Millionaire Rahul Khanna falls for Lisa Ray`s charms in the aimless romantic comedy `Bollywood/Hollywood`.
You know you`re in trouble with Deepa Mehta`s latest film the minute Dina Pathak makes her entry as The Crotchety-yet-Lovable Old Eccentric, with one of those quirks that screenwriters think will automatically have audiences rolling in the aisles. She quotes from Shakespeare: `This is the winter of our discontent`, she rues, when grandson Rahul (an impressively at-ease Rahul Khanna) brings a `gori` home.
You know things are going to get worse when Moushumi Chatterjee turns up as the Typically Clueless Indian Mom, uttering cringe-inducers like `No keeshy weeshy before marriage.`
These are good actors, and if you`ve seen Dina Pathak in `Gol Maal` or Moushumi Chatterjee in `Angoor`, you know that they can do sparkling comedy.
The trouble is, Deepa Mehta cannot. No one who`s seen the shattering `1947 Earth` can deny that Mehta is a genuine talent there`s an inspired touch here with Bollywood films playing in the background of almost every indoor sequence but you know what they say about dying being easy, comedy hard.
`Bollywood/Hollywood` begins promisingly, if a tad obviously, with a classic deathbed scene. Thunder and lightning streak the skies, rains lash against the bungalow where Rahul`s father gives last words of advice to his son. A typically `desi` sentiment `Sacrifice is the brightest torch of Indian family values.` is followed by some Western pop-philosophy (`Whatever curveball life throws, always hit a home run!`).
Nice. You get that the man`s assimilated both worlds, boo-hoo as well as baseball. But Mehta won`t leave well enough alone, and later has Moushumi exclaiming that a couple looks `like Ram and Sita, Charles and Di, Bogey and Bacall!` The second time around, the conceit sounds laboured.
So, OK, this is intended as a lark and shouldn`t be scrutinised thus. But even the can`t-miss gags, tackling ripe-for-skewering trends like the West`s fascination with all things Indian (there`s a black bit about an `Om` spouting `firang` dying in a freak accident), don`t work.
And the dialogues! `Expectations are like mother`s milk. (Pause). Essential!` `[I`m going] to see what my conscience has to say.` `When a daughter`s hurting, a mother`s love can be like Tiger Balm.`
Who talks like this? Indians in Toronto, where the film is set? Maybe, but other than a few funny observations the `sangeet` ceremony is described as `being stuck in an elevator with a circus` and some stray scenes, like Pathak barking out orders while in the midst of prayer, nothing really strikes a funny bone.
Or a chord. This simple story of boy hiring girl from the street (Lisa Ray) to pose as girlfriend shades of Bollywood weepies like `Sadhna` and `Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye`, and Hollywood romances like `Pretty Woman` has woefully few heart-warming moments.
If I wanted to see this trite a storyline, I`d rather see it with elaborate Bollywoodian production values. The lack of eye candy is particularly felt in the song-and-dance segments, with most of Sandeep Chowta`s wonderfully foot-tapping score being shot in close-ups and mid-shots that obscure the choreography.
If the Bollywood parts don`t work well, the attempts at Western-style filmmaking too fall flat. Mehta uses captions at times when someone refers to Devdas, the writing reads `Devdas, Very tragic Bollywood hero.` (This is at least better than groaners like `Om sweet Om`.) She attempts comic whimsy, with dead folks floating like escapees from the `Ghostbusters` universe. And she gives us vague subplots, like Rahul`s Bollywood-obsessed kid brother he observes that his mom cries `just like Reem-uh Lag-ooh in Hum Saath Saath Hain` standing up to bullies at school.
The only thing that stands out is the conceptualisation of some of the characters. Ray, much better than she was in `Kasoor`, is shown to be a no-nonsense type who reads Pablo Neruda, talks about existential angst, and has a poster of `Hiroshima mon amour` in her bedroom, a refreshing change from the wimpy no-brainer types that dot our cinema. And Ranjit Chowdhry is a wry delight as a chauffeur-by-day-drag-queen-by-night.
At one point, his character says, `Holly, Bolly, Bolly, Holly, different wood, same tree.` Not quite, it turns out. In trying to make a film in two styles, Mehta gives us neither the relative realism of their cinema nor the all-out escapism of ours. `Bollywood/Hollywood` just sits there, neither Bollywood nor Hollywood.
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