I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with 35 Indian movies that were just added to the streaming catalog. Three Tamil films, two Malayalam movies, and the 2018 Punjabi drama Asees are now available, along with a trove of Hindi films released theatrically from 2006-2015. Most of the titles are new to Netflix. Here are links those I’ve previously reviewed:
This is the sixth “worst movies of the year” post I’ve written, and every year the worst movies share the same problems: bad plot construction, unintentionally unlikable protagonists, and the reprehensible treatment of female characters. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
Most of this year’s crop of bad movies have the standard problems, but I give credit to Zila Ghaziabad for making it onto the list for a whole new reason: failure to appreciate the strength of the Censor Board’s opposition to smoking.
While all Indian filmmakers know that scenes in which a character smokes are likely to be tagged with an onscreen warning that reads, “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health,” director Anand Kumar refused to capitulate in Zila Ghaziabad. As a result, the warning appears onscreen for nearly half of the movie. It’s so distracting that I’m almost convinced it was deliberate and that the whole movie is Kumar’s dig at the Censor Board.
Among movies that stunk in more conventional fashion, Bajatey Raho, Bullett Raja, and Fukrey were full of plot holes that never should’ve made it out of a first draft, let alone into a finished project. Fukrey wins bonus points for a racist scene in which a character refers to a group of black bodyguards as the “Chicago Bulls.”
I, Me aur Main and Ramaiya Vastavaiya were hampered by really, really unlikeable lead characters. Not to be outdone, Grand Masti featured not one, but three total jerks in leading roles. I’m awarding bonus points to Grand Masti for racism, sexism, and making a joke about gang rape.
Grand Masti wasn’t the only movie to try to make light of rape or treat it as a plot device. The threat of rape was used to provoke the male leads in R… Rajkumar and Himmatwala. Both movies try to make that case that a woman’s only defense against rape is a strong male family member or boyfriend.
As patronizing as that idea is, it’s still not as abhorrent as the violently sexist message of my worst film of 2013: 3G. This poorly written horror movie cites pornography as the primary reason romantic relationships fail, but never suggests that the problem lies with those who view porn. Instead, it explicitly blames the women who perform in porn (and implicitly blames any woman with a sex drive). Want to get rid of porn? Kill all the porn stars!
At the same time that the movie blames sexually active women for provoking the violence committed against them, directors Shantanu & Sheershak go out of their way to portray actress Sonal Chauhan as a sex object. The camera ogles her breasts and buttocks while she writhes around on the beach and on a kitchen island (something I’m guessing she doesn’t do for fun when she’s at home alone).
Shantanu & Sheershak fail to recognize their own hypocrisy. Who’s more responsible for Chauhan’s depiction as a sex object: Chauhan — a paid performer — or the men who told her what to do and how to pose, filmed her, paid her, and then counted on others to pay to watch what they filmed?
The comedy Fukrey opens in Chicago area theaters on June 14, 2013. While Excel Entertainment has a good track record, Fukrey worries me because I can’t tell what the story is. Here’s Excel’s official description (from IMDb):
“College. Three of the most important years of your life. Three years of studies (at times) and sheer indulgence. Indulgence in all the little pleasures that a carefree life has to offer. But it isn’t always about ragging, fuchacha parties, college fests, races, and churning out ways to whack some extra pocket money from your parents. It’s sometimes hard, ugly, and complicated. More so, when you really need to get admission in the coolest college in town and you know you don’t deserve it. And to top that, you get yourself involved in the most bizarre stations that could crack you into pieces before you could crack it.”
For the second week in a row, a Hindi remake of an ’80s film hits Chicago area theaters. This time its Chashme Baddoor, which stars Ali Zafar and is distinguished from the original — Chashme Buddoor — by a slight spelling change in the title.
Other Indian films playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Tamil movies Kedi Billa Killadi Ranga and Settai. The Century Stratford Square has the Punjabi movie Sadda Haq, which is showing with English subtitles.
Can someone check director Sajid Khan to make sure his brain is still functioning? Lack of neural activity is the only way I can explain why someone would be so unaware of current events as to make a film as out of touch as Himmatwala.
Himmatwala is a remake of a hit film from 1983, a period when cultural views of gender equality were less advanced than they are today. Khan sets the events of his remake in 1983, but that doesn’t mean that every detail of the remake must be exactly the same as the original. In fact, characters make numerous references to modern life — things like swine flu and YouTube — that were obviously not part of the original.
(Further evidence that this is not a strict remake is that Khan lifts an iconic scene directly from the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’ve included a video of the original scene at the end of the review.)
The problematic sequences have to do with the film’s depiction of women. The film shifts from a light-hearted, Looney Tunes-inspired comedy in the first half, to a more serious story in the second, though refusing to abandon its comedic elements entirely. As a result, women’s suffering is made light of, existing only as a prompt for jokes.
The story centers on Ravi’s (Ajay Devgn) return to his hometown, which he left as a boy. His father, a respected priest, had been framed by the evil town overlord, Sher Singh (Mahesh Manjrekar), and driven to suicide. When young Ravi attacks Sher Singh, Singh’s goons burn Ravi’s house, presumably with his mother, Savitri (Zarina Wahab), and his younger sister, Padma, still inside. Upon learning that his mother and now-adult sister (played by Leena Jumani) survived, forced to live in squalor on the outskirts of town, Ravi returns.
In the process of restoring the family home, Ravi inspires the impoverished villagers to hope for a life out from under the thumb of Sher Singh. Ravi’s divinely endowed heroism wins the love of Singh’s bratty daughter, Rekha (Tamannaah), and gets her to stop being mean to the poor townsfolk.
Up to this point, the tone is relatively light. There are a few impressive dance numbers, lots of cartoonish sound effects, and direct-to camera asides from Narayan Das (played by an incredibly annoying Paresh Rawal), Singh’s brother-in-law.
The tone changes when Padma reveals that she and Narayan’s son, Shakti (Adhyayan Suman), are in love. Ravi objects to his sister’s relationship with the nephew of his arch-rival, but relents and apologizes to Shakti when he sees how unhappy Padma is. This apology is an insufficient balm for Shakti’s wounded pride, and he conspires with his father and uncle to ruin Ravi by physically and emotionally torturing Shakti after going through with a sham marriage to her.
But first, Padma is almost raped by a gang of Singh’s goons. After trapping her in an abandoned train car, the lead goon declares, “I will molest you, and then your brother will kill himself.”
Of course, Ravi shows up in time to save Padma, but his pre-fight announcement is less than reassuring. He says, “If you lose your dignity and your life, you can never get them back. I will definitely protect my sister’s dignity, but who will protect you from me?” Then he announces that women need not fear when there’s a himmatwala (“brave heart”) around to protect them.
I feel comfortable speaking for all women when I say, I don’t want a man to protect me; I don’t want to be threatened in the first place! And why, as a woman, is my virtue at stake if I get molested against my will? I didn’t do anything wrong, the man who molested me did.
After escaping the rapists, Padma marries Shakti, who whips her when she complains about being psychologically tortured by him and Narayan. She reports her miserable living conditions to Ravi. Their mother restrains her son’s justifiable urge to beat up Shakti, saying, “When a girl moves to her husband’s house, she leaves only after she dies.”
Ravi and Rekha concoct a scheme to extort Singh the same way he’s extorting Ravi. They pretend that the worst possible thing has happened to Rekha: that Ravi has gotten her pregnant out of wedlock!
While Singh begs Ravi to marry Rekha and spare him public humiliation, Ravi sets about trying to right the wrongs committed against Padma. He does so by forcing Narayan and Shakti to sweep and wash dishes (how womanly!), and then he puts a crab in Singh’s pants, causing the overlord to dance around. Hilarious, right?
So, according to Himmatwala, equivalent punishment for physically abusing a woman (not to mention the near gang rape, ostensibly sanctioned by Singh) is light housework and mild embarrassment.
With new stories of some horrific gang rape emerging from all over India seemingly every month, it’s time for moviemakers to stop treating the abuse of women as a joke. Remakes are fine, but they need to be updated to fit the times. Sajid Khan is should be ashamed of himself.
*Here’s the scene Khan stole from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, recast with Singh and Narayan. The English subtitles in Himmatwala are exactly the same as the spoken dialog in the original:
At long last, a likely Bollywood blockbuster is set to open in Chicago area theaters. Himmatwala stars Ajay Devgn in a remake of the 1983 action flick of the same name. In Singham, Devgn’s open-handed slap attacks were accompanied by a lion’s roar, and now he wrestles a tiger in Himmatwala. Is this big cat theme deliberate?