In Theaters: April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame takes over theaters across the globe this weekend, so it’s no surprise that there are no new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on Friday, April 26, 2019. Despite a somewhat lackluster opening weekend, Kalank carries over at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

There’s a big caveat to the above list. In order to accommodate the huge crowds anticipated for Avengers, several theaters are showing Kalank only once per day — and at off-peak times. The Marcus Addison has the worst of those showtimes, running Kalank at 8:30 a.m. (and only through the weekend). The Cantera 17’s lone showing is at 10:10 a.m., the Round Lake Beach 18 at 11:50 a.m., and Seven Bridges at 4:20 p.m. All those theaters add shows starting Monday.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

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

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Movie Review: Kalank (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Kalank (“Stigma“) is a middling extravaganza, neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Lavish sets, impressive dance numbers, and a gorgeous cast make it an enjoyable enough one-time watch, so long as you keep your attention at surface level.

Set just before Partition, the story follows Roop (Alia Bhatt), a young woman forced to integrate into a wealthy Hindu family living near Muslim-majority Lahore under unusual circumstances. Her acquaintance Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) proposes a business arrangement: in exchange for funding dowries for Roop’s younger sisters, Roop will move in to Satya’s home and grow closer to Satya’s husband, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). Satya is dying from cancer, and she hopes Dev will marry Roop after Satya’s death. Roop insists that she’ll only enter the home as Dev’s co-wife — a prudent move since Satya otherwise wouldn’t be around to make sure her wishes are carried out after death.

The second marriage proceeds and Roop moves into the Chaudhry family mansion with Satya, Dev, and Dev’s stiff father, Balraj (Sanjay Dutt). It would have been interesting to watch Roop and Satya negotiate their evolving roles in the household (as Bhatt’s character Sehmat did in Raazi) and learn more about nature of their tense preexisting relationship, but filmmaker Abhishek Varman sidelines Satya. Her illness progresses off-screen, and she and Roop have few interactions after their initial one. It’s unfortunate how small Sinha’s role in Kalank is given her prominence in the film’s marketing and the quality of her performance in her few scenes.

Dev tells Roop that he agreed to the marriage to make Satya happy, and that while he will never be mean to Roop, neither he will ever love her. Perhaps it’s because of the limitations of Dev’s nature, but Kapur’s one-note performance in the role is not one of his best.

In order to escape her stifling home life, Roop undertakes vocal music tuition from the famed courtesan Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) in a working-class Muslim neighborhood. There Roop meets Gendry, er, Zafar (Varun Dhawan): a hunky blacksmith who’s the unacknowledged bastard son of — you guessed it — Roop’s father-in-law, Balraj. Zafar neglects to mention that to Roop so that he can use her to take revenge against the family that abandoned him.

Varman lays the melodrama on thick, with lots of longing looks, near-kisses, and simmering tensions between family members. It’s fun, if that’s the kind of story you’re in the mood for. The melodrama is enhanced by song numbers that are grand in scale and a delight to watch, especially when Madhuri Dixit takes the floor. The sets have a depth of field, and every rooftop and alleyway is populated with extras. Some settings do feel over-the-top for their location. Bahaar Begum’s brothel is apparently so successful that she can afford to stack chandeliers atop one another, and Blacksmith Alley’s festival budget tops the production costs of most Bollywood films.

Then again, I don’t think authenticity was Varman’s goal with Kalank — especially not with Karan Johar financing the film. Everything is big and glamorous, regardless of whether it makes sense. I’m not sure if the costumes are true to the time period, but they look fabulous. The cast members — particularly Dixit, Sinha, and Bhatt — look stunning under Devdas cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s lens.

Kalank gets its worst bang for its buck on an awful CGI bull-riding sequence involving Zafar that includes maybe one shot of an actual bull. I’m not sure why this made the final cut of the film, except that they must have spent a lot of money on it.

Kalank‘s larger-than-life relationship drama is set within a complicated political environment. While Roop is falling in love with Zafar behind her husband’s back, neoliberal Dev uses his newspaper to promote the economic benefits of bringing a steel mill to Lahore — a move that would decimate the local, Muslim-run blacksmith industry. Dev — who is also anti-Partition — thinks he’s just seeing the big picture, envisioning an India made prosperous by innovation. Never mind that only his family’s prosperity is assured by such advances, at the expense of a struggling lower class.

Dev’s main antagonist is Zafar’s friend Abdul Khan (Kunal Khemu, who’s excellent in Kalank), a politician responding to his base’s growing discontent. His own politics become more religiously divisive over time in part because of the mood of the neighborhood but also due to Zafar’s aggrieved goading. There’s an inevitability to the violent climax, and Khan admits he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to (not that he wants to, by that point).

Kalank‘s epilogue — featuring Bhatt in a weird direct-to-camera speech — suggests that all this trouble could’ve been avoided if we just set aside our differences and chose to get along. But could it? The plot makes a compelling case for the Muslims in the film to favor Partition by whatever means necessary. Things were already tough — huge festival budgets and extravagant brothel chandeliers notwithstanding — and likely to get worse, all so that the (Hindu) rich can get richer and the (Muslim) poor poorer. I’m not saying this applies to actual history, but in the terms the movie sets for itself, the angry mob’s response makes sense.

That said, it stinks to see another mainstream film depict Muslims as violent, except for those noble enough to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Hindus. And it stinks that this is another movie that wants us to sympathize most with characters who are wealthy enough to escape difficult situations without regard for the mess they leave behind.

In order to enjoy Kalank, one must ignore the politics undergirding it and allow oneself to revel in the superficial beauty of it all. I was able to do that while I was in the theater. Only afterward did the film’s unfortunate aspects start to weigh on me.

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Bollywood Box Office: April 19-21, 2019

Kalank stormed into North America with the biggest theatrical footprint of the year so far for a Bollywood film, but emerged from its first weekend with less-than-stellar results. From April 19-21, 2019, Kalank earned $1,276,581 from 320 theaters ($3,989 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Adding in collections from the period drama’s first two days of release brought its total to $1,786,766 by the end of the weekend. While Kalank is only the second movie this year to earn more than $1 million in its opening weekend in North America — Gully Boy being the first — it had 60 more theaters than Gully Boy in which to do so. Total Dhamaal was just $11,000 shy of $1 million in its opening weekend, and it only opened in 202 theaters. It was fair to expect better returns given Kalank‘s big theatrical advantage.

143 Cinema reports that Kalank earned another $100,000 on Monday, so it will head into the weekend with $2 million in the bank. I’m interested to see how the movie holds up in its second weekend and beyond since there are no new Hindi films likely to release in the United States and Canada until Student of the Year 2 on May 10 — although Avengers: Endgame is competition enough.

Kesari closed out its fifth weekend with $15,091 from seven theaters. Though that makes for a per-screen average of $2,156, its four US theaters contributed just $1,159 to its haul, according to Bollywood Hungama. Three Canadian theaters accounted for $13,923, making for a Canadian PSA of $4,641. Kesari‘s total stands at $1,893,451.

Other Bollywood movies still in North American theaters:

  • The Tashkent Files: Week 2; $11,592 from five theaters; $2,318 average; $35,058 total
  • Romeo Akbar Walter: Week 3; $1,408 from four theaters; $352 average; $226,901 total
  • Badla: Week 7; $640 from two theaters; $320 average; $1,862,767 total

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

Streaming Video News: April 22, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the streaming video debut of Rajinikanth’s 2.0 in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Several recent-ish Hindi films were added to Prime over the weekend, including Ankur Arora Murder Case, Chudail Story, Indu Sarkar, Maatr, and Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, which I named my worst Bollywood movie of 2017 because it’s a total mess. Like, WTH is this craziness?!?

Streaming Video News: April 19, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of a new straight-to-streaming Hindi film — Music Teacher, starring Manav Kaul, Amrita Bagchi, and Divya Dutta.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a couple dozen Indian films added in the last few days, including the 2019 releases Boomerang (Tamil) and Sakala Kala Vallabhudu (Telugu) and the disappointing 2015 comedy Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon. India’s submission to this year’s Oscars — Village Rockstars — is also now available in its Hindi-dubbed form.

Opening April 17: Kalank

The Karan Johar-produced period drama Kalank hits Chicago area theaters on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. The stellar cast — which includes Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Sanjay Dutt — is directed by 2 States helmer Abhishek Varman.

Kalank opens Wednesday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 46 min.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

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

Movie Review: Badla (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

There’s a lot to like in Badla, but I’m not sure how much any of it matters, since the film’s central mystery is so obvious. I’m no mystery buff, but I sussed things out in the first fifteen minutes.

Wealthy London CEO Naina Sethi (Taapsee Pannu) stands accused of murdering her lover Arjun (Tony Luke) after she wakes up in a hotel room next to his dead body and a pile of cash. She insists that an unknown blackmailer lured them to the hotel, and that the blackmailer knocked her out before killing Arjun.

With Naina stuck in her apartment under house arrest, renowned lawyer Badal Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) arrives to prepare her for trial. Naina’s main attorney, Jimmy (Manav Kaul) — who’s off tracking down a potential witness — says that Badal is the best in the business, and Badal himself assures Naina that he wants her case to be his final victory before retirement.

Naina agrees to tell Badal the whole truth, but she’s surprised when he brings up the case of a missing young man. Though she obfuscates at first, Badal’s hunch is right — there is a connection between the missing man and her dead boyfriend.

Though the entire present-day portion of the story takes place in Naina’s apartment, we see relevant events of the past through flashbacks. Badal and Naina suggest differing interpretations of what happened, and Pannu and Luke alter their characters depending on the version of the story being told. Bachchan’s performance is more limited because his character only interacts with Naina and only within her apartment. And his character’s approach to his client seems overly adversarial.

Badla is based on the 2016 Spanish thriller The Invisible Guest, and it makes sense that Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh would be drawn to its story. Pannu’s role was originally written for a man, and the character’s gender was changed at her insistence. That allowed Ghosh to make a second film about a woman from London whose guile and tenacity are underestimated by the men around her, involved in a crime that’s more complicated than it first seems.

Where Badla falls short of Kahaani‘s success is in the film’s the central mystery and the way information is parceled out. Even as Kahaani‘s heroine Vidya — a pregnant woman played by Vidya Balan — finds new details about her husband’s disappearance, the audience can never be completely sure what’s going on. She’s an unconventional lead for this type of movie, so we don’t have enough information or points of reference to figure things out far in advance.

Badla is more conventional, despite its someone novel technique of keeping Naina and Badal in her apartment and reenacting flashbacks of dubious veracity. Arjun’s murder is a locked-room mystery, so the audience knows to look for clues and discrepancies in the story as presented. The film also shows early on the incident that stars the chain of events ending in Arjun’s murder, so we know to be suspicious of the story we’re being told from that point on.

As I said above, I’m not even a mystery aficionado, but I wrote in my notes early into the film what I suspected was the answer to Badla’s riddle. From that point on, it was just a matter of the film finally proving my guess correct. The story never really give me a reason to doubt my assumption.

Badla’s short runtime of 118 minutes meant my vindication came quickly, but it was an unsuspenseful two hours. Thankfully, the performances are pretty entertaining, both by Pannu and Luke as well as Amrita Singh, who plays the missing man’s mother. Also, Amaal Mallik’s songs “Kyun Rabba” and “Tum Na Aaye” are fantastic. Badla isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours, it’s just a little disappointing as a mystery.

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Streaming Video News: April 15, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a blockbuster new addition. Gully Boy is now available for streaming! It’s yet another terrific movie from filmmaker Zoya Akhtar, and a phenomenal example of character creation. Another 2019 release new to Prime is the Kannada film Yajamana.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2018 Bengali film Rainbow Jelly, a bunch of older Hindi flicks — Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Jhankaar Beats, Mumbai Matinee, and Shabd — and the English movie Bollywood Calling, starring Om Puri. For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: April 12-14, 2019

The North American box office was in a holding pattern during the weekend of April 12-14, 2019, in anticipation of the April 17 release of the guaranteed blockbuster Kalank. The only new Hindi film to open in North America on the 12th was The Tashkent Files, which made just $15,368 from 14 theaters ($1,098 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.

Other Bollywood titles fared little better over the sleepy weekend:

  • Romeo Akbar Walter: Week 2; $25,698 from 36 theaters; $714 average; $221,648 total
  • Kesari: Week 4; $19,650 from 16 theaters; $1,228 average; $1,862,580 total
  • Badla: Week 6; $8,286 from eight theaters; $1,036 average; $1,859,793 total
  • Gully Boy: Week 9; $422 from one theater; $5,414,386 total

Meanwhile, Andhadhun is burning up the Chinese box office to the tune of $30 million in two weeks! And I thought the $1.3 million it earned here in eleven weeks was impressive!

Source: Bollywood Hungama

Opening April 12: The Tashkent Files

With PM Narendra Modi pulled from the schedule at the last minute over concerns for the potential to influence Indian elections, the only new Hindi film opening in Chicago area theaters on April 12, 2019, is The Tashkent Files — a thriller about the death of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri starring Naseeruddin Shah and Mithun Chakraborty.

The Tashkent Files opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington.

Tickets are already on sale at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge for the Wednesday, April 17 release Kalank.

Romeo Akbar Walter gets a second week at all three of the above theaters. MovieMax also holds over Kesari.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies showing in Chicago area theaters (all films have English subtitles):