Tag Archives: Hindi

Movie Review: Manikarnika — The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Manikarnika on Amazon Prime
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As pure spectacle, the historical epic Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is top notch, with thrilling battles, dazzling sets, and gorgeous cinematography. However, its narrative fails to make meaningful connections between the protagonist and her supporting characters.

The film is based on the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai, nee Manikarnika, who ruled the Indian state of Jhansi in the 1850s. (A note at the start of the movie admits to taking some cinematic liberties with the story.) From her youth, Manikarnika (Kangana Ranaut) was raised on patriotic ballads that sang of spilling one’s blood for the sake of the motherland. She was taught to fight with swords and to tame horses.

That feistiness is just what the bachelor King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta), needs in a potential bride, according to his advisor Dixit Ji (Kulkhushan Kharbanda). Jhansi is one of the last independent kingdoms that hasn’t ceded to rule by the British East India Company or been taken over outright. Gangadhar is a pragmatist, but he’s not happy kowtowing to the Brits. He marries Manikarnika, renaming her Lakshmi Bai in the process. When British officers come to the palace to pay their respects, Manikarnika refuses to bow to them. Gangadhar is delighted.

Manikarnika is unwavering in her judgement of right and wrong. Her character grows as her elevated position allows her to witness a greater spectrum of British cruelty, and she takes responsibility for counteracting it. Ranaut plays Manikarnika as clear-eyed and determined. Her posture is taut, as though she’s always ready for a fight. She’s only at ease when she’s with Gangadhar, who loves her and admires her spiritedness.

Trouble comes not just from the British lurking outside the gates, but from a traitor within: Gangadhar’s brother, Sadashiv (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub). The Brits have promised to name Sadashiv king if he helps depose Gangadhar. Granted, it would be a title in name only, without the limited independence Jhansi currently enjoys.

When the tension between Manikarnika and the Brits turns to all-out war, the movie is at its best. Co-director Krish (more on him to come) previously directed Telugu historical epics, and it shows in the scale of the world he creates. The battles are impressive in scope and require a lot of skilled horsemen and other extras. CGI effects — from injured animals to explosions — are well-integrated, and the fight choreography is exciting.

The plot isn’t complicated, since the Brits are obvious bad guys and the good guys just have to fight them. However, it’s not always clear exactly who the good guys are or how they fit into courtly life in Jhansi or the larger Indian political landscape. When Dixit Ji first proposes a marriage contract with Manikarnika, she’s sword-fighting with three characters who I thought were her brothers–but perhaps weren’t (one of them is played by Atul Kulkarni in a microscopic role). Also present are her biological father and the man who raised her, who is some kind of politician, maybe? She eventually helps one of her probably-not-brothers take the throne of another kingdom, and it would’ve been nice to know why.

There are several female supporting characters who are either from her original home (like Kashi Bai, played by Mishti), from a nearby village, or appointed to take care of her in Jhansi. All are so underdeveloped and shown so fleetingly that they blur together.

This shoddy organization is largely a result of a behind-the-scenes battle for the director’s chair. Krish left the film when it was nearly finished — purportedly pushed out by Ranuat — who re-shot portions of the film herself and recast Ayyub in a role originally played by Sonu Sood. Ranuat is the first co-director listed in the end credits, ahead of Krish, who is credited by his birth name, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi. According to Krish, many of the scenes filmed with Mishti and Atul Kulkarni were left out of the final film. Perhaps those scenes would have helped to flesh out the characters and their relationships with Manikarnia.

One other complaint is the direction of the characters playing the British officers. The dialogue delivery throughout the film is quite slow, but the British officers speak with an especially unnatural cadence. It’s so strange that I was surprised to discover that Richard Keep, who plays the villain General Hugh Rose, is actually English. I’m not sure which of the co-directors deserves the blame for that, but it’s an unfortunate distraction in a movie that really has a lot going for it.

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Movie Review: Drive (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Drive on Netflix
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

If you tried to make an uncool version of The Fast and the Furious, you could not make anything as uncool as Drive. Dharma Productions’ straight-to-Netflix heist film lacks sex appeal, thrills, and all of the other exciting qualities about the series they tried to emulate.

To ensure that everyone knows this is a Fast & Furious knockoff, Drive repeatedly shows different women in short shorts standing between two race cars, their backs to the camera, ready to drop a flag to start the race. There are lots of white women of average attractiveness wearing bikini tops and jean shorts, setting a low bar for what constitutes sexiness in Drive.

Jacqueline Fernandez is gorgeous as ever as notorious thief Tara, her cleavage working overtime to add some spice to this bland dish. Sapna Pabbi looks stunning as well, as Tara’s best bud, Naina. But when the two best looking men in the cast are Boman Irani and Pankaj Tripathi — who really do look quite handsome — you’ve got problems.

Tara, Naina, and her boyfriend Bikki (Vikramjeet Virk) are a trio of thieves who moonlight as underground street racers. They want to rob the Presidential Palace in Delhi, but they need the help of a mysterious fellow crook known as The King to pull off the job. Brash driver Samar (Sushant Singh Rajput) may be able to help them, but the crew is being watched by Irfan (Irani), an agent from the Prime Minister’s office.

Irfan takes command of the government agency that polices black money, run by corrupt bureaucrat Vibha Singh (Vibha Chhibber). Where do Vibha and her goon Hamid (Tripathi) hide the money they extort? In the Presidential Palace, of course!

A hallmark of movies directed by Drive‘s producer, Karan Johar, is characters rich enough to buy whatever their hearts desire. That flippant materialism is taken to an absurd extreme in Drive, where objects seem to manifest out of nothing. Need some mannequins to help explain the heist plan? Poof, they magically appear in the thieves’ lair. Need the world’s supply of gold lamé fabric to outfit hundreds of guests at an impromptu wedding? Done!

The most cynical example of this pointless extravagance is a video montage of a trip the group takes to Tel Aviv. It’s purely an advertisement paid for by Israel’s tourism bureau that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It’s just five minutes of them clubbing, swimming, and zip-lining. The montage the film’s only sequence shot with grainy handheld cameras, making it stand out for the blatant cash grab it is.

Drive‘s plot is simplistic but still makes no sense. Writer-director Tarun Mansukhani yada yadas a lot of the operation planning and Irfan’s investigation. Much is made of the core trio’s suspicion of outsiders, but they seem to have any number of random flunkies on call to pose as police officers and shepherd the stolen loot away from their crime scenes. Didn’t they learn anything from Total Dhamaal? Don’t let anyone else handle your loot!

There is exactly zero chemistry between Fernandez and Rajput, who smirks like a dope through much of the film. The characters never seem in any real danger, neither from cues we’ve come to expect from other movies (someone has to die just before or after the wedding, right? No.) nor from explicitly mentioned threats, such as the Presidential Palace guards’ standing “shoot on sight” order. This is a heist film with no stakes.

And my god, the driving! Samar impresses the crew by cruising around is a suped-up Tata Nano — which sorta looks like a Honda Fit — while wearing ugly brown loafers. Fancy cars like Ferraris and Porsches are all CGI. The most time the cast spends in actual cars is during a sequence in which they discuss their plans in a parking garage. Every thirty seconds, the camera cuts to them sitting in a different parked car. Why? The movie’s not called Park! It’s called Drive!

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Opening November 1: Ujda Chaman

I don’t know why Ujda Chaman — the Hindi remake of the Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (which is on Netflix) — is opening in Chicago area theaters on November 1, 2019. Housefull 4 ate Saand Ki Aankh‘s and Made in China‘s lunch last weekend. This isn’t going to go well.

Ujda Chaman opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, and AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hours and heads to Amazon Prime when its theatrical run ends.

Housefull 4 continues to dominate the local market, carrying over at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Saand Ki Aankh gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Woodridge 18, and Cantera, which is the only theater holding over War.

Made in China sticks around at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: October 25-27, 2019

It’s no surprise that Housefull 4 came out on top among this year’s trio of Diwali releases. From October 25-27, 2019, the comedy sequel earned $904,808 from 315 theaters ($2,872 average) in North America, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s not a particularly robust per-theater average, so we’re probably looking at a final total short of $3 million.

The other two new releases wilted against the competition. Saand Ki Aankh earned $101,900 from 204 theaters ($500 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Made in China was just behind with $72,349 from 95 theaters ($762 average).

War still raged in its fourth weekend of release, earning $80,866 from 59 theaters ($1,371 average), bringing its total to $4,566,986.

Other Hindi and multilingual releases still in North American theaters:

  • The Sky Is Pink: Week 3; $10,741 from 14 theaters; $767 average; $713,682 total
  • Dream Girl: Week 7; $5,786 from seven theaters; $827 average; $2,332,417 total
  • Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy: Week 4; $924 from four theaters; $231 average; $2,622,634 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: Saand Ki Aankh (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

The real-life women who inspired Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“) are extraordinary, but the film about their lives is less so, because the actresses who play them are miscast. That isn’t to say that thirty-somethings Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar are bad in their roles. They’re just not convincing playing women in their sixties.

The main factor that keeps the movie from being immersive is that the “old lady” makeup and hair coloring applied to Pannu and Pednekar throughout looks absurd. It’s impossible not to notice it. Their temporary gray hair dye isn’t applied realistically and seems like something that you’d find at a Halloween store, meant to be sprayed on in the morning and washed out at night (if it hasn’t all flaked off by then). The same dye looks especially bad when painted onto Pednekar’s eyebrows. The texture of their face makeup might be passable for a stage performance, but it doesn’t holdup under the gaze of a movie camera.

Pannu and Pednekar play Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, respectively, two sisters-in-law living in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. Their crowded household is shared by their husbands, children, and grandchildren, and governed by their husband’s older brother, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), along with his own wife and offspring.

All of the other performers in Saand Ki Aankh play characters their own age, with Rattan and his brothers played by younger actors in the film’s few flashbacks. Pannu and Pednekar are the only constants, further drawing attention to the age difference between the actresses and their characters. Given how brief the flashbacks are, there’s no logical explanation for why actresses aged closer to sixty weren’t cast in these roles.

Prakashi and Chandro have toiled for decades on behalf of their family: cooking, cleaning, stacking bricks, and each birthing eight children while their husbands lounge about. When Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) opens a shooting range, promising government jobs to those who excel, the boys in the Tomar family scoff at the notion of working for a living. But Prakashi and Chandro recognize a chance for their granddaughters to break out of the stifling patriarchal system and chart their own destinies.

Secretly, Chandro brings her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) to the range, while Prakashi accompanies her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi). To encourage the two girls, the older ladies take their turns firing, only to discover that they are naturals. Dr. Yashpal convinces Chandro and Prakashi to enter a shooting tournament for seniors. In order to compete, they have to trick their husbands and brother-in-law into letting them travel to the city — no easy feat since Rattan’s strict rules for women includes veiling their faces even inside the house. The ladies pull off the ruse and win the tournament, starting their careers as clandestine sharpshooters.

For all its faults, Saand Ki Aankh is very clear about who Chandro and Prakashi are and what motivates them. They are housewives, and even after they taste success, they don’t expect more from life. When the husband of a fellow shooter talks about how proud he is of is wife, the sisters-in-law can barely understand how that’s possible. They accept that there is nothing they could accomplish that would make their husbands feel proud of them. They can only meet expectations or face potential violence for failing to do so.

It’s refreshing that, even though the story is inspiring, inspiration was never the goal of the characters. Everything Chandro and Prakashi do is for the betterment of the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

Saand Ki Aankh‘s structuring is awkward, which is unfortunate, since this is the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani. Though Hiranandani didn’t write this script (which is credited to Balwinder Singh Janjua), perhaps he could have given it a final polish to reorganize it a bit. The film’s opening sequence — which repeats after about an hour when the story catches up to it chronologically — is overly long and not attention-grabbing enough to warrant a double take. Shefali serves as the off-screen narrator for a few random scenes, so it would’ve made more sense to open with her narration and use it consistently throughout. Trimming at least half-an-hour off the overall runtime would’ve helped, too.

The Tomar sisters-in-law have certainly lived lives worth making into a movie. I just wish this one was a little better.

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Opening October 25: Housefull 4, Saand Ki Aankh, and Made in China

Diwali weekend brings a trio of new Hindi films to Chicago area theaters on October 25, 2019. The widest release of the three goes to the latest entry in the Housefull movie franchise: Housefull 4 — noteworthy because the average age difference between the film’s male leads and their female love interests is 18.67 years.

Housefull 4 opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min. and heads to Hotstar once its theatrical run ends.

Next up is the biographical drama Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“), in which Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu play sexagenarian sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, respectively.

Saand Ki Aankh opens Friday at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, Cantera, Woodridge 18, and AMC Niles 12 in Niles. It has runtime of 2 hrs. 26 min. Saand Ki Aankh‘s streaming partner is Zee5.

Finally, we have the comedy Made in China, starring Rajkummar Rao, Mouni Roy, and Boman Irani.

Made in China opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and Woodridge 18. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. It’s heading to JioCinema after its theatrical run ends.

War carries over for a fourth week at the Regal Round Lake Beach, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and Woodridge 18.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: October 18-20, 2019

In its third weekend of release, War became the second highest earning Hindi film of 2019 in North America. From October 18-20, the action thriller earned $364,907 from 192 theaters ($1,901 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Its $4,355,621 total is still more than $1 million behind this year’s leader, Gully Boy.

The Sky Is Pink took in $125,645 from 194 theaters ($648 average) in its second weekend, bringing its total to $645,272.

Other Hindi/multilingual films still in North American theaters:

  • Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy: Week 3; $33,667 from 50 theaters; $673 average; $2,613,851 total
  • Dream Girl: Week 6; $22,358 from 18 theaters; $1,242 average; $2,317,535 total

Sources: 143 Cinema and Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: War (2019)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Pitting two of Bollywood’s biggest action stars against one another lives up to the hype in War, a tremendously fun, globetrotting thrill ride.

Indian super-spy Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) has gone rogue. A task force including his former pupil, Khalid (Tiger Shroff), must track Kabir down and figure out what happened. Their boss, Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana), assigns another agent to lead the task force because Khalid is “too close” to Kabir. Khalid’s colleague Aditi (Anupriya Goenka) covertly funnels him information, because she wants to find Kabir as badly as he does.

Kabir’s team was the best of the best, hot on the trail of international criminal Rizwan Ilyasi (Sanjeev Vasta) when Khalid joined them as a promising new recruit. The onboarding process was rocky, since Kabir worried that Khalid might harbor some resentment for Kabir having killed his agent-turned-terrorist father (in self defense!). But Khalid proved both loyal and capable, winning Kabir’s trust — only for Kabir to turn on the government he swore to protect.

Khalid’s desire to join Kabir’s team stems both from a need to show the world that he is not his father’s son and from his infatuation with Kabir. Roshan as Kabir gets one of cinema’s most loving introductions, stepping out of a helicopter with the wind blowing his hair, striding muscularly, like a being made of pure testosterone. Khalid gawks at him on behalf of all of us.

Not to be overlooked is Khalid’s own introduction, via one of Bollywood’s best-ever fight scenes. The fight choreography and Ben Jasper’s camera work as Khalid tosses drug dealers around an apartment are spectacular. Shroff’s athletic prowess is just as impressive.

War is among the most expensive Indian films ever made, and it looks it. Chase scenes — whether on foot or via car or motorcycle — in foreign locales are as exciting to watch as they are stunning to look at. The scale is big, the stakes are high, and writer-director Siddharth Anand pushes the envelope even further than his previous action spectacular, Bang Bang, which also looked great but was disappointing. The lessons learned from that film translated into a thriller that can stand up alongside anything Hollywood has to offer, with well-integrated CGI, practical effects, and complicated stunt work.

Another improvement is in the quality of acting Anand gets from his performers. Roshan was miscast in the action-comedy Bang Bang, but he plays Kabir perfectly as steely but not unfeeling. Shroff has always been his best when playing underdogs, and he uses that here to show how Khalid’s over-eagerness makes him reckless. Goenka’s role is utilitarian — she’s always there with the right information at the right time — but she gives Aditi a spark.

Vaani Kapoor has a small but impactful role as Naina, a dancer Kabir befriends while tracking Ilyasi on a solo mission in Italy. Naina pegs Kabir’s martyr streak as dangerous. Kabir says his team is his family, but Aditi has a fiance and Khalid has his mother — Kabir’s the only one with no one else to come home to. It helps to remind Kabir that real people are involved, something the movie notes when Colonel Luthra acknowledges some Portuguese soldiers killed in a mission gone wrong. The characters don’t just rampage through cities without consequence.

Sure, some loose ends are left hanging at film’s end, and the ridiculous climax includes what is essentially a really-effective Audi commercial. But no one can ever accuse War‘s cast or crew of phoning it in. Anand wanted world-class stunts and powerful action sequences, and he got them. Roshan and Shroff look jacked, and their fights and dance scenes are impressive. Kapoor stands out in her acrobatic showcase dance number as well. War is just tremendous fun and a great example of a movie that warrants viewing on the biggest screen possible.

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In Theaters: October 18, 2019

Eros International opted not to release Saif Ali Khan’s Laal Kaptaan here, so there are no new Hindi films opening in the Chicago area on October 18, 2019. The Sky Is Pink holds over for a second week at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera in Warrenville, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

War gets a third week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, Woodridge 18, Regal Round Lake Beach in Round Lake Beach, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville.

Dream Girl holds over for a sixth week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: October 11-13, 2019

The Sky Is Pink had a fine opening weekend in North America. From October 11-13, 2019, the family drama earned $336,620 from 163 theaters ($2,065 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.

It was never going to best War, which had a good enough second weekend to finish in 12th place at the overall North American box office. The action flick earned $866,421 from 270 theaters ($3,209 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total earnings of $3,640,355 currently rank in 4th place among Hindi films in North America this year — just $17,453 behind Mission Mangal in 3rd and about $545,000 behind Uri: The Surgical Strike in 2nd.

Also in its second weekend of release, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy earned $191,257 from 156 theaters ($1,226 average), bringing the multilingual’s total to $2,527,853.

Dream Girl finished its fifth weekend with $33,124 from 26 theaters ($1,274 average). Its total earnings stand at $2,277,724.

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo