The Chicago South Asian Film Festival kicks off its sixth annual festival on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. This year includes new competitive categories for features and short films, in addition to a slate of other features and shorts with a connection to South Asian culture.
I’ve reviewed several of the movies showcased at this year’s festival, including:
Patang — The festival begins with a special showing of Patang in memory of its director, Chicagoan Prashant Bhargava.
Dhanak — This adorable picture starts the day on Saturday, October 3, with a showing at 9 a.m.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge — In honor of its twentieth anniversary, the Bollywood classic gets a special showing on Saturday, October 3, at 5:45 p.m.
Hunterrr — One of the festival’s competitive features, this romantic-comedy-drama runs Saturday, October 3, at 9 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with director Harshavardan Kulkarni.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha — This delightful romantic-comedy didn’t release in the US theaters earlier this year when it released in India, so this is a great chance for Chicagoans to finally see it on the big screen. It runs in the non-competitive category on Saturday, October 3, at 9:30 p.m.
G – A Wanton Heart — Director Rahul Dahiya’s social drama makes its world premiere at the festival on Sunday, October 4, at 2 p.m.
If you can’t attend the festival in person, you can still catch several of these great films at home on the following platforms:
I could write an entire post about Shahrukh Khan romances on Netflix, given his fondness for the genre. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a more recent SRK romantic-comedy than Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but it’s hard to resist watching him woo Kajol in a true classic. My review
As for romances starring actors other than SRK, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan is a light-hearted rom-com. Imran Khan plays matchmaker for his brother, Ali Zafar, only to fall in love with Katrina Kaif, the woman he’s chosen to be his brother’s bride. Fun dance numbers and sweet characters make this a really enjoyable film. My review
If you’re looking for flashy dance numbers, then Band Baaja Baaraat is where it’s at. For two wedding planners — played by Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh — getting down is part of the job. The relationship drama ramps up in the second half, but overall, this movie is a lot of fun. My review
Vidya Balan and Shahid Kapoor are lauded these days for their gripping dramatic performances, but back in 2008, they made a romantic comedy together. It’s worth checking out these seasoned thespians in some lighter fare from earlier in their careers. My review
First Student of the Year, then Main Tera Hero, and now Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (“Humpty Sharma’s Bride“). Three films into his career, and Varun Dhawan has positioned himself as Bollywood’s hero of the future.
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (HSKD, henceforth) is made in the mold of classic romcoms, most explicitly Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. [Though references to DDLJ are sprinkled throughout, one need not have seen that movie in order to appreciate HSKD.] This requires Dhawan to carry the film with his dancing, crying, and goofing around, and he’s more than up to the task.
Dhawan plays Humpty Sharma, a good-natured college student prone to slacking off. He’s destined to take over the campus bookstore from his tolerant father (Kenny Desai), so why push himself in school? Humpty’s constant companions are Shonty (Gaurav Pandey) and Poplu (Sahil Vaid).
The trio are busted by Kavya (Alia Bhatt) when they try to extort passing grades from their history professor, her uncle. When Kavya agrees to fix their grades behind her uncle’s back in exchange for a bribe, the guys recognize a kindred spirit and friendship blossoms.
Humpty and Kavya fall in love, even though she’s engaged to an American guy she’s never met. Humpty must convince Kavya’s father (Ashutosh Rana) to let him marry Kavya instead of her betrothed, Angad (Siddharth Shukla), a nearly impossible task given that Angad is perfect.
Angad’s perfection sets up some especially funny scenes. Despite his loyalty to Humpty, heterosexual Poplu finds himself becoming enamored of Angad’s winsome demeanor, delicious cooking, and chiseled abs. Big thumbs up to the casting department for hiring Shukla, who looks like Superman.
Angad is also great for driving home the film’s theme that most people aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t preclude us from being loving partners or from striving to be better versions of ourselves.
In an effort to differentiate Angad from Humpty, debutant writer-director Shashank Khaitan finds the right balance in making Humpty flawed but likeable. None of his weaknesses are deal breakers, and values like love and loyalty govern all of his decisions.
Kavya is likewise written with a moral code. Her sense of justice is what first appeals to Humpty, making up for her short fuse and selective materialism.
Bhatt — whose had an even stronger start to her career than Dhawan after debuting alongside him in Student of the Year — is very good again, especially in quieter interactions between Kavya and Humpty. It’s a shame that her character’s dynamism is sublimated in the second half. Humpty must try to save their relationship mostly by himself, whereas he and Kavya had been partners to that point.
Dhawan is the total package: good looks, dance moves, and nuanced acting skills. He comfortably transitions between comedy and sexually charged romance.
Strong performances by Pandey and Vaid augment Dhawan’s performance and reinforce Humpty’s status as a good guy. The supportive and empathetic women of Kavya’s family make the story feel complete.
The story’s weakest point is that some of the supporting characters are denied satisfying conclusions, or any conclusion at all. Khaitan so effectively populated this universe that the movie becomes about more than Humpty’s and Kavya’s will-they-or-won’t-they romance.
But for light romantic comedy, HSKD hits the spot. It has some inventive dance numbers and strong turns by a pair of Bollywood’s brightest up-and-comers. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Netflix added a bunch of Hindi films to their streaming catalog today, according to Instant Watcher. Most of the titles are old favorites that were temporarily dropped from the service. I’ve reviewed many of the movies, so here’s my ranking of the films just added to Netflix:
Milenge Milenge (“We Will Meet, We Will Meet”) is a remake of the 2001 Hollywood romance Serendipity that is, at times, remarkably faithful to the original. Too bad the writers missed the point of the movie.
Kareena Kapoor stars as Priya, a college girl who abhors guys who drink, smoke, and lie. A tarot card reader — played by the great Kirron Kher, who acts like she’s embarrassed to be in the movie — informs Priya that she’s going to meet her soulmate on a foreign beach in seven days. The next day, Priya learns that she’s been selected to attend a youth conference in Bangkok.
At the same time, good-for-nothing fellow college student Immy (Shahid Kapoor) finagles his way onto the same trip. In Bangkok, he stumbles into Priya’s room while running from the cops and immediately falls in love with the sleeping beauty. He steals her diary and learns about the tarot card reader’s prediction. He makes sure he’s the one waiting for Priya on the beach on the seventh day.
Of course, pretending to be Priya’s fated soulmate means Immy must give up drinking and smoking. After he finally decides that being with Priya is worth abstaining, she discovers his scheme and calls the relationship off.
At this point, Milenge Milenge becomes a full-fledged Serendipity clone. The couple meet up in India when they both reach for the same item in a department store. Priya has Immy write his name and phone number on a 50 rupee note, and she writes hers inside of a book. Then she gives both the book and bill away. If Priya and Immy are destined to be together, she reasons, he’ll find the book with her name and she’ll find the note with his.
The original Hollywood movie began with two strangers meeting in a department store. They spend some time together and enjoy each other’s company, but both are already in committed relationships. They also do the bit with the book and the dollar bill, a cosmic test to see if they should ditch their partners and be together.
The whole reason that the fate angle worked in the original was that the lead couple had no history. The test of fate was based on the idea of what could be.
When Priya and Immy test fate, they already have a history, and it’s a bad one. Immy is a thief and a fraud, and Priya has good reason to dump him. If he wants to prove that he can change, he needs to be with Priya to do that.
If their test works and they are reunited by fate, it doesn’t prove that Immy is a better man. What if Priya was simply destined to be with a jerk?
In addition to the logical problem of Priya & Immy’s fated reunion, there’s also a practical one. In Serendipity, the male lead didn’t know the woman’s last name. In Milenge Milenge, Immy knows Priya’s last name, as well as where she went to college. Why not call the alumni office? Why not Google her? There’s no reason why he can’t find her.
The fact that neither Immy nor Priya thinks to consult the Internet makes the movie feel dated, as does virtually everything else about Milenge Milenge. The quality of the cinematography makes it look like a contemporary of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) rather than a movie made in 2004. (The movie’s been stuck in post-production hell for the past six years.) A cheesy soundtrack, wacky overacting, and a prudish sense of morality make Milenge Milenge seem even older than that.
Milenge Milenge languished on the shelf for six years. It probably should’ve stayed there permanently.
Any spoof runs the risk of becoming that which is being parodied. At times, I Hate Luv Storys stops being a parody of clichéd romantic comedies and becomes one itself.
Jay (Imran Khan) is a roguishly charming assistant director who abhors the idea of marriage. Simran (Sonam Kapoor) is an adorable art director and hopeless romantic. They form an instant enmity after he hits on her in a movie theater, only to learn the next day that she’s his new boss.
The characters readily acknowledge the clichéd nature of their circumstances with voiceovers directed at the audience. Simran has a boyfriend named Raj, which is the Bollywood equivalent a girl named Juliet having a boyfriend named Romeo (Simran and Raj are the romantic leads in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge).
Given that this is a parody of Bollywood romances, the relationship between Jay and Simran is destined to grow from loathing to friendship to love, with numerous obstacles thrown in their way until the eventual happy ending. There are a number of opportunities for the movie to deviate from the formula in a satisfying way, but it never does.
I Hate Luv Storys suffers a bit for sticking so closely to the formula. Jay is such a lazy cad that he’s almost unlikable. His only job on the movie set where he and Simran work seems to be making it impossible for her to do her job.
With no attractive qualities other than an appealing smirk, it’s hard to imagine career-minded Simran falling for him unless she was scripted to. And let’s not forget about her serious boyfriend.
Poor Raj (Sammir Dattani) gets treated worse than most other Nice Boyfriend Who’s Doomed to Get Dumped characters. Raj is a cute, successful banker with a slightly corny habit of wearing the same color shirt as Simran’s. He’s thoughtful and totally devoted to her.
In most movies, the doomed boyfriend has a secret girlfriend on the side or some other heretofore unknown flaw that warrants his dumping. The closest thing Raj has to a flaw is that he brings Simran white daisies every day, mistakenly thinking that white is her favorite color (it’s actually red). She doesn’t bother to correct him until she’s already decided to ditch him.
Despite the undeserved abuse Raj suffers, there are some quality moments in I Hate Luv Storys. Simran addresses her conflicted feelings with insightful self-criticism. Jay’s one-night stand, Giselle, generates laughs as she awkwardly tries to make Simran jealous.
There’s also a delightful movie within the movie, with a plot cobbled together from other Bollywood romances, right down to the music. The lead actor in that movie has some funny bits, and there are gorgeous exterior shots of New Zealand’s south island.
However, I Hate Luv Storys is just too long. I thought the movie was nearing its conclusion, only to have an “Intermission” graphic pop up onscreen. The movie doesn’t just address common romcom clichés; it repeats them at length. There are at least two musical montages of one character staring longingly at the other, plus several other montages and dance numbers.
The point of a spoof is that the audience already knows the clichés being lampooned. We only need a glimpse to get the point.
In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, demure Simran (Kajol) takes a European trip with her girlfriends as a last fling before her prearranged marriage. But she falls in love with a mischievous fellow traveler named Raj (Shahruhk Khan) after they are stranded in Switzerland.
Raj must use every trick in the book to convince Simran’s father to call off her marriage — not an easy task considering Simran’s father, Chaudhry, is played by Amrish Puri, the actor best known in the U.S. as Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The song and dance numbers are memorable, and the acting is terrific. DDLJ‘s charming love story has made it the most popular Indian movie of all time. If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before, start with this one.
Dhoondte Reh Jaoge is a boring, immature remake of Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Skip it unless you’re an avid Bollywood fan, and even then, keep your expectations low.
As in Brooks’ movie, a washed-up producer and a penniless accountant try to swindle their investors out of money by making a film guaranteed to flop. Considering that the duo spend the first forty minutes of the film trying to get each other arrested, there’s no reason for the two of them to work together — except that the plot demands it.
The pair hire a Pakistani nationalist to write a film with political undertones, certain to outrage the Indian public. The writer combines plot elements from Bollywood hits like Sholay, Lagaan and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge into an absurd story, further hampering the film’s chances for success.
There are a few amusing scenes in the film-within-the-film, such as the Lagaan-inspired cricket match ending. But the scenes are only funny if you’ve seen the movies being lampooned. The rest of Dhoondte Reh Jaoge is slow, and the jokes are more offensive than they are funny.
Save a few bucks and rent the original version of The Producers.
In RNBDJ, Khan plays Suri, a mild mannered guy who fulfills his mentor’s dying wish by marrying the mentor’s daughter, Taani (Anushka Sharma). Though Suri’s older and less flashy than she is, Taani accepts her new role as his wife, with the caveat that she’ll never be able to love him because of her broken heart. Timid Suri, unable to show his wife how much he loves her, secretly invents a flashy alter ego named Raj in order to bring some joy into Taani’s life.
Chopra thoroughly explains the emotions motivating Suri and Taani, and Khan and Sharma perfectly portray the characters. The relationship between the pair is believable, despite the age difference between the duo (Khan is 43 and Sharma is 19). Sharma’s nuanced performance makes it hard to believe that this is her first film.
Cases of mistaken identity are often hard to pull off onscreen, but Khan looks and acts so differently as Suri and Raj that it seems totally reasonable that Taani wouldn’t know that the two men are the same person.
RNBDJ trips up late in the film during a sequence in which Suri battles a sumo wrestler. The scene is so long and out of place that it completely brought me out of the movie. While the scene intends to show that Suri would do anything to make Taani happy, I would rather have seen more examples of that interspersed throughout the film. Taani continually performs small acts of kindness for Suri, while Suri’s affection seems to stop after providing Taani with a place to live, only to rekindle during the over-the-top sumo showdown. Suri doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d try to impress his wife with a big spectacle.
Apart from the one misstep, the movie is flawless. Chopra’s attention to detail is especially obvious during RNBDJ‘s big dance number, “Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte.” I’m almost always distracted by the background dancers in item numbers: one dancer is out of sync with the others, another is wearing an unflattering outfit, etc. No such worries, here. When I noticed the background dancers in RNBDJ, they looked spectacular. But most of the time, my attention was on the lead couple, as it should be.