Tag Archives: bollywood

Where’d My Rug Go?

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What do you do when you’ve had the rug pulled out from under you? By that I mean… the BIG rug. I had been in a long-term situation with someone very dear to me, someone in whom all of my passions and obsessions were reflected: Harry Nilsson, Godzilla movies, Kahlil Gibran, Paul McCartney, God, Star Wars, Badfinger, Universal Horror, Exploitation Cinema, Ghoulardi… you name it, we shared it together. Unfortunately, there were long-running underlying problems too large to ignore. When it came time for me to walk away, I couldn’t just do it, I realized just how lonely I would be… for everything I loved, every movie, every song, everything that once would have consoled me would now smell like his cherry vanilla pipe tobacco, would now merely remind me. What do you do when you’ve had THAT rug pulled out from under you?

The story of “Devdas” could have been an answer for me, as once upon a time I would have drowned my sorrows in alcohol and anger, but…

I found other things to consume me, and probably the most immersive being Bollywood! Here I found a lake deep and wide enough to swim in for a long time to come. And best of all, Bollywood has no whiff of cherry vanilla about it, no, it smells to me like cardamom. It belongs to me, not to my friend and I.

In a time of emotional distress, I began to imprint my need to feel passionately on Bollywood. Not a bad choice, there I have found high emotion, dazzling visuals, long emotionally involved stories, love, tragedy, and high romance. There I have found what was, at first, a place to hide, but what now has become a place to explore and celebrate. And what a place, what a resplendent place! And best of all, I have found a few people to share it with, so those lonely nights have become evenings full of companionship, popcorn, cookies, and the chai I make for myself and serve to my friends and students. Through Bollywood I emerged from heartache quickly and victoriously.

My first discovery had already been a part of my life, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose film “Saavariya” had really captured my heart. I’ve been fortunate in that here in town there is a heady video store that carries Bollywood DVD’s, but all the more fortunate in that there is actually a cinema here in town that regularly plays Hindi movies. Among the many I’ve seen there: “Bajirao Mastani,” “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” and one of my very favorites… “Tamasha.” Some of those movies I saw more than once, being lured to the cinema like a moth to the moon. I haven’t had this close a relationship to the cinema since Star Wars was in theaters. It’s one thing to sit cozily in my home with a cup of chai, but it’s another thing entirely to witness these films on the big screen. When “Bajirao Mastani” premiered in town, the theater even dedicated the biggest room with the biggest screen to it, it was jaw-dropping, and I saw it three times. Immersive to say the least. The musical numbers blew my mind, not merely due to the scope, but in how well integrated they were into the story. Most significantly, in one of the dance numbers, there was a two layered metaphor that struck my heart.

Dancing rivals

“Bajirao Mastini’s” dancing rivals

Before I realized I needed to break-up or somehow change this situation I was in, I (metaphorically… “the other woman”) hosted what would have, in Bollywood terms, been a visit from my (metaphoric) “rival,” the wife of my dear friend. The days before her rather surprising arrival were anxious, but when she came, we danced… not literally, but we danced together. We shared great meals, shopped, talked about art, and realized that we had once been friends, though that was a lifetime ago, a manifestation ago for me. In “Bajirao Mastani” there is a love triangle between Bajirao, his wife (who was a truly great character), and his “mistress,” or 2nd wife (depending on who you asked), and in the film the two women set aside their differences and sorrows and danced! There was the very metaphor I needed when I needed it, but the metaphor ran even deeper as in the film the two women were relating to another story, that of Radha and Krishna. Of course, Krishna left Radha to be with his wife. And so it goes. And so it went, and so here I am. But, I followed the path of karma, spoke with Parvati many times, tried to deny the weight of what she was telling me I had to do, but in the end (through tears and torment) I set things as right as I could… knowing from the beginning what that would mean to me… what it means is I, like so many women, am left standing alongside Radha, slowly waiting for the air to stop smelling like cherry vanilla pipe tobacco. It has since, and smells now much more like sandalwood… when it’s not smelling like cardamom.

I went to the Temple soon after all this emotional trauma unsatisfactorily and inevitably resolved itself, and I bowed to Radha, her warm eyes, like pools of water, reflected my soul back to me, and I knew that if nothing else, my karma was now clean. And… I was now free. I have become very interested, of late, in doing what I can to realign my karma and find my center.

At home tonight I just finished “Jodha Akbar,” and just last night I got to see “Dedh Ishqiya” for the second time, and both times I saw it, I did so with friends. It seems with the help of Bollywood, I am emerging from this cloud with a smile on my face and with a room full of friends.

What have I discovered about Bollywood? Mainly that it speaks its own language of cinema and cannot be critiqued from a Western perspective trained to see things a certain… nay… a very specific way. For one, I love the high emotion of Bollywood, it matches my emotional intensity far more directly than Western films do. Western films are, to my eyes, emotionally stunted, full of characters who are not truly free to feel, and critiqued and praised by people who are not free to feel, nor open to another way of viewing cinema. I have found that Bollywood films, at their best, can redefine what cinema can be, or more specifically, how dear cinema can be to one’s heart. I have found that the dismissive cliches about Bollywood only prove to be so from a very narrow point of view. For example I have been surprised, even delighted, to note that in most cases the songs are flawlessly incorporated, and, to me anyhow, seem very organic, and beyond that I have been impressed at the way many of the more powerful directors use the song and dance elements. In “Dedh Ishqiya” the songs fit seemlessly into the film, and the choices of music were very high-minded to say the least. These songs truly speak from and to the heart, and like lyrics and poems, can more easily express deep emotions than dialog.

I have witnessed dance numbers and rhythms that Western Popular music could stand to learn from. I mean, talk about beats! Bollywood’s got beat! The dance numbers can be enchanting, and the choreography impressive, complex, enormous, yet, at times, as subtle as hand gestures (see Devdas for one fine example of that).

Divine Madhuri

Divine Madhuri

I have discovered that as I begin to be able to tell who’s who, I am beginning to develop certain loyalites to certain directors, and great respect and appreciation for certain actors, easily my favorite being Madhuri Dixit. Divine Madhuri! She is full of grace and magic, just as Bardot had been, and before her, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, or even Audrey Hepburn. Madhuri has that larger than life feel, she never seems ordinary or vulgar. In “Dedh Ishqiya,” she plays an older woman, an aristocrat, who at heart is still a dancer, the same woman she has always been regardless of her status. This seemed, to me, like a metaphor for her own life and her own status. Bollywood, like Hollywood, is obsessed with youth. Her role in “Dedh Ishqiya” was inspiring and moving, especially to me, as I am not getting any younger. Madhuri shines, be she twenty-something or forty-something, she radiates with larger-than-life magic, just like the Beatles do and did. The Beatles never seemed like boys to me, rather like manifestations of Deities. Some people, some stars, are too big to be common. And many of us need our heroes to be bigger than we are, after all, what good is a hero who is only as large as our nearest neighbor? I do not seek equals in my heroes.

Do I sound like a fangirl?

Good, because I am, shamelessly so, shamelessly becoming an anime geek for Bollywood. And shamelessly dragging other people into this with me. So far, none of my converts have complained.

if there’s been an upside to this “break-up,” or “falling-out,” or whatever it was (nothing about the situation was typical or as-it-seemed) it has to be Bollywood. I’ve been grateful for the color, the music, the romance, the heroic values… and for the fact that the films are rarely (if ever) cynical. Cynicism, there’s something I’ve ggrown weary of in the West. Ah, give me romance, and I mean high romance, not just between a man and a woman, but romance to a culture, to music, to ideals of heroism. I’ve realized that, at least through Bollywood, the Indians have not forgotten how the hero’s journey works, and have not lost sight of what a hero must be. India, for all its problems and struggles, still understands its own myths, and still honors its own Gods.

Mastani with her sword

Mastani with her sword

Like Mastani with her sword, I have found strength. Shortly after seeing this film I found myself, once again, in a situation in which I needed to defend the integrity of my school and my own space. I have realized that I am, at times, all alone out here, and at times, I alone will stand firm and take matters into my own hands. On this day I ended up beating a door to splinters with a hammer (uh… long story). Ultimately, like Durga, I confronted this Rakshasa demon, and peace and quiet prevailed over the kingdom. I have begun to become the sort of woman for whom the buck stops, and it stops here, at my toes and ankle bangles. Yes, there are role models for women in Bollywood films, women who can be strong without resorting to grunting, groaning and spitting like men, women who know that their strength lies not in masculinization, but in a whiff of perfume, in dance, and in the depths of their femininity. And I have become the kind of woman who can survive having the rug pulled out from under her.

Well, I don’t know where the rug went when it was pulled out from under me, but I like the beautiful Persian rug I’m standing on now just fine. I think I’ll throw a few more pillows on it, lie down, and watch “Bahubali” again. Bring cookies, I’ll make the chai.

Saawariya

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Sonam Kapoor in Saawariya 1 facebook timeline cover 849 X 312 Sonam,Kapoor,SaawariyaI knew I had the evening all to myself. This is not really a good thing. I tend to be fine so long as I’m out, about and productively occupied, so long as the sun is still shining. The problem is, as soon as it gets dark and I’m left alone for the evening (which happens about every evening), the demons rise up and whisper my deepest fears into my ears until my head is filled with dreadful words dripping with worry. One of the ways to banish the demons is to become engrossed in a movie, in a movie that is truly more of an experience. Simply put, a movie that can take me away from all this… this fearful “self.” I wanted to see a particular kind of movie, you know what I mean, certainly you’ve looked for the movie that would be just right for your mood, a movie that you’ve never seen, a movie that creates precisely the right atmosphere and contains just the right amount of fantasy and drama for your needs… you know, a movie that doesn’t exist. I have wasted a lot of my time seeking “that movie.” Of course, the tone and texture of that movie changes with my moods, but I never seem to be able to find a crystallized version of that specific but incorporeal movie that only exists in my head. This night I wanted to see something as colorful as a Disney cartoon, as fantastical as a fairy tale, romantic, maybe exotic, oh… and wouldn’t music as tuneful as the songs of Harry Nilsson be nice, too? And of course, this movie had to be full of women I can relate to. I can’t really relate to “the modern woman” as she exists in America, especially as she exists in American pop culture, so this is an especially immoveable challenge. Needless to say, once I got to the video store I realized the absurdity of my quest and just started looking for something that might keep my restless mind occupied. I picked up everything from Pixar, to the fifties movie “Lilith,” to a collection of Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons. In the end I wound up in the Bollywood section at Video Rodeo, and I settled on “Saawariya.” I figured at best I could simply endure it, which would at least be a distraction.

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MCCARTNEY2Being a Western Hindu, one might assume I am a huge Bollywood fan, or a huge fan of all things India. Not exactly, I mean I am fascinated by the romantic promises of India, but unsure as to whether I could weather the realities of India. And so far as Bollywood goes, I have seen plenty of great Indian cinema, though rarely do the films I like fit into the Bollywood category, a notable exception being the classic “Sholay,” which is rather like a Bollywood “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This one, “Saawariya,” turned out to be a shining example of the sort of magic only possible in a Bollywood picture… anymore. No doubt my unconditional and instant love of this movie was greatly assisted by the fact that the lead actor looks a helluva lot like a young Indian Paul McCartney from the White Album, or perhaps straight off the cover of McCartney II.

I mean… that would be enough, right? Enough to elevate this to a fave. Just imagine, a romantic movie with a young Indian McCartney. Swoon! I’d like to say that that wasn’t why I liked the movie, and actually it isn’t, but the similarities are strong. For one, the lead actor is not afraid to be silly, ditto McCartney. For another the music is melodious in the film, as it is with McCartney’s. And there is not a shred of cynicism in this film, nor is there any of that in McCartney’s music. I know this comparison may seem absurd or obsessive, but it isn’t, McCartney embodies those things I value most, as does this film, as did this film right from the establishing shot!

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I surrendered myself to the film from the opening scene, and I decided to trust it and let it take me where ever it wanted to.

The story is based on the Dostoevsky story “White Nights,” and I don’t know much about the original story, but the film plays the story out like a wondrous fairy tale, and that, right there, McCartney stuff aside, is why I fell in love with this film at first sight. “Saawariya” is a fairy tale of the highest order. The imagery, the colors, the lighting, all create a world bathed in the sort of beauty I could sink into, never to be seen again. The visuals are opulent, as only films made by Indians can be (See Mira Nair’s sensual delight, “Kama Sutra”), any visit to a Hindu Temple would prove that the Indians know something about rich sensual beauty. The Indians, like no other, know how to celebrate beauty. Beautiful stories, beautiful costumes, beautiful boys, and stunning women. How could any people born under such beautiful Gods be anything but admirers of beauty? Perhaps I generalize, but in my experience, Indians know something about beauty that the rest of us seem to have forgotten.

“Saawariya” was a treat to my weary eyes, especially in the grim mire of modern American films which seem to be getting more and more obsessed with the dark side of reality, with being “realistic,” films which more and more seem hellbent on being colorless and drab. I loathed Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” for that very reason, every damn moment in the film was olive drab, brown, or a cold and depressing blue. So it goes with the cynicism of our age, our art, and our culture. Fortunately India hasn’t turned its head too far West for too long. The Indian’s have not forgotten what fairy tales look like, not like Tim Burton has, as evidenced by his perverting Willy Wonka into his own twisted world of cornball (ahem) “dark” gothic fetishism. “Saawariya” is bathed in blues and greens, the backgrounds, I must confess, are close to monochromatic in some scenes, but even those blues and greens are not the blues and greens of depression and death, not like Jackson or Burton uses, no, these are the blues and greens of springs and valleys, of moonlit nights and magic! And these blues and greens always make way for warmer colors, and these blues and greens celebrate rather than mourn. There is so much to mourn in life, I don’t need to spend any of my time steeping in the mournful drab of Jackson or Burton’s visions. I would much rather dance in the light of “Saawariya.”

That, for me, is what truly set “Saawariya” apart, there is not a hint, trace, or even whiff of cynicism in the air. The film is unrelentingly romantic, emotionally tragic at times, but only so much as all the great fairy tales often contain a mix of romance and tragedy. Some might see “Saawariya” as mere fluff, I do not. The skill, inspiration, craftsmanship and artistry displayed in this film, the total commitment to beauty, were enough to leave me swooning for more.

I admire anyone today who dares to strive to create beauty in this culture, a culture that has forgotten how to approach or even admire beauty. We have confused beauty with our fragile attempts to make believe that ugliness is beauty, that the mundane is beauty. No, beauty is an elevated state, it is to be worked for, yearned for, earned for, and above all, treated with the deepest of spiritual respect. God how I dread modern photography, full of sober shots of banal American slobs in their filthy or spartan and visionless cages. We have forgotten the value of romantic ideals, of beauty for beauties’ sake. This film’s sole purpose seems to be to breath life into us through it’s sheer beauty. The backgrounds look like the very best of vintage Disney, but brought to life. “Saawariya” is shameless and unapologetically beautiful.

saawariya-2007-17b-1_1190632094One of my other pet passions is bare feet, especially other barefoot women. There are a few barefoot scenes in the movie, but there is not one barefoot character, nor extended scene of any character barefoot outside of their dance scenes or homes, and though I mourned that personally, it was hardly going to put me off the movie, but it certainly would have enhanced the movie for me, though this is hardly a criticism, and is much more of a personal confession.

The other thing is that I love Indian Pop! The stuff is always such an experimental mix of cultural influences all filtered through the purely Indian sense of melody and rhythm. The melodies in the film’s songs are bright, fresh, and moving. The melodies, though at times filled with influence from Latin ballads and pop culture, are truly things of beauty. This is music, great melodic film and pop music without the banal crud and clamor that has polluted the cheap chincy world of market-driven drivel and computer-ravaged aggression that is American pop. The dance numbers are visionary, rather than being an odd or even incongruous interruption in the narrative (as with many Bollywood movies), this music is integrated beautifully, and wholly essential! This really is a musical in the most glorious sense. A beautiful romantic musical!

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The characters are in and of themselves not merely archetypal, but charming and nuanced. They can surprise you.

Lilipop, the old woman who runs the inn where our hero stays, is quite a delightful character. The lead actor charmed even me, and most boys leave me rather cold, but this one drips with good nature and a certain unearthly, if not simple, wisdom. He does not swagger with testosterone-fuelled ego, no he plays, like a child, like Peter Pan, though far wiser, far more insightful and touching. Gulabji, the prostitute is also a charming character, vivid, full of life and confidence. Gulabji left me wondering what the boy saw in Sakina, who was by comparison rather sad and even gratingly devout. The one thing that I found most enchanting about the movie was that every single character seemed possessed of some sort of easy magic. There is a subversive nature to the film’s characters. At first glance it appears the boy is charming every woman he encounters, but we soon realize that he is wholly at the mercy of each and every one of them. These are powerful women. These are ultra-feminine women. These are women I can relate to. These women have style!

There are moments of wisdom throughout the movie. The boy hero, Raj, is not merely adorable and charming, like any lost boy, he is possessed of some wisdom, and certainly plenty of magic. He has come not only to fall in love, but to teach, to open up the people who surround him. He is there to speak of God, when he says that God never takes everything from us without giving us someone to take care of us. How true I know this to be. I had to be reduced to nothing, to absolute hopelessness myself, before landing in the arms of those who helped take care of me. Of all the things I have lost, I regret nothing. Everything I have lost was taken from me so that I might see beyond my attachments and move closer and closer to where it is I need to be. I never needed to remain in the company of the things I have lost.

of course, none of this writing was really about the movie, it was about my reaction to the movie, about how delighted I was to see it. I haven’t researched the movie, frankly, I don’t want to know. I don’t want or need to know if it was a hit or a flop. I don’t want or need to know what critics and cynics think. I don’t feel any need to allow that silly gob of pudding in my skull to shout down my heart. What is the point, I often wonder, of checking in with critics or writers, to meet what end? I have learned to trust my heart over my brain. My heart is telling me that this film made me feel warm and completely joyful, what business is it of my brain, of some critic, of some controversy to jump in and shit in my happy place? It is enough that the heart knows it has been filled with joy, I do not need or crave any approval from that self-righteous patriarch… the brain.

What this blog entry was about was, quite simply, that on this one day I went out looking for that movie, that specific movie I had created in my head, that ONE movie that would take me exactly where I wanted to go, that one movie that would wholly fulfill my needs. That movie was “Saawariya!”

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It’s nice, isn’t it, to know that once in a while a movie can really hit the spot? And it’s nice to know, isn’t it, that consciousness has a way of connecting artists with those who most need to see their work? Consciousness, our Godheads have spanned that distance between Flordia and India, and the artists that made this movie and I, we have shared in this beauty together.