Bollywood Box Office: May 22-24

Tanu Weds Manu Returns got off to an amazing start in the United States and Canada, posting the best opening weekend of 2015 so far. According to Bollywood Hungama, TWMR earned $957,976 from 150 theaters ($6,387 average) in North America. Box Office Mojo reports that TWMR took in another $265,275 on Monday’s Memorial Day holiday, putting the total from its first four days at $1,223,251.

Despite the intense competition, Piku added another $284,750 from 90 theaters ($3,164 average) to bring its three-week total to $1,933,247. That weekend total is astounding given that the year’s second best third-weekend total is Detective Byomkesh Bakshy‘s $50,038. The fact that Piku is still showing in 90 theaters after three weeks is amazing in itself.

In its second weekend, Bombay Velvet carried over in 107 theaters but earned just $36,090 ($337 average). That’s appalling. It’s North American total stands at $423,003.

My favorite thing about the box office figures over the last four weeks has been tracking the disparity in Gabbar is Back‘s popularity in the US and Canada. The movie’s fourth weekend earnings — $2,637 from three theaters ($879 average) — don’t tell the whole story. Of those three theaters still carrying Gabbar is Back, only one was in the US, and it earned just $10 during the whole weekend! So only one person in the US watched Gabbar is Back in the theater last weekend (okay, maybe two people, if they bought matinee priced tickets)! Gabbar is Back‘s total North American earnings stand at $570,556.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)

tanu-weds-manu-returns-poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Tanu Weds Manu Returns is the feel-bad romantic comedy of the year. Lighthearted moments are undercut by a cynicism about the institution of marriage that leaves one feeling melancholy at best, depressed at worst.

2011’s Tanu Weds Manu was a conventional romcom about a pair of opposites: wild-child Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and steadfast Manu (R. Madhavan). Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR, henceforth) picks up after the first four years of their miserable marriage.

Tanu is so desperate to get out of her marriage that she has Manu committed to a London mental institution. She later feels bad, calling Manu’s friend Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) to rescue her husband while she flies back to India.

The couple wind up at their respective family homes in different cities (the geography in TWMR is confusing for international audiences). Tanu flirts with her parents’ tenant, Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and unwisely reconnects with her short-tempered ex-boyfriend, Raja (Jimmy Shergill). Manu notices a college athlete who is the spitting image of Tanu, only with a pixie cut. He stalks Kusum (also Ranaut) until she relents, and they start dating.

Manu falling for his wife’s younger lookalike is a cute story setup, but it gets creepier the more serious the relationship becomes. Pappi warns that the new relationship is a bad idea — especially since it begins before Tanu and Manu are officially divorced — but he doesn’t call Manu’s obsession what it is: weird.

It hard to know who to root for in this movie. Tanu and Manu are both incredible jerks to each other. Tanu is arrogant and lacks empathy. Manu is selfish but wishy-washy. He doesn’t even possess enough will to make his climactic decision on his own, without prompting.

Worse, TWMR makes the characters’ circumstances so dire that its impossible to resolve the story in a satisfying way. There are really only a handful of things that one spouse could say to the other that would permanently destroy their marriage. When Tanu is at her most pitiable, Manu says one of those things to her. It’s crushing to watch.

Director Anand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma give themselves only two possible outcomes: either Tanu and Manu get back together, or Manu weds Kusum and says good-bye to Tanu forever. Neither option feels good, and both are bad for Kusum.

Kusum is the movie’s redeeming element. She’s an independent tomboy, but she’s also sweet and honest. She’s reluctant to get romantically involved with anyone because, if the relationship negatively affects her athletics, it will make it that much harder for other girls from her village to get scholarships in the future. That Manu pursues her anyway is a sign of his selfishness.

Ranuat’s acting abilities are widely acclaimed, and it’s fun to see her pull off two very different roles in the same movie with such ease. Dobriyal is also entertainingly twitchy as Pappi. Manu’s not much of character as it is, and Madhavan doesn’t add much.

In addition to an unsatisfying story, international audiences will be hampered by poorly translated subtitles. Minor spelling errors — such as writing “apologies” instead of “apologize” — hint at greater problems in translating the humor from Hindi to English. The crowd of mostly native Hindi speakers at my showing laughed uproariously to lines that, in English, read as utilitarian.

Watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns for Kangana Ranaut. Just don’t expect to have a lot of fun while doing it.

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Opening May 22: Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Tanu Weds Manu Returns — the sequel to 2011’s Tanu Weds Manu — hits Chicago area theaters on May 22, 2015. Kangana Ranaut and R. Madhavan are back as the title characters, with Ranuat taking on an additional role as Tanu’s doppelgänger, an athlete named Kusum.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 8 min.

Bombay Velvet — which opened in twelve Chicago area theaters last weekend — carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18. The same five theaters also hold over Piku for a third week, while Gabbar is Back gets a fourth week at MovieMax.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include 365 Days (Telugu), Lailaa O Lailaa (Malayalam), Demonte Colony (Tamil), Mosagallaku Mosagadu (Telugu), 36 Vayadhinile (Tamil), Chirakodinja Kinavukal (Malayalam), and Lion (Telugu).

Bollywood Box Office: May 15-17

Piku dominated the North American box office for a second weekend, overshadowing the new Bollywood release Bombay Velvet. After an unexpectedly strong performance in its opening weekend, Piku opened in an additional five theaters, bringing its total theater count to 124 during the weekend of May 15-17, 2015. It earned $595,308 to bring its North American total so far to $1,801,807. Its per-screen average of $4,801 is the second highest of the year, besting the opening weekend per-screen averages of every other Hindi film released here in 2015.

Bombay Velvet bombed in its opening weekend. Despite opening in 239 theaters — the first 2015 release to cross the 200-theater mark in North America — it only earned $297,437. Its disappointing per-screen average of $1,245 is well below this year’s median opening weekend average of $1,565.

For a third consecutive weekend, Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar is Back proved vastly more popular in Canada that the US. $13,215 of its third-weekend earnings came from just six Canadian theaters ($2,203 average), with 17 US theaters contributing $9,977 ($587 average) to a weekend total of $23,192. Its total earnings of $556,032 are the fourth highest for the year so far.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Bombay Velvet (2015)

BombayVelvet2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Bombay Velvet is a great-looking film held together by an unstable linchpin: its charismatic but problematic lead character, Johnny Balraj. Ranbir Kapoor is mesmerizing in the role, but Johnny can’t shoulder the story’s weight.

Johnny and his best friend, Chimman (Satyadeep Misra), grew up picking pockets on the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) during the years after partition. As young men, Johnny puts his penchant for fighting to use, earning extra cash as a brawler. Imported Hollywood gangster movies show him a more glamorous, exciting life than the one he has. Johnny tells his friend, “I’m going to be a big shot, Chimman.”

The guys start out working as the muscle for a mobster named Khambatta (Karan Johar), who puts Johnny in charge of Bombay Velvet, a nightclub that provides cover for Khambatta’s illicit deals. Johnny falls for the club’s star jazz singer, Rosie (Anushka Sharma), a woman who’s been used by men all her life.

Khambatta’s illegal operations are set within Bombay’s evolution into a powerful global business center, but there isn’t enough historical context provided for international audiences to really get a handle on what’s going on. There are subplots about communists versus capitalists and union protests that aren’t fully explored.

I didn’t realize for about an hour that Khambatta ran a newspaper in addition to being a gangster, and that his chief rival, Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) — who plants Rosie in the club as his mole — is another newspaper man. Did newspaper owners really have such powerful connections back in the day in Bombay? Is the story even realistic? It’s hard to tell from the context provided.

The nightclub itself is gorgeous, the kind of fancy supper club that now only exists in movies. The music is catchy and evocative. The gowns that Rosie performs in are works of art. Overall, this is a really beautiful film, never more so than during violent shootouts.

Sharma is great as a woman who is damaged but not broken. Kapoor is a coiled spring, his lithe frame suiting a character who has survived thanks to his scrappiness.

As exciting a character as Johnny is, he doesn’t quite work as a believable lead in this kind of film. He’s too impulsive to entrust with the power he’s given as the face of Bombay Velvet, a face sporting perpetual bruises at odds with the fancy clothes Johnny wears.

Much is made of the fact that Johnny isn’t book smart — the subtitled translation of Johnny’s slang into appropriate English colloquialisms is outstanding — but he’s not street smart either. He doesn’t understand the game the big shots are playing, so it’s impossible for him to work the situation to his advantage. When the elites don’t capitulate to his bullying, one wants to ask him, “Did you really think that would work?”

In other gangster movies, Johnny would be the dimwitted sidekick whose short temper gets him killed. It’s as if Joe Pesci’s Tommy in Goodfellas switched roles with Ray Liotta’s Henry.

The audience’s avatar in Bombay Velvet is Chimman, who looks at his friend with a combination of devotion, concern, and pity. (Misra’s restrained performance steals the show.) He knows how good they have it compared to their old life, and he knows where they are in the pecking order.

One suspects that, if Chimman were the alpha in the friendship, maybe he and Johnny could eventually become big shots. But he’s not, and they are both doomed by Johnny’s groundless ambition.

Links

Streaming Video News: May 15, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two new additions to the catalog. 2010’s Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and its 2013 sequel Once Upon ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! are now available for streaming. The sequel disappointed, but the original was really interesting, in addition to being the source of the most confusingly translated adage I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie: “Till a horse is not beautified, it looks like a donkey.”

Opening May 15: Bombay Velvet

May 15 sees the biggest Bollywood release of 2015 so far, when Bombay Velvet opens on 218 screens in North America. It’s also Ranbir Kapoor’s biggest career release in the US and Canada, besting the opening of 2013’s Besharam by one theater.

Bombay Velvet opens on Friday in twelve Chicago area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Showplace 12 Niles in Niles, Marcus Gurnee Mills Cinema in Gurnee, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, and AMC Showplace Schererville 16 in Schererville, IN. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 29 min.

Piku carries over for a second week at the River East 21, Regal Gardens 1-6, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18.

Gabbar is Back gets a third week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include Mythri (Kannada), 36 Vayadhinile (Tamil), Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai (Tamil), Chirakodinja Kinavukal (Malayalam), Dongata (Telugu), Lion (Telugu), Uttama Villain (Tamil).