Saturday, April 21, 2012


My last post was written a long time ago. I posted it recently only because it was lounging around in the drafts section for too long. But polishing it up with the IMDB links and adding a few newer movies to the list led me another stream of thought. What sitcoms or comedy TV shows would I recommend to others?

Turns out it's a more difficult question to answer than I imagined. I realized that I've not followed any Indian TV series in more than 8~9 years. And to think that I've been outside India only half of the time. Most shows are generally crap... everywhere. Even then, it's not difficult to end up with a list of around 5-10 good American shows, 2-3 British ones (I've only just begun looking for them) which one could watch and follow.

Very few good Indian shows come to my mind. Most are not recent. And since I only speak Hindi and Marathi, I wouldn't want to comment on shows from other languages. But I'd wager there are much more good Marathi shows than Hindi shows. Probably because a relatively smaller audience, and even smaller funding opportunities automatically weed out the bad?

It also leads me to wonder about sitcoms. I now realize how language is an important factor to humour. When we crack jokes in Marathi or Hindi, they are generally puns, or play on words. Probably my lack of a good literary grounding in these languages is the cause for that. My knowledge is limited to some of the works of P. L. Deshpande.  I recently re-listened to some of his recordings (where he reads out and performs his own essays) and was struck by how different it is to what one sees now. He includes puns and play on words, yes, but his jokes are better written. There is a premise, a lead up and then a pay-off.

The better comedies in Marathi (405 Anandvan, Gangadhar Tipre, ... oh-god I can't remember any more!) tended to sprinkle it with some serious-er moments, but always followed the golden rule of not having the characters in on the joke. For the characters, the situation at hand was something of concern... they didn't realize it was funny to others because they were invested in its outcome. Which makes it so much more enjoyable.

Among the many gripes I have with Indian tv and cinema is that to me it seems everyone is trying to ape the flash-bang-hollywood movies and popular tv. We should rather figure out what we do better and do it.

Here's a parting thought: Watch shows like 30 Rock, Community, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Coupling, and even The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Now how many recent Indian shows can you think of that make laugh out as loud (Ok.. that IS subjective I know). Or rather, think of which show you can quote from and have someone else instantly recognize it. "Sorry Shaktiman" is one, but is only said ironically. :-/

[Edit: The post and thought was mostly inspired because I spent some time in an improv troupe, and some people I know from there write 'notes' (on fb, so can't link here) or blogs on such analysis often.]

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Once upon a time, I got really mad at how clueless certain people I knew were about movies from India. They knew the 'industry' was called Bollywood, but almost none had seen an entire movie. So, I wrote a little note on my Facebook page and shared it. It was a list of movies I would want my friends to watch, if they wanted to get up to speed with how Bollywood is. And the kind of movies I like to watch.

My point being, there are millions of bad movies made by Hollywood each year, but everyone talks just about the cool, slick, big-budget ones. On the other hand, everyone just gets stuck at the idea of songs in a movie, and people refuse to process anything else when they hear of Indian cinema. I mean, why are giant metallic robots that turn into cars okay, but 2 people singing not so? (, most movies are bad, but there are millions of other things wrong with them, which probably have nothing to do with them having song and dance routines.

#rant over, phew.

So if I had to begin showing movies to my friends, which ones would I start with? In no particular order, I drew up a list.

1) Lagaan: Once upon a time in India :- A typical Bollywood movie about how a village must form a cricket team and beat the British administrators at their game in order to be exempt from taxes. This was nominated for the "Best Foreign Movie" at the Oscars in 2002, and is complete with "oh i feel happy, lets sing; oh i need to convince him to help me, lets sing; oh I'm jealous, lets sing and dance".

2) Dil Chahta Hai : A story of 3 friends; about how they grow up after they graduate and how their life takes them apart, but still keeps them close. (Does that even make sense to you ? should improve my description skills)

3) Lakshya (Goal / Aim ): An aimless high schooler finds direction in life after he signs up for the Indian Army. Set amidst the Kargil War, 1998, a story of growing up.

4) Rang De Basanti (Paint it saffron - saffron symbolizes sacrifice) : A story of a group of 20-somethings who are disenchanted and disillusioned by the government and "the system". Inspired by the lives of the revolutionaries on whom they are filming a documentary, they decide to take matters into their hands.

5 & 6) Sarkar (Government) and Sarkar Raj: These two movies are a brilliant example of how you can take a story and adapt it to the Indian setting. These are based on the Godfather series. These movie are Bollywood, but have no song and dance sequences. Surprising, right?

7) Omkara: Adapted from Shakespeare's Othello. Probably non-Indians might not appreciate it so much, since the language and setting is typical rustic Indian. I like it for how well it has been adapted to make the story seem Indian.

8) Sholay: A remake of the movies "The Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven". Made in 1974, this movie is again a brilliant adaptation of the story. A classic which almost any Indian guy will have in his top 5 or top 10 list. I saw the Japanese movie before the Hollywood remake and was quite disheartened by how close it stuck to the Japanese version. Sholay is whole loads more fun, and extremely well made. Any "true Indian" will become your best friend if you can quote the water tank scene. (Don't test this if your life is at stake though.)

9) Swades (Motherland): The story of an Indian guy who's settled in the US, but remembers why he loves home and India. A really simple story, which probably speaks to me more since I find myself asking the same questions. About home, India, US, life and so on. Some day, a blog post on all that too. Though I do have major gripes with the narratives, the story is all about why the guy wants to come back to India... I would have loved it if the story talked about life abroad without resorting to stereotypes.

10) Sarfarosh: An action/ romantic movie, typically bollywood with songs, dance, action, comedy and so on. The story of a cop who decides to tackle rising terrorism in Mumbai and surrounding areas. A well made film that, if my memory serves right, has fewer jarring segues than most films.

All these still count as typical 'mainstream' Hindi cinema (we have 22 official languages, according to Wikipedia anyway, and an independent film industry in almost each language). I haven't listed the newer new-age/artsy/multiplex-fare movies which would appeal to foreign audiences easier precisely because they seem to be heavily influenced by foreign cinema. (But "Dev D", Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local", "Johnny Gaddar", "Khoya Khoya Chand", "Peepli Live" are delicious bits of movies that need more watching.)

Typical Bollywood fare, which I dislike but is somehow popular among non resident Indians and non Indians, include "Om Shanti Om"(A tale of re-incarnation + Ultra bollywood mish-mash), "Devdas" (how falling in love makes you a stupid idiotic drunk wasted guy) , "Kal Ho Na Ho"(ok, this one is probably good, but I still don't like it as much), "Koi Mil Gaya" (A rip-off of E.T, fused with the character Forrest Gump?), "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun" (A glorified wedding video).

There are other movies that are over-the-top but self aware movies which are quite fun (Main Hoon Na, Tashan, Andaz Apna Apna - I've lost count how many times I've seen it) but they rely heavily on pop-culture references (hasn't anyone wondered how pop-culture always tends to refer to stuff that happens in the US/UK?), puns and play on words. Things quite hard to translate to foreign audiences.

 But this is a list of movies that are pretty much "Bollywood". If you know any more, add to the list :)