Author Archives: Kathy

Movie Review: Arjun Patiala (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Arjun Patiala on Amazon Prime
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

In the course of spoofing Bollywood cop movies, Arjun Patiala takes a grim turn that it doesn’t reckon with, making it no fun to watch.

Arjun Patiala” is the title of a movie being narrated to a producer played by Pankaj Tripathi, whose only requirement is that sexy actress Sunny Leone be cast in the film. The director (Abhishek Banerjee, who was great in Stree) works Leone into his narration of his movie about an upright Punjabi policeman.

The director’s description is visualized onscreen as the movie within the movie begins. Arjun (Diljit Dosanjh) finally achieves his childhood dream of becoming a police chief. On his first day in command of Ferozpur station, he disciplines two young men for sexually harassing a woman and helps lovely beautician Baby (Leone) evict some tenants from her salon.

When he first speaks with Baby — and any other good-looking woman who needs his help — Arjun imagines holding a microphone and serenading her. The other men in the room can see it, but Baby can’t. It’s one of various visual gags that remind the audience that this is just a movie. There’s also on-screen text providing additional information about the characters, but it’s written in Hindi and not translated in the English subtitles.

Such sight gags keep the audience emotionally distant from the story — which is probably good, given what’s to come.

Arjun is tasked by his superior officer (played by Ronit Roy) with eradicating crime in the district. Arjun asks Ritu (Kriti Sanon) — a gorgeous local reporter he wants to marry — to explain to him and his sidekick Onida (Varun Sharma) exactly how the local crime syndicates are organized, since apparently the police don’t know.

To this point, Arjun Patiala is a good-natured spoof of cop flicks. It maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, but the plan Arjun concocts to clean up his district is disturbing and at odds with the tone. Arjun starts by having a low-ranking criminal named Sakool (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) shoot and kill one of the underworld bigwigs. This sparks a string of retaliatory murders until there are no criminals left to commit any crimes.

There’s nothing comical about the way the murders are carried out. One guy is stabbed with a fork, and another is poisoned. There are montages of mass killings by machine gun. Arjun and Onida sit next to one of Sakool’s victims as he breathes his last, waiting until the crook is dead to call the station — giving Sakool time to get away and making it seem as though the cops arrived too late to stop the murder.

This wanton slaughter is only acceptable if one believes the criminals are not really people, as Arjun and Onida clearly do. It’s a grotesque endorsement of unchecked police power, especially since the goal is not mass incarceration but extermination.

Ritu suspects that Arjun is behind the bloodshed and is bothered by it, but she’s conflicted by her love for him and doesn’t seriously pursue it. One would hope that she’d be more dogged–not just as a journalist, but also because she was orphaned as a result of gun violence. The movie doesn’t pause to consider that the dead criminals might have children, too. When the story tries to make the case that the politicians are the real villains, it just makes the extrajudicial killings feel all the more cruel.

The dark turn doesn’t work because the characters don’t seem to realize it’s happened. Arjun, Ritu, and Onida are all generally cheerful from start to finish, which feels weird as the body count rises. Dosanjh, Sanon, and Sharma all give likeable performances, so the tonal shift does a disservice to them, too.

With a smaller death toll or more appropriate tone changes, Arjun Patiala could’ve been a perfectly enjoyable comedy. As it is, there’s not enough quality to make up for its disagreeable aspects.



Bollywood Box Office: September 20-22, 2019

What an awful weekend for new Bollywood movies at the North American box office. During the weekend of September 20-22, 2019, the three new Hindi films earned a combined total of just $128,557. Yikes.

The biggest disappointment among the newcomers was The Zoya Factor, a romantic comedy featuring the first-time pairing of Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Dulquer Salmaan. From 100 North American theaters, it earned $78,569 ($786 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. The Zoya Factor joins Romeo Akbar Walter and India’s Most Wanted as the only Hindi films to open in 99 theaters or more that failed to earn at least $400,000 in their opening weekend here this year. The Zoya Factor‘s weekend was the worst of those three, in terms both gross and per-screen average.

This was a surprise to me because bad reviews — The Zoya Factor currently has a 40% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.2 rating at IMDb — from India don’t reach us here in North America until Friday morning, after many people have already purchased tickets for the weekend or made plans to do so. Even with Dream Girl and Chhichhore still going strong (more on them below), either people waited to hear word of mouth before committing to The Zoya Factor or weren’t interested in it in the first place. I’m gonna have to read some post-release analysis, ’cause I’m kind of shocked.

The weekend’s other two new releases struggled as well. Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas — the launch vehicle for Sunny Deol’s son Karan — earned $33,159 from 26 theaters ($1,275 average), a predictably modest debut from an unproven actor.

Sanjay Dutt’s political thriller Prassthanam was the big stinker of the lot, pulling in just $16,829 from 35 theaters ($481 average). That’s the third worst opening weekend per-screen average here this year and the fourth worst opening weekend total. Ack.

Meanwhile, Dream Girl raked in the dough in its second weekend in North American theaters, earning $480,775 from 109 theaters ($4,411 average) — a drop of just 33% from last weekend. Its total stands at $1,525,727 so far. With no new Hindi films releasing this upcoming weekend, Dream Girl looks poised to cross the $2 million mark sooner rather than later.

Chhichhore had a great third weekend, earning $204,391 from 98 theaters ($2,086 average), according to Box Office Mojo. That brings its total to $1,714,083.

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Section 375: Week 2; $6,238 from 11 theaters; $567 average; $85,295 total
  • Mission Mangal: Week 6; $3,926 from 13 theaters; $302 average; $3,657,808 total
  • Saaho: Week 4; $622 from four theaters; $156 average; $3,222,967 total

Sources: 143 Cinema, Bollywood Hungama, Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Total Dhamaal (2019)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

The good thing about watching Total Dhamaal on DVD is that my DVD player has a 1.5x speed option. Sitting through this at normal speed would be unbearable.

Total Dhamaal is a reboot of the Dhamaal franchise that began over a decade ago. It features some of the same actors but has nothing to do with the earlier movies. It’s an unofficial adaptation of the 1963 Hollywood comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Mad World henceforth), with disparate duos racing across the country in search of stolen loot.

The pilfered cash belongs to corrupt police commissioner Shamsher “Don” Singh (Boman Irani). Thieves Guddu (Ajay Devgn) and Johnny (Sanjay Mishra) brazenly steal Don’s money, only for their getaway driver Pintu (Manoj Pahwa) to run off with the suitcase full of cash himself.

After a series of interminable character introductions, Pintu is fatally injured in a plane crash in the middle of nowhere. He tells a bunch of motorists who come to check on him that he hid the money in a zoo hundreds of miles away. Those passersby include all the folks we met in the boring setup portion of the story: unhappily married couple Bindu (Madhuri Dixit Nene) and Avi (Anil Kapoor); good-for-nothing brothers Adi (Arshad Warsi) and Manav (Javed Jaffrey); and disgraced firefighters Lalaan (Riteish Deshmukh) and Jhingur (Pitobash Tripathy). Guddu and Johnny show up as well, but Pintu dies before confessing the exact location.

The duos hem and haw before agreeing that the first pair to find the money can keep it for themselves. Guddu and Johnny use trickery to get a head-start, but they run into Don and his sidekick Abbas (Vijay Patkar) along the way, who then join the pursuit as well.

There are some genuinely funny performances, which is not surprising given the caliber of the cast. Bindu’s withering stare when Avi’s “shortcut” gets them lost in a jungle is a highlight, as is the interplay between the crooked cops Don and Abbas. But director Indra Kumar’s poor storytelling gives his stars few opportunities to shine, weighing them down under a bloated plot and dull, repetitive jokes.

As obviously cribbed from Mad World as the film is, it’s baffling that Kumar and his writing team of Paritosh Painter, Ved Prakash, and Bunty Rathore didn’t use more of the original’s plot structure. In Mad World, the dying man’s revelation about the hidden money is the film’s opening scene, and the characters involved in the race are developed on the road. In Total Dhamaal, the deathbed confession doesn’t happen until forty minutes have elapsed, after all of the main players have been introduced in boring vignettes from their regular lives. These sequences are pointless because there is zero character development in Total Dhamaal, and it means that the road race only takes up about a third of the total runtime. The final third takes place at a zoo run by Prachi (Esha Gupta) that’s in danger of being demolished. The zoo’s monkey security guard is played by Hollywood monkey legend Crystal.

In order to pay his veteran cast, Kumar cut costs elsewhere. There is a remarkable amount of CGI used in the movie, even in the car chases. Almost all of Total Dhamaal was shot inside a studio, giving the movie a lifeless, artificial quality. While some footage of actual animals was used during the zoo sequences, for safety’s sake, there’s obviously a lot of compositing at work.

Total Dhamaal‘s great sin is that it isn’t funny. Jokes are extremely simplistic — often consisting of a man being kicked in the behind or almost hit in the crotch — but they are dragged out forever, as if it were possible for the audience to have missed something. The jokes also follow a formula: Character A notices danger over Character B’s shoulder and warns Character B three times before B finally turns and sees the trouble approaching. Then they both scream. This formula repeats multiple times, and it never gets any more clever. Scenes jump from one character duo to the next without any attempt at graceful transitions.

Sonakshi Sinha’s cameo in the song “Mungda” is the best part of Total Dhamaal, so I’ll just embed the song video below and save you the trouble of watching the movie.


Streaming Video News: September 19, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of new additions in recent days. The highest profile newcomer is the Amazon Original Hindi series The Family Man, starring Manoj Bajpayee as a spy struggling to balance his work and family life. Amazon is so confident of the series’ international breakout potential that they had the cast record an English dub of the dialogue as well. It’s also available in 4K Ultra HD in both Hindi and English. Other 2019 releases just added include:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of Kabir Singh. The 2016 horror film 1920 London is poised to expire on September 24.

Opening September 20: The Zoya Factor, Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, and Prassthanam

It’s a big weekend for Bollywood fans in Chicagoland. In addition to the annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival and four Hindi titles carrying over in theaters, three new Bollywood movies make their local debuts on September 20, 2019. The Sonam Kapoor Ahuja-Dulquer Salmaan romantic comedy The Zoya Factor gets the widest release of the three newcomers.

The Zoya Factor opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 14 min. The Zoya Factor is headed to Hotstar after its theatrical run, likely in November.

Another new romance opening this weekend is Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, directed by Sunny Deol and starring his son Karan in his big screen debut.

Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 34 min. It’s produced and distributed by Zee Studios, so expect it to head to Zee5 for streaming.

The final new release is the political drama Prassthanam, starring Sanjay Dutt and an impressive supporting cast that includes Ali Fazal, Manisha Koirala, Chunky Pandey, and Jackie Shroff.

Prassthanam opens Friday at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 20 min.

After a great opening weekend, Dream Girl gets a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

Section 375 also holds over for a second week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.

Chhichhore is still going strong heading into a third week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and Naperville 16.

Finally, Mission Mangal gets a sixth week at the AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

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

Bollywood Box Office: September 13-15, 2019

Dream Girl had a great opening weekend in North America, especially considering its modest theater count. From September 13-16, 2019, Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest comedy earned $717,458 from 116 theaters ($6,185 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. That average ranks fourth best for the year among opening weekend per-screen averages.

At the other end of the spectrum, Section 375 opened with less-than-stellar results. The courtroom drama took in $52,610 from 50 theaters ($1,052 average). That’s the ninth worst opening weekend per-screen average among the 38 Hindi films to release here this year.

Chhichhore had a terrific first-to-second weekend holdover of 73%, earning $449,240 from 195 theaters ($2,304 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total stands at $1,347,815.

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Mission Mangal: Week 5; $41,381 from 43 theaters; $962 average; $3,644,155 total
  • Saaho: Week 3; $31,534 from 45 theaters; $701 average; $3,215,975 total
  • Batla House: Week 5; $251 from one theater; $543,207 total

Sources: 143 Cinema, Bollywood Hungama, and Box Office Mojo

Streaming Video News: September 16, 2019

It’s last call for movies from the Yash Raj Films catalog at Amazon Prime. YRF is taking its library to Hotstar, and Prime has started posting expiration dates for the 60+ films on the way out. Most titles — including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge — will be gone in the next two weeks. The most recent releases will be the last to go, with no departure dates announced for films like Thugs of Hindostan and Sui Dhaaga: Made In India. I’ll update this post when their dates are announced. Here are the expiration dates we know so far:

September 25

September 27

September 29

September 30

I added eleven Indian titles to my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime over the weekend, including gems like Hisss and Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Telugu comedy Oh! Baby, a remake of the Korean film Miss Granny.

Streaming Video News: September 13, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with more than two dozen Indian films added in the last week, including the following 2019 releases:

In other big Amazon Prime news, looks like we have confirmation that the Yash Raj Films catalog really is leaving Prime, with a handful of movies departing in the next two weeks. Kabhi Kabhie, Salaam Namaste, and Vijay all expire on September 25, followed by Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year on September 27. I’ll post expiration dates as they appear. In the meantime, if you’d like to prioritize watching YRF movies on Prime before they migrate to their new home (probably Hotstar), here’s a Wikipedia list of YRF releases.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because a bunch of Indian movies are set to expire on September 15:

Kabir Singh comes to Netflix in India on September 19, but I haven’t seen confirmation of its US availability yet, so stay tuned. In other Netflix news, Karan Johar signed a multi-year contract to produce fiction and non-fiction content exclusively for the streaming service.

Opening September 13: Dream Girl and Section 375

Two new Hindi films hit Chicago area theaters September 13, 2019, including Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest comedy — Dream Girl.

Dream Girl 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 2 hrs. 17 min. Dream Girl‘s streaming partner is Zee5, which is not available in the United States, so catch it in the theater while you can.

Also new is the courtroom drama Section 375, named for the portion of the Indian Penal Code that governs rape. It stars Richa Chadda and Akshaye Khanna.

Section 375 opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 4 min. Section 375 is scheduled to join Amazon Prime in November.

Chhichhore carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, CMX Old Orchard Market in Skokie, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville.

Saaho holds over in Hindi at the Niles 12, South Barrington 24, and Cantera, and in Telugu at the South Barrington 24, Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.

Mission Mangal gets a fifth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

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

Movie Review: Notebook (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Notebook on Amazon Prime

A reluctant teacher at a remote schoolhouse finds a diary left by his predecessor, leading him to fall in love with the author and the profession of teaching in the charming drama Notebook.

Based on Thailand’s entry for Best Foreign Language film at the 2014 Oscars — The Teacher’s DiaryNotebook sets its story in Kashmir in 2008. Kabir (Zaheer Iqbal) is struggling to readjust to civilian life, following a stint in the army that ended when he inadvertently caused a child’s death. Haunted and directionless, he’s summoned to his ancestral home in Srinagar by his uncle. The elementary school Kabir’s deceased father founded is in danger of closing because it has no teacher, and Kabir agrees to fill in, despite his lack of experience.

The school is a collection of small buildings built on rafts, lashed together and floating on a wide lake. Though the school is six hours from the nearest town and only accessible by boat, it offers the only educational opportunity for children in the region. The gorgeous setting is an ideal place for introspection, but Kabir finds the practicalities hard to handle. There’s no cell network, running water, or electricity. A frog lives in the cistern.

Kabir’s students don’t make his job easy on him, disappointed as they are at the loss of their beloved teacher, Firdaus (Pranutan Bahl). After a disastrous first day, Kabir almost calls it quits, until he finds a diary Firdaus left behind. Her writings and drawings give Kabir insight into his students, and they lead him to fall in love with her — or at least with who he imagines her to be. Yet even as he immerses himself in the lives of his students, the camera often shoots Kabir through windows or reflected in mirrors, while flashbacks of Firdaus feature her fully in frame. The technique symbolizes Kabir’s yet unrealized sense of self and his still-developing connection to the school.

Notebook is whimsical in the best possible ways. There’s the novelty of a love story involving two people who’ve neither met nor seen each other. The school’s isolation forces both Firdaus and Kabir to embrace what’s truly important to them, and in doing so, steers them toward each other. Then there’s the school’s magical setting, floating on a lake covered in lily pads and surrounded by mountains. It’s straight out of a fairy tale.

Notebook released theatrically in the spring of 2019, several months before the Indian government cut off Kashmir’s cell network and internet access (which has been ongoing for over a month at the time of this writing). A boatman who ferries Kabir to the school explains that the unreliable cell phone network only works “when weather is good and peace prevails,” hinting at the region’s long-standing instability.

While the film isn’t political to the point of taking sides, it depicts the suffering of the people who live there. Every character in Notebook is traumatized by violence and death, including the children. Kabir’s undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder points to the fact that soldiers in the region are vulnerable to psychological damage as well. The constant military presence and threat of militant action creates an unhealthy situation for everyone living there.

Director Nitin Kakkar is the right person to tell this touching love story set in a fraught region, giving the main narrative its due while providing thoughtful context on its surroundings. Kakkar showed his capabilities with the 2012 comedy Filmistaan, in which a kidnapped Indian man doesn’t realize he’s been brought to Pakistan because of the strong similarities between both countries and their citizens. Notebook is just as sensitive in the way it stresses its characters’ shared humanity.

Iqbal and Bahl acquit themselves well in their film debuts, giving Kabir and Firdaus enough warmth to sustain Notebook‘s romantic feel, even though their characters spend little time together on-screen. They help to create a movie that is sweet yet substantial, and gorgeous to look at.