Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Roja: A Movie Review (along with a personal tale)

A personal confession of bumbling around… Twice in my life I set out to watch a movie and ended up with the wrong flick. This once happened in a movie theater. I was working night shift in the bakery back then. We’d discussed two movies and I thought we’d settled on which movie we were going to see, I no longer remember what its name. Zombie like, for I’d been up the night before, I staggered in following others and we began watching what I thought was a long preview for some basketball movie. After about ten minutes, I whispered, “this is the longest preview I’ve seen.” I don’t remember the name of the movie we watched, but that was 25 years ago and I slept through part of it.
I had a similar experience recently. Having enjoyed Deepa Mehta’s movie, “Water,” I ordered from Netflix another movie within her trilogy, “Earth.” I sat aside an evening to watch it. I’d read the cover and knew that “Earth” was about the horrors along the Indian/Pakistan border during the late 40s, as seen through the eyes of a young girl. I put the DVD into the player, skipped all the trailers as I set up the ironing board, got out the spray starch, gathered hangers and hauled the recently washed shirts over to the couch. By the time I was ready to iron, the movie was on the opening page and I hit play. The film began with a skirmish in the woods; I assumed they were Muslim and Hindu partisans. It seemed like a natural beginning. Then the scene changed to that of beautiful scenery with a teenage girl singing. Was I watching an Indian “Sound of Music?” A musical about a serious subject? I didn’t think the movie was a musical and beside, the girl singing seemed older than the one the movie was suppose to be about. I kept watching and ironing. By the time I was on my second shirt, a car drove into this Indian village. It wasn’t a 1940 vintage. For a second I tried to rationalize, thinking that maybe the director was now in the present and would flash back into the past. But that only lasted for a second or two. I then accepted the fact that this wasn’t the movie I thought I was watching. I stopped the DVD, pulled out the disk, and checked. Sure enough, I was watching Roja, not Earth. Someone had placed the wrong disk into the slipcase. Since I had the time, I went ahead and watch it and am glad I did.

MY REVIEW: Roja” is kind of hokey. I was shocked to later learn that it is based on a true story. The plot lines are predictable (except for when you are trying to make it fit into a movie about the ‘40s as seen through the eyes of a little girl). As often the case with Bollywood (and Hollywood), some of the acting is overdone (bodies doing back flips and people tumbling down the side of a glaciers). It’s also nationalistic, reminding me of some of Hollywood’s movies from World War Two. And it’s a love story. The movie suffers from too many different plots and themes, but I’m still glad I watched it. After all, I was intrigued by the concept of an Indian Nationalistic love story. Also making the movie worthwhile was incredible scenery and beautiful music (although one needs to brush up on their Tamil to fully enjoy the lyrics).

The first part of the movie is the story of Roja (Madhoo), a devout Hindu. She prays for her sister’s marriage as Rishi Kumar (Avind Swamy), a computer engineer from the city, comes to the village to be married to her sister. But her sister doesn’t want to marry him (she wants to marry her childhood friend who is the son of her father’s enemy). She persuades him to reject her. It is worked out that Roja sister will marry her lover while Rishi will marry Roja. Roja goes along with it, but isn’t taken with Rishi for she feels that he insulted her sister. Only after she learns the truth does she fall for him as she pledges to “treat him as a god.” (I fell in love with Roja at this point!)

In the second part of the movie, Rishi is sent to Kashmir to work on deciphering codes for the Indian military. Roja travels with him. They find conditions tense as terrorists wanting an independent Kashmir are active. Rishi is taken hostage and Roja does everything in her power to free him. There are a couple surreal scenes where Rishi tries to talk rationally to his captures, even appealing to their Allah, questioning if this is what their religion is all about. “Wipe away the tears of people,” he tells them, “instead of making them cry.” As with all good fairytales, Rishi eventually escapes and is reunited with his wife. The movie ends with a nationalistic song.

I recommend this movie for its wonderful scenery and music, and for its look at another nation’s nationality. By examining another national rhetoric, we may better understand how our own national ideology is seen by the rest of the world.


  1. Used to have half-East Indian roommates--the other half was Turkish and they never fought each other--anyway

    Kissing wasn't allowed in Indian films until sometime in the 70's which is the real reason for all the pomp. Then they just became famous for being Bollywood

    Used to have a theater in NY that only played Bollywood films--one of the reason I love the old NY

  2. How do you read along with the movie and iron shirts at the same time?

    When reading movies, do you wear your glasses?

  3. If it makes you feel better, I once got on a train bound (I thought) for Florence and ended up in Rome . . .

  4. when I lived in Pittsburgh, there was an old threater near the University that played foreign films-it was my first real introduction to foreign films and got me hooked. Having roommates from Turkey and Indian would be a good way to have great food!

    Murf, I can multi-task with the best! I just have to be careful not to burn the shirt or my hands. No, my glasses ar only for close readings.

    Diane, Let's see, I've gotten on a train in Florence (SC), but they haven't had passenger service to Rome (GA) in quite a while... Your adventure of going to Rome instead of Florence sounds worthy of a blog story!

  5. I love movie surprises that turn out like this. Plus, I like foreign films. I may have to put that one in my queue.

  6. "The plot lines are predictable (except for when you are trying to make it fit into a movie about the ‘40s as seen through the eyes of a little girl)."

    I almost always smile, chuckle, or laugh when I stop here.

    In all seriousness, it sounds like an interesting film.

    Spray starch. I guess I should get some of that. I've just been using the water in the iron.

  7. Sounds interesting! If I don't get back before Christmas, merry Christmas!

    I have a funeral to go to tomorrow night, a dinner with my girlfriend at her parents' place on Friday night, special plans for Saturday, a special family get-together on Sunday afternoon, a Christmas Eve service in the evening, and spending Christmas day with my girlfriend at her family's Christmas celebration. My schedule is full.

  8. Can you just tell me what he does to merit being treated like a God?

  9. Dawn, although I'd recommend this, I'd really recommend the movie Water, which I reviewed last month. It is beautiful in a different way.

    Bone, glad you caught the humor. One of the few things I liked about living in cities was having reasonable priced drycleaners... But at least this way I get to watch movies. I use to use the liquid starch, but when to the cans a few years ago, they're so much easier, I just hope I ain't destroying the Ozone layer.

    Tim, You have a good Christmas. Sorry about the funeral, but the time with your girlfriend's family sounds interesting and if it don't go well, you'll have great blogging flodder!

    Kenju, I suppose I’m just enough chauvinistic to find her telling him that she’ll treat him as a god desirable. He was a good man (‘cept that he smoked) and allowed her space instead of forcing himself onto her—there seems to be a blend of ancient (arranged marriage) and modern (his attitude) in this movie.

  10. OMG! I saw it when it was first released. I think that was long time back.

    I never read its review. Now after so long I am reading it. I like your perception of it. I only liked pankaj kapur in it.

    Not to forget the photography, scenery and the patriotic song in there.

    BTW, I am linking your blog to mine.

  11. Gautami--thanks for the link. THe movie came out in India in 1992

    I'll add you when I update my links (there are a couple of folks I need to add.

  12. Maybe "1942: A Love Story" might be called the Indian Nationalistic Romance :)