Tag Archives: Bollywood

Opening May 17: De De Pyaar De and Photograph

Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on May 17, 2019. The wider release of the two goes to De De Pyaar De, a romantic comedy in which Ajay Devgn leaves Tabu for a woman half his age (Rakul Preet Singh). It’s written by filmmaker Luv Ranjan, who treated the female characters like garbage in his movie Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. I’m sitting this one out.

De De Pyaar De opens Friday at the AMC Niles 12 in Niles, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.

Also new this weekend is Photograph, the latest film from The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra. The romantic drama stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra.

Photograph opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Landmark Century Centre Cinema, and Century 12 Evanston in Evanston. Photograph is rated PG-13 and has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 50 min.

After an okay opening weekend, Student of the Year 2 carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Kalank gets a fifth week at the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

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Bollywood Box Office: May 10-12, 2019

Student of the Year 2 had a fine opening weekend in North American theaters. From May 10-12, 2019, the sequel earned $462,108 from 190 theaters ($2,432 average), according to Box Office Mojo. This year’s median opening weekend per-theater average is just over $3,000, and SOTY2‘s is well short of that. A $1 million final total here seems like a stretch.

Yet SOTY2‘s opening weekend is on par with Student of the Year‘s opening weekend back in October, 2012. The original also had an ambitious release strategy, opening in 106 theaters and earning $326,508 that weekend ($3,080 average). It ended its North American run five weeks later with $670,086 total. SOTY‘s second-weekend earnings were 40% of its first-weekend earnings, so let’s see if SOTY2 can match that.

Other Hindi films showing in North American theaters:

  • Kalank: Week 4; $13,839 from 19 theaters; $728 average; $2,729,336 total
  • The Tashkent Files: Week 5; $4,577 from two theaters; $2,289 average; $64,450 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

With Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (“How I Felt When I Saw That Girl“, ELKDTAL henceforth), debutant filmmaker Shelly Chopra Dhar set out to change how India thinks about LGBTQ people, both in terms of social acceptance and as an untapped well of cinematic storytelling possibilities. Her film is caring, thoughtful exploration of how a conservative family deals with a gay family member.

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja uses her star-power for good to play Sweety Chaudhary, a closeted lesbian from the Punjabi town of Moga. While on a trip to New Delhi, she ducks into a theater during play rehearsals to hide from a man we later learn is her brother, Babloo (Abhishek Duhan). Intrigued by Sweety’s good looks and her insightful critique of the awful play, its floundering writer, Sahil (Rajkummar Rao), helps her escape to a train station.

Sahil finds out where Sweety lives and heads to Moga under the pretext of running an acting workshop. There, a series of misunderstandings convince Sweety’s father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), her grandmother Gifty (Madhumalti Kapoor), and Sahil himself that Sweety is secretly in love with him.

Sweety explains to Sahil that she’s in love with a woman named Kuhu (Regina Cassandra). Babloo knows this and disapproves of his sister’s feelings, which is why he followed her to New Delhi and why she’d hidden from him in Sahil’s theater. Bereft of ideas for how to live a life true to herself, Sweety lets Sahil use his storytelling skills in a daring plan to win over her family and the town of Moga.

Director Shelly Chopra Dhar set herself the daunting task of making a movie that anyone could enjoy, but that would also open the minds of a particular segment of the audience. In an interview with The Telegraph, Chopra Dhar explains that her target audience was not progressive urbanites already accepting of LGBTQ people, but “people who’re genuinely not there”: those in smaller cities and towns in India who may have little personal exposure to gay people. So as not to risk scaring those people away, there is no same-sex kissing in ELKDTAL, only some affectionate hugging and hand-holding between Sweety and Kuhu — a choice consistent with the chaste way many mainstream Hindi films still depict straight romance.

Chopra Dhar also says in the interview that she had to consider ELKDTAL‘s setting when trying to reach her intended audience. Small-town folks might feel disconnected from an urban story, and a village setting could make the film seem too artsy and not commercial enough (which is why she made Balbir a rich factory owner). Although she wanted the serious message of acceptance to come through, she needed to relate to her audience in an uplifting way: “It’s not a dark and dingy film either. Why can’t it be a nice, bright film and be natural?”

