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.

New Trailers: September 18, 2014

First, Yash Raj Films releases a series of ugly posters to promote Kill Dil. Now the trailer is out, and it’s just as unappealing. Kill Dil hits theaters on November 14, 2014.

Also just released is the trailer for the U.K.-India co-production Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain. The movie has been in production for a long time, and it’s finally releasing in the U.S. on November 7 and India on December 5. Bhopal stars Bollywood vets Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, and Satish Kaushik alongside Hollywood vets Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, and…Mischa Barton?

Opening September 19: Daawat-e-Ishq and Khoobsurat

Two Bollywood romantic comedies open in the Chicago area on September 19, 2014. First up is Daawat-e-Ishq (“Feast of Love“) starring Aditya Roy Kapur and my girl Parineeti Chopra.

Daawat-e-Ishq 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 1 hr. 59 min.

Also releasing this weekend is Khoobsurat (“Beautiful“), starring Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Afzal Khan.

Khoobsurat opens on Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

After a strong opening last weekend, Finding Fanny carries over for a second week at all four of the theaters carrying Daawat-e-Ishq, plus the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie.

Mary Kom gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

The Telugu movie Aagadu gets a head start on the competition, opening Thursday night at the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Power (Telugu) at Muvico and MovieMax, which also carries Sapthamashree Thaskaraha (Malayalam), Aranmanai (Tamil), and Sigaram Thodu (Tamil).

Bollywood Box Office: September 12-14

Director Homi Adajania’s English-language comedy Finding Fanny performed very well in its opening weekend in the United States and Canada. From September 12-14, Finding Fanny earned $515,393 from 121 theaters for an average of $4,259 per screen. Every Bollywood film that has earned more than $500,000 in its opening weekend in North America this year has gone on to earn at least $850,000, so total earnings in excess of $1 million are not out of the question for Finding Fanny.

Indian films with predominantly English dialogue are rare, but they tend to do well at the North American box office. The 2011 comedy Delhi Belly earned $581,943 in its opening weekend, going on to post total earnings of $1,532,594. In 2006, Adajania’s first English film — Being Cyrus — opened in just two theaters in North America but earned $40,744. That’s an astounding per-screen average of $20,372!

In its second weekend in theaters, Mary Kom added another $119,460 to its tally, bringing its North American total to $590,165.

Other Hindi movies showing in U.S. and Canadian theaters over the weekend:

  • Mardaani: Week 4; $6,560 from 12 theaters; $547 average; $391,931 total
  • The Lunchbox: Week 29; $3,302 from three theaters; $$1,101 average; $4,043,411 total
  • Singham Returns: Week 5; $1,612 from six theaters; $269 average; $1,231,550 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Ugly Kill Dil Posters

These posters for Kill Dil are some of the ugliest movie posters ever, right?

KillDil1KillDil2KillDil3KillDil4

They look like over-saturated knock-offs of the Kill Bill poster.

Update: The poster featuring all four leads isn’t any better. Thanks to Keyur Seta at The Common Man Speaks for forwarding the posters to me.

KillDil5

Movie Review: Finding Fanny (2014)

Finding_Fanny_Theatrical_release_poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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“No one deserves an incomplete love story.” Finding Fanny humorously and thoughtfully explores the ways that waiting for an answer suspends us in time.

The above quote is spoken by the film’s narrator, Angie (Deepika Padukone), a 26-year-old widow living in Pocolim, a tiny town in Goa. Life’s forward progress stopped for Angie when her husband (Ranveer Singh) choked to death on their wedding cake, though she’s serene about her situation. She lives with her mother-in-law, Rosie (Dimple Kapadia), the queen bee of Pocolim.

Angie’s best friend is Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah), the town’s mailman. His forward progress stopped forty-six years ago when he wrote a letter proposing marriage to a girl named Fanny Fernandez, but never received a response. He’s the only boy in the church choir with white hair.

One night, the letter Ferdie mailed to Fanny is slipped under his door, unopened and undelivered. Angie organizes a trip to help Ferdie find Fanny and discover what her answer would have been. She enlists the help of her mother-in-law, her recently returned childhood sweetheart, Savio (Arjun Kapoor), and Don Pedro, (Pankaj Kapur), a visiting artist obsessed with voluptuous Rosie and owner of the town’s only car.

Of course the brief road trip winds up far more complicated than expected, and tensions flare within the group. Ferdie reveals to Savio the reason why his formerly close friendship with Rosie ended, and Savio fights with Angie about what would’ve happened had he married her instead. Don Pedro’s lecherous ogling of Rosie doesn’t help matters.

Finding Fanny is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographer Anil Mehta. There are lots of wonderful individual shots — Angie’s face as she stares pensively out the open car window, for example — as well as wide shots showing the vastness of the world outside of Pocolim that never before interested Rosie, Ferdie, or Angie. The visual beauty is enhanced by Mathias Duplessy’s vibrant score.

The actors keep their performances subdued. Much is communicated non-verbally, especially by the expressive faces of Padukone and Shah. At the same time, the characters are all funny, none more so than Kapadia’s Rosie. The members of the traveling party are eccentrics, not outrageous goofballs or weirdos.

The glaring exception to the subtly rule is a Russian man who now owns Fanny’s childhood home. His delivery is so loud and exaggerated in comparison to the other performances that it feels out-of-place.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies in the development of Angie’s character (though that’s not a slight on Padukone’s terrific portrayal). It’s obvious what every other character wants: Savio wants Angie; Don Pedro wants Rosie; Ferdie wants the Fanny of his memories; and Rosie wants to live a dignified life that she controls.

It’s never clear what Angie wants, other than to reunite Ferdie with Fanny. She speaks in important-sounding vagaries that don’t really mean anything. Is the point that she’s still too young to know what she wants? That we should be at peace with what we have? I was never sure. That’s a letdown for a character who’s not only the film’s narrator, but also the most important person in the lives of Ferdie, Rosie, and Savio.

Still, Finding Fanny is one of the more intriguing movies to come out of Bollywood this year. The fact that the dialogue is in English just adds to the intrigue. It’s unique, enjoyable, and worth a watch.

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