Favorite Movies We’ve Seen in 2010 (so far…)

We recently bought a blu-ray dvd player that also can stream Internet content to the tv. We are enjoying it a lot and are hoping Satya’s parents will also enjoy it when they visit this summer. We definitely recommend it because we can play Internet radio through Pandora (without commercials!!) on the tv and instantly stream Netflix movies to the tv. There are a few Hindi radio options. Pandora offers channels like a Kishore Kumar channel, A.R. Rahman channel, an Anu Malik channel and more. For all those lovers of Kannada music from the ‘60s there is not yet a Dr. Rajkumar station, though. Last summer, it was tough for the four of us to comfortably watch an instantly streamed Netflix movie on a laptop! Also, YouTube is able to be streamed to the tv so Satya’s parents should be able to find a wider variety of Kannada songs and movies there as well. (Unfortunately for me, a lot of the old Kannada movies on YouTube are not subtitled.) Without further ado, here are 3 movies we’ve recently enjoyed.

Khosla Ka Ghosla This was about a retired father of 3 who dreams of owning his own plot of land. Finally, he has enough money and buys it, but then everything crashes down on him. One son announces he wants to go to the U.S. on a work visa which crushes his father’s dream of everyone living in the same house on the plot of land. A local goon seizes the land and then offers to sell it back to him, the rightful owner, for half price. At this point, Satya said his parents in India could no longer watch the movie. For them, I think it just struck too close to them-all their kids are in the U.S. and they do have a plot of land. Even for me and Satya the movie was a tense one. How will the man ever get his land back? Will the family be reunited?

In many ways the movie is very realistic about the struggles of middle class people and about the dreams of retired people. It does show a generation gap in India pretty well-daughter arguing about wearing salwar kameez, young women not wearing bindis on their foreheads, sons in their 20s expecting to make their own decisions but running into parental opposition. It does show how easy it is to encroach land-something I also saw in India (scheduled caste group seizing land of a school playground, poorer people encroaching on the outskirts of a university).

The tidy Bollywood ending was not very realistic of course, but it was satisfying. This movie kept us on the edge of our seats with the plot and good acting. There were no big budget Bollywood musical numbers. The film did win the National Filmfare Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2006.

Loins of Punjab What would American Idol be like if it was in NJ and done in Hindi? Loins of Punjab answers that question. It is a small budget, independent movie but gives some good laughs. There is a sweet love story, a subplot about the trials of an intercultural relationship, and a character you will love to hate. There were a lot of stereotypes (Indian guy who is clueless about women, the engineer type, the Indian American girl who doesn’t know Hindi, etc.), but lots of laughs and heart. One part that made me uncomfortable was near the beginning when the white Jewish contestant enters the contest. Some other characters commented that , “He is white, of course he will win.” I didn’t agree completely with the ending, but it was a fun movie to watch. Has anyone else seen this movie? What did you think of the ending, especially regarding the contest?

Welcome Bright colors, big song numbers, lovable villains, lots of laughs. This is a typical Bollywood movie, but nicely done. There was even a Karnataka tie-in (although not flattering) in that the gangster brothers had the very Karnataka name of Shetty. Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor were hilarious as the gangster brothers. They were especially hilarious when trying out their legitimate careers (acting, and painting.) The big stars were Katrina Kaif and Akshay Kumar. One of our favorite songs “Kiya Kiya” is in the movie too. We’d heard the song and seen the video, but the video was a little confusing before seeing the full movie context.  This was a fun movie all around and one we intend to watch with Satya’s parents. 

What technologies do you use to help make parents visiting from India feel more at home?

Kadhalan Movie Review

In honor of A.R. Rahman’s Oscar wins, Satya showed me some of A.R. Rahman’s songs on YouTube.  We loved the songs “Urvasi” and “Mukkala” from the movie Kadhalan and Prabhu Deva’s dance moves so we requested Kadhalan from Netflix.  It was my first Tamil movie. 


Overall, I’d agree with other reviews of the movie that the music was amazing, the dancing was amazing but the actual movie was odd. 


A rough outline of the plot is that a young college guy (Prabhu Deva) falls in love with a politician’s daughter (Nagma).  He at first makes fun of her traditional dance classes, but after talking with his father he learns that he will earn her respect and trust if he takes in interest in her hobby rather than mocking it.  The politician turns out to be corrupt and is involved in bomb plots so that the government can be discredited.  Prabhu Deva gets caught up in all this and is taken into police custody.  The police torture him in all sorts of gruesome ways-making him wear a cloth infested with biting ants, giving him insect infested food, sticking ice in unpleasant places, etc.  One of the saddest scenes was when his father discovers that he has been torturing his own son.  The father asks the son to let go of his fantasy of winning the girl in order to stop the torture, but Prabhu Deva refuses.  Somehow he gets free and charms the girl’s crazy grandparents.  Eventually, good triumphs over evil and boy gets girl. 


Pluses: I liked the scenes between Prabhu and his dad.  I thought his dad gave him great advice.  The love story was kind of sweet.  Prabhu’s college friend was funny.


Minuses: Too many fight scenes and too much torture.  The movie kind of dragged after intermission and felt too long.


I was surprised at how much Tamil sounds like Kannada.  Both languages seem to use the same tones.  Kannada has a kind of “eh” drone when people pause that Tamil also seems to share.  Perhaps I’m not describing that clearly.  Satya was surprised at how many Tamil words he was able to understand.  This really shouldn’t surprise us that much though since both languages are in the Dravidian family. 


I liked seeing things I’d never seen before like the clear, see-through buses.  The dressing style seems to be more colorful than even that in Kannada movies.  It seems usually that Kannada guys do not wear many bright colors, but in this movie there were lots.  The scenery was gorgeous too.  Satya said some of the locations are in Karnataka-like the white building where Prabhu Deva’s character first spots Nagma’s.  Varanasi is another location seen in the movie. 


Overall, I agree that the music and music videos are not to be missed.  They are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, especially Mukkala’s Tamil version of the Old West.

In Search of a Great Yoga DVD

A few weeks ago I went to the doctor and was surprised to learn that I’ve gained over 10 lbs in the past year.  I would have expected that switching to a mostly vegetarian diet would have had an opposite effect, but I was wrong.  I guess it is true that after marriage the weight gain begins.  Or maybe it was all the white rice?  Satya heard someplace that we are supposed to eat what our grandparents ate.  White rice was definitely not on their plates.  So now, I’ve decided to become more physically active and to pay more attention to what I eat.  My current plan involves yoga and walking.  In college I took a semester long yoga class that I loved.  It gave me a great workout that I could also do on my own in my dorm room and that was easy on my knees and shins, unlike running.  With that in mind, last week I tried two yoga dvds.  They are very different, but both give a good workout. 


The first is Ease into Ashtanga.  Ashtanga yoga is very vigorous and is where Power Yoga came from.  I took a few classes at a yoga studio and one of its greatest positives and drawbacks is that it is always the same routine.  I liked that the dvd was divided into segments.  If you want to just do the routine, you can.  If you’d like the postures explained, they are.  The scenery is beautiful-Hawai’i with all the beaches and flowers you associate with Hawai’i.  They also explain basic modifications for beginners like me.  My quibbles are that I don’t think they hold the “down dog” position very long and that the insert says that one of the producer’s goals was to show a variety of different body types.  There is a large group of people doing the flow routine together, but I didn’t think they had a very wide range of bodytypes.  I think this dvd does a great job and I will continue to use it.



The second DVD is Yoga Weight Loss Workout for Dummies.  While this will get you sweating and keep your heat rate up, it is not “for dummies”.  She does not fully explain some of the poses.  For example, you must either know what “chair pose” is or pick it up from watching her.  Some poses I don’t think really exist-I’d never heard of “five point star” before.  The instructor is also fond of “pulses”.  In chair pose for example, you are supposed to raise your arms above your head and then “pulse” them forward and backward.  I liked that she included some balance poses-those have always been among my favorites.  She does not include another of my favorites, shavasana or corpse pose.  Don’t buy this one if you want yoga, but if you want a workout it is perfectly fine.  Overall, it is an enjoyable workout that will burn calories. 


A few years ago I bought a Shiva Rea yoga dvd so I’ll be trying that one next.  Also, Satya’s sister found a good one so I will have to ask her about it one of these days.  Yoga dvds are easy to find in Indian video stores and in the temple shop.  I’m eager to try some of those as well to see the similarities and differences. 


It is funny that some schools objected to yoga being taught in schools on religious grounds.  Both yoga dvds did not have anything religious in them-in fact that is one of Satya’s critiques of them-that they have taken all the spirituality out of them and turned yoga into a workout, nothing more.  He says of the dvds, “I miss the om.”  He also thinks that yoga should not include background music, but I don’t see Americans being very comfortable with that.  Myself, I don’t mind the background music.  The only sounds he thinks are appropriate are breathing, movement, and chanting. 


One thing that surprised me a little about his family is that they actually do yoga.  I thought that it was only a stereotype and not part of modern Indian life.  His dad has been doing it all his life.  Satya and his two cousins went to “yoga camp” for a few summers when they were teenagers and his sister and her husband still do it.  Satya’s mother gives him suggestions about which leaders she likes and which she thinks would be worthwhile for him to find on dvd.  They do place a lot of emphasis on breathing and on yoga to bring peace of mind and balance. 


Does anybody have any suggestions of yoga dvds?  Do you prefer the American style of yoga or the Indian style?

My Favorite Kannada Film Yet “Aptha Mithra”

I had nearly lost faith in Kannada movies, but luckily we saw “Aptha Mithra” this past weekend and faith was restored.  “Aptha Mithra” was very entertaining and we both enjoyed the movie very much.  Also, Kannada movies are starting to make some sense-words are more familiar, as are some of the actors and actresses. 


Plot: I’d call “Aptha Mithra” a suspense film.  It isn’t gory and there is not any blood or guts.  The film does have a ghost, though.  In a city in Southern Karnataka there is a large, beautiful bungalow that had been abandoned for years.  A young couple comes to rent it out, even though others try to dissuade them.  One day the curious young wife goes up to the haunted room and opens the door.  The ghost is released.  The ghost is the mistress of a king.  She was a dancing girl.  Her lover lived in a small house on the property and when the king found out she had a lover, he killed her by lighting her on fire.  Her angry ghost was locked into a room of the bungalow.  How will the ghost leave? 


One of the interesting subplots in the movie was how the ancient and modern work together.  For example, the character of the holy man seems to me to represent the ancient.  Vijay’s character seems to represent modernity.  Only by working together can they force the ghost leave. 


Another unique fact is that the story first appeared in a Malayam movie (the main language spoken in Kerala in South India), and afterwards was made into a Tamil movie (main language of the state of Tamil Nadu also in South India) and even in 2007 was made into a Hindi (Bollywood) movie, Bhool Bhulaiyaa.  I’d like to see the other versions some day to see what remained the same and what got changed to fit the different cultures. 


The film seemed to be like a “who’s who” of the Kannada film industry starring popular actors like Dwarakish, Ramesh, Soundarya, and Prema, .  My favorite character in the film was Vijay, the psychiatrist played by Vishnuvardhan.  I thought his cool guy, always in control character was a little funny.  This actor reminds me of Chuck Norris of Walker Texas Ranger fame.  I guess it is that they are both so over the top?  Both have reddish hair?  Both look to be the same age and both have over the top fight scenes?  His character was definitely larger than life…..how many psychiatrists can you think of that could fight 5 or more guys at the same time and win? 


This film was a huge hit when it came out in 2004.  It ran in movie theaters for over a year and broke all sorts of records.  The movie also won lots of awards- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Music Director.

I will be watching more Kannada movies after this.  Unfortunately, we are nearing the end of Netflix’s Kannada selections.  Soon we will have to find another way to get our Kannada movies.

Kannada Movie-Joke Falls

This weekend Satya and I watched another Kannada movie-“Joke Falls”.  This movie was very, very popular in Karnataka about four years ago.  It is a comedy.  I am beginning to lose heart with Kannada movies.  I think I assumed that since I like Bollywood movies that I’d like Kannada movies.  Of course this is not a fair to anyone.  This movie just didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t think it was very funny-well, except for the 3 wannabe gangsters.  Their ridiculous appearances made me smile.


Plot:  The movie opens with an ode to Karnataka and to Kannada.  The scenery is extremely beautiful, particularly of Jog Falls.  Jog Falls is the highest “plunge” waterfall in the world, according to Wikipedia. 


A goodhearted (he lets the caretaker of the botany center visit his family by taking over his duties) botany professor marries a botany student.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so enamored by him…it seemed she made her mind up to marry him just because he wrote a well-known biology text.  The wife goes on and on about how marvelous her brother-in-law is.  The wife considers the brother-in-law to be next to God.  The brother-in-law is getting ready to be a judge so is being extra careful about his connections to make sure he is not connected to any scandal that could jeopardize his chances at a judgeship.  The brother-in-law disapproves of the botany professor.  I forget the exact reason why.  Salary not high enough maybe?


The botany professor decides to play a trick on the pompous brother-in-law.  He decides to become the brother-in-law’s chauffeur.  Part of the reason I think I didn’t find it funny was because a lot of the movie relies on language jokes and puns that don’t translate well or go right over my head.  For example, the botany professor’s alias as the brother-in-law’s driver is Priyatama.  Priyatama translates into “lover”, according to Satya.  The brother-in-law got very uncomfortable when his wife calling the botany professor/driver “Priyatama”.  Also, the brother-in-law also liked hearing pure Kannada uncontaminated by English so “Priyatama” would point out the idiosyncrasies of English.  “Priyatama” gets in a love triangle when a servant girl develops a crush on him.  “Priyatama”/botany professor get caught “doing yoga” with wife in the forest by a girl who then reports back to the brother-in-law.  Brother-in-law questions why his chauffeur would do yoga with his sister-in-law.  The movie was filled with mix-ups like that.


I couldn’t really figure out how making the brother-in-law look stupid would make the brother-in-law accept the botany professor.  Somehow it all worked out and there was a happy ending.


Good parts: I liked the songs.  As I mentioned before, Kannada songs are very different-sounding from Bollywood songs.  Part of this is because Southern Indian classical music, Carnatic, has very different influences from Northern Indian, Hindustani classical music. 


I thought the 3 gangsters were funny, although I thought the middle gangster with the two earrings, big necklace, and skirt-like attire was a cross-dresser at first.  Satya informed me that that is the typical look of a Tamil gangster.  Oops!  I have a lot to learn….


It was nice to pick up more Kannada.  Occasionally, I can match up words with their subtitles so that is a good feeling.


Finally, saw some more attractive men in the movies.  They were in the background, but still nice to see.


Scenery was nice.  Satya likes seeing the interiors of the homes and the scenery.  Jog Falls is awe-inspiring even on tv.  Maybe someday I’ll see it in person.


My conclusion:  Learning to appreciate Kannada movies is going to take longer than I thought.  I am not giving up though.  At least watching the movies gives me the opportunity to hear Kannada and to see how people act, dress, decorate homes, etc. 


To all those Kannadigas out there, what are some of your favorite movies?  I’m open to all suggestions!

Nammura Mandara Hoove; My Second Kannada Movie

We finished another Kannada movie this past weekend, “Nammura Mandara Hoove”.  Satya says the title roughly translates to “Flower in my Native Place”.  He picked out the movie because he wanted me to see what North Karnataka looks like.  Apparently, it was filmed within 20 miles of his mother’s village. 

What is it about:

A young man (Shivaraj Kumar) from the movie/music business travels to North Karnataka to visit a friend and to find local talent.  While there, he falls in love with the same young woman (Prema) his friend (Ramesh) has loved silently for years.  The young woman falls in love with the first young man.  Who has a happy ending?  Who ends up alone?


I thought the songs were very beautiful.  In some ways, the songs sound almost Chinese to me.  The songs and dances are very different from those in Bollywood movies-more subdued and with fewer instruments. 


I thought the story was fairly realistic in some ways like how the love triangle was resolved.  In other ways, I thought that some things were overwrought-why would the tribal girl agree to pretend to have an affair with the movie/music producer?  I would think that in real life if word leaked out that she was having a relationship out of marriage her life would be extremely difficult and her chances of marriage would be ruined. 


Again, I am wondering why the physical standards for male Kannada actors are so low.  For Shivaraj I guess it makes sense as his father is the legendary Dr. Raj Kumar.  Ramesh seems to be a fairly successful actor in his own right too.  Ramesh and Shivaraj Kumar definitely are not “hot”, “cute”, or even attractive.  They were both overweight and Shivaraj needed a haircut.  Am I the only one thinking this? 


Another thing I’ve noticed with both Bollywood and Kannada films is how “touchy” they are.  Do people in India just touch more in general than Americans?  I don’t mean sexual touching, but friendly, affectionate touching and playful slapping/hitting.  From the movies, this appears to be true.


I thought it was interesting how the movie showed a variety of different people.  There was the local North Karnataka man wearing an earring in each ear, part of a gourd on his head for a hat, shirt, and longi.  The young tribal woman wore a dress more like a Polynesian dress: above the ankles, over one shoulder, belt at waist.  She had tattoos on her forehead and chin.  Her hair was bunched in a ponytail on one side of her head.  Unfortunately, the local was in the movie mostly for comedic relief and the tribal girl nearly got used by Shivaraj’s character.


I’d recommend the movie for its scenery and music. I liked how Prema got to yell at them at the end and how she got them to behave like adults finally.  On the other hand, I thought that the movie was slow and the guys immature.  The captions were also a bit off in some places.  5/10

Om Shanti Om

This weekend Satya and I watched “Om Shanti Om”.  We both really enjoyed the movie-the bright colors, the music, the suspense, the humor, and twist at the end.  It is an unusual movie-I think it is the first one I’ve ever seen about reincarnation.  I thought the fire scene where Om and Shanti die was very intense-I covered my eyes for that part of the movie.


The movie stretches credulity in parts.  Besides the reincarnation part, there is the transformation of Om #2.  When we first see Om #2 he is a successful Bollywood star, shallow, with an inflated ego.  Once he realizes his mission and meets his old friend and mother, he is suddenly transformed into a more mature character.  I didn’t think that was very believable.  On the other hand, the story, music, and humor swept me along so I didn’t have much time to complain.


I can’t say it had much to do with Karnataka or South India.  We just watched it for fun.  The movie did show some South Indian stereotypes. The Shanti look-alike comes from Bangalore and is ultra-modern with her carefree, irreverent attitude blowing bubblegum bubbles in everyone’s faces.  One of the song numbers poked some fun at old historical South Indian movies-the man with the bare chest, very stylized hair, two earrings and the girl wearing pants and doing different arm and leg movements.  Satya thought the cheoreography to that dance number was extremely inaccurate and too much Bollywood. 


We heard about the movie from watching the weekly Bollywood show on public television.  It is the one where viewers can request their favorite songs from popular movies.  We saw some of the songs, liked the music and the bright colors and then checked NetFlix to see if the movie was available and ordered it. 


If you are looking for an entertaining movie with humor, great song, and bright colors be sure to try “Om Shanti Om”!

Malgudi Days

I took Ashwini’s suggestion and watched “Malgudi days” (through NetFlix).  Earlier, I  had checked out the book “Malgudi Days” from my local library.  So far, I highly recommend both the book and tv show.  Malgudi Days focuses on a small village in South India named Malgudi circa 1935.  Both the book and show are made up of short stories about everyday people-the mailman, a young boy, a local shepherd, a miserly grandfather.  For Satya, “Malgudi Days” reminds him of his mother’s village.  He also remembers watching “Malgudi Days” in school.  For Westerners, the closest thing might be the James Herriot books and tv show-universal, everyday stories about a specific region and time.


The stories are not very sugar-coated or like a glossy Bollywood movie.  Some stories are funny or cute like the story of young Swami and the thief.  Some are sad like the story of the dog and the blind, elderly beggar.  One episode poked fun at wealthy American tourists.  Some pose great dilemmas-should the postman deliver a letter and thus possibly destroy a young girl’s chance at a good marriage?  Another was a ghost story…was the mechanic possessed by the ghost of the elderly temple caretaker?  (I thought that was one of the best ghost stories I’ve seen-enthralling because of the storytelling and not any over the top gore or effects.)


One aspect I thought was a little strange was that in the show, nearly everybody spoke in English.  Only the old man with the two goats spoke in Hindi which made sense as the whole point of the story was that he couldn’t understand the American tourist and the American tourist couldn’t understand him.  Was this because the author of “Malgudi Days” R.K. Narayan wrote in English?  Was the remake in English too? 


We’ve gotten through the first disc of episodes and have gotten through half of the second disc.  I’m looking forward to more great stories and heartily recommend “Malgudi Days”!

Kannada Movies

Does anyone know why it is so difficult to find Kannada movies in the U.S.?  I’m able to find Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and Malayam movies, but Kannada ones are proving difficult.  I’d like to see them just to get some idea of the culture and to try to pick up a few more words. 

Anybody have any tips?  Short of asking his family to send us a bunch, I’m stuck.

Also, do the movies usually have English subtitles?

I have heard that some of the movie industries of the lesser known languages are being swallowed up by Bollywood and are having trouble competing.  Any truth to that? 

What are some of your favorite movies?  I want to try to stay away from movies with lots of blood and violence.