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by Bill Gibron

29 Jan 2009


The Holocaust remains, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate expression of evil in our lifetime. Outside the obvious elements of genocide and the organized political support for same, the inherent concept that human beings could actually do something like this to each other resonates as the most shocking sentiment of all. So naturally, any story about the struggle against such unfathomable wickedness immediately gets out attention. We don’t really care about the details or the factual fallacies. We just want vengeance, and it better be more than a mere ‘eye for an eye’. When he stumbled upon the story of the Bielski Brothers, Jewish rebels that saved thousand of their fellow persecuted peoples in 1940s Belarus, filmmaker Edward Zwick must have realized he had the makings of one of the most important World War II films ever. Unfortunately, Defiance misses its major opportunities, focusing instead on ancillary issues unimportant to the final cause.

It’s 1941, and in Eastern Europe, German forces are moving toward Russia and its surrounding territories. Upon returning home, the four Bielski Brothers - Tuvia, Zus, Asael, and Aron - discover that their parents (and most of the surrounding townsfolk) have been slaughtered by local police working under direct Nazi orders. Fearing for their lives, they head to the local woods to hide out and make plans. There, they run into other refugees, Jews also driven out of their houses by the current purge. Together, they join forces and begin forging a life in the wilderness.

Conflict erupts between the oldest, Tuvia, and his brash and more brazen younger brother Zus. The former wants to find a way to simply survive. The latter seeks justice for what has happened to his people. When he can’t find what he’s looking for among the exiles, he joins up to fight with the Russians. This leaves Tuvia and Asael to hold the fragile balance within the camp together, even as winter approaches and the constant threat of attack looms over them.

Defiance wants to be an epic. It certainly has a larger than life storyline (albeit one based on the true story of the Bielski brothers and their exploits during the war) and pushes all the right buttons for maximizing cinematic manipulation. Director Edward Zwick is famous for such fancy pantsing, having made his mark with such examples of celluloid showboating as Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, and The Last Samurai. Here, he wisely keeps the narrative locked into the struggles of the Belarus Jews and their freedom fighter watchdogs. We don’t get unnecessary Nazi shenanigans, no Swastika symbolism meant to mean more than just an inherent cloud of evil. Instead, there’s a moment when some survivors leave a local ghetto and toss off their yellow patchwork Stars of David, as if Zwick is purposefully arguing that this is a movie about people, not emblematic punditry.

And at first, we buy the ruse. Daniel Craig (Tuvia) and Liev Schreiber (Zus) are mesmerizing as two sides of the same scattered coin, a pair of bickering partisans looking to merge their misspent youth with a chance to play hero. They are joined by Jamie Bell (Asael) who, while given little to do, maximizing his moments as the sometimes skylarking brother. By placing this trio into the middle of 20th Century’s greatest heart of darkness - ie, the Final Solution and its victims - their own nationalism is reduced to a remembrance. Even when they meet up with a Russian company desperate for supplies, their agreement to help doesn’t overcome an intrinsic anti-Semitism bubbling under the surface. As such, Zwick tends to hedge his bets, adding unnecessary tangents to remind us that the Children of Israel are at risk.

It’s at this point where Defiance bogs down. We spend way too much time in the middle of the handmade housing development, concentrating on sequences that have nothing to do with how this group managed to survive for so long. In their place, we get an overly long build up toward the creation of a roguish, crude villain, one too many dialectic debates, and romance where realism would work better. There are hints at something called a “forest wife”, but Bell’s Asael has to take his intended bride in full blown celebratory fashion, complete with dancing and jubilation. It’s clear that Zwick caters to this material in an obvious attempt to argue that, even in the face of almost certain death, life - or something remotely similar to same - endures.

But that’s not what we want from a movie where Jews kill Nazis and their lunk-headed sympathizers with action sequence like satisfaction. We want Craig, Schreiber and Bell to pack heat and take names. We want more scenes like the one where a random German solider is brought into the camp and literally beaten to death by an angry mob. We’ve had enough nobility and non-violence. We’ve already seen the films where, in the name of what’s fair and what’s right, the Jews are given over to the implication of “God’s Will”. If the Bielskis managed to find a way to keep things in control for nearly four years, wouldn’t that story be much more satisfying than occasional character touches. The legacy suggests something a bit more bravura.

Still, in the moments where Tuvia and Zus take charge, in the montages when the rampant disease of a horrid Eastern European winter dissipates into a far more fiery and desperate spring, in the suspense-filled sequence where German planes bomb the refugee camp back to the Stone Age, Defiance finds its voice. It’s clear that Zwick is more adept at handling fire and brimstone than interpersonal problems. We never buy the relationships present, never feel that people this hopeless would de-evolve into the standard Moon/June love lines. Still, there’s enough power and emotion within the primary narrative to carry us across the weaker bits. Defiance is without a doubt the best of the Holocaust themed films from 2008. Unfortunately, that may be faint praise indeed.

by Bill Gibron

29 Jan 2009


It’s an exercise in memory, an attempt to recall the unfathomable and unimaginable. It’s animation taking the place of atrocity, the literal spoils of war witnessed in stylized, striking visuals. It’s the story of men who would rather forget, of a time two decades before when the Middle East was measured by chest-pumping challenges and baffling back and forth advances. It’s a documentary and a denouncement, an explanation and an exaggeration - and in the end, it’s one of 2008’s best films, a wildly inventive and shockingly effective cartoon trance that takes us deep into the heart of human darkness and then delves even deeper.

But there is more to Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir than the story of middle aged men confused by their turn in the Israeli army circa the early ‘80s. This is not just some explanation of how war is insane, allies are untrustworthy, and if one event can change an entire human being’s perspective on life. But Folman does fashion the kind of collective grieving process that puts us smack dab in the middle of an incongruous catharsis. On the one hand, our main character (the director himself), wants to uncover the meaning behind his frequent daydreams and half-hallucinations - the main one centering on a 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. But this is not just an investigative journey into truth. Thanks to the artistic approach Folman decides to take, the true nature of conflict is unmasked.

The narrative is fairly straightforward given the almost 3D nature of the animation. This is a talking head experience taken to indescribably new levels. Folman decides to question everyone he can about the Israeli invasion, concentrating on those who, like him, were scared, wide-eyed teenagers at the time. His travels take him to Belgium, where one former friend immediately shoots down his version of events. Another colleague describes the initial invasion, including an argument over a gun that gives the movie its unusual name. Finally, Folman finds a kind of consensus, and moves on to interview those people - officials, officers, reporters - who had first hand knowledge of the horrific events at Sabra and Shatila. In combination, Waltz with Bashir becomes the best of all possible documentaries - wildly entertaining, keenly informative, and wholly unforgettable.

Folman’s choice of mediums is part of the film’s inherent magic. The use of stylized images helps amplify the horrors these young men had to face. An opening dream involving ravenous, rabid dogs leads to a highly disturbing admission, while a later sequence involving an orchard, a division on alert, and a small boy carrying an RPG is particularly memorable. All throughout Waltz with Bashir, the use of animation takes the filmmaking to a whole new level, one that not even the most meticulous, visionary director could have achieved with an unlimited budget and a studio with the patience of Job. Certainly there are risks here. The concept of a cartoon taking on the terrible events in Lebanon during the early ‘80s may reek of blasphemy, but Folman makes it all work almost effortlessly. In fact, within minutes, we couldn’t imagine the movie any other way.

The results are so powerful that it’s hard to argue with anything done here. In fact, it all gives Waltz with Bashir a unique brand of tension, one that juxtaposes a kind of implied innocence with the true, terrifying vision of death and destruction. The work here is stellar, existing somewhere between the old rotoscoping process of the past and the deranged digital enhancement of films like Waking Life. Yet Folman doesn’t try to make the movements fluid. Instead, it’s as if every action in Waltz is accented with a deliberate, almost direct sense of static purpose. The backdrops, on the other hand, are just breathtaking. There is an intricacy and detail behind the design that recalls the best of anime in conjunction with an attempted neo-realism. The combination is cutting edge and very effective.

Indeed, all of Waltz with Bashir plays in such potent forms. We accept the animation element as novelty, initially, only to again learn it’s the only way this story could be told. We see the searching of our main character as an indirect symbol of the scars left by all conflict. The dreams definitely anchor the dichotomy between fact and fiction, and the final shots, coming at us suddenly and without warning, bring the horrors home in a way that no other format could fathom. Indeed, it’s safe to say that the success of Ari Folman’s artistic decisions here have as much to do with the inherent enchantment of the approach he takes with the intense and often unpleasant imagery he forces us to endure.

This duality is the final thematic statement made by Waltz with Bashir. It argues that all boys go into war innocent and come out corrupted. It points to the fact that both sides, heroes and enemy, leave with loses and a sense of purposeless destruction that can never be absolved. It suggests that all armed conflict derives from unclear policies with no predetermined end game or exit strategy, and that when push comes to shove, aggression is not about sovereignty. Sometimes, it’s merely a matter of blood justice - and the stains from said vengeance can linger long after the satisfaction has passed. And just like in animation, such righteousness is painting in radiant, rotting primary colors.

by Bill Gibron

28 Jan 2009


To me, backlash is the most interesting, and unnerving, of commercial responses. When something is popular, there will always be those who think the well-accepted entity is over-praised and unworthy. They will pride themselves on being the only person who ‘hated’ a certain item long before the wave of counterattack occurs, and they’ll smirk in self-satisfied glee when the consensus slowly starts to swing their way. Even when it eventually settles somewhere toward acceptance, the backlasher feels vindicated. As professionals, critics especially like this kind of competitive give and take. Sometimes, we go out on a limb for films (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Speed Racer) only to see the immediate reaction reject our praise. Oddly enough, months later, these titles get a second chance, gaining a new, often positive perspective with the passing of time.

And so it is with the backlash. There are definitely times when something becomes so much of a social sticking point that the overtly obvious hype and celebration becomes irritating. We might not have actually hated the element in question, but the constant barrage from the media and the marketers of exaggeration keeps pushing us toward dissention. It’s rare when it happens - I can think of only two situations where the deluge of plaudits caused me to reconsider my opinion. The first came with Juno. I really enjoyed the film when it first came out. I thought it saucy and slightly unhinged in its magic realism meets street smarts dialogue. I had no problem with Diablo Cody and her retro-burlesque shtick. Then the Oscar race anointing happened, and everything changed.

It’s a feeling similar to when your favorite band is suddenly “discovered” by the mainstream. Your own private world, the songs and lyrics that mean the most to you are, without warning, unexpectedly streaming out of the mouths of fair-weather fans. They lack the history. They lack the devotion. They lack that personal link. Still, because of the joys of jumping on a bandwagon, or the inherent validity of the item being championed, the object goes from insular to nearly universal. So when Cody was being crowned the new voice of a generation, when Juno was taking nomination slots away from films like Into the Wild, Sweeney Todd, and Gone, Baby Gone, it wasn’t hard to turn on the hate. Now, whenever the film flickers by on my current premium cable channel line-up, I simply continue hitting the remote. I’m not interested in revisiting it - at least, not now.

The other example actually has a link to this year’s Oscars. When Batman Begins was released back in 2005, I was not on the front lines of supporting the film. I wasn’t sure that the Dark Knight needed an update/revamp/reimagining, and I wasn’t sure Christopher Nolan was the man to do it. I had enjoyed his work as a director, but didn’t understand why he (or Darren Aronofsky, or any other current critical cause celeb) would want to dabble in the superhero genre. Convinced that nothing about this movie would speak to me, I purposefully boycotted its theatrical run. Even as praise came pouring in, I avoided the initial release, failing to give the film even the remotest part of my always occupied attention span.

The same thing happened when the DVD was released. I balked at the chance of picking up the two disc special edition, assured it could never live up to my expectations. I shivered as my fellow writers placed the title at or near the top of their year-end Best of lists. As I relished the rapid ascension of cast members like Cillian Murphy, I still maintained an arms length approach (hype can do that to you). Finally, when it was announced that The Dark Knight was finally coming out, and that I probably should see Batman Begins in order to appreciate the two film’s linear connection, I cracked. Seeking out a single disc widescreen copy from a local B&M, I took my perceived dissatisfaction with the film, warmed up the DVD player, and prepared to be disappointed.

Instead, I was proven wrong. The movie was masterful, a unique and often artistic take on the entire hero as everyman mystique. The backlash that I had built up in my mind (though many may now consider it nothing more than an ill-informed dismissal) suddenly didn’t need to be there. In its place was a newfound respect for what Nolan managed to create, and it’s a feeling I carry over to the latest installment in the filmmaker’s fascinating reconfiguration. Along with Oscar front runner, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight is indeed experiencing a kind of post-party communal rejection. With people pointing out that massive popularity does not necessarily equal across the board appreciation, the argument offered is that, in the case of each film, the overall assessment is out of touch with the true quality present.

Of course, that’s bullshit. Taken individually, both Slumdog and Dark Knight are marvelous achievements. Sure, they may not live up to the overbuilt expectations that have come from a bored press corps pushing each entry beyond their breaking point. When I saw it in theaters back in June, Nolan’s latest Batman movie was 145 minutes of majesty. It was everything you hoped a sequel should be, and much, much more. Slumdog was also a pseudo-shock. While I loved almost everything director Danny Boyle had done up to this point, I wasn’t prepared for such a wondrous, “wow” experience. As every narrative facet unfolded, I was transfixed and transported, moved innately into the world Boyle wanted us to experience.

It comes as no surprise then that 2008’s biggest financial hit and its companion critical accomplishment are receiving so much sanction. With an Internet based almost exclusively on the “look at me” dynamic of dialogue, extreme opinions speak louder than rationality. Being on the other side of the Dark Knight/Slumdog situation means you get to gloat when the Academy snubs the former and finds a way to deny the latter its well-deserved statue. It means standing out from everyone, not based on well-considered reasoning and finely tuned analysis, but just because you’re different. While you are entitled to your opinion, an assertion is not a fact. Let’s face it - if 100 people are standing in a room, and 99 of them love red wine, the one sipping white will become the center of attention. That’s why the backlash is possible - and popular. It doesn’t take much to dissent, and as a result, be different.

I still feel bad about my issues with irrational rejection. I still feel said pangs whenever George Lucas rears his goitered head and starts dishing out more watered down Star Wars product. As one of the teenagers who made this ‘70s idol a fanboy’s dream, I still can’t shake the inevitable sensation of being used - and perhaps, that’s the best way to look at backlash. It’s the feeling that, beyond one’s better judgment, beyond the ability to think individually and stand sensibly away from the rest of the flock, you are mandated to appreciate something that just doesn’t sync up with your sensibilities. There’s no immediate connection, no chance to decide for yourself. Of course, you don’t have to get caught up in the machine. You can simply sit back and enjoy/dislike a movie for what it is and what it means to you. But then that wouldn’t make you special, would it? Ah, the price of ersatz fame.

by Diepiriye Kuku

27 Jan 2009


The 2008 remake of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still was rich in contemporary and relevant social criticism despite the regurgitating an apocalypse narrative and re-hashing Keanu Reeves as another prophetic savior. Even the ditsy, airheads Bill and Ted managed save the world. Yet, unlike most films within the apocalyptic sci-fi genre- the set of films, comics, etc. that assume humanity almost destroys itself before realizing any greater (public) good- this film’s alien has no intention of destroying the earth. Humanity is already well on the job!

Prejudice and polarization are the greatest threats to democracy. America is highly polarized, threatening to re-order the world in its wake. This is the backdrop of this film and, critically, increasingly the evening news. Naturally, the aliens land in Manhattan. Yet rather than seeing “the city” focus as typical American chauvinism- it’s true and exhausting that MOST Hollywood films take place in either New York or LA- this film ran the Jesus narrative to a tee! Many believe that Prophets only descend when and where there is total moral decrepitude. In fact, a devout, practicing Muslim friend from Mali once explained to me that this clarifies why there had been no African equivalents of Jesus or Muhammad. No better place to represent humanity’s worst than where so many global narratives of hate converge: The Twin Towers and Wall Street! It is now clear that greed, anger and stupidity enabled both the construction and destruction of these icons.

The Day the Earth Stood Still  was unrelenting in its critique of humanity’s arrogance in assuming that we’re alone in the universe, the presumption that the planet belongs to us, and the supposition of dominance/sub-ordinance in any and all inter-cultural encounters. This critique was maintained throughout the film, yet came to a head with plenty poignant points of dialogue: “Do you speak for the entire human race?” the alien Klaatu, portrayed by Reeves, asks the US Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson. She replies: “I represent the President of the United States.” Luckily, realizing that not all viewers would see the sheer arrogance and truthfulness of this response, the director played to the peanut gallery and cast Kathy Bates in the role. She was certainly miserable!

This film was a critical commentary on cultural imperialism and chauvinism, challenging humanity to refocus on what binds us rather than divides because this allows us to reconcile despite any conflict. Exactly like the latest Harry Potter, Spiderman and Batman flicks, the conflict posed in The Day the Earth Stood Still, i.e. humanity’s destruction, is resolved through reconciliation- the two main characters agree to forgive themselves and one another, thereby causing Keanu Reeves/The One/Jesus, to save us. This time the Obama narrative was unmistakable. Like the little boy who thought that Keanu should have been killed, by the end, the little tanned, bi-racial, curly haired boy is the greatest advocate for tolerance and understanding in order to save us all.

by Farisa Khalid

26 Jan 2009


All over the world, from Bombay to Jackson Heights, NY to Southall, London, to Kuala Lumpur, more than 200,000 people listen to Indian film music a year, and over 70% of what they’re listening to is written by the same three men: Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, and Loy Mendoza. On film credits, they’re billed as their team name, “Shankar Eshaan Loy”, just like a corporation.  As big as these three have become, they practically are one. 

Their name alone exemplifies the best of modern India, Shankar, a Hindu, Ehsaan, a Muslim, and Loy, a Christian. They’re a part of the dynamism and success that evolves from a secular, progressive country.

In the past six years, they’ve reinvigorated the musical genre in India.  Gone are the arcane, traditional village folk melodies of previous generations that accompanied many scenes of buxom heroines frolicking along the Western Ghats. Waves of immigration over twenty years have made the audience more global, more attuned to varieties of musical styles and sensibilities.  Hip-hop, alternative, techno, and the old-fashioned Broadway score, have become incorporated into the songs of Hindi films diversifying the sound and emotions contemporary Indian pop culture.

The songs of Shankar Ehsaan Loy have the extraordinary ability to unify masses of scattered people in different countries and of different generations through common melodies that are infectiously catchy and irresistibly singable.  Half the listeners don’t even speak or understand the Hindi lyrics of the songs.  But people, regardless of cultural background, know a good song when they hear one, and Shankar Ehsaan Loy have prodigiously churned out several in the short span of only half a decade.

The Essential Shankar Eshaan Loy:


Mission Kashmir (2000)
Love amidst the blood-soaked beauty of civil war-torn Kashmir.  The film itself was a compelling blend of heaving machismo and romanticism, like crossing parts of Rambo with Dr. Zhivago, but the score was haunting and otherworldly.  From the achingly wistful lullaby, “So Ja Chanda” to the famous folk serenade, “Bumbro” performed by resplendently costumed Kashmiri dancers, the songs wrap you around in a dreamy haze.


Dil Chata Hai (The Heart Wants… - 2001)
Farhan Akhtar’s debut film about the love lives of a group of three close friends facing the anxieties of what to do with their lives after college touched a raw nerve among Indian teens in the way Say Anything and The Breakfast Club spoke to the youth market of the late 80s.  The songs are wildly eclectic and catchy: the rousing club anthem, “Koi kahe kehta rahe,” the romantic banter sung to the strains of a deegiree-doo in “Jaane kyon,” the joyously playful movie nostalgia piece, “Woh ladki hai kahan” to the soaring title song, the soundtrack was inventive and fresh and different from anything ever heard in Indian movies.


Kuch Naa Kaho (Don’t Say a Word - 2003)
This slightly better than average romantic comedy about a single mother finding true love is one of those movies that proves that a gorgeous score can save a movie. The partnership of the three composers with the éminence gris of lyricists, Javed Akhtar was seldom as rapturous and lush as it was here.  The Old World court poetry of ghazals set to contemporary pop and disco melodies made for an eclectic blend of love songs and serenades.  The rapier “battle-of-the-sexes” banter of “Baat Meri Suniye” has a Cole Porter cleverness, while the dance tune, “Tumhe Aaja Maine Jo Dekha” is at once energetic in beat and tender in romantic longing. 


Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come - 2003)
The great, epic NRI (non-resident Indian) movie.  The Kapur family of Queens, with their emotional squabbles over marriage, money, and the future, their closeness with their friends and community, became a representation of us in our struggles to stake out an identity in the West while still retaining our Indian heritage.  The wistful title tune, “Kal Ho Naa Ho” is gentle nod to mythic move ballads of the past, “As Time Goes By,” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.”  But the most endearing, winning song is the boisterous wedding finale number, “Maahi Ve,” now played in every Indian wedding party in every hotel ballroom.


Bunty aur Babli (Bunty and Babli - 2005)
Bunty and Babli is a playful crime caper, like Catch Me if You Can, where we’re rooting for the young con artist in spite of his callousness and naivete. The film follows a couple of teenage runaways on their Robin Hood escapades, hoodwinking corrupt government officials and slimy petty thieves, all of whom deserve the childish humiliation they receive. The songs are sublime; the best kind of musical storytelling that propels the narrative as well as enlivens the film. The pulsating call to adventure, “Dhadak Dhadak” that opens the movie, the irresistibly bouncy title theme, “Bunty aur Babli” and the famous, show-stopping rock-ghazal, “Kajra Re” are all unforgettable and totally appealing to everyone at a fundamental level of pure, joyous entertainment.


Don  (2006)
A very sleek, high-style crime thriller from Farhan Akthar, a remake of a 70s, pseudo-blaxploitation classic.  Superstar Shahrukh Khan takes on an early Amitabh Bachan role and adds his own distinctive shadings of personality.  The music is suitably sophisticated with brittle, hard-edged techno tones.  Songs magnificently showcase a character’s motivations and drives.  The lazy folk melody “Khaike Paan Banaras Wala” resurrected from the original film, is pumped up full throttle here, complete with a synthesized techno background and the nuanced vocal shadings of Udit Narayan.  The seductive disco piece, “Aaj Ki Raat” is at once mysterious and danceable, and the religious hymn to Ganesha, “Maurya Re”is brilliantly composed, sung, and staged complete with clouds of pink and orange dust, cymbals, and hundreds of street dancers.


Salaam-E-Ishq (Love’s Sweet Salute - 2007)
Love, Actually, masala-style. Converging stories of different couples struggling through relationships in Mumbai has a breezy, effervescent quality that’s wholly entertaining.  The eclectic song sequences are lavishly and lovingly staged by talented new director, Nikhil Advani.  The gorgeous, infectiously catchy title number, “Salaam-E-Ishq” is a crowd-pleasing extravaganza in the vein of the golden age of Hollywood musicals from the 50s with the entire cast lip syncing like mad on a spinning soundstage; the Trafalgar Square wedding serenade, “Tenu Leke” is outrageous fun, with the film’s matinee idol, Salman Khan, playfully hip-thrusting with sari-clad back-up dancers in front of Nelson’s column. And the pensive lament, “Ye Rabba” is tender and aching, and adds just the right note of melancholy to temper the film’s buoyancy.  The soundtrack is perhaps the most varied and virtuosic of the three composers, a startling showcase of their versatility.


Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Dance, Baby, Dance - 2007)
A striving-for-edgy romantic comedy set in the South Asian immigrant borough of East London.  The filmmakers spent more time on creating the illusion of cool associated with the stars than on developing an actual plot.  The film’s only good song is the title song, “Jhoom,” but when it’s good, it’s incredible.  Inventive in melody and instrumentation, with a repetitive, Sufic trancelike beat that stays in your head for hours. It’s a perfect blend of hybrid styles, courtly Old World Persian, Indian Classical, rock n’ roll and Bhangra that exemplifies the borderless, dynamic quality of Shankar, Eshaan, and Loy.


Chandni Chowk to China (2009)
The trio’s first, mainstream, wide-audience based movie: Bollywood musical meets a Kung Fu action flick. Reuniting with Saalam-E-Ishq and Kal Ho Naa Ho director, Nikhil Advani, Shankar-Eshaan-Loy explore a variety of different styles to compliment the commercial vehicle of this new type of cross-over movie. There’s a slick, pop-like Michael Jackson quality to the title track, “Chandi Chowk to China” while the film’s memorable romantic scene, the two loves soaring among the night-lit skyscrapers of Hong Kong, Mary Poppins-style with a magic umbrella, is accompanied by the gentle, electronic synthesizer melody of “Tere Naina.”  But the best track, is the most traditionally minded.  It’s the simple hero’s theme music, “S.I.D.H.U.,” a pulsating, exhilarating Indian classical, earthy Punjabi paean to optimism.

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