2015 offered up a satisfying mix of sweet, intimate stories and dark thrills and chills. Here are my picks for the best Bollywood movies of 2015. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
The year ended on a triumphant note with the release of the historical epic romance Bajirao Mastani. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s colorful, lavish style demands to be seen on the big screen.
Two smaller Hindi films that played at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival prove that big budgets aren’t necessary to make a great movie. Haraamkhor and Dhanak depict the struggles of childhood in very different ways, with Dhanak being easily the sweetest film of the year.
Early 2015 saw the release of two great revenge thrillers: Badlapur and NH10. While Badlapur explores the toll that a lingering desire for vengeance takes on a grieving husband (Varun Dhawan), NH10 is a race against the clock for a woman (Anushka Sharma) trying to defeat the men out to kill her.
In contrast to such dark fare, Piku lovingly and humorously explores the tense relationship between an adult daughter (Deepika Padukone) who hits the road with her ailing father (Amitabh Bachchan).
A pair of top-notch crime thrillers also made the list. Talvar‘s unique story structure sets apart this real-life murder mystery. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! put a modern, stylish twist on a classic Indian literary detective.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha is as charming as can be, telling the tale of a loser (Ayushmann Khurrana) rebelling against his marriage to an accomplished woman (Bhumi Pednekar) who fails to fit his beauty standards. So much care went into the story that it is impossible not to fall in love with these young adults trying to grow under enormous family pressure.
My favorite movie of 2015 is a big budget, multi-starrer that nevertheless tells a smart, contemporary family story. Too often, Bollywood spectacle films are “check your brain at the door” affairs, full of bombast but devoid of substance. Director Zoya Akhtar brings together an A-list cast — including Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar, and Anil Kapoor — for a film that is fun and romantic, but also contains insightful critiques of the respect (or lack thereof) accorded women in modern Indian society. Director Akhtar takes the opportunity this big-budget blockbuster affords her and uses the platform to inform as well as entertain. For that reason, my favorite Hindi film of 2015 is Dil Dhadakne Do.
(Update: I watched Masaan after posting this list. Were I to re-do my rankings, I’d place Masaan in 9th place, between Dhanak and Haraamkhor.)
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:
Author’s note: Thanks to my friend, Melanie, for loaning me her Blu-ray of Dum Laga Ke Haisha! Check out her Letterboxd page.
Without flashy effects or a lavish budget, Dum Laga Ke Haisha tells an enchanting tale that is as fun and immersive as any film out there.
The title — which is translated in the English subtitles as “Heave Ho, Carry That Load” — has a double meaning. It refers metaphorically to shouldering the burdens of marriage but also to a literal race in which a husband carries his wife, the setting for the film’s climactic scene.
Prem Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a 25-year-old high school dropout living in Haridwar in 1995. He’s essentially a professional maker of mixtapes, working in a little shop full of cassettes that best exemplifies the film’s excellent production design. His family hopes to improve their financial situation by finding Prem a wife with a job, so they settle on Sandhya (Bhumi Pednakar), a teacher.
Despite the fact that Prem is a man of limited prospects — Prem’s nemesis, Nirmal (Chandrachoor Rai), buys the town’s first CD player, spelling doom for Prem’s business — he’s insulted that his family wants him to wed a woman who is overweight. He accedes to the marriage, but refuses to consummate it. Well, at least for one night.
The story follows Prem and Sandhya as they struggle to reconcile their previous expectations of married life with their actual experience of it. Their potential for happiness hinges on Prem, who hides his deep self-loathing and feelings of failure behind a shield of pride.
In Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH, henceforth), marriage is depicted as more of a public institution than a private one between two people. When Sandhya moves into her husband’s family’s cramped home, she relinquishes all personal privacy. The one telephone is in the hall near the kitchen, so every conversation is overheard. Her in-laws and her husband’s aunt sleep on cots right outside to the matrimonial bedroom. Everyone in the house knows whether or not Prem and Sandhya are having sex.
It’s fascinating to see sex dealt with so frankly in a Hindi movie. The act is a matter of public importance in the sense that, once the marriage is consummated, it’s more difficult to back out. Prem’s mother hears the bed creaking in the other room, and her first instinct is to call her daughters and tell them about it.
The Tiwari family home is a frequent setting in DLKH, and shots featuring too many people crowded into too small a space are reminiscent of Ankhon Dekhi, a terrific movie in which Sanjay Mishra also plays the patriarch.
Director Sharat Katariya and cinematographer Manu Anand also evoke memories of Wes Anderson films in their use of camera pans and in absurdly humorous scenes, including one in which the leader of the local men’s club hoists one of its members onto his back in order to demonstrate proper wife-carrying technique.
Everything in DLKH depends on Prem deciding to take responsibility for his own future, rather than blaming everyone else for his failings. He comes just close enough to causing the audience to lose faith in him, but he doesn’t thanks to Khurrana, who plays the put-upon everyman as well as anybody.
More importantly, we never give up on Prem because of Sandhya. She’s such a complete character — snarky but sensitive and with a sense of justice — that we trust her judgment. If she sees potential in Prem, it must be there. Padnekar is so endearing and funny, she makes Sandhya impossible not to love.
The supporting roles in DLKH are rich and well-defined. As frustrating as Prem’s catty aunt is, we understand why she is the way she is. Same with all of the parents in the film, who react to the possible breakup of Prem and Sandhya’s marriage as though they are the aggrieved parties.
Katariya’s take on marriage is fresh, insightful, heartwarming, and hilarious. DLKH is an absolute must-see.
Yash Raj Films is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the international release of its latest film, Dum Laga Ke Haisha. As a result, there are no new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area on Friday, February 27, 2015.
Poor, poor Hawaizaada. Family friendly Hindi movies don’t stand much of a chance at the North American box office as it is, but the historical fantasy performed especially poorly here. During its debut weekend — January 30-February 1, 2015 — Hawaizaada earned $16,546 from 66 theaters for a dismal per-screen average of $251.
Hawaizaada‘s failure strikes another blow against leading man Ayushmann Khurrana’s once promising career. His debut film, 2012’s Vicky Donor, was a surprise hit, taking in $169,209 from 50 North American theaters ($3,384 average) in its first weekend, with final earnings of $549,001. Its success owed more to its racy subject matter — sperm donation — than its leading man, however.
Khurrana’s subsequent films didn’t fare nearly as well here. 2013’s Nautanki Saala! opened with $92,851 from 61 theaters ($1,522 average), ultimately earning $127,844. 2014’s Bewakoofiyaan fared even worse, with first-weekend earnings of $67,738 from 66 theaters ($1,026 average), and total earnings of $106,800.
I’ve enjoyed all of Khurrana’s films, so his ability isn’t the problem. The Bollywood fan base in North America is motivated by name recognition, which Khurrana doesn’t yet have. His best bet for earning it would be to pair with another notable male star, maybe for a buddy comedy. Unfortunately, his next two projects — Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Agra Ka Daabra (which is a great title) — feature him as the solo male lead. I don’t see his international box office prospects turning around any time soon.
Other Hindi movies still in theaters include:
Baby: Week 2; $165,732 from 77 theaters ($2,152 average); $694,509 total
Dolly Ki Doli: Week 2; $22,155 from 14 theaters ($1,583 average); $164,186 total
PK: Week 7; $16,627 from 13 theaters ($1,279 average); $10,535,369 total
Tevar: Week 4; $16 from one theater; $166,342 total