Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

I tend to use “read” and “listen” to mean the same thing, since I listen to audio books regularly.

The Shawshank Redemption, a dud at the box-office, is one my favorite movies, one that I have seen several times. Recently, I read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which was on my radar for the past decade. The novella and the movie are essentially about Hope. The book starts with “Hope Springs Eternal.”

First: The book confirms (what most people know) that the story is about Red; he is the main protagonist. When I first saw the movie, I was impressed by Andy Dufresne. The second time I saw it, I felt it was about Red. I remember my friend, Vivek, saying immediately, “Of course, it is all about Red.”

Well, you weren’t writing about yourself, I hear someone in the peanut-gallery saying. You were writing about Andy Dufresne. You’re nothing but a minor character in your own story. But you know, that’s just not so. It’s all about me, every damned word of it. Andy was the part of me they could never lock up, the part of me that will rejoice when the gates finally open for me and I walk out in my cheap suit with my twenty dollars of mad-money in my pocket. That part of me will rejoice no matter how old and broken and scared the rest of me is. I guess it’s just that Andy had more of that part than me, and used it better…

Second: The book captures the weight of the  length of time spent in prison  in a much better way through changing wardens and the sergeants, and Presidents of the US.

Third: The thing that stood out the most is that, in the novella, Andy waits for 8 long years after making the hole to escape. In the movie, Andy escapes almost as soon as the hole is ready. In fact, the movie does not capture (movies cannot capture everything) the dilemma that Andy might have had to face before escaping. Stephen King, or Red, explains it.

If he broke into the shaft in 1967, how come he didn’t escape until 1975? …

One possibility is that the crawlspace itself was clogged with crap and he had to clear it out, but that wouldn’t account for all the time. So what was it? I think that maybe Andy got scared. I’ve told you as well as I can how it is to be an institutional man. At first you can’t stand those four walls, then you get so you can abide them, then you get so you accept them…

I think Andy may have been wrestling with that tiger – that institutional syndrome – and also with the bulking fears that all of it might have been for nothing…

So I think – wild guess or not – that Andy just froze in place for a while. After all, you can’t lose if you don’t bet. What did he have to lose, you ask? His library, for one thing. The poison peace of institutional life, for another.

The fact that Andy, probably, froze was the book’s most important revelation.

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Pyar … Impossible

Contributed by Amit Ghugre

Pyar Impossible! This is the name of the movie I decided to watch on my way back to Singapore after a holiday trip. It turned out to be the biggest blunder as all ‘Nasha’ of the Bali trip evaporated in flat 2 hours.

People do lot of crazy things for their kids, sometimes, at their own peril/reputation. Yash Chopra is one such person. It must be some kind of ‘poetic justice’ that Uday Chopra is born to the legend who has given us classics like Trishul, Deewar. It seems story, screenplay, and direction of ‘Pyar Impossible’ (PI) is by Uday Chopra, and he, also, is the film’s Hero. Possibly, because no one else will dare to work in such a movie or that Uday can be Hero only in his own production setup.

It has a very ‘original and exciting’ story plot. Hero can not express his love during college, but as the luck would have it, he happens to meet the Heroine after 7 years. She is still ‘available’ due to divorce, but with an additional liability of a 6-year old daughter. Very clearly, after getting expelled from college, she wastes no time in getting married, and having a child within a year.

A reputed software company gives her job in Singapore as PR manager. She is a rash beauty queen of her college days, a drunkard, ameer baap ki beti, etc., who does not notice the Hero even when he saves her from drowning while in an inebriated state.

But, our Hero still loves her (Beauty matters!). After 7 years, he finally manages to win his true love with help of his would be step daughter. Thankfully, this person, unlike other heroes, has the need to do some work for living. He is a techno geek.

I am not going to elaborate the story further but will try to list some insights gathered from the movie.

