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Chicago South Asian Film Festival 2017 Highlights

The 2017 Chicago South Asian Film Festival recently announced its lineup. This year’s event — which runs from September 28 through October 1 — includes a number of intriguing celebrity appearances. Here are some of the notable screenings and question and answer sessions:

  • September 28, 7 p.m.: Signature Move (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 29, 8:30 p.m.: Newton (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • September 30, 2 p.m.: Sonata (Q & A with Shabana Azmi)
  • September 30, 7 p.m.: You Are My Sunday (Q & A with Shahana Goswami)
  • October 1, 5:30 p.m.: Trapped (Q & A with Rajkummar Rao)
  • October 1, 8:15 p.m: Gurgaon (Q & A with Akshay Oberoi)

Festival passes are already on sale. Tickets for individual screenings go on sale September 4.

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Guest Appearance on Bollywood Is For Lovers Podcast

Erin Fraser and Matt Bowes of Bollywood Is For Lovers graciously invited me to appear on a recent episode their podcast (after getting Shah Shahid of the Split Screen Podcast to waive my non-compete clause). They even let me pick the movies to discuss! Despite their having already covered a bunch of my favorite topics on previous episodes — Bipasha Basu horror movies, Jism 2, and a Randeep Hooda special with Shah — I was able to find a sub-genre Erin and Matt hadn’t yet discussed: Bollywood martial arts movies!

The two movies featured in the episode are the underrated Commando: A One Man Army and the ridiculous Baaghi. The films star two very different leading men: lifetime martial arts devotee Vidyut Jammwal and Bollywood scion Tiger Shroff. (I was excited to learn that Erin is also a huge fan of Tiger’s A Flying Jatt!) Commando and Baaghi both spawned sequels, so check them out — then listen to the podcast!

Thanks again, Erin and Matt!

Split Screen Podcast, Episode 30: The Tubelight Trailer vs. The Little Boy Trailer

In a first for the Split Screen Podcast, Shah Shahid and I spent an entire episode comparing two movie trailers! That’s because the trailer for Salman Khan’s upcoming flick Tubelight is almost beat-for-beat the same as the trailer for the movie on which it’s based: Little Boy. Check out the two trailers at the bottom of this post for yourself, then listen to the podcast to hear our thoughts.

You can subscribe to the Split Screen Podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to Episode 30 in your browser on this page at Shah’s website, Blank Page Beatdown. Every episode of the Split Screen Podcast can be found here. I’m featured in the following episodes:

Split Screen Podcast, Episode 28: The “Dulhania” Franchise

At long last, Shah Shahid and I reunite for another episode of the Split Screen Podcast, this time comparing the films Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Badrinath Ki Dulhania. We were inspired to tackle the “Dulhania” franchise in Episode 28 because of how wildly the two films differ in their representations of gender equality in romantic relationships. In short, everything great about the main characters and their relationship in Humpty goes straight down the crapper in Badrinath. Shah and I also discuss what differentiates Bollywood franchises from true sequels.

You can subscribe to the Split Screen Podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to Episode 28 in your browser on this page at Shah’s website, Blank Page Beatdown. Every episode of the Split Screen Podcast can be found here, including Shah’s take on the recent Hollywood reboot of Power Rangers. I’m featured in the following episodes:

Recap: First Ten Reviews of 2017

Having published ten reviews of Bollywood movies that released in Chicago area theaters so far this year, I wondered: how many of the movies released early in a calendar year tend to wind up on my Best Bollywood Movies list at the end of that year? How many wind up on my Worst Bollywood Movies list for the year?

I looked back at my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists for the last five years to see just how many of the finalists in my top ten and bottom ten were among the first ten theatrical releases of each year. Here are the names of those films, as well as the position they finished in each list:

Best of 2012: Kahaani (1st)
Worst of 2012: Ekk Deewana Tha (1st)

Best of 2013: Kai Po Che! (3rd), Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (4th), ABCD (7th)
Worst of 2013: Zila Ghaziabad (8th)

Best of 2014: Queen (2nd), Highway (5th), Dedh Ishqiya (6th)
Worst of 2014: Karle Pyaar Karle (2nd)

Best of 2015: NH10 (6th), Badlapur (7th)
Worst of 2015: Shamitabh (4th), Roy (10th)

Best of 2016: Neerja (8th)
Worst of 2016: Mastizaade (1st), Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 (2nd), Ghayal Once Again (5th)

The first few months of the year certainly offer up a mixed bag in terms of the quality of the films released. Three of my worst movies of last year were among the first ten films release in 2016, but I gave a four-star rating to all three of the above titles that made the Best of 2014 list.

I’m skeptical that any of the releases from this year will ultimately land on my Best of 2017 list. I gave ratings of at least 3.5 stars to all of the “Best of” titles listed above, and the film presently sitting atop my 2017 list — Commando 2 — only earned 3 stars. If it makes the cut, it will only be because there weren’t ten titles that I rated more highly than it, which is kind of a depressing prospect.

On the flip side, zero-star Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai and 0.5-star Kaabil have already locked up a spots on this year’s “Worst of” list. 1-star Badrinath Ki Dulhania will almost certainly make the list, too, barring a glut of really offensive films that manage to make it look comparatively progressive. That’s a depressing prospect as well.

While none of the 2017 films released thus far have blown me away, there are a number of movies yet to release that I’m really looking forward to — comedies like Phillauri and Noor and the action-thriller Naam Shabana. 2017 could be a strong year yet.

Here are links to my first ten Bollywood reviews of 2017 (in chronological publishing order):

Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

2016 was a darned good year for Hindi films, with positive reviews outnumbering negative reviews 26-22 at this site. Here’s my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

I should start by noting that Dhanak — which released theatrically in the United States and India in June, 2016 — would have made the list had it not already appeared on my Best of 2015 list. I watched it as part of the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

As for the ten films that did make the 2016 list, two stood out for employing narrative structures that reflect their subject matter. Pink begins with the aftermath of a sexual assault, and not until the ending credits do we see the events as they really happened, echoing the “he said, she said” nature of many sexual assault cases. Waiting isn’t afraid to show its characters being bored, a feeling anyone who’s spent time in a hospital can relate to.

Neerja and Aligarh were emotional true stories featuring riveting performances by their lead actors: Sonam Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, respectively. Parched also earned a nod for the stellar performances by its four female co-leads.

Two films mastered genres with spotty track records in Bollywood: superhero movies and sex comedies. A Flying Jatt was a welcome nod to the colorful, optimistic type of superhero flick that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood in recent years, featuring an ordinary protagonist who discovers his inner hero (with a little divine assistance, providing a compelling subplot about religious identity). Unlike the two worst Bollywood movies of 2016 — the mean-spirited sex comedies Mastizaade and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3Brahman Naman is raunchy and hilarious, aiming most of its jokes at its hapless leading man.

South Korean films have inspired a number of Hindi thrillers in recent years (Rocky Handsome and Jazbaa, for instance), but the chilling Raman Raghav 2.0 is totally Indian, especially in regard to the way director Anurag Kashyap uses music to guide the audience through emotional moments.

The two films at the top of this year’s list earn their spots by tackling tough subjects in otherwise very commercial fare. Udta Punjab harnessed the star-power of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh to deftly address Punjab’s drug crisis and make it relevant to people not directly affected by it.

My favorite film of the year also featured a top-notch cast, including Alia Bhatt (again), Rishi Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, and Ratna Pathak. Kapoor & Sons bravely examines the secrets that family members keep from one another and the resentment that builds because of it, addressing issues like infidelity, parental favoritism, and homosexuality with sensitivity and compassion. That Kapoor & Sons also manages to be lots of fun just further cements it as my Best Bollywood Movie of 2016.

Check my Netflix list to see which of these films are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

  1. Kapoor & Sons — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Udta Punjab — Buy at Amazon
  3. Aligarh — Buy at Amazon
  4. Parched — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  5. Brahman Naman
  6. Raman Raghav 2.0 — Buy at Amazon
  7. A Flying Jatt
  8. Neerja — Buy at Amazon
  9. Waiting — Buy at Amazon
  10. Pink — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2016

With a new year underway, let’s take one last look at the biggest Hindi cinema duds of last year. Here are my picks for the worst Bollywood movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

I’m a little loath to include Baaghi on this list because the film is so unintentionally funny, but it’s also really, really bad, so I guess I have to.

Confusing narratives land Banjo and Ghayal Once Again on the list, though Naam Hai Akira ran away with the 2016 award for Worst Overall Story Construction.

Madaari tries to paint a guy who kidnaps and threatens to kill a little kid as a hero, thus earning it a spot on the list.

All the rest of the worst films of 2016 are problematic in the way they relate to women. Shivaay is weirdly hostile, while Sanam Re is tacky and outdated.

Ki and Ka‘s comedic approach to gender norms falls flat when its male character becomes a national role model just by doing chores. Still, Ki and Ka is positively progressive compared to Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, a movie built around the stereotype that white women are sluts.

The worst film of the year is written and directed by the same man who wrote the dialogue for Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3: Milap Zaveri. Mastizaade is hatred masquerading as comedy, a mean-spirited attack on everyone who isn’t a straight, Indian man. Zaveri’s targets include women, addicts, and non-Indians, but he’s particularly fond of picking on people with disabilities. His characters literally point and laugh at a man in a wheelchair. This is about as loathsome as a film can be. Mastizaade‘s title as my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2016 is well deserved.

Kathy’s Ten Worst Bollywood Movies of 2016

  1. Mastizaade
  2. Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 — Buy at Amazon
  3. Naam Hai Akira — Buy at Amazon
  4. Ki and Ka — Buy at Amazon
  5. Ghayal Once Again — Buy at Amazon
  6. Madaari — Buy at Amazon
  7. Banjo — Buy at Amazon
  8. Sanam Re — Buy at Amazon
  9. Shivaay
  10. Baaghi — Buy at Amazon

Previous Worst Movies Lists