Movie Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl“, ELKDTAL henceforth), debutant filmmaker Shelly Chopra Dhar set out to change how India thinks about LGBTQ people, both in terms of social acceptance and as an untapped well of cinematic storytelling possibilities. Her film is caring, thoughtful exploration of how a conservative family deals with a gay family member.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja uses her star-power for good to play Sweety Chaudhary, a closeted lesbian from the Punjabi town of Moga. While on a trip to New Delhi, she ducks into a theater during play rehearsals to hide from a man we later learn is her brother, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Intrigued by Sweety’s good looks and her insightful critique of the awful play, its floundering writer, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), helps her escape to a train station.

Sahil finds out where Sweety lives and heads to Moga under the pretext of running an acting workshop. There, a series of misunderstandings convince Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), her grandmother Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), and Sahil himself that Sweety is secretly in love with him.

Sweety explains to Sahil that she’s in love with a woman named Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). Babloo knows this and disapproves of his sister’s feelings, which is why he followed her to New Delhi and why she’d hidden from him in Sahil’s theater. Bereft of ideas for how to live a life true to herself, Sweety lets Sahil use his storytelling skills in a daring plan to win over her family and the town of Moga.

Director Shelly Chopra Dhar set herself the daunting task of making a movie that anyone could enjoy, but that would also open the minds of a particular segment of the audience. In an interview with The Telegraph, Chopra Dhar explains that her target audience was not progressive urbanites already accepting of LGBTQ people, but “people who’re genuinely not there”: those in smaller cities and towns in India who may have little personal exposure to gay people. So as not to risk scaring those people away, there is no same-sex kissing in ELKDTAL, only some affectionate hugging and hand-holding between Sweety and Kuhu — a choice consistent with the chaste way many mainstream Hindi films still depict straight romance.

Chopra Dhar also says in the interview that she had to consider ELKDTAL‘s setting when trying to reach her intended audience. Small-town folks might feel disconnected from an urban story, and a village setting could make the film seem too artsy and not commercial enough (which is why she made Balbir a rich factory owner). Although she wanted the serious message of acceptance to come through, she needed to relate to her audience in an uplifting way: “It’s not a dark and dingy film either. Why can’t it be a nice, bright film and be natural?”

ELKDTAL feels breezy and familiar, and its dramatic elements are balanced by two comic subplots. One involves the Chaudhary family staff — played by Seema Bhargava and Brijendra Kala, who is adorable in the film — betting on who Sweety will finally marry. Another features Juhi Chawla as Chatro, a goofy caterer with acting ambitions who catches Balbir’s eye. The tonal shifts between the comedy and drama elements aren’t seamless, but they never take the film off track.

In many ways, ELKDTAL‘s story is less about Sweety’s journey than how people react when she opens up to them. As the audience’s onscreen avatar, Sahil meets Sweety and decides she’s someone who deserves friendship and help, reinforcing the story’s message of judging someone by the content of their character. Sweety’s father, Balbir, already loves her, but he doesn’t see her for who she really is — in part because Sweety felt compelled to hide the truth from him. Balbir’s challenge is to accept what is, to him, a new facet of his daughter’s life, but also to see the way his own expectations for her made her life harder and less happy. It forces the audience to question whether we’ve let our own loved ones down by expecting them to be someone they’re not.

The downside to this narrative focus is that Sweety is acted upon more than she drives the action, but Kapoor Ahuja is fully engaged in every scene, her reactions always showing us how Sweety feels even when her character isn’t the center of attention. Same goes for Rao and Kapoor, whose love for his real-life daughter (Kapoor Ahuja) spills over into Balbir’s affection for Sweety. While ELKDTAL‘s laudable social goals are the perfect reason to start the movie, the film’s delightful performances make you want to see it through to the end.

Links

Advertisements

Streaming Video News: May 10, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of dozens of Indian films in the last week, including these 2019 releases:

Sadly, Aisha and Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai are no longer available on Prime.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of a bunch of cartoons in the Chhota Bheem series. On May 15, the Bengali movies Ant Story and Television expire along with a few filmed versions of Hindi plays. Netflix announced that the original movie Chopsticks — starring Karwaan‘s Mithila Palkar, Abhay Deol, and Vijay Raaz — debuts on the service on May 31.

Opening May 10: Student of the Year 2

Karan Johar turns Student of the Year into a franchise with Student of the Year 2, which hits Chicago area theaters on May 10, 2019. While the original launched future stars Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, and Sidharth Malhotra, SOTY2 features Tiger Shroff, who debuted five years ago. Newbies Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria star opposite Tiger.

SOTY2 opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min.

Kalank gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 24 and Woodridge 18.

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

Bollywood Box Office: May 3-5, 2019

Kalank closed out its third weekend in North America with $84,217 from 85 theaters ($991 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total earnings stand at $2,699,301.

Other Hindi movies showing in North American theaters over the weekend:

  • The Tashkent Files: Week 4; $6,845 from five theaters; $1,369 average; $56,633 total
  • Kesari: Week 7; $1,807 from four theaters; $452 average; $1,904,557 total
  • Badla: Week 9; $76 from one theater; $1,863,375 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Junglee (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Junglee is exactly the movie it’s supposed to be: a fun action flick with a clear environmental message, great practical effects, and elephants. Lots of elephants.

Bollywood’s premier martial artist Vidyut Jammwal stars as Raj, a veterinarian who grew up on an elephant sanctuary run by his parents. As a young man, Raj ran away to the city, blaming his father for his mother’s death from cancer. Only on the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death does Raj finally return to the sanctuary.

