13 for 2013 – The Year’s Best Music! (Bollywood)

My favorite music from 2013, arranged in no particular order.

Titli (Chennai-Express)

Once in a while, megastar Shahrukh Khan comes around with yet another mindless movie that reminds you of his Ram Jaane days (Yes, we haven’t forgotten). In Chennai Express, our Rahul is over 40 and relies mostly on repeating ad-nauseam scenes from Bollywood movies we still find endearing, killing all our nostalgia for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in the process. Add Rohit Shetty type Golmaal action to it, and you appease an audience that cannot sit through more arms and legs swaying in the wind romantic sequences. Still, it’s on Netflix and a good introduction to what real masala Bollywood movies are all about. I must admit that it was entertaining once I shut off my brain.

Tum Tak (Raanjhana)

Dhanush (of Why this Kolaveri Di? fame) is so endearing in his first debut Bollywood movie that his uncomfortable, aggressive, one-sided love for Sonam Kapoor’s character has been welcomed as a sweet, love story. Shobha De says the movie glorifies stalking and I tend to agree, but it is worth a watch, if only for the performances and A.R. Rahman’s music. It’s definitely one of the better soundtracks of the year.

Khalbali (3G)

3G is supposed to be a horror movie but the soundtrack is actually soothing, melodious and nothing resembling horror. Under-rated composer Mithoon is back with a full album after a long while, and he delivers some memorable tracks. It’s definitely one of the better soundtracks of the year. I have a playlist of only Mithoon on Spotify if anyone wants to listen to more of his sufi-influenced music.

Be Intehaan (Race 2)

Pakistani singer, Atif Aslam, gets better with each Bollywood song. However, Race 2, a sequel to Race, is barely tolerable.

Jeene Laga Hoon (Ramaiya Vastavaiya)

Jeene Laga Hoon is another romantic Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal song, which ruled the charts this year, despite a lackluster movie.

Tum Hi Ho (Aashiqui 2)

I remember Aashiqui in 1990. I recall how Rahul Roy, a talentless hack with a cool haircut, became the new face of Bollywood over-night, if only for a short while. The original Aashiqui boasted of terrible acting, a weak plot, and the same old contrived formula of yesteryear’s romance: two people loved each other but their parents didn’t agree to it so they eloped. The movie was a hit only due to the splendid soundtrack. So when I heard there was an Aashiqui 2, I groaned inwardly about why terrible movies needed sequels but then I heard the crooning voice of Arjit Singh in “Tum Hi Ho” and Shreya Ghoshal in “Sunn Raha Hai” and I gave in. Aashiqui 2 was also a hit, mostly due to the music. Next time, they should just release the Aashiqui 3 soundtrack alone, and save us the torture of sitting through the movies.

Meethi Boliyaan (Kai Po Che)

Up and coming Amit Trivedi is one of the most under-rated Indian musicians. He composed three songs for Kai Po Che, and all of them are brilliant, with Meethi Boliyaan being a personal favorite. The movie, Kai Po Che, is available for streaming on Netflix, and is worth a watch.

Balam Pichkari and Kabira (Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani)

Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani is one of my favorite movies. The movie boasts of a superb soundtrack by Pritam so it was hard to pick just one song. I picked Balam Pichkari because our generation desperately needed a holi song. How long are we supposed to listen to Rang Barse?

And with its haunting lyrics, Kabira is easily the best song of the year. I do wonder where Pritam lifted these tracks from but maybe they are original compositions for once.

Sawaar Loon (Lootera)

Is that a song from the 1950s? Well, the movie is set in the 1950s and the music harkens back to the days of Rahul Dev Burman, evoking nostalgia for many of our parents. I watched Lootera during one of my trips to New York, and loved the subtlety and simplicity of it.

Ambarsariya (Fukrey)

Ambarsariya is a Punjabi song from the movie Fukrey, a low-budget caper with heart and substance. Through Fukrey, Amit Trivedi also introduced Bollywood to Dubstep, which may or may not be a good thing. The movie was also a good time-pass, and there are rumors about a sequel.

Nagada Sang Dhol (Ram-Leela)

This year Deepika Padukone delivered four hit movies, three of them earning over 100 crores. While Padukone isn’t of the same acting caliber as Tabu, Rani Mukerji or Madhuri Dixit, she gets better with every movie, and is quite possibly the most gorgeous of the lot. In Nagada Sang Dhol from the movie Ram-Leela, Padukone delivers a top-notch performance as both actor and dancer extradordinaire. She actually developed blisters and wounds on her feet while training for this song, and danced with her feet taped, probably in excruciating pain. Expect her to take home several awards at every award function that matters.

Dhoom Machale (Dhoom 3)

I almost didn’t put this on the list because I can’t stand Katrina Kaif for more than a few seconds a year. She’s awful as an actor, has ruined many good movies for me (Jab Tak Hai Jaan, anyone?), and the only thing she is good at is expressionless dancing. Besides, she’s half-white and represents everything that is wrong with Bollywood’s Eurocentric beauty standards. However, Dhoom 3 is slashing all records at the box office mostly due to Aamir Khan, so you may as well get acquainted with a real Bollywood action flick. Dhoom and Dhoom 2 are both on Netflix.

That’s all for now. I have a more extensive playlist for 2013 on Spotify. My partner says listening to Bollywood is like listening to American Top 40, and while that is true, I am not sure how else to access better Indian music.

Got any favorites to share?

Queer Contemporary Bollywood: A Work In Progress

Lets get one thing straight (pun unintended): Bollywood is going to appear super-queer to the Western eye with the extravagant musicals, vibrant colors and exaggerated acting. There are generations of homoeroticism, repressed and alternative sexualities and I am no expert, especially when it comes to anything made before 1990. For anyone interested, you can read so much queer subtext into male duos like Jai-Veeru or Shahrukh Khan’s queer masculinity that we can write a book about it.

Most of Bollywood is full of clichés, conservative and contrived melo-drama. Sexuality is so taboo that the narrative is almost a metaphor for repressed sexualities. The usual gay-themed movies like Dostana, Girlfriend, and Men Not Allowed are actually quite heteronormative. From my perspective, the queer part of Dostana was actually Bobby Deol’s straight-acting character and Priyanka Chopra’s “desi girl” rendition rather than the pathetic straight leads trying to act gay. The only thing worth watching about Girlfriend is Isha Koppikar’s gender-bending transformation into a kick-boxer mixed-gender figher and even that is stereotypical. I’m not even going into Men Not Allowed since I watched the movie in a record 20 minutes. My point is that a movie doesn’t have to contain a “gay storyline” to be necessarily queer especially when I take queer to mean transgressive sexualities, non-heteronormative portrayals of sexuality, homo-eroticism, and “alternative” sexual imaginations.

Everyone knows or should know about Fire, Mango Souffle, Pink Mirror, Tamanna, Touch of Pink, Bombay Boys, Bend It Like Beckham, The Journey and East is East. This is not meant to be a list of queer Bollywood movies and I am far from an expert on cinema. I just happen to read or identify queerness in these movies.

My Brother Nikhil, Bas Ek Pal, I Am

Onir is a film-maker. He happens to be queer. So are a lot of his characters and none of them are stereotypically gay or even perfect. He’s given us a sensitive portrayal of a gay athlete with HIV, prison rape, a step-father raping his step-son while his mother stays silent, queer love-making onscreen. Onir is not afraid to depict bold scenes, queer relationships, wounded protagonists and transgressive story-lines. Also, these movies have delightful melodies, especially Bas Ek Pal.

I remember actually having to fight an Indian shop-owner to rent a copy of I Am quite recently. He kept telling me it was not for kids and not for family viewing. My mother had to cut in before it escalated into a fight and tell him to give me what I wanted. It’s funny how no one gives a damn about “kids” watching violent content but queerness is somehow only for “mature” audiences.


Madhur Bhandarkar makes movies with a lot of queer sensibility. You will find the same sort of sensibility in Page 3 and Corporate as well, which also have queer characters. With Fashion, Bhandarkar takes us into the glamorous and dark world of the Indian fashion industry. I adore Sameer Soni, who plays a closeted gay-character in this movie and even dared to share a lip-lock with his onscreen boyfriend. I also secretly enjoy the fact that he was chosen to play “Karan Johar” in I Hate Luv Storys but I digress. There are other parts of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion that lends itself to a queer interpretation, especially the love-hate relationship between the lead female protagonists.

No One Killed Jessica

I am still swooning over this movie. There’s something to be said about the way in which Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan went about promoting the movie with their new dostana. Yes, it is stereotypical and offensive on some level but I admire their conscious realization that the movie is queer, if only because it has two female leads and no male protagonist.

I read Vidya’s character as the repressed part of the narrative — the character that needs to take the journey of coming out. She’s queer and repressed to the point of asexuality. Her silence and quiet demeanor is a metaphor. Rani plays her complete opposite and the perfect foil to her repression: Meera Gayti. I love her gender-bending clothes in the movie, her hot-blooded, loud and overtly foul-mouthed character who embraces the word ‘Bitch,’ her non-traditional portrayal of female Indian sexuality when she tells a guy to “fly-solo” when she has to leave in the middle of sex. In some ways, she may be a caricature, but I loved her and the way the two characters play off of each other.

Dil Chahta Hai

DCH is an iconic movie about three young college friends. It re-defined Bollywood with a fresh look at relationships and male-bonding. The homoerotic brotherly love between Akshaye Khanna and Aamir Khan is worth a watch with plenty of gay subtext. You can read a lot into Akshaye’s shy and repressed character, Aamir’s “Tanhayee,” their fall-out and how they come back together. Another must-watch that follows from this genre is Rock On and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Karan Johar makes terribly queer movies in a twisted way: his narrative overtly and offensively uses queerness as comedy and almost veils the homoeroticism in his movies such as Kal Ho Naa Ho, Break Ke Baad and I Hate Luv Storys. I’m not about to get into his sexuality. You’ve to read KANK as queer to thoroughly enjoy it. It doesn’t have your typical Bollywood ending. It destroys the heteronormative institution of traditional marriage. Rani’s character Maya is a woman who doesn’t enjoy sex with her husband and you’ve to wonder if Karan Johar is really hinting at her repressed sexuality. There’s a part in the movie where Dev, played by Shahrukh Khan, jokingly tells her that she is a lesbian. Her femme-dom scene is a complete joy even if it plays to a stereotypically straight cis male audience. Preity Zinta plays the strong, independent woman caricature who is the head of the household and you can read her as a power-dyke to enjoy her more. I actually love Preity Zinta and Rani Mukerji together but I won’t get into that right now.

At the same time, it is interesting to watch Shahrukh Khan’s Dev constantly re-assert his “lame” masculinity by being a jerk to his son who loves to play the violin. Funnily, there’s a deleted scene of him kissing a guy in the movie as he starts healing from his trauma. It is certainly not perfect but I’m not ashamed about loving this movie, which is so thoroughly hated by a large segment of the Indian population. It makes people uncomfortable. It is queer.

Note: Bollywood is just a name given to the Indian film industry based in Mumbai. There are many other movies industries within and outside India where one can access both a South Asian and queer sensibility. I admittedly don’t know much about them and that really was not the point of this post. Watch Chutney Popcorn, Finding Kamal, Chicken Tikka Masala, I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen. They aren’t Bollywood movies but they have South Asian actors or story-lines. Mira Nair’s Amelia was also quite queer and she’s working on a new movie called “Migration” that seems to have a queer outlook.

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Elle Magazine Tries to ‘Whiten’ Indian Skin

Aishwarya Rai at the Cannes film festival

Image via Wikipedia

I am migrating a few of my favorite blog posts over the past year to my personal blog. I apologize if this causes issues with your RSS feeds.

It looks like Elle Magazine had quite the white Christmas.

Recently in the news for lightening the skin of Gabourey Sidibe on the September cover, the magazine has done it again, featuring prominent Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the January 2011 cover looking far paler than she is in real life.

I had to do a double take when I first saw the cover page. Not only does Ms. Rai-Bachchan look far whiter than she is in real life, she also looks like a red-head. Aishwarya is reportedly in shock and plans to sue the magazine if the allegations are true.

There are those who would defend the magazine for using some kind of lighting or a Photoshop trick, or who think that this is no big deal and skin lightening is similar to tanning.

To put this into context: Indian consumers have long been inundated with ads that use prominent Bollywood actors to promote skin-lightening products. In a country that produces gorgeous women of color, it is sad that Ms. Rai-Bachchan, who is relatively light-skinned, is one of the very few with some cross-over international appeal. To see magazines like Elle further enforce the color hierarchy by making Aishwarya appear lighter-skinned is a slap in the face to thousands of young Indian women who aspire to be models and actors. It also plays into systemic racism when Indian women across the world pick up a copy of Elle Magazine and can barely recognize one of their own celebrities due to the fact that her skin tone was digitally lightened.

The question then posed is, do we have to be pale white and bleach our skins to have cross-over appeal? Indeed, the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire had a British director. Ben Kingsley, a British actor, won an award for playing the iconic Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a downward spiral and it hardly helps to bolster self-confidence in millions of young women of color across the world.

It would be over the top to accuse Elle Magazine of being racist on the basis of two  magazine covers. There is a deeper problem here: either Elle Magazine in India is outsourcing its artistic needs, or it really does not have staff that is qualified enough to work with images of women of color. In both cases, Elle Magazine owes Aishwarya Rai Bachchan an apology for doctoring her image in a manner highly offensive to people across the globe.


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Make Sure to Go Watch My Name is Khan – Feb 12

Shahrukh Khan and Kajol–two of the biggest Bollywood celebrities–made history when they rang the bell to open up NASDAQ on Monday.

I am not sure what promoting capitalism has to do with the film.  Does Shahrukh Khan’s character (Rizwan Khan) in the movie also ring the NASDAQ ‘ghanti’ to reunite with his loved one? But anyway, it seems part of the heavy marketing scheme for a movie that promises entertainment value as well as progressive thought.

Watch the NASDAQ event here: