Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Mubarakan, or: Wife Swap

I’m unemployed and don’t have a place to live beyond mid-August; what I mean to say here is that, rather than host a pity party, it’s the perfect time for impeccably choreographed dance numbers, glittering costumes, and a dizzying number of love triangles. That’s right—it’s the first ever Bollywood month on the Blog Collab!

The Film:

Mubarakan

The Premise:

Identical twin brothers raised separately plan to marry their girlfriends despite family disapproval and the disastrous attempts of their uncle to help.

The Ramble:

On a dark night in England in 1990, twin babies Charan and Karan survive a car crash that kills both of their parents. Their uncle Kartar is guardian of the two boys…until he realizes the whole parenting thing isn’t really his cup of tea. The boys go their separate ways; Karan to be raised by his aunt Jeeto in London, and Charan in Punjab by his uncle Baldev.

A man in a turban and traditional Indian clothing walks by dancers dramatically spinning ropes twisted into decorative shapes.

From even our opening song-and-dance number, it’s clear that Charan is the good Punjabi boy (and devout Sikh), while Karan is the flashy bad boy. Though far apart in location and in personality, the now grown twins are on the same page when it comes to settling down. Karan is ready to marry his girlfriend of two years, Sweety. Unfortunately, Sweety makes a dismally poor impression when meeting Aunt Jeeto, and Karan decides to hold off on his news.

A man in Western clothes leads a group of dancers, Big Ben in the background.

Meanwhile, Uncle Baldev has arranged an engagement for Karan to Binkle, the daughter of a influential man. Determined to get out of the arrangement, Karan suggests it’s his brother Charan who should marry Binkle. Complications abound as Charan himself is eager to marry his girlfriend Nafisa, a Muslim woman he fears the family won’t accept.

After arriving at Uncle Kartar’s extravagant Mini Punjab in England, Charan does little to hide his dismay at his impending engagement. Due to the influential nature of Binkle’s family, Charan cannot back out of the arrangement; however, Kartar helps his nephew scheme to meet with disapproval. Kartar’s best plan is for Charan to pretend to be a drug addict. Of course, nothing could possibly go wrong here.

A man speaks to a woman, who is turned away with a shy smile.

When Charan meets Binkle, she’s a total sweetheart and he’s instantly smitten. Though he changes his mind on his uncle’s questionable plans, it’s too late–when Binkle’s brother accuses Charan of drug abuse, a major dispute erupts, pitting the twins’ families against each other. To save face, Baldev vows he will see Charan married within one month, even if the engagement to Binkle has fallen through.

Now that Baldev is determined to make such a quick engagement, the time seems right for him to coincidentally meet Nafisa. If she charms Charan’s uncle, it should be easy for the two to become engaged. However, Baldev mistakes Nafisa for Karan’s girlfriend and, besides, is less than dazzled by her personality. Rather than Nafisa, Baldev has another young lady in mind for Charan…none other than Sweety! More than a little irked with Karan, Sweety agrees to the engagement. Just like that, not one, but TWO weddings are in the works, set for December 25th in London.

A man leads a group of Bollywood dancers, who are dressed in the uniform of the LA Lakers basketball team.
Please share my confusion over this dance number featuring a group of back-up dancers dressed in LA Lakers jerseys…?

What follows is scheme after scheme, each one ending in its own spectacular disaster. With the weddings fast approaching, the only option left seems to be elopement. Kartar is all for this until he is haunted by a dream of his late brother, who reminds him of the shame this will bring to the family. Done with elaborate plans, Kartar insists the young couples leave their fate in God’s hands. Will divine intervention bring about a happy end where mortal means have failed?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh my GOD, this film did not need to be 2 1/2 hours. After a while, all of the schemes feel repetitive and–sorry for the spoiler–the ending of the film doesn’t exactly defy expectations. Also, the potential for comedic mistaken identity is grossly underutilized considering our main characters are IDENTICAL TWINS.

I will concede that the cast here is great. Anil Kapoor as Kartar is a standout, and I love that he’s basically living the dream that I imagine all people of nations colonized by white people share: lavishing in a country estate with a white servant at his beck and call. Arjun Kapoor is also impressive considering he plays both main roles in this lengthy feature, quite often conversing with himself and occasionally mirroring his own dance moves.

Fun fact for my fellow clueless white people: there is a LOT of English in this film, with actors switching back and forth between Hindi, Punjabi, and English within the same sentence. I had to Google this, but it’s apparently a thing in a lot of Bollywood films since English is such a ubiquitous and, er, cool(?) language.

One of the few Bollywood films I’ve seen is Bride & Prejudice, and this film reminded me of why the Bollywood adaptation of Austen worked so well (see also: colonization. Again). Mubarakan, like much of Austen, is very much a comedy of manners, responding to rather strict expectations surrounding marriage and the discouragement of openly discussing romantic love. The couples in this film balance their feelings of love with the conflicting demands of family, duty, and restraint–plus there’s more dancing than you can shake a stick at.

Would my lovely blog wife accept a proposal from our film or shun it for the shame it has brought upon the family? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Margarita with a Straw, or: La La La La Lai-la

I can’t believe we’re already starting to wrap up the Summer of Love, AKA Gay July.  This week’s film tells a story we usually don’t see on film about a young woman from India with cerebral palsy learning to love ladies, guys, and herself.

The Film:

Margarita with a Straw

The Premise:

A young Indian woman with cerebral palsy studies abroad in New York, where she develops her sense of self, interest in Apple products, and sexual identity.

The Ramble:

Laila is a young Indian woman living with her music-loving family:  dad who always sings off-key, brother constantly making snide remarks, and problem-solving mother who can seemingly do anything.  As a woman with cerebral palsy, Laila gets around in a wheelchair, hangs with her bestie Dhruv at school, and is never caught without a trusty (controversial?) plastic straw.  Laila is almost always smiling and happy, but she hides her feelings of insecurity and shame about her disability behind this facade.

An Indian family dances together in their dining room.

Though she doesn’t play an instrument, Laila loves music and writes lyrics for her band.  She’s somewhat confused when she finds herself attracted to two different members of the band, one of whom happens to be female.  It’s ultimately the lead singer, Nima, who Laila decides is the man of her dreams until she is rejected.  Not only that, but her band wins the top prize at a competition, which the announcer says to her face is because of her disability.

Too ashamed and discouraged to return to her school, Laila eagerly accepts her mother’s solution:  go to NYU and study creative writing on the scholarship she has recently earned.

A young woman rests her head on her mother's lap.

During her first class, Laila’s instructor assigns a student to help her type and take notes.  She initially declines help…until she realizes her assistant will be a rather attractive blonde Brit.

A young woman in a wheelchair talks to a fellow student, a blonde man who is standing.

Soon after, Laila is in for a shock when she happens across a protest against police violence.  As the protest intensifies, the police shut it down with tear gas, leaving behind Laila and another girl, Khanum.  A rebel with parents from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Khanum is blind and very interested in Laila.

As the girls explore the city together, Laila becomes attracted to Khanum, and they begin a relationship in secret.  While Khanum is out and secure in her identity, Laila feels less certain and has absolutely no desire to have that conversation with her family.  Laila’s mother has no clue the girls are more than friends when they decide to move in together.

Two young women sit side by side, one listening to music on headphones.

Though Laila loves Khanum, she is still attracted to Jared, her British assistant.  After impulsively sleeping with him, Laila keeps this a secret.  Probably for the best as both Laila and Khanum have been invited to spend the holidays with her family.

Inevitably, drama ensues.  Laila decides now is the time to be honest on all fronts, revealing her bisexuality to her mother and hook up with Jared to Khanum.  None of this goes well, but everything is put on hold when a much bigger family crisis emerges.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really love that this film was made–Laila is not a character we see too often on screen.  She feels like a very real character rather than the improbably saintly figure who triumphs over adversity that characters with disabilities often become.  Though she’s optimistic, Laila does feel insecure about how others perceive her disability.  Importantly, she makes mistakes that are frustrating at times but allow her to experience growth as a character.  Despite some of her questionable choices, it’s impossible not to root for Laila.

The character of Khanum is also excellent–what a badass.  She makes the whole Jared situation extra frustrating because he’s so fucking dull by comparison.  Her romance with Laila feels organic, though the main love story in this film is that of Laila with herself.  The relationship between Laila and her mother feels real too; it’s a beautiful relationship, but it’s not perfect.  Both women have emotional limitations that prevent them from connecting at times.

Biggest complaint here is the absence of a musical number about sexuality in the tradition of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Would my blog wife join the protest with this one or fly to New York just to get away from it?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Lion, or: Goodbye, Feelings

This month’s theme (essentially “Hey, this film made me think of you”) has unintentionally been the ultimate exercise in trust.  “Hey, let’s watch this emotional sucker punch of a film because I know how much you like a good reminder of how broken your feelings are” is one interpretation of this week’s pick.  However, I believe the intention with Lion is along the lines of “Hey, I know you like films with a realistic yet affirming story and rich emotional complexity, plus Nicole Kidman’s cool.”

/Also I may have suggested this one for the blog before but have lacked the emotional willpower to follow through and watch it.  That stops today.

The Film:

Lion

The Premise:

Based on the true story of a young man, raised in Tasmania by his adopted family, who used Google Earth to find his biological family in a small Indian village over 25 years later.

The Ramble:

Saroo lives with his mother, sister, and brother in rural India.  The family does what it can to scrape by–Saroo’s mother carries rocks, while Sarro and his brother Guddu performing the dangerous work of stealing coal from moving trains.  Saroo is especially close with his brother and always wants to be included whenever Guddu goes off alone to bring home something the family can trade for food.

An Indian teen carries a smiling child on his back through a wooded area.
I can no longer complete this post as my heart has broken into pieces too tiny to ever find and put together again.

One evening, Saroo insists on going along with his brother on a mysterious errand at the train station.  However, Saroo is unable to stay awake and falls asleep at the station.  When he wakes up, Saroo is on a moving train that doesn’t stop for days.  Eventually, the train stops in Calcutta and a lost Saroo has no idea how to return home.

After months of life on the streets dodging all manner of characters with ill intentions, a young man helps him talk to the police.  The police don’t recognize the name of his village and post his picture in hopes of someone claiming him.  Unfortunately, these efforts fail, and Saroo is sent to an orphanage that makes Dickens look tame.

A small child looks skeptically at a bottle of orange soda placed in front of him on a kitchen table.
Never trust a ginger.

Eventually, an Australian couple adopt Saroo and later, his brother Mantosh.  As they grow up, it becomes clear that Mantosh is a deeply troubled child who later turns to drugs.

A white couple smiles at a young Indian boy.
I’d like Nicole to do more ’80s period pieces because she’s nailed that look.

The family dynamics become strained further when, after completing his university education, Saroo secretly determines to find his biological family.  Though his girlfriend Lucy believes his family should know what’s going on, Saroo insists it would hurt his mother too much to learn the truth.

Actor Dev Patel looks really good with shaggy hair and a short, well-groomed beard.
I apologize for not preparing you for how good Dev looks in this film.

If you saw any of the trailers for this film or have seen any films that avoid an entirely nihilistic ending, you can probably guess whether Saroo is able to locate his family (plus I’ve never heard of anyone writing a book about looking for their biological family and then not finding them).  However, I challenge you to feel emotionally ready for the ending of this film because, unless your heart is made of stone, it will not happen.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though the plot is fairly straightforward, this film kept me engaged throughout as it battered my feelings.  It asks quite involved questions about the nature of family, privilege, identity, and loss.

Because this is a story driven by the experiences and feelings of its characters, the casting is so important here–and it’s perfect.  Dev and Nicole really stand out in their roles, and of course Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child.  He conveys so much emotion with his eyes and comes across as very genuine in some really devastating scenes.  I don’t even like kids, but I wanted to reach through the screen and hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay.

Possibly my only criticism is that Rooney Mara is almost entirely wasted in her role as the supportive girlfriend.  She has charisma here but not a lot to work with–it’s not even clear to me what she does in later scenes except go jogging and lecture Saroo about being honest with his family.  While she’s of course not the focus of the story, it would’ve been nice to see her fleshed out as a character and given more personality.

Everything else about this one is beautiful, though.

Would Christa use Google Earth to track this one down or run away faster than you can say “orange soda”?  Read her review here to find out!