A week of new releases to celebrate Diwali kicked off with today’s premiere of the Akshay Kumar horror comedy Laxmii on Hotstar. Thursday, November 12 sees the debut of the ensemble dark comedy Ludo on Netflix and the Tamil film Soorari Pottru on Amazon Prime. Finally, the social comedy Chhalaang premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, November 13.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the new release Gatham, which is available in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. There’s been a ton of upheaval on Prime in the last week, with hundreds of titles disappearing — some for several days — only for most of them to reappear on the service. The listings at my page are now up-to-date, but it did mean hours of ultimately pointless work for me. 🙁 I wish Amazon handled its contract renewals and expirations as seamlessly as Netflix does.
Speaking of which, 21 Indian shows and movies are set to expire from Netflix on November 15. The full list is available on my Netflix page under the “Expiring Soon” section near the top of the page. Of the expiring films, these are the ones that I’ve reviewed:
Bollywood horror movies are notorious duds at the North American box office. They open in a handful of theaters, make next to nothing, and disappear quickly. When Anushka Sharma announced that she would star in the horror film Pari — produced by her own company, Clean Slate Films — it raised the question of whether her presence as a marquee star could boost a genre movie’s ceiling internationally.
Horror films remain on the fringes of Bollywood. Most aren’t released in theaters internationally and are left to find their way into homes via DVD or streaming video. Still, when the Hindi film industry collectively decided (deliberately or not) in 2012 to increase the number of Bollywood movies released in North American theaters by a third — from 36 titles in 2011 to 48 in 2012, with an average of 50 Bollywood movies released here yearly since then — that left a lot of open slots to fill, leaving room for niche fare like horror flicks.
That’s not to say there was a Hindi horror boom in the United States and Canada. Most years only see one or two scary films released in theaters, plus a few titles that aren’t traditional horror fare like the horror comedy Go Goa Gone or the survival horror flick Roar: Tigers of the Sundarbans.
Pari released in 45 theaters in North America: nine in Canada and 36 in the United States. That’s one more theater than carried NH10 — the maiden production from Sharma’s Clean Slate Films — back in 2015, but 42 fewer than the 87 that carried Clean Slate’s romantic comedy Phillauri last year (all numbers per Bollywood Hungama). Still, for a Hindi horror movie in North America, 45 theaters is about as big a theatrical footprint as you’ll find.
For the purposes of comparing to Pari, let’s look at other supernatural horror movies (which make up the bulk of Bollywood horror flicks). Here’s how such films have fared in North America over the years, in terms of: number of theaters they opened in; how much they earned total in their opening weekend; the average amount earned per theater in that opening weekend; and their final earnings total.
2012 Raaz 3: 28 theaters; $95,301; $3,404 average; $150,716 total Bhoot Returns: 15 theaters; $3,478; $232 average; $3,478 total
2013 Ek Thi Daayan: 48 theaters; $65,857; $1,372 average; $112,135 total
2016 1920 London: 38 theaters; $16,204; $426 average; $24,854 total
2017 Dobaara: See Your Evil: 30 theaters; $7,110; $237 average; $11,002 total
2018 1921: 10 theaters; $4,583; $458 average; $7,850 total
Pari opened with earnings of $118,906 — better than the final totals of all but one film in the list above (Raaz 3). Pari‘s $2,642 per-theater average was less than Raaz 3‘s $3,404 average, which only proves that Raaz 3 deserved a higher theater count than it got.
Where Pari really differentiated itself was in its second weekend performance. It held onto 54% of its opening weekend business ($64,247), which was leaps and bounds ahead of Raaz 3‘s 27% retention rate and Ek Thi Daayan‘s 21% carry over. By the end of its third weekend, Pari had earned $320,641 — more than double the next highest total on the list above.
The major takeaway from these numbers is that Hindi films in niche genres are more heavily dependent upon star power than those in more popular genres like romantic comedy or drama. The numbers also demonstrate which stars are able to draw North American Bollywood fans to the theater on their name alone. Sharma is obvious, as further bolstered by the box office success of her other home productions: NH10 ($319,872 total) and Phillauri ($471,522 total). Raaz 3 and Ek Thi Daayan star Emraan Hashmi is another clear box office draw, although his popular co-stars — Bipasha Bashu in Raaz 3 and the trio of Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin, and Huma Qureshi in Ek Thi Daayan — certainly helped. Both movies took in more than $100,000 here.
Yet no other recent Hindi horror film released theatrically in North America managed to earn even $25,000. Qureshi couldn’t do it opposite her real-life sibling, Saqib Saleem, in Dobaara. Despite their own name recognition and the fact that their movies were sequels, Sunny Leone and Sharman Joshi fell short with Ragini MMS 2 and 1920 London, respectively. With such dependence on the caliber of the cast, one wonders if Bollywood horror films without top-tier stars wouldn’t fare better by releasing straight to streaming services here in North America and skipping theaters entirely.
Despite two new Hindi films hitting theaters on March 21, 2014, the North American box office performances of all Bollywood films were dominated by a movie in its third week in theaters.
Queen continues its remarkable run, expanding into a total of fifty-seven theaters in its third week of release. According to Bollywood Hungama, it earned $284,030 in the U.S. and Canada for the weekend of March 21 through March 23, putting it in twentieth place in the general U.S. box office. With total earnings of $895,130 so far, Queen is poised to bypass Shaadi Ke Side Effects as the second highest earner among Bollywood films this year (behind Jai Ho).
The weekend’s two new releases fared dismally at the North American box office. Both movies opened in twenty theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Ragini MMS 2 earned $16,317 (an $815 average per screen), while Gang of Ghosts earned just $4509 ($225 average).
Bewakoofiyaan performed just about as miserably in its second weekend. It earned $12,589 from twenty-one theaters ($599 average). Its total stands at $105,025. Given that Bewakoofiyaan is a better movie than its numbers would indicate, I hope Yash Raj Films gets it on Netflix quickly to help it find an audience there.
The Lunchbox continues to perform well in the U.S., though figures differ on how well, based on the source. Now showing in thirty-six theaters, Bollywood Hungama lists The Lunchbox‘s fourth-weekend earnings as $139,033, while Box Office Mojo tallies them higher at $183,986. Bollywood Hungama reports the film’s total earnings as $468,043 so far, compared to Box Office Mojo’s total of $525,363.
Among older Hindi films still in theaters, Shaadi Ke Side Effects continues to best more recent offerings. In its fourth weekend — according to Bollywood Hungama — SKSE earned $3578 from eight theaters ($447 average), bringing its total to $946,659.
In its third weekend, Total Siyapaa earned $1,918 from 5 theaters ($383 average; $123,755 total earnings), while Gulaab Gang earned $1,334 from 4 theaters ($334 average; $97,630 total earnings).
Trying to understand a movie like Ragini MMS 2 (RMMS2, henceforth) is a futile exercise. It’s not that the movie is especially complex. It simply has some of the worst English subtitles I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie.
The plot is so full of self-references that I’m getting a headache just trying to summarize it. The “found footage” from the original Ragini MMS inspires a director named Rocks (Parvin Dabas) to film a fictional reenactment at the haunted house where the allegedly real events took place. Basically, RMMS2 is a (real) movie that tells the story of the making of a (fictional) movie that is a rehashing of some (fictional) found footage that was the basis for another (real) movie.
Rocks explains that he elected not to cast any stars in his movie in order to allow the audience to become absorbed in the story. In reality, it’s RMMS2 director Bhushan Patel’s meta way of explaining to theaudience why they just paid for tickets to a movie with few known actors.
The film reaches its self-referential apex when Rocks introduces his lead actress: Sunny Leone (Sunny Leone). Like the real-life actress, Sunny the character is also a former porn star, something we’re never allowed to forget as she strips, licks, and fakes orgasms through the rest of the film.
The film crew arrives at the house and ignores all the signs of its haunting. The only one who doesn’t is the movie’s writer, Satya (Saahil Prem), who apparently insisted on filming at this location, though it’s never explained why.
While the film crew unknowingly prepares to die in gruesome ways, psychologist Dr. Dutta (Divya Dutta) tries to figure out what caused Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) from the found footage to lose her marbles. Ragini tells Sunny — who meets the young lady at an insane asylum while researching her film role — that she’s been possessed by a witch. Dr. Dutta, woman of science, concurs.
This is particularly funny because the movie opens with a disclaimer that it is not trying to promote superstition. It then proceeds to use science as a tool to validate superstition. The Archeological Society of India posts a sign near the haunted house warning people to stay away after sunset. Dr. Dutta — who must be good since she’s from New York — performs an exorcism. Try that in New York, and they take away your license.
These mixed messages about superstition are still clearer than any information conveyed by the English subtitles. There are large stretches of the film in which the subtitles disappear entirely. That includes all voice-overs, such as Dr. Dutta’s vital explanation of the witch’s origins. And, for some reason, one of the nurses at Ragini’s insane asylum is never subtitled.
The English subtitles for spoken English dialogue are terrible. When Dr. Dutta says, “Built in 1920,” the subtitles read, “Built in 1930.” Sunny says, “Global warming,” and the subtitles read, “Not yet.” The name of the character Gina (Anita Hassanandani) — who sports a visible tattoo of her own name written in English — is always written as “Tina.”
Lest you think this is a problem just for non-Hindi speakers, the witch’s Marathi dialogue isn’t subtitled either.
Sunny Leone is actually pretty good in the film. She’s obviously sexy, especially in an effective dream sequence number near the movie’s midway point. She’s intense and scary during a scene in which the witch takes control of her body.
The scene itself is somewhat subversive, playing with the anxieties someone like Leone provokes in a culture in which on-screen kissing only recently lost its taboo. Her possessed character howls “Fuck me!” at Satya, turning what would normally be an enticing offer into something grotesque and terrifying.
But I’m wary of giving RMMS2 more credit than it deserves. Why does Sunny become aggressively sexual when possessed by the spirit of a grieving mother? And, if the spirit is just looking for absolution, why the need for an exorcism?
The answer to both question is, “Because this is what happens in horror movies.” Conventions are used because they are conventions, not because they serve any narrative purpose. The truth is, Ragini MMS 2 hopes that you’ll be too distracted by Leone’s cleavage to notice the gaps of logic and poorly-matched subtitles.
The delightful comedy Queen continues to build on its great word of mouth, carrying over for a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and expanding to the AMC River East 21 in Chicago on Friday.
Two new HIndi movies released their trailers today. First up is the erotic horror film Ragini MMS 2, starring the voluptuous Sunny Leone. The trailer doesn’t pull any punches: Ragini MMS 2 is an unapologetic skin flick with a few scares. The video isn’t safe to watch at work since it features lots of shots of a barely clad Leone and some English swear words. Ragini MMS 2 hits theaters on March 21.
March 28 sees the release of Youngistan, a romance set against the backdrop of Indian politics. Without official English subtitles — turn on the video’s CC function for some funny but unhelpful English captions — it’s hard to discern the plot, but I’ll watch almost anything with Boman Irani.
I’m skeptical that either of these movies will release in the U.S. due to their relative lack of star power. Of the two, I’m more intrigued by Ragini MMS 2 because of its potential for unintentional hilarity and great drinking games. Close-up shot of Sunny Leone’s butt? DRINK! Awkward dirty talk? DRINK! Which of the two films are you more excited to see?