Streaming Video News: June 11, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s global premiere of the new Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana comedy Gulabo Sitabo (also available in 4K UHD) — the first major Hindi film to skip theaters and release straight to digital. Amazon added dozens of other Indian titles in the last week, including the 2020 Telugu movie Pressure Cooker.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s addition of the 2019 Hindi film Axone. Netflix made two big announcements this week: first, a June 24 release date for Bulbbul, a creepy looking Netflix Original movie from Anushka Sharma’s production house. Second, it announced that the military biopic Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl will release straight to Netflix rather than release theatrically. No official premiere date was given.

[Disclaimer: all of 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: Virus (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Virus on Amazon Prime
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Watching the 2019 Malayalam movie Virus a year after its release and several months into a new, unrelated global pandemic, the film seems like an unheeded warning. Had I watched when it released last summer, I’d have known what the initials PPE stood for, well before the first American reports of shortages of Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare providers.

Virus is a fictionalized account of a 2018 outbreak of Nipah virus in Kerala. The film was conceived and completed quickly, releasing almost exactly one year after the month-long outbreak was formally declared over. Though names and circumstances have been changed for the film, details of how the virus was transmitted and how many people became infected track closely to the facts of the actual outbreak.

The movie opens with a doctor receiving a now chillingly familiar call that the hospital has run out of ventilators. The action then rewinds a mere three days, when medical professionals encounter the first patients exhibiting alarming symptoms: vomiting, delirium, fever, headache, seizures, trouble breathing, and sky-high blood pressure readings.

Doctors at the hospitals in Kerala’s Kozhikode district are stumped. None of the standard treatments help, and cases quickly turn fatal. Finally, a neurologist hits upon the rare Nipah virus as a possible cause, and tests prove him right. This starts a massive operation to discover where the virus came from and who came in contact with the first known patient, all in the hopes of stopping the spread before it gets out of control.

The first half of Virus is almost overwhelming with the number of characters it introduces across multiple locations. One must surrender to the flood of doctors, hospital staff, their families, patients, relatives, experts, politicians, and bureaucrats introduced as the outbreak takes hold. Director Aashiq Abu never allows the audience to get totally lost, but rather gives us a sense of what the characters feel like, being bombarded with patient after patient before they have even figured out what’s going on.

All the information from the first half is organized into a clear picture in the second half of the film via the character Dr. Annu (Parvathy Thiruvothu), the junior member of the government’s team of contact tracers. She uses some lateral thinking and ace detective work to connect all of the cases back to one index patient. As she and the other contact tracers piece together the puzzle, everything that seemed overwhelming in the first half becomes easy to understand. It’s terrific storytelling by director Abu and writers Muhsin Parari, Sharfu, and Suhas.

They also add in enough personal information about key characters to put the outbreak in context of everyday life, supported by uniformly strong performances by the cast. Dr. Abid (Sreenath Bhasi) is distracted while working in the emergency room that first morning because his girlfriend (Madonna Sebastian) is going to marry someone else. The hospital’s hourly workers — led by Babu (Joju George) — threaten to strike over unpaid wages. Patient’s families worry about being stigmatized because of the virus. The story highlights that we don’t get to choose the timing of such natural disasters.

Yet the film does give hope that such disasters can be contained. Granted, such containment depends on functioning government entities like those shown in the movie, but which are in short supply in the United States at the moment. Watching the officials of various departments work together to solve problems in Virus has almost a fantastical quality to it for someone watching in the US right now. But, just like the actual Nipah outbreak, Virus shows us that victory is possible.

Note: The English subtitles on both the DVD and the Amazon Prime version feature some closed captioning, including notes on ambient noises, the emotional quality of the musical score, and even an indication when a character says something “mockingly.” I quite liked it.

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Streaming Video News: June 5, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with director Anurag Kashyap’s new film Choked, which makes its worldwide debut today. Other new additions this week include the Hindi film Chippa and Spelling the Dream, a documentary about Indian-American kids who compete in the National Spelling Bee.

Two Indian movies will join Netflix on June 6: the 2020 Malayalam thriller Forensic and the 2018 Hindi drama Project Papa.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films added in the last week, including the 2020 releases Asur (Bengali) and Dhamaka (Malayalam).

I found a bunch of Tamil films from the early 2010s that are set to expire in the next week. You can check out those titles in the Expiring Soon section near the top of my Amazon Prime page.

[Disclaimer: all of 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!]

Streaming Video News: May 28, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with more than a dozen Indian titles added in the last week, including today’s worldwide premiere of the Tamil film Ponmagal Vandhal, which opted to release straight to streaming rather than wait for theaters to reopen. Other recently added 2020 releases include Golkeri (Gujarati) and Savaari (Telugu).

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the new Netflix Original series Betaal, another Hindi horror series from the makers of Ghoul (which was decent). A trio of Bollywood movies from the 1970s — Bawarchi, Chupke Chupke, and Gol Maal — will expire from Netflix on May 31.

[Disclaimer: all of 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!]

Streaming Video News: May 22, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the recent addition of Abhay Deol’s 2019 release What Are the Odds?. Netflix also debuted the trailer for director Anurag Kashyap’s new film Choked, which releases worldwide on June 5:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films added in the last week, most of which are decades old or Hindi-dubbed versions of South Indian movies. And Zila Ghaziabad, which is not good. Newly added 2020 releases include Bill Gates (Kannada), Eureka (Telugu), Paapam Cheyyathavar Kalleriyatte (Malayalam), Utraan (Tamil), and Walter (Tamil).

Amazon also launched the official trailers for Ponmagal Vandhal (which premieres May 29) and Gulabo Sitabo, which debuts globally on Prime on June 12.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend! — Kathy

Movie Review: Extraction (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Extraction on Netflix

An Australian mercenary is hired to rescue the kidnapped son of an Indian drug lord in Extraction, a Netflix Original action movie that stars some well-known Hindi-film actors opposite Chris Hemsworth.

Hemsworth plays Tyler Rake, a former solider turned mercenary. The only reason Tyler is still alive is so that he can continue punishing himself for not being there for his wife and son when the little boy was terminally ill.

Tyler gets an opportunity for redemption when a fellow merc, Nik Khan (Golshifteh Farahani), hires him to execute the toughest part of a rescue mission: freeing 14-year-old Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) from the goons holding him in Dhaka at the behest of Bangladeshi crime boss Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli).

Ovi’s father is Ovi Mahajan Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi), a drug kingpin incarcerated in Mumbai. Young Ovi is a pawn in a long-standing feud between his father and Amir, and the boy’s kidnapping is meant to humiliate Mahajan Sr. Ovi says that his dad ignores him and dismisses his intellectual pursuits, so the boy’s kidnapping reinforces his feeling that he’s an object and not a real person to anyone involved in his dad’s line of work.

That changes when he meets Tyler, who makes it his mission to save Ovi even after it’s revealed that they’ve been double-crossed. The appearance of Mahajan Sr.’s right-hand man Saju Rav (Randeep Hooda) further complicates things. Tyler could just hand Ovi over to Saju, but what if he was part of the kidnapping plan? As far as Ovi is concerned, Saju is just the guy who scolds him when his dad’s not around, so maybe he is safer with this stranger.

This clash between Tyler and Saju sets up Extraction‘s selling point: a ten-minute long chase/fight sequence that is made to look like it was filmed in a single shot. It’s extraordinary. Seeing a Hindi-film veteran like Hooda turn in a phenomenal action performance against Thor himself is a huge thrill for Bollywood fans. Hooda’s long been one of my favorite actors, and his turn in the international spotlight is well-deserved.

It’s unfortunate that Tripathi (another of my favorites) is only in one scene. But Painyuli shows the same skill he did in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero to make Amir low-key menacing, ordering someone’s death as nonchalantly as he’d order lunch. Jaiswal’s Ovi is likeable and sympathetic.

Extraction‘s story is basic — Tyler has to get Ovi from Point A to Point B without the kid dying — but the film weaves a theme about fathers and sons throughout the story. Tyler wishes he’d been a better father to his little boy. Ovi wishes his dad saw him as a real person. Saju attempts to rescue Ovi not for Ovi’s sake but because Ovi Sr. threatens the safety of Saju’s own young son. Tyler’s former colleague, Gaspar (David Harbour), mentions how his perspective on being a killer has changed now that he has his own family.

Even Amir is a twisted version of a father figure to a group of homeless boys who work for him. As neglected as Ovi feels, being ignored while living in a cushy mansion is a world apart from the abuse suffered by the boys in Amir’s employ, whom he murders and maims at the slightest displeasure. Yet he’s the only hope for a better life for a street kid like Farhad (Suraj Rikame), who’s willing to do anything Amir asks to finally feel a sense of power for once in his life.

Concerns about a “white savior” narrative are unavoidable in a film where Chris Hemsworth goes to Bangladesh to rescue an Indian teen, and Extraction doesn’t do much to challenge such concerns. While Tyler kills his share of Amir’s henchmen, most of the dead are Bangladeshi police officers or soldiers who presumably don’t know their commanding officers take orders from a drug lord. If you’ve already seen one-too-many films where a white character kills a bunch of non-white characters like it’s no big deal, you may want to skip Extraction.

If you do watch it, the film does demonstrate that exciting action sequences need not be solely the province of theatrical releases. Getting to see Randeep Hooda punch Chris Hemsworth is novel enough to make Extraction worth watching. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking from the narrative.

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Streaming Video News: May 15, 2020

Amazon’s announcement yesterday of a June 12 straight-to-streaming release for the Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo was just a teaser. Today, they announced a whole slate of Indian movies that will skip cinemas and release straight to Prime, including Vidya Balan’s biopic Shakuntala Devi. (Bollywood Hungama reports that Ludo and Jhund may soon follow suit.) Here’s the full list of Indian movies premiering on Amazon Prime, with release dates listed, if announced:

  • Ponmagal Vandhal (Tamil) — May 29
  • Gulabo Sitabo (Hindi) — June 12
  • Penguin (Telugu and Tamil) — June 19
  • Law (Kannada) — June 26
  • French Biryani (Kannada) — July 24
  • Soofiyum Sujathayum (Malayalam) — TBA
  • Shakuntala Devi (Hindi) — TBA

If you are not already a Prime subscriber, you can get a free 30-day trial with my affiliate link (earning me a commission in the process!). Here’s a link to my list of all the Indian films currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Streaming Video News: May 14, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s addition of the 2020 Hindi thriller Malang, starring Anil Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Disha Patani.

I also updated list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s addition of the new Amazon Original Hindi crime series Paatal Lok (also in 4K UHD), starring Jaideep Ahlawat.

Amazon made the big announcement that director Shoojit Sircar’s comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo — starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana — will not wait for theaters to reopen, but will instead debut worldwide on Amazon Prime on June 12.

If you’re interested in what the future may hold for theatrical releases, I recommend this episode of The Boxoffice Podcast. The discussion centers around American theaters and titles, but the same concerns apply to studios and cinemas globally.

[Disclaimer: all of 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!]

Streaming Video News: May 8, 2020

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of about a dozen Indian titles in the last several days, including the 2020 pictures Valayam (Telugu) and Dhauli (Hindi) and Praveen Kumar’s new Tamil stand-up comedy special Mr. Family Man. Amazon also released the trailer for its new Hindi crime series Paatal Lok, which debuts May 15.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the trailer for the short-run Hindi horror series Betaal, which debuts on May 24. It’s directed by Patrick Graham, who previously directed the horror series Ghoul for Netflix (as is obvious from the look and vibe of the trailer):

In other news, it looks like the two big releases originally set to face-off in theaters on May 22 will now be heading straight to streaming video. Bollywood Hungama reports a likely June release of Akshay Kumar’s Laxxmi Bomb on Hotstar. The makers of that weekend’s other big flick — Salman Khan’s Radhe — are also considering a streaming release, but they’re asking in the neighborhood of $30 million for the streaming rights (per Bollywood Hungama). The Abhishek Bachchan-Aditya Roy Kapur film Ludo may also head to streaming after missing its April release date. All of these decisions are predicated on the current prevailing industry sentiment that theaters won’t reopen until September at the earliest.

[Disclaimer: all of 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: Bhangra Paa Le (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Bhangra Paa Le on Netflix

Though bhangra features in plenty of Hindi movies, it’s rarely the only dance style performed. Not so in Bhangra Paa Le (“Let’s Do the Bhangra“), director Sneha Taurani’s debut film, which is all bhangra, all the time.

This is established early on. As college stud Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal) fills out his university’s dance team, he rejects any dancer whose performance is too influenced by hip-hop or other Western dance styles. If you’re going to win a bhangra competition where top prize is a trip to compete in London, you need bhangra specialists.

While at a wedding, Jaggi spots an ideal candidate to fill the female-lead role on his team. He and Simi (Rukshar Dhillon) hit it off, but before he can ask her to join his squad, she asks him to join her university team. Realizing that they are rivals, they part ways — not on bad terms, but each determined to take the top prize.

Each has their own reason for wanting to win. By performing in London, Simi hopes to prove to her father (who abandoned her for a new life in the UK) that she’s doing just fine without him. Jaggi wants to honor his grandfather, Kaptaan, a bhangra legend in his hometown. Kaushal plays Kaptaan in flashbacks to grandpa’s days romancing a beauty named Nimmo (Shriya Pilgaonkar) before leaving to fight in World War II.

It’s a stretch to equate the struggles of a combat veteran with those of a college dancer, the way that Jaggi does. Yet, given Jaggi’s young age and comparatively limited life experience, it makes sense that he might make that connection. The characters in Bhangra Paa Le behave in authentic, age-appropriate ways. It’s one of the strongest aspects of the film.

It’s also a treat to watch both of the main characters evolve, even if Jaggi gets more of the narrative focus. While they have their ups and downs, there’s nothing mean-spirited about either Jaggi or Simi, so the drama never feels overblown. They’re two nice young people who deserve to succeed, even if they can’t both be victorious.

The film’s supporting characters don’t get the same kind of development as the leads, appearing and disappearing as the story requires. The story itself feels a bit disjointed, not because of the World War II flashbacks, but because Jaggi returns home in the second half–abruptly shifting the tone of the film from a modern youth picture to a rural family drama.

Of course, the main reason for anyone to watch Bhangra Paa Le is the dancing, which is overall really good. The movie does a nice job showcasing the dance form’s ability to express a range of emotions, using songs with different tempos and sentiments as a base for a varied choreography palette. Viewers who are only interested in the dancing will not be disappointed.

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