Movie Review: Sanam Teri Kasam (2016)

SanamTeriKasam3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

To best enjoy Sanam Teri Kasam, watch it while pretending to be a studious Indian teenage girl who has lots of ideas about love but little experience. Sanam Teri Kasam is essentially Twilight without the vampires, and I mean that as a compliment.

Our doomed young lovers first spy each other in the hallway of their apartment building. Tattooed, shirtless Inder (Harshvardhan Rane) makes out with a woman in a skimpy dress. Bespectacled Saru (Mawra Hocane) timidly follows behind her outraged father, who berates the beefcake for his PDA.

Stuff gets crazy real quick. Saru’s younger sister throws a fit because Dad won’t let her get married until Saru does, but no one will marry Saru because she looks like a “frumpy aunty.” Saru goes to Inder for help, but there’s a mix up and he gets injured, and her dad catches her sitting on Inder’s bed in a compromising position.

In this position, Saru should have gone with a better opening line than, “Dad, you were supposed to return tomorrow.” Something like, “I’m helping him change his bandage. Chill.” The primary cause of problems in Sanam Teri Kasam is characters’ reluctance to offer perfectly reasonable explanations for misunderstandings, and this case is no different. Dad declares Saru dead and holds a funeral for her.

Saru’s expulsion from the family ignites Inder the ex-con’s tender side. He goes out of his way to look after Saru, falling in love even as he helps her search for a suitable groom that will get her back in her father’s good graces.

It also triggers the greatest makeover montage of all time. Inder introduces Saru to Mustakeen Bhai, The Makeover King, played by…Vijay Raaz in a lace shirt?! Vijay and his assistants sing and dance to the song “Ek Number,” transforming Saru from nerd to bombshell. The scene is bizarre and magical and worth the price of admission.

All of the song numbers in Sanam Teri Kasam are odd in a good way. When Saru accidentally gets high and dances around the farmer’s market, everyone ignores her and continues shopping — a more realistic approach than the typical Bollywood treatment where bystanders join in, somehow knowing all the lyrics and choreography in advance.

When Inder confesses his love in the title song, stage lights suddenly illuminate the lovers’ faces, an effect that is both hilarious and moving. Teenage me would have loved it.

Despite being insanely dramatic and occasionally hysterical, everything in Sanam Teri Kasam is done with complete sincerity, and that’s why it works. When teenage girls react to even minor problems with the phrase, “My parents are going to kill me,” it’s because they believe it, rational or not. Sanam Teri Kasam is made for those girls, and for those of us who remember what it was like to be one of those girls.

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Opening February 5: Ghayal Once Again and Sanam Teri Kasam

For the third week in a row, two new Hindi films are opening in the Chicago area. The sequel Ghayal Once Again — starring Sunny Deol — is one of the two new releases hitting theaters on February 5, 2016.

Ghayal Once Again opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas 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.

Also releasing on February 5 is the romantic drama Sanam Teri Kasam, starring Bollywood newcomers Mawra Hocane and Harshvardhan Rane.

Sanam Teri Kasam opens on Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Saala Khadoos and its Tamil version, Irudhi Suttru, get a second week at MovieMax. Airlift carries over for a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Bangalore Naatkal (Tamil) at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and MovieMax, which also carries Vennello Hai Hai (Telugu), Action Hero Biju (Malayalam), Speedunnodu (Telugu), Pavada (Malayalam), Aranmanai 2 (Tamil), and Two Countries (Malayalam).

Bollywood Box Office: January 29-31

January 29-31, 2016, was an awful weekend for new Bollywood movies in North America. Let’s look first at the better of the two new releases. According to Rentrak data supplied to Bollywood Hungama, Saala Khadoos earned $62,920 from 58 theaters ($1,085 average). Those figures are slightly lower than those reported by Box Office Mojo — $76,931 from 70 theaters; $1,099 average. Things look rosier when factoring in collections from the Tamil version of the film, Irudhi Suttru: $83,994 from 35 theaters ($2,399 average).

