Our last first date! This 2008 film is also one of my very favorites; I own it, and have probably watched it 8 or 10 times. It was co-star's Anushka Sharma's first role, and she was cast after a highly-publicized search. Director Adi Chopra wanted a fresh face for the part of Taani, the grieving bride of I-work-for-Punjab-Power nebbish Surinder Sahni. Shah Rukh Khan was not so sure; he said in an interview he would have preferred being paired with another star (I wonder who!!!). But Adi was the director, plus he's a genius, so Anushka was cast. She is so perfect in this: it is important that she not come off as insincere or flirty. Taani is young and modern, but not shallow.
The plot in a very small, spoiler-free nutshell: Surinder Sahni meets Taani, the daughter of a beloved teacher, just before her wedding. Within 24 hours, after a few tragic turns of fate, they are married to each other. Surinder is already smitten with Tanni, but she is grieving her many losses, and tells him she can not love him, but will try to be a good wife. That's good enough for the patient Suri, and when she asks for dance lessons to relieve the boredom of her lonely life, he agrees. With the help of his friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak, who is wonderful!) Suri disguises himself in order to watch her at her dance class. Hilarity ensues. He creates an alter ego, Raj, constructed of every tired Bollywood cliche he can remember. Raj is everything Suri will not let himself be -- funny, outgoing, flirtatious, and openly loving. Will Taani fall in love with Raj or Suri? Wait and watch.
So -- another dual role for SRK, and another double date for us! You get to see both characters in this one video.
So, now the questions:
What is your first impression of Surinder/Raj? We meet Surinder first. He is a sweet, modest, introvert; Shah Rukh Khan described him in an interview as defined by "don'ts". He is restrained, both emotionally and physically (notice the tension in SRK's facial muscles, for example.) Raj, on the other hand, is defined by "do's"; he has no filter, no restraints, no limits. Surinder has concocted Raj completely out of all of the film hero cliches in the book, so he is a familiar type to all Shah Rukh Khan fans: annoying, arrogant, a little dense, but with the usual puppyish charm.
What is Taani's first impression of Surinder/Raj? Her first meeting with Surinder is awkward and adorable. She is running around getting ready for her wedding, giddy with excitement and happiness. Her father calls her over to meet Suri, his favorite student. He is shy and nervous (of course) and she explodes with "So YOU are Surinder" and proceeds to complain how her father always compared her to him and even wanted them to get married. She is just babbling, and not really taking in his discomfort. In a moment, the meeting is all over as Taani says brightly, "It was nice meeting you. Bye!". In other words, she barely noticed him.
Raj, on the other hand is hard to ignore. Here is his EPIC entrance. Note how Shah Rukh Khan transitions from Suri-disguised-as-madeover-Suri to Raj.
How would you describe their chemistry over the course of the film? Taani softens towards both of them. She is more aware of Surinder's quiet attentions (though she is uncomfortable at times with his attempts to make her happy, because she isn't able to reciprocate.) Raj's silliness and exuberance grows on her, as well.
If you had a first date with Surinder/Raj would you go on a second? I sort of did. My husband is kind of a mixture of the two. Emotionally restrained sometimes, and yet chatty at others. Capable of long quiet stretches and sweet quiet loving gestures. He cries at sad movies. That's probably why Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is one of my very favorite movies.
The true cost of fashion
This is an update of a blog post from 2012.
It's the inconvenient truth of the rag trade: an abundance of cheap, trendy clothes -- also known as "fast fashion" -- carries a hidden cost of human misery. For the American consumer, it is easy to ignore the problem of sweatshop labor because, like the migrant workers who harvest our food, the people who make our clothing are mostly invisible. "Sweatshop" once referred to a system of production, where garment producers contracted with middlemen to handle unskilled tasks on a piecework basis. Because of the fierce competition among these subcontractors, this "sweating" system tended to not only depress wages, but place tremendous pressure on the middlemen to do just about anything to increase productivity, resulting in long workdays, crowded workplaces and grinding working conditions. After the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911, labor laws and unionization helped improve conditions, propelled by consumer demand for sweat-free products.
Since the 1970s, the gains of the Progressive Era began to be eroded, first by relocating of garment production to parts of the US with fewer unions, and then to countries with less worker protection. Out of sight, out of mind. But it isn't just a problem of outsourcing. Every once in awhile, we are reminded that sweatshops still exist within our borders, despite the legal protections available.
I plan more posts on this subject. For those who want consume more ethically, check out Sweatfree Communities and the National Consumers League. Finally, I highly recommend the documentary film The True Cost, available on Netflix and other streaming services.
This is one one my top two SRK films to watch and watch and watch again. (The other is Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which is next in my blogging queue.) They both showcase Shah Rukh Khan's virtuosity in dual roles, and they also have very catchy soundtracks. They are also both interesting "gateways" into Hindi film history because of their extensive use of old themes and references to popular movies. So much to love! And they are perfect for this series, because they mark the debut of two of my very favorite female actors of the current era, Anushka Sharma and Deepika Padukone. In both cases, their first roles were as Shah Rukh Khan's co-stars.
Deepika plays Shanti/Sandy to Shah Rukh Khan's Om Prakash Makhija(Omi)/Om Kapoor(OK) in this truly masala mix of romance, comedy, mayhem, murder, revenge, karma, and HAPPYS ENDINGS. Yes, she gets to try her hand at a dual role, too, and she rises to the challenge beautifully. So they get to have not one but two first dates!
In the first half of the movie, SRK is a lowly Junior Artiste (bit player or extra) and Deepika is a glamorous superstar, the object of his distant and unrequited affections. Their first encounter is on the red carpet at a movie premier. She is the center of attention, and he is the lowly but ardent fan. Her sweet, gracious response to his goofiness is a wonderful introduction to her character: unpretentious and guarded. The goddess acknowledges her worshipper, but keeps him at a safe distance.
Their relationship deepens, but is inevitably one-sided, and doomed. No more plot spoilers; see this movie yourself!
Thirty years later, and the roles are reversed. Om Kapoor (OK) is the superstar, and she is the adoring fangirl.
Their relationship is subordinated to the dramatic plotline in the second half of the film, and only at the very end is there a hint of something happening. But that's fine. I use Om Shanti Om to introduce my friends to SRK and Hindi "entertainer" films, and it usually does the trick. (Except with one of my very best buddies, who finds it too melodramatic. But we do share a taste for malty, not hoppy, beer, so that's ok.)
So, now the questions:
What is your first impression of Omi/OK? Omi is a good-hearted, cuddly bundle of overacting. He is a good son, a good friend, and respectful, distant admirer. He is a dreamer, an optimist. OK is a spoiled, privileged superstar, sauntering late to the set, and behaving rudely to nearly everyone. (Fortunately, he grows as a person throughout the second half.)
What is Shanti/Sandy's first impression of Omi/OK? I've described it above, but the contrast between the two first meetings is very sweet. Luckily for Sandy, by the time she meets OK for the first time, he is already shedding some of his arrogant brat ways. So SRK gets to make two good first impressions!
How would you describe their chemistry over the course of the film? Fabulous. There is a reason Deepika has made several blockbuster movies with Shah Rukh Khan since their debut. Despite the 19-year difference in their ages, they have great chemistry, whether in comic, dramatic, or romantic scenes. She is a very fine actor; in 2015 she was nominated for Best Actress awards for not one, but two films (Piku and Bajirao Mastani). How is this for chemistry?
If you had a first date with Omi/OK would you go on a second? I really love SRK's goofy nebbish characters, so I would be following him around while he was mooning over Shanti. The obnoxious pup version of OK is not my type, but by the time he is in full-on revenge mode, he's got my attention.
Speaking of getting my attention: Arjun Rampal.
For several years, between 2007 and 2013, I maintained a blog called "Nice White Lady" that is sort of the mother of Everything Else. I described it as "a forum for my ruminations on everyday ethical concerns", beginning with thoughts on racial justice and other political topics, and finally shifting to ethical consumption and voluntary simplicity. Eventually, as my professional energies were focused on (finally) finishing my book on the origins of gendered clothing for babies and toddlers, Nice White Lady faded into the background. But I am realizing that there is a lot of good stuff there that still interests me and might interest others, so I am going to go through it and see what can be salvaged and updated. Better to have everything all in one place, perhaps. If you want to see the original, it's here. Warning; I was terrible at tagging back then.
