Tag Archives: 2017

Movie Review: Tikli and Laxmi Bomb (2017)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the book Tikli and Laxmi Bomb: To Hell with Patriarchy at Amazon

Tikli and Laxmi Bomb plays at the UK Asian Film Festival on March 21 and 22, 2018.

Two women spark a revolution among sex workers in Mumbai in Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, a wonderful indie film currently doing the festival rounds. The story imparts a tremendous amount of information about the dangers faced by sex workers in an organic and thoughtful way, via endearing lead characters.

The title refers to two types of firecrackers popular in India: one with a short fuse (“Tikli”) and another that burns slower but makes a louder bang (“Laxmi Bomb”). The nicknames are perfect for the main duo. Laxmi (Vibhawari Deshpande) is a long-time sex worker, tasked by her pimp Mhatre (Upendra Limaye) with showing the ropes to the new girl in town, Putul (Chitrangada Chakraborty). Putul earns the nickname “Tikli” after she stabs an aggressive customer.

Laxmi can’t understand why Tikli won’t accept the way things are. Police hassle the women despite Mhatre’s bribes. Their supposed bodyguard A.T. (Mayur More) ignores their phone calls for help. Mhatre takes just enough of the women’s earnings to ensure that they aren’t destitute but can never rise above their current economic situation. World-weary Laxmi has learned to protect herself the best she can within the present constraints.

That acceptance doesn’t suit Tikli. She proposes breaking off from Mhatre and forming their own gang made up of women who will look out for each other instead of suffering abuse at the hands of those claiming to protect them. Laxmi resists until she discovers the extent to which Mhatre and his gang will go to keep the women subjugated. She, Tikli, and a handful of other sex workers set out on their own to change their fates.

As employees in an illegal profession, the women in Tikli and Laxmi Bomb are vulnerable to myriad forms of abuse. The film exposes its audience to many of them in a way that feels narratively consistent, without resorting to the lectures that ruin the flow of many socially conscious mainstream Hindi films. Each new setback the women face on their path to autonomy feels inevitable in retrospect, given the corruption and brutality built into the system.

It is to writer-director Aditya Kripalani’s credit that much of the violence against the female characters occurs off-camera. In the film, rape is used by men as a warning against insubordination and is thus carried out in front of other women. Their horrified reactions show us all we need to see.

Kripalani shares the credit for his enlightened directorial choices with his crew. Tikli and Laxmi Bomb‘s cinematographer, editor, and line producer are all women, as are the heads of costuming, makeup, and other key departments. Co-producer Sweta Chhabria says this deliberately chosen crew “helped the director and the film to lose its male gaze.”

Then there’s the talented cast. The two leads play off one another beautifully, Chakraborty’s impudent Tikli tempered by Deshpande’s pragmatic Laxmi. Divya Unny and Kritika Pande are great as two of the founding members of the gang, and veteran supporting actors like Suchitra Pillai and Saharsh Kumar Shukla help fill out the world.

The film was shot using natural lighting and handheld cameras, giving the film a raw quality appropriate for this view of life on the margins of society. Even with a big Bollywood budget, there’s little one would want to change about Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, so effective is its world-building and so well-organized is its story. Hopefully a successful turn on the festival circuit results in a way for the masses to see Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, because it deserves a wide audience.

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Movie Review: Basmati Blues (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

Rent or buy the movie at Amazon or iTunes
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Basmati Blues is as problematic as its trailer makes it out to be, and it’s also just plain weird.

The weirdness reveals itself early, when Brie Larson — who filmed this before she was a household name — starts singing while watering plants and wearing a lab coat. Basmati Blues is supposedly an homage to Bollywood films, but the on-the-nose lyrics make it more akin to Western musical theater.

Larson’s character, Linda, is the scientist behind a super productive new strain of rice developed on behalf of Mogil, the agribusiness conglomerate she works for. Mogil’s CEO, Mr. Gurgon (Donald Sutherland), sends her to India to convince farmers to ditch their current rice in favor of the new strain she’s developed.

Upon setting foot in the country, Linda ticks off boxes on the checklist of Things That White People in Movies Find Surprising About India: It’s crowded! A stranger is carrying my luggage! There’s a cow in the road! People eat with their hands! That coconut is on fire!

This is a “Bollywood” movie by white people, for white people. Producer Monique Caulfield — who is married to the film’s writer-director Dan Baron — told Vulture: “the film is made for the Western audience.” Yet they don’t credit their Western audience with the ability to conceptualize India outside of a very narrow, stereotypical focus.

