I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with the addition of the Hindi sports drama Penalty, as well as the return of about two dozen Viacom 18 films that had expired from the service over the last several months. Here’s what’s back:
Tanu Weds Manu Returns is the feel-bad romantic comedy of the year. Lighthearted moments are undercut by a cynicism about the institution of marriage that leaves one feeling melancholy at best, depressed at worst.
2011’s Tanu Weds Manu was a conventional romcom about a pair of opposites: wild-child Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and steadfast Manu (R. Madhavan). Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR, henceforth) picks up after the first four years of their miserable marriage.
Tanu is so desperate to get out of her marriage that she has Manu committed to a London mental institution. She later feels bad, calling Manu’s friend Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) to rescue her husband while she flies back to India.
The couple wind up at their respective family homes in different cities (the geography in TWMR is confusing for international audiences). Tanu flirts with her parents’ tenant, Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and unwisely reconnects with her short-tempered ex-boyfriend, Raja (Jimmy Shergill). Manu notices a college athlete who is the spitting image of Tanu, only with a pixie cut. He stalks Kusum (also Ranaut) until she relents, and they start dating.
Manu falling for his wife’s younger lookalike is a cute story setup, but it gets creepier the more serious the relationship becomes. Pappi warns that the new relationship is a bad idea — especially since it begins before Tanu and Manu are officially divorced — but he doesn’t call Manu’s obsession what it is: weird.
It hard to know who to root for in this movie. Tanu and Manu are both incredible jerks to each other. Tanu is arrogant and lacks empathy. Manu is selfish but wishy-washy. He doesn’t even possess enough will to make his climactic decision on his own, without prompting.
Worse, TWMR makes the characters’ circumstances so dire that its impossible to resolve the story in a satisfying way. There are really only a handful of things that one spouse could say to the other that would permanently destroy their marriage. When Tanu is at her most pitiable, Manu says one of those things to her. It’s crushing to watch.
Director Anand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma give themselves only two possible outcomes: either Tanu and Manu get back together, or Manu weds Kusum and says good-bye to Tanu forever. Neither option feels good, and both are bad for Kusum.
Kusum is the movie’s redeeming element. She’s an independent tomboy, but she’s also sweet and honest. She’s reluctant to get romantically involved with anyone because, if the relationship negatively affects her athletics, it will make it that much harder for other girls from her village to get scholarships in the future. That Manu pursues her anyway is a sign of his selfishness.
Ranuat’s acting abilities are widely acclaimed, and it’s fun to see her pull off two very different roles in the same movie with such ease. Dobriyal is also entertainingly twitchy as Pappi. Manu’s not much of character as it is, and Madhavan doesn’t add much.
In addition to an unsatisfying story, international audiences will be hampered by poorly translated subtitles. Minor spelling errors — such as writing “apologies” instead of “apologize” — hint at greater problems in translating the humor from Hindi to English. The crowd of mostly native Hindi speakers at my showing laughed uproariously to lines that, in English, read as utilitarian.
Watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns for Kangana Ranaut. Just don’t expect to have a lot of fun while doing it.
Tanu Weds Manu Returns — the sequel to 2011’s Tanu Weds Manu — hits Chicago area theaters on May 22, 2015. Kangana Ranaut and R. Madhavan are back as the title characters, with Ranuat taking on an additional role as Tanu’s doppelgänger, an athlete named Kusum.
Bombay Velvet — which opened in twelve Chicago area theaters last weekend — carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18. The same five theaters also hold over Piku for a third week, while Gabbar is Back gets a fourth week at MovieMax.
With the Cricket World Cup winding down, India turns its attention back to the movies. Game — the first Hindi film to open in the Chicago area since February 25 — stars Abhishek Bachchan as one of four suspected murderers summoned to an island to determine the identity of the real killer. The strong cast also includes Anupam Kher, Boman Irani, Kangana Ranaut and Jimmy Shergill.
The yearly Bollywood drought is underway. The only new Hindi movie scheduled for release in the whole month of March, Yeh Faasley, opens this Friday, but not in the Chicago area. Expect a flood of new films once the Cricket World Cup ends in early April.
Since there won’t be much news to report, I’m tabling my weekly theater updates in March unless a Hindi movie is showing at more than one Chicago area theater. I’ll also post if a specialty theater like the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles shows any classic Bollywood movies. Throughout the month, I’ll post DVD reviews of some recent releases and older favorites.
As of Friday, March 4, Tanu Weds Manu will be the only Hindi movie showing in the Chicago area. It gets a second week at the Golf Glen 5 and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington.
Consider the Saltine cracker: a food so bland and inoffensive it’s one of the few things you can keep down when you have the stomach flu. It’s salted, but not enough to make it a go-to snack when you’re craving something salty. In fact, you kind of forget about that box of Saltines, relegating it to the back of the cupboard until the next time you either come down with the flu or run out of anything else to eat.
Tanu Weds Manu is the Saltine cracker of movies.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Tanu Weds Manu. The costumes are pretty, the music is peppy, and the main characters are basically nice people. But there’s nothing to Tanu Weds Manu. Movies need conflict and urgency to maintain interest, and Tanu Weds Manu is devoid of both.
Since the title gives away the movie’s ending, I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything with this summary of the film.
Manu (R. Madhavan): Hi, Tanu. Our parents want us to get married. You’re pretty, so I’m game.
Tanu (Kangana Ranaut): I don’t want to marry you.
Manu: Okay. I’ll leave.
Tanu: Wait. You seem like a nice enough guy, but I want to marry someone else.
Manu: Okay. I’ll leave.
Tanu: Wait. I changed my mind. I want to marry you.
Other Guy (Jimmy Shergill): Hey, what about me?
Tanu & Manu: Sorry, but the title says we have to get married.
Other Guy: Okay. I’ll leave.
There you have it. Tanu’s a bit of a bad girl in that she drinks and smokes, but she’s otherwise uncontroversial. Manu is a terminally nice doctor and a bit of a pushover. There’s no real chemistry between them, so their romance feels like titular destiny more than anything else. Shergill’s villain, Raja, gets into fights, but he’s basically non-threatening. Everyone else in the film is forgettable.
Watching Tanu Weds Manu, I was reminded of my mother-in-law’s stance on the children’s book series Junie B. Jones. My mother-in-law, Joan (whom I love), refuses to read Junie B. Jones books to my 7-year-old niece because Junie B. uses incorrect grammar and sometimes gets sassy with adults, as if merely exposing my niece to these concepts would trigger some kind of pre-teen linguistic rebellion.
I imagine Joan’s ideal kids’ book to be one in which the child protagonist cleans her room and finishes her homework with enough time to play a game of Yahtzee with her adoring grandmother before the girl’s bedtime at 6 p.m. There’s nothing offensive about such a story, but who’d want to read it? Same goes for Tanu Weds Manu.
Patiala House gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.
These may be the only Hindi movies showing around Chicago for a while, so catch them while you can. The Cricket World Cup is underway, meaning that Indian production houses have dramatically cut back on releases until the tournament ends on April 2. Bollywood Hungama lists just three Hindi films with confirmed release dates in the whole month of March. (Update: 24 hours later, Bollywood Hungama changed their list to just one film with a release date in March. It’s gonna be a slow month.)