I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with today’s surprise addition of the 2022 Hindi thriller Vadh, starring Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta. The new Original series Class — a Hindi remake of Netflix’s Spanish show Elite — debuts on the service tomorrow.
Netflix announced that Ranveer Singh’s Cirkus will be available February 16, and they released a trailer for a new documentary series about Yash Raj Films called The Romantics, which debuts on Valentine’s Day:
If you missed any of the new Indian shows and movies added to Netflix last month, be sure to check out my January roundup for What’s on Netflix.
Watching Govinda Naam Mera feels like watching a video played backwards. Writer-director Shashank Khaitan started with the outcome he wanted, then engineered his story in reverse to achieve that end amidst a series of shocking revelations. But when you play the story forward, you find that the biggest reveals of all are an inscrutable plot and characters that never engender sympathy.
The title character is played by Vicky Kaushal, who projects far more charisma than the movie deserves. Govinda is a wannabe choreographer and background dancer living in large home bequeathed to him by his father — who ditched his first wife and son to marry Govinda’s mom, Asha (Renuka Shahane). Govinda is married to Gauri (Bhumi Pednekar), a woman who hates him as much as he hates her. His dance partner Suku (Kiara Advani) is also his mistress.
Several axes hang over Govinda’s head, though there’s no timeline as to when any of them will fall. Suku wants Govinda to divorce Gauri, but Gauri won’t agree until he repays her dowry money. Govinda owes money to a cop from whom he illegally bought a gun, for some reason. And Govinda’s stepbrother Vishnu is about to win a lawsuit that will force Govinda to relinquish rights to his house, leaving him homeless and penniless. Then Govinda gets involved with a drug dealer, further complicating matters.
As the story proceeds, characters act in ways that suit neither their personalities nor the situation. Just as the audience reaches a maximum level of confusion, a card appears on screen reading something like “3 Days Earlier.” This happens over and over again — as though the point of the story structure is to trick the audience.
Because we don’t see the events in sequence, there is no tension or ambiguity about the outcome. We only ever learn the truth of characters plans after they’ve succeeded (or not). It also means we don’t get to see relationships between the characters develop. We only get the “ta-da!” reveal that people were working together all along, but not how such cooperation changed their relationship.
The worst example of a story element that exists solely for the reveal is Govinda’s mom. The audience learns early in the film that she’s not really partially paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair, but is faking it all to garner sympathy. Yet she’s been doing it for fifteen years! There’s no story reason for her to perform this long con (and make her own life more difficult), except to shock other characters when she eventually reveals the truth.
One of the selling points of Govinda Naam Mera is the chance to watch Kaushal and Advani dance together. Their performances in that regard do not disappoint. But save yourself a bunch of time and trouble and just watch this YouTube playlist of songs from the movie.
There are a lot of movies still to come to Netflix before the end of December, so head to my Netflix page to see the titles we already know about. I’m half-expecting to see one more big Hindi theatrical release debut on the service during Christmas break, but that’s just a hunch.
Also new today is the straight-to-streaming film Tadka on Zee5. This Hindi remake of the Malayalam film Salt N’ Pepper stars Nana Patekar, Taapsee Pannu, and Ali Fazal. (Update: if you’re trying to watch Tadka via the Zee5 app on Apple TV and use subtitles, the subtitles will appear at the top of the screen, obscuring the picture. See the photo below for an example.)
Babli Bouncer puts a fun spin on a boilerplate Bollywood main character: the small-town slacker with a heart of gold. Tamannaah Bhatia turns in a stellar performance in the leading role, showcasing her skill as a physical comedian.
Babli (Bhatia) hails from a village on the outskirts of Delhi famous for producing wrestlers and bodybuilders. Many of the young men in town work as bouncers at Delhi nightclubs, but it’s widely known that Babli is just as tough as any of the guys. She’s not ambitious, knowing that marriage and kids are on the horizon (not that she’s mad about that). Her predetermined future enables her to coast, waiting for life to come to her.
It does in the form of Viraj (Abhishek Bajaj), the handsome son of a local school teacher. Viraj is educated and worldly — pretty much the opposite of Babli. She is immediately smitten. When Viraj politely offers to meet Babli for lunch should she ever find herself in Delhi, Babli makes it her mission to get a job in the city.
Thankfully, the club where Babli’s friend Kukku (Sahil Vaid) works is in need of lady bouncers to deal with rowdy female patrons. Soon enough, Babli is working at Kukku’s club and living in Delhi with her buddy Pinky (Priyam Saha), who teaches there. Babli thinks she’s perfectly positioned to get closer to Viraj.
In loads of other Hindi films where a man plays a similar type of lead role, the already-perfect hero sets his sights on a beautiful woman who fails to appreciate him until he uses his physical strength to save her. That she will fall in love with him by movie’s end is a given, so there’s no need to develop either character.
Babli Bouncer uses a similar character template but rejects the inevitable conclusion. Instead, Babli is depicted as flawed but lovable. When she’s confronted with her own shortcomings, she doesn’t like what she sees and chooses to fix them — not in order to win someone’s heart, but so she can be proud of herself. And her efforts at self-improvement amplify the things that were already good about her.
The story itself is entertaining enough, but Bhatia makes Babli sparkle. She’s a tomboy with a bit of swagger, and Bhatia’s every movement and mannerism suits the character perfectly. It’s heartbreaking to watch naive Babli wholeheartedly laugh along with Viraj’s city friends because she doesn’t realize they’re laughing at her, not with her. Bhatia’s spot-on characterization, spirited dancing, and quality fight scenes make for an overall great performance.
Saurabh Shukla is wonderful as Babli’s sympathetic father, and Saha and Vaid make great buddies for Babli. The resolution to lovelorn Kukku’s subplot deserved more airtime, but Vaid does a nice job selling it as written.
Babli Bouncer gets everything right that similar stories with male lead characters usually get wrong. Director Madhur Bhandarkar and co-writers Amit Joshi and Aradhana Debnath wrote a title character who is charming from the get-go but with room to grow. It’s a delight to watch Babli chart her own path.
Cuttputlli (“Puppet“) is a prime example of one of Bollywood’s biggest problems at present: taking films that were successful elsewhere and remaking them without improving the story or remediating problematic elements.
The remake of the 2018 Tamil thriller Ratsasan stars Akshay Kumar as Arjan, a wannabe filmmaker who is obsessed with serial killers. We are told that Arjan is 36, driving audience members to immediately Google how old Akshay Kumar is (he’s 54). Arjan can’t find any takers for his slasher screenplay, so he uses Compassionate Appointment rules to take over his deceased father’s job as a police officer (with proper training first).
Arjan’s fledgling movie career is hardly mentioned again, which is a missed opportunity. The whole point of introducing it is to establish Arjan as an amateur profiler, differentiating him from the members of the police force in the small town where Arjan is assigned to work, alongside his brother-in-law Narinder (Chandrachur Singh).
When a missing teenage girl’s mutilated body is discovered, Arjan quickly recognizes the similarities to another murder that occurred in a nearby town a month earlier. But police chief Gudia Parmar (Sargun Mehta) ignores Arjan’s suggestion because he’s a rookie. She defaults to her usual method of beating anyone who can be loosely connected to the victim until they confess, whether they’re guilty or not.
Arjan is upset by the chief’s preference of violence over investigation. This could have led to an interesting examination of the problems with contemporary policing and its unbalanced incentive structure, but Cuttputlli isn’t that kind of movie. It has a conventional plot whereby one good guy must catch one bad guy, giving no airtime to the structures and systems that make such crimes possible.
Take for example a subplot about one potential suspect. A high school math teacher is able to sexually abuse his female students by threatening to report their poor class performance to their parents. Arjan’s own niece Payal (Renaye Tejani)–who exists in this movie solely to be victimized repeatedly–says that her parents were once so angry when she brought home a bad report card that they broke a television set. The film treats the line about the broken TV as a throwaway, rather than proof that unrealistic parental expectations actually might contribute to an environment that allows the predatory teacher to thrive.
Arjun stops the teacher before he’s able to assault Payal, kicking the man in the junk so ferociously that it sends him to the hospital. Arjun has become the thing that once disgusted him — a violent cop — but his reaction is condoned because he’s the hero of the story, granting him the right to mete out extrajudicial punishment as needed.
Cuttputlli‘s approach to violence is troublesome. The first victim’s mutilated face is shown for shock value, but lingering on each successive dead girl’s scarred visage feels exploitative. The film also follows the discovery of the first victim with a wacky scene in which Arjan chats with a forgetful grandpa who is delighted to discover that his wife is dead. The juxtaposition is uncomfortable, and the joke isn’t even funny (plus grandpa is never mentioned again either).
The conclusion to Cuttputlli is ridiculous. There was no reason to keep it the same as filmmaker Ram Kumar’s original film, but director Ranjit Tewari and writer Aseem Arrora seem determined not to make any improvements in their reboot. Mission accomplished, I guess.
The vibe of director Siddharth Sen’s debut feature Good Luck Jerry feels like a toned-down Ludo or Looop Lapeta. But trendy aesthetics can’t compensate for a disorganized screenplay and a lack of character development.
Janhvi Kapoor lends her undeniable charisma to Jerry Kumari, a young woman willing to do whatever it takes to provide for her family after her father’s death. Jerry’s mom Sharbati (Mita Vashisht) isn’t happy about her daughter’s job at a massage parlor, but the family needs the money, especially while Jerry’s younger sister Cherry (Samta Sudiksha) finishes school.
Their financial situation gets worse when Sharbati is diagnosed with lung cancer. Unable to get a loan for Sharbati’s treatment, Jerry uses a serendipitous connection to put a risky scheme into action.
While shopping at a market with Cherry, Jerry is forced by a neck-brace-wearing gangster named Timmy (Jaswant Singh Dalal) to recover a packet of drugs hidden in the men’s restroom. There are police all over the market, but they won’t suspect a young woman of carrying drugs. Jerry succeeds, and Timmy lets the sisters go. The next day, Jerry finds Timmy and convinces him to hire her as a drug runner on a permanent basis.
The new gig earns Jerry more than enough money, but it earns her enemies among the drug dealers as well. Timmy’s boss sets her up to fail with a job that’s too big to pull off — at least not without the help of her family.
In keeping with the colorful dark comedy style of movies like Ludo and Looop Lapeta, Good Luck Jerry‘s world is populated by weirdos. Jerry has to fend off romantic overtures from 40-something wannabe rapper Rinku (Deepak Dobriyal), and Cherry has her own suitor who hounds her while dressed in a groom’s attire. The criminals she meets are quirky, though not as memorable as Pankaj Tripathi’s neck-brace-wearing gangster Sattu from Ludo.
If anything, Good Luck Jerry seems like a watered-down version of other films in the same genre. It’s not as visually interesting, the characters are forgettable, and the comedy isn’t edgy enough. Also, Jerry’s final scheme seems overly complex, and the movie makes no attempt to explain how she, her mom, and her sister were able to pull it off.
Even though it’s based on the Tamil film Kolamaavu Kokila, the screenplay feels like an early draft. Jerry doesn’t grow at all; she begins and ends the movie as a woman who will do anything for her family. Sheer volume of characters — and the inflated runtime that comes with them — is treated as more important than fewer, more impactful ones. Dobriyal’s Rinku suffers particularly from this. He and Jerry don’t have much of a relationship, so including him in a climactic shootout doesn’t actually raise the stakes for Jerry. He just takes up space and screentime.
Kapoor, Sudiksha, and Vashisht share a delightful rapport and make a really cute family. Good Luck Jerry needed more of them and less of everybody else.
Other titles like Dear Zindagi have also expired in recent weeks, but I don’t think this necessarily means that Netflix’s deal with Red Chillies is done for good and that the films are headed to another streaming service. Chennai Express returned to Netflix in August 2021, and Yodha and two other titles returned in January of this year. This could just be a reset before the start of a new streaming contract. However, there’s no guarantee that the above titles will return to Netflix, or that they will return quickly if they do, so prioritize watching them if you’re so inclined.
Last week, Netflix added a pair of Hindi movies, including Radhe Shyam and the Original film Thar, which is really good. The Tamil action flick Beast — starring Vijay and Pooja Hegde — debuts on Netflix May 10 (in the afternoon in the US). And Netflix recently moved Masaba Masaba into the “Worth the Wait” row on their New & Popular page, joining She. No Season 2 release dates for either series yet, though.