Pathaan and the king of cinema blast Bollywood out of the doldrums

Millions flock to see return of actor Shah Rukh Khan, despite rightwing calls for a boycott

For Ganesh Lokhande, an usher at the Regal Cinema in Mumbai’s southern tip of Colaba, it’s been a quiet few years in the job. That was, until last week.

Pathaan, a new Bollywood action thriller starring Shah Rukh Khan – an actor whose superstardom has elevated him to be known in India as “the king” – has been released in cinemas, triggering excitement across the country. Long queues formed outside theatres as millions flocked to catch a glimpse of Khan’s return to the screen after four years away, now aged 57 but still playing the ravishing muscular hero.

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Bollywood is obsessed with Pakistan. We’d be flattered if it weren’t so nasty

Try as the industry might, Modi’s quasi-fascist politics cannot be set to jaunty music and helicopter stunts

If recent Bollywood films are any indication, it is fair to say that India’s film industry is obsessed with Pakistan. Obsessed. Like standing outside your apartment and trying to peek through your windows at night with binoculars obsessed.

If the films were smarter or more daring, Pakistan might be flattered. Instead, we are beginning to be mildly confused by all the attention.

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Wrestling tigers and hurling motorcycles: how SS Rajamouli’s RRR cast a spell over the world

The Indian director was as surprised as anyone that his astonishingly larger than life, logic-defying action film has found a huge global audience. So is Hollywood on the horizon?

Looking at the box-office numbers when RRR first opened in the US in March, director SS Rajamouli couldn’t believe the film was really breaking through to non-Indian audiences. “We thought, OK, this might be [American] friends who the Indians had dragged along to see the movie,” he says. “But as the numbers started increasing, and appreciation started coming from celebrities, critics, influencers, gamers, from people of repute, I think it gradually dawned on us that this had the capacity to become much bigger than any other Indian film that has gone before.”

Everything about RRR – the story of two freedom fighters in British-ruled 1920s India – is larger than life. Not just because of the box-office numbers (it is currently the third-highest grossing film ever in India; Rajamouli’s 2017 action film Baahubali 2 is the highest), the budget (at $69m, India’s most expensive film ever) or the length of the shoot (320 days over three years, with Covid interruptions), but also the epic tenor of the movie’s action. Men wrestle tigers and hurl motorcycles, entire armies are single-handedly subdued, the dance scenes are supercharged. Stylised, CGI-heavy, logic-defying, yet ingeniously choreographed and meticulously composed, it feels like something fresh and invigorating, especially compared to Hollywood’s samey output.

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Superheroes, jazz, queer art: how Pakistan’s transgressive pop culture went global

Freed from the shadow of 9/11, the country’s artists are building on a rich heritage – to international acclaim

In August, Pakistan’s three censor boards cleared Saim Sadiq’s award-winning film Joyland for release. Shot in Lahore, the film is about a young married man from a conservative family who finds work at a dance theatre and falls in love with a trans woman struggling to land her moment on stage. It was the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes and it won the Un Certain Regard prize, receiving a standing ovation nearly10 minutes long.

Even though the film was then subject to various bans in Pakistan, after being accused of pushing an LGTBQ+ agenda and misrepresenting Pakistani culture, it finally appeared in Pakistani cinemas in November, with Malala Yousafzai signing on as executive producer.

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The Kashmir Files: Israeli director sparks outrage in India over ‘vulgar movie’ remarks

Nadav Lapid, chair of the International film festival India, spoke out against work that critics say is anti-Muslim propaganda

A row has erupted in India after an Israeli director described a controversial film about Kashmir as propaganda and a “vulgar movie”, prompting the Israeli ambassador to issue an apology.

Nadav Lapid, who was chair of this year’s panel of the international film festival of India (IFFI), spoke out against the inclusion of The Kashmir Files at the event.

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Film depicting transgender love affair to be screened in Pakistan

Cannes Jury prize-winning Joyland had previously been banned following objections by Islamist hardliners

A Pakistani film portraying romance between a married man and a transgender woman was cleared for domestic screenings on Wednesday, officials said, reversing a government ban forced by Islamist pressure.

Lauded by critics, awarded the jury prize at Cannes and nominated as Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards, Joyland was set to open in cinemas across the country this Friday.

