Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. McKinley and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Bollywood Box Office: June 19-21

ABCD 2 turned in the fourth highest opening weekend of the 2015, nearly doubling the earnings of ABCD‘s 2013 run in just three days. During the weekend of June 19-21, ABCD 2 earned $438,539 from 166 theaters in the US and Canada ($2,642 average).

Strong numbers aside, the dance sequel fell short of expectations. Its per-screen average was only the seventh highest of the year, despite releasing into the third highest number of theaters and charging premium 3D ticket prices. With little else of note releasing in the coming weeks, and with most American students finally out of school for the summer, ABCD 2 could still double its opening weekend take over the course of its run.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani fell off significantly in its second weekend, earning $18,255 from 26 theaters ($702 average). Its North American total stands at $161,038.

Dil Dhadakne Do added another $225,998 from 111 theaters ($2,036 average), bringing its three-week total to $2,732,535.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns inched closer to a $3 million North American total, earning $35,777 from 20 theaters ($1,789 average) in its fifth weekend. Its total presently stands at $2,986,278.

Piku held on for a seventh weekend in two theaters, earning another $1,997 ($999 average) to bring its total to $2,220,648.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Streaming Video News: June 22, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. Director Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly is now available for streaming. The movie didn’t open theatrically in the US, so this is a great opportunity for American fans of Hindi films.

For everything else new on Netflix, check out Instant Watcher.

Movie Review: ABCD 2 (2015)

ABCD22.5 Stars (out of 4)

ABCD 2 tries way too hard. Earnest efforts pay off in the spectacular dance numbers, but the movie’s ham-handed moral and patriotic themes only inspire eye rolls.

ABCD 2 is not a direct followup to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance. Many of the actors from the original are in the sequel, but in different roles. Prabhu Deva again plays a choreographer named Vishnu, but he’s not the same guy, which is needlessly confusing.

Vishnu 2.0 is a drunk, washed up Mumbai choreographer. He gets a chance at a fresh start when a disgraced hip-hop crew led by Suru (Varun Dhawan) asks for his help in winning an international competition in Las Vegas.

While the original ABCD was aimed at teenagers, ABCD 2 skews younger, with sophomoric humor and more explicit moral lessons woven into the story. Yet that’s what makes the redemption arc of Suru’s crew so darned awkward.

At the start of the film, Suru’s crew, the Mumbai Stunners, is the most popular group on an Indian TV dance competition show. During the show’s finale, the judges — one of whom is ABCD 2 director Remo D’Souza, playing himself — bust Suru and his buddy Vernon (Sushant Pujari) for copying the choreography of a hip-hop group from the Philippines. The Stunners are branded cheaters and thrown off the show.

The consequences haunt Suru, Vernon, and other members of the group like Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor), even at their day jobs. That prompts Suru to reform the Stunners and beg Vishnu’s help, hoping that victory in Vegas will prove their talent to the Indian audience that shunned them.

The problem is that Suru and Vernon — though mostly Suru — really did cheat, but they never admit it or apologize for it. They are punished by being kicked off the show, but they aren’t sorry. Even as his friends are ridiculed because of his devious actions, Suru doesn’t ask for their forgiveness.

The redemption-without-remorse lesson is a strange moral to preach to children. Worse, they meet the Filipino team they stole from at the Vegas dance competition, and no one mentions the theft. The Stunners act like fanboys, and the Filipino team praises them for their heart.

If someone stole my work and passed it off as his own, then tried to act like he was my biggest fan, I wouldn’t be grateful. I’d be pissed.

Other subplots fail to tug the heartstrings as intended. Suru tries to honor the memory of his dead mother, a famed dancer. Crew-member Vinod (Punit Pathak) is not only deaf and mute, but also routinely coughs up blood. There’s a long-lost son. The crew finds their mojo only when they embrace their Indian roots and dance to absurdly patriotic/religiously tinged songs.

The most successful subplot involves the only two female members of the crew: Vinnie and Olive (Lauren Gottlieb), an Indian-American dancer who joins them in Vegas. When Olive gets too flirty with Suru for Vinnie’s liking, the two talk about it rather than devolving into a catfight. It’s nice to see the two women portrayed so positively.

Plot problems aside, the dancing is the real reason anyone goes to see ABCD 2, and in that regard it does not disappoint. These days, even big budget Bollywood movies only feature one or two large-scale choreographed numbers, but ABCD 2 has a bunch of them. On top of that, spotlight performances showcase just how skilled the cast members are. The talent level of pro dancers like Gottlieb, Pujari, Pathak, and Dharmesh Yelande (who plays Dharmesh) cannot be overstated.

Part of what made ABCD so successful was that the cast consisted of professional dancers who acted. It gave cohesiveness to the production. The integration of Kapoor and Dhawan — professional actors who dance — into the cast of dancers is mostly successful. They aren’t just good dancers as far as actors are concerned; they are very, very good dancers, period.

However, Dhawan occasionally stands out from his crewmates, most noticeably in the song “Happy Hour.” It’s not that he’s performing poorly, just that the thousands of extra hours men like Pujari, Pathak, and Yelande have spent dancing gives their movements a fluidity and crispness that Dhawan can’t precisely replicate.

Sushant Pujari was my standout performer in the original ABCD, and it’s nice to see his role elevated in the sequel. His acting has improved enough that Bollywood casting agents need to give him a lot more attention.

Even though the plot is geared toward a youthful audience, there is a ton of toned flesh on display for older moviegoers. Kapoor and Gottlieb both look amazing, and every guy in the crew is ripped. If you are a fan of hot, shirtless dudes, then the climactic dance number is for you.

ABCD 2 is not as good as ABCD. However, there’s unlikely to be another Bollywood production this year that has the volume and quality of dancing that ABCD 2 has. Go see it if you want to get your groove on (but forgo the 3D upcharge).

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Opening June 19: ABCD 2

The 3D Bollywood film ABCD 2 hits Chicago area theaters on June 19, 2015. The followup to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance is a sequel in name only, as many of the actors from the original are back, but in different roles. Prabhu Deva plays characters named Vishnu in both films, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be the same guy. Whatever. The dancing is what’s important here, not franchise continuity.

ABCD 2 opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. Most area theaters are showing the film in both 3D and 2D, so check your local theater’s listing if you have a preference. I didn’t think the 3D effects in the first film were worth the upcharge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 27 min.

Dil Dhadakne Do gets a third week at all of the above theaters, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie and Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. The South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17 also hold over Tanu Weds Manu Returns for a fifth week.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Eli (Tamil) at the South Barrington 30 and MovieMax, which also carries Vinavayya Ramayya (Telugu), Krishnamma Kalipindi Iddarini (Telugu), Premam (Malayalam), Ranna (Kannada), Kerintha (Telugu), and Ivide (Malayalam).

Bollywood Box Office: June 12-14

Hamari Adhuri Kahani didn’t exactly light up the North American box office during its opening weekend. From June 12-14, 2015, it earned $94,005 from 67 theaters ($1,403 average). That’s a slightly below average opening weekend total from a slightly below average number of theaters. Nothing special, but nothing tragic.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani‘s opening weekend performance was significantly better than the opening weekend performance of Emraan Hashmi’s Mr. X back in April ($24,806 from 62 theaters). However, it wasn’t as good as the first weekend take of Vidya Balan’s last solo-starring effort, Bobby Jasoos in July of 2014 ($143,559 from 71 theaters). It’s also down from the last film to co-star Hashmi and Balan, 2013’s Ghanchakkar, which opened with $143,616 from 89 theaters.

Of those four films, the one with the highest per-screen average was Bobby Jasoos ($2,022). Maybe it’s time for Balan to cut Hashmi loose professionally.

[Update: Box Office Mojo lists a significantly higher total of $131,263 from the same number of theaters for Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Yet even Mojo’s higher per-screen average of $1,959 is still lower than that of Bobby Jasoos.]

Dil Dhadakne Do posted solid second weekend earnings of $544,239 from 259 theaters ($2,101 average), bringing its North American total to $2,292,732. Its 58% drop in business from Weekend 1 to Weekend 2 was larger than those recorded by Tanu Weds Manu Returns (-28%) and Piku (-38%). However, DDD should hold up well in the weeks to come given that ABCD2 is the only Bollywood release of note until the middle of July.

In its fourth weekend, Tanu Weds Manu Returns earned another $101,443 from 55 theaters ($1,844 average) to bring its North American total to $2,911,462.

Piku — now in its sixth week — brought its total North American earnings to $2,215,749 by adding another $7,172 from six theaters ($1,195 average).

Source: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Streaming Video News: June 15, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the streaming catalog: 2015’s Hawaizaada. This movie got completely overlooked at the box office earlier this year, but it’s really cute. Hindi films are rarely made with kids as the intended audience, and elements of magical realism are equally uncommon in Bollywood movies. By targeting kids and fantasy fans, Hawaizaada reaches out to some under-served demographics. It’s worth a look.

Also worth watching are two movies set to expire on June 17: Ankhon Dekhi and Madras Cafe.

Netflix purged over 20% of its Bollywood streaming catalog this morning, but many of the expunged titles are still available through Netflix on DVD. Click here for a list of the titles that were just booted from streaming.