Bollywood Box Office: October 2-4

The North American box office report for October 2-4, 2015 offers an interesting look at what kinds of Bollywood movies are more popular in Canada than the United States. Spoiler alert: Canadians love comedies.

Singh Is Bliing got the wider release of the weekend’s two new films, debuting in 160 theaters: 140 in the US, 20 in Canada. It earned $478,888 total in North America, for average earnings of $2,993 per screen. Those 20 Canadian theaters — which made up about 13% of the total number of theaters showing the movie in North America — accounted for nearly a third of the film’s total earnings ($152,743). Those Canadian theaters saw average earnings of $7,637 per screen, versus an average of $2,330 in US theaters showing Singh Is Bliing.

By contrast, earnings for the weekend’s other new release — the crime drama Talvar — were divided among the countries more predictably. Talvar earned a total of $132,084 from 59 theaters in North America ($2,239 average). Canada’s nine theaters (15% of the total) contributed about 13% of the total earnings ($17,508).

The performance of second-weekend holdover Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon confirms Canadian filmgoers’ fondness for Bollywood comedies. KKPK took in another $46,169 from 42 theaters across North America ($1,099 average), bringing its two-week total to $324,993. Nearly half of that amount — $22,697 — came from the 13 Canadian theaters carrying the film. The average earning per screen in Canada ($1,746) was more than double the US average ($809).

All of the growth in theater counts for Bollywood movies is happening in the US, while the greatest demand — especially for comedies, patriotic action flicks, and anything starring Akshay Kumar — seems to be in Canada. Some savvy distributor or theater chain needs to capitalize on this.

Katti Batti clung on for a third weekend, posting anemic earnings of just $608 from four theaters ($152 average). Its total North American earnings stand at $362,753.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Singh Is Bliing (2015)

SinghIsBling2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Singh Is Bliing is an imperfect but entertaining action comedy, and one of Prabhu Deva’s better directorial ventures. The movie offers one of the year’s best comic performances, from an unlikely source.

Akshay Kumar stars as Raftaar Singh, a totally different character from the one he played in 2008’s Singh Is Kinng. The two movies have nothing to do with each other, except that calling Singh Is Bliing a sequel provides a reason for Kumar to play a Punjabi Sikh again, as if one needs a reason.

Raftaar is a typical Bollywood layabout, far too old be mooching off his parents (Kumar is 48). He’s got a pair of lackeys — Pappi (Arfi Lamba) and Pompi (Anil Mange) — who follow him about. Raftaar’s father gives his son an ultimatum: take a job with Dad’s buddy in Goa, or marry an overweight woman, which is apparently a form of punishment.

Dad’s buddy (Pradeep Rawat) assigns Raftaar and his boys the task of guarding Sara (Amy Jackson), daughter of the boss’s friend, who also happens to be an international arms dealer. The problem is that Sara only speaks English, and Raftaar and his friends only speak Hindi.

They hire a translator, Emily (Lara Dutta), who immediately steals the whole film. Dutta is hilarious. Emily gets so into her role that she starts imitating Raftaar’s mannerisms, not just translating his words. She busts out some funky dance moves in a bar after matching Raftaar shot-for-shot.

A particularly clever song sequence sees one of Raftaar’s romantic daydreams about Sara made manifest. Pappi and Pompi notice Raftaar staring into space and decide to join him in his dream, dragging Emily in with them. As the boys provide the background music, Emily serves as Raftaar’s romantic surrogate, herself wooing Sara as she sings in English what Raftaar has just sung in Hindi. It’s very funny and smart.

Unfortunately, the rest of the plot isn’t as intelligent. Multiple story threads fail to come together in a satisfactory way. The big villain of the film — an arms dealer named Mark (Kay Kay Menon) who is a rival of Sara’s father — is a total afterthought, and his few scenes are poorly integrated into the rest of the story. He doesn’t steer the plot until the very end of the film, so Raftaar and Sara are in little serious danger for the bulk of the picture.

This is a shame, because Menon is a skilled scenery chewer. Sporting a ponytail, Menon channels Terry Silver from Karate Kid III, enhancing the similarity by shouting “I like it!”

In a surprising reversal of gender norms, Jackson gets to perform the best fight choreography, while Kumar plays Raftaar as brave but bumbling. Jackson is perfectly suited for action roles, but her acting and dancing could use some work if she wants to branch out. Kumar is likable as ever.

Though Singh Is Bliing isn’t overtly misogynistic like some of Prabhu Deva’s earlier films, there’s a disappointing sequence of victim blaming. Raftaar instructs a pair of women being manhandled by a pair of lecherous men to fight back. He takes the idiotic view that women can prevent sexual assault simply by slapping their attackers.

When the ladies kick their attackers into submission, Raftaar feels vindicated in his opinion (never mind that the two attackers know that Raftaar is waiting to pummel them should they overpower the women).

Later, Sara annihilates a room full of goons, and Pappi and Pompy credit her success to Raftaar’s speech. It’s unclear if this is meant to be a joke, but the statement is followed immediately by a shot of some dancers — one of whom had earlier been punched in the face — hitting the fallen goons, seeming to validate Raftaar as deserving of credit.

Though Singh Is Bliing falls short of its potential, surprisingly fun performances by Dutta, Menon, and butt-kicking Amy Jackson keep the sequel from ever being dull.


Opening October 2: Singh Is Bliing and Talvar

Two new Bollywood movies hit Chicago area theaters on October 2, 2015. Singh Is Bliing — the sequel to 2008’s Singh Is Kinng — gets the wider release of the two.

Singh Is Bliing opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, 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. 20 min.

The weekend’s other new release is the crime thriller Talvar, starring Irrfan Khan and Konkona Sen Sharma.

Talvar opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon gets a second weekend at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Katti Batti.

Meet the Patels carries over at the South Barrington 30 and expands to the Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette and Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 21 in Lincolnshire.

The Pakistani film Jawani Phir Nahi Ani gets a second week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

If that’s not enough to keep you busy, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival is taking place this weekend, and includes a screening of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on Saturday night.

Movie Review: Dhanak (2015)

Dhanak3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Dhanak plays at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival on Saturday, October 3, at 9 a.m.

Dhanak (“Rainbow“) is as charming as can be, a sweet fairy tale about a blind boy and his devoted sister. The deserts of Rajasthan provide the perfect setting for writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor’s story of faith, family, and the general goodness of mankind.

8-year-old Chotu (Krrish Chhabria) and his 10-year-old sister Pari (Hetal Gada) are orphans, living in a tiny village with their aunt and uncle. Aunty (Gulfam Khan) is a classic “wicked stepmother,” stingy and resentful of having to raise children who aren’t her own. Uncle Durgaram (Vipin Sharma) loves Pari and Chotu, but he’s a stoner who won’t stand up to his domineering wife.

Chotu and Pari are movie buffs who spin tales about their celluloid heroes: Chotu’s idol, Salman Khan, and Pari’s imaginary boyfriend, Shahrukh Khan. Outside of the town movie hall, Pari spies Shahrukh on a poster for a vision charity. The Shahrukh of her stories is noble and generous, so Pari believes he’s the man who can restore Chotu’s sight.

The village buzzes with news that Shahrukh is filming in nearby Jaisalmer (nearby being relative, since Jaisalmer is 300 kilometers away). When Uncle Durgaram won’t take them to ask Shahrukh for his help, Pari and Chotu put on their flip-flops and begin the long walk to Jaisalmer alone.

The relationship between brother and sister is adorable. Love underlies their argumentative banter, all the funnier thanks to their quick-wittedness. When Chotu leaves behind their water bottle, he scolds Pari, “How can you trust an 8-year-old? A blind 8-year-old at that?!” Pari looks heavenward and prays, “God, give me the strength not to kill my brother.”

They receive a considerable amount of help on their journey, getting lifts from friendly truck drivers and guests heading to a wedding. The kids are so guileless that most adults are eager to help, without trying to dissuade them from their mission.

Dhanak‘s rural setting — with smalls town separated by miles of sand dunes — is the perfect venue for telling the kind of story that no longer seems possible in the West. Given the omnipresence of technology that allows parents to be in constant contact with their children at all times, it’s refreshing to see a movie where the kids are the decision makers. They receive adult assistance, not interference.

That’s not to say that the world Pari and Chotu live in is perfectly safe. They encounter dangers, often from unlikely suspects. Then again, how safe were they at home, with their cruel aunt and spineless uncle? Since Dhanak is for kids as much as it is about them, the dangers Pari and Chotu face aren’t depicted in detail. The film is totally family friendly, and realistic without being scary.

Just as the kids are occasionally betrayed by figures of authority, they are encouraged to choose their allies based on more than first impressions. One of the sweetest relationships in the film is between the kids and Badrinath (Suresh Menon), a former truck driver mad with grief over the deaths of his own children. Their need allows him to regain some of what he’s lost, even for a short time.

A kindly grandmother tells Pari and Chotu that there is magic in the world, and they just have to reach out and grab it. Whether or not magic exists as an independent force in the film is debatable. Yet the kids’ journey teaches them that there is kindness and friendship to be found in the world, and that those forces are sometimes enough to make dreams come true.


Streaming Video News: September 30, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. Midnight’s Children — based on the Salman Rushdie novel — is now available for streaming. Though just an okay film, novelty alone may be enough reason to watch it. The international, English-language production features tons of faces familiar to Bollywood fans, including: Anupam Kher, Seema Biswas, Ronit Roy, Shabana Azmi, Rajat Kapoor, Shahana Goswami, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan, Siddharth, Ranvir Shorey, and Vinay Pathak.

Movie Review: G – A Wanton Heart (2015)

2 Stars (out of 4)

G – A Wanton Heart makes its world premiere at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival on October 4, 2015, at 2 p.m.

Without a strong narrative as a base, rookie filmmaker Rahul Dahiya’s G – A Wanton Heart can’t be the meaningful examination of cultural ills it aspires to be. Instead, it’s mostly social justice torture porn.

G has no true protagonists, only a handful of characters from the same village whose importance to the story varies over time. We are first introduced to a thief named Keku as he tries to molest his cousin’s wife while she sleeps. He then tries to rape Preeti, the kidnapped owner of a van he’s stolen.

The rape attempt is interrupted by Virender, the leader of Keku’s bandit trio, though he’s not in a hurry to intervene. Virender switches seats with Keku, and himself leans on the woman’s shoulder before laying his head in her lap.

The car theft sequence highlights a recurring theme in the film: women have zero autonomy over their own bodies. Men grab and grope, leer and proposition, with no negative consequences for their lascivious behavior.

Every man in G is a horny pervert. Every one. The men who aren’t actively trying to have sex with women are watching some other man try to do so. Boys watch as a teenager photographs a naive adolescent girl under her clothes, and toothless old men gawk at those same photos on their mobile phones.

Whenever a woman tries to act on her own sexual desires, she is punished for it. Heck, even if she’s violated against her will, she’s still punished. Women and girls are held entirely responsible for their own sexual purity, and it’s seemingly the mission of the whole village to police the conduct of its female residents.

Though Dahiya tries to make a point about repressive sexual mores in rural India — going so far as to end the film with statistics about honor killings — the message fails to connect without a narrative to anchor it. The absence of a clear protagonist (or protagonists) keeps the audience from connecting with the characters.

The vision of Indian village life that Dahiya paints is a portrait of hell on earth, particularly for women. One wonders how any village females survive long enough to bear their own children when every infraction is punishable by death.

Issues such as honor killings, gender bias, and women’s safety remain a huge problem in India, and yet, clearly villages survive. Though mainstream Bollywood movies often paint an overly rosy picture of village life, there is certainly some basis in reality for the wholesome simplicity Bollywood admires. Dahiya’s depiction lacks context.

In G – A Wanton Heart, there is no hope for any of the female characters, nowhere to turn. The men who claim to love them — boyfriends, brothers, fathers — won’t protect them, and are often among those calling for their deaths. With no chance for a better life, why live? And yet real Indian women persevere, village girls dreaming of school and futures they define for themselves.

It’s not that the movie needs to be hopeful, just that there must be room for hope. Without that, G – A Wanton Heart becomes an inadvertent glorification of the very patriarchal violence its creator abhors.


  • G – A Wanton Heart at IMDb

Bollywood Box Office: September 25-27

TV comedian Kapil Sharma’s film debut, Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon, got off to a fine start in North America. During the weekend of September 25-27, 2015, it earned $203,645 from 82 theaters ($2,483 average). That’s significantly better than fellow TV host Manish Paul’s 2013 big screen debut, Mickey Virus — also featuring Sharma’s co-star, Elli Avram — which earned just $24,100 from 48 theaters in the US and Canada.

There’s more to Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon‘s performance than meets the eye. The film did vastly better in Canada than it did in the US, taking in 33% of opening weekend earnings ($67,103) from just 16% of the total number of theaters (13). We’ll see how it holds up against the two high-profile pictures rolling into theaters this Friday: Singh Is Bliing and Talvar.

Katti Batti lost about 80% of its opening weekend business in its second weekend in North American theaters. It added another $41,881 from 70 theaters ($598 average) to bring its total earnings to $346,332. Expect it to surrender most of those theaters to the two new flicks opening Friday.

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Welcome Back: Week 4; $6,095 from eight theaters; $762 average; $1,379,668 total
  • Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Week 11; $410 from one theater; $8,114,714 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama