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

Streaming Video News: June 11, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s additions of the Tamil comedy Sarbath and the Hindi/English coming-of-age film Skater Girl. The skatepark that was constructed in Rajasthan for the filming of Skater Girl was left up and is free for public use.

This month’s paucity of new Indian releases got me wondering about the fate of the titles from Netflix’s big March 3 announcement of their slate of upcoming projects. The announcement included 13 feature films, 15 new and returning series, and 13 unscripted movies, series, and comedy specials.

Five of the films — Ajeeb Daastaans, The Disciple, Milestone, Pagglait, and Sardar Ka Grandson — have released so far, with Jagame Thandhiram and Haseen Dillruba set to join them in the coming weeks. Bombay Begums and Ray (coming out later this month) are the only series to be added. Two unscripted titles have been released as well: Searching for Sheela and The Big Day, Collection 2. In all, that’s only 11 of 41 titles accounted for.

Even though fiction series made up the bulk of the titles announced, only two have gotten release dates. I’m not sure if this was always the plan or if this is a result of pandemic-related production delays. It could be the former — a series starring Mike Myers just started filming, two years after it was announced — but recent COVID-19 shutdowns had to affect at least some of the shows (not to mention the five stand-up comedy specials that were announced).

Despite a whole lineup of series and shows, could this month’s anemic offerings be the start of an Indian content drought at Netflix? The answer is… maybe? Most of 2021’s few theatrical releases — like Roohi and Madam Chief Minister — are already on Netflix or another streaming service. But maybe the titles from the March 3 announcement are further along in production than I assume. Still, I won’t be surprised if Netflix starts throwing cash at distributors to acquire some of the titles that have been waiting for a theatrical release since last spring. The theatrical release calendar is awfully crowded, and several movies have been postponed more than once. Might be time for distributors to cash in and help bulk up Netflix’s catalog.

Hotstar has today’s other new Hindi feature release: the road trip musical Shaadisthan.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a handful of Indian titles that have been added in the last week. I’m undertaking a massive weeding effort on the Amazon page, pulling entries that are no longer available free with a Prime membership. By the time I’m done, the page will be less than half the length of its peak several months ago.

Have a nice weekend!

Streaming Video News: June 4, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with yesterday’s premiere of the second season the Manoj Bajpayee spy series The Family Man. I recently returned from vacation, and I’m finally caught up listing all of the Indian content added to Prime over the last few weeks. Phew!

Amazon released the trailer for the Vidya Balan film Sherni, which makes its global debut on Prime on June 18.

I also updated my list Netflix of Bollywood movies on Netflix with expiration dates for two dozen Indian films and Pakistani series that are leaving the streaming service in the next month, including a quarter of the Malayalam titles currently available. Netflix hasn’t added any Indian content in June so far, but new stuff is on the way. The Hindi-English film Skater Girl (formerly Desert Dolphin) premieres June 11, followed by Dhanush’s Tamil movie Jagame Thandhiram on June 18, and the anthology series Ray on June 25. And you can always check my monthly “New Hindi & Indian Movies & Shows” post for What’s On Netflix to make sure there was nothing you missed in May.

Hotstar dropped the trailer for the road trip movie Shaadisthan starring Kirti Kulhari today. It debuts globally on Hotstar on June 11.

Streaming Video News: May 14, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s additions of the 2019 Hindi film Ahaan and the docu-series Alma Matters. These follow yesterday’s addition of the 2021 Telugu film Cinema Bandi. Arjun Kapoor’s Netflix Original film Sardar Ka Grandson debuts on Tuesday, May 18.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with three big premieres yesterday: Dhanush’s Tamil film Karnan, the Hindi thriller series The Last Hour, and comedian Gaurav Gupta’s new standup special Market Down Hai.

The streaming service Zee5 — which is not available in the United States — posted a cryptic teaser on Twitter the other day, probably to appease Salman Khan fans in America who are unable to watch his new movie Radhe at home like almost everyone else in the world:

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Streaming Video News: April 9, 2021

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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Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020

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.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020

  1. Laxmii — stream on Hotstar
  2. Baaghi 3 — stream on Hotstar
  3. Coolie No. 1 — Buy or rent on iTunes/stream on Amazon Prime
  4. Durgamati — stream on Amazon Prime
  5. Street Dancer 3D — stream on Amazon Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

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Best Bollywood Movies 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.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2020

  1. Bulbbul — stream on Netflix
  2. Cargo — stream on Netflix
  3. Ludo — stream on Netflix
  4. AK vs AK — stream on Netflix
  5. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl — stream on Netflix

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan on Amazon Prime

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.

Links

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Opening March 11, 2021: Roohi

With the Bollywood theatrical release calendar filling up, the Janhvi Kapoor-Rajkummar Rao horror comedy Roohi is first out of the gate, opening in Chicago area theaters on March 11, 2021.

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:

Streaming Video News: March 3, 2021

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.

I’ll update my Netflix page as soon as release dates for these titles are announced. Get those watchlists ready, people!