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‘It’s not against Islam’: Pakistani trans actor tells of deep sadness over film ban

Exclusive: Alina Khan, star of award-winning Joyland, speaks out as the movie’s licence for domestic release is revoked, putting its Oscar contention in doubt

A transgender star of an award-winning Pakistan film that depicts a love affair between a man and a trans women has said she is very sad at the government’s decision to ban the film and hopes it will be reversed.

Alina Khan, who stars in Joyland, the first major Pakistani film to feature a trans actor in a lead role, said: “I’ve been very sad. There’s nothing against Islam [in the film] and I don’t understand how Islam can get endangered by mere films.”

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Joyland: Pakistan bans Oscar contender film about trans love affair

Islamic groups denounce film that won prestigious jury prize at Cannes and has Malala Yousafzai as executive director

The Pakistan government has banned the film that will be its Oscars contender after pressure from hardline Islamic groups who called its depiction of a love affair between a man and a trans woman “repugnant” and “highly objectionable”.

Joyland, directed by Saim Sadiq, had been submitted as Pakistan’s official entry for best international feature film at the Oscars and was due for domestic release this week.

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Serious concerns raised in NZ about environmental impact of major productions including Amazon’s Rings of Power

In response to workers’ claims of high emissions and waste, Amazon says it complied with all laws and ‘either met or exceeded industry standards’

Picture three scenes: in a sheltered clearing, a stand of trees stretches skyward, trunks pale against the dark soil, leaves dappling the ground like golden dollar coins. In another, a maelstrom of white flakes is carried in eddies by the wind. In a third, sheer cliffs are slick with snow, icicles hanging like shards of glass.

Scenes like these have formed the visual signature for onscreen adaptations of the Lord of the Rings, including Amazon’s latest, monster-budget offering, The Rings of Power. That association has helped form the bedrock of a decade of New Zealand tourism campaigns, showcasing the country’s pristine environments to the world.

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Retrograde review – extraordinary insider’s view of US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Documentary maker Matthew Heineman watches a tragedy unfold as he follows the Green Berets supporting the Afghan army in the last months of the war against the Taliban

Acclaimed documentary maker Matthew Heineman is known for his remarkable ability to stay close to subjects caught up in dangerous situations – be those fighting the drug trade in Latin America (Cartel Land), defying Isis occupation (City of Ghosts), or struggling to care for the sick during the Covid pandemic (The First Wave). This latest feature-length chronicle lays out an extraordinary insider’s view of the last months of the United States’ war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as seen from the point of view of the last Green Berets supporting the Afghan army led by Gen Sami Sadat. While those filmed, especially the local soldiers, clearly disagree with America’s withdrawal from the region, the film itself tries to maintain a posture of journalistic neutrality. Still, just like the American soldiers who must keep repeating that it’s not up to them, you can sense that Heineman and his crew recognise they’re watching a tragedy unfold.

Footage of the chaos at Kabul airport in August 2021 when crowds of desperate Afghans tried to secure places on the last American planes to leave bookend the film. Even if you were glued to the news when it was happening, you won’t have seen anything quite like the shots Heineman and his cinematographers capture here. Soldiers clumsily fire guns into the air, sort of, to scare off the hordes, and people claiming to have been translators, liaisons and support workers for the US military desperately wave paperwork trying to get through the line.

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The Legend of Maula Jatt review – Pakistani classic remake is Game of Thrones meets Gladiator

Entertaining new version of Pakistan cult movie follows a young noble boy spirited away to a poor village when a rival clan slaughters his parents

Imagine Game of Thrones crossed with Gladiator and you’ll have something like this entertainingly old fashioned action movie with epic levels of throat slashing, spectacular scenery and a fair bit of camp. Rumoured to be Pakistan’s highest-budget film, this remake of a cult classic from 1979 is the story of a young noble boy, Maula Jatt, who is spirited away to a poor village when a rival clan slaughters his parents.

After a flashback to that massacre we meet Maula (Fawad Khan) as a young man. The size of a well-fed bear, he earns a living fighting in gladiatorial games, pummelling poor souls from neighbouring villages. But the discovery of his past sets him off on a path of revenge against the Natt family responsible for killing his parents.

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All That Breathes review – Delhi’s birdmen on a mission to save the black kite

Two Indian brothers dedicate themselves to rescuing birds that are being poisoned by pollution in this complex and quietly beautiful film

Shaunak Sen’s documentary is a complex, thoughtful, quietly beautiful film about the ecosystem and human community. Two brothers in Delhi, Mohammad and Nadeem (and their humble, faintly put-upon employee Salik) have spent the past two decades on a mission to help the black kite, a commonplace bird that wheels in the skies above the city, but is becoming slowly poisoned with pollution, just as the city’s society is becoming poisoned by sectarianism and hatred. They rescue injured and sick birds and nurse them back to health.

The kites themselves are, arguably, not especially delicate or beautiful creatures: they are fierce predators who have become used to scavenging in the city, encouraged by a tradition of “meat tossing”, and the city’s age-old conviction or superstition that it is good to feed these kites because they eat the sins of those that feed them. Like ravens in the Tower of London, the black kites are thought of as a vital part of the city, a kind of secular holiness. The brothers’ ramshackle animal welfare clinic is dependent on local charity, and they are increasingly stressed and depressed at the lack of support, although a supportive article in the New York Times in 2020 (which presumably inspired this film) does bring in more money.

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Bollywood under siege as rightwing social media boycotts start to bite

Laal Singh Chaddha is the latest film to face targeted attacks from anti-Muslim, Hindu-nationalist trolls who some claim are beginning to impact box office performance

In August this year, a week after the release of Laal Singh Chaddha, Bollywood’s adaptation of Forrest Gump, a Twitter account with about 280,000 followers, tweeted: ​​“#Urduwood is trending. Thanks to all who have accepted this term to accurately define the anti-national, anti-Hindu paedophile cabal that takes your money to destroy you.” The tweet received more than 1,700 retweets and about 5,800 likes.

For those not familiar with the term “Urduwood”, it is a pejorative popular among far-right social media and politicians. Urdu is an Indian language with a Perso-Arabic script, and the national language of Pakistan; hence it is associated with Muslims and its use is a way to claim the film industry is “Hinduphobic”.

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Vikram Vedha review – swaggering Bollywood remake of Tamil crime caper

Pushkar-Gayatri’s reboot of their 2017 hit improves on the original thanks to two zingy lead performances from Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan

Vikram Vedha was a Tamil hit in 2017, a twisty, semi-subversive thriller in which a bad-ass Chennai cop and a wily criminal swap stories rather than blows or bullets. Mashing up mythological, procedural and rhetorical elements, it circled fresh genre territory before a dead-end payoff in an abandoned factory. Its makers, the married narrative strategists billed as Pushkar-Gayatri, now relocate to Lucknow for a Hindi remake with major Bollywood stars. Nothing about VV 2.0 refutes the idea that India’s best movie ideas are bubbling up from the south, but Pushkar-Gayatri have taken the money and really run with it. Longer and rangier, this version is also far more relaxed and enjoyable in its tale-telling, scattering swag with every plot swerve.

Replacing lived-in original leads Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi, who looked as if they would prefer a chinwag to sustained fisticuffs, we get Saif Ali Khan (as the cop Vikram) and Hrithik Roshan (Vedha, the hood): both visibly ready to rumble and nifty dramatic players who make their mutual interrogations zip and zing. In a further upgrade, Radhika Apte’s sceptical air makes Vikram’s lawyer wife Priya – entering this battle of manly wills as Vedha’s counsel – a more forceful presence. It is crucial to Pushkar-Gayatri’s mischievous project that the cop gets it from all sides, and Roshan displays such phosphorescent, screen-torching charisma that our sympathies are regularly redistributed.

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Midwives review – a Muslim and a Buddhist grapple with childbirth in strife-torn Myanmar

Sombre documentary shot over five years follows two healthcare workers as they deliver babies in a brutally divided society

Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing’s documentary is about two midwives – one Buddhist, one Muslim – in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, on the border with Bangladesh; it is home to thousands of Rohingya Muslims who for decades have suffered paranoid bigotry from the country’s Buddhist theocracy. And like Barbet Schroeder’s film The Venerable W, this film is a reminder that, in this part of the world, being of the Buddhist persuasion doesn’t necessarily make you a kind and gentle saint.

Hla is the Buddhist midwife, notably imperious and sharp-tongued, who at one stage tries getting some medicine into a baby girl and hilariously snaps: “Take it, you little bitch!” Nyo Nyo is the Muslim who is intensely aware of the prejudice all around her and uneasily watches news reports of demonstrations against Muslims and “Muslim supporters”, which means her employers. She finally attempts to set up her own clinic, with the help of a savings-and-loan collective of Muslim women; this is all to the distinct scepticism of her Buddhist colleague, although their essential friendship asserts itself.

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