Wednesday 7 January 2009

Bulandi (2000)

The blundering Bulandi suffers from a narrow-minded worldview, an idiotic storyline and inevitable comparisons with the far, far superior Virasat. Like Virasat, Bulandi is an epic tale of rural India, told from the perspective of a divided village's noble thakur, played - yet again - by Anil Kapoor. Yet despite excellent cinematography and a gorgeous setting - similar to Virasat's - this film's attempts to tackle the same East/West cultural dilemmas are irritatingly simple-minded. Whereas Virasat acknowledged the East/West tensions and ultimately demonstrated how both Western individualism or Eastern communalism can be morally problematic, Bulandi falls back on the tired, regressive cliché where all that is Indian is morally pure and all that is Western is morally corrupt. Even more annoyingly, women are once again presented as the vehicles of Western temptation and weakness. Oh, come on! Furthermore, an unnecessary comedy sideplot starring Paresh Rawal slows and cheapens the narrative (most of the jokes are incest-based), and the comic book villain (Shakti Kapoor) felt similarly tacked on in a feeble attempt to pump up the narrative. We can only imagine that this film was made in an attempt to redo the formula which worked for Virasat - rural setting, Anil Kapoor as thakur, remake of a South Indian film, discuss culture and other lofty things. Understandable, since Virasat was such a good film. Too bad Bulandi isn't. Like waaaaay isn't.

Pretty shot, no? Well, enjoy it 'cause that's all you're gonna get here!

The story begins with some narrated scene-setting: the Elysial rural Indian village, where life is simple and the thakur's word reigns. In one particular village, we are introduced to the thakur's family of three brothers: eldest is the affectionately named Dada Thakur ("Grandpa Thakur", Anil Kapoor in gray), middle is the spunky Arjun (Anil Kapoor in brown), and last is the young Nakul (Harish). The way the brothers are introduced, it felt like the story wanted to sketch out some rough character traits - too bad they apparently didn't have any!

The story begins with Dada Thakur fixing middle brother Arjun's marriage to the "educated, modern girl", Meena (Raveena Tandon). Uh oh. Meanwhile, another even more Westernized "modern girl" arrives in the village as the next schoolteacher - this woman's only setting seems to be "Horny" and so, after one quick glance of Arjun's manly, hairy chest, she proceeds to spend the rest of the film biting her lip and writhing around while embarrassing eroticized howling plays in the background. And it gets worse! But once rapists starting marrying their victims and this was being presented as "justice", the PPCC adopted a policy of Ignore the Story, knowing that, otherwise, our head would just explode. So we distanced ourselves from the terribleness, leaned on the fast forward button, and ended up laughing very, very hard during the "tragic" ending.

The Awful

First, let's get the awfulness out of the way. First and most awful thing: the gender relations.

The film's two "bad" women - Meena the wife and No Name the school teacher - couldn't be more superficially presented. "Modern wife" Meena is a caricature of Westernized ignorance and disrespect: she scoffs at the village's superstitions, proclaims that she's not interested in children and - in one of the film's (unintentionally) funniest moments - warns Dada Thakur himself to "MIND IT!" when he innocently asks for some cold water. "Isn't this woman stupid and evil?!" the film seems to scream. Well, we found her hilarious too. Too bad she had to be "tamed" by the Good Indian Wife Lakshmi (Rekha), Dada Thakur's wife.

We found less funny the ridiculous schoolteacher woman (who wasn't even credited on IMDb!). Watching her scenes of breathlessly detailed and demonized sexualization was just painful. How regressive and idiotic were her attempts to seduce Anil Kapoor, especially compared to, for example, Madhuri Dixit's seduction of Anil Kapoor in Beta. We were very annoyed to see woman's sexuality caricatured and demonized (and associated, again with Westernized moral bankruptcy!), where anything less than being "shy and demure" loses a woman's "respect" and brands her as a shameless whore. ARGH. Does anyone have a spork?! Because we'd like to POKE OUR EYES OUT WITH IT.

The saucy school teacher.

She saucily strews strategically opened magazines in Arjun's path.

And then just tackles him onto a pile of melons, provoking much jocularity at the PPCC.

Of course, all these regressive inhibitions and limitations on women are dressed up in the usual "But it's your dharma!" discourse - that is, as Good Indian Wife Lakshmi explains, it is a wife's spiritual obligation to "serve like a slave, look like a goddess... and have the capacity to endure like the earth"! Once again, a comparison with Virasat is inevitable: while it didn't beat us over the head with "dharma" this and "dharma" that in the dialogues, Virasat's entire narrative was basically an examination of what it means to follow your dharma all the way to the (occasionally grisly) end. Without giving too much away, Virasat's protagonist loses almost everything dear to him in his pursuit of his dharma as the thakur's son (to serve the village) - yet he chooses the dharmic path anyway since that's the only morally acceptable choice. That is, after a reasoned evaluation of a difficult moral situation, Virasat's Shakti chooses the self-sacrificial anti-individualist dharmic path - this is in contrast to having dharma repeatedly thrust upon the hero via guilt trips about cultural loyalty and Hindustani pride - and the film furthermore shows that the dharmic path is painful, mired in ambiguity and an ultimate submission of the individual into the community. Bulandi's circular argument is, "You must follow your dharma because dharma is good."

The Curious

That said, there are some acceptable aspects to Bulandi (the cinematography, Rajinikanth's cameo, Kulbushan Kharbhanda shows up at one point too), as well as some purely "whoa, freaky" factors for the curious: Anil Kapoor bizarrely (and unnecessarily?) plays a double role and is paired opposite Rekha (?!) in the "older" incarnation. Whoa! Freaky!

Heroines get a hard time in commercial Hindi cinema, and there's the usual double standard where twenty year age gaps between heroes and heroines are okay... if and only if the man is older. We admit that, since it's so unusual to see an older heroine, we watched the Anil/Rekha romantic cavorting in a state of slightly bewildered discomfort. And yet Rekha's only five years older than Anil (!) - despite this Planet Bollywood review's wild claims ("70"?!).


Yanna Rascala! MIND IT!!!

South Indian superstar Rajinikanth's extended cameo injects a much-needed punch of energy into the film. He also seems to be the only one with a sense of humor, and he plays it straight pulpy. We've never seen Rajinikanth in action, but have only seen him parodied. South Indian cinema remains shrouded in exoticized mystery for us Hindi cinema-loving PPCC, so we were very curious and just soaked it all up. Our first impression? We can see why Rajinikanth is so popular - he was a tidal wave of charisma, with hilarious trademark moves like flipping his cigar into his mouth and flapping his shawl around to dishoom dishoom sound effects. This guy was like an alien from the Planet Fantastic! And we even recognized that exaggerated superhero anthem-style acting in Rajinikanth as the thing we loved best about Anil Kapoor's performance in Nayak where, wait for it, he plays a character... based on Rajinikanth! (That is, Anil's character's name, Shivaji Rao, is Rajinikanth's real name. And the film is a remake of a South Indian film.) Except that, next to the real deal, even our reliably zany and larger-than-life Anil Kapoor looked awfully repressed - his naturalism looked out of place amidst Rajinikanth's antics, and we kept going, "Come on, cut loose!" Have these two been in any other films together?

But speaking of jodis, why did Anil Kapoor get a double role in this? He was sort of okay as old Dada Thakur, forgettable as Arjun and only slightly resembling his usual persona as young Dada Thakur. We think this film would have improved heaps if Anil Kapoor had confined himself to playing one role and then let someone else play the other brother. That would have also opened up the jodi potentials. Since, come on, how are you gonna have jodi with yourself!?

That's just weird. (Though, side note: look! The doubling was so good that the two Anil Kapoors could even TOUCH EACH OTHER. AMAZING, NA!?)

The Passable

As stupid as this film was, we did derive some satisfaction in seeing occasional flashes of directorial and cinematographical brilliance. The compositions during the song sequences were often inspired, despite the often mediocre dancing and forgettable music. Little details were amplified for good emotional effect. For example, the PPCC is a big fan of zooming in on nervous, expressive hands. We still remember the moment in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice where the camera followed Darcy's hand in close-up as Darcy walked away from his secretly beloved Elizabeth Bennett. Heck, it was that moment itself that made us reconsider the whole film and dub it "very, very nice" instead of just, "Well, it's not Colin Firth, is it?" Bulandi has a similar moment when the camera briefly focused on Dada Thakur's hand as he gripped the carriage in an effort to discreetly contain his vast emotional suffering, and, a moment later, another close-up of the hand relaxing as the tension breaks and relief floods in. (Don't ask us what Dada Thakur was upset about, though, as it was really stupid.)

This film would have been so much better on silent. Pretty visuals without interference.

Another source of decency in the film were two of the songs. First, there is an oddly (and unintentionally!) poignant song when Arjun and Meena, having freshly made up and resolved to be the ideal Good Indian Couple, accidentally drink a load of hemp-laced bhaang, get stoned and imagine themselves in a sort of lovably dorky early 90s rap video. There was something endearingly sweet and also tragic about these two hapless, sheltered people fantasizing about enjoying life in the evil West - within the highly restricted confines of this film's "morality", a drug-induced fantasy romp was the only way poor old Arjun and Meena could have any fun, cross cultural borders and harmlessly shake it up a bit! And they were so dorky about it too! And the song itself was decent too! Oh, tragic.

The family that gets inadvertently stoned together...

...and fantasizes together...

