Tag Archives: 2016

Movie Review: Nil Battey Sannata (2016)

nilbatteysannata3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Nil Battey Sannata (“Good for Nothing” colloquially) is a heart-warming story about familial bonds and the importance of education. However, the movie is more than just feel-good fare, offering a canny exploration of the complexities of poverty.

Appu (Ria Shukla) is a typical teen, more fond of hanging out with her friends and mooning over film stars than studying. Also like many teens, she doesn’t understand the lengths her mother goes to just to keep a roof over their heads.

As a single mother and the family’s sole breadwinner, Chanda (Swara Bhaskar) wears a lot of hats. She works as a maid for Dr. Diwan (Ratna Pathak) in the morning and does odd jobs at night, washing dishes or sewing clothes. When she comes home, she cooks and cleans so that Appu can focus on her studies.

Even though Appu is in her final year of high school, mother and daughter haven’t discussed Appu’s future plans. Chanda assumed her own toil would enable Appu to go to college, an opportunity high school dropout Chanda never had. She is stunned when Appu says she wants to be a maid like her mom.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s story — co-written with her husband, Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari — doesn’t lay all of the blame on Appu, though the girl’s disdain for school is a huge hurdle. Her lack of ambition is partly a product of her surroundings. Everyone she knows is poor or a laborer, so what good will an education do her? Her friend, Pintu (Prashant Tiwari), plans to become a driver like his father. He’s befuddled when Chanda asks him if he wouldn’t rather own the car than drive for someone else.

Chanda’s perspective is also limited by her financial circumstances. She knows she can’t afford the tuition for medical school or engineering school, but she doesn’t know of any other jobs that could provide the comfortable lifestyle she envisions for Appu. By happenstance, Chanda meets a man being chauffeured in an air-conditioned car, and she learns that he’s the local tax collector. She immediately determines that’s the job that Appu must pursue.

Appu’s intellectual laziness has caused her to fall behind in math. With expensive tutoring out of the question, Chanda heeds Dr. Diwan’s advice and enrolls in Appu’s class so that she can tutor her daughter herself. Of course, nothing could be more mortifying to Appu than having her mom as a classmate, clad in a school uniform and all. Chanda’s efforts to help her daughter cause friction between the two of them, straining their formerly close bonds.

Bhaskar is charming and sympathetic as Chanda, though it’s hard not to pull for a mother who’ll go to any lengths for her daughter. Shukla’s job is harder given that Appu is often a pill, but the actress pulls it off, making her character relatable. Even at Appu’s worst moments, the audience can always tell that she’s a good kid at heart, thanks to Shukla’s performance.

The mother-daughter relationship is the core of Nil Battey Sannata, but Iyer Tiwari does an admirable job depicting a concept that’s hard to understand, namely the way poverty complicates all aspects of a person’s life. It’s easy to prescribe education as the ultimate solution to economic hardship, but Chanda’s and Appu’s story shows that money isn’t the only scarce resource for those on the margins. Time, experience, and connections are almost as important — and almost as rare, too.

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Streaming Video News: February 27, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the catalog. Last year’s action sequel Force 2 — starring John Abraham and Sonakshi Sinha — is now available for streaming. It’s a fun followup to a really terrific thriller. It’s also the sixth 2016 release added to Netflix this month. Let’s hope Netflix’s renewed fondness for recent mainstream Bollywood fare continues.

For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Bollywood Box Office: February 10-12, 2017

There’s something fascinating going on with Akshay Kumar’s box office returns in North America, and I’m not sure how to make sense of it. His latest film — Jolly LLB 2 — earned $743,719 from 197 theaters ($3,775 average) in the United States and Canada during its opening weekend of February 10-12, 2017. (Box Office Mojo lists the film as opening in 173 total theaters, making for an average of $4,299 per theater.) This total is consistent with the opening weekend returns of Kumar’s three 2016 releases — Airlift, Housefull 3, and Rustom — which ranged from $674,890 for Housefull 3 on the low-end and $815,933 for Airlift on the high-end. The only difference is that Jolly LLB 2 opened in sixty more theaters than Housefull 3, Kumar’s biggest release of last year, so one would’ve expected larger returns with Jolly LLB 2‘s wider release.

Here’s where things get weird. Kumar released four films in 2015: Baby, Gabbar is Back, Brothers, and Singh Is Bliing. Those four films opened in an average of 140 theaters — ranging from 99 for Baby to 181 for Brothers — so their opening weekend theatrical footprint was slightly larger than the average opening weekend theater count of 122 for his three 2016 releases (though still smaller than Jolly LLB 2‘s 197 theaters). The average total earnings for Kumar’s four 2015 releases was $721,024. Yet, Kumar’s three 2016 releases plus Jolly LLB 2 earned an average of $747,887 in their opening weekends! In the span of a year, Kumar became popular enough in North America than his films now earn the same amount in one weekend as they earned over their entire theatrical lifespan in 2015! How the heck does that happen?!

