Streaming Video News: September 24, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s premiere of Season 2 of Kota Factory. On Wednesday, Netflix debuted its Original Kannada docu-series Crime Patrol: Indian Detectives, which has dubbed audio options in English and Hindi. Other additions from earlier in the week include the late-’90s Tamil films Avvai Shanmughi, Jeans, and Minsara Kanavu.

Nineteen Punjabi movies expire from Netflix on October 1. That’s half of Netflix’s current Punjabi-language catalog. For the full list of all of the Indian titles expiring in October, check out the “Expiring Soon” section near the top of my Netflix page.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with yesterday’s debut of the Tamil film Raame Aandalum Raavane Aandalum.

Today, Amazon announced its festive season lineup of big Indian (and English) titles releasing over the next couple of months. Sardar Udham (Hindi) and Udan Pirappe (Tamil) are set to debut in October, with Jai Bhim (Tamil) coming in November. Release dates for the rest of the titles — including the Malayalam movie Bhramam, Season 2 of One Mic Stand, and Dybbuk, the Hindi remake of the Malayalam film Ezra — have yet to be announced.[Disclaimer: 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!]

Streaming Video News: September 17, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s addition of the Netflix Original film Ankahi Kahaniya, an anthology of three shorts directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, Abhishek Chaubey, and Saket Chaudhury. This week also saw the return of the series Dharmakshetra, Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyan, and Stories by Rabindranath Tagore.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime because Akshay Kumar’s August theatrical release BellBottom is now available for streaming.

Finally, I finished adding all of the Hotstar content currently available on Hulu in all languages to my new list of Bollywood movies on Hulu. For now, the only sizable movie catalogs are in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu, with the Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, and Marathi catalogs consisting almost entirely of “Hotstar Specials” releases. It’s worth noting that dozens of the movies listed as currently streaming in the United States on this list from Hotstar aren’t actually available. We’ll see if they’re added over time.

Today’s new additions to Hulu/Hotstar are the new Telugu movie Maestro and the Tamil film Annabelle Sethupathi, which is also available in dubbed versions in Kannada, Telugu, and Hindi (under the title Annabelle Rathore).

[Disclaimer: 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!]

New Indian Movies on Hulu Page

I created a new page listing all of the Indian movies and Hotstar Specials on Hulu. Actually, I just resurrected my old Bollywood Movies on Hulu page from 2016, when Hulu jettisoned all of its Indian content. The revived page now has all of the content that Hulu recently acquired from Hotstar. You can find links to the new page at the top of the site and in the right sidebar.

For right now, it’s just the Hindi films and Hotstar Specials (“Hotstar Specials” being their term for original movies and TV series). But I’ll add links to content in other languages over the course of time.

You’ve probably noticed, Hulu’s site is annoying to navigate and takes forever to load. Well, I have to tell you — I don’t have any special means of getting the information from Hulu. No scripts or web scrapers to grab content. It’s just me copying and pasting links and titles over and over for hours at a time — all in an effort to make it quicker and easier for fans to see what Indian movies are available on Hulu.

If you appreciate my efforts, please consider sending me a donation via PayPal. If your company or organization would like to sponsor this Hulu page or another page at Access Bollywood, please email me at accessbolly at gmail dot com.

Thanks! I hope you find this new page useful! — Kathy

Hotstar Content Moves to Hulu and ESPN+ in US

Hotstar’s days as a standalone streaming service are numbered in the United States. Disney — who owns Hotstar — announced Tuesday, September 1 that Hotstar’s content would be incorporated into its other streaming services before shutting down for good late in 2022. Hulu will carry Hotstar’s movies and TV series, while ESPN+ will take over Hotstar’s sports programming.

The content shift is already underway. @parikhm on Twitter sent me this screenshot from Hulu on Wednesday, with a panel advertising Hotstar content under the “Hubs” link at the top of the page.

We got even more information today via an email sent to Hotstar subscribers. In addition to sending each subscriber an offer code to upgrade to the Disney bundle (more on that in a bit), the email linked to a page listing all of the movies in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu that are already available on Hulu — find them under the “A-Z” category at the bottom of this page — as well as those films that are “coming soon.” (There are specific pages for TV shows, sports tournaments, and Hotstar Specials as well.) While most movies will make the journey to Hulu, not all will. Notable titles absent from the list include Highway, Junglee, and my beloved Creature 3D.

The movies and shows that have already moved to Hulu are no longer available on Hotstar. Clicking on Bhuj: The Pride of India‘s Hotstar link returns a 404 error. I assume this means that Bhoot Police will release on Hulu and not Hotstar on September 17. When the Indian Premier League cricket season resumes on September 19, ESPN+ will carry the games, not Hotstar.

Considering that Hotstar subscribers would need both Hulu and ESPN+ to access all (well, most) of the content previously available on Hotstar, today’s email includes an offer code allowing users to access the Disney bundle — which includes ad-supported Hulu, ESPN+, and Disney+ — for the remainder of their Hotstar subscription. Getting access to all of the other Hulu and ESPN+ content plus Disney+ is a nice bonus, especially if your Hotstar subscription renewed recently. A year’s subscription to Hotstar costs $49.99, while a year’s worth of the $13.99/month Disney bundle will set you back $167.88 in total.

There’s the rub. Splitting Hotstar’s content between Hulu and ESPN+ is ultimately going to cost customers a lot more: 3x as much for the lower-tier Disney Bundle, and almost 5x as much if you want the $19.99/month Disney bundle that includes the ad-free version of Hulu ($239.88 annually).

The forced price increase is unfortunate, but par for the course for Disney in recent weeks. From charging visitors to Disney theme parks to skip the standby line at attractions (a formerly free perk) to jacking up the prices of annual passes while stripping benefits, Disney is doing all it can to squeeze every penny out of its customers.

So what are the alternatives? If you only subscribed to Hotstar for the movies and shows, a standalone Hulu subscription with ads costs $5.99/month or $59.99/year, or $11.99/month without ads ($143.88 total for one year, with no annual subscription option). [Update: on October 8, 2021, the price of ad-supported Hulu will increase to $6.99/month or $69.99/year, and ad-free Hulu increases to $12.99/month.] If you’re only interested in cricket, ESPN+ costs $6.99/month or $69.99/year. You’re still going to pay more that you have been with Hotstar, unfortunately. If you wanted to recreate Hotstar by getting annual subscriptions to both EPSN+ and (ad-supported) Hulu, it’ll run you $129.98 — almost $40 cheaper than the Disney Bundle.

For now, this merger only applies to the US. Canada doesn’t even have access to Hulu, so Hotstar lives on north of the border for the time being. In the meantime, I’m gonna rewatch Creature 3D for the millionth time while I still can.

Streaming Video News: August 27, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s additions of the 2021 Telugu movie Thimmarusu and the first season of the Hindi series Kota Factory (a series Netflix acquired in order to produce a second season). Other new additions include a bunch of returning titles from Balaji Motion Pictures, which had expired from Netflix on November 15, 2020:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian titles added in the last week — mostly Tamil films released from 2016-2020. Prime also debuted a new Tamil comedy competition series LOL: Enga Siri Paappom, in which comics are challenged not to laugh at each other’s ridiculous antics.

Today, Hotstar launched the new 8-episode historical series The Empire, starring Kunal Kapoor:

[Disclaimer: 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!]

Movie Review: Bhuj — The Pride of India (2021)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Bhuj: The Pride of India on Hotstar

Before writing, directing, and producing Bhuj: The Pride of India, Abhishek Dudhaiya directed over 1,000 TV episodes. Perhaps that’s why Bhuj‘s story feels like it would have been better served as a miniseries. Dudhaiya focuses so narrowly on action sequences and requisite patriotic war drama plot points that the film lacks emotional resonance.

