I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because a ton of great Hindi films are set to expire from the service on August 1, as a result of the end of two-year contract with UTV Motion Pictures. Netflix could renew the contract in the near future, or the package of films could migrate to another streaming service. UTV is owned at least in part by Disney, so Hotstar is a likely destination. We’ll have to wait and see where they end up. Until then, here are the titles to catch on Netflix while you can:
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with twenty-two new additions to the catalog! About half of these titles were on Netflix years ago, but the rest — films like Highway, Mohenjo Daro, and PK — are available on the service for the first time. I’m excited that three more of director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies have joined the catalog. Here are all the titles added today:
In my attempt to find the best way to explain why I like an unconventional movie like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola as much as I do, I found my answer in my review of director Vishal Bhardwaj’s previous effort, the magnificent 7 Khoon Maaf:
“7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.”
I feel the same way about Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (MKBKM, henceforth). I love it, but I understand why some people won’t. It’s a slow burn, with characters that are hard to pin down and a few odd elements that have to be accepted on faith rather than understood with reason. I think it’s fabulous.
The plot of MKBKM is the opposite of high-concept. In short, the story is about a wealthy man’s attempt to convert his land and the small village that sits on it into a massive factory, shopping mall, and apartment complex. Naturally, the villagers object to the plan, as do the man’s servants, his daughter, and strangely enough, the man himself.
See, the rich man, Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) has a dual personality: he’s a ruthless, ambitious tycoon in the sober light of day, and a populist by night, once he starts drinking. His handler, Matru (Imran Khan), is supposed to keep Mandola away from liquor. But Matru has little incentive to do so, as Mandola is a nicer guy when he’s drunk. Early in the film, an inebriated Mandola leads the villagers in a protest outside the gates of his own mansion, until he sobers up and realizes what he’s doing.
Mandola wants the factory in part to woo a fetching government minister, Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), and also to secure a prosperous future for his only daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma). He’s gone so far as to get Bijlee engaged to the minister’s son, Baadal (Arya Babbar), who, Matru repeatedly reminds Bijlee, is an idiot. Matru and Bijlee are, of course, a far more appropriate couple, despite their differences in economic class.
Bhardwaj includes a number of quirky elements in the film to elevate it beyond a simple parable about the dangers of progress at any cost. A scene in which Mandola confirms his plans with Chaudhari explicitly evokes images of the witches in Macbeth and takes place amid ruins on a hilltop reminiscent of Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Promos for MKBKM featured one of the recurring visual themes: a life-sized hot pink buffalo that Mandola sees whenever his longing for his beloved liquor becomes too strong.
My favorite oddball touch is the way Bhardwaj deals with something that would’ve been a throw-away gag in any other movie. When Baadal first sees Bijlee in the movie, he’s accompanied by an African folk dance group that he purchased in an attempt to impress her. Rather than just disappear after the joke is over, the folk group remains through the rest of the film. They take over a room in Mandola’s mansion, join in dance numbers, and protest alongside the villagers.
That detail alone makes the movie for me. What else would one expect to happen to a foreign dance group transported to rural India? Bhardwaj — who co-wrote the screenplay with Abhishek Chaubey — takes a practical problem and turns it to his advantage.
The performances are great throughout: Pankaj Kapur growls his way through his dialog as cantankerous Mandola; Anushka Sharma is as spunky and lovable as ever; Azmi and Babbar are appropriately diabolical; and Imran Khan is clever and sexy as a budding revolutionary, whose sidekicks include an old man, a blind preteen, and a transvestite.
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a must see. Even if you don’t love it, you won’t see anything else quite like it.
2011 was a standout year for Bollywood in terms both experiments with storytelling style and elevating the status of women in the film industry. Here are my picks for the best movies of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
There were some good examples of familiar narratives — including the family drama Patiala House and the romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan — but plenty of films pushed the envelope. Ra.One lead the Hindi film industry’s foray into 3D technology. Rockstar experimented with making a movie feel like an extended music video.
The most successful experiments of the year were created by Aamir Khan Productions. The company released two intriguing films — Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly — with runtimes that clocked in at under two hours long, uncharacteristically brief for Indian movies. Further, the company insisted that the films show in theaters without the standard intermission break, paving the way for future success in international markets.
