Author Archives: Kathy

Movie Review: Khuda Haafiz (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Khuda Haafiz (“May God Be Your Protector“) is the next step in action star Vidyut Jammwal’s shift away from characters who are ready-made killing machines and toward roles that require him to give a more complicated emotional performance. Sure, he still breaks arms and lands plenty of punches, but carnage isn’t the main goal.

Instead of playing a commando, a cop, or a villain, this time Jammwal plays Sameer Chaudhary — the world’s buffest software engineer. The film opens in March, 2008, with a battered Sameer begging the Indian ambassador to the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Noman (which I constantly misread as “Boman,” as in “Boman Irani”) for help finding his missing wife. The ambassador says, “I need every detail. Start from the beginning.” Boy, does Sameer comply.

Flashback to the beginnings of Sameer’s romance with his wife Nargis (Shivaleeka Oberoi), which started a year earlier in India. The two were set up by their parents and fell deeply in love. After a few blissful months, the global recession hit, shuttering Sameer’s small business and putting Nargis out of a job at her call center.

With no work on the horizon, the two apply for jobs in Noman through a broker named Nadeem (Vipin Sharma). The film establishes the grim local economic situation and why moving to a foreign country for temporary employment seems worth the risk. Nargis’s work permit and travel documents arrive first. Nadeem assures Sameer that his documents will arrive in a few days and encourages Nargis to fly to Noman with a group of other women.

The following day, Sameer gets a panicked call from Nargis that she’s been kidnapped. The job she’d applied for had been a ruse, with Nadeem serving as the front for an international sex trafficking ring. Armed with only Nadeem’s dubious information, Sameer flies to Noman to rescue his wife.

It’s refreshing to see Jammwal mix things up and play a character who does not have a set of skills suited to this exact situation. His programming background gives him insight into how to get some information from a cell phone carrier, but that’s really the only advantage he has. He doesn’t even speak the local language — which winds up not being an issue because all the important people in Noman conveniently speak Hindi.

Most important of the people Sameer meets is a cab driver named Usman (Annu Kapoor). He sees Sameer’s distress and feels obligated to help as a matter of faith. Usman helps Sameer connect enough of the dots that the two actually find Nargis. A subsequent sequence in which Sameer has to let go of Nargis’ hand in order to save her is beautifully filmed to make it look as though she’s swallowed up by a sea of goons. Kudos to cinematographer Jitan Harmeet Singh for that wonderful shot.

During Sameer’s attempted rescue attempt, Jammwal does an excellent job performing Sameer as a guy who is not a professional stuntman. Sameer hesitates before jumping from dangerous heights, only doing so when he has no choice. He fights like it’s a matter of self-preservation, not like a guy who knows from the start that he’ll win. Nevertheless, the action scenes are entertaining as always.

Jammwal’s acting isn’t exactly subtle. Though, to be fair, Sameer is frequently panicked or angry. And when Khuda Haafiz is sad, it’s really sad. Jammwal’s performance is appropriately restrained in the film’s love song montages. Oberoi is competent in the few scenes she’s in. Kapoor is quite good, as are Shiv Panditt and Aahana Kumra, who play a pair of Nomani security agents who help Sameer find Nargis.

Overall, Khuda Haafiz is well-executed and accessible to a wide audience. It appeals to Jammwal’s core action fanbase while expanding its reach to include viewers who may want more plot than butt-kicking.

Links

Streaming Video News: October 13, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the recent addition of the Netflix Original Hindi romantic comedy Ginny Weds Sunny. Other Hindi films added today include Dil, Disco Dancer, Fida, Phir Hera Pheri, and Hunterrr, which has good performances by Gulshan Devaiah and Radhika Apte.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of Indian content added over the weekend, as well as today’s premiere of the English-language Desi horror film Evil Eye.

