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Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

While my Best Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is dominated by action flicks, my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019 list is mostly made up of comedies that aren’t funny.

The first of those is Khandaani Shafakhana, starring Sonakshi Sinha as a sex clinic operator. It has some nice moments but is undone by a sequence in which a character played by Varun Sharma repeatedly uses homophobic slurs in a failed attempt at humor.

Diljit Dosanjh’s cop spoof Arjun Patiala also has potential until it takes a dark turn — only none of the characters seem to realize it and keep acting as if it’s still a lighthearted romp. Kriti Sanon plays a reporter reluctant to investigate a string of murders she suspects were orchestrated by her police officer boyfriend (Dosanjh). It’s hard to make such a premise funny.

Sanon plays a reporter again in the romantic comedy Luka Chuppi, in which she and a colleague played by Kartik Aaryan clumsily try to hide their live-in relationship. The subject matter gives it a veneer of progressiveness, but it’s cut from the same conservative, chauvinistic cloth as umpteen other Bollywood romcoms.

The biggest disappointment among the unfunny comedies is the road trip heist flick Total Dhamaal. With an ensemble cast that includes Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ajay Devgn, and Sanjay Mishra, you’d expect laughs from start to finish. But writer-director Indra Kumar’s disorganized reboot of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is boring, with repetitive, stale gags.

The top spot on this year’s Worst Bollywood Movies list is not a comedy but a very problematic drama. Kabir Singh — a remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy — is either remarkably oblivious to its main character’s sociopathic tendencies, or it thinks his actions are okay. The hero assaults and threatens women with violence repeatedly throughout the movie, including an attempt to rape a woman at knife-point in the first ten minutes. You can’t make a hero like that sympathetic, especially when he doesn’t feel remorse for what he’s done.

One of the troubling sentiments I’ve seen online is the belief that the Kabir Singh‘s box office success validates the film’s moral viewpoint. There are plenty of movies throughout history that were hits when they released that contemporary audiences would find abhorrent. Kabir Singh will be one of those movies someday — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Kabir Singh — Stream on Netflix
  2. Total Dhamaal — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar
  3. Luka Chuppi — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  4. Arjun Patiala — Stream on Prime
  5. Khandaani Shafakhana — Stream on Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

[Disclaimer: my Amazon and iTunes links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

It’s time for my annual roundup of the year’s best Hindi films. I need to start with a caveat, in anticipation of any comments asking why certain movies didn’t make my list. Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law died in 2019, and I missed seeing a bunch of movies, especially those released in the first half of the year. I’m particularly disappointed to have missed Sonchiriya, since I’ve read many good things about it. It only ran in North American theaters for two weeks in March before heading to the streaming service Zee5 — which isn’t available in the United States. It’s not available for digital purchase or on DVD here either, so there’s no legal way for me to catch up on it. I’m sure there are other 2019 releases that I would have enjoyed that I also missed out on.

That said, 2019 was a fantastic year for action movie buffs like me, so let’s get to it!

What better place to start than with my favorite martial artist Vidyut Jammwal’s family-friendly eco-thriller Junglee. This is a rare Hindi film directed by an American: Chuck Russell, best known for the Jim Carrey hit, The Mask. While most Indian productions lean heavily on computer-generated effects to create animals on-screen, Russell had Jammwal and the rest of the cast interact with live elephants. It adds an element of awe that reinforces the story’s messages of conservation and respect for nature. And Jammwal’s excellent stunts are always a ton of fun.

India’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards — Gully Boy — certainly deserved the honor, even if it failed to make the shortlist for the Oscars (not that any film can beat Parasite). Director Zoya Akhtar’s story of a young Muslim man voicing his generation’s frustrations through the medium of rap is timely and relevant, but also a great example of character creation and world-building.

Another of the action flicks on this year’s list is the thrill ride War. With world-class stunts and fight choreography — and a totally unexpected romantic undercurrent between characters played by Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff — War is a Bollywood action flick you could easily share with your non-Bollywood watching friends.

Speaking of Bollywood films for non-Bollywood watchers, the best of the year in that regard was the thriller Article 15. I recommended it to several acquaintances outside my Hindi-film circle, and all of them went to the theater to see it and really enjoyed it. Some readers have asked me if Bollywood movies can ever find crossover success in America, and to that end, Article 15 shows the value of having an English title and a plot that’s easy to describe. Oh, and it has to be a darned good movie as well, which Article 15 definitely is.

