I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with more than twenty additions to the catalog, a mix of previously available titles and stuff brand new to the service. I’ve reviewed many of the films, including (click on the star-rating for my review):
Writer-director Leena Yadav claims that her film, Teen Patti, is not based on the movie 21. After watching Teen Patti, I don’t believe her.
21 is a 2008 Hollywood film about some MIT students who get rich counting cards in the game of blackjack. Teen Patti is about some students from “BIT” who get rich counting cards in the game of teen patti. Ms. Yadav’s lame anti-plagiarism defense: “My film has nothing to do with blackjack.”
In a failed attempt to avoid the comparison, Yadav shifts the focus of her film from the students to their professor, Venkat (Amitabh Bachchan). Venkat develops a mathematical formula for deducing which hand will win in a given game of teen patti, a card game similar to poker. He recruits his colleague, Shantanu (R. Madhavan), and three randomly selected students to help him test his formula under real-world conditions.
The experiment proceeds with Venkat sitting at a table in a seedy gambling hall while Shantanu and the students make obvious hand signals to indicate what cards they hold. Venkat stares at each of the other players at the table while mumbling to himself, and then makes an equally obvious gesture to indicate which player at the table holds the winning hand. Then Shantanu and the students nod to confirm that they understood Venkat’s gesture, just in case it wasn’t apparent to everyone else in the gambling den that they are up to something fishy.
I’m not going to bother naming the students because they aren’t fully developed characters, nor are they even necessary to the Venkat’s experiment. The primary reason that they’re in the movie is so that a mysterious blackmailer can threaten them, forcing Venkat to keep gambling when he’d rather stop.
The other reason for the students’ presence in the script is for them to illustrate the moral danger of gambling, which can lead to flirting, minor theft and fist fights. No drugs, booze or sex, apart from an implied gang rape (another shockingly casual reference to sexual violence against women in a Hindi movie, as in Wanted and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani). The stakes are pretty low in Teen Patti.
In addition to the superfluous students, minor characters show up without introduction and disappear abruptly. A woman named Mrs. Kale brings Venkat breakfast and complains about his messy office before leaving, never to appear again. Who is she?!
The prize for most useless character in Teen Patti goes to Perci Tractenberg, played by Sir Ben Kingsley for no other reason than to promote it as a Ben Kingsley movie. His presence would’ve been more impressive had Uwe Boll not already stunt-cast Kingsley as a villain in Bloodrayne.
Despite losing a couple of months of releases because of a dispute with theater owners, Indian filmmakers released a number of terrific Hindi movies in 2009. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
Dramas Kurbaan and New York addressed terrorism with boldness and honesty, examining the reasons ordinary people become extremists. Delhi-6 dealt with religious differences in a manner both compelling and accessible. American audiences will enjoy the soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman.
A live-action version of Aladin was a novel update of the classic tale, appealing to adults and kids alike.
Romance was, as always, a popular theme. Amusing romantic comedies like Dil Bole Hadippa! and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani took a light take on love. Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid, both of which starred talented actress Konkona Sen Sharma, took a more serious approach, addressing the challenges of pursuing career goals while maintaining a healthy relationship.
The best of this year’s romances was Love Aaj Kal. Telling love stories from two different time periods, the movie embraced traditional Bollywood romance conventions while showcasing contemporary relationship issues as well. The entertaining dance numbers will make American viewers feel like they’re getting a real Bollywood experience within a Westernized story structure. The modern relationships showcased in Love Aaj Kal, Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid represent an important advance for Indian movie makers courting success abroad.
But the Best Bollywood Movie of 2009 has to be 3 Idiots. It’s a great comedy about friendship — with just a hint of romance — that features nuanced performances by Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi. The jokes are funny whether you’re listening to them in Hindi or reading them in English subtitles.
More importantly, 3 Idiots represents a step forward for Indian comedies. Most Hindi comedies released in recent years (excluding romantic comedies) have relied on slapstick humor: childish sound effects, comic violence and chase scenes that defy logic. There’s certainly a place for slapstick in modern cinema, but I don’t think this type of humor plays well in the international markets that Hindi filmmakers are looking to break into.
3 Idiots has its share of silliness, but it’s shown in a more subdued, realistic way that makes the characters relatable. It’s easier for the audience to cheer for the guys in 3 Idiots than for the farcical nincompoops in a movie like Do Knot Disturb (my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2009), because in 3 Idiots they seem like real people. When they succeed, despite being a bit goofy, it gives hope to the rest of us goofballs.
One new Hindi movie hits Chicago area theaters in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. De Dana Dan stars Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty as a pair of loafers who concoct a get-rich-quick scheme to appease their girlfriends, played by Katrina Kaif and Sameera Reddy. Earlier this year, a reporter for Slate wrote about working as an extra for a day on the set of De Dana Dan.
Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area include the English language film Rockin’ Meera, opening on Thursday, November 26 at the Golf Glen 5. Also opening on Thursday is the Telugu movie Arya 2 at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.
Other Indian movies in theaters this weekend include Kanden Kadhalai (Tamil) and Magadheera (Telugu) at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove and Kurradu (Telugu), Heer Ranjha (Punjabi) and Bettadapurada Ditta Makkalu (Kannada) at the Golf Glen 5.
One new Hindi movie opens in Chicago area theaters on Friday, November 13: the disaster flick Tum Mile. The movie stars Soha Ali Khan and Emraan Hashmi as a pair of star-crossed lovers who must brave the floods that shut down Mumbai on July 26, 2005. Based on this preview, it looks pretty exciting:
In addition to Hindi films Tum Mile and APKGK, the Golf Glen 5 is also showing Heer Ranjha (Punjabi), Kurradu (Telugu), Olave Jeevana Lekkachara (Kannada), Swa Le (Malayalam) and Village Lo Vinayakudu (Telugu).
Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is the next step in the transformation of Bollywood slapstick comedies into an internationally-viable form of entertainment: it’s actually funny.
Ranbir Kapoor plays Prem, president of The Happy Club, a sort of fraternity that’s a pretext for Prem and his friends to goof around, funded by money gently extorted from their parents. The club’s mission is to make people happy and unite separated lovers, and the group occasionally acts on its mission statement.
It’s during one of the attempts to unite two lovers — by way of kidnapping — that Prem meets Jenny (Katrina Kaif), a pretty girl destined to become the love of his life. There are obstacles to their union, including the fact that jobless Prem isn’t prime marriage material, nor is he the only one trying to win her heart. Plus, he’s too petrified to tell Jenny how he feels about her.
Ranbir Kapoor is the reason APKGK succeeds. Had Prem been played by frequent Hindi comedy leads Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan (who has a cameo that acknowledges his real-life romance with Kaif), Prem would get his way by slapping any friends or enemies who object to his plans. Because Kumar and Khan have muscular physiques, directors feel the need to put those muscles to use, even when it’s not funny or appropriate.
Tall and lanky, Kapoor makes Prem relatable. He gets his way by outsmarting his opponents and convincing his friends to help him; he’s not a bully. When watching comedies starring Kumar or Khan, I often wonder why their on-screen pals stick around, since they get thrashed as much as the bad guys.
APKGK relies on well-written jokes instead of crude sound effects like flatulence or slide whistles (one of my least favorite Bollywood gimmicks). By keeping the effects to a minimum, it forces the actors to make the situation funny, rather than relying on an auditory cue to alert the audience when something is supposed to be funny.
The movie has two faults that plague modern Bollywood comedies. First, it doesn’t know when to end a joke. The climactic showdown with the requisite gangsters is twice as long as it should be. Seeing someone lifted up by a jet of steam can be funny the first time; by the fourth time, it’s boring.
APKGK‘s second problem is more troubling, especially for international audiences. During a scene in which Jenny is being pressured to marry a lout named Tony, the prospective groom’s father says to Jenny, in essence, “Either you marry Tony willingly, or he’ll take you to his bedroom and make you his wife.”
Whoa! When did this stop being a comedy? Surely, the filmmakers intended only for the scene to make it clear that Prem needs to rescue Jenny ASAP, but the statement is so disgusting and out of proportion that it stops the flow of the movie completely.
While I don’t think any topic is off-limits in comedy, rape references in comedies should at least acknowledge the immorality of the act. The threat of rape is used so casually in APKGK (as it also was in Wanted) that it almost comes across as a viable way of making women compliant. International movie-goers (like me) may wonder if such threats are considered acceptable in India.
Two new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area on Friday, November 6: one serious and one silly.
The serious movie is Jail, starring Neil Nitin Mukesh in a drama about the cruel treatment of inmates in Indian prisons. Jail is only opening at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.
Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is the silly movie, about a boy named Prem (Ranbir Kapoor) whose efforts to please everyone go awry. It costars Katrina Kaif and has a runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.