Amazon recently revealed its lineup of global premieres for the rest of 2020, and it features three notable Hindi titles. Director Hansal Mehta’s Chhalaang stars Rajkummar Rao and debuts on November 13; Bhumi Pednekar’s thriller Durgavati launches on December 11; and Varun Dhawan’s reboot of Coolie No. 1 premieres on Christmas. Here’s Amazon’s announced lineup of Indian titles for the next three months:

  • Halal Love Story (2020/Malayalam) — coming October 15 [trailer]
  • Putham Pudhu Kaalai (2020/Tamil) — coming October 16 [trailer]
  • Mirzapur, Season 2 (2020) — coming October 23 [trailer]
  • Bheema Sena Nalamaharaja (2020/Kannada) — coming October 29
  • Soorari Pottru (2020/Tamil) — coming October 30
  • Chhalaang (2020) — coming November 13
  • Manne Number 13 (2020/Kannada) — coming November 19
  • Middle Class Melodies (2020/Telugu) — coming November 20
  • Durgavati (2020) — coming December 11
  • Maara (2020/Tamil) — coming December 17
  • Coolie No. 1 (2020) — coming December 25

[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!]

Theater Update: October 6, 2020

With Khaali Peeli presently showing at the AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, I checked to see which of the Chicago area theaters that regularly carry Bollywood films are currently operating, and under what terms. If the government ruling allowing cinemas in India to reopen later this month prompts new Bollywood films to release theatrically, will there be a home for them here?

In the Chicago area, the answer is a definitive: probably? AMC theaters are obviously open, though hours and days of operation vary by location. The region’s only all-Indian theater — MovieMax Cinemas in Niles — is closed indefinitely because of the pandemic. Regal Entertainment is closing all 536 of its US theaters on Thursday, October 8, which takes out the Cantera (which carries almost every Hindi release) as well as the Regal Round Lake Beach.

Marcus Theaters in Addison and Elgin are open Friday-Sunday and Tuesday. You can order concessions online and pick them up in cinema for your own movie night or game night at home, which is pretty tempting (especially since I’m writing this right before lunch).

Theaters in the Cinemark family like Seven Bridges, Stratford Square, and Deer Park are open Friday-Sunday. Those theaters are traditionally more dependent upon new releases out of South India than Bollywood, but that may change since cinemas are desperate for new content.

Cinemark has a really cool (but pricey) program right now called the Private Watch Party. You can rent an entire screen for you and a group of up to 20 people to watch a new release or classic film all by yourselves. Locally, new releases are priced at $149, and older films at $99. My husband and I are planning to do this for just the two of us when Dune releases on December 18. [Scratch that: Dune just got pushed to October 21, 2021.] I’m not sure if this deal will apply to any Bollywood or South Indian films that may open in Cinemark theaters, but it could be a good option if you’re concerned about safety and/or if you have a large family.

It’s still unclear what the next Indian movie to open in Chicago theaters after Khaali Peeli would be. All of this could be moot if A) a spike in infections triggers theater closures in all or part of the region, or B) theater chains decide it’s not financially viable to operate under current conditions without blockbuster Hollywood content. For now, the take away is: if you feel it’s safe to return to cinemas and are desperate to watch an Indian movie on the big screen, head to South Barrington for Khaali Peeli while you can. Or you can just stay home, like me.

Update: In response to Regal’s planned closure later this week, AMC and Cinemark have vowed to continue operating during the pandemic, according to CNBC. Just to add some further perspective, when Baaghi 3 released on March 6, it did so in thirteen local theaters: 7 AMC theaters, 1 Cinemark, 2 Marcus, 2 Regal, and 1 independent (MovieMax). As of now, only three of those theaters will be closed if/when a new Bollywood title releases locally.

Bollywood Box Office: October 2-4, 2020

Holy crap, there’s box office news to report again! The Ananya Pandey-Ishaan Khatter masala flick Khaali Peeli released in India on the streaming service Zee5 on October 2. Since Zee5 isn’t available in the United States, the film opted to release here theatrically. I had no idea! So, how did Khaali Peeli‘s opening weekend in US theaters go?

NOT GOOD! From October 2-4, 2020, Khaali Peeli earned $2,421 from 14 theaters — an average of $173 per theater. The caveats are that theaters are operating with capacity restrictions and are probably showing films fewer times than they normally would to allow extra cleaning time between shows. Even still, these numbers are BAD.

