Sunday, December 27, 2009

Box Office Ki Raani: Katrina versus Priyanka, Round 2

Aishwarya Rai's marriage to Abhishek and the subsequent brakes she voluntarily put on her career resulted in a gap - a huge one - at the top. Several actresses were in pole position to make a bid for #1 (Kareena, Bipasha, Rani, Preity), which admittedly for female actresses remains a nebulous distinction (for e.g. its not necessarily tied to box office clout). The two most interesting contenders were relative newcomers: Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra.

They've both gone about climbing the ranks with distinctly different career choices. The results were neck and neck in 2008. But in 2009, one actress pulled ahead. Its interesting to take a closer look at their career arcs because it results in an examination of Bollywood trends.

Katrina Kaif Priyanka Chopra Kareena RaniKatrina's breakthrough hit was Namastey London (Akshay Kumar, 2007). She has followed that up with a series of roles in movies starring tried and tested box office luminaries. In effect, she's been happy to play prop or second or third cog in the wheel. The strategy resulted in a really good year in 2008 - Katrina logged blockbusters with WelcomeRace, and Singh is Kinng. She became an instant internet goddess and a contender for Aishwarya's vacant position at the top.

Priyanka, on the other hand, made significantly different choices. She chose to sign fairly meaty roles - often at the risk of casting herself as the main draw opposite lesser known actors (remember Love Story 2050? No, well ok). Wisely (or un-suicidely, take your pick), she also made sure she signed up with big name actors. But this mixed strategy seemed to be going wrong last year (Drona, God Tussi Great Ho) until the arrival of Fashion, which not only delivered the biggest hit of Priyanka's career - but did so entirely on the back of Priyanka's name and performance. This was significant: was Priyanka on the way to becoming a star of Aishwarya's standing, tapping into a female demographic thus far inaccessible to most other female stars?

Priyanka's box office momentum was cemented by Dostana late last year, but a single movie ne kiye kare par paani pher diya. That unfortunate distinction belongs to What's your Raashee - a movie that would have vaulted Priyanka to the top because she would ended up with all the credit had Raashee not crashed and burned in cinemas.

Katrina, on the other hand, was happy to motor along as a part of the larger picture. Her strategy delivered a steady stream of hits in 2009: New York, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and De Dana Dan. None of her roles were particularly memorable or often less than one-dimensional, but nevertheless they clearly vaulted her to the top.

I'm left with the feeling that although Katrina delivered an impressive year, Priyanka delivered the more memorable one. It makes you wish that her bold choices - the bravery here is relative - are rewarded. Here, she has a problem. If she continues to headline movies she will have to hit her target demographic - which has to be women (box office rules dictate that men won't go to see a movie headlined by women unless vampires or tightly fitted leather outfits are involved). But to hit that demo she needs the help of female directors, who can tell the stories to connect with female audiences. She has none on the horizon - and the few who exist have had to be so much smarter than the men, that they've intellectualized themselves out of the range that can deliver a mainstream hit.

Priyanka has a couple of movies lined up with the Akthar family (Kismet Talkies - with a female director Zoya Akhtar) and Farhan Akhtar's Don 2 (one of the more memorable female roles in popcorn Indian cinema). Katrina's next big project is the multi-starrer Rajneeti (Ranbir, Ajay Devgun).

Let the games begin!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The great Indian snaan trick

Just the other week the Drift Memsaab and I were on a long international flight. Memsaab decided to hang out at the back of the airplane, drink some chai and do general gup shup with the flight attendants.

Just as she is settling in, she notices a man dart into the toilet. While lolling around the Memsaab keeps track of time. 10 minutes go by and the man still hasn't emerged from the sandhaas. 20 minutes go by. No sign of the dude. When the duration hit 30 minutes, the Memsaab thought it prudent to point this out to the Attendant in case the man had suffered a stroke or other illness that might have rendered him motionless in the toilet.

The Attendant rolls her eyes and knocks on the door. There is an affirming grunt from behind the door. Then nothing. At least all seems well.

Another 10 minutes go by. Finally the door opens and the man comes out and runs off. The Memsaab decides to use the toilet. To her astonishment she finds water EVERYWHERE! Its all over the sink, the potty, the floor and the mirror. Memsaab comes out and decides to consult with the Attendant.

"Why is there water everywhere?" she asks.

The Attendant peers into the toilet, smiles and says: "Oh, sometimes we find that people try to take a bath in here"

SAY WHAT?! This revelation stunned me. Even when the Memsaab was guffawing telling me this story, I could barely crack a smile. Its not that I was particularly astonished by this - after all, people are capable of anything. But the mechanics of it bamboozled me. I questioned the Memsaab extensively and nope, the man did not seem to carrying any mug, lotaa or other receptacle in which water could be accumulated.

This means that for a bath the only instruments available to the chap were the 6oz paper cups or his cupped hands which would hold even less. So the man went in there - took off some or all of his clothes and in that super cramped space, proceeded to wash himself - 6 oz at a time. Someone who can't take a bath and hop on a 14 hour flight without feeling compelled to clean himself extensively again in mid-flight is truly committed to CLEAN!

Once I had this picture in my head - I was able to entertain myself endlessly throughout the flight by conjuring up the image on demand. Thus I was saved from having to watch Paying Guests on the in-flight "International" channel.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Drift Bollywood Music Entertainers of 2009

You could distinctly sense a change in Bollywood music in 2009. Soundtracks in 2008 came packed with 'hits' - songs that could be used in promos to veil the lack of a plot, showcase the stars and put people in seats with the promise of glamor and glitz. This year, OSTs began to mature a bit - focusing on songs that critics not too long ago would have dismissed as 'situational'.

We'll talk more about this change some other time, but for now here are the artists who entertained me hugely this year. My heartfelt gratitude to them for a terrific musical year.

Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Composers and makers of diverse, enduring songs for London Dreams and Wake Up Sid

A hugely talented, paagal and personable composer once told me "There is AR Rahman and then there is the rest of us". This year, SEL pulled ahead of the rest to ensconce themselves as the #2 composers in Bollywood.

They did this by delivering a powerful and poignant soundtrack for the movie London Dreams. Combining elements of arena rock with North Indian folk music (think lots of guitars and dhols), SEL deftly manipulated our emotions after setting up shop in our ears.

Earlier on the OST of Wake Up Sid, they changed their style to such an extent that they were unrecognizable. But the results were just as entertaining. WUS remains the best indiepop album recorded in Bollywood.

Sure Pritam had more hits than SEL - but SEL matured their sound this year into something original and unique.

(Thanks to Ehsaan for the awesome SEL pic)

Composer and manufacturer of high profile hits from Love Aaj Kal, All the Best, De Dana Dan, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Tum Mile

In 2009 important things (good and bad) seemed to happen to Pritam. Accusations of lifting tunes crawled to a near stop - in other words, Pritam grew in confidence and originality. Ironically, he stagnated - churning out tunes that were interchangeable between movies.

Still its hard to deny he had a huge year. He continued to operate in his customary fifth gear (dance songs) or first gear (ballads) with little in between - but he did those really well, cranking out the biggest tunes of the year.

Relying on delicious guitar licks, he created lead promo singles for Love Aaj Kal (Aahun Aahun), All the Best (Mein Jitni Martaba), Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (Mein Tera Dhadkan Teri) and De Dana Dan (Gale Lag Ja).

Just when you thought he had played out his game, he delivered the finest set of ballads this year with the gorgeous CD for Tum Mile.

Vishal Bhardwaj, Hitesh Sonik, Clinton Cerejo
The music team of Kaminey

Mid-year Kaminey fired up the Indian music scene with its signature single - Dhan Te Nan (Vishal Dadlani, Sukhwinder Singh).

Essentially three compositions spliced together into six songs, the Vishal Bhardwaj composed Kaminey delivered art and commerce in one coiled package. Mohit Chauhan sang the overlooked rock ballad Pehli Baar Mohabbat, Sukhwinder performed trademark vocal duties on the club bhajan Fatak and Rekha Bhardwaj and Sunidhi Chauhan blended their voices seamlessly and melodiously on Raat Ke Dhai Baje.

Fittingly Kaminey remains the first OST in Indian music to pay tribute to its musical contributors with producers credits (Sonik, Cerejo) on the CD cover.

Neeraj Shridhar
Singer and Relentless Hit Machine

Neeraj Shridhar sing songs primarily for Pritam. But Pritam had a banner year and Neeraj rode that wave to deliver a seemingly endless stream of hits - more than any other singer in Bollywood this year.

Neeraj has a few attributes that makes him stand out. He has a voice quality that is distinct and interesting. His voice is commercial. And he can sing in angrezi with panache.

His best work this year was on Billu (Love Mera Hit Hit), Love Aaj Kal (Twist, Chor Bazaari), Kambakkht Ishq (Lakh Lakh), Do Knot Disturb (Bebo), Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (Prem Ki Naiya), Dhoondhte Reh Jaoge (Yeh Aane Wala Pal) and Tum Mile (title track).

Shreya Ghoshal
Singer and Emergent Queen Bee of Bollywood Music

Shreya Ghoshal came into the year with a reputation as one of India's best soundtrack vocalists. But her mainstream reputation was based on her work on more traditional songs with jiggling, high Hindustani notes.

In 2009, Shreya set about correcting that by expanding her genre considerably. Called on to sing more than just sweet-voiced songs, she was tested on tracks that required her to sing in lower and straighter notes. Take the OST of Blue for example on which Shreya delivered three songs in different genres that broke from her usual portfolio: Aaj Dil Gustakh Hai (Nu Jazz), Fiqrana (Rock-Pop) and Rehnuma (Jazz).

What else did she do? How about beginning the journey to fill the considerable void left behind by Lata Mangeshkar, mounting a serious challenge to Sunidhi Chauhan as Bollywood's #1 female voice and singing flagship songs for virtually every music composer of note in the Indian film industry.

Vishal Dadlani
Singer and all-round Rock Star

We've talked about Vishal's ascent as one of Bollywood's go-to rocktastic singers. See here for more on why he is on this list.

A R Rahman
Composer, Delhi-6

ARR's Blue might not count as his best work, although his bravado entertained me for sure. Earlier this year he gave us one of his finest Bollywood CDs - the memorable Delhi-6.

Powered by Mohit Chauhan's unforgettable single Masakalli, the OST was full of typically diverse ARR gems: Rekha Bhardwaj's folksy traipse Genda Phool, Rahman's own brat pack ditty - the hugely underrated Rehna Tu and Ash King's soul-tinged Dil Gira Dafatan.

And ah yes, he won a few international awards (Oscar, Golden Globe) and although that wasn't for music he did this year, it sure was fun to watch!

Singer, Dil Ibaadat

KK makes it to my list for one specific reason. I've always been on the fence about him: did that perfect near-monotone pitch drain his singing of emotion and make him a lesser singer?

On the soundtrack for Tum Mile, KK sang the greatest ballad of 2009 (Dil Ibaadat) and infused it with so much pain and passion that he made me feel all wimpy for a week and compelled me retract my opinion. The pleasure was all mine.

Also: Last year's Drift Music Entertainers.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

How to deal with Tiger's Wood by guest blogger Sqeamish Reshammiya

Namaste, Salaam aley kum, Marhaba, Hujambo, Konichiwa and wasup, my fans all over the world! You must be thinking: what is Squeamish doing on this phaltu blog? Well, no true fan of mine is too little important for me. After all, six crore paychecks are built Rs 100 ticket at a time.

Now when I was invited to write for this blog I was very sad about how one of my favorite athletes was being made badnaam. Yes, Tiger Woods is a true Sher Khan - he is a player on and off the field. So I want to give him advice. This is great promo for my movie Radio where I play a DJ who gives everyone advice.

What advice can I give him, right? We are so not similar, right? Wrong! We are very similar!

We have both been blessed with talent by God! I have composed no less than 300 super hit songs and Tiger Woods has won hundreds of tournaments. He is a true superstar like me. Women throw themselves at our feet. See, physically our situation is similar also. I am handsome but don't have a body-shody. Tiger has a kadak body, but the man is ugly. After all, women really come to us because of our world fame only.

Besides I have watched my brother Sullen Khan do this so many times I have learnt from the best. (Ballerina bhaabhi maafi, Sullenbhai has improved a lot after he met you). So here is my advice to Tigerbhai. It is short, sweet and simple.

You are screwed. Know it but admit nothing. That is correct mere dost - don't ever admit you messed around with all those women. If you do, it'll hound forever. Your sponsors will drop you. It is ALL ABOUT EMOTION, you see. Worse, you'll have to stop line maroing every chick you see in a bar!

Create an alias when calling women. When you use mobile, don't say "Hello this is Tiger...phalaan dhiknaa". What ghadhaa does that?! Instead use an alias from a completely different sport like say cricket. Yes, call yourself FirstSlip! Then your message to your mashooka will be "This is FirstSlip, turn off your caller id so my wife won't know you are calling!" Now you tell me, can she sell THAT voice mail to US Weekly?

Save your mashooka's number in your mobile. Yes, I know it sounds crazy but do it! Nothing makes the wife more suspicious than seeing an unknown number - especially one you answered! So save the number and give it a name: like "Charlie Sheen"! No, wait bad idea. How about "Shakti Kapoor"! $%&*! sorry, the brain isn't working much right now. Well, name her after the street she grew up and the name of her first pet. That always works.

Finally, my bhai - read THIS article very carefully to learn from another master.

I'll be dedicating my next song "Teraa Kusoor" to you as a sign of my support.

God bless, Squeamish.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Videonama 2: The inside story of Himesh Reshammiya's 'Mann Ka Radio'

A few days ago, the Drift did an incisive analysis of the video for Kurbaan Hua. The next day a B-list Bollywood insider sent me an email and said "You are possibly the dumbest blogger with a laptop on the planet!" This encouragement stirred me up - enough to do another Videonama - this time involving my favorite singer and gujju brother: Himesh Reshammiya.

In the opening shot of the Mann Ka Radio video, Himesh trudges in. He is followed by a profusely sweating black woman whose breasts are flouncing like crazy. Himesh, inexplicably un-sweaty and with a smug expression on his face, continues his waddle forward.

There are two ways to interpret this: (a) Himesh has just done his business with the woman and is walking off, leaving another satisfied lover behind OR (b) Himesh has just beaten a black woman in a 100m sprint.

Either way two things are clear: (a) Himesh leaves black women in his dust AND (b) our man doesn't have sweat glands

Himesh walks straight into a roomful of nubile, writhing women who love his song and throw him meaningful, come-hither glances. But what does our man do? HE IGNORES THEM! Instead, wearing an expression of poetic sadness, he transfixes his gaze on something far beyond what the eye can see. Thus, Himesh conveys to us that carnal desires and pencil-thin East European chicks mean nothing to him. It is TRUE LOVE he is seeking.

Wait, what's this? Passion has arisen in Himesh. He's grabbing the mike like there's no tomorrow. Could Himesh have finally found his TRUE LOVE? Could it be....his own voice?!

Himesh is shamelessly being romanced by the studio. At one point a video monitor in the studio shows Himesh flanked by Sonal Sehgal on either side, only to be replaced by Himesh flanked by himself. My interpretation was that the studio had become sentient and was loving Himesh right back. The video ends with Himesh cosily ensconced in some futuristic harness with a microphone and earphones. Our man has come home to his love.

The powerful underlying message in this video is that true love doesn't have to always involve men, women, farm animals or inflatable material. True love could be between a man and machinery that loves him unconditionally and thus brings out the best in him.

Radio opens Dec 3. Good luck to everyone associated with the film!