Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Zeenat Aman - My favorite Songs

Zeenat burst into the film scene in 1970s. She was not the first glamorous heroine of our times. We have seen many of those.  But there were none who were as free spirited as her. Look at the picture above.  She is wearing a simple kurta, hoop earrings and her hair is let loose to cascade down her shoulders.  There is no pancake makeup, heavy earrings and no designer dress.  Zeenat exemplified Casual, be it in her dress, demeanor or make-up. I can't pin-point when the bouffant died, but I am pretty sure Zeenat was one of the ladies responsible for its death.

I am not a film historian, but I do feel that Zeenat also blurred the lines between the heroine and the vamp. Previously, it was the heroine who was the Good Girl and the Vamp the bad one in sexy clothes. Zeenat staked the claim of being a Good Girl in sexy clothes.  She did not bother to change into a demure saree in the 8th reel.

I have picked 13 songs performed by Zeenat that I like.   I thank Harvey for helping me select the songs and also help with the write up. Originally we had selected twelve but then Harvey reminded me of a lovely song from Darling Darling which I wanted in without dislodging the others. Hence we agreed to make it 13 (Baker's dozen - as Harvey reminded me).

The visuals had to match the catchy lyrics and Zeenat had to be the focus. Harvey and I mostly concurred with each others' choices.  He did not like the Warrant song, but I insisted.  I had to have a song with Zeenat dressed up as a Punjaban. I bowed to the Heeralal Pannalal song despite disliking Premnath's headgear, it overshadows everything else.  We auditioned several of the Satyam Shivam Sundaram songs but dumped them all because we cannot stand Zeenat mincing around in that fashion.  After the 1980, we could not recall any nice songs sung by Zeenat in which she was being, well.. Zeenat, so that is where our selection ended.

These songs are in the order of Zeenat's filmography so that no more scuffles break out between Harvey and me over the greater and lesser favorites.

1. Dum Maro Dum
Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971)

I was a pre-teen when I saw Zeenat in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.  It was such an exotic story, an estranged brother and sister meet in Nepal where the sister is part of a Hippie gang.  Zeenat wore light pink shades, hoop earrings and let her hair flow naturally to her shoulders. (We used to call it the Shoulder-Cut- *eyeroll*). No wonder I have such a fascination for hoops and Pink Eyeglasses.

This song gets everything right. A big crowd of Hippies puffing on the chillum, the psychedelic beats of the song (the best part, I feel), Zeenat swaying away, random couples dancing and playing the guitar and an anxious Dev Anand watching it all. R.D. rules and Zeenie Baby rocks!

2. Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko
Yadon Ki Baraat (1973)

Zeenat was not a very good actress.  Her diction was deplorable.  It is hard to believe that the was the daughter of the Amanullah Khan who co-wrote Mughal-e-Azam and Pakeezah.  The man who gave us such wonderful dialogues in chaste Urdu could not even influence the way his daughter spoke.  But then, Amanullah died when Zeenat was just 13.  Her mother remarried with a German. Zeenat went to California to study.  All this, I suppose, gave her westernized mannerisms and accent.

Yet, she looked like a million dollars.  Just when the world was changing and filmmakers wanted actresses who wore trendy clothes, Zeenat landed on the scene.

Everything about this song from Yadon Ki Baraat is perfect too.  The fancy party, Zeenat's dress, a lovely song.  Zeenat makes Vijay Arora look good by pairing with him.  R.D. Rules and Zeenie Rocks!

Extra Song:

There was another great song in this movie, if you can tolerate Tariq for a bit, you will soon get to Zeenie rocking the stage in 'lal kapde'. What gorgeous 'lal kapde'. Even today any girl would be glad to get into that red mini dress and those red high boots. Zeenat makes even Tariq look good just by standing with him.

3. Panna ki Tamanna
Heera Panna (1973)

Dev Anand was Zeenat's mentor.  Zeenat was disappointed with her flailing film career post Hulchul and Hungama and ready to pack her bags and go back to live with her parents. She landed the role of Janice in Hare Rama Hare Krishna thanks to Dev.  He was close to 50 and Zeenat was barely 20.  Dev was still very handsome, he was beginning his downslide, and the tendency to wear flashy young clothes was just starting to rankle.  I have several friends, Harvey and Sameer among them, who are very interested in Dev of this period. Just mention '70s',' Dev' and 'Zeenat' in a sentence and Sameer is sure to pop up with a comment.

Heera Panna is a goldie of this new era in Dev's career. He is a (fashion?) photographer who gets embroiled in a diamond heist.  Zeenat is the semi-bad girl, the kind who is a thief and wears bikinis to distract men but is good at heart.  In this song she is trying to latch on Heera (Dev). Unbeknownst to him, the Heera she craves is lying in the petrol tank of his car.

Zeenat is wearing pink flares and her signature hoops-and-shoulder-cut-hair. Dev is dressed in mustard pants, a shirt that throws shades of orange and peach, red cap and a huge phallic looking camera. His car has names of various places written on it, showing that he is a much traveled, Internationally renowned photographer.

4. Hai Hai ye Majboori
Roti Kapda aur Makaan (1974)

Roti Kapda Aur Makaan was a feather in the cap of Zeenat Aman.  In this superhit multistarer, she was courted by two men, Manoj Kumar and Shashi Kapoor.  She loves her slightly loser-ish boyfriend from her mohalla, Manoj, but gets engaged to the dashing, rich Shashi.  She is torn between promise of a good life with Shashi and her love for Manoj.

She dresses mostly in Sarees as behooves a sanskari middle class girl who finds favor with Mr. Bharat, but she does get this romp in the rain where she teases her boyfriend for wasting time with his job when he should be with her.

5. Chori Chori Solah Singaar Karoongi
Manoranjan (1974)

Shammi Kapoor could not have found a better girl to play a happy-go-lucky prostitute for his remake of Irma La Douce than Zeenat.  Our girl never shied away from flaunting her sexuality.  Zeenat needed this capability in spades to play the role of Nisha who is a prostitute sans the usual tears that heroines were required to shed for being in that state.  In Manoranjan, she is happy in her profession and her only goal is to earn money and take care of her favorite pimp - Sanjeev.

Zeenat sings this lovely song while she takes a midnight bath, waiting for her man to return to her.  She wasn't a great actress, but manages to convey the joy she feels at decking herself up for her beloved. I doubt if we have ever seen any other Hindi film actress flaunt her body with the ease that Zeenat had.

6.  Ladi Nazariya Ladi
Warrant (1975)

By Mid-70s Zeenat's mentor, Dev Anand, was almost a spent force.  There are some who may want to delete the 'almost' in the previous sentence. I, however, enjoy some of his 70s movies. He extended his shelf life by appearing in/making reasonably watchable entertainers and also by acting alongside pretty young heroines.

In Warrant, Zeenie ups the glamour quotient by looking pretty and standing by Dev while he tries to find out who has framed him,  There is this lovely song from the film 'Main tumse mohabbat karti hoon' where Zeenat is honey-trapping the villain.  But I am a Punjaban and cannot resist a Punjabi sounding song and Zeenat decked up like a Punjabi girl.

7. Hai Agar Dushman Zamana 
Ham Kisi se Kam Nahi (1977)

Zeenat was not really there in Ham Kisi se Kam Nahi.  She was in a special appearance as Rishi's girl friend.  But what an appearence! Rishi was seen as a Prince of Qawwali, and here Zeenat gets to match him latka to jhatka.  She is very spirited as she decides to ditch her glum father (Ajit) and go on to the dias alongside Rishi and proclaim to the world that she will spurn everything for love.

Zeenat had an anglicised accent, but in the songs she gets to hide behind a singer and emote with abandon.  I adore her in this black outfit.  She had a gorgeous figure.

8. Ikk main hoon Ikk tu
Darling Darling (1977)

This song is lovely, soft, romantic. A slim Zeenat in a frock looks great as she resists the advances of Dev.  I have to thank Harvey for reminding me of this wonderful number.  It did swell my list from 12 to 13, but who cares! More the merrier, I say.

As far as I remember, Darling Darling had a story similar to My Fair Lady.  Dev Anand improves Zeenat from a rough speaking village girl to a polished woman who wows all.  It has the delightful Hello Darling which was meant to chart the transition, something like 'Rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.'

I don't see any other Dev-Zeenat film in her filmography after this.  It seems like they moved on.  The phase of nice songs was also waning, soon we would be treated to eardrum killing tunes.   Dev was already in his fifties, and he was ageing.  Zeenat was in her prime.  She went on to make many more good movies - not with good songs though.

9.Aa jaa mere pyaar aaja
Heeralal Pannalal (1978)

I remember this song from my childhood days, when this film was released. Since then it has always been on my favourite list. I was fascinated by this song then and am fascinated by it now. Although the song sounds romantic it is not a lover’s romance, which is the driving force behind it, but a father-daughter love. The Hemant Kumar version of the song is sung by Premnath, the father () and the Asha Bhonsle version by Zeenat Aman. Pancham’s lines are an addition here, to which Amjad Khan moves his lips. Pancham’s gargling voice and his lines give the song certain urgency, which is immanent to it. The daughter sees her father after a long separation and in a grave danger. The father is in disguise and can’t reveal his identity and save her. The girls singing Mr. Hu (the father’s pseudonym) sounds thus like a ridicule. Zeenat Aman’s dialogue delivery though always left something to desire her facial expressions were always good. Here she manages to look sexy and still express her helplessness, sorrow and happiness at meeting her father.

Ava: Zeenat in a shimmery pink dress dancing with abandon ticks my boxes, but Premnath wearing a funny headgear as disguise does not.  But Harvey put up with my Punjabi choice from Warrant and I put up with this 'father-daughter' club dance.

10. Khatooba, khatooba
Alibaba Aur 40 Chor (1980)

Harvey: Zeenat is again on a mission to save her father here. He is locked in a cellar dungeon of a wizard. The wizard’s skills seem to be very futuristic, which manage to conjure up a disco in the middle ages of the Arabian nights. Zeenat does what she is best at, being seductive and turning every man's head in her wake and more.

Ava: Yes, Yes, Yes. This movie was fun and the song is terrific.  Zeenat dances her way out of a tight corner looking every inch like an Arabian Princess.  She danced pretty well too, at least the filmi variety.

11. Rakkasa Mera Naam
Great Gambler (1979)

For me movies stopped being fun after the 70s.  Qurbani which is listed next was the absolute last of the greats.  Even Amitabh movies became stale (most of them, anyway).  But this had it all.  Amitabh had  a double role, one CID Inspector and the other a crook.  He was very very very ably supported by two great actresses, Neetu Singh and Zeenat.  The movie is replete with lovely numbers featuring them.

In this song Zeenat is a belly dancer somewhere in middle-east (if my memory can be trusted).  No wonder Amitabh is transfixed by her.  There was another sublime song from the film with Zeenat and Amitabh - Do lafzon ki hai . This song is sung by me and Harvey every time either he or I talk about Venice and Gondolas.

12. Laila Main Laila
Qurbani (1980)

Habba Habba! I like actresses with loads of chutzpah, and Zeenat had it in spadefuls.  Here also she dons a lovely silvery dress and sways to this catchy tune.  Qurbani had another song that was (rightfully) an all time chartbuster.  I mean the Nazia Hasan number Aap Jaisa Koi.. It is a wonderful number, but if I had to pick a good dance and what we Punjabis call 'Rola Ruppa' (Noise quotient) to dance to, I prefer Laila Main Laila.

What fun movies we had in the 70s and (early 80s).  I had just started working then and wanted to take my nephew and niece for a movie treat.  This is what we picked to watch.  It takes me back to those days when I was younger and could still enjoy these kind of movies.

 Abdullah (1980)

Harvey: From the Arabian Nights setting of Alibaba we jump to Sanjay Khan’s take at the Krishna saga, which is reset in Arabian surroundings. The Arabian Nights are full of women who bathe in springs and men gawking at them. Sanjay Khan sets his Arabian oasis in a cheap Bombay studio with Mumbai’s chlorinated nal ka paani instead of the crystal-clear, sweet water of a spring. Only I can think of such superficial things, while most of other men were interested in the deeper values of Zeenat’s rendition of the song. (Ava: Rofl)

Ava: Zeenat rocks the song as only she could. She would have been really good in Satyam Shivam Sundaram if Raj Kapoor had let her do her own thing.  Here she looks so natural, enjoying her dip in err.... an oasis in the middle of a desert.

I have to thank Anu  and Sameer for sparking this idea of doing a post on Nakhrewali heroines.  I hope to be able to do many more on my favorite Divas like Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu, Mumtaz and a few more.

I would love to hear about your favorite songs. Please do post them in the comments section.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Stars and Songs

This post is dedicated to Raja Swaminathan and Archana Sapkota. These are some of the actresses dear to their hearts.  I have often teased them that the girls on this list are too 'nice'. All of them, except Mumtaz who had loads of pizzaz.

The list is in order of the 'seniority' of the actress.  The song chosen by me is the one that I particularly like featuring the actress.  Do check out the songs if you want the best of the Stars to be showcased in a song.

A special thank you to Pamir Harvey for preparing this lovely poster for me.

1. Madhubala:
Career duration: (1942-1964)
Debut film as heroine: Neel Kamal
Song: Mohe Panghat pe Nandlal Chhed gayo re.

An American friend of mine once said, "Madhubala is the most beautiful woman that God put on earth" More than fifty years have passed since her last film in 1964, yet Madhubala lives on the hearts of people.  Posters of her are still being sold.  Most people agree that Mughal-e-Azam is the grandest Hindi film ever made.  She was beautiful and talented as well. Of her performance in Mughal-e-Azam, Dr. Philip Lutgendorf says "Anarkali ...whose incandescent portrayal by Madhubala upstages both of the bombastic male leads."

When I saw Madhubala perform in 'Mohe panghat pe Nandlal chhed gayo re', my jaw dropped to the ground at the sight her her beauty.

2. Shakila
Career Duration: (1949-1963)
Debut film: Duniya
Song: Baar Baar Dekho

Shakila of the impish face and dark eyes is best known for films like CID, Aar Paar, China Town and Ustadon ke Ustad.  The 50's and 60's were such a golden period for good music, that the songs of the era have become immortal.  With them, they bring us a visual of beautiful actors who sang them onscreen.  Most of Shakila's films had beautiful songs, but for me this great club song from China Town is special.  Shakila charms the dashing crooner, Shammi Kapoor, into serenading her with this catchy number.

3. Nutan
Career Duration: (1950-1994)
Debut film: Hamari Beti
Song: Kali Ghata Chhaye

When Gautam Rajadhyaksha (the famous photographer) was asked to name a face that was perfectly photogenic, he chose Nutan.  He said she looked perfect from every angle.  Her career spans more than 40 years as she segued effortlessly from a leading actress to playing roles of a mother. In 1988 Nutan acted in Muzrim Hazir, a TV series on Doordarshan based on Bimal Mitra's novel Asami Hazir.

Nutan has worked in many landmark films. Bandini and Sujata spring to the mind immediately. The song, Kaali ghata chhaye is from Sujata and brings out Nutan's effervescence, her beauty, her lovely eyes perfectly.

4. Bina Rai
Career Duration: (1951-1968)
Debut film: Kali Ghata
Song: Yeh zindagi usi ki hai

Bina Rai was a celebrated beauty. She was moon-faced with bright eyes. Her best known movies are Anarkali, Taj Mahal and Ghunghat. Anarkali was not produced on a grand scale like the later Mughal-e-Azam, but it captured the imagination of the viewers.  The musical score by C.Ramchandra has kept the movie alive in the hearts of music lovers. Anarkali's lament "Yeh zindagi usi ki hai jo kisi ka ho gaya" is irrevocably linked to Bina Rai.

In Taj Mahal she plays Mumtaz Mahal and made it easy for us see why a pining Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal for her.

5. Ameeta
Career Duration (1954-1971)
Debut film: Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Song: Tere Sur aur mere geet

Ameeta personifies cuteness. She has a sweet round face, bright eyes and a pouty mouth that makes her look childlike and innocent. After a few forgettable films, she starred in Tumsa Nahi Dekha alongside Shammi Kapoor.  This movie was a turning point for Shammi Kapoor, catapulting him into boundless fame.  She worked in several films, but was never very successful. Munimji, Goonj Uthi Shehnai, Ham Sab Chor Hain, Ham Sab Ustaad Hain, Mere Mehboob were some of the movies which are still being watched.

In Goonj Uthi Shehnai she played a simple village girl who goes into a trance,Radha-like, when Rajendra Kumar plays his Shehnai.  Their love for each other perseveres though all odds. The song, Tere Sur Aur Mere Geet, was very popular in its time.  The Shehnai was played by none other than Ustaad Bismillah Khan.  It brings out playful innocence of Ameeta, I feel.

5. Waheeda Rehman
Career Duration (1955 -  )
Debut Film (Hindi): CID
Song: Jaane kya tune kahi

This ageless beauty has seen decades whizz past her without any seeming effect on her face.  She appears in movies, on television, looking stately with her white hair still set in a widow's peak.  As far as I know she has not hung up her shoes yet.

Guru Dutt discovered her on a visit to Hyderbad and brought her to Mumbai to work in CID in a supporting role. Her next film was Pyaasa where she shared credits with Mala Sinha. Then we had the deeply emotional Kagaaz Ke Phool, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Ray's Abhijaan, Guide, Mujhe Jeene Do, Reshma aur Shera. One fabulous movie on top of the other.  I have not even counted all the fun and romantic movies she did like Kala Bazaar, Ek Phool Char Kaante, Chaudvin ka Chand.

In Pyaasa she is introduced to the screen with this song. As a prostitute Gulabo, Waheeda is out looking to entice a man, but unknowingly traps the man who has written the song she is singing.

6. Sadhana
Career Duration (1960-1977)
Debut film as heroine: Love in Simla
Song: Gal gulabi kiske hain.

Slim as a reed with a face like an angel, Sadhana had a bombastic debut. Right after the superhit Love in Simla came Parakh, Ham Dono, Prem Patra, Asli Naqli, Mere Mehboob.  It was like her career went from one high to another.

Love in Simla was a very enjoyable romantic comedy.  Sonia is a dumpy looking teenager in glasses who falls for her sister's boyfriend.  She gets a makeover at the hands of her grandmother and makes a grand entrance into the club where the boyfriend, Joy Mukherjee is instantly smitten and dances to this fun song with her - Gal gulabi kiske hain.  One look at the song will make you fall instantly in love with Sadhana.

7. Tanuja
Career Duration (1961-   )
Debut film as heroine: Hamari Yaad Aayegi
Song: Koi keh de zamane se jaake
Tanuja came from the renowned Samarth family and was the younger sister of Nutan.  Cute, perky and bubbly are the words that describe her best.  She has enjoyed a long career.  She may not have reached the heights that her sister did, but then there were very few actresses who could match up to Nutan. Tanuja had her own niche during her heydays and has been working steadily.

In this song, Koi keh de zamane se jaake, you can see Tanuja's playfulness.

8. Mumtaz
Career Duration (1961-1990)
Debut film as heroine: Faulad
Song 1: Tune jo samjha hai mujhko
Song 2: Zindagi Ittefaq hai
With her cute eyes and a little nose, Mumtaz had a perfect face for a chocolate box.  One of the cutest actresses to grace our films, she lit up the screen every time she appeared on it.  She was a wonderful dancer, mostly party or club dancing, nothing classical like Waheeda.  She had to work in many many B or even C grade movies before inching her way upwards to reach the top.  She started early in bit roles and worked in several Dara Singh films as a heroine.  After 7 years, she was cast alongside Dilip Kumar in Ram Aur Shyam as the second lead after Waheeda Rehman. She worked in several movies as the second lead or a supporting role.  Do Raste catapulted her into the big league.  It was a huge hit and after that there was no stopping her.

I have chosen two songs for Mumtaz.  I love Tune jo samjha hai mujhko from Boxer. Mumtaz dons a frilly dress and top boots and dances with abandon.

At one point in the song 'Zindagi Ittefaq hai' Mumtaz kicks off her shoes and dances while Dharmendra and Feroze Khan watch a little dazedly.  Mumtaz never lost her cool, you feel as you watch this song.  You have to admire her chutzpah as she dances and later responds so beautifully to Dharmendra's singing.

9. Leena Chandavarkar
Career Duration (1970 - 1985)
Debut film: Man ka Meet
Song: Is zamane me, is mohabbat ne
Leena has to be, after Mumtaz, the cutest actress to hit the Hindi film scene. She debuted in Man ka Meet and had three more releases in 1970. At the end of it, she was one of the top heroines and worked with all the major actors of her time.  Her career was short, but bright.

