Almost as soon as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced that cinema halls will reopen on October 22, studios set about claiming prime weekends, filling up the release calendar through April 2022 in no time. This meant shifting around some titles that haven’t completed production yet, including Aamir Khan’s Forrest Gump remake Laal Singh Chaddha, which abandoned Christmas 2021 and moved back to Valentine’s Day 2022. Ranveer Singh’s cricket biopic 83 quickly took its place, locking this Christmas Eve for its cinematic debut.
Of course, the current release schedule could be moot if a COVID resurgence forces Mumbai theaters to close again. Akshay Kumar noted that the biggest risk when BellBottom released on August 19 — while theaters in Mumbai were closed — is that 30% of most Hindi films’ revenue comes from theaters in Maharashtra state. Many production houses have shown themselves willing to wait for favorable theatrical conditions to release their movies rather than take quick money for a streaming service debut.
Check out my full release calendar for all of the newly announced dates for the Hindi movies that I believe are likely to open in theaters in the United States. While you’re there, scroll down to see all of the movies that had previously announced theatrical release dates but have not yet rescheduled. Right now, Nikamma is the Bollywood movie that’s been waiting the longest for a release. It was originally supposed to hit theaters on June 5, 2020! I’ll update the page as more titles from the “Postponed” section announce their new dates.
Before writing, directing, and producing Bhuj: The Pride of India, Abhishek Dudhaiya directed over 1,000 TV episodes. Perhaps that’s why Bhuj‘s story feels like it would have been better served as a miniseries. Dudhaiya focuses so narrowly on action sequences and requisite patriotic war drama plot points that the film lacks emotional resonance.
Dudhaiya’s screenplay is based on real-life events from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, when Pakistani bombers destroyed the airstrip at Bhuj Air Force Base. Commanding Officer Vijay Karnik enlisted the help of 300 villagers to rebuild the strip and make it operational again. Other important characters are based on real people as well.
After a brief recap of the events leading up to the war, the story begins with Pakistani leaders devising a plan to distract India’s attention from the fighting in East Pakistan by attacking India’s western border. On December 8, 1971, warplanes from West Pakistan bombard the airstrip at Bhuj. Amidst smoke and explosions, Commanding Officer Vijay Karnik (Ajay Devgn) himself mans anti-aircraft guns to repel the attack, as many of his subordinate soldiers lie wounded around him.
Leading with such a visually dramatic scene isn’t an uncommon screenwriting choice, but it puts Dudhaiya in a bind. By December 8, Pakistan’s bombing of Western military sites had already been underway for several days, forcing the screenplay to flash back to earlier attacks in order to introduce other characters and locations important to the story. There are flashbacks within flashbacks to give characters backstory that further confuse the sequence of events.
Vijay’s storyline has a scene from December 3 — the day Pakistan first started its bombing campaign — that makes a more sensible opener. Vijay and his wife Usha (Pranitha Subhash) celebrate their wedding anniversary at a party with all the base’s officers and their families. Everyone dances, unaware that Pakistani jets are speeding toward them. As the romantic song “Hanjugam” ends, bombs fall on the adjacent airfield, sending civilians scrambling for cover and soldiers running to their posts. The scene establishes the camaraderie among the soldiers at the base and shows us who Vijay is trying to protect.
Sadly, sense of place and character motivation are low on Dudhaiya’s priority list. Other major characters like fighter pilot Vikram Singh Baj (Ammy Virk), Army scout Ranchordas Pagi (Sanjay Dutt), and Army officer Nair (Sharad Kelkar) — tasked to hold a strategic base with too few soldiers — get about 30 seconds of backstory each. At least Sonakshi Sinha’s village leader Sunderben kills a CGI leopard, while spy Heena Rehman (Nora Fatehi) gets a full training montage.
