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Worst Bollywood Movies of 2011

In 2011, Bollywood produced a number of movies that advanced the role of women in film and pushed the boundaries of traditional storytelling style. This post is not about those movies. This post is about the worst films of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

Video services like YouTube and Netflix have allowed smaller studios to bypass the theater distribution system and reach an international audience via the Internet. While the development is a welcome one, it doesn’t mean that every film available online merits viewing. Inept, low-budget stinkers like Cycle Kick, Love Express and Impatient Vivek aren’t worth it, even for free.

Neither is a showing on the big screen a guarantee of quality. Indie film I Am Singh made it into Chicago area theaters but left after just one week. Aarakshan, Thank You, Dum Maaro Dum and Mausam all had large budgets and star casts but failed to impress.

While a number of this year’s movies featured empowered female characters, Turning 30 did its best to undermine feminism. The movie — written and directed by a woman — features a lead character who spends most of the movie wallowing in self-pity after she’s dumped. Turning 30 ends with the appalling suggestion that self-respect and a happy marriage shouldn’t be as important to women as having babies.

This year’s worst Bollywood movie manages to combine all of the above offenses into one unwatchable mess. It’s sloppily made, despite having a budget large enough to pay an A-list cast. It’s sexist. As a bonus, it’s also full of racist stereotypes.

The Worst Bollywood Movie of 2011 is Rascals.

Director David Dhawan is a repeat offender, being the man responsible for my worst movie of 2009, Do Knot Disturb. Rascals — a farce about two crooks fighting for one woman’s affections — seems tailor-made for comic action set pieces. Dhawan even cast action stars Sanjay Dutt and Ajay Devgn as the leads, but gave them little to do besides talk.

The movie’s female lead, played by Kangana Ranaut, spends the bulk of her screentime strutting around in a bikini while whining in a shrill voice: not exactly the postergirl for women’s lib.

Dhawan set Rascals in Thailand, then cast scores of blonde women to serve as gyrating backup dancers and dark-skinned African actors to play armed criminals. Were there no local Thai actors to fill those roles? Why make those casting decisions except to appeal to racist stereotypes?

All those problems aside, Dhawan’s biggest sin in Rascals is laziness. There are numerous continuity errors and bloopers that would’ve been easy to rectify, but Dhawan didn’t bother. Perhaps he thinks his target audience members — misogynists who find two men slapping each other hilarious — don’t care about stuff like a plot that makes sense. Maybe he thinks they’ll pay their money to see heroes like Dutt and Devgn on screen no matter how stupid the story.

I’d like to believe that we moviegoers are smarter than that.

Previous Worst Movies Lists

In Theaters August 26, 2011

New theatrical releases are on hold for another week in anticipation of the Salman Khan/Kareena Kapoor-starrer Bodyguard next Friday. Until then, the selection of Bollywood films in Chicago area theaters is limited to Aarakshan at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara at the Golf Glen 5 only. ZNMD‘s U.S. earnings have surpassed $3 million.

This downtime is a good chance to catch up on movies from earlier this year that you may have missed. Netflix recently added Thank You to its streaming catalog, and Yamla Pagla Deewana and Chalo Dilli are now available through the rental service on DVD. YouTube has an impressive selection of free Hindi movies, including a smaller release I reviewed earlier this month: Cycle Kick.

Other Indian flicks showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu films Dhada, Kandireega and Money Money More Money and the Tamil movie Rowthiram.

Movie Review: Cycle Kick (2011)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Cycle Kick is not the movie it at first appears to be. The opening scenes of the film are clearly the set up to a typical sports movie. The title itself refers to a flashy soccer move, more commonly called a bicycle kick.

A man stares wistfully at an empty pitch. A voiceover explains that, in life and in soccer, you either “kick or get kicked.” A coach quits his job at private university when he’s told to play the sons of donors over more talented athletes. A young man watches the wealthy university kids play before he resumes cutting the grass of the playing field.

Within five minutes, the soccer-as-life metaphor is dropped until the climax. The rest of the movie is about two brothers and their bicycle.

This narrative misdirect points to the main problem with Cycle Kick: it feels like a rough cut and not a finished movie. Scenes end abruptly or transition awkwardly. The actors deliver their lines flatly, as if they were just blocking for the camera. Side plots and other storylines are underdeveloped.

Cycle Kick‘s runtime is unusually short at approximately 75 minutes, yet shots are frequently recycled. In one scene, the lawnmower guy, Ramu (Nishan Nanaiah) — the older of the two bike-owning brothers — grins while staring into space, supposedly thinking of how much he loves his little brother, Deva (Dwij Yadav). A short while later, the same shot of Ramu grinning is used to show him thinking of the girl he has a crush on.

It’s not as if there aren’t opportunities to flesh the plot out more, thereby generating more usable footage. The core story of the orphaned brothers and their bike is touching. Ramu needs the bike so that he can finish his education at the public college and earn extra money working odd jobs. Deva wears braces on both of his legs, and the bike makes the journey home faster when Ramu picks him up from school.

There’s a less interesting sideplot involving one of Ramu’s classmates, Ali (Sunny Hinduja), who wants his own bike in order to impress a girl. When the coach (Tom Alter) suggests the boys share custody of the bike, it allows them to find common ground and learn empathy. Or at least it would in a better movie.

A climactic soccer match is tacked on without setup. Coach gathers up Ramu, Ali and their buddies and explains that the public college has to beat the posh university team in a soccer tournament or they won’t be able to compete again for four years. To this point, the public college soccer team hasn’t existed, let alone practiced together or done any of the team bonding stuff that normally happens in sports movies.

Nope. Cycle Kick needed an ending, so might as well make it one that requires more action than acting and feels familiar to audiences. Never mind that it makes no sense.