your Jalwa” showcases an interesting bit of Indian society, the advertising wagon with megaphone (this could be rare, but there’s no way for me to know).  It also shows the dominance of reality competition shows and most people’s fascination with bad auditions, as the plot moving forward in the song is of the auditions for the dance troupe. I do enjoy the lyrics for this song, especially the line “It makes the world go crazy about you” to describe that quality special just to yourself that could make you a star. “Dance with Me” opens the film and seems like a lost Debbie Gibson track. The choreography is fun but not at all Bollywood. I have always thought it a shame that Madhuri has had to do so much modern hip-hoppy choreography, since her excellence lies in the slower, smoother expressive movements of classical dance. Of the other songs, which are not bad, a standout is “Yeh Ishq”—part of the narration for the big dance performance at the end of the movie. It, too, is not so much Bollywood that I am used to, but is still affecting in a way that is similar to “Dastaan-E-Om Shanti Om” in Om Shanti Om (which itself is more than a shade of Phantom of the Opera).

Tidbits: This was Madhuri’s first film after 6 years of leave from Bollywood and she has also not made a film since. The story writer (Aditya Chopra) is responsible for two of the biggest Bollywood hits of the 90’s, DDLJ and DTPH.

Rating: (2 Tuffys) The plot, acting, and overall feeling of the movie is not compelling (although it is well-made–these low marks are not for quality of photography).

Library Collection: If you are gunning for the big Bollywood blockbusters, this isn’t it. However, if you already have a well-rounded collection, or your patron base is 30-50-year-old Indian women, this is a good choice for something extra.

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Om Shanti Om, 2007

Directed, screenplay, and story by Farrah Khan

Image source:

Isn’t it fun to hang out with a friend and talk entirely in in-joke-speak? And isn’t it equally as not-fun to hang out with two other friends that spend the whole conversation making inside jokes in another language?

These are the two experiences available to you when viewing Om Shanti Om.  Rife with in-the-know references, throw-away name-droppings, and Easter-egg type film trivia in the background (such as a billboard advertising Sholay in its umpteenth-week of release), Om Shanti Om is great fun for the Bollywood enthusiast but only a glittery, bewildering, rollicking ride for the uninitiated. Even the genre is a spoof—being of the reincarnation plot type. As the film begins sometime in the Bombay film industry in the 1970’s, a sense of place is set by referencing directors and actors of the day. The character meant to be a famous actress (with more than a few shades of Dimple Kapadia) even has a movie-within-the-movie scene where she has been inserted (in an unfortunately untidy fashion) digitally into video with Dilap Kumar. Tension builds slowly, especially towards the death of the main character—which you know must happen because the movie is marketed as a reincarnation film. After the reincarnation, the pace picks up and I was surprised to be drawn in. As ridiculous as the plot was (even compared to other Bollywoods), there was something more earnest and earthy about it than I am used to.

Another fascinating aspect of the film is its de-emphasis on romance. There is love in the pre-reincarnation scenes, but it is what you could call courtly love. Don’t be fooled that that makes it paltry, though–it is one of the most convincing portrayals of strong human bonds that I have seen in any film. In the post-incarnation characters, the remnants of the bond still thread throughout, but no hint of chemistry between the two leads is given. It’s refreshing for a movie to embrace this kind of story without falling into gooey romance.

One of my main critiques of the film is just a general critique of the times. Bollywood actresses used to have distinct features. They were beautiful, but they didn’t all look like Hindi Barbie—this was true even into the 90’s (Madhuri, Karisma, Kajol, even Aishwarya is distinct). They hadn’t bought into the twiggy ideal of the West. Now, though, I could hardly tell one star cameo-ing at a party scene from another.

Song Highlights

Source: Eros Entertainment’s released promo for the film

The music director team of Vishal-Shekhar received high critical praise for their work on this film, and it’s obvious why. They capture the spirit of Bollywood music while  spoofing its main characteristics. Most songs are memorable, but the highlights are “Dard-e-Disco” and “Deewangi Deewangi.” In “Dard-e-Disco,” Shahrukh Khan, by whom I always must wait to be enchanted (putting me in a great minority of Bollywood fans), reveals his newly chiseled physique while dancing with a bevy of anorexic white girls (and one anorexic black girl). This is not Bollywood as I know it, but it plays on the self-centered quality of stars (perhaps giving a little poke to Salman Khan?) while at the same time pandering to the star-crazed fans by having Shahrukh shirtless and doused with water. “Deewangi Deewangi” is the most in-joke scene of the film, as star after star enters a party for the main character. This made me feel old but wise, since I didn’t recognize most of the current Bollywood stars but I knew Dharmendra and Govinda. It was lovely to see Shahrukh dance with Karisma and Kolja, and it seemed there was a special spark with those leading ladies of “old” which the new girls could never achieve (but how much more fun if Madhuri and Ash had stopped by!).

Tidbits: Speaking of Salman Khan, I wish he had gone on the same workout training as Shahrukh did to prepare for this film–but to bulk-down instead of up. When Salman appeared in his cameo, I cheered, but my cheering quickly turned to blanching at how overgrown he is—and his incessant neediness to have others notice.

Rating   (3 Tuffys) This rating is based on my usual rating of how accessible it will be to a Western audience.

Library Collection: There are equally good “current” examples of Bollywood that don’t require a crash course in Bollywood history (on the other hand, it may spur you on to expand your knowledge). For the Bollywood fans, though, this is an absolute must.

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Symphony Celestial: Kathak (2003)

Pali Chandra, Invis Multimedia

Source: indiavideo’s YouTube account.

This is part of a series of reviews for research into the dance of Bollywood films.

Depending on where you live, it is highly likely that it is impossible for you to learn about Indian classical dance first-hand. This and the video on Bharatanatyam should help you enormously, whether you want to learn the dances yourself or to have more information on what types of choreography have influenced Bollywood over the years.

Kathak dancing is one of the most well-known of the Indian classical dance genres. The dancer here is expressive and skilled. The narration interprets the movements of the dance as they are happening. Some of the dances move quite slowly, which is an adjustment from the faster Bollywood dances.

Rating (5 Tuffys)

Library Collection: Apparently the only way it is available as of today is in this set (I have only seen the Kathak video). Considering the number of dances you get and the quality of the narration, though, it’s almost a steal! As with the other videos, it is appropriate for a large patron base that is research-oriented or for a public library community that is seeking to engage many ethnicities while educating others about them as well.

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Understanding Bharatanatyam (1998)

Insight Media (click on Dance and then World Dance)

Source: indiavideo’s YouTube account. This is not a clip from the video itself.

This is part of a series of reviews for research into the dance of Bollywood films.

Depending on where you live, it is highly likely that it is impossible for you to learn about Indian classical dance first-hand. This and the video on Kathak dancing should help you enormously, whether you want to learn the dances yourself or to have more information on what types of choreography have influenced Bollywood over the years.

Bharatanatyam is one of the main genres of Indian classical dance and seems to have equal influence as Kathak on Bollywood choreography, especially the dramataic eye movements and facial expressions. These dances tend to be faster paced. The hostess describes the dances before they are shown, so that during the dance there are only the sounds of the music and shouting of the dancers. The hostess is so expressive that it is almost comic, but this is a part of the style and an important way to understand why Bollywood actors seem so dramatic.

Rating (5 Tuffys)

Library Collection: As with the Folk Dances video, the price may turn you off. Again, though it is from Insight Media and of high quality. This video is appropriate for a large patron base that is research-oriented or for a public library community that is seeking to engage many ethnicities while educating others about them as well.

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Janavak: Folk Dances of India (2000)

Insight Media (click on Dance and then World Dance)

Video source: This is not a clip from the video itself.

This is part of a series of reviews for research into the dance of Bollywood films.

