I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the addition of two movies that released in theaters earlier this year, each starring a stellar lead actress. The thriller Missing — starring Tabu and Manoj Bajpayee — is now available for streaming, which is cool since it only released theatrically in India, not in the US. Rani Mukerji’s Hichki is also now available (and well worth watching). Thanks to Gaurav Arora for giving me the heads up about Hichki!
I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a newly announced expiration date. You’ve got until July 3, 2018, to catch all thirteen episodes of the 2015 TV series Adrishya. This is part of the purging of shows produced by the TV channel Epic, which were only under contract to air on Netflix for two years. Six shows just expired on June 1, and we can expect to see Ekaant and Siyaasat hit bricks in September.
No new releases made for a lackluster weekend at the North American box office for Bollywood films. While Avengers: Infinity War set opening weekend records and the Telugu hit Bharat Ane Nenu crossed the $3 million mark, October quietly led the way among Hindi movies with $22,384 from 21 theaters ($1,066 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. The Varun Dhawan drama has total earnings of $498,484 after three weekends in the United States and Canada.
Other Hindi movies still showing in North America (no data for Baaghi 2):
Blackmail: Week 4; $7,196 from ten theaters; $720 average; $294,060 total
Bollywood films didn’t stand a chance against the Telugu behemoth Bharat Ane Nenu, which earned more than $2.5 million in its opening weekend in North America. The lone new Hindi release — Beyond the Clouds — earned $26,166 from 32 theaters ($818 average)* during the weekend of April 20-22, 2018, according to Bollywood Hungama.
October held up reasonably well in its second week of release, hanging onto 40% of its opening weekend business. It earned $94,549 from 65 theaters ($1,455 average), bringing its total earnings to $438,978.
On the other hand, last weekend’s other new release, Mercury, lost over 90% of its opening weekend business, taking in just $4,799 from ten theaters ($480 average). Its total stands at $76,762.
Other Indian movies still showing in North American theaters (no complete figures for Baaghi 2):
Blackmail: Week 3; $16,051 from 13 theaters; $1,235 average; $282,652 total
Hichki: Week 5; $5,700 from four theaters; $1,425 average; $763,091 total
Raid: Week 6; $1,510 from two theaters; $755 average; $1,087,195 total
*Bollywood Hungama routinely counts Canadian theaters twice in its weekly reporting, at least for a movie’s first few weekends of release. When possible, I try to verify the correct theater count with other sources, like Box Office Mojo. The above figures represent what I believe to be the actual theater counts. Bollywood Hungama’s reporting technically puts Beyond the Clouds in 41 theaters (making for a $638 per-theater average).
October started quietly in North America. During the weekend of April 13-15, 2018, the romantic drama earned $230,776 from 131 theaters* ($1,762 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. That’s the lowest opening weekend total and per-theater average for any Hindi film to open in more than 100 theaters here this year so far, with October‘s earnings lagging behind the next lowest earner in that category — Aiyaary — by $120,000. The only thing working in October‘s favor is a sparse release calendar for the rest of the month, with no major competition taking the field until May 4.
Mercury got off to an even quieter start (I know, bad joke about a movie with no dialogue). The silent thriller earned $55,976 from 87 theaters ($643 average) in spite of higher ticket prices and no discounts. The timing of the Mercury‘s release is a shame since genre fans are still focused on A Quiet Place, which closed in on the $100 million mark domestically over the weekend.
Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:
Baaghi 2: Week 3; $47,117 from 58 theaters; $812 average; $1,297,765 total
Blackmail: Week 2; $38,336 from 25 theaters; $1,533 average; $253,036 total
Hichki: Week 4; $9,768 from eight theaters; $1,221 average; $753,577 total
Raid: Week 5; $6,481 from four theaters; $1,620 average; $1,084,042 total
Missing: Week 2; $449 from three theaters; $150 average; $6,856 total
*Bollywood Hungama routinely counts Canadian theaters twice in its weekly reporting, at least for a movie’s first few weekends of release. When possible, I try to verify the correct theater count with other sources, like Box Office Mojo. The above figures represent what I believe to be the actual theater counts. Bollywood Hungama’s reporting technically puts October in 150 theaters (making for a $1,539 per-theater average). Mercury did not release in Canada.
Hichki (“Hiccup“) is an enjoyable if somewhat predictable parable about seeing the potential for greatness in everyone. It’s another interesting take on the Indian education system, following on the heels of last year’s terrific Hindi Medium.
Hichki focuses on two different barriers to academic achievement: disability and poverty. The disability aspect is addressed via the lead character, Naina (Rani Mukerji), a teacher with Tourette Syndrome. Tear-jerking flashbacks show her struggles as a small child, when she was the object of ridicule by her peers and scorned by her teachers for vocal tics and outbursts she couldn’t control.
As an adult trying to land her first teaching position, Naina spends more time explaining her neurological condition to the school board members and principals interviewing her than talking about her qualifications. The scenes illustrate just how much work remains to be done in educating the public at large about specific conditions and making the Indian education system more hospitable to students with various challenges, just as Taare Zameen Par did for dyslexia in 2007.
The one thing Naina asks for as both a child and an adult is to be treated as a normal person, and to that end, the movie quickly shifts away from her Tourette Syndrome as the central narrative focus. After the initial shock and some unkind jokes, the students in her class and her coworkers stop noticing her tics, showing just how unwarranted concerns over her being a distraction in the classroom were in the first place.
Naina is hired mid-semester to teach a notoriously rowdy class of poor teenagers who were only admitted to prestigious St. Notker’s — named for a German monk nicknamed “Notker the Stammerer” — when the private academy tore down the kids’ public school in order to expand their playground. The nasty head of the science department, Mr. Wadia (Neeraj Kabi), thinks neither Naina nor the kids belong at St. Notker’s. If the kids can’t pass their final exams in four months’ time, Naina and her students will all be kicked out.
Hichki tries to show what the students are up against — not just in the opposition they face from the school administrators, but also in the difficulties imposed on them by poverty. When Naina visits the slum where the kids live, she finds them caring for younger siblings, helping their parents at work or working solo, and waiting for hours in line to fill buckets of water from a tanker truck, since none of their homes have running water. Studying takes a backseat to the struggle for basic necessities.
Unlike Hindi Medium‘s progressive, leftist point-of-view regarding the inherent justice of public education, Hichki‘s politics are rooted in the neoliberal fantasy that the world is a meritocracy and education is the primary cure for poverty (as opposed to fair wages and access to public goods like clean water and sanitation). “You’re all masters of blaming your situations,” middle-class Naina chides her students.
The movie falsely presents all obstacles to education as equivalent. If Naina can overcome her neurological condition to become a teacher, these poor kids should be able to pass their exams. The film doesn’t acknowledge the many advantages Naina did have in coming from a middle-class family. Her mother had the time to advocate for her daughter’s education. Her younger brother owns a successful high-end restaurant. Even Naina’s father, who abandoned the family because he was embarrassed by Naina’s Tourette’s, uses his connections to land her a job in a bank. Despite her disadvantages, Naina has certain resources at her disposal that her students can only dream of.
Still, Hichki does push the idea that every kid has strengths, even if they’re hard to see at first. Naina uses some unorthodox methods to make the kids realize they understand concepts like parabolas and chemical reactions, even if they didn’t know they academic terms for them. The students flourish under the guidance of an adult who sees their inherent worth, and the story hits many familiar beats one expects from this kind of inspirational fare. (Thankfully, no one slow claps.)
Mukerji’s warmth makes Naina a particularly lovable underdog, one whose own self-doubts are even more important to conquer than the doubts of others. All of the young actors who play her students do a fine job. Neeraj Kabi is too blatantly villainous as Mr. Wadia, but that’s more a function of how the character is written than Kabi’s performance.
Hichki isn’t revolutionary, but movies like it, Hindi Medium, and Taare Zameen Par are important reminders of the Indian education system’s need to better serve all of its students, no matter their challenges.
The great Rani Mukerji is back with the drama Hichki (“Hiccup“), in which she plays a teacher with Tourette Syndrome. Rani recently did a video interview with Brad Cohen, whose own experience as a teacher with Tourette’s — chronicled in his book, Front of the Class — inspired the movie. It’s worth checking out.