Streaming Video News: March 3, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s big announcement of more than 40 new Indian movies, TV series, and specials that Netflix plans to release in 2021. Many of these titles were previously announced — I wrote about a number of them for my 2021 Netflix preview for What’s On Netflix — but some are brand new. I’ll go into detail about each of the different categories, but first check out this general teaser video Netflix India released:

First up is movies. Today’s announcement includes 13 titles. Netflix had already announced a March 26 premiere date for Pagglait and released teaser videos for Dhamaka and Jagame Thandhiram. The Karan Johar-produced anthology film which had been called The Other is renamed Ajeeb Daastaans. Three films that I previewed in my piece for What’s On Netflix mentioned above were not included in today’s announcement: Cobalt Blue, Desert Dolphin, and Freedom. Here are all the movies included in today’s press release (Hindi-language, unless otherwise specified) with links to their Netflix entries where available, followed by another video specifically focused on Original films:

The bulk of today’s announcement was made up of fiction TV series, including 9 brand new shows and new seasons of 6 returning series. Bombay Begums already has a March 8 premiere date. The series starring Madhuri Dixit Nene that was rumored to be called Actress is officially titled Finding Anamika. Baahubali: Before the Beginning was conspicuously absent from today’s announcement, as were updates on new seasons for Hashmukh and Selection Day. Here are all of the TV series mentioned in the press release, followed by a video featuring highlights from those series:

Finally, Netflix announced 13 non-fiction movies, series, and stand-up comedy specials. No word on a second season of Indian Matchmaking, but The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and The Big Day are both returning. Here are the Unscripted Originals coming to Netflix in 2021.

I’ll update my Netflix page as soon as release dates for these titles are announced. Get those watchlists ready, people!

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The Girl on the Train on Netflix
Buy the novel at Amazon

It seemed strange for actor Parineeti Chopra and others associated with the Hindi adaptation of The Girl on the Train to tweet a message the day before the film’s release asking people to avoid spoiling the ending of the film on social media. This is a movie based upon another movie based upon a book, all sharing the same name. It’s easy to find plot summaries of the previous two versions of The Girl on The Train online. What could there be to spoil?

In an effort to distinguish this version of The Girl on the Train (TGOTT, henceforth), writer-director Ribhu Dasgupta added and changed elements of the original novel and the Hollywood film based on it. The results of those alterations make TGOTT feel as though it was written for the sake of its plot twists, and not for the purpose of telling a meaningful story.

Parineeti Chopra plays Mira Kapoor, a lawyer living in London and coping with tragedy. Mira and her husband Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) were in a car accident three years earlier that left her with mild amnesia and caused her to lose the baby she was carrying. She turned to alcohol to deal with the grief, and Shekhar left and married someone new, compounding Mira’s loss.

Every day, Mira takes the train past her old house to torment herself. She’s also become obsessed with a woman who lives a few doors down from her old place who looks like she has the perfect life. Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) is pretty, a beautiful dancer, and has a handsome husband. When Mira rides past the house and sees Nusrat hugging a man other than her husband one day, Mira becomes incensed. She drunkenly goes to Nusrat’s home, determined to stop her from ruining her marriage the way that Mira feels she did with her own relationship with Shekhar.

When Mira wakes up the next day, she has a massive wound on her forehead and no memory of how it got there. Police inspector Dalbir Kaur (Kirti Kulhari) questions Mira, whose identification card was found near the scene of a violent crime that occurred during Mira’s blackout. As Kaur and the cops try to link Mira to the crime, Mira undertakes her own investigation. Could Mira really have been capable of violence, even if she doesn’t remember it?

The success of the movie hinges on Chopra’s performance. Bless her heart, she tries. To be fair, Mira is drunk and angry for most of the film, so it’s not a role that requires much subtlety. But Chopra’s yelling, snorting, and stuporous lolling about push Mira into something more darkly comical than befits the film.

Let’s revisit Mira’s head wound. It covers half of her forehead, and it is disgusting. Why Mira opts not to cover it with a bandage to prevent infection or at least spare others from having to look at it, no one knows. Then again, it doesn’t much matter since only one person even remarks on it — and then only after she’s greeted Mira and hugged her. That no one asks Mira normal questions like “How do you feel?” or “Do you need a doctor?” defies explanation.

The bones of the the story are good, providing director Dasgupta with themes of psychological trauma, women’s fertility, substance abuse, and toxic relationships to draw upon. But in the end he discards them all for a finale that has nothing to say about anything. If the goal of TGOTT is purely to deceive the audience, then mission accomplished, I guess.

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Streaming Video News: February 26, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s world premiere of the thriller The Girl on the Train, based on the book by Paula Hawkins. The Hindi anthology film Zindagi in Short and the Telugu movie Red were also added to Netflix this week. A bunch of Indian titles are set to expire on March 1, so catch these while you can:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian films added in the last week, including today’s addition of the 2021 Tamil neo-noir thriller Kabadadaari (also available in 4K UHD).

Hotstar launched a new drama series yesterday — 1962: The War in the Hills, starring Abhay Deol. If that doesn’t float your boat, Hotstar also recently released the horror series Live Telecast and the animated show The Legend of Hanuman. Still no sign of The Big Bull or Bhuj, unfortunately.

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Movie Review: Ludo (2020)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Ludo on Netflix

The movie Ludo uses its namesake board game as a metaphor for life, its characters one dice roll away from fortune or ruin. Writer-director Anurag Basu’s black comedy is beautifully made and laugh-out-loud funny.

Anyone who has played the games Aggravation, Sorry!, or Trouble is familiar with how Ludo works. Players from four different colored corners of the game board roll dice, moving their pieces around the board in the hopes of being the first to get all their pieces safely “home.” Basu assigns different characters to the colored corners, and they meet up with one another throughout the story. Right at the center is Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a hard-to-kill gangster with ties to all of them.

In the red corner is Sattu’s former right-hand man Bittu (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out of prison and eager confront his old boss. Bittu charges in after a meeting between Sattu and the yellow corner’s Akash (Aditya Roy Kapur), who needs Sattu’s help removing a sex tape from the internet. The blue corner’s Rahul (Rohit Suresh Saraf) is at Sattu’s hideout as well, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An explosion sets the characters off in different directions. Rahul drives off with some of Sattu’s stolen cash and a cute, opportunistic nurse named Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash also hits the road, joined by Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) the woman from the sex tape who’s due to marry someone else in a matter of days. Bittu’s plan to find a way back into the life of the wife who left him while he was in jail and the young daughter who doesn’t remember him is derailed when he meets another precocious little girl, Mini (Inayat Verma), who needs help faking her own kidnapping in order to get her distracted parents’ attention.

While all this is happening, the characters from the green corner are trying to get out of their own mess. Alu (Rajkummar Rao) has been in love with Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) since childhood, although she never reciprocated his feelings. Pinky turns up with her baby to ask for Alu’s help getting her husband Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi) out of jail, where he languishes, wrongly accused of a murder committed by Sattu.

Director Basu doesn’t judge his characters for wanting what they want, even if what they want isn’t exactly good for them. Alu is the best example of this. He knows his one-sided devotion to Pinky gets him into trouble and keeps him perpetually single, but he’s miserable when she’s not around. Is it so bad for him to not want to feel awful?

Bittu’s story is the most complicated and emotional. He spent six years waiting to get back to his daughter — who was an infant when he went to prison — but she doesn’t know he exists. She thinks Bittu’s ex-wife’s new husband is her father. Spending time with Mini gives Bittu a chance to act in a fatherly role, making him question whether what he wants for himself is really what’s best for his daughter.

Bachchan’s performance when he’s playing Bittu the Gangster comes off as more pouty than menacing, but he’s terrific as Bittu the Dad. Little Inayat Verma is impossibly adorable, and she and Bachchan are so much fun together. Yet we know their relationship is only temporary. Almost all of Bittu’s options will leave him brokenhearted.

Given Pankaj Tripathi’s recent track record of stealing virtually every movie he’s in, Basu wisely put Tripathi in the middle of things from the start. His character’s introduction — dramatically exposing his inner thigh to pull a gun from a leg holster — is perfection. After the cute pairing of Bittu and Mini, Sattu is part of the film’s second best partnership. While he’s bedridden, Sattu forms a friendship with no-nonsense nurse Lata Kutty (Shalini Vatsa), one of the few people he can’t intimidate. It’s unexpected and delightful.