ELKDTAL feels breezy and familiar, and its dramatic elements are balanced by two comic subplots. One involves the Chaudhary family staff — played by Seema Bhargava and Brijendra Kala, who is adorable in the film — betting on who Sweety will finally marry. Another features Juhi Chawla as Chatro, a goofy caterer with acting ambitions who catches Balbir’s eye. The tonal shifts between the comedy and drama elements aren’t seamless, but they never take the film off track.

In many ways, ELKDTAL‘s story is less about Sweety’s journey than how people react when she opens up to them. As the audience’s onscreen avatar, Sahil meets Sweety and decides she’s someone who deserves friendship and help, reinforcing the story’s message of judging someone by the content of their character. Sweety’s father, Balbir, already loves her, but he doesn’t see her for who she really is — in part because Sweety felt compelled to hide the truth from him. Balbir’s challenge is to accept what is, to him, a new facet of his daughter’s life, but also to see the way his own expectations for her made her life harder and less happy. It forces the audience to question whether we’ve let our own loved ones down by expecting them to be someone they’re not.

The downside to this narrative focus is that Sweety is acted upon more than she drives the action, but Kapoor Ahuja is fully engaged in every scene, her reactions always showing us how Sweety feels even when her character isn’t the center of attention. Same goes for Rao and Kapoor, whose love for his real-life daughter (Kapoor Ahuja) spills over into Balbir’s affection for Sweety. While ELKDTAL‘s laudable social goals are the perfect reason to start the movie, the film’s delightful performances make you want to see it through to the end.

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Opening May 10: Student of the Year 2

Karan Johar turns Student of the Year into a franchise with Student of the Year 2, which hits Chicago area theaters on May 10, 2019. While the original launched future stars Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, and Sidharth Malhotra, SOTY2 features Tiger Shroff, who debuted five years ago. Newbies Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria star opposite Tiger.

SOTY2 opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min.

Kalank gets a fourth week at the South Barrington 24 and Woodridge 18.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: May 3-5, 2019

Kalank closed out its third weekend in North America with $84,217 from 85 theaters ($991 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total earnings stand at $2,699,301.

Other Hindi movies showing in North American theaters over the weekend:

  • The Tashkent Files: Week 4; $6,845 from five theaters; $1,369 average; $56,633 total
  • Kesari: Week 7; $1,807 from four theaters; $452 average; $1,904,557 total
  • Badla: Week 9; $76 from one theater; $1,863,375 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Junglee (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Junglee is exactly the movie it’s supposed to be: a fun action flick with a clear environmental message, great practical effects, and elephants. Lots of elephants.

Bollywood’s premier martial artist Vidyut Jammwal stars as Raj, a veterinarian who grew up on an elephant sanctuary run by his parents. As a young man, Raj ran away to the city, blaming his father for his mother’s death from cancer. Only on the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death does Raj finally return to the sanctuary.

Things have changed since Raj left. The remote jungle region is struggling economically, according to Raj’s friend Dev (Akshay Oberoi), who now works as a forest ranger. Raj’s childhood pal Shankara (Pooja Sawant) is one of the sanctuary’s few remaining mahouts, or elephant caretakers. She’s also grown up to be stunningly beautiful. The only thing that hasn’t changed is Raj’s frosty relationship with his father, Baba (Thalaivasal Vijay).

Too many Bollywood male leads are written as incapable of making mistakes, but Raj is different. He accepts Dev’s admonishment when his friend says that Raj is in no position to criticize the state of the sanctuary after abandoning it. Raj also comes to realize that he was too young to understand his parents’ choices during his mother’s cancer battle, and that realization starts to heal the rift with his father. Raj is willing to admit that he’s wrong and learn from his mistakes.

Economic troubles aren’t the sanctuary’s only problem. Ivory poachers use camera drones to spot Bhola, a bull with impressive tusks. Led by the hunter Keshav (Atul Kulkarni, who has a touch of Quint from Jaws in his performance), the poachers launch a nighttime raid, with elephants and humans among the casualties.

Raj sets out to find the culprits, aided by Shankara, Dev, and Meera (Asha Bhat) — a plucky reporter from the city visiting the sanctuary to interview Baba. This chase sets the stage for some of Jammwal’s signature stunt-work, which is as thrilling to watch as always. Raj fights with whatever items he has on hand, turning a ladder or a table and chairs into weapons with high novelty value. Shankara and Meera add comic relief, in the form of a love triangle which Raj doesn’t seem keen to participate in.

The highlight of Junglee is unquestionably its elephants, real-life residents at a conservation center in Thailand where much of the film was shot. Director Chuck Russell spoke with Scroll.in (interview linked below) about the numerous precautions the crew took to ensure the safety and comfort of the elephants while still shooting as many scenes with them as possible. The resulting footage is impressive — a refreshing throwback to the days before computer-generated imagery became the default cost-cutting option for film producers. It’s very cool to watch the cast interact with the elephants, and it makes the whole film a treat for the kid in all of us.

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In Theaters: May 3, 2019

It’s a super slow weekend for Chicago area Bollywood fans. (Better get hyped for Student of the Year 2 next week, y’all.) As of Friday, May 3, 2019, Kalank carries over in just three theaters: the AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, which also holds over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: April 26-28, 2019

Kalank‘s second weekend in North American theaters could have been worse, but it was still pretty bad. From April 26-28, 2019, the period drama earned $278,720 from 283 theaters ($985 average), according to Box Office Mojo. That brings its 12-day total to $2,482,587.

For perspective on Kalank‘s performance, I looked at the 25 most widely released Hindi films in North America since 2014 (excluding multilingual movies like Baahubali 2) to see how they fared from their first weekend to their second. Kalank released into the 8th highest number of theaters in its opening weekend (320), and it ranks 10th in terms of second-weekend theater count (283). Nevertheless, its second-weekend gross of $278,720 ranks way down in 18th (the median is $600,000). Its per-screen average of $985 is even worse, tied for 20th place with Zero. Only six movies among the 25 failed to average $1,000/screen in their second weekends here: Kalank, Zero, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Tubelight, Thugs of Hindostan, and Befikre. This is not a group any movie wants to be a part of.

To be fair to Kalank, it was up against literally the toughest box office competition of all time in Avengers: Endgame, which broke pretty much every record on its way to earning $1.2 billion globally in its opening weekend. That Kalank did as well as it did is kind of remarkable, especially since — at least in the Chicago region — a number of theaters gave Kalank only one showing a day at off-peak times in order to accommodate more showings of Avengers. Still, Kalank‘s underwhelming-on-paper showing will likely cause it to drop at least 2/3 of its remaining theaters in North America come Weekend 3.

Other Hindi movies showing in North American theaters:

  • The Tashkent Files: Week 3; $6,355 from five theaters; $1,271 average; $44,542 total
  • Kesari: Week 6; $1,972 from three theaters; $657 average; $1,901,536 total
  • Badla: Week 8; $348 from two theaters; $174 average; $1,863,181 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

In Theaters: April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame takes over theaters across the globe this weekend, so it’s no surprise that there are no new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on Friday, April 26, 2019. Despite a somewhat lackluster opening weekend, Kalank carries over at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

There’s a big caveat to the above list. In order to accommodate the huge crowds anticipated for Avengers, several theaters are showing Kalank only once per day — and at off-peak times. The Marcus Addison has the worst of those showtimes, running Kalank at 8:30 a.m. (and only through the weekend). The Cantera 17’s lone showing is at 10:10 a.m., the Round Lake Beach 18 at 11:50 a.m., and Seven Bridges at 4:20 p.m. All those theaters add shows starting Monday.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Movie Review: Kalank (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Kalank (“Stigma“) is a middling extravaganza, neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Lavish sets, impressive dance numbers, and a gorgeous cast make it an enjoyable enough one-time watch, so long as you keep your attention at surface level.

Set just before Partition, the story follows Roop (Alia Bhatt), a young woman forced to integrate into a wealthy Hindu family living near Muslim-majority Lahore under unusual circumstances. Her acquaintance Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) proposes a business arrangement: in exchange for funding dowries for Roop’s younger sisters, Roop will move in to Satya’s home and grow closer to Satya’s husband, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). Satya is dying from cancer, and she hopes Dev will marry Roop after Satya’s death. Roop insists that she’ll only enter the home as Dev’s co-wife — a prudent move since Satya otherwise wouldn’t be around to make sure her wishes are carried out after death.

The second marriage proceeds and Roop moves into the Chaudhry family mansion with Satya, Dev, and Dev’s stiff father, Balraj (Sanjay Dutt). It would have been interesting to watch Roop and Satya negotiate their evolving roles in the household (as Bhatt’s character Sehmat did in Raazi) and learn more about nature of their tense preexisting relationship, but filmmaker Abhishek Varman sidelines Satya. Her illness progresses off-screen, and she and Roop have few interactions after their initial one. It’s unfortunate how small Sinha’s role in Kalank is given her prominence in the film’s marketing and the quality of her performance in her few scenes.

Dev tells Roop that he agreed to the marriage to make Satya happy, and that while he will never be mean to Roop, neither he will ever love her. Perhaps it’s because of the limitations of Dev’s nature, but Kapur’s one-note performance in the role is not one of his best.

In order to escape her stifling home life, Roop undertakes vocal music tuition from the famed courtesan Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) in a working-class Muslim neighborhood. There Roop meets Gendry, er, Zafar (Varun Dhawan): a hunky blacksmith who’s the unacknowledged bastard son of — you guessed it — Roop’s father-in-law, Balraj. Zafar neglects to mention that to Roop so that he can use her to take revenge against the family that abandoned him.

Varman lays the melodrama on thick, with lots of longing looks, near-kisses, and simmering tensions between family members. It’s fun, if that’s the kind of story you’re in the mood for. The melodrama is enhanced by song numbers that are grand in scale and a delight to watch, especially when Madhuri Dixit takes the floor. The sets have a depth of field, and every rooftop and alleyway is populated with extras. Some settings do feel over-the-top for their location. Bahaar Begum’s brothel is apparently so successful that she can afford to stack chandeliers atop one another, and Blacksmith Alley’s festival budget tops the production costs of most Bollywood films.

Then again, I don’t think authenticity was Varman’s goal with Kalank — especially not with Karan Johar financing the film. Everything is big and glamorous, regardless of whether it makes sense. I’m not sure if the costumes are true to the time period, but they look fabulous. The cast members — particularly Dixit, Sinha, and Bhatt — look stunning under Devdas cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s lens.

Kalank gets its worst bang for its buck on an awful CGI bull-riding sequence involving Zafar that includes maybe one shot of an actual bull. I’m not sure why this made the final cut of the film, except that they must have spent a lot of money on it.

Kalank‘s larger-than-life relationship drama is set within a complicated political environment. While Roop is falling in love with Zafar behind her husband’s back, neoliberal Dev uses his newspaper to promote the economic benefits of bringing a steel mill to Lahore — a move that would decimate the local, Muslim-run blacksmith industry. Dev — who is also anti-Partition — thinks he’s just seeing the big picture, envisioning an India made prosperous by innovation. Never mind that only his family’s prosperity is assured by such advances, at the expense of a struggling lower class.

Dev’s main antagonist is Zafar’s friend Abdul Khan (Kunal Khemu, who’s excellent in Kalank), a politician responding to his base’s growing discontent. His own politics become more religiously divisive over time in part because of the mood of the neighborhood but also due to Zafar’s aggrieved goading. There’s an inevitability to the violent climax, and Khan admits he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to (not that he wants to, by that point).

Kalank‘s epilogue — featuring Bhatt in a weird direct-to-camera speech — suggests that all this trouble could’ve been avoided if we just set aside our differences and chose to get along. But could it? The plot makes a compelling case for the Muslims in the film to favor Partition by whatever means necessary. Things were already tough — huge festival budgets and extravagant brothel chandeliers notwithstanding — and likely to get worse, all so that the (Hindu) rich can get richer and the (Muslim) poor poorer. I’m not saying this applies to actual history, but in the terms the movie sets for itself, the angry mob’s response makes sense.

That said, it stinks to see another mainstream film depict Muslims as violent, except for those noble enough to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Hindus. And it stinks that this is another movie that wants us to sympathize most with characters who are wealthy enough to escape difficult situations without regard for the mess they leave behind.

In order to enjoy Kalank, one must ignore the politics undergirding it and allow oneself to revel in the superficial beauty of it all. I was able to do that while I was in the theater. Only afterward did the film’s unfortunate aspects start to weigh on me.

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