Movie Review: Love Per Square Foot (2018)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Love Per Square Foot on Netflix

Writer-director Anand Tiwari’s debut feature film Love Per Square Foot shows a lot of promise. Drawing from his own acting experience, Tiwari coaxes charming performances from his talented cast.

Two young strangers in Mumbai long for homes of their own. IT guy Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) is tired of living with his fussy parents, Lata (Supriya Pathak) and Bhaskar (Raghuvir Yadav). Loan officer Karina (Angira Dhar) wants financial independence, a feat her mother Blossom (Ratna Pathak Shah) never quite achieved.

Sanjay is being strung along by his sexy boss, Rashi (Alankrita Sahai), and Karina is dating Sam (Kunaal Roy Kapur), a nice guy she likes but doesn’t love. When Sanjay and Karina hit it off at a mutual friend’s wedding, they realize that they can’t achieve their dreams if they stay with their current partners.

In order to take advantage of a government-sponsored housing program for newlyweds, Sanjay and Karina decide to apply together. They only have to get married if they win an apartment via a lottery draw, and even then, their arrangement is based on business rather than affection. They’ll split everything 50-50, from the costs of owning the apartment right down to household chores. That they start to fall in love with each other during the process is just a bonus.

The story takes its time establishing the relationship between Sanjay and Karina, which is great because Kaushal and Dhar are adorable together. Fresh off of his chilling turn as a crooked cop in Raman Raghav 2.0, Kaushal transitions seamlessly into an ideal romantic leading man. Dhar is effortlessly likeable and cute in her first film role.

Tiwari’s storytelling style is concise, with characters resolving problems that would normally stretch over several scenes with just a sentence or two. It’s refreshing, but it also creates the need to continually manufacture new conflicts in order to keep the story going. Problems aren’t born out of well-integrated subplots but rather spontaneously generate, and the story drags.

The two ex-lovers are one well Tiwari returns to, with Rashi’s demands on Sanjay’s attention becoming increasingly outlandish and less believable. As a character, Rashi is one-note, which is too bad because Sahai shows some charisma in her first film role. Kapur’s Sam has fewer scenes, but the actor makes the most of them.

Tiwari relies even more heavily on the main characters’ parents to complicate matters, chiefly on the grounds of religious objections to the union. Sanjay is Hindu and Karina is Christian, though neither seems especially devout. The sudden parental religious objections feel obligatory — as though one can’t make a Bollywood romantic comedy without them — and they don’t easily fit with the central modern love story. Despite having wonderful actors in the roles, all of the parents are unfunny caricatures.

The rookie writer-director must perfect his story crafting, but overall, Love Per Square Foot is a fine debut — not just for Anand Tiwari but for Angira Dhar as well.

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Opening February 16: Aiyaary

After getting bumped around the release calendar, Aiyaary finally makes its way into Chicago theaters on February 16, 2018. The crime thriller stars Sidharth Malhotra and Manoy Bajpayee.

Aiyaary opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, AMC Oakbrook Center 4 in Oak Brook, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 37 min.

Pad Man gets a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, and Cantera 17.

Padmaavat carries over in 3D and 2D at the Cantera 17 and in 2D at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, Naperville 16, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Other Indian and Bangladeshi movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Streaming Video News: February 14, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a totally exciting new addition. The romantic comedy Love Per Square Foot made its worldwide debut today — on Netflix! Producer Ronnie Screwvala opted to bypass theaters and release the film on the digital platform instead, a move he says acknowledges the way people choose to watch movies and also gives filmmakers the freedom to tell stories that might not otherwise support the costs of a traditional theatrical release. Love Per Square Foot stars Vicky Kaushal and debutant Angira Dhar as a pair of cash-strapped Mumbai house hunters. Click here to watch it on Netflix.

I also added a bunch of titles to my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime. I had time to kill yesterday, hiding out in my basement with my laptop while workers replaced our windows (in February, in Chicago = bad idea), so I did some more digging through Amazon’s catalog. In addition to the interesting looking documentary My Name Is Salt, I found another twenty Indian and Desi movies available for streaming with Prime:

Bollywood Box Office: February 9-11, 2018

In its debut weekend, Pad Man finished second to Padmaavat at the North American box office. From February 9-11, 2018, Pad Man earned $689,272 from 152 theaters ($4,535 average), according to Bollywood Hungama*. Kumar’s recent releases have opened within a very narrow range of totals, from Toilet‘s $670,447 on the low end to Airlift‘s $815,933 on the high end. Pad Man‘s performance fits right within that range, so it appears Padmaavat had no discernible effect on Pad Man‘s opening weekend total.

The same applies in the other direction, too, as three-week-old Padmaavat out-earned Kumar’s brand new release. Granted, Padmaavat had a 126-screen advantage and inflated 3D prices for some tickets. Still, its enduring popularity is impressive. Over the weekend, Padmaavat earned $957,302 from 278 theaters ($3,444 average), bringing its total earnings to $10,556,813 — enough to squeak it past PK‘s $10,550,569 total into second place all time for Bollywood movies in North America. LiveMint has an interesting breakdown of where the money Padmaavat has earned so far has gone and how much of it is really profit after recovering costs.

[Update: Box Office Mojo reports weekend earnings of $740,326 from 152 theaters ($4,871 average) for Pad Man, and $1,039,904 from 282 theaters ($3,688 average) for Padmaavat, with total earnings of $10,638,033.]

*Bollywood Hungama routinely counts Canadian theaters twice in its weekly reporting, at least for a movie’s first two weekends of release. When possible, I try to verify the correct theater count with other sources, like Box Office Mojo. The above figures represent what I believe to be the actual theater counts. Bollywood Hungama’s reporting puts Pad Man in 173 theaters (making for a $3,984 per-screen average).

Sources: 143 Cinema, Box Office Mojo, and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Streaming Video News: February 11, 2018

For Indian film buffs, new additions to the major streaming services have been few and far between in 2018. Netflix has added just a handful of titles since the start of the year, and there’s been nothing new added to Amazon Prime that wasn’t previously available on Heera. Nevertheless, my efforts to compile an exhaustive list of Indian movies on Prime continue. I’ve employed the Asim Burney strategy, finding films by checking the “Customers who watched this item also watched” recommendations below each title in my list. I’ve already found ten movies that hadn’t shown up in any of my previous searches and added them to the list. They are:

Some recent titles of note on other streaming services include Haseena Parkar on Spuul and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan on Eros Now. Split Screen Podcast host Shah Shahid also let me know about Hoichoi, a streaming service for Bengali movies and TV that even has English subtitles. So even if there’s not much new on Netflix and Prime, there are still plenty of streaming options for Indian film fans.

Movie Review: Basmati Blues (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

Rent or buy the movie at iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Basmati Blues is as problematic as its trailer makes it out to be, and it’s also just plain weird.

The weirdness reveals itself early, when Brie Larson — who filmed this before she was a household name — starts singing while watering plants and wearing a lab coat. Basmati Blues is supposedly an homage to Bollywood films, but the on-the-nose lyrics make it more akin to Western musical theater.

Larson’s character, Linda, is the scientist behind a super productive new strain of rice developed on behalf of Mogil, the agribusiness conglomerate she works for. Mogil’s CEO, Mr. Gurgon (Donald Sutherland), sends her to India to convince farmers to ditch their current rice in favor of the new strain she’s developed.

Upon setting foot in the country, Linda ticks off boxes on the checklist of Things That White People in Movies Find Surprising About India: It’s crowded! A stranger is carrying my luggage! There’s a cow in the road! People eat with their hands! That coconut is on fire!

This is a “Bollywood” movie by white people, for white people. Producer Monique Caulfield — who is married to the film’s writer-director Dan Baron — told Vulture: “the film is made for the Western audience.” Yet they don’t credit their Western audience with the ability to conceptualize India outside of a very narrow, stereotypical focus.

The trailer for Basmati Blues was criticized for its white savior narrative. Linda is indeed a white savior, but with a twist — she’s also a villain. The rice she’s created is more productive and pest-resistant, but it’s also sterile, forcing users to buy a fresh supply of seed each year from Mogil. This fact shocks both of local guys who’ve fallen in love with her — funny agriculture student Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and suave rich guy William (Saahil Sehgal) — but Linda is fully aware of the rice’s reproductive properties. She just never considered what it means economically for the customers who rely upon the rice and the communities they live in.

Linda somehow remains oblivious to the harm caused by her creations until very late in the film, well after the point that she should have had her revelation and change of heart. As such, it makes it hard to root for the happy ending with Rajit that the story is driving toward. Why does he deserve to be saddled with someone who seemingly lacks a conscience?

The music throughout is forgettable, but Larson and Ambudkar are decent enough singers. Their musical performances are overshadowed by the novelty of veteran actors Sutherland, Tyne Daly, and Scott Bakula singing and dancing.

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Opening February 9: Pad Man

Akshay Kumar’s social issue comedy Pad Man — co-starring Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte — opens in seven Chicago area theaters on February 9, 2018.

Pad Man opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, AMC Oakbrook Center 4 in Oak Brook, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. Pad Man is rated PG-13 and has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.

Padmaavat carries over for a third week in 2D at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It holds over in both 2D and 3D at the Rosemont 18, Cantera 17 and Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach.

Also opening on Friday at the South Barrington 24 is the India-set American romantic comedy Basmati Blues, starring Brie Larson and Utkarsh Ambudkar (who played Mindy’s brother Rishi on The Mindy Project). It has a runtime of 1 hr. 46 min.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend: