Movie Review: 2 States (2014)

2states3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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As a woman who’s lived her entire life in Illinois, I would never have expected to find a movie about the cultural differences between families from North and South India so personally relevant. But those cultural differences are only the hook in 2 States. The real story is about alcoholism and the effects it can have across multiple generations.

The majority of the problems for the characters in 2 States (based on the novel by Chetan Bhagat) stem from the warped style of communication that Krish Malhotra (Arjun Kapoor) developed in order to deal with his abusive alcoholic father, Vikram (Ronit Roy) and his martyr mother, Kavita (Amrita Singh).

Krish — a Punjabi guy from Delhi — meets and falls in love with Ananya (Alia Bhatt) — a Tamil Brahmin gal from Chennai — in graduate school. They want their parents’ approval before they get married, but an introductory meeting goes terribly wrong. Vikram doesn’t even show up, and Kavita spews slurs against South Indians. Ananya’s mother, Radha (Revathy), calls Kavita classless and drags her husband, Shiv (Shiv Kumar Subramaniam) as far away as she can get.

Krish and Ananya persist in trying to win their parents’ approval, but their efforts are hampered by Krish’s evasiveness and conflict avoidance. Because he knows it will upset his mother, Krish doesn’t tell her in advance that Ananya is coming to visit, making Kavita even angrier. Krish also doesn’t tell Ananya the truth about his troubled relationship with his father until Ananya fruitlessly tries to make small talk with him.

I’m a couple of generations removed from the alcohol abuse on both sides of my family, but its effects still linger in the way we all communicate. Listening to Krish’s family evade, pacify, generalize, and blow up over little things felt familiar.

The characters feel so authentic because they are portrayed as damaged human beings, not monsters. Even in Vikram’s worst moments, Roy gives him an air of fragility. Singh plays Kavita as a woman whose hurtful words come from a place of fear.

Kapoor infuses Krish with an air of desperation. He’s as desperate not to lose Ananya as he is not to upset his mother. Part of his character development is choosing which he fears most. Krish is a relatable alternative to the typical cocksure, big-man-on-campus type of Bollywood hero.

Bhatt is terrific as Ananya: a woman with much more confidence than Krish, despite having challenging parents of her own. Revathy and Subramaniam find the right balance, making their characters chilly but not stony. At least with them, Krish knows he stands a chance.

Certain aspects make 2 States a good starter Bollywood film, not least of which are the well-written, well-acted characters. There aren’t an overwhelming number of songs, but those that exist are placed appropriately. The biggest song-and-dance number — “Locha-E-Ulfat” — is a kind of dream sequence when Krish is in the first throes of love. It features a cool single-take shot in which the camera weaves around, following Krish as he dances through the library stacks. (Watch the video of “Locha-E-Ulfat” here.)

Where the movie loses a lot of non-Indian viewers — especially those new to Bollywood — is in its jokes and stereotypes about North and South India. Some jabs are explained, but jokes about regional food and drink preferences are glossed over. I had to turn to Wikipedia to learn that “Madrasi” — the term Kavita uses to describe Ananya and her family — is an ethnic slur. Kavita also makes many, many cringe-worthy comments about the differences in skin tone between North and South Indians.

Nevertheless, the point is sufficiently made: the two families hate each other. It’s up to Krish to overcome his fear of conflict to win the woman he loves.

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Opening April 18: 2 States

One of the most hotly anticipated Bollywood films of the year opens in the Chicago area on April 18, 2014. 2 States stars Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt as a pair of young people trying to build a relationship despite the objections of their parents.

2 States opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.

It’s worth noting that the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles — one of two local theaters to carry Bollywood movies virtually every week — is no longer managed by Phoenix Big Cinemas, and its present closure may be permanent. If so, that makes the South Barrington 30 the most reliable place to find Hindi films in the Chicago area, followed by the Cantera 17 and River East 21.

Despite a tepid opening weekend, Bhoothnath Returns carries over for a second week at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which is also carrying over Main Tera Hero and Queen.

The Lunchbox gets another week at Landmark’s Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park.

The only other Indian movie playing in the Chicago area this weekend is Race Gurram (Telugu with English subtitles) at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Bollywood Box Office: April 11-13

Bhoothnath’s return to theaters was less than triumphant. The sequel failed to make a splash in its first weekend in North American theaters, earning only about a quarter of what the original did back in 2008.

The original Bhoothnath debuted on May 9, 2008. The supernatural family flick earned $330,246 from sixty-four North American theaters in its opening weekend for an impressive average of $5,160 per screen. It finished in 20th place in the overall U.S. box office for that weekend.

In contrast, Bhoothnath Returns earned just $87,850 from fifty theaters for an average of $1,757, according to Bollywood Hungama. That total would rank it around 34th place in the overall U.S. box office for the weekend of April 11-13, 2014.

The surprise success story of the weekend was the incredible performance of the Telugu film Race Gurram. In the United States alone, it earned $844,101 from sixty-six screens. That’s an average of $12,789 per screen!

Over the weekend, The Lunchbox became the highest grossing Hindi film of 2014 thus far. The $270,977 it earned from 122 theaters brought its total haul to $1,655,071. With dozens of theaters scheduled to program the movie over the next few months, expect that total to grow significantly.

In its second weekend, Main Tera Hero earned $45,282 from forty-six theaters ($984 average). Its total earnings stand at $252,966.

Queen‘s glorious run appears to be nearing its end. It earned $36,092 from twenty screens ($1,805 average) in its sixth weekend in theaters, bringing its total earnings to $1,385,453.

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Bhoothnath Returns (2014)

BhoothnathReturns2 Stars (out of 4)

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Bhoothnath Returns is only intermittently entertaining, because writer-director Nitesh Tiwari fails to take his target audience into account. Why does a film geared toward children have a runtime of 155 minutes? And why are so many of those minutes devoted to discussions of how to file paperwork?

2008′s Bhoothnath (“Lord of Ghosts“) starred Amitabh Bachchan as the titular not-so-scary ghost. The sequel finds Bhoothnath the target of jokes up in Ghost World — which looks a lot like Hogwarts — due to his inability to scare children.

Bhoothnath returns to earth to redeem his reputation, only to run into another fearless kid who can see him, even though no one else can. Savvy street urchin Akhrot (Parth Bhalerao) teams up with Bhoothnath, solving the problems of other earth-bound ghosts and earning money. As their friendship grows, Bhoothnath realizes that Akhrot’s future will never be secure while murderous thugs like Bhau (Boman Irani) run the government. Thus is born India’s first campaign to elect a ghost to political office.

For a while, the discussions of the bureaucratic technicalities surrounded Bhoothnath’s run are entertaining, aided by Sanjay Mishra’s funny performance as Bhoothnath’s lawyer. As the second half of the film rolls on, the story gets bogged down in heavy-handed patriotic speeches and lengthy montages depicting differing versions of what will happen on election day.

There is a surfeit of montages in Bhoothnath Returns. Instead of briefly panning the camera across the festively decorated grounds before Bhoothnath’s big rally, Tiwari devotes in excess of a minute to a sped-up version of the decoration of the rally grounds. When the movie is already so long, why devote more than a few seconds to something no one cares about?

The movie’s strangest sequence also takes place in montage form. As Bhoothnath comes to grips with depth of India’s problems, the song “Sahib” plays accompanied by a montage of photos of desperate, starving people. It’s very grim for a movie geared toward kids, especially since the impoverished state of Akhrot’s own neighborhood is already established.

It’s also hypocritical. Earlier in the film, Akhrot derisively mentions making money from foreign tourists looking to experience Slumdog Millionaire in person. How is turning images of peoples’ suffering into a music video in a major motion picture any different?

The film’s tedious heavy-handedness rankles because it detracts from an otherwise cute movie. Irani’s villain is the right mix of sinister and clownish. Bachchan is both grudging and caring as he puts up with his willful young friend.

Bhalerao does a terrific job as Akhrot, cracking wise but never coming off as a jerk. The young actor is great in a touching scene in which Akhrot tries to conceal the risks of their venture from Bhoothnath.

All the fine performances can’t keep Bhoothnath Returns from turning into a glorified public service announcement. Encouraging people to vote is a worthy goal, but it has to be done within the context of the story.

The pro-voting message comes across clearly through the story of Bhoothnath Returns, but Tiwari doesn’t leave well-enough alone, tacking on at least twenty minutes of condescending speeches. Jarring celebrity cameos by Ranbir Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, and Shahrukh Khan — whose presence is the only one that makes a lick of narrative sense — just add to the feeling that Bhoothnath Returns is as much an overly long PSA as it is a movie.

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Opening April 11: Bhoothnath Returns

Amitabh Bachchan plays a ghost who takes on a corrupt politician in the family friendly sequel Bhoothnath Returns, opening in the Chicago area on April 11, 2014.

Bhoothnath Returns opens on Friday at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 32 min.

After a mild opening weekend at the North American box office, Main Tera Hero carries over for a second weekend at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

Queen gets a sixth weekend at the South Barrington 30.

The Lunchbox carries over for another weekend at the Century 12 Evanston in Evanston and Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Disco Singh (Punjabi) at the South Barrington 30; Naan Sigappu Manithan (Tamil) and Maan Karate (Tamil) at AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield 20 in Schaumburg; and Race Gurram (Telugu) at Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont.

Streaming Video News: April 9, 2014

The family crime drama Aurangzeb is now available for streaming on Netflix. This is one of my favorite movies of 2013, and it’s a far better showcase for Arjun Kapoor’s talent than his most recent release, Gunday.

I like the changes Eros Now made to their homepage, which now highlights free movies and films recently added to the streaming service.

New Trailers: April 9, 2014

Time to catch up on recently released trailers for films coming out in the next couple of months. None of these look like sure bets to open in the United States, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Saqib Saleem stars as an inline skating coach in the sports flick Hawaa Hawaai, releasing in theaters on May 9, 2014. Following a turn as a young gay man in Bombay Talkies, this is another interesting career choice by Saleem. His recent role selections seem made deliberately to keep from getting pigeonholed in romantic comedies. I hope the choice pays off for him.

The political drama Manjunath also hits theaters on May 9.

Tiger Shroff — son of Jackie Shroff — makes his big-screen debut in Heropanti, releasing on May 23. Despite Tiger’s good looks, I have some concerns about this one. First, action flicks featuring new heroes are hard sells at the U.S. box office. Second, if a film’s trailer uses the word “bratty” to describe a character, it had better be to describe a pre-teen girl and not an adult man. Finally, when I hear the title Heropanti, it makes me think of this.

The Xposé — also releasing on May 23 — looks cheesy, but a Bollywood retro murder mystery could be fun.

Without English subtitles in the trailer, I’m not entirely sure what Kuku Mathur Ki Jhand Ho Gayi is about. It releases on May 30.

Same goes for the stupidly named Fugly, opening June 13.

There’s no release date yet for the Hindi remake of the horror movie Pizza, but it’s a horror movie called Pizza! I’m in!