I should also point out a few exciting non-Hindi films recently added to Heera. Barely two months after their theatrical releases, the Bengali movie Dhananjoy and the Telugu films Arjun Reddy and Nene Raju Nene Mantri are all available for streaming on Heera. You can find my list of the hundreds of Hindi movies on Heera here.
2011 was a standout year for Bollywood in terms both experiments with storytelling style and elevating the status of women in the film industry. Here are my picks for the best movies of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
There were some good examples of familiar narratives — including the family drama Patiala House and the romantic comedy Mere Brother Ki Dulhan — but plenty of films pushed the envelope. Ra.One lead the Hindi film industry’s foray into 3D technology. Rockstar experimented with making a movie feel like an extended music video.
The most successful experiments of the year were created by Aamir Khan Productions. The company released two intriguing films — Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly — with runtimes that clocked in at under two hours long, uncharacteristically brief for Indian movies. Further, the company insisted that the films show in theaters without the standard intermission break, paving the way for future success in international markets.
Talented director Vishal Bhardwaj puts his unique stamp on this dark comedy about a black widow and her seven husbands. In the lead role, Bhardwaj cast Priyanka Chopra, an actress who’s made a point of choosing a diverse array of characters throughout her career. Chopra manages to make the serial killer Susanna calculating yet sympathetic. Better still, the movie is often quite funny as the grim tale unfolds.
7 Khoon Maaf isn’t quite like any other Hindi movie released in recent years. Look past the dance numbers and cast of Indian A-listers, and it could easily transcend the “Bollywood” label — and instead be considered a “Foreign Film” (a genre with more critical cachet here in the US).
The movie is available for streaming on Netflix, making it accessible to an audience who may have missed it in theaters early last year. If you haven’t seen 7 Khoon Maaf, I encourage you to check it out.
Patiala House gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.
These may be the only Hindi movies showing around Chicago for a while, so catch them while you can. The Cricket World Cup is underway, meaning that Indian production houses have dramatically cut back on releases until the tournament ends on April 2. Bollywood Hungama lists just three Hindi films with confirmed release dates in the whole month of March. (Update: 24 hours later, Bollywood Hungama changed their list to just one film with a release date in March. It’s gonna be a slow month.)
I am really looking forward to this weekend’s new Hindi release: director Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf (“Seven Murders Forgiven”). The film is a black comedy based on Ruskin Bond’s short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands.” It stars Priyanka Chopra in the lead role, with Bollywood heavy hitters like Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh and John Abraham playing some of Susanna’s seven doomed husbands.
A glut of Oscar-nominated movies still taking up screen space is likely what has limited 7 Khoon Maaf‘s opening to just two theaters in the Chicago area. The movie opens on Friday, February 18, 2011, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.
For Americans interested in learning about Bollywood, sports movies are a good way to start. The formula is largely the same the world over, with a few country- or culture-specific differences. As such, Patiala House feels familiar and offers a good introduction to Bollywood for newcomers.
Part of the reason for Patiala House‘s familiarity is that the plot shares much in common with 2002’s The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid. In both movies, an ordinary guy gets his first shot in the big leagues at an age when most athletes are considering retirement. In The Rookie, the game is baseball. In Patiala House, it’s cricket.
Akshay Kumar plays Gattu, the dutiful eldest son of a prominent Indian immigrant leader in the London suburb of Southall. In the 1970s, Gattu’s father, Gurtej (Rishi Kapoor), responds to violent attacks on Indians by organizing the immigrants and shunning white British culture. He turns their cul-de-sac into a Punjabi enclave within Southall.
Gurtej’s hatred of white Britishers is so intense that he forced Gattu to turn down an invitation to join the English national cricket team when the boy was 17. Now, at the age of 34, a dejected Gattu manages his father’s corner store, only playing cricket when he practices pitching by himself at a local park late at night.
An English national team scout notices Gattu’s solo practice sessions and asks him to try out for the team. Gattu doesn’t wish to anger his father again, but he’s pressured to try out by Simran (Anushka Sharma), a lovely girl with a tarnished reputation. Gattu’s younger siblings also beg him to join the team, reasoning that if loyal Gattu can stand up to their domineering father, it may give them a chance to follow their own dreams as well.
The movie offers some insight into the insidious nature of racism as it pertains to immigrants. In an effort to protect his family, Gurtej cuts himself off from the dominant culture so completely that he doesn’t notice that things have changed. The fact that he lives in a different world than that of his children takes a toll on the family.
Gurtej makes Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mother” seem like a kitten. He’s so convinced that he knows what’s best for his family — and all the Indians in Southall, really — that he’s impossible to argue with. When his children threaten to engage in any activity that seems remotely British, he threatens suicide. It’s no wonder Gattu’s siblings see him as their only hope for a future they choose for themselves.
The siblings don’t get enough airtime to become fully formed characters. In fact, I’m not 100% certain that they are all biologically related to Gattu; they just live in the same house. Screentime is dominated by Gurtej, Gattu and Simran.
Kumar gives a restrained performance as Gattu, a man so bound by duty that he sacrifices his own happiness. It’s a much stronger showing for Kumar than some of his other recent dramatic roles, as in Blue and 8×10 Tasveer.
Sharma is emerging as one of Bollywood’s brightest stars. She’s beautiful, charming and effortless. Sharma has a wonderful, subtle comic sensibility, and she handles most of the jokes in Patiala House. Her face is so expressive, and she’s able to pull off a pratfall without overdoing it.
The fact that Patiala House is somewhat predictable is actually a selling point. Sports fables should be predictable. We go to them to feel uplifted and hopeful. Patiala House does a fine job being exactly what it’s supposed to be.
The selection of Hindi films showing in the Chicago area the weekend beginning February 11, 2011, is limited to just one movie: Patiala House. The new release stars Akshay Kumar as a London shopkeeper who waits until he’s in his 30s to defy his father and pursue his dream of being a professional cricket player. The film co-stars Rishi Kapoor and Anushka Sharma.