I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with eight new additions to the catalog. Finally, Lagaan — the first Bollywood movie I ever saw — is available for streaming, along with several other movies produced by Aamir Khan: Delhi Belly, Dhobi Ghat, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, and Peepli Live. I love Delhi Belly; Dhobi Ghat is great; and Peepli Live is worth checking out, too. Other new additions include Papa the Great and the Mithun Chakraborthy movies Jaal and Shikari. For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.
Timing is everything in horror movies. Getting it right keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Get it wrong, and the audience feels like they’re ticking boxes on a horror cliché checklist. The zombie flick Go Goa Gone gets its timing all wrong.
The premise is actually good. Dumped by his girlfriend, dope-smoking loser Luv (Vir Das) wants to forget about his romantic troubles. His horny roommate, Hardik (Kunal Khemu), sees this as a perfect excuse for a weekend of partying. They tag along with their straight-laced pal, Bunny (Anand Tiwari), on a business trip to the beach paradise Goa. The guys find themselves in trouble when a new party drug turns a bunch of ravers into the living dead.
Instead of getting right to the action, there’s a bunch of needless setup scenes. Hardik gets in trouble with his boss. Luv tosses out all his booze and drugs in order to impress his girlfriend, only to have her ditch him when he proposes to her. This is all stuff that could’ve happened offscreen beforehand, and the guys could cover it while they sit on the couch getting high. We don’t need to see it.
It takes about twenty minutes for the guys to get to Goa, and another twenty minutes for the zombies to show up. In a movie with a runtime of 110 minutes, that’s way too long.
Go Goa Gone has a lot in common with Delhi Belly (which also starred Das), another raunchy comedy made for an adult audience. Unfortunately, directors Raj & D.K. missed one of the crucial elements that made Delhi Belly so effective: no intermission.
With a runtime of only 90 minutes and no intermission, Delhi Belly maintains a cracking pace. It’s efficient, with no wasted scenes and no extraneous dialog. Go Goa Gone‘s additional twenty minutes of time to kill and the need for a break at a sensible point in the middle makes it bloated and slow by comparison.
This is most noticeable in the dialog, which is very funny at times — but which, like the undead, goes on longer than it should. For example, when Luv realizes that he and Hardik are being pursued by a bunch of flesh-eating zombies, he asks, “We only have ghosts and spirits in India. Where’d they come from?” “Globalization,” answers Hardik.
Rather than ending on that clever line, the scene continues on with further speculation as to the origin of the zombies. Watching the film, I kept thinking about the Seinfeld episode where George realizes that he’s dragging out his jokes too long and resolves to “end on a high note.” (A clip from the episode is embedded below.) Raj & D.K. don’t know when to end a funny scene, and the jokes get lost.
Even the scenes with the zombies feel boring. The creatures most often appear in large, slow-moving hordes, which the main characters easily outrun. Characters open doors with impunity, since there never seems to be a zombie hiding behind them. I usually hate jump scares, but even I was disappointed by the film’s lack of them.
The only advantage to the big groups of zombies is that it allows the Russian mobster Boris (Saif Ali Khan) to use them for target practice. Khan’s dyed-blond hair and exaggerated Russian accent are funny, but not for long. The fact that he’s always there to save the guys takes the agency away from our heroes.
Das and Khemu have a great rapport and do their best to carry the film. Tiwari’s character seems shoehorned in to make self-aware jokes about being the friend who always gets killed first in horror films. Pooja Gupta fits in better as Luv’s new love interest, Luna. Her presence sparks some amusing conflict between Luv and Hardik, as they compete over her in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
There’s a lot of funny stuff in Go Goa Gone, but this kind of movie doesn’t work in the traditional Indian tale-of-two-halves format. The intermission break is the biggest thing keeping horror from becoming a popular genre in Bollywood. Without quick-hitting jokes and surprising scares at the right intervals, this kind of horror-comedy just doesn’t work.
2011 was a standout year for Bollywood in terms both experiments with storytelling style and elevating the status of women in the film industry. Here are my picks for the best movies of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
There were some good examples of familiar narratives — including the family drama Patiala House and the romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan — but plenty of films pushed the envelope. Ra.One lead the Hindi film industry’s foray into 3D technology. Rockstar experimented with making a movie feel like an extended music video.
The most successful experiments of the year were created by Aamir Khan Productions. The company released two intriguing films — Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly — with runtimes that clocked in at under two hours long, uncharacteristically brief for Indian movies. Further, the company insisted that the films show in theaters without the standard intermission break, paving the way for future success in international markets.
2011 was a tremendous year for women working in the Hindi film industry. Director Zoya Akhtar struck box office gold with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Actresses Vidya Balan and Kalki Koechlin played gritty, compelling main characters in The Dirty Picture and That Girl in Yellow Boots, respectively.
My favorite movie of the year also features a strong, complex woman as the lead character, in a story surprisingly macabre for Bollywood.
The Best Bollywood Movie of 2011 is 7 Khoon Maaf.
Talented director Vishal Bhardwaj puts his unique stamp on this dark comedy about a black widow and her seven husbands. In the lead role, Bhardwaj cast Priyanka Chopra, an actress who’s made a point of choosing a diverse array of characters throughout her career. Chopra manages to make the serial killer Susanna calculating yet sympathetic. Better still, the movie is often quite funny as the grim tale unfolds.
7 Khoon Maaf isn’t quite like any other Hindi movie released in recent years. Look past the dance numbers and cast of Indian A-listers, and it could easily transcend the “Bollywood” label — and instead be considered a “Foreign Film” (a genre with more critical cachet here in the US).
The movie is available for streaming on Netflix, making it accessible to an audience who may have missed it in theaters early last year. If you haven’t seen 7 Khoon Maaf, I encourage you to check it out.
Previous Best Movies Lists
Katrina Kaif and Imran Khan have been established Bollywood stars for years, but this has been something of a breakout summer for both of them. Kaif scored big at the box office with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Khan showed serious comedy chops in Delhi Belly.
Headlining Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (“My Brother’s Bride”), Kaif and Khan seem their most at ease in front of the camera. Not only do they share a charming chemistry, but they give two of their strongest individual performances to date.
Khan anchors Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (MBKD, henceforth) as Kush, an aspiring director in India who gets an odd request from his brother in London, Luv (Ali Zafar). Having broken up with his longtime girlfriend, Piali (Tara D’Souza), Luv decides to entrust his romantic future to Kush. Luv asks his younger brother to find a nice Indian girl for him to marry.
Kush enlists his parents and friends to scour Dehradun for a bride for Luv. The ideal candidate turns out to be a reformed party girl named Dimple (Kaif), whom Kush met years earlier during her wilder days. She describes her qualifications thusly: “I am correctly beautiful and appropriately sexy.” She gets the gig.
Predictably, Kush and Dimple fall for each other as they make wedding preparations. Only after Luv arrives do they acknowledge the problem: she’s about to marry the wrong brother.
The fact that MBKD feels a bit like something we’ve seen before is actually its strength. Debutant filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar (who’s not the Ali Zafar who plays Luv) clearly set out to make a feel-good romantic comedy, and he achieved his goal.
To play up the familiarity, the opening dance number pays homage to some famous Bollywood routines of the recent past. There are plenty of dance numbers, and all of them are entertaining and well-integrated into the plot.
A few slightly unexpected tweaks to the formula are a nice surprise. While Kush is the film’s main character, Dimple does more to drive the story forward. She’s not a passive damsel in distress, but rather an impatient problem solver whose impulsiveness gets her into trouble.
In another unexpected twist, MBKD doesn’t have a villain. I kept waiting for Luv to reveal himself to be an oaf, or for Piala to turn into a “crazy ex-girlfriend,” but all of the characters are nice people. The situation — not the characters — provides the conflict. It’s tricky to pull off, but Abbas Zafar handles it well.
The advantage of this approach is that the story doesn’t get bogged down in maudlin montages of Kush and Dimple staring forlornly into the rain as a singer laments the cruelty of fate. Rather, the lovebirds recognize a problem and set about fixing it.
The lone complaint I have about the movie is that several jokes depend on cultural references that American audiences likely don’t share. There are repeated references to Complan, which I learned after the movie is a British nutritional supplement. (See Ricky’s comment below for a more complete explanation of the Complan references.) This isn’t a reason to avoid the film, but American moviegoers should know in advance that they won’t get all the jokes.
Another week goes by without a new Bollywood movie opening in Chicago, but three Hindi films remain in area theaters. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara expands into new territory going into its fourth week thanks to its stellar haul of $2,562,458 in U.S. theaters so far. It carries over at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and it debuts on Friday, August 5, at the Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville.
Singham gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, having earned $287,458 in the U.S. so far. The Golf Glen 5 gives a sixth week to Delhi Belly, which has total American earnings of $1,524,386.
No new Hindi movies are opening in the Chicago area on Friday, July 29, but there are still three films to choose from in area theaters. Last weekend’s new release, Singham, carries over at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington after earning $161,063 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters.
Both theaters are also carrying over Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which continues to impress with earnings of $2,003,930 in the U.S. in its first two weeks. Delhi Belly gets a fifth week at the Golf Glen 5.
Yet another star-powered Bollywood flick opens in the Chicago area on Friday, July 22. Singham, a remake of the 2010 Tamil action movie Singam, features Ajay Devgn as an honest cop forced to take on corruption in Goa.
Singham opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, though the Cantera is only showing Singham once daily, at 10:05 p.m. The movie has a runtime of 2 hrs. 23 min.
Last weekend, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara opened with an astounding haul of $960,548 in U.S. theaters. According to Box Office Mojo, that ranks it 24th on the list of best opening weekends for foreign language films in the United States, and eighth best among Indian movies. It carries over for a second weekend at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30.
Both theaters are also carrying over Delhi Belly, which has earned $1,427,705 in the U.S. so far.
It seems as though the hallmark of American comedies for adults in recent years has been to include as many graphic bodily function gags as possible. It’s why I don’t generally see comedies in the theater: I’m likely to walk out when things get too disgusting.
Delhi Belly, India’s first mainstream foray into Western-style gross-out comedy, comes as a relief because the filmmakers realize that a little goes a long way. By emphasizing quality over volume when it comes to scatological humor, Delhi Belly showcases the genre at its best.
Freelance reporter Tashi (Imran Khan) lives in a filthy apartment with his two pals, photographer Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapur) and cartoonist Arup (Vir Das). Tashi’s gorgeous but ditzy girlfriend, Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala), takes a package from a suspicious Russian man in the airport where she works as a flight attendant. Without realizing that the package is full of contraband, Sonia asks Tashi to deliver the package for her so that she can run errands.
Tashi hands the package off to Nitin, who promptly contracts a case of “Delhi belly” (diarrhea) from some unsanitary street food. Nitin asks Arup to deliver the package on his way to the doctor, who’s requested a stool sample from the ailing Nitin. You can guess what happens when Arup makes his deliveries.
Delhi Belly is not a typical Indian film, and not just because of its genre. The dialog is primarily in English, and the plot structure is also more like a Hollywood film. Bucking the standard formula for a two-hour-plus masala picture — split the story into two halves, separated by an intermission — Delhi Belly‘s plot has three acts that run continuously for 100 minutes, sans intermission.
What results from these breaks with Indian cinematic tradition? A damned funny movie. The writing is hilarious, and the dialog generates as many laughs as the physical gags and fart jokes do. Fair warning: even by much looser American ratings standards, this would be an R-rated film. Copious use of the f-word, violence, reference to sex acts and scatological humor make this adults-only fare.
Director Abhinay Deo — who failed to impress with his debut earlier this year, Game — shows a real flair for comedy. The story is well-paced, and Deo uses the camera deftly to exaggerate the ridiculous situations Tashi and his pals find themselves in. The movie’s two musical numbers are hysterical and fit seamlessly into the production.
There’s also an emphasis placed on the relationships between the main characters. The friendship between Tashi, Nitin and Arup never wavers. When Tashi and Nitin meet a hip, cynical fellow journalist named Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan), it’s clear that she fits in with the goofy trio much better than Sonia does. This is a group of misfits we want to see succeed, and great performances by the cast only enhance that desire.
If I had to sum Delhi Belly up in one word, it would be “satisfying.” It has everything I want in a comedy. As long as you can stomach the cuss-words and gross-out gags, this is about as good as it gets.
I’m excited for this weekend’s new Bollywood release: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Farhan Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol roadtrip through India, Spain and Egypt, meeting Katrina Kaif along the way. Akhtar produced the film, which is written and directed by his sister, Zoya, in her second effort after her terrific debut, Luck By Chance.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara opens in the Chicago area on Friday, July 15, 2011, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.
Given its stellar earnings of $1,232,610 in just two weeks in U.S. theaters, it’s no surprise that Delhi Belly is getting a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30. Both theaters are carrying over Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap for a third week as well.
There’s no shortage of Bollywood movies in Chicago area theaters at the moment, and two new flicks are set to open on Friday, July 8, 2011. Getting the wider release of the two is the erotic thriller Murder 2, starring Emraan Hashmi and Jacqueline Fernandez.
Also debuting on Friday at the Golf Glen 5 is the children’s movie Chillar Party.
Last weekend’s other new release, Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap, sticks around at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30.