To keep his dark comedy from becoming too dark, Basu amplifies its other elements. Bright colors differentiate the storylines, but they also cheer up even violent scenes. Character closeups feel a little closer than normal. The excellent soundtrack and score by Pritam are prominent in the mix, setting the tone overtly. Ludo is loud, both aurally and visually, but it feels just right.

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Streaming Video News: February 17, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s addition of the 2019 Hindi dark comedy Eeb Allay Ooo!. The 2020 Malayalam film Love debuts on Thursday, followed by the Netflix Original Telugu anthology Pitta Kathalu on Friday.

Yash Raj Films announced the theatrical release dates for five upcoming movies today:

YRF’s catalog streams on Amazon Prime in the United States, so the same should hold true for these releases. What will be interesting is how long of an exclusivity window YRF gives to theaters. Six weeks to two months was the standard pre-pandemic, but I won’t be surprised if the window is flexible based on box office returns, if not shortened outright. Keep in mind that, even if theaters are allowed to operate at 100% capacity in India, not all states are currently doing so. US theaters have occupancy limits (where they are operating at all), and other countries may have similar restrictions.

A smaller movie like Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar would be an interesting test case for a day-and-date digital rental via Amazon, even if only outside India. (I’m not holding out hope that’ll happen — just throwing that wish out into the world.) With so many people unable or unwilling to watch films in theaters, there is a need to make new titles available as widely as possible before people turn to pirated copies.

Streaming Video News: February 12, 2021

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the 2019 Kannada film Mundina Nildana. We’re entering a busy stretch at Netflix, starting with the Valentine’s Day (Sunday) additions of the 2020 Indo-Nigerian romance Namaste Wahala and the debut of the Indian wedding reality series The Big Day. Those are followed on the 15th by Awara Paagal Deewana, Eeb Allay Ooo! on the 17th, and the premiere of the Netflix Original Telugu anthology Pitta Kathalu on February 19.

Here are all the other upcoming Netflix release dates that we know of:

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of Indian titles added in the last week. The Malayalam thriller Drishyam 2 debuts worldwide on February 19:

Movie Review: Coolie No. 1 (2020)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Coolie No. 1 on Amazon Prime

One of the questions at the heart of Coolie No. 1 is, “Why can’t a poor man marry a rich woman?” In this case, the answer is: “Because he doesn’t deserve her.”

Coolie No. 1 is a remake of the 1995 film of the same name, both of which are directed by David Dhawan. I have not seen the original, so this review will focus solely on the remake.

The coolie in question this time is Raju (Varun Dhawan), head of the porters at a railway station in Mumbai. Raju defends his elderly coworker from an abusive jerk Mahesh (Vikas Verma), not with his wits but with his fists. In the scuffle, Mahesh is exposed as a drug dealer and arrested.

One witness to the fight is pandit Jai Kishen (Javed Jaffrey), who is on his way home after bringing a prospective groom to the mansion of hotelier Jeffrey Rosario (Paresh Rawal). When Rosario insults Jai Kishen and the groom, declaring that his daughters will only marry men even richer than himself, Jai Kishen vows revenge. He plans to trick Rosario into getting his daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan) married to a poor man, and Raju seems like the perfect pawn for his scheme. Raju takes one look at a photo of Sarah and is onboard.

Raju poses as Raj, the son of the king of Singapore. Sarah is smitten with how humble Raj is despite being so rich, and Rosario is smitten with Raj’s apparent fortune. Only after the handsome couple is wed does Rosario begin to doubt Raj’s identity. When Rosario spots Raj working at his old job, the coolie improvises, inventing a heretofore unmentioned identical twin brother — compounding his original lie and making things exponentially more complicated.

It’s hard to buy in to Coolie No. 1, because it never acknowledges the harm done to Sarah for the sake of chastening her father. Sarah is tricked into falling for a man who lies to her about his identity, promises her a lifestyle he knows he can’t deliver, then traps her in a legally binding marriage contract. Would she have married him if she’d known he was working class? Maybe. We have no way of knowing.

Part of that is because Sarah is written as an empty shell. She’s too vapid to be suspicious of Raju. She earnestly fears for his safety when his charade keeps him away from home overnight. She eagerly tackles the housework in their dilapidated apartment, as though she didn’t grow up in a mansion full of servants (I guess women are just supposed to be innately good at cleaning). She’s a beautiful blank slate who reacts the way the plot needs her to react.

Coolie No. 1 is yet another film that thinks goodness is conferred upon its main character just by virtue of his being the main character, regardless of what he actually does. It’s significant that Raju doesn’t tell Sarah the truth until she accidentally discovers his deception. He wasn’t struck by a pang of conscience, nor did he try to enlist her help. He planned to keep lying to her indefinitely. How exactly does that make him a good guy?

For non-Hindi speakers, jokes in Bollywood comedies don’t always survive the translation via subtitles. But much of the wordplay humor in Coolie No. 1 is in English, and it’s still not funny. Rosario’s rhyming shtick and Raju’s Mithun Chakraborthy impression grow tired almost immediately. The physical humor in the movie isn’t amusing either.

As for the film’s positive points, it does have a number of entertaining, large-scale dance numbers (although the one where Rosario peeps through the window of his daughter’s hotel room while she’s on her honeymoon is creepy). Shikha Talsania and Sahil Vaid are likable as Sarah’s sister Anju and Raju’s friend Deepak, respectively, who fall in love amidst the drama.

Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan are both forgettable. In fact, let’s just forget this remake ever happened.

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In Theaters: January 29, 2021

Movie theaters across the Chicago area are once again allowed to reopen with restricted capacity. Some theaters have chosen to remain closed for the time being, but plenty are back in business. That said, opportunities to watch Indian movies in Chicago area theaters are few and far between the weekend beginning January 29, 2021.

The Tamil film Master — which became available for streaming on Amazon Prime today — opens Friday at the ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge. The ShowPlace ICON offers Master as one of the options in its “Private Showing” theater rental program for a price of $166.88. The cost of private rental — which accommodates a group of up to 20 people — is less than the cost of 12 regular priced adult tickets ($14.50).

Also starting Friday, the Seven Bridges theater carries the Telugu movie 30 Rojullo Preminchadam Ela, which is available in the theater’s “Private Watch Party” program for $149. Cinemark’s private rental program has the same 20-person limit and costs about the same as 17 regular priced tickets ($8.75) or 26 matinee tickets ($5.75).

Movie Review: The White Tiger (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The White Tiger on Netflix
Buy the novel at Amazon

“Rich men are born with opportunities they can waste.” So says a driver who realizes he has one chance to break out of the master-servant paradigm that has defined his life and kept him trapped in poverty.

Balram (Adarsh Gourav) narrates the story of his success via a series of emails written to Wen Jiabao ahead of the Chinese Premier’s visit to Bangalore in 2010. Ever the opportunist, Balram hopes to align himself with what he believes is the world’s rising power, as the influence of the West recedes.

The emails paint a clear picture of how social, economic, and political systems in India concentrate power and wealth. Balram’s family comes from a sweet-making caste in a small village north of Delhi. A third of the money everyone in town earns goes to the landlord, a stern man called The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar) with a violent son known as The Mongoose (Vijay Maurya). Apart from a few rupees for incidentals, the rest of the money earned by the men in Balram’s family goes to Balram’s grandmother (Kamlesh Gill) — the only member of the large clan who doesn’t go hungry.

Through patience, observation, and quick wit, Balram secures himself a position as the driver for The Stork’s youngest son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), recently returned from New York with his Indian-American wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). The gig allows Balram to finally utilize the English language skills he picked up as a precocious kid. Ashok, Pinky, and Balram move to Delhi in order to facilitate some bribery on behalf of The Stork, with the threat that any misstep on Balram’s part could cause The Stork to murder Balram’s whole family.

In Delhi, it becomes apparent how the entrenched master-servant system limits the imaginations of those involved. Ashok doesn’t like when his brother and father hit Balram, but doesn’t try to make Balram a full-fledged employee with rights either. The expectation is that Balram will work hard for Ashok’s family for minimal pay until they decide to get rid of him. That’s it.

Even Balram starts to see how his upbringing has filtered his expectations. When Pinky asks him what he wants to do in life, it seems like an absurd question. He already achieved his goal of getting out of working at his family’s tea shop when he got this job. What else is there? Even if Balram had a bigger dream, he has no money or connections. The only people he knows who could help him are Ashok and his family, and they’ve made it clear they’d never do that.

Dangerous circumstances force Balram to choose whether to continue viewing himself as disposable the way that his bosses do, or to assert his right to self-determination. In order to overcome what he calls the “servant mindset,” Balram needs the fortitude of the rarest of creatures: the white tiger.

Director Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s novel is thorough in its world building but lets Balram’s particular viewpoint set the tone of the film. Balram is a loner, so something like collective action never crosses his mind. His choices, for good or ill, make sense for who he is, especially as defined by Gourav’s terrific lead performance.

Chopra Jonas — who co-produced the film — hits it out of the park as Pinky, a woman who wants to do good but doesn’t have the full context for the situation or the agency to make significant changes even if she did. With Rao’s history of playing likeable characters, it’s all the more frustrating when Ashok won’t stand up to his dad and brother to demand better treatment for Balram. Then again, he’s as much a product of his environment as everyone else, which is exactly the problem The White Tiger examines.

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Movie Review: Tribhanga (2021)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Tribhanga on Netflix

A matriarch’s serious illness gives her family occasion to examine their troubled relationships in Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy. One big structural flaw hampers this otherwise insightful and well-acted depiction of complicated family dynamics.

Nayan (Tanvi Azmi) is a celebrated author and head of the Apte family. She has a stroke and falls into a coma while dictating her autobiography to her ghost writer, Milan (Kunaal Roy Kapur). Nayan’s daughter Anu (Kajol), a famous and temperamental actress, rushes to Nayan’s bedside with her own adult daughter, Masha (Milthila Palkar).

One of Anu’s first reactions is to joke that at least she won’t have to listen to Nayan talk for a change. Anu and her brother Robindro (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi) don’t try to hide their disdain for their mother just because she’s ill. Nayan made some radical, progressive choices in her life, such as giving her children her own surname following her divorce from their father. However, she never considered the potential negative impacts those choices could have on her kids, nor the price they would pay for her devotion to her writing.

Those hard early years forged an unshakeable alliance between Anu and Robindro and influenced Anu’s own parenting style. Anu and Masha are joined at the hip, but there’s still space for Masha to have her own separate, affectionate relationship with Nayan. Masha seizes upon the opportunity presented by her grandmother’s hospitalization to learn more about the men who were once important in Nayan’s life.

The key man in Nayan’s life at present is Milan, who is the biggest problem in Tribhanga. He’s not a real character so much as a human plot device created to stoke drama and move the story forward. His interactions with the other characters are unnatural, as though Milan has no understanding of human emotions. His awkwardness stands out, given how authentic all of the other characters feel and how well-performed they are, especially by Kajol and Palkar.

Milan — who spends almost as much time in Nayan’s hospital room as Anu — cannot understand why Anu hates her mother. When Anu finally tells him why, her anger seems perfectly justifiable. Milan responds by showing her a video of Nayan addressing the subject matter directly. So Milan already knew the reason, yet still could not understand Anu’s feelings.

Tribhanga is only writer-director Renuka Shahane’s second feature film (her first in Hindi), so maybe relying so heavily on Milan for plot progress is a matter of inexperience. It might also be a matter of not trusting other characters and their actors to more the story forward organically. Instead, Milan interrupts scenes that promise to reveal family history in a more natural, light-hearted way — such as when Anu and Robindro reminisce over their aunt’s delicious ladoos — just to say something dumb that makes Anu mad and cuts the scene short.

In a film about how parental choices affect children, having Milan lurk around the hospital feels like another unwanted choice imposed upon Anu via Nayan and director Shahane. In reality, would anyone want a non-family member whom no one but the comatose patient even likes hanging around in a small hospital room? Other characters could have given Anu insight into her mother’s thoughts just as easily as Milan, especially since the film relies on flashbacks and not just Milan’s interview footage to present Nayan’s side of the story.

The film also stumbles a bit when making comparisons between Anu’s parenting style and Nayan’s, treating some actions as equivalent when they aren’t. Same for comparing Anu’s reaction to her childhood with Masha’s. The film suggests that Masha’s decision to marry into a conservative, patriarchal family as the logical response to being raised by a single mother, as though families only exist in those two forms with nothing in between.

Director Shahane is onto something with Tribhanga. She knows how to write complex women characters and build interesting relationships for them. Trusting in the audience to follow those characters through a story that develops organically is the next step.

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