Tag Archives: Sanjay Dutt

Movie Review: Panipat (2019)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Panipat on Netflix

Panipat: The Great Betrayal — director Ashutosh Gowariker’s attempt to cash in on Bollywood’s current historical action flick trend — is a slog.

Panipat is made for a Hindi-speaking audience well-versed in Indian history, and it poses several challenges for audiences outside that demographic. If Panipat were a book, it would come with several maps, some family trees, and an extensive glossary. Absent those supplementary materials — and with subtitles that leave many important Hindi words untranslated (at least in the Netflix version) — I’ll do my best to explain what happens using terms that I think are close, if not completely accurate.

The film opens in the mid-18th Century, with the Maratha Empire finally defeating the Nizam Sultanate after a two-year-long campaign, shoring up its hold on the midsection of what is now modern-day India. The Emperor’s wife, Gopika Bai (Padmini Kolhapure), worries that military commander Sadashiv (Arjun Kapoor) is so popular that the people will push for him to be made head of state over her son, Vishwas (Abhishek Nigam). She convinces the Emperor, Nana Saheb (Monish Bahl), to take Sadashiv off the battlefield and appoint him Finance Minister.

Being a soldier, Sadashiv only knows how to solve problems by force. He attempts to shore up the empire’s dwindling finances by sending threatening letters to all the ancillary kingdoms that are behind on their tax payments. This upsets a Mughal noble, Najib-Ud-Daulah (Mantra), who asks the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) for help.

With Afghan forces headed south, Sadashiv agrees to lead the undermanned, under-resourced Maratha army north to stop them, since no one else wants to. The Marathas and the Afghans make alliances with the neighboring kingdoms on their respective journeys, culminating with a decisive battle at the fort of Panipat.

Most of the film is a slow road trip punctuated by natural disasters. Before that are the film’s prettiest scenes, set at the beautiful Maratha palace. The decor is vibrant, the grounds are beautifully landscaped, and the architecture is grand. Designer Neeta Lulla’s costumes are stunning.

At the palace, Sadashiv marries his spunky childhood sweetheart Parvati (Kriti Sanon), who joins him on the excursion. Sanon gives the best performance in the film, but her character is a transparent attempt to appeal to a modern audience. Parvati is a commoner who marries a royal. She’s the empire’s first woman doctor! She fights with a sword! Sadashiv begs her not to kill herself if he dies in battle, just to make Panipat seem more progressive than Padmaavat.

Kapoor’s performance is not particularly charismatic, but neither is Sadashiv as a character. He’s inflexible to the point of causing many of the empire’s problems — first with his heavy-handed letters and later with his refusal to negotiate with Abdali. Sadashiv insists that he’s fighting to protect all of Hindustan from Muslim invaders, even though Hindustan at the time was not a unified nation but a collection of kingdoms, some of which were ruled by Muslims.

Sadashiv serves primarily to illustrate Panipat‘s pro-Hindu viewpoint. The contrast between Sadashiv and Abdali is almost comical. Sadishiv fights in the heart of the battle while Abdali stays safely at the back. The Maratha army follows Sadashiv and endures starvation because they believe in his cause, while Abdali’s soldiers flee and his throne is usurped in his absence. Even Kapoor’s acting is calm and resolute compared to Dutt’s over-the-top delivery.

Panipat portrays the Afghans as essentially cavemen. Unlike the light, bright Maratha palace, Abdali rules from a dimly-lit, windowless great hall. Servants wearing fur cloaks carry platters laden with hunks of roasted meat. When Maratha Prince Vishwas is caught in battle by an Afghan soldier, the soldier is shown in close-up snarling like an animal.

Besides being problematic, Panipat just isn’t that interesting. Perhaps in the name of historical accuracy, the plot favors comprehensiveness over economy. Seemingly every lesser kingdom and minor noble is given a shout out, no matter how insignificant their part in the events that are the focus of the film. The result is a sprawling cast of characters who blur together. By the time any of them does something that affects the plot, I’d already forgotten who they were.

Perhaps this cast sprawl is less of a problem for the Indian audience for whom Panipat is obviously intended. I also understand if the English subtitles used in the original theatrical release chose to leave some Hindi words intact, as those subs are as much for moviegoers across India as they are for viewers outside of the country. I’m not sure if Netflix kept the original subtitles for its streaming release or created new ones, as is the practice of some streaming services.

But Panipat is a particular case where Netflix should have used the opportunity to make the film’s English subtitles as accessible as possible to its global audience. By not translating words like Peshwa, Gadir, and Wazir, it’s hard to understand the hierarchy of the region at that time. Even the geography is unclear, as Sadashiv seems to use Hindustan and the Maratha Empire interchangeably.

Again, maybe Indian audiences with the prerequisite cultural and historical knowledge found Panipat easier to understand than I did. As it is, it’s as uncompelling as it is inaccessible.

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Movie Review: Kalank (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Kalank (“Stigma“) is a middling extravaganza, neither as good nor as bad as it could have been. Lavish sets, impressive dance numbers, and a gorgeous cast make it an enjoyable enough one-time watch, so long as you keep your attention at surface level.

Set just before Partition, the story follows Roop (Alia Bhatt), a young woman forced to integrate into a wealthy Hindu family living near Muslim-majority Lahore under unusual circumstances. Her acquaintance Satya (Sonakshi Sinha) proposes a business arrangement: in exchange for funding dowries for Roop’s younger sisters, Roop will move in to Satya’s home and grow closer to Satya’s husband, Dev (Aditya Roy Kapur). Satya is dying from cancer, and she hopes Dev will marry Roop after Satya’s death. Roop insists that she’ll only enter the home as Dev’s co-wife — a prudent move since Satya otherwise wouldn’t be around to make sure her wishes are carried out after death.

The second marriage proceeds and Roop moves into the Chaudhry family mansion with Satya, Dev, and Dev’s stiff father, Balraj (Sanjay Dutt). It would have been interesting to watch Roop and Satya negotiate their evolving roles in the household (as Bhatt’s character Sehmat did in Raazi) and learn more about nature of their tense preexisting relationship, but filmmaker Abhishek Varman sidelines Satya. Her illness progresses off-screen, and she and Roop have few interactions after their initial one. It’s unfortunate how small Sinha’s role in Kalank is given her prominence in the film’s marketing and the quality of her performance in her few scenes.

Dev tells Roop that he agreed to the marriage to make Satya happy, and that while he will never be mean to Roop, neither he will ever love her. Perhaps it’s because of the limitations of Dev’s nature, but Kapur’s one-note performance in the role is not one of his best.

In order to escape her stifling home life, Roop undertakes vocal music tuition from the famed courtesan Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit) in a working-class Muslim neighborhood. There Roop meets Gendry, er, Zafar (Varun Dhawan): a hunky blacksmith who’s the unacknowledged bastard son of — you guessed it — Roop’s father-in-law, Balraj. Zafar neglects to mention that to Roop so that he can use her to take revenge against the family that abandoned him.

Varman lays the melodrama on thick, with lots of longing looks, near-kisses, and simmering tensions between family members. It’s fun, if that’s the kind of story you’re in the mood for. The melodrama is enhanced by song numbers that are grand in scale and a delight to watch, especially when Madhuri Dixit takes the floor. The sets have a depth of field, and every rooftop and alleyway is populated with extras. Some settings do feel over-the-top for their location. Bahaar Begum’s brothel is apparently so successful that she can afford to stack chandeliers atop one another, and Blacksmith Alley’s festival budget tops the production costs of most Bollywood films.

Then again, I don’t think authenticity was Varman’s goal with Kalank — especially not with Karan Johar financing the film. Everything is big and glamorous, regardless of whether it makes sense. I’m not sure if the costumes are true to the time period, but they look fabulous. The cast members — particularly Dixit, Sinha, and Bhatt — look stunning under Devdas cinematographer Binod Pradhan’s lens.

Kalank gets its worst bang for its buck on an awful CGI bull-riding sequence involving Zafar that includes maybe one shot of an actual bull. I’m not sure why this made the final cut of the film, except that they must have spent a lot of money on it.

