The first disappointment in my film quest this year came in January when the Naz 8 closed down in Fremont, without my having visited it yet. I already regret not having frequented and documented some of the more beautiful theaters in San Francisco that have since shut down, but here was a theater that I planned to visit, expressly for this project, yet it shut down prior to my arrival. Earlier this month I was thrilled to learn that the theater was soon to reopen, under the new management of Big Cinemas, a national circuit with twenty-three theaters in fourteen states, including the Towne 3 in San Jose. Now that the theater has reopened, I visited it as soon as I could, as if it might close down again any moment. (I've been traumatized!)
Located in the Gateway Plaza Shopping Center, the Big Cinemas Fremont 7 still has remnants of its previous ownership, as seen by the sign, below, at the shopping center's entrance. I was told by the staff on several occasions that Big Cinemas will soon be remodeling the theater, in two phases (first one side, then the other). Though the many temporary signs are unattractive, I appreciate that the theater has reopened prematurely, rather than making us wait for the remodel.
The Naz 8 was so named because it had eight screens at a previous location. In this location, it only had seven screens, as the Fremont 7 now has. As the Naz 8 did (though with a few aberrations), the Fremont 7 shows exclusively Indian movies, catering to the large Indian population in the Bay Area, and a healthy reminder that India releases nearly twice as many films per year as does the United States. A sign out front lists not only the movies being shown, but their spoken language (e.g. Hindi, Telugu, etc.). I had been nervous that the film I was seeing might not be subtitled, but it was, as were most of the trailers.
On Tuesdays all movies at the Fremont 7 are $5, and the candy is $1. They also have samosas at the concession stand. The first employee with whom I interacted seemed a bit suspicious of my intentions as a reviewer, perhaps exacerbated by my having arrived prior to the remodel. But everyone else was pleasant enough. The staff are all quite young, perhaps in high school or college.
The lobby showcases several standees for upcoming films, and has glossy, half-sheet movie posters as well. Benches are tucked awkwardly into two corners.
Above and below you can see the glitzy decor surviving from the Naz 8 days. These are perhaps some of the last photos that will be taken before the remodel, so I look forward to seeing how they change things. Though the interior currently looks like that of a casino, at least it tries to be magical, unlike most Cinemark hallways I've seen.
The theater is divided into two hallways, one coming off each side of the lobby. The left hand hallway leads to auditoriums 1-4, while the right-hand hallway leads to auditoriums 5-7. The theater seats a total of 1339, with 258 seats in its largest auditorium. The seats are narrow and stiff, but comfortable nonetheless.
I arrived waaaay too early, and thus sat through the looped pre-show at least four times. Interspersed throughout the ads were fun dance segments, much like the South Africa commercials of late, but these were for Sony, the provider of the pre-show entertainment.
An ad for Indian television network Aapka Colors coming to the U.S. has megastar Amitabh Bachchan telling us of India's actors, "India loves them. So will you." Resistance is futile.
In a behind-the-scenes interview, Bachchan (who has nearly two hundred film credits) discusses the make-up from his recent film Paa, which has him looking a lot like a Ferengi. In an unfortunate side effect, throughout Karthik Calling Karthik I imagined that Phone Karthik looked like Bachchan's Paa persona.
A Citibank ad has a mother caring for her son in a hospital, after he crashed a motorcycle. I wasn't clear, but she addresses us as if we were her elder son, who had lent her his Citibank card to help pay for the hospital bill. The commercial has an interesting tonal friction; the mother is just relieved, that her son is okay, and that they were able to pay for the hospital stay. But the son is just itching to turn to the camera and brag about the motorcycle stunts he was able to pull off before his crash.
Some dance-a-thon in a hotel banquet hall had my attention every time it came on during the pre-show. Dancers performed traditional dances to electronic music, sang on the stage, and sang in the audience. This seemed to be for some sort of music awards ceremony.
On my way to the theater I heard a song on the radio that was so common, so unoriginal, that I tried to imagine who among millions of Americans would buy it, but couldn't fathom a single person wanting to actually own the song. Lo and behold the pre-show featured excerpts from the song's video, which I've now identified as "Down" by Jay Sean. Just about every chorus ever written is stupid when you just read the lyrics, without hearing the music and the voice, but I'll submit this chorus in my defense anyway. "So baby don’t worry, you are my only, You won’t be lonely, even if the sky is falling down, You’ll be my only, no need to worry, Baby are you down down down down down, Down, Down, Baby are you down down down down down, Down, Down, Even if the sky is falling down." Each of those capitalized 'Down's last several seconds.
Wow. This trailer is so bizarre, yet so entertaining. It's like a music video, with cool special effects. The plot appears to be that of a master thief using techno-wizardry to pull off the perfect heist, but needing to also elude various pursuers and woo various women. Amidst it all, he has time to face the camera and sing and dance. That's my kind of hero. I've now visited the official site, trying to track down this trailer, and have discovered that the plot is basically that of the The Bourne Identity, but with singing, and thirty additional minutes of hair blowing in the wind in cool ways. The other trailers for this movie come across as cheesy, but the trailer I saw (but can't locate) is awesome. Cuts unknown.
Karthik Calling Karthik
Karthik (Farhan Akhtar) is a poster child for being pathetic. At what is either an architectural firm or title company he slaves long hours for an ungrateful, belligerent boss, while writing daily emails (never sent) to the office beauty, Shonali (Deepika Padukone), who, of course, doesn't know he exists. In his private life Karthik is extorted by his landlord and unhelped by his therapist, to whom he relates his grief for causing his brother's death when they were children. Karthik is miserable. But just as he is about to commit suicide, he receives a phone call from someone claiming to be him. The Karthik on the phone tells our Karthik that if he listens, and does as Phone Karthik says, Karthik will soon have a better job, the love of Shonali, and his landlord off his back. After a trial run, Karthik discovers that indeed Phone Karthik's advice does lead to an improvement, and soon Karthik's life is turning around for the better.
The film's dialog, which switches between Hindi and English mid-sentence, is refreshing. Karthik threatens Shonali's boyfriend that he'll reveal to Shonali that the boyfriend is married. The boyfriend asks why Karthik is doing this, to which Karthik replies, "because I like the sound of a slap". Shonali tries to get the non-drinking Karthik to imbibe with her. He asks her, "If I do drink, will you take advantage of me?" No, she assures him, to which he replies, "Then what's the point?"
The romance between Karthik and Shonali is captivating. Karthik's secret phone calls loom over them, but it's easy to see how Karthik's personality could win over Shonali, and vice versa (unlike most romances, this film endows its female lead with more than just good looks).
And just when everything is going perfectly, there is an intermission, followed by...
A man has three girlfriends in three different cities, but they find out about each other, with hilarious consequences. This trailer doesn't have subtitles, but a man's philandering transcends language. Lots of slapstick humor, including a monkey slapping the cheating man in rapid succession, once in slo-mo. Stars Deepika Padukone, from Karthik Calling Karthik. 73 cuts.
An adventurer falls for and runs off with his friend's lover, only to incur the wrath of a casino, a goon squad, the U.S. border police, a truck driver, and probably the pilot of a hot air balloon. Lots of steamy romance, destructive chase scenes, and cultural jokes. 111 cuts.
Karthik Calling Karthik (continued)
The film is not so long that it needs an intermission, but how relaxing to have the film paused while I traveled to the restroom and the concession stand, instead of missing part of the plot.
As we might expect from this sort of story, soon Karthik takes his new life for granted, much to the dissatisfaction of Phone Karthik. There are many plot developments which we assume will come to fruition. When there is a secret, it must out. When there is hubris, so too must there be humiliation. What's surprising about this film is how successfully it incorporates these givens, without their arrivals being telegraphed. I was also impressed at the film's shifts in tone. It meanders between comedy, romance, drama, and thriller seamlessly, without jarring transitions. There is a particularly tense scene when Karthik is being chased where the film trusts us to watch closely to figure out what is going on, rather than spelling it out for us.
There are many elements that, were I more familiar with Bollywood films, might seem run-of-the-mill (such as the excessive but entertaining music montages), but since I'm not, the film comes across as original and culturally interesting. The movie isn't doing too well in the Indian market, but I would gladly watch it again.