Tag Archives: YouTube

Movie Review: The Price of Free (2018)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch The Price of Free on YouTube

The fantastic 2013 drama Siddharth follows a poor family’s search for their son, a victim of child trafficking. 12-year-old Siddharth takes a factory job in a distant city for a month to earn money for his younger sister’s dowry. When the boy doesn’t return, his parents have to search for him with scant information of his whereabouts, extremely limited funds, and no picture of their son to show to the authorities.

For parents facing a similar crisis to the family in Siddharth, Delhi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“BBA”) is there to help. The documentary The Price of Free gives a look at the organization and its devoted leader, Kailash Satyarthi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in freeing more than 87,000 Indian children from slavery. (The film debuted at the Sundance film festival under the title Kailash and was renamed before its streaming video release on YouTube.)

The keys to Satyarthi’s success are his complete commitment to the principle that every child should have a childhood and his optimism that this is an achievable goal — albeit an incredibly difficult one. The Price of Free explains just how complex the problem really is, with Satyarthi himself admitting to underestimating the scope the first time he tried to free a man’s daughter from sex slavery and failed.

Actually rescuing a child from forced labor is somewhere in the middle of a process that begins with trying to stop trafficking from happening in the first place, through a combination of laws and corporate pressure to poverty eradication efforts. After a child is trafficked, the BBA team attempts to locate and release the child — and any other children present — hopefully arresting their captors in the process.

What to do with the children they rescue is a whole other problem, one that Satyarthi and his wife Sumedha discovered early in their activism as their apartment filled with traumatized children far from home. The solution was Mukti Ashram, a temporary boarding school run by Sumedha as a place where recently freed kids could live, play, and learn while BBA workers track down their parents.

The Price of Free opens with footage of a harrowing factory raid that liberates sixty-three boys, the most frightened of whom is little Karim. Given the presence of police alongside BBA activists, the boys assume they are in trouble, and Karim won’t stop crying. In a surprisingly intimate gesture, Satyarthi sits with Karim and has the boy touch his beard, joking with Karim that he’s missing a beard of his own. It pays off days later, when Satyarthi hears that Karim is still nervous at the ashram. He asks, “Is this the friend who touched my beard? Show me how you did it.” Little Karim beams as he reaches up to give Satyarthi’s cheek a familiar pet.

A heartbreaking problem BBA addresses is the reality that some of the children they reunite with their families will just wind up in forced labor again, such is the depth of their poverty. One father admits to accepting a bribe from a trafficker of as little as 2000 rupees — less than $30.

The challenges and rewards of BBA’s activism are presented fairly by filmmaker Derek Doneen, without being manipulative or melodramatic, as befitting Satyarthi’s own can-do attitude. BBA’s work requires a great deal of bravery — one never knows if the police assigned to accompany them on raids have been bribed by traffickers — and Doneen and crew deserve credit for following the activists into potentially dangerous situations for the sake of documenting their work.

If there’s one complaint about The Price of Free, it’s the inconsistency of the English subtitles. Most of the banter and other background chatter like police radios isn’t subtitled at all. If multiple people are speaking at once, only one person’s dialogued is subbed. I know documentaries don’t have lavish budgets, but the film feels incomplete without full subs.

Even with over 150 million kids worldwide still engaged in child labor, The Price of Free and Kailash Satyarthi’s work with BBA give hope that this really is a problem we can tackle. If you’d like to get involved in the movement to end child labor, check out The Price of Free‘s website, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, or 100Million.org.

You can watch The Price of Free in its entirety below:

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Q1 2015 Bollywood Movies Online

2015 has been an anemic year for Bollywood releases in the United States, and this weekend is no exception. With nothing new in theaters — and assuming you’ve already been to see Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! — this is a good weekend to catch up on some releases from the first three months of 2015 that you may have missed.