Mehboob Ki Mehendi was a muslim social, almost the last of its kind.  She was paired with the hottest actor of the time, Rajesh Khanna.  They make a lovely pair, Rajesh looked great in Achkans and was able to declaim Urdu very well.  Likewise Leena looks gorgeous in Shararas and fit her role as a damsel in distress to a T.  She looks lovely in this song, Is Zamane me, is mohabbat ne. It is easy to see why she shot right to the top.

10. Jaya Bachhan
Career Duration (1971 -    )
Debut film in Hindi: Guddi
Song: Gagan pe do taare takraye
Jaya Bhaduri debuted with no less than Satyajit Ray in Mahanagar.  She was the brightest star in FIIT, Pune.  She was all about talent.  She had a lovely face and refused to ever go glamourous. As a result, she was cast in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, or was given a substantial role in mainstream films. She still works in films.

The song Gagan pe do taare takraye is from one of her early films, Shor.  She plays a young girl who is attracted to Manoj Kumar.  This is a song she sings after she overhears a plan to get her married to him.

11. Moushami Chatterji
Career Duration (1972 -    )
Debut film in Hindi: Anurag
Song: Mere Bachpan tu jaa
Moushmi had a fantastic debut in Bengali film Balika Badhu as a child bride who gradually learns what it is to be married. She was so successful that crossing over to Hindi was a cakewalk for her. She was beautiful and talented and was counted amongst the top actresses of her time.

Kachhe Dhage was an early film that Moushami starred it.  In the film, she catches the fancy of two rival dacoits who are smitten by her innocence and charm. In this song, she is seen as a young village girl on the brink of adulthood.

12. Vidya Sinha
Career Duration (1974-2011)
Debut film: Rajnigandha.
Song: Rajnigandha phool tumhare
Vidya Sinha was another girl-next-door type of an actress who escaped the Glamour Brigade like Jaya Bhaduri.  She starred mostly in small (but very effective) films by Basu Chatterjee, with whom she debuted in Rajnigandha.

The song is taken from Rajnigandha which she sings while she thinks about her boyfriend, Amol. He usually brings her a bunch of Rajnigandha flowers.  It is a beautiful song full of longing for love.

13. Swaroop Sampat
Career Duration (1989 -   )
Debut film: Doosra Kanoon
Song: Tumhari palkon ki chilmano me
Swaroop Sampat came to films after winning the Miss India crown - like Zeenat Aman before her. She was gorgeous and talented but did not work in many good films. Her best known films were Nakhuda and Naram Garam.  She became the small screen sweetheart of India with her immensely popular role in TV series "Yeh jo hai Zindagi".

I love this song a lot. It is written by Nida Fazli and set to music by Khayyan. Raj Kiran and Swaroop are like cherry on top of  the cake in this lovely song.

Here is a playlist of all the songs listed in this post.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rooftop Prince - 2012

Director: Shin Yoon-Sub
Writer: Lee Hee-Myung

The series starts with a Joseon Crown Prince Lee Kak (Mickey Yoochun) waking up in the middle of the night to find his wife missing from beside him.  The palace is thrown into a turmoil when she is discovered floating in the Royal Pond, drowned.

The Prince is devastated and is sure this is murder, not suicide. The court produces evidence of suicide and the King is satisfied. The Prince decides to conduct an inquiry on his own. He hires three young men who are known to be best in the area of their expertise.

Song Man-Bo (Lee Min-ho (junior)) has the sharpest brains in the Kingdom. Woo Yong-Sool (Jung Suk-Won) is a fighter. Do Chi-San (Choi Woo-Sik) is a cross-dresser who can wrest secrets from anywhere.

Along with these three men, Crown Prince attempts to solve the murder of his beloved wife Hwa-Yong (Jung Yoo-Mi). They get to work immediately.  Song Man-Bo deduces that the Princess was poisoned by using arsenic.  The four try to locate arsenic sellers in the Capital. They find that there is only one arsenic seller and he has been killed. On top of that, they are being chased with murderous intent. They are flung across a chasm and find themselves:

In a rooftop apartment in modern day Seoul.  The apartment belongs to Park Ha (Han Ji-Min). She is startled out of her wits at this sudden apparition and tries to shoo away the intruders. But she is stuck with them.

A few days later the Crown Prince spots Hong Se-Na (Jun Yoo-Mi again) who is the spitting image of his deceased wife.

The Prince feels he has been sent to the future for a reason. Maybe he is meant to unite with his wife one more time to discover why she died in her past life.  There was a modern version of him too, Yong Tae-Yong (Mickey Yoochun again) who is missing and presumed dead.

In the meantime he is having a very hard time with Park-Ha.  She does not understand that he is a royal personage and must be deferred to.  She treats him with disdain and is always ready to take him down a peg or two.  He does not recognize her as Boo-Yong (Han Ji-Min again) from the past, the girl who was his wife's sister.  Boo-Yong had a disfiguring scar on her face and always wore a veil.

Park Ha has to deal with the four interlopers from the past. Initially she thinks she is being conned. Eventually she realizes that the four young men are really from the past.  She can get along with the other three, but their Prince is a pain in the ass.  He is stuck up and keeps issuing orders.  She has to take this:

and turn them into this:

Most of the time the series are very funny, as the young men from the past try to adjust to modern age.  But the Prince is on a serious mission too, he has to find out why his wife was murdered.  He keeps pursuing Se-Na with an intent to woo her and marry her, but he also has deep feelings for his benefactress Park-Ha who has been mostly very kind to them.

