Sunday, August 24, 2008

Spotlight on Bollywood

The democratic handshake

The media keeps reminding us that India is the world's largest democracy but that does not mean it is a successful one. In fact, modern society does not have a single successful running democracy. Why are democracies not successful? One reason that the democratic political system fails is because of the male handshake. Two men shake hands. One is a business man, the other a politician. Here lies the problem. How can a politician do good for his people when he has a man promising him a suitcase of money?

Sarkar Raj is the latest in a string of Bollywood films that examines how political decisions are drafted on the basis of these male handshakes. A power plant is supposed to boost Maharashtra’s energy needs but in order to build the plant, villages would have to be displaced. A common problem really -- land and people often seem to be in the way of big industry. So how should such a problem be solved? Easy, get some men to shake hands and make some promises. Oh and behind the scenes, in the shadows, hire some thugs to commit a few murders.

Even though the story has potential to tackle some real issues and get to the core of corruption in the political system, Sarkar Raj does not dive deep into the issues and just skims the surface by dropping a few lines here and there about responsibility and power. Ram Gopal Varma has more interest in presenting hovering camera angles or having the camera pointed towards the window to let the sunlight blind the screen, keeping the actors hidden from view while listening to their so called important dialogues. The truth is that there is nothing new in this film, just some different camera angles. Sarkar Raj promises a lot but unfortunately it does not deliver, much like the fake promises made by the politicians shown in the story.

Mall in the name of progress

On one hand, Indian land is coveted by big industries, while on the other hand, empty land is also required by developers who are eager to construct as many big malls as possible in modern day India. And in some cases, people are being displaced from existing residential areas so that a mall can be built. So Aziz Mirza takes this relevant issue of Indian land vs mall construction and transports it to Toronto. In Kismet Konnection, a big mall will displace an existing community center rendering the residents homeless. Although he takes his story to Toronto, Mirza keeps everything else Indian, including the characters, dialogues (apparently everyone in Toronto speaks Hindi) and even the situations involving the construction company. Kismet Konnection, essentially an updated version of his 1992 film Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, features a main character Raj (Shahid Kapur) who takes on a corporation in the hopes of impressing the girl and getting his career off the ground.

Friendship and love, leaving little time for a career

A male college student in a Bollywood film certainly leads a stressful life. There is the pressure of hanging out with friends, then the added stress of impressing a girl, and then he has to dress the part, know how to sing songs and oh yeah, has to dance as well. How can one possibly have time to study after all this? And chances are when the boy graduates, his father or a friend’s father will have a job waiting for him because that is how life is in a Bollywood college universe.

Two recent romantic films Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na & De Taali show that the most stressful aspect of the character’s life is deciding to fall in love with their good friend. Although in De Taali the characters are actually college graduates, they still lead life as per a Bollywood college standard of no responsibility. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is a decent film although it has a serious hangover from the smashing 2001 film Dil Chahta Hai. Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai was a memorable film which had some excellent acting and a very good screenplay whereas Jaane Tu... features a new cast making their debut, so one cannot expect the same acting standards, and has a screenplay that is tailored to include some needless slapstick comedic elements and even makes room for songs and an intermission.

One of the brightest aspects about Jaane Tu is Genelia D’Souza who lights up the screen with her beautiful smile and cute expressions. She essentially plays the same bubbly character in Priyadarshan’s enjoyable comedy Mere Baap Pehle Aap and enhances the film with her presence. The only downside to Genelia’s acting is that she still has to master the Hindi language but other than that, she is a breath of fresh air in the film industry. Mere Baap Pehle Aap also turns the love story angle a bit on its head as the main character in love is a widower who gets lectured about chasing women by his twenty-something son.

After love, the difficulties start

So once the characters move beyond the initial love phase, then what? Then they might learn that falling in love was the easy part but finding a job or even a place to live in is far more difficult. Rajatesh Nayyar’s Sirf tackles some issues that come after most Bollywood love stories end. The film features multiple couples in different stages of their relationship who are struggling to afford a decent place to live in or even find a job. Also, a couple’s marital problems are shown as the busy work life gets in the way of their marriage.

In Jannat, Arjun (Emraan Hashmi) thinks he has found the perfect financial solution to his life amid the high stake world of cricket betting. Arjun has a knack for correctly predicting how cricket games would end and initially uses this to make some quick cash to impress his girlfriend, whom he eventually marries. But very quickly, he is sucked into a much more complicated world of gambling. His criminal ways do not go well with his wife but Arjun finds it difficult to turn away the large piles of cash.

The money trail leads to South Africa

In order to escape the Indian police and still continue to run his cricket betting service, Arjun runs off to South Africa in Jannat. In South Africa, he continues to lead a luxurious lifestyle, while building up his wealth.

In Race, two brothers (Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna) live their wealthy life in South Africa while trying to outdo each other.

Needless to say that in both films, money blinds the main characters. In Jannat, Arjun loses the respect of his wife while in Race, the two brothers plot to kill each other.

Follow the money...

Arjun is so busy making money that he never stops to think what the millions he is earning for his bosses is being used for. As it turns out, Arjun’s bosses in Jannat use that money to support terrorism in India.

In Raj Kumar Gupta’s worthy debut film Aamir, it is the money being sent by people from outside India that is supporting terrorism in the Indian cities. Aamir takes the story from Cavite, which was set in the Philippines, and completely adapts it to the Indian political landscape in Mumbai.


Most Bollywood ghost stories take place either in the beautiful state of Rajasthan or in some isolated mansion in the countryside. Two recent films continue this tradition as well -- Anamika has a touch of a mysterious spirit lurking amid a beautiful Rajasthani palace while Bhoothnath has a comedic ghost who refuses to leave his ancestral mansion.

2008 also marks the year that the ghost of Ed Wood made his presence felt in Bollywood as per the evidence of three films -- Mr. Black Mr. White, Mission Istaanbul and Singh is Kinng. Even by the normally average Bollywood film-making standards, all three of these films were very very poor. Although the films could have been salvaged had the directors not ignored the basic rules of film-making such as having a screenplay, proper editing and balanced background score. All three films featured scenes which were shot too quickly, slapped together without any thought and spliced with needless songs all arriving at the wrong moment.

Film Ratings out of 10

Note: All films released in 2008

  • Mere Baap Pehle Aap: 8.5

  • Aamir: 8

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: 7.5

  • Jannat : 6.5

  • Sirf: 6

  • Sarkar Raj: 5.5

  • Bhoothnath: 5

  • Anamika: 4.5

  • De Taali: 4

  • Krazzy 4: 4

  • Race: 3

  • Kismat Konnection: 2

  • Contract: 0

  • Singh is Kinng: 0

  • Mr. Black Mr. White: 0

  • Mission Istaanbul: 0
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