We’re approaching the time of year when we can expect to see 2018 theatrical releases show up on streaming services more regularly. On May 26 of last year, Netflix added Raees, and Amazon’s Heera (R.I.P.) added Commando 2. Two more 2017 titles showed up in June before things really picked up in July. If there’s a movie you missed seeing in the theater earlier this year, you may not have to wait much longer before you can watch it from the comfort of home.
For everything else new on Amazon Prime — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.
Looking back at all of the 2017 releases that I reviewed, there were more movies that I liked than those I didn’t. Here are my ten favorites from a sizable group of contenders.
I love a well-made action movie, and 2017 had two that stood out. Commando 2 took full advantage of Vidyut Jammwal’s impressive physical skills in a solid followup to 2013’s terrific Commando: A One Man Army. The slick action comedy A Gentleman had cool stunts, abundant laughs, and the perfect leading duo for such a film: Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez.
Malhotra made another appearance in the Top Ten with his murder mystery remake Ittefaq, featuring a great performance by Akshaye Khanna as a detective. The other thriller on the list, Trapped, found Rajkummar Rao carrying the weight of an entire movie by himself as his character sought to escape a locked apartment.
Secret Superstar was a touching family drama with surprising emotional depth, especially since its marketing focused heavily on Aamir Khan’s wacky (and very funny) cameo performance. Though Hindi Medium was more deliberately comedic, it likewise packed an unexpected punch, effectively illustrating the negative effects of income inequality on quality public education.
Three wonderful romantic comedies made my Top Ten list. Ayushmann Khurrana lamented the one who (he thinks) got away in the delightful Meri Pyaari Bindu, and he starred in the clever update of Cyrano de Bergerac — Bareilly Ki Barfi — opposite Rajkummar Rao (again) and Kriti Sanon, in her best performance to date. Anushka Sharma showcased her skills as both a producer and an actress in the beautiful tearjerker Phillauri.
While I normally restrict my yearly Top Ten list to just Bollywood movies, I have to make an exception for the multi-lingual film that raised the bar for all Indian cinema on the international stage. My favorite movie of 2017 was Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Everything about Baahubali 2 was epic: battles, choreography, story, sets, costumes, performances. It’s the kind of movie that reminded me why I enjoy movies in the first place. Writer-director S.S. Rajamouli deserves all the accolades he received for making a truly magnificent film.
Check my Netflix and Amazon Prime pages to see which of these movies are available for streaming in the United States.
Badrinath Ki Dulhania held up really well in its second weekend in the face of monstrous competition from Beauty and the Beast, even adding four theaters in the United States. From March 17-19, 2017, Badrinath Ki Dulhania earned $413,488 from 174 theaters ($2,376 average; adjusted average of $2,651 from 156 theaters*). That’s a hold-over of 48% from its first weekend, the best of the year so far for a Bollywood film in North America, just ahead of Jolly LLB 2‘s 46% retention rate. If it follows Jolly LLB 2‘s trajectory and manages to earn 2.2 times its first weekend earnings over the course of its theatrical run, Badrinath Ki Dulhania could finish with a total of nearly $2 million. Its total earnings presently stand at $1,581,270.
Other Hindi movies showing in North America over the weekend:
The Ghazi Attack (all languages): Week 5: $2,825 from seven theaters; $404 average; $767,634 total
MSG Lion Heart 2: Week 2; $762 from one theater; $3,430 total
Jolly LLB 2: Week 6; $745 from one theater; $1,641,082 total
Commando 2: Week 3; $244 from two theaters; $122 average; $76,133 total
Rangoon: Week 4; $171 from two theaters; $86 average; $503,610 total
*Bollywood Hungama frequently counts Canadian theaters twice in when they report figures for a film’s first two weeks of release. When possible, I verify theater counts at Box Office Mojo, but I use Bollywood Hungama as my primary source because they provide a comprehensive and consistent — if flawed — data set.
MovieMax also holds over Commando 2 and both the Hindi and Telugu versions of The Ghazi Attack. Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include Angamaly Diaries (Malayalam), Chowka (Kannada), Maa Abbayi (Telugu), Aby (Malayalam), Nagaram (Telugu), and Maanagaram (Tamil).
Badrinath Ki Dulhania posted the second best opening weekend of the year for a Bollywood movie in North America. From March 10-12, 2017, the romantic-comedy earned $858,623 from 170 theaters for a per-theater average of $5,051 (also second best for the year). That total is just $23,720 less than what Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania — the first film in the Varun Dhawan-Alia Bhatt franchise — earned from its entire 2014 North American theatrical run ($882,343)!
Before I move on from Badrinath Ki Dulhania, I’ll address in more detail something regarding theater counts that I plan on adding as an addendum to weekly box office posts from here on. My main source for box office information is Rentrak, a company that independently collects information from theaters across the country. Access to Rentrak’s raw data is expensive, so I rely on the Rentrak data as reported by Bollywood Hungama. For some reason, during a film’s first weekend of release in North America, Bollywood Hungama routinely includes Canadian theaters in the US theater count. So, when data from the two countries is added together, Canada’s theaters get counted twice. While I normally can’t verify this without direct access to the Rentrak data, I can confirm it when a film appears on Box Office Mojo, as their theater totals are always accurate. However, I can’t use Box Office Mojo as my main source because they rely on individual distributors to report results to them, and as a result, only four of the thirteen Hindi films released here this year are listed at Box Office Mojo. So, even though I am reasonably sure that Bollywood Hungama misreports theater information in a film’s opening weekend, using their information gives me a complete and consistent data set, enabling me to compare movies fairly. This is my long way of saying that Badrinath Ki Dulhania‘s true theater count is 152, making for a per-theater average of $5,649.
Only one of last weekend’s two new releases stuck around for a second weekend (and it wasn’t Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai). Commando 2 earned $4,172 from 13 theaters ($321 average), bringing its total North American earnings to $75,355. Despite Commando 2‘s business dropping about 90% from its first weekend to its second, its total earnings are close to double the amount it earned is its opening weekend, meaning that the film fared really well from Monday, March 6 – Thursday, March 9. That’s not reason enough to keep it around for a third weekend, mind you, so see it while you can, if you’re interested. The same can be said for the other Hindi films showing in North America:
Rangoon: Week 3; $5,815 from 15 theaters; $388 average; $502,014 total
The Ghazi Attack (all languages): Week 4; $4,836 from 11 theaters; $440 average: $762,917 total
Hind Ka Napak Ko Jawab — MSG Lion Heart 2: Week 1; $1,862 from one theater; $1,862 total
One big new Hindi release opens in Chicago area theaters on March 10, 2017. Badrinath Ki Dulhania reunites Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt for the second film in the franchise that began with 2014’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. (Are we calling it the Dulhania franchise?)
Commando 2 gets a second week at the MovieMax and South Barrington 24. The Hindi and Telugu versions of The Ghazi Attack carry over at MovieMax, while the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge holds over just the Telugu version.
*Note that South Barrington AMC downsized to 24 screens from 30 as part of its recent upgrades. I haven’t been to the theater to see how that changes the physical layout of the theater, or if those decommissioned screens have been re-purposed for something else. South Barrington used to hang on to marginally successful Bollywood films for many weeks, but the lost screens could lead to shorter theatrical runs if space is at a premium.
The weekend of March 3-5, 2017, provided two more cautionary tales of the difficult path to North American box office success for Bollywood movies without A-list stars. The action sequel Commando 2 fared the better of the new releases, earning $40,611 from 49 theaters ($829 average). The romantic drama Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai had the worst opening weekend of the year so far for a Hindi film in North America, earning just $6,539 from 42 theaters ($156 average).
These lackluster performances come two weeks after both Irada and Running Shaadi failed to earn $15,000 in their opening weekend in the United States and Canada. Given that JIKNH had the least star-power of the four films, its position at the bottom of the heap makes sense. Still, it speaks to the star-driven nature of movie attendance here that Commando 2 wasn’t able to earn more than it did. As a sequel, it had a preexisting fanbase that — while not huge — was enthusiastic for its release. With forty theaters in the US and nine in Canada, access to the film wasn’t a problem. Yet those factors weren’t enough to earn the six figures that would’ve marked the film a success. Commando 2‘s returns help to define the earning potential for Bollywood movies without A-list stars here, and that potential isn’t very high.
In its second weekend in theaters, business for Rangoon dropped nearly 80% from its opening weekend. That’s not as catastrophic as it might sound, but it’s not good, either. Rangoon earned $64,047 from 68 theaters ($942 average), bringing its total to $471,186. A few more days will push that total past $500,000, making it director Vishal Bhardwaj’s most successful film in North America to feature a female lead.
Other Bollywood movies showing in North American theaters:
The Ghazi Attack (all languages): Week 3; $30,118 from seventeen theaters; $1,772 average; $749,957 total
Raees: Week 6; $273 from one theater; $3,631,911 total
Commando 2: The Black Money Trail is absolutely bonkers. If one is willing to accept the movie on its own terms, it’s a helluva fun and goofy ride.
Part of making peace with Commando 2 is accepting that it is not Commando: A One Man Army. While that movie had some quirks as well, its narrative was a straightforward story of two lovers on the run. The threats to the lovers were immediate and directed by a single villain, while the danger in Commando 2 is borne out of distrust for India’s political system.
Carrying over from the first movie to the second is the commando himself, Karan (Vidyut Jammwal). No mention is made of his love interest from the original film, Simrit (Pooja Chopra), so I guess they broke up.
Karan now works for some elite secretive unit of the government, tracking money launderers overseas and killing them in encounters. He makes sure to have one of his sidekicks shoot him and plant the gun on the bad guy’s body, so as to not get tied up in court on suspicion of extrajudicial killings. Due process does not exist in Commando 2.
Following a scene of some shady dealings in Taiwan, Karan gets the most perfect introduction imaginable. Our first glimpse of him is a closeup of Jammwal’s bulging bicep. Director Deven Bhojani knows that his film’s greatest asset is Jammwal’s heavily muscled body and the wondrous things it can do, usually some combination of running, jumping, kicking, and punching. Karan’s solo assault on a Taiwan high-rise is a great way to start the movie.
(While Commando 2‘s camera spends a lot of time lingering on Jammwal’s chiseled bod, let’s take a moment to appreciate how impossibly handsome he is, as well. I found it very upsetting whenever the bad guys punched him in his perfect face.)
As soon as Karan recovers from his bullet wounds, his boss (played by Adil Hussain) tasks him with bringing to justice the most notorious money launderer of all: Vicky Chaddha (Vansh Bhardwaj), who was recently apprehended in Malaysia with his wife, Maria (Esha Gupta).
However, Chaddha has so much dirt on India’s rich and powerful that the whole government could be brought down if he names names. Delhi’s Home Minister (Shefali Shah) assembles a team of morally flexible police officers to bring Vicky and Maria back to India and recover the laundered funds, before quietly dispatching the married couple. Karan weasels his way onto the team, which consists of brutal lead officer Bakhtawar (Freddy Daruwala), obligatory computer hacker Zafar (Sumit Gulati), and vain gun-for-hire Bhavana (Adah Sharma).
Materialistic Bhavana’s broadly humorous character feels out-of-step with the movie’s tone until one realizes that her entrance signals a shift from fairly serious to absolute mayhem. There are twists upon twists as Karan and the bad guys both claim to know that the other side knows what they have planned, thus necessitating a whole new plan to throw the other side for a loop. The story was clearly written starting at the end and working backward, so trying to make sense of it while it unfolds is a recipe for a headache.
Once one accepts these new conditions, one is free to enjoy Commando 2 in all its silliness. Not only is Karan an unrivaled martial artist, he’s a tech wizard, too. In a “high-tech forensic lab,” he analyzes the audio from a security camera video and concludes: “That means that the church is on the banks of a river, and there’s a bird sanctuary nearby.”
Since Karan is part of a team, he has to share some of the fighting duties with Bakhtawar and Bhavana, who acquit themselves well. There’s a cleverly choreographed scene in which Karan and Bhavana beat up a gang of assassins, he with a lead pipe and she with an iron chain. Never mind that the fight takes place in an airplane graveyard situated immediately next to a glamorous shopping mall, or that they are fighting a bunch of white ninjas on stilts.
As tough as he is, Karan does have a weakness for women. He gets all googly-eyed when Maria saunters into the room in a catsuit, one of the many sublimely-tailored outfits she wears that leave not an inch of fabric to spare.
Such a weakness is a nice addition to Karan’s character, humanizing him and giving Jammwal license to have a bit of fun. His incredible stunts would be enough, but Jammwal is too good of an actor to limit him in such fashion. Gupta is always terrific as the bombshell, and even Sharma is likable in spite of her character’s chatterbox tendencies.
Commando 2 isn’t as great as the first Commando, but it’s still really darned entertaining. I enjoyed watching it and would watch it again. That’s more than enough for me to recommend it.
Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on March 3, 2017, including my most highly anticipated Hindi movie of the whole year. Commando 2 is the followup to the awesome 2013 action flick Commando, starring Vidyut Jammwal, Bollywood’s best action star. He’s joined in the sequel by Esha Gupta and Adah Sharma.
I have no idea why this is releasing internationally. If Running Shaadi earned less than $15,000 here with recognizable actors and the backing of a major studio, I don’t know why anyone thinks a romance starring Salman Khan’s brother is worth the effort. Maybe the timing’s better. We’ll see.
Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai (god, I’m sick of typing this long-ass title already) opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min.
Rangoon carries over for a second week at MovieMax, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Jolly LLB 2. MovieMax has the Hindi version of The Ghazi Attack/Ghazi as well as the English-subtitled Telugu version, which also gets a third weekend at Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
Dwaraka (Telugu w/no subtitles) at MovieMax and Seven Bridges