Talented director Vishal Bhardwaj puts his unique stamp on this dark comedy about a black widow and her seven husbands. In the lead role, Bhardwaj cast Priyanka Chopra, an actress who’s made a point of choosing a diverse array of characters throughout her career. Chopra manages to make the serial killer Susanna calculating yet sympathetic. Better still, the movie is often quite funny as the grim tale unfolds.
7 Khoon Maaf isn’t quite like any other Hindi movie released in recent years. Look past the dance numbers and cast of Indian A-listers, and it could easily transcend the “Bollywood” label — and instead be considered a “Foreign Film” (a genre with more critical cachet here in the US).
The movie is available for streaming on Netflix, making it accessible to an audience who may have missed it in theaters early last year. If you haven’t seen 7 Khoon Maaf, I encourage you to check it out.
2011 has been a great year for actresses in Bollywood. Relative newcomer Kalki Koechlin mesmerized in That Girl in Yellow Boots. Veteran stars Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif gave some of their best performances in 7 Khoon Maaf and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, respectively.
Now the immensely talented Vidya Balan claims the spotlight in The Dirty Picture, the story of a sexually liberated screen vamp who pays a heavy price for bucking social convention. The movie is based on the life of 1980s South Indian film star Silk Smitha, though it’s not strictly biographical.
Balan stars as Reshma, a village girl who comes to the city with dreams of movie stardom. Reshma’s voluptuous figure is regularly ogled by men, but she isn’t supermodel beautiful enough to attract the attention of casting directors.
When a movie choreographer bemoans his inability to find a proper actress to perform a raunchy dance number, Reshma seizes the opportunity. The scene — in which Reshma writhes seductively while wielding a whip — sends male audience members into a frenzy, making the movie a hit.
A filmmaker named SelvaGanesh (Rajesh Sharma) sees Reshma’s money-making potential and renames her “Silk.” SelvaGanesh casts Silk opposite the aging screen star Surya (Naseeruddin Shah), and their racy films strike box office gold. Silk’s seeming willingness to do anything is fodder for gossip columnists and irks Abraham (Emraan Hashmi), a director of serious, art house films.
Silk’s life is a fascinating study in the way mens’ attitudes shapes the lives of women. If Silk is going to be treated as a sex object when she’s doing something as mundane as washing dishes, why not get paid to be ogled? Why is her dignity diminished by dancing provocatively, while the men who leer at her suffer no consequences?
Of course, that’s not the way female honor is perceived in the real world. Silk is typecast as a vamp, never able to get serious roles. When she tries to expand her range, the industry shuns her. It seems that, in the eyes of audiences and the producers catering to them, Silk has only one thing they want.
Balan is great in The Dirty Picture. She plays Silk with swagger, charm and humor. She’s a canny opportunist who asserts herself before she can be victimized. Her only real weakness, besides falling for a user like Surya, is that her ego leads her to think she’s bigger than a system that favors men over women.
The story construction of The Dirty Picture betrays Silk in the same way the men in her life do. The movie is sporadically narrated by Abraham, a character who doesn’t play enough of a role in Silk’s life to merit being its narrator. He’s present at the beginning of the film, but then disappears until the final act. His box office showdown with Silk is awkwardly inserted into the story just to elevate his importance.
Surya — who’s sleazy and comical in Shah’s hands — is the most important person in Silk’s personal life, but his self-involvement precludes him from narrating her story. Likewise, Surya’s brother, Ramakanth (Tusshar Kapoor), doesn’t understand Silk well enough to be narrator, mistakenly believing he can make an “honest woman” out of her.
If Silk’s story must be framed using a man’s voice, that honor should have gone to SelvaGanesh. He’s the only man who looks at Silk without desire. Her cooperation and ingenuity is required in order for both of them to profit financially, so he treats her as a peer. He’s the only person who sees all of her potential and is willing to take a chance on her.
But I’m not sure that Silk’s story needs a narrator. I understand that it provides a point of view on a life cut short, but I think it distracts attention from the main character. Silk is larger than life. She’s both a product of male fantasy and the architect of that fantasy. A narrator just seems like another confining frame put on a spirit too big to be contained.
The Dirty Picture is available for streaming in the U.S. on Mela
The yearly Bollywood drought is underway. The only new Hindi movie scheduled for release in the whole month of March, Yeh Faasley, opens this Friday, but not in the Chicago area. Expect a flood of new films once the Cricket World Cup ends in early April.
Since there won’t be much news to report, I’m tabling my weekly theater updates in March unless a Hindi movie is showing at more than one Chicago area theater. I’ll also post if a specialty theater like the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles shows any classic Bollywood movies. Throughout the month, I’ll post DVD reviews of some recent releases and older favorites.
As of Friday, March 4, Tanu Weds Manu will be the only Hindi movie showing in the Chicago area. It gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington.
Patiala House gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.
These may be the only Hindi movies showing around Chicago for a while, so catch them while you can. The Cricket World Cup is underway, meaning that Indian production houses have dramatically cut back on releases until the tournament ends on April 2. Bollywood Hungama lists just three Hindi films with confirmed release dates in the whole month of March. (Update: 24 hours later, Bollywood Hungama changed their list to just one film with a release date in March. It’s gonna be a slow month.)
Director Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies have always suffered a bit in translation. Whether due to a lack of nuance in the English subtitles or particular regional references that require context, I felt like I didn’t fully experience films like The Blue Umbrella, Omkara or Kaminey.
Not so with 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). It’s Bhardwaj’s most universally accessible work yet. It’s perfect in the way of all cult films: not flawless, but giddy, emotionally effective and memorable.
7 Khoon Maaf chronicles the love life of a black widow named Susanna (Priyanka Chopra). The film is based on “Susanna’s Seven Husbands,” a short story by Ruskin Bond. The title itself is a clue that things don’t turn out so well for the men in Susanna’s life.
The story is narrated by Arun (Vivaan Shah), a forensics expert tasked with confirming the death of the serial spouse murderer. Arun explains to his wife (Konkona Sen Sharma) the nature of his relationship with Susanna when she was alive: he was Susanna’s ward, and she funded his education. But the more Arun explains, the more bizarre the story becomes.
Shortly after the death of her father, the wealthy, orphaned twenty-year-old Susanna marries Major Edwin Rodriques (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Edwin has a temper, and he terrorizes his wife and her loyal servants: a butler named Ghalib (Harish Khanna), a maid named Maggie (Usha Uthup) and a stablehand named Goonga (Shashi Malviya).
As Edwin becomes more dangerous, Susanna and her servants decide to get rid of him in a way that looks accidental. Thus begins the deadly cycle of Susanna’s romantic life.
The film is darkly humorous, and a bit perverse at times. Some of the more visceral visuals reminded me of Guillermo del Toro’s films like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, though there are few special effects in 7 Khoon Maaf.
Also reminiscent of del Toro is the pervasive religious symbolism throughout the film. Susanna is a Christian, so hymns pervade the soundtrack, which was also composed by Bhardwaj. Given the number of weddings and funerals Susanna must attend, church is a frequent setting.
Much attention in the promotions for the film has been given to Susanna’s husbands: the rock star (John Abraham), the poet (Irrfan Khan), the healer (Naseeruddin Shah). But all of them, by design, have limited roles in the film.
Much more central to the plot are Susanna’s accomplices, Ghalib, Maggie and Goonga. They evolve from pragmatic problem solvers into a trio of gleeful assassins. The three actors deserve much credit for enriching the film.
Arun likewise plays a central role, aging from a child to a man throughout the film. Vivaan Shah is competent in his first film role, playing a man who watches his patron’s life unravel from a distance — sometimes a physical one but also an emotional distance, due to being much younger than Susanna.
But the success of the movie depends entirely on Chopra, Bollywood’s most ambitious actress, and she does not disappoint. Susanna ages approximately 35 years through the course of the film, and Chopra adapts accordingly. She walks a fine line, making Susanna charming and innocent, and then merciless and deadly.
7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.
I am really looking forward to this weekend’s new Hindi release: director Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). The film is a black comedy based on Ruskin Bond’s short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands.” It stars Priyanka Chopra in the lead role, with Bollywood heavy hitters like Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh and John Abraham playing some of Susanna’s seven doomed husbands.
A glut of Oscar-nominated movies still taking up screen space is likely what has limited 7 Khoon Maaf‘s opening to just two theaters in the Chicago area. The movie opens on Friday, February 18, 2011, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.