Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saturday Night Fever

It was late 1978, a small group of 15 year old boys lined up outside a run down movie theater in a small sleepy town called Bhopal to watch the latest Hollywood sensation "Saturday Night Fever". No one has a clue as to what the movie is all about. The movie poster outside depicts John Travolta striking a pose wearing the famous white 3 piece suit and a seductive Karen Lynn Gorney. The raging hormones are anxious to see some "action" as otherwise life is pretty boring with not too much to do other than hit the books and cram for exams. They pay for the cheap seats ( Re 1.65) which converts to less than 4 US cents in today’s money and get inside eagerly.

For a bunch of small town boys the movie was nothing to rave about, they come out somewhat disappointed as most scenes were heavily censored, the American English was hard to understand and it was a "silly" movie about dancing."Kuch samajh mein nahin aaya yaar" ( didn’t understand a damn thing), we said as we biked home, one of us even thought of seeing it a second time just to understand what the movie was all about.

If we learnt and understood one thing, that caught on like wild fire, the flared "bell- bottomed" pants with a waistline that came up to the chest and polyester shirts with collars the size of a dog's ear, that was made popular by the actors in the movie. Everyone queued up in front of the local tailors to emulate "Travolta style". I myself went to the tailor with a piece of fabric and told the tailor- "make the bottom as flared as you can", well there was not enough fabric for a reasonable flare so the tailor generously added extra fabric from left over cloth from someone else's garment.

The year 1980 came around, SNF and John Travolta were long forgotten and I made my transition from Bhopal to Mumbai. It was a culture shock, like moving from "Greenbow", Alabama to New York City. Albeit, I survived the initial shock and was also shocked to learn that "flared pants" and "dog collar" shirts are out of fashion and "drain pipes" were in. I was a freshman in a 3 year program in Hospitality management. As fate would have it 'DK' was my batch mate and a fellow Hostelite. He danced the Travolta dance to the tune of "Stayin' Alive" dressed in the white 3 piece suit at a college function, and became an overnight sensation among all the students- juniors and seniors alike. He was the coolest kid and everybody wanted to hang out with him. DK is a successful executive today and well respected by his peers.

Well, as for me, I flew below the radar and no one noticed me. However, I did develop an interest in pop music- Bee Gees, Beatles and tried to listen and understand the lyrics. I even tried to dance in front of the mirror and realized that the best I could do was "Gump"( as in Forrest Gump) like. The first time I stepped my foot in a nightclub was in 1986, courtesy of a friend who knew a friend. I was in awe, sat in a corner and tried to act cool and gulped down a couple of beers while the hip crowd swayed to the music.

Few years later, I landed a travelling job which took me around the world and I too enjoyed the luxury of nightlife at some of the nicest night clubs in the world. "Tatous" (now defunct) in New York city was one of my favorites, '1900' at the Taj Hotel also brings back fond memories.

Just a couple of days ago, mind you, the year is 2010, I was watching History channel and it was a story on the making of "Saturday Night Fever". The story outlines the struggle of the producer, Director and actors to shoot the film within budget and the allocated time frame. Money is short, Local mafia is hustling the moviemakers for money and to top that John Travolta's girlfriend loses her life to cancer. The initial release is met with much skepticism due to thin story line and foul language. But finally, when it was released, it broke all records in the opening week. In the last 30 years I have watched SNF umpteen times and I totally love the movie. Also, being a big Travolta fan I have watched almost all of his movies. "Get Shorty" is one of my all time favorites and all of his other movies come a close second, even the crappy "Michael", story of a womanizing angel.

SNF is about life of teens and coming of age, the story revolves around the mundane chores and mediocre life in Brooklyn. Angst of the characters to break from the monotony and do something sensational with their lives and in the process, one of them actually pays with his life falling off the Verrazano bridge. Robert Stigwood takes a group of little known actors and makes SNF one of the biggest cult sensation ever. John Travolta is adored as the James Dean of 70's and nominated for the Academy awards for best actor. He immortalizes his solo dance sequence in the movie which he executes with pitch perfect timing, tenacity and vitality. It is said that he dedicated 9 months to practice those dance moves to precision. When the director wanted to cut some of it from the final edition, he would have none of it.

John Travolta became one of the most biggest and successful Hollywood Stars. Nonetheless, fame also brings controversy and he has had a fair share of it. Recently, he lost his teenage son in a tragic accident. it is hard to fathom... losing a child is hard, no matter what the age is!

Like Prem Naseer ( my favorite hero from Malayalam movies), young Amitabh Bacchan ( the angry young man of Hindi movies), John Travolta has a special place in my heart. Whether it be a dancer, a cowboy, wily politician, a shylock, a rogue extortionist or a desperate attorney, he plays them with conviction and wins your heart.

To put it into perspective, every one has experienced a little bit of Tony Manero's life. The hair, the swagger, the values, the attitude, we all go through that phase of life. I myself have experienced the agonies and ecstasies as a young man, the little victories which makes you feel like you are invincible and the heartbreaks which makes you not want to wake up the next day. I have 2 kids who will go through these stages in a few years and probably repeat a similar story someday, thus continuing the circle of life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Hero!

My cousin passed away recently, succumbing to colon cancer after a futile fight for almost a year. He was my hero, some one who I looked up to and cared dearly. I wrote a letter to my nephew, summarizing my life and how he influenced it. I have somewhat come to terms with him not being around, getting emails from him and talking to him almost every week. Not a moment passes by without his thoughts flashing through my mind. Even when my dear mom passed away, it did not affect me to this extent.
(For privacy, I am changing real names to made up ones)

Dear Roger,

The earliest memory I have of chettan is him lying down on his bed in his room with ammayi( your grandma) sitting next to him and having a heart to heart conversation. I may have been 4 years old then. that would make him about 17. his dad- my Ammavan(uncle) was a good man at heart but very short tempered, most of the time I believe chettan got "caned" silly as he was the only one ammavan could take out his frustration. So, your dad inherited his dad's anger and in your house the poor remote controller and the little dog ended up being on the wrong end of the stick or rolled up paper.

He took care of me as a baby. I was born in your grandpa's house( the big house which you may have not seen). That house had a lot of character. Your Aunt inherited that and eventually sold it. I lived for the first 5 years of my life in Kerala shuttling between Mulakulam, Cheruvally( you must have heard of your dad referring to Kamala chitta), and Ponkunnam ( Biju koch's house).

He studied in Bhopal and Ujjain and I happened to travel to Kerala with chettan for Mallika chechi's wedding. I ate some grapes and my face turned all red. he panicked, thinking that I got some kind of illness and eventually realized it was just grape juice color that would just wash off. on the same trip I pooped in my pants and guess what he did the honors of cleaning me up. This was in 1968.

After he moved to Ujjain, I lost touch with him except for the occasional letter that I would receive from him. I knew he was in Bombay, working as an exporter and travelling abroad. he would send me post cards from exotic places like Hong Kong, Kenya, Mauritius etc. We would finally reunite after 10+ years in 1980 when as a skinny, shy, awkward, timid teenager I would land up in Bombay to study hotel management at Dadar catering college. I still remember clearly, he was wearing a light brown short sleeved shirt, dark pants and his stylish ray ban sunglasses. he gave me a big hug and a kiss- my chettan, he made me feel comfortable right away. I stayed with him in PG dig in Bandra Perry road for a week or so before I moved to the hostel.

Live life like a king, that was his motto, when he had money in his pocket, he had no problems spending it or helping out anyone. When he was broke he would take the bus, else it was always a taxi. Many people took advantage of his kindness.

I would visit him at least once or twice a month, sometimes more to borrow a few rupees, I was always broke ( I use the term borrow loosely because, I never paid him back :-)). In 1981 or 82 he introduced me to a lovely young lady at Andheri Station. She was pleasant but a little aloof, but I liked her right away. She warmed up to me in no time, maybe because of the positive vibes I sent out. No prize for guessing who that young lady was- "your mom". I think I gave her a diary to write notes once as a new year gift. Once she gave me a Gold cross pen which I still have to date, although I don’t use it. I hardly ever write, I am too used to typing and my handwriting is like a 3 year olds.

I was there at their wedding, your Dad was late as there was a taxi strike and he had to walk all the way from church gate to fort where the wedding took place. Your mom had an uneasy feeling, thinking that he might not show up. but he did, all drenched in sweat, I think it was October 8th, if memory serves me right. We went to "Dilli Darbar" in Colaba for lunch after the wedding.

After I finished college, it took me a while to find a job and again stayed with chettan for a couple of months. Guess what, he had to provide for me again as I had no income. Those were tough days for me and tougher for him.

I was a frequent visitor at your Grandpa's house in Nagpada, your grandpa and grandma were gracious hosts. We played cards on occasions and generally just hung around. Mind you I am still the insecure, shy and timid one. I only went because I felt comfortable among everyone there- your mom, grandma, grandpa, uncle and his family.

They bought their first flat and moved to Malad. You were born and were doted upon by your parents. Chettan had a special name for you " Kunjandan" I am not sure what it means but it must have been very endearing to him. He would make up songs like- "Tu soja bituva, tenu ninni aa gayi" ( go to sleep precious, you are sleepy) and others that I cannot remember. There was an elderly lady who took care of you. She was very loving and caring. From 1986 to 1992 I watched you grow from a baby to a toddler to a little boy. We used to play catch, bat ball in your living room. You would pretend to be Sunil Gavaskar walking back to the pavilion after getting out with the bat tucked under your arm and head down muttering :-). I would give you rides on my motorcycle around the block, with chettan watching and instructing you to hold on tight to my torso.

After I moved to US and Canada, I drifted around aimlessly and constantly looked towards chettan for guidance. he visited and you all visited as a family couple of times, you remember the trip to Connecticut in my beat up BMW. I fondly remember him buying all kinds of stuff for you and your room. My first 5 years in North America were hell, made some real bad decisions, lost thousands of dollars......it is endless saga. I kept my sanity with the hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and my conversations with chettan. He said never to lose hope.

When I cam to India and got married in 1998, you mom helped me pick out the ring which I gave to my wife, it was a nice small diamond ring on which I spent practically all the money I had. But as luck would have it, Air-India ( my previous employer) owed me some money and I got a decent amount as back pay that they owed me. Lata loves that ring even though it is a small diamond, but there is some thing about that ring that is very special. So when you find that special lady :-)who you want to propose to, take your mom with you to pick out that perfect ring. It may not be the most expensive but it will be classiest.

He was a jovial person, also could be annoying at times :-), he would talk non-stop and some times it made no sense. but that was him. You had to LOVE him for what he was, and ignore the rest. He would write all kids of nasty letters to newspapers and I would tell him -"please chetta stop, some one will beat the crap out of you". You don't make enemies in your own back yard. But he spoke his mind and did not fear the consequences.

The picture frame that hangs in your living room is symbolic( chettan, you and me). I don't need to elaborate. That picture speaks a thousand words.

I am writing this to you to refresh your memory. some of this you may already know, some may be buried deep in the sub- conscious part of your brain and just needs a little nudge. When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to look up to except chettan. You may ask- why not my own father- that is another long story, I will have to tell you another time. Your mom might know. she may be able to tell you. If not, I will share my story with you when we meet in person.

Love and hugs

Your Koch (short for Kochachan- Uncle).

Hi! Where are you from?

I was born in my Uncle's house in Mulakulam a small village near Piravam which falls under the kottayam district, but is closer to Ernakulam. from what I can remember I spent the first 5 years of my childhood there and with my 2 Aunts in Ponkunnam and Cheruvalli.

Next, I take a train to Bhopal and spent the rest of my childhood till I was a few months shy of 17. So that's about 12 years in the heart of India, both my parents worked at BHEL Bhopal and I had 3 other siblings born during the time. Initially, I was a wreck, I wanted to go back to Kerala to the comfort of my grandma's bosom. It took a good 7-8 years in Bhopal when I got a sense of belonging. I made a few friends who I cared for and they cared back for me. I made a few acquaintances who were just there for their vested interests- I was a book worm, did my homework on time and they wanted to copy , that was pretty much it, no other reason. I lived in the BHEL quarters, a semi ghetto, a pretty hostile environment as we were outsiders ( madrasis) in the Hindi/Urdu speaking part of the country and natives did not like us being there. not only us, but there was an exodus of migration from all over the country to Bhopal due to the job opportunities offered by BHEL and other new industries. It was Nehru's vision to integrate the country. I childhood and early teen years were pretty rough dealing with the anguish of my migrant parents who had problems of their own and the hostile environment outside. But by the time I felt comfortable and could stand my own ground, it was time to move on.

In 1980, I left Bhopal for Mumbai. It was Bombay then, but I have no problems calling it Mumbai as Maharashtrians wants it called that way. After all, it is their land. I respect that. If you have read my earlier posts, you know it was a struggle initially- Culture shock, big city ( Bhopal was a small town) it took me a while to adjust. But it was not that difficult as I had made up my mind to stay put no matter what. Again, I was a stranger in a strange land. I became a man in this city. I learned to drink and smoke, fell in and out of love, developed relationships and I was bonding with the city. From Andheri to Colaba ( I always lived and hung out close to the sea) I felt at home everywhere, whether eating vada pau on the street or a fancy meal in a 5 star restaurant with a pretty lady. Latter part of my life in Mumbai, I was flying high - literally, I was a flight purser with Air India. A young lady who wandered into my life for a short period of time had a big part in that, she gave me the boost that I needed to become a man and take life into my own hands and hold my head high. Sorry, can't name names here for privacy's sake. Travelling around the world and coming back to do laundry and get a clean set of clothes and off again. It was a lot of fun while it lasted. Then the adventurer in me started nagging me to move on. And so I did.

New York- if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I almost did not make it. I arrived here in 1992 with great hopes of making it big, in the Big Apple. My confidence and swagger turned into despair and disillusionment due to bad judgments and poor decisions. One has to be either really tough or lucky to make it here and I guess I was neither. As fate would have it, another young lady who I spent a good part of 2 years with helped me stay sane and focused and keep it together.Some how I managed to survive for 3 years,full of ups and downs and lots of uncertainties. Sadly, the lesson I learnt here was not to trust anyone. That brings me to Ontario, Canada.

I arrived in Toronto with a heavy heart and despair. I needed to hit the ground running and there were no other options. but with limited resources and thousands of dollars in debt, all I could manage was a below average start. I am still looking for that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Independent thinking, luck, my mother's prayers etc turned me in the direction of education for a better tomorrow. Working 3 jobs simultaneously, continuing education kept me busy for the next 2.5 years. Then as luck would have it again, I find my soul mate and marriage happens. That would be the turning point in my life. exactly 35 years after I came into this world. Once again it is time to pack my bags and move, but before that I change my nationality, I am a Canadian, eh!. ( eh! is a popular Canadian way of speech- they finish every sentence with eh!)

Oak forest, IL, a small sleepy, bedroom community just Southwest of Chicago. This is home and this is where I sleep best. I have been living here for 11 years with my wife of 12 years who I love more than myself. She always teases me, I can only sleep well, if she is next to me, guess what .......it is true. I can't get a good night's sleep if it is not next to my sweetheart.

I change my nationality again, I am an American now. Our children were born here and they are growing up, carefree, happy, secure and full of mischief. We live in a comfortable environment and have everything we need, almost everything.......as a human being, one is never satisfied, they always want more.

So, back to the question: Where are you from? My answer is never the same, it all depends on who, where, when, how and on what context the question is asked. I am the little kid from Mulakulam who grew up in Bhopal, became a man in Mumbai, and live in peace in Oak forest, IL. however, I am also a New Yorker, and a Torontonian.

Mr. & Mrs. Iyer

I have seen Rahul Bose as a young man playing Rugby at “Bombay Gymkhana” and hanging with his buddies, where I used to work as a part-time waiter during the mid 80’s working my way through college. Short in stature but ruggedly handsome, poised and dignified, there was something about him that stood out from others. Glad to see him succeed as an accomplished actor.

About the movie: Set in the back ground of communal violence, these two strangers, Meenakshi and Raja meet up by chance on a ride to a common destination. Fate brings them closer to each other in the form of a cranky crying child which also saves Raja’s(Rahul) life. Although Raja seems reluctant and aloof initially, he gels with them seeing her plight trying to juggle a crying child, glaring seatmate and annoying fellow riders.

Raja, a compassionate, modern gentleman,yet a little arrogant, puts his life in line to keep a promise to his friend and Meenakshi’s father, to ensure that she and her child have a safe passage through the curfew and the riots. He is drawn towards her in spite of the fact that she is married with a child and has a chip on her shoulder.

Meenakshi ( Konkana) traditional, devoted to her family and child but drawn to Raja for everything he is to her and her child during the crisis, shows superb emotions and body language depicting the anguish and growing sexual tension between them. Like the young ladies with the excursion group point out, she looks too young to be a mother and there is an inner child in her which yearns to get out and act out her emotions openly with Raja.

The scene where they witness a man’s throat being slashed from the forest bungalow is executed beautifully and professionally with a lot of emotions. Dialogues are meaningful and precise. Similarly during the train ride the scenes were acted out refreshingly perfect, without the usual overacting and melodrama seen in Bollywood movies.

One thing that I found that was missing was, he never thanks her for saving his life, if it wasn’t for Meenakshi thrusting the crying child on Raja’s lap when the two fanatics were hunting for Muslim victims, and she readily answering to their query of what their names were with “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer”, he would have been caught, if they had him pull down his pants ( you know what I mean). Maybe I am over analyzing, but that is my take on that one. Just like Lieutenant Dan ( Gary Sinese) never thanks Gump ( Tom Hanks) for saving his life in ” Forrest Gump”, till the very end of the movie.

The movie is in English, with none of the phony accents, spoken perfectly like how Indian speak. We tend to forget that India was a British colony for 400 years, English is the common language that brings all of India together, with all of its 18 languages and boneheaded political decision of splitting up the states linguistically after independence from the British rule.

Music is so-so, did not care much about the songs. Maybe if I watch it a few more times, which I intent to, I might change my mind about Zakir Hussain’s music, which I immensely admire. In conclusion, a beautiful and powerful story with a lot of subtle underlying messages, humanity for one.

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*

Happy Feet

Seriously, what were the “Warner Brothers” thinking marketing this movie towards a target audience of mainly impressionable kids with all the promos and paraphernalia. As an adult,I would probably enjoy it- retro music, brilliant tap dancing and animation. But a weak story about Ocean pollution and preserving the environment for wild life specifically of the penguin kind in the southern hemisphere. This movie probably racked in millions of dollars and was a success. But if you ask me, it was a sheer waste of my hard earned $50.00 ( tickets + snacks for a family of four).

We took our 4 and 6 year old for to see this movie, after they watched the trailer, about this cute and cuddly ill penguin, who tap dances. All excited and charged up, they wait for the warm and fuzzies to happen, instead what they get is boring retro music of which they have no idea of, penguins dancing and singing in the most suggestive and vulgar manner inappropriate for kids. Half way thought the movie the main character penguin is chased by a mean looking Seal who is so menacing that my 4 year old rips out a blood curdling scream and he is petrified and sitting on my lap for the rest of the movie with his eyes closed and ears covered. He pretty much sobbed for the rest of the movie only to take breaks to sip his drink and munch on popcorn. My six year old was bored beyond belief and declared-”Dad, we don’t want to see movie this again”, normally if they like a movie in the theater we wait for it to be released on DVD, rent and watch it again till heart’s content.

Whoever is heard of a bosomy female penguin( penguins do not have bosoms), at least that is how the main female penguins are portrayed in the movie? Raised chest thrusting gently forward as they walk, talking in “bedroom voice”( Nicole Kidman), clearly an attempt to make the young audience notice. What was with the goofy accents of the Latino sounding (ethnic?) penguins?

Guys! see this movie for all its worth, the music, tap dancing and animation which is far out. But, leave your toddlers and kids under 7 at home. It will not make any sense to them and also save them from nightmares. Also, there is enough filth on regular TV. If I want environmental messages, I will watch PBS of which I am a huge fan and thankful for quality age appropriate programs, at appropriate times.

The story is nothing to write home about, so I am going to save you the trouble. Bottom line is- in the Penguin world, human beings are evil. To sum it up, my message to the Warner Brothers: Shame on you for misleading my kids, if you have any decency, you will refund my money. Thanks for nothing!!

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*

Prem Naseer- Superstar of yesteryears

You wanted low budget, commercial movies?-Prem Naseer doled out 100’s of them, over 700 to give a ballpark figure. Cine Goers loved him, especially women who loved the tear jerker family dramas he acted in with Sheela, Sharada and Jayabharati.

If Sathyan was the upper-crust elitist’s accomplished actor, Prem Naseer was everybody’s hero, a true blue collar working class actor, who tirelessly churned out movies after movies for the rich and poor, the penniless farmers and the handrikshaw pullers, the coolies at the railway station and the expatriate malayalees, like my parents who moved to northern part of India looking for work and a better life. He romanced the heroines, beat up the bad guys, played the unemployed union activist, dedicated son and rich spoiled brat with a soft heart, with equal aplomb.

He made a good team with Adoor Bhasi as the comedic sidekick. As a lead pair, Sheela acted with him in a record number of movies. In my eyes he was a true super star, remaining a top Malayalam film actor for many years spanning from early sixties to the early seventies. if Amitabh was my favorite Hindi actor for his splendid performance in Zanjeer and Deeewar, Prem Naseer was my favorite Malayalam actor for all the cheap laughs and stunts, melodious songs ( sung by Yesudas), and family drama.

Naseer sir, thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing 3 hours of fantasy, every now and then which otherwise was a somewhat forgettable childhood, dealing with the anguish of blue collar working class parents, antagonistic surroundings and a general sense of not belonging.

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*

Movie Review: Sleepers

Sleepers, released in the late 90’s is a chilling story of innocence lost, pedophilia, revenge and redemption. This movie is based on a controversial novel about life in the Hell’s Kitchen( part of Manhattan, New York) in the late 1960’s in the backdrop of Mob(organized crime), Catholic Church, poverty and anguish of it’s blue collar inhabitants.

With a lineup of Super stars like Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Ron Eldard, Minnie Driver, Jason Patric and Billy Crudup, Sleepers is well acted and deftly crafted. This is a story of how a simple prank which went wrong turns into a life changing event for 4 innocent boys (Lorenzo, Michael, John and Tommy) who are best friends. They steal a hot dog vendor’s cart of which they lose control of going down the steps and nearly causes a man’s death. They are found guilty of reckless endangerment and sent to a juvenile reform School( Wilkinson) in upstate New York. There, under the watchful eye of a sadistic guard named Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon), they are subjected to mental, physical, and sexual abuse.

Although their sentences are only for a year, those twelve months fundamentally alter their personalities. Fast forward to 1981 when John and Tommy (Ron Eldrad and Billy Crudup) who have turned into hardened criminals have a chance meeting with Nokes in a restaurant and kill him in cold blood. The ensuing court drama entails Michael(Brad Pitt) an attorney in the D A’s office prosecuting his old friends while at the same time secretly plotting their acquittal. Lorenzo (Jason Patric) who is an aspiring newspaper reporter is helping Michael, along with Father Bobby ( Robert DeNiro) a washed out lawyer ( Dustin Hoffman) and Carol ( Minnie Driver), to turn the trial into a indictment against all the abusive guards, who they tolerated as delinquents 15 years ago at Wilkinson.

The movie’s moral compass is Father Bobby, a Catholic priest who recognizes that friendship and loyalty may require sacrifice of the soul, but doesn’t tread lightly across the line separating what’s legally correct and what’s ethically mandated. In fact, Father Bobby’s dilemma is arguably the most compelling aspect of Sleepers’ in the latter part of the movie. I am a big De Niro fan and this I have to say is one of his best performance.

In fact, De Niro isn’t the only one to turn in a powerful performance. Kevin Bacon as the ruthless, sadistic, pedophile cop is chilling. Ron Eldard, who has few lines to say in the movie, is brilliant. Dustin Hoffman as the lawyer with a substance problem is simply superb. Then there are those intense scenes in the Wilkinson reform school(nothing overly graphic is shown, but much is implied).

I have to caution you, this movie can be really disturbing and traumatizing and can leave a lasting impression.

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*

Movie Review: Training Day

I love Denzel Washington! Great performer and actor, has a fantastic stage presence. “Remember the Titans”, “Malcolm X”, “Philadelphia”, the list goes on and on and then there was “Training Day”. Whoa…what a performance, Academy award, Best Actor. But wait a minute, he plays a bad guy, rogue cop!, would I want to see this movie again….any other Denzel movie…I will watch it again, again and again, alright you get my drift, I just love him too much. Training Day? not a chance…..it was too creepy. Denzel takes on a role which perhaps was tailor made for him. He is probably one of the most decent Hollywood types. but I doubt if any one could play the part of “Alonzo Harris” so convincingly. He did it so well that it gives you the chills. An accredited film personality like Ethan Hawke looks like an after thought in that movie.

Released in 2001,setting is the most infamous neighborhoods of Los Angeles, California, shot in notoriously dangerous housing projects. The movie follows a single day in the life of a young cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) as he is subject to a day evaluation by Alonzo Harris, a highly decorated LAPD police narcotics officer, to see if he has what it takes to be a “Narc”.

Alonzo as it appears has sold his soul to the devil and does not care a damn about anyone including the rookie. He is all about himself and saving his ass. He is ruthless and all he cares about that day is to figure out a way to pay off the Russian mob who he owes a million dollars in gambling debt. Jake on the other hand is an honest cop excited about his first day as a “narc”. Alonzo insists on indulging him in activities that are unpolice like and uses it against him at a later stage.

Alonzo is also this narcissistic individual who is banging a stunning Eva Mendes, and is the self proclaimed king of the Ghetto. He and the other corrupt co- officers stages this fake sting operation and steals stashes of money from a dealer which is supposed to be used to pay off the Mob. Jake takes on Alonzo, almost gets killed and eventually tames him into submission and even the ghetto dwellers who once feared him turns against him.

The last few minutes is kinda unreal as the bad guy is gunned down execution style by the people who he owes money. A good story which got mangled in the end. Ethan Hawke delivers but in the presence of Denzel, he is simply a shadow. Eva Mendes is gorgeous. Denzel we bow before thee, we are simply not worthy. Will I watch this movie again?….maybe, with one eyes closed . I say see it….but tell the kids to stay away!.

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*

Movie Review: Mere- Apne

Flashback to 1975, a 12 year old boy and his 8 year old sister waiting patiently at a Ramlila ground in the outskirts of Bhopal for a “sadak chhap” ( street free-bee) movie to begin. The movie- “MERE-APNE”, starring Meena Kumari, Vinod Khanna, Shotgun Sinha and the regulars during early 70’s. When I say regular, all movies had Asrani, Paintal, Danny Denzongpa, AK Hangal and the likes in almost all movies. OK…so the movie begins at about 7.30pm give or take 15 minutes depending upon the scope of technical difficulties, sound testing etc. 20 to 30 minutes into the movie, we run home…….why? we have a 8.00pm or 8.30pm curfew…strictly enforced by Dad. Repeat the same scene about 10 to 15 times. Yes, ladies and gentlemen me and my dear sister watched the first 15-30 minutes of Mere-Apne umpteen times in the mid 70’s. Fast forward to 2007, I am sitting in the comfort of my family room with Sony surround sound and voila…I watched the whole movie after 30+ years with tears running down my eyes, thinking about my sister. She is in Baroda and did not think too much of it:-)

This movie narrates a story of unemployment, vigilante justice, failure of idealism, moralities and nonviolence, wily politicians, manipulative family members, corruption, Youth frustration, anger and discontent.

Mind you, India was a young democracy then, A young director, Gulzarji, who identifies with what was prevalent, captures the essence of unrest in the nation. he brings out the best in Shatrughan Sinha ( in my opinion, this movie belongs to him), Vinod Khanna and Meena Kumari. Danny, Mehmood and the rest of the crew did their part to perfection. No melodrama, no histrionics.

Although the theme appears to be the plight of Meena Kumari as an old timer being manipulated by young relatives to take care of their home and child and enmity and hatred between two rival street gangs, one has to look beyond that to understand how the director is subtly mocking the society and urging the common man to wake up and smell the coffee.

I really urge you to see this movie if you haven’t, it could be a wake up call or gentle refresher. Music is gentle and catchy. Shatru will keep you on the edge, Vinod Khanna will give you your money’s worth and Meena Kumari will steal your heart with her performance, Danny will leave you teary eyed.

Soak in and Enjoy.

*Originally posted at passionforcinema.com/cletterman*