He is sure that they landed up in the Rooftop apartment for a reason.  He wants to find out all the answers, but had to bide his time. In the meanwhile Yong Tae-Moo (Lee Tae-Sung) seems to thwart him at every chance he gets.

Slowly the pieces start falling together. Yet the Prince does not know for sure.  It is only when he sees a body floating in a lake, almost as if in a mirroring of the past, that realization dawns upon him.

The series are funny and poignant at the same time. The first and the last episodes are so action packed that you had better be prepared not to blink your eyes for the fear of missing anything.

Mickey Yoochun comes up trumps with his performance as the grief-stricken Prince at the start, to the puzzled and disoriented person trying to make sense of the future he is plonked in. Even after he masters the modern world, his insouciance when enjoying a sweet drink or eating instant noodles is touching.

Han Ji-Min is also wonderful as the girl who wants to help the Prince uncover the secrets of his past, but cannot help feeling jealous when he tries to woo Se-Na.

As the series progressed, I could not guess how it would all end.  Will the Prince go back or stay on in modern day Seoul? How can Park Ha go to the Joseon period when her counterpart - Boo-Young - is probably still alive? What will happen to Se-Na? Will SHE accompany the Prince to Joseon?

When the end did come, it was so well wrought that I was taken completely by surprise.  It was one the best endings I have seen in a drama.

Rooftop Prince was supposed to be the second Korean series that I watched.  My mother, who is a veteran of K-series sent this to me on a DVD.  It took a long time in getting to me, and when it did, the subtitles did not work.  I watched it online eventually, and was so captivated that I have almost seen it twice already.

After Faith, which will always be my first love, I liked this series the most.  It was fun and nice and had a very good script.  Mickey Yoochun is always a delight to watch, as is Han Ji Min.  I was thrilled to be able to recognize some of the character actors here.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

King and the Clown -2005

Yeonsan Gun (1476-1506) was the 10th King of Joseon Dynasty from 1494 to 1506.  He was said to be one of the most cruel kings ever.  He killed people without any compunction.  His mother was ordered to drink poison and commit suicide for the crime of killing other concubines out of jealousy.

Jang Sa Eng
During the rule of Yeonsan, there was a troupe of minstrels who put up acrobatic shows, tight rope walking along with ribald skits. The older one was Jang Saeng (Kam Woo Sung) and the other minstrel was Gong-gil (Lee Joon-Ki).  Gong gil has pretty looks and is able to portray a girl quite effortlessly.

Gong Gil

The headman of the village likes young boys and asks for Gong-gil to be sent to him.  The leader of the troupe agrees to that. Jang Saeng does not like it, we learn that this has been going on for a long time.  The leader often pimps Gong-gil for extra rations or money.  Gong-gil is used to it, but Jang Saeng fights for him.

In the ensuing fracas, the leader is killed and Gong-gil and Jang Saeng run off to Hanyang (present day Seoul).  There they meet up with another small troupe and start performing risque plays involving the King and his Concubine which are met with wholehearted audience approval.

The ribald Play

The King's Clerk Cheo Sin (Jang Hang-Seon) is not amused when he sees the play while passing by.  He gets the troupe arrested and flogged.  Captain - Jang Saeng - dares him to show their skit to the King.  If he laughs, they live, if he does not, they die.

Colorful dance

The King (Jung Jin-Young) is used to pretty cultural shows like this, not a nasty ribald comedy.  

The King and His Concubine

But despite the nervous performance by Captain's troupe, he laughs.  He is not just amused, he wants the troupe to stay and be the Royal Minstrels.  What the Captain's troupe don't know is that the King is unhinged and is quite likely to become violent.  Also, to Jang Saeng's consternation, he appears to like Gong Gil a bit too much.  The King's clerk seems to have an agenda as well.  He seems to want them to perform plays on controversial topics.

A Play about the poisoning of the Queen

The movie is about very strong bonds of friendship (perhaps even intimacy) between Jang-Saeng and Gong-gil.  The King - Yeonsan- is attracted to Gong-gil too.  Gong Gil likes being with the King because he gets to see the King's vulnerable side.  The three leads, Kam Woo Sung, Jung Jin Young and Lee Jun Ki put in stupendous performances.  They are required to love and hate each other at times and they do it wonderfully.

But it is the director Lee Jun ik who is the ultimate winner for putting together this wonderful tale.  Each scene is tight and well directed.  The script and dialogues (alas, I had to depend on the subtitles) are flawless.

The director chooses the audience to use their own imagination to make out what is going on.  There are never any 'leading' dialogues to make the audience think anything.  Only in one instance in the beginning - where Jang Saeng speaks about Gong-gil being regularly pimped (which was integral to the story, if you think of it) - is the audience directly 'told' something.

You, as a viewer, can choose to believe that Jang Saeng was intimate with Gong Gil, or not.  You can choose to believe that the King slept with Gong Gil, or not.  Even the last scene is very open ended and you may, if you wish, believe what you will.

This is what I loved best about the movie.  This is what makes it stand out so much from the usual fare that is dished out.

The cinematography is very good.  As it is a historical film, there are a lot of costumes and montages of flag waving and grandeur. Even the countryside is pretty and virgin (as it must have been in those times).

A special word about the background score. Fabulous. We are given silences, traditional pipes and drums and a beautiful tune to accompany the opening credits.  It is soothing and apt for a great movie like this one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Fatal Encounter - 2014

The Fatal Encounter is a South-Korean Film directed by Lee Jae Kyu and written by Choi Sung-Hyun.  The cinematograhy is by Go Nak Sun.

Background: King Jeongjo (1752-1800) was a ruler of Joseon dynasty who ruled from 1776-1800.  He was the son of Crown Prince Sado who died as a result of being enclosed in a rice chest for eight days. Sado was called a killer and a rapist and various ministers under the rule of his father Yeongjo asked for his elimination.  As a royal person could not be harmed, Sado was ordered to climb into a rice chest and was sealed inside till he died. Upon assuming the throne at the young age of 24, King Jeongjo tried to clear his father's name, he also survived several assassination attempts in the very first year of his rule.  This movie is an account of one of those attempts.

King Jeongjo (Hyun Bin) has a punishing schedule.  He wakes up very early and works out.  He also wears weights on his body to strengthen it.  He is a master archer and is good with a sword as well. He is a great scholar who spends most of his time reading.

His clerk, the eunuch, Gap Soo,(Jung Jye Young) is always with the king.  He was brought over to the palace as a young boy,  In fact, he is a trained assassin who was castrated and sent to the palace so he may one day aid in killing the king. Gap Soo becomes the young prince's playmate and is convinced that the king should not be killed.

There is a nasty Fagin like person Gwang Bae (Choe Jae-Hyun) who brings up little boys and girls and raises them among pits and caves.  He trains them to be assassins and hires them out for killing people for money.  He had trained Gap Soo.  Gap-Soo's brother in distress in those training pits was Eul-Soo (Cho Jung Seok).  He is now the best assassin that Gwang Bae has.  Gwang Bae wants him to go and assassinate the king.

Eul Soo is in love with the laundry maid in the palace, Wol Hye (Jung Eun-Chae).  All he wants is to go somewhere far away with his lady love and live a normal life.

Jeongjo's grandmother, Queen Jungsoon (Han Ji-Min) is a very young woman whom his grandfather married at the fag end of his career perhaps. She is one of Jeongjo's deadliest enemies.  She is always at loggerheads with the King's mother, the two women keep trying to diminish each other.

This movie covers one day in the life of the King Jeongjo.  It is very crucial for him as there is a huge conspiracy to kill him that he is not aware of.  Within 24 hours, we move back and forth in time, getting vital information about various characters.  There are several situations that crop up, there are threats of poisonings, killing contracts and palace coups planned.  How the King, along with his loyal retainers (few and far between), copes with them within a day's time is what the movie is all about.

The movie uses the 24-hour format for its story telling very intelligently. It forays into the past to expand upon the current scene now and then, when it has to explain why the character is behaving so, or why the character is feeling this way. It was particularly useful in establishing the relationship between the King and Gap Soo; between Gap Soo and Eul Soo; between Eul Soo and Wol Hye. It helps to flesh out a narrative which is otherwise very terse and focused.

It is beautifully filmed, full marks to the cinematographer and the director for composing lovely scenes.  The movie is full of wonderful action sequences, obviously as it is a near war like situation in the palace, It was no surprise to me, after having seen some great K-dramas, that the acting was so good all around.  All the actors put in great performances.

The cherry on top of the cake is Hyun Bin as the King Jeongjo.  The King is just 24 years old when he ascends the throne.  So a young Hyun Bin is the right age to depict the King.  Right at the start I drooled watching the toned body of Hyun Bin as he works out.  All through the movie, he maintains a grim (kingly?) visage which suits him so much.  He is the focal point of the movie and he delivers confidently.

I have just finished watching Sungkyunkwan Scandal, a Korean Drama.  Post completion I was reading up a bit on the Joseon King Jeonjo who was depicted in the series, when I ran into a reference to this movie and was piqued into watching it. I am mighty glad too, as it is a fabulous film that no movie lover should miss.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sungkyunkwan Scandal - 2010

The Jal-Geum Quartet
Sungkynkwan Scandal aired from August 2010 to November 2010,  It was described as a fusion historical drama. It was directed by Kim Won Suk and Hwang In Hyuk.  It was written by Kim Tae-Hee and Jeong Eung Wol.

I have seen some K-Drama over the past two years, they came highly recommended by my mother and friends. Hence it is no surprise that most of them were such winners for me. I have not yet viewed a series that I have disliked.  I found some a little slow here and there, but on the whole the experience has always been good.

Likewise, this series, Sungkyunkwan Scandal has been very satisfying.  There were times when I was laughing out loudly, or crying over the hurt being felt by the characters, or even going totally mushy over stolen kisses and sweet looks.

Kim Yun-Hee disguised as Kim Yun-Shik

Kim Yun-Hee (Park Min-Young) is a young girl of a poor family who disguises herself as a boy and uses the identity of her younger brother, Kim Yun-Shik to work and earn money.  This is the late 18th Century in Korea, under the ruler Jeonjo of Joseon Dynasty.  Women are not allowed to study (in schools) or work. The only way Yun-Hee can help her family is by working under disguise or getting married to a rich man who will provide help to her family.  The latter is not a feasible option for the feisty Yun-Hee.

Hence, she wears a man's garb and works for a bookshop copying books or writing work assignments for the students of the Sungkyunkwan School. In a bid to earn money to pay back a loan taken to buy medicines for her younger brother, she agrees to stand in for a candidate for an entrance exam to the prestigious Sungkyunkwan school. It is here that she runs into Lee Seon-Jun (Micky Yoo Chan).

Lee Seon-Jun

He is a very upright young man; he comes from a noble family and is slated for great things. His father is the Left State Minister. He is the head of the Noron faction and a very important aristocrat. His son has a very secluded life, he studies all the time and knows little of the real world.  He is didactic and, well, a complete prig, He pressurises Yun-Shik into taking the entrance exam, as he is so bright. He cannot imagine the havoc he has wrecked upon the girl, who is cornered into attending the school. Yun-Shik is finally convinced that attending school will be a good idea when she learns that her sibling will get free medicine and she will be able to avail of good food, lodgings and education. On the flip-side, she could be beheaded if it is discovered that she is masquerading as a boy.

At the school Yun-Shik is assigned to a dorm with two students.  One of them is Lee Seon-Jun and the other is Moon Jae-Shin.

Moon Jae-Shin
Moon Jae-Shin (Yoo Ah-In) has already had a run-in with Yun-Shik when he had saved her from some soldiers who were tormenting her.  He feigns to be a dull student, interested only in drinking and sleeping.  He has wild hair and wears rough clothes and a surly expression.  In fact, he is a vigilante plampheteer who sticks to the school to avoid scrutiny. Of late his pamphlets have been bringing up the matter of the lost Geumdeungjisa (a document that implicated some aristocrats in the killing of Prince Sado), and claiming that the thieves of this documents are the enemies of the nation. 

Because of this, many in the government are alarmed and want to hunt down the elusive Red Messenger.  He is beneath the facade of a bored senior, a very loyal person.  Once he warms up to his roommates he sticks with them and helps them.

Moon Jae-Shin's childhood friend, Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jung-Ki) is a busybody Puck like character. He has fastidious tastes and is well groomed.  He likes to do things that amuse him.  At the moment it amuses him to stick with the rag-tag group of Moon Jae-Shin, Kim Yoon-Shik and Lee Sun-Joon.  He guesses right away that Yoon-Shik is a girl, and often tries to trap her into revealing her secret.  He has a secret of his own which he guards just as jealously.  He happily becomes the fourth of the Jal-Geum Quartet that dares to defy the nasty and powerful Student President Ha In-Soo and later take on tasks for the King Jeong Jo.

Opposing the J4 is the nasty, mean, power hungry student president Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo). He is the son of the War Minister Ha who is a corrupt and self-serving official.  In Soo is a bully and hates to be defied.  He has constant run-ins with the J4 and is constantly trying to undermine them.  He is in love with the beautiful Gisaeng Cho Sun.  She shows a marked preference for Yoon-Shik which makes him want to take down Yoon-shik even more.

Cho Sun

The main premise of the series is a comic look at the life of school-kids in the 18th Century.  The story contains several real historical facts.  The Joseon King Jeongjo really did rule over the second half of the 18th Century, and he really did implement many changes in the social structure.  The aristocracy was divided among the factions of  Sorons and Norons, who were always at loggerheads with each other. It was only the noblemen who had any say in the society, the common man was trodden upon. The King tried to make the society more equal.

The series takes on the issue of social inequality of those times.  The poor get poorer and have no choice but to indulge in crime to make the ends meet.  Yoon-Shik has lived among the poor and faced discrimination not only on the basis of gender, but also poverty.  She knows about the issues that dog the common people.  Jae-Shin belongs to the less powerful Soron faction and has seen his brother die because he tried to carry out a task that was detrimental to the Norons.  He is also trying to aim towards a more equal society.  Yong-Ha has money but has seen the life at close quarters and he is also sympathetic towards the under-dogs.  Sun-Jeon is an upright young man who will side with the right side no matter what.

There are a couple of episodes in the series when the homophobia practised in those times comes under a scanner.  The strong feminist tones are to be expected as the heroine is trying to make the best of her life despite being a woman in times when the woman had practically no rights.  The only way they could hope for a good life was to snag a good man.

These are weighty issues.  But do not think the series a dull and preachy watch.  Right from the start of the series, each episode is full of energy and draws you in.  There is a lot of comedy around the lead character - Sun Joon who is basically a prig. He has no social skills and seems a good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome.  He smiles seldom and utters only platitudes. He is so consistent in this, that it becomes a form of comedy.  Mickey Yoochan comes up trumps with this wonderful portrayal.

One can imagine all the kind of messes that the heroine Yoon-Shik keeps getting into, being a woman in disguise.  She has to initially sleep between two men and has a tough time taking a bath. The slaps on the back the other guys keep giving her and the casual arm around the shoulder, all add to her discomfort.  On top of that, the top Gisaeng falls for her.  Then there is the problem of love she cannot express her love for Sun-Joon without being taken for a homosexual.

It is towards the fag end that the series lost a bit of their energy for me.  One reason for that could be the bad subtitling which I have to rely on understand what's going on.  The other could be the sudden slowing down of the story.

The lead actors deliver a standout performance. Micky Yoochan, I have already mentioned.  He makes you love a prig who pontificates all the time. Park Min Young is the cement of the story.  She is the one who binds the F4 together.  She is the catalyst who makes a robotic Sun Joon human.  And she lives up to the demands of the role.