Director Vishal Bhardwaj is a master world-builder, designing rich spaces for his characters to inhabit and filling them with evocative music of his own creation. Pataakha (“Firecracker“) is the latest example of Bhardwaj’s formidable skill.
Based on the short story Do Behnein (“Two Sisters“) by Charan Singh Pathik, Pataakha‘s plot is simple. Badki (Radhika Madan) and her younger sister Chhutki (Sanya Malhotra) are constantly at war, each blaming the other for her sorry lot in life. But when they set out to achieve their dreams independently, they discover they need each other more than they thought.
The tale feels like a familiar parable, something one might expect to find in a storybook for children, were it not for all the swearing and fighting. Badki and Chhutki are their small Rajasthani town’s source of entertainment, their curse-filled brawls drawing enthusiastic crowds. Every fight ends with the girls’ father, Bechara Bapu (Vijay Raaz), dragging his daughters home — but not before getting battered in the melee himself.
Adding to Pataakha‘s folkloric feeling is the presence of a trickster character, an itinerant jack-of-all trades named Dipper (Sunil Grover), whose joy in life is instigating fights between the sisters. He snitches on them to each other, and he invents conflict when things are too peaceful. When Badki and Chhutki get boyfriends — Jagan (Namit Das) and Vishnu (Abhishek Duhan), respectively — it gives Dipper more fuel to stoke the fires of war.
Bhardwaj is clearly fond of both the character of Dipper and the actor who plays him. This may be more perception than reality, but it’s almost like Grover’s face is in sharper focus than the other actors’ — and it certainly seems like he gets more closeups. Whether that’s true or not, my attention always gravitated toward Dipper, just to see what he was going to do or how he would react, no matter what other chaos was happening on screen.
For so much attention to be given to a secondary character — as delightful as he is — hints at Pataakha‘s biggest problem: there isn’t enough material to warrant a full-length feature film. Trimming the runtime by thirty minutes would’ve been a start, but Pataakha‘s story would feel most at home as part of a collection of short stories.
It’s by the strength of Bhardwaj’s world-building and the performances he gets from his actors that Pataakha is as enjoyable as it is. Raaz is charming as the girls’ flawed father, who lectures them on the dangers of smoking by showing them the warnings on a half-empty packet of cigarettes he pulls from his own pocket. Madan and Malhotra give it their all in what must have been a fun but exhausting shoot, spending most of their screentime fighting, screaming, and crying as they do. Das and Duhan are solid in their supporting roles.
The movie’s showstopping item number, “Hello Hello,” is another highlight. Written by Bhardwaj and sung by his wife, Rekha, the sexy song is brought to life onscreen by the incomparable Malaika Arora. Unlike many lesser item numbers, cinematographer Ranjan Palit keeps his camera a respectful distance from Arora, without zooming in on particular body parts. This is not just a matter of decency but an acknowledgement that, when Arora dances, you need to see her from head to toe.
The weekend’s two new Hindi releases met very different fates at the North American box office, despite opening on approximately the same number of screens. From October 5-7, 2018, the romance Loveyatri earned $73,656 from 50 theaters ($1,473 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. During the same weekend, the thriller Andhadhun earned $251,942 from 54 theaters ($4,666 average). 143 Cinema reports even higher earnings for Andhadhun of $278,464, making for a per-screen average of $5,157. In terms of opening weekend per-screen average, Andhadhun ranks in 6th place for the year, with Loveyatri in 32nd place out of 45 Bollywood films released in North America.
Sui Dhaaga: Made in India held up well in its second weekend of release, retaining 37% of its opening weekend business. It earned $217,816 from 132 theaters ($1,650 average), bringing its North American total to $999,148. Pataakha‘s woes compounded as it lost 98% of its opening weekend business, with a second weekend total of $713 ($143 average). That’s the year’s worst holdover percentage among the 42 Bollywood movies that scored a second weekend here.
Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:
Stree: Week 6; $10,717 from seven theaters; $1,531 average; $839,668 total
Batti Gul Meter Chalu: Week 3; $1,600 from three theaters; $533 average; $243,216 total
The South Barrington 24 holds onto Stree and Batti Gul Meter Chalu, while MovieMax allots Pataakha two showings over the weekend.
On Thursday, October 11, director Vishal Bhardwaj will be in Chicago for a screening and panel discussion of his brilliant Hamlet adaptation Haider as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. The screening starts at 4:30 p.m., and tickets are just $8.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:
Sui Dhaaga: Made in India had the eighth-best opening weekend for a Hindi film in North America this year. From September 28-30, 2018, the drama earned $582,006 from 193 theaters ($3,016 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Given Sui Dhaaga‘s high theater count, one might’ve predicted an even higher total, but this was an especially competitive weekend for Indian films in North America, with new Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu titles posting big numbers as well.
The weekend’s other new Hindi release — Pataakha — buckled under the pressure, earning $36,483 from 54 theaters ($676 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj’s previous North American box office low was 7 Khoon Maaf, which earned $164,153 from 65 theaters ($2,525 average) in its opening weekend in 2011. Perhaps the fact that Pataakha opened on fewer screens than 7 Khoon Maaf did seven years ago indicates tempered expectations for the new release on the part of the distributors.
As has been the case for more than a month, the most interesting story from the weekend is still Stree. In its fifth weekend of release, it earned $26,113 from 15 theaters ($1,741) — just $540 less than Batti Gul Meter Chalu did in its second weekend ($26,653 from 40 theaters; $666 average)! Stree beat Manmarziyaan, which took in $18,938 from 19 theaters ($997 average) in its third weekend of release. Total earnings for all three films are as follows: Stree = $819,457; Manmarziyaan = $556,312; Batti Gul Meter Chalu = $235,526.
Two intriguing new Hindi movies open in Chicago area theaters on September 28, 2018. The Yash Raj Films comedy-drama Sui Dhaaga: Made in India stars Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan and is directed by Dum Laga Ke Haisha‘s Sharat Katariya.
Also new on Friday is Haider director Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha (“Firecracker“), starring Dangal‘s Sanya Malhotra and debutant Radhika Madan as a pair of feuding sisters.
Pataakha opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera 17. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 14 min.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu gets a second week at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, and Cantera 17. The South Barrington 24 and Cantera 17 both hold onto Manmarziyaan, while Stree gets a fifth week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend: