Sunday, April 4, 2010

Loves That Know No Bounds

In 1953, Richard Rodgers took a melody he had composed ("Beneath The Southern Cross") for the popular television series Victory At Sea and, with new lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, inserted it into the score of a new Rodgers and Hammerstein musical entitled Me and Juliet. A big hit on the radio in the mid 1950s (thanks to Perry Como's recording of No Other Love), the reworked song's lyrics read as follows:
"No other love have I,
Only my love for you!
Only the dream we knew,
No other love!

Watching the night go by,
Wishing that you could be,
Watching the night with me,
Into the night I cry!

Hurry home,
Come home to me!
Set me free,
Free from doubt,
And free from longing!

Into your arms I'll fly,
Locked in your arms I'll stay,
Waiting to hear you say,
No other love have I,
No other love!"
Think of every romantic cliché you've ever heard:
  • "Our love will never die."
  • "You are my soulmate."
  • "I'd travel to the ends of the earth to be with you."
  • "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles."
Here's Doris Day singing Secret Love -- the hit song from the movie, Calamity Jane -- that won the 1953 Academy Award for Best Original Song (with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster):

Three movies recently screened at the San Francisco Asian-American International Film Festival zoomed in on the subject of secret and sometimes obsessive love. One had an epic scope, one captured the shifting cinematic sequences of confused dreams, and the third was a grand and glorious farce.

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Written and directed by Imtiaz Ali, Love Aaj Kal is that rare Bollywood film in which San Francisco plays a serious role in making the hero come to his senses. If that isn't a big enough surprise, consider that the film revolves around two actors portraying two different couples in two different time periods as they try to fix their romantic problems on two different continents.

Is that complicated enough for you? Don't worry. There is indeed a dramatic connection which ties it all together and transforms this Bollywood film into a surprisingly uplifting drama in which love truly conquers all.

Meera (Deepika Padukone) and Jai (Saif Ali Khan)

The film begins in modern-day London, where Jai Vardan Singh (Saif Ali Khan) has been carrying on a long-time affair with Meera (Deepika Padukone). While the two have maintained a "friends with benefits" arrangement that has deftly taken care of their social and emotional needs for several years, neither lover has thought seriously about marriage. They are best friends, who know each other's souls with an intimacy that many spouses do not.

They just have different career goals.

As an architect who specializes in designing and building bridges, Jai's career dream has been to relocate to San Francisco and work for Golden Gate Industries. Meanwhile, Meera has received an offer to work on an archaeological dig in India. It's an opportunity she can neither resist nor refuse.

Not wishing to ruin each other's professional opportunities, Jai and Meera agree to have a break-up party which will help their friends accept the reality that everyone's favorite couple is no more. However, Jai's casual introduction to an older businessman named Veer Singh (Rishi Kapoor) changes his life. When Veer Singh learns that Jai is simply going to let Meera head off to India without professing his love for her, he insists on driving Jai to the airport to say goodbye to his lover.

Thrilled that Jai showed up (in her heart, she just knew he would), Meera flies off to India, where she soon starts to date and fall in love with her new boss, Vikram Joshi (Rahul Khanna). Meanwhile, Veer Singh is pumping Jai's head full of stories about his youthful days in India and how he fell head over heels in love with a beautiful young woman named Harleen. As he tells Jai about the great love of his life, the audience sees a younger Veer Singh (also portrayed by Saif Ali Khan) desperately trying to woo the beautiful Harleen (played by Deepika Padukone).

Deepika Padukone and Saif Ali Khan

As the narrative flows between glimpses of the young Veer Singh pursuing Harleen's love and Jai's current confused state of affairs, we watch as Jai travels to India to attend Meera's wedding. As the two continue to communicate by cell phone and texting, it becomes obvious that even though Jai has started dating a blonde named Jo (Florence Brudenell-Bruce), he and Meera are much more deeply in love than they have ever been willing to admit.

Flash forward to Jai's professional dream coming true. As soon as Jai receives an offer to work in San Francisco, Meera tells Vikram that she has made a terrible mistake and must find out if she and Jai were fated to be lovers, instead.

Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone

Once he arrives in San Francisco, Jai starts off walking on air. But within months, he has become depressed, gotten mugged near Union Square (Jai refused to relinquish a wallet-sized picture of Meera), and become desperately unhappy with his work. Risking everything to travel to India and see if he and Meera are destined to be together forever, he flies halfway around the world to find and claim the love of his life. As with any good Bollywood film, everyone ends up sweating, dancing, and exulting in their good fortune and the audience leaves the theatre with goofy smiles on their faces.

Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone

There are times when the plot twists in Love Aaj Kal seem a bit strained. But as the parallel path of the love between Veer Singh and Harleen starts to overlap the story of Jai and Meera's undying love for each other, the film finds its pace, hits a powerful turning point, and brings the story to a surprisingly poignant ending. Here's the big "Twist" dance number:

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While a massive publicity campaign helped to focus the attention of mainstream film critics on the recent release of Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland, they might want to take some time out to watch Prithi Gowda's 15-minute short entitled Televisnu. An Indian version of what it's like to fall down a rabbit hole, Televisnu takes a young worker at an Indian call center on a wild journey through her computer and her own powers of imagination.

Starring Janhavi Kamath as Mira, this delightful short comes the closest I've ever seen to capturing how dream sequences unravel in the mind as a rapidly evolving blur of confusing imagery that can be intensely personal and yet make no sense at all. Whether crawling through an aluminum air vent or a simulation of a computer's innards, whether following a group of cattle up a rudimentary staircase or happily hanging onto a new boyfriend while riding on his motorcycle, Mira's adventures in an alternate universe are far from dull. As Gowda explains:
"Several years ago, I went back to Bangalore, India to visit my family. I noticed a big change. Many of my young, female cousins were working rather than adopting the more traditional and expected role of husband hunting. In the past, a young Indian woman did not leave her home until a suitable man agreed to marry her. She went directly from the care and responsibility of her father to the care and responsibility of her new husband.

Due to globalization, a new and curious detour has become more common. Today, young Indian women are now working before they tie the knot. Coming from a westernized perspective, this may seem mundane and commonplace. Every day, we call a customer service line seeking help with our bank accounts, credit cards, and online orders. Halfway around the world a woman picks up the call to help resolve our problems. Little do we know that, on the other end of the call, the life of the young woman answering the telephone is changing forever. What are the possibilities that arise when a moment of personal development converges with a moment of cultural liberation? Does love have the potential to dissolve social hierarchy and give birth to pleasure?"
When I went to visit Gowda's website, I saw that she had embedded Devdutt Pattanaik's lecture from the 2009 TEDIndia talks about how clashes of cultural mythologies (based on highly subjective ways of viewing the world) cause people to think in terms of "my way" and "your way." But what Pattanaik also covers in great detail is the great chaos embraced by Indian culture that is reflected in Gowda's short film.

Watch Pattanaik's speech at the TED talks before viewing the trailer for Televisnu and you'll get an idea of how experiencing Gowda's film is like following Alice down a rabbit hole to a surreal world in which the Mad Hatter's tea party has a strong hint of curry powder. Instead of a grinning Cheshire cat, you might just find yourself face to face with a giant Vishnu who is his very own and (quite spectacular) Blue Man Group. Here's the trailer:

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One would have to search far and wide to find a short film as ridiculously entertaining and deliriously demented as Ajumma! Are You Krazy? Written and directed by Brent Anbe, this merry romp (billed as "Hawaii's First Kim Chee Comedy") follows a trio of middle-aged Korean-Hawaiian women who have no control over their screaming devotion to hunky Korean superstar Michael Park (Michael Hsia).

Michael Park (Michael Hsia) poses for a beefcake shot

When word reaches obsessively gushing Judy (played by the wonderfully comic Thea Matsuda), her stern but determined friend Susan (Tessie Magaoay), and their ever-flirtatious pal Amy (Cari Mizumoto) -- who have all been swooning over their handsome Korean teacher, Mr. Oh (Vince K. Shin) -- that their idol is coming to Honolulu for a photo shoot, the three women quickly start acting out. Whether calling in sick from work to greet Michael upon his arrival at Honolulu International Airport, trying to break into his hotel room, or attempting to crash his video shoot, absolutely nothing will stop these women from their goal of meeting Michael and getting his autograph. Not even the subversive efforts of three tacky bar sluts like Sheena (Kawena Chun), Tina (Christina de la Diosa), and Gina (Tiffany Vega) can deter them.

Amy (Cari Mizumoto) and Judy (Thea Matsuda) at the airport

Supplying little bits of information about Michael's whereabouts are Daniel (David Lim), a laidback clerk at a video store, and the very hunky Kahana (Kaui Kauhi) who, using his screen name "Hawaiian Soju," claims to be Michael Park's biggest fan in Hawaii. Based on his height and powerful physique, this might well be true.

It turns out that Michael and Mr. Oh have a very well-kept secret which benefits Judy, Susan, Amy, and Kahana, but proves to be a humiliating disappointment for Sheena, Tina, and Gina. The following trailer gives a preview of the high-grade beefcake, ridiculously romantic dreams, and great sense of fun which are among the greatest assets of Ajumma: Are You Krazy?. Brent Anbe's film contains 25 minutes of the most delightful kind of silliness available on video.

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