I’ve included links below to services carrying the films in the U.S., how much the movies cost to rent or purchase, and in what format they are available, if specified: high definition (HD) or standard definition (SD). All of the films supposedly have English subtitles.

Dolly Ki Doli
Google Play: rental = $3.99; purchase = $4.99
iTunes: SD rental = $3.99; HD rental = $4.99; SD purchase = $13.99; HD purchase = $14.99
YouTube: SD rental = $3.99; HD rental = $4.49; SD purchase = $4.99; HD purchase = $7.99

Tevar
Eros Now: available for streaming with a $7.99 premium monthly subscription
iTunes: SD rental = $3.99; HD rental = $4.99; SD purchase = $7.99; HD purchase = $14.99

Spuul is streaming a pair of movies from 2015 that released theatrically in India but not in the U.S. Alone and Dirty Politics are both included in the cost of a premium monthly subscription, priced at $4.99.

Here’s how I would organize a weekend movie marathon of the above titles:

  1. Alone on Spuul ($4.99 monthly subscription)
  2. Dirty Politics on Spuul (included with the monthly subscription)
  3. Dolly Ki Doli on YouTube ($4.49 HD rental)
  4. Tevar on Eros Now ($7.99 monthly subscription)

My marathon would cost me $17.47, a price which includes two monthly streaming subscriptions. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Streaming Video News: January 14, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix to reflect one change. After just five days, Daawat-e-Ishq has disappeared from the streaming service. The same thing happened to Mardaani and Bewakoofiyaan, two other movies produced by Yash Raj Films. It took a few months for Bewakoofiyaan to return for its official run on the Netflix, so I expect it will be a while before we see Mardaani or Daawat-e-Ishq on the service again.

This serves as a warning that, whenever YRF’s most recent theatrical release, Kill Dil, hits Netflix, you’d better watch it right away.

If you just can’t wait to watch Kill Dil, Daawat-e-Ishq, or Mardaani, all three are currently available for rent on YouTube for $2.99 apiece.

Update: Mike of The Arts blog may have solved the mystery: no English subtitles. At least that was his experience watching Daawat-e-Ishq on Netflix the other day. It’s unknown (at least to me) if the YouTube videos have English subtitles, so rent with caution if you don’t speak Hindi.

Update 2: Thanks again to Mike for noticing that Daawat-e-Ishq is back on Netflix again, now with subtitles. Still not sure what happened to Mardaani, though.

Pretentious Movie Reviews

Because of my love for the movie Gunda, several people directed me to “Pretentious Movie Reviews” on YouTube. Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan review terrible Hindi movies, and the best of the best — or worst of the worst, depending on your point of view — is naturally Gunda. One need not have seen Gunda to find this video review totally hilarious.

Though Gill and Kalyan switch between English and Hindi, one needn’t understand Hindi to appreciate the videos and get most of the jokes. For example, check out their riffing on a ridiculous conversation in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon.

Their other movie reviews are just as funny as these two. Check out the Movie Reviews playlist at Kanan Gill’s YouTube page, and laugh yourself silly.

Streaming Bollywood Films on the iPad

Update: The streaming service Mela shuts down permanently on September 15, 2012. With its only real competitor out of the picture, Netflix is unquestionably the best option for streaming Bollywood movies on iPad devices.

With Indian Premier League Cricket slowing the flow of major releases out of Bollywood, it’s time to examine another option for watching Hindi movies. iPad owners in the U.S. have several ways to stream Bollywood movies on their devices. But which app is the best, particularly for movie fans who rely (as I do) on English subtitles?

When reviewing streaming video services, I considered a few criteria:

  1. Is the app easy to search and navigate?
  2. How comprehensive is the catalog of movies available?
  3. Is one of the movies in the catalog Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge?

All of the apps reviewed have a fee associated with full access to their catalogs. Here’s a look at the few of the streaming services available on the iPad.

Mela

Unlike other video streaming services, Mela focuses exclusively on Indian content. Mela’s iPad catalog — a subset of the full range of video entertainment available with their set-top box, which includes TV shows — features hundreds of movies in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, and Gujarati. The full movie catalog is accessible with a $4.99 monthly subscription, though a limited number of films can be viewed for free without a subscription.

By virtue of having a narrow focus, the Mela iPad app is incredibly easy to search. After selecting which films you’d like to browse by language, movies are organized alphabetically by title. Movies cover a wide date range, from the ’60s to the present, including a number of films released in 2012.

Most of these newer films are independent movies that didn’t release in U.S. theaters. For most American fans, Mela is the only way to see the horror flick Ghost or the relationship drama Chaurahen.

But Mela offers more than just arthouse fare. It offers 2011 hits like The Dirty Picture and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and will soon add this year’s outstanding thriller Kahaani to its catalog.

Mela gets an incomplete grade on one criterion: Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is available for streaming, but it’s not subtitled in English.

That’s Mela’s biggest drawback, at the moment: not all of the movies are subtitled in English, and not all of those films are marked as being subtitled in the movie description. I often have to start a movie and fast forward to see if the dialog is subtitled. Most recent releases are subtitled — as Kahaani will be — and the company continues to add subtitles to older films already in the catalog, a process that the company says should be completed in the next couple of months. (Dear Mela: please prioritize subtitling Disco Dancer. Thanks!)

Another feature that would make the app ideal would be an ability to search movies by release year. However, within each language, there is a category for newly added titles, which includes recent theatrical releases.

Netflix

Netflix is undoubtedly the video service Americans are most familiar with. In addition to an extensive library of DVDs, Netflix has more than 70 Hindi titles available for streaming. The unlimited streaming plan costs $7.99 per month and allows subscribers to watch movies on their computers, TV or mobile devices (adding a DVD-by-mail option costs an additional $7.99 per month, minimum).

The quality of Netflix’s Hindi streaming video catalog is impressive, and all the films are subtitled in English. The catalog presently includes popular titles like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Dum Maaro Dum, and, most importantly, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. The other obvious advantage for Netflix is its huge catalog of English-language movies and TV shows, as well as other foreign films.

However, the Netflix app doesn’t lend itself to serious catalog browsing. In addition to showcasing new releases, the home screen of my Netflix app suggested movies from odd categories like “Quirky Documentaries” and “Inspiring Movies”: clever, but useless if I want to see what new Hindi movies are available. Unlike at Netflix’s website, movies listed under the “Foreign” browsing category aren’t further subdivided by language, though it did suggest some titles in a “Bollywood” subcategory. Searching under the word “Hindi” yielded no results.

If I want to see which Hindi movie at Netflix has the most recent theatrical release date, I have to go to the Netflix website, search for Hindi-language movies, sort them by release year, add the appropriate movie to my queue, and then access my queue on the iPad app to watch the movie. It’s a more complicated process than it should be.

Hulu Plus

While Hulu specializes in TV content, it also offers movies for streaming. Much of the service is available for free on a computer, but iPad access requires a subscription to Hulu Plus for a cost of $7.99 per month. Like Netflix, a subscription offers access to a wide range of content beyond Bollywood films.

Also like Netflix, Hulu’s catalog is a pain to search on the Hulu Plus iPad app. Hulu’s catalog of movies isn’t available to browse by category, so I searched for movies using the term “Hindi.” Searching for the term on the iPad yielded fewer than thirty titles, while the same search at Hulu’s website yielded more than sixty titles. (Oddly, Hulu doesn’t include Hindi movies in their “Foreign Language” category.)  Dil Se stood out among a largely unimpressive catalog that included the likes of 8×10 Tasveer and All the Best.

More annoying is that closed captioning is available on movies at Hulu’s website, but not on the Hulu Plus iPad app (though it is available on some other mobile devices). Not all of the Hindi movies in the catalog are subtitled automatically. So even generating a queue at Hulu’s website and selecting films from that queue doesn’t guarantee that the movie is watchable on the iPad.

The Rest

Thanks to an agreement several years ago with Eros Entertainment, Vudu has number of Bollywood movies available for rental and purchase on an individual basis. Most titles are from 2006 and earlier. The Vudu app is a player only, which means that movies must be browsed and purchased at the Vudu website for later viewing on the Vudu app. I found the process tedious and the catalog largely unsearchable, so I won’t bother renting from Vudu.

Neither Amazon Instant Videos nor YouTube Movies are currently available on the iPad.

Summary

For hardcore Bollywood fans, Mela is an essential app, especially since it costs less than other movie streaming apps. Even though many movies in the catalog currently lack subtitles, there are more than enough to keep English-only fans occupied until the catalog is completely subtitled. And no other company prioritizes independent Indian films the way Mela does.

Netflix is a great app for movie fans who don’t want to be limited to Bollywood titles alone. If you don’t live within driving distance of a theater that shows Hindi films, the Netflix catalog will keep you up to date on many of the biggest hits. However, for $3 more per month than Mela, be sure you take advantage of all the service has to offer in order to get your money’s worth.

Hulu Plus isn’t worth it for Bollywood movies alone, as you’ll quickly exhaust the limited selection of subpar titles. And with other services offering newer films, there’s no reason to bother slogging though Vudu’s annoying catalog.

Happy streaming!

Movie Review: Soundtrack (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

During the closing credits for Soundtrack, a note onscreen reads: “Inspired by the movie It’s All Gone Pete Tong.” Reading the plot summary for It’s All Gone Pete Tong at Wikipedia reveals that Soundtrack is more of a beat-for-beat imitation.

When a book is turned into a film, the credits typically read “Based on a novel by…”, thereby acknowledging that someone else deserves credit for writing the original story.  I’m not suggesting that there’s anything nefarious in Soundtrack‘s appropriation of another movie’s plot, but there’s something unsavory about acknowledging it in such an offhand way.

The good thing about writer-director Neerav Ghosh basing Soundtrack on a previously successful movie is that he has a solid structure to work with. As a result, Soundtrack is watchable. It’s reasonably well-paced, and plot points occur when we instinctively want them to occur.

Where Soundtrack falls short is in the construction of the main character, Raunak Kaul (Rajeev Khandelwal). Raunak is a DJ who moves to Mumbai hoping to strike it rich. He quickly does, thanks to his uncle’s contacts at a popular nightclub. Soon, Raunak is up to his eyeballs in booze, drugs and women eager to sleep with him.

After a period of debauchery, a combination of lifestyle factors and genetics causes Raunak to go completely deaf. He breaks down, only to gain a new purpose in life, with the help of his lip-reading instructor, Gauri (Soha Ali Khan).

Soundtrack‘s effectiveness depends entirely upon the degree to which the audience sympathizes with Raunak, and there’s little reason to care about him. He’s an angry ingrate who’s already an alcoholic before he gets to Mumbai. He gets the life of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that he wants and enjoys it while he’s able, even though his addictions make him unreliable.

It’s hard to feel bad for a character who is both unlikable and the cause of his own problems. Ghosh never gives Raunak his “save the cat” moment: an action that lets the audience know that the character is really a good guy, in spite of appearances.

Gauri’s character is also underdeveloped. She serves as a plot device to get Raunak back on the right moral track. Her character is supposed to have been born deaf, but she merely speaks with a lisp, not the way those born deaf actually talk. It’s a missed opportunity to add realism to her character.

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Movie Review: Tere Mere Phere (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

I don’t buy the premise that all married couples must fight. And when they do, I assume it’s usually over important stuff like money or child-rearing. Tere Mere Phere assumes that, not only do all married couples fight, but that even the pettiest of arguments can bring a couple to the brink of divorce. So much for the power of love.

Tere Mere Phere (“Our Wedding Vows”) begins several days into the unhappy honeymoon of Rahul (Jagrat Desai) and Pooja (Sasha Goradia). Flying home from their prematurely aborted road trip, they cause such a ruckus that their flight is forced to return to its departure airport.

Seeing Rahul and Pooja climbing in to their honeymoon camper van, fellow passenger Jai (Vinay Pathak) pulls a gun on them, demanding to be driven to the plane’s original destination. He has to make it to Shimla before his fiancée’s disapproving family can marry her to someone else. A few hours with incessantly bickering Rahul and Pooja convince Jai that marriage might not be worth it after all.

By introducing Rahul and Pooja at their most annoying, writer-director Deepa Sahi denies the audience the opportunity to relate to the couple. Rather than listening to them argue and thinking, “I’ve been there,” one looks at them and thinks, “Good grief, I’ve never been that obnoxious.”

There’s also something off about Sahi’s sense of what is funny. Not only are Rahul and Pooja unbearably irritating, but they don’t react appropriately to perceived slights. They blow up at each other over sitcom gender-role clichés — he’s messy; she’s too strict — but it’s played to comic effect when Rahul flirts with another woman to deliberately anger and humiliate Pooja.

It would be one thing if the bickering over inconsequential things were symptomatic of deeper problems, but flashbacks show the couple’s relatively smooth courtship. They’re actually cute as they joyously celebrate their perfect score on a magazine compatibility test. Sahi needed to show a lot more sweetness and a lot less combativeness between Rahul and Pooja to make them into a couple who deserve a happy ending.

Debutants Desai and Goradia don’t do their awkwardly-written characters any favors. Both actors seem to have studied at the School of Inappropriate Facial Expressions. When Rahul’s face is shown in a close-up, supposedly staring lovingly at Pooja, Desai’s intense grimace makes him look more like he’s planning to kill her.

Tere Mere Phere gets better performances from its more experienced actors. Vinay Pathak’s calm presence as Jai offsets Rahul & Pooja’s shrieking hysteria. Sushmita Mukeherjee is funny as Rahul’s overbearing mother, Seema.

But the real star of the film is the scenery. Shot in Himachal, Sahi wisely includes lots of shots of the region’s gorgeous mountains and rivers. For all their faults, at least Rahul and Pooja picked a nice place to honeymoon.

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Movie Review: Love Express (2011)

1 Star (our of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

I’m tempted to cut Love Express some slack since it begins with the disclaimer: “A film by debutant artists and technicians.” But lack of experience can’t excuse an inferior product, and Love Express stinks.

While it didn’t cost me any money to watch (the full movie is legally available for free on YouTube), I can’t understand why the studio, Mukta Arts, thought it was ready for commercial distribution.

The saddest thing about Love Express is that its premise is great:

A pair of young strangers — traveling by train with their families, en route to their arranged marriage — confess to each other that they don’t want to get married. They conspire to derail the wedding plans but aren’t prepared for the consequences when their scheme works.

The premise practically pitches itself. There’s a built-in deadline — matters have to be resolved before the train gets to its destination — and the characters are forced to deal with the problem because they’re trapped on a moving train. Couple the deadline and the confined spaces with familial pressure, and you should have box office gold.

But, in the hands of an inexperienced crew, the film doesn’t come together. Some of the train interiors look cheaply constructed. The sounds and sway of the camera that are supposed to mimic a moving train are inconsistently applied. The song that accompanies the lone choreographed dance number is annoying.

Apart from the great premise, the writing is pretty bad. Dialogue is clunky and characters woefully underdeveloped. The main couple — Kanav (Sahil Mehta) and Asneet (Mannat Ravi) — have such an abrupt change of heart that even they can’t come up with good reasons why they’re suddenly in love. Kanav gets misty eyed remembering when Asneet called him “dog brain,” and Asneet proudly bears a stain on her saree from that time Kanav spilled hot tea on her.

