Bollywood Box Office: September 26-28

Khoobsurat continued its box office dominance in North America for a second week. During the weekend of September 26-28, 2014, it added an additional $173,022 from 60 theaters to bring its total to $621,318. The Disney romantic comedy’s business fell a mere 48% from its debut weekend. Its per-screen average earnings of $2,884 were fourth highest among second weekend averages this year, behind juggernauts like The Lunchbox, Queen, and 2 States.

In a repeat of last weekend, Daawat-e-Ishq fared poorly compared to Khoobsurat. Daawat-e-Ishq earned $82,764 from 77 theaters ($1,075 average), a 60% drop from its opening weekend. Its total North American earnings stand at $354,875.

Other Hindi movies showing in the United States and Canada over the weekend:

  • Finding Fanny: Week 3; $25,151 from 41 theaters; $613 average; $793,309 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 31; $1,232 from three theaters; $411 average; $4,048,317 total
  • Mary Kom: Week 4; $910 from three theaters; $330 average; $632,832 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

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Movie Review: Ankhon Dekhi (2014)

AnkhonDekhi4 Stars (out of 4)

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“I don’t think we should look for messages in films,” said filmmaker Rajat Kapoor at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival press conference this past weekend. “It’s reductionist.” Such a sentiment suits Kapoor’s movie Ankhon Dekhi (“Through My Own Eyes“), which closed the 2014 festival. It’s a film that is at its most moving when it is simply experienced.

Veteran character actor Sanjay Mishra plays Raje, a middle-aged man with a comfortable life and a family he loves. He lives in a small flat in Delhi with his own wife and kids, plus his younger brother, Rishi (Kapoor), Rishi’s wife, and their son.

When the gossipy priest’s son exposes Raje’s daughter Rita’s (Maya Sarao) romantic relationship with Ajju (Namit Das), Raje meets the boyfriend to see if he’s as much of a lout as everyone says he is. Raje discovers that Ajju is a harmless puppy dog of a man. This causes Raje to commit himself to only trusting that which he sees for himself.

This new governing principle makes it hard for Raje to continue working as a travel agent. How can he tell a customer how long a flight to a foreign country will take when he’s never made the trip himself? Worse, Raje’s new way of operating creates a rift between him and Rishi.

Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t attempt to make sweeping philosophical statements through Raje’s choices. The characters discuss broad issues, such as the aspects of language that are more convenient than they are accurate, but Kapoor avoids tying up the narrative with a tidy moral lesson.

Instead, the movie feels like a window into Raje’s life for a short period of time. We see how his values affect his family and how they influence his neighbors. He gains a loyal following at the barbershop, and his acolytes sometimes take his ideas to ridiculous extremes.

There are breathtaking moments in Ankhon Dekhi, when the cast and crew function in complete harmony. Look around in busy scenes such as when Raje holds court in his living room and notice how perfectly every supporting actor is executing his or her role. The acolytes listen to Raje attentively; Rita listens disinterestedly; Raje’s wife (Seema Pahwa) frustratedly tries to do her chores with a house full of people.

Such scenes highlight just how hard it is to make a really good movie. The right actors need to be cast. They need to have clear motivation in every scene, no matter how small their roles are. The director has to get the technical aspects of the shot just right.

There are many such perfect scenes in Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a remarkable achievement for Kapoor, who wrote the film, in addition to directing and acting in it. It’s impossible to imagine anyone executing the role of Raje better than Mishra. Ankhon Dekhi is a delight to watch.

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In Theaters: September 26, 2014

With two heavy hitters — Bang Bang and Haider — coming to theaters next weekend, no new Hindi films are opening in the Chicago area on Friday, September 26, 2014. The most widely available of the older releases is Khoobsurat, which gets a second week at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Daawat-e-Ishq and Finding Fanny carry over at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

The wildly popular Telugu movie Aagadu carries over for a second week at Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include include Madras (Tamil), Loukyam (Telugu), Power (Telugu), Sapthamashree Thaskaraha (Malayalam), and Aranmanai (Tamil). The Telugu movie Govindudu Andarivadele opens at MovieMax on Tuesday, September 30.

Bollywood Box Office: September 19-21

In the battle of the romantic comedies, Khoobsurat emerged the clear victor over Daawat-e-Ishq. During the weekend of September 19-21, 2014, Disney/UTV’s Khoobsurat earned $332,486 from 69 theaters in North America. It averaged an impressive $4,819 per screen.

By contrast, Yash Raj Films’ Daawat-e-Ishq earned $204,950 from 113 theaters for a per-screen average of $1,814.

2014 has been a dud of a year for Yash Raj Films in North America. Following the release of 2013’s massively successful Dhoom 3 — which earned $8,090,250 in North America — all of the Hindi films YRF has released since have looked comparatively anemic:

  • Gunday: $887,675 total gross; widest release: 150 theaters
  • Bewakoofiyaan: $106,800 total gross; widest release: 66 theaters
  • Mardaani: $393,619 total gross; widest release: 86 theaters

Given that Daawat-e-Ishq opened in 113 theaters in the United States and Canada, YRF clearly expected it to perform far better than it did. YRF still has Kill Dil to release in November, but it looks too wacky to attract a wide audience. YRF’s other 2014 release –Titli — will likely be relegated to the festival circuit in North America (including three showings at the Chicago International Film Festival in October).

Other Hindi movies still in U.S. and Canadian theaters:

  • Finding Fanny: Week 2; $124,165 from 114 theaters; $1,089 average; $739,370 total
  • Mary Kom: Week 3; $12,210 from 17 theaters; $718 average; $629,322 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 30; $772 from two theaters; $336 average; $4,046,834 total
  • Mardaani: Week 5; $59 from one theater; $393,619 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Khoobsurat (2014)

Disney_Khoobsurat3 Stars (out of 4)

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Sonam Kapoor is Disney’s newest princess. The actress plays a perky doctor who stumbles her way into prince’s heart in the live-action romantic-comedy Khoobsurat (“Beautiful“).

Kapoor plays Dr. Milli Chakravaty, a sports physiotherapist on a romantic losing streak. She’s hired by an aristocratic family to help its patriarch regain his strength from a car accident that left him wheelchair-bound for the last decade. Thirty-nine therapists have already failed at the task, so the odds are stacked against Milli.

Further working against Milli is the formality of the Rathore household. The matriarch, Nirmala (Ratna Pathak), demands strict adherence to protocol, something that chafes at Milli, who is casualness personified. Milli also has the habit of endangering priceless antiques while trying to take selfies with them.

It’s not just the rules that put Milli out but also the emotional walls the family members erect between themselves, her, and each other. Nirmala is aloof, as is her son, Vikram (Fawad Khan). The patriarch, Shekhar (Aamir Raza Hussain), isn’t interested in getting better and rebuffs Milli’s attempts to help. The only one who opens up to Milli is Vikram’s 17-year-old sister, Divya, but even she is resigned to living in a home where no one is free to speak his or her mind.

Khoobsurat follows a traditional fairy tale formula. Vibrant, opinionated Milli first wins over the household staff, then Shekhar, before eventually falling in love with Vikram. Kapoor is an excellent choice for Milli. She’s bubbly and funny without becoming an irritant. She’s someone you’d want to hang out with, even if you’d be embarrassed to be seen with someone dressed in Milli’s tacky attire.

Khan suits his role perfectly, too. He maintains a regal distance, but he’s not mean. He’s been training so long for his role as heir to the family fortune that he has trouble separating the role from the man. Khan is funny as Kapoor’s straight man, and his hair is sublime.

Kapoor and Khan make such an attractive couple that it’s a shame we don’t get to see them kiss. When the characters smooch, Kapoor’s hair always blocks their faces. I know: traditional Bollywood conventions + Disney = no kissing. Still, if the characters can say, “Shit,” we should at least get to see them lock lips.

Khoobsurat is appropriately breezy and fun, but there’s not enough substance to warrant a 130-minute runtime. Plenty of scenes could have been shortened, and a sequence in which Milli is kidnapped should have been excised entirely. Nevertheless, Khoobsurat is a good choice if you’re in the mood for something sweet.

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Movie Review: Daawat-e-Ishq (2014)

Daawat-e-Ishq_official_release_poster1 Star (out of 4)

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Daawat-e-Ishq (“Feast of Love“) wants to be a strong social statement against dowries. In reality, it’s a fantasy film for men’s rights supporters.

The movie opens with a card explaining that, though the practice of dowry payments has been illegal since 1961, one woman is killed every hour in India because her family cannot afford to pay the fee demanded by her prospective husband’s family. Despite being an ace student, star athlete, and total knockout, no man will marry Gullu (Parineeti Chopra) because of the measly dowry her widowed father (played by Anupam Kher) can afford on his law clerk’s salary.

After having her heart broken by a rich guy named Amjad, whose family demands an outrageous sum to approve the marriage, Gullu decides to use the law to her advantage. She and her father leave Hyderabad for Lucknow, where they assume false identities in order to land Gullu a rich husband.

After the wedding, the plan is for Gullu to file a suit against the groom’s family accusing them of dowry extortion (section 498a in the Indian penal code). Presumably, the family will settle out of court, and Gullu and her dad will have enough money to move to America so that she can become a shoe designer.

Gullu and her dad pick Taru Haidar (Aditya Roy Kapur) — a restaurateur from a rich family — as their mark. Unfortunately for Gullu, Taru is nice, virtuous guy who doesn’t like that his parents have asked for a dowry. Gullu must decide whether to confess her scheme or take Taru’s money and break his heart.

Thus does a movie about the evils of a system which unfairly punishes women turn into a tale with a wealthy man as the system’s true victim.

For a movie as mind numbingly slow as Daawat-e-Ishq, the twist that positions Taru as the victim still comes as a shock. His character doesn’t even show up until forty minutes into the film, and he’s introduced as a loud, tacky boor. His victimization is supposed to sting not because of who he is or the audience’s affection for him but for what he represents: an innocent man exploited by a law designed to protect women.

There are so many reasons why the movie doesn’t work, and all can be laid at the feet of writer-director Habib Faisal. Faisal asks his talented cast to overact. The film looks dingy and flat. For a movie about a chef with “Feast” in the title, precious little time is devoted to Taru’s culinary creations. The camera pans quickly past the dishes with nary a description or lingering shot.

The screenplay is the film’s biggest problem. As mentioned above, Taru isn’t introduced until forty minutes have elapsed, time that is instead spent on Gullu’s futile romance with Amjad and a couple of lifeless songs. The romance between the leading couple is compressed into a single song, which isn’t enough time for Chopra and Kapur to develop any kind of chemistry.

Faisal lets down his heroine in the way he transforms her from an unappreciated modern woman into a ruthless criminal mastermind. The circumstances that prompt her to concoct her extortion scheme aren’t dire enough to warrant it, and the whole plan seems out of character for a woman who takes pride in succeeding on her own merits.

Gullu’s heel-turn opens the door for a song in which the “black magic woman” wreaks havoc “while the mustache studs looked on in dismay.” Taru’s lawyer friend shouts, “All the girls of India will learn a lesson that they shouldn’t trick innocent boys into 498a.” I’m sure the twenty-four women murdered today over dowry would feel properly chastened, were they still alive to do so.

The most telling indicator of where Daawat-e-Ishq falls on the moral spectrum is its epilogue, featuring the rich guy, Amjad. He finally stands up to his parents, telling them that he won’t accept a dowry from his future bride. Not because their regressive ideas cost him the one woman he really loved, but because, dammit, he’s tired of being treated like a piece of meat, an object that can be sold to the highest bidder. And the women of the world collectively rolled their eyes…

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CSAFF 2014 Starts Tonight

The 2014 Chicago South Asian Film Festival opens with a bang tonight. Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui will be on hand for a local premier of his film Liar’s Dice.

The festival continues Friday through Sunday, September 19-21, with lots of other great films and artists in attendance. Saturday features a screening of Siddiqui’s film Monsoon Shootout, as well as showing of Brahmin Bulls that includes a Q&A with actor Sendhil Ramamurthy moderated by Prashant Bhargava, director of the excellent movie Patang.

CSAFF 2014 closes on Sunday night with a screening of Ankhon Dekhi, attended by writer-director-actor Rajat Kapoor.

Click here for ticket information.