Friday, February 29, 2008

Ganga Meri Ma (guest post)

This week I'd like to introduce my lovely girlfriend Danielle, for a guest post on the patriotic song "Ganga Meri Ma," from the truly odd 1969 film Tumse Achha Kaun Hai.

Thank you Mr. Gilder, and thank you for inviting me to contribute to your web log. This particular number struck me, even on the first listen, as being a strong candidate to replace India's current national anthem, which, after several minutes of grueling Wikipedia research, I discovered was composed to honor George V of England as the "Dispenser of India's destiny." This number is a little more rollicking and a little less colonial-riffic. That said, it's also just plain catchy. Bollywood numbers from the era covered by this particular blog seem so foreign, so kitschy and absurdist, but after a quick listen it seems as if these melodies are only one enterprising producer away from being re-casted as America's next pop phenom, or at least a backing loop to a rhythmic spoken word song about the perils of the streets and the joys of amassing great fortunes.

But unlike Jay-Z, Shammi Kapoor has a spastic sweetness, sort of Joaquin Phoenix meets Jimmy Kimmel, and his gestures are unrivaled. As he dips his head into the glacial waters of the Ganges, I can't help but think to myself, "Damn that water looks cold," but he just shakes it off, like a stone-cold badass. He throws an apple AT HIMSELF and then CATCHES IT, in ANOTHER PART OF THE COUNTRY. At 3:11 into the clip, he answers the eternal question "Which Vastness?" And then there's a stunning cameo of Ghandi-as-Buddha at 3:20. As a procession of floats roll by, representing the various unique cultures and regions of India aka Hindustan, I again am amazed at Mr. Kapoor's ability to maintain his goofy-cool while dancing through a copious fog of diesel fumes.

The accumulated evidence makes the conclusion inevitable: you cannot fuck with this guy. His mother is the Ganges, and his father is the Himalayas. As a Southern California native, all I can really put up against that is that my mother is the Los Angeles River, and my father is Mt. Wilson. For those who do not know, my geological parents are plainly lame in comparison. The final bit, with its neat rows of uniformed schoolchildren forming a living map of India, made me patriotic for a country I have never even visited. I spent even more grueling minutes researching performances of India's present national anthem, and I firmly believe that homemade floats, clapping schoolchildren, and a spastic pudgy man dancing like a lunatic in a field full of purple saffron crocuses is a tad more appealing than shots of a barren landscape, slow-motion pans of armed forces, and helicopters laden with Ghandi-knows-what.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Aap Jaisa Koi

I've been feeling kind of tired this week, and the only cure is lots and lots of star filters. Good thing I've got this disco delight from the 1980 film Qurbani to cheer me up. This song feels like it was just on the cusp of the disco trend that would soon take over Bollywood—it's kind of a softer, gentler disco sound.

Zeenat Aman fronts the band, wearing a dress that's one of those odd combinations of revealing and concealing that you see so often in Bollywood. My God, you can see her SIDES!!! She's supported by a highly enthusiastic Mandingo drummer and a gang of girls in glittery workout leotards. Of course, what really makes this clip is the lighting. Bright, colored, flashing, reflected off disco balls and hanging mesh, but most of all, shot through gorgeous, crazy, rotating star filters.

Intercut a standard portion of male lead reaction shots, one quirky scene with some supporting characters, and a fuzzy heart-shaped matte shot, and you've got yourself a nice feel-good dance number.

Those male leads must have a bit of a hard time doing all these reaction shots. I would assume they're mostly shot separately from the actual dance part, probably with the rest of the crew all staring at them. Here's what I think Feroz Khan is thinking to get himself into the right mood for each shot:
  1. Go, shorty, it's your birthday, we gon' party like it's your birthday!

  2. Man, check out Zeenat's sides! Daaaamn!

  3. I'd tap that.

  4. Time to break out my sexy half-raised eyebrow look.

  5. It's really hard to keep looking sexy with this damn wind machine blowing on my hair.

  6. Oh yeah, the look of slight disbelief. Slays 'em every time.

  7. Hmmmm...

  8. Wait, shit, did I leave the oven on?

  9. Okay man, calm down, you got the scarf of nonchalance, remember? Keep it cool.

  10. Damn I'm slick.

Here are the translated lyrics, culled from a forum site:
If someone like you were to come into my life
Then things would be set, yes things would be set

The springtime for the flower, the garden for the springtime
The heart for the heart, the body for the body
Everyone wants a meeting of body and soul
I wish that your heart would have a desire for mine
Then things would be set

I'm a human, not an angel
I'm afraid that I might wander
This lonely heart cannot pull itself together, without love it will pine
Where is there one like you, this heart would like to have just you..

Then things would be set...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pyar Zindagi Hai

This is one of the first Bollywood songs I ever heard. It's from the 1978 movie Muqaddar Ka Sikander, and I found it on an excellent Bollywood compilation CD called "Bollywood Funk". The funky guitars, synths, gorgeously distorted vocals, and disco beat made it a quick favorite, so later, when I started watching Bollywood films, I decided to track down this movie to see how the song was staged. As funky as the song is, I definitely wasn't prepared for what I saw.

I've included a little bit of the scene preceding the song so that you can see how dramatic the transition is. Right off the bat, there's some amusing dialogue in English: "Hey man, you dig this sort of music? You like it? Then why don't you come and join Lover’s Paradise." Apparently, paradise for lovers involves a ridiculous number of candles (including one gigantic one), lots of glowing hearts, and mirrors in way more places than you'd think would be healthy. All the candles remind me of some kind of Catholic church—in the culturally stereotyped world of Bollywood, this means it's perfect for a den of sin. Just to make the connection a little clearer, we have a lecherous old white guy trying to grab the singer (Rekha), eliciting a truly off-putting rhythmic giggle.

If you're wondering about the constant cuts to Amitabh Bachchan looking somewhere between stoned and worried, basically, the couple that walked into the club ahead of him are his best friend and the woman he loves (sporting some bad-ass Princess Leia curls). It's a good thing the set is covered with mirrors, because it makes a number of the shots of Bachchan very slowly and angrily drinking much more interesting. Well, that and his very provocatively displayed chest hair.

After some explosive lightning intercuts and an odd dance routine involving a lot of bouncing, Bachchan decides it's time to play the "No real person could drink whiskey this quickly" game, feeding the rage until he smashes the bottle against—what else?—a mirror.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Duniya Uski Sunti Hai

Here's a rather bizarre cabaret number from the 1966 movie Dus Lakh. I found out about this movie from a book I'm reading called Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, by Jerry Pinto. It's a pretty good book... it's not really much of a biography, but more of an academic look about the cultural meanings and ideologies reflected in Helen's career and her roles. I mentioned in an earlier post that Helen never really succeeded in getting good leading roles because she was not ethnically Indian — this book provides a very thorough explanation of the traits and positions that Helen's characters were given because of her perceived whiteness. Besides that, it's giving me a great list of — what else — more Bollywood movies to track down and get clips from! Because, you know, the six hours of clips I already have captured and ready to post might not be enough... :)

Helen comes rolling in on a giant globe ("the world" of the song's title) dressed in — for some reason — a flamenco/mariachi outfit, with a bunch of fruit on her head like Carmen Miranda. Then Brahmachari, playing her brother, appears in possibly the silliest hat you've ever seen (if you've never been to Beach Blanket Babylon).

Beach Blanket Babylon plus Al Gore plus Carmen Miranda equals Bollywood... it all makes sense now

Also, this might just be me, but I'm seeing a weird resemblance between Brahmachari and Ron Mael of Sparks:

Helen is in fine form in this number, but Brahmachari nearly upstages her with his antics, such as pulling ridiculously fake strands of his hair out and "twanging" them, a bizarre stripping costume change where he ends up in what look like bright orange pajamas, and then just to max out the absurdity, another silly hat with what looks like a blow-up donkey on it. Then Helen walks him on a leash. All this has barely even a tangential connection to the lyrics or to the plot of the movie, and I suspect that maybe it's just meant to illustrate how unruly and strange Anglo Helen and her family are. Pinto writes in Helen that Christians and Anglo-Indians are often characterized in Bollywood movies as having loose morals and being associated with alcoholism, crime and prurient sexuality.

At least in Dus Lakh, Helen's character, Kitty, doesn't die or meet another sad fate, as she tended to. Pinto writes:
Kitty then becomes a nurse, and thanks Kishore, for she has been saved from a life of degradation. Her adoption of what are presented as Indian values and the consequent willingness to enter a life of service — never mind the Anglo-Indian community's long tradition in education and medicine — saves her from a fate worse than death.

Here are the translated lyrics of the song. The "du du du, ni ni ni, ya ya ya" part spells out "duniya," which means "the world."
Du du du
Ni ni ni
Ya ya ya
The world listens and obeys him who makes it bow to its feet

Take from one and give to the other, that's how all live in this can
When it's someone else's wealth, eat, drink, enjoy as much as you can
When this is how everyone lives, then why don't you too try it?

Learn and understand the walk the world walks, dear
You too change your color, what is it that you fear?
If it's necessary, be nice even to him who makes you sick

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Time for some Bollywood re-interpretation... my friend Calvin made an awesome illustration of the "Piya Tu Ab To Aaja (Monica, Oh My Darling!)" song I posted a few weeks ago:

Monica, Oh My Darling on Flickr

And my friend Rob pointed me to a clip of the Simpsons episode that uses the song "Pal Bhar Ke Liye" that I posted last week:

I can feel the meme spreading...