This entry is brought to you by The Association of Subcontinent India (ASI; pronounced Aay-See) and The Coalition for the Advancement of Bollywood in the Western Hemispheres (CABWH; pronounced Cah-bee-wah).
Actually, this blog is for my sister, Janeen, who came here this morning thinking perhaps I'd posted something about an epic film she and I saw on Friday at the Freer Gallery, only to discover I hadn't. Funny, funny Neen. Well, here's your blog!
For those who don't know my sister, Janeen, she is one of the most well-rounded and interesting people I know. She's also the most curious person in our family. In her 33 years, Neen has tried a number of the things the rest of us are either too lazy or too sloppy to really get into. She's also tried things others are too busy or too scared to venture.
For example, Janeen was an aquarist for a while. She decided she wanted an aquarium. But not just your typical 10 gallon, eight fish, four fake plants and a pirate ship aquarium. We're talking 80 gallons and 40 gallons, respectively. We're talking lots of reading and talking to experts and researching online. We're talking fresh water fish from Brazil, Africa, and the U.S. We're talking fish with hormones that bred and had a school of more than 200 other little fishes.
Janeen--the one who ended up serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in, of all places, Hong Kong, where she ate things like tripe and cobra soup and fish eyes and things that are precisely why I didn't go to Hong Kong and I ended up in a place like Austria.
Janeen--who is a self-taught driver. She has two speeds: Granny and Luge. It's one or the other. There is no in-between. When you're with her in a car and she's driving, you're either taking your time and toodling or you're hell bent for leather and God help the soul who gets in your way.
And now, her latest thing is all things India and Hindi. Seems a friend put her on to Bollywood movies. (That's the other thing to know about Janeen. She loves movies and she has a DVD collection that is unparelleled. At least, in my universe, anyway. I think she has almost 600 DVDs and it grows daily.) She's currently taking a course in Hindi at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (In addition to speaking French, Russian, and Cantonese.)
So, on Friday, we went to the Freer Gallery, as I mentioned, to see the Indian classic, Umrao Jaan (1981, directed by Muzaffar Ali.) Set in the 1840s in Lucknow, the story is of a young girl who is kidnapped and carried off to become a courtesan. As with the geisha of Japan, Umrao Jaan is educated and trained in the arts of poetry, music, and dance. She falls in love with an aristocrat but is denied the right to marry him because he must marry his cousin. Umrao Jaan leaves the brothel with someone I can only describe as "The Man in Black" (this movie is like watching a Cowboys and Indians movie, but with real Indians!) He begins to ride off into the sunset with her, only to chased by the local sheriff and his posse and gunned down. Umrao Jaan goes back to her brothel, but when the British arrive in India, she returns to Lucknow, where she is briefly reunited with her mother and banished by her brother.
Bollywood films have a tendency to be rather long and could do with a little editing, but the poetry, song, and dance in this film was quite stunning. Given the age of the film, it was a lot like looking at old issues of National Geographic. There's a new version of the film in theaters now and stars Ashiwarya Rai--one of India's most beautiful and famous Bollywood stars.
If you're living in the D.C. area and you want to see a Bollywood film based on a piece of classic literature, see Umrao Jaan at Loehmann's Plaza in Annandale.
P.S. Janeen: Two words: Casino Royale.
Photos: 1981 poster for Umrao Jaan (top) and 2006 poster for Umrao Jaan (bottom.)