Mar 14, 2010

Yes, But Can They Act? (The Women)

I'll admit it--I'm a Bollywood pusher.  I'm quick to suggest Hindi films to my friends, always eager to send them links to fun videos of stars they've said they like, and really take pleasure in seeing them enjoy films which I'm sure they thought would be cheesy and awful (or films that were cheesy and awful, but that they enjoyed all the same).  The question I always have to ask myself before I show a film to a friend is "which one will do the trick?"  Though not exactly big Bollywood fans, most of my friends have exceptional taste in films, and I know I can't get away with showing them any old thing and hoping they'll be impressed.  They won't be.  I try to start with films that are as familiar as possible:  films with believable storylines, a judicious use of dancing, and, above all, good acting.

Ahh, good acting.  From my first exposure to Hindi films I wondered if that even really existed as a requirement to getting into the film industry.  So much of what I saw early on was mediocre, forced, and, well...filmi.  Don't get me wrong, I love Shah Rukh Khan, but the first films I saw of his were Devdas, Kal Ho Na Ho, and KKKG.  All wonderful films, but a bit thin on the acting skill.

So who in the industry has actual acting chops?  Here's my list.  Mind you this is based solely on the films I've seen (I think that should be fairly obvious!) so feel free to let me know if my judgement has been misplaced!

Let's start with the ladies (in no particular order), as for some reason it's by far the shorter of the two lists:

Konkona Sen Sharma
I first caught her in Amu, a decidedly non-Bollywood film about the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, and she began making impressive showings in more and more of the films I loved: Life in a Metro, Wake Up Sid, Omkara, Luck By Chance, and Mixed Doubles.  She brings a certain vivaciousness to her roles, and definitely makes interesting script choices.  I've yet to be disappointed by one of her performances, and have started working my way (albeit somewhat slowly) through her entire body of work.

Shabana Azmi
Admittedly I haven't seen much of Shabana Azmi's work, but I've loved what little I have.  I think the first of her films I saw was the British film Madame Sousatzka, which hardly anyone remembers, but she was lovely in it, playing the mother of a young piano prodigy.  And then of course there was Deepa Mehta's Fire, with a lesbian storyline which angered conservative filmgoers and led to cinema halls being burnt to the ground.  Needless to say she was absolutely brilliant in it.  I've just begun to watch Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and so far she's just as lovely as I expected.

Nandita Das
I've sadly only seen three of her films: Fire, Earth, and Provoked.  I thought she did well with the material she was given in Provoked, and she was absoutely brilliant in both Deepa Mehta films.  I'll never forget the scene in Fire where she dons a man's suit and mustache and dances Chaplin-esque in front of the mirror.  She is always competely believable in her roles; no hysterics from Nandita Das.

Mahi Gill
She made a stunning debut in Dev D; it will be fascinating to see how her career progresses from that.

Vidya Balan
So far the first really mainstream actress on my list.  I saw her in her debut, Parineeta, and was blown away.  She played Lolita in a perfectly understated way, and you couldn't help but be lost in her character.  The majority of the films I've seen her in since have been similarly impressive: Lage Raho Munnabhai and Bhool Bulaiyaa.  Others have been so-so, but I think that's more a lack of decent material (ahem, Kismet Konnection) at fault than her.

Kalki Koechlin
Very good, I thought, in Dev D.  Again, will be interesting to see what sorts of projects she takes on in the future.

Anyone who knows me knows Tabu's my girl.  I adore her.  Cheeni Kum, Kandukondain Kandukondain, The Namesake (especially The Namesake), Maqbool...the woman can do no wrong.  The way she madly, deperately ran around the house in The Namesake, turning on all the lights and crying out in grief on the walkway killed me.  She's perfect.  She has a way of making me think, after a film is over, that she alone saved the movie for me.  Cheeni Kum is a perfect example of this: though I thought Amitabh's character at the beginning wasn't half bad, by the end the movie had become almost unbearable, with the sole exception of Tabu's elegant performance.

Gracey Singh
Again, haven't had the good fortune to see very much of her, but that's not for lack of trying: though definitely one of the most intriguing and talented actresses (and dancers!) to hit the big screen in the last decade, she gave up films after doing only two.  But those two were so good:  Lagaan had me from beginning to end, and there's still no finer dance sequence than Radha Kaise Na Jale, in my opinion.  And in Munnabhai MBBS she was light and sweet and just right.

Shefali Shetty (Shah)
I've seen her in exactly one film, and it's my favorite: Monsoon Wedding.  She was heartbreaking in that film, and it's a performance that ranks as one of the best I've ever seen--not just in Indian cinema but in film, period.  

If I've left anyone out, apologies.  It's not that I don't love them (there are very few actresses I truly dislike), but it's likely that all I've seen of them are the same old recycled overly dramatic/vapid girlfriend roles.  There are a few (Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, etc) who I do think have started to hit their stride but who honestly have not yet established themselves as "solid" actresses the way the women above have.

All Abhishek, All the Time

Not gonna lie, I'm totally in love with Abhishek Bachchan, and he's been all over the place recently. Earlier I linked to CNN's "Connector of the Day" preview for him; sadly my question (about his thoughts on doing more comedies, which I think he has a real talent for) didn't make the cut, but a few interesting ones did (and one completely banal, annoying Q about what it's like being married to "the most beautiful woman in the world." Someone should inform CNN that AB is NOT Mr. Aishwarya Rai.).

Here's Abhishek's Connector of the Day interview.  The conversation is a bit scattered, but one interesting tidbit is that he and Aishwarya are scheduled to star in a remake of Abhimaan, the 1973 film which starred his parents (Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Badhuri) and concerns a man who becomes jealous of his wife's success.  It's being scripted by Rajiv Menon--can't wait to see how it turns out!