Given the theme of this year’s list, it’s no surprise that my favorite Hindi movie of 2019 is yet another action film, albeit an unconventional one. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain“) — which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 but didn’t play in Indian theaters until March, 2019, followed by a May Netflix release in the United States — features a hero raised on a diet of old martial arts movies who doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism. He believes that the good guys really can beat the bad guys. It’s a fun, goofy movie with a ton of heart, lots of flying kicks, and wonderful performances by newcomer Abhimanyu Dassani, Pataakha‘s Radhika Madan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Jimit Trivedi, and Gulshan Devaiah in my favorite double role of all time. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota makes me incredibly happy.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2019

  1. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes/stream on Netflix
  2. Article 15 — Stream on Netflix
  3. War — Buy at Amazon/stream on Prime
  4. Gully Boy — Stream on Prime
  5. Junglee — Buy at Amazon/stream on Hotstar

Previous Best Movies Lists

[Disclaimer: my Amazon and iTunes links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Manikarnika vs. The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

2019 has seen two theatrical releases about legendary revolutionary Rani Lakshmibai hit North American theaters: Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi and the international production The Warrior Queen of Jhansi. Warrior Queen completed its principal photography almost a year before Manikarnika, yet even with extensive re-shoots, Manikarnika debuted nearly nine months ahead of Warrior Queen. How do these two different versions of the same story compare?

Manikarnika is truly an epic. Its battles are large in scale, with lots of extras and horses and smoky battlefields. Ranaut gets a number of slow-motion shots as Manikarnika rallies her troops and dodges her enemies’ swords. Warrior Queen‘s battles are by contrast drab and sparsely populated, opting for realism over awe-inspiring visuals. The film highlights just how beaten down the British troops and Indian revolutionaries are from years of fighting, so nothing moves especially quickly. It’s an effective choice given what the story wants to emphasize.

The looks of the films are governed by their differing agendas and target audiences. Manikarnika‘s protagonist is depicted as an Indian national hero and martyr. Her glorious battles and fiery rhetoric are meant to stoke the fires of patriotism. With an A-list actress like Ranaut in the lead role and notable supporting actors from various industries, Manikarnika aims to appeal to a wide swath of Indian film fans.

Warrior Queen takes a more global approach. The biggest names in the film are British screen veterans Derek Jacobi, Rupert Everett, and Nathanial Parker, with comparatively unknown Indian-American actress Devika Bhise (who co-wrote the screenplay with her producer-director mother, Swati) in the title role. The story paints Lakshmibai as a progressive feminist pioneer who refused to accept the social limitations of caste and gender while fighting capitalist aggression.

Despite aiming for a wider, less diaspora-dependent audience, Warrior Queen fared much worse than Manikarnika in its opening weekend in North American theaters. Warrior Queen opened in 276 theaters on November 15 and earned $112,208, for an average of $406 per theater. Manikarnika released into just 152 theaters on January 25 but earned $571,130, or $3,757 per theater.

It’s safe to say that The Warrior Queen of Jhansi had quite a bit working against it, coming out less than a year after a big budget Bollywood version of the same story which is currently available for at-home viewing on Amazon Prime. On top of that, the title may not have drawn in the Victoria & Abdul crowd (i.e. white seniors who enjoy British costume dramas) as easily as if it had been called something more generic — maybe “India’s Warrior Queen” or something like that. Would Warrior Queen have fared better with an earlier release date or slightly different title? Maybe. I found both films to be similarly enjoyable given their differing styles and objectives.

The Trouble with Waiting for Streaming

One of life’s most complicated contemporary problems: should I watch this movie in the theater, or should I wait for streaming? It’s a question we ask ourselves every Friday while browsing Fandango. There are special complications for Bollywood fans (and Indian film fans more generally) in the United States. Hindi films play in fewer theaters and for a shorter period of time than big Hollywood releases, adding a sense of urgency. Yet the proliferation of streaming services that host Indian content has led many of us to assume — myself included — that we can always catch any movies we miss when they come out on streaming.

The India-based website Bollywood Buff keeps track of Hindi releases on four major streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and Zee5. A scan through Bollywood Buff’s invaluable digital rights list gives an idea of what’s coming to each service in the next few months (click the above link for exact release dates, where available):

  • Netflix: Game Over, Article 15, Kabir Singh, Saaho
  • Amazon Prime: SotY 2, Arjun Patiala, Khandaani Shafakhana, Balta House, Section 375, War
  • Hotstar: Super 30, Mission Mangal, Chhichhore
  • Zee5: Malaal, Judgementall Hai Kya, Jabariya Jodi, Dream Girl

Defaulting to the “I’ll wait for streaming” option can be dangerous because it assumes you have all four streaming services. One problem: Zee5 isn’t available in the US, due to a non-compete clause with Dish Network. If, like me, you missed Judgementall Hai Kya in the theater, well… tough tacos — unless I want to eventually buy it on DVD (or request that my public library do so).

Then there’s the question of just how much consumers are willing to spend to have access to content on multiple streaming services. My monthly costs for Netflix and Prime are already nearly $30, and Hotstar would add another $10. Add to that other services like Hulu or CBS All Access that don’t carry Indian content — or any of the forthcoming services like Disney+, HBO Max, and Apple TV+ — and costs can quickly spiral out of control. Having access to more content doesn’t increase the amount of time I have available to watch it.

Going forward, I’m going to mention which service owns the digital rights to new releases in my Weekly Theater Updates whenever possible. Those posts focus on Chicago area theaters, but the streaming video information should be helpful to readers across the US (and often Canada as well). As I’ve become more selective about what movies I see in the theater, I’m going to judge each film on a case by case basis. Truth is, if it’s a movie I really, really want to see, I’ll probably find a way to watch it in the theater rather than risk missing out. [Case in point: Junglee.]

2018 Access Bollywood Wrap-Up

With my Best Movies and Worst Movies lists posted, it’s time to bid farewell to 2018 (at least until I do one final box office post for the year). It was a phenomenal year for Access Bollywood! We celebrated the site’s 10th anniversary on September 13, an accomplishment I can still hardly believe. This was also Access Bollywood’s best year in terms of viewership, by far. We closed out 2018 with an astonishing 1,787,087 pageviews! That’s up from 1,057,489 views in 2017. Just looking at those numbers renders me speechless.

In case you’re curious, Access Bollywood’s most-viewed movie review of 2018 was…1971’s Anand? The internet is a mysterious place.

I am grateful to everyone who visited Access Bollywood in 2018. Special thanks to the generous folks who donated via PayPal, and to those who purchased something via one of my Amazon links or signed up for a free Prime trial, since I receive a small commission from Amazon whenever you do. You all help keep the lights on here at Access Bollywood HQ.

Have a wonderful 2019, everyone! — Kathy

Kathy’s 2018 Bollywood Movie Rankings

Note: I didn’t get to review Tumbbad until after I’d finished this list. I’d rank it 2nd for the year.

  1. Andhadhun — 4 Stars
  2. Raazi — 3.5 Stars
  3. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero — 3.5 Stars
  4. Veere Di Wedding — 3.5 Stars
  5. Stree — 3.5 Stars
  6. Beyond the Clouds — 3 Stars
  7. Karwaan — 3 Stars
  8. Welcome to New York — 3 Stars
  9. Pataakha — 3 Stars
  10. Kedarnath — 3 Stars
  11. Hichki — 3 Stars
  12. 102 Not Out — 3 Stars
  13. Pari — 2.5 Stars
  14. Love Per Square Foot — 2.5 Stars
  15. Once Again — 2.5 Stars
  16. Manmarziyaan — 2.5 Stars
  17. Thugs of Hindostan — 2 Stars
  18. Padmaavat — 2 Stars
  19. Vodka Diaries — 2 Stars
  20. Gold — 2 Stars
  21. Fanney Khan — 1.5 Stars
  22. Aiyaary — 1.5 Stars
  23. Race 3 — 1.5 Stars
  24. October — 1 Star
  25. Zero — 0.5 Stars

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2018

As with my Best Bollywood Movies post, I’m only including five titles in my Worst Bollywood Movies list for 2018. There simply weren’t enough Hindi films terrible enough to warrant such a dubious distinction. But believe me, those that did make the list earned their spots.

In fifth place is Fanney Khan, a dull but mostly harmless family film, except for one very troublesome subplot. The parents of aspiring teenage singer Lata (Pihu Sand) fret that their daughter will be pressured to trade sex for stardom. Yet her father Fanney (Anil Kapoor) has no problem trading another woman’s body in exchange for Lata’s success, kidnapping Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s pop star character to do so. That sound you hear is me smacking myself in the forehead.

Aiyaary makes the list due to its muddled writing. Filmmaker Neeraj Pandey belabors obvious points while glossing over complicated conspiracies in this bland, slow spy thriller, starring Sidharth Malhotra and Manoj Bajpayee.

Race 3 is another bloated narrative mess. I’m a fan of director Remo D’Souza’s movies ABCD and A Flying Jatt, but this franchise outing proves how hard it can be to include a superstar actor in an ensemble picture, while still allotting said superstar a disproportionately large portion of screentime. It also proves that Salman Khan’s star power doesn’t guarantee a movie’s box office success (more on that to come).

The two worst Hindi films of 2018 are bad for many of the same reasons. Both bungle their handling of traumatic injury and disability. Both feature loathsome male protagonists who depend on the suffering of women in order to grow emotionally — only the protagonists don’t actually undergo any emotional growth.

That’s how October wound up in second place for the year. Varun Dhawan plays the awful male lead in question. His character is obsessed with a comatose co-worker because he thinks she may have harbored feelings for him before the accident that injured her. The premise is plain gross, made all the worse by Varun’s character inserting himself into the finer details of her medical care (he LOVES checking her catheter bag). Even after the co-worker regains consciousness, her brain and body are so damaged that she can’t tell him to leave her alone if she wishes him to do so, let alone physically push him away. He takes advantage of her vulnerability, and he ends the movie no more morally improved than he was at the beginning.

As demoralizing as October is, first place goes to a movie that failed on a grander scale. Zero is my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2018. Granted, Shah Rukh Khan’s film wasn’t the biggest box office flop by one of the Three Khans for the year (in North America, that honor belongs to Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan). But Zero was easily the most offensive of the year’s disappointing films. Khan plays Bauua, a man with dwarfism —  his diminutive stature achieved using CGI and camera techniques — who falls in love with Aafia (Anushka Sharma), a woman with cerebral palsy. Writer Wendy Lu posted a piece on Huffington Post just yesterday explaining the problems with able-bodied actors playing disabled characters in Hollywood, and the same problems apply to the two lead actors in Zero. This is a movie that should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Yet Zero went ahead, and the resultant movie is even worse than feared. Not only is the movie out-of-step in the way it treats disability, it’s also sexist. Bauua thinks Aafia is his equal since they’re the same height when she’s in her wheelchair — never mind that she’s a rocket scientist and he’s an almost-40 high school dropout who’s never held a job. The rest of the story is utterly ridiculous. The only person who emerges from Zero with an unblemished reputation is Katrina Kaif, whose excellent performance stands to be overlooked, as everyone else tries to pretend that Zero never happened.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2018

  1. Zero
  2. October — Buy at Amazon/watch on Prime
  3. Race 3 — watch on Prime
  4. Aiyaary — Buy at Amazon
  5. Fanney Khan — watch on Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

Best Bollywood Movies of 2018

In 2018, it feels like most of the Hindi films I reviewed fell into the “okay” category — not horrible but not necessarily outstanding either. Only five movies merited a star-rating of 3.5 or higher, and just five earned a star-rating of 1.5 or lower. (Obligatory critic’s disclaimer that star-ratings are convenient shorthand lacking context, so please read the reviews!) As a result, I’m only doing a Top 5 and Bottom 5 for 2018.

That said, I think the movies at the top of the list are fantastic for different reasons, and I’d love to revisit all of them someday. Let’s see what made the list!

[Note: I didn’t get to review Tumbbad until after I’d written this post. I’d rank it in second place for the year.]

One of the year’s most delightful surprises was the horror comedy Stree. I wasn’t even sure it was going to open in the United States, given that movies starring Stree‘s lead pair — Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor — aren’t locks for international release. Thank goodness it did, because Stree was a ton of fun, weaving hilarious moments with a progressive message discouraging male objectification of women.

While Stree was about how men view women, Veere Di Wedding was as woman-centric as can be. The female buddy comedy gave wider latitude to its characters than most women are allowed onscreen in Bollywood, and it did so while being positive and uplifting. I have a soft spot for movies about nice people behaving nicely, and Veere Di Wedding was just that.

A buddy film of a different sort, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero follows a trio of vigilantes and what happens when two of them abandon their revolutionary ideals in exchange for middle-class comfort. It’s a timely story of the importance of organized resistance and a rejection of complacency among financially secure citizens, in India and abroad.

In the runner-up spot for 2018 is the top-notch spy thriller Raazi, about a young woman forced to leave her homeland in order to save it. Raazi was another win for women in Hindi cinema–not just because of Alia Bhatt’s riveting performance in the lead role, but because of the two talented women behind the camera: screenwriter Bhavani Iyer and writer-director Meghna Gulzar.

Another thriller was my favorite Bollywood movie of 2018, and the only one to which I awarded 4 stars: director Sriram Raghavan’s fiendishly clever Andhadhun. Ayushmann Khurrana’s first $1 million movie of the year featured him as a blind pianist drawn into danger by a calculating trophy wife, played by a devilish Tabu. Radhika Apte plays Khurrana’s love interest, adding to the talent level of a cast directed by a filmmaker who’s cemented his position as Bollywood’s neo-noir master. Andhadhun is currently on Netflix in the United States, which is great for first-time watchers and those of us who can’t wait to watch it again.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2018

  1. Andhadhun — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  2. Raazi — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes/stream on Prime
  3. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  4. Veere Di Wedding
  5. Stree

Previous Best Movies Lists

Access Bollywood’s 10th Anniversary

Access Bollywood turns ten today! I can hardly believe it. The site’s come a long way since I posted my first review on September 13, 2008 — Salman Khan’s God Tussi Great Ho.

I’m blown away by how much the site has grown over the years. In its first full year of operation (2009), the site was viewed 3,719 times. Fast forward to 2017, we finally hit the milestone of 1 million views in a year, ending the year with 1,057,499 hits. I’m proud to say that we surpassed last year’s view total on September 1, with over 1.1 million hits so far in 2018. We had our busiest day ever on September 8 — with 8,749 views in a single day!

Access Bollywood originated offline as a newspaper column in 2007. I spotted the Naperville Sun’s movie critic at the time, Josh Larsen, at an event and pitched him an idea: “No Chicago newspapers review Hindi movies. Can I do it?” Josh and his editor, Wendy Fox Weber, kindly agreed, and Access Bollywood was born (Josh came up with the name). I took my reviews online before the column wrapped in late 2008, and the rest is history.

The site has been a great vehicle to share my enthusiasm for Hindi films and hopefully help longtime fans and newcomers find movies they’d be interested in, whether in theaters or on streaming. It’s also connected me with so many lovely people who share my interests, many of whom have become good friends — be they across the world like Parth and Keyur in India and Sammy in New Zealand, or close to home like Melanie, who lives a few miles away.

One of the greatest gifts the site has given me is my friendship with Shah Shahid. What began with us trading comments on each other’s websites developed into the Split Screen Podcast, where Shah allows me to vent about things I don’t like, including the girl in Rocky Handsome and the kid in Little Boy. More importantly, Shah’s been a kind, funny, and wonderful friend, and I’m lucky to know him.

The unsung hero behind Access Bollywood is my husband, Greg. He pitches in as the site’s editor, graphic designer, tech expert, and occasional photographer. More importantly, he’s the one with a job that has health insurance and a steady paycheck, stuff that makes my life possible. He’s the best husband anyone could ask for.

Thank you very much to everyone over the years who has contributed money to Access Bollywood via PayPal. As opposed to ad revenue and affiliate links, it’s a direct source of income for me, so every contribution is greatly appreciated.

And thanks to all of you who’ve visited the site over the years, whether you’ve left a comment, tweeted to me, or even if you’ve just dropped in to see what’s new on the Netflix list. We’re exploring new ideas for the site, including the possibility of page sponsorships in place of ads, so stay tuned.

Yours,
Kathy Gibson

 

Split Screen Podcast, Episode 44: The Salman Khan Remake of ‘Little Boy’

Shah Shahid and I are kind of obsessed with Tubelight, the Bollywood remake of Little Boy. It’s probably because writer-director Kabir Khan cast Salman Khan in a role originally played by an 8-year-old. First Shah and I compared the trailers of both movies, and now we review the films themselves in Episode 44 of the Split Screen Podcast. Here’s a teaser: we sorta like Tubelight. Also, I call a child an “asshole” in the episode.

You can subscribe to the Split Screen Podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to Episode 44 in your browser on this page at Audioboom. Find links to other podcast episodes and Shah’s reviews at his website, Blank Page Beatdown. I’m a guest on the following episodes of the Split Screen Podcast:

Taking a Break

Hi, everyone! This is Kathy Gibson, owner and writer here at Access Bollywood. I just wanted to share that I’m going to take a break for a couple of weeks. I realized that I haven’t taken even a week off from this site in years, and I need to recharge.

I’ll return briefly on April 1st (or 2nd, because of the Easter holiday) to update my pages with all the new additions to Netflix and Amazon Prime. But I won’t be posting any reviews, box office analyses, or theater updates until I’m fully back. In the meantime, you can check my list of upcoming releases to see which Hindi movies are likely to open in theaters in the United States in the next few weeks.

Thanks to all the loyal Access Bollywood readers, and to those new to the site thanks to this article about non-Desi Bollywood reviewers that ran in The Hindu on March 25 (featuring a big ole photo of your truly!).

All the best,
Kathy

P.S. One last note — Padmaavat is on Amazon Prime!