Not only are the characters poorly written, but they are poorly acted as well. Ravi is fine as Asneet, but Mehta’s Kanav is an irritating boor. There’s little help from the supporting cast, with the exception of Roobie as Asneet’s mother.

Om Puri, the only recognizable actor in the movie, is limited in what he can bring to the table. His character, Asneet’s grandfather, is confined to his berth on the train. His actions are supposed to change the course of the film, but they feel less impactful since he never interacts directly with the main characters.

I respect the fact that Mukta Arts and producer Subhash Ghai want to open doors for artists and technicians new to the industry, but the gesture is meaningless without guidance. Having their names attached to such a dud of a film may actually do the debutants’ careers more harm than good.

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In Theaters August 26, 2011

New theatrical releases are on hold for another week in anticipation of the Salman Khan/Kareena Kapoor-starrer Bodyguard next Friday. Until then, the selection of Bollywood films in Chicago area theaters is limited to Aarakshan at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara at the Golf Glen 5 only. ZNMD‘s U.S. earnings have surpassed $3 million.

This downtime is a good chance to catch up on movies from earlier this year that you may have missed. Netflix recently added Thank You to its streaming catalog, and Yamla Pagla Deewana and Chalo Dilli are now available through the rental service on DVD. YouTube has an impressive selection of free Hindi movies, including a smaller release I reviewed earlier this month: Cycle Kick.

Other Indian flicks showing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include the Telugu films Dhada, Kandireega and Money Money More Money and the Tamil movie Rowthiram.

Movie Review: Cycle Kick (2011)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Cycle Kick is not the movie it at first appears to be. The opening scenes of the film are clearly the set up to a typical sports movie. The title itself refers to a flashy soccer move, more commonly called a bicycle kick.

A man stares wistfully at an empty pitch. A voiceover explains that, in life and in soccer, you either “kick or get kicked.” A coach quits his job at private university when he’s told to play the sons of donors over more talented athletes. A young man watches the wealthy university kids play before he resumes cutting the grass of the playing field.

Within five minutes, the soccer-as-life metaphor is dropped until the climax. The rest of the movie is about two brothers and their bicycle.

This narrative misdirect points to the main problem with Cycle Kick: it feels like a rough cut and not a finished movie. Scenes end abruptly or transition awkwardly. The actors deliver their lines flatly, as if they were just blocking for the camera. Side plots and other storylines are underdeveloped.

Cycle Kick‘s runtime is unusually short at approximately 75 minutes, yet shots are frequently recycled. In one scene, the lawnmower guy, Ramu (Nishan Nanaiah) — the older of the two bike-owning brothers — grins while staring into space, supposedly thinking of how much he loves his little brother, Deva (Dwij Yadav). A short while later, the same shot of Ramu grinning is used to show him thinking of the girl he has a crush on.

It’s not as if there aren’t opportunities to flesh the plot out more, thereby generating more usable footage. The core story of the orphaned brothers and their bike is touching. Ramu needs the bike so that he can finish his education at the public college and earn extra money working odd jobs. Deva wears braces on both of his legs, and the bike makes the journey home faster when Ramu picks him up from school.

There’s a less interesting sideplot involving one of Ramu’s classmates, Ali (Sunny Hinduja), who wants his own bike in order to impress a girl. When the coach (Tom Alter) suggests the boys share custody of the bike, it allows them to find common ground and learn empathy. Or at least it would in a better movie.

A climactic soccer match is tacked on without setup. Coach gathers up Ramu, Ali and their buddies and explains that the public college has to beat the posh university team in a soccer tournament or they won’t be able to compete again for four years. To this point, the public college soccer team hasn’t existed, let alone practiced together or done any of the team bonding stuff that normally happens in sports movies.

Nope. Cycle Kick needed an ending, so might as well make it one that requires more action than acting and feels familiar to audiences. Never mind that it makes no sense.

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