Monday Morning, Time for Questions! Ask Anything Here!

I tried this last week, and it seemed to work out all right.  Of course, that could just be because my long time readers got all their burning questions answered then.  But just in case you have more questions, or I have new readers, I’m trying it again!

Feel free to ask me anything about myself (how did I find Indian films? Why do I like them?  What is my film background?), or some question that has always puzzled you about the movies (why red saris at weddings?  why such high pitched singing voices?), or even something you are just curious to get my opinion on (why do I like Shahrukh Khan better than other actors?  What do I think of the new tend towards multiplex rather than single-screen audiences?)

There are no bad questions, I am excited to answer anything!

(and you can out my previous post here to get an idea of how it went, and to see if your question may have already been answered!)

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48 thoughts on “Monday Morning, Time for Questions! Ask Anything Here!

      • Mostly, it was just a really really good movie. DDLJ hit some very specific themes that resonated with that moment in time, the changing diaspora, the NRI audience, etc. etc. But Sholay, while still dealing with some issues of societal responsibility and the justness of authoritarian rule (very appropriate for a film from the Emergency era), it was mostly just a timeless story.

        And also an originally Indian story. Yes, it has some elements in common with The Seven Samurai and Sergio Leone’s Westerns, but the addition of the widow theme, the “Thakur” as the leading person in the village and also an ex police office (combining traditional pre-colonial power with with modern Indian governmental forces in one person),and the whole metaphor of the loss of arms of the respected power source, all of that is original and adds a whole new level of meaning to it that is unique.

        And then there’s the pure quality level of the film, the production was unprecedented for the amount of money spent and the technical leaps forward. Sholay would have a place in film history for being the first Indian film in Dolby sound, in wide screen, with European fight choreography, even if for nothing else.

        But the biggest way that Sholay is special is simply in the reaction it had once it was shown to the public. The proof is in the pudding, essentially. You can make all the textual and industrial analysis you want, but you don’t really need to look past the fact that (adjusted for inflation) it is still the most successful Indian film of all time, it ran for 5 years in theaters, and millions of people can recite the dialogues on command.

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    • It’s like you read my mind! I just read the most fascinating article on this! If you can find it, “Mere Awaaz Suno” by P. Sundar.

      She goes into the history of it, and according to what she found, it really started with Lata Mangeshkar and wasn’t around as much before Lata became the ideal. I also just saw a quick article about Lata’s influence on Freddie Mercury, where she talks about how composers and music directors would really push her to the limits of her octave range, because she could sing at such a high pitch and still maintain control, but it took an enormous effort. And no one else could really do it, with both the natural ability to sing that high and the lifetime of training to control it. Her kind of freakish ability to sing that high was so striking, that people kind of fell in love with it, and she was asked to do it over and over again, and other singers were expected to hit that same range as well.

      The Lata voice has become the female ideal, but there are other options as well. You’ll notice in the club songs, often the female voice, while still high, will be pitched slightly lower and be a little rougher. And in the “ethnic” songs, like “Choli Ke Peeche” or “Pardesi”, the female voice will be deep and rough.

      From a “what does it MEAN?” perspective, the common answer is that the very high and pure female voice is a way of making the “good” female characters less earthy and more ethereal. A Lata voiced song is of a piece with wearing saris and having a temple scene. While the Asha Bhosle or Geeta Dutt or another slightly lower-pitched singer might go along with wearing western clothing and going to nightclubs. And then the rougher voices, that’s limited to the lower caste/class ethnic female characters.

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        • It’s not the kind of thing you can easily pinpoint to a year. It was kind of a slow change. There were a variety of factors involved, a big one being Partition, during which several notable female singers from the Urdu tradition chose to move to Pakistan instead of remaining in the Indian film industry. Also, some of her main competitors from the early years of film left, Geeta Dutt and Suraiya, moved on from singing.

          Really, Lata and Indian film came of age together. She was there before Independence, when many stars still sang their won songs. And she was there post-Independence in the film boom of the 1950s when playback singing became the norm. And as Indian film was solidifying its styles and genres and themes in the late 50s and 60s, there was Lata, becoming part of those styles and genres and themes.

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  1. That’s really interesting that it all came from Lata’s sort of falsetto style of singing — and the connection to Freddie Mercury is surprising.

    “Unnaturally” high singing can be a fad. Have you ever heard castrato opera? (Yes, young boys were castrated who had beautiful high voices to keep them high), Castrato singers were the rock stars of their age, but those operas are rarely heard now — or with soprano or alto-soprano women in pants roles. There is a modern male singer, David Daniels, who is bringing back those roles because he can sing in that high falsetto voice with opera control. I went to see Handel’s Rinaldo at the Lyric Opera a few years back, and it’s kind of odd sounding, to be honest. My husband was not a fan.

