Watch A. R. Rahman Live in Concert Online

Legendary film composer A. R. Rahman will receive an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in Boston on October 24, 2014. To mark the occasion, Rahman will perform a concert with the school’s Indian Ensemble. Proceeds from the concert benefit a scholarship in Rahman’s name that provides funds for Indian students to attend the school.

Though the concert is sold out, it’s going to be streamed online starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Here’s where you can watch the concert live. If you need more incentive to watch — “Free A. R. Rahman concert” isn’t incentive enough? — check out the video below of the Berklee Indian Ensemble performing Rahman’s “Jiya Jale” from Dil Se. They’re fabulous.

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Opening October 24: Happy New Year

One of the most hotly anticipated Bollywood movies of the year hits theaters on October 24, 2014. Happy New Year — starring Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Boman Irani, Abhishek Bachchan, Sonu Sood, and Vivaan Shah — gets a wide release in the Chicago area.

Several local theaters are offering preview showings of Happy New Year on Thursday night: MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison in Addison, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. On Friday, Happy New Year gets its official release in these additional theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 45 min.

The South Barrington 30 and MovieMax are both giving a fourth week to Haider and Bang Bang, which also carries over at the Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Kaththi (Tamil with English subtitles) at the Rosemont 18, Marcus Addison, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and MovieMax, which is also carrying Pyaar Vali Love Story (Marathi), Poojai (Tamil), Oka Laila Kosam (Telugu), Vellimoonga (Malayalam), and Dikkulu Choodaku Ramayya (Telugu).

New Trailer: October 22, 2014

The trailer for the December 5 release Action Jackson is out. It doesn’t do much to alleviate my concerns about the film’s potential for casual misogyny, a Prabhu Deva hallmark. However, it does feature Ajay Devgn chopping people with swords, which makes Action Jackson an automatic “must see.” Check it out:

 

Movie Review: Miss Lovely (2012)

Miss_Lovely_(2012_film)2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Miss Lovely is undoubtedly stylish, but to what end? An emphasis on visual aesthetics at the expense of story leaves the viewer adrift in this drama set in the Indian porn industry in the 1980s.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui — who gives another fantastic performance in Miss Lovely — narrates the film. He plays Sonu, the younger of a pair of brothers specializing in C-grade horror-porn. His elder brother, Vicky (Anil George), runs their operation, treating Sonu like a glorified gopher.

Director Ashim Ahluwalia doesn’t explain the structural organization of the illegal porn industry and how the characters fit into it. Vicky and Sonu “make” the movies, though they don’t direct them themselves. They peddle their films through a distributor named Heera (Manoj Bakshi), though they also deal with a bigwig named PK (Ragesh Asthana) who represents some foreign investors. There’s also a little person named Tiku (Zaheer Khan), who is some sort of casting agent.

Things go south when Vicky tries to cut Heera out of the business and distribute their films to theaters directly. Sonu — who’s sick of being bossed around by Vicky — falls in love with a woman he sees on a train, Pinky (Niharika Singh), vowing to make his own movie and turn her into a star. To do so, he steals from his brother.

It’s unclear how Vicky and Sonu actually plan to achieve their ambitions, just that they shouldn’t have them. Fate and everyone else in the industry make the brothers pay for aspiring above their station.

There are a lot of great-looking scenes and shots in Miss Lovely. Wide shots of the brothers’ movie sets are charmingly lowbrow. Party scenes are tacky and vibrant. A shot of Sonu holding a pair of drinks while standing in the middle of a smoky dance floor is beautifully composed.

However, the surfeit of establishing shots just seem like showing off. A dingy exterior shot of factory lasts for ten seconds, only to cut to another dingy shot of the same factory from a different angle. There’s a lot of visual setup with no payoff.

Characters aren’t developed enough to seem like more than representations of character types. Pinky is a woman with a mysterious past, but the revelation of her true nature is glossed over. Even Sonu is so lightly drawn that it’s hard to invest in his success or failure.

The most fleshed out of the characters is sleazy wannabe Vicky. His motivations are obvious, especially in his clumsy attempts to become a power player. He exerts his sexual dominance over women because they’re even less powerful than he is. George is perfectly scummy in the role.

Miss Lovely is a fine showcase of Ahluwalia’s potential, and it’s worth watching to see a director whose career is on the way up. However, as a self-contained story, Miss Lovely is only a partial success.

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Streaming Video News: October 21, 2014

I just updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to include a new addition to the streaming service: 2013’s Chashme Baddoor starring Ali Zafar. Note that the title is misspelled on Netflix as Chashme Buddoor, which is the title of a film from 1981. I thought the remake was cute.

For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: October 17-19

Bang Bang and Haider continued their strong box office performances in their last uncontested weekend before Shahrukh Khan’s Happy New Year hits theaters. In its third weekend in North America, Bang Bang earned an additional $138,308 from 128 theaters ($1,081 average per screen), bringing its total earnings to $2,523,614. That makes it the second highest earning Hindi film in North America in 2014, behind The Lunchbox.

Haider added $62,361 from 49 theaters ($1,273 average) to its coffers, bringing its total earnings in the United States and Canada to $1,022,727. That total puts it in eighth place in North America for the year.

Other Hindi movies showing in U.S. and Canadian theaters during the weekend of October 17-19, 2014:

  • Khoobsurat: Week 5; $2,296 from three theaters; $765 average; $725,610 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 34; $370 from one theater; $4,050,233 total
  • Daawat-e-Ishq: Week 5; $229 from one theater; $385,415 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Hit the Road: India (2013)

HitTheRoad3 Stars (out of 4)

Rent or buy the movie at Amazon
Buy the photography book at Amazon

Perhaps the best part of watching Hit the Road: India — a documentary about an auto rickshaw race from Mumbai to Chennai — is knowing that I don’t have to run the race myself. The movie follows two North Americans as they pilot a tiny, unreliable vehicle across India for an adventure that is equal parts beautiful and terrifying.

The race is the Mumbai Xpress, part of a series of road races that make up The Rickshaw Challenge. All of the races require participants to drive auto rickshaws: the dinky, three-wheeled vehicles ubiquitous in Indian cities.

Auto rickshaws are designed for quick urban jaunts, not highway driving. The vehicles driven by the racers have no doors, seat belts, or windshield wipers, a barely functioning headlight, and an engine that puts out a whopping seven horsepower.

Our guides in Hit the Road: India are Canadian chef Keith King and Chicagoan Ric Gazarian, who works in real estate. They are the least organized of the six teams competing, eschewing maps and GPS in favor of, well, who knows?

The twelve-day, 1,900 km race starts with the simple-sounding yet nerve-wracking task of getting out of Mumbai. Overloaded motorcycles dart in between humongous trucks, nearly clipping the small, slow auto rickshaw driven by two guys who elected to pack a Spider-Man mask and an Elmo costume for a trip through rural India.

Ric and Keith and their auto rickshaw

Ric and Keith and their auto rickshaw

Once out of Mumbai traffic, it’s surprising how quickly the city fades and the scenery becomes lush and green. What’s delightful about seeing India from this perspective is realizing how much beauty exists in areas that Bollywood filmmakers tend to ignore.

Part of that has to do with when the race takes place. It’s run in August during monsoon season, a time when it doesn’t make financial sense to shoot a film outdoors. However, the overcast August skies make the greenery more vibrant and augment the power of the churning ocean waves.

Virtually all of the drama in Hit the Road: India is due to Ric & Keith’s decrepit vehicle. It burns through gas at a furious rate, and it needs a new engine after just a few days. The long drives up winding hills are as hard on the rickshaw as they are on the drivers.

As funny as some of the mishaps are — like when Ric loses a shoe while lifting the rickshaw out of a watery ditch — it’s impossible to ignore the real danger of the race. The men must navigate potholes while avoiding driving into the path of annoyed bus drivers. Rural roads are poorly lit at night, so one could hardly blame a bleary-eyed trucker for failing to notice the sputtering little auto rickshaw in time to avoid a collision.

Somehow, the guys make it to the finish line alive, enabling Ric to present Hit the Road: India at the 2014 Chicago South Asian Film Festival. Ric spoke of plans to turn Hit the Road into a series, filming other adventurous road rallies around the world. It’s a natural fit for The Travel Channel, PBS, or even Netflix.

With more corporate financial backing, future editions could add some neat features. Onscreen text in Hit the Road: India notes the day of the race and the remaining distance to Chennai, but a map graphic could give a sense of how far the racers travel each day.

A bigger budget could also enable the filmmakers to follow more than one team. Ric & Keith’s adventures are captured by a dash-mounted camera as well as a camera crew in a pace car that drives alongside them. By only following one team, it’s hard to get a sense of how the actual race is unfolding (especially since Ric & Keith are almost always in last place).

All of the other racers are introduced by name during the closing credits, and until then, I had no idea that so there were so many women participating. One team consists of three women from the United Kingdom and Australia. It would’ve been fascinating to see how they fared in a country with a troubled history of gender inequality and a well-known lack of public restrooms for women.

Hit the Road: India presents an interesting side of the country as well as a great first entry into what should be a series. I can’t wait to see where Ric & Keith Hit the Road next.

"Elmo" and "Cookie Monster" visit a school

“Elmo” and “Cookie Monster” visit a school

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