03 July 2008

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag; Not a Review

I have seen many, many Bollywood films where the characters either mention other Bollywood stars who are not in the movie, or where the filmmakers include random gratuitous cameos by other stars (usually in a song, but not always) who just seemed to have popped by the set for a minute, or where the film itself references another movie, or where a song from another movie is used in the background or sung by a character. In fact, I would say most Bollywood movies I've seen incorporate at least one of these elements, and sometimes more than one.

Random examples I can think of right now include Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna's "Simran!" moment, Kal Ho Naa Ho (Rani and Kajol's two-second appearances in "Maahi Ve"; Daadii pinches the boy's cheeks and tells him he looks just like Rakesh Roshan and is corrected: "Hrithik Roshan! Stop it Daadii!") and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Abhishek says "...our Bachchan!" when he and Preity are talking about Madame Tussaud's; the side-car motorcycle ride; Abhishek's "Hey Handsome!" ringtone; the "she's no Miss World!" line*). In Nanhe Jaisalmer, the entire premise of the movie is that the boy Nanhe is friends with Bobby Deol, as played by himself, Bobby Deol--which is really, really weird. And as a side note, I think it was in Bluffmaster! where someone has a line about Shah Rukh Khan and Bipasha Basu as movie stars, and the subtitles translate their names as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (not even close, but whatever).

So I was not surprised when a film crew comes to Rani Mukherjee and Konkona Sen Sharma's family's crumbling mansion in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and one of the first things that the younger sister Konkona asks the film assistant girl is, "Have you met Shah Rukh?" And it's quite funny a short time later when Rani's about to get on the train to Bombay and Konkona yells to her, "Get me a picture of Mannat!" and then has to explain to their mother (Jaya Bachchan) that Mannat is Shah Rukh Khan's bungalow in Bombay. The Shah Rukh referencing doesn't stop, though. Later, when she reaches Bombay, Rani is confronted with a giant billboard advertising Chak De! India.

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag 2 Shah Rukh Khan

You can hardly pick out any of the people on the street in the screencap below but Rani's orange outfit matches the orange of the billboard.Laaga Chunari Mein Daag 1 Rani Mukherjee

Somehow, the fact that you have the visual of Shah Rukh's face taking up half the screen and half the billboard (as opposed to the previous mentions in the movie, where you just hear his name being spoken by the characters) makes the whole thing even more surreal.

But the part that made me choke on my chai this morning was where Rani opens the door to the downstairs neighbor boy who brings in a case of beer and then starts singing "Where's the Party Tonight?" at her. A song she was in! With Shah Rukh Khan!

Now, I'm not complaining. I thought it was funny. But I still haven't decided if I think the wink-winkness of all these moments is a good or bad thing on the whole. On the one hand, it's kind of fun to think about. On the other hand, It takes you out of the film most of the time. And it's almost too much for me to handle sometimes (brain-exploding-wise), having that extra layer of meta-movie connections and relationships to think about as well what's going on in the movie itself.

***Sidenote(s): That said, and speaking of cameos, Hema Malini has an item number (!), close to the beginning of the movie, and she's great. I hadn't researched this movie beforehand, so I didn't really know who exactly was in it. I did know that Abhishek Bachchan was in the film (properly, not a cameo), but it was quite a while before he finally appeared on screen, and I had kind of forgotten--so when he did, I accidentally let out a squeal.***

But back to the referencing, I suppose in the interest of realism (such as it is), if you are going to include references to a movie star in a film that has at least some reason to refer to a movie star (any movie star), you may as well pick a real one--and a big one. It's like when a tv show tries to make a can of pop look like a can of Coke without actually showing a can of Coke. It's red and it has white lines on it. What else could it be? Everyone knows what you are trying to show without you actually showing it, so why not show the real thing? It would be disingenuous not to. But then there's sort-of realism (picking Shah Rukh Khan as the big movie star that you happen to refer to in your movie because he happens to be a big movie star--and if the film were really real life, there's a good chance that's who a real girl might have mentioned) and there's the surrealism of having the characters refer to Shah Rukh Khan as a movie star when you know very well he and one of the characters in the movie you are watching have starred in at least six other movies together. Bollywood is such a small world. But that's a discussion for another time.

In the meantime, I'll just leave you with this bit of goofiness:

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag 7 Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee (2)

*Or whatever it is. I tried to find it but couldn't, so if anyone wants to correct me, go ahead.


  1. I haven't thought about this a lot, but I wonder if it's just as common in Hollywood but I don't notice it because that's my baseline celebrity set - that is, it doesn't strike me when someone says "he's no Brando" because "Brando" is a person and concept I grew up having a sense of. (Do not try to diagram that sentence.)

  2. As Beth says, I dont notice it much in Hollywood - probably because most of the time I dont know what they are referring to as I am not very familiar with Hollywood. The TV series Remington Steele (Pierce Brosnan's first big hit) had several references to old Hollywood movies and every episode was actually a take-off of an old Hollywood mystery.

    In Bollywood though, such references are very common. There was Jaya Bhaduri's Hindi debut Guddi which had Dharmendra playing himself - maybe Bobby got it from his Dad!

  3. I think in Bollywood, though, they take particular pleasure in highlighting the ironies of movie connections (and I take particular pleasure in noticing them). [Hollywood="whatever!" but Bollywood="Eeeeeeeee!!!"]

  4. I'm such a nerd. I think they're so fun; I do a little hop in my seat and squeal whenever I (finally!) catch a filmi reference. Like in Dil Chahta Hai, half my enjoyment of Woh Ladki Hai Yahaan was that I got at least half of what they were making fun of.