  • Each movie nowadays has to have an English tagline (like our rallying cry). One for this goes something like ‘ A Beauty, A geek….(meaning) Pyar Impossible’. This throws some interesting conclusions. A beauty can not marry (at least love) a geek. Hence wife of a geek is unlikely to be beautiful unless they have love-less marriage. From my own experience of not being a geek, I can conclude that the converse of above is not true.
  • The name is inspired from ‘Mission Impossible’. There is also a very adventurous scene in which Hero is able to break security system of server of his company to access software code. He, being a Desi Hero, does not need anyone else unlike poor Tom Cruise who needed 3 more people in his mission.
  • My 7-year old son, probably, needs to go to the special school for the dumb (if there is one) when I compare his abilities with the wits and maturity of 6 year old daughter who brings the couple together. I had seen a similar exceptionally talented girl in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. This girl is probably smarter, because she is not even enlightened by her mother’s annual birthday gift of letters. Just to give some more proof of her wisdom – she decides to stay at  her friend’s house so that the couple can meet in peace. She tells mom over the phone that she is watching ‘Sex and the City’ while mother tries to tell her that ‘Hannah Montana’ will be fine. She is better in judging people than her mother (that is why she selects Hero Vs Villain as her prospective father).
  • Misunderstanding is very common in movies. In this case, it reaches a new level. Hero comes to girls’ house for talking some software piracy issues but she thinks he is ‘Nanny’ for her nasty kid who has track record of ousting 6 of them in last 3 months. And Hero cannot clarify the purpose of his visit and accepts the job! He can not do any household chores and hence outsources the work to a 3rd party – heroine continues to think she has got a very smart nanny. Just a coincidence.
  • The most hilarious scene in the movie (there are many, so this decision is not easy and probably unfair to some other deserving scenes): Hero (in Nanny avatar) is expected to serve guests at Girls’ home, one of them being the villain from whom he wants to hide. So at every occasion he plays a ‘trick’ to avoid villain’s glance. Not once or twice but 4 times. One of those tricks is to serve with your posterior facing the guest while serving the Thai food presumably because it is a ‘Thai tradition’ to serve that way.
  • Daughter’s school has an annual function in which the teacher entrusts responsibility of setting an entertainment show to this 6 year old genius – some people have knack of spotting TDCs at a very early stage. The daughter is helped by our Hero, who has been given complete authority and access to setup the play. The Hero must have watched the movie ‘Karz’. He uses the song to remind the Heroine her past story (Ek Haseena Thi type) and that is how finally our lady gets enlightened.

Final conclusion: Unsure if it is a result of my long service in a multinational firm or general upbringing, but I have developed immense patience to watch such movies and still not lose my balance.

Gulzar: The Lyricist, Bharadwaj: The Director

I’ve always associated Vishal Bharadwaj with Gulzar, who gave him his first chance and then collaborated with him with great success.

It was interesting to find out that neither wanted to be what they are best known for today:

  • Sampooran Singh Gulzar, the amazing lyricist (adapted from Wikipedia): Bandini marked the debut of Gulzar, who was working as an assistant director on the film, as a film lyricist, initially having refused Bimal Roy on the offering saying that he didn’t want to become a lyricist. Gulzar relented only after film’s music director S.D. Burman convinced him so.
  • Vishal Bharadwaj, the amazing director (adapted from Wikipedia): Vishal Bhardwaj came to Mumbai to become a music composer, he took to directing movies only to create the opportunity to compose music.
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Suhana Safar to Bichua

Someone posted “Suhana Safar Aur Ye Mausam Haseen” as his status message at facebook.

The song is

It reminded me of Salil Chowdhury, who used to be my favorite composer for a while … in those days! Chowdhury, perhaps, never got the acclaim of Shankar-Jaikishan, SD Burman, LaxmiPyaare, RD Burman, or even Bappi Lahiri, but he carved out his own niche and none could equal him.

In those days, Jayamala was one of our favorite radio programs. We used to make sure to tune in to it and its repeat telecasts the next day (?) and again sometime in the week. It was a program dedicated to our brothers in the military (fauji bhaiyyon ke liye). A celebrity would  present his favorite songs or songs relevant to a certain topic/theme.

