As 2017 draws to a close, we like to think about the year just past, including all the movies we meant to see. If you live outside of India, it can sometimes be hard to catch screenings of the big Hindi movies, but never fear! Netflix already has some of the most anticipated movies from 2017 streaming online. They range from period piece to drama to (of course) masala and they make a welcome addition to Netflix’s growing library of Hindi hits. I didn’t love all of them but I did like most of them. Peruse the list below and see what movies you’d like to watch from 2017 before they’re a year old.
(Films are listed in the order of release)
In this crime drama, Shah Rukh Khan plays an aspiring family man who finds wealth in the illegal sale of alcohol in the dry state of Gujarat. Raees sees no issue with his trade as long as he is not hurting anyone and he even uses the proceeds of his business to build a safe community and provide for local people. But how long can that last? This movie highlights political corruption and communal violence, but at times halfheartedly. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the policeman who pursues Raees with his usual excellence and Mahira Khan plays the (forgettable) love interest Aasiya.
Kaabil is the story of a blind man (Hrithik Roshan) who must track down and punish the men who repeatedly raped and threatened his blind wife who committed suicide to escape the violence (Yami Gautam). With the only witness to their crimes blind and dead, it would seem that these men can not be caught. This movie suffers more than the usual Bollywood flick from confusing and sloppy changes in tone. In one scene you have a light and cheerful love song and in the next you see a woman hanging from a ceiling fan. This is also one of the more egregious examples of a film using violence against a woman to give the male character a mission. Neither character is terribly convincing as a flesh and blood person, much less one living with blindness.
Coffee with D
Review coming soon.
Rangoon tackles the complex and grossly neglected history of India in the Second World War through the romantic triangle of an abusive, Raj supporting movie producer (Khan), his ingenue (Kangana) and a double agent in the Indian forces serving under the British (Shahid Kapoor). This film has some interesting stylistic and cinematographic choices as well as a lush setting. I like what it tries to do in crafting an epic that is sweeping, patriotic, high-stakes, and romantic. This would have been better achieved if not for the lack of chemistry between the three leads. I can’t discern if this comes down to the acting or the short shrift given them by the movie’s script, overburdened with themes and morals. The actors all perform very well, but sometimes it feels like their scenes were shot separately. The movie also seeks to be historical but has some truly absurd moments, including (spoiler alert) Kangana running the length of a train’s roof in boots and mask and Khan tight rope walking a sword to the leaders of the Indian National Army. Rangoon tries to walk its own tightrope of credibility, and doesn’t quite make it.
Honorable mention goes to Richard McCabe. The grotesque British general is a villain that audiences find easy to hate. The way he speaks Hindi, an otherwise beautiful language, makes the skin crawl. He’s pedantic and sycophantic and just plain gross. In short, an effective villain.
Anaarkali of Aarah
Anaarkali of Aarah is one of the most thoughtful and thought provoking films to be released this year. The following is excerpted from my post, “Bollywood Movies About Women”: A woman who sings ribald songs for a living is harassed in public by a state politician. The local police cover the incident up but Anaarkali (played by Swara Bhaskar) refuses to simply move on. She is threatened, loses her livelihood, and has to flee to Delhi. Even there she is found out. But at no point does she give up on being herself. At the center of this movie is a woman who sings dirty songs for a living. At the center there is also a question. Does this mean that people have rights to her body? Does questionable content mean that its performer has no personal autonomy? Anaarkali refuses at any point to lie and admit that she was wrong and allow herself to be owned and used. Although this movie deals with serious themes, its star is undeniably small-town glamorous and brings a lot of color the world she inhabits.”
A village boy (Madhav, played by Arjun Kapoor) falls hard for a wealthy girl (Riya, Shraddha Kapoor) with a troubled family. Riya seems to return Madhav’s feelings, but is afraid to commit so she tells him that she can be his “half girlfriend.” Neither Madhav nor the audience ever gets a clear idea of what this means but maybe that’s the point. Subplots to the love story include Madhav’s struggle to learn English, spousal abuse, girls’ education, and a last minute addition of terminal illness. There are some missteps, but overall Half Girlfriend tries very hard to portray a modern romance, in which even dating, much less marriage, can seem overwhelming. My biggest issue is that the character of Riya doesn’t feel fully fleshed out. Her father is a wife beater, she has a terminal illness, she wants to be a singer, she’s good at basketball. Despite this, nothing ever seems to happen to her. Everything is off-camera, while the focus stays on Madhav and his despair. Half Girlfriend is neither bad nor great. Much like Riya, it just can’t seem to commit.
This is the silly story of how some identical twins and their bachelor uncle conspire to get the pair married to the girls they love… if they can decide whom that is. Mubarakan is big and colorful and goofy but it is at least an honest movie. Unlike other films which are unintentionally silly, this movie sets out from the beginning to be a colorful farce and it succeeds when it stays away from too much drama. Everyone’s beautiful, crazy wealthy, and happy in the end, which makes this a good recommendation for your friends that are looking for stereotypical Bollywood fare.
Jab Harry Met Sejal
When a lawyer from Mumbai loses her engagement ring on a European tour, she enlists the help of her emotionally unstable, perpetually adolescent tour guide to help her find it. Jab Harry Met Sejal looks and sounds very good but the story doesn’t make a lick of sense. My biggest complaint is that Sejal’s only characterization comes at the expense and humiliation of other women and, indeed an entire continent. Europe is a spotless tourist destination by day and a teeming hive of neo-nazis, strippers, and would-be rapists at night. Harry has been sleeping his way around the continent for years, but when Sejal asks him why he does not find her attractive he replies that she is “not a girl to be ogled at” implying that most other women are. The pair continue to traipse through Europe with little urgency and muddled intentions. The most relatable part for me was Sejal’s joy at receiving five WhatsApp messages from her boyfriend (after a night spent running from goons). This inane plot had to really try to stretch itself over nearly two and a half hours and there’s not enough payoff. Jab Harry Met Sejal tries to be a fun and thoughtful romance but the viewer ends up feeling like a tour guide at the end of a month-long European tour, cursing his clients under his breath.
Also, Irina+Mayank > Sejal+Harry
This movie opens with a scene in which Rajiv Gandhi ( an actual historical figure) makes an inappropriate and threatening advance to a wealthy woman. She rejects him, so he takes advantage of his political power and the chaos of his mother’s “Emergency” to steal her family’s fortune. So her bodyguard and soon to be lover, Ajay Devgn, sets out to help her get it back. I need to be honest. I didn’t get through this one. Baadshaaho takes itself very seriously, but it just feels like something we’ve seen before, only this time it’s set in the seventies. Perhaps I could be persuaded to give it another chance but first I want to get through all the amazing Hindi movies the internet has to offer.
Review coming soon.
Honorable Mention: Dangal:
This movie came out just before Christmas in 2016 and played well into 2017. It follows the (mostly true) story of a man from a conservative village who raises his daughters Geeta and Daya to be ….wait for it… professional wrestlers. The girls even train by fighting and beating boys! When Geeta reaches all the way to world championships, she seems set to break all barriers for women in sport. However, she risks losing her values in the bargain.This movie, especially in the context of what we usually see, feels like a breath of fresh air for depictions of women and rural India. I felt uncomfortable, though, when Geeta was shamed for adopting more of an urban lifestyle and attempting to have some of the youth that was denied he by her father’s punishing training schedule. Ultimately this is not a movie about Geeta or Daya but about their father. Still, you’ll feel like cheering at the end and even non-Indians are tempted to stand when they hear the triumphal anthem being played.