Tag Archives: Aamir Khan

Movie Review: Delhi Belly (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.

Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.

Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.

Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.

Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.

What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.

Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.

There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.

If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.


Opening July 1: Delhi Belly and Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap

Independence Day weekend sees the opening of two major Bollywood films in the Chicago area. Getting the wider release of the two is Delhi Belly, a gross-out comedy starring Imran Khan. The title refers to a colloquialism for traveler’s diarrhea.

The Aamir Khan production opens on Friday, July 1, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. Delhi Belly has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 43 min.

The holiday weekend’s other new release is the action flick Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap, starring Amitabh Bachchan.

Bbuddah opens July 1 at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

After earning $301,831 during its opening weekend in U.S. theaters, Double Dhamaal gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu flicks Brammigadi, 180 and Virodhi.

DVD Review: 3 Idiots

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After taking Bollywood by storm in the waning days of 2009, the superb Hindi comedy 3 Idiots was finally released on DVD last week. Given the quality of the DVD, I think it was worth the wait.

I was so fond of 3 Idiots when I saw it in the theater that I named it my Best Bollywood Movie of 2009. It’s in many ways a movie from another time, a throwback to the days when a comedy featuring adult characters could be family-friendly and didn’t rely entirely on crude scatological or sexual humor.

25 years or so ago, studios could count on moviegoers to turn out for light comic fare starring adult characters. In 1984, Police Academy, Romancing the Stone and Splash were among the top ten highest-grossing films of the year in the U.S. All three of those comedies featured adult protagonists. Films with older teen protagonists like Gremlins, The Karate Kid and Footloose also made the Top Ten that year.

1984 wasn’t an aberration. 1985’s Top Ten included Cocoon, Jewel of the Nile and Spies Like Us, while 1986’s had Crocodile Dundee, Back to School and Ruthless People.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and you’ll see a box office dominated by big-budget action films and animated kids’ movies. Top-ten performances by grown-up comedies are rare: Meet the Fockers in 2004, Wedding Crashers in 2005, The Hangover in 2009. As a result, this type of movie is no longer a high priority for Hollywood studios.

That’s why 3 Idiots was so refreshing when it came out. The road trip comedy about two pals searching for their long-lost college chum is universal in its appeal. It’s funny and sweet, something that you can turn on any time you need a little pick-me-up.

20th Century Fox produced the DVD and made it especially accessible for American viewers who don’t understand Hindi. Dialog is subtitled in English automatically without having to change any menu settings. Within the setup menu, subtitle options include Spanish and French, as well as English for the deaf and hard of hearing — which adds descriptions of other audible noises (yawns, coughs, chuckles, etc.).

Sadly, the bonus features are inconsistently subtitled. Since they were shot on location and impromptu, the audio isn’t always clear. Though the actors and crew often speak in English, the poor sound quality makes it hard to understand.

Of the four bonus features, “Idiots in Ladakh” is the best, because it’s the most visual. The short film chronicles weather problems that beset the crew as they filmed in Ladakh, a picturesque mountain town in northern India near the Tibetan border. The brutal conditions nearly left some crew members stranded in a blizzard and delayed the film schedule for a year.

The other three bonus features are amusing, but not required viewing. “Making of Miss Idiot” shows the costume selection process for Kareena Kapoor’s nerdy character, which mostly boiled down to convincing glamorous Kareena to wear glasses. “Aal Izz Well” looks at the making of the dance number that accompanies the song of the same title, and “100% Idiots” reveals that the actors weren’t faking it during the movie’s drunk scene.

3 Idiots is one of the rare films that I feel confident in recommending to anyone, so go check it out.


Movie Review: Baiju Bawra (1952)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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On the advice of Ken Patel, owner of Wilma’s Cafe in Naperville (one of my favorite local hangouts), I sought out Baiju Bawra, Ken’s favorite movie when he was a kid. Thank goodness it’s available on Netflix, because Baiju Bawra is a real gem. This black-and-white classic is renowned for its amazing soundtrack, but its story is as epic and dramatic as a Greek tragedy.

Baiju Bawra tells the story of a singer named Baiju (Bharat Bhushan). As a young boy, he witnesses his father’s murder by guards at the palace of Emperor Akbar. His father made the mistake of singing on palace grounds, an act forbidden by the royal singer, Tansen (Surendra). Before he dies, Baiju’s father begs his son to avenge his death and kill Tansen.

Baiju’s vengeance is delayed when a kindly man takes him in and teaches him music. In the man’s village, Baiju meets a little girl named Gauri who becomes his best friend and, eventually, his sweetheart.

The love between Gauri (Meena Kumari) and Baiju grows despite Gauri’s betrothal to another young man. That problem takes a backseat when the village is overrun by bandits. Baiju’s singing entices the bandit queen, who makes Baiju an offer: she’ll spare the village if he comes with her. Baiju agrees, leaving Gauri behind.

It’s only when he’s away from Gauri that Baiju remembers his promise to his dead father. He turns his attention from romance to revenge. All this before the movie’s even half over.

The story touches on broad themes such as the destructive nature of revenge and the pain that often accompanies love. But more than anything, the movie is about the bewitching power of music. Baiju and Tansen are both magicians of a sort, able to hypnotize crowds and make the gods weep with their songs.

The classical Indian style of music that dominates the soundtrack differs greatly from typical Western music, yet Baiju Bawra is organized like a typical Hollywood movie musical. Many of the songs are about the events onscreen, and there is at least one dance number. While the music may sound different from what American audiences are used to, the format feels familiar.

Because of the dramatic nature of the story, the actors’ performances feel overdone at times. Baiju’s Pavlovian response to hearing Tansen’s name — which causes him to clench his fist and grumble, “Tansen, Tansen,” repeatedly — is a bit much. And the amount of vigorous, affectionate shoulder rubbing Baiju endures at the hands of his male mentors is comical.

That said, Baiju Bawra is terrific. I understand exactly why it captivated Ken in his youth. I’m also not surprised that plans are underway to remake the movie. Producers reportedly offered the role of 20-something Baiju to 46-year-old Aamir Khan. Do they plan on calling the remake Baiju Grandpa?


Movie Review: Dhobi Ghat (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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I live in a busy Chicago suburb with 150,000 residents. Despite living in a condominium building with several other families, I can go days without talking to anyone besides my husband. I see the UPS delivery man more often than my friends, who are scattered across the metro area.

This is the type of modern, urban isolation that writer-director Kiran Rao captures in her debut effort, Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). All four of Dhobi Ghat‘s main characters are, in their own ways, isolated, despite living in crowded Mumbai.

Rather than impose a convenient narrative upon the four lead characters, Rao’s plot drops in on them during a specific period in their lives and leaves before delivering a tidy ending. It feels more like a documentary than a fictional film.

Adding to the documentary feel, the film opens with home movie footage shot from the backseat of a taxi, by a woman we later learn is Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). Having recently moved to Mumbai after getting married, she records mundane scenes from her new life to send to her brother back home.

Brooding artist Arun (Aamir Khan) finds some of Yasmin’s video letters and forms something of an obsession with the woman on the tapes. His video obsession is more convenient than a relationship with a real woman, such as American investment banker Shai (Monica Dogra), who’s herself a bit obsessed with Arun.

Shai befriends the young man who does her laundry, aspiring actor Mannu (Prateik Babbar). Mannu, who also does Arun’s laundry, quickly develops a crush on Shai.

There’s an emotional distance between all of the characters, and Rao uses the camera to emphasize it. The characters are shown through windows or through the lens of amateur photographer Shai’s camera. Their reactions are captured in the reflections of mirrors.

The relationship between Shai and Mannu is the most interesting. How deep can their friendship be when he works for her? Is he really her peer? Shai doesn’t give it much thought. Mannu does.

Prateik Babbar is perfect as Mannu: a handsome guy whose shy nature and low social rank have made him incongruously meek. Khan, Dogra and Malhotra are compelling as the other leads, making as much out of their silent moments as they do out of their dialog.

Dhobi Ghat is a remarkably quiet movie. Not exactly quiet, but absent most of the usual sound effects and musical score. Much of the background noise is provided by urban sounds: rain, traffic, old movie music played on a record player in a nearby apartment.

Mumbai itself has a starring role in Dhobi Ghat. The film is shot in locations around the city, not on movie sets. There’s no attempt to hide Mumbai’s flaws, which serve to make the city more appealing and familiar, even to one who’s never been there.

Aamir Khan used his star power to force Indian multiplexes to show Dhobi Ghat without the usual intermission break. It may have cost the theaters some concession sales, but it allowed the movie to flow for its entire 100 minute runtime. An interval would broken the movie’s spell.

Should Dhobi Ghat succeed at the box office, it could persuade more Indian filmmakers to craft shorter films meant to be viewed in one sitting. Rao’s economy of characters, plot and runtime demonstrate how less can often be much more.


Opening January 21: Dhobi Ghat

Aamir Khan’s latest, Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), is the only new Hindi movie opening in the Chicago area on Friday, January 21, 2011. Dhobi Ghat, which stars Khan as one of four characters whose stories intertwine across class lines, marks the directorial debut of Khan’s wife, Kiran Rao.

This is no reflection on the quality of the movie, but I find Dhobi Ghat‘s trailer really annoying. The three-mini-trailers-in-one structure loops the same music throughout and provides three concrete end points, tricking you into believing the trailer is over before it actually is. It was clever the first time I saw it, but infuriating by the fifth.

Dhobi Ghat opens on Friday at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. The movie has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 40 min.

Yamla Pagla Deewana, which earned $504,116 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters, gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. No One Killed Jessica gets a third week at the Pipers Alley 4 and South Barrington 30, having earned $372,357 in the U.S. so far.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Aadukalam (Tamil), Anaganga O Dheerudu (Telugu), Kaavalan (Tamil) and Mirapakai (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.

Retro Review: Dil Chahta Hai (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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I’m a Farhan Akhtar fan, whether he’s working as an actor-producer in movies like Rock On!!, Luck By Chance and Karthik Calling Karthik or writing and directing action flicks like 2006’s Don. If there’s any filmmaker who could parlay Bollywood success into Hollywood success, it’s Akhtar. After watching the first film he wrote and directed, Dil Chahta Hai, I’m more convinced than ever.

Akhtar’s debut effort is part buddy comedy, part coming-of-age drama about three friends fresh out of college. Sameer (Saif Ali Khan) falls in love fast and gets his heart broken easily. Akash (Aamir Khan) is a cynic who only believes in brief flings. Sid (Akshaye Khanna) has a view of love that’s somewhere in between.

The plot gives equal amounts of time to all three of the guys, making it hard to tell if there’s really a main character in Dil Chahta Hai. The honor probably goes to Akash, as he goes through the most profound character transformation, but it’s nice to see a buddy movie that’s really about buddies, not just a main character and his sidekicks.

The story follows the three pals as they reluctantly begin their adult lives. On a road trip to Goa, they pledge their undying friendship to one another, but things change when they return home.

Sameer balks at his parents’ plans to choose a bride for him — until he meets the bride-to-be. Pooja (Sonali Kulkarni) is pretty and independent, but she already has a boyfriend. Sameer sets about trying to win her for himself.

Sid’s love story is unconventional. He befriends an older, divorced woman who moves into the neighborhood and takes an interest in Sid’s paintings. Tara (Dimple Kapadia) is no seductress, but Sid becomes captivated by both her beauty and her tragic life story.

When Sid discloses his feelings for Tara to his friends, Akash and Sameer initially react with surprise. When Akash jokes that Tara — an experienced divorcee with her own house — is the perfect woman for all of them, Sid punches him. Sid leaves the next morning to study at an artist’s colony, and Akash leaves for Australia a few days later. On the plane, Akash runs into a girl he’d once flirted with at a nightclub (played by Preity Zinta), thus beginning his own love story.

The charm of Dil Chahta Hai is its realism. Akhtar made a point of writing dialog that sounds authentic, rather than the flowery exposition or lengthy speeches typical of a lot of movies. It’s predictable, but in a way that allows the emotions of the story to come through organically.

Akhtar’s careful to balance the melodrama with humor. True friendships thrive on a diet of laughs, so Dil Chahta Hai is often very funny. Some of the numerous song-and-dance numbers are even a bit surreal, further lightening what could be a heavy movie.

I’d say that Dil Chahta Hai is a great Bollywood movie, but it doesn’t even need the qualifier: it’s just a great movie. One of these days, some Hollywood studio is going to notice Farhan Akhtar and throw millions of dollars at him to make movies for a global audience. The world will be better for it.


Movie Review: Peepli Live (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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In the United States, India’s image is that of an increasingly modern nation on the path to prosperity. It supports a glamorous movie industry. A well-educated, English-speaking workforce makes India an attractive place for American companies to outsource customer service jobs. South Asians living in the States are, on average, one of the most financially successful demographic groups.

With so many positive examples, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a large portion of Indians still live in poverty. Slumdog Millionaire exposed Americans to the plight of the poor in large cities, but some of India’s poorest citizens live in rural areas that tourists never see and that get little news coverage.

Peepli Live — a movie produced by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan — presents international audiences with a vivid depiction of rural life. The farmers in the movie live in a kind of destitution unimaginable in America. Homes with no running water or electricity, food cooked over fires fueled by cow dung, not even a private place to relieve oneself.

Such conditions prompt Peepli Live‘s lead characters, brothers Bhudia (Raghubir Yadav) and Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), to consider drastic measures. A local money-lender refuses to give them a loan but recommends a government program for impoverished farmers. If a farmer commits suicide, the government allegedly will pay his family $2000 — enough money for Bhudia and Natha to pay back the bank loan they took out to buy seeds and fertilizer from the large, American agricultural firm, “Sonmanto.”

Elder brother Bhudia initiates a conversation in which both he and Natha politely offer to kill themselves for the sake of the family, which includes their ancient mother and Natha’s wife and three kids. The conversation ends when Bhudia calls Natha’s bluff (“I’ll kill myself.” “No, I’ll kill myself.” “Okay, you kill yourself!”). While it makes no sense for Natha to kill himself — he’s the one with the wife and kids, after all — he’s reluctant to challenge his big brother.

A freelance reporter overhears Natha speaking about his planned suicide and prints a story in the local newspaper. The story catches the eye of a large TV news channel. Reluctant to miss out on the story, dozens of news crews descend on Natha’s house, spawning a figurative (and, eventually, literal) circus.

Local politicians try to turn Natha’s suicide to their advantage. The politicians in power are desperate to change Natha’s mind so that they look like they care about poor farmers. Their opponents want Natha to kill himself. No one cares that Natha doesn’t actually want to die.

When the plot focuses on the farmers, Peepli Live is a great movie. There’s a hilarious enmity between Natha’s mother and his wife, Dhaniya (Shalini Vatsa), who runs the household under a barrage of vulgar insults from her mother-in-law. Though by no means a tender woman, she doesn’t want her husband to die. Yet their situation is so dire, there don’t seem to be many alternatives.

The movie slows down shortly after the news vans roll in to town. The newscasters aren’t nearly as compelling as the farmers, but they dominate screentime in the second half of the movie. Bhudia seems to disappear altogether, and his lippy mother is relegated to lying silently on her cot.

Part of the point of the movie is the disconnect between urban and rural life: the way big city broadcasters promote sensational stories about farmers’ struggles for only as long as the stories earn ratings and without offering a solution to the problem. By shifting the focus from Natha and his family and onto the news crews covering them, Peepli Live is guilty of the same surface treatment of the issue that it’s criticizing.

The movie ends with a card that explains that, from 1991-2001, eight million farmers in India quit farming. And? Is that a bad thing, given how hard it is to make a living in agriculture? If so, what should the government do about it? Like the news channels it criticizes, Peepli Live entertains and asks questions, but doesn’t offer any solutions.


Opening August 13: Peepli Live

This weekend’s new Hindi release is the black comedy, Peepli Live. Produced by Aamir Khan, Peepli Live satirizes the media’s response to the plight of poor farmers, some of whom resort to suicide to escape debt. The movie got a good response at a number of film festivals, including Sundance.

Peepli Live, which has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 46 min., opens in the Chicago area on Friday, August 13, 2010 in four theaters:

Other Hindi movies carrying over in theaters include Aisha at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30 and Tere Bin Laden at the Golf Glen 5.

In addition to those current films, this week the Golf Glen 5 is featuring special showings of older Bollywood movies. The terrific lineup includes:

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil movie Thillalangadi at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove and Telugu flick Don Seenu at the Golf Glen 5, which features a special showing of the 1996 Tamil film Indian on Wednesday night.

Marketing Hindi Movies as Art Films

Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.

Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.

Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”

The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.

Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.

Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.

Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.

If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.

The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.

Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.

Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.

Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.