Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Parineeta, or, How A Total Jerk Can Still Make For a Good Movie

After K3G, I needed to cleanse my cinematic palate, and so turned to an adaptation of a famous piece of Indian literature: Parineeta, which means "The Married Woman" and was written by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the author of Devdas. The film stars Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan, with Sanjay Dutt in a pivotal but too-small (in my opinion) role. Some of this post was taken from a post I made at BollyWHAT right after watching.

The film is set in the 1960's, and the costuming and period details are beautifully done. In fact, the entire film is absolutely gorgeous--every frame of this movie could be, well, framed and hung on a gallery wall. See?
Simply lovely. The lighting and sets are so evocative and the production values are great. The clothes are wonderful. I'm glad they went with traditional clothing instead of the awful hip sixties stuff they considered in the beginning.

Saif is Shekhar, son of a rich industrialist whose primary passion is for music. Vidya plays Lolita, the girl next door who puts up with Shekhar's moods, coddles him into performing his duties, and generally smooths his way through life and his songs. Sanjay Dutt plays a rich NRI (non-resident Indian) who shows up and falls for Lolita, giving Shekhar plenty of time to sulk about it.

I'm not going to lie to you, Shekhar is something of a jerk, and that's precisely why I appreciate him as a Bollywood protagonist. So often heroes are one hundred percent saint. Shekhar is a complex human being, a mixture of spoiled entitlement, insecurity, sensitivity, generosity, and social awkwardness, and Saif plays him without apology.

Vidya's Lolita, on the other hand, is quite the doormat. She's smart, beautiful, pious and loving. You kind of have to wonder why she puts up with Shekhar, but then I guess if a guy as hot as Saif lived next door to me all my life I'd figure some musician-moodiness would be worth the price of admission.

I didn't mind Shekhar's character. I can see why he'd drive most people up the wall but I just didn't care. As for Lolita, this was one instance when the time period really made a character work for me--if they'd shot this movie in modern times as they originally considered, I would have despised her for not speaking up, but as it was I thought she did the best she could for the era in which she lived. (And not having any sort of knowledge of 1960's Calcutta probably helps that delusion.) And as far as their relationship goes, well, sensible women put up with difficult men because they love them (and sensible men put up with difficult women). There's plenty of examples of true love between down-to-earth people hooked up with wild artists so I respected the writers' choice to make Shekhar more complicated than a standard Bollywood (or Hollywood) hero.Vidya's performance was so assured, I couldn't believe it was her Hindi screen debut. She's absolutely lovely and I can't wait to see her in more stuff.
The wonderful supporting cast really fleshed out this movie. I especially liked Ajit (Sanjay Dutt's character) and Koel, as I think everyone else did. I also felt like I "should" know the girl who's hanging on the singer's shoulder during Dhinak Dhinak Dha--she really lights up the screen. I thought Diya Mirza did a great job with a small part (that of Shekhar's rich fiancee), although I couldn't figure out what the heck she meant when she said "Just let me marry him, then I'll kill him." (Husband's comment: "Whoa. I didn't know this was that kind of movie.") In her interviews she reminded me of Aishwarya Rai--very articulate, intelligent, huge eyes. With a good role or two she could definitely be big.

Obviously, since this is adapted from a book by the author of Devdas, there's going to be some social commentary on classism and evil parents going on, and those are precisely the barriers in the young lovers' path, as if Shekhar's own childishness weren't enough.

I watched the film and its bonus DVD. The bonus DVD was pretty boring--I watched it first since I already knew the film synopsis. There was a "behind-the-scenes" featurette that mainly consisted of the director Pradeep Sarkar talking about how he struggled to get this story to the big screen (that part was actually interesting), Vidhu Chopra congratulating himself on spending enough money to make a decent-looking film (I felt like rolling my eyes the whole time he talked about how much money he spent to take the "entire film!" to Kolkata--OMG, of course it would've been cheaper to film on a soundstage, this isn't a revelation, but don't you want respect in addition to box office returns???), the actors talking about how they almost didn't get cast, etc.

There was one unintentionally (?) funny part which showed Saif preparing for his lovemaking scene with Vidya by doing jumping jacks, pushups, etc., I guess to get those muscles bulging. And I was unwillingly impressed with Pradeep Sarkar's willingness to show himself acting like an ass with his crew, especially when he chewed out his costume designer and brought her to tears for something that as far as I could tell wasn't that big of a deal.(On a side note: the bonus also shows him fighting with I think his creative producer--too lazy to go check--and I was surprised to see them fighting in English. I grew up in Texas around a lot of bilingual people, and they usually reserved English for the end of the fight when they laid down the law--arguing in Spanish till the end, when they'd burst out with "I'm not going to so just forget about it!" I don't know why I expected multilingual Indians to be the same way.)

The other bonus features included brief bios on the crew, a "curtain raiser" featurette that was a shorter rehash of the behind the scenes earlier clip, a "making-of" section for the scene on the train which had me giggling at the actors' wonder at Pradeep Sarkar's willingness to "shoot the same scene twenty times!" Also there was the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery which I didn't bother to look at. None of the bonus features had subtitles, which would've been useful when they were interviewing Amitabh since I couldn't tell if he was speaking Hindi, English, or hinglish, and couldn't understand a word he said no matter what language he was using.

The rest of this post contains spoilers, so beware if you haven't seen the movie yet.

SuperFantastic Bollywood Moments: Actually, there weren't too many, but the majority of them were in the final minutes of the movie.

1. When Lolita has just discovered Navin Rai's (Shekhar's dad) evil plans for her haveli and is riding in the car with him, he glances at her, and there's a weird screeching ghost sound effect. (Husband's comment: "Is he going to turn into an ax murderer after he kicks them out?")

2. When Shekhar smacks Lolita on the stairs, there's that standard BW "ka-shun" sound effect. (When you compare this to when Navin Rai strikes Shekhar, it makes me wonder if Saif really got hit.)
3. The wall. The wall, the wall, the wall. The wall Navin Rai builds between his house and Lolita's, which Shekhar tears down in the final scene of the movie. First he kicks it. (Husband: "God, he really is a stupid musician.") Then he smacks it with a shovel. ("Did he never watch any sort of demolition?") Then he has at it with a crowbar thingy. Then he rips up the birdbath and starts pounding away--and after clearing out a passageway, meticulously brushes off the dust from the bricks before climbing through ("That's right, dude. Wouldn't want to get your wedding outfit dirty after you just ripped a birdbath out of the ground.").

4. Rajeshwari (Shekhar's mom) gives a paltry couple of fireworks cones to a servant with orders to light them up in celebration of Lolita's homecoming. Then an Independence Day-worthy lightshow begins in the sky. (Husband: "Good God, those fireworks are pretty potent for those wussy little cones. I hope she told him to run like hell after he lit the fuse.")

5. So, now what? Lolita goes to live at Shekhar's house while he continues to sponge off his hateful father--who by the way owns the house that they're living in and will surely make her life hellish? Oh well, guess they'll be happy as long as they keep the bedroom door closed, whatever.

Despite those factors (or maybe partially because of them) I loved this movie. As a piece of art it's wonderful, and as pure entertainment it definitely delivers. And the soundtrack is absolutely lovely. Rekha, an item number girl extraordinaire (and accomplished actress) from yesteryear, performs a very retro item number which is fun to watch. (That's her to the right, with Sanjay.) The songs are gentle and melodic, except for the opening wedding song, and amazingly performed by the playback singers.
Here's a bit of video from the second song, complete with English subtitles. No spoilers since it's from about fifteen minutes into the film if I recall correctly.


  1. Great review of one of my favorite films. It really was a beautiful movie and I love how you've pointed out everything that makes it beautiful. Thought the end was too silly and filmy, though, and didnt fit with the general tone of the movie. Still, its one of my favorites . :-)

  2. Thanks, bollyviewer! And yeah, the ending is totally OTT and had me laughing out loud. Not in a good way. But like you said, it's so beautiful in almost every other way, it doesn't matter.

  3. Okay, your husband had me rolling on the floor with his comments. xD

    And I always wondered at how long it took Saif to break a hole in the wall-- I half expected him to come out (like, 20 minutes later) and see Lolita & Co gone already, and just stand there, all confused and sad. :p Seriously, wouldn't it just be easier to walk around the wall to stop them quickly, and THEN tear it down afterwards?

  4. It was the most filmi thing in the movie, which is why I think it stuck out so much. The rest was gorgeous and then... MELODRAMA RULZ! I think it would have been awesome to have Lolita and Shekhar break down the wall together after he stopped her. But... oh well. The rest of the movie was great.

  5. I love the film, but the end, oh jeez. The truly 'Oh Hell' moment was when you spot the door right next to the hole he had made in the wall :D :D Loved your take on the film, your husband's comments are hilarious, still giggling :D


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