If you are interested in analyzing the folk dances of India to seek their influence on Bollywood choreography, this is the best source you will be able to find short of visiting India and seeing the folk dances live (which may in any case be impossible due to the dwindling of dancers and native knowledge of the dances). The Janavak company of India performs dances from many areas of India with appropriate musical accompaniment. The voiceover narration is invaluable in describing the characteristics and meanings of the dances. If you have seen many Bollywood films, you will recognize many of the movements from many famous song sequences.

Rating: (5 Tuffys)

Library Collection: While the price tag may turn you off from purchasing, I encourage you to make the investment if you are studying this topic or if your library supports a large dance research facility. Insight Media is one of the few high-quality documentary subject film producers still in existence.

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Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, 1995

Directed and screenplay by Aditya Chopra

Though the romantic plot of this phenomenally successful film is tired, the details getting the characters into the plot were charmingly different at the time. Both leads were children of Indians living in Britain. The male lead is a rich playboy who fails to graduate, but instead of being angry, his father sends him backpacking through Europe. The female lead is a daughter of a middle class gas station owner who manages to convince her conservative dad to allow her a Europe trip of her own before she has to marry her arranged fiance in India. You can guess what happens when the two leads end up on the same train. The story eventually follows them both to India, where the male lead pretends to bump into the groom and tries to ingratiate himself with the family. The strangest piece of the story happens near the end, where most Bollywoods have trouble sustaining a climax while pulling together all the strands they have accumulated. There is an extremely awkward beating/stoning scene that ends with a clunk that would never make it through a writing workshop, but hey, this is Bombay, y’all. Wink and let it pass.

Song Highlights: I had a fever of 102 when I watched this movie, which was entirely the wrong sort of hallucinatory state to be in. I’d recommend a couple glasses of a nice zin. That way, when the movie gets to the scene where the female lead becomes drunk (accidentally) and whirls through several locations with her male lead (and, until then, rebuffed playboy suitor), you don’t care so much about the terrible lyrics and can enjoy the one good tune in the whole shebang. You, too, might find yourself dancing poolside and running barefoot through the snow.

Tidbits: Shahrukh Khan was already pretty famous when he starred in this movie, and DDLJ (as it is referred to) cemented that status. Kajol, playing the female lead, also rose to stardom due to this film’s success, but not as high as some, such as Madhuri and Ash.

DDLJ was the first film to prominently feature Indians living abroad, and also to really exploit the ability to film in locales around the world. After this, many films featured both of those characteristics.

Rating: 5 Tuffys. Although I do not care for this film, it is a beloved favorite of many, especially (perhaps?) girls who were diasporic teens when it came out. Its trite romantic plot is easily digested by Western audiences spoon-fed Hollywood rom-coms. And–this, to me, is sad and weird–because the songs are not of that high quality, they will be easier on Western ears.

Library Collection: A must because of its popularity in either a historic or entertainment collection.

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“Bollywood Homicide” Psych 4.6


You can watch the opening theme song here. Hulu has disabled embedding in a way that wordpress allows .

This episode was classic Psych through and through, from Shawn’s heckling of Lassiter (“Really? You’re down to hair jokes now?”), to Shawn calling Gus a different name, to Gus’s exasperation with Shawn (“Don’t go boneless on me, Shawn”), to Shawn misusing a word (“It’s called surveillance. I surveillate things. I’m a purveyor of surveillarism”–and a side note here that it’s not as cute to make up words when a word already exists in that form–e.g., “I survey things”), to Shawn saying the line that needs to be retired and put behind a locked glass case with all its medals and certificates, “I’ve heard it both ways.”

The writers of the show incorporated the Bollywood plot just the same as they incorporate other special elements–without knowing winks. This isn’t a terrible thing here; it’s a characteristic of the show that everything is just a flat backdrop for the main characters to riff in front of. [update: I watched the commentary for this episode. It’s strange that they had a Bollywood fan on staff but didn’t use that knowledge to make any references. On the other hand, I would wager a fair chunk of change on the fact that I am one of less than 10 Psych viewers who would have caught any reference anyway.]

The best thing about the episode was the reworking of the theme song. The blending of different styles of music was a perfect example of Bollywood, down to the use of the instruments and melody lines. I only have two complaints. One is general: so much Bollywood music these days sounds too much like the score from The Lion King. The other is specific: I wish the composers had chosen to have the “I know you know” phrase shouted by a group of Indian men, preferably also in Hindi,  and not just incorporated as a sample from the original theme song.

The second best thing came at the end when Shawn performed the customary “stand and explain the evil mastermind’s actions while everyone gamely waits to proceed with killing/kicking butt until you’re finished” (See Rowling, J.K., 12 pages in the last chapter of every book). A man walked past and threw a handful of color onto Shawn (because it was Holi) as he was in the middle of the sentence. It was almost as if the writers were acknowledging how unrealistic the “stand and explain” scene always is by interrupting it with a guy wandering through, taking his time, and clearly not in any danger.

The outfits the dancing troupe wore were nice, but the dancing itself was lame. Jai having wings put on himself and then being hoisted to ceiling while decrying his brother’s superstitions was funny and seemed to indicate some knowledge of what can go down (or rather, up) in a Bollywood film (for example, Rishi Kapoor “jumping” onto a horse in Kabhi Kabhie). I could tell right away that the actress playing Jai’s girlfriend was not Indian (she’s Afghani), but it’s Hollywood, so I can’t expect much. And Sendhil Ramamurthy is somehow only 50% as good-looking when he speaks in his native American accent. Usually people are most attractive when speaking with their native accent. My theory is that our faces are shaped partly by the shapes our language makes in our mouths, which accounts for some facial similarity throughout an entire country.

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Baiju Bawra, 1952

Baiju Bawra (source: oldhindifilmsongs)

Directed by Vijay Bhatt

This is a lovely story based on legend which was based on fact. When Baiju (Bharat Bhushan) is a young boy, his father, a classical/folk musician, is killed (in a scene that appears to be more of an accidental trampling than murder). Part of the reason for the circumstances that led to his death is the law that no one can sing within so much distance of the royal musician Tansen. The only way to be able to sing around Tansen is to challenge him to a singing duel; the one who loses dies, and the one who wins becomes the royal musician.

Since Baiju is now an orphan, another musician takes pity on him and takes him to a village to raise him. Baiju grows up with a village girl, Gauri (Meena Kumari), as his close friend; they have a call and response melody that they sing to each other based on the call people give across the river to the village that lets Gauri’s father know someone wants to be rowed across. Two things originally complicate their happy union and Baiju’s career as a musician: Gauri has been promised to another man since she was a girl, and Baiju cannot forget his grudge against Tansen (whenever Tansen is mentioned, Baiju’s face freezes, his eyes fix long and hard, and he seethes the name, “Taaanseeen.”). It is up to the village to decide if Gauri will be released from her betrothed, and events seem to be moving in that direction when Baiju saves the village from an attack by a band of vigilantes led (rather astoundingly) by a woman. The plot further complicates, and I won’t give it all away, but it’s always twisting and bringing in something new. The climax of the movie is the musical duel between Baiju and Tansen. When the winner is decided, the loser declares, “You did not win today; music won”—a sentiment that should be well-remembered in terms of most professions.

Song Highlights: Naushad pulls out all the stops to create believable music that feels organic (the call and response across the river), folk, and classical. Most Western ears will be entirely untrained in any type of Indian music, yet Naushad is still able to bring a distinction and meaning to all these types. To promote this believability (I can’t say authenticity, since I know it isn’t “real” classical music), actual Indian classical singers were used as playback singers for the musical duel.

Tidbits: The movie is in black and white and obviously shot on sound stages, yet the intensity of the acting performances brings enough vibrancy that these things hardly register. This was one of Meena’s first starring roles as an adult, and she brings her whole presence to the character, even if it is not as finely tuned as some of her later performances—her eyes speak volumes, even if her head movements feel staged.

Be on guard for some bad translation work, which sometimes results in quite the poetic phrase: “I want to singe in that flame.” Most of the time a viewer can overlook the translation work, since that’s a common issue, except when the lines are obviously stilted, such as, “He’s become mentally deranged!”

Rating: The movie has what I think is an unnecessarily tragic ending (i.e., it was easily preventable and not earned by the events leading up to it). In spite of this, it is very appealing cross-culturally—which is in part due to the legendary origin of the plot.

Library Collection: An excellent choice for a historical collection; it is significant in Bollywood history and it is a fine piece of storytelling.

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Mughal-e-Azam, 1960

Mughal-e-azam (source: inewsindia)

Directed and screenplay by K. Asif

The plot for this movie comes from the legend of Prince Salim. The staging (very set-specific) of this film is a relic of the time, but this has the advantage now of heightening the legend effect. Also heightening this is the recolored version that was released in 2004, and which was the version I saw. The bright colors have the disadvantage of not being as nuanced as films actually shot in color later. Even if you obtain a black and white version, two songs and the last half hour will be in color (this was all they could afford at the time, since the movie was already becoming the most expensive one made). Not once does the viewer feel that the story is taking place on a realistic plane, but the immersion in the legendary plane heightens the intensity of  the script, which is poetry, and the scenes, which are fantastic (a girl as a statue, a palace of mirrors, speaking in candlelight). The story follows the romantic relationship between Prince Salim and one of the palace servants, Anarkali. As a Western viewer, it was unclear to me exactly why their relationship was so forbidden, but I think it was due to differing religions, the way they kept it hidden at first, and the laws of the time, which lead to Anarkali having to be put to death. Her last request is to spend a night with the Prince. There are many stunning scenes, a few of which I mentioned earlier, but of note should be the final plot twist, which is more heartbreaking than normal.

Dilip Kumar, as Prince Salim, turns in a stone-faced performance, but like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, this does, for once, work in the character’s favor. Salim is a stalwart future leader, and his stony stares at Anarkali are easily interpreted as the fixed gaze of someone who does everything in straight, strong lines.

Song Highlights: The great Naushad was the music director here; the songs are interesting but not particularly memorable. Plot points do move forward during the songs, which is true of all good Bollywood movies (in particular, plot points involving character development and relationships). Anarkali does sing a heart-rending plea when she is locked in the dungeon.

Tidbits: There is much to be in awe of during this film, and one of the most amazing aspects is the script. Credit must also be given to whoever did the translation, but the script in the original language is so strong that it shines through and supersedes the translation. Here is a sampling of some of the best lines:

“They are not wounds, but flowers. For flowers to die is an insult to spring.” (Salim says this while refreshing himself in a battle tent. Then he looks at his sword) “It is not only an assassin but also a beloved. It is rose-bough and also a sword.”

“The mind accepts the beauty of your art. The heart does not.” (when viewing work by the royal artist, who could be said to be responsible for the whole mess. It’s also something that I could say of many current literary fiction writers.)

“It quivers; perhaps the prince’s heart is in it.” (when looking at the candle flame)

“Anarkali, your opinion is: we agree that love devastates life. Yet is it not fulfilling that after death the world remembers you? We shall see, by shaking someone’s world with our love. For that you get these thorns.” (Salim to Anarkali when presenting her with thorns.)  She replies, “—I am fortunate. Thorns need not fear fading.”

“Did God grant your prayer for my life so you could be master of it?” (the queen to the prince) He replies, “Master of my heart beats?”

“Our India is not your heart to be ruled by a slave-girl.” (the king to the prince) He replies, –“And my heart is not your India, for you to rule.”

“Then the emperor should also punish unruly moths which fall in love with the flame…imprison the flower-loving bumblebee that hums sweet melodies of love…dam the stream that would be one with the ocean.”

Rating: As with Baiju Bawra, the legendary nature of the story lends itself well to cross-cultural acceptance.

Library Collection: A definite must for a historical collection; this was an important and famous film.

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