Tag Archives: Alia Bhatt

Movie Review: Raazi (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A young Indian spy marries into a Pakistani military family in the gripping period thriller Raazi, the latest in a string of hit performances by leading lady Alia Bhatt.

Bhatt plays Sehmat, a Delhi college student in 1971 summoned home at the behest of her father, Hidayat (Rajit Kapur), to receive two shocking pieces of news. First, Hidayat reveals that he has just months to live. Second, as a spy himself, Hidayat has spent years cultivating a friendship with Pakistani Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma), who hinted that the military is planning an attack against India. In order to uncover the plot, Hidayat fixed Sehmat’s marriage to Syed’s son, Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), so that she may act as a spy in her father’s stead.

The movie’s very title (“Raazi” translates to “Agree”) informs us that this isn’t an order but a plan that requires Sehmat’s consent. Hidayat’s fatherly instincts kick in, and he encourages her to go back to college just hours after his revelation. There’s also a sense from Hidayat and other characters of his generation that young people deserve to make their own choices — in contrast to their own youth when the buildup and aftermath of Partition forced them to act out of necessity.

Sehmat agrees to the marriage plan, assuring her father that she’s acting out of an inherited sense of patriotism, not obedience. She undertakes a month of training under Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat), who also wants to be sure that she’s doing this of her own volition. He’s hard on Sehmat because — even though there’s a plan in place to rescue her in case of trouble — she’ll be largely on her own, responsible for finding intel and relaying it to Mir in secret via a convoluted spy network.

It’s worth noting in relation to Mir that the film’s story — at least initially — is kind of confusing, at least for those whose history education focused on countries other than India or Pakistan. A lot of characters with secret allegiances are introduced right away, and there are mentions of separatist groups — which Mir may have been a part of, I’m not sure — that most of the audience will get, but that flew past white, American me.

After the initial information overload, the story itself and the relationships between characters simplify. Most of the action takes place at the spy training ground or in and around Sehmat’s in-laws’ house, and details of the brewing military conflict are less important than what’s happening to Sehmat. The 2017 multilingual film The Ghazi Attack deals with events in the same time period, and watching it beforehand gave me enough background information for me to walk out of Raazi feeling like I understood what happened.

Raazi is ultimately about its characters more than the military conflict. Sehmat not only faces challenges as a rookie spy but as a new bride as well, forced to integrate into a new family. Pure luck finds her married to a good man who is as surprised by their abrupt betrothal as she is. Iqbal’s compassion allows their relationship to develop naturally, and their romance adds a layer of complexity that Sehmat did not anticipate.

Every actor in this movie is terrific — from key players like Sharma as Sehmat’s kind father-in-law to the guy working at the flower stall and the sympathetic military wives — enabling Raazi to cast a spell that never breaks. Kapur and Kaushal are stellar, whether they are in the background of a scene or if they’re sobbing with the young woman they both love.

Alia Bhatt’s star power is beyond question. She effortlessly portrays Sehmat’s youthful inexperience and her fierce determination, provoking the same protective instincts from the audience that Sehmat inspires in her mentors in espionage. This is a wonderful performance by Bhatt in a thoroughly engrossing film.

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Movie Review: Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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The romantic-comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (“Badrinath’s Bride“) fails as both a romance and a comedy. A somewhat amusing first half is undone by a disturbing second half that is no fun to watch.

One of the qualities that made the main characters in writer-director Shashank Khaitan’s previous film, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (which starred the same lead actors in different roles) so likeable was that they both had strong moral values guiding their actions. That element is missing from Badrinath Ki Dulhania, resulting in a male lead character who is outdated at best.

Badrinath (Varun Dhawan) is the good-for-nothing youngest son of a money-lender, Mr. Bhansal (Rituraj Singh), in the town of Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. The elder Bhansal already managed to guilt-trip Badrinath’s brother, Alok (Yash Sinha), into giving up the woman he loved in favor of an arranged marriage. Bhansal’s penchant for clutching his chest and reaching for an oxygen tank he doesn’t need prompts Badrinath to explain: “An Indian father has the weakest heart in all the world.”

This would be amusing were Bhansal not a sinister enforcer of repressive gender politics. Mrs. Bhansal never speaks, period. Alok’s wife, Urmila (Shweta Prasad), is a financial expert with an advanced education, but Bhansal will not allow his daughter-in-law to work. It’s as though he takes pride in forcing such an accomplished woman into a life of domestic servitude. Alok is too much of a coward to stand up to his father, despite his wife’s suffering.

Badrinath is just as cowardly as Alok, but also more entitled. Badrinath is so assured that he can have whatever he wants — taking it by force, if necessary — that he pursues a woman who is his intellectual superior and not the least bit interested in him: Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt).

After repeatedly rebuffing Badrinath’s stalkery come-ons, Vaidehi consents to let him and his friend, Somdev (Sahil Vaid), find a groom for her elder sister, Kritika. Though Vaidehi explains that this act of kindness will not lead to a romance between her and Badrinath, he’s sure it will.

The relationship between Badrinath and Vaidehi is cute enough until she wounds his pride, prompting a chilling post-interval turn in Badrinath. He shows some violent tendencies earlier in the film in his role as his father’s bill collector, but the sense of entitlement that drives his actions in the second half adds an element of menace.

It’s almost as if Khaitan believes that Dhawan’s good looks make his character’s actions less dangerous. A boy that cute wouldn’t really hurt her, right? Dhawan already showed that he can play scary in Badlapur, and there are echoes of that performance in this film.

Another knock against Badrinath is his cowardice. This fear on the part of everyone in the family to stand up to Mr. Bhansal — even when they know he is morally wrong — taints all of the them, but Badrinath most of all as the main character. He simply has too far to grow within the constraints of the story.

Karan Johar’s role as producer of the film is a problem because his name evokes memories of his own movie about a son challenging his overbearing father: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…. The hero of that film seems vastly more progressive than Badrinath, despite the fact that K3G came out sixteen years ago.

Throughout Badrinath Ki Dulhania, there’s a feeling that Vaidehi deserves better. She and Badrinath may look nice together on the dance floor, but he can’t offer her anything she can’t achieve for herself on her own terms. All the credit goes to Bhatt, whose natural charisma outshines her co-stars.

With such an imbalance among the characters, we’re left with just another movie about a overachieving woman who must choose whether to sacrifice her goals for the sake of a man who wants a trophy for learning how to use a microwave.

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Movie Review: Dear Zindagi (2016)

dearzindagi3 Stars (out of 4)

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Dear Zindagi (“Dear Life“) is one of those movies that’s terrific through the climax, only to close with a denouement that undercuts much of the good that came before. Its unfortunate ending contradicts the primary life lessons learned by a young commitment-phobe over the course of the film.

Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is at that point where the biologically ingrained self-centeredness of the teens and early twenties must, by necessity, make way for a more empathetic means of interacting with the world. In short, she’s stuck.

Already an accomplished cinematographer with dozens of commercials and music videos to her credit, Kaira wants to finally shoot her own feature film. The perfect opportunity comes her way via a handsome producer, Raghu (Kunal Kapoor), with whom she’s been cheating on her handsome restaurateur boyfriend, Sid (Angad Bedi).

Raghu offers Kaira the chance to be the lead cinematographer on a film he’s producing in New York City. To address any awkwardness in advance, he warns Kaira that his ex-girlfriend is also working on the project. Kaira seizes on this minor complication as a reason to blow up her budding romance with Raghu and her chance to make the film.

When a new renting rule gets Kaira booted from her apartment, she has no choice but to embark on a visit to her parents’ house in Goa. Her relationship with her folks is icy at best, though only from her end. Mom offers to make Kaira’s favorite foods, and Dad happily boasts about her professional accomplishments. There has to be a reason for Kaira’s attitude, even if we don’t know what it is.

