Tag Archives: Ra.One

The Crisis of Faith in A Flying Jatt

There are a lot of interesting moral lessons under the glossy, colorful surface of A Flying Jatt. One aspect that has stuck with me since watching the fun superhero movie is how the film portrays the main character’s struggle with his religious faith.

The religiosity of characters is underplayed in Hollywood films in general, but it’s especially absent from the backstories of Hollywood superheroes. Their powers come from science (Spider-man) or space (Superman) or magic (Doctor Strange). Rarely are their powers divine in origin, with perhaps the exception of Thor.

In contrast, all of India’s celluloid superheroes — few as they are — have ties to the divine (I confess, I don’t remember Drona‘s origin story). Krrish‘s powers came from an alien, but the hero’s name is a derivation of Krishna. The villain in Ra.One is a creation of science (as is the hero, G.One), but his name is a play on the demon Ravana. Their stories are explicitly related to Hinduism.

A Flying Jatt is even more overtly religious than the Krrish films or Ra.One in that the hero’s powers are divine in origin. When threatened by an evil industrialist (played by Kay Kay Menon, also the villain in Drona) who wants to tear down a tree that bears a Sikh Khanda symbol, Aman (Tiger Shroff) prays to the tree for help. In a subsequent fight with the industrialist’s goon (played by Nathan Jones), Aman is slammed against the tree. A light shines, and the Khanda symbol is branded onto Aman’s flesh. Then lightning strikes, imbuing Aman with superpowers and launching his foe far enough away to give Aman time to master his new abilities before a climactic showdown.

What’s significant about Aman’s story arc is that, before the miracle at the tree, Aman doesn’t identify as religious (to the chagrin of his pious mother). He keeps his hair short and his face shaved, and he refuses to wear a turban. He eschews all the outward signs of his family’s Sikh faith.

When the industrialist first comes calling, the families who live in Aman’s neighborhood head to the tree to pray. Fearful Aman would rather sell the land — tree and all — to avoid a fight. He only prays at the tree as a last resort, when he’s out of ideas as to how to protect himself and his mother.

Even when Aman finally understands what has happened to him, he still hesitates to embrace his faith. His mother begs him to wear the turban that belonged to his father, himself a brave, pious man. Aman refuses, saying that he will only wear it when he feels that he can do so whole-heartedly. His skills and resolve are tested along with his faith, and only before the final battle does he choose to wear his father’s turban and the beginnings of a beard.

Aman’s doubt is important because rarely do we see any Hindi film characters at all questioning their belief in the divine. Religion is a part of virtually every Hindi film, especially since the lines separating culture and religion in India are blurry to non-existent. A character’s faith gives him context, defining his relationships to other characters and his place in the community. Thus, it’s a foregone conclusion that most characters in Hindi films are religious.

In a terrific article about Indian superheroes, Sankhayan Ghosh paraphrases mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, who believes that “there is no place for angst” in the Indian idea of heroism. To have a Bollywood character with superpowers doubt not only himself but his belief in God is a big deal.

The thing about faith in the divine is that it requires belief in the absence of physical proof (unless you are Paresh Rawal’s character in OMG: Oh My God, who meets God in person). But even with the physical proof of a Khanda branded on his back and an array of superpowers at his disposal, Aman still hesitates. Like everyone else, his belief has to generate from within.

It’s a thoughtful message, and it relates to another theme in A Flying Jatt. Aman’s brother (played by Gaurav Pandey) tells Aman that the real heroes are those who fight injustice without the aid of superpowers. Aman’s crisis of faith extends that idea further, letting the audience know that it’s okay for normal people to have their doubts about God. If a guy who has been literally touched by the divine can be unsure, how much harder must it be for those with no concrete proof?

Too often, Bollywood heroes are shown as being infallible and above moral judgment. Ajay Devgn’s Bajirao Singham is allowed to break the rules of a democracy because he’s supposedly an instrument of divine justice — a mortal man who can fix all of society’s problems in whatever way he sees fit, no matter the collateral damage (this was especially a problem in Singham Returns). A Flying Jatt‘s Aman isn’t like that. He’s a protector, not an executioner. It’s refreshing to see a relatable Bollywood hero who appeals to the better angels of our nature rather than our base thirst for vengeance.

Bollywood Box Office: May 2-4

With no new Hindi movies opening in the U.S. or Canada on Friday, May 2, 2014, old favorites continued to pull in crowds at the North American box office. The Lunchbox — now in its tenth week — earned $255,736 from 141 screens ($1,814 average), bringing its total earnings to $2,968,497 so far.

2 States also held up well in its third week. It earned $167,377 from ninety-one screens ($1,839 average) to bring its total North American earnings to $1,978,594.

With The Lunchbox set to pass $3 million in North American earnings this week and 2 States about to the clear the $2 million mark, it’s worth noting the significance of these achievements. Both movies are romantic dramas, as opposed to action-packed spectacles. Neither film features A-list superstars (industry and audience respect for Irrfan Khan notwithstanding).

A look at the last five years of box office receipts reveals similarities among the sixteen Hindi films that managed to earn more than $2 million in North America during that period (five in 2013, five in 2012, two in 2011, one in 2010, and two in 2009). Four films are action sequels: Dhoom 3, Krrish 3, Dabangg 2, and Don 2. A small list of actors show up in multiple movies on the list:

[Somebody in Bollywood needs to cash in by bringing back Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan for Ra.Two, featuring Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif as the villains.]

The Lunchbox continues to earn big, thanks to its partnership with a Hollywood distributor — Sony Pictures Classics — which has dramatically expanded its potential audience compared to a typical Hindi film. Though movie adaptations of popular books are far rarer in India than in Hollywood, the success of 2 States should start to change that.

The only other Hindi movie showing in the U.S. the weekend of May 2-4 was Queen. Now in its ninth week, it earned $190 from one theater, bringing its total earnings to $1,417,405.

Source: Bollywood Hungama (figures supplied by Rentrak)

Best Bollywood Movies of 2011

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.

2011 was a tremendous year for women working in the Hindi film industry. Director Zoya Akhtar struck box office gold with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Actresses Vidya Balan and Kalki Koechlin played gritty, compelling main characters in The Dirty Picture and That Girl in Yellow Boots, respectively.

My favorite movie of the year also features a strong, complex woman as the lead character, in a story surprisingly macabre for Bollywood.

The Best Bollywood Movie of 2011 is 7 Khoon Maaf.

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.

Previous Best Movies Lists

In Theaters November 18, 2011

While no new Hindi movies will open in the Chicago area the weekend beginning Friday, November 18, there are still a couple of entertaining Bollywood flicks in theaters worth checking out.

Last weekend’s new release, Rockstar, carries over at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It earned $612,235 in its opening weekend in U.S. theaters.

Ra.One, which has earned $2,443,659 in three weeks in U.S. theaters, carries over in 3D and 2D at the South Barrington 30.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Bezawada (Telugu), Hero Hitler in Love (Punjabi), Oh My Friend (Telugu), Sri Rama Rajyam (Telugu) and Vithagan (Tamil).

Opening November 11: Rockstar

The new Hindi release hitting Chicago area theaters this weekend is Rockstar, starring Ranbir Kapoor as an aspiring musician who courts heartbreak in an effort to further his art.

Rockstar opens on Friday, November 11, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min.

All three theaters are also carrying over the 3D superhero flick Ra.One, which earned $2,229,372 in its first two weekends in U.S. theaters.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu films Dookudu, It’s My Love Story, Mogudu and Oh My Friend.

In Theaters November 4, 2011

After posting worldwide collections of $35 million in its first week, it’s no surprise that Ra.One continues to dominate screenspace the weekend beginning Friday, November 4, 2011. The next new Bollywood movie likely to open in Chicago area theaters is Rockstar on November 11.

Ra.One carries over in 3D and 2D at the AMC Loews 600 North Michigan 9 and AMC Ford City 14 in Chicago, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. The Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles is carrying the film in 2D only. The 2D version of Ra.One showing at the Cantera isn’t subtitled, so check with your local theater before buying tickets.

The Tamil sci-fi thriller 7aum Arivu expands its reach this week, opening at the South Barrington 30 on Friday. The Golf Glen 5 carries over the original Tamil version as well as the Telugu-dubbed version, 7th Sense, for a second week.

Other Indian films showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Snehaveedu (Malayalam) and Velayudham (Tamil).

Movie Review: Ra.One (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

After heavily promoting the most expensive movie in Indian cinematic history, the makers of Ra.One created high expectations for their film. Even if it’s not the instant classic it aspired to be, Ra.One is exactly what it should be: a fun action flick with some great special effects.

The film stars Shahrukh Khan as a nerdy programmer named Shekhar. He lives in London with his wife, Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), and their son, Prateek (Armaan Verma), a preteen fascinated by the dark side. In order to improve his image in his son’s eyes, goody-two-shoes Shekhar creates a video game in which the villain is all but indestructible.

The virtual villain, Ra.One — whose name is a play on Raavan, the demon in the Ramayana — is programmed with an artificial intelligence that takes umbrage at being beaten by young Prateek, who plays under the gamer handle “Lucifer.” Ra.One accesses a prototype technology created by Shekhar’s company that imbues holograms with physical substance, allowing Ra.One to materialize in the real world and hunt Lucifer.

When Prateek figures out what has happened, he realizes his only hope is to make the game’s hero, G.One (a play on the Hindi word for “life”), corporeal as well. G.One looks exactly like Shekhar, only buffer and cooler. Will G.One be able to protect Prateek from the world’s ultimate villain?

$40 million — a monstrous budget for a Hindi movie — pales next to the hundreds of millions spent on Hollywood action films. But director Anubhav Sinha uses his resources wisely and gets great results. A chase through the streets of London is heart-stopping, as is a thrilling showdown between Ra.One and G.One in a junkyard.

It’s only when Sinha relies too much on computer-generated images do the limits of the budget show. G.One fights a gang of thugs with a CGI soccer ball that looks phony and insubstantial.

3-D is deployed in a satisfying way throughout, adding depth to scenes rather than projecting images out into the audience. It enhances the movie’s pleasing aesthetic. An early dream sequence and the final battle are stunning, with a high-contrast style reminiscent of director Tarsem Singh.

The film’s dance numbers are well-executed and full of energy. Khan and Kapoor genuinely look like they enjoy dancing together; they have a nice rapport off the dance floor as well. Shahana Goswami and Tom Wu round out the likeable cast of heroes as Shekhar’s coworkers, Jenny and Akashi.

At times, the movie’s ultimate message — that one should always, as my mom says, “do good and avoid evil” — gets muddled. Prateek isn’t just a moody preteen; he’s also somewhat of a bully, making jokes at the expense of an overweight classmate. I’m not sure he’d be so quick join the good guys if his life weren’t in danger, and Verma’s bland performance didn’t convince me otherwise.

Prateek’s not the only one with a nasty streak. Jokes that depict gays as uncontrollable sex addicts and make fun of Akashi for being Chinese (everyone calls him “Jackie Chan”) are, if not mean-spirited, then ill-considered.

Based on the number of prints distributed internationally and the inclusion of American rapper Akon on the soundtrack, the makers of Ra.One clearly hoped to expand the reach of the film beyond India. By that metric, were they successfully in creating a globally appealing action film?

Almost. Ra.One is undoubtedly entertaining, visually appealing and easy to understand for viewers who must rely on subtitles. But, at 155 minutes, it’s just too long. It’s hard to sustain an appropriate level of tension for that much time, and Ra.One falters during a dull 25-minute-long section in the middle in which nothing much happens besides the newly corporeal G.One clumsily navigating his surroundings.

Eliminate that 25-minute interlude and some of the insider Indian movie references, and Ra.One becomes a taut, 2-hour thriller with universal appeal. In that format, there’s no reason why it — or future Indian event films — can’t compete with East Asian martial arts flicks for fans of action films made outside of Hollywood.


Opening October 26: RA.One

As far as Bollywood movies are concerned, there’s only one game in town this week: RA.One. Shahrukh Khan’s 3D superhero epic — the most expensive Indian movie yet, with a price tag of nearly US$40 million — opens in the Chicago area on October 26, 2011.

RA.One opens on Wednesday in both 2D and 3D at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. If you just can’t wait to see it, the South Barrington 30 is holding a midnight showing late Tuesday night.

The Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles doesn’t specify if it will carry the 3D version of RA.One, but it will be showing the film in its original Hindi, plus versions dubbed into Tamil and Telugu, all starting on Wednesday as well. The AMC Ford City 14 and AMC Loews 600 North Michigan 9 — both in Chicago — are carrying the 2D version of RA.One, which has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 36 min. Click here for a partial list of U.S. theaters showing RA.One, or check Now Running for showtimes by state.

If you’re not interested in RA.One, the Golf Glen 5 is also carrying, as of Wednesday, Velayutham (Tamil), 7aum Arivu (Tamil), and the latter’s Telugu-dubbed version, The 7th Sense.

In Theaters October 21, 2011

Bollywood seems to be taking the weekend off in anticipation of the release of Shahrukh Khan’s massive 3D superhero epic Ra.One next Wednesday. Rascals is the only Hindi movie showing in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning Friday, October 21. The comedy — which has earned $261,156 in U.S. theaters so far — carries over at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu films Dookudu, Oosaravelli and Pillai Zamindar and the Malayalam movie Indian Rupee (though the Golf Glen 5’s print may be dubbed in English).