Streaming Video News: January 24, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of Indian content added in the last week, including the debut of the Amazon Original Hindi series The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye (also available in 4K UHD). Recently added 2019 releases include:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Tamil road trip film K.D. (A) Karuppudurai. There are a few new releases lined up before the end of the month, including the stand-up special Vir Das for India on January 26. The Rajkummar Rao-Hema Malini romantic comedy Shimla Mirchi debuts on January 27, following a really brief theatrical run in India earlier this month. On January 30, we finally get Karan Johar’s makeover reality dating show What the Love!, which will either be great or disastrous. Celebrity guests include Huma Qureshi, Saif Ali Khan, Ali Fazal, Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, and Sunny Leone.

Opening January 24: Panga and Street Dancer 3

Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning January 24, 2020. Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari returns with the kabbadi drama Panga, starring Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, and Richa Chadda.

Panga opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 11 min. Its streaming partner is Hotstar.

Also new this weekend is Street Dancer 3 (as it’s being called here; in India it’s Street Dancer 3D). It was originally planned as a sequel to ABCD 2 before changing production houses. Thus, Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor return for Street Dancer 3, but as different characters.

Street Dancer 3 opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior carries over for a third week at MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, and Woodridge 18.

Chhapaak also gets a third week at MovieMax, while the South Barrington 24 holds over Good Newwz for a fifth week.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Movie Review: Ghost Stories (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ghost Stories on Netflix

Ghost Stories is the third installment in the Hindi anthology series from directors Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar, following Bombay Talkies and the Netflix Original Lust Stories. The latest is a strong collection, but some of the short films are more enjoyable than others.

Akhtar’s opening short is a fitting introduction to the overall theme, with a beautiful young woman in a creepy house. Janhvi Kapoor plays Sameera, a home health nurse sent to care temporarily for bedridden dementia patient Mrs. Malik (Surekha Sikri). Sameera was told Mrs. Malik’s adult son was taking care of her over the weekend, but there’s no sign of him when Sameera arrives at the cluttered, dimly lit apartment. Mrs. Malik says he’s hiding. Suspicious sounds in the hallway tip Sameera off that something is very wrong.

Akhtar bucks horror conventions by making Sameera a woman of questionable ethics, rather than some imperiled virgin. She invites her married boyfriend over for a romantic rendezvous and riffles through Mrs. Malik’s jewelry box. Instead of being about virtue under threat, Akhtar’s story explores which morals really matter when times get tough, and what obligations we have to other people and ourselves.

Anurag Kashyap’s story is next. It’s the most ambitious but least successful of the four films. After her first child died minutes after its birth, Neha (Sobhita Dhulipala) has eventually become pregnant again. She’s still struggling with the psychological damages from her previous loss. On top of that, the little boy she babysits, Ansh (Zachary Braz), isn’t keen on sharing her affections with anyone else. And she may have been cursed by a bird.

There’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of why things happen, let alone differentiate between what’s real and what’s not. Is Neha simply paranoid or out of touch with reality? Is she cursed, or does Ansh really have some kind of evil powers to harm her unborn child? Everything ends in gory, bizarre chaos. Women with a history of fertility problems or miscarriages may find this film disturbing.

The gore-fest continues in the third film, director Dibakar Banerjee’s parable of a small village literally cannibalized by its big-city neighbors. A bureaucrat (played by Sukant Goel) arrives in Smalltown to find it destroyed, with a boy (Aditya Shetty) and a girl (Eva Ameet Pardeshi) the only survivors. They explain that her father — a councilman from Bigtown — ate most of the residents and turned everyone else into zombies. Only when the man is nearly eaten himself does he accept that they kids are telling the truth.

Despite some truly disgusting moments, this is an intriguing story of greed and the sacrifices people will to make to save themselves. Banerjee does an excellent job building a world and giving his audience a lot to chew on (cannibal pun intended).

The anthology’s closing tale is much what you’d expect from a Karan Johar ghost story. Two rich and very attractive people, Ira (Mrunal Thakur) and Dhruv (Avinash Tiwary), agree to marry. When Dhruv interrupts their honeymoon lovemaking to say “good night” to his grandmother — who’s been dead for twenty years — Ira wonders what kind of mental illness afflicts her new husband. But maybe she’s the one who can’t see the ghost right in front of her.

Johar’s story is a light, fun respite after the two heavy shorts that came before it. Dhruv’s family mansion is gorgeous. There’s also a minor theme about faith that gives the story some dimension.

Other than Kashyap’s dense narrative, the stories all suit the short film format. They say what they need to say and end before they run out of steam. There are so many ideas in Kashyap’s story that he might have been able to better organize them in a feature-length film. Overall, Ghost Stories is an interesting collection that creates chilling scenarios without relying on jump scares. Just be ready for some blood and guts.

Links

Streaming Video News: January 16, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the additions of Rajkummar Rao’s 2019 comedy Made in China and director Rima Das’s Assamese film Bulbul Can Singh. The Nawazuddin Siddiqui-Athiya Shetty romantic-comedy Motichoor Chaknachoor arrives on the service on January 20.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of Indian films added in the last week, including the John Abraham-led ensemble comedy Pagalpanti. Two Yash Raj Films titles — Qaidi Band and Titli (which is good but gross) — are finally available for streaming as well. Other recently added 2019 releases include:

Two new shows debut on Prime on Friday, January 17 — the Russell Peters comedy series Deported and the thriller series Afsos, starring Gulshan Devaiah. It looks pretty good. [Update: The release of Afsos was postponed “due to unforeseen circumstances“.]

[Disclaimer: all of my Amazon links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

While my Best Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is dominated by action flicks, my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is mostly made up of comedies that aren’t funny.

The first of those is Khandaani Shafakhana, starring Sonakshi Sinha as a sex clinic operator. It has some nice moments but is undone by a sequence in which a character played by Varun Sharma repeatedly uses homophobic slurs in a failed attempt at humor.

Diljit Dosanjh’s cop spoof Arjun Patiala also has potential until it takes a dark turn — only none of the characters seem to realize it and keep acting as if it’s still a lighthearted romp. Kriti Sanon plays a reporter reluctant to investigate a string of murders she suspects were orchestrated by her police officer boyfriend (Dosanjh). It’s hard to make such a premise funny.

Sanon plays a reporter again in the romantic comedy Luka Chuppi, in which she and a colleague played by Kartik Aaryan clumsily try to hide their live-in relationship. The subject matter gives it a veneer of progressiveness, but it’s cut from the same conservative, chauvinistic cloth as umpteen other Bollywood romcoms.

The biggest disappointment among the unfunny comedies is the road trip heist flick Total Dhamaal. With an ensemble cast that includes Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ajay Devgn, and Sanjay Mishra, you’d expect laughs from start to finish. But writer-director Indra Kumar’s disorganized reboot of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is boring, with repetitive, stale gags.

The top spot on this year’s Worst Bollywood Movies list is not a comedy but a very problematic drama. Kabir Singh — a remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy — is either remarkably oblivious to its main character’s sociopathic tendencies, or it thinks his actions are okay. The hero assaults and threatens women with violence repeatedly throughout the movie, including an attempt to rape a woman at knife-point in the first ten minutes. You can’t make a hero like that sympathetic, especially when he doesn’t feel remorse for what he’s done.

One of the troubling sentiments I’ve seen online is the belief that the Kabir Singh‘s box office success validates the film’s moral viewpoint. There are plenty of movies throughout history that were hits when they released that contemporary audiences would find abhorrent. Kabir Singh will be one of those movies someday — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Kabir Singh — Stream on Netflix
  2. Total Dhamaal — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar
  3. Luka Chuppi — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  4. Arjun Patiala — Stream on Prime
  5. Khandaani Shafakhana — Stream on Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

[Disclaimer: my Amazon and iTunes links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Movie Review: Chhapaak (2020)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Filmmaker Meghna Gulzar has handled tricky real-life topics before, choosing a true crime story as the subject of her terrific thriller Talvar. For her latest film Chhapaak (“Splash“), Gulzar tackles another challenging topic, that of acid attacks on women. While informative, Chhapaak‘s plot lacks emotional punch.

Like Talvar, Chhapaak‘s narrative is non-linear. It begins in 2012, as a brutal gang rape in Delhi turns public attention toward violence against women. Twenty-something Malti (Deepika Padukone) struggles to find work, years after her face was severely scarred with acid. A reporter eager to revive interest in Malti’s story connects her with Amol (Vikrant Massey), who gives Malti a job at the non-governmental organization he runs aiding acid attack victims.

The job triggers a flashback to Malti’s own attack when she was nineteen. A much older family friend, Babbu (Vishal Dahiya), burned her when she rebuffed his marriage proposal. The acid scarred most of Malti’s face, requiring months of recovery and multiple surgeries over several years. The court battle to convict Babbu takes even longer. Malti’s dogged lawyer Archana (Madhurjeet Sarghi) is determined to see Babbu sentenced not just for the physical injury he caused but for attempted murder, in a move to force the courts to treat acid attacks more seriously than the law currently does.

A surprising amount of Chhapaak‘s story is devoted to the details of the court proceedings in Malti’s case and her subsequent petition for a federal ban on the sale of acid. Archana and her legal team debate strategies and counterarguments in long scenes where Malti isn’t even present. During trial scenes, Malti often sits quietly behind her lawyers without participating.

It’s an odd choice to sideline the film’s marquee star for such scenes, which are more educational than they are emotional. They also take time away from aspects of Malti’s story that are underdeveloped, chiefly relationships within her family. There’s a simmering resentment between Malti’s mother and wealthy aunt Shiraz (Payal Nair), who pays for Malti’s surgeries, but we don’t know their history. We also don’t know anything about the relationship between Malti and her younger brother. In the aftermath of her attack, he’s ignored so completely that no one in the house realizes he’s developed tuberculosis. The siblings never have a conversation about how their lives changed because of what was done to Malti.

The problem with the way Gulzar and co-writer Atika Chohan use the non-linear format in Chhapaak is that flashbacks to who Malti was before the attack are saved until very late in the film. Only then do we get a glimpse of her friendships and her dreams for the future. The acid attack changed Malti externally but internally as well, but holding back information about who Malti was means we only see her reckoning with her external changes, not her internal ones.

I suspect some of this stems from the fact that Malti is based on a real woman who is still very much alive. 29-year-old Laxmi Agarwal survived an acid attack as a teen and later became a prominent activist and television personality. Perhaps in deference to Agarwal, Chhapaak‘s focus steers away from its heroine’s internal struggles and family drama to her courtroom victories and romantic relationship with Amol. (With regard to that, Padukone and Massey do share a charming chemistry.)

That aspect of the story feeds into the thing that Chhapaak does best, which is encourage its audience to see past the damage done by the acid to the person within. The prosthetics used on Padukone are well-crafted, changing with each of Malti’s surgeries. Gulzar also cast real acid attack survivors to play the other workers at the NGO.

Yet, even at the very end, Gulzar can’t resist centering Chhapaak on the issue rather than the characters. The film’s brief final scene (not a spoiler) introduces some new women who are splashed with acid, followed by a note that one of them died as a result, followed by a still of written statistics about acid attacks in India. No one would have assumed that, just because the film shows progress being made that the problem of acid attacks was magically solved, rendering this scene unnecessary.

While Chhapaak deserves credit for shining light on a worthy subject, it could have been done in a way that was more narratively satisfying.

Links

Streaming Video News: January 10, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of Sidharth Malhotra’s 2019 thriller Marjaavaan. Other newly added 2019 releases include Ghawre Bairey Aaj (Bengali), Hirkani (Marathi), and Verdict (Hindi).

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the series debut of the Netflix Original Hindi crime drama Jamtara: Sabka Number Ayega. Oh, and Half Girlfriend is available for streaming again, for those of you longing for its return.

[Disclaimer: all of my Amazon links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

It’s time for my annual roundup of the year’s best Hindi films. I need to start with a caveat, in anticipation of any comments asking why certain movies didn’t make my list. Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law died in 2019, and I missed seeing a bunch of movies, especially those released in the first half of the year. I’m particularly disappointed to have missed Sonchiriya, since I’ve read many good things about it. It only ran in North American theaters for two weeks in March before heading to the streaming service Zee5 — which isn’t available in the United States. It’s not available for digital purchase or on DVD here either, so there’s no legal way for me to catch up on it. I’m sure there are other 2019 releases that I would have enjoyed that I also missed out on.

That said, 2019 was a fantastic year for action movie buffs like me, so let’s get to it!

What better place to start than with my favorite martial artist Vidyut Jammwal’s family-friendly eco-thriller Junglee. This is a rare Hindi film directed by an American: Chuck Russell, best known for the Jim Carrey hit, The Mask. While most Indian productions lean heavily on computer-generated effects to create animals on-screen, Russell had Jammwal and the rest of the cast interact with live elephants. It adds an element of awe that reinforces the story’s messages of conservation and respect for nature. And Jammwal’s excellent stunts are always a ton of fun.

India’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards — Gully Boy — certainly deserved the honor, even if it failed to make the shortlist for the Oscars (not that any film can beat Parasite). Director Zoya Akhtar’s story of a young Muslim man voicing his generation’s frustrations through the medium of rap is timely and relevant, but also a great example of character creation and world-building.

Another of the action flicks on this year’s list is the thrill ride War. With world-class stunts and fight choreography — and a totally unexpected romantic undercurrent between characters played by Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff — War is a Bollywood action flick you could easily share with your non-Bollywood watching friends.

Speaking of Bollywood films for non-Bollywood watchers, the best of the year in that regard was the thriller Article 15. I recommended it to several acquaintances outside my Hindi-film circle, and all of them went to the theater to see it and really enjoyed it. Some readers have asked me if Bollywood movies can ever find crossover success in America, and to that end, Article 15 shows the value of having an English title and a plot that’s easy to describe. Oh, and it has to be a darned good movie as well, which Article 15 definitely is.

Given the theme of this year’s list, it’s no surprise that my favorite Hindi movie of 2019 is yet another action film, albeit an unconventional one. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain“) — which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 but didn’t play in Indian theaters until March, 2019, followed by a May Netflix release in the United States — features a hero raised on a diet of old martial arts movies who doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism. He believes that the good guys really can beat the bad guys. It’s a fun, goofy movie with a ton of heart, lots of flying kicks, and wonderful performances by newcomer Abhimanyu Dassani, Pataakha‘s Radhika Madan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Jimit Trivedi, and Gulshan Devaiah in my favorite double role of all time. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota makes me incredibly happy.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes/stream on Netflix
  2. Article 15 — Stream on Netflix
  3. War — Buy at Amazon/stream on Prime
  4. Gully Boy — Stream on Prime
  5. Junglee — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar

Previous Best Movies Lists

[Disclaimer: my Amazon and iTunes links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Opening January 10: Chhappak and Tanhaji

It’s a busy weekend for Indian films in the Chicago area, including two new Hindi releases opening January 10, 2020. First is Raazi director Meghna Gulzar’s acid attack survivor drama Chhappak, starring Deepika Padukone and Vikrant Massey.

Chhappak opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 2 min. Its streaming partner is Hotstar.

The weekend’s other new release is the period action film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, starring Ajay Devgn, Kajol, and Saif Ali Khan.

Tanhaji opens Friday at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. Its streaming partner is also Hotstar.

Good Newwz carries over for a third week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Woodridge 18.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Streaming Video News: January 6, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix — which increased dramatically on December 31 with the addition of 60 Hindi films — with a January 30 release date for Karan Johar’s new series What the Love!. The official series description makes it sound like a show designed to appeal to Queer Eye fans: “With help from celebrity guests and a glam squad, filmmaker Karan Johar mentors six singletons through their personal struggles as they look for love.”

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with more than twenty Indian titles added in the last week or so, including the wacky killer animal movie Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans and the following 2019 releases:

Happy new year! — Kathy

[Disclaimer: all of my Amazon links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]