Movie Review: Kedarnath (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Two lovers on opposite sides of a religious and class divide fall in love just before their world falls apart in Kedarnath. The compelling central romance is eclipsed by a well-executed disaster sequence based on the tragic floods of June, 2013, which destroyed much of Kedarnath and killed thousands.

Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) works as a porter, ferrying Hindu pilgrims and their belongings up the winding mountain path to Kedarnath Temple. He and the other Muslim porters and shopkeepers have a history of cooperation with the Hindu innkeepers, allowing everyone to make a steady living during the six months of the year that the temple is accessible.

An upstart Hindu landowner, Kullu (Nishant Dahiya), sees profit in building a fancy new hotel in the valley, increasing the number of pilgrims and displacing a number of shopkeepers in the process. Mansoor — whose mother’s shop would be demolished to make way for the hotel — argues that more buildings and pilgrims could put the infrastructure of the whole valley at risk. Briraaj (Nitish Bharadwaj), a Hindu priest, appreciates Mansoor’s dedication to Kedarnath despite not being a Hindu himself.

That appreciation only extends so far, however. Briraaj isn’t about to let his younger daughter, Mukku (Sara Ali Khan), date a Muslim. Mansoor’s relationship with her exposes simmering inter-religious divisions and provides a pretext for violence, led by Kullu, who’s engaged to Mukku after dumping her older sister, Brinda (the beautiful Pooja Gor). The floods hit before the town can erupt into full-scale riots.

Khan shows poise and charisma in her first film role, but Mukku is problematic. She has a lot in common with stereotypical Bollywood man-child protagonists in that she’s immature and unable to see things from other’s perspectives. She has no regard for how her romance with Mansoor affects him, his family, or the other Muslims in the valley, so confident is she that her desires are right simply because she desires them.

Unlike the typical man-child protagonist character arc in which he finds a woman who makes him aware of the world and his role in it, Mukku’s worldview doesn’t change. Her position as the privileged daughter of a powerful man makes her overestimate her ability to shape her world to her will. If she’s just persistent enough, she can break down Mansoor’s barriers and make him fall in love with her. That same persistence will get her out of her engagement to Kullu, she believes. She’s even convinced that she can influence cricket matches and the weather.

Having been mostly insulated from negative consequences thus far, Mukku fails to account for all of the other factors that influence the events in her life, like the desires of other people, the lucky bounce of a cricket ball, and the randomness of a natural disaster. Mukku’s arrogance makes one question whether, from a narrative standpoint, her star-crossed romance with Mansoor is a worthy enough endeavor to balance the deaths of thousands in raging floodwaters.

That balance undermines the vibrant romantic tension conjured by Khan and Rajput. This is Rajput’s most charming performance in years after lackluster outings in M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and Raabta, a reminder of how good he can be in the right role. It would be fun to see these two leads pair up again in the future after Khan gains more acting experience.

Director Abhishek Kapoor successfully blends practical effects with computer generated ones in Kedarnath‘s climactic disaster, with Rajput and Khan battling treacherous waters in thrilling sequences. The rarity of Bollywood disaster movies is perhaps reason enough to watch Kedarnath, coupled with the intrigued of a star scion’s debut (Khan’s father is Saif Ali Khan). If only the central romance matched the film’s spectacle.

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In Theaters: December 14, 2018

We’re in the lull before Zero hits theaters, so there are no new Bollywood movies opening in the Chicago area the weekend beginning December 14, 2018. After a strong opening weekend, Kedarnath carries over at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

2.0 holds over in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi at MovieMax (2D only), South Barrington 24 (3D only), and Cantera 17 (3D and 2D), while the following theaters carry the 3D version of the sci-fi sequel only in Tamil: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Badhaai Ho gets a ninth week at the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian films playing at MovieMax Cinemas this weekend include Odiyan (Malayalam), Thuppakki Munai (Tamil), Hushaaru (Telugu), Johnny (Tamil), Banjara: The Truck Driver (Punjabi), Mumbai Pune Mumbai 3 (Marathi), and Joseph (Malayalam).

Streaming Video News: December 12, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of recent additions. Since the massive catalog purge at the end of last month, Prime has added more than 60 titles, including the new original series Vella Raja, available in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu in both standard and Ultra-HD. Jimmy Shergill’s 2018 theatrical release Phamous is among the recently added Bollywood movies, which also include a bunch of older titles. Here are some that I’ve reviewed:

For the full list of recent additions to the catalog, head to my Prime page and check out the “Newly Added” section at the top. (All of the Amazon links include my affiliate tag, meaning I get a portion of the proceeds from any items purchased through those links.)

In Netflix news, the new Andy Serkis movie Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle debuted last week, but the Hindi audio option isn’t available in the United States — even though it features an awesome voice cast that includes Madhuri Dixit, Kareena Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, and Jackie Shroff. But we do have German, Italian, French, and Spanish audio options, so there’s that. Head over to my Netflix page to explore other recent additions to the catalog, including a new Vir Das comedy special.

Bollywood Box Office: December 7-9, 2018

Kedarnath had quite a good opening weekend in North America — fifteenth best in a field of 53 Hindi and multilingual films released here this year, in fact. From December 7-9, 2018, the romantic drama earned $374,964 from 117 theaters ($3,205 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.

It’s showing was all the more impressive given that 2.0 had another great weekend as well, taking in $788,976 from 288 theaters ($2,740 average). The multilingual sci-fi sequel is on the brink of crossing the $5 million mark here, with $4,870,335 in total earnings across all languages so far.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s two films are still going strong, with Badhaai Ho earning $16,181 from 13 theaters ($1,245 average) in its eighth weekend of release. Its total stands at $3,312,100. In its tenth weekend of release, Andhadhun took in $6,398 from five theaters ($1,280 average), bringing its total to $1,368,448.

And then there’s Thugs of Hindostan. In its fifth weekend, it earned $770 from two theaters — one in the United States and one in Canada. The US’s contribution to that total? $10. Imagine a weekend of screenings at that US theater, all empty except for one person sitting alone in one of those showings (okay, maybe two people if it was a matinée). Thugs of Hindostan is stuck just shy of $2 million, with $1,982,112 in total North American earnings.

Source: Bollywood Hungama

Opening December 7: Kedarnath

Saif Ali Khan’s daughter Sara makes her film debut opposite Sushant Singh Rajput in the romantic drama/disaster movie Kedarnath, opening in Chicago area theaters December 7, 2018. It looks kinda awesome.

Kedarnath opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr 59 min.

After a $3 million opening weekend in the United States, 2.0 carries over in 3D in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi at the River East 21, MovieMax (2D only), South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, Woodridge 18, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Badhaai Ho gets an eighth week at the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Bollywood Box Office: November 30-December 2, 2018

Rajinikanth’s 2.0 did blockbuster numbers in its opening weekend in North America, as expected. From November 30-December 2, 2018, the multilingual sci-fi sequel took in $2,770,738 from 315 theaters ($8,796 average), according to 143 Cinema. Adding in returns from Wednesday night preview shows and a full day of screenings on Thursday brought its total to $3,753,667 by the end of Sunday. By this point, 2.0 has already cleared $4 million here.

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

  • Badhaai Ho: Week 7; $25,002 from 17 theaters; $1,471 average; $3,284,458 total
  • Andhadhun: Week 9; $9,437 from seven theaters; $1,348 average; $1,356,669 total
  • Thugs of Hindostan: Week 4; $2,865 from six theaters; $478 average; $1,978,868 total

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

Movie Review: The Price of Free (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The Price of Free on YouTube

The fantastic 2013 drama Siddharth follows a poor family’s search for their son, a victim of child trafficking. 12-year-old Siddharth takes a factory job in a distant city for a month to earn money for his younger sister’s dowry. When the boy doesn’t return, his parents have to search for him with scant information of his whereabouts, extremely limited funds, and no picture of their son to show to the authorities.

For parents facing a similar crisis to the family in Siddharth, Delhi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“BBA”) is there to help. The documentary The Price of Free gives a look at the organization and its devoted leader, Kailash Satyarthi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in freeing more than 87,000 Indian children from slavery. (The film debuted at the Sundance film festival under the title Kailash and was renamed before its streaming video release on YouTube.)

The keys to Satyarthi’s success are his complete commitment to the principle that every child should have a childhood and his optimism that this is an achievable goal — albeit an incredibly difficult one. The Price of Free explains just how complex the problem really is, with Satyarthi himself admitting to underestimating the scope the first time he tried to free a man’s daughter from sex slavery and failed.

Actually rescuing a child from forced labor is somewhere in the middle of a process that begins with trying to stop trafficking from happening in the first place, through a combination of laws and corporate pressure to poverty eradication efforts. After a child is trafficked, the BBA team attempts to locate and release the child — and any other children present — hopefully arresting their captors in the process.

