I also recently updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2017 Indian-Chinese co-production Kung Fu Yoga, starring Jackie Chan and Sonu Sood. For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.
Two new Hindi films had disastrous opening weekends in North America from October 6-8, 2017. The higher-profile release — Saif Ali Khan’s Chef — took in $57,179 from 64 theaters ($893 average; adjusted average of $1,059 from 54 theaters*), according to Bollywood Hungama. Even with a modest theater count, one would expect better from a remake of an American film with a big star opening on Columbus Day weekend.
The weekend’s other new release — Tu Hai Mera Sunday — tanked, predictably. The movie had a mostly unrecognizable cast, and there was no advanced publicity for its international release. It was no surprise, then, that Tu Hai Mera Sunday made just $4,253 from 20 theaters ($213 average) over the weekend, according to Sumit Chadha.
The recent lousy debuts of movies like Tu Hai Mera Sunday and Haseena Parkar have me scratching my head as to why many low-budget Hindi movies still opt for theatrical releases in the United States and Canada, especially with so much competition among streaming services for new Bollywood content. To date, 48 Hindi movies — including multilingual movies like Baahubali 2 and The Ghazi Attack and special engagement releases like the movies of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh — have opened in North American theaters this year. If the eight Hindi movies that I suspect will open here before the end of the year actually do so, that would make 56 Bollywood movies released in North America in 2017 — four more titles than the previous record release year of 2014. What can be gained when a movie earns less than $10,000 in its opening weekend here, as is the case for six titles already this year? Eleven films haven’t even made $50,000 over the courses of their theatrical runs. It’s perplexing.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
- Bareilly Ki Barfi: Week 8; $3,980 from three theaters; $1,327 average; $569,635 total
- Shubh Mangal Saavdhan: Week 6; $2,418 from two theaters; $1,209 average; $629,427 total
- Simran: Week 4; $1,350 from three theaters; $450 average; $404,301 total
- Bhoomi: Week 3; $258 from three theaters; $86 average; $71,803 total
- Toilet — Ek Prem Katha: Week 9; $120 from one theater; $1,872,211 total
*Bollywood Hungama frequently counts Canadian theaters twice in when they report figures for a film’s first few weeks of release. When possible, I verify theater counts at Box Office Mojo, but I use Bollywood Hungama as my primary source because they provide a comprehensive and consistent — if flawed — data set.
The first half of Chef is delightful. The second half is repetitive, with remarkably low stakes for the main character.
Writer-director Raja Krishna Menon’s official adaptation of Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chef relocates the story first to New York, and then to India. Roshan (Saif Ali Khan) is a lauded but temperamental chef working in a fancy restaurant in New York City who loses his job when he punches a dissatisfied customer. His coworker Vinnie (Sobhita Dhulipala) suggests that Roshan’s uninspired cooking of late might be reinvigorated by a trip to Kerala to visit his pre-teen son Ary (Svar Kamble) and his ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya) in the city of Kochi.
After many years away from his son, Roshan is delighted to find that Ary is as much of a foodie as Roshan was at the same age. He takes the boy up to Delhi for a tour of his childhood haunts in his neighborhood of Chandni Chowk, including an uncomfortable reunion with his own estranged father (Ram Gopal Bajaj), who disapproves of Roshan’s career choice.
Back in Kochi, Radha enlists her rich, handsome boyfriend Biju (Milind Soman) to make Roshan an offer designed to keep him in India: a ramshackle double-decker bus to refurbish into a food truck. Roshan gets over his initial insult, seeing instead an opportunity to work on the project with Ary and strenghten their relationship. Still, Roshan longs to restore his reputation and reap the financial rewards of a triumphant return to New York.
As one would hope from a movie so titled, there is a lot of tantalizing food on display in Chef. A mouth-watering sequence in which Roshan cooks tomato chutney is alone worth the price of admission. It’s part of a strong first half which takes its time introducing the characters and their relationships, leaving enough room for the camera to linger on some gorgeous grub.
There’s a moment where it seems as though Chef is going to delve into anti-capitalism, with friends of Radha’s mentioning Che Guevara and Vinnie referring to Roshan’s New York loft as a “middle-class trap.” But after that, the importance of money in Roshan’s life seems more a matter of convenience. It’s very important when he needs to give Ary an excuse for why he must return to New York, less so when Roshan explains to Ary the work ethic he learned as a poor apprentice cook in Delhi. Money is readily available for the duo’s impromptu Delhi trip or to dress up the food truck to the nines.
In Chef’s second half, the action slows down and scenes repeat themselves. It becomes increasingly clear that Roshan isn’t going to face any real consequences for his previously neglectful behavior (or for his desire to once again physically distance himself from his son). Radha and Ary are only ever annoyed with Roshan for a few minutes, forgiving him as soon as he whips up something tasty by way of apology.
Roshan himself is in constant need of validation, whether he’s seeking praise for his cooking or showing off one of the many other skills he’s mastered, from dancing to guitar playing. It’s presumably borne out of his own truncated childhood, having run away from home at fifteen to escape his father’s enmity. Still, it’s odd that no one is willing to even challenge Roshan’s attention-seeking behavior, let alone demand that he behave like a grownup and get over himself.
Roshan’s childish streak makes it hard to sympathize with the way he parents Ary, who’s hardly allowed to have an emotional reaction at all before Roshan corrects him. Invariably, Ary responds with a glum, “I’m sorry, Papa,” prompting Roshan to tickle him as they both laugh. Despite a likeable performance by young Svar Kamble, Ary never feels like a real person.
The same can be said for Roshan and Radha. Khan and Padmapriya are good in their respective roles, but the characters are written with such limited emotional ranges that the story feels incomplete. Likewise, supporting characters like Vinnie, Biju, and Roshan’s dad don’t seem to exist outside of the main plot, only materializing when Roshan needs something.
Chef falls short of what could have been, especially considering how well it starts. Nevertheless, those in the mood for food porn will find plenty to savor.
Also new this weekend is the football comedy Tu Hai Mera Sunday (“You Are My Sunday“), featuring Shahana Goswami. The movie opens Friday at all three of the above listed theaters. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.
Judwaa 2 carries over at the South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and MovieMax, which also holds over Bhoomi.
Ali Fazal’s Victoria & Abdul expands into theaters across Chicagoland on Friday.
Other Indian and Pakistani movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
- Spyder (Telugu w/English subtitles) at the South Barrington 24, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and MovieMax, which also carries it in Tamil w/English subtitles
- Mahanubhavudu (Telugu w/English subtitles) at MovieMax, Seven Bridges, and Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale
- Jai Lava Kusa (Telugu w/English subtitles) at MovieMax and Seven Bridges
- Solo (Malayalam and Tamil), Chalay Thay Saath (Urdu), and Karuppan (Tamil) at MovieMax
Even with a new cast, Judwaa 2 feels dated.
Judwaa 2 is less of a true sequel to 1997’s Judwaa than a reboot, switching out Salman Khan in the lead role for Varun Dhawan (son of the director of both films, David Dhawan). Unlike a lore-heavy fantasy or superhero flick, watching the original Judwaa isn’t a prerequisite for watching Judwaa 2.
The reboot opens with Mr. Malhotra (Sachin Khedekar) flying home for the birth of his twin sons. A seemingly friendly fellow passenger named Charles (Zakir Hussain) slips some contraband into Malhotra’s bag, but Malhotra has already alerted the police, who attempt to apprehend Charles when he shows up at the hospital to collect his goods.
Charles escapes with one of the newborn baby boys as a hostage, accidentally dropping him on some train tracks. Charles blows up a building, lying that the boy was inside and vowing to come back some day for Malhotra’s other son. This seems like a disproportionate revenge response given that the police were already on to Charles and Malhotra just made their job a little easier.
As the cops haul Charles away and Malhotra grieves for the son he believes to be dead, a train bears down on the dropped baby. The boy — who will shortly be named Raja by the lady who discovers him — gets a metaphysical assist from his brother, Prem. The doctor who delivered the boys explained to the Malhotras that, because the boys were born attached at the arm (separated by a surgery that doesn’t even leave a scar, LOL), they share a connection that occurs “one in eight million” times. When the boys are within even a few miles of one another, they will feel each other’s emotions and physical sensations.
Sensing Raja’s fear at the oncoming train, Prem — displaying remarkable muscle control for a newborn — rolls to his side in his crib, causing Raja to roll safely off the tracks as the train passes by. The sequence is exactly as stupid as it sounds, made stupider by cheap-looking CGI.
The Malhotras flee to safety in London, where Prem grows up to be a wimpy nerd who is nevertheless built like a Mr. Universe contestant. Raja is a brash street urchin with a heart of gold who gets into trouble when he beats up rich guy Alex (Vivan Bhatena) for being a jerk. Raja and his adopted brother Nandu (Rajpal Yadav) flee to London to escape Alex’s wrath. Nandu is excited at the opportunity to sexually harass the air hostesses on the flight, and Raja hits on Alishka (Jacqueline Fernandez), the beautiful woman sitting next to him.
With the long-lost brothers finally in the same city, their metaphysical link reactivates. Raja feels the pain when a bully grabs Prem’s junk, and Prem slaps people when Raja gets into a fight. Prem also kisses his cute classmate Samaira (Taapsee Pannu) and her mother (Upasana Singh) when Raja smooches Alishka in an attempt to hide his face from the police.
While multiple Baahubali references root the story in the modern day, elements such as lazy plotting and the normalization of sexual harassment make Judwaa 2 feel out-of-date. There’s no reason why the gags involving the female love interests couldn’t have been updated to reflect the progressive direction many Hindi films have adopted regarding gender politics.
It’s a missed opportunity, considering the caliber of Judwaa 2‘s two leading ladies. Jacqueline Fernandez is perhaps Bollywood’s best female physical comedian. She sells every scene she’s in, no matter how silly she’s asked to be. If you can take your eyes off of her impressive dance moves, watch her expressive face during her song performances. She’s a total pro.
Taapsee Pannu’s performance is a reminder of her incredible versatility. She proved her dramatic chops in Pink and her action skills in Baby and its follow-up Naam Shabana, a spin-off created just for her. Judwaa 2 is a return to her roots in Hindi cinema; her debut film was the 2013 comedy Chashme Baddoor, also directed by David Dhawan. Judwaa 2 not only finds Pannu playing for laughs again, but dancing up a storm and flaunting a physique as impressive as any of her Bollywood contemporaries.
Varun Dhawan is charismatic in his double role, but there’s not much that we haven’t seen from him before. His resume is already heavy on comedies, and this isn’t one of the better ones. It’s not just the poor treatment of the female leads at his characters’ hands that makes Judwaa 2 feel like a throwback. There’s an offensive fight sequence involving a group of black men whom Raja refers to as “the West Indies team.” Raja repeatedly taunts them, ending his sentences with a Caribbean-accented “mon,” even though the men themselves say the word “man” with British accents.
Other than those issues, Judwaa 2 isn’t as morally problematic as it could have been (faint praise, indeed). The dance numbers are fun, and Fernandez and Pannu make more out of their roles than they’re given to work with. Judwaa 2 is a watchable movie, but not a memorable one.
Judwaa 2 led among the Hindi films showing in North America during the weekend of September 29-October 1, 2017. According to Rentrak figures supplied to Bollywood Hungama, Judwaa 2 opened in 213 theaters, earning $630,015 ($2,958 average). Box Office Mojo reports the movie as opening 192 theaters, improving Judwaa 2‘s per-theater average to $3,281.
Though Judwaa 2 posted the ninth best opening weekend gross of 2017, it opened in the sixth highest number of theaters and only had the thirteenth best opening weekend average for the year. Judwaa 2 also earned $200,000 less than star Varun Dhawan’s Badrinath Ki Dulhania did earlier this year, despite the fact that BKD opened in 20% fewer theaters (156, according to Box Office Mojo).
Another interesting aspect of Judwaa 2‘s performance over the weekend is its disproportionate popularity in Canada versus the United States. A full 20% of the film’s gross earnings ($127,042) came from Canada, which accounted for just 11% of the total number of theaters. But this isn’t the only recent release faring much better north of the border than south. Bhoomi earned a total of $5,597 from 14 theaters ($400 average) in its second weekend of release — $4,776 from Canada’s seven theaters and $821 from the US’s seven theaters. The total contributions from each country to date are roughly equal — $36,463 from the US and $33,906 from Canada — despite the fact that the movie opened in nearly three times as many theaters in the US (32) than Canada (11).
Like Bhoomi, all of the other Hindi titles still showing in North America posted weekend earnings of less than $10,000. Here’s how they fared:
- Simran: Week 3; $7,431 from ten theaters; $743 average; $401,626 total
- Bareilly Ki Barfi: Week 7; $5,279 from four theaters; $1,320 average; $564,291 total
- Shubh Mangal Saavdhan: Week 5; $4,610 from six theaters; $768 average; $629,427 total
- Lipstick Under My Burkha: Week 4; $1,526 from one theater; $46,948 total
- Haseena Parkar: Week 2; $254 from three theaters; $85 average; $2,305 total
- Toilet — Ek Prem Katha: Week 8; $220 from two theaters; $110 average; $1,907,300 total
- Lucknow Central: Week 3; $148 from two theaters; $74 average; $144,874 total
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Heera with one big new addition to the catalog. Salman Khan’s 2017 release Tubelight is now available for streaming. I enjoyed Tubelight a lot more than I expected to.
I also made two changes to my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix. The Manipuri film Loktak Lairembee is now available for streaming, as is the Gujarati movie Wrong Side Raju. Amazon Prime added the Telugu film The Bells to its streaming catalog. For everything else new to Netflix and Amazon Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.