Streaming Video News: November 25, 2014

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to include one new addition to the catalog and one expiration date. The 2014 comedy Bewakoofiyaan is now available for streaming. The movie tanked at the theater, but it’s one of my favorite films of the year.

You’ve got until December 1 to watch Dangerous Ishhq, but you can probably find better ways to use your time.

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Movie Review: Siddharth (2013)

Siddharth4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Practicalities are often omitted from movies in order to save time. Characters never end a phone call with, “Good-bye.” A character jumps in a car and says, “Just drive,” and the driver does it without demanding to know where they are going.

Siddharth isn’t like that. It takes a familiar setup — a child goes missing, and the parents have to find him — and delves into how it would really play out for a family of limited means. Writer-director Richie Mehta paints a gripping and emotional picture by avoiding movie conveniences and emphasizing the details.

The title’s Siddharth (Irfan Khan) is a 12-year-old boy, son of Suman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and Mahendra (Rajesh Tailang), a Delhi zipper repairman. The family is so desperate for money that Siddharth leaves school to work in a factory for a month, hopeful that his earnings will start a dowry fund for his little sister, Pinky (Khushi Mathur).

When Siddharth doesn’t return for Diwali as planned, Mahendra and Suman struggle to discover what happened to their son.

Wealthy movie dads like Mel Gibson’s character in Ransom or Liam Neeson’s in Taken can stop everything in order to search for their kids, but Mahendra doesn’t have that luxury. Bus tickets cost money that he doesn’t have, and that his friends and neighbors don’t have. While he’s searching for his son, who’s earning money to feed his wife and daughter?

That’s the difference between Siddharth and other missing child movies: the villain isn’t a person. The villain is poverty. If Mahendra had money, he could hire investigators and bribe informants and flit from place to place on a moment’s notice to look for Siddharth. If Mahendra had money, Siddharth wouldn’t have had to go to work in the first place.

Without a villain, the tension in Siddharth doesn’t feel acute. There’s no ticking clock. Yet there’s a growing sense of frustration that builds as the movie progresses. Mahendra and Suman calculate how many weeks it will take them to save the money for bus fare. The policewoman explains how hard it is to find a missing kid in a nation of a billion people without so much as a photograph of the boy. Mahendra asks every client if they’ve heard of a place call Dongri, his only lead to Siddharth’s whereabouts.

It’s a powerful illustration of how hard it is to live in poverty, particularly in a time of crisis. There’s no margin for error. Siddharth leaves because his family is broke, and it ends up costing them more than he would have made.

Mehta makes the audience’s frustration personal by introducing Siddharth with only a couple of seconds of screentime at the very start of the film. We don’t get a good enough look at him to join Mahendra in his search. Scanning crowd scenes is worthless, because every boy could be Siddharth.

Another fascinating thread within Siddharth is the impact education has on whole families. Pinky is more educated than either of her parents, and she’s only about six years old. She writes a letter for her illiterate mother, and she’s the only one in the house who can operate their cell phone. Upon learning that the phone has a camera, Mahendra asks Pinky how to use it so that he can take a photo of her, lest she go missing, too.

Siddharth reminded me of a terrific novel on a totally unrelated subject: The Martian by Andy Weir. Weir’s book presents in minute detail what life would be like for an astronaut left behind on Mars with virtually no resources. There are no aliens or space vampires in the book, just an endless series of ordinary events that could be fatal if one thing goes wrong. It’s fascinating.

Mehta’s film is no less fascinating. It allows the audience to come as close as they can to walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and illustrates the frustrating, devastating consequences of poverty. Siddharth is a triumph of storytelling.

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Movie Review: Happy Ending (2014)

Happy_Ending2.5 Stars (out of 4)

How sad that the weakest element in a movie about a screenwriter is the screenplay. Despite sporadic funny bits and good performances, Happy Ending takes too long to reach its own happy ending.

Saif Ali Khan plays Yudi, a bestselling author who’s been coasting on his fame in Los Angeles for the last six years. When his money runs out, Yudi’s last option is to write a screenplay for Armaan (Govinda), an aging superstar who wants to appeal to a younger audience with a romantic comedy — or “romedy,” as Armaan calls it — that rips off various Hollywood films.

At the same time, Yudi is plagued by woman troubles. He can’t seem to break up with his cheerfully possessive girlfriend, Vishakha (Kalki Koechlin), and he’s jealous of the hot new author at his publishing house, Aanchal (Ileana D’Cruz).

Throughout the film, Yudi is visited by his chubby, hairy alter ego, Yogi (also Khan). Yogi gives Yudi advice, usually by making references to movie formulas. The characters repeatedly look into the camera and acknowledge the audience. At the film’s mid-point — when things are going well for Yudi — Yogi mentions that this is typically when things go wrong. The payoff for this pronouncement is delayed until after the intermission break.

Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. — who also wrote the screenplay — try to add a visual element to the screenwriting references by introducing some scenes with accompanying on-screen text listing the scene number and plot point. This only happens four or five times in the movie, so it’s not enough to qualify as a recurring theme. It just feels like a half-baked idea.

For all of the attention paid to screenwriting references, little attention was paid to story structure. There is no conflict in Happy Ending – besides the general question of whether or not Yudi will set aside his partying ways in favor of a mature romantic relationship — and there are no stakes. Yudi’s money problems are permanently resolved with an advance from Armaan, who doesn’t seem to care that Yudi isn’t making progress on the screenplay.

Vishakha gets a lot of screentime in the first half of the film. The upside is that Koechlin is quite funny in the role. The downside is that her relationship with Yudi is dead in the water, and she’s not crazy enough to endanger him. It wastes time that should’ve been spent on the budding relationship between Yudi and Aanchal.

Yudi and Aanchal don’t spend any meaningful time together until nearly an hour into the film. That is a shame, because D’Cruz is the best part of Happy Ending. She’s as funny as Koechlin, but with a relaxed charm. I wish someone in Hollywood would cast her on a TV show so I could watch her every week.

Yet even Aanchal’s scenes with Yudi are as slow and overwritten as the rest of the film. There are some genuine laughs — many generated by Khan, who’s a fine leading man — but they are separated by vast stretches where nothing much happens. Despite all its references to screenwriting, Happy Ending feels like a first draft.

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Opening November 21: Happy Ending

The Hindi comedy Happy Ending opens in the Chicago area on November 21, 2014. Saif Ali Khan and Govinda are the main draws, but I’m most interested to watch the very funny Ileana D’Cruz.

Happy Ending opens on Friday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

After an average opening weekend, Kill Dil carries over for a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Both MovieMax and South Barrington 30 keep Happy New Year around for a fifth week, while MovieMax gives a third week to The Shaukeens.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Rowdy Fellow (Telugu) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont; Chaar Sahibzaade (3D; Punjabi w/English subtitles) at Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale; and Naaigal Jaakirathai (Tamil), Vanmam (Tamil), Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitam (Telugu), Varsham (Malayalam), and Kasturi Nivasa (Kannada) at MovieMax.

Streaming Video News: November 19, 2014

I updated my list of Bollywood films streaming on Netflix to include a new addition to the catalog: 2013’s Jackpot. The movie — which didn’t release theatrically in the U.S. — stars Sunny Leone and Naseeruddin Shah in a ridiculous wig. More importantly, Jackpot is made by Kaizad Gustad, director of the sublimely stupid film Boom. Needless to say, I’m excited to watch it.

Bollywood Box Office: November 14-16

This has been a lousy year for Yash Raj Films. Hopes were undoubtedly high after the titanic success of Dhoom 3 at the end of 2013, but none of the five films released by the company in 2014 has made much of a blip on the radar in North America.

Kill Dil‘s performance from November 14-16, 2014, cements that trend. During its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, Kill Dil earned $172,001 from 87 theaters, a per-screen average of $1,977.

To put this performance in context, the median number of opening weekend theaters for Hindi films in North America this year is 70, and the median per-screen average earnings are $2,022. All but one of the films released by Yash Raj Films this year opened in more theaters than the median (Bewakoofiyaan didn’t), but only one earned more than the median per-screen average (Gunday). Here’s how each Yash Raj film performed in its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada this year:

  • Gunday: $548,350 from 150 theaters; $3,656 average
  • Bewakoofiyaan: $67,738 from 66 theaters; $1,026 average
  • Mardaani: $168,997 from 86 theaters; $1,965 average
  • Daawat-e-Ishq: $204,950 from 113 theaters; $1,814 average
  • Kill Dil: $172,001 from 87 theaters; $1,977 average

While none of these performances — except for Bewakoofiyaan — is disastrous, the studio and theaters surely expected more. Even Gunday was likely expected to earn $1 million (it fell short with $887,675 total). The name Yash Raj carries enough clout to command a significant number of screens, but the return on those screens should be higher given the studio’s profile and the emerging young stars and veteran talent the company casts.

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Happy New Year: Week 4; $64,792 from 45 theaters; $1,440 average; $3,702,530 total
  • Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain: Week 2; $5,794 from two theaters; $2,897 average; $12,110 total
  • The Shaukeens: Week 2; $735 from six theaters; $123 average; $75,546 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Kill Dil (2014)

Kill_Dil3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

With a vibe that combines the wild west with rock ‘n’ roll and Indian gangsters, Kill Dil (“Kill Heart“) has a unique, appealing aesthetic style. That style — plus a briskly paced story and a hypnotic performance by Ranveer Singh — make Kill Dil worth watching.

Singh plays Dev, one of two orphans raised by Bhaiyaji (Govinda), a gangster. The other orphan, Tutu (Ali Zafar), is Dev’s best friend and partner in crime. Together, they serve as Bhaiyaji’s chief assassins.

While Tutu looks every bit the part — black leather jacket, sunglasses, mustache — Dev’s goofy energy and bowl haircut seem at odds with his profession. Yet Dev’s spirited demeanor is what makes him Bhaiyaji’s favorite.

Predictably, everything falls apart when Dev falls in love with Disha (Parineeti Chopra). She works finding jobs for reformed criminals, but Tutu points out that she probably doesn’t want to date one. Dev has to decide whether a normal life with Disha is worth leaving Bhaiyaji and incurring his wrath.

Though the plot is a bit familiar, the presentation is not. The vibrant colors — especially during Bhaiyaji’s Diwali party — and framing make every shot captivating. The terrific rock soundtrack makes every song feel necessary in an otherwise very fast movie. Before you know it, an hour has passed and the word “Intermission” appears on screen.

Zafar, who normally plays nice guys, is very cool as an assassin, taking his cues from the Marlboro Man on the billboard above the apartment Tutu and Dev share. Govinda likewise sheds his usual comic image and makes an imposing tough guy.

Singh is a boundless source of energy, practically vibrating in every scene, even when his character isn’t the focus. He’s at his most “on” during dance numbers. It’s impossible not to watch him. He’s charisma personified.

Yet Singh’s best moment comes during a tearful discussion with Tutu, the moment when Dev must commit to his future. Singh’s earnestness is moving as he channels all that energy into a plea for understanding.

Chopra plays her character well, but she and Singh are somewhat lacking in chemistry (despite Chopra playing her most overtly sexy character to date). Disha seems a mismatch for Dev. It’s not just that he flunked out of fifth grade, it’s that their cultural tastes don’t seem to match. It’s not enough that Dev’s a nice guy.

There’s a moment that hints at a subplot about Dev finding in Disha’s family the parents he never had, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Plus, it’s a little hard to believe that neither Disha nor her family wouldn’t be suspicious of Dev’s evasiveness about his past.

What flaws Kill Dil has are masked by an undeniable cool factor. This is a doggone stylish movie that combines a bunch of elements to make something unique and interesting. In an industry awash in gangster movies, Kill Dil really stands out.

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