Tuesday, September 16, 2014

one-a-decade mini reviews

Think of this as a very poorly organized survey course in Indian cinema studies.

Bou Thakuranir Haat 1953
A young Uttam Kumar, only a few years into his career, wears a lot of sixteenth-century frippery and tries to protect the aging Pahari Sanyal from machinations from a more sinister member of their royal family who also wants to throw off the Mughals.
This film comes from a Rabindranath Tagore work [drink!], itself based on real events in the life of a contemporary King of Jessore, Pratapaditya. To be honest, I was very confused through most of this film, I hope because I've never heard of any of these people before and had only a tiny sense of their historical context. I do get the sense that Bou Thakuranir Haat is less interested in the trappings that usually go into historical epics and more in showing the individual lives and human-scale factors and effects of political turmoil. Instead of swamping everything in miles of fabric and clanking armor, director Naresh Mitra (who also did the 1928 Bengali Devdas AIIIEEEEEEE) puts thought into little things like the constant hustle and bustle in a palace, servants quietly lighting lamps and soldiers patrolling the terraces in the background. This place feels more like a community than, say, either the Greeks or Indians in Sikandar. Still, there's plenty to look at, and despite not understanding the film much, I enjoyed it for the nighttime escapes by boat, palaces, accessories,
and wiggery. 
Also, some of the acting is ridiculous, as one expects (hopes!) from historical dramas of this era.

And behold this advice on how to get rid of dacoits by an unusual method.

Atal Jaler Ahwan 1962
There are a bunch of hard-to-find films in Soumitra Chatterjee's early career, so whenever one turns up on youtube, I automatically watch it as soon I can, regardless of subtitles or knowing anything about it, a behavior that leads to far more squee and screen grabs than it does to any experience that can truly be called "engaging with a film." But beggars can't be choosers, so I muddle through.

In this one, the brooding and emotional weight that Soumitra usually carries
are instead mostly undertaken by a young woman who looks a lot like Nargis (and because the credits are in Bengali, I'm only partially confident this is Tandra Burman),
who is in love with Soumitra but because of illness (injury?) has to watch from the sidelines as someone perkier and bolder makes a move on him. It's a cast full of regulars—Chhabi Biswas (in a beret!)
and Aparna Devi are his parents and Jahar Roy is his servant, plus Bhanu Banerjee is also around—and Ajoy Kar has directed some great films with Soumitra in this era (BarnaliSaat Pake Bandha), so this is another one to file under "watch again when subtitles or instant fluency in Bengali are available."

 Plus Soumitra wears a bow tie.

Mem Saheb 1972
Mem Saheb is one of those films that are very hard to discuss thoroughly without mentioning their endings, and a short collection of scenes in the last ten minutes has me rethinking what came before, but there's still a lot of material worth exploring out loud. The romance of journalist Amit (Uttam Kumar) and history student Kajal (Aparna Sen) is surrounded by a harsh economy, Naxalite uprisings, and Bangladesh's war of independence. It also features visual and verbal references to India's cultural resources, particularly in Calcutta and Delhi: the leads meet-cute on the train home from Tagore's Santiniketan, re-meet at an art exhibit, stroll in the botanical gardens, name-drop the National Library, sight-see throughout Delhi, and picnic at the Qtub Minar. Their lines of work also tie to the power of information and words rather than to money, which is a specter over Amit's early life, and no characters have anything to do with industry or commerce.

Mem Saheb seems to be a tale about rewards of education and of pan-Indian patriotism as much as it is a love story. Although Aparna Sen is 19 years younger than Uttam Kumar (very visibly so in this movie), Kajal very much acts as a nurturer and guide to Amit, who mentions early in their relationship that his mother died when he was young and that his father was a cold man. (Her father has died as well, so maybe this age gap thing works for her—though I don't know how old Amit is supposed to be.) While finishing her MA, Kajal meets Amit through a mutual friend and is mostly won over by his flirting

but also responds with philosophical arguments and specific recommendations for him to advance his career, sending him reading assignments
and then eventually off to Delhi to try his hand at journalism at the national level. To me this reads as a version of "Those who know the past control the future" motto on the history department bumper sticker on my family's car in the 1980s: whole, functional adults in the modern world of the film need to be fluent in reading and critical thinking. They also come across as class markers (hence the film's title, I assume), but ones that are not strictly inaccessible. Cultural literacy and productivity are also important in Mem Saheb's world, embodied by this educated woman who goes on to be a teacher to other women. Kajal never judges Amit for his past poverty and tenuous career; instead, she just prods him to work harder and not waste his talents. His boss at the newspaper in Calcutta gives him similar advice: even when he has to lay Amit off, he tells him to keep writing. The villain in Mem Saheb is not wealthy people trying to keep the throngs out. The real enemies are complacency and the forces who threaten stability and disrupt work.

The other notable thread to me in Mem Saheb is its frequent depiction of the growing physical relationship between the romantic pair, who are never married in the course of the film. There's a lot of very close snuggling in cars, they go on a trips together (and are shown lying in beds, talking through the wall of their suite of rooms), she enters his bedroom while he's still asleep, and I have a sense from the subtitles that if you know Bengali there are a few innuendos scattered around.
The end of the film could really color what I make of all of this, so I'll say no more here, but I do think this is a good entry into the list of Bengali films that seem a lot less worked up about sex than Hindi films of comparable eras do.

I highly recommend Mem Saheb. It's a charming romance made much more interesting by its relationship to the social and political contexts that are shown with as much care as the love story. Mem Saheb is available with English subtitles on the Angel youtube channel, but be warned that the description of the film there has a huge spoiler. 


Desh Premee 1982
This...is not Manmohan Desai's finest. That opening sequence of Amitabh with barbed wire around his head while lashed to a flagpole, his blood dripping to the ground and forming the word "inqilab," might be the very moment Desai began to lose his grip.
Sometimes more is just too much.

I don't hate Desh Premee—in fact, I enjoy it more than Coolie—but it does feel out of balance. There's no one particular element that damages it, but there are just a few too many repeats or reiterations of the ingredients. For example, I would not want to do without the settlement of Bharat Nagar (come on) representing various subgroups of the Indian population, each represented by an awesome movie star (Shammi Kapoor for Sikhs, Prem Nath for Tamil Nadu [not sure why him and not MGR etc—too busy being politicans?], Parikshit Sahni for Muslims, and Uttam Kumar for Bengal), thus forming a rough draft of the regional hero action team film I've dreamed of. But I'm not sure I needed them in so many fights with lathis—though again, I would never, ever want to miss out on Uttam Kumar doing his darndest to fight Shammi Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan.
I also love components like the torture wheel, Navin Nischol's disguise in the casino, the arc of Amitabh and Hema Malini's marriage, the family reunions, and even the blood transfusion equipment in the ambulance, crashing around wildly in contrast to the stately, foundational blood drips in Amar Akbar Anthony.

My most specific complain with Desh Premee is actually one of omission: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? Hema is pretty boring with the little material she is given, and Sharmila Tagore and Parveen Babi don't matter to the film at all. This lack is such a disappointment after movies like Suhaag and Parvarish and even Aa Gale Lag Jaa, where the women are as significant as the men. Oh, and the bits with Amitabh as Mehmood being "Tamilian" and the "in hiding as 'negroes'" arc, of course. So very bad, and I would love to read someone who really knows about depictions of race in world cinema in general and Indian films in particular to sink their teeth into it (and if you've read such a piece, please post it in the comments).

Ram Jaane 1995
Timepass. I like shaded hero Shahrukh (Ashoka, Chak De India, Don, and of coure Darr) more than spotless or sappy (Kal Ho Na Ho, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, or even Ra.One and Om Shanti Om). He's the outstanding feature of this film by far, demanding and meriting all the attention in a way that absolutely works for me—energetic, funny, brash, and sharp. I won't spoil the plot for those who haven't seen it, but his is a very consistent character whose values play out in ways I didn't quite expect. Ram Jaane is not a good man, really, but he is absolutely sympathetic, with a sharp edge and sense of humor despite a life whose core is bleak and would have long ago imploded a weaker person. Actually, he reminds me of an Angry Young Man, but maybe a little more cynical than tragic. And who can forget the Batman-themed nightclub in which Shahrukh dances to "Pump Up the Bhangra" (note the giant Batman icon in the silver curtain) before pulling a gun out from under his dance partner's wig?!? That is the BEST THING I've ever seen.

Krishnakanter Will 2007
Ugh. Plodding arty Bengali film is plodding. It's way too long, and you can quickly tell it is going to dissolve into people making bad choices and deliberately being manipulative and otherwise horrible to one another. I haven't read the Bankim Chandra Chatterjee novel on which this is based, so maybe the blame mostly lies there, but this story could have been told in a more nuanced and thus more compelling way. One problem may be that someone other than growly action star Jeet should have been cast as the lead male character whose moral quandaries I gather we're supposed to find interesting but are in fact facile and (decidedly not em-) pathetic. "My wife or my mistress? HOW CAN I CHOOSE?" Just put it away, jerk. Put. It. Away. And maybe get the crew to pay as much attention to the "dark" character's makeup as they did to the lovely mansion's decor; this poor actress seems to have plastered Monali Thakur in a non-human color of shoe polish or spray tan (or maybe it was just my tv). (My laptop, in an amazing burst of self-protection, refused to play this DVD, so I don't have screen caps to show you.) Since Upperstall already put energy and thought into a very good and funny review, you're best off reading it and then forgetting this film. Sample quote: "Soumitra Chatterjee’s Krishnakanta is just the right mix of wisdom, charity, and moral rectitude but his terrible wig tends to spoil the show."

Obhishopto Nighty 2014
File this one under Bengali films that are wound up about sex. This is mostly a loud, "naughty" comedy that isn't very sexy (perhaps on purpose). It follows a cursed nighty first worn by a 1980s bar singer who was driven to suicide by the sleazy man she loved. 
This 2010s Bengali film version of 1980s Calcutta nightlife looks a lot like 1970s Hindi films. (This is a compliment.)
The nighty then finds it way into the hands of various women who become lust-crazed and act on their passions with mostly inappropriate men. I'm not sure what to make of this plot, even in the comedy setting: is female desire automatically a joke, or is the joke actually on anyone who automatically laughs at desirous women without thinking about it? Does the inescapable power of the nighty absolve the women and their partners of infidelity? And why must the women appear to be so penitent afterwards? 

Obhishopto Nighty also has some laughs at the film industry. For me, this was the funnier track, with a struggling starlet ditching her man from back home as she flees for opportunities in the big city and is eventually courted by different film industries
"Bollywood," obviously.
and entangled with a gross producer before being saved by a film hero in a meta cameo appearance. Most of this is fairly broad, but I still laughed. My favorite part of this is a room of censors watching bits of the film itself on a screen framed by neon-lit scissors.
I did not like this juvenile depiction of Rituparno Ghosh. I was about to say it's too soon to play with this kind of stereotype, but there's no good time for jokey portrayals of a marginalized person or group. It hurts to see this after watching something like Aarekti Premer Golpo—not a great film either, but at least it strives to promote humanity for the outcast.

However, I will always appreciate Obhishopto Nighty for taking the ubiquitous portraits of Tagore across Bengali movies to their logical extension. I've joked before about "The eyes of RabTag are upon thee!" but they really are in this film, so much so that after this woman, a student of Rabindrasangeet, does something objectionable, the next view of the Tagore wall shows the back of his head, as though he refuses to look her in the eye.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Chaowa Pawa and Jay Jayanti

Doing some research on Indian remakes of foreign films while also spelunking through the filmography of Uttam Kumar has recently led me to two delightful Bengali films based on American classics: Chaowa Pawa, which is one of at least six Indian remakes of It Happened One Night, and Jay Jayanti, one of at least three South Asian remakes of The Sound of Music.* Both of these posts contain spoilers if you aren't familiar with the plots of the original films.

Chaowa Pawa 1959
This film opens with Suchitra Sen (Manju, the Claudette Colbert equivalent) in capri pants and pigtails chucking porcelain around the room (so, the least dignified I've ever seen her),
quickly jumps to reporter Uttam Kumar (Rajat, the Clark Gable equivalent, looking super handsome in his rolled-up shirtsleeves) having his hardy ego bashed in by his editor (who just happens to be her father) (Chhabi Biswas),
and doesn't let up in energy or emotion until the very end. The conflict stemming from the heroine's marriage is different too: instead of running to her new husband of whom her father disapproves, here she's trying to escape visiting the family her father wants to marry her into. And this being 1950s India and not pre-Code Hollywood, the couple is not left alone quite as often on their journey back to the big city, nor do they camp out on a farm or use an exposed leg to hitch a ride. But the cycle of obstacles and interferences, including the question of how to manage a shared hotel room or enact convincing versions of married-life arguments, repeats day after day as the feelings and investments between them build, just like the original.

Chloe Angyal makes the point that IHON, filmed during the Great Depression, is unusual among its contemporaries for actually bothering to depict, involve, and humanize the poor. Chaowa Pawa doesn't pay quite the same notice to the non-rich other than as they are represented by Rajat, but the third-class train car the two meet in (instead of the night bus)—and their fellow passengers who witness the beginning of this classic match—provides some initial socio-economic context. Their first few nights off the train are spent in a run-down hotel staffed by a very nosy manager (Tulsi Chakraborty), who wants (and probably needs) the reward money as much as Rajat but is much less scrupulous about it. Rajat is down on his luck employment-wise, but he's not scum. He's also not exactly the poor but noble hero we've seen in many other movies; his job makes him too worldly, and his attitude demonstrates plenty of fluency in calling the shots and bossing other people around. Manju is disgusted by the circumstances she has put herself in and which Rajat cannot immediately lift her out of, and her new surroundings contrast humorously with her very strong, very proud sense of self.

In IHON, Clark Gable says to Claudette Colbert "I guess it would never occur to you to just say, 'Please mister, I'm in trouble, will you help me?' No, that would bring you down off your high horse for a minute." I didn't catch a similar line in Chaowa Pawa, and in fact Manju asks Rajat for help the very first moment they meet. (In the first picture in this post, she's about to tap him on the shoulder to ask for help buying a ticket before the conductor reaches their bench.) The film doesn't seem interested in using her to talk about humility, and she maintains enough confidence to be perfectly up front about her changing emotions for him and to keep her head high when he pretends he doesn't reciprocate. She would like his affection, but its lack does not deflate her. Personally, I find the idea of a humility lesson from loud-mouthed heroes who bluff and intimidate other people pretty rich; I'm grateful that this point is not hammered here, and it's always nice to see an Indian film that doesn't want to slap its woman down for trusting her gut and making unsanctioned decisions. The older I get, the more I think it's important to have friends and/or partners who don't let you get away with your same old baloney. Both characters in Chaowa Pawa better each other, and it depicts more mutual growth than It Happened One Night does. Rajat shows Manju the value in calming down and thinking before reacting (watch for the decrease in shattered teacups) and she shows him that you shouldn't always run away from what you want.

For my money, this is top-notch Uttam-Suchitra chemistry, probably because I always prefer the comedic to the melodramatic. 
She is tightly wound and suspicious, no doubt because of her father's sneak attack of engaging her to someone she doesn't like; he is loose but quick-witted, not letting on that his career is in the toilet and plying old friends and new acquaintances with his nonchalant charm. Look at this image of their first night off the train, about to navigate staying in a hotel together: she's angry with clenched fists, ready to pounce, and he has his hands in his pockets, waiting out the storm.
They both have so much attitude in the first stages of this film, and as the characters get to know each other the actors appropriately vary what they project, showing vulnerabilities without actually weakening. Both characters have a lot to lose, and I love watching them balance those calculations with their hearts. 

This is probably my favorite Uttam Kumar performance after Nayak: joking, flirting, scheming, and panicking, all with expert lightness and ease. He tosses off one-liners to the side characters, raises one eyebrow at Suchitra's fits, and gazes wistfully into the evening sky exquisitely, his voice, face, and body all changing from moment to moment. This is movie-star-ing and how
And so it is with the Mahanayak as Clark Gable, and not Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda, that for the first time in my life I find myself thinking smoking is actually sexy. End times.

Watch Chaowa Pawa online with English subtitles at the Angel youtube channel.

Jay Jayanti 1971
This film has been making me think about what the requirements and limits of "remake" are. Is there a firm, widely applicable line between "remake" and "adaptation," or is the process of putting a particular text into a new context so case-specific that these terms aren't even useful? Like Chaowa Pawa, I would argue that Jay Jayanti has enough of the same spirit of the original that it feels faithful, even clocking in much shorter and missing some significant dramatic elements that I'll get to in a momentarily.

First, here are some of the features that are the same (and I'll use SoM names for clarity). The von Trapp children need a governess very badly.
Watched over by their uncle (not father, as Captain von Trapp is; their mother is dead and their father is AWOL) (Uttam Kumar as Sanjay), who is not in the military but believes in routine and discipline and has been known to charge around like the bison in the painting over the stairs.
Young Maria (Aparna Sen as Jayanti, in what may be my favorite performance by her as an adult) is up to the task, accessorized like Mary Poppins.
They play tricks on her like sending their German shepherd out into the fields to startle a cow, who goes charging after her.
 
She eventually charms them via being a good sport, singing, and even protecting Liesl's relationship with Rolf.
Maria often looks fondly and wistfully at Captain von Trapp, intrigued by his gruffness and pain.
  
That pain is very tragic, in this case involving the children's mother (his sister)'s suicide over grief that her husband doesn't love her anymore. Everyone is bonding and frolicking and singing "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" during a picnic until DUN DUN DUNNNNNN the Baroness (Mala) arrives!
The children, in completely matching clothes not made from curtains, perform "Ta-ta, Bye-bye" (not its real name) to impress the Baroness and then go off to bed.
The Baroness is much more sophisticated than Maria, making good coffee and coochy-cooing
 while Maria sews.
They eventually come to words when it becomes clear Maria occupies more space in this house and its occupants' hearts than the Baroness can handle.
Maria packs her bags and goes back to Calcutta. Of course, the Baroness and the Captain discover they have crucial differences, and Maria ends up back where she belongs.

So in many regards, this is a pretty good step-by-step remake. Many of the plot points are the same, and there are some similar characterizations: blustering, smooth patriarch; young mother figure whose goodness is expressed by her musicality; a woman who seems a good match for the patriarch socioeconomically but who turns out to be too frosty; a big house that seems empty without the breath of fresh air. However, there are some important elements that aren't in Jay Jayanti that I think make it a much less emotional film. When I told friends I was watching this, many people asked "What will they do about the Nazis?" The answer is: nothing. There is no external force of any kind acting on this story, let alone that level of socio-political fear. One of humanity's greatest evils is replaced with...a plot to send the kids off to boarding school.

Similarly, Maria's inner turmoil about her existing love of God and the church being in conflict with her growing love of the Captain and the children is not replicated here either. We know next to nothing of Jayanti's personality or history other than what we see on the job, and she's less interesting than Maria. There's a little exchange between Jayanti and Mala in which Mala says "You're a Presidency College girl**, so you should be able to understand my situation with Sanjay," implying (I think) that Jayanti should have a worldliness that she is ignoring for her own benefit. For that matter, Sanjay doesn't seem as complex as the Captain. Life is pretty easy for Sanjay; he runs some kind of business, shouts at his servants in incomprehensible English***, and goes to a nightclub til all hours of the morning while the children are at home with their schoolwork. He carries the weight of sadness of his sister's suicide, but there's no turmoil there—just fairly compartmentalized grief. Overall, the stakes in Jay Jayanti are much, much lower than those in The Sound of Music, and it isn't as compelling a story. It's a perfectly enjoyable film, but its cuteness has to do all the work of the also-cuteness, psychological turbulence, and geopolitical upheaval of the original.

Oh, and there's no gazebo.
NO. GAZEBO. Criminal.

* It Happened One Night (1934) turns up as ​Chori Chori​ (1956), Solva Saal (1958), Suhana Safar (1970), and ​Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahi​ (1991) in Hindi; ​Hudugaata ​(2007) in Kannada; and Chaowa Pawa (1959) in Bengali. To my knowledge, this makes it the most used American source material for Indian films (at the film-to-film level, that is—I'm sure particular action sequences probably appear more often than six times). As for The Sound of Music (1965), it exists in Bengali as Jay Jayanti; in Hindi as Parichay (1972) (which I haven't seen, though in my opinion turning Julie Andrews into Jeetendra and having him marry the oldest von Trapp child is super gross); and in Urdu from Pakistan as Intekhab (1978). I have found many references to Parichay being based also on a Bengali novel based on the story called Rangeen Uttarain by Raj Kumar Maitra, but I can find no reference to this book (story?) anywhere other than in discussions of Parichay, even in massive library catalogs, so I can't say whether the book also seems to come from SoM or if it's an independent entity that got combined with SoM to make Jay Jayanti and/or Parichay.
** The other film-related reference to Presidency College girls that I've heard is Satyajit Ray saying that Soumitra Chatterjee's fan base would be there, but other than that, the public belonged to the Mahanayak. Heehee.
*** Amrita jokes that Uttam Kumar invented mumblecore decades before we know it now. I understood maybe half of what he said in English without looking at the subtitles. I bring this up not to make fun of him—I can throw no stones, given that I am nowhere close to fluent in any of the languages I've studied—but to point out that it undercuts his usual suave persona that pops up in films in which he's dressed as he is in this one. Uttam Kumar in a suit=urbane. I'm wondering what the point is in this film of him using so much English if he's as uncomfortable with it as he seems; the other characters would all reasonably speak Bengali, I think, and they use it the rest of the time. His status is cemented in the world of this film without English.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

mini-reviews: catching up with 2014 (plus bonus 2013)

Hasee Toh Phasee
SO GOOD. A heroine who is a complete, complex, smart, funny, imperfect person—and by imperfect I mean full of conflicting needs and passions, not just "falls down endearingly in front of the hero." And a hero who's an actual nice guy whose struggles are equally empathetic. That scene when he opens the door of the room where she's been hiding just breaks my heart—there is such love in it, and so many films would have played that moment as humor or pity rather than the moment of very precious affection and understanding that this film chooses. 
For all the misleading/inappropriate "SHE SO CRAZY" style promotion this movie has (the DVD cover, for example), the romance in it is utterly natural and makes so much sense. There’s nothing cuckin’ frazy [note from Editor Self: UGH] about it.   

Gunday (did not finish)
SO BAD. What a spectacular waste of a decent concept and the charisma of Ranveer Singh. In the parts I could get through, I was instantly put off by the attempt in the boys' childhood to shock and awe us into being inspired by the trials that forged their devotion to one another. I can't put my finger on why this was such a disastrous take on elements that seem right at home in my kind of 70s and early 80s masala. It must also be noted that Gunday created the opportunity for this perfect text from Bastard Keith: "Irrfan is majestically apathetic in GUNDAY. Sets a new standard for no-fucks-giving." I almost wish I could have sat through enough of it to drink in that majesty. Maybe if someone makes an Irrfan supercut, I'll try it.

Total Siyapaa (fast-forwarded through some of the middle)
There's nothing wrong with Ali Zafar's latest, but there's nothing particularly right with it either. Everyone is likable but nobody engages. Maybe having so much of the story constrained to one apartment somehow sealed the lid on his not inconsiderable charm. It reminds me of a blend of elements from Seinfeld* without creating the same level of humor and even a runtime that clocks in as stingy for a mainstream Hindi film is too long to be about nothing.

* It's actually a remake of the Spanish film Only Human, which I saw long enough ago that I didn't notice the resemblance (you'd think the soup would have done it!), but reading a plot summary makes the connection quite clear.

Ankhon Dekhi
This is such an interesting and emotional film, and I applaud Rajat Kapoor for creating an intricate environment for both characters and audiences to live with different philosophies and for filling it with such amazing actors. My heart soared with the father-daughter love, squished with the young romance, wept for the brothers, and sank at the end. 
Initially I was frustrated that the central character made such a huge, shockwave-sending decision out of what turned out to be a relatively small incident. But who am I to decide whether someone could have a blistering realization and change his life because of what he's witnessed? More of us should, given the state of the world, but we should probably do so with more true consideration for others than this otherwise gentle, sympathetic man did. Raje Bauji lives by a spin on the golden rule, treating others as he assumes they should be treated following from his own life-altering principle, and I think he values ideas (his own epistemological theory, specifically) over people. A mindset that begins in moments of genuine kindness to others ends up a disaster of solipsism. 

(Aside: Namit Das, you guys.)

Main Tera Hero 
Flip the switch of your critical thinking off and your Varun Dhawan appreciation on, on, on. I'd never have made it through this film if I hadn't. On paper, all the main male characters in this film are despicable; even just in their personal lives, they are liars, bullies, thugs, and extortionists. The first fifteen or twenty minutes are odious, setting up the worst kind of smug, entitled, proudly stupid jerk as the hero, the kind who becomes the desired romantic match because he, unlike the baddie, hasn't shot someone yet. 
Yet in struts Varun (actually, he's reclining on a motorcycle that is moving without him having to do anything, just as Ranveer Singh did in Ram Leela), owning this movie like the birthright it is, and we're off to the races. This isn't my kind of comedy at all, but he and Ileana D'Cruz have some physical gags that work well, and post-interval it's easy enough to coast along with the silliness and forget that these characters have inhabited and inflicted some incredible violence (despite all the action happening in the gang boss's house). 

Amrita and I have been discussing how this year's film keep inverting what we thought we knew and liked: we're truly enjoying the kids from Student of the Year (which we thought was terrible), we're wowed by Kangana Ranaut, Abhishek looks like the best part of Happy New Year (who is a favorite but whose choices lately have not excited me), and we want to see a Sonam Kapoor remake of a Rekha classic. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!

2 States
This is my first experience with Chetan Bhagat in any form (except being at the wrong end of a mighty brain on tv) (no, I haven't seen 3 Idiots, nor do I wish to) and I am not impressed. This film is a very nicely presented slice of the lowest common denominator of humor and stereotypes. It's shallow, tiresome, and far too long. Between this and Gunday, I'm done with Arjun Kapoor. Maaaan, do something resembling anything with your voice and face. [Note from Editor Self: this is one of the best scenes in American cinema.] I'm also very concerned about these two kids because they spent all their years at IIM making, by their own admission, absolutely no other friends. That does not bode well for their future in dealing with the rest of the world that is not comprised of each other. 

*** Bonus 2013 films that I finally watched! ***

Ram Leela
Wowee! I love this, much to my surprise, as I am not a fan of the usually self-indulgent Sanjay Leela Bhansali and switched off his previous film after only 20 minutes. For once his theatricality and extravagance serve the story and the audience. Leela and Ram live such scrutinized lives, surrounded by audiences all the time, that of course they act like people in a heavily scripted drama. For all the skin show, they are eventually (and appropriately) smothered by all those textiles...and walls, weapons, and flunkies. The world created is complete, as is their isolation from the beneficial effects of anything other than their own insular culture. The internet, cell phones, porn, an engagement to an outsider, years spent in the big city: none of this enables them to escape. This is a staggering text for anyone wanting to look at representations of cultural systems, gender, and power, and I think that in the decades ahead this will hold up as an example of what cinema in 2013 could do. 

Bullett Raja
Although I actually watched the whole thing, Saif Ali Khan's non-Shakespearean attempt at UP badassery is a bit like Gunday in that it has 70s and 80s masala elements—bhai-bhai friendship, slight detours into religion, corrupt politicians, even the random switch in action to Calcutta (which is  basically an extended song-teleport)—but just does not work for me. He and Jimmy Shergill have excellent camaraderie, but that is not enough to sustain the whole film. Especially after interval, it just drags in an endless cycle of kill, revenge, kill, revenge, kill kill kill. Sonakshi Sinha's character is surely the most irrelevant one she's played yet; supercop Vidyut Jamwal seemed to be in a completely different movie, and not in an "oh that's an interesting contrast" type of way. It has a some good moments: some of the visuals of the streets, the trio's excitement at being in Mumbai for the first time, Saif's throwaway line beckoning Jimmy with "Aao, mere Shashi Kapoor." I adore Saif and appreciate his experiments into different kinds of heroes and villains (sympathetic and not, mainstream and not, comic and dramatic) and wanted this to be so much better, but unless you're a Saif or Jimmy completist, there's no reason to watch it.
And I liked the chair dance. (I can't find "Satake Thoko" as it appears in the movie, unfortunately.)  
Side note: to my naive ear it seems Saif is using a different type of Hindi than he uses in his more urbane roles. Comment?