I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of a bunch of cartoons in the Chhota Bheem series. On May 15, the Bengali movies Ant Story and Television expire along with a few filmed versions of Hindi plays. Netflix announced that the original movie Chopsticks — starring Karwaan‘s Mithila Palkar, Abhay Deol, and Vijay Raaz — debuts on the service on May 31.
As I mentioned in my Best Bollywood Movies of 2017 post, I liked many more 2017 releases than I disliked. That means that fewer of the movies on this year’s “Worst of” list are ones that I absolutely couldn’t stand, compared to previous years.
Take, for example, Noor, Naam Shabana, and Running Shaadi. I gave all of them 2-Star ratings, which means I only sort of didn’t like them. I just happened to like these three the least of all the movies I also rated 2 Stars. However, the seven other titles on the list did more than enough to earn their spots.
Several films had problems with the way they depicted their female characters, particularly in the way male characters controlled women’s bodies. Kriti Sanon’s character in Raabta was treated like an object, pushed and pulled at will by the men in her life. The title character in Badrinath Ki Dulhania tossed his girlfriend in the trunk of his car before choking her. Arjun Kapoor’s character in Half Girlfriend literally wouldn’t let go of Shraddha Kapoor’s character when she tried to get away from him.
Kaabil was the most egregiously sexist movie of this bunch, creating a capable, independent female lead — played by Yami Gautam — for the sole purpose of raping and killing her as motivation for Hrithik Roshan’s character to seek revenge. It’s a classic example of the “Women in Refrigerators” trope.
Other movies on the “Worst of” list were just poorly made. Like its 2013 predecessor, Fukrey, the comedy Fukrey Returns simply wasn’t funny. Baadshaho forgot what story it was telling along the way, resulting in an abrupt ending that leaves every important question unanswered.
My pick for the Worst Bollywood Movie of 2017 was the biggest offender in terms of bad filmmaking: Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. The unfocused story tried to address every important contemporary social issue, reaching its ridiculous apex when Manjari Fadnis’ feminist activist journalist character is randomly tasked with coordinating refugee medical care in a Middle Eastern war zone. The film’s third act is supposed to take place in Manhattan but was clearly filmed in Maryland (part of it was shot in Top Chef season 6 runner-up Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant in Frederick). There’s unintentionally hilarious dialog, as when Fadnis’ character responds to a heckler’s “Nice ass, honey,” with “Yes, we have a nice ass, and we are proud of it.”
The pièce de résistance is a song number that features Manjari Fadnis dancing in outer space:
I fear that Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai will go the way of goofy 2014 Worst Movie runner-up Karle Pyaar Karle and disappear, never to be seen again either on DVD or streaming. It’s kind of a shame, since Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai is so damned wacky, one almost has to see it to believe it. Almost.
Check my Netflix and Amazon Prime pages to see which of these movies are available for streaming in the United States.
The weekend of March 3-5, 2017, provided two more cautionary tales of the difficult path to North American box office success for Bollywood movies without A-list stars. The action sequel Commando 2 fared the better of the new releases, earning $40,611 from 49 theaters ($829 average). The romantic drama Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai had the worst opening weekend of the year so far for a Hindi film in North America, earning just $6,539 from 42 theaters ($156 average).
These lackluster performances come two weeks after both Irada and Running Shaadi failed to earn $15,000 in their opening weekend in the United States and Canada. Given that JIKNH had the least star-power of the four films, its position at the bottom of the heap makes sense. Still, it speaks to the star-driven nature of movie attendance here that Commando 2 wasn’t able to earn more than it did. As a sequel, it had a preexisting fanbase that — while not huge — was enthusiastic for its release. With forty theaters in the US and nine in Canada, access to the film wasn’t a problem. Yet those factors weren’t enough to earn the six figures that would’ve marked the film a success. Commando 2‘s returns help to define the earning potential for Bollywood movies without A-list stars here, and that potential isn’t very high.
In its second weekend in theaters, business for Rangoon dropped nearly 80% from its opening weekend. That’s not as catastrophic as it might sound, but it’s not good, either. Rangoon earned $64,047 from 68 theaters ($942 average), bringing its total to $471,186. A few more days will push that total past $500,000, making it director Vishal Bhardwaj’s most successful film in North America to feature a female lead.
Other Bollywood movies showing in North American theaters:
The Ghazi Attack (all languages): Week 3; $30,118 from seventeen theaters; $1,772 average; $749,957 total
Raees: Week 6; $273 from one theater; $3,631,911 total
Trying to explain what Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai is about is a futile task. Not even the writer of the movie, Amreetaa Roy, was up to the task of succinctly describing her own film. Here’s the summary she submitted to IMDb:
The film presents the naïve vulnerability of human life, the sincere saga of love and pain, and the glimpse of human emotions in raw form. So much of human nature is captured within the frames of the film, yet it takes you to the various land giving a realistic view of existence – the story traversing from a small town of Rajasthan, moving to the city of dreams – Mumbai and then goes on to the city that never sleeps – New York, ride us through interesting characters, each one with a diverse and unique character adding slice of life. Written by Amreetaa Roy
That rambling mess of a plot summary captures all the problems with Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai (JIKNH, henceforth). It has no identity or focus because it tries to be about every issue and every emotion all at once.
Our onscreen guide through JIKNH is Alia (Manjari Fadnis), who experiences — directly or indirectly — virtually every kind of gender discrimination a woman can face. That extends to the closing credits of JIKNH, in which her name appears third in the cast list despite her playing the film’s main character.
In spite of a deprived childhood in Rajasthan in which Alia’s material and emotional needs ranked a distant fifth behind those of her two younger brothers and her parents, she excels as a student, developing an affinity for writing. As a college student, her no-nonsense attitude attracts the attention of an older, villainous rich guy, Vikram (Ashutosh Rana).
To this point, Alia’s story is one of resilience and self-sufficiency in spite of her family’s utter indifference toward her. Every indication points toward her graduating and building a successful life for herself, possibly with younger, not-so-villainous rich guy, Alex (Himansh Kohli). So it makes no sense when she quickly cedes to her drunken father’s request and accepts Vikram’s marriage proposal, especially since she knows Vikram to be a violent lech with multiple mistresses.
Predictably, marriage to Vikram is a nightmare. Alia escapes with the help of her tough-as-nails maid, Laxmi (Supriya Pathak), after Vikram demands that pregnant Alia abort the female fetus she’s carrying (checking off another item on the list of Gender Issues the movie feels compelled to address).
As Alia starts a new life in Mumbai, JIKNH‘s Social Issues checklist branches out from gender-based problems like spousal abuse and the diminished earning power of rural women to topics like elder care, the education of orphans, and vaccination. Eventually, Alia winds up in a Middle Eastern war zone, directing the medical care of wounded civilians in her capacity as a journalist. Alia is out to save everyone from everything.
While in Mumbai, Alia gives birth to Vikram’s unwanted daughter, Natasha, whose existence is only worth mentioning in passing since the girl disappears for long stretches of the film. Her presence might interrupt the budding romance between Alia and a third rich guy: American philanthropist Aditya (Arbaaz Khan). They share a lunch date presided over by an offensively stereotypical horny gay waiter whose sexuality is treated as a joke.
That joke isn’t nearly as funny as the fact that Alia’s and Aditya’s love theme is an instrumental version of “The First Noel.”
International audiences will want to give JIKNH a pass not only because it’s an unwatchable disaster with no continuity or sense of direction, but because the English subtitles frequently disappear, including during the closing lines of the film.
The last quarter of the movie takes place in America, and JIKNH does a particularly awful job of depicting the States, even by Bollywood’s low standards. The white actors are unbearable, and there are some serious geography problems. According to director Keshav Panneriy — who also edited the film and is married to the movie’s writer — the island of Manhattan is nestled within a mountain range, and its nearest airport is in Maryland.
The American portion of JIKNH does yield some of the movie’s most sophisticated dialogue. Confronting a man who harasses her and her friend on the street, Alia retorts in English: “Yes, we have a nice ass, and we are proud of it. You are just an ugly ass who makes the whole neighborhood stink!”
Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on March 3, 2017, including my most highly anticipated Hindi movie of the whole year. Commando 2 is the followup to the awesome 2013 action flick Commando, starring Vidyut Jammwal, Bollywood’s best action star. He’s joined in the sequel by Esha Gupta and Adah Sharma.
I have no idea why this is releasing internationally. If Running Shaadi earned less than $15,000 here with recognizable actors and the backing of a major studio, I don’t know why anyone thinks a romance starring Salman Khan’s brother is worth the effort. Maybe the timing’s better. We’ll see.
Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai (god, I’m sick of typing this long-ass title already) opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min.
Rangoon carries over for a second week at MovieMax, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also holds over Jolly LLB 2. MovieMax has the Hindi version of The Ghazi Attack/Ghazi as well as the English-subtitled Telugu version, which also gets a third weekend at Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
Dwaraka (Telugu w/no subtitles) at MovieMax and Seven Bridges