What to do with the children they rescue is a whole other problem, one that Satyarthi and his wife Sumedha discovered early in their activism as their apartment filled with traumatized children far from home. The solution was Mukti Ashram, a temporary boarding school run by Sumedha as a place where recently freed kids could live, play, and learn while BBA workers track down their parents.

The Price of Free opens with footage of a harrowing factory raid that liberates sixty-three boys, the most frightened of whom is little Karim. Given the presence of police alongside BBA activists, the boys assume they are in trouble, and Karim won’t stop crying. In a surprisingly intimate gesture, Satyarthi sits with Karim and has the boy touch his beard, joking with Karim that he’s missing a beard of his own. It pays off days later, when Satyarthi hears that Karim is still nervous at the ashram. He asks, “Is this the friend who touched my beard? Show me how you did it.” Little Karim beams as he reaches up to give Satyarthi’s cheek a familiar pet.

A heartbreaking problem BBA addresses is the reality that some of the children they reunite with their families will just wind up in forced labor again, such is the depth of their poverty. One father admits to accepting a bribe from a trafficker of as little as 2000 rupees — less than $30.

The challenges and rewards of BBA’s activism are presented fairly by filmmaker Derek Doneen, without being manipulative or melodramatic, as befitting Satyarthi’s own can-do attitude. BBA’s work requires a great deal of bravery — one never knows if the police assigned to accompany them on raids have been bribed by traffickers — and Doneen and crew deserve credit for following the activists into potentially dangerous situations for the sake of documenting their work.

If there’s one complaint about The Price of Free, it’s the inconsistency of the English subtitles. Most of the banter and other background chatter like police radios isn’t subtitled at all. If multiple people are speaking at once, only one person’s dialogued is subbed. I know documentaries don’t have lavish budgets, but the film feels incomplete without full subs.

Even with over 150 million kids worldwide still engaged in child labor, The Price of Free and Kailash Satyarthi’s work with BBA give hope that this really is a problem we can tackle. If you’d like to get involved in the movement to end child labor, check out The Price of Free‘s website, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, or 100Million.org.

You can watch The Price of Free in its entirety below:

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Streaming Video News: December 1, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of the October release Loveyatri, starring Salman Khan’s brother-in-law. The streaming service added a number of older Telugu titles as well.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of some new kids cartoons, the Punjabi flick Faraar, the Tamil film Power Paandi, and a few shows from the cable channel Discovery Jeet. One of those shows is Man vs Wild with Sunny Leone, which — as far as I can tell — is just the regular Bear Grylls show dubbed into Hindi with Sunny occasionally interjecting from a fake jungle set. I’d be more interested if Sunny was out in the woods with Bear eating worms and stuff.

For everything else new on Netflix and Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: November 30, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two Hindi films released this year: Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s biographical drama Manto and director Leena Yadav’s Rajma Chawal, which skipped theaters to launch worldwide on Netflix.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the exciting streaming debut of the 2018 horror film Tumbbad. In addition to the original Hindi audio, Tamil and Telugu audio options are available for Tumbbad. A bunch of older Tamil and Telugu films were also added in recent days.

After the great Prime Purge, I found another 30 or so Indian titles that were expunged in addition to the 285 I had advanced warning about. I’ll revisit the list of expired titles in the coming days to make sure they weren’t re-added to the service, but I’m confident most of them are gone for good. Many of the older films that disappeared — such as 1963’s Parasmani — are still available on Eros Now, which you can subscribe to through Amazon Channels.

For everything else new on Netflix and Amazon Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: November 25, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with some HUGE news: the streaming service loses 25% of its Indian catalog in the next few days. 285 movies will expire between now and November 29. Most of the films on the way out are older Bengali, Tamil, and Hindi titles, including the whole NFDC catalog. Sadly, the purge wipes out Prime’s entire selection of Bhojpuri, Oriya, and Sanskrit movies.

One caveat is that Amazon’s expiration dates aren’t always as hard-and-fast as Netflix‘s expiration dates. It could be that Amazon’s dates simply indicate the end of existing contracts, with new contracts set to kick in the following day. But if any of the films below are in your Watchlist, better watch ’em while you can.

Update: It looks like this purge is really happening after all. I’m in the process of pulling the expired titles out of my main Prime list. The good news is that a lot of the older Hindi titles are still available on Eros Now (which you can try for free for 7 days through Amazon channels).

Here’s the full list of everything set to expire from Amazon Prime, organized first by date and then alphabetically: