I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with more than twenty additions to the catalog, a mix of previously available titles and stuff brand new to the service. I’ve reviewed many of the films, including (click on the star-rating for my review):
The first trailer for Dedh Ishqiya is out. The dialogue-heavy trailer doesn’t have subtitles, so non-Hindi speakers will miss out on much of the fun, but the film retains the look of its predecessor, Ishqiya. Given how much I liked the original and how much I like this cast, I’m really looking forward to Dedh Ishqiya‘s release on January 10, 2014.
(Proposal for a trilogy: Dead Ishqiya. Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi as zombie grifters.)
The weekend beginning December 2, 2011, sees two new Hindi movies opening in the Chicago area. I Am Singh — a drama about one Sikh family’s experience in the U.S. after 9/11 — gets the wider release of the two new films.
This weekend’s other new release is The Dirty Picture, based on the life of South Indian ’80s bombshell Silk Smitha. The film reunites two of the stars of Ishqiya, Naseeruddin Shah and Vidya Balan, who plays Silk in the new film.
The Dirty Picture opens on Friday at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17 and Golf Glen 5, which is also carrying the movie’s Telugu-dubbed version. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 33 min.
After earning $702,325 in the U.S. over the 5-day Thanksgiving weekend, Desi Boyz gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. The South Barrington 30 is also carrying over Rockstar.
On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.
The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.
Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.
The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.
In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.
In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.
What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.
Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.
Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.
Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.
Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.
Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”
The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.
Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.
Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.
Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.
If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.
The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.
Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.
Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.
Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.
My enjoyment of most movies doesn’t hinge completely on the quality of the acting. I suppose that, when done well, you’re not even supposed to notice the acting. But the three leads in Ishqiya elevate an otherwise small and straightforward story to a work of art.
The film opens on a loving young couple engaged in a disagreement. The wife, Krishna (Vidya Balan) asks her husband, Vidyadhar (Adil Hussain) to abandon his criminal ways. He’s non-committal, though he professes to love her. As she walks through a dark hallway carrying a sacred flame on a tray, the camera cuts to the exterior of the house as an explosion destroys one of the rooms.
We next see Krishna as she opens the gate surrounding what’s left of the house to admit two of her husband’s former associates. Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi) are an uncle-nephew pair of thieves on the run from their latest victim, Khalujaan’s brother-in-law. They arrive at the house hoping that Vidyadhar will be able to help them cross the border into Nepal. Krishna informs them that her husband is dead.
She allows them to hide out at her house until they can figure out an escape plan. Krishna’s beautiful voice, which she uses to sing old movie tunes, enchants Khalujaan, even though he’s old enough to be her father.
Khalujaan considers Krishna’s reserved nature evidence of her modesty; Babban thinks she’s hiding something. His suspicions are confirmed when Krishna reveals a dangerous plan to earn them enough money to pay off the brother-in-law and make them all rich.
Ishqiya has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie. Okay, any movie. Balan plays Krishna perfectly. She’s not your typical seductress. She’s cautious, as a woman who’s been living on her own should be, but she knows how to entice both men to fall for her. Whether that was part of her plan all along or just an impulse of a lonely woman, it’s impossible to tell.
Lately, Shah seems to only get cast in smaller, cameo roles that don’t give him much to do. Khalujaan is the meatiest role I’ve seen him play, and he’s tremendous. Shah is nearly 60, but plays Khulajaan like a teenager with a crush. The performance is both charming and heart-breaking because the odds are against Krishna reciprocating Khalujaan’s feelings.
Before Ishqiya, I disliked Arshad Warsi. In movies like Krazzy 4, Golmaal Returns, and Short Kut, I felt his performances were more loud than funny. I was happy to be proven wrong. Babban is a lech, but Warsi gives him a vulnerability that makes him a viable romantic match for Krishna. His falling for her is inevitable, and a lesser movie would make that love reason enough for her to fall in love with him. Thanks to Warsi, Babban is just charming enough that we believe Krishna could have feelings for him.
Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey does a superb job with his first movie. The story is small, and Chaubey, appropriately, doesn’t overreach. No big special effects, lavish dance numbers or distracting cameos. The attention stays focused on the three leads with straightforward camera work and a direct storytelling style.
Chaubey previously worked with director Vishal Bhardwaj on movies like Makdee, Omkara and Kaminey. The two worked together again on Ishqiya, which Bhardwaj produced and co-wrote. He also wrote the movie’s wonderful music.
In one scene, Krishna sings to herself while chopping vegetables. There’s no accompanying music, just a solo woman’s voice. The visuals and sound editing were so seamless that I was sure it really was Balan singing. Turns out it was the voice of Rekha Bhardwaj, Vishal’s wife.
The scene exemplifies all that’s great about Ishqiya. Chaubey pays close attention to small details, making the film immersive. And he’s willing to give time to such a simple scene that reveals so much about the characters. After such a terrific debut, I’m eager to see what Chaubey does next.
Note: I watched Ishqiya on a DVD produced by Shemaroo. A watermark of the company’s logo appeared in the bottom right corner of the screen throughout the whole movie. Eventually I was able to ignore it, but I found the practice annoying.
It’s a light weekend for Bollywood films in Chicago, with only one new movie opening. Striker stars Siddharth as a poor kid who makes his way in life as a carrom hustler. It opens on Friday, February 5, 2010 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.
If you can’t make it to Niles to see Striker, fear not. Fans in the United States can watch the movie on YouTube for $4.99 starting on Friday, the same day that it opens in theaters. Follow this link to Studio 18’s YouTube page, then click on the red “US visitors click here” arrow in the upper right corner of the page.
Striker will be available for free to YouTube users in other countries starting on February 6. This is the first collaboration between YouTube and a Bollywood studio to provide streaming film content, and I hope the experiment works.
Two new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area on Friday, January 29, 2010. Rann (“Battle”) is director Ram Gopal Varma’s fictional exposé of corporate media corruption, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ritesh Deshmukh.
Salman Khan’s Veer enters its second week in area theaters after earning $334,562 in the U.S. in its opening weekend. The movie carries over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.
The super hit 3 Idiots sticks around for an amazing sixth week, having already earned $6,294,393 in U.S. theaters. It continues to run at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago.
Chance Pe Dance leaves theaters after two weeks, having earned a disappointing $164,188 total in the U.S.