These are all characters that would have benefited from a longer series format, rather than a two-hour movie. Heena’s story is particularly ripe for exploration. She became a mole for India in order to avenge the death of her spy brother at the hands of Pakistani military intelligence head Mohammad Hussain Omani (Pawan Shankar). Heena’s assignment requires her to act as Omani’s girlfriend. How does she feel about having to sleep with the man who murdered her brother? Bhuj doesn’t ask. The only emotion characters are allowed to feel is patriotism.
The film’s priorities are action focused. Besides the bombings and air battles, there are a lot of hand-to-hand fight scenes. Pagi single-handedly kills about 100 men. The emphasis on individual physical prowess makes Bhuj blend in with other hero-centric Hindi films, like those where one honest man cleans up corruption by himself.
All of the action takes place without a sense of geography. Vijay needs to repair Bhuj’s airstrip so that Vikram can land a plane full of reinforcements from Jamnagar who will drive to Vighakot, the base that Nair and Pagi are trying to defend. There’s no sense of how far the bases are from each other, or how close Bhuj is to Sunderben’s village. Characters just show up wherever they need to be whenever they need to be there. Vikram miraculously crash lands within walking distance of his base after a dogfight with a Pakistani fighter plane.
Inscrutable geography is important, because Vijay has less than 24 hours to repair the airstrip. Though onscreen titles consistently show the location name and date when the scene changes, they don’t show the time. There is a ticking clock, but the audience can’t see it.
In real-life, repairs to the airstrip took three days. Adding that to the fact that Pakistani’s bombing campaign lasted over a week reinforces that Bhuj would have made a better series — especially in the hands of a director with no feature film experience but solid TV chops.
Akshay Kumar’s period drama BellBottom released into theaters in India and abroad on August 19, 2021, heralding what could be the resumption of regular Hindi theatrical releases (fingers crossed). While cinema restrictions still in place in India limited the film’s earnings potential there, BellBottom‘s North American collections provide some insight into conditions here as well.
According to Bollywood Hungama, BellBottom earned a total of $274,753 from 100 theaters ($2,748 average) in North America in its opening four days. Here’s how those numbers break down by country:
USA – $148,074 from 74 screens = $2,001 average per screen
Canada – $126,679 from 26 screens = $4,872 average per screen
What immediately jumps out is Canada’s contribution of 46% of the total earnings. That’s a really high percentage. But what should we expect from a typical Akshay Kumar movie in North America?
Looking back at Kumar’s four 2019 releases — Kesari, Mission Mangal, Housefull 4, and Good Newwz — here’s what an average opening weekend looked like:
240 theaters — 30 theaters in Canada and 210 in the US
$1.1 million total earnings
24% of the earnings from Canada
The amazing thing to me is that the number of theaters showing BellBottom in Canada is about what you’d expect it to be in non-COVID times. (Mission Mangal also opened in 26 theaters.) Compare that to BellBottom opening in about 1/3 of the theaters it would have in the United States, and you can see two very different theatrical landscapes at present.
So what does this mean for other Bollywood movies on the release calendar? Temper your expectations for what you can earn in North America. While earnings in Canada are well below what one would expect under pre-COVID conditions, the country’s theater landscape is downright robust compared to the anemic earnings and small footprint available to Hindi films in the US. BellBottom‘s $2,748 per-screen average is respectable compared to Hollywood theatrical releases right now, but that’s for a highly anticipated film from a marquee star. A smaller movie like Chehre will earn much, much less. I suspect it’s going to be a while before the US is again a big contributor to a Hindi film’s box office haul.
The appeal of many murder mysteries is the final revelation of how the crime was committed (especially if the killer gets away with it). Though Haseen Dillruba (“Beautiful Beloved“) has a fiery payoff, the question of why the deed was done is far more interesting.
The film opens with an explosion in a residential neighborhood in the small city of Jwalapur, north of Delhi. Rani (Taapsee Pannu) is outside her home when a gas cylinder in her kitchen ignites. She identifies her husband’s body by his wrist bearing a tattoo of her name — the only part of him that hasn’t been incinerated.
Police Inspector Rawat (Aditya Srivastava) is convinced that Rani murdered her husband Rishu (Vikrant Massey), though she protests her innocence. Rawat’s interrogation triggers flashbacks to various points in the couple’s relationship, which Rani describes as, “sometimes good, sometimes not so good.”
Rani and Rishu get together via an arranged marriage. Both of them seem to have gotten through life doing the bare minimum to make themselves desirable marriage candidates, but not doing much to make themselves complete people. Shy Rishu has a stable engineering job, and Rani is pretty and a capable cosmetologist. Neither has any experience in communicating with a romantic partner nor any instinct for nurturing intimacy. Living with Rishu’s parents only adds to the pressure on the new couple.
All of Rani’s ideas about romance come from books by her favorite author Dinesh Pandit, who writes pulp novels about small-town murder mysteries. Rani quotes Pandit so often that the fictitious author is almost a character in his own right.
When Rani blabs about her and Rishu’s non-existent sex life to her family, Rishu gives her the silent treatment. This leaves Rani lonely and vulnerable when Rishu’s beefcake cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) comes to stay with the family. Neel is as exciting as Rishu is mild, and he’s more than happy to give Rani the attention that Rishu withholds from her.
It takes Rani’s affair with Neel for both Rani and Rishu to become interesting people. It strains credulity a bit that both members of the married couple are so bland beforehand, but the wild trajectories their personalities take from that point is what makes the movie really intriguing. Rishu develops a violent streak and Rani a corresponding capacity to endure punishment. It’s nuts, but it works.
It’s worth considering how problematic Rishi’s violence toward Rani is within the context of the film. For some, a blanket condemnation of all violence perpetrated by men against women will make Rishu’s actions untenable. Within the world created by director Vinil Mathew and screenwriter Kanika Dhillon, the sequence where Rishu repeatedly tries to injure Rani is less about his actions and more about Rani’s willingness (or desire, even) to endure any punishment to atone for her transgression.
The sequence also highlights how screwed up Rani and Rishu actually are when forced to reckon with intense emotions. It’s something that is hinted at early in the film via Amar Mangrulkar’s unusual score, which ping-pongs between somber and melodramatic to sitcom-esque wacky, depending on the scene. The musical choices are slightly off-putting but effective at establishing that this is not a movie about an ordinary couple.
All three leads are effective in their roles, with Rane embracing his eye-candy avatar. Pannu is competent as always. Massey stands out as an ordinary man with a dark edge he didn’t realize he possessed. Haseen Dillruba isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly entertaining.
When compiling my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2020, I was surprised to find that all five were Netflix Original productions or titles acquired by Netflix. Turns out the titles from my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020 list have some commonalities, too. The two lowest ranked films on the list are both streaming on Hotstar, and the other three are on Amazon Prime. Let’s see which turkeys are my Worst Bollywood Movies of 2020.
Street Dancer 3D is one of two films on this list that I actually got to watch in a theater in 2020. I loved Street Dancer‘s progenitor ABCD and found ABCD 2 entertaining enough, but Street Dancer is just silly. The dancing in any Remo D’Souza-directed movie is as good as you’d expect it to be, but the plot is tiresome.
Durgamati: The Myth is one of the three straight-to-digital releases to make the list. The supernatural thriller is full of twists that could only work if characters behave in very specific ways that the protagonists couldn’t have predicted. Pass.
Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1 reboot had high expectations placed upon it even before it became Amazon Prime’s big Christmas Day release. Still, it turned out to be an unfunny slog that felt dated and out-of-touch.
Baaghi 3 was the other film on this list that I got to watch in the theater. You’d think a big-budget action spectacle like Baaghi 3 would be improved by watching it on a huge cinema screen, but you’d be wrong. The whole movie is dumb and shouty, and even the action sequences are poorly choreographed. I hope I never have to hear Riteish Deshmukh yell “Ronnie!” ever again.
My Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020 — Laxmii — earned its spot for several reasons. The supernatural comedy in which Akshay Kumar plays a man possessed by the ghost of a transgender woman is just as problematic as one would expect it to be given that setup. The casting is bizarre, with one actor nine months older than the actor playing his father. The story is tedious. Finally, Laxmii commits the greatest sin a comedy film can commit: it’s not funny. That’s why Laxmii deserves its place as my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2020.
COVID-19 upended the Hindi movie industry (along with everything else) in 2020, but Bollywood fans still had plenty of new films to choose from — and a lot of great ones at that! My five favorite Hindi movies of 2020 had one thing in common: they all released directly on Netflix. Three were produced specifically for Netflix, while the streamer nabbed exclusive rights for the other two. Let’s see what topped my Best Bollywood Movies of 2020 list!
Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl was supposed to have a theatrical release, before COVID hit. While Janhvi Kapoor didn’t get to command the big screen in her first solo leading role, Netflix gave her patriotic movie plenty of hype for its streaming service debut just before Indian Independence Day. Kapoor proves that she’s got what it takes to carry a film, turning in a delightful performance opposite Pankaj Tripathi, who plays her father in the movie.
The most inventive film on the list is one of the titles produced specifically for Netflix. AK vs AK pits Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap against one another, playing fictionalized versions of themselves in this darkly comical skewering of the Hindi film industry. Director Vikramaditya Motwane’s documentary-style filming makes this a compelling watch from start to finish.
Like AK vs AK, Ludo is another dark comedy made just for Netflix. In contrast to AK vs AK‘s gritty realism, Ludo is full of bright colors and peppy music, as its characters play their part in a game overseen by a pair of celestial narrators (one of whom is the film’s director, Anurag Basu).
Cargo was the only film on my list to screen anywhere before debuting on Netflix, having premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in late 2019. It’s an endearingly low-tech science fiction movie about the afterlife. Writer-director Arati Kradav demonstrates how to make a movie with a strong visual identity on a comparatively limited budget — and with a charming story, too.
Like Cargo, my Best Bollywood Movie of 2020 was another feature debut by a woman filmmaker with a bold aesthetic sense. Anvita Dutt’s gothic horror flick Bulbbul is almost shocking in its use of color, from the cautionary red glow of the night sky over early 20th century Bengal to the shadowy blue interiors obscuring dangers within the lord’s mansion. Its story condemns not only those who perpetrate violence against women, but the men who enable violence as well, whether deliberately or through willful ignorance. Bulbbul is a movie I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I saw it.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (“Be Extra Careful of Marriage“, SMZS henceforth) — Bollywood’s first mainstream romantic comedy about a gay couple — is at its most effective when it leans into genre traditions.
Aman Tripathi (Jitendra Kumar) and Kartik Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) are a dating couple living in Delhi. Aman’s parents Shankar (Gajraj Rao) and Sunaina (Neena Gupta) don’t know that their son is gay, but Kartik is sure they’ll be accepting. The dating couple meets up with the family on a train on the way to Aman’s cousin Goggle’s (Maanvi Gagroo) wedding outside of Allahabad.
On route to the wedding venue, Shankar spots Aman and Kartik kissing. Shankar’s dramatic negative reaction provokes the couple to kiss again, this time in the middle of the dance floor in front of all the wedding guests. Despite Shankar’s and Sunaina’s hilarious attempts to explain the kiss as some sort of family tradition, Goggle’s fiance cancels the wedding, and the Tripathi’s return to Allahabad.
Rather than embrace Aman as he is, his parents insist that he can be converted if removed from Kartik’s influence. They go so far as to get Aman engaged to a cute young woman named Kusum (Pankhuri Awasthy), who is all too eager to marry him.
The rest of SMZS is essentially the second half of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, but if Raj was trying to save Kuljeet from marrying Simran instead of the other way around. In DDLJ, Raj’s strategy was to convince Simran’s family that he was the best person for her to marry. In SMZS, Kartik’s approach is less personal and more about asserting Aman’s right to choose who he wants to date and marry, regardless of gender.
Perhaps SMZS would have struck a stronger emotional chord had Kartik used more of Raj’s strategy. This is a film about a family, but Kartik’s aggressive tactics and the Tripathis’ intransigence make it hard to see how he would fit in if he and Aman did marry. Scenes in which Kartik is emotionally vulnerable play as though they are meant to convince Aman of his loyalty — something that is never really in question — rather than prove his worthiness to the Tripathis.
Writer-director Hitesh Kewalya uses SMZS as an educational opportunity, focusing more on the moral and legal grounds for Aman’s relationship with Kartik instead. This plays into some of the issues that hampered the film SMZS spun off from: 2017’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which Kewalya wrote but did not direct. Both stories periodically lose momentum as the plot gets bogged down in dialogue-heavy scenes.
The slow narrative pace is mitigated by the terrific performances by the entire cast. Awasthy is especially hilarious as Kusum, whose ostentatious shyness feels straight out of an old movie.
One of Kewalya’s strong points is his ability to write humorously about adult topics (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was about impotence) in a way that never feels vulgar. SMZS is family-friendly. If one of the goals of the film is to normalize the depiction of gay relationships in mainstream Hindi cinema, making it a movie that is accessible to all ages is a great way to accomplish that.
Roohi opens on Thursday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. (Streaming partner: Netflix) It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. All three theaters offer Roohi as a Private Rental option, priced at $249 at the River East 21 and South Barrington 24 and $199 at the Naperville 16.
I am avoiding movie theaters until I get the COVID-19 vaccine, which likely won’t be until this summer. I look forward to reviewing Roohi and other upcoming Hindi theatrical releases when they become available for streaming in the US.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
It seemed strange for actor Parineeti Chopra and others associated with the Hindi adaptation of The Girl on the Train to tweet a message the day before the film’s release asking people to avoid spoiling the ending of the film on social media. This is a movie based upon another movie based upon a book, all sharing the same name. It’s easy to find plot summaries of the previous two versions of The Girl on The Train online. What could there be to spoil?
In an effort to distinguish this version of The Girl on the Train (TGOTT, henceforth), writer-director Ribhu Dasgupta added and changed elements of the original novel and the Hollywood film based on it. The results of those alterations make TGOTT feel as though it was written for the sake of its plot twists, and not for the purpose of telling a meaningful story.
Parineeti Chopra plays Mira Kapoor, a lawyer living in London and coping with tragedy. Mira and her husband Shekhar (Avinash Tiwary) were in a car accident three years earlier that left her with mild amnesia and caused her to lose the baby she was carrying. She turned to alcohol to deal with the grief, and Shekhar left and married someone new, compounding Mira’s loss.
Every day, Mira takes the train past her old house to torment herself. She’s also become obsessed with a woman who lives a few doors down from her old place who looks like she has the perfect life. Nusrat (Aditi Rao Hydari) is pretty, a beautiful dancer, and has a handsome husband. When Mira rides past the house and sees Nusrat hugging a man other than her husband one day, Mira becomes incensed. She drunkenly goes to Nusrat’s home, determined to stop her from ruining her marriage the way that Mira feels she did with her own relationship with Shekhar.
When Mira wakes up the next day, she has a massive wound on her forehead and no memory of how it got there. Police inspector Dalbir Kaur (Kirti Kulhari) questions Mira, whose identification card was found near the scene of a violent crime that occurred during Mira’s blackout. As Kaur and the cops try to link Mira to the crime, Mira undertakes her own investigation. Could Mira really have been capable of violence, even if she doesn’t remember it?
The success of the movie hinges on Chopra’s performance. Bless her heart, she tries. To be fair, Mira is drunk and angry for most of the film, so it’s not a role that requires much subtlety. But Chopra’s yelling, snorting, and stuporous lolling about push Mira into something more darkly comical than befits the film.
Let’s revisit Mira’s head wound. It covers half of her forehead, and it is disgusting. Why Mira opts not to cover it with a bandage to prevent infection or at least spare others from having to look at it, no one knows. Then again, it doesn’t much matter since only one person even remarks on it — and then only after she’s greeted Mira and hugged her. That no one asks Mira normal questions like “How do you feel?” or “Do you need a doctor?” defies explanation.
The bones of the the story are good, providing director Dasgupta with themes of psychological trauma, women’s fertility, substance abuse, and toxic relationships to draw upon. But in the end he discards them all for a finale that has nothing to say about anything. If the goal of TGOTT is purely to deceive the audience, then mission accomplished, I guess.
The movie Ludo uses its namesake board game as a metaphor for life, its characters one dice roll away from fortune or ruin. Writer-director Anurag Basu’s black comedy is beautifully made and laugh-out-loud funny.
Anyone who has played the games Aggravation, Sorry!, or Trouble is familiar with how Ludo works. Players from four different colored corners of the game board roll dice, moving their pieces around the board in the hopes of being the first to get all their pieces safely “home.” Basu assigns different characters to the colored corners, and they meet up with one another throughout the story. Right at the center is Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a hard-to-kill gangster with ties to all of them.
In the red corner is Sattu’s former right-hand man Bittu (Abhishek Bachchan), fresh out of prison and eager confront his old boss. Bittu charges in after a meeting between Sattu and the yellow corner’s Akash (Aditya Roy Kapur), who needs Sattu’s help removing a sex tape from the internet. The blue corner’s Rahul (Rohit Suresh Saraf) is at Sattu’s hideout as well, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
An explosion sets the characters off in different directions. Rahul drives off with some of Sattu’s stolen cash and a cute, opportunistic nurse named Sheeja (Pearle Maaney). Akash also hits the road, joined by Shruti (Sanya Malhotra) the woman from the sex tape who’s due to marry someone else in a matter of days. Bittu’s plan to find a way back into the life of the wife who left him while he was in jail and the young daughter who doesn’t remember him is derailed when he meets another precocious little girl, Mini (Inayat Verma), who needs help faking her own kidnapping in order to get her distracted parents’ attention.
While all this is happening, the characters from the green corner are trying to get out of their own mess. Alu (Rajkummar Rao) has been in love with Pinky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) since childhood, although she never reciprocated his feelings. Pinky turns up with her baby to ask for Alu’s help getting her husband Manohar (Paritosh Tripathi) out of jail, where he languishes, wrongly accused of a murder committed by Sattu.
Director Basu doesn’t judge his characters for wanting what they want, even if what they want isn’t exactly good for them. Alu is the best example of this. He knows his one-sided devotion to Pinky gets him into trouble and keeps him perpetually single, but he’s miserable when she’s not around. Is it so bad for him to not want to feel awful?
Bittu’s story is the most complicated and emotional. He spent six years waiting to get back to his daughter — who was an infant when he went to prison — but she doesn’t know he exists. She thinks Bittu’s ex-wife’s new husband is her father. Spending time with Mini gives Bittu a chance to act in a fatherly role, making him question whether what he wants for himself is really what’s best for his daughter.
Bachchan’s performance when he’s playing Bittu the Gangster comes off as more pouty than menacing, but he’s terrific as Bittu the Dad. Little Inayat Verma is impossibly adorable, and she and Bachchan are so much fun together. Yet we know their relationship is only temporary. Almost all of Bittu’s options will leave him brokenhearted.
Given Pankaj Tripathi’s recent track record of stealing virtually every movie he’s in, Basu wisely put Tripathi in the middle of things from the start. His character’s introduction — dramatically exposing his inner thigh to pull a gun from a leg holster — is perfection. After the cute pairing of Bittu and Mini, Sattu is part of the film’s second best partnership. While he’s bedridden, Sattu forms a friendship with no-nonsense nurse Lata Kutty (Shalini Vatsa), one of the few people he can’t intimidate. It’s unexpected and delightful.
To keep his dark comedy from becoming too dark, Basu amplifies its other elements. Bright colors differentiate the storylines, but they also cheer up even violent scenes. Character closeups feel a little closer than normal. The excellent soundtrack and score by Pritam are prominent in the mix, setting the tone overtly. Ludo is loud, both aurally and visually, but it feels just right.