In one such episode, Salil Chowdhury said that he almost always composed first and then had the someone pen down the lyrics.  He said he was amazed at how Shailendra came up with the word Bichua” for his composition from Madhumati after the music was composed!

As a result, I developed immense respect for his lyricists also! Whereas Chowdhary composed some of the most amazing melodies in Hindi Film industry, he had managed to get equally amazing lyrics to go along with them!

Slumdog Millionaire: best picture? really?

When I first saw Slumdog Millionaire (SDM), I was surprised, at the very least, with the amount of hype surrounding this picture. I have a lot of mixed feelings (typical of me!). I feel the case of SDM is similar to the one of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. My Chinese friends were utterly surprised why the later was such a craze in the US.

In my view, SDM, at best, is an above-average Bollywood movie. It is full of loop holes in the script and exaggerations (from as simple as the fact that Who Wants to be a Millionaire is never telecast live, to the suddenly English speaking adult Jamal Malik). It is a typical rags-to-riches movie from Bollywood: good brother is hardworking, bad one takes to crime; good one is in love and is willing to do anything for it; bad one ends up saving the good one at most times and dies for him; a villian; and what not.

The good part about SDM is nice (but not special) presentation and the outstanding part is the background score by A.R. Rahman. For once, I felt that this movie made an impact through an effective use of technical components of movie making (I feel Taare Zameen Par failed in this aspect).

As always, a movie that has an impact, typically, is controversial.

In my view, the movie is not trying to say that Indians are slumdogs or anything like that. As is always seen in Western movies, at times, SDM seems to show Indians in a very stereotypical fashion. But, that it is true of every movie anywhere in the world. Indian movies always show Sardarjis or South Indians or foreigners in a stereotypical fashion and exaggerate the nuances to enhance the value of the movie, because I think people want to see that. We could be hypocrites if we said that we like those movies and hate this one for such an exaggeration.

At the same time, it is sad that most people look at such movies and see them as representative of India (I have not met a US person who has seen this movie; so, I am only guessing). But, it is the same as thinking that “Friends” is representative of American. I am sure I could make a rags-to-riches movie in the backdrop of the city of Detroit and it would show the same, and maybe, more, problems.

BTW, I do not think song Jai Ho deserved an Oscar or even a nomination for the best original song in a movie. It is not a part of the movie. It is just forced into the end credits; actors dancing at the busiest train station in Mumbai – it is hard to walk on that station!

And yes, I wish this opens the doors for Indian movies in the US. There are many better (much much better) movies made in India…

To sum up, I have not seen any of the other contenders for best picture at Oscars 2009. But, I am pretty sure that Slumdog Millionaire did not feel like the Best Picture!

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Bollywood stars are born in bunches…

Just noticed:

  • Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Jeetendra – all born in 1942
  • Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan – all born in 1965
  • Kajol, Karishma Kapoor, Preity Zinta, Hrithik Roshan – all born in 1974
  • Dilip Kumar (Dec ’22), Dev Anand (Sep ’23) and Raj Kapoor (Dec ’24) had a max gap of 2 years between them.

Interesting initial data… seems worthwhile to explore! 

Order of the Phoenix: Creative!!!

When Mira Nair declined the offer to direct the movie based on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by saying, “Harry Potter needs more technical creativity. I like to be creative with my cast… humans,” I thought she was mostly right. After seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OTP), I think she is mostly wrong. In fact, her sentence now looks like an acceptance that she is, probably, not technically creative!

In converting the largest Harry Potter books to a short 2 hour movie, David Yates picked up the appropriate characters – Dolores Jane Umbridge and Luna Lovegood – to show what creativity is all about. A huge section of the crowd (BTW, it was houseful) clapped at the destruction of Umbridge, indicating how well the “pink monster” has reached to the audience – both in character development and acting!

I only wish the end was a bit slower. The on-screen death of Sirius is a bit too fast, and it does not sink in that one of the most important characters is no more, because of the immediately ensuing battle between Dumbledore and You-Know-Who.

Overall, I think this is the best Harry Potter movie, yet! It has been a good summer for sequels, but this movie might do really better than the previous ones!

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