Streaming Video News: August 26, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of additions in the last week, including Sholay. Also new is the Telugu-dubbed version of 2000’s Kandukondain Kandukondain, a Tamil retelling of Sense and Sensibility starring Tabu and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The most notable recent release is the Tiger Shroff-Ananya Panday flick Student of the Year 2, which is actually pretty good. Other newly added 2019 films include:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because Taapsee Pannu’s 2019 thriller Game Over is available for streaming in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. Other new additions include the 2019 Marathi release Saavat and the Punjabi movies Kaake Da Viyah and Marriage Palace.

Seven Hindi and Malayalam titles are set to expire from Netflix on September 1:

In other Netflix news, Article 15 debuted on Netflix in India on August 24, but it won’t be available for streaming in the United States until September 6.

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Movie Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Mission Mangal (“Mission Mars“) got worse the more I thought about it. While in the theater, I rolled my eyes at the film’s outdated takes on gender roles, but I found it generally enjoyable. Upon further reflection, the enormity of the opportunity missed to present an inspirational, empowering story feels too big to ignore.

In 2014, India became the fourth country to reach Mars, and the only one to do so on its first try. Photos of sari-clad women engineers in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) gained global attention, forcing people around the world to challenge their preconceptions of what a scientist is supposed to look like.

A fictional story inspired by that real-life feat, Mission Mangal feels less revolutionary that the actual event. The contributions of women engineers are viewed through a patriarchal lens that insists on centering male characters. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the man playing the film’s main male protagonist — Akshay Kumar — is also one of the movie’s producers.

Kumar’s female co-lead is Vidya Balan, whose character Tara is introduced first. She bustles about the house on the morning of a rocket launch, praying for success, cooking breakfast, and trying to rouse her teenage children. Her husband Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor) asks her to bring him a cup of tea instead of getting up to get it himself, despite knowing how pressed she is for time.

The launch goes awry, due to Tara’s misjudgement in her role as Project Manager. Her boss Rakesh (Kumar) takes the blame and is reassigned to a project considered doomed from the start: getting an Indian satellite into orbit around Mars. Rakesh tells the head of ISRO (played by Vikram Gokhale) that he suspects it’s his superior’s way of telling him to finally retire, marry, and start a family, but Rakesh loves India and science too damned much to do that. The conversation is a message to the audience that Rakesh will undergo zero character development during the course of the film.

Eager to make up for her mistake, Tara joins Rakesh’s Mars team. Their first problem is how to get the satellite out of Earth’s gravitational pull using a minimal amount of fuel. Tara cracks it by equating it to cooking: oil stays hot enough to fry food even after the gas is turned off, meaning their rocket need only burn fuel in intervals, not continuously. The ISRO board approves, and suddenly the project doesn’t seem doomed after all.

Rakesh and Tara round out their team with various specialists, including four women who each fill a spot on the film’s limited spectrum of possible female life options. Eka (Sonakshi Sinha) is single and eager to move to the United States. Kritika (Taapsee Pannu) is married to a soldier. Varsha (Nithya Menen) is married and pregnant. Neha (Kirti Kulhari) is initially described by Rakesh as attractive — gross, he’s her boss — but she is de-sexualized as soon as her colleagues learn that she is Muslim and divorced. She becomes a surrogate daughter to one of the two men on the team, Ananth (H. G. Dattatreya), whose own adult son lives abroad. There’s also Parmeshwar (Sharman Joshi), a superstitious virgin who gets too much screentime.

As the team’s timeline and budget shrink, they must innovate ways to get their satellite to Mars cheaper, lighter, and faster than any space organization has done before. We see how their careers and personal lives intersect — except for Rakesh, who only exists when in the presence of his colleagues.

Tara’s work-life balance subplot is the most developed and the most frustrating. Tara is responsible for managing her household by herself. Her husband Sunil is emotionally disconnected from his children. He refuses to do tasks he considers beneath him, such as waiting in line to pay an electricity bill. The film doesn’t challenge his behavior, instead presenting it as just another problem for Tara to work around. His position as head of the family is unquestioned, despite his unfitness for the role and his disinterest in it.

Sunil’s behavior fits with an overall viewpoint on gender parity that — despite its progressive veneer — makes Mission Mangal feel as though it was written by a Tim Allen sitcom character. Sunil doesn’t pay the electric bill and the family loses power, and it’s treated as a joke, instead of either a failing that jeopardizes the family’s quality of life or a deliberate act of negligence to get him out of having to do it in the future. He’s gotta be a good guy at heart since he lets his wife work, right?

This attitude infects the workplace as well. Rakesh views Tara’s ingenuity as cute, making her demonstrate their propulsion idea by frying bread in the boardroom. When she suggests using parts from an abandoned ISRO project as a way to save money, Rakesh grins to his boss and says, “Women, sir. They don’t waste anything.” There’s a needless fight sequence in which the women engineers hit some goons with their purses that is not as funny as the filmmakers think it is.

Kritika’s and Varsha’s husbands are supportive of their wives’ careers, but they appear only in cameos (by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Purab Kohli, respectively). They aren’t in the movie long enough to balance out the more regressive characters — which includes Parmeshwar, who spends the whole time hitting on his colleague, Eka.

Maybe things would’ve felt more balanced if there had been more than one woman (Nidhi Singh Dharma) on the writing or directing staff. The story moves along at a decent clip, and the characters are well-acted. The space travel elements are explained in novel ways for a general audience, and Mission Mangal‘s computer-generated effects are decent. Still, the source material is too good to result in a film this mediocre.

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In Theaters: August 23, 2019

After a terrific opening weekend, the drama Mission Mangal carries over at the following Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning Friday, August 23, 2019: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. Mission Mangal is slated to join the streaming service Hotstar in October.

Balta House also gets a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, and South Barrington 24. It makes its streaming debut on Amazon Prime in October.

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

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.]

Bollywood Box Office: August 16-18, 2019

Mission Mangal had the second best opening weekend for a Bollywood movie in North America this year. From August 16-18, 2019, the space drama earned $1,365,006 from 263 theaters ($5,190 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Adding in the film’s Thursday earnings brings Mission Mangal‘s 4-day total to $1,522,399.

Batla House fared pretty well in its opening weekend as well, especially considering the strength of its competition. The John Abraham thriller earned $208,671 from 80 theaters ($2,608 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Batla House‘s Thursday earnings bring its 4-day total to $223,018.

The two new films crushed every other Hindi movie playing in the United States over the weekend. Jabariya Jodi‘s business cratered in its second weekend, falling by 95%. The romantic comedy earned just $3,919 from 13 theaters ($301 average), bringing its total to $107,645.

Other Hindi movies still in US theaters:

  • Super 30: Week 6; $1,211 from three theaters; $404 average; $2,322,115 total
  • Judgementall Hai Kya: Week 4; $105 from two theaters; $53 average; $529,689 total

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

Streaming Video News: August 19, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films added in the last five days, including a bunch of 2019 releases:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the additions of the 2019 releases 90ml (Tamil) and Uyare (Malayalam).

There are three 2019 releases of note likely to make their streaming debuts this week, according to Bollywood Buff. Taapsee Pannu’s thriller Game Over — which released theatrically in the United States in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi — comes to Netflix on August 21, followed by Article 15 on August 24. Student of the Year 2 is slated to join Amazon Prime on August 26 in India, which — because of the time difference — would see it become available in the US on Sunday, August 25 in the afternoon.

Movie Review: Khandaani Shafakhana (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Khandaani Shafakhana is like a half-finished topiary. The general shape is there, but it needs a lot more trimming.

Sonakshi Sinha stars as pharmaceutical sales representative Baby Bedi. Her job supports her mother (Nadira Babbar) and her loafer younger brother — the unfortunately named Bhooshit (Varun Sharma) — following her father’s death. Dad took out a loan from his greedy brother (Rajiv Gupta), and now Uncle wants to take possession of the family’s home and kick them out.

An opportunity arises in the wake of another death, that of Baby’s estranged maternal uncle Mamaji (Kulbushan Kharbanda). Mamaji was notorious for running a fertility clinic in a town where just saying the word “sex” is considered obscene. He bequeathed his clinic to Baby, on the condition that she hire a doctor and operate the clinic for six months in order to conclude his patients’ treatments. After that, she’s free sell the property, paying off her father’s debt and leaving her with enough money to start her own herbal medicine franchise. If she fails, the clinic goes to the medical school that kicked out her uncle decades earlier.

Returning to Mamaji’s clinic — inexplicably covered in cobwebs even though he’s only been dead a few days — brings back childhood memories of learning about traditional Unani medicine at her uncle’s knee. Her first meetings with patients to talk about their erectile dysfunction issues are profoundly awkward, but Baby realizes the positive impact of her uncle’s treatment on their lives. This reawakens her own dormant dreams of becoming a doctor and inspires her to destigmatize the topic of sexual health in her prudish Punjabi town.

Sinha’s warmth in the film’s thoughtful moments feels so natural, and her character builds endearing relationships. Sinha deftly guides Baby through a complicated journey as she considers what she really wants from life. Comedy might not be Sinha’s strongest suit, but the jokes in Khandaani Shafakhana are pretty subdued anyway. Nor are they especially bawdy.

The moderate tone does a world of good for Sharma, whose comic performances tend to be over-the-top. Annu Kapoor is funny as Mamaji’s lawyer, and Priyanshu Jora is adorable as a lemonade vendor hired by the lawyer to spy on Baby to ensure she fulfills her part of the deal.

Khandaani Shafakhana looks fantastic. Director Shilpi Dasgupta and cinematographer Rishi Punjabi tell their story through carefully framed shots, the best of which make a pensive Sinha look positively ethereal.

But Khandaani Shafakhana falls short of success for a few reasons. It’s overly long, first of all. By the time Baby hits her lowest point, I was ready for the whole thing to be done. The resolution to Baby’s crisis feels convenient and unrealistic.

Some aspects of the movie felt like they didn’t quite translate, not so much as a matter of language but culture. (The English subtitles are actually quite good, including a funny joke about one of Baby’s suitors being handsome “like Al Pacino.”) The film’s primary audience in India will likely be more familiar with the particulars of Mamaji’s Unani medicine than a Western audience, so much about it is left unexplained. But the characters periodically give each other meaningful looks, and I wasn’t sure what the meaning was supposed to be. This is not a good starter film for Bollywood newcomers.

Then there’s Khandaani Shafakhana‘s biggest problem — one that can hopefully be edited out of the version that makes it to Amazon Prime. Bhooshit is discussing one of Baby’s patients with her: a famous rapper named Gabru Ghataak (Badshah). Bhooshit speculates that, because Gabru is always surrounded by beautiful women, the reason for the rapper’s erectile dysfunction must be that he’s a “homo.” Bhooshit says the slur in English, so it’s not a translation error. He also repeats it several times, indicating that director Dasgupta and writer Gautam Mehra intended the scene to be humorous. It’s an unfortunate scene that can easily be excised from the movie without ruining the story flow. In fact, in a movie that’s already too long, axing it could help in more ways than one.

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Opening August 15: Mission Mangal and Batla House

Two new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area on Thursday, August 15, 2019, on the occasion of Indian Independence Day (with additional theaters carrying the movies starting Friday). The bigger release of the two is Mission Mangal, a space drama starring Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, and Akshay Kumar.

Mission Mangal opens Thursday at the Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. On Friday, Mission Mangal opens at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 7 min.

The other new holiday release is John Abraham’s crime drama Batla House.

Batla House opens on Thursday at MovieMax, and it expands on Friday to the River East 21 and South Barrington 24. It has a listed runtime of 2 hr. 26 min.

Jabariya Jodi gets a second weekend at MovieMax and South Barrington 24.

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

Streaming Video News: August 14, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because Season 2 of Sacred Games is now available for streaming. Also new is the Hindi romantic drama Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, which goes by the colorful English title Lovefucked.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with about thirty Indian titles added in the last five days, including the following 2019 releases:

Bollywood Box Office: August 9-11, 2019

Jabariya Jodi got off to an okay start in North America. During the weekend of August 9-11, 2019, the romantic comedy earned $79,464 from 53 theaters ($1,499 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. By this point in the year, Hindi films have to earn closer to $200,000 in their opening weekend with a per-theater average of around $2,500 to rank in the top half.

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

  • Judgementall Hai Kya: Week 3; $20,599 from 18 theaters; $1,144 average; $524,766 total
  • Super 30: Week 5; $14,224 from 18 theaters; $790 average; $2,315,850 total
  • Kabir Singh: Week 8; $3,600 from two theaters; $1,800 average; $2,614,611 total

Sources: 143 Cinema and Bollywood Hungama