28 Feb 2018

Five Amazing Sridevi Songs You Just Can't Miss!

There are many intense memories I possess of the two-month-long summer vacations that we spent down south at my grandmother's village in the early nineties.

One clear recall is my first vacation in 1992 as a ten-year-old. Yash Chopra's Lamhe had released in November 1991 and all through April 1992, on power cut induced candlelit evenings, my similarly-aged cousin sister from Mumbai unfailingly danced to Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen (the bangles clinked...).

For a boy who loves to play cricket and run about, this untiring, enthusiastic dancing began irritating me after a fortnight. Unfazed, the cousin sister kept at it, singing the song and swaying to it at the same time every evening with an unconscious, uninhibited flow that only children possess. Now that I can calmly look back at it, the effect of Sridevi's amazing dancing abilities on a ten-year-old girl was quite phenomenal. Sridevi's onscreen connection with everyone young and old was uncanny.

Madhuri Dixit vs Sridevi? 
Was Madhuri Dixit the better onscreen dancer or was Sridevi the best? Each with their distinct signature steps, timely graceful expressions, and elegant movements, yet so different from the other. It's hard to decide, that debate will never cease. Also, don't forget the choreographers and cinematographers who played a huge part in creating the persona.

Anyway, here is my list of the best danced, choreographed and picturized Sridevi songs.

Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat 
Mr India (1987)
Kishore Kumar, Alisha Chinai / Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal

It took years of repeat viewing from adolescence to my teenage years to realize what exactly transpired in those five odd minutes. The minutes when Mr.India momentarily transformed into a movie for a "not so young" audience. What magical, seductive moments when Sridevi sways to Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat with Anil Kapoor appearing, disappearing at will!

Sridevi has been drenched a lot onscreen in her 80's films, sometimes to vulgar, provocative effect. But here the visuals hold back the lovemaking, with Sridevi having to imagine an invisible Mr.India dancing with her. She pulls it off with a breathless, scintillating burst of youth, pure sensuousness and a touch of scandal. You just can't look away!       

Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan
Chandni (1989)
Lata Mangeshkar / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari 

The initial minutes of Chandni hold the promise of a cinematic event. The film begins as a subtle, sublime ode to a young woman's beauty before taking off to a disappointing wheelchaired lover angle. It's like the writers didn't know where else to go but the wheelchair, self-pity, separation, and reunion. The film still holds in parts.

The opening song Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan is more than a dance routine, it sums up all Punjabi marriage folk songs of those undistilled times. Notice how the dance doesn't look choreographed. Sridevi instills believability to proceedings. Nowadays there are 100 dancers on screen and you seldom get a musical vibe or goosebumps as this song still gives us.

Chudiyan Khanak Gayee
Lamhe (1991)
Lata Mangeshkar, Moinuddin and Ila Arun / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari

Another song about clinking bangles echoes through generations of Hindi film song lovers. The song is still referenced and celebrated. In Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) sits quietly by a bonfire with Manu (R Madhavan) and then gleefully blurts,"Looking at this lonesome jungle, this fire, this ambience, are you wondering if you are Lamhe's Anil Kapoor and me Sridevi and that I will start dancing to the Peacock song?" 

For all the song and dance I was subjected to by my cousin sister way back in 1992, this is not an out and out dance song. Yash Chopra infuses a solemn silence into it with the desert night setting. The song is all Sridevi, weaved in tradition, a painting-like ambiance to it, apart from the rare sight of a mustache-less Anil Kapoor and folksy Ila Arun. It's an iconic image, Sridevi standing out like a famous statue, a work of sheer art and womanhood at full bloom. 

Sridevi's "waiting for the lover" expressions has its layers, as revealed later in this underrated, unconventional movie. Anil Kapoor's character sees her in another light. Chudiyan khanak gayee is a beautiful palette of longing, simply unforgettable. 

Hawa Hawai 
Mr.India (1987)
Kavita Krishnamurthy/Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal 

A classic 80's case of strange costumes, outlandish settings, frowning villains, absurd situations and in the middle of it all Sridevi knocking this right out of the cinema hall. No other female lead actress, except for Madhuri Dixit during that era, raised the bar as Sridevi did with her multiple comic expressions and moves.

Playing up a bit of Charlie Chaplin as she does in the film later, echoing of Kishore Kumar's madness, the rest is choreographer Saroj Khan and Sridevi's daredevilry at work. A mad, fun, freaky yet harmless joy of a song sequence. Check out the background dancers' cheeky costumes in this one. A big bumpy kiddy party, going with the film's "for children" theme.   

Chandni O Meri Chandni
Chandni (1989)
Jolly Mukherjee, Sridevi / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari 

The song perks up the film's meandering proceedings in flashback mode and was very popular back then, especially for Sridevi's impish, funny rendition of the female vocals. On screen, the Rishi Kapoor-Sridevi interplay is great, despite the redundant dance routine, even as Yash Chopra pays tribute to his newly found mistress...Switzerland. 

Other Notable Mentions   
The Kamal Haasan - Sridevi brilliance in the songs of Sadma (1983), the rage of hatred and revenge exuded in the songs of the big disaster Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja (1993), lots of awe-inspiring, superb dancing in ChaalBaaz (1989).

Now that she is suddenly gone at 54, her body reduced to ashes today, the celebration of her talent and apparent timelessness will continue. Sridevi's unexpected death has only assured her immortality in the hearts of millions of Hindi film lovers.   

25 Feb 2018

We Will Miss You Sridevi (1963-2018)!

Sridevi (1963-2018)
During my childhood years in the eighties and nineties, Sridevi was already a popular culture comet in the Bollywood sky. Even in those simpler, limited mass communication medium times, her amazing talent was hard to ignore.

The fearless news reporter Seema in Mr.India (1987) is a distinct memory as is the mercurial comic turn in the otherwise exaggerated lost twin sisters tale ChaalBaaz (1989), and the 'classic in parts', Yash Chopra's ode to feminine beauty, Chandni (1989). Lamhe (1991) is Sridevi at her peak, it is arguably her best film, apart from English Vinglish.

Sridevi was simply brilliant and born to make it on the big screen. At her peak, nobody could match her versatility. Be it the absurd requirement to dance, look cute and beautiful in Hindi films, to teary-eyed emoting, Sridevi ticked all the boxes and more. It was her comic timing that makes her legendary. For someone so introvert in real life, the extroverted reel life transformation was pure magic.

The famous wedding dance routine that lights up Chandni (1989)

The Wrong Decade
The eighties is Hindi commercial cinema's worst decade yet. Women came off with the worst treatment with crass, double-meaning dialogue, provocative rape scenes, and body objectification. Yet, this was Sridevi's decade. She easily stood out faultless, engaging and pitch-perfect in mostly average, dreadful and some memorable films.  

My enduring kid memory is of her in shiny contact lenses and bad makeup, dancing to main teri dushman, dushman tu mera in the boisterous Nagina (1986) with exquisite flair. For pure acting gold bookends, also see Sadma (1983).

With Sunny Deol in ChaalBaaz (1989)

Sridevi: Gone Too Soon
Sridevi's sudden death at 54, at a time when she was making a selective, content-driven return to Hindi films, and looking amazingly timeless on screen is a huge loss. Her best was yet to come, the mini-list of great films she has starred in was steadily expanding, with English Vinglish and to a small extent, Mom (2017), matching up to her towering talent.

In mediocrity ridden Hindi cinema, Sridevi will be remembered as an actress of rare gifts, a spontaneous blaze of talent. It will be difficult not to miss her commanding presence on the big screen. She may be gone, but Manju, Chandni, Seema, and Shashi will continue to live on in our hearts forever.  

16 Feb 2018

Aiyaary: Passable Army Drama Devoid of Pace, Thrill & Tension

Major Jai Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra) is declared a traitor by his covert army unit headed by Colonel Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) for conducting unauthorized surveillance on high profile people and disappearing without a trace. Jai flees to London with his girlfriend Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh) with shocking army secrets that threaten to bring down India's government and expose corruption in the Indian army.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army Chief (Vikram Gokhale) is offered a huge bribe by Retd. Lt. General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) for allowing the purchase of overpriced foreign weapons. On the army chief's refusal, Gurinder threatens to expose Abhay's covert operations and the off-the-books expenditure incurred on the secret unit. Jai is allegedly Gurinder's informer. Abhay must track and kill Jai to save his team and restore Indian army's honor.

No Central Theme 
Considering that the premise takes some explaining, Neeraj Pandey begins Aiyaary on a promising note, dispersing tantalizing clues. But the film never takes off, except as mildly engaging "true events" inspired drama. There are barely any thrills, zero tense moments, and no sense of danger. We barely connect with the characters.

Two Striking Aspects 
Slow-motion dulls the impact in almost every scene where it is so repeatedly and stubbornly used. On a film devoid of any action set-pieces, slo-mo makes for a redundant, irritating effect. The film needed silent bits between the relentless background music to build any kind of tension. The silences are woefully missing. No edge-of-the-seat entertainment here as in Pandey's Special 26 (2013) and Baby (2015).

The ever-competent Manoj Bajpayee does most of the heavy weighting. But there is no engaging story to back his character, a Kashmir army anecdote lacks insight. Siddarth Maholtra lacks intensity and lazily strolls through with his customary cuteness and urban sophistication. His performance is a big letdown.

Rakul Preet Singh is earnest in the teeny bit role. Naseeruddin Shah culminates the movie with a rocking performance, lifting an otherwise sketchily written part. Bit acts by Anupam Kher, Adil Hussian and especially Kumud Mishra are watchable.

Too Many Threads
Aiyaary may be a faithful retelling of true events, but there is no direction at its core. Unlike Pandey's striking debut A Wednesday (2008), Aiyaary goes round in circles without arriving at any strong, resonant conclusions.

Greedy arms dealers, corrupt army men, derby betting watchman, a rogue agent, faithful girlfriend, opportunist media, sly informers...it is the case of too many and too much to be packed into one film.  At best, the film would have worked as a tense action-based thriller with a bit of the present story premise.

As for the fabled shapeshifting form (Aiyaar) that the film title takes after, the symbolic impact barely registers.

Aiyaary is passable, sincerely made, but ends up as a dull thriller that never lifts off the screen.

9 Feb 2018

Pad Man: A Superb, Gripping Social Drama

Based on the incredible life mission of Arunachalam Muruganantham, Pad Man is a largely impressive reinterpretation of single-mindedness in an earthy North Indian setting.

Newly married mechanics-inclined Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) is appalled at his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) using a dirty rag cloth during her periods. He finds buying a branded sanitary pad too expensive, so out of love and deep concern, he sets about making a cheaper sanitary pad from local raw materials. The troubles for Lakshmikant or Lakshmi begin then, as he is up against prejudice, taboo and shame. He is labeled a pervert and an outcast. Will Lakshmi continue to pursue his mad passion, against all odds?

Straight, Sincere, Funny Treatment   
Writer and director R.Balki borrows faithfully from Arunachalam's life and transplants the real Tamil Nadu background to a village in Madhya Pradesh with great conviction. Pity that a superstitious,  outdated and orthodox setting needs no specific Indian geographical setting. Ignorance and prejudice are widespread, more than ever.

Inclined to mix impressive witty comedy, urbanite-engaging drama with an emotional overdose in notable films like Cheeni Kum (2007) and Paa (2009), Balki finds the right story to balance what he does best. The result is an overwhelmingly entertaining social drama that ticks all the right boxes.

One of a Kind
Pad Man towers over last year's similarly themed Toilet: Ek Prem Katha because it doesn't preach and force the message down our throats. It is less of a social loudspeaker and more of a deep, funny,  witty, connecting movie on the larger implications of using something so often ignored - sanitary pads.

Akshay Kumar 3.0!  
How Akshay Kumar has evolved to be one of the finest actors of our time is as much of an inspiration. His take on the mad, passionate Lakshmikant is sincere, grounded, balanced and earnest.

Watch how Kumar nails the modesty, the vacuum of fighting a lonely battle, that single tear flowing down his face, bang on clueless expression to Amitabh Bachchan's English speech and the rocking 10-minute United Nations monologue. It is one, big, skyrocketing performance. I have come to respect Kumar's rise as an actor, in Pad Man he installs himself as a serious acting heavyweight.    

Contrasting Female Vibes 
Balki bridges the rural-urban divide in Radhika Apte's impressive rendering of a vulnerable, teary-eyed, superstitious wife. He offers a tabla player exponent and high-flying MBA graduate in Sonam Kapoor's sporting take on Pari. The contrasts work but the Pari-Lakshmikant love premise could have been handled better.

A Few Misses
The love triangle adds unnecessary lather to the proceedings. Yet Akshay Kumar's sublime touch makes even the love story digestible. A minor quibble is the out of place, synchronized dance sequence celebrating a young girl's puberty. Thankfully, it is a teeny-weeny hiccup.

Don't Miss It 
Powered by Akshay Kumar's career-best performance to date, and a strikingly different story to tell, Pad Man connects in the most intimate, humorous and empathy-driven manner, like few commercial films do.