With time on her hands, Kaira takes the opportunity to explore her failed romantic relationships by meeting with an unconventional therapist, Jehangir “Jug” Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). He pushes her to consider why she’s so concerned about what other people think about her–and what, if anything, it has to do with her parents. To paraphrase Jug, Kaira is letting her past blackmail her present at the expense of her future.

Dear Zindagi deftly destigmatizes mental illness and therapy. Kaira is not conventionally “crazy,” but she repeats patterns of behavior that make her and those around her unhappy. She also lacks the conviction that her life choices are valid, regardless of what others say. Solving those problems is a lot easier with help, and the film depicts a recognizable version of cognitive behavioral therapy, flavored with a liberal dose of Shah Rukh Khan charisma.

Kaira is a refreshing character, the flip side of the more common cinematic man-child forced into adulthood by the love of a good woman. The whole point of Kaira’s journey is that she has to do it for herself, not for anyone else. Bhatt’s appeal makes her a wonderful choice for the role. She shines during a lengthy monologue in which she recounts the source of her enmity with her parents. Director Gauri Shinde wisely keeps Khan offscreen while Bhatt speaks, the camera alternating between Kaira in Jug’s office in the present day and flashbacks to her as a young girl. It’s a credit to the director’s faith in Bhatt as a lead performer that she doesn’t rely on Khan’s presence as a crutch.

Shinde — who also wrote the film — makes a couple of decisions that do a disservice to her complicated, intriguing protagonist. A small complaint is that, in addition to all of Kaira’s more interesting flaws, she is also clumsy. After Twilight, clumsy heroines are a bore. Sure, there are a few lines about Jug’s ability to repair broken things and broken people, but they didn’t need to be visualized so literally.

More problematic is an ending sequence that brings back Kaira’s ex-boyfriends for her moment of triumph. It’s mostly an act of fanservice to give the audience a last glimpse of Kapoor, Bedi, and Ali Zafar, who plays Kaira’s handsome Goa fling. Without getting into specifics, what transpires in this sequence undermines much of Kaira’s self-actualization.

Challenging female characters are a rare breed in film, and Shinde wrote a really good one. That’s why it’s so frustrating to be forced to ultimately view Kaira through a male lens, instead of being able to regard her as she is, unfiltered. Dear Zindagi is a step in the right direction, but it stumbles just before the finish line.

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Movie Review: Udta Punjab (2016)

UdtaPunjab4 Stars (out of 4)

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Several years ago, an affluent community near me realized it had a heroin problem. It did so when a pair of high school students — disturbed by the overdose deaths of three classmates within a single school year — filmed fellow students discussing their own drug use.

The students screened their documentary Neuqua on Drugs for a library auditorium full of horrified school administrators, media, and parents. The adults in the room were shocked that such a problem had festered under their overprotective noses. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes. It wasn’t supposed to happen to “good” kids.

Punjab is in the middle of its own drug crisis, without the resources of a wealthy American suburb to fight it, nor the collective will to protect a generation of potential Ivy Leaguers. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (“Punjab on a High“) provides context and scope for the state’s drug problems in a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

A quartet of lead characters showcase different aspects of the crisis. Musician Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) made a fortune churning out songs celebrating drug culture. Just as it becomes apparent that Tommy’s own drug abuse is hampering his ability to write new music, he’s arrested, the easy scapegoat in a police attempt to look like they are cracking down on drugs.

That’s impossible to do, however, when the cops themselves are profiting from the drug trade. Officer Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) even complains that police deserve bigger bribes to look the other way when truckloads of narcotics cross the border. Only when Sartaj’s younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), is hospitalized from an overdose does the young cop realize his part in fomenting the problem.

Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is more than happy to place blame on Sartaj and the police. She operates a rehab clinic, so she’s seen first-hand the devastation drugs wreak on individuals, their families, and the community at large. Eager to thank the doctor for helping to dry out Balli and atone for his own profiteering, Sartaj joins forces with Preeti to trace the drugs to their source.

Sartaj locates the region’s main distribution hub, a compound where a young woman nicknamed Bauria (Alia Bhatt) is imprisoned as a sex slave. When Bauria found a packet of powder — thrown over the Pakistani border discus-style — in the field where she worked, she’d hoped to sell it and get rich. Only the intended recipients of the packet found out, capturing her, hooking her on drugs, and using her to service clients, including the police chief, who happens to be Sartaj’s cousin.

Everything and everyone in Udta Punjab is connected, right down to the poster of Tommy hanging on Balli’s wall. In the same way that the character’s lives entwine, so do the region’s fortunes. It only takes a few corrupt cops and politicians to sustain a catastrophe that keeps the beds at Preeti’s clinic full.

Chaubey’s story — co-written by Sudip Sharma — wisely embeds the drug crisis within the purview of ordinary life. Crops still need to be harvested, and love still blossoms, as it does between Sartaj and Preeti. His crush on the beautiful doctor develops quickly, but he’s too shy to express his feelings, intimidated as he is by her intelligence. He gathers the intel, but she has to explain to him (and thus the audience, thankfully) the intersection between government officials, chemical manufacturers, and the gangsters controlling the drug trade. She grows increasingly charmed by his enthusiasm and dedication.

Rooting the narrative within a real-life framework requires room for humor as well, tinted appropriately dark given the subject matter. Chaubey juxtaposes funny moments with grim ones, occasionally blending the comic with the tragic in the same scene. For example, a singer croons, “Her smile makes the flowers bloom,” over a shot of Bauria vomiting.

The film’s performances are likewise balanced between the straightforward deliveries of Kapoor Khan and Dosanjh, and the wilder turns of Bhatt and Kapoor. The horrors of Bauria’s circumstances are made clear but not dwelt upon, focusing instead on the character’s strength and ingenuity, movingly depicted by Bhatt. Kapoor plays Tommy with a manic energy that doesn’t dissipate even when the singer is sober.

Chaubey’s film is perfectly balanced, in every respect. That makes the Censor Board controversy surrounding Udta Punjab‘s release seem even more ridiculous. There’s nothing in the film that comes close to glorifying drug use, so attempts to stall its release with demands that every reference to Punjab be removed is simply an attempt by vested interests to deny that Punjab has a drug problem. People in my own community and thousands of Punjabi citizens know the truth: while politicians bury their heads in the sand, people are dying.

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Movie Review: Kapoor & Sons (2016)

Kapoor&Sons4 Stars (out of 4)

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Kapoor & Sons packs enough of an emotional wallop to leave one reeling. It’s going to be tough to beat when the Best of 2016 rankings come out.

The Kapoor family — father Harsh (Rajat Kapoor), mother Sunita (Ratna Pathak), elder son Rahul (Fawad Khan), and younger son Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) — reunite at the bedside of ailing patriarch Amarjeet (Rishi Kapoor) when he suffers a heart attack just before his 90th birthday. The birthday provides a reason for the boys to linger for a few days in their childhood home.

All of the undercurrents of tension between the family members surface as soon as the boys come home. Harsh and Sunita are shorter with one another than they used to be, though they fall back into old patterns with their sons. Rahul is the golden boy, his room a shrine to his accomplished youth. Perpetual screw-up Arjun finds his bedroom re-purposed as his mom’s closet, overrun with purses and exercise equipment.

There’s trouble between the boys, too. Rahul waits for his brother to grow up, while Arjun harbors resentment toward Rahul, not just for his exalted status but by a suspicion that it may have come at Arjun’s expense. None of these concerns are addressed openly, leaving wounds to fester.

Two people make the trip home worthwhile. First, Grandpa Amarjeet, whose abundant love for his grandsons only grows when they teach him how to watch pornography on his iPad. Second, Tia (Alia Bhatt): a fun-loving neighbor who meets the boys separately and charms them both.

Kapoor & Sons is beautifully balanced, with funny moments juxtaposed against serious revelations. Writer-director Shakun Batra and co-writer Ayesha Devitre Dhillon set the perfect tempo, allowing subplots and relationships to develop at a pace that never feels rushed.

Behind all of the action is a beautiful, evocative score by Sameer Uddin. Of all the film’s wonderful qualities, the score may be the very best.

The acting in Kapoor & Sons is top-notch, the whole cast striking the right tone under Batra’s direction. Ratna Pathak and Rajat Kapoor are so strong as a couple whose marriage suffers after their kids have grown up and moved out. It’s wonderful to watch Alia Bhatt and Sidharth Malhotra grow as young actors.

Fawad Khan is hypnotic. His acting is graceful and grounded and stands out even when compared to the film’s other great performances.

Rishi Kapoor is terrific as well, equal parts funny and moving as an old man who just wants his family to be happy again. His makeup and prosthetics (designed by Greg Cannom) age the 63-year-old Kapoor effectively, without being distracting.

Two supporting performances of note belong to Sukant Goel as Arjun’s pal Wasim and Fahim Shaikh as Wasim’s bodybuilding brother, Boobly, who steals every scene he’s in.

Batra’s directorial debut Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu showed a ton of promise, though it was marred by a frustrating ending. Those frustrations are nowhere to be found in Kapoor & Sons, a mature, satisfying film. Well done.

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Movie Review: Shaandaar (2015)

Shaandaar3 Stars (out of 4)

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Shaandaar (“Fabulous“) is not as polished as director Vikas Bahl’s runaway hit from 2014, Queen, yet there’s plenty to like in this romantic comedy. Bahl’s unique vision warrants a viewing.

Driving to his eldest daughter’s wedding at an English palace, Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) literally runs into a haughty motorcyclist (played by Shahid Kapoor). They engage in a war of words, inflamed by the googly eyes the biker makes at Bipin’s younger daughter, Alia (Alia Bhatt).

Bipin is dismayed when the biker turns out to be the family’s wedding coordinator, Jagjinder Joginder. Jagjinder immediately charms the bride-to-be, Isha (Sanah Kapoor), and her tough-as-nails grandmother (Sushma Seth).

As if the troublesome wedding coordinator weren’t bad enough, Bipin’s future in-laws — the Fundwanis — are a bunch of tacky boors. The groom-to-be, Robin (Vikas Verma), is a musclebound narcissist who shows up to his own wedding shirtless.

Shaandaar has a number of selling points. The relationship Bipin shares with his daughters is warm, though he’s particularly fond of Alia, whom he adopted as a little girl. Alia and Isha are protective of one another, especially since Isha’s mother and grandmother are quick to remind Alia that she is not Bipin’s biological child.

Alia and Shahid make a fun and attractive couple. Though both of their characters are precocious, Alia’s eyes twinkle with a particular mischievousness. Their frequent daydreams manifest in the form of flashbacks and hallucinations. When Jagjinder first sees Alia, he’s so smitten that he sees the dragonflies embroidered on her sweater take flight and swarm colorfully about her.

Some of the film’s flashbacks are animated, with Naseeruddin Shah on voiceover duty. The very opening to Shaandaar is a cartoon retelling of Alia’s adoption that explains the tension within the family. Though clever, the sequence is overly long.

That’s perhaps Shaandaar‘s single biggest problem: it’s too long. There are a number of scenes that should have been cut, since they fail to advance the plot or tell us anything about the characters that we don’t already know.

On a couple of occasions, the film’s negative characters — like Grandma, Robin, and Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) — use offensive insults. For example, Harry asks a squinting Jagjinder if he is Chinese. The use of these insults is supposed to reflect poorly upon the speaker, but there’s ample evidence that the villains are the villains. The movie doesn’t need to trade in harmful stereotypes in order to establish that.

Robin’s character is the most offensive. His whole storyline is that he doesn’t want to marry Isha because she is overweight, and he makes sure that everyone knows that he finds her unappealing. While Isha has a moment of triumph later in the film, it feels as though it comes at too high a cost.

In fact, it’s time to retire the trope that marrying an overweight woman is a form of punishment. Movies like Dum Laga Ke Haisha and even Shaandaar empower their female characters, but too often the trope is used as a punchline. Akshay Kumar’s character in Singh Is Bliing flees the state rather than marry a heavy woman. It’s a tired plot device. Bollywood storytellers need to find a new reason for male characters not to want to marry female characters, preferably one that doesn’t have to do with the female characters’ looks.

As narrowly defined by her appearance as her character is, Sanah Kapoor is really terrific as Isha. Sanah comes across naturally, despite this being her first film. Perhaps acting alongside her brother (Shahid) and father (Pankaj) helped evoke such a comfortable, charming performance.

Another highlight of Shaandaar is the choreography by Bosco-Caesar that accompanies Amit Trivedi’s catchy tunes. It’s hard to resist dancing along to “Shaam Shaandaar” and “Gulaabo.”

Shaandaar warrants a special warning for international viewers like myself. The movie is less accessible than other mainstream Hindi films. From a practical standpoint, the English subtitles appear on screen in a white font with no drop-shadow, rendering them invisible against light backgrounds. When the characters speak in English, the words spoken are often different from those written in the subtitles.

There are additional problems from a contextual standpoint. Harry — the head of the Fundwani family — talks incessantly about his status as a “Sindhi” ambassador and his feeling that every person of repute is a “Sindhi.” The significance of being a Sindhi isn’t explained at all, which is frustrating, because this is all Harry ever talks about.

Because of Shaandaar‘s flaws, it can’t be called a complete success. It fulfills genre obligations by being both funny and romantic, but it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Still, it doesn’t look like any other romantic comedies out there, and it deserves accolades for that. If only more filmmakers were as ambitious as Vikas Bahl.

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Opening October 22: Shaandaar

One of fall’s biggest Bollywood releases hits Chicago area theaters on Thursday, October 22, 2015. Director Vikas Bahl’s romantic comedy Shaandaar stars Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.

Shaandaar opens on Thursday at the Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 24 min.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 carries over at the Cantera 17 and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Jazbaa and Talvar.

Meet the Patels opens on Friday, October 23, at the Cantera 17 and carries over for another week at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago , Wilmette Theatre in Wilmette, and Regal Lincolnshire Stadium 21 in Lincolnshire.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Kanche (Telugu) at Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, which also carries 10 Endrathukulla (Tamil), Bruce Lee – The Fighter (Telugu), and Rudhrama Devi (Telugu). All movies have English subtitles.

Bollywood Box Office: July 11-13

Alia Bhatt appears to be box office gold in North America. Over the weekend of July 11-13, 2014, her new film — Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania — posted the seventh highest opening weekend returns of the year so far in the U.S. and Canada.

From 100 theaters, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania earned $376,962 ($3,770 average). In February, Bhatt’s Highway earned $325,522 from 93 theaters ($3,500 average) in its first weekend. Her next film — April’s 2 States — still has the best opening weekend for any Hindi film in North America this year: $1,026,353 from 131 theaters ($7,835 average).

Whether it’s Bhatt’s appeal specifically or her knack for choosing the right projects, filmmakers should pay attention to her. There aren’t many actors who can guarantee first-weekend earnings in excess of $300,000 in the U.S. and Canada, but Bhatt has done it three times this year.

Bobby Jasoos fared poorly in its second week in theaters, with business dropping off almost 85% from last weekend. The Vidya Balan detective flick earned $22,827 from 41 theaters ($557 average), bringing its total earnings to $202,746.

Ek Villain, on the other hand, held up well in its third week. From 29 theaters, it earned $22,730 ($784 average), bringing its total to $747,751.

The Lunchbox soldiered on into its twentieth week, adding $3,015 from seven theaters. Its total stands at $4,010,655.

 Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014)

Humpty_Sharma_Ki_Dulhania_Poster3 Stars (out of 4)

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First Student of the Year, then Main Tera Hero, and now Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (“Humpty Sharma’s Bride“). Three films into his career, and Varun Dhawan has positioned himself as Bollywood’s hero of the future.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (HSKD, henceforth) is made in the mold of classic romcoms, most explicitly Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. [Though references to DDLJ are sprinkled throughout, one need not have seen that movie in order to appreciate HSKD.] This requires Dhawan to carry the film with his dancing, crying, and goofing around, and he’s more than up to the task.

Dhawan plays Humpty Sharma, a good-natured college student prone to slacking off. He’s destined to take over the campus bookstore from his tolerant father (Kenny Desai), so why push himself in school? Humpty’s constant companions are Shonty (Gaurav Pandey) and Poplu (Sahil Vaid).

The trio are busted by Kavya (Alia Bhatt) when they try to extort passing grades from their history professor, her uncle. When Kavya agrees to fix their grades behind her uncle’s back in exchange for a bribe, the guys recognize a kindred spirit and friendship blossoms.

Humpty and Kavya fall in love, even though she’s engaged to an American guy she’s never met. Humpty must convince Kavya’s father (Ashutosh Rana) to let him marry Kavya instead of her betrothed, Angad (Siddharth Shukla), a nearly impossible task given that Angad is perfect.

Angad’s perfection sets up some especially funny scenes. Despite his loyalty to Humpty, heterosexual Poplu finds himself becoming enamored of Angad’s winsome demeanor, delicious cooking, and chiseled abs. Big thumbs up to the casting department for hiring Shukla, who looks like Superman.

Angad is also great for driving home the film’s theme that most people aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t preclude us from being loving partners or from striving to be better versions of ourselves.

In an effort to differentiate Angad from Humpty, debutant writer-director Shashank Khaitan finds the right balance in making Humpty flawed but likeable. None of his weaknesses are deal breakers, and values like love and loyalty govern all of his decisions.

Kavya is likewise written with a moral code. Her sense of justice is what first appeals to Humpty, making up for her short fuse and selective materialism.

Bhatt — whose had an even stronger start to her career than Dhawan after debuting alongside him in Student of the Year — is very good again, especially in quieter interactions between Kavya and Humpty. It’s a shame that her character’s dynamism is sublimated in the second half. Humpty must try to save their relationship mostly by himself, whereas he and Kavya had been partners to that point.

Dhawan is the total package: good looks, dance moves, and nuanced acting skills. He comfortably transitions between comedy and sexually charged romance.

Strong performances by Pandey and Vaid augment Dhawan’s performance and reinforce Humpty’s status as a good guy. The supportive and empathetic women of Kavya’s family make the story feel complete.

The story’s weakest point is that some of the supporting characters are denied satisfying conclusions, or any conclusion at all. Khaitan so effectively populated this universe that the movie becomes about more than Humpty’s and Kavya’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance.

But for light romantic comedy, HSKD hits the spot. It has some inventive dance numbers and strong turns by a pair of Bollywood’s brightest up-and-comers. It’s definitely worth a watch.

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New Trailers: May 27, 2014

Three new trailers were just released, and it looks like we could be in for a strong run of Hindi films from late June through mid-July. First up is the creepy trailer for Ek Villain, which stars Shraddha Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, and Riteish Deshmukh, It opens on June 27, 2014.

Next up is Bobby Jasoos, a comedy in which Vidya Balan plays a private investigator with an array of disguises at her disposal. Bobby Jasoos opens on July 4.

Finally, we have the romantic comedy Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, starring Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt. It releases July 11.

All three movies feature strong casts, so I’m looking forward to all of the films. However, I cannot wait for Bobby Jasoos on July 4. The world needs as much Vidya as it can get, and she even romances a younger guy in the film! (Vidya Balan is 36, and her costar, Ali Fazal, is 27.) This could be a terrific summer at the movies.