Tag Archives: 2018

Movie Review: Tumbbad (2018)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Tumbbad on Amazon Prime

Hindi-film fans in the United States had to wait until Tumbbad made its streaming video debut to finally catch the horror movie that captivated audiences in India and at film festivals around the world. But boy was it worth the wait! Filmmaker Rahi Anil Barve’s fable eschews metaphor in favor of shockingly literal depictions of its underlying mythology. It is a cautionary tale of the dangers of greed — with consequences presented in brutal detail. That the film’s protagonist forges ahead, knowing full well what doom awaits him, highlights how all-consuming the desire for more can be.

Broken into three chapters, Tumbbad begins in 1918, in a fading village bearing the same name as the title. Tumbbad’s governing family gained its wealth by worshiping Hastar, the disgraced son of the Goddess of Prosperity, imprisoned in his mother’s womb for stealing her gold. Legend has it that there is a treasure hidden in Tumbbad’s mansion, but the aged lord of the manor (played by Madhav Hari Josh) won’t divulge its secrets — not even to his mistress (Jyoti Malshe), with whom he fathered two sons: Vinayak (Dhundiraj Prabhakar Joglekar) and Sadashiv (Rudra Soni).

The lord’s mistress is tasked not only with meeting his carnal needs, but also keeping alive his ancient grandmother (played by Piyush Kaushik), while making sure she never wakes up. The mistress’s family lives in the same house as the scary old lady, and though the kids don’t know the details of her curse, preteen Vinayak is pretty sure his grandmother knows something about the treasure. A series of tragedies give the boy his chance to ask Granny directly — a mistake that nearly costs him his life. Saved by Mom, they flee to Pune.

Chapter Two picks up fifteen years later, in 1933. With Mom dead, now-adult Vinayak (Sohum Shah) is freed from his promise to her never to return to Tumbbad. Their old house still stands, and Granny is, to put it politely, in bad shape. Her appearance reminded me of something out of Lars Von Trier’s Danish TV series The Kingdom, which gave me nightmares for weeks. Granny gives Vinayak the information he needs to find the treasure, calling him a “greedy bastard.” “It’s my only quality,” he replies.

Tumbbad‘s straightforward dialogue makes it highly memorable, like Granny’s ominous warning: “Not all that is inherited should be claimed.” In Chapter Three, Vinayak’s 14-year-old son Pandurang (Mohammad Samad) tells his mother, Vaidehi (Anita Date), that his father doesn’t actually like anything, despite having accumulated a massive fortune. Vaidehi asks, “Then what’s the point?”

That’s Tumbbad‘s ultimate lesson: succumbing to greed means surrendering one’s will to a desire that can never be sated, leaving you miserable and mean as a result. The lure of unlimited treasure makes Vinayak willing to take risks that seem insane, given that he knows how horrible and immediate the consequences are, with Granny as his example. Chapter Three is set in 1947, and with age catching up to him, Vinayak is compelled to train Pandurang in the family business. It’s an act of unthinkable cruelty that takes advantage of the boy’s desire to win his father’s love. Poor Pandurang doesn’t understand that his father has no love to give.

Setting the film in the first half of the 20th Century allows for interesting parallels to India’s national independence, and the limited reach of electronic technology creates a chilling atmosphere. Atmosphere is where Tumbbad really excels, after all. Eerie locations and sets are awash in supersaturated colors, the dark mood enhanced a fantastic, menacing score by video game composer Jesper Kyd. All the acting performances fit so perfectly into the world of Tumbbad, as well. The longer I ruminate on the movie, the more impressed I am by it.

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2018 Access Bollywood Wrap-Up

With my Best Movies and Worst Movies lists posted, it’s time to bid farewell to 2018 (at least until I do one final box office post for the year). It was a phenomenal year for Access Bollywood! We celebrated the site’s 10th anniversary on September 13, an accomplishment I can still hardly believe. This was also Access Bollywood’s best year in terms of viewership, by far. We closed out 2018 with an astonishing 1,787,087 pageviews! That’s up from 1,057,489 views in 2017. Just looking at those numbers renders me speechless.

In case you’re curious, Access Bollywood’s most-viewed movie review of 2018 was…1971’s Anand? The internet is a mysterious place.

I am grateful to everyone who visited Access Bollywood in 2018. Special thanks to the generous folks who donated via PayPal, and to those who purchased something via one of my Amazon links or signed up for a free Prime trial, since I receive a small commission from Amazon whenever you do. You all help keep the lights on here at Access Bollywood HQ.

Have a wonderful 2019, everyone! — Kathy

Kathy’s 2018 Bollywood Movie Rankings

Note: I didn’t get to review Tumbbad until after I’d finished this list. I’d rank it 2nd for the year.

  1. Andhadhun — 4 Stars
  2. Raazi — 3.5 Stars
  3. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero — 3.5 Stars
  4. Veere Di Wedding — 3.5 Stars
  5. Stree — 3.5 Stars
  6. Beyond the Clouds — 3 Stars
  7. Karwaan — 3 Stars
  8. Welcome to New York — 3 Stars
  9. Pataakha — 3 Stars
  10. Kedarnath — 3 Stars
  11. Hichki — 3 Stars
  12. 102 Not Out — 3 Stars
  13. Pari — 2.5 Stars
  14. Love Per Square Foot — 2.5 Stars
  15. Once Again — 2.5 Stars
  16. Manmarziyaan — 2.5 Stars
  17. Thugs of Hindostan — 2 Stars
  18. Padmaavat — 2 Stars
  19. Vodka Diaries — 2 Stars
  20. Gold — 2 Stars
  21. Fanney Khan — 1.5 Stars
  22. Aiyaary — 1.5 Stars
  23. Race 3 — 1.5 Stars
  24. October — 1 Star
  25. Zero — 0.5 Stars

Streaming Video News: January 16, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with several new additions to the catalog. Recently added 2018 theatrical releases include Adhugo (Telugu), Echcharikkai (Tamil), Next Enti? (Telugu), Pari (Urdu), and Saif Ali Khan’s corporate thriller Baazaar.

In other cool Netflix news, they reinstated language as a genre category. Baazaar is now filed under both Indian Movies and Hindi-Language Movies, Pari is under Pakistani Movies and Urdu-Language Movies, etc. (This led me to discover that I failed to add Ali Zafar’s 2018 release Teefa in Trouble to the list last month. Eek!) Note that the new categories only apply to languages in which Netflix has a significant number of titles. For example, Assamese and Manipuri movies are still filed under the general Indian Movies category, and there’s nothing in the film’s description about the dialogue language. You have to actually play the movie and check the audio options to verify. There’s also still no option to sort titles by most recent additions, but that’s what I’m here for.

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with several dozen additions — mostly older Hindi and Tamil titles returning to the streaming catalog after having disappeared a few months ago, but some Telugu and Gujarati titles as well.

Update: Tumbbad is on Amazon Prime!!!

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2018

As with my Best Bollywood Movies post, I’m only including five titles in my Worst Bollywood Movies list for 2018. There simply weren’t enough Hindi films terrible enough to warrant such a dubious distinction. But believe me, those that did make the list earned their spots.

In fifth place is Fanney Khan, a dull but mostly harmless family film, except for one very troublesome subplot. The parents of aspiring teenage singer Lata (Pihu Sand) fret that their daughter will be pressured to trade sex for stardom. Yet her father Fanney (Anil Kapoor) has no problem trading another woman’s body in exchange for Lata’s success, kidnapping Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s pop star character to do so. That sound you hear is me smacking myself in the forehead.

Aiyaary makes the list due to its muddled writing. Filmmaker Neeraj Pandey belabors obvious points while glossing over complicated conspiracies in this bland, slow spy thriller, starring Sidharth Malhotra and Manoj Bajpayee.

Race 3 is another bloated narrative mess. I’m a fan of director Remo D’Souza’s movies ABCD and A Flying Jatt, but this franchise outing proves how hard it can be to include a superstar actor in an ensemble picture, while still allotting said superstar a disproportionately large portion of screentime. It also proves that Salman Khan’s star power doesn’t guarantee a movie’s box office success (more on that to come).

The two worst Hindi films of 2018 are bad for many of the same reasons. Both bungle their handling of traumatic injury and disability. Both feature loathsome male protagonists who depend on the suffering of women in order to grow emotionally — only the protagonists don’t actually undergo any emotional growth.

That’s how October wound up in second place for the year. Varun Dhawan plays the awful male lead in question. His character is obsessed with a comatose co-worker because he thinks she may have harbored feelings for him before the accident that injured her. The premise is plain gross, made all the worse by Varun’s character inserting himself into the finer details of her medical care (he LOVES checking her catheter bag). Even after the co-worker regains consciousness, her brain and body are so damaged that she can’t tell him to leave her alone if she wishes him to do so, let alone physically push him away. He takes advantage of her vulnerability, and he ends the movie no more morally improved than he was at the beginning.

As demoralizing as October is, first place goes to a movie that failed on a grander scale. Zero is my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2018. Granted, Shah Rukh Khan’s film wasn’t the biggest box office flop by one of the Three Khans for the year (in North America, that honor belongs to Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan). But Zero was easily the most offensive of the year’s disappointing films. Khan plays Bauua, a man with dwarfism —  his diminutive stature achieved using CGI and camera techniques — who falls in love with Aafia (Anushka Sharma), a woman with cerebral palsy. Writer Wendy Lu posted a piece on Huffington Post just yesterday explaining the problems with able-bodied actors playing disabled characters in Hollywood, and the same problems apply to the two lead actors in Zero. This is a movie that should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Yet Zero went ahead, and the resultant movie is even worse than feared. Not only is the movie out-of-step in the way it treats disability, it’s also sexist. Bauua thinks Aafia is his equal since they’re the same height when she’s in her wheelchair — never mind that she’s a rocket scientist and he’s an almost-40 high school dropout who’s never held a job. The rest of the story is utterly ridiculous. The only person who emerges from Zero with an unblemished reputation is Katrina Kaif, whose excellent performance stands to be overlooked, as everyone else tries to pretend that Zero never happened.

Kathy’s Worst Bollywood Movies of 2018

  1. Zero
  2. October — Buy at Amazon/watch on Prime
  3. Race 3 — watch on Prime
  4. Aiyaary — Buy at Amazon
  5. Fanney Khan — watch on Prime

Previous Worst Movies Lists

Best Bollywood Movies of 2018

In 2018, it feels like most of the Hindi films I reviewed fell into the “okay” category — not horrible but not necessarily outstanding either. Only five movies merited a star-rating of 3.5 or higher, and just five earned a star-rating of 1.5 or lower. (Obligatory critic’s disclaimer that star-ratings are convenient shorthand lacking context, so please read the reviews!) As a result, I’m only doing a Top 5 and Bottom 5 for 2018.

That said, I think the movies at the top of the list are fantastic for different reasons, and I’d love to revisit all of them someday. Let’s see what made the list!

[Note: I didn’t get to review Tumbbad until after I’d written this post. I’d rank it in second place for the year.]

One of the year’s most delightful surprises was the horror comedy Stree. I wasn’t even sure it was going to open in the United States, given that movies starring Stree‘s lead pair — Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor — aren’t locks for international release. Thank goodness it did, because Stree was a ton of fun, weaving hilarious moments with a progressive message discouraging male objectification of women.

While Stree was about how men view women, Veere Di Wedding was as woman-centric as can be. The female buddy comedy gave wider latitude to its characters than most women are allowed onscreen in Bollywood, and it did so while being positive and uplifting. I have a soft spot for movies about nice people behaving nicely, and Veere Di Wedding was just that.

A buddy film of a different sort, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero follows a trio of vigilantes and what happens when two of them abandon their revolutionary ideals in exchange for middle-class comfort. It’s a timely story of the importance of organized resistance and a rejection of complacency among financially secure citizens, in India and abroad.

In the runner-up spot for 2018 is the top-notch spy thriller Raazi, about a young woman forced to leave her homeland in order to save it. Raazi was another win for women in Hindi cinema–not just because of Alia Bhatt’s riveting performance in the lead role, but because of the two talented women behind the camera: screenwriter Bhavani Iyer and writer-director Meghna Gulzar.

Another thriller was my favorite Bollywood movie of 2018, and the only one to which I awarded 4 stars: director Sriram Raghavan’s fiendishly clever Andhadhun. Ayushmann Khurrana’s first $1 million movie of the year featured him as a blind pianist drawn into danger by a calculating trophy wife, played by a devilish Tabu. Radhika Apte plays Khurrana’s love interest, adding to the talent level of a cast directed by a filmmaker who’s cemented his position as Bollywood’s neo-noir master. Andhadhun is currently on Netflix in the United States, which is great for first-time watchers and those of us who can’t wait to watch it again.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2018

  1. Andhadhun — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  2. Raazi — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes/stream on Prime
  3. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero — Buy at Amazon/stream on Netflix
  4. Veere Di Wedding
  5. Stree

Previous Best Movies Lists

Bollywood Box Office: January 4-6, 2019

In its second weekend of release, Simmba earned $1,005,087 from 292 theaters ($3,442 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total of $4,115,790 is enough to lock up fourth place at the North American Bollywood box office for 2018 — third place if you exclude multilingual movies like Rajinikanth’s 2.0 and only count exclusively Hindi releases.

Other Hindi and multilingual movies still showing in North America:

  • K.G.F — Chapter 1: Week 3; $57,204 from 56 theaters; $1,022 average; $758,838 total
  • Zero: Week 3; $34,029 from 50 theaters; $681 average; $2,281,052 total
  • Kedarnath: Week 5; $4,014 from two theaters; $2,007 average; $888,152 total
  • 2.0: Week 6; $1,623 from three theaters; $541 average; $5,355,442 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

 

Movie Review: Zero (2018)

0.5 Stars (out of 4)

Zero is a disaster for many reasons, but its biggest problem is that director Aanand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma failed to realize that their film’s hero is a horrible person.

So why didn’t they notice that their creation, Bauua (Shah Rukh Khan), is an irredeemable prick? The filmmaking duo has a history of writing male leads who don’t respect the women they claim to love, like Kundan in Raanjhanaa and Manu in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. There’s also the assumption that Khan’s massive fanbase will automatically project their love for him onto his character, no matter who the character is or what he does.

Mostly they were blinded by the Zero‘s central conceit: using computer generated effects and film techniques similar to those used in the Lord of the Rings movies to shrink a superstar actor. Zero was never about the struggles of a man with dwarfism. If it were, they’d have at least gone through the pretext of casting a little person for the lead role. (Same goes for Anushka Sharma’s role as a woman with cerebral palsy.) This was always about spending a budget fives times as large as the filmmaking duo had previously worked with on fancy special effects and an expensive cast, trusting in those effects and stars to bring people to the theater — regardless of whether the movie was any good or not.

Other than his diminutive stature, nothing differentiates Bauua from any number of Bollywood male leads who believe their gender entitles them to anything they want. As the son of a rich father (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia), Bauua has coasted through life on Dad’s dime since dropping out of school in the tenth grade. Now aged 38 — Khan is 53, by the way — that means Bauua has spent twenty years doing absolutely nothing.

Nevertheless, he confidently turns down all the potential brides chosen by the matchmaker (played by Brijendra Kala) until he spots a photo of Aafia (Anushka Sharma). Bauua is initially turned off by the tremors caused by Aafia’s cerebral palsy, but he decides her use of a wheelchair makes them more-or-less equal. Never mind that he’s a high school dropout and she’s a world-renowned rocket scientist.

Bauua’s defining moment is his response to being rejected by Aafia after a presumptuous proposal in front of a bunch of elementary school students. Bauua shows up at a press conference to publicly humiliate Aafia, stating that while she may be able to lead a mission to Mars, she can’t pick up the pen he just dropped on the ground. Pleased with himself, he walks away, only to hear a commotion behind him as Aafia crawls on the ground and lifts the pen.

What Bauua does is unforgivable, yet Aafia immediately forgives him and their love blossoms. Aafia’s inexplicable forgiveness of Bauua is a clear example of Bollywood’s desperate need for female storytellers. Rai & Sharma aren’t done humiliating Aafia yet, as Bauua ditches her to take his shot with the country’s sexiest actress, Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif, in the movie’s only role with any semblance of believable humanity).

After the intermission break, Zero goes full bonkers. Bauua replaces a chimpanzee training for a space mission (which is totally not insulting to little people or anything).

I’m not sure if it’s an intentional homage, but Zero has a lot of parallels to my favorite So-Bad-It’s-Good movie: Gunda. Both have a monkey and a baby that shows up out of nowhere. Vengeful Bauua frequently speaks in movie lines, Gunda‘s Bulla in couplets. There are montages that make no geographical sense, as when Bauua spends a song stumbling through Times Square, downtown Orlando, and Huntsville, Alabama — all of which are supposed to be the same place, apparently. Zero‘s opening dream sequence even reminded me of the scene in Gunda where Bulla’s sister is raped.

All of which is to say, Zero is a terrible movie. The only reason it merits even a half-a-star rating is because Katrina Kaif is so damned good in her role. The rest of the movie is a trash fire.

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Opening December 21: Zero

Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero — co-starring Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif — opens in 300 theaters across North American on December 21, 2018, including eleven Chicago area theaters.

Zero opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, AMC Showplace Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, AMC Oakbrook Center 12 in Oak Brook, and AMC Loews Crestwood 18 in Crestwood. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 44 min.

Kedarnath carries over for a third week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24, which also holds over the 3D version of 2.0 in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi.

The weekend’s new multilingual release is K.G.F: Chapter 1, showing in Kannada, Telugu, and Hindi (all with English subtitles) at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Woodridge 18. MovieMax and the Woodridge 18 also carry the film in Tamil.

Other Indian movies:

Streaming Video News: December 18, 2018

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the exciting addition of the neo-noir thriller Andhadhun, my favorite Hindi film of the year so far. Other newly added 2018 releases include the Tamil movie Vanjagar Ulagam, the Malayalam flick Lilli, and the Hindi TV series Anjaan: Rural Myths.

One of the year’s biggest hits in the US — Badhaai Ho — is now streaming on Hotstar.

Amazon Prime added a ton of Indian content in the last few days. Many of the sixty or so movies added are actually returning titles, movies like Action Replayy that disappeared at the end of November.

Here’s the thing about Amazon: those old links from November no longer work, even if a movie was only MIA for a few weeks. Unlike Netflix — which makes one catalog entry for each title — Amazon makes a brand new product entry for each title depending on which distributor has the licensing contract. So if you watched Swami back in early November, you watched a version licensed by a particular company to be streamed by Amazon. When that contract expired, the product essentially disappeared even though it’s catalog entry remains. Then Amazon signed a new deal with Ultra Media & Entertainment, for which Amazon made a whole new entry for Swami, even though it’s the same movie.

One of the perks of the Netflix system is that, if a movie in your List expires, it’ll show back up in your List again if Netflix signs a new contract to stream it, even if it’s with a different company. To find out if a title that expired from Amazon becomes available again, you need, well…me. No worries, though. Main hoon na, y’all.

Bollywood Box Office: December 14-16, 2018

Even with no new movies in theaters, it was still a good weekend for Hindi films in North America. Rajinikanth’s multilingual 3D extravaganza 2.0 led the field, taking in $189,981 from 114 theaters ($1,667 average) in its third weekend of release, according to Bollywood Hungama. It’s earned $5,226,994 here so far, across all languages.

Kedarnath was next with $164,684 from 97 theaters ($1,698 average), bringing its 10-day total to $713,270.

9-week-old Badhaai Ho was third with $7,809 from nine theaters ($867 average), boosting the family comedy’s overall total to $3,316,788. The family comedy made its streaming debut on Hotstar over the weekend, so its theatrical days are numbered.

Same goes for Andhadhun, which hit Netflix yesterday. In its 11th weekend of release — the longest theatrical run for a Hindi film in the United States this year — the thriller earned $3,265 from three theaters ($1,088 average), bringing its total to $1,373,943.

Source: Bollywood Hungama