The trailer for Basmati Blues was criticized for its white savior narrative. Linda is indeed a white savior, but with a twist — she’s also a villain. The rice she’s created is more productive and pest-resistant, but it’s also sterile, forcing users to buy a fresh supply of seed each year from Mogil. This fact shocks both of local guys who’ve fallen in love with her — funny agriculture student Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and suave rich guy William (Saahil Sehgal) — but Linda is fully aware of the rice’s reproductive properties. She just never considered what it means economically for the customers who rely upon the rice and the communities they live in.

Linda somehow remains oblivious to the harm caused by her creations until very late in the film, well after the point that she should have had her revelation and change of heart. As such, it makes it hard to root for the happy ending with Rajit that the story is driving toward. Why does he deserve to be saddled with someone who seemingly lacks a conscience?

The music throughout is forgettable, but Larson and Ambudkar are decent enough singers. Their musical performances are overshadowed by the novelty of veteran actors Sutherland, Tyne Daly, and Scott Bakula singing and dancing.

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Best Bollywood Movies of 2017

Looking back at all of the 2017 releases that I reviewed, there were more movies that I liked than those I didn’t. Here are my ten favorites from a sizable group of contenders.

I love a well-made action movie, and 2017 had two that stood out. Commando 2 took full advantage of Vidyut Jammwal’s impressive physical skills in a solid followup to 2013’s terrific Commando: A One Man Army. The slick action comedy A Gentleman had cool stunts, abundant laughs, and the perfect leading duo for such a film: Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez.

Malhotra made another appearance in the Top Ten with his murder mystery remake Ittefaq, featuring a great performance by Akshaye Khanna as a detective. The other thriller on the list, Trapped, found Rajkummar Rao carrying the weight of an entire movie by himself as his character sought to escape a locked apartment.

Secret Superstar was a touching family drama with surprising emotional depth, especially since its marketing focused heavily on Aamir Khan’s wacky (and very funny) cameo performance. Though Hindi Medium was more deliberately comedic, it likewise packed an unexpected punch, effectively illustrating the negative effects of income inequality on quality public education.

Three wonderful romantic comedies made my Top Ten list. Ayushmann Khurrana lamented the one who (he thinks) got away in the delightful Meri Pyaari Bindu, and he starred in the clever update of Cyrano de BergeracBareilly Ki Barfi — opposite Rajkummar Rao (again) and Kriti Sanon, in her best performance to date. Anushka Sharma showcased her skills as both a producer and an actress in the beautiful tearjerker Phillauri.

While I normally restrict my yearly Top Ten list to just Bollywood movies, I have to make an exception for the multi-lingual film that raised the bar for all Indian cinema on the international stage. My favorite movie of 2017 was Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Everything about Baahubali 2 was epic: battles, choreography, story, sets, costumes, performances. It’s the kind of movie that reminded me why I enjoy movies in the first place. Writer-director S.S. Rajamouli deserves all the accolades he received for making a truly magnificent film.

Check my Netflix and Amazon Prime pages to see which of these movies are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2017

  1. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Phillauri — Buy at Amazon
  3. Bareilly Ki Barfi — Buy at Amazon
  4. Hindi Medium — Buy at Amazon
  5. Secret Superstar
  6. A Gentleman — Buy at Amazon
  7. Meri Pyaari Bindu — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  8. Trapped
  9. Ittefaq — Buy/rent at iTunes
  10. Commando 2 — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

Bollywood Box Office: December 29-31, 2017

Tiger Zinda Hai closed out 2017 with another big weekend in North American theaters. Bollywood Hungama posted slightly lower figures for Tiger Zinda Hai during the December 29-31 weekend — $844,993 from 280 theaters ($3,018 average) — than those reported by Yash Raj Films to Gitesh Pandya and Box Office Mojo: $921,090 from 284 theaters ($3,243 average). Either way, Tiger Zinda Hai collected more money in its second weekend of release than 77% of the Hindi films released in North America in 2017 earned over the course of their entire theatrical runs! Yash Raj Films also reports New Years Day earnings of $306,315. The action sequel’s total presently stands at $4,878,546.

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

Sources: Box Office Mojo, Gitesh Pandya, and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

In Theaters: December 29, 2017

Following a hot start in North America, Tiger Zinda Hai carries over for a second weekend in nine Chicago area theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood.

Fukrey Returns gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian movies showing in Chicagoland this weekend:

Bollywood Box Office: December 22-24, 2017

Tiger Zinda Hai debuted with the third best opening weekend of the year for a Hindi film in North America, trailing behind only Baahubali 2 and Raees. From December 22-24, 2017, Tiger Zinda Hai earned $1,658,514 from 328 theaters* ($5,056 average; adjusted average of $5,528 from 300 theaters). 143 Cinema reports that the Salman Khan-Katrina Kaif action sequel earned an additional $1,231,481 from Christmas Day and Boxing Day, pushing its total past $3 million in the US and Canada (based on 143 Cinema’s slightly higher reported weekend earnings for the film). It’s certainly already surpassed the lifetime total of 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger ($2,347,774). Within days, Tiger Zinda Hai will have passed Raees‘s total earnings of $3,631,911, claiming second place for the year overall and moving into first place for films released only in Hindi (as opposed to the multi-lingual Baahubali 2).

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

  • Fukrey Returns: Week 3; $10,106 from nine theaters; $1,123 average; $381,522 total
  • Secret Superstar: Week 10; $404 from one theater; $2,155,001 total

*Bollywood Hungama frequently counts Canadian theaters twice 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.

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

Movie Review: Tiger Zinda Hai (2017)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy/rent the movie at Amazon or iTunes
Buy the soundtrack on iTunes

Tiger Zinda Hai (“Tiger Lives“) has its share of highlights, but the relentless plot requires a degree of stamina that would challenge any action movie enthusiast. Quick transitions from one set piece to the next allow little space for story or character development.

Set eight years after the events of Ek Tha Tiger, Salman Khan’s titular hero and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Zoya (Katrina Kaif) live in Austria with their son, Junior. The novelty of seeing Khan play a father onscreen is noteworthy, owing to its rarity.

Though Tiger and Zoya are retired from active duty, they haven’t left the spy life behind entirely. Zoya keeps her combat skills sharp by subduing armed robbers in the local grocery store, and Tiger confidently fights a pack of wolves while snowboarding. He has a room dedicated to tracking the activities of Indian intelligence agency RAW across the globe.

Thus, he’s not surprised when his former boss Shenoy (Girish Karnad) comes to him with an urgent mission: Islamic militants captured twenty-five Indian nursing students working in Iraq, and America has given India seven days to rescue their people before they bomb the hospital where the students are being held.

Zoya knows that Tiger’s love of country surpasses even his love for her and Junior, so she sends him on his mission without complaint. What they don’t know is that the Indian authorities neglected to tell them that fifteen Pakistani nurses are also being held in the same hospital. Tiger’s not the only one to get called out of retirement.

Tiger Zinda Hai‘s cynicism about politics is its most interesting attribute. As in the original film, the main couple personify the idea that Indians and Pakistanis have more in common than not, and that it’s the fault of the governments of both countries for pursuing agendas that make peace impossible. The members of Zoya’s and Tiger’s support teams also come to see the wisdom of working together toward shared goals, a tactic they wish could be applied across borders to improve things like education and healthcare on the subcontinent.

The sequel’s story expands that cynicism globally to indict America for what is deemed to be imperialism in the Middle East, chiefly the greedy pursuits of oil and lucrative weapons contracts cloaked under the guise of the eradication of terrorism. Abu Usman (Sajjad Delafrooz) — the leader of the terrorist group in Tiger Zinda Hai — cites his years in detention at Guantanamo Bay as the very reason for his radicalization.

Unfortunately, these political ideas aren’t woven into the plot, instead existing as meta-commentary directing the audience on how they can find their own kind of woke nationalism. Zoya’s and Tiger’s teams shed their instinctive mistrust of one another within minutes. Most of the criticism of America arises from conversations between Abu Usman and Poorna (Anupriya Goenka), the head nurse, but as supporting characters, the plot doesn’t devote much time to their character growth.

Then again, none of the characters in the movie really grow. Tiger is what he is: a patriotic humanitarian killing machine. Not that there’s anything wrong with such a character; it’s just a question of how much time can an audience be asked to spend with a character that reacts but doesn’t evolve.

The answer to that question is: something less than Tiger Zinda Hai‘s lengthy 161-minute runtime. Apart from one romantic song early in the movie — before Tiger leaves his family and we bid adieu to Junior for most of the film — the plot races through each action sequence, followed by a brief break to set up the next action sequence. After a while, all the explosions and fisticuffs become too much of a good thing.

Yet, when it is good, Tiger Zinda Hai is pretty fun. All of the movie’s best moments belong to Katrina Kaif, and she proves herself to be a compelling action hero in her own right. From her stunt-driving through narrow alleyways to her own one-woman-wrecking-crew takedown of a bunch of bad guys, Kaif commands the screen.

Khan is no slouch when it comes to fight sequences, of course, and his obligatory shirtless scene is a hoot. His sidekicks have little to do, raising questions as to how that can be the case given how long the movie is. Delafrooz’s relaxed demeanor makes him an effective villain.

