Streaming Video News: August 30, 2014

Two Bollywood movies were just added to Netflix: 2012’s Rowdy Rathore and 2008’s Fashion. I found both Fashion and Rowdy Rathore moderately enjoyable. For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Shaadi Ke Side Effects — a moderately enjoyable movie from earlier this year — is now available for streaming on Eros Now.

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Movie Review: Dekh Tamasha Dekh (2014)

dekhTamashaDekh3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a satire of modern India, but its relevance is universal. Director Feroz Abbas Khan and writer Shafaat Khan present an insightful, funny story about the dangers of sectarianism and intellectual laziness.

The town of Canda functions under an uneasy balance between the local Hindu and Muslim communities. The town’s most prominent politician, Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik), also owns the local newspaper, and he bemoans the declining readership. The marketing guru he brings in pushes local gossip: “What people wish to read is more important.”

Mutha Seth gets his wish when a billboard depicting his likeness falls over, killing Hamid (Satish Tare), the local horse cart driver. Hamid’s body is already in the grave when members of the Hindu community demand that the Muslims turn the body over to them. Hamid was born as a Hindu named Kishen, although he converted to Islam more than twenty years earlier.

This sparks a protracted legal battle over the dead man’s body, and both sides become increasingly militant. The new chief of police, Sawant (Ganesh Yadav), struggles to quell a feud he doesn’t really understand, as he’s reminded by the local historian, Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar).

Though the ideas of corrupt politics and violent religious tension are large in scale, they are exacerbated by small acts. For example: Kulkarni (Dhiresh Joshi), the editor of the local paper, feels his career threatened by the new marketing guy, so he publishes an inflammatory story that sparks a riot. When the paper’s lone reporter, Rafiq (Angad Mhaskar), asks a visiting imam to promote peace instead of war, Rafiq is forced to flee for his life as the city burns.

Khan constantly reminds the audience that fights driven by fanaticism have dire consequences for people who want no part in them, especially the poor. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s shots capture characters framed in doorways or windows. We are invited into their homes to see their suffering.

The people who suffer the most in the fight for Hamid/Kishen’s body are his own family. His widow, Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), doesn’t care what happens to the body. He’s dead, and she and her children are still poor. She tolerates the mournful wailing of the women who’ve taken over her house, vowing to pray continuously for Hamid’s soul until he’s buried. Then the water turns back on for the day, and they abandon their prayers to fill up their buckets.

Even worse off is Hamid’s daughter, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), who’s in love with a Hindu man named Prashant (Alok Rajwade). Shabbo’s pragmatism and worries are mitigated by Prashant’s relentless optimism. He stares at her as though she’s the only thing that exists in the world. In another place, their future happiness would be a given, but not in Canda, where their very relationship is tantamount to treason.

Grounding the story so firmly in one town highlights the way such problems could manifest in any town in any country. Substitute two other religions — or races or political parties — and the mania that overtakes Canda could happen anywhere. It’s a chilling lesson told in an amusing, moving way. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is terrific.

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Opening August 29: Raja Natwarlal

The Emraan Hashmi heist flick Raja Natwarlal opens in Chicago area theaters on August 29, 2014. The title roughly translates to “King Con,” so why on earth did they not use that title instead? It’s short, alliterative, and plays on the title King Kong. Movie studios: hire me.

Raja Natwarlal 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. 20 min.

Rani Mukerji’s thriller Mardaani gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. Singham Returns also carries over at MovieMax, South Barrington, and Cantera.

Other Indian movies playing at MovieMax this weekend include Rabhasa (Telugu), Peruchazhi (Malayalam), Irumbu Kuthirai (Tamil), Salim (Tamil), Anjaan (Tamil), and Run Raja Run (Telugu).

Bollywood Box Office: August 22-24

For a second weekend, Singham Returns held on to the top spot among Bollywood movies showing in North America. From August 22-24, 2014, the Ajay Devgn action sequel earned $218,164 from 127 theaters ($1,718 average), bringing its total earnings to $1,085,328. That total ranks sixth among Hindi films in North America in 2014, about $170,000 shy of Jai Ho.

The strong performance by Singham Returns forced new release Mardaani into second place for the weekend. (To be fair, Mardaani played on a third fewer screens than Singham Returns.) According to Bollywood Hungama, Mardaani earned $168,997 from 86 theaters, an average of $1,965.

I’m optimistic about Mardaani‘s second weekend for a few reasons. The movie has a high user rating of 8.1 stars at IMDb. Monday is a national holiday in the United States (Labor Day). And this Friday’s new release, Raja Natwarlal, will likely open on fewer than a hundred screens. All those factors could help Mardaani retain a good chunk of its first weekend earnings.

Complete North American box office figures for Akshay Kumar’s Entertainment remain impossible to come by. Based on the $143,699 the movie has earned in Canada so far, Entertainment‘s three-week North American total is likely around $500,000.

Other Hindi movies showing in North America include:

  • Siddharth: Week 6; $2,491 from one theater; $59,808 total
  • Kick: Week 5; $2,041 from four theaters ($510 average); $2,402,677 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 26; $725 from two theaters ($363 average) ;$4,035,675 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

CSAFF 2014 Schedule

The lineup for the 2014 Chicago South Asian Film Festival has been announced. In addition to all of the features and shorts that will air during the festival, a number of artists will be in attendance as well. Sendhil Ramamurthy will be on hand to discuss his film, Brahmin Bulls, while actor/director Rajat Kapoor will close the festival with a Q&A session regarding Ankhon Dekhi. Prior to the screening of Ankhon Dekhi, Kapoor will moderate a conversation with acclaimed writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar.

The festival’s big draw is undoubtedly actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who will conduct Q&A sessions for two of his films playing at CSAFF 2014: Liar’s Dice and Monsoon Shootout.

The festival runs from September 18-21, and tickets are available now. Click here for the full schedule.

Movie Review: Mardaani (2014)

Mardaani3 Stars (out of 4)

There’s a great shot early in Mardaani (subtitled as “Fighter“). The face of Crime Branch Inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukerji) is silhouetted against the lights of Mumbai traffic. Her profile takes up half the screen; she’s as much of a part of the city as the traffic itself. She exists in the light, and it’s her sworn duty to bring the criminals of the underworld into that light.

The criminal enterprise Mardaani focuses on is sex trafficking, particularly the trafficking of underage girls. Onscreen statistics at movie’s end emphasize the alarming frequency with which Indian girls are abducted and sold into prostitution.

Like all movie detectives, Shivani doesn’t play by the rules, but she’s respected by her colleagues and quick with a dirty joke. She lives with her husband, Bikram (Jisshu Sengupta), and their niece, Meera. Shivani is also a sort of foster parent to a 12-year-old street vendor named Pyari (Priyanka Sharma), whom she rescued from poverty and placed in a reputable orphanage.

(The niece, Meera, is superfluous to the story except in that she establishes Shivani as a maternal figure and provides an explanation for why Pyari doesn’t live with Shivani.)

When Pyari goes missing, Shivani stumbles onto a sophisticated ring of drug dealers and child traffickers lead by a young man named Karan (Tahir Bhasin), who prefers to be called “Walt” in homage to the Breaking Bad character Walter White. The stakes rise as Shivani gets closer to Karan, and their mutual pursuit hinges on who will slip up first.

Mukerji is believable whether she’s playing bubbly and beautiful or jaded and tough, and she’s great again in Mardaani. She handles action scenes with ease, and she’s funny during scenes in which Shivani jokes with her fellow officers, Jafar and Morey.

Director Pradeep Sarkar and writer Gopi Puthran don’t diminish Shivani’s femininity even though she’s in a typically masculine role. Shivani is a working woman with a family. She makes tea and wears her hair long. But she can chase down a criminal on a moped, and she gets to say cool lines like, “With a lot of love and patience I’ll squash you to a pulp.”

Sarkar and Puthran also deserve praise for their handling of an uncomfortable scene shortly after Pyari’s kidnapping. Pyari and the other girls are sprayed with a firehose and made to strip in front of their captors. The sequence is simply business, and the girls are treated like animals being judged on their way to auction. There’s nothing titillating in the way the scene plays out, which is an important distinction that other filmmakers have missed.

This “just business” approach to trafficking is enhanced by Bhasin’s performance as Karan. His unruffled detachment lends him an air of danger that keeps even his own underlings in line.

The movie occasionally falls into preachiness, as when Shivani explains to a police captain why rescuing girls from force prostitution is a good thing. The soundtrack is melodramatic and corny, at times, though the rock score during chase scenes fits nicely.

In Mardaani‘s climax, Shivani goads her opponents with the same kind of bravado exhibited by other notable Hindi-film cops, all played by men. However, she doesn’t position herself as the arbiter of divine justice (as opposed to a character like Singham in Singham Returns). Obviously she guides events, but Shivani remains aware of her duties as a public servant. It’s a more realistic approach to the single heroic cop story, and it’s more satisfying because of it.

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