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    • What fun questions!

      In Malayalam films, I am fascinated by the patience of their story telling. There is no hurry to get to the part where “something happens”. We can spend a good hour just getting to know the characters as they go about their regular life. And, when something does happen, it is often so small it can be hard to notice at first. If you read a plot description of, for instance, Thoovanathumbikil, it sounds like a dramatic love triangle. But the way the story is told, it is just made up of these little moments, a random meeting, a night together, lots and lots of conversations. It forces you to really think about what makes a moment important, and how everything that happens, no matter how small or insignificant it feels at the time, could change your life. As a viewer, it also gets me into a sort of intellectually challenged state, similar to reading Jane Austen or listening to Mozart. It’s beautiful, yes, and emotional. But it also wakes up my brain in a very particular way.

      For your second question, I assume you don’t mean my favorite movie in all 1600+ Indian languages 🙂 I am ashamed to say that I haven’t really explored Kannada, Punjabi, or Bengali industries, so I will ignore those as well. Also, my “:favorite” films would be the ones I watch over and over again and love on a personal level, not necessarily the ones that I think are the “best” films from those industries. So, from the industries I have seen a fair number of films in, here are the movies that I really really love:

      Hindi: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. My first Shahrukh movie, really my first true Hindi film, literally changed my life and got me involved in these movies, which set me on a path to studying them, writing a book, and now spending all my free time on this blog!

      Telugu: Bujjigadu/Bahubaali: I’m listing two, because Bahubaali kind of supersedes the industry it comes from, it is such an all India hit I feel like it doesn’t really belong in the Telugu industry any more. But Bujjigadu definitely does! I can tell you why Bujjigadu is generally good movie, it’s got a fun story and the editing and directing is top notch. The romance is fun without being creepy (always a consideration with Telugu action movies!) and I like Prabhas. But I have no idea why it is my favorite! I’ve seen lots of other movies that I know intellectually are of the same quality, but I just love Bujjigadu more.

      Tamil: Kannathil Muthamittal: This is a hard one. Kandukonden Kandukonden is one of the first movies I saw (actually at the same mini film fest where I saw DDLJ), and I still love it. Roja is another one that had a huge effect on me. And Bombay. (as you can tell, for me Tamil Films=Mani Ratnam). But right now, it is Kannathil Muthamittal. It’s just such a lovely movie, and the story really resonated with me.

      Malayalam: Ohm Shanti Oshaana: Didn’t even have to think about it, 100% this one. It’s the 3rd Malayalam movie I saw, and it’s why I really started getting into the films. It does such an amazing job building a world for the characters, and then the characters themselves are so strong and unique and flawed in a way they don’t usually get to be in films from any other industry, Indian or Western. Plus, it just makes me happy! It’s about a world and characters who are flawed, but are essentially good, which is always a nice story to see.

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    • I have been to India twice, both times for about a week and a half. Both times I was there more on a sort of “family” visit than as a tourist, first to stay with my sister who was doing an internship at TCS and then to attend a wedding where I stayed in the family’s apartment. I did get to spend two nights at the Taj in Bombay that first time, which was super cool, but otherwise it was more about going to the neighborhood grocery store and watching TV in the living room than doing anything super touristy. Although I also begged and pleaded the second time until I guilted them into taking me to see Mannat and Jalsa!

      In general though, it wasn’t a terrible surprise either time, because my expectations were always less based on the movies than on the people I knew from India. That came before the films, really. The college I went to happens to have a ton of South Asian heritage students, there were literally 4 non-South Asians on my entire dorm floor freshman year. Conversations in the cafeteria and classrooms were filled with comments about what it was like last time they visited their grandparents, street food versus “home” food, being careful about modesty and safety when they left the house, struggling to get used to wearing Indian clothing all the time instead of blue jeans, visiting temples and being careful about leaving their shoes outside, stuff like that. So, that was where my expectations came from, much more than from the films.

      Plus, because of my interest in film, I’d already become a regular at the stores in the Indian neighborhood in Chicago. Which isn’t like India, of course, but it is a lot closer to it than what you would see in a movie. There’s a good mile of sari shops, grocery stores, sweet shops, and video stores. There’s Paan stains on the sidewalk and uncles sitting on benches watching the world go by and all those things that you also don’t really see in movies.

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    • There’s no movie in the world that I feel comfortable saying I would never watch again! But there are lots of movies I really really don’t want to watch again and actively try to dissuade people from making me watch. Let me stroll over to my Shahrukh shelf and see what falls into that category over there:

      Dil To Pagal Hai: a fine movie, but sooooooooooo sloooooooooooooow! Nothing happens for hours and hours and hours.

      Maya Memsaab: A little too arty for me. The Shahrukh bits are fun, not just because it’s Shahrukh, but because they are almost the comic relief light parts of the film. The rest of it is just bleak!

      Josh: I can’t believe this is the same director as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak! It’s just a mess! A confusing mess! I love the songs, so I watched the movie, and it was this confusing miss-mosh of inheritance disputes and faithless brothers and a bakery?

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        • I liked DTPH the first two times I saw it, but ever since then I just can’t bring myself to watch it again. Sooooooo slooooooow.

          Thanks for the article! Super interesting! It’s funny, Shetty can make a good balanced romance, Deepika’s character in Chennai Express was almost stronger than Shahrukh’s and it was all about their chemistry, but I guess it makes a difference if that is what he wants to make, and starts out to make, versus if he plans something else and then is forced to change it. Also, describing it as a 3 brother’s film with a small role for Kajol just makes me go back to my original thought, that it was supposed to be a reimagining of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

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          • I can totally see how Dilwale was supposed to be similar to Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi. I wish Rohit Shetty made what he was planning since it sounds more fun than what Dilwale ended up being. Wouldn’t you think that Shahrukh would object to the script being changed in the last minute though?

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          • Oh, I am sure Shahrukh was part of every script discussion along the way! My impression, from the occasional comment in interviews and so on, is that when the big stars sign on for a film, they sign on for the whole process start to finish. And Red Chillies was producing this one, so I am sure there was even more involvement. I could see Rohit Shetty meeting with Shahrukh and pitching every idea he had banging around, and Shahrukh picking the “brothers, garage, multiple romances and action” plot, but then as they got the cast and the filming schedule together, the whole thing ended up being just massaged into something totally different.

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  13. I apologize for being obsessed, but this Dangal fever has really got me going. If Shah Rukh (yes, I’m on that again) is so ‘no longer the main guy’ and not at the top etc etc. Why do mags like GQ and Femina still want him for their big New Year Cover? Why STILL interview him? Yes, I know, he is the wittiest and will give a good interview. Yes, he is the best looking and even Dabboo Ratani photographer to the stars says he is the most photogenic. And Yes, he says yes, way more than Amir and probably more than Salman and Saif et.al. I used to think it was just the critics who didn’t give him enough credit (which is true) but he hasn’t swept a box office since Chennai. I don’t want him to become a celebrity famous for being famous. Yes, we have high hopes for Raees, but even that hype makes me nervous. I realize, dear Margaret that I am asking almost unanswerable questions, but then this forum is the only place I dare do that!!

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    • Always ask! I love having conversations about this stuff.

      My feeling is, Shahrukh has been struggling to serve two masters the past few years. On the one hand, there are the big budget blockbusters that he is making because he feels like the audience wants them, and his bank account needs the money. But on the other hand, he craves the artistic outlet and challenge of more unusual films.

      He’s started kind of saying that in interviews, that he is beginning to be drawn more and more to the interesting parts and challenging films and away from the crowd-pleasers. And I wonder if the crowd-pleasing films are suffering from his lack of interest, his no longer giving 120% to them. If you read interviews of directors commentary or whatever, all of the Khans (and Amitabh and Akshay and Ajay and the other big stars) give intensive input in the making of a film, everything from costume design to dialogue goes through their hands first. But if Shahrukh is just going through the motions, maybe that’s why there was such a quality drop between Chennai Express and Happy New Year. There’s no one thing you can point to that makes one film better, and more popular, than the other. But if you look at it as a whole, HNY just doesn’t have that spark, you know?

      My hope is that when he is working on a film that really interests him, we will see improvement not in his particular role or acting, but in the film as a whole. Suddenly there will be that spark and interest in the songs, the co-stars, the everything. And maybe by no longer pursuing what he thinks the audience wants, and just doing what interests him, he will find the audience again.

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  14. I have a Humsafar question. Is it okay to ask here? Is it completely accepted that first cousins can marry? I know it’s legal here too, but it would not be taken in a so matter of fact way. No one brings that up as a problem to dissuade the father.

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    • Sure, ask anything here!

      For cousin marriage, I had to do a little research myself. I have learned from my recent dive into southern films that it is somewhat of a tradition for the sister’s daughter to marry the brother’s son in South India. So I wonder if that might be part of it, since the family in Humsafar is partially from Hyderabad?

      But in addition a quick hunt through The Internet, plus general common sense and past cultural awareness, tells me that Mohammed himself married his cousin, and married one of his daughters to her cousin. And it has become an accepted cultural practice. I’m seeing it listed as “Islamic Cousin Marriage”, and the Koran doesn’t specifically prohibit it (it prohibits all kinds of other marriages, but not cousin marriage), but the higher statistics within the Islamic community I am seeing are from England and Pakistan, which makes me assume it is a combination of an Islamic custom and a Pakistan/Northern South Asia custom. Islam doesn’t specifically forbid it, and some writings could be seen as encouraging it, but I am sure there is also a cultural component.

      More generally, and this is from watching a lot of movies and reading some folklore and ethnography books, there seems to be an awareness within South Asian culture in general that healthy marriages come from compatible spouses. And, since marriage often results in combined family households, the spouse has to be compatible with the whole family. One way to do this would be for the spouse to be a relative (although it seems like first cousin marriage is slightly less common, 2nd and third cousin marriage is not unheard of. For instance, Raj Kapoor). Another would be for a “child marriage” that results in a little girl being raised in her husband’s household, so she truly feels like a “daughter” of the house. And, if for whatever reason an orphaned girl is being raised in your household, it would be accepted if she married your son upon adulthood. That is one of the more common versions you see in films: Sarkar, KANK, Dil Chahta Hai, etc. etc. It’s also kind of what Maine Pyar Kiya was showing.

      And so cousin marriage is considered a good thing, and an accepted thing, because it keeps it all in the family, you know each other, you can support each other, and all of that. Humsafar is kind of cool, because it takes that usual idea, that cousins should marry because they will be a natural pair, and turns it on its head with two cousins who have nothing in common and don’t really know each other. By the way, the “other woman” Sara is his cousin as well I believe, on his mother’s side. She would be the more natural spouse, they grew up together and know each other and are best friends, so an easy fit for marriage. That would be the ideal, I assume, for cousin marriage.

      All of this (again, my impression from the reading I have done and so on) is voluntary. It’s not like “all cousins must marry!” or anything. If it seems like a good match for whatever reason, as in Humsafar with his natural familiarity with Sara or Mahira Khan’s characters lack of support, then it might happen. But they could have just as easily fixed his marriage with someone who wasn’t his cousin if that also seemed like a good idea. It’s just that cousin marriage is a reasonable thing to consider, and has various added benefits which might make it appealing. I imagine there is an added practical component to it as well in certain situations. It is a tidy way of handling inheritance disputes, if you are part of an immigrant community it might be tempting since you can strengthen your sense of family within the large community. Back when Mohammed did it, I suspect these practical considerations were part of it as well, seeing as he was part of a fairly small community, to restrict cousin marriage would greatly restrict any feasible marital prospects.

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      • I wasn’t positive that Sara was a first cousin on the other side. I couldn’t quite tell if the sister comments between the two mothers were honorific sisters or actual, or sisters-in-law. We haven’t seen a husband on that side of the equation. I don’t know if any of your other readers are watching it, but I’m hooked. The subtle things that make it Pakistani and Muslim are fascinating as well. I don’t want to say more because of spoilers in case any one starts watching. I’ve done four episodes.

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        • Hey! Me too! I’m not hooked, (the production values are really hard for me to get past, it’s just a personal bugaboo of mine), but I did manage to get 4 episodes in as well. I also wikipediad the future plot, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything subtle in the next episodes. I agree that it is fascinating seeing the things that are slightly different in the Pakistani setting. I probably wouldn’t notice if I were new to South Asian pop culture, but having been so immersed in India, I can see what is different here.

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          • Oh, I forgot to say, wikipedia confirms that Sara really is his cousin. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, because she is introduced that way in the first episode. Except, like you, I wasn’t sure if their mothers meant “sister” or just “close friend” in the dialogue, so I went to wikipedia to confirm. And yes, she is really-really his cousin, not just “like a cousin”.

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          • Well, I’m hooked. If there are any must see episodes, I’ll let you know!! Especially ones with Mahira. I have a feeling her part gets much more interesting. I didn’t read the wikipedia so not to have anything spoiled!!

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          • Will do. I am really really addicted. Like an American Soap Opera. It moves sloooowly. And everyone says “hello” (Saalam Alekum, Alekuml Saalam) EVERY time they walk into a room..a bit much. But I cannot take my eyes off of Mahira and it is great to see what all the fuss is about Fawad. So, I for sure will have finished it and will be happy to recap. Oh, and the ‘evil’ character is terrific as well.

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