Tag Archives: 2019

Movie Review: Student of the Year 2 (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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With an opening scene that features hundreds of students celebrating the start of an intercollegiate competition by chanting, “Student! Student!”, it’s clear that Student of the Year 2 (“SOTY2” henceforth) is not meant to be intellectually challenging. Nevertheless, the romantic comedy-drama sequel is plenty of fun, with some surprisingly rich character development.

Though not a direct sequel to 2012’s Student of the Year, SOTY2 is made in the same narrative mold as the first: a low-income university student competes against his well-heeled contemporaries for respect and the love of a pretty girl. While the original SOTY launched the careers of three newcomers who would become big stars — Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, and Sidharth Malhotra — SOTY2 is star Tiger Shroff’s sixth leading role.

This time Shroff plays Rohan, a working class student at the underfunded Pishorilal Chamandas College where he excels at the sport kabaddi. His wealthy childhood sweetheart Mridula (Tara Sutaria) attends hoity-toity St. Teresa’s College. Without telling Mridula about his plan, Rohan gets an athletic scholarship and transfers to St. Teresa’s to be closer to her.

Rohan is a fish out of water at his new school, where everyone wears designer clothes and drives sports cars. He’s no longer the best athlete, with that distinction belonging to Manav (Aditya Seal), the reigning intercollegiate Student of the Year titleholder. Rohan makes an enemy of Manav’s snobby, vindictive sister Shreya (Ananya Panday, daughter of actor Chunky Pandey). Even Mridula — who goes by “Mia” on campus — acts less than thrilled to see poor Rohan on her fancy turf.

While Rohan could find a place at St. Teresa’s as one of Manav’s toadies, that won’t impress Mridula. What starts out as a good-natured rivalry between the two campus studs changes when Manav realizes Rohan’s ambitions, and Manav reminds Rohan of the hierarchy in the harshest way possible. But Rohan finds an unexpected ally in Shreya, who’s tired of living in her brother’s shadow. Maybe Rohan’s been trying to impress the wrong woman.

Though Shroff is typically drawn to action movies, he’s more charming in a lighter role like this that requires some self-awareness. Shroff nicely depicts Rohan’s struggle to fit in, as well as his realization that he should’ve been kinder to his peers back when he was Big Man on Campus at his old college.

Shreya’s character development is even more impressive than Rohan’s. She evolves from spoiled and aloof to generous and kind, as Rohan learns more about her troubled home life, while still keeping the core of her character intact. Her instinct to respond to slights with cattiness never changes, but she begins to curb her impulsiveness. One would never guess that this is Panday’s first feature role, she’s that good.

This is also Sutaria’s first feature role, having started her career in television. She doesn’t quite match the charisma of Shroff or Panday, but her character isn’t as deep as either of theirs. Mridula is written as shallow and fickle, which doesn’t leave Sutaria much room to maneuver.

Manav is also one-note — a rich bully from start to finish. Seal has to deliver dopey lines with a straight face, such as the multiple times Manav calls Rohan “loser of the year.” On the positive side, Seal and Sutaria are the best dancers of the lead quartet.

The film’s dance numbers are fun and impressive in scale, although they do have some weird elements. Will Smith strolls across the stage during one song for absolutely no reason. A couple of numbers feature a bunch of white women in cheerleader outfits, which stands out because there aren’t any non-Indian male students at St. Teresa. Also, one of my friends was crushed to discover that “Mumbai Dilli Di Kudiyaan” was just released for promotional purposes and wasn’t actually in the movie.

SOTY2 also has a lot of kabaddi scenes, which are sort of exciting, but I didn’t come out of the film understanding anything more about the rules than I did going in. (Although I was delighted to learn that you’re allowed to kick people in kabaddi.) There are also some unrealistic track and field sequences that have slow-motion shots of Manav turning to stare at Rohan in the middle of a race and looking aghast. As the leadoff runner for Westmont High School’s state-qualifying 800-meter medley relay team in 1994, I can assure you that there isn’t time for such theatrics during a sprint.

