Dear Zindagi

I seem to be having a renewed fling with Hindi movies. It could be me – looking for a change from the formula Hollywood movies – or, it could be the movies I saw – light hearted, yet not the outrageous fare the Salman or Akshay produce.

I liked Ae dil hai mushkil (ADHM). And now, 2 weeks later, I really, really liked Dear Zindagi.

ADHM felt more polished, had much better music, and had the usual play between a male and a female lead.

Yet, it was Dear Zindagi that I liked more. A lot more. Some reasons…

  • Alia Bhatt – she brings a truck load of freshness, youth, and energy to the screen. It’s been a week, and I can still close my eyes, and remember the wide variety of her expressions. Brings on a smile every time.
     
  • SRK – I was starting to get tired of him in lead, primary male roles. And he goes an reinvents himself, and how. A small cameo in ADHM was brilliant. A full role, but as a second character to a young, female, primary lead – and he pulled it off effortlessly. He was strong and present, as his own character, while not stealing an iota of focus from the main character – Alia’s. Which brings me to…
     
  • Sole female lead. I didn’t think that Bollywood could produce a movie with a strong, solo female lead. At least not in my lifetime. And here we have one. Not just a solo, strong female lead. But one that’s neither an arch-feminist waging the war on the world, nor a mother-to-the-world leading the charge. She’s just a regular, young girl, living (the complicated & troubled, yet sometimes joyous life) in modern India. Hats off to the producer and director for taking on this challenge, and executing it without heavy melodrama.
     
  • Mental health. It took a long while, but glad to have a bollywood movie bring a focus on mental health into the mainstream. Usually, mental health issues are portrayed either with jail-like mental asylums full of odd characters, or with dark, dangerous, gloomy, brooding characters.
    It was pleasant to see it shown in such a different light. Yes, normal, successful, seemingly happy people, surrounded by friends, can still have mental health problems. And yes, it’s not just normal, but important to see a therapist/consultant to work on those problems, the same way we do with our physical health issues. Thanks again, to the writers, the director, and the producers, for bringing mental health in focus, in such a non-intimidating, yet serious manner.
     
  • Bombay & Goa. My top two favourite places in India. The only two places, I’ve long stated on record, that I can live in if I ever return to India.
    The movie highlighted some of the best bits of both places for me, without focussing on the usual landmarks and tourist spots. More than the sights, it was the people, the culture, of both places that I love. That I’ve missed. Was a warm blessing to see them portrayed on screen. Not perfect, not complete, yet true … to what was shown.
     
  • Friends. I don’t have any. I use to, not anymore. So, it really warmed my heart to see such a close, happy bunch of friends. Fighting, forgiving, fun, friends.
    Friends, you can speak to. Or not. Who give you an embrace, and a shrug. Who care about you, but not just for the gossip. Just, friends.
     
  • Family. Again, the movie didn’t stick to one of the two standard strains of family relations – the god like parents in front of whom everyone bends eventually, or the devils of parents against whom everyone rebels, till parents come to their senses or the kids die.
    Families are complicated. Relationships are complicated. It was good to see them shown as such, and not in one of the two simple baskets. We’re both right and wrong in our relationships. Often at the same time. Some relationships are special, some even more so. The strength of that bond, sometimes, has nothing to do with time spent together, or closeness of the relationship in traditional terms. And sometimes, relationships that should be close, aren’t – me & sis, for example. Often, some friendships get closer than even the closest relationships we were born into.That’s just how we are. Such is life. Such, it was, in the movie. Thank you!
     
  • Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le, Take 2. I liked the music of ADHM more than that of Dear Zindagi. Still, there are a few songs in this movie that’ve quickly made their way to my most played playlist. This one deserves a special mention, considering the original was (is) a long time favourite. (Take 1 is brilliant as well)
     

Love you zindagi…. (and you too, that small corner of Bollywood)

On train back out from Waterloo. Thames, Westminster, then Vauxhall outside my window. Grey blue skies.

Suddenly, I’m in a train south from Bandra. Mahim bay spread out besides. Grey blue sea. Faint smell of the sea, the fish, the Mithi crawls out of memory, through the nose, into the heart.

I miss you, Bombay.

Jan 2011: A great movie month!

January was the best movie month I’ve had in a long, long time. Other than the lone hick-up of Henry’s Crime, not one movie I watched counted as even mediocre. Weekend after weekend, movie after movie – surprise and delight. It was heaven for the movie lover in me.

It all started with an otherwise boring weekend being turned around with 90-something minutes of awe inspiring story telling. 127 hours. As the movie began, I thought the title sequence was one of the best screen footage I’d seen in some time. Well, rest of the movie just kept on trying, successfully, to outdo that little sequence. As if the sights weren’t enough, the soundtrack was magical and used like only a master could. Take all of this and add the incredible real life story of Aron Ralston, played brilliantly by James Franco – it’s a sure shot in my ‘forever’ library. And to think of it, we had actually gone to see another movie but saw this when we didn’t get tickets for the other one.

That other movie, which we saw the next weekend was King’s Speech. It did not have the technical brilliance, with camera or music, of 127 hours. It did, however, have a lot more going for it – brilliant performances, a simple yet powerful story and an emotional touch. Colin Firth is simply brilliant. Geoffrey Rush is secondary, but powerful. And the hidden star, for me, is Helena Bonham Carter in her role as Queen Elizabeth. It was the first time I saw the stiff British public breaking into a spontaneous applause in a theatre. As is the first time I see the movie still running houseful on weekdays weeks after its release. Of course, it could be as well explained by this Economist blog as by the film’s quality.

Now, unlike the first two, Black Swan was a movie I wasn’t very sure that I wanted to watch. The reviews on twitter had been varied – from brilliant to vaguely dismissing its success as based on the apparently lesbian love scenes. Take those mixed reviews, add the fact that I have never seen the Swan Lake and that Rags had been working that weekend, and you know why I didn’t want to watch this movie. Anyway, Rags got a few hours off, and a set of friends coerced me to come for the movie. I could never have thanked them enough. The movie couldn’t be more different from the previous two, yet it is just as brilliant as them. And there’s just one star here – Natalie Portman. Yes, the production was great, as was the music and the other actors. But what put the life, and blood, in that movie was the Swan Queen. And now I can never see the Swan Lake again, for the fear of disappointing myself on the high standards that this little lady has set.

It was now, after 3 weekends and 3 brilliant movies, that I pointed out to Rags how well the month had been going. And she pointed back that in these 3 weekends we could have potentially seen the movies which between them could sweep most of the Oscars this year :)

Next up was a break from Hollywood with Dhobi Ghat – another movie with a wide variety of reviews from friends on twitter. While a few liked them, most dismissed them in the worst of manners – not by pointing out the flaws in movie but by pronouncing it pretentious and meaningless. I am glad we listened to the few who did like it, because I loved the movie. Amir Khan may have been the established star but it was the youngsters – Monica Dogra, Prateik Babbar and Kriti Malhotra who stole the show. It could be attributed to my distance from the city or my love of ordinary life, I loved the movie as much as I love that city. The movie, for me, was a visit back to Bombay – the stories of everyday Bombaiya, the rain (specially the rain, always the rain!), the town-side life, the closely woven, yet carefully separated lives of people from different social classes and religions, the human element that aspires, corrupts, creates and destroys us all. It was a beautifully told story of the Bombay we loved, and we loved it back.*

I saw Seabiscuit back in my pre-MBA days and loved it. It was my first ‘horse movie’. It was also the first movie that, on a weekend evening, had 11 people in the hall when it began. Five when it ended. So, when the person on twitter who liked Dhobhi Ghat also recommended Secretariat, I knew the likelihood of it screening in a hall was bleak. Watching it on our not-so-small TV may have reduced the size of action but never reduced the size of emotion that movie carried. I’ve been an avid animal lover ever since that dog bit me more than a decade ago (strange? yes! story some other time), so most movies with with a human-animal bond move me and horses are, for me, second only to dogs in the animal world. The strength of a lady taking over a huge estate, smashing into a men’s club and winning everything on offer is an inspiring one in itself. That she did it without the support of her family, but with the manner of a cunning fox, and with a horse no one else expected to be last is one a lot could be learnt from. Of course, like all the ones before this, the camera work, the music and the acting is brilliant and a mild sprinkle of humour only adds to the movie.

Even if it had been just these 5 movies, I’d have gladly counted this month as my best ever with movies. But the magic was not yet over. There were two more in store. Both, not originally on my list but pushed up the order by Rags.

Tradition Prepared Her. Change Will Define Her.

First came The Queen. Based around the period of Princess Diana’s death, this movie would come out as just above average to most people. The performances were really good, but not brilliant. That could also be due to the currentness of the topic – that I could compare the characters to my mental images of The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Tony Blair and Cherie Blair and find them different, created some dissonance in my mind. What I liked about this movie though, as I did about The King’s Speech, was the humanisation of Royalty. Rags, in fact, had a great trouble in accepting the queen as someone with such strong views, being so outspoken inside the palace and as being someone who would drive around the Balmoral estate alone in a Range Rover. Her image, as we’ve developed from her few public appearances is of speaking little, if at all, and being a smiling, benevolent matriarch to the British nation. That the same person could have such strong views on her ex-daughter-in-law and could be so out of the times, was revealing. That the same domineering character who put down Tony Blair in beginning was also smart enough to learn and humble enough to accept her mistake later, was surprising. Specially, given the blind views, as presented, of the DoE and Queen Mother (the wife in King’s Speech!). That tumultuous period may have become a small crisis for the Monarchy, but this movie’s presentation of it has only made me respect this Queen even more. A friendship based on trust in King’s Speech, and a relationship forged through crises in The Queen – there’s still a lot we ordinary folk could learn from the royals.

Those big green eyes, perfect smile and a spunky character – Rapunzel, I love you!

Last weekend of the month, last movie of the month, probably the latest genre of them all – Tangled 3D. The movie had been recommended by a couple of friends and Rags was eager to watch it. Sensing my disinterest, she made me watch a trailer on her phone while out at a cake shop and I agreed to go – not because of the trailer but because of her enthusiasm. Glad I went. It doesn’t compete with most movies above on the classiness of storytelling, or the story itself. But it succeeds wildly at what it’s intended to do – provide light-hearted entertainment. The story was well known but the characters were new and, I must admit, I lost a bit of my heart to that spirited Rapunzel. To add to it, the music score is good and the animation brilliant (can’t expect anything less these days from Disney). That we had to watch the 3D version was a slight downer but that didn’t stop me from laughing out loud (for real) in the hall. After a relatively tense week, and a great movie watching month, this was a perfect send-off :)

Is it too much to ask for one such month every year in terms of the quality of movies I get to see? Nahin na, I thought so. So, here’s hoping that we all get a lot more of such great movie months.

Cheers!

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