December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays

In between our families extensive Christmas celebrations in Salzburg and Switzerland, here´s wishing you all Happy Holidays from MiniKhan, my family and me.

PS: MK is addicted to Xmas cookies. Say goodbye to his six-pack.

December 13, 2007

Prapancha Pash - A Throw Of Dice

Lets stick with the not so usual Bollywood fare for one more moment and go back to the very early years of the Indian film history. And by very I mean 1929. Late silent film era early.

Ever since I saw the trailer of Prapancha Pash - A Throw Of Dice sometime last year on one of my DVDs I was hooked. I like Silent movies and this one is a very important one for Indian cinema history. Directed by Franz Osten, a German director that started to work in India as early 1924.

Osten was working as a head director for Emelka Films in Munich, Germany (which would later become Bavaria Films) when the company was approached by Himansu Rai (who later founded Bombay Talkies Ltd), who was looking for co-operation partners who would invest in Indian films.
The first film that was co-produced was "Prem Sanyas", India´s first international co-production. Four years later Osten once again traveled, along with his crew, to India for "Shiraz" and later that year he started to work on "Prapancha Pash". A monumental film, shot on real locations throughout India, with hundreds of elephants, tigers, horses, real jungle sets and thousands of junior artists.

The story of Prapancha Pash is an adaption of the Mahabharata´s game of dice. Two kings, one good - Sohat, one evil - Ranjit.
The evil one is greedy for Sohat´s kingdom and during a royal tiger hunt Sohat is "accidentally" wounded with a poisoned arrow. Plan saphal? Arre nahin! Luckily the "accident" happens close to beautiful Sunita´s house, the daughter of a healer. So he is nurtured back to health and gets the girl on top. Happies endings? Phir nahin. There is still the greedy Ranjit. And unsurprisingly he also falls for beautiful Sunita and driven by jealousy, greed and some other not so nice traits he tries everything to create a rift between the two young lovers.

His most devious plan is set in motion at the eve of Sohat and Sunita´s wedding. He lures the young king who has a dangerous weakness for gambling into a game of dice where he plays foul and Sohat loses everything. His kingdom, his crown, his freedom. And now being reduced to the status of a slave, he even loses Sunita. How mean! Thank god Sohat´s closest servant has a nosy beta. He finds the loaded dice and now we can head straight to the climax.

Even if with a length of only 72min it is a huge film. The cinematography is great. Osten´s use of real locations creates an authentic even realistic feel. The story is well rounded. It just works. Bas.

Btw. the DVD I got has another interesting feature. The movies score is done by Nitin Sawhney. The BFI (British Filminstitute) restored the filmprints in 2006 and Sawhney got to compose a new score for it, that was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra. In fact there were a few live performances since 2006 in London (more dates might follow) and now there is a UK DVD and German DVD that also features an interview with Sawhney.

As much as I love Nitin Sawhney, the score is not really a perfect fit for the movie. The power of silent movie scores lies in the parallel storytelling they usually provide. Sawhney claims Ennio Morricone and Bernhard Herrmann (two of the greatest film composers in history) as his musical influences and that is where the problem might be rooted. I feel that his music just accompanies the pictures and that is too little. It did not touch me. Not that the pictures and visual storytelling would not be able to stand on their own. It is just that I would have preferred a little more Max Steiner with his exuberant use of Leitmotif and moodtechnique, Mickeymousing and continuous Underscoring.

But still this is one movie you should not miss. It is a classic. I really do hope that more films of this section of the Indian film heritage will find their way back on the screen.

PS: Satyajit Ray saw Franz Osten as the founder of a Realism School in Indian Film. Osten became a guru to Indian cinema dignitaries like Raj Kapoor, Sasadhar Mukherj or Dilip Kumar until he was incarcerated by the British in 1939 as citizen of an enemy´s country (especially since he had joined the foreign section of the NSDAP in Bombay in 1936) and later was banished from Indian soil.

PPS: Btw. concerning the alleged kissing-on-screen-tabu that should stem from these times. Bakwaas hai. There are two big fat dead-on-the-lips smooches in PP. Hah!
PPPS: Oh, and another thing. Prapancha Pash is perfect for Movie Improv-Karaoke (no distracting dialogues *g*)

December 12, 2007

Dus Kahaniyaan. Not too good. Not too bad. Not too ugly.

No one can question my dedication towards Bollywood anymore. I really had my doubts about DK...Sanjay Gupta producing a film with 10 shorts (and directing 4 of them). Not the savest initial position. Still we showed up last Friday at the cinema for our now usual first day/first show date only to find out that the print was not there yet. Bleh. Both shows had to be canceled. By Saturday afternoon my motivation to watch it was close to zero. But thanks to a nagging phone call from fellow BW-fanatic Ezri I pulled myself off the couch and we gave it a last try. Good thing we did. Dus Kahaniyaan is not a key moment in Hindi film history but we had a very good time watching the 10 films.

Over the last year I started to love the format of shorts in film (I honestly didn´t before) So I was curious how the master of rip-offs, color filters and skimpy clad item girls managed to fare with a format like this.

10 films. Each about 10 minutes in length. An impressive cast. 5 directors apart from Gupta.

Usually when you watch that amount of different stories in such short time you tend to forget the forgettable ones right after you come out of the cinema. Well, we rather easily managed to get 9 of the ten films together in the right order.
But let me give you a short overview about all of them..

Matrimony: Arbaaz Khan. Mandira Bedi. Married couple. No kids. Bored wife to busy multinational company vice-president. And an extramarital affair. Nice twist. Director: Sanjay Gupta

High on the Highway: Jimmy Shergill. Mausmeh. A very stoned Jimmy and his girlfriend. The moral of the story: Thou shalt not get high on a highway. Especially at 4 am. One of the tougher stories. I especially liked the (very dark) lighting. I love it when directors/ cinematographers have the guts to work with darkness. Director: Hansal Mehta

Dia Mirza. Manoj Bajpai. Manoj moves into an apartment that has a beautiful young woman living next door. He takes a liking to her. She blocks his advances. The group of adolescent punjabi boys sitting behind us where reacting to this the strongest. And even I had to cheer at the final twist. Director: Sanjay Gupta

Pooranmashi: The only story that is set in a rural surrounding. And it is shot in a very straight manner. And thus feels a bit out of joint compared to the rest of the shorts. But it still packs a punch. Daughter (Minissha Lamba) is all set to get married when her loving symbolic gesture to her mother (Amrita Singh) causes a tragedy. Director: Meghna Gulzar

Strangers in the night: Neha Dupia. Mahesh Manjrekar. Wife tells husband her lives most memorable moment. It drags a bit. And the hand licking and kissing is rather yucky. Also the - in itself - powerful twist is a bit too far fetched the way the story builds up before. And the acting is a bit to sterile. Director: Sanjay Gupta

Lovedale: Aftab Shivastani. Neha Uberoi. Anupam Kher. It seems as if no true Bollywoodfilm can stand without a pinch of Masala. And Lovedale covers almost all the necessary points. Naive. Sweet. Plus it made me wanna see more of Aftab. He´s cute. [insert girly giggle] Btw. The earring was fugly. Very. Director: Jasmeet Dhodi

Sex on the beach: Dino Morea relaxes on the beach, when he finds a book in the sand. And a minute later a girl (Tareena Patel) in a very golden Bikini approaches him. The spookiest of the lot and the by far weakest. Because it is so predictable and in fact boring. But Dino looks cool shirtless and wet. Additional note: There were no Jet-skies in 1901 or 1946. Director: Apoorva Lakia

Rise Plate: Shabana Azmi. Naseruddin Shah. Clearly the highlight for me. The Story about a Hindu nani and a Muslim uncle and their fight over a rice plate had some fantastic moments. It also was the one short I wished would not end. Even if the twist was predictable pretty soon. Director: Rohit Roy

Gubbare: Nana Patekar. Rohit Roy. Anita Hassanandani. Newlyweds on a bus quarrel. Wife is miffed and changes seats. Sits down next to man holding a bouquet of red balloons. And he tells her why. Warning: there might be tears. Director: Sanjay Gupta (I did not think he might have it in him to tell something so sensible. But then again.. once you cast Nana you would have to work hard to ruin your film)

Rise and Fall: Suniel Shetty. Sanjay Dutt. And here is the stereotypical Sanjay Gupta I´ve been waiting all evening. At least for the storyline that he directed. There is a second storyline directed by Hansal Mehta that gets interwoven into the Sanjay/Suniel part. A local gangster and his closest aid/friend. And a story of loyalty and betrayal. Unfortunately it is not that good. Neither the story, nor the execution nor the acting by Sanjay and Suniel. A bit anti-climatic. It is understandable that Gupta placed the story with the biggest star at the end but "Rise Plate" and "Gubbare" are so strong that "Rise and Fall" gets overshadowed by them. Directors: Sanjay Gupta and Hansal Metha.

So yes. I had an enjoyable evening. And no. You don´t have to rush to the cinema to watch it. You can easily wait until the DVD comes out. But give it a chance.