Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bollywood Comes to America: Kites

J is a classic Bollywood protagonist: the handsome adventurer caught up in a deadly love triangle. However, his Las Vegas base of operations is quite a departure for the genre. In a deliberate overture to the American market, Rakesh Roshan’s Kites (directed by Anurag Basu) will be released in two versions, the traditional Bollywood cut to be followed a week later by the shorter “remix” overseen by Rush Hour director Brett Ratner. American set or not, if you are going to do Bollywood, you ought to go for the old school original (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Waking up in a Mexican raton-hole with a broken heart and a bullet in his back, J is in bad shape. In classic film noir style, we see how he got to such a sad state in a series of flashbacks. There is also a fair amount of dancing. In fact, J worked in a dance studio, where he had the dubious luck to meet Gina, the pampered daughter of Bob, a shadowy casino owner. To woo her, J enlists Gina as his partner in a dance contest they win with what look like vintage moves from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo circa 1984. J even sports the MJ hat.

Unfortunately, Bob also had a son Tony, who is even bigger trouble. At least, he is happy about his impending wedding to Natasha. On the other hand, J’s feelings are decidedly mixed, since he happens to be married to Tony’s beautiful fiancĂ©. In addition to his dance classes, J also paid the bills by marrying women seeking legal residency in America. (Though Kites implies the Hindi speaking J emigrated from India, he must have become naturalized somehow, in a detail the film could not be bothered with.) Natasha (a.k.a. Linda) was the only one of his eleven wives J still remembers, due to her obvious hotness. With both on the verge of marrying into a major (but scary) fortune, they end up throwing it away for each other. Naturally, the course of true love does not run smooth as these star-crossed lovers make a break for the border.

In truth, Kites would probably be a good starter film for those unfamiliar with Bollywood. At a mere one hundred thirty minutes, it is a munchkin by genre standards. However, viewers should understand the customary critical norms do not apply here. Kites is a big, glossy soap opera that uses all the glitzy stylistic elements of late 1980’s high concept films. If you are not laughing through the overblown melodrama, I’m afraid the joke is on you. Still, Basu keeps it all moving at a healthy gallop, staging some surprisingly entertaining chases as well as delivering the Bollywood goods.

Kites works by its own standards because of the chemistry between the two attractive leads. While most of the time they can barely communicate that never becomes a glaring credibility issue for the film. Though certainly gorgeous, Barbara Mori also shows a bit of dramatic range as Natasha/Linda, while Hrithik Roshan has undeniable screen presence as J. Son of Kites producer Rakesh and nephew of its composer Rajesh, Roshan can also be seen tomorrow in the monster Bollywood hit Jodhaa Akbar at the Walter Reade.

True to the genre, but American made (except for those clearly phony Nevada license plates), Kites is what it is. Those in the market for an extravagantly tragic love story who understand the conventions of Bollywood should find it satisfying. The full length, legit Kites opens this Friday (5/21) at the Quad.