(Seems to be a lot of Abhimaan confusion--will they or won't they, etc.  I'm going to go with Abhishek on this one and say the film is definitely on.)

For those who can't watch the video, this article goes a bit further in depth on Abhi's opinion that more Hollywood actors should come try their hand at Bollywood. 

Mar 9, 2010


Just a couple of tidbits to share today:

A.R. Rahman was formally invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  He joins 133 other invited artists and executives in becoming a voting member of the Academy.  Congratulations Maestro!

Dev Benegal's Road, Movie, which stars my lovely Abhay Deol, is rumored to have been picked up for mainstream distribution by Robert de Niro.  

Mar 6, 2010

Irrfan "In Treatment"

Seems it's an Irrfan Khan sort of day!  And really, when isn't it for me?  A little bird just told me that Anil Kapoor isn't the only Indian actor riding the successful wave of Slumdog Millionaire right to America's shores.  Irrfan is finally getting some well-deserved recognition stateside and will be playing a prominent role in all 43 episodes of the third season of "In Treatment," the therapy drama starring Gabriel Byrne.  I might have to start watching!

Irrfan Khan to star in "In Treatment"

Song of the Day--Marjaani (Billu Barber)


Film: Billu Barber
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta, Om Puri
Music: Pritam

The first time I heard this song it was being performed at one of the zillion awards functions by Bipasha Basu, and it took me ages to track it down.  But track it down I did, and it was worth it.  Marjaani is one of the handful of item numbers that make up the bulk of the "Billu" (or "Billu Barber") soundtrack, and is by far my favorite number in the film.  It has a sound very similar to some of the Persian pop music I listen to, and that feel is backed up by the beautiful set and costumes.  There are two things about this video that I absolutely love.  The first is how much fun Shah Rukh and Kareena seem to be having.  Look at their faces!  Acting or no, they both look like they're having a great time together.  The second is Irrfan--though he only features in the video for a few seconds here and there, those few seconds pack a punch.  The sweet, earnest look on his face as he's vying for a better look at the action towards the end of the song totally makes this clip for me.  He's excellent.  So, so excellent.

Exciting Happenings in DC!

Two big events coming up in the DC area that I wanted to pass along (click on the links for more information):

Shreya Ghoshal and Atif Aslam
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Door opens at 5pm, concert begins at 6
DAR Constitution Hall

Bhangra Blowout
April 17, 2010
DAR Constitution Hall
Show starts at 7 sharp!

In addition to featuring the country's best bhangra teams, Bhangra Blowout will also include a special guest performance by RDB!!

Here's last year's Bhangra Blowout champion, VCU:

India Is Where They Make The Cheese...

I was going about my normal Friday night routine, i.e. staying home like a loser and Google-stalking Priyanka Chopra like it's my job (and let's be honest, it probably is someone's job somewhere, especially with all the recent gossip about her and Gerard Butler) and I came across a little news blurb about her support of the Indian field hockey team.  "Phir dil do hockey ko!" says Priyanka, and why not?  India's hosting the World Cup, so absolutely, let's support the home team.

"Phir dil do hockey ko (give your heart to hockey again)" is more than just Priyanka's personal cheer.  It's the catchphrase of a set of ads by Hero Honda (yes, that Honda) designed to a) support the Indian field hockey team and b) to ensure an entire generation of young Indians come as close as possible to killing themselves on dangerous (but elegant!) motorcycles.  Two birds, as they say.  Anyways bare with me, there's a point here somewhere.

I consider myself an average to above-average sports fan, and I'm pretty sure if this phenomenon were going on in the States I would have noticed.  In India, it seems, there's a song for everything.  Got a big sporting event?  Write a song, toss in some Bollywood stars, tug on some heartstrings, and voila!  Two years ago we had "Aaya India" in celebration of India's cricket team, and now we have the "Dakh Dakh Hero Honda" commercials for the hockey team.  (There's a "Dakh Dakh Hero Honda" music video as well, though it seems to feature the cricket team, so who knows what's going on there.)

Maybe someone more familiar with "Bolly-Patriotism" can fill me in--is this a common occurance in India?  Do all major sporting events come with a music video in support of the home team?  I'm not sure that I've really seen this anywhere else (outside of some gag-worthy Olympic numbers).  "Aaya India" is a damn catchy song, but that not withstanding this all seems pretty cheesy.

Aaya India*:

*Eternal thanks to anyone who can identify the guy at 1:35.  He's beautiful and I want him.  That is all.

Dakh Dakh Hero Honda:

Phir dil do hockey ko:

Mar 5, 2010

A Chat With Abhay Deol

Sanni over at ...So They Dance linked to a great interview CNBC did with Abhay Deol (current king of my filmi heart) that shouldn't be missed.  He speaks thoughtfully about the difference between craft and art in acting and explains the way independent cinema is funded and produced in India.  And of course he's charming and adorable throughout!

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

And for a little taste of what it is about Abhay Deol that excites me so much, check out this preview for one of the standout films of last year, Dev DDev D is the most recent in a long line of takes on the classic Bengali novel "Devdas" by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (the most well known probably being the 2002 classic Devdas, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai), and is definitely a huge departure from the tones of the previous versions.  Where Devdas was lushly romantic, tragic, and filmi, Abhay Deol's Dev D is, well, sex drugs and rock 'n roll.  Seriously.  See for yourself. 

Connect with Abhishek Bachchan!

Ever wanted to ask one of Bollywood's biggest names a question?  Here's your chance!  CNN regularly hosts a forum for interacting with the world's biggest celebrities, and today's "Connector" is Abhishek Bachchan!  So get on over there and post your message!  (I've already posted mine and will report back if my question is selected for him to answer!)
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