Movie Review: Baahubali 2 — The Conclusion (2017)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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The whole reason I go to the movies is for the rare opportunity to watch a film as engrossing and magical as Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Together with its predecessor, Baahubali: The Beginning, the Baahubali films are works of tremendous artistic achievement.

As the subtitles of the Baahubali (“The One with Strong Arms“) films suggest, they combine to form a single narrative and don’t work well as standalone films. There’s a tiny summary of the events of the first film at the opening of The Conclusion, but only enough to refresh the memories of those who’ve seen the original. It’s inadvisable to watch The Conclusion without first watching The Beginning (which is readily available for purchase/rent in the US via iTunes, Amazon, etc.)

With The Beginning having established the origin of the present-day hero, Shivudu (Prabhas), the prowess of his Herculean father Baahubali (also Prabhas), as well as the specific tragedy that tore apart the kingdom of Mahishmati, The Conclusion fills in the details of what led to the tragedy. As in so many epics, it was a fight over a woman.

That woman is Devasena (Anushka Shetty), who appears in The Beginning after suffering decades of torture at the hands of the king of Mahishmati, Ballaladeva (Rana Daggubati), Baahubali’s brother. The Conclusion shows Devasena in her youth, a beautiful princess with fearsome battle skills.

Baahubali meets Devasena as he and Kattappa (Sathyaraj) travel the countryside in disguise. When Baahubali falls for Devasena, it is as much for her strong will and sense of justice as for her looks. On the other hand, Ballaladeva decides to marry Devasena after merely seeing her portrait, without even laying eyes on her in person.

In The Beginning, the female warrior Avantika (Tamannaah Bhatia) waas ultimately sidelined by Shivudu after he literally washes the grime of battle from her so she will comport to his idealized vision of pristine loveliness. The women in The Conclusion have more agency and are accepted on their own terms. Devasena won’t take guff from anyone, no matter their rank. Queen regent Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) is the embodiment of power, her eyes flashing with rage when the honor of Mahishmati is threatened. It’s gratifying to see two such authoritative female characters in a movie whose title refers specifically to physical strength. (Avantika rejoins the fray in The Conclusion in a satisfying return to her former martial glory.)

There is, of course, plenty of physical strength on display in the film. Prabhas is a physical specimen, and Daggubati looks like a titan. A shirtless battle between the two hulks is as satisfying as it is inevitable. Legendary fighter Kattappa is no slouch either, as showcased by Satyaraja’s nimble moves.

One newly introduced character in The Conclusion is particularly memorable. Devasena’s brother-in-law, Kumara Verma (Subbaraju), is in many ways a stand in for the audience as one of the few mere mortals in this world of demi-gods. He’s pompous and cowardly, and primarily the butt of jokes in the film, yet he rises to the challenge in a critical moment, proving Baahubali’s assertion that courage is more important than strength.

The joy of both Baahubali films — but especially the second one — is that they can be watched either purely for enjoyment’s sake or for the fun of parsing every minute detail, picking out all of the myriad influences. The story is borne out of traditions from across the globe, beyond its obvious roots in Indian religion, history, and mythology. The disguise sequence is Shakespearean. Song lyrics like, “Heart stealer, eternal enchanter” sound like epithets from Greek mythology like “Hector, breaker of horses.”

[The team behind the English subtitles deserves special kudos for their precise choices and linguistic flourishes, such as this memorable lyric: “The sky says ‘bravo’ with infectious esprit.”]

There are also modern influences. When Baahubali fights, he moves more like a video game character than a movie character. Large battle sequences clearly draw from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’d argue that the Baahubali movies are the most effective cinematic fantasy epics since LOTR.

I’d further argue that the Baahubali movies succeed in that regard precisely because they were made with greater budget constraints than similar Hollywood movies. Huge numbers of extras in brilliantly colored costumes give a life to crowd scenes that is missing from most CGI-heavy contemporary fare. Director S.S. Rajamouli employs his resources in a way that achieves a consistency of look, which in fantasy films is more important than realism.

Most importantly, Rajamouli and writer Vijayendra Prasad create a world of such detail and depth that one might forget that they did in fact create it. It feels real, like an alternative history of the world. It’s so easy to be swept up by Baahubali 2, to imagine a world of superheroes who believe in justice and mercy above all else. It’s wonderful.

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Opening April 27: Baahubali 2– The Conclusion

The biggest Indian film of the year is ready to take over Chicago. On April 27, 2017, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion will finally answer all our questions from Baahubali: The Beginning!

As with the first movie, Baahubali 2 was recorded simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil and then dubbed in Hindi and Malayalam. The film is playing in the Chicago area in all languages except for Malayalam, and all versions have English subtitles. Some theaters are even showing the movie on their IMAX screens.

Since tickets for Hindi films usually cost the same as Hollywood films in US theaters, it’s worth noting that tickets for Baahubali 2 are priced differently, not only from Hollywood films but based on date and language. Tickets for Thursday shows are upcharged because it’s technically a preview day. As of Friday, tickets are generally priced at $33 for IMAX, $23 for non-IMAX shows in Telugu, $20 for Tamil, and $15 for Hindi, though some theaters add additional taxes. The most expensive tickets in town are for Thursday’s IMAX shows, which cost about $40 each. The absolute cheapest ticket I’ve been able to find is $10.54 for the 10:30 a.m. Hindi shows at the Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.

I’ve listed the various formats and what theaters are carrying them below. If a theater offers the option of reserved seating, I’ll list an “(R)” next to the theater name. Here’s where you can see Baahubali 2 in the Chicago area, with the first shows starting Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m.:

IMAX 2D (Telugu, w/one daily showing in Hindi starting Friday): AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington (R) and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge (R)

Telugu: Kerasotes Showplace ICON in Chicago (R), Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison (R), Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, Cinemark Tinseltown USA in North Aurora, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges (R)

Tamil: Century 12 Evanston, MovieMax Cinemas, Cinemark Tinseltown USA, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges (R)

Hindi (starting Friday, April 28): MovieMax Cinemas, AMC South Barrington 24 (R) Regal Cantera 17 (R), AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge

Noor carries over for a second week at the South Barrington 24 and Cantera 17. The only other Indian movie showing in the Chicago area this weekend is Manje Bistre (Punjabi w/English subtitles) at Stratford Square.

Streaming Video News: April 25, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several additions to the catalog, including 2016’s thoughtful coming-of-age drama Dear Zindagi, starring Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan. Also new to streaming are a pair of Amitabh Bachchan films — 2003’s Baghban and 2008’s Bhoothnath, which didn’t really work — as well as the Netflix Original comedy special Vir Das: Abroad Understanding by the Delhi Belly actor.

Other recent additions to Netflix include Robot (the Hindi-dubbed version of Enthiran), Chandni Bar, the 2016 Bengali movie Colkatay Columbus, and a bunch of Hindi TV shows, including Agent Raghav: Crime BranchBhaage Re Mann, Bh Se Bhade, and Gangs of Haseepur. For everything else new to Netflix (Bollywood or not), check Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: April 21-23, 2017

Sonakshi Sinha’s Noor failed to make an impact at North American box office. From April 21-23, 2017, the comedy earned $49,595 from 69 theaters ($719 average; adjusted average of $840 from 59 theaters*). While we’ve seen more disastrous opening weekends this year, Noor‘s low per-theater average indicates that distributors expected a better turnout. This is the type of scenario I was thinking of when I wrote last week about why Begum Jaan‘s opening weekend earnings were good in relative terms.

Speaking of Begum Jaan, it took in $15,397 from seventeen theaters ($906 average) in its second weekend, bringing its North American total to $109,664.

In its seventh weekend of release, Badrinath Ki Dulhania finally squeaked past $2 million in the United States and Canada. It earned another $1,556 from three theaters ($519 average), bringing its total to $2,000,285.

Naam Shabana closed out its fourth weekend with $730 from four theaters ($183 average). Its total stands at $262,303.

*Bollywood Hungama frequently counts Canadian theaters twice in when they report figures for a film’s first few weeks of release. When possible, I verify theater counts at Box Office Mojo, but I use Bollywood Hungama as my primary source because they provide a comprehensive and consistent — if flawed — data set.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Noor (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Noor is almost a good movie. It looks nice, and the talented cast members make their characters relatable. The film just never comes together in a coherent way.

The challenge with Noor is condensing a book’s worth of material into a movie of less than two hours, a feat which director Sunhil Sippy and co-writers Althea Kaushal and Shikhaa Sharma can’t manage. The threads of the various subplots never tie together in a way I’m guessing they do in Saba Imtiaz’s well-regarded novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me, upon which the film is based.

Noor (Sonakshi Sinha) is a Mumbai journalist plagued in equal parts by self-loathing and a smug sense of superiority. She films human interest stories for an online news outlet, but she’d rather be reporting on more serious issues. Her disdain for her interview subjects is so obvious that any organization would be foolish to entrust her with any topics of import.

When Noor is not blaming her editor Shekhar (Manish Chaudhary) for consigning her to a Pulitzer-less fate, she’s complaining about how no one pays attention to her while simultaneously rebuffing everyone’s attempts to reach out to her. We have to trust that the patience shown by her buddies Zara (Shibani Dandekar) and Saad (Kanan Gill of Pretentious Movie Reviews) was earned during a time when Noor wasn’t such a self-pitying grump. She’s also obsessed with her weight, a hopelessly outdated gag used so often it seems malicious.

Things finally start going Noor’s way when she falls for Ayan (Purab Kohli), a handsome international photojournalist. Then she gets a lead on what could be a huge scandal.

“Could” is the operative word. All Noor has is an interview with one alleged crime victim, yet she wants Shekhar to publish it as proof of a widespread conspiracy. Shekhar insists that they wait, but not so that Noor can gather more evidence. He wants her to think about the potential negative impact publishing it would have on her interview subject.

That’s certainly one element to consider, but there’s a larger view of journalistic ethics that gets completely ignored. What Noor has is the first germ of a story, not a complete investigation. She has zero corroborating evidence, but none of the characters acknowledge that as a problem. Publishing what she has as unassailable proof of corruption is inviting a defamation lawsuit.

Movies about investigative journalism can be riveting — seeing how badly Noor handles it made me want to watch Spotlight again — but Noor never fully shifts into being the thriller it needs to be to deal with the can of worms it opens. Trying to integrate Noor’s low-stakes romantic troubles into the high-stakes crime narrative doesn’t work.

It’s a shame, because Sinha does a nice job humanizing a complicated character. Kohli is charming, and Gill is funny and adorable. Sadly, Zara is written as little more than a walking clothes rack, so we don’t get to see what Dandekar can do.

Sippy uses some clever techniques to depict Noor for the Millennial she is. When Noor speaks in hashtags, they appear written on screen next to her. Sippy positions his own camera over Noor’s shoulder and focuses on her iPhone screen so that we can see what she sees while she records her interviews.

While Noor is certainly watchable, the cloud of what-might-have-been always hovers over it.

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Opening April 21: Noor

One new Hindi film hits Chicago area theaters on April 21, 2017. The comedy Noor — which stars Sonakshi Sinha as a Mumbai journalist — is based on the novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me! by Saba Imtiaz.

Noor opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 47 min. (Yay!)

Begum Jaan carries over for a second week at the South Barrington 24 and MovieMax Cinemas in Niles.

Local theaters have announced showtimes for Baahubali 2‘s release on Thursday, April 27. Tickets are already available for a full week of shows at MovieMax, which carries Baahubali 2 in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi (all with English subtitles). If you want to splurge, four area theaters are showing Baahubali 2 on their IMAX screens, with 2D showings in Telugu and Tamil starting at 2:30 p.m. next Thursday: Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, Cinemark Tinseltown USA in North Aurora, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge. Be prepared to pay for the IMAX experience, with tickets ranging in price from $30-40. I expect other non-IMAX theaters to add showtimes sometime next week.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Bollywood Box Office: April 14-16, 2017

The headline for Bollywood Hungama’s latest international box office report — “‘Begum Jaan’ fails to shine in the overseas” — is a bit misleading in regard to how the movie fared in North America during its opening weekend of April 14-16, 2017. From just 34 theaters*, Begum Jaan earned $65,812, for an average of $1,936. While that total may not look like much compared to those of Bollywood movies that open on 100+ screens here, it’s big relative to other films with a similar theatrical footprint.

Median opening weekend earnings for the six Hindi films that released in fewer than 60 North American theaters this year are about $12,000. The best performance prior to Begum Jaan was by Commando 2, which opened with earnings of $40,611 from 49 theaters (40 adjusted). Begum Jaan not only improved on Commando 2‘s total by about 60%, its per-theater average of $1,936 was also substantially greater than Commando 2‘s $829 average ($1,015 adjusted). For a movie that is the definition of a niche film — Vidya Balan plays a madam in a historical drama — Begum Jaan did pretty well in its first weekend. It will likely be the first Hindi film of 2017 to open in fewer than 60 theaters to ultimately earn more than $100,000 in North America.

The weekend’s big winner was the new Punjabi film Manje Bistre, which earned $241,971 from 39 American theaters ($6,204 average) and $385,147 from nineteen Canadian theaters ($20,271 average!).

Other Bollywood movies still showing in North America:

  • Naam Shabana: Week 3; $4,756 from eleven theaters; $432 average; $260,191 total
  • Badrinath Ki Dulhania: Week 6; $4,425 from four theaters; $1,106 average; $1,997,701 total
  • Phillauri: Week 4; $3,988 from three theaters; $1,329 average; $471,522 total

* Unlike my standard weekly caveat about Bollywood Hungama counting Canadian theaters twice, it looks like they got it right for Begum Jaan! Of course, that messes up all of my data which relies upon theater numbers being wrong in a consistent way, but whatever.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama