Movie Review: Beyond the Clouds (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

A complex blend of heartbreak and hope, Beyond the Clouds examines the role family bonds play in making poverty survivable, while showing us that the concept of family needn’t be limited to blood relations.

Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s first Hindi picture takes place in Mumbai. An arresting opening sequence filmed by cinematographer Anil Mehta follows Amir (Ishaan Khattar) as he receives a bag of drugs from a car on a highway overpass. The camera sweeps down as he crosses under the roadway, and then it turns to watch Amir and his friend Anil (Aakash Gopal) speed away on a motorbike.

Amir and Anil are small-time drug runners, young and brash enough to overestimate the amount of power they really have. The don they work for, Rahoul (Shashank Shende), decides to put them in their place after Amir shows up at Rahoul’s brothel unannounced. He sets them up to be nabbed in a police raid.

During the course of a thrilling police chase, Amir happens upon his estranged older sister, Tara (Malavika Mohanan), and then hides out at her house. The encounter gives them a chance to hash out the reasons for their estrangement, perhaps setting the stage for a healthier relationship going forward.

Their reunion is short-lived. Tara is arrested the next day for seriously injuring her employer Akshi (Goutam Ghose) during an attempted rape. It falls on Amir to nurse his sister’s assailant back to health so that Akshi can testify to his part in the assault, the only way to free Tara.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Beyond the Clouds is its depiction of how tenuous even modest notions of comfort and security can be on the bottom rungs of society’s ladder, especially for women. Amir’s association with illegal drugs can bring his wild lifestyle to a halt at a moment’s notice. And his rising of the ranks of Rahoul’s organization comes at the expense of drug addicts and women forced into prostitution.

Then again, Amir is more morally flexible than the average Hindi-film hero, able to pivot from making silly faces at a child to threatening a paralyzed Akshi with a knife without blinking an eye. It’s less a factor of his youth than his having grown up reliant upon such flexibility to survive. Khattar does a creditable job in his debut film.

Mohanan is less successful in her depiction of Tara, who acts zombified in her conversations with Amir after she’s imprisoned. Yet, when Amir isn’t around, Tara seems well-adjusted to prison life, looking after Chotu (Shivan Pujan), the young son of an ill fellow inmate (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee). Tara’s relationship with Chotu embodies the movie’s theme that our “family” is made up not just of blood relatives, but also those we choose to care for.

Chotu is one of many examples in Beyond the Clouds of kids living in places distinctly not child-friendly because their mothers are poor and have no one who can help them. Dozens of little ones run underfoot in jail, an arrangement permitted in some Indian prisons for children under six years old. One worker at Rahoul’s brothel shoos her daughter out of their room when a client arrives. Amir himself becomes a reluctant babysitter when Akshi’s impoverished elderly mother and two daughters arrive from South India and mistake him for one of Akshi’s friends.

The surprising weak point in Beyond the Clouds is A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack. Though the tone of the film isn’t dour, Rahman’s score is still too upbeat for the circumstances. Nevertheless, Beyond the Clouds is a thought-provoking, heartfelt exploration of our shared humanity.

Links

Advertisements

Opening April 20: Beyond the Clouds

The touching family drama Beyond the Clouds hits Chicago area theaters on April 20, 2018.

Beyond the Clouds opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington. It has a runtime of 2 hours.

October gets a second week at both of the above theaters, plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

Baaghi 2 and Hichki carry over at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24, which also holds over Blackmail.

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

Bollywood Box Office: April 13-15, 2018

October started quietly in North America. During the weekend of April 13-15, 2018, the romantic drama earned $230,776 from 131 theaters* ($1,762 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. That’s the lowest opening weekend total and per-theater average for any Hindi film to open in more than 100 theaters here this year so far, with October‘s earnings lagging behind the next lowest earner in that category — Aiyaary — by $120,000. The only thing working in October‘s favor is a sparse release calendar for the rest of the month, with no major competition taking the field until May 4.

Mercury got off to an even quieter start (I know, bad joke about a movie with no dialogue). The silent thriller earned $55,976 from 87 theaters ($643 average) in spite of higher ticket prices and no discounts. The timing of the Mercury‘s release is a shame since genre fans are still focused on A Quiet Place, which closed in on the $100 million mark domestically over the weekend.

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

  • Baaghi 2: Week 3; $47,117 from 58 theaters; $812 average; $1,297,765 total
  • Blackmail: Week 2; $38,336 from 25 theaters; $1,533 average; $253,036 total
  • Hichki: Week 4; $9,768 from eight theaters; $1,221 average; $753,577 total
  • Raid: Week 5; $6,481 from four theaters; $1,620 average; $1,084,042 total
  • Missing: Week 2; $449 from three theaters; $150 average; $6,856 total

*Bollywood Hungama routinely counts Canadian theaters twice in its weekly reporting, at least for a movie’s first few 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 technically puts October in 150 theaters (making for a $1,539 per-theater average). Mercury did not release in Canada.

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Opening April 13: October and Mercury

Two new Bollywood films hit Chicago area theaters on April 13, 2018. First up is the romantic drama October, starring Varun Dhawan.

October opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 45 min.

Also new this week is Mercury, which has no dialogue at all. Prabhu Deva stars in this silent thriller.

Preview shows of Mercury start Thursday night at MovieMax, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 48 min.

Baaghi 2 carries over at MovieMax, Marcus Addison, and South Barrington 24, which also holds over Hichki, Raid, and Blackmail.

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

Streaming Video News: April 12, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with six more contributions from Shemaroo Entertainment. New additions include the 1989 Aamir Khan-Juhi Chawla romance Love Love Love, the Raveena Tandon films Ghulam-E-Musthafa and Satta, plus two more recent releases: Bollywood Diaries and Jigariyaa. I’m most intrigued by the comedy Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, starring Naseeruddin Shah (click the CC button in the video below for English subtitles). For everything else new on Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Streaming Video News: April 11, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with almost three dozen additions to the streaming catalog (everything above Bumm Bumm Bole under the “Newly Added” section of the page). Just the other day I had a Twitter conversation about Shemaroo Entertainment making some of their titles available on Prime, and they went ahead and added even more movies, including Shah Rukh Khan’s Yeh Lamhe Juddai Ke and the meh 2011 romantic comedy Tere Mere Phere. Tiger Zinda Hai is now available, too, in both regular High Definition and Ultra High Definition (UHD).

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to include The Tiger Hunter, which stars Danny Pudi as an Indian immigrant building a life in Chicago in the 1970s. The movie played at a number of film festivals in 2016, including the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. IFFLA 2018 starts today, and you can view the lineup here. If you can’t make it out to LA for the fest, the Hindi Titus Andronicus adaptation The Hungry is available on Amazon Prime.

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

Streaming Video News: April 6, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime because Tiger Zinda Hai is now available for streaming. Katrina Kaif has some stellar action scenes in this sequel from late last year.

While I’ve been on hiatus, Amazon also added Shah Rukh Khan’s Deewana to the Prime catalog. Netflix made a bunch of new additions as well, including the entertaining 2017 remake Ittefaq and the superhit Om Shanti Om. Check the “Newly Added” section at the top of my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to see what other titles have joined the streaming service within the last month.

Have a great weekend!

Taking a Break

Hi, everyone! This is Kathy Gibson, owner and writer here at Access Bollywood. I just wanted to share that I’m going to take a break for a couple of weeks. I realized that I haven’t taken even a week off from this site in years, and I need to recharge.

I’ll return briefly on April 1st (or 2nd, because of the Easter holiday) to update my pages with all the new additions to Netflix and Amazon Prime. But I won’t be posting any reviews, box office analyses, or theater updates until I’m fully back. In the meantime, you can check my list of upcoming releases to see which Hindi movies are likely to open in theaters in the United States in the next few weeks.

Thanks to all the loyal Access Bollywood readers, and to those new to the site thanks to this article about non-Desi Bollywood reviewers that ran in The Hindu on March 25 (featuring a big ole photo of your truly!).

All the best,
Kathy

P.S. One last note — Padmaavat is on Amazon Prime!

Movie Review: Hichki (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Hichki (“Hiccup“) is an enjoyable if somewhat predictable parable about seeing the potential for greatness in everyone. It’s another interesting take on the Indian education system, following on the heels of last year’s terrific Hindi Medium.

Hichki focuses on two different barriers to academic achievement: disability and poverty. The disability aspect is addressed via the lead character, Naina (Rani Mukerji), a teacher with Tourette Syndrome. Tear-jerking flashbacks show her struggles as a small child, when she was the object of ridicule by her peers and scorned by her teachers for vocal tics and outbursts she couldn’t control.

As an adult trying to land her first teaching position, Naina spends more time explaining her neurological condition to the school board members and principals interviewing her than talking about her qualifications. The scenes illustrate just how much work remains to be done in educating the public at large about specific conditions and making the Indian education system more hospitable to students with various challenges, just as Taare Zameen Par did for dyslexia in 2007.

The one thing Naina asks for as both a child and an adult is to be treated as a normal person, and to that end, the movie quickly shifts away from her Tourette Syndrome as the central narrative focus. After the initial shock and some unkind jokes, the students in her class and her coworkers stop noticing her tics, showing just how unwarranted concerns over her being a distraction in the classroom were in the first place.

Naina is hired mid-semester to teach a notoriously rowdy class of poor teenagers who were only admitted to prestigious St. Notker’s — named for a German monk nicknamed “Notker the Stammerer” — when the private academy tore down the kids’ public school in order to expand their playground. The nasty head of the science department, Mr. Wadia (Neeraj Kabi), thinks neither Naina nor the kids belong at St. Notker’s. If the kids can’t pass their final exams in four months’ time, Naina and her students will all be kicked out.

Hichki tries to show what the students are up against — not just in the opposition they face from the school administrators, but also in the difficulties imposed on them by poverty. When Naina visits the slum where the kids live, she finds them caring for younger siblings, helping their parents at work or working solo, and waiting for hours in line to fill buckets of water from a tanker truck, since none of their homes have running water. Studying takes a backseat to the struggle for basic necessities.

Unlike Hindi Medium‘s progressive, leftist point-of-view regarding the inherent justice of public education, Hichki‘s politics are rooted in the neoliberal fantasy that the world is a meritocracy and education is the primary cure for poverty (as opposed to fair wages and access to public goods like clean water and sanitation). “You’re all masters of blaming your situations,” middle-class Naina chides her students.

The movie falsely presents all obstacles to education as equivalent. If Naina can overcome her neurological condition to become a teacher, these poor kids should be able to pass their exams. The film doesn’t acknowledge the many advantages Naina did have in coming from a middle-class family. Her mother had the time to advocate for her daughter’s education. Her younger brother owns a successful high-end restaurant. Even Naina’s father, who abandoned the family because he was embarrassed by Naina’s Tourette’s, uses his connections to land her a job in a bank. Despite her disadvantages, Naina has certain resources at her disposal that her students can only dream of.

Still, Hichki does push the idea that every kid has strengths, even if they’re hard to see at first. Naina uses some unorthodox methods to make the kids realize they understand concepts like parabolas and chemical reactions, even if they didn’t know they academic terms for them. The students flourish under the guidance of an adult who sees their inherent worth, and the story hits many familiar beats one expects from this kind of inspirational fare. (Thankfully, no one slow claps.)

Mukerji’s warmth makes Naina a particularly lovable underdog, one whose own self-doubts are even more important to conquer than the doubts of others. All of the young actors who play her students do a fine job. Neeraj Kabi is too blatantly villainous as Mr. Wadia, but that’s more a function of how the character is written than Kabi’s performance.

Hichki isn’t revolutionary, but movies like it, Hindi Medium, and Taare Zameen Par are important reminders of the Indian education system’s need to better serve all of its students, no matter their challenges.

Links

Bollywood Horror Movies at the North American Box Office

Bollywood horror movies are notorious duds at the North American box office. They open in a handful of theaters, make next to nothing, and disappear quickly. When Anushka Sharma announced that she would star in the horror film Pari — produced by her own company, Clean Slate Films — it raised the question of whether her presence as a marquee star could boost a genre movie’s ceiling internationally.

Horror films remain on the fringes of Bollywood. Most aren’t released in theaters internationally and are left to find their way into homes via DVD or streaming video. Still, when the Hindi film industry collectively decided (deliberately or not) in 2012 to increase the number of Bollywood movies released in North American theaters by a third — from 36 titles in 2011 to 48 in 2012, with an average of 50 Bollywood movies released here yearly since then — that left a lot of open slots to fill, leaving room for niche fare like horror flicks.

That’s not to say there was a Hindi horror boom in the United States and Canada. Most years only see one or two scary films released in theaters, plus a few titles that aren’t traditional horror fare like the horror comedy Go Goa Gone or the survival horror flick Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans.

Pari released in 45 theaters in North America: nine in Canada and 36 in the United States. That’s one more theater than carried NH10 — the maiden production from Sharma’s Clean Slate Films — back in 2015, but 42 fewer than the 87 that carried Clean Slate’s romantic comedy Phillauri last year (all numbers per Bollywood Hungama). Still, for a Hindi horror movie in North America, 45 theaters is about as big a theatrical footprint as you’ll find.

For the purposes of comparing to Pari, let’s look at other supernatural horror movies (which make up the bulk of Bollywood horror flicks). Here’s how such films have fared in North America over the years, in terms of: number of theaters they opened in; how much they earned total in their opening weekend; the average amount earned per theater in that opening weekend; and their final earnings total.

2012
Raaz 3: 28 theaters; $95,301; $3,404 average; $150,716 total
Bhoot Returns: 15 theaters; $3,478; $232 average; $3,478 total

2013
Ek Thi Daayan: 48 theaters; $65,857; $1,372 average; $112,135 total

2014
Ragini MMS 2: 20 theaters; $16,317; $815 average; $16,317 total

2016
1920 London: 38 theaters; $16,204; $426 average; $24,854 total

2017
Dobaara: See Your Evil: 30 theaters; $7,110; $237 average; $11,002 total

2018
1921: 10 theaters; $4,583; $458 average; $7,850 total

Pari opened with earnings of $118,906 — better than the final totals of all but one film in the list above (Raaz 3). Pari‘s $2,642 per-theater average was less than Raaz 3‘s $3,404 average, which only proves that Raaz 3 deserved a higher theater count than it got.

Where Pari really differentiated itself was in its second weekend performance. It held onto 54% of its opening weekend business ($64,247), which was leaps and bounds ahead of Raaz 3‘s 27% retention rate and Ek Thi Daayan‘s 21% carry over. By the end of its third weekend, Pari had earned $320,641 — more than double the next highest total on the list above.

The major takeaway from these numbers is that Hindi films in niche genres are more heavily dependent upon star power than those in more popular genres like romantic comedy or drama. The numbers also demonstrate which stars are able to draw North American Bollywood fans to the theater on their name alone. Sharma is obvious, as further bolstered by the box office success of her other home productions: NH10 ($319,872 total) and Phillauri ($471,522 total). Raaz 3 and Ek Thi Daayan star Emraan Hashmi is another clear box office draw, although his popular co-stars — Bipasha Bashu in Raaz 3 and the trio of Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin, and Huma Qureshi in Ek Thi Daayan — certainly helped. Both movies took in more than $100,000 here.

Yet no other recent Hindi horror film released theatrically in North America managed to earn even $25,000. Qureshi couldn’t do it opposite her real-life sibling, Saqib Saleem, in Dobaara. Despite their own name recognition and the fact that their movies were sequels, Sunny Leone and Sharman Joshi fell short with Ragini MMS 2 and 1920 London, respectively. With such dependence on the caliber of the cast, one wonders if Bollywood horror films without top-tier stars wouldn’t fare better by releasing straight to streaming services here in North America and skipping theaters entirely.