It may seem an odd choice for a holiday
season dominated by Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, but
BAMcinematek’s latest film series, "Bollywood Shuffle"
- a collection of nine recent films from India - is a perfect
These "Bollywood" films are filled with the universally embraced themes of filial devotion, tradition and faith - albeit to predominantly Hindu deities.
The films are largely escapist fare with lavish musical numbers and innumerable exquisite, colorful costumes - worn by spectacularly beautiful actresses with eyes as big as saucers - that have lately influenced the design of everything in America from women’s fashion to home furnishings.
The series also includes an art film of sorts - Buddhadev Dasgupta’s gloomy, uncluttered, S-L-O-W-paced "Tale of a Naughty Girl (Manda Meyer Upakhyan)," about the slim prospects for the daughter of a manipulative, selfish prostitute in 1969 (Dec. 12 at 2, 4:30, 6:50 and 9:10 pm) and a documentary, Anand Patwardhan’s film about the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, "War and Peace (Jang Aur Aman)" - screening Dec. 19 at 2, 5 and 8 pm].
My favorite film in this series was the soap opera-like Shah Rukh Khan vehicle, "Devdas" (2002), directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Set in the early 20th century, the film is replete with star-crossed lovers (Khan as the title character, an anti-hero with pillow lips, and Aishwarya Rai as his childhood sweetheart Paro) and a hooker with a heart of gold (Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi) in a love triangle mirroring the mythical relationships between Krishna, Radha and Meera.
"Devdas" also has the strong mother-and-son relationship that is typical of the films in this series. Based on the 1917 novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhye, "Devdas" is an epic love story set in sumptuous surroundings. It screens Dec. 20 at 2 pm and 7 pm.)
"Sometimes Joy, Sometimes Sorrow (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham)," Karan Johar’s 2001 film also stars the ubiquitous actor Shah Rukh Khan as the son, Rahul, who - after making a jaw-droppingly dramatic entrance via helicopter - refuses to marry the girl his father approves of, setting off a pitched battle that rends the family apart.
The film was riveting until the intermission. After that, the story switches to London where disowned Rahul has run with his new wife, Anjali (the irrepressible Kajol) and her flirtatious younger sister, Pooja (Kareena Kapoor). The blockbuster - also known as K3G - screens Dec. 13 at 2 pm and 7 pm.
For most kooky, family-friendly Indian film, the award goes to Rakesh Roshan’s "I Found Someone (KoiMil Gaya)," a rare (in India) sci-fi flick, which stars Hrithik Roshan. He plays Rohit, the son of a scientist who makes contact with aliens and abruptly dies. Rohit is a mentally disabled, likeable young misfit who manages to win the love of the beautiful, smart Nisha (Preity Zinta) as well as the friendship of the blue alien Jadoo (Magic).
The film pays homage to "Star Wars," "Saturday Night Fever," "The Sound of Music" and "E.T."
The leap of faith that the script requires from the viewer is just short of cruel, but it succeeds, in part, because of the great performances. (Dec. 14 at 3 pm and 7 pm.)
Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2001 film "Lagaan" is one for the boys - boys who love cricket that is. The fate of a small village rests on a wager made over the outcome of a cricket match between British officers (the title refers to taxes in the form of grain) and an Indian team led by Bhuvan, played by Aamir Khan (akin to a young Frankie Avalon).
The hero is not afraid to cry, is a dutiful son to his mother, encourages the town to band together and unknowingly wins the affection of a British woman named Elizabeth (Rachel Shelly), who defies her masochistic brother, Capt. Russell (Paul Blackthorne), to secretly coach Bhuvan and his team in cricket.
Unfortunately for this viewer, the baffling rules of cricket made this nearly four-hour film a snoozer for me. (Dec. 6 at 2 pm and 7 pm.)
Santosh Sivan’s 2001 "Asoka," also starring (you guessed it!), Shah Rukh Khan as the title character is loosely based on the third emperor of the Mauryan Empire (325-184 BC). "Asoka" is a violent warlord whose love for a princess causes him to renounce his ways, but not before waging (R-rated) bloody battles.
"Asoka" has a lovely patina to it, setting it apart from the saturated colors of many Bollywood films. Unfortunately the modern musical numbers, including one where Princess Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) appears to be dancing a tribute to Tina Turner in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," detracts from the film, which is set in ancient times. There are also jarring moments of comic relief, in an otherwise intense, intrigue-filled story, courtesy of the dunce, Virat (Danny Denzongpa). (Dec. 7 at 3 pm and 7 pm.)
But the series isn’t solely committed to song-and-dance extravaganzas. Ram Gopal Varma’s 2003 film "Bhoot," which opens the series on Dec. 5 at 2 pm, 4:30 pm, 6:50 pm and 9:10 pm, is a ghost story without either.
Here’s hoping that variations of this Indian film series - like the holidays - return to BAMcinematek for years to come.
Oh, and don’t forget to call your mother.
Not able to be viewed by press time: Rajkumar Santoshi’s "The Legend of Bhagat Singh" (2002) will be screened Dec. 21 at 3 pm and 7 pm.
"Bollywood Shuffle: Nine Recent Films From India" will be screened at BAMcinematek (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) Dec. 5-21. All of the films are in Hindi with English subtitles. Tickets are $10. For more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit the Web site at www.bam.org.