Kalank‘s larger-than-life relationship drama is set within a complicated political environment. While Roop is falling in love with Zafar behind her husband’s back, neoliberal Dev uses his newspaper to promote the economic benefits of bringing a steel mill to Lahore — a move that would decimate the local, Muslim-run blacksmith industry. Dev — who is also anti-Partition — thinks he’s just seeing the big picture, envisioning an India made prosperous by innovation. Never mind that only his family’s prosperity is assured by such advances, at the expense of a struggling lower class.

Dev’s main antagonist is Zafar’s friend Abdul Khan (Kunal Khemu, who’s excellent in Kalank), a politician responding to his base’s growing discontent. His own politics become more religiously divisive over time in part because of the mood of the neighborhood but also due to Zafar’s aggrieved goading. There’s an inevitability to the violent climax, and Khan admits he couldn’t stop it if he wanted to (not that he wants to, by that point).

Kalank‘s epilogue — featuring Bhatt in a weird direct-to-camera speech — suggests that all this trouble could’ve been avoided if we just set aside our differences and chose to get along. But could it? The plot makes a compelling case for the Muslims in the film to favor Partition by whatever means necessary. Things were already tough — huge festival budgets and extravagant brothel chandeliers notwithstanding — and likely to get worse, all so that the (Hindu) rich can get richer and the (Muslim) poor poorer. I’m not saying this applies to actual history, but in the terms the movie sets for itself, the angry mob’s response makes sense.

That said, it stinks to see another mainstream film depict Muslims as violent, except for those noble enough to sacrifice themselves to save innocent Hindus. And it stinks that this is another movie that wants us to sympathize most with characters who are wealthy enough to escape difficult situations without regard for the mess they leave behind.

In order to enjoy Kalank, one must ignore the politics undergirding it and allow oneself to revel in the superficial beauty of it all. I was able to do that while I was in the theater. Only afterward did the film’s unfortunate aspects start to weigh on me.

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Opening April 17: Kalank

The Karan Johar-produced period drama Kalank hits Chicago area theaters on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. The stellar cast — which includes Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Sanjay Dutt — is directed by 2 States helmer Abhishek Varman.

Kalank opens Wednesday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Century 12 Evanston in Evanston, Regal Round Lake Beach 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera 17 in Warrenville, AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 46 min.

MovieMax carries over Kesari and The Tashkent Files.

Other Indian and Pakistani movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):

Bollywood Box Office: July 6-8, 2018

Sanju had another seven-figure weekend in North America. From July 6-8, 2018, the biopic earned $1,281,466 from 359 theaters in the United States and Canada ($3,570 average), according to Box Office Mojo — good enough for eleventh place in the overall box office. Sanju‘s total after ten days of release stands at $5,995,791, with North America’s contributions accounting for about 10% of the film’s global haul.

Not surprisingly, Sanju‘s massive total is good news for Sanjay Dutt himself. Bollywood Hungama reports that Dutt gets a portion of the box office returns as part of his compensation for letting his life be turned into a movie, in addition to an upfront payment just shy of $1.5 million.

Bollywood Hungama is still having issues with its box office reporting, from theater miscounts last week to fluctuating overall totals this week. (Canadian theater info for Veere Di Wedding remains MIA, sadly.) Here are the weekend theater earnings reported by Bollywood Hungama:

  • Race 3: Week 4; $9,250 from eleven theaters; $841 average
  • Veere Di Wedding: Week 6; $2,000 from two theaters; $1,000 average
  • Raazi: Week 9; $1,044 from three theaters; $348

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Movie Review: PK (2014)

PK3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).

A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.

PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.

Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?

PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”

Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.

From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”

A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.

Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.

Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.

The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.

The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.

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Movie Review: Ungli (2014)

Ungli1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
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Ungli feels like a movie where the creators decided to base a movie on a particular topic, but forgot they needed to actually tell a story in the process. There’s no flow to the plot, and it’s unclear who the main character is. Note to filmmakers: the audience won’t hear your message if they are asleep.

The Ungli Gang — with “ungli” translating as “the middle finger,” as far as I could tell — are an odd assortment of people dedicated to exposing corruption in Mumbai. The gang members are journalist Abhay (Randeep Hooda), doctor Maya (Kangana Ranaut), mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi), and computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam).

Their first caper is to kidnap a trio of crooked pension officers. They convince the men that the phony bombs strapped to their chests will explode unless they keep running around a track, like a boring version of the movie Speed. Police and media are called to the track, where the officer’s corruption is exposed.

The caper earns the gang the kind of widespread public acclaim that never happens in real life, with news reports showing people cheering, “We love Ungli Gang!” Writer-director Rensil D’Silva relies heavily on man-on-the-street news footage — one of my biggest movie pet peeves — to bulk up a thin story.

After a single successful prank, the Mumbai police commissioner freaks out and assigns an officer to hunt down The Ungli Gang. That officer is ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt), a man with a reputation for… something or other. It’s never explained what.

Kale recruits his informally adopted son, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) — the classic Bollywood loafer with a heart of gold — to infiltrate the gang. This doesn’t happen until forty-five minutes or so into the film, at which point Hooda’s character loses his position as the ostensible main character to Nikhil.

In the span of twenty minutes, Nikhil joins the gang, learns their backstory — they want vengeance for their injured CrossFit instructor (seriously) — frolics in a montage about friendship, and betrays them to Kale. I’m not a criminal mastermind, but if someone begged to join my gang, then injured himself just minutes before participating in his first job, I’d be suspicious.

If Nikhil is the character who needs to evolve during the course of the film, why doesn’t he become a major player until the movie’s halfway over? How did this disparate group of vigilantes become experts in espionage? Why is their motivation for vigilantism kept a secret until the second half of the movie? Why isn’t their quest for justice the main goal of the story rather than Nikhil’s slow journey to discover that — shocker! — police officers are fallible?

Shoehorned into the disorganized story are two useless romantic subplots. Bumbling Abhay can’t get the attention of his pretty coworker, Teesta (Neha Dhupia), which makes sense only if she has never actually looked at him. Nikhil woos Maya simply because she’s the only woman in the gang.

Before that, Nikhil smooches another female character who’s never seen again. He tells her that he has a reputation for kissing, a preposterously direct reference to Hashmi’s willingness to lock lips onscreen. Just because Hashmi is willing to do it doesn’t mean that it makes sense in the context of the story. It’s the single laziest element in a film replete with shortcuts and ticked boxes on a checklist.

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Streaming Video News: September 19, 2013

The 2008 thriller Kidnap is now available for streaming on Netflix. While by no means a great movie, Kidnap stars Sanjay Dutt in perhaps my favorite role I’ve ever seen him play. Dutt plays the father of a kidnapped young woman — a la Liam Neeson in Taken — a role befitting a man of his age (Dutt was 49 when the film released). He still gets to kick plenty of butts but without having to simultaneously romance a woman in her early twenties. I wish there were more cool dad roles for Bollywood actors. One can’t play a college student forever (right?).

Mark your calendars for Friday, October 4, when Lootera makes its streaming debut on Eros Now. Lootera is currently my favorite movie of 2013, so I’d say it’s worth the $1.99 rental.

Movie Review: Zanjeer (2013)

Zanjeer_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
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Movies about police officers who take the law into their own hands and beat the bad guys to a pulp are ubiquitous in Bollywood, thanks largely to the 1973 film Zanjeer (“Shackles”). While I haven’t seen the original Amitabh Bachchan film, I’ve seen plenty of variations on the same story in recent years, starring the likes of Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Akshay Kumar. Given the ongoing popularity of the “supercop” sub-genre of action films, why would anyone risk remaking Zanjeer?

Director Apoorva Lakhia’s gamble doesn’t pay off. Perhaps fearing too much deviation from the original material, the remake of Zanjeer feels dated in its execution. The performances are corny, and the story structure doesn’t feel current. Lakhia would’ve been better off creating an entirely new movie, rather than being hamstrung by the old one.

Ram Charan makes his Hindi-film debut reprising Bachchan’s role as Vijay Khanna. Vijay is basically Batman: a boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes, who then grows up to be a vigilante. At one point in the film, Vijay’s girlfriend even wears a Batman t-shirt. The only difference is that Vijay is a maverick cop and not a masked superhero.

Vijay has such a reputation as a violent hothead that his interdepartmental transfer from Hyderabad to Mumbai merits cable news coverage (something that would never happen in real life). His first case in Mumbai involves investigating the murder of a man caught video-recording gasoline theft. The only witness is a beautiful Indian-American woman named Mala (Priyanka Chopra), in town for a friend’s wedding.

Mala is unbearably ditzy and annoying. Her role in the film is to be a lighthearted counterpoint to the always-serious Vijay, but she comes off as oblivious in the face of mortal danger from the organized crime unit that wants to kill her before she can testify. Chopra is a much better actress than this — as evidenced by her performances in Barfi! and 7 Khoon Maaf — so the blame rests on Lakhia’s shoulders for demanding such a grating performance from a talented actress.

In the course of his investigation, Vijay enlists the help of Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt), a car thief whom Vijay pummels into renouncing his criminal ways. Vijay is similarly successful in recruiting the help of a journalist, Jay Dev (Atul Kulkarni), via threats and an absurd amount of swagger. No one writes lead characters this way anymore, so these scenes feel like out-of-touch throwbacks.

Then again, Charan seems unable to tone down his swagger, so maybe the scenes make sense. He doesn’t play a character so much as pose as one, as if no one told him they were telling a story and not just shooting the cover of the DVD. The fact that Vijay’s shirts are always unbuttoned halfway further serve to make him look more like a catalog model than a police officer. When Charan does act, it appears to require a lot of effort.

Dutt’s and Kulkarni’s roles are poorly integrated into the script, which is a shame. Their parts are eclipsed by Prakash Raj as the villain Teja, who chews scenery while dressed as a pimp. Raj is the best part of the movie, though a scene in which he and Mahie Gill spend thirty seconds meowing at one another is hard to take.

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Opening September 6: Shuddh Desi Romance and Zanjeer

Two new Hindi flicks hit Chicago area screens on September 6, 2013. Shuddh Desi Romance (listed at some theaters as “Random Desi Romance“) features rising stars Parineeti Chopra and Sushant Singh Rajput alongside newcomer Vaani Kapoor in a romcom love triangle.

Shuddh Desi Romance opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 5 min.

Also new in theaters this weekend is Zanjeer, a remake of the 1973 film of the same name starring Amitabh Bachchan. The remake stars Ram Charan, Priyanka Chopra, and Sanjay Dutt.

Zanjeer opens on Friday at the River East 21, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Its runtime is listed at IMDb as 2 hrs. 17 min. The Golf Glen 5 is also carrying the Telugu version of Zanjeer, Thoofan.

After posting solid earnings of $500,402 over the extended holiday weekend in the U.S., Satyagraha gets a second week at the River East 21, Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17.

Madras Cafe gets a third weekend at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17.

Chennai Express is still going strong with earnings of $5,122,240 in the U.S. so far. It gets a fifth weekend at the South Barrington 30, Woodridge 18, and Cantera 17.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Tamil movies Madha Gaja Raja and Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam.

The teaser trailer from Dhoom 3 just released today, and it features some great footage shot in downtown Chicago. The movie releases on December 20, 2013.

Opening July 5: Policegiri

Sanjay Dutt’s Policegiri opens on Friday, July 5, 2013, at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles.

Policegiri is the second new Hindi movie to open in Chicago area theaters this week, following Lootera‘s Wednesday opening at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. Lootera expands to the Golf Glen 5 on Friday.

After earning $143,616 in its opening week in U.S. theaters, Ghanchakkar carries over for a second week in limited showings at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie. With total earnings of $756,233 so far, Raanjhanaa gets a third week at the Golf Glen 5, Cantera 17, and South Barrington 30, which also gives a sixth week to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani ($3,745,243 total in the U.S.).

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi (Malayalam), Balupu (Telugu), Mallela Theeram Lo Sirimalle Puvvu (Telugu), Saptapadii (Gujarati), and Singam 2 (Tamil), which is also showing at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge.