Monday, January 12, 2009

Dostana and Movie Watching in Andhra Pradesh, India

Being a movie enthusiast, we couldn’t pass up the chance of experiencing watching a movie inside an Indian theater, which they call “movie halls”. Like us, Indians love their celluloid fantasies thus the birth of their very own Bollywood. As if that wasn’t enough, south India even has their own Kollywood, the Chennai-based Tamil language filmmaking industry of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu – based in the Kodambakkam district of Chennai. To a lesser influence, India also has Telugo cinema called Tollywood, centered in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad is the capital. Our Indian friends love their movies. In the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone, there are 2,800 movie halls that enjoy fevered patronage. How much movie theaters do we even have in Metro Manila? Do they approximate even a fourth of this number? These questions put things into perspective as to the influence and size of this industry.

All things considered, I wanted to watch a cinematic feature that the Indians prefer to watch – something popular, something that’s even a product of publicity hype and popular choice. Thus, the perfect film would be the pop-fodder, Tarun Mansukhani’sDostana” (Friendship) which is mainly perceived as a “gay comedy” by those who haven’t seen it yet.

Everywhere you walk around India, you will see its buff star John Abraham gracing the cover of magazines like Film Threat, everyone of him in several states of nudity. In fact, the publicity slant has been centered on Mr. Abraham more than its sexy leading lady Priyanka Chopra – India’s version of Salma Hayek, recently voted as the country’s sexiest. Unfortunately for Priyanka, John Abraham just made a popular Entertainment Tonight’s list of the world’s sexiest men, the very same list that has the Philippines’ Dingdong Dantes.

I initially planned on watching “Dostana” at the prestigious Regal Cinema near Colaba in Mumbai – the venue itself is a tourist attraction. Upon learning that this didn’t have an English subtitle, I wasn’t too keen on sitting through a 3-hour marathon that I couldn’t understand. I backed out!

Three days later, I have left the Maharashtra state, barely escaping the bombings that befall Mumbai. I found myself in the state of Andhra Pradesh, after a 16-hour night train to Hyderabad. That night, I was left with nothing to do. I crossed the street from my hotel and at the opposite block was the Ramakrishna Glitterati – a pair of huge “movie halls” that was showing “Dostana” in building 1 and “Yuuraaj” in building 2. The hype got me, so I found myself buying a ticket for the former – at a considerably discounted price of 70 rupees (Mumbai’s Regal Cinema charged more than double for their gala screenings).

Upon entry, I realized that it was indeed a huge cinema house. I went to the balcony and took the seat 3 rows from the front. The hall was 70% full, an impressive attendance considering its capacity. Yes, there would be no English subtitles – but I thought I’d sit through it. I can, after all, always walk out if the film proves unbearable, can’t I?

The synopsis:

Kunal (John Abraham) and Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan), two strapping good-looking straight guys pretend to be a gay couple to secure a posh Miami apartment, but both of them fall for their gorgeous room-mate Neha (Priyanka Chopra), hilarity ensures as they strive to convince one and all they are gay – including the U.S. immigration service - and Sam's visiting mother! The movie would become a testing ground for the liberal boundaries of a basically conservative Indian society. Is it ready to watch two of their macho celebrities liplock on screen? It was like watching Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby lap it up on a 30-second tongue-swiping onscreen kiss! You bet! This movie crowd was ready! The crowd clapped their hands!

Set in the festive commune of Miami, Florida, the experience proved to be a hilarious comic romp of sexual predatorship and frolicky deceit. Despite the language barrier, I found myself understanding what was going on during most of the film. The downside -the Indian audience. As their “movie stars” are initially introduced on screen, you would hear them holler and clap their hands, whistle and thomp their feet. That was fine by me, but as the story gradually unraveled, it was getting obvious that I wasn’t gonna get my peace. A couple behind me had a gabfest. The seats were comfortable half-reclining seats, but the crowd was unruly. Ironically, during intermission (most Indian films enjoy a 10 minute intermission due to their 2 ½ to 3 hour screening time), the couple behind me shut their yappers only to resume once the second part began again. LOL

I left the cinema humming one of the familiar musical numbers in the film. Despite obvious disturbances, I was smug having watched my Bollywood fare in Tollywood territory. It won’t be long; I will be able to watch Danny Boyle’sSlumdog Millionaire” which won BIG at the recent Golden Globe. I shall see my Mumbai again soon!

John Abraham's ubiquitous beefcake poses help make Dostana a huge hit in India.

I love fairy tales, don’t you? This past week, I came across an unexpectedly delightful spin of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s story, “White Nights” told through the ruminative imagination of a visionary Indian director.

The story is told from the point of view of a glib, a smart-talking prostitute with a heart of gold. She tells the tale of a pure-hearted young troubador Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) who arrives into town with nothing but a soccer ball that he uses as a pillow. Upon endearing himself to an old lady who took him in, he soon meets a mysterious girl Sakina (Somna Kapoor) who – at each stroke of midnight - waits at a bridge. She pines for the return of a man she loves – a man who has promised to return one day – at the celebration of the Eid. But it has been a year since he left. Yet night after night, Raj finds Sakina patiently waiting. Raj has suspicions if the man – his “rival” – is real. Will he succeed in snagging the affections of a lovelorn lady?

Beautifully photographed and exquisitely told, watching “Saawariya”, which literally means “Beloved” is like being transported into the lush and exotic Victorian era, set at a beautiful town beside a picturesque lake. I found myself transfixed to the screen during its whole cinematic run. The images are unbridled poetry and the musical numbers are tastefully kept to a minimum, not to mention dreamily choreographed. Just like the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s previous superlative works – the groundbreaking, modern classic Devdas” and the visual spectacle “Black”, this movie lingers in you way after its credits roll. Superstar Salman Khan, India’s resident Bad Boy, does special appearance as Imaan, who completes the love triangle.

Another plus factor - this was filmed in the serene town of Simla (or Shimla) in North India, known for its picturesque lakes, mists, heavenly snowfalls, rains and tall swinging pines. Here’s the good news. This spectacular fairy tale’ish work is available locally. Wait for mall sale dates so you can get its vcd (no dvds available) at a discounted price of PhP151 (buy 1-take 1) instead of the usual shelf price of PhP290.

Ranbir Kapoor dances with his towel the morning he learns of the mysterious girl's name.

How much do you give of yourself to someone you love? If he asks for you to wait, will you wait til forever?

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's other critically acclaimed works.

I discovered this little jewel at a video shop. Film master Robert Altman’s cinematic take of Christopher Durang's “Beyond Therapy” – the funny play that was mounted at New Voice Company’s recent “Duologues and Other Complications”. I was leaving the counter of a dvd shop when I noticed this on-sale dvd with a blurb that reads – “Bruce and Prudence meet through a personal ad and end up hating each other. Using assumed names, they each place a second ad and meet AGAIN at the same French restaurant as before.” I was thrilled! Still, one of the funniest shorts mounted on Philippine stage, this complete movie version was a great and unexpected find! Go rush to your Astroplus, Odyssey and Video City shops!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice post on various Bollywood movies released in South India. Click on SP cinemas Peyad to know details.