Episode 10 of the Split Screen Podcast is now live. In this episode, show host Shah Shahid and I compare Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s 2015 Bollywood thriller Jazbaa to its inspiration, the Korean film Seven Days. Shah and I agree that Seven Days is the superior movie, though Shah is a little more forgiving of Jazbaa director Sanjay Gupta’s quirks than I am.
While the majority of the worst Bollywood films of 2015 are guilty of garden variety stupidity, a pair of movies were especially loathsome. Here are my picks for the worst Bollywood movies of 2015. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
The dual-narrative romantic drama Roy wound up on the list due to an excess of ennui and emotionally immature dialogue.
Jazbaa managed to make talented actors Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look ridiculous (and green-tinted).
Two awful examples of Bollywood nepotism made the list. Producer-offspring Jackky Bhagnani’s inevitable rise to super-stardom was deferred yet again by his awful performance in Welcome 2 Karachi. In her Bollywood debut, Govinda’s daughter Tina single-handedly ruins Second Hand Husband with her squinty delivery and nonexistent dance moves.
The most painful theater-going experience of the year was Shamitabh, a movie so annoying that I was literally begging out loud for it to end.
The offensive Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 came in a close second place for suggesting that all women who report being raped are liars. That such a hateful movie purports to be a comedy makes it all the more disturbing.
My worst movie of 2015 struck a nerve, going beyond just offending and veering into moral recklessness. Director Umesh Shukla and writers Sumit Arora and Niren Bhatt should be ashamed for claiming that Alzheimer’s disease is a result of filial neglect that can easily be cured if children are nicer to their parents. Given that a lack of awareness about Alzheimer’s persists in India, using a film to offer bogus medical advice and assign undeserved blame is irresponsible. For those reasons — in addition to it being just a plain old sucky movie — my worst Bollywood film of 2015 is All Is Well.
An absence of new Bollywood fare in theaters combined with Halloween falling on a Saturday led to a lackluster weekend at the North American box office. Shaandaar led the field in its second weekend in theaters. From October 30-November 1, 2015, it earned $93,878 from 124 theaters ($757 average). It has earned a total of $544,469 in North America so far.
The only other Hindi film showing in both the United States and Canada over the weekend was Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. In its third weekend in theaters, it took in another $24,289 from 28 theaters ($867 average). Its total stands at $222,309.
As is often the case these days, Canadian theaters had to be much happier with the weekend’s results than their US counterparts. Canadian theaters showing Shaandaar averaged earnings of $1,387 per screen, versus $657 average in the US. Canadian theaters showing Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 averaged $1,154 per screen, versus $789 average in the US.
Other Hindi movies still showing in US theaters:
Jazbaa: Week 4; $530 from two theaters; $265 average; $402,303 total
Talvar: Week 5; $241 from two theaters; $121 average; $333,693 total
The romantic comedy Shaandaar got off to a good start in North America, but how good depends on which source you believe. During the weekend of October 23-25, 2015, Bollywood Hungama reports that Shaandaar earned $299,195 from 136 theaters ($2,200 average). Combined with the movie’s collections from Thursday, its 4-day total stands at $336,304.
However, Box Office Mojo reports significantly higher figures for Shaandaar, including weekend earnings of $384,685 from 136 theaters ($2,892 average). Box Office Mojo’s 4-day total for Shaandaar is $433,541.
While I generally give more weight to the numbers collected by Rentrak and supplied by Bollywood Hungama, this time I’m inclined to put more faith in Box Office Mojo. Though both sources list the same number of theaters, Bollywood Hungama’s weekly update doesn’t include any earnings figures for Shaandaar from Canada, even though it opened in 17 theaters there. Possibly Rentrak folded the Canadian collections into the US collections, or maybe they didn’t collect data from Canada. Or maybe Bollywood Hungama didn’t report the Canadian data collected by Rentrak. Whatever the case, Bollywood Hungama’s weekly update seems incomplete. I’m going with Box Office Mojo this week.
In that case, Shaandaar is off to quite a good start. With no new Bollywood releases of note scheduled for the next two weekends — and no Hollywood blockbusters scheduled this coming weekend — Shaandaar has a chance to make some decent money in the next couple of weeks.
In its second weekend, Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 earned $39,123 from 36 theaters ($1,087 average), bringing its total to $183,779. Once again, it proved to be more popular in Canada than the US, with the per-screen average in the Canadian theaters ($1,771) nearly doubling the average in the American theaters ($891).
Other Hindi movies still playing in the US:
Talvar: Week 4; $5,116 from eight theaters; $640 average; $331,380 total
Jazbaa: Week 3; $2,005 from six theaters; $334 average; $400,680 total
As has been the case in recent weeks, a lopsided portion of those earnings came from Canada. The per-screen average (psa) of the nine Canadian theaters showing PKP2 was $2,506, compared to the $1,721 psa in the 49 American theaters.
The disparity was pronounced in the other Hindi films showing in North America as well. Here are the rest of the weekend’s earnings, including both the Canadian and American per-screen averages:
Jazbaa: Week 2; $57,934 from 71 total theaters; Canada psa = $1,004; USA psa = $752; total earnings to date = $386,714
Singh Is Bliing: Week 3; $30,951 from 33 total theaters; Canada psa = $1,651; USA psa = $628; total earnings to date = $905,806
Talvar: Week 3; $25,233 from 24 total theaters; Canada psa = $485; USA psa = $1,132; total earnings to date = $322,149
Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon: Week 4; $284 from two total theaters; Canada psa = $20; USA psa = $264; total earnings to date = $351,167
One new Bollywood film opens in Chicago area theaters on October 16, 2015: the comedy sequel Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. This is a huge surprise, considering that the 2011 original didn’t release in the US and the cast of the new film is made up of virtual unknowns. Distributors are counting on the familiarity of the title and a lack of competition to bring people to the theater. We’ll see if the gamble pays off.
Jazbaa turned in a disappointing opening weekend in North America. During the weekend of October 9-11, 2015, Jazbaa earned $233,186 from 132 theaters ($1,767 average).
Jazbaa‘s performance helps define a kind of Bollywood dead zone at the North American box office, in which movies opening in the 120-140 theater range consistently under-perform. In addition to Jazbaa, three other films have opened in this same range, and all have posted disappointing opening weekend per-theater averages: Tevar (125 theaters/$1,007 average), Shamitabh (137 theaters/$1,573 average), and Katti Batti (127 theaters/$1,507 average). Perhaps the lesson for distributors is that, if you aren’t confident that a given movie could carry 150 theaters, better to limit its release to around 100 theaters. All the better for avoiding the appearance of a flop.
Singh Is Bliing finished the weekend in second place among the four Hindi films playing in North America. It added another $173,329 from 108 theaters ($1,605 average) to bring its two-week total to $808,310.
Talvar held up very well, losing only 37% percent of its opening weekend business (compared to Singh Is Bliing‘s 64% drop). Talvar earned $83,211 from 47 theaters ($1,770 average), bringing its two-week total to $269,253.
Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon closed out its third weekend, adding $6,828 from seven theaters ($975 average) to its total haul of $347,289.
This weekend provided yet more fuel for my obsession with the differences in the American and Canadian markets for Bollywood films (the figures above are for the entire North American territory, but Rentrak breaks the figures down by country). Here’s a comparison of each film’s US and Canadian per-theater averages:
Jazbaa (“Passion“) is a mess from start to finish. It’s such a trainwreck that it manages to make top stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan look silly.
From the very beginning, it’s obvious that something is off with Jazbaa. It just looks wrong. Director Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with putting filters on the camera, so every shot is a sickly green or yellow, with the occasional merciful blue. The grotesque palette makes Irrfan appear in urgent need of hospitalization.
