Netflix announced earlier this week that it secured the rights to a slate of 18 Tamil movies and 16 Telugu movies that will stream on the service after their theatrical release. Netflix has long been criticized for its heavily Hindi-focused catalog, and this is a strong statement about the company’s desire to expand its Indian offerings into other languages.
This week’s other new direct-to-streaming Hindi film is the comedy Chhatriwali on Zee5.
I’m planning to review Mission Majnu and Chhatriwali next week. Today and tomorrow, I’m catching up on movies so I can vote in the annual Online Film Critics Society awards. The winners will be announced on January 23. This year’s list of nominees contains some really, really good movies, including RRR, which is nominated in three categories.
Zero is a disaster for many reasons, but its biggest problem is that director Aanand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma failed to realize that their film’s hero is a horrible person.
So why didn’t they notice that their creation, Bauua (Shah Rukh Khan), is an irredeemable prick? The filmmaking duo has a history of writing male leads who don’t respect the women they claim to love, like Kundan in Raanjhanaa and Manu in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. There’s also the assumption that Khan’s massive fanbase will automatically project their love for him onto his character, no matter who the character is or what he does.
Mostly they were blinded by the Zero‘s central conceit: using computer generated effects and film techniques similar to those used in the Lord of the Rings movies to shrink a superstar actor. Zero was never about the struggles of a man with dwarfism. If it were, they’d have at least gone through the pretext of casting a little person for the lead role. (Same goes for Anushka Sharma’s role as a woman with cerebral palsy.) This was always about spending a budget fives times as large as the filmmaking duo had previously worked with on fancy special effects and an expensive cast, trusting in those effects and stars to bring people to the theater — regardless of whether the movie was any good or not.
Other than his diminutive stature, nothing differentiates Bauua from any number of Bollywood male leads who believe their gender entitles them to anything they want. As the son of a rich father (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia), Bauua has coasted through life on Dad’s dime since dropping out of school in the tenth grade. Now aged 38 — Khan is 53, by the way — that means Bauua has spent twenty years doing absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless, he confidently turns down all the potential brides chosen by the matchmaker (played by Brijendra Kala) until he spots a photo of Aafia (Anushka Sharma). Bauua is initially turned off by the tremors caused by Aafia’s cerebral palsy, but he decides her use of a wheelchair makes them more-or-less equal. Never mind that he’s a high school dropout and she’s a world-renowned rocket scientist.
Bauua’s defining moment is his response to being rejected by Aafia after a presumptuous proposal in front of a bunch of elementary school students. Bauua shows up at a press conference to publicly humiliate Aafia, stating that while she may be able to lead a mission to Mars, she can’t pick up the pen he just dropped on the ground. Pleased with himself, he walks away, only to hear a commotion behind him as Aafia crawls on the ground and lifts the pen.
What Bauua does is unforgivable, yet Aafia immediately forgives him and their love blossoms. Aafia’s inexplicable forgiveness of Bauua is a clear example of Bollywood’s desperate need for female storytellers. Rai & Sharma aren’t done humiliating Aafia yet, as Bauua ditches her to take his shot with the country’s sexiest actress, Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif, in the movie’s only role with any semblance of believable humanity).
After the intermission break, Zero goes full bonkers. Bauua replaces a chimpanzee training for a space mission (which is totally not insulting to little people or anything).
I’m not sure if it’s an intentional homage, but Zero has a lot of parallels to my favorite So-Bad-It’s-Good movie: Gunda. Both have a monkey and a baby that shows up out of nowhere. Vengeful Bauua frequently speaks in movie lines, Gunda‘s Bulla in couplets. There are montages that make no geographical sense, as when Bauua spends a song stumbling through Times Square, downtown Orlando, and Huntsville, Alabama — all of which are supposed to be the same place, apparently. Zero‘s opening dream sequence even reminded me of the scene in Gunda where Bulla’s sister is raped.
All of which is to say, Zero is a terrible movie. The only reason it merits even a half-a-star rating is because Katrina Kaif is so damned good in her role. The rest of the movie is a trash fire.
Baaghi‘s sheer ineptitude is its greatest asset. It assembles a hodgepodge of movie cliches into something inadvertently hilarious.
Right off the bat, the movie hints at the stupidity to come. A henchman, Biju, enters the lair of the villain, Raghav (Sudheer Babu). “We found her,” Biju declares, handing his boss…a magazine with a woman on the cover?! Either Biju is the world’s worst detective, or this woman is the world’s worst at hiding.
Probably the latter. The woman is Siya (Shraddha Kapoor), who has some sort of disorder the film chalks up to spiritedness. Siya giggles whenever it rains, and she yells at the clouds when it stops. This is her entire character.
Despite being a mental lightweight, Siya’s beauty charms two men for whom nothing must matter but looks: Raghav and Ronny (Tiger Shroff), a standard issue Bollywood man-child brat whose overwhelming character flaws are forgiven because he’s cute.
In a flashback, we see Ronny fall in love with Siya on a train journey south to Kerala. She’s visiting her grandmother, and he’s joining a martial arts academy. He arrives at the academy bearing a note from his dad, who’s basically Chappy from Iron Eagle: “By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.” The head of the school is Chappy’s former comrade, and the note begs the headmaster to turn butthole Ronny into a decent human being.
There is no indication that Ronny knows or cares that his father is dead.
Raghav falls for Siya on the same train trip, despite never actually talking to her (which explains everything). She has no clue who he is. In addition to being the head of an international crime syndicate based in Bangkok, he’s also the headmaster’s best student… and son!
While Ronny romances Siya and gets Miyagi’d into shape by the headmaster, Raghav bribes Siya’s piece of crap dad (Sunil Grover) for her hand in marriage. A bunch of stuff happens that drives all the characters apart and out of Kerala, leading us back to the start of the film, with Raghav “finding” Siya and kidnapping her.
Siya’s piece of crap dad pays Ronny to rescue Siya, a job Ronny only agrees to because he needs the money to — I shit you not — pay for surgery to help a mute little boy speak again. The mute boy can only say, “Ya ya,” which he does all the freaking time. The surgery is only mentioned once, with zero followup.
During a fight scene, the boy gets thrown about in the best cinematic instance of child-tossing since Gunda‘s Shankar tossed his adopted daughter to a monkey. There’s also a shootout at a quarry, again evoking Gunda imagery (as does all of the terrible acting and plot construction).
Speaking of evoking other movies, director Sabbir Khan and writer Sanjeev Datta boiled down the entire plot of The Raid: Redemption into one 14-minute-long action sequence. They did it so ham-handedly that the producers of The Raid took the producers of Baaghi to court. Make no mistake, the sequence is a total ripoff.
But that’s all Baaghi really is: a collection of elements of other movies awkwardly stapled together into an amateurish scrapbook. At times, the formula yields unintentionally hilarious results. Siya and Ronny make it onto a descending elevator seconds before Raghav, so what does Raghav do? He grabs a firehose and John McClanes it out the window to beat them to the ground floor!
There are many other golden moments that need to be seen to be believed, and the climax is a thing of botched beauty. Watching Shroff struggle to emote is likewise entertaining. Kapoor — who has it in her to be better than this — does nothing to help him.
Baaghi‘s worst moment is an alleged comedy sequence in which a blind cabdriver played by Sanjay Mishra molests a woman because she is Thai and wearing a miniskirt. It highlights a nasty strain of ethnocentrism in the film, which repeatedly belittles East Asian cultures. Another example is the atrocious wig the filmmakers force upon Kazu Patrick Tang, Bollywood’s all-purpose “East Asian bad guy.”
Still, it’s hard to take anything too seriously in a movie this dumb. If you’re delighted by misguided failures, Baaghi is for you. If you want to see an actual good movie, watch The Raid: Redemption.
Apple just released its new Apple TV, complete with the ability to search for movies across services. Responding to voice commands, Siri searches for films not only in Apple’s own iTunes store but also in the catalogs of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. So how well does Apple TV’s new system work for Bollywood movies?
One of the big perks of the new system is that Siri can search by genre. If you’re in the mood for a comedy, just ask her to look for comedy movies, and she’ll return a bunch of titles that fit the bill. She can get even more specific if you ask for sub-genres like foreign comedies or military comedies.
What Siri can’t do is find Bollywood movies as a genre. She recognized the command “Find Bollywood movies” correctly, but only offers an apology: “Sorry, I can’t find that.” Same if you ask her to find Indian movies or Hindi movies. She currently couldn’t find Korean or French movies, either.
Siri has trouble recognizing many names of Indian actors and Hindi movie titles. The system offers several language settings — such as “English” (American is implied), “English (U.K.),” and “English (Indian)” — but changing the settings doesn’t affect Siri’s ability to recognize words.
Siri had no problem with Amitabh Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra. And though Siri interpreted Akshay Kumar as “Oxier Kumar,” she used the “Kumar” part of his name to find a selection of his films. She wasn’t so accurate with Shahrukh Khan, whom she heard as “Sharbrook Con.” (What is a sharbrook?) Attempts to search for Hrithik Roshan returned “Griffin Rochan” and “Find the Russian.”
