Just a reminder that Friday, December 11 has a couple of big new Hindi streaming releases: Sanjay Dutt’s Torbaaz on Netflix and Bhumi Pednekar’s Durgamati on Amazon Prime. Amazon often launches their Indian titles at midnight in India, which means Durgamati will likely be available the afternoon of Thursday, December 10 in the United States.
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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.
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.
Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji is the only new Hindi movie opening in the Chicago area the weekend beginning January 28, 2011. The romantic comedy stars Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi and Omi Vaidya as three guys searching for love.
No One Killed Jessica, which has earned $428,691 in the U.S. so far, gets a fourth week at the Pipers Alley 4. Yamla Pagla Deewana leaves area theaters on Thursday with an impressive $851,381 two-week American haul.
On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.
The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.
Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.
The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.
In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.
In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.
What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.
Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.
Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.
I live in a busy Chicago suburb with 150,000 residents. Despite living in a condominium building with several other families, I can go days without talking to anyone besides my husband. I see the UPS delivery man more often than my friends, who are scattered across the metro area.
This is the type of modern, urban isolation that writer-director Kiran Rao captures in her debut effort, Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries). All four of Dhobi Ghat‘s main characters are, in their own ways, isolated, despite living in crowded Mumbai.
Rather than impose a convenient narrative upon the four lead characters, Rao’s plot drops in on them during a specific period in their lives and leaves before delivering a tidy ending. It feels more like a documentary than a fictional film.
Adding to the documentary feel, the film opens with home movie footage shot from the backseat of a taxi, by a woman we later learn is Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra). Having recently moved to Mumbai after getting married, she records mundane scenes from her new life to send to her brother back home.
Brooding artist Arun (Aamir Khan) finds some of Yasmin’s video letters and forms something of an obsession with the woman on the tapes. His video obsession is more convenient than a relationship with a real woman, such as American investment banker Shai (Monica Dogra), who’s herself a bit obsessed with Arun.
Shai befriends the young man who does her laundry, aspiring actor Mannu (Prateik Babbar). Mannu, who also does Arun’s laundry, quickly develops a crush on Shai.
There’s an emotional distance between all of the characters, and Rao uses the camera to emphasize it. The characters are shown through windows or through the lens of amateur photographer Shai’s camera. Their reactions are captured in the reflections of mirrors.
The relationship between Shai and Mannu is the most interesting. How deep can their friendship be when he works for her? Is he really her peer? Shai doesn’t give it much thought. Mannu does.
Prateik Babbar is perfect as Mannu: a handsome guy whose shy nature and low social rank have made him incongruously meek. Khan, Dogra and Malhotra are compelling as the other leads, making as much out of their silent moments as they do out of their dialog.
Dhobi Ghat is a remarkably quiet movie. Not exactly quiet, but absent most of the usual sound effects and musical score. Much of the background noise is provided by urban sounds: rain, traffic, old movie music played on a record player in a nearby apartment.
Mumbai itself has a starring role in Dhobi Ghat. The film is shot in locations around the city, not on movie sets. There’s no attempt to hide Mumbai’s flaws, which serve to make the city more appealing and familiar, even to one who’s never been there.
Aamir Khan used his star power to force Indian multiplexes to show Dhobi Ghat without the usual intermission break. It may have cost the theaters some concession sales, but it allowed the movie to flow for its entire 100 minute runtime. An interval would broken the movie’s spell.
Should Dhobi Ghat succeed at the box office, it could persuade more Indian filmmakers to craft shorter films meant to be viewed in one sitting. Rao’s economy of characters, plot and runtime demonstrate how less can often be much more.
Aamir Khan’s latest, Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), is the only new Hindi movie opening in the Chicago area on Friday, January 21, 2011. Dhobi Ghat, which stars Khan as one of four characters whose stories intertwine across class lines, marks the directorial debut of Khan’s wife, Kiran Rao.
This is no reflection on the quality of the movie, but I find Dhobi Ghat‘s trailer really annoying. The three-mini-trailers-in-one structure loops the same music throughout and provides three concrete end points, tricking you into believing the trailer is over before it actually is. It was clever the first time I saw it, but infuriating by the fifth.
Yamla Pagla Deewana, which earned $504,116 in its first weekend in U.S. theaters, gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30. No One Killed Jessica gets a third week at the Pipers Alley 4 and South Barrington 30, having earned $372,357 in the U.S. so far.