Movie Review: War (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Pitting two of Bollywood’s biggest action stars against one another lives up to the hype in War, a tremendously fun, globetrotting thrill ride.

Indian super-spy Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) has gone rogue. A task force including his former pupil, Khalid (Tiger Shroff), must track Kabir down and figure out what happened. Their boss, Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana), assigns another agent to lead the task force because Khalid is “too close” to Kabir. Khalid’s colleague Aditi (Anupriya Goenka) covertly funnels him information, because she wants to find Kabir as badly as he does.

Kabir’s team was the best of the best, hot on the trail of international criminal Rizwan Ilyasi (Sanjeev Vasta) when Khalid joined them as a promising new recruit. The onboarding process was rocky, since Kabir worried that Khalid might harbor some resentment for Kabir having killed his agent-turned-terrorist father (in self defense!). But Khalid proved both loyal and capable, winning Kabir’s trust — only for Kabir to turn on the government he swore to protect.

Khalid’s desire to join Kabir’s team stems both from a need to show the world that he is not his father’s son and from his infatuation with Kabir. Roshan as Kabir gets one of cinema’s most loving introductions, stepping out of a helicopter with the wind blowing his hair, striding muscularly, like a being made of pure testosterone. Khalid gawks at him on behalf of all of us.

Not to be overlooked is Khalid’s own introduction, via one of Bollywood’s best-ever fight scenes. The fight choreography and Ben Jasper’s camera work as Khalid tosses drug dealers around an apartment are spectacular. Shroff’s athletic prowess is just as impressive.

War is among the most expensive Indian films ever made, and it looks it. Chase scenes — whether on foot or via car or motorcycle — in foreign locales are as exciting to watch as they are stunning to look at. The scale is big, the stakes are high, and writer-director Siddharth Anand pushes the envelope even further than his previous action spectacular, Bang Bang, which also looked great but was disappointing. The lessons learned from that film translated into a thriller that can stand up alongside anything Hollywood has to offer, with well-integrated CGI, practical effects, and complicated stunt work.

Another improvement is in the quality of acting Anand gets from his performers. Roshan was miscast in the action-comedy Bang Bang, but he plays Kabir perfectly as steely but not unfeeling. Shroff has always been his best when playing underdogs, and he uses that here to show how Khalid’s over-eagerness makes him reckless. Goenka’s role is utilitarian — she’s always there with the right information at the right time — but she gives Aditi a spark.

Vaani Kapoor has a small but impactful role as Naina, a dancer Kabir befriends while tracking Ilyasi on a solo mission in Italy. Naina pegs Kabir’s martyr streak as dangerous. Kabir says his team is his family, but Aditi has a fiance and Khalid has his mother — Kabir’s the only one with no one else to come home to. It helps to remind Kabir that real people are involved, something the movie notes when Colonel Luthra acknowledges some Portuguese soldiers killed in a mission gone wrong. The characters don’t just rampage through cities without consequence.

Sure, some loose ends are left hanging at film’s end, and the ridiculous climax includes what is essentially a really-effective Audi commercial. But no one can ever accuse War‘s cast or crew of phoning it in. Anand wanted world-class stunts and powerful action sequences, and he got them. Roshan and Shroff look jacked, and their fights and dance scenes are impressive. Kapoor stands out in her acrobatic showcase dance number as well. War is just tremendous fun and a great example of a movie that warrants viewing on the biggest screen possible.

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Streaming Video News: October 18, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the streaming debut of Saaho. It’s not available in Hindi — that version is headed to Netflix in November — but it is available in Kannada, Malayalam (standard and 4K UHD), Tamil (standard and 4K UHD), and Telugu (standard and 4K UHD).* Dozens of other Indian movies have been added in the last week, including the new Vir Das travel series Jestination Unknown and the following 2019 releases:

Make sure to scroll down the Prime page past the new additions to the Expiring Soon section, because I found many more films set to leave Prime by the end of the month since posting this list of 60 or so expiring titles.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the Netflix original Hindi film Upstarts. I added the Australian series The Unlisted to the list as well. It’s about a pair of Desi twins, and the first episode takes place during their family’s Diwali celebrations. Timely!

*All Amazon links include an affiliate tag that may earn me a commission on purchases made through them. Thanks for your support!

In Theaters: October 18, 2019

Eros International opted not to release Saif Ali Khan’s Laal Kaptaan here, so there are no new Hindi films opening in the Chicago area on October 18, 2019. The Sky Is Pink holds over for a second week at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

War gets a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Woodridge 18, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville.

Dream Girl holds over for a sixth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

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

Bollywood Box Office: October 11-13, 2019

The Sky Is Pink had a fine opening weekend in North America. From October 11-13, 2019, the family drama earned $336,620 from 163 theaters ($2,065 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.

It was never going to best War, which had a good enough second weekend to finish in 12th place at the overall North American box office. The action flick earned $866,421 from 270 theaters ($3,209 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total earnings of $3,640,355 currently rank in 4th place among Hindi films in North America this year — just $17,453 behind Mission Mangal in 3rd and about $545,000 behind Uri: The Surgical Strike in 2nd.

Also in its second weekend of release, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy earned $191,257 from 156 theaters ($1,226 average), bringing the multilingual’s total to $2,527,853.

Dream Girl finished its fifth weekend with $33,124 from 26 theaters ($1,274 average). Its total earnings stand at $2,277,724.

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Streaming Video News: October 14, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of upcoming expiration dates. Amazon’s content licensing deals for the back catalogs of Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and the Bhatt brothers’ Vishesh Films are up, which means that fifty-two Hindi films will leave Prime before the end of the month. Recent releases like Dharma’s Kalank and Vishesh’s Begum Jaan are sticking around, but the classic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… and the guilty pleasure horror flick Khamoshiyan are on the way out. The Dharma movies are likely heading to Netflix, but I’m not sure about the Vishesh pictures. Here’s a list of all the titles on their way out, organized by expiration date:

October 20:

October 23:

October 24:

October 25:

Streaming Video News: October 10, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with two 2019 Bollywood releases added today. John Abraham’s Batla House is now available for streaming, as is Kunaal Roy Kapur’s comedy Marudhar Express. Dozens of other Indian films have been added in the last week, including Aamir Khan’s 2005 historical drama Mangal Pandey and the 2019 releases Jaddi Sardar (Punjabi) and Kolaiyuthir Kaalam (Tamil).

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Hindi drama Noblemen, starring Kunal Kapoor. In other Netflix news, the Kannada films Kahi and U Turn expire from the streaming service on October 15, followed by the riveting Bollywood crime drama Raman Raghav 2.0 on October 16.

Finally, Mission Mangal is now available for streaming on Hotstar. It’s problematic but watchable.

Opening October 11: The Sky Is Pink

New in Chicago area theaters October 11, 2019, is the Hindi family drama The Sky Is Pink. Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar play parents to a terminally ill daughter, played by Zaira Wasim in her last film before her retirement from the entertainment industry.

The Sky Is Pink opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Arclight Glenview in Glenview, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. There’s no information on The Sky Is Pink‘s streaming partner yet.

After a great opening weekend, War carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, Woodridge 18, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, and Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison.

Dream Girl gets a fifth weekend at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

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

Bollywood Box Office: October 4-6, 2019

Mammoth new releases War and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy closed out their first full weekend in North American theaters with War winning the box office battle by just $262. From October 4-6, 2019, War earned $1,607,627 from 305 theaters ($5,271 average), according to Box Office Mojo — good enough to rank 9th at the overall North American box office. Adding in returns accumulated since its opening on October 2 brought War‘s total earnings to $2,114,917.

Multilingual Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy‘s box office run was more heavily front-loaded, with the bulk of its $2,114,655 total coming from its first three days, including North American previews starting on October 1. According to Bollywood Hungama, SRNR made $840,115 from 316 theaters ($2,659 average) over the weekend across all three language versions of the movie.

In its fourth weekend in theaters, Dream Girl earned $90,983 from 64 theaters ($1,422 average), bringing its total to $2,202,765 — good enough to temporarily rank 9th among Hindi movies released in North America this year, before War and SRNR inevitably overtake it.

Chhichhore is on the cusp of passing the $2 million mark, with a $1,990,293 total following weekend earnings of $33,159 from 33 theaters ($1,005 average).

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Section 375: Week 4; $253 from two theaters; $127 average; $91,087 total
  • Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas: Week 3; $71 from one theater; $52,871 total

Sources: 143 Cinema, Bollywood Hungama, Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: The Zoya Factor (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes
Buy the book at Amazon

A young woman’s good fortune causes headaches for both her and the captain of India’s cricket team as they try to win the World Cup in The Zoya Factor, based on Anuja Chauhan’s 2008 novel of the same name.

The novel and movie are both set in a timeline based on the 2011 Cricket World Cup tournament played in India, but the members of the Indian cricket team are all fictional.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja plays Zoya, a copywriter struggling to fit in at her snooty advertising firm who’s rejected by potential romantic suitors because of her middle-class background. At least her dad Vijayendra (Sanjay Kapoor, Kapoor Ahuja’s real-life uncle) and older brother Zoravar (Sikander Kher) love her. They believe she brings them luck in their local cricket pickup games because she was born the day India won its last World Cup in 1983.

Zoya is sent on a make-or-break work assignment to photograph members of the Indian Cricket Team. She gets off to a mixed start with the team’s handsome captain, Nikhil (Dulquer Salmaan), who is charmed by her exuberance and frustrated by her determination. But when he sees Zoya’s co-workers ignore her at breakfast the next morning, he invites her to eat with the team, where she tells them that she’s her family’s lucky charm on the cricket pitch. The team wins their match that afternoon, and Zoya becomes their lucky charm, too.

Screenwriters Pradhuman Singh and Neha Rakesh Sharma skillfully adapt Chauhan’s novel, so that all of drama in the film arises from the characters’ conflicting motivations. Zoya is of course delighted when handsome, rich Nikhil takes a romantic interest in her, but she’s just as thrilled to finally fit in with a group. The team’s most superstitious players — Shivy (Abhilash Chaudhary) and Harry (Gandharv Dewan) — value Zoya for her good luck, but they also genuinely like her because she takes an interest in them. She approaches them differently than Nikhil, who believes that hard work is the only factor in team’s success. When he insists that Zoya stay away from the team, lest they put too much faith in her, he doesn’t realize that her presence has a reassuring affect on jittery players like Shivy and Harry, making them more relaxed on the pitch and helping them perform better.

Even the story’s villain, Robin (Angad Bedi), has understandable motives. It would be a lot easier for Robin to reclaim the captaincy he lost to Nikhil if the public and the Indian Cricket Board give Zoya the credit for the team’s victories — especially when Nikhil is trying to keep her away. It just so happens that Robin’s uncle is the head of the Cricket Board, which makes Zoya an offer that forces her to choose what’s really important to her.

Sikander Kher is stealthily terrific in the movie, and his character plays an important part in steering Zoya’s choices. As her big brother, he’s sincerely concerned for her well-being, but he also reinforces all of Zoya’s insecurities by asking her why someone as popular as Nikhil would be with a nobody like her. Adding insult to injury is that she hates his nickname for her, delightfully translated in the English subtitles as “Spongebob.”

The whole cast is likeable, and Salmaan and Kapoor Ahuja are quite cute together. There’s a distracting amount of product placement in The Zoya Factor, but it’s otherwise a sweet, fun romantic comedy.

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Streaming Video News: October 4, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one documentary — Limitless — and four Hindi-language TV shows added on October 1st: College Romance, Engineering Girls, Girls Hostel, and Inmates.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films added in the last week, including the Pakistani TV shows Hiddat and Noor Jahan and the following 2019 releases:

October got off to a slow start on these two streaming video services, and there’s little on the horizon for the rest of the month. According to Bollywood Buff, Batla House comes to Prime in India on October 11, although that date may not apply to the United States and Canada. The only new Hindi release on the docket for Netflix is their straight-to-streaming film Upstarts, starring Bhavesh Joshi Superhero‘s Priyanshu Painyuli. Upstarts debuts on Netflix October 18.