I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with more than fifty Indian titles that are now available for streaming. Most of the new films are in Hindi (23 titles), Punjabi (22), or Tamil (7), with one new addition each in Marathi and Bengali (as well as one Urdu movie from Pakistan). The full list of titles is available in the “Newly Added” section at the top of my Netflix page. Here are all of the Bollywood films that were just added:
Writer-director Ayan Mukerji’s debut movie, Wake Up Sid, was a nuanced coming-of-age film grounded in realism. While Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (“This Youth is Crazy”) is also a coming-of-age film, it plays out as a male fantasy in which selfishness is rewarded, and there are no consequences for bad behavior.
The regressive storyline that dominates the second half of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (YJHD, henceforth) is a disappointment, given how much the film has going for it. It’s packed with blockbuster-caliber dance numbers, gorgeous scenery, and a strong first half, anchored by Deepika Padukone. But all that can’t make up for the inattention paid to the film’s core relationships and the lack of development of the ostensible lead character, played by Ranbir Kapoor.
YJHD‘s story structure is confusing because, until the mid-point of the movie, Padukone’s character, Naina, is the lead character. She narrates an extended flashback of a mountain trek vacation eight years earlier, when she was eager to ditch her nerdy image and have an adventure before starting medical school. On the trip, she reunites with some high school classmates — Aditi (Kalki Koechlin), Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor), and Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) — and falls in love with Bunny. The trip ends, and the friends go their separate ways.
When the action returns to the present day, Naina’s lead status ends with her mailing invitations to Aditi’s wedding. Bunny takes center stage when he accepts the invitation and returns to India after eight years abroad, having had minimal contact with his friends in the meantime (and apparently no contact with Naina whatsoever). The rest of the story is about Bunny finally realizing — at age 30 — that other people have feelings, too, and that perhaps he shouldn’t be so selfish.
There’s a great scene in Wake Up Sid in which slacker Sid (also played by Ranbir Kapoor) finally cleans the apartment he shares with Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma), hoping to impress her. Instead, she chides him for expecting praise for something he should’ve been doing all along.
In YJHD, however, when Bunny admits that perhaps he should’ve called home more often — instead of ignoring his family and friends while enjoying his globetrotting lifestyle — Aditi, Avi, and Naina all but throw him a parade. Bunny’s stepmother assures him that it’s okay that he missed his father’s funeral, since all his father ever wanted was for Bunny to follow his dreams. As charming as Bunny is supposed to be, it’s hard to accept that there are no consequences for him spending thirty years as a self-interested jerk.
In contrast to Bunny’s virtual lack of moral development, Naina undertakes some serious soul-searching. On the trek, Naina forces herself to take risks, if only to confirm that she really is a homebody at heart, and that that’s okay. When she confesses to Bunny that socializing is more difficult for a nerd like her than it is for a popular guy like him, he responds, in essence, “Why? You’re fine the way you are.” It’s meant to be reassuring, but it speaks to the fact that Bunny can’t empathize with her feelings of social isolation.
During their eight years apart, Naina finishes med school and apparently has no other romantic relationships. It’s as if she put her life on hold until Bunny decides that he wants to grow up. When he does, she accepts him without reservations. Naina must work to become a better person, but Bunny is written as though his value is inherent and obvious. He just has to say the magic word, and he becomes a prize worth having. It’s lazy writing, and it’s a bit sexist.
YJHD also has trouble defining the friendships between the characters. The first half of the film is about Naina earning her spot as the fourth member of the group of pals, but she never interacts with all four of them together in the second half. When Aditi suggests to Avi and Bunny that they celebrate on the eve of her wedding, no one mentions including Naina. Naina gives a toast to her “best friend,” Aditi, but they have few scenes together where it’s just the two of them. Naina loses her status as a friend in the second half, reduced to the role of Bunny’s love interest.
The final shot of the film confirms Naina’s demotion from lead character in the first half to isolated love interest in the second. Naina and Bunny embrace, and the camera moves in to a closeup of Bunny’s beatific face, cropping Naina out of the frame entirely.
There are some really terrific dance numbers in YJHD — all in the first half of the film — including a show-stopping number featuring Madhuri Dixit. As talented an actor as Kapoor is, his performances in the dance numbers are where his star qualities really shine through. All of the four main actors do a nice job, and Kunaal Roy Kapur is funny as Aditi’s dorky fiance, Taran. The trekking scenes in Manali are lovely.
As one might ignore a lousy story for the sake of seeing the exciting stunts of a blockbuster action flick, it’s perfectly acceptable to see Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani for the entertaining dance numbers and beautiful scenery alone. The film’s story is definitely not its selling point.
Despite losing a couple of months of releases because of a dispute with theater owners, Indian filmmakers released a number of terrific Hindi movies in 2009. (Click on the title of each movie to read my original review.)
Dramas Kurbaan and New York addressed terrorism with boldness and honesty, examining the reasons ordinary people become extremists. Delhi-6 dealt with religious differences in a manner both compelling and accessible. American audiences will enjoy the soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman.
A live-action version of Aladin was a novel update of the classic tale, appealing to adults and kids alike.
Romance was, as always, a popular theme. Amusing romantic comedies like Dil Bole Hadippa! and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani took a light take on love. Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid, both of which starred talented actress Konkona Sen Sharma, took a more serious approach, addressing the challenges of pursuing career goals while maintaining a healthy relationship.
The best of this year’s romances was Love Aaj Kal. Telling love stories from two different time periods, the movie embraced traditional Bollywood romance conventions while showcasing contemporary relationship issues as well. The entertaining dance numbers will make American viewers feel like they’re getting a real Bollywood experience within a Westernized story structure. The modern relationships showcased in Love Aaj Kal, Luck By Chance and Wake Up Sid represent an important advance for Indian movie makers courting success abroad.
But the Best Bollywood Movie of 2009 has to be 3 Idiots. It’s a great comedy about friendship — with just a hint of romance — that features nuanced performances by Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi. The jokes are funny whether you’re listening to them in Hindi or reading them in English subtitles.
More importantly, 3 Idiots represents a step forward for Indian comedies. Most Hindi comedies released in recent years (excluding romantic comedies) have relied on slapstick humor: childish sound effects, comic violence and chase scenes that defy logic. There’s certainly a place for slapstick in modern cinema, but I don’t think this type of humor plays well in the international markets that Hindi filmmakers are looking to break into.
3 Idiots has its share of silliness, but it’s shown in a more subdued, realistic way that makes the characters relatable. It’s easier for the audience to cheer for the guys in 3 Idiots than for the farcical nincompoops in a movie like Do Knot Disturb (my Worst Bollywood Movie of 2009), because in 3 Idiots they seem like real people. When they succeed, despite being a bit goofy, it gives hope to the rest of us goofballs.
Two new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area on Friday, November 6: one serious and one silly.
The serious movie is Jail, starring Neil Nitin Mukesh in a drama about the cruel treatment of inmates in Indian prisons. Jail is only opening at the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.
Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is the silly movie, about a boy named Prem (Ranbir Kapoor) whose efforts to please everyone go awry. It costars Katrina Kaif and has a runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.
The Diwali holiday weekend brings three big Hindi films to Chicago area theaters, with Sanjay Dutt playing major roles in two of them.
The first is Blue, an undersea adventure in which Dutt and Akshay Kumar search for treasure on a sunken ship, surrounded by sharks. Kylie Minogue adds a song to A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack: the absurdly-titled “Chiggy Wiggy.” Blue‘s runtime is listed as 1 hr. 55 min.
Next is the second Sanjay Dutt starrer, All The Best. It’s a comedy involving gangsters and a plot to trick Dutt’s wealthy character into believing his step-brother is married. I can’t make heads or tails of it based on the official story summary, nor can I figure out how Ajay Devgan’s auto mechanic character figures into the plot. I have very low expectations for All The Best, which has an official runtime of 2 hrs. 24 min.
Finally, the drama Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna, starring Kareena Kapoor as the title character. After a falling out with her husband (Salman Khan), she must choose between him and another man, played by Sohail Khan, Salman’s real-life younger brother. Main Aurr Mrs. Khanna has a runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min.
Entering its third week in theaters is Wake Up Sid, which has earned $611,574 in U.S. theaters so far. It will continue to play at the Cantera 30 and South Barrington 30. Also continuing for a third week at the South Barrington 30 is Do Knot Disturb. Its total U.S. earnings amount to $213,525.
Entering their second weeks in theaters are Wake Up Sid, which earned $355,532 in U.S. theaters last weekend, and Do Knot Disturb ($124,573). Both films are showing at the South Barrington 30, Golf Glen 5 and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.
Among slightly older Bollywood releases, the South Barrington 30 is carrying over Wanted and What’s Your Raashee? ($236,926 total U.S. earnings) for another week, while the Golf Glen 5 will hold over What’s Your Raashee? and Dil Bole Hadippa!.
Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Telugu films Ganesh at the Golf Glen 5 and Mahatma at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.
I’m always apprehensive when the lead character in Hindi film is a rich kid. In a typical masala movie, the rich kid has great-looking friends, a hot car and becomes a vice president at a huge corporation right out of college. It’s a life that many filmmakers assume that the rest of us wish we were living.
Wake Up Sid is more sophisticated than that. Although the main character, Sid, has a cool car, his life seems like that of a real person, and not some fantasy character.
As the film begins, Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) celebrates taking his final exams with his two best friends, Laxmi (Shikha Talsania) and Rishi (Namit Das). In a rare display of realism in casting, Sid’s friends — and the rest of his classmates — aren’t all potential Miss Indias or cool dudes. They look like regular college kids. Laxmi is smart but struggles with her weight, and Rishi is an average-looking guy eager to propose to his girlfriend.
While partying, Sid meets Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma). It’s her first day in Mumbai, where she hopes to become a journalist. Sid shows her the town after agreeing that they will nothing more than friends. He bails on his job at his dad’s bathroom fixture company to help Aisha get settled in Mumbai.
Then Sid learns that he’s failed his exams, while Laxmi and Rishi have passed and graduated. He vents his anger against them and his parents as well, who kick him out of the house and cut him off financially. He moves in with Aisha, only to discover that he has no ambition and no life skills. For the first time, Sid has to learn responsibility and find a direction.
The film ends the way you expect it to, but the way it gets there is refreshing. Early in the movie, there’s little to like about Sid. He’s fun, but he’s spoiled and ungrateful. His tense relationship with his mother feels especially realistic; he’s mean to her in a way that only an angry teen (or in Sid’s case, a spoiled twenty-year-old) can be.
As his character develops, Sid learns empathy from Laxmi, the value of friendship from Rishi, and self-sufficiency from Aisha. Sid’s maturity is so stunted that he celebrates every minor step toward independence as though he just discovered electricity.
Director Ayan Mukerji is patient enough to give the audience an accurate picture of who Sid is and then takes the time to show Sid’s incremental progress, without the movie ever feeling slow. There are a few musical montages, but no unnecessary dance numbers to stop the movie’s momentum.
The Diwali holiday movie season is in full swing, meaning two more Hindi films will open in Chicago area theaters this weekend.
Wake Up Sid features Ranbir Kapoor as Sid, a directionless guy who meets an attractive, motivated writer played by Konkona Sen Sharma, forcing Sid to rethink his slacker lifestyle.
In Do Knot Disturb, Govinda plays a businessman trying to cover up his affair with a model (Lara Dutta). When he hires his friend (Ritesh Deshmukh) to pose as his girlfriend’s boyfriend, identities get mixed up and comic wackiness ensues.
But those aren’t the only Hindi films showing in the Chicago area this weekend. The Golf Glen 5, Cantera 30 and South Barrington 30 are all carrying over Dil Bole Hadippa! and What’s Your Raashee?, which opened last Friday to disappointing first week earnings of only $169,005 in the United States.
The South Barrington 30 is also carrying over Wanted for a third week. Salman Khan’s latest has earned $332,816 in U.S. theaters so far.
Other Indian movies playing around Chicago include the Telugu film Ganesh and the Malayalam film Loud Speaker, both at the Golf Glen 5.