The 2012 Telugu movie Eega is now available for streaming on Netflix in its Hindi-dubbed form, Makkhi. I have really wanted to see this revenge movie about a man reincarnated as a housefly. Reviewer Josh Hurtado — who has raved about Eega/Makkhi since its release — notes that version of the film on Netflix bears a runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.: shorter than the original release (2 hrs. 27 min.) but longer than the international version (1 hr. 47 min.).
Also new on Netflix is 2010’s Raavan, which I thought was gorgeous. It features my absolute favorite A.R. Rahman song, “Jaare Ud Jaare,” which was added to the film too late to be included on the soundtrack album. The only version of it that I could find is on YouTube, but the video spoils the end of the movie, so don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the film.
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.
After reviewing my lists of the best Hindi movies for 2008 and 2009, I’m convinced that 2010 was Bollywood’s best year among the three. Of the approximately fifty Hindi movies I reviewed this year, here are my picks for the top films of the year. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
Some movies are worth seeing just for the stunning visuals, like the updated epic Raavan — which takes place primarily outdoors amid stunning natural beauty — and Guzaarish, which paints a personal struggle in super-saturated blues.
Another romance, The Japanese Wife, deserves an honorable mention. It tells the story of two pen pals — one a Japanese woman and the other a man from Bengal — who fall in love through letters written in beginner’s English. Because it’s not in Hindi, it’s not in the running for best Bollywood movie, but I heartily recommend it.
The two best Hindi movies of 2010 defy easy classification. Part drama, part comedy, part romance and part adventure, they represent cinematic storytelling at its most complete. Both movies are less than two-hours long, emphasizing that it’s the quality of the story, not the length of its runtime, that makes a fulfilling cinematic experience.
Ishqiya features memorable performances by Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah as a widow and a pair of petty thieves trying to pull off a heist. The story is simple but compelling, and the performances make it shine. It’s a remarkable effort from debutant director Abhishek Chaubey.
The movie that has stuck with me more than any other is Road, Movie. After playing at international festivals in 2009, it opened in limited release in the U.S. in May of 2010. I caught it during its short run on On Demand. It tells the story of a city guy who drives a dilapidated truck across the desert, meeting strange companions along the way and learning the secret history of the truck: it was once a mobile movie theater.
Road, Movie is so charming and engaging that it briefly made me believe that I could make a career of driving a truck though rural India, projecting old movies onto the sides of buildings for grateful villagers (never mind that there are few things in the world I’m less qualified to do, and the need for the service is shrinking). The film embodies the escapism that cinema provides and inspires us to dream improbable dreams.
Road, Movie isn’t the easiest film to find in the U.S. — it’s not yet available on Netflix or Amazon (though my local public library has three copies) — so seize the chance to watch it when you can. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
Two new Hindi movies debut in the Chicago area this weekend, though in a limited number of theaters. Red Alert: The War Within stars Sunil Shetty as a farmer driven by poverty to work for a militant communist organization. It opens at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles on Friday, July 7.
The second new release is Milenge Milenge, a romantic comedy starring Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor that’s been in production since 2004. It opens at the Golf Glen 5 and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. Milenge Milenge has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 30 min.
Other Indian movies showing near Chicago include the Rain Man remake Alexander The Great (Malayalam) and Bheemili Kabaddi Jatu (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5 and Raavanan (Tamil) and Vedam (Telugu) at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.
The Hindi movie I Hate Luv Storys opens in the Chicago area on Wednesday, June 30, even though the film’s website lists its release date as July 2. I’m not sure why we get it two days early in the U.S., but I’m not complaining. The romantic comedy stars Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor as an unlikely couple who find love on a movie set.
After posting respectable opening weekend earnings of $480,703 in the United States, Raavan sticks around for a second week in Chicago area theaters. I wonder if the simultaneous opening of Tamil and Telugu versions of Raavan hurt attendance for the Hindi version.
There are no new Hindi movies opening the weekend starting Friday, June 25, 2010. Political drama Raajneeti gets another week at the Pipers Alley 4, South Barrington 30 and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville.
Other Indian movies showing around Chicago this weekend include the Tamil and Telugu versions of Raavan — Raavanan and Villain — at the Golf Glen 5, which is also showing Pappu (Telugu) and Mummy & Me (Malayalam). Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove is also showing Raavanan.
Filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s latest, Raavan, is his modern retelling of an ancient Indian epic, The Ramayana. By shifting the focus away from the poem’s hero and onto the villain and his victim, Ratnam successfully updates the classic story.
In a nutshell, the Ramayana (at least the part Raavan is about) tells of the kidnapping of Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, by the demon king Ravana. With the help of Hanuman, the monkey-god, Rama rescues Sita.
The story’s denouement has always troubled me. After the rescue, Rama asks Sita to prove her purity by stepping in to a sacred fire, since she had spent a long time with Ravana as his captive. She steps out unharmed, thus proving that she hasn’t been molested (and therefore unfaithful) during her imprisonment.
The couple rules happily until unfounded rumors about Sita’s purity crop up again. Rama banishes his pregnant wife to the forest. Years later, Sita arranges for Rama to meet his twin sons. After they win his approval, Sita asks the ground to swallow her up, and she disappears.
Perhaps if I’d grown up with the Ramayana as my source for spiritual parables, I might not find the ending of the story so sad for poor Sita. Due to her unflinching loyalty, she’s considered the pinnacle of wifely virtue. I’m happy to be an imperfect wife if it means not being burned, banished and buried alive. But Sita gets her say in Raavan.
The movie begins with a wave of attacks on police officers in a remote, forested area of India controlled by a warlord named Beera (Abhishek Bachchan). During the chaos, Beera kidnaps Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the wife of the new police chief, Dev (Vikram).
Beera’s plan is to wait fourteen hours and then kill Ragini. Beera changes his mind after she jumps off of a cliff to avoid giving him the pleasure of killing her. Ragini survives the jump, and her fearlessness intrigues Beera. He holds her captive, as Dev searches for his wife with the help of a spry forest ranger named Sanjeevani (Govinda).
Raavan is undeniably gorgeous. Perpetually overcast skies saturate the greens and browns of the forest, and Ragini’s mustard yellow dress makes her glow like a flame. It’s hard to believe the exterior locations where the movie was shot are even real, so amazing are the rivers, rocks and waterfalls that populate Beera’s realm.
The first half of the movie is mostly a chase, as Beera draws Dev further into the jungle. I began to fear that there would be no explanation for why the two hate each other, apart from the fact that Beera’s the villain and Dev’s the hero. But the second half explores why Beera and the villagers who harbor his gang are at war with the police. As Ragini learns more, she prays for the strength to stay angry at Beera, even as she starts to sympathize with him.
Bachchan’s performance as Beera is generally strong. In the epic, Ravana has ten heads. In the movie, Beera exhibits some schizophrenic symptoms, arguing aloud with the voices in his head. His quirks are more distracting than menacing. There’s no doubt that he’s a violent man, but there’s a moral code governing his actions.
The Rama and Hanuman characters get second billing in Raavan. Govinda is well-suited to play the fidgety sidekick. Dev’s duties are pretty straightforward: find the girl, kill the bad guy. Yet he does many things that aren’t heroic at all. Eventually, these dubious actions form a pattern of behavior. Is he perhaps the story’s real villain?
Throughout Raavan, Ragini transforms from fighter to observer to negotiator. She has a powerful will to live on her own terms, refusing to be a victim, yet with more flexibility than either of the men in her life are capable of. Rai Bachchan endows Ragini with both a savage sense of self-preservation and dignity — fitting for a modern version of the ever-loyal Sita.
Note: The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min., but it’s closer to 2 hrs. 15 min.
Friday’s new Hindi release is a big one: filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, a reimagining of the ancient epic poem the Ramayana. Ratnam filmed a Tamil version of the movie titled Raavanan simultaneously with some of the same cast, then dubbed that into Telugu (Villain). All three movies open worldwide on June 18, 2010.
Click here for a complete list of U.S. theaters showing the movie, which has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.
The other versions of Ratnam’s movie — Raavanan (Tamil) and Villain (Telugu) — will both play at the Golf Glen 5. Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove is also carrying Raavanan, with its first showing listed at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17.
Raajneeti, having earned a total of $1,287,416 in the U.S. so far, continues for a third week at the Pipers Alley 4, South Barrington 30 and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.
The only other Indian movie showing in the Chicago area is Vedam (Telugu) at the Golf Glen 5.