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Travis Bickle On The Riviera

Hi there! I'm Tucker Stone, one of the three guys who hosts a podcast called Travis Bickle on the Rivieria. I've written for places like Flavorwire, The Comics Journal, Comixology and The Factual Opinion, and am currently punching the clock at Nobrow, a publisher of comics, graphic novels and children's books. Back in 2012, my friend Sean Witzke, a movie critic whose most recent work can be read at Grantland, started this podcast as a way to continue the conversations (and arguments) we had been having about movies amongst our mutual blogs.

Although neither one of us had listened to a lot of podcasts, we felt that our cantankerous, expletive laden diatribes might be of interest to others, and in the years since, we have been extremely lucky to be proven right: people, for whatever reason, like to listen to a couple of miserable depressives wax nostalgic over action movies from the 80's. (It probably didn't hurt that the hugely talented Michel Fiffe drew our logo image!)

When I became a father in 2013, longtime friend of the show and frequent guest host Morgan Jeske came on board to keep Sean from going stir crazy with backed-up opinions. Jeske--the talented cartoonist behind books for Image Comics like Change and Zero--rapidly made himself indispensable, and after my return to the show, it only made sense to welcome him on as an official host, turning this gruesome twosome into the trio it had always been destined to be. As the episodes have piled up (you can check out our episode guide, with every movie, director and special episode listed here), the show was continually graced with a murderers row of guests from the world of comics and film--you can see all of those amazing people at that link as well.

All of that brings us right up to right now, a cold day in October: the day where we ask for help. Simply put, the increased interest in the show has meant that we've had to put a bit more into the nuts and bolts of paying for it than we used to, and we thought 133 episodes (at most recent count) was enough to try passing the hat to help meet the costs. The show isn't in danger of going anyway anytime soon--Sean, Morgan and I like hurting each others feelings just a little too much for that to be a real concern--but we would appreciate the breathing room that financial support will allow.  Below you'll see the various levels of pledge options and the rewards they provide--we're pretty excited about them, especially the one where we send you surprises you can't return--but even if you come away thinking that we don't deserve one thin dime, it still means a lot that you stopped by in the first place. Thank you for reading, but most of all thank you for listening!

Jan 19, 2015

This week is a special episode focusing on 2014 in the cinema of India, with your host Joe McCulloch (along with Sean "Shitty Excuse For Carl Reiner" Witzke).

  • 01:46: Specifically, Part XVII of the Constitution of India provides that “Hindi in Devanagari script” is “the official language of the Union,” although English can still be used for Parliamentary purposes, among other governmental functions. Technically, there are 22 (rather than 23) languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, but I've taken the liberty of adding English as an effective 23rd, given its official status in several Indian states, as well as its continued governmental function. Also, *I* speak English, and it is therefore the most important language.  
  • 03:15: GREAT NEWS - Here I have confused the cinema of Pakistani Punjab -- which is based in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province and the effective center of Pakistan's domestic film industry -- with the cinema of Indian Punjab, which is based in Mumbai (i.e. not the Indian state of Punjab). I've also erred in tethering the use of Urdu to historical period; there are geographical considerations as well, particularly in relation to Muslim communities, although Hindi and Urdu are (in the words of linguistic scholar Wikipedia) mutually intelligible registers of basically the same tongue.
  • 04:15: A hit film from one major regional cinema, it should be clarified, is not in any way guaranteed popularity across India, even in regional dubbed versions. Sometimes, stars from one region's cinema will do special appearances or supporting roles in another region's films, as a means of shoring up trans-Indian box office. Additionally, larger regional cinemas have a tendency to tap actors or technicians from smaller regional cinemas, who might then return to their home region with enhanced prestige – I'm thinking specifically of the Karnataka native Prakash Raj, who did a lot of Kannada-language film and theater work before becoming a delightfully odd character actor (mostly villains and dads) in the Tamil, then Telugu, then Hindi cinemas, eventually returning to write and direct films in Karnataka. 
  • 06:05: This is not to suggest that there haven't been South films created with outside money and an eye on the international market; Disney, for example, co-produced a Telugu film in 2011, Anaganaga O Dheerudu, which was subsequently released on home video in North America as Once Upon a Warrior. I don't recall it playing in theaters around here, though. 
  • 06:55: TERRIFIC - Here I'm conflating the designations “NRI” (non-resident Indian) and “PIO” (person of Indian origin); there's legal implications in terms of taxation and international travel. 
  • 10:05: The issue of skin whitening is hardly unaddressed in Indian popular cinema itself, in case you were wondering: off the top of my head I can recall no less a venerable presence than the Tamil movie superstar Rajinikanth -- at one time among the highest-paid actors in Asia -- devoting a skit to the issue in his 2007 vehicle Sivaji. Granted, there's also some prominent 'dark skin = nasty' jokes in that one, perhaps as a means of sugaring the pill...
  • 11:45: One hopes the message taken from this entire unfortunate soliloquy is that Orientalism (the term I am grasping for) is not assuaged by the white observer amassing specialized knowledge; in fact, that is just as easily a bulwark, insofar as 'expertise' is often used as a means of Outsider A pulling rank on Outsider B in terms of disseminating novel tidbits and otherwise exercising the soft colonialism of dull concern. 
  • 12:36: American exploitation movie icon David F. Friedman did indeed work on the 1955 U.S. release of Bergman's Summer With Monika, although I probably should have cited to his boss, the infamous Kroger Babb, who's actually the one that ordered severe edits re: the artsy bits and a fortuitous re-titling to Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, which I think is how Woody Allen saw it. 
  • 13:00: Per my close friend Wikipedia (again), there were 201 Hindi films released in 2014, and 195 Telugu films. Both of these were less than the 215 Tamil films premiered. By way of comparison, there were about 230 new domestic films released in 2014 throughout all of China. 
  • 13:20For example

