Author Archives: Kathy

Movie Review: Shimla Mirchi (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Shimla Mirchi on Netflix

Sholay director Ramesh Sippy’s Shimla Mirchi spent five years on the shelf before it found a buyer, but the content feels even more dated than that.

The romantic comedy stars Rajkummar Rao as Avi, a grumpy single guy who’s been dragged along on his family’s annual vacation to Shimla. His mood changes when Naina (Rakul Preet Singh) sprints by him, fresh from a photo shoot at her friend’s bridal boutique. One look at Naina’s heaving bosom and toned abs, and Avi is in love.

It is important to note that, in Shimla Mirchi, “love” happens the instant a man sees a beautiful woman. It is also important to note that a woman’s most lovable attribute is her torso, hence why Naina wears crop tops almost exclusively throughout the film. Avi is frequently shown ogling her bare waist, because he’s in love.

Avi’s problem is that he gets tongue-tied whenever he tries to tell a woman that he loves her. (Could the problem be that his instinct is to introduce himself to women he’s never met with “I love you” before “Hi, I’m Avi”?) He takes job at Naina’s cafe in the hopes of getting to know her better. When he still can’t muster the courage to speak up, he writes her an anonymous love letter.

Naina’s not interested in her own beau, but she sees the letter as an opportunity to cheer up her mom, Rukmini (Hema Malini), who’s lonely after her husband Tilak (Kanwaljit Singh) left her for a younger woman. Naina readdresses the love letter to her mom and has Avi deliver it — leading Rukmini to believe that Avi is her secret admirer.

The high-concept story by writers Kausar Munir, Vipul Binjola, and Rishi Virmani yields a number of cute moments, as when Rukmini stops her dance practice to sneak after Avi, bells around her ankles jingling whenever she moves. When Naina realizes that Avi is way overqualified to work as her handyman, she jumps to the wild and funny conclusion that he’s involved in a nefarious international plot that inexplicably begins with the takeover of a small cafe in Shimla.

There’s a nice relationship between Naina, Rukmini, and Tilak’s mother (Kamlesh Gill), who lives with them. Naina has cut off contact with her father, and even his own mother thinks he’s a jerk. They want Rukmini to rediscover her sense of self-worth, and the film doesn’t even hint at trying to reunite the family.

Yet even the best elements of the film are good, but not great. The acting is fine, if uninspired. The story is cute but forgettable. Shakti Kapoor plays the quirkily-named Captain Uncle, who exists to move the plot along when the writers couldn’t think of a better way to do so.

Then there are the elements that make Shimla Mirchi seem like it came out of a time capsule. The mistaking of lust for love and the objectification of Naina’s body are the worst examples. Captain Uncle makes some racist jokes about East Asian languages. Avi has a friend, Jude (Tarun Wadhwa), who rotates through a series of indistinguishable white girlfriends who don’t speak but are always wrapping themselves around him. He ditches the last one when he spots a pretty Indian girl in Desi attire and immediately falls in love with her (naturally).

Shimla Mirchi feels like the product of a filmmaker who started his career back when times were different. When objectifying women was the norm. When you could crack racist jokes because there was no internet and few people outside your intended audience would watch your movies. There’s nothing outrageously offensive in Shimla Mirchi. It just doesn’t feel current.

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Streaming Video News: February 14, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with more than twenty Indian titles added in the last week, most notably Salman Khan’s Dabangg 3. We’re far enough into the new year for the first 2020 theatrical releases to become available for streaming, including these three Tamil titles from January:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the additions of director Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2019 historical drama Panipat and the Netflix Original romance series Taj Mahal 1989. A bunch of Hindi and Marathi titles are set to expire in the next week, so head to my Netflix page to see what’s on the way out.

In other Netflix news, two new Hindi titles of note become available for streaming on February 21, including the Emraan Hashmi-Rishi Kapoor thriller The Body. Also debuting on the 21st is the Netflix Original movie Yeh Ballet, based on a short film of the same name. The feature-length version stars some up-and-coming actors, plus Jim Sarbh and the Warlock himself, Julian Sands!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

[Disclaimer: all of 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: Street Dancer 3D (2020)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

While trying to piece together my thoughts for this review of Street Dancer 3D, I looked back at my reviews of the two films that precede it in director Remo D’Souza’s dance battle series: ABCD and ABCD 2. (Disney produced the first two films in the series and held onto the rights to the title ABCD 3 even after they stopped making movies in India.) Most of the things I want to write about Street Dancer 3D I’ve already said about the previous two movies. Great dancing? Check. Sexy performers? Check. Only Street Dancer 3D is more of a mess than either of the films preceding it.

D’Souza’s series features many of the same actors in all three films, and some in just two. None of them play the same characters, even if the actors play characters with the same name. The cast stays intact while D’Souza hits the reset button on the story.

This time around, two rival dance crews face off on the streets of London. The Indian-British crew “Street Dancer” is led by Sahej (Varun Dhawan), and the Pakistani-British crew “Rule Breakers” is led by Inayat (Shraddha Kapoor).

