I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a ton of new additions to the catalog. Netflix kicked off 2016 by adding seventeen (!) Hindi movies to the streaming catalog, along with a number of movies in other Indian languages, most notably director Mani Ratnam’s 2015 Tamil hit OK Kanmani. I added a category for films in other Indian languages at the bottom of my Netflix page. (January 2 update: Dum Laga Ke Haisha is also now on Netflix!)
Here’s a list of all the Bollywood films added to Netflix today:
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and Piku are two of my favorite movies of 2015, and I can’t wait to check out Randeep Hooda in Main Aur Charles, which didn’t open in US theaters. A number of these films — like Katiyabaaz and Kshay — were hits on the festival circuit, and this is the first opportunity for a wide audience to see them. Same for the Gujarati film The Good Road, India’s official submission to the 86th Oscars, which was also added today.
Singh Is Bliing is an imperfect but entertaining action comedy, and one of Prabhu Deva’s better directorial ventures. The movie offers one of the year’s best comic performances, from an unlikely source.
Akshay Kumar stars as Raftaar Singh, a totally different character from the one he played in 2008’s Singh Is Kinng. The two movies have nothing to do with each other, except that calling Singh Is Bliing a sequel provides a reason for Kumar to play a Punjabi Sikh again, as if one needs a reason.
Raftaar is a typical Bollywood layabout, far too old be mooching off his parents (Kumar is 48). He’s got a pair of lackeys — Pappi (Arfi Lamba) and Pompi (Anil Mange) — who follow him about. Raftaar’s father gives his son an ultimatum: take a job with Dad’s buddy in Goa, or marry an overweight woman, which is apparently a form of punishment.
Dad’s buddy (Pradeep Rawat) assigns Raftaar and his boys the task of guarding Sara (Amy Jackson), daughter of the boss’s friend, who also happens to be an international arms dealer. The problem is that Sara only speaks English, and Raftaar and his friends only speak Hindi.
They hire a translator, Emily (Lara Dutta), who immediately steals the whole film. Dutta is hilarious. Emily gets so into her role that she starts imitating Raftaar’s mannerisms, not just translating his words. She busts out some funky dance moves in a bar after matching Raftaar shot-for-shot.
A particularly clever song sequence sees one of Raftaar’s romantic daydreams about Sara made manifest. Pappi and Pompi notice Raftaar staring into space and decide to join him in his dream, dragging Emily in with them. As the boys provide the background music, Emily serves as Raftaar’s romantic surrogate, herself wooing Sara as she sings in English what Raftaar has just sung in Hindi. It’s very funny and smart.
Unfortunately, the rest of the plot isn’t as intelligent. Multiple story threads fail to come together in a satisfactory way. The big villain of the film — an arms dealer named Mark (Kay Kay Menon) who is a rival of Sara’s father — is a total afterthought, and his few scenes are poorly integrated into the rest of the story. He doesn’t steer the plot until the very end of the film, so Raftaar and Sara are in little serious danger for the bulk of the picture.
This is a shame, because Menon is a skilled scenery chewer. Sporting a ponytail, Menon channels Terry Silver from Karate Kid III, enhancing the similarity by shouting “I like it!”
In a surprising reversal of gender norms, Jackson gets to perform the best fight choreography, while Kumar plays Raftaar as brave but bumbling. Jackson is perfectly suited for action roles, but her acting and dancing could use some work if she wants to branch out. Kumar is likable as ever.
Though Singh Is Bliing isn’t overtly misogynistic like some of Prabhu Deva’s earlier films, there’s a disappointing sequence of victim blaming. Raftaar instructs a pair of women being manhandled by a pair of lecherous men to fight back. He takes the idiotic view that women can prevent sexual assault simply by slapping their attackers.
When the ladies kick their attackers into submission, Raftaar feels vindicated in his opinion (never mind that the two attackers know that Raftaar is waiting to pummel them should they overpower the women).
Later, Sara annihilates a room full of goons, and Pappi and Pompy credit her success to Raftaar’s speech. It’s unclear if this is meant to be a joke, but the statement is followed immediately by a shot of some dancers — one of whom had earlier been punched in the face — hitting the fallen goons, seeming to validate Raftaar as deserving of credit.
Though Singh Is Bliing falls short of its potential, surprisingly fun performances by Dutta, Menon, and butt-kicking Amy Jackson keep the sequel from ever being dull.
By this point, if you’ve seen one Akshay Kumar slapstick comedy, such as Chandni Chowk to China, Singh is Kinng, or Welcome, you’ve seen them all. Kambakkht Ishq is no different, except that producer Sajid Nadiadwala cast three American movie stars, in the hopes of making this film a crossover hit. But the publicity-stunt casting can’t save this cliched comedy.
Kumar stars as Viraj, a Hollywood stuntman who thinks women are only good for one thing. Kareena Kapoor plays Simrita, a supermodel-surgeon (seriously) who thinks men are dogs. While trying to convince their families and friends that romance is for suckers, they inadvertently fall in love with each other. It’s a plot that’s as old as the hills, and this movie does nothing to freshen it up.
There are a number of reasons why Kambakkht Ishq won’t appeal to American audiences the way Nadiadwala hoped, beyond the predictable problem of Hindi wordplay jokes that aren’t funny when translated into in English.
First, the casting of American actors didn’t work. It was cool to see Sylvester Stallone in a Bollywood movie, but Denise Richards and Brandon Routh barely qualify as “stars” in the U.S. I’m guessing Denise Richards is referred to only by her full (and real) name throughout the movie so that Indian moviegoers can look her up on IMDb after getting home from the theater.
More confusing is the inclusion of a bunch of Australian actors in the movie, even though it’s set in Hollywood. Aussie singer Holly Valance makes a cameo appearance, despite having little name recognition in the U.S., apart from a few small parts on some canceled TV shows. And nothing snaps you out of movie faster than an L.A. thug who sounds like Crocodile Dundee.
Along those lines, the dialogue in the movie is lame, and having American actors deliver awkward lines in English just emphasizes the poor quality of the writing.
Also problematic for American audiences is a scene in where Simrita watches Viraj film stunts for a movie. The set Viraj is working on is clearly that of the Waterworld stunt show at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. There are even empty bleachers in the background of one of the shots!
Yet the biggest reason American movie fans won’t like Kambakkht Ishq is its style of comedy. Most egregiously, some of the jokes are racist, such as when Viraj dons an afro wig and blackface makeup to trick his sister-in-law.
The rest of the slapstick-style comedy is old-fashioned by American standards, and not well executed. There are pratfalls and pies in the face, all done with over-the-top, silent-movie-style acting.
There’s also a bit with a doctor who’s lost his hearing aid that inspires predictable jokes like this:
Viraj: “I need you to check!”
Doctor: “You want to have sex?”
All of the jokes in Kambakkht Ishq have been done before, and they’ve all been done better. Given the dismal reviews American critics gave to Chandni Chowk to China, which was distributed by Warner Bros., it’s time for Indian producers to rethink pinning their hopes of achieving crossover success in the U.S. on Akshay Kumar, at least until he starts making more sophisticated comedies.
Akshay Kumar has found his niche: playing bumbling guys who fall in love with pretty girls while outsmarting villains. He’s played that type of character recently in Welcome, Tashan and Singh Is Kinng, and he does so again in Chandni Chowk to China. Kumar’s good in that kind of role, but I’m ready to see him branch out.
CC2C stars Kumar as unlucky vegetable cutter Sidhu, who gets tricked into leaving the Indian town of Chandni Chowk in order to save some Chinese villagers from a tyrant named Hojo (Gordon Liu). The story is predictable — Sidhu eventually figures out that he’s been duped but takes on the villagers’ problem as his own — but it’s told well.
For the most part, the film is successful. The story is accessible, the fight choreography is well-executed, and the Chinese actors in CC2C are better than non-Indian actors in Bollywood films typically are. Even the movie’s corny running gag (Sidhu’s convinced that the god Ganesh has taken corporeal form as a potato) is surprisingly funny.
But CC2C falls short in a number of ways. Deepika Padukone is underutilized, even though she plays two roles. Worse, every time she appears on screen as the thief Meow Meow, her arrival is marked by an annoying “meow” sound effect.
The sound mixing is the film’s biggest problem. There’s a lot of noise, with sounds of a yelling crowd layered on top of high-pitched music. In a theater, that kind of cacophony renders some of the dialogue unintelligible and is, at times, even painful to listen to. (The theater where I attended the movie usually has pretty good sound, so I suspect the fault lies with the movie’s creators.)
Chandni Chowk to China isn’t great, though it is amusing and certainly better than 2007 Bollywood-Hollywood collaboration Saawariya. But its uneven production and cookie-cutter story will probably keep it from becoming a mainstream hit in America, which is surely what distributor Warner Bros. was hoping for.
There’s nothing subtle about this romantic comedy. Akshay Kumar overacts as a clumsy villager impersonating a mafia don impersonating a servant, as part of a convoluted plot to reunite the real don with his family. Gun fights and chase scenes are loud and frequent, but not very exciting. The film’s highlight is a music video featuring rapper Snoop Dogg, who gives a shout out to “the ladies hangin’ out in Mumbai” during the closing credits.
No Rating (violence); 135 minutes
This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on August 14, 2008