Things have changed since Raj left. The remote jungle region is struggling economically, according to Raj’s friend Dev (Akshay Oberoi), who now works as a forest ranger. Raj’s childhood pal Shankara (Pooja Sawant) is one of the sanctuary’s few remaining mahouts, or elephant caretakers. She’s also grown up to be stunningly beautiful. The only thing that hasn’t changed is Raj’s frosty relationship with his father, Baba (Thalaivasal Vijay).

Too many Bollywood male leads are written as incapable of making mistakes, but Raj is different. He accepts Dev’s admonishment when his friend says that Raj is in no position to criticize the state of the sanctuary after abandoning it. Raj also comes to realize that he was too young to understand his parents’ choices during his mother’s cancer battle, and that realization starts to heal the rift with his father. Raj is willing to admit that he’s wrong and learn from his mistakes.

Economic troubles aren’t the sanctuary’s only problem. Ivory poachers use camera drones to spot Bhola, a bull with impressive tusks. Led by the hunter Keshav (Atul Kulkarni, who has a touch of Quint from Jaws in his performance), the poachers launch a nighttime raid, with elephants and humans among the casualties.

Raj sets out to find the culprits, aided by Shankara, Dev, and Meera (Asha Bhat) — a plucky reporter from the city visiting the sanctuary to interview Baba. This chase sets the stage for some of Jammwal’s signature stunt-work, which is as thrilling to watch as always. Raj fights with whatever items he has on hand, turning a ladder or a table and chairs into weapons with high novelty value. Shankara and Meera add comic relief, in the form of a love triangle which Raj doesn’t seem keen to participate in.

The highlight of Junglee is unquestionably its elephants, real-life residents at a conservation center in Thailand where much of the film was shot. Director Chuck Russell spoke with Scroll.in (interview linked below) about the numerous precautions the crew took to ensure the safety and comfort of the elephants while still shooting as many scenes with them as possible. The resulting footage is impressive — a refreshing throwback to the days before computer-generated imagery became the default cost-cutting option for film producers. It’s very cool to watch the cast interact with the elephants, and it makes the whole film a treat for the kid in all of us.

Links

Streaming Video News: May 3, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a few newly added 2019 releases. The Hindi horror flick Mona Darling is now available, as is the English-language Desi movie His Father’s Voice and the Tamil and Telugu versions of Airaa. Last month’s Telugu theatrical release Majili debuts on Prime May 10.

In Theaters: May 3, 2019

It’s a super slow weekend for Chicago area Bollywood fans. (Better get hyped for Student of the Year 2 next week, y’all.) As of Friday, May 3, 2019, Kalank carries over in just three theaters: the AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, which also holds over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

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

Streaming Video News: May 1, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a couple of new additions to start the month of May. The 2019 Marathi film Sur Sapata and the 2018 Bengali movie Kia and Cosmos are now available for streaming. Other recent additions include the Malayalam film Njan Prakashan and the Hindi indies CRD and Teen Aur Aadha.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with two new additions today: the 2019 Tamil film Pettakadai and the Hindi-dubbed version of 2016’s Kaashmora. Other 2019 releases recently added to Prime include:

For everything else new on Netflix and Amazon Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: April 26-28, 2019

Kalank‘s second weekend in North American theaters could have been worse, but it was still pretty bad. From April 26-28, 2019, the period drama earned $278,720 from 283 theaters ($985 average), according to Box Office Mojo. That brings its 12-day total to $2,482,587.

For perspective on Kalank‘s performance, I looked at the 25 most widely released Hindi films in North America since 2014 (excluding multilingual movies like Baahubali 2) to see how they fared from their first weekend to their second. Kalank released into the 8th highest number of theaters in its opening weekend (320), and it ranks 10th in terms of second-weekend theater count (283). Nevertheless, its second-weekend gross of $278,720 ranks way down in 18th (the median is $600,000). Its per-screen average of $985 is even worse, tied for 20th place with Zero. Only six movies among the 25 failed to average $1,000/screen in their second weekends here: Kalank, Zero, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Tubelight, Thugs of Hindostan, and Befikre. This is not a group any movie wants to be a part of.

To be fair to Kalank, it was up against literally the toughest box office competition of all time in Avengers: Endgame, which broke pretty much every record on its way to earning $1.2 billion globally in its opening weekend. That Kalank did as well as it did is kind of remarkable, especially since — at least in the Chicago region — a number of theaters gave Kalank only one showing a day at off-peak times in order to accommodate more showings of Avengers. Still, Kalank‘s underwhelming-on-paper showing will likely cause it to drop at least 2/3 of its remaining theaters in North America come Weekend 3.

Other Hindi movies showing in North American theaters:

  • The Tashkent Files: Week 3; $6,355 from five theaters; $1,271 average; $44,542 total
  • Kesari: Week 6; $1,972 from three theaters; $657 average; $1,901,536 total
  • Badla: Week 8; $348 from two theaters; $174 average; $1,863,181 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

In Theaters: April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame takes over theaters across the globe this weekend, so it’s no surprise that there are no new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on Friday, April 26, 2019. Despite a somewhat lackluster opening weekend, Kalank carries over at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

There’s a big caveat to the above list. In order to accommodate the huge crowds anticipated for Avengers, several theaters are showing Kalank only once per day — and at off-peak times. The Marcus Addison has the worst of those showtimes, running Kalank at 8:30 a.m. (and only through the weekend). The Cantera 17’s lone showing is at 10:10 a.m., the Round Lake Beach 18 at 11:50 a.m., and Seven Bridges at 4:20 p.m. All those theaters add shows starting Monday.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

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