I have three movie reviews for you today. Three. You might notice a theme. That theme looks a lot like this:
That is because I have discovered Arjun Rampal, an Indian actor who has officially taken over as my Other One True Love and is, and it’s shocking that I can even write this, making a serious bid for my One True Love. Many of you probably know that Alexander Skarsgard is my One True Love, by the way. Meaning the bar is pretty damn high.
A bit of a disclaimer:
One thing I’ve learned is that the English language descriptions of Indian moves (in my admittedly limited experience) do a very poor job of describing the actual movie. Another consideration is that I am missing a lot of cultural context that would surely expand and deepen my appreciation of any Indian movie. So, keep in mind that I am viewing these films as an American woman. I’m quite sure some cultural things whooshed right over my head. My ignorance of Indian culture probably explains some of the things I was at times confused about.
Here are the three movies I’ve seen so far in which Rampal appears:
The Last Lear
Movie director Siddharth (Rampal) talks an eccentric Shakespearian stage actor, one Harish Mishra, out of retirement in order to act in his film. In the course of filming the movie, Siddharth elicits an electrifying performance from Harish. We know as well that Harish was horribly injured in an accident connected with the film. The Last Lear is, in essence, about what happened and why and how lives were affected. And, of course, as with any good story, about a great deal more.
It’s not inaccurate to say that Siddharth seduces Harish into agreeing to act in his movie. Rampal is absolutely brilliant as Siddharth, by the way. The man can act. Harish (Amitabh Bachchan) is completely and utterly charming. His defense of the stage over cinema is wonderfully done, and yet, he ends up agreeing to do the movie.
I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say that I did not anticipate what happened. Did not. When the moment came, everything I thought about previous scenes completely changed. There were several points at which the movie changed for me as plot lines and time lines came together, raveled and unravled. I was a bit confused at the beginning and probably for about a third of the movie, but that was a result the structure of the movie (which completely works, by the way).
The Last Lear is an amazing movie and Rampal’s portrayal of Siddarth is multi-dimensional and nuanced. Oh my. This is a movie I recommend seeing no matter what.
Rock On is about the four members of a Rock band who disband just as they are on the cusp of major success. Ten years later, they reunite. The movie has two time lines: the 10 years previous when they are dedicated musicians and the present, 10 years later when most of them are either not involved in music at all or are only peripherally involved.
Rampal plays the part of Joe Mascarenhas, the volatile but talented lead guitarist. He’s Catholic and there were times I was pretty sure someone was flirting with the Joeseph of Nazarene theme there. But again, I think my cultural ignorance prevented me from picking up on the nuances and implications of his religion other than to see they were put front and center in a couple of scenes. The actual star of the movie was Aditya, the band’s lead singer.
For this American, the movie was way too long. I’m told (and am discovering) that Indian movies have a different pacing. (And yet, see my review of Raajneeti where the length was not a problem at all). Rampal burned up every scene he was in and, frankly, the other actors simply weren’t a match for Rampal’s talent and charisma. They held their own scenes quite well, but as soon as they were in a scene with Rampal, they just weren’t interesting enough. In my opinion, the movie was miscast. Rampal should have played the role of Aditya.
The plot was completely schmaltzy and you could see the ending coming about 10 miles off, but it was still fun. And, to its great credit, the movie is not just about 4 guys forming a band, breaking up and then getting back for more fun later. It’s about 4 men who lose their way in life and find their way back.
For me, this was an OK movie with Rampal being almost the only reason to stick with it for as long as it lasts. If this had been an American film by the way, it would have starred Mike Meyers and been a completely stupid boy movie. But it wasn’t, thank goodness.
Much as I liked The Last Lear, Raajneeti is by far my favorite of the three. Its 162 minutes and it’s gripping for just about all of it. This movie was EPIC. EPIC I tell you. If I were more familiar with Indian politics I might not have been so surprised by all the twists, but HOLY FUCKING HELL!
The movie is about a family of politicians — they are all in one way or another supporting their party, until the patriarch and party head suffers a stroke that leaves him barely able to communicate. The family fractures and splinters and it was like watching Good Fellas and The Godfather all rolled into one movie with a dash of Quentin Tarrantino. There is a secret baby thrown in, too.
The Indian caste system comes into play as well. All the women get knocked up and let me just say that, with my limited cultural context, politically I think the parallels to Indira Ghandi and probably Benazir Bhutto were pretty evident.
Rampal plays Prithviraj Pratap, the elder brother who, after his uncle’s stroke, is given a powerful position in the party. A lower caste man (Sooraj) whose father is the Pratap family chauffeur, wants a role in the party and appears to have some serious support from his caste. Prithviraj’s younger brother, Samar, has been in America getting his PhD in . . . . wait for it . . . 19th century Victorian poetry! He returns to India for what is supposed to be a short time, after which he’s going back to New York to do a “presentation” on his dissertation and then probably accept a teaching job. I think this was supposed to mean his orals. For quite some time Samar is fairly uninteresting, and then, holy moley! He’s not.
What I loved about this movie was the way the brothers where at times noble, conniving, cheaters, bribers, dedicated to the good of their country, murderers, mad-bombers and hit-man hirers. I swear, there were scenes where I thought Prithviraj (Rampal) was as dirty as a politician could get and then his enemies were even dirtier and I was back on his side. And then there’s the baseball bat scene and even after that Tarrentino inspired scene, Prithviraj manages to rehabilitate himself. Samar, mild-mannered, Americanized Victorian poetry Academic is a fish out water and then, whoa. Evil mad poetry genius?
And then Indu — the beautiful young woman with political ambitions who is still at the complete mercy of her father. She loves Samar, but Samar loves this American woman (except it turns out she was born in Ireland –WTF?) and well, she was the weakest character who kept pronouncing Samar’s name as “Summer” and let me just tell you that there are more than enough Indians in New York that there’s just no excuse for her cultural insensitivity. I’m calling out the directors and writers for that. Sorry, but America really is culturally diverse and a NYC college student just would not be so completely treacly. Ick. Anyway, Indu is in love with Samar who loves that American dishrag bit but she ends up having to marry Rampal and to be perfectly honest, I thought, oh, you lucky lucky woman. Do not look back. You are now married to the hottest man on the planet.
OK, so some other things about this movie. There is a scene early on where Rampal is having what I later realized was sex with this other woman. It started out really hot but then, when they’re actually having sex (mostly standing up) I DID NOT realize at the time they were having intercourse– mostly I was wondering why the foreplay was so … odd– because they were not physically close enough for his *ahem* member to be where a man’s penis goes during such a moment. Seriously. Once I realized that they were supposed to be doing the deed, all I could think was, no man’s dick is that long. A rare fail moment.
Anyway, Raajneeti. Highly recommended. It’s a brilliant, gripping movie with plot twists galore and well, Arjun Rampal, who was fantastic. He’s one hell of an actor.