I was tempted to do one long post for one of these, but that would break the list pattern. Plus, be harder to write. So some will be longer, some will be shorter, but there will be a full 25. And that will give you all a lot to talk about in the comments.
Happy Raees Week! I was considering not even including Don as an option, because it was so extremely different from the kind of film it looks like this will be. But on the other hand, it is Shahrukh’s most famous “bad” role, so I really should talk about it.
Last week I had the GENIUS realization that Dear Zindagi is clearly a sequel to Josh, in which Shahrukh’s bad-boy biker had gone through intensive therapy to resolve his anger issues, and ended up becoming a therapist himself. From some of the comments, it sounds like I am not the only person who plays around with the idea of what would be the best possible sequel-continuation of a certain story. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, and read the post if you want to know mine!
I did top 11 movies a couple days ago, I’m going to go slightly different today, and do top nine performances. Even if the movie as a whole doesn’t hold together, or even if it is so brilliant all around you never noticed what Shahrukh was doing, here are his greatest performances as an actor.
Okay, favorite songs, favorite fanvids, favorite photos, saddest facts, happiest facts, time for a big one! Top 11 movies (was going to be 10, but I couldn’t decide what to drop, so I moved it up a day)!
I saw Billa! Finally! After having it loaned to me months and months ago, the DVD just sitting there, taunting me and making me feel guilty for not watching it.
I can always talk about Don! Always always always! It’s just such a brilliant movie in so many ways. Shahrukh’s performance, of course, but also the script, and how it uses our knowledge of the original to support its underlying trickery. Oh, and if you haven’t seen Shahrukh’s Don yet, DO NOT READ ON!!!!! Just watch the movie instead. Normally I don’t care about Spoilers, but oh my gosh, if you go into Don unspoiled, it is so awesome!
Warning: Despite what it says below, this is NOT A GOOD MOVIE. The dialogue is terrible, and so is Salman’s accent. But it is so so pretty! My love is purely superficial and based on appearances, do not follow my example!
I loooooove Jaan-E-Mann. Me, and no one else. Maybe my sister, maybe my parents (although that could be familial indulgence), and that’s it. It was such a huge flop when it came out, it actually ended careers. Poor Shirish Kundar.
I actually saw it in theaters opening weekend, it and Don. They opened the same weekend, and I was much more excited for Don! Farhan Akhtar collaborating with Shahrukh! Super hot Arjun Rampal! A remake of a classic film that actually came with the blessing of the original filmmakers! Turns out, everyone was more excited for Don, Jaan-E-Mann was a massive flop and Don was a massive hit. Thus beginning the tradition of Salman and Shahrukh going head to head, and Shahrukh winning by a thousand percent. Just something to think about when laying your bets for who will end up winning Eid next year.
Anyway, I did like Don. Especially the Aeneid scene. So, if you haven’t happened to have read the Aeneid, it opens with Aeneas fleeing Troy as it burns. He is struggling to get through the burning streets, carrying his young son in front of him and his elderly father on his back, with his wife’s hand in his. At some point, he lets go and loses her. So it’s this very literal metaphor, with the past generation being held behind him and the future in his arms, he flees from danger (to eventually found Rome. Which was the point of the Aeneid, according to my classics teacher in college, that Romans wanted to be a cool and connected to Troy somehow so they wrote this very elaborate justification for it).
Anyhoo, there’s this one moment in Don when Arjun Rampal, a cripple, has to laboriously walk over a treacherous walkway between two buildings with his son carried on his back in order to save both their lives. And something about how it is filmed just captures that Aeneid-esque quality of desperately traveling on not just for yourself, but because of those you carry with you.
So I liked that! And SRK was hot and the songs were catchy, but the ending was kind of a let-down. And on the whole, it just felt a little too glitzy and “oo, look at me! Aren’t I cool?” to be fully heartfelt. And then the next day I went to see Jaan-E-Mann and it Blew. My. Mind.
I distinctly remember standing on the corner afterwards waiting for the bus thinking “why didn’t anyone warn me! I’m not going to be the same after that!” Of course, now I know why, it was because no one else in the world had the same reaction I did! It’s not like reviews say at the bottom “by the way, everyone else will find this film tedious and fantastical, but you one person in Chicago (you know who you are) will be so emotionally overcome after viewing that you may need to bring a buddy with you to help you find your way home.”
I don’t even wish it was more successful, really, Shirish Kunder’s subsequent work (Tees Mehr Khan, horrid except for the “Sheila Ki Jiwani” number and Akshaye Khanna; Joker, just plain horrid), shows that he didn’t have the talent I gave him credit for. Apparently, it was just an odd alchemy of his strange strange script ideas, and Farah Khan’s genius with song sequences. And probably some budgeting issue that kept them less ambitious. And then post-Om Shanti Om, Farah’s production house had all the money and street-cred in the world to throw at her husband’s strange vanity projects, and it turns out that they were really not good. If the actual filmmakers proved incapable of recreating the artistic success (well, by my measure) of this film, I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if it had done super well and a bunch of young imitators had sprung up!
So, Jaan-E-Mann opens with a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And then it goes on to reference the Indian FilmFare Awards ceremonies of the 1970s, Broadway Melody of 1936 (the best Broadway Melody, their quality declined over time. It goes ’36, then ’38, Born to Dance which should have been ’37, and then 1940, the worst. I should really re-watch those), Singin’ in the Rain, and a million others, some of which I got, and some I am sure I missed.
(The reference is a lot clearer if you know there is “Blue Danube” playing in the background in both)
(they digitally inserted Salman into a 1970s FilmFare ceremony for no real reason)
(It’s not as clear with still images, but the table and chairs rise up from the floor)
(It’s visible in still images, but if you watch the whole opening of “Gotta Dance” in Singin’, and the end bit of “Humko Maloom Hai” in Jaan-E-Mann, it is really clear)
And these aren’t sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, inside joke references. They are for a purpose (I believe, even if no one else does). Over the course of the first 20 minutes of the movie we are going through decreasingly surreal and movie-movie images so that the final moment when reality comes crashing down is all the more devastating. And when I say crashing, I mean literally crashing, as Salman’s character receives his divorce papers from Preity Zinta and destroys their marital apartment.
I should pause and actually address the plot for a second. It’s a pretty simple one. Preity Zinta is suing Salman for alimony that he can’t afford to pay. He decides to help her nerdy (or maybe geeky? I am never clear on these distinctions) best friend from college played by Akshay Kumar woo and marry her so Salman can get out of paying alimony. And Akshay doesn’t know Salman is her ex, he thinks he is just his new best friend who is trying to help him out. Also, Salman is a struggling actor and Akshay works for NASA. There, now I’ve spoiled the magical randomness of 2001 and 1970s FilmFare references by explaining how they actually relate to the characters.
Actually, all of the magically random visuals relate to the characters, and if you get that, the movie really really works. And if you don’t, it really really doesn’t. Akshay’s character is introduced by two songs in rapid succession. First, he flashes back to his first meeting with Preity in college. It’s presented from his perspective, and it is a total fantasy. She is sweet and beautiful and angelic. Her boyfriend (Salman, although Akshay doesn’t know that) is a lout. Akshay is sure they will end up together. It culminates in a rock concert they go to together when Akshay is so happy and secure in his in love that he literally flies around the room (the image is both cheesier and more realistic than it sounds). And then literally comes crashing down to the ground when he sees her with Salman.
This fantasy does two things. First, it establishes that Akshay, while sweet, is probably not the right man for this woman. He only sees what he wants to see and cannot handle her as a real person. Second, it throws into contrast the flashback fantasy song we already saw when Salman told his love story at the beginning of the film. In that, the version of Preity Salman sees, and the version we the audience see, is the same. More importantly, she is a participant in the fantasy. They dance together, they talk together, they make eye contact. The unreality of Akshay’s romance makes Salman’s more real.
Equally important with Akshay’s fantasy is the reality that it is intercut with as Salman remembers a different version of the events. In his version, Preity is different, wilder, more selfish, having fun. But as we see his version, we know he is realizing that Akshay’s memory of her “loutish boyfriend” is accurate. He was selfish and uncaring, he did ignore the damage their romance was leaving in its wake. And this all culminates in a beautiful moment when the present day reality and the past come face to face. As Akshay’s heart breaks in the past, as his fantasy ends and he comes to earth, present day Akshay, and present day Salman and Anupum Kehr (who is a Salman’s uncle and a dwarf for no reason. Don’t worry about it) to whom he is telling the tale enter into his vision and quietly witness his despair. It’s perhaps the clearest way I have ever seen shown onscreen of conveying how those painful moments of our past can feel like they happened to different people, but at the same time can feel like they are still happening in this moment as you tell of them.
The second song for Akshay’s introduction is when Salman and Anupum are trying to jolly him into believing in himself and his ability to win over Preity. To that end, they open a closet door and the 7 dwarves come out (don’t worry about it). And then they have a song in which Preity is played by both Anupum in a wig and a cardboard cutout of her character. So, the 7 dwarves may confuse the issue a little, but what this is really saying is that Akshay wants the Snow White and the 7 Dwarves version of Preity, the Princess, the cardboard cutout, the wig and the clothes. This comes up later in the film when Salman asks him point blank if he is in love with Preity herself or just her face, and he does not have a good answer (in context, they have just met dwarf Anupum’s non-dwarf doppleganger in New York and are wondering if there is an identical Preity somewhere in the world.) (I don’t know if the context helped much.)
The idea of image versus reality continues once they arrive in New York and rent the apartment across from Preity’s (remember, if it’s in an Indian movie, it is romantic, not stalking). Salman wants to watch her through the window, but Akshay has a better idea, he sets up a high quality telescope, links it to a projector, sets up a screen, and sits down to watch her. For the rest of the film, when they are in their apartment, there is an image of Preity’s place across the street on the screen. Akshay watches her face, her eyes, her smile. It really is captivating, just a long sustained close-up. Salman talks about what kinds of movies she is watching and how she is feeling and what she is thinking. One of these men knows her, and one only thinks that he does.
This is all stuff dealing with Preity’s image versus reality, but the same conflict is true of the other two leads as well. Akshay knows Preity will not fall in love with him as he is, and Salman knows that as well. It starts with a harmless suggestion of how to dress, how to approach her, what to say. But after their first interaction goes badly, Akshay begs Salman for another solution and they go full Cyrano. Akshay wears a wire and has Salman standing by to feed him every line. While Akshay is wearing a disguise on his soul, Salman is wearing several on his body. In order to stay in range and communicate, he buys a series of wacky costumes (actor, remember). Written out like that, it sounds kind of silly, but believe me, when you see it playing out in the song sequence below, it just breaks me, every time. For me, this and “Kwaja Mere Kwaja” from Jodha-Akbar are on the same level, amazing beautiful meditative pieces that take my soul to places it doesn’t even recognize. Again, just me.
This song sets the tone for all three characters. They feel uplifted, but what they are feeling does not match what they are seeing. That disconnect is what gives it it’s beauty. Akshay knows Preity is falling in love with him but feels that something is off and pushes Salman to keep helping him. Salman knows that he shouldn’t care for Preity anymore, that she ended their marriage heartlessly, but he can’t stop watching her. Preity is falling in love with Akshay but keeps feeling like she is with her ex-husband.
And then it all comes crashing in. Again. One by one, for the last half of the movie, the dominos fall. I’m not going to spoil the twist, but I am going to tell you it is beautifully done. Salman learns it first, and then has his heart broken. And the wall behind him shatters in a gorgeous use of CGI as his world ends.
In his heart break song, there are two shots that always get to me. First, when he is standing in the middle of time square, surrounded by people, and feeling completely empty inside (I know it is a cliche, but it really works here!). And second, when he goes back to the cafe where Anupum’s doppelganger works (don’t worry about it), and is taken in his arms and sobs. Such a beautiful scene of a stranger comforting a stranger.
When Akshay learns his devastating truth, he has what might be the best acting moment of his career as he furiously rips off the clothes Salman bought him, brushes out his hair, puts on his glasses, literally breaks himself down and builds himself up again before our eyes. Also, there’s a moment when he’s shirtless and I always get distracted by how much stubble he has on his chest. It must be so itchy! Just go back to the old way! That hair that makes people go “why is he taking a shower in a sweater vest?”
And then Preity has the subtlest moment of them all, Akshay tells her what he has discovered, he goes on about all the details of it and how it happened, and all she says is, “Please, keep talking about Salman. I never hear anything good about him. Please, keep talking.” It’s heartbreaking! On all sides! You have poor Akshay, once more reduced to a side-note in their epic romance, and you have Preity’s response that quietly fills in the blank of her past two years, apparently spent being forced to listen to her family denigrate the man she loves (and by implication, all the decisions she made for herself about her life), until she is desperate to hear just one kind word about him.
Just when the emotions get to be too much, we get to the final happy ending, which is so beautiful that I bawl every time. Again, just me. I mean literally beautiful, as in how it looks, not what happens. I mean, what happens is nice too. But the visuals are just perfect. The whole movie has been about fantasy giving way to reality. In a whole bunch of different ways. Fantasy love stories, Salman’s fantasy of his career, Preity’s fantasies which were apparently pretty comprehensively crushed by her awful relatives before we ever met her in the present day-but what the ending tells us is that the fantasy may be over, but sometimes the reality is even more beautiful.
Way back at the beginning, Salman’s fantasy version of their romance ended when he destroyed their apartment, in gorgeous slow-motion, pulling down the yellow curtains first so they fell in the background before the glass and wood were shattered. In her new apartment, they watched her through yellow curtains which hung on either side of the window, showing on their pervy screen display like the side curtains at an old movie palace, framing their view of her. At the very end, he is on a soundstage back in Bombay, filming a part in what appears to be a low-budget romance in which he is merely the hero’s best friend. In the background, yellow draperies cheaply define the set area. Filming ends, the crowd disperses, and he sees Preity. As their eyes meet and they smile, the yellow curtains behind them slowly start to fall, the cheap artifice of film, the comfort of fantasy, everything we use to keep ourselves safe from what is real, falls away. And you see that they are standing on a hillside on a cloudy but beautiful day, and there was nothing to hide from after all. I swear, I am tearing up just thinking about it and I don’t even really know why!
And then there is an epilogue with a cheap pun on Preity Zinta’s name. It is just such an odd movie, but it is also the one I watch whenever I feel bad or sad or glad, or worried about the world, or need a good cry, or need to stop crying, or just need something beautiful. The title means “Life of my Soul”, and that’s really what it is for me! Again, just me.
Thank god, no Quantico last night! I was so happy when I checked Hulu this morning and saw there was no new episode! It’s such a horrible way to start the week, struggling to get through a gosh-awful episode of television while blearily trying to braid my hair and brush my teeth after staying up too late on Sunday night.
But this also means nothing to post about this morning. Unless I post about my biggest problems with all the past episodes. Which isn’t hard, because I really just have 3 major issues.
Issue 1: Priyanka, blech! She’s like nails-on-a-chalkboard for me. I used to really like her, actually. In her first few movies, I found her either neutral (Mujhse Shaadi Karoge) or charming (Salaam-E-Ishq). And then somewhere around Don, I started to notice that I had seen everything she was doing before. And then I started to see her public appearances, and I realized I had seen everything she was doing there before too. Because she really just has one character she plays all the time, and it is that same character that she brings out for every interview. Big smile, tossed head laugh, talks fast, but never loud, or shrill, or emotional, never wrinkles her face, never cries, never scratches or blows her nose or does anything human. It is somehow both boring, and terrifying.