Dudhaiya’s screenplay is based on real-life events from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, when Pakistani bombers destroyed the airstrip at Bhuj Air Force Base. Commanding Officer Vijay Karnik enlisted the help of 300 villagers to rebuild the strip and make it operational again. Other important characters are based on real people as well.

After a brief recap of the events leading up to the war, the story begins with Pakistani leaders devising a plan to distract India’s attention from the fighting in East Pakistan by attacking India’s western border. On December 8, 1971, warplanes from West Pakistan bombard the airstrip at Bhuj. Amidst smoke and explosions, Commanding Officer Vijay Karnik (Ajay Devgn) himself mans anti-aircraft guns to repel the attack, as many of his subordinate soldiers lie wounded around him.

Leading with such a visually dramatic scene isn’t an uncommon screenwriting choice, but it puts Dudhaiya in a bind. By December 8, Pakistan’s bombing of Western military sites had already been underway for several days, forcing the screenplay to flash back to earlier attacks in order to introduce other characters and locations important to the story. There are flashbacks within flashbacks to give characters backstory that further confuse the sequence of events.

Vijay’s storyline has a scene from December 3 — the day Pakistan first started its bombing campaign — that makes a more sensible opener. Vijay and his wife Usha (Pranitha Subhash) celebrate their wedding anniversary at a party with all the base’s officers and their families. Everyone dances, unaware that Pakistani jets are speeding toward them. As the romantic song “Hanjugam” ends, bombs fall on the adjacent airfield, sending civilians scrambling for cover and soldiers running to their posts. The scene establishes the camaraderie among the soldiers at the base and shows us who Vijay is trying to protect.

Sadly, sense of place and character motivation are low on Dudhaiya’s priority list. Other major characters like fighter pilot Vikram Singh Baj (Ammy Virk), Army scout Ranchordas Pagi (Sanjay Dutt), and Army officer Nair (Sharad Kelkar) — tasked to hold a strategic base with too few soldiers — get about 30 seconds of backstory each. At least Sonakshi Sinha’s village leader Sunderben kills a CGI leopard, while spy Heena Rehman (Nora Fatehi) gets a full training montage.

These are all characters that would have benefited from a longer series format, rather than a two-hour movie. Heena’s story is particularly ripe for exploration. She became a mole for India in order to avenge the death of her spy brother at the hands of Pakistani military intelligence head Mohammad Hussain Omani (Pawan Shankar). Heena’s assignment requires her to act as Omani’s girlfriend. How does she feel about having to sleep with the man who murdered her brother? Bhuj doesn’t ask. The only emotion characters are allowed to feel is patriotism.

The film’s priorities are action focused. Besides the bombings and air battles, there are a lot of hand-to-hand fight scenes. Pagi single-handedly kills about 100 men. The emphasis on individual physical prowess makes Bhuj blend in with other hero-centric Hindi films, like those where one honest man cleans up corruption by himself.

All of the action takes place without a sense of geography. Vijay needs to repair Bhuj’s airstrip so that Vikram can land a plane full of reinforcements from Jamnagar who will drive to Vighakot, the base that Nair and Pagi are trying to defend. There’s no sense of how far the bases are from each other, or how close Bhuj is to Sunderben’s village. Characters just show up wherever they need to be whenever they need to be there. Vikram miraculously crash lands within walking distance of his base after a dogfight with a Pakistani fighter plane.

Inscrutable geography is important, because Vijay has less than 24 hours to repair the airstrip. Though onscreen titles consistently show the location name and date when the scene changes, they don’t show the time. There is a ticking clock, but the audience can’t see it.

In real-life, repairs to the airstrip took three days. Adding that to the fact that Pakistani’s bombing campaign lasted over a week reinforces that Bhuj would have made a better series — especially in the hands of a director with no feature film experience but solid TV chops.

Links

  • Bhuj: The Pride of India at Wikipedia
  • Bhuj: The Pride of India at IMDb

Bollywood Box Office: August 19-22, 2021

Akshay Kumar’s period drama BellBottom released into theaters in India and abroad on August 19, 2021, heralding what could be the resumption of regular Hindi theatrical releases (fingers crossed). While cinema restrictions still in place in India limited the film’s earnings potential there, BellBottom‘s North American collections provide some insight into conditions here as well.

According to Bollywood Hungama, BellBottom earned a total of $274,753 from 100 theaters ($2,748 average) in North America in its opening four days. Here’s how those numbers break down by country:

USA – $148,074 from 74 screens = $2,001 average per screen
Canada – $126,679 from 26 screens = $4,872 average per screen

What immediately jumps out is Canada’s contribution of 46% of the total earnings. That’s a really high percentage. But what should we expect from a typical Akshay Kumar movie in North America?

Looking back at Kumar’s four 2019 releases — Kesari, Mission Mangal, Housefull 4, and Good Newwz — here’s what an average opening weekend looked like:

  • 240 theaters — 30 theaters in Canada and 210 in the US
  • $1.1 million total earnings
  • 24% of the earnings from Canada

The amazing thing to me is that the number of theaters showing BellBottom in Canada is about what you’d expect it to be in non-COVID times. (Mission Mangal also opened in 26 theaters.) Compare that to BellBottom opening in about 1/3 of the theaters it would have in the United States, and you can see two very different theatrical landscapes at present.

So what does this mean for other Bollywood movies on the release calendar? Temper your expectations for what you can earn in North America. While earnings in Canada are well below what one would expect under pre-COVID conditions, the country’s theater landscape is downright robust compared to the anemic earnings and small footprint available to Hindi films in the US. BellBottom‘s $2,748 per-screen average is respectable compared to Hollywood theatrical releases right now, but that’s for a highly anticipated film from a marquee star. A smaller movie like Chehre will earn much, much less. I suspect it’s going to be a while before the US is again a big contributor to a Hindi film’s box office haul.

Movie Review: Haseen Dillruba (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Haseen Dillruba on Netflix

The appeal of many murder mysteries is the final revelation of how the crime was committed (especially if the killer gets away with it). Though Haseen Dillruba (“Beautiful Beloved“) has a fiery payoff, the question of why the deed was done is far more interesting.

The film opens with an explosion in a residential neighborhood in the small city of Jwalapur, north of Delhi. Rani (Taapsee Pannu) is outside her home when a gas cylinder in her kitchen ignites. She identifies her husband’s body by his wrist bearing a tattoo of her name — the only part of him that hasn’t been incinerated.

Police Inspector Rawat (Aditya Srivastava) is convinced that Rani murdered her husband Rishu (Vikrant Massey), though she protests her innocence. Rawat’s interrogation triggers flashbacks to various points in the couple’s relationship, which Rani describes as, “sometimes good, sometimes not so good.”

Rani and Rishu get together via an arranged marriage. Both of them seem to have gotten through life doing the bare minimum to make themselves desirable marriage candidates, but not doing much to make themselves complete people. Shy Rishu has a stable engineering job, and Rani is pretty and a capable cosmetologist. Neither has any experience in communicating with a romantic partner nor any instinct for nurturing intimacy. Living with Rishu’s parents only adds to the pressure on the new couple.

All of Rani’s ideas about romance come from books by her favorite author Dinesh Pandit, who writes pulp novels about small-town murder mysteries. Rani quotes Pandit so often that the fictitious author is almost a character in his own right.

When Rani blabs about her and Rishu’s non-existent sex life to her family, Rishu gives her the silent treatment. This leaves Rani lonely and vulnerable when Rishu’s beefcake cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) comes to stay with the family. Neel is as exciting as Rishu is mild, and he’s more than happy to give Rani the attention that Rishu withholds from her.

It takes Rani’s affair with Neel for both Rani and Rishu to become interesting people. It strains credulity a bit that both members of the married couple are so bland beforehand, but the wild trajectories their personalities take from that point is what makes the movie really intriguing. Rishu develops a violent streak and Rani a corresponding capacity to endure punishment. It’s nuts, but it works.

It’s worth considering how problematic Rishi’s violence toward Rani is within the context of the film. For some, a blanket condemnation of all violence perpetrated by men against women will make Rishu’s actions untenable. Within the world created by director Vinil Mathew and screenwriter Kanika Dhillon, the sequence where Rishu repeatedly tries to injure Rani is less about his actions and more about Rani’s willingness (or desire, even) to endure any punishment to atone for her transgression.

The sequence also highlights how screwed up Rani and Rishu actually are when forced to reckon with intense emotions. It’s something that is hinted at early in the film via Amar Mangrulkar’s unusual score, which ping-pongs between somber and melodramatic to sitcom-esque wacky, depending on the scene. The musical choices are slightly off-putting but effective at establishing that this is not a movie about an ordinary couple.

All three leads are effective in their roles, with Rane embracing his eye-candy avatar. Pannu is competent as always. Massey stands out as an ordinary man with a dark edge he didn’t realize he possessed. Haseen Dillruba isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly entertaining.

Links

Streaming Video News: July 29, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the early addition of Kriti Sanon’s film Mimi, which was supposed to make its global debut tomorrow. When a copy of the movie leaked online earlier this week, Netflix made it available for streaming immediately. According to Bollywood Hungama, the snafu has made Netflix reevaluate their deal with Mimi‘s producers, Maddock Films and Jio Studios.

Netflix also dropped the trailer for their new Indian Original sketch comedy competition Comedy Premium League, episodes of which debut on August 20. The show format sounds a lot like South Korea’s Comedy Big League, which also features teams of comedians competing for audience votes. One recurring segment on CBL is “Psychorus,” in which a pair of ridiculously dressed comics say nonsensical things to try and mess up a singers while they perform. Here’s Psychorus screwing with Taemin from Shinee as he sings his hit “Move“:

Hotstar also dropped a video this week announcing its slate of upcoming movies and shows, headlined by Ajay Devgn’s war drama Bhuj: The Pride of India (debuting August 13) and Saif Ali Khan’s supernatural comedy Bhoot Police (coming September 17). Variety has descriptions of all of the titles in the lineup, which includes a few returning series. Here’s Hotstar’s promo video:

Streaming Video News: July 27, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with some pretty major changes. Over the last several months, lots of Indian movies’ streaming contracts with Amazon have expired and not been renewed, meaning they are no longer available to watch for free with a Prime membership. Many of the titles are still available for rent, but loads are just gone from Amazon in the US entirely.

And when I say lots of contracts expired, I mean LOTS. Approximately 75% of the Indian titles available on Prime earlier this year are gone. At its largest, Prime’s catalog included about 3,600 Indian movies and comedy specials. My Amazon Prime page got so big that it routinely crashed my WordPress editor. After spending the last few months pulling expired content from my Prime page, I’ve found that the catalog is down to just under 1,000 Indian movies (plus about 55 TV shows).

The caveat here is that Amazon’s catalog is such a pain to navigate that I am undoubtedly missing some titles. (If it was any less annoying, I wouldn’t need to maintain my list in the first place.) But it’s clear that Amazon Prime’s Indian collection no longer dwarfs Netflix’s Indian catalog by the massive margin that it used to. Netflix has around 675 Indian movies and comedy specials at present, plus 44 TV shows/anthology series (excluding content for kids, which I list on my Netflix page but not my Prime page).

I should also note that, because Amazon is a lot less diligent about catalog maintenance than Netflix, there are a lot of duplicate entries. I found 80 titles listed more than once, plus another 30 titles in my list are separate 4K UHD versions of pre-exisiting entries. So Amazon’s Prime Indian catalog is really more like 870 titles.

Anyway, culling the expired entries from my Amazon page was a long, long, long project that should result in a more easily navigable and accurate list. I’m happy with the results, but boy am I glad to be done! — Kathy