The endless bickering between the crews culminates in a food fight between the groups while they watch an India vs. Pakistan cricket match in a sports bar run by Ram Prasad (Prabhu Deva). The single stupidest thing in this whole movie may be that the main food used in the fight is that famous staple served as a main entrée at all sports bars… The one dish no Buffalo Wild Wings or Irish football pub should be without… Doughnuts? I’m talking regular yeast-raised, frosted, mass-produced, buy-’em-at-Dunkin’-by-the-dozen doughnuts like the one pictured to the right. I’m guessing the only reason the characters throw doughnuts is because they are cheap to buy, simple to procure in large quantities, and easier to clean up than burgers, pasta, or biryani — all of which Ram Prasad’s sports bar also serves.

Both crews want to compete in an underground dance competition with a £100,000 cash prize, but their odds aren’t good against the formidable, mostly-white London dance crew The Royals. Ram Prasad thinks the Desi crews would stand a chance if they worked together, but there are complicating factors beyond the groups’ nationalistic antipathy. Inayat wants to use the prize money to help homeless illegal immigrants from the Subcontinent living in London — which is a problem because Sahej is a human trafficker.

The film doesn’t fully acknowledge how awful Varun Dhawan’s character is. This was a problem with his character in ABCD 2 as well. Sahej is entitled and compassionless. He brings a quartet of Indian drummers to England, but refuses to help them in even a small way when he learns that they are now destitute. It takes him forever to admit that he played a part in their current condition, let alone that he is obligated to set things right.

This is but one example of Sahej’s disloyalty. As soon as he gets the chance to join The Royals, he jumps at it — abandoning Street Dancer and the members that aren’t invited into the colonizers’ crew. The whole reason Sahej participated in human trafficking was to earn the money to buy a studio for Street Dancer, the crew founded by his older brother Inder (Punit Pathak, who gives the film’s best dramatic performance) who is injured and can no longer dance. The film doesn’t acknowledge what a betrayal this is because Sahej’s vindication and victory are predetermined.

Films are often sold based on the popularity of their star cast, but I wish we could go back to the days of the original ABCD, which starred professional dancers who can act, not professional actors who can dance. To be fair, Kapoor holds her own on the dance floor and makes Inayat as sympathetic as the script allows. But casting Dhawan required compromises that hurt the movie. Because of Dhawan’s likeable persona, his character pays a very small price for causing a lot of harm.

Worse still is that Dhawan is the weakest dancer in the film. He’s one of the better dancers among Bollywood’s current leading men, but he’s a step slower and less crisp in his movements than the professionals around him. I found myself ignoring him and focusing instead on series veterans like Dharmesh Yelande, Sushant Pujari, Raghav Juyal, and Salman Yusuff Khan. Nora Fatehi — who plays The Royals’ ace, Mia — is riveting when she dances.

As expected, the dance numbers are the stars of the show. All of the performances during the underground competition are technically impressive and large in scale. I don’t blame anyone watching the film for tuning out during the plot bits and just watching the choreography. Yet it’s kind of a shame, since Street Dancer 3D really wants to be about something meaningful. It’s just not willing to put in the work to do so.

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Streaming Video News: February 7, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian titles added in the last week, including the Amazon Original black comedy series Afsos, starring Gulshan Devaiah. It launched in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Also new is Rani Mukerji’s cop thriller Mardaani 2, available in both standard and 4K UHD. Other recently added 2019 releases include:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Tamil film Jada. The Malayalam movie Thottappan debuts on February 8, followed by the Netflix Original romance series Taj Mahal 1989 on February 14.

Opening February 7: Malang

The new Hindi thriller Malang opens in Chicago area theaters February 7, 2020. It stars Aditya Roy Kapur, Disha Patani, and Anil Kapoor.

Malang opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min. Its streaming partner is Netflix.

Jawaani Jaaneman carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera. (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime)

Street Dancer 3 (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime) and Panga (Streaming partner: Hotstar) get a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior holds on for a fifth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

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

Streaming Video News: February 1, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a pair of returnees to start the month. Hum Aapka Hain Koun..! and Hum Saath-Saath Hain are available for streaming once more, although for some reason Netflix is calling Hum Saath-Saath HainTogether for Eternity” now. The 2019 Tamil film Thambi arrives on the service on February 3.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of new additions in the last week, including the 2019 remake Pati Patni Aur Woh, which looks gross. The 1978 original is also available on Prime, and maybe it’s better. Or you could just watch the newly added thriller Shanghai, which is awesome.

Other recently added 2019 releases include:

[Disclaimer: all of 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!]

Opening January 31: Jawaani Jaaneman and Gul Makai

Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters on January 31, 2020. The comedy-drama Jawaani Jaaneman stars Saif Ali Khan as an overgrown man-child who learns he has an adult daughter.

Jawaani Jaaneman opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime.

Also new this weekend is Gul Makai, a biopic about activist Malala Yousafzai. TV actress Reem Shaikh plays the lead role opposite film stars Divya Dutta, Atul Kulkarni, and the late Om Puri.

Gul Makai opens Friday at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 12 min.

Street Dancer 3 carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, and AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont. (Streaming partner: Amazon Prime)

The sweet family film Panga also holds on for a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington, Cantera, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior gets a fourth week at MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Naperville, and and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. (Streaming partner: Hotstar)

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

Movie Review: Panga (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Even with only a few feature films under her belt, writer-director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari has proven herself one of the most skilled makers of feel-good films out there. Her latest, Panga, follows the everyday struggles of a sweet family whose matriarch returns to the athletic career she left to raise her child.

Retiring from India’s national kabbadi team at age twenty-five wasn’t Jaya’s (Kangana Ranaut) plan when she found out she was pregnant. She had the full support of her husband Prashant (Jassi Gill) to resume her captaincy as soon as she was fit to do so. But when their son Adi was born premature and with a number of ailments, Jaya put all of her focus on raising her little boy.

Seven years later, Adi (Yagya Bhasin) is mostly fit and increasingly independent. Prashant tells his son about the life Jaya had before she became a mom — a history that Jaya has evidently never shared with the boy. Understanding what Jaya sacrificed for the family and excited by the prospect of having a professional athlete for a mother, Adi convinces Jaya to try and make a comeback.

Rather than manufacture a bunch of obstacles to put in Jaya’s way, Tiwari and her co-writer Nikhil Mehrotra keep Jaya’s journey realistic while mining the scenario for as much drama as possible. Doing so allows for an insightful examination of gendered divisions of labor within a household. Jaya threw herself fully into being a mom and a homemaker when Adi was born, but she still has a job outside of the house. Kabbadi teams in India are often sponsored by companies like railways, and Jaya kept her job selling train tickets even after her playing career ended.

As capable and helpful as both Prashant and Adi are, the house is still Jaya’s domain. How is she supposed to transfer seven years of accumulated knowledge to Prashant in the days before she heads to training camp? While their lives obviously won’t fall apart if the beds go unmade, it goes to show how we undervalue the effort it takes to make homemaking seem automatic.

Prashant’s promotion to household manager also highlights how removed many fathers are from the social networks that make child-rearing easier. He learns to rely on his neighbor and his cranky mother-in-law (played by Neena Gupta). He asks to be invited into the WhatsApp group for moms at Adi’s school.

A theme Tiwari introduced in her first feature, Nil Battey Sannata, and revisits in Panga is that of children coming to view their parents as individuals, not just their caretakers. Adi is mature enough to understand that playing kabbadi makes his mother happy, and that her happiness will require some inconvenience on his part. Yet he’s not so mature that he’s above throwing a tantrum when his dad screws up his makeup for the talent show or sulking when his mom has to sit on the bench during a game. It’s solid character writing.

What the story wants us to appreciate more than anything is that this family is nice. They are helpful, quick with a joke, and willing to make sacrifices for each other. They have supportive friends, especially Jaya’s former teammate Meenu (Richa Chadda) and her new teammate Nisha (Megha Burman). These strong bonds reinforce the feeling that this is a family that deserves happiness. The acting across the board is very good, with little Yagya Bhasin providing some great laughs.

Panga‘s kabbadi scenes are quite fun, emphasizing the teamwork required for success without feeling preachy. Selfishly, I would have appreciated a scene where Jaya explains the sport’s rules to Adi, but there’s more than enough context provided for kabbadi newbies like myself to understand the tension during the matches. This is a decent starter movie for Bollywood newcomers — and anyone in need of a cinematic pick-me-up.

Links

Streaming Video News: January 24, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of Indian content added in the last week, including the debut of the Amazon Original Hindi series The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye (also available in 4K UHD). Recently added 2019 releases include:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Tamil road trip film K.D. (A) Karuppudurai. There are a few new releases lined up before the end of the month, including the stand-up special Vir Das for India on January 26. The Rajkummar Rao-Hema Malini romantic comedy Shimla Mirchi debuts on January 27, following a really brief theatrical run in India earlier this month. On January 30, we finally get Karan Johar’s makeover reality dating show What the Love!, which will either be great or disastrous. Celebrity guests include Huma Qureshi, Saif Ali Khan, Ali Fazal, Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, and Sunny Leone.

Opening January 24: Panga and Street Dancer 3

Two new Hindi films open in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning January 24, 2020. Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari returns with the kabbadi drama Panga, starring Kangana Ranaut, Jassi Gill, and Richa Chadda.

Panga opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 11 min. Its streaming partner is Hotstar.

Also new this weekend is Street Dancer 3 (as it’s being called here; in India it’s Street Dancer 3D). It was originally planned as a sequel to ABCD 2 before changing production houses. Thus, Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor return for Street Dancer 3, but as different characters.

Street Dancer 3 opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 12 in Rosemont, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min. Its streaming partner is Amazon Prime.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior carries over for a third week at MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Naperville 16, and Woodridge 18.

Chhapaak also gets a third week at MovieMax, while the South Barrington 24 holds over Good Newwz for a fifth week.

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