Those earnings aren’t just front-loaded, either. Kumar’s films have seen their box office longevity increase as well. In 2015, the average Kumar movie finished its theatrical run with a total that was 1.91 times the amount it earned in its opening weekend. In 2016, that average multiplier jumped to 2.26.

The other impressive anomaly at the North American box office this weekend is Dangal‘s performance in its eighth weekend in theaters. It earned $11,441 from six theaters ($1,907 average), bringing its total to $12,329,706. This is notable because Bollywood movies don’t earn more than $10,000 in a weekend by this point in their life-cycles. Even though Kapoor & Sons hung around theaters for ten weeks last spring, it stopped earning five figures after its sixth weekend.

Other Hindi movies showing in US and Canadian theaters:

  • Raees: Week 3; $105,069 from 63 theaters; $1,668 average; $3,508,519 total
  • Kaabil: Week 3; $40,343 from 34 theaters; $1,187 average; $1,373,722 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Bollywood Box Office: January 20-22, 2017

Dangal turned in another stellar performance at the North American box office over the weekend. From January 20-22, 2017, it earned $193,045 from 62 theaters ($3,114 average), bringing its total earnings to $12,126,860.

Dangal looks nothing like a typical Bollywood movie in its fifth weekend in theaters in North America. Heck, the median opening weekend gross for Bollywood movies released here last year was less than $165,000! In 2016, twenty of the fifty Hindi films released here stuck around theaters for at least five weeks. The median number of theaters for a movie in its fifth weekend was six, the median gross earnings were $4,963, and the median per-theater average was $796. Dangal isn’t just crushing those median numbers, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the movie with the second best fifth-weekend performance of 2016: Kapoor & Sons, which earned $28,377 from 36 theaters.

On the flip side, OK Jaanu just can’t find an audience here. In its second weekend, it earned $32,773 from 49 theaters ($669 average), bringing its total to $345,725. Raees and Kaabil will knock OK Jaanu out of most of those theaters come Wednesday. Too bad, ’cause it’s an okay film.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

2016 was a darned good year for Hindi films, with positive reviews outnumbering negative reviews 26-22 at this site. Here’s my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

I should start by noting that Dhanak — which released theatrically in the United States and India in June, 2016 — would have made the list had it not already appeared on my Best of 2015 list. I watched it as part of the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

As for the ten films that did make the 2016 list, two stood out for employing narrative structures that reflect their subject matter. Pink begins with the aftermath of a sexual assault, and not until the ending credits do we see the events as they really happened, echoing the “he said, she said” nature of many sexual assault cases. Waiting isn’t afraid to show its characters being bored, a feeling anyone who’s spent time in a hospital can relate to.

Neerja and Aligarh were emotional true stories featuring riveting performances by their lead actors: Sonam Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, respectively. Parched also earned a nod for the stellar performances by its four female co-leads.

Two films mastered genres with spotty track records in Bollywood: superhero movies and sex comedies. A Flying Jatt was a welcome nod to the colorful, optimistic type of superhero flick that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood in recent years, featuring an ordinary protagonist who discovers his inner hero (with a little divine assistance, providing a compelling subplot about religious identity). Unlike the two worst Bollywood movies of 2016 — the mean-spirited sex comedies Mastizaade and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3Brahman Naman is raunchy and hilarious, aiming most of its jokes at its hapless leading man.

South Korean films have inspired a number of Hindi thrillers in recent years (Rocky Handsome and Jazbaa, for instance), but the chilling Raman Raghav 2.0 is totally Indian, especially in regard to the way director Anurag Kashyap uses music to guide the audience through emotional moments.

The two films at the top of this year’s list earn their spots by tackling tough subjects in otherwise very commercial fare. Udta Punjab harnessed the star-power of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh to deftly address Punjab’s drug crisis and make it relevant to people not directly affected by it.

My favorite film of the year also featured a top-notch cast, including Alia Bhatt (again), Rishi Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, and Ratna Pathak. Kapoor & Sons bravely examines the secrets that family members keep from one another and the resentment that builds because of it, addressing issues like infidelity, parental favoritism, and homosexuality with sensitivity and compassion. That Kapoor & Sons also manages to be lots of fun just further cements it as my Best Bollywood Movie of 2016.

