I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with more than fifty Indian titles that are now available for streaming. Most of the new films are in Hindi (23 titles), Punjabi (22), or Tamil (7), with one new addition each in Marathi and Bengali (as well as one Urdu movie from Pakistan). The full list of titles is available in the “Newly Added” section at the top of my Netflix page. Here are all of the Bollywood films that were just added:
I always feel like I’m missing something when I watch Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies. Much of that is due to the fact that I have to rely upon English subtitles that are often poorly translated. In Omkara, the subtitles were so sanitized as to obscure the meaning of conversations made up of crass colloquialisms. In Kaminey, the characters’ speech impediments caused malaprops that surely meant more in the original language than when they were translated into English.
But there’s something else about the way Bhardwaj tells his stories that leaves me a bit muddled. He jumps right into the story, without much explanation of who the characters are or what their relationships are to one another (again, it could be a language issue). While identities and relationships are usually sorted out over time, it adds a feeling of confusion early in the movie: something that might be acceptable in a mystery film, but Bhardwaj doesn’t make mysteries.
I had the same feeling while watching The Blue Umbrella, based on a novella by Ruskin Bond. I’m sure everything was clear if you’d already read the book, but that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for enjoying a movie.
The protagonist is Biniya (Shreya Sharma), a precocious girl who lives in a picturesque mountain village. The town is a stopping point for tourists on their way through the mountains. One day, Biniya meets a group of tourists and trades her lucky necklace for a beautiful, blue Japanese-style umbrella. The blue umbrella stands out among the alpine greenery, and Biniya and her umbrella become the town’s main attraction. Tourists pose for photos with her when they stop at the local snack shop, run by an old man named Nandu (Pankaj Kapoor).
Nandu covets Biniya’s blue umbrella, as do several other adults in town. He tries to trick and bribe her into giving him the umbrella, but she isn’t interested. When the umbrella is stolen one night, Nandu is Bindiya’s prime suspect.
At her request, the cops raid Nandu’s shop, but the umbrella’s not there. Humiliated, Nandu vows to buy his own umbrella. A short while later, Nandu receives a delivery: an umbrella exactly like Biniya’s, only red. He becomes the de facto mayor of the village, though heart-broken Biniya still harbors suspicions about him.
The confusion creeps into the story around the time when the umbrella is stolen. A number of the adults shown as potential suspects have so little screen time until that point that I wasn’t sure who they were. They seem like unnecessary red herrings. The question isn’t whether Nandu stole the umbrella (it’s obvious he did) but whether Biniya can prove it.
Some of the relationships between characters are also initially unclear. Biniya lives with her mother and a man who I thought was her dad; turns out he’s her older brother. Nandu has a young assistant who is, apparently, not his son. None of these are huge problems, but they were distracting. A few lines of dialog could’ve cleared things up without disrupting the narrative flow.
The natural scenery of the village is fantastic, and Bhardwaj occasionally filters the light to give the town a surreal glow. Winter sets in after the umbrella is stolen, and the snow has an unreal blue tint, echoing Biniya’s sadness. There’s a brief, early action scene in which Biniya uses her umbrella to fend off a snake, presented as a comic book come to life.
Overall, the movie succeeds because the story is so charming, as is the girl who plays Biniya. It’s a wonderful parable about the difference between justice and vengeance, as well as the liberating power of forgiveness.
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.
Two new Hindi movies are set to open in the Chicago area this weekend. Yash Raj production Dil Bole Hadippa! (“My Heart Goes Hooray!”) stars Rani Mukerji as a woman who dresses as a man to play for an all-male cricket team, which is captained by Shahid Kapoor. It has a runtime of 2 hr. 28 min.
Wanted features Salman Khan as a mafia hitman who gets into trouble when an innocent girl falls for him. Its runtime is approximately 2 hrs. 40 min.
Note: some theater websites link to descriptions of the 2008 Angelina Jolie movie Wanted in their listings. As far as I know, that film isn’t being re-released, but you may want to verify with the theater that they are showing the Salman Khan movie of the same title.
The South Barrington 30 is carrying over Kaminey for anyone interested in a Shahid Kapoor double feature.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil film Unnaipol Oruvan at the Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove. The Telugu version of the same film is showing at the Golf Glen 5 under the title Eenadu.
Also showing at the Golf Glen 5 are the Telugu films Josh and Sankham and the Malayalam movie Daddy Cool.
One new Hindi film opens in a couple of Chicago area theaters this weekend. Sikandar is about a football-loving boy from Kashmir who becomes a pawn in a political struggle between militants and the army. The movie has a runtime of 1 hr 50 min and will play at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.
Last week’s other new film, Life Partner, earned a disappointing $49,898 in U.S. theaters, eclipsed even by Love Aaj Kal‘s third week earnings of $85,632 (granted, Life Partner was only shown on 26 screens to Love Aaj Kal‘s 102). Life Partner sticks around for a second week at the AMC South Barrington 30.
There are several other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend. The Golf Glen 5 will show the Telugu movie Anjaneyulu and the Tamil movie Kanthaswamy, which is also showing at the theater in Telugu under the name Mallana. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove continues to program Magadheera (Telugu), as well as Pokkisham (Tamil).
With every Hindi movie I watch, I expect that I’m not going understand everything. I don’t speak Hindi, so wordplay jokes go right over my head. I’ve lived in America my whole life, so references to things like Indian historical figures also go over my head. Rarely do these cultural and language differences impede my enjoyment.
But Kaminey is different. On top of a convoluted plot, Kaminey contains so many euphemisms and Indian regional references that most non-Hindi-speaking Westerners may find it more confusing than entertaining.
The plot of Kaminey (“Scoundrels”) focuses on the troubled lives of pair of identical twin brothers, both played by Shahid Kapoor. Guddu is a straight-arrow who stutters and has a cute girlfriend named Sweety (Priyanka Chopra). Charlie is a thug who works with a gang to fix horse races. He has a speech impediment which causes him to substitute the letter “f” in place of “s”.
Charlie gets his big break when he accidentally finds a huge stash of cocaine, which he intends to sell for big bucks. Meanwhile, Guddu’s life is threatened when Sweety’s brother finds out that she’s pregnant with Guddu’s child. The twins, who haven’t spoken in years, each get suspected of the other’s actions, and all hell breaks loose.
Kaminey is a great looking film. It’s dark and atmospheric; there’s nothing neon or glossy about it. And its fight scenes are gritty and believable, without being gory.
But the convoluted plot gets in the way of everything. You practically need a flow chart to keep track of who’s stolen what from whom, and who’s ultimately supposed to receive which stolen goods.
Then there are the aforementioned language differences. Charlie’s f-for-s substitutions are pretty meaningless to those who don’t understand Hindi. He occasionally utters some altered English words, like “fortcut” and “Fweety” in place of “shortcut” and “Sweety.” I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny, but I found it more distracting than amusing.
Also troublesome is the subplot of Sweety’s angry gangster brother, Chopper Bhope. He objects to Guddu marrying his sister because Guddu is originally from “U.P.” — and that won’t fly with the Maharashtra constituents Bhope needs to win over as he tries to become a politician.
This conflict doesn’t mean much to the average American, who probably doesn’t know that U.P. refers to Uttar Pradesh, which, as with Maharashtra, is an Indian state. (My fellow Midwesterners need not worry that Bhope holds anything against residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) It’s not the movie’s fault that Americans are bad with world geography, but there were points during the film when I tuned out, resolving to visit Wikipedia when I got home, to look up references I didn’t get.
Because of these problems, it’s hard for me to say whether Kaminey is actually a good movie. It didn’t work for me, but it might be great if you understand Hindi and have a better handle on geography than I do. The best endorsement I can give is that I find director Vishal Bhardwaj’s visual style is interesting enough that I’m going to rent some of his prior movies.
The big Hindi film opening in American theaters on Friday, August 14, 2009, is Kaminey (“Scoundrels”), a dark comedy about a pair of feuding identical twins who get into trouble. Shahid Kapoor plays both twins, one of whom has a lisp while the other stutters. Priyanka Chopra plays the stutterer’s girlfriend.