Then again, the whole premise of the Student of the Year competition is ridiculous to begin with. It’s only available to male students, there’s no academic component, and it only features two events — one of which is a team sport. Points are accrued by school, not by individual, yet the final award is given to a single participant. It’s pretty dumb if you think about it, so better to just enjoy Student of the Year 2 for its lavish dance numbers and Ananya Panday’s promising debut.

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Opening May 24: India’s Most Wanted and PM Narendra Modi

Two new Hindi films hit Chicago area theaters on May 24, 2019. The Arjun Kapoor spy thriller India’s Most Wanted gets the wider release of the two.

India’s Most Wanted opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 4 min.

Also new this week is the political biopic PM Narendra Modi, opening Friday at the South Barrington 24 and Cantera. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

De De Pyaar De carries over for a second week at the Niles 12, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont.

Photograph gets at second week at the River East 21, Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Chicago, and Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park.

Student of the Year 2 holds over for a third week at the South Barrington 24 and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

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

Bollywood Box Office: May 17-19, 2019

The romantic comedy De De Pyaar De got off to an okay start in North America. From May 17-19, 2019, it earned $425,934 from 104 theaters ($4,096 average), according to Box Office Mojo.

The weekend also marked the local debut of director Ritesh Batra’s Photograph, which released in India back in March. The drama earned $35,796 from 13 theaters ($2,754 average), though it will likely add theaters and expand to other cities in the coming weeks.

Student of the Year 2 didn’t hold up as well in its second weekend as its predecessor did. Back in 2012, Student of the Year carried over 40% of its opening weekend business into its second weekend, but SOTY2‘s holdover was just 22% — $103,381 from 189 theaters ($547 average). Look for it to lose a lot of theaters going into its third weekend. Its total stands at $724,058.

Other Hindi movies showing in North America:

  • Kalank: Week 5; $2,536 from six theaters; $423 average; $2,729,336 total
  • The Tashkent Files: Week 6; $1,411 from three theaters; $470 average; $66,831 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Opening May 17: De De Pyaar De and Photograph

Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on May 17, 2019. The wider release of the two goes to De De Pyaar De, a romantic comedy in which Ajay Devgn leaves Tabu for a woman half his age (Rakul Preet Singh). It’s written by filmmaker Luv Ranjan, who treated the female characters like garbage in his movie Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. I’m sitting this one out.

De De Pyaar De opens Friday at the AMC Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Also new this weekend is Photograph, the latest film from The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra. The romantic drama stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra.

Photograph opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Landmark Century Centre Cinema, and Century 12 Evanston in Evanston. Photograph is rated PG-13 and has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 50 min.

After an okay opening weekend, Student of the Year 2 carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Kalank gets a fifth week at the South Barrington 24.

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

Bollywood Box Office: May 10-12, 2019

Student of the Year 2 had a fine opening weekend in North American theaters. From May 10-12, 2019, the sequel earned $462,108 from 190 theaters ($2,432 average), according to Box Office Mojo. This year’s median opening weekend per-theater average is just over $3,000, and SOTY2‘s is well short of that. A $1 million final total here seems like a stretch.

Yet SOTY2‘s opening weekend is on par with Student of the Year‘s opening weekend back in October, 2012. The original also had an ambitious release strategy, opening in 106 theaters and earning $326,508 that weekend ($3,080 average). It ended its North American run five weeks later with $670,086 total. SOTY‘s second-weekend earnings were 40% of its first-weekend earnings, so let’s see if SOTY2 can match that.

Other Hindi films showing in North American theaters:

  • Kalank: Week 4; $13,839 from 19 theaters; $728 average; $2,729,336 total
  • The Tashkent Files: Week 5; $4,577 from two theaters; $2,289 average; $64,450 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

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

3 Stars (out of 4)

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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.

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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.

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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):