That’s when you can actually see him clearly. Gupta also likes to play with lighting, to stupid effect. A group of cops sit around a dark conference table, light illuminating only their cheeks or chins. Their eyes and mouths — the parts of the face that actually convey meaning — are in shadow.
Although the plot has promise, Gupta mucks it up as well. Aishwarya plays Anu Verma, a successful defense lawyer who is happy to make evidence disappear if it will help her win. She’s also a single mom with an elementary-school-aged daughter, Sanaya (Sara Arjun). Anu’s best friend, Yohaan (Irrfan), is a corrupt but highly decorated cop who’s facing suspension.
At Sports Day at Sanaya’s school, Anu crosses the finish line first in the mother-daughter relay. But when she turns to celebrate with Sanaya, the girl has vanished.
Anu — who is standing in a crowd of people — calls for her daughter for all of five seconds before her eyes fill with tears and she starts shrieking her head off. Why does she immediately assume that something has gone horribly wrong? It’s almost like Anu knows she’s in a movie. The fact that Sanaya actually is missing doesn’t justify her overreaction.
A kidnapper calls, demanding that Anu free a rapist/murderer from death row in exchange for Sanaya’s safety. Anu enlists suspended Yohaan to help her, even though he’s the man who put the rapist behind bars in the first place.
All this happens in frantic fashion. Within the first fifteen minutes, Anu leads the cops on a high-speed car chase, even though we’ve hardly had time to get to know her, her daughter, or Yohaan. Gupta expects the audience to invest in the characters simply because they are there, not because they have earned our sympathy or affection.
Gupta’s obsession with using camera techniques for their own sake — rather than for the sake of the story — reaches its absurd apex in courtroom scenes. Every single shot is peppered with numerous micro-movements of the camera: up, down, in, out. It makes no sense. It’s as though Gupta is deliberately trying to distract us from the acting.
That may be a good thing, because the acting is bad. Aishwarya screams and sobs and pounds her fists on the ground. Irrfan throws a tantrum, kicking over barrels like a frustrated baseball player taking out a Gatorade cooler in the dugout. While sitting in a car with Anu, Yohaan emphasizes a point by breaking her passenger window with his elbow. It’s so stupid, it’s sublime.
The inspiration for Irrfan Khan’s character?
Chandan Roy Sanyal — who plays the rapist, Niyaz — is the hammiest of the hams, cackling as though he’s a villain from the 1960s Batman TV show. He’s nearly outdone by Sam, the rape victim’s old boyfriend who is now crazy from having taken too much “angel dust.” Don’t do drugs, kids.
The anti-drug message is secondary to the real moral behind Jazbaa. The screen fades to black as the movie ends, and sad piano music plays as Indian rape statistics appear on screen. The note ends not with a call for an end to rape or greater aid for victims, but for speedier executions of those convicted of rape (a death penalty offense in India).
The problem with the message is that the plot of the very movie that precedes it cautions against such haste. During the course of their investigation, Anu and Yohaan uncover enough evidence to suggest that the crime that got Niyaz thrown behind bars didn’t proceed the way the original prosecutor concluded it did.
Regardless of the fate of the fictional character Niyaz, Jazbaa presents a case in which a potentially innocent man is sentenced to death. The movie then ends with a note encouraging speedier executions, thus limiting the opportunities for a person wrongly convicted to overturn his or her own death sentence. Even if one agrees with the sentiment at the end of the film, it doesn’t follow logically from the actual events of the film.
Rather than trying to make a moral point, Gupta needs to focus on telling a good story. He fails to do that, getting hung up on distracting camera techniques and overacting that puts soap operas to shame. Jazbaa is a disaster.
Another new release with a South Asian focus is the documentary He Named Me Malala, about the heroic teen activist Malala Yousafzai. It opens on Friday across the Chicago area and the nation. Click here for a national theater list.