The weekend’s other new release — Mastizaade — got trounced. It earned just $28,529 from 46 theaters for a per-screen average of $620. It performed so poorly that, as of Tuesday, my local theater had cut back from four showings per day to just one. Its average is even worse than Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3‘s first-weekend average of $716. For a look into Mastizaade‘s bleak future, note that KKHH3 took in just $913 from eight theaters in its second weekend ($114 average), bringing its total to $31,444.

The lesson to be learned here is: don’t open Hindi sex comedies in North America. There is no demographic here yearning for sex comedies with no sex, especially not when there are racier Hollywood alternatives in theaters and a world of raunchy stuff available to anyone with an internet connection.

There’s possibly another lesson to be learned from Saala Khadoos. Sports movies are among the most easily accessible across cultures thanks to their formulaic nature and the fact that people everywhere share a love for sport, so why not adapt the advertising in the hopes of nabbing people outside of the usual target audience?

SaalaKhadoosLook at the poster for Saala Khadoos. There’s nothing on the poster to indicate that it’s about boxing, and the title isn’t informative even if you know Hindi. Why not follow the route of festivals films and release it internationally with an evocative English title — Fighting Spirit or something like that — and then have R. Madhavan squaring off with Ritika Singh on the poster. As it stands, the poster only appeals to people who are already Madhavan fans.

In contrast, check out the poster for Neerja.Neerja It’s clearly a hijacking thriller set on a plane, and the woman with the gun pointed at her is dressed as a flight attendant. The text at the top reads “Fear gave her courage,” so we know that she must be the hero. The poster is geared toward people who haven’t already heard of the film, hoping to entice them to buy a theater ticket or add the movie to their Netflix queue. Sonam Kapoor fans are going to buy a ticket no matter what, so there’s no need to cater to them.

As for other Hindi movies still showing in North America, Airlift won the weekend, adding another $482,307 from 101 theaters ($4,775 average) to bring its two-week total to $1,534,443. Those figures may be on the low side since Rentrak didn’t report separate second-weekend earnings from Canada.

Wazir added another $7,513 from 11 theaters ($683 average) to bring its four-week total to $1,109,233. Bajirao Mastani closed out its seventh weekend with $6,966 from six theaters ($1,161 average). Its total stands at $6,551,448.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Dr. Cabbie (2014)

Dr Cabbie_VOD2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Dr. Cabbie is available on VOD and iTunes on February 2, 2016.

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Bollywood superstar Salman Khan turns producer for the Canadian film Dr. Cabbie, a comedy that takes a critical look at Canada’s medical infrastructure and immigrants’ ability to assimilate into the culture.

Vinay Virmani — the film’s co-writer — plays Dr. Deepak Veer Chopra, a recent Indian med school grad eager to start his career in Canada. He drags his mother, Nellie (Lillete Dubey), to Toronto, where they move in with her brother, Vijay (Rizwan Manji), and his blonde hippie wife, Rani (Mircea Monroe).

Despite a nationwide shortage of doctors, none of Toronto’s hospitals will accept Deepak’s Indian degree. His new pal, Tony (Kunal Nayyar), convinces the doctor to join him as a cab driver, the city’s go-to job for the over-educated and underemployed.

When Tony uploads a video of Deepak delivering a woman’s baby in the back of his cab, it launches Deepak’s career as a mobile freelance doctor, even if means he has to practice without at license. It also jump-starts Deepak’s romance with the new mom, Natalie (Adrianne Palicki).

There are some especially charming equations in Dr. Cabbie. Virmani and Palicki share a comfortable chemistry, Deepak’s earnestness pairing well with Natalie’s savvy.

Best of all is the friendship between Nellie and Rani. After initially resisting the move to Canada, Nellie is quickly won over, taking to Rani’s life of massages and facials like a fish to water. Impressed with her sister-in-law’s golden tresses and generous bosom, Nellie dons her own blonde wig and pads her bra with socks.

The funniest part of the film is Vijay’s recounting of his proposal to Rani. A flashback shows the audience the truth of what happened in a way that is far less rosy than the story he tells his sister and nephew.

The tone of the film is generally light, and so is the criticism of the Canadian medical system’s inefficiencies. Most of the racially tinged humor is benign, although a few instances are cringe-worthy.

Tony’s character exists for the purpose of inserting as many sex jokes into the script as possible, and the vast majority of the jokes just aren’t funny. It’s hard to imagine a woman being charmed by Tony’s catcalling and the set of blue plastic testicles hanging from his cab’s bumper. A subplot involving Tony’s Italian landlord and the landlord’s daughter should have been ditched entirely.

Though not perfect, Dr. Cabbie has enough cute moments and winsome performances to make it worth a glance.

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Streaming Video News: February 1, 2016

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. 2014’s Hate Story 2 is now available for streaming. I didn’t care for the original Hate Story, so the sequel isn’t high on my list of priorities.

Bollywood fans may also be interested in a couple of documentaries that were also added to Netflix in the last week: 2015’s India’s Daughter and 2012’s Inshallah, Kashmir.

Split Screen Podcast, Episode 11: We Are Family vs. Stepmom

SplitScreenPodcast

Another episode of the Split Screen Podcast featuring yours truly is now available for your listening pleasure. In Episode 11, show host Shah Shahid and I discuss why the Bollywood flick We Are Family is an inferior copy of the Hollywood film Stepmom and struggle to determine why the little boy in We Are Family even exists.

You can subscribe to the Split Screen Podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to Episode 11 in your browser on this page at Shah’s website, Blank Page Beatdown. (Read his new review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens while you’re there.) Every episode of the Split Screen Podcast can be found here. I’m featured in the following episodes:

Movie Review: Saala Khadoos (2016)

SaalaKhadoos3 Stars (out of 4)

Writer-director Sudha Kongara’s Saala Khadoos (“Mr. Snooty,” according to the English subtitles) is a moving tale that utilizes all the best elements of sports movies past. Ritika Singh makes a splash in her debut, working opposite R. Madhavan in this story of two hot-headed boxers working toward a common goal.

Madhavan plays Adi, a boxing coach still smarting over the abrupt end to his own fighting career nearly twenty years ago. Dev (Zakir Hussain), the man who sabotaged Adi’s career, now heads the Indian Women’s Boxing Federation. Fearful that Adi will make public what he knows of Dev’s past misdeeds — as well as the chairman’s penchant for trading places on the national team for sex — Dev exiles Adi to the boxing backwater of Chennai.

Despite being set up to fail, Adi finds a promising fighter who has as little respect for authority as he does. Madhi (Singh) is the younger sister of the Chennai club’s top prospect, Lux (Mumtaz Sorcar). Madhi is a better natural fighter than Lux, but it’s Madhi’s fiery temper that leads Adi to focus his attention on her, at Lux’s expense.

As much as the story is about the personality changes that Adi and Madhi undergo while he tries to turn her into a champion, Saala Khadoos is also a story of sibling rivalry. Lux has always been special, the one who will finally lift her family out of poverty. A successful boxing career will confer her a spot in the police academy, and all of the family’s resources to this point have gone toward helping her reach that goal. Madhi’s success in the ring threatens not only Lux’s future but her very identity.

An old assistant coach (played by Nasser) explains the significance of the local conditions to Adi. All of the young women who train at the gym are poor, and boxing is a lifeline, not just a hobby. Adi can be as much of a hard-ass as he wants during training, but he’s morally obligated not to abandon them.

Adi’s character evolution is predictably slow. He’s never really cared about anyone before, and Dev’s betrayal still weighs heavily on him. Likewise, Madhi’s attitude problems make her hard to love. She’s been on the defensive for so long that she has trouble trusting anyone’s motives.

Singh is so much fun to watch as Madhi. That defensive attitude is reflected in her posture, her shoulders hunched protectively, giving away her confident swagger as the bluff it is. When Madhi hurts her right hand just before a fight, she spends the entire round holding her hand out of the way to avoid further injury.

Madhavan is terrific as well, looking especially cool as Adi rides his motorcycle during the opening credits. Nasser and Sorcar are super in their supporting roles, and Hussain is slimy as can be as the villain.

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