Check my Netflix list to see which of these films are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

  1. Kapoor & Sons — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Udta Punjab — Buy at Amazon
  3. Aligarh — Buy at Amazon
  4. Parched — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  5. Brahman Naman
  6. Raman Raghav 2.0 — Buy at Amazon
  7. A Flying Jatt
  8. Neerja — Buy at Amazon
  9. Waiting — Buy at Amazon
  10. Pink — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Movie Review: Mostly Sunny (2016)

mostlysunny2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes

Watching the documentary Most Sunny, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what felt off about the film. Only later did I read that the documentary’s subject, actress Sunny Leone, has all but disowned the movie, refusing to attend its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. I can’t say I blame her, because the film is a mess.

During her interview segments, Sunny comes across as warm, funny, and smart. She’s candid about not just her history in the adult film industry but about money as well, celebrating the $100,000 signing bonus she demanded to appear on the Indian reality show Bigg Boss in 2008 as a life-changing sum.

Her killer curves and salacious past distract from her most admirable quality: her business acumen. With the help of her husband and business partner, Daniel Weber, she parlayed a lucrative career in porn into a production company and eventually success in mainstream Indian movies. Sunny herself says, “One thing I was good at was turning a quarter into a dollar.”

It’s difficult to tell Sunny’s story chronologically because her extended family cut ties with her when she became Penthouse “Pet of the Year” in 2003. No one from the Sikh community in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario — where she was raised as Karenjit Kaur Vohra — would agree to talk about her on camera. Her parents died several years ago, so the only relative to speak on her behalf is her younger brother, Sunny (whose name she stole in a panic to invent a stage name). Even though the siblings maintain a close relationship, they never appear together in the documentary.

There are hardly any interviews with people who’ve worked with Sunny in India either. Director Mahesh Bhatt says some kind words about her potential, as does the CEO of the channel that airs Bigg Boss. Sunny’s Ek Paheli Leela costar Rajneesh Duggal mentions that other actors turned down his role before him because they didn’t want to work opposite Sunny, but he doesn’t mention what it’s like to actually work with her. Sunny’s costumer and close confidant Hitesh isn’t comfortable talking on camera.

Sunny Leone’s story is about her fame and acceptance in sexually conservative India following a career in porn, but filmmaker Dilip Mehta is hung up on Sunny’s racy past. Topless shots of the actress scroll across the screen multiple times, a choice that does nothing to inform the audience about the woman herself but to capitalize on a career she acknowledges but has left behind.

Mehta makes a bizarre choice during a segment about Sunny’s adult film production house, SunLust Pictures, where she directs movies but doesn’t appear in the them. There is a shot of a movie in production featuring a full-on sex scene between a man and a woman, their genitals blurred as they engage in intercourse. What is the narrative purpose of this shot? If the point is to titillate, why bother blurring the genitals? It’s not like we can’t tell what’s happening. Mostly Sunny has no MPAA rating, but this scene alone makes otherwise PG-13 content into a hard R.

The topless shots and the sex scene ensure that any people still reluctant to embrace Sunny will never watch the movie. What is the point of Mostly Sunny if not to showcase her as an interesting, normal person? Who does Mehta think his audience is?

It’s hard to decipher Mehta’s objectives for this movie. Scene transitions frequently consist of footage of poor people shot from inside a moving car. Sunny herself isn’t in the car, so this isn’t meant to show what she sees on he way to work at a Mumbai movie studio. It neither reinforces nor juxtaposes with anything else we’re hearing and seeing. It’s just poverty porn.

The footage that runs behind the ending credits is likewise inexplicable. As patrons exit a movie theater following a film showing, they notice Mehta’s camera pointed at them and start dancing or mugging for the camera. What purpose does this serve?

As is often the case in her Bollywood movies, Sunny’s charisma transcends the mediocre quality of this film. That a documentary specifically about her lets her down is disappointing.

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Bollywood Box Office: January 6-8, 2017

Dangal passed PK to become the highest grossing Bollywood film in North America ever, taking just seventeen days to do so. During the weekend of January 6-8, 2017, Dangal earned another $770,084 from 226 theaters ($3,407 average), bringing its total earnings to $11,084,912.

Dangal‘s success in North America perfectly illustrates Canada’s theater dearth. The film opened in 26 theaters in Canada and 331 theaters in the United States for a total of 357 theaters, the film’s widest release. (The US figure may be in dispute, but I’m using it since it doesn’t significantly alter the point I’m trying to make). Based on those numbers, Canada accounts for 7.3% of the total theaters to ever carry Dangal in North America. Yet the film has earned $1,871,072 in Canada, accounting for 16.9% of the North American total. Dividing each country’s total earnings thus far by the highest number of theaters Dangal released in gives each of those 331 US theaters a lifetime average earnings of $27,836, versus a lifetime average of $71,964 for each of the 26 Canadian theaters!

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Dear Zindagi: Week 7; $720 from two theaters; $360 average; $2,453,270 total
  • Kahaani 2: Week 6; $348 from one theater; $489,873 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama