With a new year underway, let’s take one last look at the biggest Hindi cinema duds of last year. Here are my picks for the worst Bollywood movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
I’m a little loath to include Baaghi on this list because the film is so unintentionally funny, but it’s also really, really bad, so I guess I have to.
Madaari tries to paint a guy who kidnaps and threatens to kill a little kid as a hero, thus earning it a spot on the list.
All the rest of the worst films of 2016 are problematic in the way they relate to women. Shivaay is weirdly hostile, while Sanam Re is tacky and outdated.
Ki and Ka‘s comedic approach to gender norms falls flat when its male character becomes a national role model just by doing chores. Still, Ki and Ka is positively progressive compared to Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, a movie built around the stereotype that white women are sluts.
The worst film of the year is written and directed by the same man who wrote the dialogue for Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3: Milap Zaveri. Mastizaade is hatred masquerading as comedy, a mean-spirited attack on everyone who isn’t a straight, Indian man. Zaveri’s targets include women, addicts, and non-Indians, but he’s particularly fond of picking on people with disabilities. His characters literally point and laugh at a man in a wheelchair. This is about as loathsome as a film can be. Mastizaade‘s title as my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2016 is well deserved.
The two latest Hindi films to open in North America did quite well in their first weekend in theaters. Let’s start with the wider release of the two: Baar Baar Dekho, starring Katrina Kaif and Sidharth Malhotra. During the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, Baar Baar Dekho earned $609,640 from 143 theaters, an average of $4,263 per theater. Those numbers are significantly better than figures for Kaif’s other 2016 romance, Fitoor, which co-starred Aditya Roy Kapur. Baar Baar Dekho has already earned more than Fitoor did in its entire run ($513,879) despite the fact that it opened in twenty fewer theaters.
By a very different metric, the weekend’s other new release — the golf comedy Freaky Ali — also posted good numbers. Freaky Ali earned $42,637 from 42 theaters ($1,015 average). That may not sound like much, but Bollywood movies that open in fewer than 50 theaters in North America are lucky to earn $20,000 in their opening weekend. The second highest opening weekend gross among the Under-50 club this year was Mastizaade, which earned $28,529 from 46 theaters. A final tally for Freaky Ali in the $60,000 range would be commendable.
Naam Hai Akira didn’t fare nearly as well as the new releases. Its business fell by 88% from last weekend, with returns of just $15,364 from 66 theaters ($233 average). Ouch. Its total earnings after two weekends are $210,865.
Rustom continues its impressive run into its fifth week, earning $17,335 from sixteen theaters ($1,083). Total earnings of $1,900,485 rank Akshay Kumar’s Rustom in fourth place for the year, just ahead of Kumar’s Airlift.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
The action flick Naam Hai Akira posted opening weekend numbers that were okay, but a bit on the low side. During the weekend of September 2-4, 2016, the movie earned $131,735 from 87 North American theaters ($1,514 average). Including Monday’s Labor Day holiday, which is celebrated in both the United States and Canada (I had to look that up), Box Office Mojo reports total earnings for Naam Hai Akira of $166,658.
The reason why Naam Hai Akira‘s numbers are slightly disappointing is that it opened in more than the median number of theaters for the year (85) but earned less than the median opening weekend gross (around $145,000). While that’s less than a $15,000 difference, Naam Hai Akira was way off when it came to the median opening weekend per-theater average of more than $2,000 per theater. Basically, the film didn’t warrant such a wide release. Somewhere in the 70-75 theater range would’ve been more appropriate.
Here’s where things get interesting. The four movies that have the 15th-18th (out of 34) widest opening weekend releases of 2016 in North America are Jai Gangaajal, Neerja, Naam Hai Akira, and Sarbjit — all movies marketed on the strength of their female lead character or actress. They all released within a range of 83-93 theaters. Neerja had a huge opening weekend and expanded into a total of 135 theaters the following week. However, the other three grossed less than the median in their opening weekends with underwhelming per-theater averages ($1,569 for Sarbjit and $1,277 for Jai Gangaajal). The sad fact is that most female-led Bollywood movies aren’t big enough draws here to justify the theatrical footprint they currently receive.
In cheerier news, Rustom has by now overtaken Airlift as the fourth highest earning Hindi film of 2016 in North America. 3-day weekend earnings of $68,932 from 33 theaters ($2,089 average) brought its total to $1,853,818 — less than $5,000 behind Airlift‘s total earnings.
Over the weekend, Happy Bhag Jayegi accomplished a feat I wrote about last week, becoming the eighth Bollywood movie of the year to double its opening weekend earnings over the course of its theatrical run. It earned another $25,775 from twelve theaters ($2,148 average), bringing its three-weekend total to $333,938.
In its second weekend, A Flying Jatt‘s business fell by more than 80% from its opening weekend. It earned $19,867 from 27 theaters ($736 average), bringing its total to $174,055.
Mohenjo Daro stuck around for a fourth weekend in eight theaters, earning $5,625 ($703 average). Its total stands at $1,237,504, surpassing Udta Punjab for eighth place for the year.
Naam Hai Akira is an endurance test, a fight to stay in one’s seat and finish the film instead of leaving the theater to do anything else. The movie is a disorganized, demoralizing disaster.
Naam Hai Akira (known as just Akira in India) is a remake of a Tamil film by Santha Kumar called Mouna Guru, a hit remade in two other languages besides Hindi. I haven’t seen the original, so I have no idea if it’s as messy as its Hindi remake. However, Naam Hai Akira is directed and co-written by A. R. Murugadoss, the man who screwed up Ghajini, his remake of the great film Memento. I’m inclined to place the blame on Murugadoss.
Murugadoss’s film swaps the gender of the film’s protagonist, a move that would seem progressive, if, again, the director didn’t screw it up so royally. Akira (Sonakshi Sinha) is first introduced as an adult, kneeling in the woods with a gun pointed at her head. Then the movie flashes back either three years or fourteen years — the movie contradicts itself — to Akira as a pre-teen in Jodhpur.
Little Akira witnesses a pair of young men throw acid in the face of a teen girl who rejects their advances. Akira reports them to the police, who let the men go because of their families’ political connections. After the men cut Akira’s face in retaliation, her father (played by Atul Kulkarni, who needs to play dad roles more often) enrolls her in karate class so she can learn to defend herself.
Ah yes, self-defense classes — the go-to solution to the problem of violence against women by those who don’t want to admit that men are the problem. It goes hand-in-hand with the notions that women can prevent rape by not wearing mini-skirts or by invoking God’s name when begging not to be raped.
Akira has to walk by an all-girls dance class to get to her all-boys-but-one karate class, just in case we’ve forgotten what society expects of girls. When she and her dad spot the same men harassing other women, Dad encourages her to beat the crap out of them. She uses her karate superpowers to do so, in the process splashing the bottle of acid intended for her onto the face of the main perpetrator.
Akira’s punishment for daring to confront sexual harassment is to spend the rest of her childhood in juvenile detention. The lesson of the movie is that violence is the province of men, and women who choose to use it will be punished and ultimately forced to martyr themselves to maintain a social order in which they are eternal, powerless victims.
There’s a lot of boring stuff that has to happen before we get to that completely depressing conclusion. As an adult, Akira is forced by her brother Ajay to move to Mumbai to live with him, his nasty wife, and their mother. This isn’t really clear, but it seems as though Ajay and Mom think Akira was wrong to stand up to those men years ago, and that her use of violence is a sign of some kind of mental defect. That’s the only way to explain what eventually happens, but again, it’s not clear at all.
This despite the fact that Akira is completely timid. She hardly speaks, and she consents to anything anyone asks of her. She only retaliates if someone physically attacks her first.
When the plot catches up to that opening scene in the woods, it takes a series of unbelievable mishaps before Akira even thinks about trying to escape. She just sits there — gun pointed at her forehead — while her would-be killers discuss the phone call they just got from their boss. They want to confirm the plan with him, but their cell phone died, so they leave one guy behind to guard Akira and another prisoner. They call their boss from a payphone, but then their van breaks down. Then they ride a bike back to the guy with the gun.
The whole freaking time, Akira just sits there, waiting to die. Only when the other prisoner makes a break for it does she try to get away. Never has an action hero possessed so little initiative or sense of self-preservation.
That scene is par for the course. Everything is spelled out in excruciating detail. In another sequence, one character says (in essence), “We need to file a missing persons report and name Inspector Manik in it.” Cut to a shot in the police station with Manik and his crooked coworkers, one of whom says, “They filed a missing persons report and named Manik in it.”
There’s a whole other storyline about a quartet of corrupt cops, led by a detective played by Anurag Kashyap, who’s one of the only good things about this movie (Akira’s wardrobe is the other). So much time is spent on the cops that Akira’s barely in half of the movie. When she gets mixed up in their crime by mistake, it’s because of moronic reasons that depend on everyone being as stupid as possible.
It’s hard to find the cops all that menacing anyway, since they are terrible at covering up their crime, foolishly involving dozens of people instead of just killing those who know and dumping the bodies in another jurisdiction. This is Corrupt Movie Cops 101.
Nothing happens in Naam Hai Akira unless by happenstance or plain idiocy, and all of it takes frigging forever. Sinha could be a fine action star, but she needs a better movie than this. Good grief, it’s so awful.
The action flick Naam Hai Akira — starring Sonakshi Sinha — opens in the Chicago area on September 2, 2016. In India, the film is releasing as simply Akira. If you’re going to have a separate international title, why not make it in English in the hopes of attracting a wider audience, especially since the movie has such an evocative poster?