Let’s use the Chicago area theater showing Khaali Peeli — the AMC South Barrington 24 — as an example. With so little new content available, the theater is devoting two full screens to Khaali Peeli. I didn’t see the theater’s schedule over the weekend, so let’s assume a minimum number of shows available: one on Friday and two on Saturday and Sunday on both screens, for ten showings total. Under that scenario, the theater made $17.30 per showing. Y.I.K.E.S.

Khaali Peeli may stick around for a while, but only because nothing else is coming out. To be fair, I don’t expect any other Indian films released here in the near future to do much better. And studios know that, too.

Streaming Video News: October 2, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s premiere of the Netflix Original Hindi film Serious Men, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui. No Indian titles were added on the first of the month, but it looks like there could be a bunch coming October 12. And if you missed any of the 30+ Indian films added in September, you can view a full list in my monthly roundup for What’s on Netflix.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films and Pakistani dramas added in the last week, including the debut of the Telugu thriller Nishabdham, starring Madhavan and Anushka Shetty. It’s available in a couple of formats and under a few different titles, depending on the audio language. Here are all the ways to watch it:

The Hindi comedy Bahut Hua Sammaan starring Sanjay Mishra debuted on Hotstar today.

[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: Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare on Netflix

Anemic character development undercuts Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare‘s (“Dolly, Kitty, and Those Twinkling Stars“) ambitions to be a movie about something important. Many important things, really.

The film opens so abruptly that I thought I’d accidentally fast-forwarded through the film’s real opening scene. Within the first three minutes, Kaajal (Bhumi Pednekar) confesses to her cousin Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) that Dolly’s husband Amit (Aamir Bashir) hit on her. Dolly dismisses Kaajal’s claim, saying maybe it’s Kaajal who’s hot for Amit. Roll opening credits.

This major family conflict is set up before we’ve learned anything about the characters involved. We don’t know who they are, what their relationships were like before this, or what this means for them going forward.

Without giving us any reason to care about these characters, the story launches them into an escalating series of circumstances to which they must react. Kaajal moves out, but she can only find a bed in a charity boarding house for unwed mothers. There she befriends a Muslim party girl named Shazia (Kubbra Sait from Sacred Games) whose boyfriend’s brother leads a far right Hindu-nationalist gang. Kaajal gets a job as a phone sex operator for an online app — a job that grosses her out since she has zero romantic experience — where she’s given the nickname “Kitty.”

Meanwhile, Dolly is enduring workplace gender bias in order to earn a down payment for a newly built luxury apartment (even though it should be obvious to her that the builders are running some kind of racket). Her marriage with Amit is sexually unfulfilling, and she develops a crush on a cute delivery driver names Osman (Amol Parashar). Also, Dolly’s youngest son Pappu (Kalp Shah) is starting to assert a gender identity that is more feminine than masculine.

The movie presents Dolly and Kaajal with plenty of challenges, but it doesn’t establish a real narrative or explain how the characters need to grow before the story ends. Including as many social justice issues as possible — Kaajal is also threatened with sexual assault by strangers and acquaintances multiple times — takes precedence over plot and character development.

Kaajal is written as so naive and devoid of personality that she seems like she sprung into being just before the movie begins. We can see how Dolly has been shaped by her circumstances, but they seem to have mostly made her mean. She hits Kaajal more than once, and she beats Pappu so seriously after he tries to use the girls’ bathroom at school that it’s difficult to watch.

Sen Sharma and Pednekar give intriguing performances as always, as does Vikrant Massey as a client who uses Kitty’s app. The subplot between Dolly and Osman is compelling and enjoyable. There just wasn’t enough to the characters in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare to truly connect with them

Links

  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at Wikipedia
  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at IMDb

Streaming Video News: September 25, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the recent addition of the Hindi films Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns, and Santa Banta Pvt Ltd. Netflix just dropped the trailer for the romcom Ginny Weds Sunny, which debuts on October 9:

Here are all the Indian titles set to expire from Netflix on October 1:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian titles added in the last week. Critic Josh Hurtado is especially excited about the addition of a subtitled version of the “BANANAS” Telugu spy thriller Rudranetra.

[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: Cargo (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cargo on Netflix

Some movies win you over on charm alone. That’s not the only thing that Cargo has going for it, but it’s more than enough to make this an endearing film.

Cargo is set in the year 2027, in an alternate timeline where a truce between demons and humans governs the world. As part of the truce, for the last seventy-five years, demons have handled humans’ transitions after death from a number of large spaceships orbiting Earth.

One of those ships is Pushpak 634-A, piloted by the demon Prahastha (Vikrant Massey). As one of the six original astronauts sent to space to handle Post Death Transition Services, Prahastha has been happily alone for seventy-five years. (Although they look like humans, demons age more slowly, apparently.) He’s not pleased when Ground Control sends him an assistant: an eager young astronaut named Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi).

All demons have a magical ability, and Yuvishka’s is the ability to heal injuries. This is a particularly useful skill, since one of the steps in prepping dead humans for reincarnation is repairing injuries and ailments, and all of the equipment Prahastha has on-hand is outdated and falling apart. His main control center is a desk with a bunch of knobs, a printing calculator, and a CRT TV monitor.

The low-tech equipment that went into its design makes sense within the context of the story — the ship is almost eight decades old, after all — but it’s also a reminder that Cargo was made on a minimal budget. Props are used so thoughtfully that the film has a distinct, pleasing visual style. One may notice the absence of high-tech effects and CGI, but Cargo is so well designed that it never feels like it’s missing anything.

The staging and props evoke nostalgia for science fiction films and shows of the 20th century, which is appropriate since Cargo hews more closely to the tone of the original Star Trek series than to contemporary sci-fi. There’s nothing grim or dark about Cargo. It’s about the exploration of the human condition, not a battle against an existential threat. The focused story muses on life, death, and what comes after through the experiences of its two leads. Prahastha writes letters to a woman he used to love, but he never sends them. Yuvishka thought that becoming an astronaut would finally make her feel like she mattered.

Greeting and processing dead people as they arrive on the ship just reminds Prahastha and Yuvishka of what’s at stake, both for mortals with short lifespans but for themselves as well. Many of the dead ask if they can speak with a loved one for a final time. Others wonder what the point of their life really was. Prahstha and Yuvishka collect the belongings from each person, waiting until after they’ve moved on to launch those belongings into space. As the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”

Cargo‘s plot is tertiary to its atmosphere and characters, moving at an unhurried pace that allows the audience to get to know the crew of Pushpak 634-A and enjoy spending time with them. Massey and Tripathi work beautifully together and are so comfortable to be around. Writer-director Arati Kadav achieved something really special with her debut feature. Cargo didn’t overstay its welcome, but it also left me wanting more.

Links

Streaming Video News: September 16, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with an October 2 release date for the Netflix Original movie Serious Men, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

I also updated my Upcoming Bollywood Release Dates page (where I keep track of Hotstar news) with a newly announced November 9 release date for Akshay Kumar’s Laxxmi Bomb. The announcement follows a Bollywood Hungama report yesterday that Hotstar planned to hold the release of its three remaining “Multiplex” titles — Laxxmi Bomb, Bhuj, and The Big Bull — until after the conclusion of the Indian Premier League cricket season in early November. While it’s common practice for major movies to avoid releasing theatrically during cricket tournaments, I suspect the fact that all three movies are still finishing filming and post-production influenced the decision as well.

So what does that mean for streaming releases in the near term? Netflix seems content to debut one or two new films or series per month. Amazon Prime quietly launched a few new Indian series in recent weeks but hasn’t made any major movie announcements. I suspect Laxxmi Bomb‘s release date indicates that things will be relatively quiet until around Diwali in mid-November. Last month, Bollywood Hungama scooped a potential Diwali release for Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1 on Amazon Prime, so we’ll see if that comes true.

On a related note, even if theaters in India reopen next month, don’t expect any major flicks to be first out of the gate (especially after the tepid response to Tenet). Kiara Advani-starrer Indoo Ki Jawani purportedly wants to be first in theaters.

Finally, I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of older Hindi titles added in the last two days. Check ’em out:

[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!]