I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with eight new additions to the catalog. Finally, Lagaan — the first Bollywood movie I ever saw — is available for streaming, along with several other movies produced by Aamir Khan: Delhi Belly, Dhobi Ghat, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, and Peepli Live. I love Delhi Belly; Dhobi Ghat is great; and Peepli Live is worth checking out, too. Other new additions include Papa the Great and the Mithun Chakraborthy movies Jaal and Shikari. For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check Instant Watcher.
On January 19, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist of nine films vying to be the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 83rd Academy Awards. India’s submission, Peepli Live, didn’t make the list and is out of the running for the Oscar.
The recent comedy Tees Maar Khan jokingly referenced the perception that movies about poor Indians are guaranteed Oscar winners. Considering the subject matter of awards show success Slumdog Millionaire and India’s most recent Best Foreign Language Film nominee, 2001’s Lagaan, there’s a degree of truth to that belief. Unfortunately, that belief seemed to guide the decision to submit Peepli Live, even though it’s nowhere near Lagaan in terms of quality.
Peepli Live suffers from the same structural flaw as Taare Zameen Par, the Film Federation of India‘s unsuccessful submission to the 81st Academy Awards. Both movies — creations of Aamir Khan Productions — feature a main character in the first half of the movie who’s pushed out of the spotlight in the second half of the film.
The lead character in both films is an underdog: a poor farmer in Peepli Live and a dyslexic child in Taare Zameen Par. The first half of each movie establishes the dire circumstances that surround the very likable hero.
In the second half of each movie, both heroes largely disappear. The farmer wanders around in the background while TV news outlets fight over a story and an aspiring journalist tries to get a break. The dyslexic child cries in his room while his art teacher fights on his student’s behalf.
In both cases, the hero’s story arc is not resolved through his own actions, but through the actions of others. The hero only retakes an active role in his destiny at the very end of the film.
What’s disappointing about the Film Federation of India’s selection of an “issue” picture like Peepli Live is that it prioritizes subject matter over craft. There were a number of other Hindi movies more worthy of submission. The pool widens considerably when Indian movies of all languages are considered.
Movies eligible for selection needed to be released between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2010 and complete a seven-day run in theaters. The primary language spoken in the film must not be English. The language rule likely eliminated The Japanese Wife from consideration. The same rule may doom Dhobi Ghat‘s chance for submission to the 84th Academy Awards.
Better candidates for nomination would’ve been Raavan, Ishqiya or the 2011 Star Screen Best Film award winner: Udaan. My personal choice would’ve been Road, Movie, which was the best movie I saw last year — Indian or American.
Salman Khan’s latest action flick, Dabanng, is the only new Hindi movie opening in the Chicago area the weekend beginning Friday, September 10, 2010. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min., and it will open at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.
We Are Family, which earned $366,354 in U.S. theaters over the long holiday weekend, continues for a second week at all three of the theaters listed above. The South Barrington 30 is also carrying over Peepli Live, which has earned $754,837 during its 4-week run.
This weekend’s new Hindi release is a big one: We Are Family — a remake of the 1998 Hollywood film Stepmom — starring Kajol, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. Because of the familiar plot and talented cast, this is probably a good movie for Bollywood newbies.
In the Chicago area, We Are Family opens on Friday, September 3, 2010 at the AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. Click here for nationwide theater information. The movie has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 55 min.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include Penn Pattanam (Malayalam) and Thakita Thakita (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.
Two new Hindi movies are set to open in the Chicago area this weekend, albeit in very limited release. John Abraham plays a compulsive gambler who turns his life around in Aashayein, which opens on Friday, August 27, 2010 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.
The other Hindi movie making its international debut on Friday is Soch Lo. The drama about a man who wakes up in the desert near death and with no memory will play at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.
Lafangey Parindey sticks around for a second week at the Golf Glen 5, while Peepli Live gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.
Other Indian movies showing around Chicago this weekend include Don Seenu (Telugu), Happy Happyga (Telugu) and Sakudumbam Shyamala (Malayalam). Sathyam Cinemas is also carrying Don Seenu, as well as Thillalangadi (Tamil).
Only one new Hindi movie opens in Chicago area theaters this weekend. Lafangey Parindey opens on Friday, August 20, 2010 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, one of just nine theaters in the United States carrying the film. This is unusual, as movies produced by Yash Raj Films normally get a wide release in America. Perhaps theater owners were unimpressed by the movie’s strange plot: a gritty love story between a street fighter (Neil Nitin Mukesh) and a blind, roller-skating dancer (Deepika Padukone).
The only other Hindi movie showing in Chicago area theaters this weekend is Peepli Live, which earned an impressive $350,054 from just 64 screens in the U.S. its first week. Peepli Live continues its run at the Golf Glen 5, AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.
As for other Indian movies playing this weekend, the Telugu flick Don Seenu is showing at both the Golf Glen 5 and Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove. The Golf Glen 5 is also carrying Happy Happyga (Telugu), while Sathyam Cinemas has Naan Mahan Alla (Tamil).
In the United States, India’s image is that of an increasingly modern nation on the path to prosperity. It supports a glamorous movie industry. A well-educated, English-speaking workforce makes India an attractive place for American companies to outsource customer service jobs. South Asians living in the States are, on average, one of the most financially successful demographic groups.
With so many positive examples, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a large portion of Indians still live in poverty. Slumdog Millionaire exposed Americans to the plight of the poor in large cities, but some of India’s poorest citizens live in rural areas that tourists never see and that get little news coverage.
Peepli Live — a movie produced by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan — presents international audiences with a vivid depiction of rural life. The farmers in the movie live in a kind of destitution unimaginable in America. Homes with no running water or electricity, food cooked over fires fueled by cow dung, not even a private place to relieve oneself.
Such conditions prompt Peepli Live‘s lead characters, brothers Bhudia (Raghubir Yadav) and Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), to consider drastic measures. A local money-lender refuses to give them a loan but recommends a government program for impoverished farmers. If a farmer commits suicide, the government allegedly will pay his family $2000 — enough money for Bhudia and Natha to pay back the bank loan they took out to buy seeds and fertilizer from the large, American agricultural firm, “Sonmanto.”
Elder brother Bhudia initiates a conversation in which both he and Natha politely offer to kill themselves for the sake of the family, which includes their ancient mother and Natha’s wife and three kids. The conversation ends when Bhudia calls Natha’s bluff (“I’ll kill myself.” “No, I’ll kill myself.” “Okay, you kill yourself!”). While it makes no sense for Natha to kill himself — he’s the one with the wife and kids, after all — he’s reluctant to challenge his big brother.
A freelance reporter overhears Natha speaking about his planned suicide and prints a story in the local newspaper. The story catches the eye of a large TV news channel. Reluctant to miss out on the story, dozens of news crews descend on Natha’s house, spawning a figurative (and, eventually, literal) circus.
Local politicians try to turn Natha’s suicide to their advantage. The politicians in power are desperate to change Natha’s mind so that they look like they care about poor farmers. Their opponents want Natha to kill himself. No one cares that Natha doesn’t actually want to die.
When the plot focuses on the farmers, Peepli Live is a great movie. There’s a hilarious enmity between Natha’s mother and his wife, Dhaniya (Shalini Vatsa), who runs the household under a barrage of vulgar insults from her mother-in-law. Though by no means a tender woman, she doesn’t want her husband to die. Yet their situation is so dire, there don’t seem to be many alternatives.
The movie slows down shortly after the news vans roll in to town. The newscasters aren’t nearly as compelling as the farmers, but they dominate screentime in the second half of the movie. Bhudia seems to disappear altogether, and his lippy mother is relegated to lying silently on her cot.
Part of the point of the movie is the disconnect between urban and rural life: the way big city broadcasters promote sensational stories about farmers’ struggles for only as long as the stories earn ratings and without offering a solution to the problem. By shifting the focus from Natha and his family and onto the news crews covering them, Peepli Live is guilty of the same surface treatment of the issue that it’s criticizing.
The movie ends with a card that explains that, from 1991-2001, eight million farmers in India quit farming. And? Is that a bad thing, given how hard it is to make a living in agriculture? If so, what should the government do about it? Like the news channels it criticizes, Peepli Live entertains and asks questions, but doesn’t offer any solutions.
This weekend’s new Hindi release is the black comedy, Peepli Live. Produced by Aamir Khan, Peepli Live satirizes the media’s response to the plight of poor farmers, some of whom resort to suicide to escape debt. The movie got a good response at a number of film festivals, including Sundance.
Peepli Live, which has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 46 min., opens in the Chicago area on Friday, August 13, 2010 in four theaters:
- AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago
- Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles
- AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington
- Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville
Other Hindi movies carrying over in theaters include Aisha at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30 and Tere Bin Laden at the Golf Glen 5.
In addition to those current films, this week the Golf Glen 5 is featuring special showings of older Bollywood movies. The terrific lineup includes:
- Lage Raho Munaa Bhai (Thursday and Sunday)
- Rang De Basanti (Saturday)
- 3 Idiots (Saturday)
- Chak De India (Sunday)
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil movie Thillalangadi at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove and Telugu flick Don Seenu at the Golf Glen 5, which features a special showing of the 1996 Tamil film Indian on Wednesday night.
Superstar actor — and up-and-coming director — Aamir Khan is reaching out to American companies in the hopes of forming new marketing relationships. Specifically, Khan wants to start marketing his movies in the U.S. as “art” films, similar to the way other foreign-language films are marketed.
Currently, Hindi movies are dropped into theaters with little promotion or fanfare. Indian production houses rarely screen their movies in advance for critics, so few get reviewed for newspapers. Fans in the U.S. must seek out information on upcoming releases themselves.
Without any promotion, mainstream American filmgoers likely scan past the names of Hindi movies on the theater marquee. At times, theaters may unintentionally steer people — especially those not obviously of Indian descent — away from Hindi movies. On several occasions, I’ve attempted to buy a ticket to a Hindi movie only to have the cashier say, “That’s a Bollywood movie,” or “You know that has subtitles, right?”
The shift to marketing at least some Hindi films like other foreign films is long overdue. U.S. theaters lump all Hindi movies together under the “Bollywood” label, evoking images of 3-hour epics full of romance, drama and action punctuated by flashy dance numbers.
Of course, those types of movies don’t make up the whole of Hindi cinema, even if they remain some of the most profitable. Just as the Indian film industry is shifting to producing more genre-specific films and away from all-encompassing epics, the industry is also producing films that American distributors would consider art movies if they were produced in other countries.
Some Indian directors, like Mira Nair, already have their films marketed in this way. But many of these Indian art movies, such as Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, are primarily Canadian productions.
Khan is a natural choice to forge this new marketing path in America. His recent efforts behind the camera have focused on smaller stories about specific issues, rather than mainstream blockbusters. Taare Zameen Par, which Khan directed in 2007, is about a boy with dyslexia. Peepli Live, which opens on August and is produced by Khan, is a black comedy about destitute farmers driven to suicide.
If Khan is successful, it could pave the way for other Indian directors to reach a much larger American audience. There are a few directors in particular whose films deserve this kind of treatment.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies are tailor-made for American fans of arthouse cinema. Westerners could consider Bhardwaj an Indian Kenneth Branagh. He’s already adapted two of Shakespeare’s plays into modern Indian stories — Maqbool and Omkara (MacBeth and Othello, respectively) — and he’s currently adapting a novel by Ruskin Bond for the big screen.
The criminal underworld of Uttar Pradesh provides the perfect setting for Bhardwaj’s updated classics. And since he broke into the industry as a composer, his have excellent soundtracks.
Bhardwaj’s frequent collaborator, Abhishek Chaubey, recently directed his first film, the atmospheric and charming Ishqiya. I can only assume that Chaubey’s future efforts will also deserve the arthouse promotional treatment.
Another obvious choice is director Mani Ratnam. His films are known for heartbreaking stories and stunning visuals. In keeping with tradition, he includes elaborate dance numbers in many of his movies, which add a surreal element.
Though it may take extra effort on the part of American distributors to determine which Indian movies are art versus simple popcorn flicks, it’s past time to stop grouping all Hindi movies under the Bollywood umbrella.
- Aamir Khan Seeking Foreign Distributors For Upcoming Films (The Bollywood Ticket)
- My Taare Zameen Par review
- My Omkara review
- My Ishqiya review
- Peepli Live at Wikipedia