Kajol got the funniest result by far. Siri heard the star’s name as “Call Joel,” which prompted her to display the following message:
Searching for movie titles via Siri produced more humorous results. Kahaani became “Call Hymie,” prompting the same note about phone calls as Kajol. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge returned “The wallet I love honey giant gay” and “Bill Walle I love honey jayenge.” At least Siri got “jayenge” the second time, though I’m not sure who Bill Walle is.
As with actors’ names, Siri sometimes got titles right, too. She was able to differentiate between Barfi and Barfly, displaying the appropriate movie in each case.
Though slower than using Siri, the most effective method for finding the Bollywood film you want is to skip Siri and use the Apple TV’s search function on the homescreen. Using the Apple TV remote, swipe left or right to type in the name of a movie, actor, or director. The swipeable keyboard is a pain to use; all 26 letters are in a single horizontal line, so you spend a lot of time going back and forth between each letter. Hopefully, Apple is working on a better system for typing.
Titles or names matching your search show up below the text bar. Click on a title to get more information about a specific film. The list of cast and crew that appear on the left side of the screen aren’t clickable, but the names appear again further down the page in clickable format.
Each film’s specific page displays the various ways to watch it. If you have an active Netflix or Hulu subscription, those viewing options appear first, ahead of the purchasing and rental options available through iTunes. Apple doesn’t try to trick you into paying for something that you can already watch for free.
If you downloaded the Netflix or Hulu apps to the Apple TV, but don’t have an active subscription, a title’s availability on a given service is still noted on the individual movie’s page. For example, my Hulu account isn’t currently active, but it still appeared as an option on the page for the film The World Before Her. My viewing options were listed in this order: Netflix, iTunes, Hulu. If I wanted to renew my Hulu subscription, I could do it through the Apple TV, without having to open another device.
Though Apple TV claims it supports searches by genre, attempts to do so (via both typing and Siri) did not work in my tests. If you want to find the entire category of Bollywood movies, you have to go into the iTunes Movies section on the home screen. Choose “Foreign,” then scroll down to find a colorful banner labeled “Bollywood” with a picture of a dancing woman. There you can see what’s new to iTunes, and scroll through a few sub-genres. However, since area this is specifically within the iTunes store, individual movie pages don’t show you if the film is available on other services. You have to go back out the search page and check the specific title to see if it’s available at Netflix, or some other service.
The actual Apple TV viewing experience is really enjoyable. Swiping down from the top of the touch-sensitive remote control displays audio options, including the ability to toggle subtitles in most apps. “Reduce loud sounds” is another great audio option, allowing for a better balance between dialogue and sound effects.
My favorite feature is the video scrubbing option, which allows you to see shots from the movie as you scroll forward and backward on the remote’s touchpad. This makes it a lot easier to find specific scenes, and it worked well in tests with iTunes, Netflix, and YouTube. So now if you’re watching Gunda on YouTube, you can easily scan ahead to the part where Shankar finds the baby in the garbage can, and then scan further to watch him toss the baby to his pet monkey. It also makes it easier to find this:
In my brief experience, YouTube streaming worked more smoothly on Apple TV than on Google’s own Chromecast, which was an unexpected benefit.
Obviously, Apple TV has some kinks to work out with Siri’s audio recognition and the swipe keyboard, but overall it’s a great device for Bollywood fans. An ability to search by genre outside of the iTunes store would be a huge bonus, and apps by streaming services like Eros Now and Spuul — maybe even Amazon? — would make it invaluable.
Even at their best, writer-director Anees Bazmee’s movies are mediocre. At their worst, they are unbearable. Welcome Back is one of the worst.
In the eight years since the events of Welcome, gangsters Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) have left their criminal pasts behind, striking it rich as hoteliers in Dubai. Deciding that it’s time to get married and start their own families, they fall for the same woman: an heiress named Chandni (Ankita Shrivastava), who’s always accompanied by her mother, Maharani (Dimple Kapadia).
The guys’ marriage plans are put on hold when Uday’s father (also played by Patekar) reveals that Uday has another sister — Ranjhana (Shruti Haasan) — he needs marry off first. The “decent” guy they find for her, Ajju (John Abraham), turns out to be a don pretending to be something he’s not — just like Uday and Majnu.
The plot unfolds at furious pace but burns out quickly. After the first thirty minutes or so, very little that happens feels necessary. Everything else appears to be the indulgence of Bazmee’s whims. Helicopters? Camels? Vampire dance party? Check.
Welcome Back‘s story spins so far out of control that Bazmee doesn’t even try to give the film a real ending. He leaves his characters hanging in mid-air, literally and figuratively.
Watching the film becomes an endurance test in the second half, when Naseeruddin Shah shows up as yet another don, Wanted Bhai. At this point, Welcome Back descends to Gunda-level geographic incoherence. Wanted lives in a mansion on an island only accessible by plane. Yet — while on the island — Uday and Majnu are able to drive to a desert and to a mountain range. They also find a graveyard on the island, evoking more memories of Gunda:
It’s hard for any performances to stand out in a movie that requires its characters to behave so stupidly, but Shrivastava is pretty good as a gold digger. Her covert expressions of disgust while wooing the much older bachelors are funny. Kapadia is also exceedingly glamorous.
Another member of the cast stands out for the wrong reasons. Shiney Ahuja plays Wanted’s drug-addicted son, Honey, who is obsessed with Ranjhana. (Azmee doesn’t even bother explaining how Honey knows Ranjhana.)
In 2011, Ahuja was convicted of raping a member of his household staff and sentenced to seven years in prison. He is out on bail while appealing his conviction (a major difference from the American justice system, where sentences are effective immediately, and appeals are adjudicated while the defendant is behind bars).
Azmee says that he didn’t take Ahuja’s conviction into account when casting him in Welcome Back, simply believing that Ahuja fit the part. “I am a filmmaker,” Bazmee told IANS, “and I do not think about anything more than that.”
Are we supposed to believe that there were no other actors who could have played this particular supporting role? While Azmee may not be bothered by Ahuja’s criminal past, many people will be. When we see Ahuja grinding on Shrivastava in a “sexy” dance number, it’s impossible not to reminded of the fact that he was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.
Acting in films is a privilege, not a right. There was no reason for Azmee to cast Ahuja in this role at the expense of another actor without a violent criminal past. If Azmee can’t appreciate why this is a problem, is he the right person to helm a multi-million dollar film?
Because of my love for the movie Gunda, several people directed me to “Pretentious Movie Reviews” on YouTube. Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan review terrible Hindi movies, and the best of the best — or worst of the worst, depending on your point of view — is naturally Gunda. One need not have seen Gunda to find this video review totally hilarious.
Though Gill and Kalyan switch between English and Hindi, one needn’t understand Hindi to appreciate the videos and get most of the jokes. For example, check out their riffing on a ridiculous conversation in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon.
Singh Saab the Great is boring and predictable. Yet I find myself unable to hate it, because it has so much in common with one of my favorite movie experiences of all time: Gunda. Granted, Gunda is a favorite because its sheer ineptitude transforms an earnest-but-terrible movie into a sublime comedy. So the comparison isn’t exactly a compliment for Singh Saab the Great (SSTG, henceforth).
Gunda and SSTG are both revenge movies. SSTG tries to twist the genre in the second half of the film by having the hero sublimate his desire for personal revenge in order to enact structural reform of a corrupt government. But the movie is unable to deny its true nature, and the climax is a fistfight between the hero and the bad guy.
SSTG‘s hero is Sunny (Sunny Deol), a by-the-books government tax collector. He gets into trouble when he shutters the factories of a local don, Bhoodev (Prakash Raj). In retaliation, the don threatens Sunny’s family, including his sister, Guddi, and his much-younger wife, Minnie (Urvashi Rautela).
The age difference between the lead couple — Deol is 57, Rautela is 19 — is so vast that writer Shaktimaan Talwar is forced to address it in the dialog. Sunny bemoans having failed to heed his uncle’s warning against marrying such a young bride. This only serves to draw more attention to the creepy age difference.
As in Gunda, the women in the movie function as sex objects, vulnerable points at which to attack Sunny, or both. Like Ganga — the love interest in Gunda — Minnie’s only duties are to berate Sunny and heave her gigantic bosom during clunky dance numbers in which Deol stomps around like a stiff.
Just like Gunda‘s vastly more entertaining villain, Bulla (“Bulla!”), Bhoodev spends most of his time in his mansion talking about things he’s going to do rather than just doing them. The movie’s single best moment is a pointless, abrupt cut to an underwater shot of Bhoodev floating in his pool, staring directly into the camera. Bhoodev then emerges from the pool in just his swim trunks, for anyone longing for a topless shot of Prakash Raj.
About half of SSTG‘s 150-minute runtime is footage presented in slow-motion: everything from Sunny and Bhoodev striding determinedly, to Guddi and her son falling from a scaffolding, to Minnie tossing her hair over her shoulder a million times. On the flip side, every shot of a vehicle in motion is sped up. Cars driving = boring. Hair tossing = something to be savored.
All of the action sequences are ridiculous and inadvertently funny. Like many so-bad-they’re-good movies, SSTG is made to be shared. Watching this with my brother, Dan, certainly ramped up the hilarity. But even solo, I would’ve laughed out loud at shots of Sunny Deol screaming while leaping ten feet straight up out of a canal.
Watching SSTG with my brother also taught me a little something about sibling relationships. I realize now that, when I got married, I was supposed to have wailed over being parted from my beloved brother. (This parting merits a whole song in Gunda. In SSTG, Guddi just cries).
I also learned that I can’t trust that my brother really cares about me until he’s impaled a couple of guys with bamboo poles and punched a guy into the grill of a truck on my behalf. Get on that, Dan.
Gunda was brought to my attention by a reader named Harry in the comments about my review of Boom, a movie I considered to be so bad that it’s actually good. Turns out Boom has nothing on Gunda: the ultimate So Bad, It’s Good movie.
Director Kanti Shah’s Gunda is a B-movie with blockbuster aspirations. By failing to allocate the obviously modest budget for optimal use, the quality of every aspect of the movie suffers. As a result, not a single component of the film bears even a hint of competence. And that’s what makes it so great.
To call Gunda a revenge movie is to underplay the role revenge plays in the story. It’s the whole plot! Someone kills a member of someone else’s family or entourage, which precipitates a retaliatory murder, which precipitates another retaliatory murder, and so on. That’s it. That’s all the story is about.
The presumptive lead character, Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty), doesn’t appear until about twenty minutes into the two-hour-long movie. By that point, there have already been five murders committed at the hands of warring dons Bulla (Mukesh Rishi) and Lambuatta (Ishrat Ali). Also by that point, Lambuatta and the man who hired him to kill Bulla are dead, making their inclusion in the movie totally unnecessary.
Unnecessary, but not worthless. Lambuatta is my favorite character in the film. He repeatedly shouts Bulla’s name while hanging out on an airport tarmac. Why an airport tarmac? Who knows?
Lambuatta provokes his own death when he rapes and murders Bulla’s sister. More accurately, Lambuatta rips open her shirt in public, killing her. In Gunda, rape — or the PG-rated, fully clothed version presented — is always fatal to the woman. Always.
Shankar enters the story when he stops one of Bulla’s goons from fleeing the police after committing a murder, prompting Bulla to “fix a date” for Shankar’s death. But first, Shankar and Bulla have to kill off everyone else associated with the other party.
Bulla merits a place in the American cultural lexicon as one of the greatest villains of all time. He pronounces every line of dialogue with an extended enunciation of the last syllable. He and his crew are prone to speaking in couplets that make no sense when translated from Hindi to English. Take Bulla’s catchphrase, for example:
“My name is Bulla, and I always keep it open.”
I read somewhere online that Bulla may be indicating that he’s not wearing underwear, but who the hell knows? Does it even matter? It starts to sound pretty awesome after the thirtieth time he says it.
The majority of Bulla’s scenes are shot with him and his femmy brother, Chutiya (Shakti Kapoor), sitting two-feet from the camera in the living room of their mansion. There are only a handful of sets in the whole movie, most notably Bulla’s living room, the airport tarmac, a quarry, and a dock. All of them are apparently located right next to one another.
The rest of the scenes are shot in public places, usually in parks or in the middle of busy streets. A fun drinking game would be to take a drink every time a bus tries to plow its way through the middle of a shot or is forced to skirt around a huge crowd of spectators.
Shoehorned in between all the revenge killings is a romance of truly awkward proportions between Shankar and Ganga (Verna Raj), who navigates the world with a pair of basketballs stuffed in her bra. Shankar and Ganga engage in several stiff, goofy dance numbers in which the then 51-year-old Chakraborty appears to be actively trying not to dance.
Scenes go on far too long, especially the dance numbers. Much of the film can be fast-forwarded through, but I found something charming in the relentless dullness of many of the scenes.
Many of the events in the second half of the film are beyond ridiculous, and it would be a shame to spoil them for those new to Gunda. The less prepared one is for this movie, the better. I will point out that the climactic battle in Gunda — which, again, takes a really, really, really long time — is one of the best, wackiest things I have ever seen. Ever.