Pryanka Chopra is the latest Hindi crossover, with starring and award-winning performances in India and the US. She's a former Miss World (2000) and -- of course -- gorgeous. But she has also developed into a very fine actor since her debut in 2003, with a variety of roles under her belt. Don (2006) is an update of a very popular 1978 film by the same name starring Amitabh Bachchan. If you can, I absolutely recommend watching the 1978 version first, because part of the fun is in the comparisons. Both films are superb at showcasing the talents of the star playing the title character. Anyone up for a Don marathon watchalong?
Anyhoo, back to our first date. This was a doozy on, and off the set. Pryanka was such a fangirl about working with SRK and they spent so much social time together that it spawned rumors that they were having an affair. Shah Rukh Khan plays Don, a ruthless criminal mastermind, and Pryanka plays Roma, the sister of one of his victims. Intent on revenge, she trains herself in firearms and martial arts and then insinuates herself in his gang -- and his trust. Enter SRK's other role (I looove watching him in double roles!), the good-hearted simpleton Vijay, who is recruited by a police inspector to impersonate Don. At this point I will abandon my attempt to summarize the plot, which is both very complicated and hard to summarize without spoilers. WATCH THESE MOVIES!
As an acting pair, they work very comfortably together, in both of SRK's avatars. In fact one of the best scenes is their fight scene -- and how many film couples get the chance to spark that kind of chemistry? The attraction between them varies throughout the movie, depending on which SRK is paired with Roma. Roma responds to Don's wary yet lustful first encounter by attacking him and placing him in a headlock with a sharp blade at his throat. Believing that Vijay is really the injured, recovering Don, Roma shifts into seduction mode. When Roma is on the lam with Vijay, their connection grows slowly and very sweetly. It's all pretty terrific.
So, now the questions:
What is your first impression of Don/Vijay? The beauty of SRK’s double roles is they often give him a chance to showcase both his comic acting chops and his outstanding ability to take on the darkest of negative roles. Don is a great example of this. Don is a sleek, conniving, cold-hearted killer. Vijay is a warm, loving, lovable goofball. (This is the contrast promised in Duplicate but not quite delivered.) The fact that both of them are super attractive shows how much he had grown as an actor between 1998 and 2006.
What is Roma's first impression of Don/Vijay? She is viewing Don through a thick haze of hate, with her heart set on murder, and he does nothing to change her mind. In fact, he behaves like the wily heartless bastard he is. When she first meets Vijay, he is posing as a wounded and harmless Don, and there is no change in their interactions until the pretense is revealed. Slowly, wariness turns to trust, trust to friendly affection. He grows on her, and she softens towards him.
How would you describe their chemistry over the course of the film? Complex and convincing. Negative when it needs to be, with a transition to attraction and love that helps us believe in an otherwise series of plot twists. (In the video below, Vijay/Don is making celebrating his recovery with a wild party. The woman in the white minidress is his "old" girlfriend; Pryanka enters around 2:52.)
If you had a first date with Don/Vijay would you go on a second? With Don, I would have to survive the first date to go on a second. (I was so rooting for Karina to succeed in her seduction, but not the assassination.) Vijay is adorable, if a little simple. So, yes.
Next First Date: Deepika Padukone - Om Shanti Om (My very very favorite!)
I am chipping away at my goal of seeing all of Shah Rukh Khan's films before his next film comes out on November 25. As of today, I have watched 49 of his 58 films where he played a major role (not a cameo or special appearance). So here is my plan:
First Dates Series
June 3: Juhi Chawla - Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992)
June 10: Kajol - Baazigar (1993)
June 17: Madhuri Dixit - Anjaam (1994)
June 24: Sonali Bendre - English Babu Desi Mem (1996 -videos only) and Duplicate (1998)
July 1: Karisma Kapoor - Dil To Pagal Hai (1997)
July 8: Preity Zinta - Dil Se (1998)
July 15: Rani Mukerji - Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
July 22: Aishwarya Rai - Mohabbatein (2000)
July 29: Karina Kapoor - Asoka (2001)
August 5: Priyanka Chopra - Don (2006) I have watched this, will post reaction very soon!
August 12: Deepika Padukone - Om Shanti Om (2007)
August 19: Anushka Sharma - Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008)
After I finish this series, I will be on vacation/retreat on an island with limited internet, so will take a week off. Then in September, I will dive into a double-track schedule of the last nine major roles and the remaining 21 special appearances and cameos.
Here are my dates for the "major role" blog posts, if you want to play along (assuming life goes smoothly...).
September 4: King Uncle (1993)
September 11: Guddu (1995)
September 18: Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India! (1995)
September 25: Ram Jaane (1995)
October 2: Trimurti (1995)
October 9: Chaahat (1996)
October 16: Josh (2000)
October 23: Shakti: The Power (2002)
October 30: Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke (2004)
I will sprinkle reactions to the short roles along the way.
Thanks to everyone who has commented on these posts!
As first dates go, this is pretty awesome, especially for those of us who are fans of warrior princesses. Aśoka is a terribly ambitious film -- a historical story set in the 3rd century BCE, complete with thousands of extras and hundreds of elephants in the final battle scene. It was critically acclaimed, but a popular failure, overshadowed by Aamir Khan's own historical drama, Lagaan, which was released the same year (2001) and was the third Indian film nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Film category. (It is also a fabulous movie, with the added advantage of teaching newbies about cricket!) It is a fictionalized version of history, drawing on various accounts of the life of Emperor Aśoka the Great, who was transformed from a ruthless, ambitious warrior into a Buddhist who spread that peaceful faith across much of Asia.
Their story begins when the young Prince Aśoka (Shah Rukh Khan) is traveling incognito and Kareena Kapoor's character, Princess Kauraki, is also in hiding with her young brother. He happens upon her and watches her surreptitiously while she dances and bathes, and is immediately smitten. She really is striking in appearance, and holds her own in the film, which is only her second. Just 21 at the time, Kapoor had two major roles in 2001 that firmly established her as a major talent in Hindi film: Aśoka and as Kajol's sexy younger sister Pooja in the blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. And yes, she is the real-life younger sister to Karisma Kapoor, who also more than one film with Shah Rukh Khan.
Some people hate this movie, and it inevitably gets compared to Lagaan. It was an ambitious and risky choice for SRK, and I am finding that when he does this, the results are always worth watching. The films themselves may be flawed, but he clearly loves a challenge, and dials up his energy and focus when the demands are high. Kareena matches him for energy, which is one reason Aśoka is so watchable.
Another reason the movie bombed might have been the lack of a happy romantic ending. It's sort of uplifting, but not what many SRK fans were expecting. The long hair he sports for much of the movie was also a turnoff for some of the audience, though compared with his mullet days, it was a real relief for me. The story is that he didn't want to go shirtless the whole time, which would have been historically accurate, so instead he ended up wear weird vests and poncho-like shirts. It's worth considering whether showing more of his chest might have helped at the box office. Someone needs to do a study and produce an infographic about that.
So, now the questions:
What is your first impression of Aśoka? Arrogant, ambitious, petulant, and even a little childish. His first interactions with Kaurwaki are rather smug and entitled. (I'm a prince! I'm irresistible!) But mid-thirties Shah Rukh Khan is finally outgrowing his baby face and looking like a man. I like!
What is Kaurwaki's first impression of Aśoka? She's a princess! And a warrior!! She doesn't have to put up with this impertinence from an itinerant nobody. Besides, she's in hiding because usurpers just murdered her parents and are pursuing her and her adorable little brother so they can kill them, too. So she is wary as well as aloof, until SRK proves he can be trusted by saving them, and proves he is loveable by befriending her little brother and acting like less of a brat himself.
How would you describe their chemistry over the course of the film? This pair sizzles whenever they are on screen, and the fire is lit in Aśoka. (Loved them in Don and in Ra.One.)
If you had a first date with Aśoka, would you go on a second? As is often the case with Shah Rukh Khan films, the man he is at the beginning of the film is physically attractive but emotionally and morally flawed. Do I think that after that first date I would think it might be worth trying to transform him? Honestly, probably not. But then, I am not a warrior princess.