Sunday, October 31, 2010

REKHATOBER: Song of the Day: When Rekha's doppelganger gets cozy w/ Raj Babbar

Today's Song of the Day is one of my absolute favorites and a constant earworm of mine since the 80s. Agar Tum Na Hote was a strange and sad movie starring Rekha and Rajesh Khanna and Raj Babbar.

Rekha and Rajesh Khanna play a married couple and then their lives take a tragic turn with the birth of their daughter and Rekha passes away. In a complicated turn of events that can only happen in Bollywood, there is a Rekha-doppelganger out there in the world that falls in love with and marries photographer Raj Babbar. When he is hurt in an accident, Rekha 2.0 goes out to find a job and comes to work for Rajesh Khanna as a nanny for the little girl, who is completely scarred by growing up without a mother. Not knowing she is married, Rajesh Khanna falls for her, especially seeing how she manages to charm and turn around his daughter's behavior. Raj Babbar is trapped by his injury and his failure to provide for his wife and begins to doubt her fidelity. There's a lot of guilt and suffering and misunderstanding tossed around before they finally come to a conclusion.

I do remember this movie, and I found it incredibly sad. Rekha's acting was particularly good in this film, I mean it HAD to be if she was portraying someone in love with Raj Babbar (I mean, seriously!). But the best thing by far was the soundtrack. Most well-known is the title song "Humein aur jeene ki chaahat na hoti, Agar tum na hote ... Agar tum na hote" (gorgeous song!), but I also remember the random songs like "Kal to Sunday ki chutti" (in which Rekha lent her voice!), "Sach Hai Yeh Koi" (Rajesh Khanna's drunken song) and "Hum to hai Chui Mui" (a delightful song in which Rekha is dressed up to play a puppet in a stage show).

My absolute favorite was the very sensual, sweet, melodic number "Dheere Dheere Zara Zara" sung by Asha Bhosle. This song really draws you in with the stirring guitar work by Ramesh Iyer -- the chord progression in particular really gets me. It's an unusual tune, something haunting and beautiful that is truly a work of art by R.D. Burman (my all-time favorite Music Director). Together with the tropical, palm-tree dotted setting, the bonfire on the beach, Asha-ji's crooning (as only she can do) and Rekha's stunning expressions, this song has stuck in my mind for MANY years and is probably the source of my burning desire to have a romantic bonfire on the beach.

I definitely wanted to share it for Rekhalicious October, especially today being the final day, because it is probably my all-time favorite Rekha song and I think she's incredible in it!

Let me know what you think!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Song of the Day: Oh Vanthathu Penna - Aval Varuvaala (1998)

Ahhhh - this song. I was addicted to this song when it came out. It's so soft and dreamy and romantic! And I was also battling a major crush on the puffy-haired, super-moustached Ajith Kumar at the time. This is the Ajith that I loved ... the lover, not the fighter! In more recent years he's become an action hero ... probably because he packed on pounds when he married Shalini and couldn't play the young lover boy anymore. But I found him totally adorable back in the day. Of course, he always played the "nice guy" (except for maybe the evil brother in Vaali and the rough-exteriored role in Amarkkalam), so it was easy to fall for him.

And then of course there's my girl Simran! She's rocking the 90s outfits in this and looking super-glam. She's one of the few South Indian actresses (ok I know, she's not really South Indian, but she was a Tamil movie star!) that could really, truly ACT. I mean REALLY ACT. Check her out in Kannathil Muthamittal if you don't believe me. She's phenomenal! But back in the day, she was the glam queen of Tamil Cinema. And correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't she the one that started the trend of (relatively) slim actresses in Tamil movies?

Anyway, this song from the movie Aval Varuvala (based somewhat on Sleeping with the Enemy, remade in Hindi with Esha Deol as Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche) was one of my absolute favorites in the late 90s. Of course the picturization is not at all what I had in mind. I was thinking paavadai-thaavanis and sarees, but hey, it's Simran, and she looks great in whatever.

Music was done in a typical tamil style by S.A. Rajkumar, and the song was sung by my absolute favorite singer Hariharan ...


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My favorite CLASSICAL dancers in Indian Cinema

The lovely Nicki of Hmong Chick Who Loves Indian Cinema and I were tweeting back & forth about our favorite dancers in Indian Cinema, which got me thinking about my favorite CLASSICAL dancers in Indian Cinema ... and since list-making is my favorite thing EVER, of course I had to compile a list and share it!

Now though the people on this list have legitimate Classical Dance training, it's rarely represented in their films. There's Classical Dance, and then there's FILMI Classical Dance, which is usually a slightly grotesque version of the real thing with exaggerated movements and expressions. Filmi Classical also always has a generous helping of hip-shaking and unnecessary hand/finger flourishing. I get annoyed by it, and yet, I seek it out. It's always nice to see Classical Dance represented in films, but then when it gets tarnished or cheapened I get angry.

Still, there are some Actors and Actresses that always show that little extra skill in dancing, and it is indeed because of their Classical Dance training. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Kamal Hassan
He's definitely my #1 favorite because he was SO compelling and strong when he danced. Also Bharatanatyam is made for a male body (Nataraja was the Lord of Dance after all), and it falls more naturally on the male structure. Kamal Hassan definitely made it look effortless and graceful yet 100% masculine. Here he is in a gorgeous item from Sagara Sangamam:

2. Shobhana
I think Shobhana is one of the most spectacular classical dancers from films. She is utterly elegant and beautiful. I do have ONE problem with her and that's that she doesn't complete her movements, but I fault the choreographers and film directors that try to make her dance so fast. Her dance style is also REALLY different from the kind I learned - hers is more flowy and influenced by ballet, but one of my best friends also learned from Smt. Chitra Visheshwaran (Shobhana's Guru) in Chennai and she dances with this same style, so I gained a great appreciation for it. Shobana won the National Award for her performance as the possessed dancer in Manichitratazhu (the Malayalam original of Chandramukhi and Bhool Bhulaiya):

3. Vyjayanthimala
I gained my love for Vyjayanthi from my mom who was an uber-fan and used to prance around Mumbai spouting her dialogues at 'roadside romeos' that tried to tease her and her friends. But she is indeed a spectacular dancer and unbelievably gorgeous in full Bharatanatyam costume. She is also incredibly versatile and has one of the most expressive faces in Indian Cinema! Check out her display of dances from all over India, ending with the Thillana in Bharatanatyam from Ladki:

4. Vineeth
I haven't seen a TON of Vineeth, I'll admit. I remember him from Kadhal Desam, most famous for the Rehman song "Mustafa Mustafa Don't Worry Mustafa". It wasn't till much later that I realized he was a classical dancer! As well he should be, since he's related to late Actress/Dancer Padmini and Shobhana as well. He's a student of Dr. Padma Subramanyam and has that more flowy style associated with the Vazhavoor style of Bharatanatyam. You might recognize him from the Rajnikanth blockbuster Chandramukhi and it's Hindi remake Bhool Bhulaiya. I get an instant crush on any man that can do classical dance and maintain the masculinity of it (it's rare these days). And he also looks like a young Kamal Hassan. Whenever I mentally choreograph classical-based film duets, I always picture Vineeth as my partner. Here he is strutting his stuff in a live performance:

5. Madhuri Dixit

I don't even need to explain Mads. Everyone knows that she is one of the most brilliant dancers in recent Bollywood years. Her Kathak training is evident in every kind of dance she does, but she has also had ample opportunity to show off her Classical Dance skill. I always remember her joy and exuberance in the Kathak practice scene from Dil To Pagal Hai, but I think her Magnum Opus is definitely her grand scale performance in Devdas said to be composed by the great Pandit Birju Maharaj:

6. Padmini
Padmini Aunty was a regular visitor to our house in my childhood as my mother was very close with her family. My mom is always saying that I remind her of Padmini or her sister Ragini when they were young. Since I'm the youngest of three sisters, my mom used to often call us her own Lalitha/Padmini/Ragini. But before she was the gravelly-voiced, laughing Aunty at our house, she was a featured classical dancer in many, many films. I always feel that the choreography they gave her was absolutely ridiculous, but she certainly gave it her all! A student of the famous Vazhavoor Ramaiah Pillai, she had some very solid training behind her. One of her most famous roles was in the Tamil movie Thillana Mohanambal in which she played a noted dancer (*the video below does not feature the original singer) -- points if you spot Manorama as "Jillu Jillu Ramamani":

7. Meenakshi Seshadhri

I miss the 80s. And Meenakshi was an actress that actually had a strong background in Classical Dance but very, very rarely had an opportunity to showcase it. One of the moments where she got to show off what she could do was her Tandav Dance from the amazing movie Damini. Incidentally, she currently runs a dance school in Texas somewhere. Here she is performing "Madhuban Mein Radhika" at a live performance in Dubai:

8. Waheeda Rehman
Waheeda Aunty was another friend/colleague of my mom's and I of course love her dancing because she learned from our same Gurus in India - the one and only Gurus of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kalamandir in Mumbai, particularly Guru Mahalingam Pillai who I was lucky enough to study under in the early 90s. Though my favorite performance of hers was much later (Mahaan - 1983), her earlier films have wonderful displays of dance that really show her talent. You can see her dance training shine through in items from Neel Kamal, Guide, and Teesri Kasam. Here she is in Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1961):

9. Komal Mahuvakar
She's virtually unknown, but I totally LOVED this girl. She couldn't have been more than 15 when she starred in the Rajshri film Payal Ki Jhankar which was ALL about dance (and therefore is one of my favorite movies of all time). I never saw her in much after that, though she had a small role as one of the household children in Khusboorat (she briefly dances in "Piya Bawri"), and I vaguely remember her in Nagina. I guess she moved down South later and starred in Tamil films like Michael Madana Kamarajan under the name "Roopini". But Payal Ki Jhankar is definitely her career highlight. The dancing is filmi-classical for sure, and often sloppy or odd-looking, but there is some definite training behind it. I loved her in "Dekho Kanha Nahin" (she's not the girl dancing at the beginning, you have to forward a bit to get to her part), and you can see her schooling her co-star in the Jugalbandi Dance-Off "Kar Singar". Check her out, looking extremely pretty in pink:

10. Hema Malini
Hema Malini may be a bit of an obvious choice, being well-known for being one of the best classical dancers in Bollywood. I've seen her classical dance productions on stage when they toured in the U.S., and I have to say I was less than impressed. However she's done enough beautiful work on-screen for me to appreciate her, and I also appreciate the work she does to promote Classical Dance. She also got some of the best classically-based songs in Indian Cinema,in movies such as Mrig Trishna, Mehbooba, Abhinetri, Kinara, Lekin and so many more. Here she is dancing with her daughters in a live stage performance (does anyone else think Esha looks like Deepika Padukone in Odissi costume?):

11. Aishwariya Rai
Ash is also slightly obvious, though I don't necessarily LIKE her as an actress or consider her one of my favorites otherwise. I do always appreciate her dancing. She is trained in Bharatanatyam and I remember reading somewhere that she had trained up to arangetram level (professional debut) but didn't complete it. She is a natural dancer and lovely to watch! I always love seeing her dance and wish they would really showcase her full ability like they did for Hema Malini and Madhuri Dixit. Umrao Jaan gave her a great opportunity to show her classical training, as evidenced by many of the clips in this fan-made video on YouTube (v. well done!). Here she is in my absolute favorite Aishwariya movie, the Tamil film Kandukonden Kandukonden (inspired by Sense and Sensibility):

12. Prabhu Deva
Prabhu Deva may seem like an odd choice, but he IS indeed trained in Classical Dance and quite skilled at it. It's probably what gives him such an edge over other amazing dancers like Lawrence and Vijay. We almost NEVER see it, although there is the number "Saravanabhava" from the HILARIOUS movie Kadhala Kadhala (also starring Kamal Hassan) - which I can't find anywhere on YouTube unfortunately. But here's a clip from Kadhalan in which his character is trying to learn Bharatanatyam to win over his ladylove:

Of course I should mention that there are many more famous Classical Dancers in Cinema, such as Kamala Lakshman, Gopi Krishna, Bhanupriya, Jaya Prada, Anjali Devi, Bombay Meenakshi etc. They certainly deserve credit for their brilliant work. My mom particularly loves Kamala Lakshman, and she performed with Gopi Krishna all over India and North America. But I just had to list my personal favorites!

For more on Classical Dance in Indian Cinema, I definitely recommend you visit the fabulous Minai's blog - her stuff is just brilliant!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

REKHALICIOUS OCTOBER: Queen of the Mujra Dance!

Mujra Dance is a style that stems from the courtesan dancers of the Mughal Empire, who mixed poetry, music and motion together to entertain wealthy nawabs and their guests. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rekha is the ultimate Queen of the Mujra Dance in hindi films. Many actresses have attempted it (No, Rani Mukherjee, No. And poor, tragic Smita Patil too), and some have done a great (Hema Malini, Aishwariya Rai) or brilliant (Madhuri Dixit) job of it. But no one was ever able to do it with the finesse, the ease, the grace, the majesty and the seductiveness of Rekha.

Umrao Jaan always comes to mind first when you think of Rekha and dance ... and then of course Salaam-E-Ishq from Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. But there are MANY, MANY more fabulous numbers in this style by Rekha, so she easily wins the crown from me.

Here is a playlist of 20 of her beautiful Mujra numbers from films, not in any particular order but just as I found them on YouTube - she is absolutely exquisite!

Song List
  1. Idhar Bhi Bijli - Kasam Suhag Ki
  2. Bhool Bhulaiyya - Amiri Ghareebi
  3. Mere Ghungroo Mujhe Dedo - Maati Maange Khoon
  4. Jaan-e-Mohabbat - Yatra
  5. Salaam-E-Ishq - Muqaddar Ka Sikandar
  6. Jaana Jaldi Kya Hai - Deedar-E-Yaar
  7. Marne Ka Ghum Nahin - Deedar-E-Yaar
  8. Chup Ja Chand - Maati Maange Khoon
  9. Lo Sahib Phir Bhool Gayi - Maati Maange Khoon
  10. Pyar Ke Rang Se - Kasme Vaade
  11. Jao Ji Karoon Na Jhooti Batiya - Yatra
  12. Dil Cheez Kya Hai - Umrao Jaan
  13. In Aankhon Ki Masti - Umrao Jaan
  14. Yeh Kya Jage Hai Doston - Umrao Jaan
  15. Mein Hoon Dulhan - Jaal
  16. Beechwale Saiyaan - Sazaa (a must see!!)
  17. Tum Nahin Yahan - Karmayogi
  18. Kisi Bazaar Se - Maang Bharo Sajna
  19. Kitna Hai Khubsoorat - Daasi
  20. Rekha performs LIVE at the 1997 Filmfare Awards

Enjoy more REKHALICIOUS OCTOBER goodness at this link. And please do let me know if there's any other fabulous mujra numbers by Rekha that I've missed!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

REKHALICIOUS OCTOBER! - My favorite Rekha songs!

So it's time to celebrate REKHALICIOUS OCTOBER (thanks to Sujoy from One Knight Stands)- or Rekhatober as we've been calling it on Twitter! And I can't praise this lovely lady enough. She is one of the few Bollywood stars I actually had the opportunity to meet, back when she came in concert to Detroit in 1982 (she was the headliner, Anil Kapoor and Meenakshi Seshadhri were her opening acts). A photographer found out my then 7 year old sister Anjali was Rekha's biggest little fan. Anj had been performing Rekha's "Dil Cheez Kya Hai" at various community events for the past year and the photographer recognized her and took us to meet her. I tell a bit more about this story in my Sridevipalooza preview post. The highlight was definitely getting to dance the Alarippu (Bharatanatyam dance) for her, and she was so excited she jumped right up and posed in Alarippu position with us for a picture (I have no idea where this picture is today).

I was only 5 at the time, so my memory of this experience is limited, but I DO remember her being incredibly effusive, sweet and hyper. She was very excited that two little girls in paavadai-chokka (South Indian style skirt/dress) were there to see her, and seemed really eager to speak Tamil with us. I was totally charmed by her, and no matter what she does, I always feel a fondness for her based on this experience.

I'm not terribly on top of Rekha's filmography - there's definitely a huge chunk of her early movies as well as the mid-to-late 80s and 90s movies that I missed. Well, I can't totally say I MISSED them (cough cough, Madame X).

Anyway, Rekha is most certainly the queen of the Movie Mujra dances, but those aren't the only songs of hers that I love! As I was trying to think of and narrow down all my favorites, I created a YouTube playlist of MY FAVORITE REKHA SONGS - I was unable to locate a few of my favorites, like "Jaane De Gaadi Tere" from Aanchal, "Gokul Ke Galiyon" from Raaste Pyar Ke or the female version of "Mata Saraswati" from Alaap, and some movies had MULTIPLE favorites, like Khubsoorat (not included: "Sun Sun Sun Didi" and "Saare Niyam Tod Do"), Mr. Natwarlal ("Tauba Tauba"), Silsila ("Dekha Ek Khwab", "Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum" and "Nila Aasmaan") and Agar Tum Na Hote ("Hum To Hai Chui Mui" and the title song). Still other movies starred Rekha but the best songs were given to other co-stars (like Faasle and Baseraa).

But I did identify 15 songs that I always think of when I think of Rekha, and here they are!

Detailed Listing of Songs:
1. Ghum Hai Kisi Ki Pyar Mein - Raampur Ka Lakshman (1972)

2. Dil Machal Raha Hai - Khalifaa (1976)

3. Tere Bina Jiya Jayen Na - Ghar (1978)

4. Kahe Manva Naache - Alaap (1977)

5. Salaam-E-Ishq - Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978)

6. Pardesiya - Mr. Natwarlal (1979)

7. O Sheronwali - Suhaag (1979)

8. Piya Bawri - Khubsoorat (1980)

9. In Aankhon Ki Masti - Umrao Jaan (1981)

10. Yeh Ladki Hai Ya Shola - Silsila (1981)

11. Dheere Dheere - Agar Tum Na Hote (1983)

12. Ankhiyon Mein - Nishaan (1983)

13. Man Kyun Behka - Utsav (1984)

14. Pyar Do Pyar Lo - Janbaaz (1986)

15. Maine Tujhe Khat Likha - Mera Pati Sirf Mera Hai (1990)

Hope you enjoy! Now that I mentioned it, I think I AM going to have to compile Rekha's Mujra dances into a mother list. Will try to do that when I return home from vacay (this is my rushed vacay post for Rekhatober!).

Have a Rekhalicious day!