I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with a bunch of recent additions. Since the massive catalog purge at the end of last month, Prime has added more than 60 titles, including the new original series Vella Raja, available in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu in both standard and Ultra-HD. Jimmy Shergill’s 2018 theatrical release Phamous is among the recently added Bollywood movies, which also include a bunch of older titles. Here are some that I’ve reviewed:
For the full list of recent additions to the catalog, head to my Prime page and check out the “Newly Added” section at the top. (All of the Amazon links include my affiliate tag, meaning I get a portion of the proceeds from any items purchased through those links.)
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):
Author’s note: Thanks to my friend, Melanie, for loaning me her Blu-ray of Dum Laga Ke Haisha! Check out her Letterboxd page.
Without flashy effects or a lavish budget, Dum Laga Ke Haisha tells an enchanting tale that is as fun and immersive as any film out there.
The title — which is translated in the English subtitles as “Heave Ho, Carry That Load” — has a double meaning. It refers metaphorically to shouldering the burdens of marriage but also to a literal race in which a husband carries his wife, the setting for the film’s climactic scene.
Prem Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a 25-year-old high school dropout living in Haridwar in 1995. He’s essentially a professional maker of mixtapes, working in a little shop full of cassettes that best exemplifies the film’s excellent production design. His family hopes to improve their financial situation by finding Prem a wife with a job, so they settle on Sandhya (Bhumi Pednakar), a teacher.
Despite the fact that Prem is a man of limited prospects — Prem’s nemesis, Nirmal (Chandrachoor Rai), buys the town’s first CD player, spelling doom for Prem’s business — he’s insulted that his family wants him to wed a woman who is overweight. He accedes to the marriage, but refuses to consummate it. Well, at least for one night.
The story follows Prem and Sandhya as they struggle to reconcile their previous expectations of married life with their actual experience of it. Their potential for happiness hinges on Prem, who hides his deep self-loathing and feelings of failure behind a shield of pride.
In Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH, henceforth), marriage is depicted as more of a public institution than a private one between two people. When Sandhya moves into her husband’s family’s cramped home, she relinquishes all personal privacy. The one telephone is in the hall near the kitchen, so every conversation is overheard. Her in-laws and her husband’s aunt sleep on cots right outside to the matrimonial bedroom. Everyone in the house knows whether or not Prem and Sandhya are having sex.
It’s fascinating to see sex dealt with so frankly in a Hindi movie. The act is a matter of public importance in the sense that, once the marriage is consummated, it’s more difficult to back out. Prem’s mother hears the bed creaking in the other room, and her first instinct is to call her daughters and tell them about it.
The Tiwari family home is a frequent setting in DLKH, and shots featuring too many people crowded into too small a space are reminiscent of Ankhon Dekhi, a terrific movie in which Sanjay Mishra also plays the patriarch.
Director Sharat Katariya and cinematographer Manu Anand also evoke memories of Wes Anderson films in their use of camera pans and in absurdly humorous scenes, including one in which the leader of the local men’s club hoists one of its members onto his back in order to demonstrate proper wife-carrying technique.
Everything in DLKH depends on Prem deciding to take responsibility for his own future, rather than blaming everyone else for his failings. He comes just close enough to causing the audience to lose faith in him, but he doesn’t thanks to Khurrana, who plays the put-upon everyman as well as anybody.
More importantly, we never give up on Prem because of Sandhya. She’s such a complete character — snarky but sensitive and with a sense of justice — that we trust her judgment. If she sees potential in Prem, it must be there. Padnekar is so endearing and funny, she makes Sandhya impossible not to love.
The supporting roles in DLKH are rich and well-defined. As frustrating as Prem’s catty aunt is, we understand why she is the way she is. Same with all of the parents in the film, who react to the possible breakup of Prem and Sandhya’s marriage as though they are the aggrieved parties.
Katariya’s take on marriage is fresh, insightful, heartwarming, and hilarious. DLKH is an absolute must-see.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with one new addition to the streaming catalog: 2015’s Hawaizaada. This movie got completely overlooked at the box office earlier this year, but it’s really cute. Hindi films are rarely made with kids as the intended audience, and elements of magical realism are equally uncommon in Bollywood movies. By targeting kids and fantasy fans, Hawaizaada reaches out to some under-served demographics. It’s worth a look.
Netflix purged over 20% of its Bollywood streaming catalog this morning, but many of the expunged titles are still available through Netflix on DVD. Click here for a list of the titles that were just booted from streaming.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two pieces of bad news. First, Kahaani is set to expire from the streaming service on January 16, 2015. This is one of my favorite movies, and I find new details to love whenever I watch it. I’ve shared this film with people who don’t normally watch Hindi films to rave reviews. If you haven’t seen this great thriller before, check it out this weekend. If you have, watch it again to be reminded of how wonderful Vidya Balan is.
2014 delivered a bunch of well-crafted films aimed at a savvy audience. Here are my ten best of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
Films with budgets large and small took aim at social issues affecting ordinary citizens. Siddharth powerfully explores poverty through the experience of a man searching for his missing child. The divisive intersection of politics and religion is skewered both by indies — Filmistaan and Dekh Tamasha Dekh — and the year’s biggest hit, PK.
Other films put creative spins on existing formulas. Highway turns a typical damsel-in-distress scenario into a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Dedh Ishqiya features a budding romance between a middle-aged couple, played by Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Naseeruddin Shah. I thought I’d seen enough gangster movies for a lifetime until Kill Dil revitalized the genre in stylish fashion.
Ankhon Dekhi challenges the notion that a movie has to be “about” a specific theme, instead presenting itself as a movie to simply experience.
My sentimental favorite film of 2014 is Queen. Watching Kangana Ranuat as charming small-town girl Rani gallivanting about Europe on her solo honeymoon is a joyous experience. It’s a movie I look forward to revisiting.
Yet one movie stood out from the rest because of its riveting story and immaculate direction. The best Hindi movie of 2014 is Haider.
I’m a huge fan of director Vishal Bhardwaj, and even with high expectations going in, I was still blown away by Haider. It’s gorgeous, thanks both to the natural beauty of Kashmir and Bhardwaj’s use of a bold color palette against a snowy backdrop. Kudos to cinematographer Pankaj Kumar as well.
Bhardwaj — who also wrote the film’s music — maximizes the potential for song as a narrative device in a sequence in which Haider (a modern Hamlet, played by Shahid Kapoor) publicly implicates his uncle in his father’s disappearance. The scene is much more effective as a musical performance than it would have been as a speech.
Bhardwaj also deserves credit for placing his version of Hamlet in such a politically and emotionally charged environment. Notes at the end of the movie highlight how ongoing tension between India and Pakistan have cut off a beautiful place like Kashmir from the rest of the world, to the detriment of regular people simply trying to exist. Placing a 400-year-old story within the context of a modern conflict emphasizes that quelling the dangerous temptations that come with political ambition is a problem humans haven’t yet solved. Haider is a magnificent piece of visual storytelling.
“I don’t think we should look for messages in films,” said filmmaker Rajat Kapoor at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival press conference this past weekend. “It’s reductionist.” Such a sentiment suits Kapoor’s movie Ankhon Dekhi (“Through My Own Eyes“), which closed the 2014 festival. It’s a film that is at its most moving when it is simply experienced.
Veteran character actor Sanjay Mishra plays Raje, a middle-aged man with a comfortable life and a family he loves. He lives in a small flat in Delhi with his own wife and kids, plus his younger brother, Rishi (Kapoor), Rishi’s wife, and their son.
When the gossipy priest’s son exposes Raje’s daughter Rita’s (Maya Sarao) romantic relationship with Ajju (Namit Das), Raje meets the boyfriend to see if he’s as much of a lout as everyone says he is. Raje discovers that Ajju is a harmless puppy dog of a man. This causes Raje to commit himself to only trusting that which he sees for himself.
This new governing principle makes it hard for Raje to continue working as a travel agent. How can he tell a customer how long a flight to a foreign country will take when he’s never made the trip himself? Worse, Raje’s new way of operating creates a rift between him and Rishi.
Ankhon Dekhi doesn’t attempt to make sweeping philosophical statements through Raje’s choices. The characters discuss broad issues, such as the aspects of language that are more convenient than they are accurate, but Kapoor avoids tying up the narrative with a tidy moral lesson.
Instead, the movie feels like a window into Raje’s life for a short period of time. We see how his values affect his family and how they influence his neighbors. He gains a loyal following at the barbershop, and his acolytes sometimes take his ideas to ridiculous extremes.
There are breathtaking moments in Ankhon Dekhi, when the cast and crew function in complete harmony. Look around in busy scenes such as when Raje holds court in his living room and notice how perfectly every supporting actor is executing his or her role. The acolytes listen to Raje attentively; Rita listens disinterestedly; Raje’s wife (Seema Pahwa) frustratedly tries to do her chores with a house full of people.
Such scenes highlight just how hard it is to make a really good movie. The right actors need to be cast. They need to have clear motivation in every scene, no matter how small their roles are. The director has to get the technical aspects of the shot just right.
There are many such perfect scenes in Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a remarkable achievement for Kapoor, who wrote the film, in addition to directing and acting in it. It’s impossible to imagine anyone executing the role of Raje better than Mishra. Ankhon Dekhi is a delight to watch.
The festival continues Friday through Sunday, September 19-21, with lots of other great films and artists in attendance. Saturday features a screening of Siddiqui’s film Monsoon Shootout, as well as showing of Brahmin Bulls that includes a Q&A with actor Sendhil Ramamurthy moderated by Prashant Bhargava, director of the excellent movie Patang.
CSAFF 2014 closes on Sunday night with a screening of Ankhon Dekhi, attended by writer-director-actor Rajat Kapoor.
The lineup for the 2014 Chicago South Asian Film Festival has been announced. In addition to all of the features and shorts that will air during the festival, a number of artists will be in attendance as well. Sendhil Ramamurthy will be on hand to discuss his film, Brahmin Bulls, while actor/director Rajat Kapoor will close the festival with a Q&A session regarding Ankhon Dekhi. Prior to the screening of Ankhon Dekhi, Kapoor will moderate a conversation with acclaimed writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar.
The festival’s big draw is undoubtedly actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who will conduct Q&A sessions for two of his films playing at CSAFF 2014: Liar’s Dice and Monsoon Shootout.
The festival runs from September 18-21, and tickets are available now. Click here for the full schedule.