Even with so many good titles now on Netflix — Shanghai, Company, and the underrated comedy The Shaukeens among them — the new addition I am most excited about is the batshit crazy 2003 crime caper Boom. Katrina Kaif’s film debut costars Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, a Bo Derek-obsessed Amitabh Bachchan, and Jackie Shroff, whose character has a secretary that lives under his desk. You have to see Boom to believe it, it’s just that insane.
For everything else new on Netflix — Bollywood or not — check out Instant Watcher.
2012 was a good year for Hindi movies. Of the fifty 2012 releases that I reviewed this year, thirty-one earned positive reviews of 2.5-stars or higher. The ten films below were the best of the best. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
English Vinglish — a personal drama about a mother’s quest to regain her self-worth — proved to be one of the years most delightful surprises, thanks to a triumphant return to the big screen by Sridevi.
I awarded a perfect four-stars to three movies this year — movies that could not be more different from one another. Supermen of Malegaon is one of the most fun and fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen. While it never released theatrically in the U.S., the whole movie is available for free with English subtitles on YouTube.
Evaluated in a vacuum, Barfi! is a wonderful and heart-wrenching movie. But given director Anurag Basu’s apparent lifting of whole scenes from other films, I have trouble recommending it with a clear conscience. Therefore, I instead recommend the (unfortunately-titled) Jism 2, a movie so bad, it’s good. There’s no movie I had more fun watching in 2012.
The best film of the year was a meticulously crafted thriller with character development to spare and a magnificent, evocative setting. My best Bollywood movie of 2012 is Kahaani.
This is a movie I could watch over and over again. Vidya Balan reaffirms that she’s the most talented actress working in Hindi films at the moment. Her co-star, Parambrata Chatterjee, holds his own alongside her, playing a police officer with a crush that’s doomed to go nowhere.
One aspect of Kahaani I particularly appreciate is its positive take on marriage. Balan plays Vidya, a pregnant woman from London searching for her husband, Arnab, who’s gone missing in Kolkata. Everyone tries to tell her that he has probably just run out on her, but she refuses to believe them. She knows in her heart that not only would he never leave their unborn baby, but he wouldn’t leave her, either.
So often, we’re confronted with cultural tropes that portray marriage negatively. Husbands are depicted as either incorrigible philanderers or hapless morons barely tolerated by wives who only need them for baby-making and yardwork.
Isn’t it more satisfying to see an onscreen marriage in which both partners really know and value each other? That’s what makes Vidya’s search so frustrating and engrossing: there’s real love at stake.
Despite opening to dismal collections of just $105,865 from seventy-four U.S. theaters, Joker gets a second week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 17. For comparison’s sake, the Tamil film Mugamoodi earned $55,501 from just twenty-two screens in its U.S. debut last weekend.
I’m sad to report that the streaming video service Mela is shutting down on September 15. I updated my article on the best ways to stream Bollywood movies on the iPad to reflect the news.
In the days that Mela remains active, I recommend using it to watch the exceptional documentary Supermen of Malegoan. If you’re a masochist, check out the Hindi horror film Ghost, the current leader in the race for my worst Bollywood film of 2012. Other movies I’ve reviewed via Mela include Hate Story, Bumboo, Chaurahen, and The Forest.
The other movie making its theatrical debut this weekend is Patang (“The Kite”), a terrific independent film that started making the festival rounds last year. It stars Seema Biswas and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Patang opens in Chicago on June 15 at the AMC River East 21 and June 22 at the Golf Glen 5. The film’s website has a complete list of opening dates and locations, which includes theaters in New York, New Jersey, California, and a number of Canadian cities. Given the film’s indie status, it’s only guaranteed one week at each theater (though that may increase if ticket sales are good). Catch it while you can. Patang has a runtime of 92 minutes.
Last weekend’s new release, Shanghai, gets a well-deserved second week at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, and Cantera 17. Rowdy Rathore carries over for a third week at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30, having earned $654,352 in the U.S. so far.
In the opening scene of Shanghai, an older man tells his nephew he’s worried that the two of them may be in over their heads: the powers they’re dealing with are just too big. Such is the case for all of the main characters in Shanghai, a jaw-dropping thriller.
In India’s drive to become a world financial power, the low-income neighborhood of Bharat Nagar is designated as the future home of the International Business Park (IBP), a collection of high-rise office buildings. IBP has the blessings of a pair of local politicians. The residents who will be forcibly relocated have little say.
Author and activist Dr. Ahmedhi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) arrives in town with the hope of uniting the residents to oppose IBP. His former student, Shalini (Kalki Koechlin), gets a tip that the doctor’s life is threatened by goons affiliated with the local political party. Ahmedhi goes ahead with his planned rally and is promptly hit by a truck driven by the uncle and nephew — Jaggu (Anant Jog) and Bhaggu (Pitobash), respectively — from the opening scene.
The local government sets up what the audience knows is a sham inquiry into Ahmedhi’s “accident.” But the bureaucrat assigned to run the inquiry, Krishnan (Abhay Deol), takes the job seriously and uncovers discrepancies in the official accounts. Shalini demands the truth and confronts Krishnan with irrefutable evidence from an unsavory source: a slimy pornographer named Jogi (Emraan Hashmi).
Deol performs admirably as Krishnan, but the role is pretty straightforward. Krishnan is careful with his words, knowing that a promotion surely awaits if he does well in his investigation. It’s hard to become emotionally attached to the character.
Because of that, Shanghai belongs to Koechlin and Hashmi. Kalki Koechlin has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. She elevates staring to an art form. After stellar performances last year in That Girl in Yellow Boots and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and now this star turn in Shanghai, I’m willing to put Koechlin alongside Vidya Balan as the two most talented actors working in India right now. She’s riveting.
Until now, I haven’t loved any of Emraan Hashmi’s performances. He’s been good, often playing handsome, lusty characters, but he hasn’t blown me away. Hashmi is spectacular in Shanghai. Jogi is gross, with his stained teeth, grimy clothes, and his slight beer belly. He’s still lusty, but by no means handsome. One of the best moments in Shanghai is when Jogi tilts his head back and grins at Krishnan while standing next to him at a urinal. It’s a smile that’s meant to be charming but comes off as repulsive, especially given the setting.
Jogi’s reptilian swagger fades when he realizes how much trouble he’s in. It’s replaced by a barely restrained panic, which Hashmi portrays perfectly. A scene in which Jogi and Shalini navigate Bharat Nagar at night under a police curfew is heart-stopping.
As wonderfully plotted as the film is, there were some moments near the end that didn’t work for me. Krishnan has an important conversation with someone in a position of authority, and I wasn’t sure who that person was. In fact, I wasn’t even clear who Krishnan ultimately worked for (thanks to commenter Dallas Dude for clearing things up). Also, the film ends with unnecessary epilogue notes, though the ending scenes had already done more than enough to wrap up the story.
Shanghai is something special. It’s a great thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at under two hours long. That runtime includes two songs which fit smoothly into the story. It’s a nice way to keep uniquely Indian elements in a film with unquestionable international appeal.
Shanghai is the only new Hindi movie opening in the Chicago area the weekend beginning June 8, 2012, and it looks promising. The thriller stars two of my favorite actors — Kalki Koechlin and Abhay Deol — in a tale of politically motivated murder.