Author Archives: Kathy

Movie Review: Babli Bouncer (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Babli Bouncer on Hulu

Babli Bouncer puts a fun spin on a boilerplate Bollywood main character: the small-town slacker with a heart of gold. Tamannaah Bhatia turns in a stellar performance in the leading role, showcasing her skill as a physical comedian.

Babli (Bhatia) hails from a village on the outskirts of Delhi famous for producing wrestlers and bodybuilders. Many of the young men in town work as bouncers at Delhi nightclubs, but it’s widely known that Babli is just as tough as any of the guys. She’s not ambitious, knowing that marriage and kids are on the horizon (not that she’s mad about that). Her predetermined future enables her to coast, waiting for life to come to her.

It does in the form of Viraj (Abhishek Bajaj), the handsome son of a local school teacher. Viraj is educated and worldly — pretty much the opposite of Babli. She is immediately smitten. When Viraj politely offers to meet Babli for lunch should she ever find herself in Delhi, Babli makes it her mission to get a job in the city.

Thankfully, the club where Babli’s friend Kukku (Sahil Vaid) works is in need of lady bouncers to deal with rowdy female patrons. Soon enough, Babli is working at Kukku’s club and living in Delhi with her buddy Pinky (Priyam Saha), who teaches there. Babli thinks she’s perfectly positioned to get closer to Viraj.

In loads of other Hindi films where a man plays a similar type of lead role, the already-perfect hero sets his sights on a beautiful woman who fails to appreciate him until he uses his physical strength to save her. That she will fall in love with him by movie’s end is a given, so there’s no need to develop either character.

Babli Bouncer uses a similar character template but rejects the inevitable conclusion. Instead, Babli is depicted as flawed but lovable. When she’s confronted with her own shortcomings, she doesn’t like what she sees and chooses to fix them — not in order to win someone’s heart, but so she can be proud of herself. And her efforts at self-improvement amplify the things that were already good about her.

The story itself is entertaining enough, but Bhatia makes Babli sparkle. She’s a tomboy with a bit of swagger, and Bhatia’s every movement and mannerism suits the character perfectly. It’s heartbreaking to watch naive Babli wholeheartedly laugh along with Viraj’s city friends because she doesn’t realize they’re laughing at her, not with her. Bhatia’s spot-on characterization, spirited dancing, and quality fight scenes make for an overall great performance.

Saurabh Shukla is wonderful as Babli’s sympathetic father, and Saha and Vaid make great buddies for Babli. The resolution to lovelorn Kukku’s subplot deserved more airtime, but Vaid does a nice job selling it as written.

Babli Bouncer gets everything right that similar stories with male lead characters usually get wrong. Director Madhur Bhandarkar and co-writers Amit Joshi and Aradhana Debnath wrote a title character who is charming from the get-go but with room to grow. It’s a delight to watch Babli chart her own path.

Links

Streaming Video News: September 26, 2022

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with links to teasers for all of the titles featured in last weekend’s Tudum event. You can watch recaps of all of the global Tudum events on Netflix itself (India’s segment is hosted by Anil Kapoor), or you can watch a video of the full Netflix India event hosted by Prajakta Koli and Zakir Khan on Netflix India’s YouTube page.

Unfortunately, no release dates were announced at the Tudum event. While every other show or movie got a new official teaser, Monica, O My Darling got a music video. If I had to bet, that’s the one I’d pick as next to release. Here are all of the shows that got new promo material:

In other Netflix news, @CinemaRareIN on Twitter found a bunch of other UTV titles set to expire from Netflix on October 1 beyond the initial list I posted on September 2. The new batch makes a total of 28 titles on their way out in the next week. Update your watch priorities accordingly.

Here are all the additional titles expiring from Netflix October 1, with titles I’ve reviewed at the top followed by other titles in alphabetical order:

YRF Movies Leaving Amazon Prime in 2022

[October 3, 2022 update: At least for now, this appears to be a catalog cleanup rather than a mass expiration. Previously, all Yash Raj Films movies were listed in the Amazon Prime catalog twice, with two distinct catalog ID numbers for each title. The older of the two catalog IDs for each film has expired, but the newer one remains. For now, YRF movies are still available on Prime.]

It’s last call at Amazon Prime for the majority of movies in the Yash Raj Films catalog. 65 titles are set to expire from Prime on September 30, 2022.

This removal may be temporary, but there’s also a chance that the departures presage the launch of the independent streaming service YRF announced it was working on last year. The company already assigned a December 2 release date to its first streaming series The Railway Men, and the show needs a home, so the timing seems right. A handful of YRF films from 2016 — including Fan and Sultan — are currently unavailable for streaming anywhere, presumably waiting for the debut of the YRF Entertainment streaming service.

All eleven of the YRF movies released since August, 2017 will remain on Amazon Prime for the time being (check my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime for links). The company’s four most recent films — Bunty Aur Babli 2, Prithviraj, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, and Prithviraj — have their own separate streaming contract with Amazon Prime and will likely be last to leave the service.

Here are all the titles leaving Amazon Prime on September 30, 2022, organized first in descending order of my star-ranking, then alphabetically:

[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: Ek Villain Returns (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ek Villain Returns on Netflix

Eight years after its release, Ek Villain finally got a sequel. Ek Villain Returns is a marked improvement over the original.

The sequel begins with a shocking attack at a party. A man disguised with a smiley-face mask tosses revelers about the apartment in search of his target: an up-and-coming singer named Aarvi (Tara Sutaria). She records the moment he finally finds her on her phone, pleading with him by name: “Gautam.” But is that really who’s behind the mask?

Flashing back six months, we learn that Gautam (Arjun Kapoor) is the spoiled son of a wealthy man. Gautam wants to win at all costs, and he sees boosting Aarvi’s career as a way to do so. Their unscrupulous partnership leads to a romance that fractures when Gautam betrays Aarvi.

The last person to speak with Aarvi before the party attack is a driver for a ride share service named Bhairav (John Abraham). Bhairav — who is also a part-time zookeeper at a zoo that clearly lacks professional accreditation — is questioned by the police and released, but of course there’s more to his story.

Bhairav gets his own six-month flashback to him stalking a woman named Rasika (Disha Patani) who works in clothing store. She works on commission, so she’s happy enough to have a reliable customer, and they do form something of a friendship. Because he has no romantic or sexual experience, he thinks they’re in love.

Like its predecessor, Ek Villain Returns is about toxic masculinity. Whereas Ek Villain faltered by implying that there were things that women could have done to prevent being murdered by a misogynistic killer, Ek Villain Returns is clearer in affirming that women are autonomous beings who can make their own choices and need not be perfect. They also need not return the affection of any man who gives it to them, and that prioritizing men’s feelings over women’s is unfair and dangerous.

By establishing all of the characters as flawed, those who are capable of growing are given space to do so. Gautam and Aarvi are arrogant and unethical, but not beyond redemption. Rasika is a bit flippant, but she’s seen mostly through the lens of Bhairav’s perception of her — and it’s hard to trust that his perception of her is accurate, since he wants something from her. One of Bhairav’s problems is that he’s only interested in one side of a given story, and he assumes the worst of every woman he encounters.

Here’s the thing about Bhairav: if you’re going to have a character who can’t get a date despite having the face and body of John Abraham, he’s got to be much more socially awkward or creepy than the movie makes him out to be. (Also, there’s a nineteen-year age difference between Abraham and Patani. Ew.)

The issues with Bhairav are mostly a case of filmmaker Mohit Suri wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. He needs Bhairav to be a dangerous incel, but he wants steamy scenes between Abraham and Patani as well. We get the steamy scenes at the expense of Bhairav being as weird as he should’ve been.

That said, all of the actors understand what’s being asked of them and get the job done. Patani and Abraham are sexy. Kapoor and Sutaria have a more playful romance and share a great rapport. This is a couple I’d like to see paired up again in the future.

Overall, Ek Villain Returns knows what kind of movie it wants to be and gets things mostly right. And it represents a big step up from the film that spawned it.

Links

Movie Review: Cuttputlli (2022)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Cuttputlli on Hulu

Cuttputlli (“Puppet“) is a prime example of one of Bollywood’s biggest problems at present: taking films that were successful elsewhere and remaking them without improving the story or remediating problematic elements.

The remake of the 2018 Tamil thriller Ratsasan stars Akshay Kumar as Arjan, a wannabe filmmaker who is obsessed with serial killers. We are told that Arjan is 36, driving audience members to immediately Google how old Akshay Kumar is (he’s 54). Arjan can’t find any takers for his slasher screenplay, so he uses Compassionate Appointment rules to take over his deceased father’s job as a police officer (with proper training first).

Arjan’s fledgling movie career is hardly mentioned again, which is a missed opportunity. The whole point of introducing it is to establish Arjan as an amateur profiler, differentiating him from the members of the police force in the small town where Arjan is assigned to work, alongside his brother-in-law Narinder (Chandrachur Singh).

When a missing teenage girl’s mutilated body is discovered, Arjan quickly recognizes the similarities to another murder that occurred in a nearby town a month earlier. But police chief Gudia Parmar (Sargun Mehta) ignores Arjan’s suggestion because he’s a rookie. She defaults to her usual method of beating anyone who can be loosely connected to the victim until they confess, whether they’re guilty or not.

Arjan is upset by the chief’s preference of violence over investigation. This could have led to an interesting examination of the problems with contemporary policing and its unbalanced incentive structure, but Cuttputlli isn’t that kind of movie. It has a conventional plot whereby one good guy must catch one bad guy, giving no airtime to the structures and systems that make such crimes possible.

Take for example a subplot about one potential suspect. A high school math teacher is able to sexually abuse his female students by threatening to report their poor class performance to their parents. Arjan’s own niece Payal (Renaye Tejani)–who exists in this movie solely to be victimized repeatedly–says that her parents were once so angry when she brought home a bad report card that they broke a television set. The film treats the line about the broken TV as a throwaway, rather than proof that unrealistic parental expectations actually might contribute to an environment that allows the predatory teacher to thrive.

Arjun stops the teacher before he’s able to assault Payal, kicking the man in the junk so ferociously that it sends him to the hospital. Arjun has become the thing that once disgusted him — a violent cop — but his reaction is condoned because he’s the hero of the story, granting him the right to mete out extrajudicial punishment as needed.

Cuttputlli‘s approach to violence is troublesome. The first victim’s mutilated face is shown for shock value, but lingering on each successive dead girl’s scarred visage feels exploitative. The film also follows the discovery of the first victim with a wacky scene in which Arjan chats with a forgetful grandpa who is delighted to discover that his wife is dead. The juxtaposition is uncomfortable, and the joke isn’t even funny (plus grandpa is never mentioned again either).

The conclusion to Cuttputlli is ridiculous. There was no reason to keep it the same as filmmaker Ram Kumar’s original film, but director Ranjit Tewari and writer Aseem Arrora seem determined not to make any improvements in their reboot. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Links

Streaming Video News: September 6, 2022

I just updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the return of 28 titles from Red Chillies Entertainment. (Thanks to @CinemaRareIN on Twitter for posting the list!) A few of the returning titles expired as recently as September 1. Here’s a list of all of the Red Chillies movies that are available on Netflix once again:

Though the impending theatrical release of Brahmastra: Part One — Shiva is dominating headlines right now, it’s actually a pretty busy week on the streaming services. Here’s what’s debuting on Netflix and Amazon Prime in the next several days:

Streaming Video News: September 2, 2022

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s premiere of Season 2 of The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. Yesterday, Netflix added the 2022 Tamil film Katteri.

A bunch of Indian movies are set to leave Netflix on October 1. The films I’ve reviewed are at the top of the list below, followed by the rest of the expiring titles in alphabetical order:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Hulu with yesterday’s premiere of the Akshay Kumar crime flick Cuttputlli. My review is still in progress, but this is not a film to prioritize.

Vidyut Jammwal’s action sequel Khuda Haafiz 2: Agni Parkisha made its streaming debut on Zee5 yesterday.

Films Day 2022 at Netflix India

Netflix India released some updates today about their slate of Indian Original Films for the rest of 2022 and beyond. The announcement included a bunch of videos about upcoming projects, in addition to a video celebrating the success of Darlings. The biggest news to come out today is a September 30 release date for the romantic comedy Plan A Plan B, starring Riteish Deshmukh and Tamannaah Bhatia.

The sizzle reel below mentions all of the projects coming soon-ish to Netflix.

Monica, O My Darling and Jogi (which debuts September 16) didn’t get their own videos, but everything else did. Here they are, organized alphabetically by movie title, starting with The Archies:

Chakda ‘Xpress: Behind the Scenes

Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga: Behind the Scenes

Khufiya: First Look

Plan A Plan B: Official Teaser

Qala: Making of the song “Phero Na Najariya”

Movie Review: Darlings (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Darlings on Netflix

First-time producer Alia Bhatt stars in the dark comedy Darlings. Bhatt and the rest of the talented cast turn in sterling performances that outshine a script that derails its main character’s growth.

After three years of marriage to Hamza (Vijay Varma), Badru (Alia Bhatt) isn’t living the life she planned. She’d hoped to have a baby by now and maybe be looking for a nicer home. But Hamza turned out to be an abusive alcoholic — a well-known fact in the apartment colony where they live.

One of the neighbors in the know is Badru’s mother, Shamshu (Shefali Shah), who lives in an apartment across the courtyard from Badru. The older, wiser woman believes her daughter’s abusive marriage will only get worse, so she encourages Badru to just murder Hamza and be done with it.

Badru can’t accept that Hamza won’t change, despite his mistreatment of her and her mother. So often, women in abusive relationships are criticized for not leaving after the first instance of violence, but Badru shows why it’s not always so simple. She fervently wishes for her husband not to be the monster he’s become, and she doesn’t want to be wrong for having missed the warning signs.

The grace extended to Badru and women in similar situations is the most compelling aspect of Darlings. Bhatt does a wonderful job as Badru, and Shah and Varma are equally as good as the two people pulling Badru in opposite directions. Roshan Mathew is fun as the helpful jack-of-all-trades Zulfi. Rajesh Sharma is solid as the butcher Kasim, but it feels like much of his backstory didn’t make the final cut.

When Badru announces her pregnancy and Hamza swears off alcohol, she’s convinced that things will be better. But it’s not long before he gets violent again, and Badru pays a heavy price.

Badru has two choices if she hopes to survive: run and hide, or murder Hamza before he murders her. (Badru feels she can’t report Hamza to the police after she refused to press charges against him for earlier abuse allegations.) Hiding isn’t an option since Badru’s only family member lives in the building next door, so it looks like Shamshu was right all along.

Instead, Badru opts for a third course of action. She wants to turn the tables on Hamza — make him respect her and feel what it’s like to be the powerless one in the relationship. She drugs Hamza and ties him up.

While the intention may be to show Badru finally taking control, it’s a mirage and not real character development. The very idea that Badru still thinks that she can make Hamza respect her or that he won’t follow through on his threats to kill her make Badru seem more foolish than she is. All of the comic bits where the authorities almost discover a drugged-and-bound Hamza, or whereby he almost escapes, stem from Badru and Shamshu making careless mistakes.

While watching Darlings, I was repeatedly reminded of Delilah S. Dawson’s page-turner The Violence. The main character in that book knows that someday her abusive husband will kill her unless she can find a way to escape. And even if she does get out, she won’t be truly safe until he is dead. Badru never reaches that same realization about Hamza. Despite all the trauma he has done and intends to do to her, she seems to think it’s possible for them to just go their separate ways. That’ll he’ll allow her to exist without him.

Badru’s reluctance to see violence as an option for her robs her of agency. It makes her survival contingent upon the intervention of a deus ex machina, rather than the results of her own actions. Badru tells Shamshu that the reason she doesn’t want to murder Hamza is that she doesn’t want to be haunted by his ghost — but the alternative is be hunted by him in the flesh. Moral victories don’t mean much when you’re dead.

Links

New Netflix Feature: Browse by Languages

Netflix recently launched a “Browse by Languages” tool to help filter content within their massive catalog. This is actually a useful feature for every subscriber, but it’s especially important as Netflix tries to expand their subscriber base outside of majority-English-speaking countries. Let’s see what this new filtering and sorting tool can do!

At the time of this writing, this feature is only available while viewing Netflix in a web browser. On the Browse by Languages page, users are presented with three dropdown menus next to the phrase “Select Your Preferences.” The first dropdown menu allows users to choose between “Original Language,” “Dubbing,” and “Subtitles.”

Screenshot of the sorting options available with Netflix's Browse by Languages tool

The second menu allows users to choose from a list of dozens of languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu. Netflix offers movies in other Indian languages that aren’t included in the “Browse by” tool, so check my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to see what Indian and Pakistani films and shows Netflix offers in Assamese, Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, and Urdu.

The third “Sort by” menu allows users to organize results by “Suggestions for You,” “Year Released,” “A-Z,” and “Z-A.” The Netflix algorithm selects the display order when “Suggestions for You” is selected. Choosing “Year Released” displays content in reverse chronological order, starting with the newest releases.

Note that changing a selection in a menu resets the menus to its right to their default settings. If the left-most menu is set to “Original Language” and you choose “Dubbing,” it resets the “Language” and “Sort by” menus to their defaults of “English” and “Suggestions for You.” If you change the language, it resets “Sort by” to “Suggestions for You.”

There is no ability to filter the content to choose only movies or TV series, making this tool only so useful for languages with a large catalog presence like English or Hindi. (Although apparently a lot of users have been looking for a way to exclude non-English titles from their searches, according to What’s on Netflix.) What the tool is best for is showing a wider array of options than might be first apparent for languages with a smaller catalog footprint.

The tool is also good about accurately displaying titles under their “Original Language.” Netflix has a quirk whereby some Indian movies have dubbed versions that have to be selected from within the film’s audio options menu (like the Tamil movie Don), while other Indian movies get separate catalog ID numbers for every audio version of the film. The movie Kurup has five distinct catalog IDs: one for the original Malayalam, plus dubbed versions in Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu. Thankfully, the new “Browse by Languages” tool only displays Kurup when Malayalam is selected as the “Original Language.”

One exception is Baahubali, which appears under “Original Language” whether English, Hindi, Malayalam, or Tamil are selected. But Baahubali is the exception to many rules.

Overall, this tool is a really welcome addition to Netflix’s website. Anything that helps users find and organize content by their preferred language — and with the additional ability to display the most recently added content first — gives Netflix an advantage over competing streaming services.