It’s time for my annual roundup of the year’s best Hindi films. I need to start with a caveat, in anticipation of any comments asking why certain movies didn’t make my list. Both my mother-in-law and father-in-law died in 2019, and I missed seeing a bunch of movies, especially those released in the first half of the year. I’m particularly disappointed to have missed Sonchiriya, since I’ve read many good things about it. It only ran in North American theaters for two weeks in March before heading to the streaming service Zee5 — which isn’t available in the United States. It’s not available for digital purchase or on DVD here either, so there’s no legal way for me to catch up on it. I’m sure there are other 2019 releases that I would have enjoyed that I also missed out on.
That said, 2019 was a fantastic year for action movie buffs like me, so let’s get to it!
What better place to start than with my favorite martial artist Vidyut Jammwal’s family-friendly eco-thriller Junglee. This is a rare Hindi film directed by an American: Chuck Russell, best known for the Jim Carrey hit, The Mask. While most Indian productions lean heavily on computer-generated effects to create animals on-screen, Russell had Jammwal and the rest of the cast interact with live elephants. It adds an element of awe that reinforces the story’s messages of conservation and respect for nature. And Jammwal’s excellent stunts are always a ton of fun.
India’s submission to the 92nd Academy Awards — Gully Boy — certainly deserved the honor, even if it failed to make the shortlist for the Oscars (not that any film can beat Parasite). Director Zoya Akhtar’s story of a young Muslim man voicing his generation’s frustrations through the medium of rap is timely and relevant, but also a great example of character creation and world-building.
Another of the action flicks on this year’s list is the thrill ride War. With world-class stunts and fight choreography — and a totally unexpected romantic undercurrent between characters played by Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff — War is a Bollywood action flick you could easily share with your non-Bollywood watching friends.
Speaking of Bollywood films for non-Bollywood watchers, the best of the year in that regard was the thriller Article 15. I recommended it to several acquaintances outside my Hindi-film circle, and all of them went to the theater to see it and really enjoyed it. Some readers have asked me if Bollywood movies can ever find crossover success in America, and to that end, Article 15 shows the value of having an English title and a plot that’s easy to describe. Oh, and it has to be a darned good movie as well, which Article 15 definitely is.
Given the theme of this year’s list, it’s no surprise that my favorite Hindi movie of 2019 is yet another action film, albeit an unconventional one. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain“) — which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 but didn’t play in Indian theaters until March, 2019, followed by a May Netflix release in the United States — features a hero raised on a diet of old martial arts movies who doesn’t have an ounce of cynicism. He believes that the good guys really can beat the bad guys. It’s a fun, goofy movie with a ton of heart, lots of flying kicks, and wonderful performances by newcomer Abhimanyu Dassani, Pataakha‘s Radhika Madan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Jimit Trivedi, and Gulshan Devaiah in my favorite double role of all time. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota makes me incredibly happy.
I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of Indian titles added in the last week, including today’s blockbuster addition of the Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff action extravaganza War, one of my favorite movies of the year. War is now available for streaming in Hindi (standard and 4K UHD) and Telugu (standard and 4K UHD). The Hindi version of Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy is available as well, also in standard and 4K UHD. Other 2019 releases added in the last week include:
It looks like the Excel Entertainment back catalog really is leaving Prime for good on Thursday, November 28. To see a list of all the titles on their way out, scroll past the “Newly Added” section at the top of my Amazon Prime page to find the “Expiring Soon” section, or click here. Bon voyage, Dil Dhadakne Do. [Disclaimer: my Amazon links include an affiliate tag that may earn me a commission on purchases.]
It’s no surprise that Housefull 4 came out on top among this year’s trio of Diwali releases. From October 25-27, 2019, the comedy sequel earned $904,808 from 315 theaters ($2,872 average) in North America, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s not a particularly robust per-theater average, so we’re probably looking at a final total short of $3 million.
The other two new releases wilted against the competition. Saand Ki Aankh earned $101,900 from 204 theaters ($500 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Made in China was just behind with $72,349 from 95 theaters ($762 average).
War still raged in its fourth weekend of release, earning $80,866 from 59 theaters ($1,371 average), bringing its total to $4,566,986.
Other Hindi and multilingual releases still in North American theaters:
The Sky Is Pink: Week 3; $10,741 from 14 theaters; $767 average; $713,682 total
Dream Girl: Week 7; $5,786 from seven theaters; $827 average; $2,332,417 total
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy: Week 4; $924 from four theaters; $231 average; $2,622,634 total
Diwali weekend brings a trio of new Hindi films to Chicago area theaters on October 25, 2019. The widest release of the three goes to the latest entry in the Housefull movie franchise: Housefull 4 — noteworthy because the average age difference between the film’s male leads and their female love interests is 18.67 years.
Next up is the biographical drama Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“), in which Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu play sexagenarian sharpshooters Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, respectively.
Saand Ki Aankh opens Friday at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Marcus Addison, Cantera, Woodridge 18, and AMC Niles 12 in Niles. It has runtime of 2 hrs. 26 min. Saand Ki Aankh‘s streaming partner is Zee5.
Finally, we have the comedy Made in China, starring Rajkummar Rao, Mouni Roy, and Boman Irani.
Made in China opens Friday at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and Woodridge 18. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 15 min. It’s heading to JioCinema after its theatrical run ends.
War carries over for a fourth week at the Regal Round Lake Beach, South Barrington 24, Cantera, and Woodridge 18.
Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend (all films have English subtitles):
In its third weekend of release, War became the second highest earning Hindi film of 2019 in North America. From October 18-20, the action thriller earned $364,907 from 192 theaters ($1,901 average), according to Bollywood Hungama. Its $4,355,621 total is still more than $1 million behind this year’s leader, Gully Boy.
The Sky Is Pink took in $125,645 from 194 theaters ($648 average) in its second weekend, bringing its total to $645,272.
Other Hindi/multilingual films still in North American theaters:
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy: Week 3; $33,667 from 50 theaters; $673 average; $2,613,851 total
Dream Girl: Week 6; $22,358 from 18 theaters; $1,242 average; $2,317,535 total
Pitting two of Bollywood’s biggest action stars against one another lives up to the hype in War, a tremendously fun, globetrotting thrill ride.
Indian super-spy Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) has gone rogue. A task force including his former pupil, Khalid (Tiger Shroff), must track Kabir down and figure out what happened. Their boss, Colonel Luthra (Ashutosh Rana), assigns another agent to lead the task force because Khalid is “too close” to Kabir. Khalid’s colleague Aditi (Anupriya Goenka) covertly funnels him information, because she wants to find Kabir as badly as he does.
Kabir’s team was the best of the best, hot on the trail of international criminal Rizwan Ilyasi (Sanjeev Vasta) when Khalid joined them as a promising new recruit. The onboarding process was rocky, since Kabir worried that Khalid might harbor some resentment for Kabir having killed his agent-turned-terrorist father (in self defense!). But Khalid proved both loyal and capable, winning Kabir’s trust — only for Kabir to turn on the government he swore to protect.
Khalid’s desire to join Kabir’s team stems both from a need to show the world that he is not his father’s son and from his infatuation with Kabir. Roshan as Kabir gets one of cinema’s most loving introductions, stepping out of a helicopter with the wind blowing his hair, striding muscularly, like a being made of pure testosterone. Khalid gawks at him on behalf of all of us.
Not to be overlooked is Khalid’s own introduction, via one of Bollywood’s best-ever fight scenes. The fight choreography and Ben Jasper’s camera work as Khalid tosses drug dealers around an apartment are spectacular. Shroff’s athletic prowess is just as impressive.
War is among the most expensive Indian films ever made, and it looks it. Chase scenes — whether on foot or via car or motorcycle — in foreign locales are as exciting to watch as they are stunning to look at. The scale is big, the stakes are high, and writer-director Siddharth Anand pushes the envelope even further than his previous action spectacular, Bang Bang, which also looked great but was disappointing. The lessons learned from that film translated into a thriller that can stand up alongside anything Hollywood has to offer, with well-integrated CGI, practical effects, and complicated stunt work.
Another improvement is in the quality of acting Anand gets from his performers. Roshan was miscast in the action-comedy Bang Bang, but he plays Kabir perfectly as steely but not unfeeling. Shroff has always been his best when playing underdogs, and he uses that here to show how Khalid’s over-eagerness makes him reckless. Goenka’s role is utilitarian — she’s always there with the right information at the right time — but she gives Aditi a spark.
Vaani Kapoor has a small but impactful role as Naina, a dancer Kabir befriends while tracking Ilyasi on a solo mission in Italy. Naina pegs Kabir’s martyr streak as dangerous. Kabir says his team is his family, but Aditi has a fiance and Khalid has his mother — Kabir’s the only one with no one else to come home to. It helps to remind Kabir that real people are involved, something the movie notes when Colonel Luthra acknowledges some Portuguese soldiers killed in a mission gone wrong. The characters don’t just rampage through cities without consequence.
Sure, some loose ends are left hanging at film’s end, and the ridiculous climax includes what is essentially a really-effective Audi commercial. But no one can ever accuse War‘s cast or crew of phoning it in. Anand wanted world-class stunts and powerful action sequences, and he got them. Roshan and Shroff look jacked, and their fights and dance scenes are impressive. Kapoor stands out in her acrobatic showcase dance number as well. War is just tremendous fun and a great example of a movie that warrants viewing on the biggest screen possible.
The Sky Is Pink had a fine opening weekend in North America. From October 11-13, 2019, the family drama earned $336,620 from 163 theaters ($2,065 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.
It was never going to best War, which had a good enough second weekend to finish in 12th place at the overall North American box office. The action flick earned $866,421 from 270 theaters ($3,209 average), according to Box Office Mojo. Its total earnings of $3,640,355 currently rank in 4th place among Hindi films in North America this year — just $17,453 behind Mission Mangal in 3rd and about $545,000 behind Uri: The Surgical Strike in 2nd.
Also in its second weekend of release, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy earned $191,257 from 156 theaters ($1,226 average), bringing the multilingual’s total to $2,527,853.
Dream Girl finished its fifth weekend with $33,124 from 26 theaters ($1,274 average). Its total earnings stand at $2,277,724.
New in Chicago area theaters October 11, 2019, is the Hindi family drama The Sky Is Pink. Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar play parents to a terminally ill daughter, played by Zaira Wasim in her last film before her retirement from the entertainment industry.