    As always, the streams of cinema aren't ever entirely separate, as one of B-grade impresario Suresh Jain's earlier productions was excerpted in a 2011 mainstream smash, Rockstar. Of course, if you want to talk extreme badness in Bollywood, the first place you'll need to go is the 1998 Mithun Chakraborty-starrer Gunda, which enjoys Troll 2-level prestige amongst Hindi movie fans of a certain persuasion.

  • 13:50: Specifically, the production or distribution of pornographic materials is illegal in India, although possession is not a crime – as a result, hardcore sex films are not necessarily unfamiliar (the initial mainstream visibility of Sunny Leone, former Vivid contract player-turned-Indian reality tv phenom-turned-established movie star, was premised on the titilation inherant to such familiarity clashing with the wider society), they're just not domestically made. Public exhibition of films not cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification is likewise illegal. There are three general 'ratings' – U, UA, and A, with an A restricting viewing or purchase to those 18 or older. An odd side-effect of the comparitive modesty of Hindi films is that my local theater tends to run children's movie advertisements before all of them, apparently resting on the 'family' reputation of the scene; this makes for a very amusing juxtaposition with A-rated mainstream fare like 2011's Delhi Belly, which contains approximately 12,000,000 spoken variations on the English term 'fuck'.
  • 14:40: In case it's not clear, Hindi movie performers very rarely *sing* the songs featured in their films; they lip-synch to whatever the vocals of the actual track might be, leading to one actor or actress adopting multiple singing 'voices' throughout the course of one film.
  • 16:46: We finally arrive at the films of 2014 by talking about Queen, directed by Vikas Bahl, and starring Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao & Lisa Haydon. It is Bahl's first solo directorial feature, although he had done production work on numerous prior works by his Phantom Films cohorts Vikramaditya Motwane & Anurag Kashyap. I first saw Ranaut in Kites (2010), an eccentric Rakesh Roshan production seemingly aimed at 'selling' his son Hrithik Roshan (already an established Hindi star) as an international player – Brett Ratner(!!) even supervised an alternate cut of the film, which (I'm told) drastically downplayed all the Bollywood elements, e.g. songs. The non-Ratner cut became the first Hindi picture ever to place in the North American box office top ten, although Hrithik did not go on to light the states ablaze to even the limited extent of Anil Kapoor post-Slumdog Millionaire.   
  • 18:12: Asking after a fixed definiton of a masala movie is like chasing the concept of mise-en-scène: it means different things to different people. Indeed, the culinary etymology of the term encompasses the notion of certain ingredients being switched in and out, so that some films might be heavier on romance while others might favor action or comedy... still, it's a mix. I'm talking about a certain type of chest-thumping '80s-style masala here, reintroduced in tremendous popular form by way of Telugu remake via a 2009 Salman Khan vehice, Wanted, directed by the famous dancer Prabhudheva, who was briefly a tee-hee-look-at-this viral video fun figure on the international scene via this
  • 19:08: The other actress-driven films from 2014 I mention are: Mary Kom, starring Priyanka Chopra; Mardaani, starring Rani Mukerji; and Bobby Jasoos, starring Vidya Balan, whose 2012 film Kahaani I mispronounce to fearsome effect. 
  • 21:50: Zainab Akhtar sent me a link to this comedy video the other day, which off-handedly speaks to the cult reputation of Gangs of Wasseypur (2012, not 2013) – appreciable as the least 'Bollywood' of all Bollywood films. It also played the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes 2012, which would probably have been a more appropriate reference to make! 
  • 23:50: All of these qualities, I remind you, are in relation to the recent mainstream of Hindi popular cinema; obviously, films about women dealing with their own lives have existed before in Indian films. I mean, really
  • 25:00: Here I'm referring to the phenomenon of writer/director Sooraj R. Barjatya's Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! which, to allude to another cinema game-changer of 1994, acted like a shot of adrenaline directly to the heart of Indian filmgoing, albeit in an exceedingly wholesome manner. The phrase I'm using, btw, is “paisa vasool,” which is not limited to movie usage.
  • 27:35: Now I'm talking about Kick, directed by Sajid Nadiadwala, and starring Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda & Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  Nadiadwala has seen much of his recent success as a producer on dubious comedy contraptions such as the Housefull series, although he branched significantly this year as co-producer on the well-received 'serious' drama Highway and the splashy relationship comedy 2 States (which I mention a bit later). Nonetheless, this -- his directorial debut -- plays it good and safe, to splendid financial returns. I cannot stress enough that anything with Nawazuddin Siddiqui (one of the stars of the aforementioned Gangs of Wasseypur) is good for at least the presence of Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The bleak crime/sleaze movie history-themed Ashim Ahluwalia picture Miss Lovely may be of particular interest to listeners of this podcast, and can still be bought or rented digitally via Amazon.
  • 28:47: I'm alluding here to Katrina Kaif and Sonakshi Sinha, two well-known actresses who've mentioned Khan functioning as a mentor to them. 
  • 31:50: You may remember Om Puri quite recently from Lasse Hallström's The Hundred-Foot Journey, in which he stars opposite Helen Mirren as... a concerned father! I am told Juhi Chawla (of numerous '90s favorites such as Yash Chopra's Darr, which is also notable for one of the early, weird Shah Rukh Khan performances) also shows up, only to die quickly. I keep expecting one of these world-class folks to roll into a Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie, preferably Manoj Bajpai with a crew of goons. #jokes
  • 32:27: Next on the agenda is PK, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, and starring Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Saurabh Shukla, Sanjay Dutt & Sushant Singh Rajput. And Boman Irani, who's one of those reliable character actor types who seem to pop up in every third movie. (The king of these is a Telugu comedian, Brahmanandam Kanneganti, who averages over one dozen film appearances per year, usually in designated comedy relief segments.) I'll be writing more about PK in the next installment of The Most Popular Movie Column in the Entire World, which should be a real treat, since in a column I can do the lecture and the errata at the same time.
  • 35:47: I didn't pick these topics at random. See: Taare Zameen Par (2007), aka Like Stars on Earth, which Khan also directed; and Rang De Basanti (2006), perhaps *the* canonical 'serious' popular smash of the past ten years, and the foundation upon which Khan has built his latter-day persona as a superstar-cum-crusader for social betterment.
  • 40:24: As it happened, I didn't get around to saying anything more about Sanjay Dutt -- have I mentioned that there's no script here? -- so let me clarify that not only has Dutt appeared in three out of four Rajkumar Hirani films, but he is expected to be the subject of the fifth: a full-blown biopic. He's definitely led a colorful life, including a supremely infamous arrest on terrorism and conspiracy charges in the wake of the 1993 Mumbai blasts; he was ultimately convicted for possession of illegal weapons, and is currently in prison.  
  • 48:22Fandom in action.
  • 51:21: The name I can't recall here is Chetan Bhagat, whom I forgot to identify earlier as one of several screenwriters to work on the aforementioned Kick (to reprise my earlier statements about masala implicating some shifts in emphasis/spices). The male star of 2 States was Arjun Kapoor. 
  • 56:05: You may not have heard of Singhambut maybe you've seen this

    To continue the superhero theme, Singham Returns is the “Winter Soldier” of the Singham franchise. Maybe I just find Ajay Devgan more convincing in these macho authoritarian roles than most. Certainly his scripts don't go deepest into insanity – I'm reminded of a 2012 Telugu picture, Businessman, which finds Martin Freemanesque tic-laden cutey boy star Mahesh Babu essaying an underworld hotshot whose disgust at the corruption of establishment interests moves him to revolutionize Indian politics through heroic intimidation and hot-blooded violence, including a great moment where he and his crew bring a wise and necessary end to press freedoms. It's honest-to-god borderline fascism, with a big speech delivered right to the camera at the end. RECOMMENDED. 

  • 58:42: Finally, we have Haider, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, and starring Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Shraddha Kapoor & Irrfan Khan, who was on In Treatment, not Bored to Death – look for him in Jurassic World this summer! Since there's always time for one last flub with me, know that  Bhardwaj began his career in Hindi film as a music composer, not a lyricist. Also recommended outside of his Shakespeare trilogy (also including Maqbool, 2003, and Omkara, 2006) are the very popular 2009 thriller Kaminey, and 2013's Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, a political comedy about a landowner who becomes an ardent leftist when drunk and his communist chauffeur/enabler that simultaneously adopts the form of a super-mainstream Bollywood programmer, with a big wedding and everything.
  • Next Week: MANN.