Tag Archives: Udta Punjab

Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

2016 was a darned good year for Hindi films, with positive reviews outnumbering negative reviews 26-22 at this site. Here’s my list of the Best Bollywood Movies of 2016. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)

I should start by noting that Dhanak — which released theatrically in the United States and India in June, 2016 — would have made the list had it not already appeared on my Best of 2015 list. I watched it as part of the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival.

As for the ten films that did make the 2016 list, two stood out for employing narrative structures that reflect their subject matter. Pink begins with the aftermath of a sexual assault, and not until the ending credits do we see the events as they really happened, echoing the “he said, she said” nature of many sexual assault cases. Waiting isn’t afraid to show its characters being bored, a feeling anyone who’s spent time in a hospital can relate to.

Neerja and Aligarh were emotional true stories featuring riveting performances by their lead actors: Sonam Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee, respectively. Parched also earned a nod for the stellar performances by its four female co-leads.

Two films mastered genres with spotty track records in Bollywood: superhero movies and sex comedies. A Flying Jatt was a welcome nod to the colorful, optimistic type of superhero flick that has fallen out of favor in Hollywood in recent years, featuring an ordinary protagonist who discovers his inner hero (with a little divine assistance, providing a compelling subplot about religious identity). Unlike the two worst Bollywood movies of 2016 — the mean-spirited sex comedies Mastizaade and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3Brahman Naman is raunchy and hilarious, aiming most of its jokes at its hapless leading man.

South Korean films have inspired a number of Hindi thrillers in recent years (Rocky Handsome and Jazbaa, for instance), but the chilling Raman Raghav 2.0 is totally Indian, especially in regard to the way director Anurag Kashyap uses music to guide the audience through emotional moments.

The two films at the top of this year’s list earn their spots by tackling tough subjects in otherwise very commercial fare. Udta Punjab harnessed the star-power of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, and Diljit Dosanjh to deftly address Punjab’s drug crisis and make it relevant to people not directly affected by it.

My favorite film of the year also featured a top-notch cast, including Alia Bhatt (again), Rishi Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Rajat Kapoor, and Ratna Pathak. Kapoor & Sons bravely examines the secrets that family members keep from one another and the resentment that builds because of it, addressing issues like infidelity, parental favoritism, and homosexuality with sensitivity and compassion. That Kapoor & Sons also manages to be lots of fun just further cements it as my Best Bollywood Movie of 2016.

Check my Netflix list to see which of these films are available for streaming in the United States.

Kathy’s Best Bollywood Movies of 2016

  1. Kapoor & Sons — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  2. Udta Punjab — Buy at Amazon
  3. Aligarh — Buy at Amazon
  4. Parched — Buy/rent at Amazon or iTunes
  5. Brahman Naman
  6. Raman Raghav 2.0 — Buy at Amazon
  7. A Flying Jatt
  8. Neerja — Buy at Amazon
  9. Waiting — Buy at Amazon
  10. Pink — Buy at Amazon

Previous Best Movies Lists

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Streaming Video News: January 1, 2017

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with some exciting new additions to the catalog. One of my favorite movies of 2016 — Udta Punjab — is now available for streaming. It’s tremendous. Another highly anticipated addition to the catalog is Omi Vaidya‘s documentary Big in Bollywood. Also newly available for streaming are the movies Autohead (Hindi), Radiopetti (Tamil), and Saheb Bibi Golaam (Bengali), and the documentaries An American in Madras and The Rat Race. For everything else new on Netflix, check Instant Watcher.

Have a happy new year!
— Kathy

Bollywood Box Office: September 2-4, 2016

The action flick Naam Hai Akira posted opening weekend numbers that were okay, but a bit on the low side. During the weekend of September 2-4, 2016, the movie earned $131,735 from 87 North American theaters ($1,514 average). Including Monday’s Labor Day holiday, which is celebrated in both the United States and Canada (I had to look that up), Box Office Mojo reports total earnings for Naam Hai Akira of $166,658.

The reason why Naam Hai Akira‘s numbers are slightly disappointing is that it opened in more than the median number of theaters for the year (85) but earned less than the median opening weekend gross (around $145,000). While that’s less than a $15,000 difference, Naam Hai Akira was way off when it came to the median opening weekend per-theater average of more than $2,000 per theater. Basically, the film didn’t warrant such a wide release. Somewhere in the 70-75 theater range would’ve been more appropriate.

Here’s where things get interesting. The four movies that have the 15th-18th (out of 34) widest opening weekend releases of 2016 in North America are Jai Gangaajal, Neerja, Naam Hai Akira, and Sarbjit — all movies marketed on the strength of their female lead character or actress. They all released within a range of 83-93 theaters. Neerja had a huge opening weekend and expanded into a total of 135 theaters the following week. However, the other three grossed less than the median in their opening weekends with underwhelming per-theater averages ($1,569 for Sarbjit and $1,277 for Jai Gangaajal). The sad fact is that most female-led Bollywood movies aren’t big enough draws here to justify the theatrical footprint they currently receive.

In cheerier news, Rustom has by now overtaken Airlift as the fourth highest earning Hindi film of 2016 in North America. 3-day weekend earnings of $68,932 from 33 theaters ($2,089 average) brought its total to $1,853,818 — less than $5,000 behind Airlift‘s total earnings.

Over the weekend, Happy Bhag Jayegi accomplished a feat I wrote about last week, becoming the eighth Bollywood movie of the year to double its opening weekend earnings over the course of its theatrical run. It earned another $25,775 from twelve theaters ($2,148 average), bringing its three-weekend total to $333,938.

In its second weekend, A Flying Jatt‘s business fell by more than 80% from its opening weekend. It earned $19,867 from 27 theaters ($736 average), bringing its total to $174,055.

Mohenjo Daro stuck around for a fourth weekend in eight theaters, earning $5,625 ($703 average). Its total stands at $1,237,504, surpassing Udta Punjab for eighth place for the year.

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Bollywood Box Office: July 15-17, 2016

With no new competitors entering the fray, Sultan dominated the Bollywood box office in North America for a second weekend in a row. From July 15-17, 2016, it added another $956,949 from 298 theaters ($3,211 average) to bring its total to $5,321,818. The movie continues to receive outsized support from Canada, where the weekend’s per-theater average was $7,349, versus an average of $2,849 in theaters in the United States.

Last week, I looked at the performances of past blockbusters to gauge how Sultan might fare going forward, so let’s continue that exercise this week. Sultan‘s second weekend earnings were about 41% of what it earned in its first weekend in theaters. That’s better than the 31% Dhoom 3 carried over, but worse than both PK (47%) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (60%). Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s business grew at a significantly slower pace than that of PK or Dhoom 3, which concentrated their earnings early in their theatrical runs. By the end of their second weekend in theaters, here’s what each of those three films had earned, as well as what percentage of the films’ total earnings those figures represent:

  • Bajrangi Bhaijaan: $5,558,910 after second weekend; 69% of total earnings
  • PK: $7,785,486 after second weekend; 74% of total earnings
  • Dhoom 3: $6,817,835 after second weekend; 84% of total earnings

Applying those percentages to Sultan‘s second weekend haul yields total earnings of $7.7 million, $7.1 million, and $6.3 million, respectively. Sultan‘s week-to-week retention rate hints at it performing more like PK or Dhoom 3 than slow-growing Bajrangi Bhaijaan, so a final total right around $7 million seems most likely.

Other Hindi films still in theaters:

  • Udta Punjab: Week 5; $5,694 from four theaters; $1,424 average; $1,234,838 total
  • Dhanak: Week 5; $170 from one stalwart theater; $12,624 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Movie Review: Udta Punjab (2016)

UdtaPunjab4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

Several years ago, an affluent community near me realized it had a heroin problem. It did so when a pair of high school students — disturbed by the overdose deaths of three classmates within a single school year — filmed fellow students discussing their own drug use.

The students screened their documentary Neuqua on Drugs for a library auditorium full of horrified school administrators, media, and parents. The adults in the room were shocked that such a problem had festered under their overprotective noses. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes. It wasn’t supposed to happen to “good” kids.

Punjab is in the middle of its own drug crisis, without the resources of a wealthy American suburb to fight it, nor the collective will to protect a generation of potential Ivy Leaguers. Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (“Punjab on a High“) provides context and scope for the state’s drug problems in a film that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.

A quartet of lead characters showcase different aspects of the crisis. Musician Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) made a fortune churning out songs celebrating drug culture. Just as it becomes apparent that Tommy’s own drug abuse is hampering his ability to write new music, he’s arrested, the easy scapegoat in a police attempt to look like they are cracking down on drugs.

That’s impossible to do, however, when the cops themselves are profiting from the drug trade. Officer Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) even complains that police deserve bigger bribes to look the other way when truckloads of narcotics cross the border. Only when Sartaj’s younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), is hospitalized from an overdose does the young cop realize his part in fomenting the problem.

Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is more than happy to place blame on Sartaj and the police. She operates a rehab clinic, so she’s seen first-hand the devastation drugs wreak on individuals, their families, and the community at large. Eager to thank the doctor for helping to dry out Balli and atone for his own profiteering, Sartaj joins forces with Preeti to trace the drugs to their source.

Sartaj locates the region’s main distribution hub, a compound where a young woman nicknamed Bauria (Alia Bhatt) is imprisoned as a sex slave. When Bauria found a packet of powder — thrown over the Pakistani border discus-style — in the field where she worked, she’d hoped to sell it and get rich. Only the intended recipients of the packet found out, capturing her, hooking her on drugs, and using her to service clients, including the police chief, who happens to be Sartaj’s cousin.

Everything and everyone in Udta Punjab is connected, right down to the poster of Tommy hanging on Balli’s wall. In the same way that the character’s lives entwine, so do the region’s fortunes. It only takes a few corrupt cops and politicians to sustain a catastrophe that keeps the beds at Preeti’s clinic full.

Chaubey’s story — co-written by Sudip Sharma — wisely embeds the drug crisis within the purview of ordinary life. Crops still need to be harvested, and love still blossoms, as it does between Sartaj and Preeti. His crush on the beautiful doctor develops quickly, but he’s too shy to express his feelings, intimidated as he is by her intelligence. He gathers the intel, but she has to explain to him (and thus the audience, thankfully) the intersection between government officials, chemical manufacturers, and the gangsters controlling the drug trade. She grows increasingly charmed by his enthusiasm and dedication.

Rooting the narrative within a real-life framework requires room for humor as well, tinted appropriately dark given the subject matter. Chaubey juxtaposes funny moments with grim ones, occasionally blending the comic with the tragic in the same scene. For example, a singer croons, “Her smile makes the flowers bloom,” over a shot of Bauria vomiting.

The film’s performances are likewise balanced between the straightforward deliveries of Kapoor Khan and Dosanjh, and the wilder turns of Bhatt and Kapoor. The horrors of Bauria’s circumstances are made clear but not dwelt upon, focusing instead on the character’s strength and ingenuity, movingly depicted by Bhatt. Kapoor plays Tommy with a manic energy that doesn’t dissipate even when the singer is sober.

Chaubey’s film is perfectly balanced, in every respect. That makes the Censor Board controversy surrounding Udta Punjab‘s release seem even more ridiculous. There’s nothing in the film that comes close to glorifying drug use, so attempts to stall its release with demands that every reference to Punjab be removed is simply an attempt by vested interests to deny that Punjab has a drug problem. People in my own community and thousands of Punjabi citizens know the truth: while politicians bury their heads in the sand, people are dying.

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Bollywood Box Office: July 8-10, 2016

Salman Khan’s Sultan made a ton of money in North America — so much so that it finished in tenth place overall on the domestic charts. During its opening weekend of July 8-10, 2016, it earned $2,327,779 from 309 theaters ($7,533 average). Add to that the $1,012,086 it earned from Wednesday and Thursday (Sultan released on July 6), and Sultan‘s five-day total stands at $3,339,865 in the United States and Canada. That puts its five-day average at $10,809 per theater.

Salman’s movies always do exceptionally well in Canada, and Sultan continued that trend. Even though Canadian theaters accounted for only 8% of the total number of theaters (26 of 309), they contributed 18% to the total gross ($617,134 over five days). That puts the five-day per-screen average for those Canadian theaters at $23,736, versus a $9,621 five-day average in US theaters.

So, does Sultan stand a chance of becoming the highest grossing Hindi film of all time in North America? Probably not. First of all, its five-day total was less than what PK and Dhoom 3 earned in their first three days ($3,508,980 and $3,422,590, respectively). Second, its IMDb rating (currently 7.4) falls well short of PK‘s (8.3) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s (8.1) — though admittedly it could increase — hinting that perhaps Sultan isn’t as beloved as some other blockbusters. Both PK and Bajrangi Bhaijaan went on to triple their first-weekend earnings. I confess that I’m not exactly sure how multipliers work for Wednesday releases, but lets assume that Sultan follows suit. A tripling of its first weekend numbers would put its total at $6,983,337. Even adding in its Wednesday and Thursday earnings only puts its total at $7,995,423 — placing it behind PK ($10,550,569), Bajrangi Bhaijaan ($8,114,714), and Dhoom 3 ($8,090,250). Sultan‘s second weekend returns will give a clearer picture of its box office longevity. But c’mon. Almost $8 million would still be a freaking lot of money!

Other Hindi movies still in North American theaters:

  • Udta Punjab: Week 4; $12,005 from ten theaters; $1,201 average; $1,226,557 total
  • Housefull 3: Week 6; $83 from one theater; $1,322,753 total
  • Raman Raghav 2.0: Week 3; $28 from one theater; $75,681 total
  • Dhanak: Week 4; $24 from one theater; $12,374 total

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Bollywood Box Office: July 1-3, 2016

Following a lovely vacation in Florida, I’m back with my weekly box office report. No new Hindi films opened in the United States or Canada on Friday, so let’s see how the films still in theaters held up during the weekend of July 1-3, 2016.

In its third weekend of release, Udta Punjab continued to lead the field. It added another $74,883 from 44 theaters ($1,702 average) to bring its North American total to $1,184,917. I find it interesting that three of the seven Hindi films to earn more than $1 million in the US and Canada this year opened in fewer than 110 theaters: Udta Punjab (107), Airlift (98), and Neerja (88). Both Airlift and Neerja added theaters in their second week of release, but their initial opening was conservative, as was Udta Punjab‘s. After years of increasing theater counts, maybe studios and distributors are realizing they can earn just as much with a smaller footprint.

Raman Raghav 2.0 ended its second weekend with $7,070 from thirteen theaters ($544 average), bringing its total to $75,515. That amount is probably in line with expectations, but I’d hoped for more given how good the movie is.

Housefull 3 earned another $4,816 from six theaters ($803 average) to bring its five-week total to $1,320,871. In its fourth week, Te3n took in $1,040 from four theaters ($260 average), bringing its total to $436,408.

Dhanak closed out its third weekend in just one theater, earning $390 and bringing its total to $12,164. This is another movie that I wish had made a bigger splash. Perhaps with better (or any) marketing campaign that used its English title, Rainbow, it could have. Dhanak is such a sweet, broadly appealing movie that I hope someday finds an audience on Netflix or another streaming service.

Source: Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama