I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s debut of the new Hindi comedy Hello Charlie, starring Jackie Shroff and a gorilla. The Kannada film Yuvarathnaa landed on Prime yesterday, even though it’s still playing in theaters in the United States and India. Another film that recently ended its theatrical run — Jathi Ratnalu — joins Prime on April 11, followed by the Malayalam movie The Priest on April 14.
I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with yesterday’s surprise addition of the horror comedy Roohi, starring Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao. Earlier this week, Netflix added a second collection of episodes of the wedding reality series The Big Day and the 2021 Tamil film Mandela. New Indian titles coming to Netflix next week include a bunch of cartoons for kids on April 12, the Telugu movie Uppena on April 13, and the premiere of the Netflix Original Hindi film Ajeeb Daastaans on April 16.
Last but not least, yesterday Hotstar debuted Abhishek Bachchan’s semi-biographical stock market drama The Big Bull. With Hindi theatrical releases on hold for the time being, it’s nice to have a weekend with multiple new Bollywood movies to choose from!
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When compiling my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2020, I was surprised to find that all five were Netflix Original productions or titles acquired by Netflix. Turns out the titles from my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020 list have some commonalities, too. The two lowest ranked films on the list are both streaming on Hotstar, and the other three are on Amazon Prime. Let’s see which turkeys are my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020.
Street Dancer 3D is one of two films on this list that I actually got to watch in a theater in 2020. I loved Street Dancer‘s progenitor ABCD and found ABCD 2 entertaining enough, but Street Dancer is just silly. The dancing in any Remo D’Souza-directed movie is as good as you’d expect it to be, but the plot is tiresome.
Durgamati: The Myth is one of the three straight-to-digital releases to make the list. The supernatural thriller is full of twists that could only work if characters behave in very specific ways that the protagonists couldn’t have predicted. Pass.
Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1 reboot had high expectations placed upon it even before it became Amazon Prime’s big Christmas Day release. Still, it turned out to be an unfunny slog that felt dated and out-of-touch.
Baaghi 3 was the other film on this list that I got to watch in the theater. You’d think a big-budget action spectacle like Baaghi 3 would be improved by watching it on a huge cinema screen, but you’d be wrong. The whole movie is dumb and shouty, and even the action sequences are poorly choreographed. I hope I never have to hear Riteish Deshmukh yell “Ronnie!” ever again.
My Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020 — Laxmii — earned its spot for several reasons. The supernatural comedy in which Akshay Kumar plays a man possessed by the ghost of a transgender woman is just as problematic as one would expect it to be given that setup. The casting is bizarre, with one actor nine months older than the actor playing his father. The story is tedious. Finally, Laxmii commits the greatest sin a comedy film can commit: it’s not funny. That’s why Laxmii deserves its place as my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020.
COVID-19 upended the Hindi movie industry (along with everything else) in 2020, but Bollywood fans still had plenty of new films to choose from — and a lot of great ones at that! My five favorite Hindi movies of 2020 had one thing in common: they all released directly on Netflix. Three were produced specifically for Netflix, while the streamer nabbed exclusive rights for the other two. Let’s see what topped my Best Bollywood Movies of 2020 list!
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl was supposed to have a theatrical release, before COVID hit. While Janhvi Kapoor didn’t get to command the big screen in her first solo leading role, Netflix gave her patriotic movie plenty of hype for its streaming service debut just before Indian Independence Day. Kapoor proves that she’s got what it takes to carry a film, turning in a delightful performance opposite Pankaj Tripathi, who plays her father in the movie.
The most inventive film on the list is one of the titles produced specifically for Netflix. AK vs AK pits Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap against one another, playing fictionalized versions of themselves in this darkly comical skewering of the Hindi film industry. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s documentary-style filming makes this a compelling watch from start to finish.
Like AK vs AK, Ludo is another dark comedy made just for Netflix. In contrast to AK vs AK‘s gritty realism, Ludo is full of bright colors and peppy music, as its characters play their part in a game overseen by a pair of celestial narrators (one of whom is the film’s director, Anurag Basu).
Cargo was the only film on my list to screen anywhere before debuting on Netflix, having premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in late 2019. It’s an endearingly low-tech science fiction movie about the afterlife. Writer-director Arati Kradav demonstrates how to make a movie with a strong visual identity on a comparatively limited budget — and with a charming story, too.
Like Cargo, my Best Bollywood Movie of 2020 was another feature debut by a woman filmmaker with a bold aesthetic sense. Anvita Dutt’s gothic horror flick Bulbbul is almost shocking in its use of color, from the cautionary red glow of the night sky over early 20th century Bengal to the shadowy blue interiors obscuring dangers within the lord’s mansion. Its story condemns not only those who perpetrate violence against women, but the men who enable violence as well, whether deliberately or through willful ignorance. Bulbbul is a movie I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I saw it.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (“Be Extra Careful of Marriage“, SMZS henceforth) — Bollywood’s first mainstream romantic comedy about a gay couple — is at its most effective when it leans into genre traditions.
Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) and Kartik Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) are a dating couple living in Delhi. Aman’s parents Shankar (Gajraj Rao) and Sunaina (Neena Gupta) don’t know that their son is gay, but Kartik is sure they’ll be accepting. The dating couple meets up with the family on a train on the way to Aman’s cousin Goggle’s (Maanvi Gagroo) wedding outside of Allahabad.
On route to the wedding venue, Shankar spots Aman and Kartik kissing. Shankar’s dramatic negative reaction provokes the couple to kiss again, this time in the middle of the dance floor in front of all the wedding guests. Despite Shankar’s and Sunaina’s hilarious attempts to explain the kiss as some sort of family tradition, Goggle’s fiance cancels the wedding, and the Tripathi’s return to Allahabad.
Rather than embrace Aman as he is, his parents insist that he can be converted if removed from Kartik’s influence. They go so far as to get Aman engaged to a cute young woman named Kusum (Pankhuri Awasthy), who is all too eager to marry him.
The rest of SMZS is essentially the second half of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but if Raj was trying to save Kuljeet from marrying Simran instead of the other way around. In DDLJ, Raj’s strategy was to convince Simran’s family that he was the best person for her to marry. In SMZS, Kartik’s approach is less personal and more about asserting Aman’s right to choose who he wants to date and marry, regardless of gender.
Perhaps SMZS would have struck a stronger emotional chord had Kartik used more of Raj’s strategy. This is a film about a family, but Kartik’s aggressive tactics and the Tripathis’ intransigence make it hard to see how he would fit in if he and Aman did marry. Scenes in which Kartik is emotionally vulnerable play as though they are meant to convince Aman of his loyalty — something that is never really in question — rather than prove his worthiness to the Tripathis.
Writer-director Hitesh Kewalya uses SMZS as an educational opportunity, focusing more on the moral and legal grounds for Aman’s relationship with Kartik instead. This plays into some of the issues that hampered the film SMZS spun off from: 2017’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which Kewalya wrote but did not direct. Both stories periodically lose momentum as the plot gets bogged down in dialogue-heavy scenes.
The slow narrative pace is mitigated by the terrific performances by the entire cast. Awasthy is especially hilarious as Kusum, whose ostentatious shyness feels straight out of an old movie.
One of Kewalya’s strong points is his ability to write humorously about adult topics (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was about impotence) in a way that never feels vulgar. SMZS is family-friendly. If one of the goals of the film is to normalize the depiction of gay relationships in mainstream Hindi cinema, making it a movie that is accessible to all ages is a great way to accomplish that.
Roohi opens on Thursday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. (Streaming partner: Netflix) It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. All three theaters offer Roohi as a Private Rental option, priced at $249 at the River East 21 and South Barrington 24 and $199 at the Naperville 16.
I am avoiding movie theaters until I get the COVID-19 vaccine, which likely won’t be until this summer. I look forward to reviewing Roohi and other upcoming Hindi theatrical releases when they become available for streaming in the US.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s big announcement of more than 40 new Indian movies, TV series, and specials that Netflix plans to release in 2021. Many of these titles were previously announced — I wrote about a number of them for my 2021 Netflix preview for What’s On Netflix — but some are brand new. I’ll go into detail about each of the different categories, but first check out this general teaser video Netflix India released:
First up is movies. Today’s announcement includes 13 titles. Netflix had already announced a March 26 premiere date for Pagglait and released teaser videos for Dhamaka and Jagame Thandhiram. The Karan Johar-produced anthology film which had been called The Other is renamed Ajeeb Daastaans. Three films that I previewed in my piece for What’s On Netflix mentioned above were not included in today’s announcement: Cobalt Blue, Desert Dolphin, and Freedom. Here are all the movies included in today’s press release (Hindi-language, unless otherwise specified) with links to their Netflix entries where available, followed by another video specifically focused on Original films:
The bulk of today’s announcement was made up of fiction TV series, including 9 brand new shows and new seasons of 6 returning series. Bombay Begums already has a March 8 premiere date. The series starring Madhuri Dixit Nene that was rumored to be called Actress is officially titled Finding Anamika. Baahubali: Before the Beginning was conspicuously absent from today’s announcement, as were updates on new seasons for Hashmukh and Selection Day. Here are all of the TV series mentioned in the press release, followed by a video featuring highlights from those series:
Finally, Netflix announced 13 non-fiction movies, series, and stand-up comedy specials. No word on a second season of Indian Matchmaking, but The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and The Big Day are both returning. Here are the Unscripted Originals coming to Netflix in 2021.
It seemed strange for actor Parineeti Chopra and others associated with the Hindi adaptation of The Girl on the Train to tweet a message the day before the film’s release asking people to avoid spoiling the ending of the film on social media. This is a movie based upon another movie based upon a book, all sharing the same name. It’s easy to find plot summaries of the previous two versions of The Girl on The Train online. What could there be to spoil?
In an effort to distinguish this version of The Girl on the Train (TGOTT, henceforth), writer-director Ribhu Dasgupta added and changed elements of the original novel and the Hollywood film based on it. The results of those alterations make TGOTT feel as though it was written for the sake of its plot twists, and not for the purpose of telling a meaningful story.
Parineeti Chopra plays Mira Kapoor, a lawyer living in London and coping with tragedy. Mira and her husband Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) were in a car accident three years earlier that left her with mild amnesia and caused her to lose the baby she was carrying. She turned to alcohol to deal with the grief, and Shekhar left and married someone new, compounding Mira’s loss.
Every day, Mira takes the train past her old house to torment herself. She’s also become obsessed with a woman who lives a few doors down from her old place who looks like she has the perfect life. Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) is pretty, a beautiful dancer, and has a handsome husband. When Mira rides past the house and sees Nusrat hugging a man other than her husband one day, Mira becomes incensed. She drunkenly goes to Nusrat’s home, determined to stop her from ruining her marriage the way that Mira feels she did with her own relationship with Shekhar.
When Mira wakes up the next day, she has a massive wound on her forehead and no memory of how it got there. Police inspector Dalbir Kaur (Kirti Kulhari) questions Mira, whose identification card was found near the scene of a violent crime that occurred during Mira’s blackout. As Kaur and the cops try to link Mira to the crime, Mira undertakes her own investigation. Could Mira really have been capable of violence, even if she doesn’t remember it?
The success of the movie hinges on Chopra’s performance. Bless her heart, she tries. To be fair, Mira is drunk and angry for most of the film, so it’s not a role that requires much subtlety. But Chopra’s yelling, snorting, and stuporous lolling about push Mira into something more darkly comical than befits the film.
Let’s revisit Mira’s head wound. It covers half of her forehead, and it is disgusting. Why Mira opts not to cover it with a bandage to prevent infection or at least spare others from having to look at it, no one knows. Then again, it doesn’t much matter since only one person even remarks on it — and then only after she’s greeted Mira and hugged her. That no one asks Mira normal questions like “How do you feel?” or “Do you need a doctor?” defies explanation.
The bones of the the story are good, providing director Dasgupta with themes of psychological trauma, women’s fertility, substance abuse, and toxic relationships to draw upon. But in the end he discards them all for a finale that has nothing to say about anything. If the goal of TGOTT is purely to deceive the audience, then mission accomplished, I guess.
The movie Ludo uses its namesake board game as a metaphor for life, its characters one dice roll away from fortune or ruin. Writer-director Anurag Basu’s black comedy is beautifully made and laugh-out-loud funny.
Anyone who has played the games Aggravation, Sorry!, or Trouble is familiar with how Ludo works. Players from four different colored corners of the game board roll dice, moving their pieces around the board in the hopes of being the first to get all their pieces safely “home.” Basu assigns different characters to the colored corners, and they meet up with one another throughout the story. Right at the center is Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a hard-to-kill gangster with ties to all of them.
In the red corner is Sattu’s former right-hand man Bittu (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out of prison and eager confront his old boss. Bittu charges in after a meeting between Sattu and the yellow corner’s Akash (Aditya Roy Kapur), who needs Sattu’s help removing a sex tape from the internet. The blue corner’s Rahul (Rohit Suresh Saraf) is at Sattu’s hideout as well, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An explosion sets the characters off in different directions. Rahul drives off with some of Sattu’s stolen cash and a cute, opportunistic nurse named Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash also hits the road, joined by Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) the woman from the sex tape who’s due to marry someone else in a matter of days. Bittu’s plan to find a way back into the life of the wife who left him while he was in jail and the young daughter who doesn’t remember him is derailed when he meets another precocious little girl, Mini (Inayat Verma), who needs help faking her own kidnapping in order to get her distracted parents’ attention.
While all this is happening, the characters from the green corner are trying to get out of their own mess. Alu (Rajkummar Rao) has been in love with Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) since childhood, although she never reciprocated his feelings. Pinky turns up with her baby to ask for Alu’s help getting her husband Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi) out of jail, where he languishes, wrongly accused of a murder committed by Sattu.
Director Basu doesn’t judge his characters for wanting what they want, even if what they want isn’t exactly good for them. Alu is the best example of this. He knows his one-sided devotion to Pinky gets him into trouble and keeps him perpetually single, but he’s miserable when she’s not around. Is it so bad for him to not want to feel awful?
Bittu’s story is the most complicated and emotional. He spent six years waiting to get back to his daughter — who was an infant when he went to prison — but she doesn’t know he exists. She thinks Bittu’s ex-wife’s new husband is her father. Spending time with Mini gives Bittu a chance to act in a fatherly role, making him question whether what he wants for himself is really what’s best for his daughter.
Bachchan’s performance when he’s playing Bittu the Gangster comes off as more pouty than menacing, but he’s terrific as Bittu the Dad. Little Inayat Verma is impossibly adorable, and she and Bachchan are so much fun together. Yet we know their relationship is only temporary. Almost all of Bittu’s options will leave him brokenhearted.
Given Pankaj Tripathi’s recent track record of stealing virtually every movie he’s in, Basu wisely put Tripathi in the middle of things from the start. His character’s introduction — dramatically exposing his inner thigh to pull a gun from a leg holster — is perfection. After the cute pairing of Bittu and Mini, Sattu is part of the film’s second best partnership. While he’s bedridden, Sattu forms a friendship with no-nonsense nurse Lata Kutty (Shalini Vatsa), one of the few people he can’t intimidate. It’s unexpected and delightful.
To keep his dark comedy from becoming too dark, Basu amplifies its other elements. Bright colors differentiate the storylines, but they also cheer up even violent scenes. Character closeups feel a little closer than normal. The excellent soundtrack and score by Pritam are prominent in the mix, setting the tone overtly. Ludo is loud, both aurally and visually, but it feels just right.
YRF’s catalog streams on Amazon Prime in the United States, so the same should hold true for these releases. What will be interesting is how long of an exclusivity window YRF gives to theaters. Six weeks to two months was the standard pre-pandemic, but I won’t be surprised if the window is flexible based on box office returns, if not shortened outright. Keep in mind that, even if theaters are allowed to operate at 100% capacity in India, not all states are currently doing so. US theaters have occupancy limits (where they are operating at all), and other countries may have similar restrictions.
A smaller movie like Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar would be an interesting test case for a day-and-date digital rental via Amazon, even if only outside India. (I’m not holding out hope that’ll happen — just throwing that wish out into the world.) With so many people unable or unwilling to watch films in theaters, there is a need to make new titles available as widely as possible before people turn to pirated copies.