Monday, May 17, 2004

kanduokondain kandukondain/wbh2

[previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

Admittedly, I was one of the few people who turned up for the screening of Rajeev Menon's second directorial venture Kanduokondain Kandukondain without the intention of ogling at Aishwarya Rai. Ang Lee's adaptation has nothing to fear from this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which could be best described as a bad Hindi mainstream flick made in Tamil. Menon snags the on-screen services of Aishwarya Rai (to draw in the mainstream crowds), Tabu (to draw in the mainstream audiences who would like to think they are patrons of alternative cinema and acting), along with other resident stars and even Mammootty all the way from Kerala (although M's Tamil appearances are not rare). He then snags the lass with the face-splitting grin Pooja Batra and the language-independent-nonactor Dino Morea. And then he gets people to dub for Rai and Tabu (Revathy for Tabu, if I remember correctly). He enlists the assistance of A R Rahman and Vairamuthu (and pays them back with references -- video for Rahman, dialogue for Vairamuthu -- to them in the film). I didn't like ARR's tracks for the film when I had heard them for the first time (except for the Chitra/Yesudas duet in raag natakuranji), and Chitra's voice comes across as a tad too squeaky for comfort. The subtitles sucked on occasion (both by having mistakes like "a women" and by being generally outrageously funny). Although Menon must be credited for his efforts at translocating Austen's tale to the vernacular ambience of the South, he needs to be drawn and quartered for showering us with one unbearable irritating song sequitur after another ... complete with location switches to Egypt and Scotland. Some of the comic dialogue works, but one cannot deny the overarching preponderance of schmaltz and mush. Madame Rai continues to astound me at her ability to snag plum roles with nary a sign of acting prowess. Madame Tabu proves the fragility of her acting abilities as she swings between good and unbearable.

What was more interesting was that while a couple of us nearly died laughing and falling out of our seats in our own Mystery Science Theatre talk on the film peppered with NC-17 rated alternative interpretations, the audience (a good mix of Indians and non-Indians) moved swiftly from being astounded by the randomness of the songs and dances to getting into the spirit of things and laughing out loud at the goings on. The applause at the end of the film could have been interpreted in several different ways, but my stomach hurt so much.

What shocked me in the wake of this film was the review of the film in the latest issue of Creative Loafing. The review makes uncomfortable references to this as a Bollywood product. Clearly, the reviewer knoweth not the difference between Bollywood and Tollywood Kollywood (as it were). The film pokes fun at Bollywood's ludicrously over-the-top production values while deriving a great deal of visual pleasure from their toe-tapping excesses. Nope. The film continues to subscribe to the Bollywood excesses, and makes no conscious attempt at satire. And then it even gets the cast wrong: clubbing poor Abbas, Srividya and Shamili as one entity and Ajith and Mamootty as another. I'm no longer surprised about how the West gets Indian cinema wrong. Just as Hong Kong flicks have their own Americanised mythology, the West will continue to regard India as a producer of brain-dead, feelgood, unreal sad sacks of mush like this and celebrate the "exhuberance" and "opulence" of sick pieces of drivel like Bhansali's Devdas, or extoll the celebrations of Monsoon Wedding and Bollywood Hollywood and churn out their own carbon copies (which, like Moulin Rouge often turn out with superior production values) of their idea of a "Bollywood musical". A pity.

It was unfortunate that a projection failure interrupted the screening of Waisa Bhi Hota Hai on Saturday. And the "long version" as they called it was shorter than the version on DVD. This has to be the only desi flick where the subtitles were bolder and more obscene than the actual dialogue. Of course, those not in the know probably lapped all this up with nary a doubt. The "genericisation" problem of subtitles persisted as all references to Mahima Choudhary were replaced by references to an "actress". So be it. Couple of other interesting things of note were the photograph of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani on the wall of Ganpat Godhi's living room, and that in one scene Gangutaaii's underlings are clad in desi ripoffs of popular American brands. Still love the flick. It's not perfect, it's not great, but it's definitely fun. [NOTE: the version of allaah ke ba.nde in the film differs from the one on the soundtrack -- it's a single-voice version with different recording embellishments. Moreover, Kailash Kher doesn't even strum the right chords all the time]

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