Category Archives: Articles

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.]

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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!

Bollywood Horror Movies at the North American Box Office

Bollywood horror movies are notorious duds at the North American box office. They open in a handful of theaters, make next to nothing, and disappear quickly. When Anushka Sharma announced that she would star in the horror film Pari — produced by her own company, Clean Slate Films — it raised the question of whether her presence as a marquee star could boost a genre movie’s ceiling internationally.

Horror films remain on the fringes of Bollywood. Most aren’t released in theaters internationally and are left to find their way into homes via DVD or streaming video. Still, when the Hindi film industry collectively decided (deliberately or not) in 2012 to increase the number of Bollywood movies released in North American theaters by a third — from 36 titles in 2011 to 48 in 2012, with an average of 50 Bollywood movies released here yearly since then — that left a lot of open slots to fill, leaving room for niche fare like horror flicks.

That’s not to say there was a Hindi horror boom in the United States and Canada. Most years only see one or two scary films released in theaters, plus a few titles that aren’t traditional horror fare like the horror comedy Go Goa Gone or the survival horror flick Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans.

Pari released in 45 theaters in North America: nine in Canada and 36 in the United States. That’s one more theater than carried NH10 — the maiden production from Sharma’s Clean Slate Films — back in 2015, but 42 fewer than the 87 that carried Clean Slate’s romantic comedy Phillauri last year (all numbers per Bollywood Hungama). Still, for a Hindi horror movie in North America, 45 theaters is about as big a theatrical footprint as you’ll find.

For the purposes of comparing to Pari, let’s look at other supernatural horror movies (which make up the bulk of Bollywood horror flicks). Here’s how such films have fared in North America over the years, in terms of: number of theaters they opened in; how much they earned total in their opening weekend; the average amount earned per theater in that opening weekend; and their final earnings total.

2012
Raaz 3: 28 theaters; $95,301; $3,404 average; $150,716 total
Bhoot Returns: 15 theaters; $3,478; $232 average; $3,478 total

2013
Ek Thi Daayan: 48 theaters; $65,857; $1,372 average; $112,135 total

2014
Ragini MMS 2: 20 theaters; $16,317; $815 average; $16,317 total

2016
1920 London: 38 theaters; $16,204; $426 average; $24,854 total

2017
Dobaara: See Your Evil: 30 theaters; $7,110; $237 average; $11,002 total

2018
1921: 10 theaters; $4,583; $458 average; $7,850 total

Pari opened with earnings of $118,906 — better than the final totals of all but one film in the list above (Raaz 3). Pari‘s $2,642 per-theater average was less than Raaz 3‘s $3,404 average, which only proves that Raaz 3 deserved a higher theater count than it got.

Where Pari really differentiated itself was in its second weekend performance. It held onto 54% of its opening weekend business ($64,247), which was leaps and bounds ahead of Raaz 3‘s 27% retention rate and Ek Thi Daayan‘s 21% carry over. By the end of its third weekend, Pari had earned $320,641 — more than double the next highest total on the list above.

The major takeaway from these numbers is that Hindi films in niche genres are more heavily dependent upon star power than those in more popular genres like romantic comedy or drama. The numbers also demonstrate which stars are able to draw North American Bollywood fans to the theater on their name alone. Sharma is obvious, as further bolstered by the box office success of her other home productions: NH10 ($319,872 total) and Phillauri ($471,522 total). Raaz 3 and Ek Thi Daayan star Emraan Hashmi is another clear box office draw, although his popular co-stars — Bipasha Bashu in Raaz 3 and the trio of Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin, and Huma Qureshi in Ek Thi Daayan — certainly helped. Both movies took in more than $100,000 here.

Yet no other recent Hindi horror film released theatrically in North America managed to earn even $25,000. Qureshi couldn’t do it opposite her real-life sibling, Saqib Saleem, in Dobaara. Despite their own name recognition and the fact that their movies were sequels, Sunny Leone and Sharman Joshi fell short with Ragini MMS 2 and 1920 London, respectively. With such dependence on the caliber of the cast, one wonders if Bollywood horror films without top-tier stars wouldn’t fare better by releasing straight to streaming services here in North America and skipping theaters entirely.

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2017

As I mentioned in my Best Bollywood Movies of 2017 post, I liked many more 2017 releases than I disliked. That means that fewer of the movies on this year’s “Worst of” list are ones that I absolutely couldn’t stand, compared to previous years.

Take, for example, Noor, Naam Shabana, and Running Shaadi. I gave all of them 2-Star ratings, which means I only sort of didn’t like them. I just happened to like these three the least of all the movies I also rated 2 Stars. However, the seven other titles on the list did more than enough to earn their spots.

Several films had problems with the way they depicted their female characters, particularly in the way male characters controlled women’s bodies. Kriti Sanon’s character in Raabta was treated like an object, pushed and pulled at will by the men in her life. The title character in Badrinath Ki Dulhania tossed his girlfriend in the trunk of his car before choking her. Arjun Kapoor’s character in Half Girlfriend literally wouldn’t let go of Shraddha Kapoor’s character when she tried to get away from him.

Kaabil was the most egregiously sexist movie of this bunch, creating a capable, independent female lead — played by Yami Gautam — for the sole purpose of raping and killing her as motivation for Hrithik Roshan’s character to seek revenge. It’s a classic example of the “Women in Refrigerators” trope.

Other movies on the “Worst of” list were just poorly made. Like its 2013 predecessor, Fukrey, the comedy Fukrey Returns simply wasn’t funny. Baadshaho forgot what story it was telling along the way, resulting in an abrupt ending that leaves every important question unanswered.

My pick for the Worst Bollywood Movie of 2017 was the biggest offender in terms of bad filmmaking: Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. The unfocused story tried to address every important contemporary social issue, reaching its ridiculous apex when Manjari Fadnis’ feminist activist journalist character is randomly tasked with coordinating refugee medical care in a Middle Eastern war zone. The film’s third act is supposed to take place in Manhattan but was clearly filmed in Maryland (part of it was shot in Top Chef season 6 runner-up Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant in Frederick). There’s unintentionally hilarious dialog, as when Fadnis’ character responds to a heckler’s “Nice ass, honey,” with “Yes, we have a nice ass, and we are proud of it.

The pièce de résistance is a song number that features Manjari Fadnis dancing in outer space:

I fear that Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai will go the way of goofy 2014 Worst Movie runner-up Karle Pyaar Karle and disappear, never to be seen again either on DVD or streaming. It’s kind of a shame, since Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai is so damned wacky, one almost has to see it to believe it. Almost.

Check my Netflix and Amazon Prime pages to see which of these movies are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Ten Worst Bollywood Movies of 2017

  1. Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai
  2. Kaabil
  3. Half Girlfriend
  4. Baadshaho — Buy at Amazon
  5. Badrinath Ki Dulhania — Buy at Amazon
  6. Fukrey Returns
  7. Raabta — Buy at Amazon
  8. Running Shaadi — Buy at Amazon
  9. Naam Shabana — Buy at Amazon
  10. Noor — Buy at Amazon

Previous Worst Movies Lists

Split Screen Podcast, Episode 33: The Long Awaited ‘Padmaavat’ Movie Review

My friend Shah Shahid graciously invited me back to the Split Screen Podcast to review Padmaavat, deviating from our usual remake comparison format to tackle this controversial new film. In Episode 33, we don’t discuss the protests leading up to the film’s release but focus instead on the good, the bad, and the problematic elements of the movie itself. Shah makes some great points about the way directors lead audiences toward certain emotional reactions, and we debate whether or not that was properly executed in Padmaavat.

You can subscribe to the Split Screen Podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to Episode 33 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: