Bollywood, is an acquired taste—in this case, a taste of a hot dog covered in curry and wrapped in a tortilla. Welcome to globalism, from “Vegas, Baby” to India to Mexico. The first time I saw a Bollywood film it was Lagan, a film that I would consider today to be a classic. But at the time, I was bemused and horrified. I have always considered a “musical” to be an unseemly and unnatural act. In real life, if ordinary people what to sing, they do so, discretely, in the shower. In real life, if ordinary people want to dance, they do so, in their underwear, at home, like Tom Cruise. But the Hollywood musicals from the Fifties, demanded a suspension of belief beyond anything sci fi demanded: imagine street gangs in New York suddenly breaking into song and dance or jaunty sailors dancing towards their shore leave. Only in the movies. But the Fifties musicals did not go away, they migrated to India and reignited in “Bollywood,” where they life forever.
A true Bollywood extravaganza, Kites rewrites the very meaning of “musical.” There is only one musical number, a dance contest, naturalistically inserted, but the entire film is saturated with music, drenching the background with soaring orchestral themes, soulful love songs, and menacing melodies of dread. About halfway through the film, I realized I was trapped in a romance novel come to life. But Kites is a romance from a male point of view: the females in question are very pretty but secondary characters. The ladies are overshadowed by the shining beauty of the male lead, Hrithik Roshan, who is in love with Barbara Mori, playing “Linda” and “Natasha,” a sassy lady who is cute and perky under the most trying of circumstances. The pair was apparently attracted to each other because they both have green eyes, otherwise, they speak no common language, except the language of love.
One should not expect actors cast in such a film to be required to perform a great feat of acting, but any movie in which characters can say the line, “You are my true love” with a straight face deserves many honors of thespian achievement. If, however, if you think that acting should be more than posturing, then you should relax and just look at the scenery. The actors don’t act; they pose. Gradually the viewer realizes that the film is more than a mere male-dominated romance novel, it is a male-dominated romance novel shot by Herb Ritts, starring many, many products, such as Calvin Klein underwear, produced for Guess jeans. Hollywood action films span the international gaps in language with little or no dialogue and lots of visuals, all violent. Bollywood spans the international gaps with mainstream pop music about dysfunctional relationships. The sounds are pleasant and all-encompassing and the visuals are a compendium of covers from Harlequin novels and magazine layouts and television commercials.
Hrithik Roshan is understandably a big star in Hindi film and he deserves every bit of his success, for his six-pack is nothing short of spectacular, rivaling Mark Walberg, Dave Beckham and every Calvin Klein ad and every Abercrombie and Fitch layout. While I must give him credit for what must be an obsessive work-out regime, the problem is that his handsomeness becomes hilarious. The movie is all about the boy. In the best tradition of Sylvester Stallone, “J” suffers constantly, being beat up and shot, but, like “Rambo,” he is handy with tools. He can marry eleven women, drive cars and motorcycles, can find a cell phone he lost while unconscious, and knows how to release cars from a car-carrying truck. I would go on but I am in awe. The camera caresses Roshan’s sculpted torso and revels in his face, framed by perfectly coifed hair, and lingers on his cupid’s bow lips. With all of this eye candy, there is no sex, only a couple of chaste kisses. I was actually surprised about the kiss, which I thought was forbidden in India, but perhaps I was seeing the American version. I understand there is an Indian version, much longer by about an hour, if that is possible. More songs? More wanderings? More chase scenes? More destroyed cars?
In a laudable effort to court an international audience, the film speaks Hindi, English and Spanish, with subtitles that allow the film to be shown worldwide. The plot of star crossed lovers, “Linda/Natasha” and “Jay Ray,” called “J” for short, is a pastiche of Romeo and Juliet, substituting a Mexican for a Capulet and an Indian for a Montague. The leads are marginal hustlers and quasi prostitutes, planning to marry into a wealthy and corrupt family in Las Vegas, when they decide to give up the money and elope. Hunted by the villain, “Tony,” played by Nicholas Brown, the couple goes on the run, or should I say on a very confusing journey of flashbacks and flash-where-evers. Along the way we are pounded with film pastiche, from Saturday Night Fever to Dirty Dancing to Reservoir Dogs to Road to Perdition and ending with Thelma and Louise. By the inevitable end, I had lost track of where we were—-Mexico? I think.
I haven’t seen anything this soulful since Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games music video. In the theater I went to, the American audience was largely stunned into submission, but, across the aisle, there was a pair of women, who were greatly amused by The Abs. But I kid. I love Bollywood and will rush out to procure this fine film as soon as it is released to the public at large. My students will love this passion fusion.
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
The Arts Blogger