One personal complaint is that Tiger Zinda Hai cuts corners by casting non-Americans in American roles, leading to some head-scratching accents. Also unintentionally hilarious is the fact that one of the American military officers in Iraq has his first name — Gary — written on his name tag on his uniform. Gary zinda hai!

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Opening December 22: Tiger Zinda Hai

Tiger Zinda Hai — the sequel to 2012’s spy thriller Ek Tha Tiger and the last big Bollywood release of the year — hits Chicago area theaters on December 22, 2017. It’s releasing in 300 theaters across North America.

Tiger Zinda Hai opens on Friday in nine local theaters: AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Dine-In Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. The Marcus Addison wins the award for Earliest Showtime, with its first showing of Tiger Zinda Hai starting at 8:50 a.m.! The film has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 45 min.

Fukrey Returns gets a third week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies showing in Chicagoland this weekend:

Movie Review: Fukrey Returns (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack on iTunes

Fukrey Returns is a stale bore, populated by characters the filmmakers seem determined not to give us any reasons to care about.

Familiarity with 2013’s Fukrey is essential. The only plot refresher regarding the original film is a sequence of video-only clips that run behind the opening credits of Fukrey Returns. If you haven’t seen Fukrey recently — or if it didn’t leave much of an impression — you’re going to miss some references (I know I did).

The main characters from the original are back, including: smug ladies man Hunny (Pulkit Samrat); his psychic toady Choocha (Varun Sharma); the guy who’s too smart to be hanging around with these idiots, Zafar (Ali Fazal); and the guy who doesn’t really have anything to do in the story, Lali (Manjot Singh). Also returning are the guys’ shady mentor, Pandit (Pankaj Tripathy), and their gangster nemesis, Bholi (Richa Chadda).

After a year in prison, Bholi is eager to take revenge on the four friends who sent her there. She owes a large sum of money to crooked politician Babulal (Rajiv Gupta) for arranging her release, so she needs to use Choocha’s prophetic dreams in order to raise a lot of money, fast. The plan is for the guys to collect wagers from the public, promising to double investors’ winnings when Choocha dreams of the winning lottery numbers. In fact, the lottery pays out at a rate of ten-to-one, leaving Bholi with eighty percent of the winnings. In return, the guys get to continue living.

When their scheme is thwarted, the guys are pilloried for having defrauded the public and are forced to run for their lives. Fortunately, Choocha manifests a new prophetic power he calls “deja Chu” — premonitions that offer their only hope for clearing their names, freeing Bholi from her debt to Babulal, and getting themselves off of her hit list.

The plot doesn’t unfold as neatly as I’ve described it. Establishing what the guys have been doing since the events of the original film takes up a lot of time, yet reveals surprisingly little about the characters. Subplots are introduced and then forgotten about until the end of the movie. Hunny’s girlfriend Priya (Priya Anand) and Zafar’s fiancée Neetu (Vishakha Singh) stage their own disappearing acts until their presence is required for the climax.

The quality of the cast is uneven. When characters played by Chadda, Fazal, and Tripathy interact with one another, the gulf between actors of their caliber and the rest of the cast feels as wide as the Grand Canyon, especially considering how little the script gives them to work with. It seems like Samrat and Sharma have plateaued as performers.

Of course, the most damning indictment is that Fukrey Returns just isn’t funny. Right away, we get a tired gag about Hunny being bitten in the rear by a venomous snake and Choocha having to suck out the venom, and the same gag repeats later. Director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba also doesn’t know when to end a joke, lingering on reaction shots of other characters well past the point when the audience is ready to move on the next gag. Hopefully Lamba and his co-writer Vipul Vig will accept that Fukrey‘s well has run dry and move on themselves.

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Bollywood Box Office: December 15-17, 2017

With minimal competition from other Hindi films, Fukrey Returns held up really well in its second weekend in North America. From December 15-17, 2017, Fukrey Returns earned $82,903 from 44 theaters ($1,884 average). That’s a weekend-to-weekend carry over of 47% (anything higher than 45% is in the top quartile for the year). Fukrey Returns‘ total so far stands at $325,724.

Other Hindi movies still showing in United States:

  • Tumhari Sulu: Week 5; $4,571 from seven theaters; $653 average; $512,480 total
  • Firangi: Week 3; $1,638 from five theaters; $328 average; $180,992 total
  • Secret Superstar: Week 9; $654 from two theaters; $327 average; $2,153,816 total
  • Qarib Qarib Singlle: Week 6; $484 from one theater; $236,331 total
  • Golmaal Again: Week 9; $244 from one theater; $2,360,089 total

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama