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Salsa Masala: Kites

Rating: *1/2 (Mediocre)

Directed by: Anurag Basu
Music: Rajesh Roshan
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Barbara Mori, Kangna Ranaut, Kabir Bedi, