9 July 2016

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Mononoke Hime
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Voice Talents (Japanese): Yōji Matsuda,
Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka,
Kaoru Kobayashi, Akihiro Miwa,
Hisaya Morishige
(English): Billy Cruddup, Claire Danes,
Minni Driver, Billy Bob Thornton,
Gillian Anderson, Keith David
The first Miyazaki film that I watched many years ago was Spirited Away (2001). It was a simple tale of a young girl who, on the way into a new neighbourhood, is accidentally trapped in the spirit world. The only way to exit that world is to cross a bridge by sunset. Unfortunately for the little girl, her parents, having partaken of a dish of pork at a restaurant, have been turned into pigs themselves. Now she has to find a way not only to turn her parents back into humans, but to also escape the spirit world before it's too late. It was a whimsical fable dealing with inter-generational conflict, Japanese culture and the effect of modernity upon it, through the eyes of a courageous little girl. It was a tale that touched your heart in inexplicable ways, and was not restricted to one generation. My older son, then a little boy, was as spellbound by the tale unfolding in front of him as we, his parents, were. 

In these intervening years, we have watched several other Miyazaki movies Ponyo, The Wind Rises, From Up On Poppy Hill... suffice it to say, I've never yet watched a Miyazaki film that I haven't liked. So when my husband ordered Princess Mononoke (or Mononoke Hime, which is its Japanese name) from Netflix for our second son, I sat up to watch it as well. On the face of it, Princess Mononoke (I shall continue with the English name, since I'd watched the English version of this anime feature.) is another simple tale, like one of our folk tales. A courageous hero, a curse from an animal god, a journey across lands to seek redemption from the curse, a beautiful heroine, anthropomorphic animal characters, an internecine war, and so on. Underlying it, however, are very serious themes of man vs. nature.
So, onward, my friends, to the tale of Ashitaka and San, Eboshi and Jiko-bō, Moro and Okkoto, and several others.

4 July 2016

My Favourites: Songs of Strangers

When I was a teenager, I had the habit of writing down things that I specifically liked – bits of poetry, passages from books, lyrics that I particularly liked, the sort of nonsense rhymes that were particularly meant for autograph books, greetings that appealed to me from the greeting cards that I bought, quotes, inspirational sayings, etc. When one notebook got over, I bought another one. I think I'd amassed quite a few such notebooks by the time I graduated. 

One saying that I particularly remember even now is 'Strangers are friends you're yet to meet.' It seemed very profound to the 16-year-old that I was, and I remember scribbling it down very carefully. I think I also wrote it down in someone's autograph book, preening myself over how worldly-wise I sounded. I wonder what that person thought of it! 

28 June 2016

Chandralekha (1948)

Directed by: SS Vasan
Music: S Rajeswara Rao
             MD Parthasarathy
Lyrics: Papanasam Sivan
              Kothamangalam Subbu
Starring: TR Rajakumari, MK Radha, Ranjan,
MS Sundaribai
I've wanted to review this film for a long time now. Like many of the movies I watched in my childhood, this too was courtesy my father. When Chandralekha was re-released in Bangalore, he wanted me to see the famous drum dance  – he'd described it so often, and so vividly that I remember sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the dance. 
The 'theatre' was a ramshackle tent, and the seats were not exactly comfortable. Once the film began, however, I completely forgot how uncomfortable the seat was, or how dingy the theatre.

Chandralekha was a typical raja-rani film, set in a vague historical period. It had two brothers who fought for the throne, a beautiful heroine with whom both the brothers fell in love, attempted fratricide, fabulous sets, gorgeous handwoven silk and gold costumes, political machinations, espionage, exquisitely staged battle scenes, the longest sword fight captured on film, circus animals, song and dance... the works! 

So... are you ready for the magic?

23 June 2016

My Favourites: 'Where Are You?' Songs

The other day I was listening to one of my favourite RD Burman songs. From a 70s fluff movie called Jawani Diwani. Apart from the fact that it had Randhir Kapoor as a college student, it also had Jaya Bhaduri walking around with a creepy life-sized doll. But – and that is a huge 'but' – this  song is classic Burman. Anyway... long story short, it gave me an idea for a song list. (Another one? you ask disbelievingly.*Hangs head in embarrassment*)

19 June 2016

Dharmputra (1961)

Directed by: Yash Chopra
Music: N Dutta
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Starring: Shashi Kapoor, Manmohan Krishna, 
Mala Sinha, Ashok Kumar, 
Nirupa Roy, Rehman, 
Deven Verma, Indrani Mukherjee, 
We're living through contentious times. Last week saw one of the most horrifying mass shootings in the US, which lately (and unfortunately), has not been a stranger to these acts of domestic terrorism. In the tragic aftermath, a presumptive presidential candidate saw fit to blow up the discourse by implying that the current president is an apologist for terrorist groups, or worse, a sleeper cell for them. However, this is not just happening here in the US. Bigotry and intolerance are rising everywhere. Someone, somewhere, is offended by something. Which is fine, if he/she chooses not to watch/read/take part in whatever it is that offends them. Today, however, proxy wars are fought on social media platforms, people deem fit to band together and threaten violence against the person who so offended them, demand their ouster from their professional positions, and make life miserable not just for the 'offender' but for everyone associated with them.  

Amidst the roiling socio-political atmosphere in what is surely one of the most contentious presidential election years here in the US, I re-watched a film from the 60s, and was taken aback at how the more things change, the more they remain the same. Dharmputra is set in similarly contentious times – the years leading up to the Partition in India. As I remarked in my review of Hey Ram, the wounds of the Partition still fester under the scabs, almost sixty years after the incident. It is tragic – and scary – that the underlying premise of a six-decade-old film is  even more relevant today, than it was then.

14 June 2016

Life Lessons From Hindi Films

Recently, over on Dustedoff's blog, on her latest post, reader Thandapani wrote: “I hate these kind of ‘the whole world is out to rape a woman who steps out of a house’ thing." That gave me a brilliant idea for a new post. (Yes. I'm also very modest.) You see, I have been a lifelong student of Hindi cinema. I started young, sitting on my mother's lap when I was two, turning my face away from the screen when the dhishoom-dhishoom started. Over the years, many, many films in various Indian languages, but especially in Hindi, have taught me some very valuable lessons.

Though half these lessons hold universally true for both genders, the rest are especially meant for women. [I must confess that I have been a bad student in that I haven't really learnt any of these lessons, even after Hindi film after Hindi film tried to teach me how to be a 'good' woman.] But, in the hope that someone might actually learn something from these, here's a summary of some of the things I've gleaned from watching Hindi cinema.

9 June 2016

My Favourites: The Rain in Ten Moods

Painting by Suresh Sandal
Source: allmagnews
So the monsoons have hit India, bringing relief from the scorching heat of the summer. Three years ago, around this time, I wrote a post on rain songs. Then, I wrote another. So when regular reader Nalini mentioned in a comment on my previous post that the monsoons have made their appearance in Kerala, and wondered if I would do a post on rain songs, I demurred. I had already exhausted my quota of 'favourite' rain songs; I had also written extensively about what the monsoons mean to me.

However, nestled among my various lists is a list of rain scenes from Hindi films, and in honour of the monsoons – and Nalini –  I thought I would make a post of those instead. (Especially since we'd a thunder storm here this evening, and S and I got drenched while walking the dog!) 

3 June 2016

My Favourites: The 'Mawsome is Awesome' Songs

I first came across the saying 'The Mawsome is Awesome' when my husband would make his usual funny remarks in the middle of a conversation. It tickled my funny bone, so I ended up using it myself, as and when appropriate. I did ask him for the origin of the term. He has no clue: they used to say that in IIT Bombay, apparently, but he doesn't know if they picked it up from somewhere else, or whether they coined the term themselves. In any case, it's a great phrase (he insisted I spell 'Mausam' the way it has to be pronounced for the phrase to work;), suitable for use in various social situations. 

27 May 2016

Annadata (1972)

Directed by: Asit Sen
Music: Salil Choudhary
Lyrics: Yogesh
Starring: Om Prakash, Jaya Bhaduri, 
Anil Dhawan, 
Krishnakant, Dulari, 
Tarun Bose, Parveen Paul
My usual comfort food in Hindi cinema is to watch the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. In fact, I'd watched one in bits and pieces over the last week, but will leave that for a later post. Driving my son to one of his classes this past week, I was listening to Raaton ke saaye ghane... That brought to mind the film itself, which had some fantastic songs by Salilda, and so I decided it merited a re-watch. Director Asit Sen's movies are usually watchable, he being of the Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee ilk, combining Bengali literature with a soupçon of realism, giving you characters who you are familiar with, and who behave rather more normally than most film characters tend to do.

18 May 2016

Hey Ram (2000)

Directed by: Kamal Hassan
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Starring: Kamal Hassan, Rani Mukherjee,
Shah Rukh Khan, Om Puri,
Saurabh Shukla, Atul Kulkarni,
Vikram Gokhale, Sowcar Janaki,
Vasundhara Das, Hema Malini,
Girish Karnad, Naseeruddin Shah,
Farida Jalal
When the British left India after more than a century and a half of governing the nation, they left behind a fractured nation, weakly emerging from the privations of being ruled by foreigners, and bled dry from centuries of commercial exploitation. They also left us with a parting gift, a wound that still lies festering under our collective consciousness. In keeping with the 'Divide and Rule' policy they had followed while ruling their erstwhile colony (which, to be fair, they had forged into a nation state from disparate princely states), they split a vast nation into two bleeding halves before leaving – 'Hindu'-India and 'Muslim'-Pakistan. 

The mass migration of people during this period was the largest the modern world had ever seen. Millions of people were displaced from their homes; not all of them who were displaced chose to be so. As Hindus braved their way across the newly-drawn borders into the safe haven that was India, similar caravans of Muslims made their tortuous way towards the new 'Muslim' nation, one that they hoped, believed, would give them a place they could call home. 

This momentous event would result in scenes of extreme violence and cruelty. Generations of communities that had peacefully co-existed for centuries would rise up in arms against friends and neighbours. Sectarian violence became the order of the day. Scenes of carnage became common, the scale of which was unprecedented, and the consequences calamitous.

As nationalist leaders unsuccessfully tried to stem the tide of events, there were also people who stoked the embers, keeping alive the flame of enmity. No community was safe; no community was innocent. Massacres became common as mob frenzy took over, stoked by rumours of atrocities committed on their community by the 'other'. Men and children were murdered; women were abducted, raped, forcibly converted. Buses and trains were set on fire – with people inside. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives.

The Partition shaped the destiny of two nations – India and Pakistan. Since that date, more than seven decades ago, the erstwhile one-nation has been deeply polarised. The wounds lie deep, and fester, continuing to wreak havoc in both countries. 
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