Issue 2: No one involved seems to know what to do with a desi main character. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in really exploring what that might mean. Yes, she is American, yes an Indian-American can be confident and intelligent and patriotic and sexual, but wouldn’t they also be other things that are specific to the Indian-American experience? The first shot of the pilot is her “om” symbol bracelet, but that has never been seen again. There has been no mention of her Hinduism as a religious practice, she hasn’t spoken Hindi (even when talking to her mother), and she has been white-washed in a million subtle ways, from her make-up to her jewelry to her accent. Oh, and her name is “Alex Parrish”. Which is a really weird name for a desi to have! I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that Alex/Alexander/Alexandra are all modifications of “Alexander” as in “the Great”. And in India, his name was Indianized to “Sikander”. Like, there is a biopic of Alexander the Great that is titled “Sikander” and everyone in the movie calls him “Sikander”. It wouldn’t be a huge issue, except that it would be so easy to change and they didn’t and that means they really, really don’t care even a little bit. Why in the world couldn’t they have picked literally any other name for her? Alexander was “the Great” because he was the only historical figure for hundreds of years who was able to impact both European and South Asian culture. Naming her after ANYONE ELSE would have allowed for a legitimate argument that it was a European name with no Indian variant that was meaningful to her parents. Or, you know, just give her an Indian name!
Issue 3: No one seems to know what to do with India either. First, her mother is Indian and married to an FBI agent who was pretending to be a blue-color worker (I think. I am very confused by the timeline of her father’s life). How did they meet? Did he travel to India? Why? If she came to the US, what is her profession? How did she get a Visa? Current immigration rules would mean she was either highly educated and therefore could be sponsored by an institution of higher learning or an employer, or that she had relatives already in America who sponsored her, either of which would make her marriage to a white blue-color worker surprising. I would say the show-runners were ignoring a big hole in their plot, but I suspect it is more that it just didn’t occur to them as an issue because they didn’t know enough about the Indian immigrant community to realize it was unusual.
Second, it was revealed that Alex was sent to live with relatives in Bombay for ten years as a teenager. Which is okay I guess, a little unusual, would have some effect on her schooling and transcripts when she moved back to the US, but not that strange. But then she disappeared for a year and it turned out she was traveling to Pakistan and Iran so she could “see for herself” what was really happening in those countries, and that she had a good friend who was killed by a drone strike and who was a suspected terrorist. Okay, what? Really, WHAT?!? Ignoring everything else, Iran is just not that close to Bombay! And where was she hearing all this anti-Iran propaganda? In India, which has had a defense cooperation agreement with Iran for over ten years? Which, in fact, considers Iran one of its closest diplomatic and trading partners? Pakistan, sure, I guess, you would hear a lot of anti-Pakistani sentiment in India. But in terms of “seeing the truth”, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to go to Kashmir? Where the truth is a lot harder to parse? And where she would be a lot more likely to meet a “not-really-a-terrorist-but-a-freedom-fighter” type? And where she wouldn’t need a passport to get across the border? And then my biggest problem, the implication that in order to meet a terrorist, she would have needed to leave Bombay. Which is demonstrably false, because Priyanka in real life actually does know terrorists (Sanjay Dutt, for instance (okay, I know Sanju’s situation is complicated, but he is legally a terrorist right now)) and she met them right there in Bombay where they are part of the powerful local criminal underground. So why not have Alex Parrish the character meet her saintly terrorist acquaintance at some local nightclub around the corner from her Aunt’s apartment? Seems a lot more believable then sneaking across the border to visit one of India’s biggest trading partners that she could have just visited legally!
Third, the most recent episode seemed to imply that her mother “Sita” might have been secretly working for Pakistani intelligence. How would that even work? She has enough family support around in India to be able send her daughter there for ten years, but none of them noticed that she was secretly trained by Pakistani intelligence? And, I assume, none of them would have supported it if they did notice, because her name is “Sita” so she is from a Hindu family. Does this go back to the flawed geography? Do they think “Sita” could have bopped over to Pakistan for a weekend, received all her training, and come home before her parents even noticed she was gone? I would say that “Sita” was a cover identity, except that she sent her daughter to live with family in India, so unless there is a whole elaborate family sleeper cell living in Bombay, all pretending to be Hindu but actually Pakistani agents, that doesn’t make sense. But oh my gosh, now I really want it to be true! Can you imagine? Alex rebels by sneaking across the border to Pakistan to find the “truth”, but the boring family she trusted were actually terrorists the whole time?
Oh well, only 13 episodes left. And with any luck, it will end with Priyanka’s death scene, and we can see if actual death is enough to make her smear her mascara.