...about mimicking LL Cool J circa 1990 together... STAYS TOGETHER.

The second song we want to mention was worth it for novelty value. In the extended flashback sequence, we see the young Dada Thakur (Anil Kapoor, remember!) fall in love with Lakshmi (Rekha, remember!). The cinematography in this song was gorgeous, the dancing was fine, but we just watched it with eyes wide because... well, goodness, it's Anil Kapoor and Rekha (!?!).

Our dominant feelings during this film - disgust, boredom, unintentional laughter, occasional rage and the mild freak-out - meant that (1) we will never watch this again and don't recommend you do at all and (2) we desperately need to go purify ourselves with something GOOD now. Recommendations, please!


Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Amazing. I've never seen this, and now am torn- would see it for Rekha and Anil's "cavorting"- but am scared about Anil II and his loves :D

Anonymous said...

OMIGOD guys...please..send me your list of movies and I'll vet them for you. Gratis!!! These are the kind of movies that we Indians hope are never made and pray are never seen by foreigners. Worse than the "so bad they are good" levels. Have not seen the entire movie- seen a few bits as well as some portions of the Tamil original. And it made me gag.

For good \ fun Anil Kapoor movies, watch "Chameli Ki Shaadi", "Woh Saat Din", "Saaheb"..Far superior to this POS. All the best. ;)

Anonymous said...

Your enthusiasm is amazing. This is exactly the kind of movie that makes me wary of watching for Anil alone (he has several more of these crappy ones with very cheap humor). To cleanse your soul with Anil related fun try Khel (Madhuri+Anil=silly, but fun comedy) and definitely Chameli Ki Shaadi which really is a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

How about Vidhu Vinod Chopra's "1942: A Love Story" with Anil, Manisha Koirala, Jackie Shroff, Danny. It was RD Burman's last before he died.

a ppcc representative said...

Shweta - Honesty the Anil/Rekha thing isn't mined as much as it could have been - they only really have one song and a couple moments of domestic cuteness together. I'm a little surprised no one's uploaded their song to YouTube.

Srinivas - LOL! I have to say, I've been feeling a little masochistic lately and actually sought out something I knew would be awful. It's fun to review bad movies sometimes! Next up, after I've purified myself in something good, is to watch the Benam Badshah - THAT looks like a howler and SO WRONG.

Chameli ki Shaadi, indeed! It's in my DVD pile, though the subs are a little wonky and so I was feeling hesitant. Saaheb's with Rakhee to, no? It sounds like another Beta - yeehaw!

Bollyviewer - Nooooo. The more I watch of Anil, the more I'm surprised by how many really good movies he's made (Virasat, Mr. India, Calcutta Mail, Nayak, Tezaab, Ram Lakhan... it goes on and on)! I had to wade through a lot more trash when I rode the good ship Shashi Kapoor pyaar. Yay, Khel sounds RIGHT up my alley!

Suhan - Would you believe it, Everything Uncle Ji, my DVD wallah of choice, had THIS but not 1942.

eliza bennet said...

"But once rapists starting marrying their victims and this was being presented as "justice"..."

This got me thinking since in Eastern parts of Turkey, if a girl is raped then it is her "sin" and "shame" and she either kills herself (and save her relatives the trouble) or her family does the job for her.

It sounds weird as I read it, all the more because it is true (a fairly recent Turkish film called "Bliss" is about this so called 'tradition')

Returning to Bulandi, thank you for saving us the trouble.

Anonymous said...

Saheb is a good movie. Anil did a good job. Amrita Singh too. I don't think Rakhee is in it.

You will like Anil in Saheb. Pls see it.

Anonymous said...

I have only ever caught glimpses of this on cable and I vaguely remember the trailers for this... and now I feel vindicated for never having subjected myself to this.

Tip: if it's a south remake, you probably want to stay away. Ghajini is in fact the least objectionable south remake I have ever seen. And Virasat is the only good one I have ever seen.

Rajni actually made a bunch of Hindi movies too. He and Kamal Hassan were the only two South Indian megastars to actually make a dent in Hindi cinema. I would suggest Hum in which he stars with AB, Govinda and a delicious Danny Denzongpa. Very masala-y. And Chaalbaaz, a remake of Seeta and Geeta with Sridevi and Sunny Deol. Again, very masala-y.

Filmi Girl said...

I just have to mention the delicious Rekha/Arshad Warsi (!) song from a terrible remake of "Ruthless People"...

Talk about uncomfortable! It's so good... yet so wrong!

And who knew Arshad was such a good dancer!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Srinivas, you might be able to make a good profit on a business like that.

This sounds so unbelievably bad. And youtube has not helped me any - all the links I clicked on had been removed by owner or for copyright claims.

Now more than ever desperate to see some Rajnikanth!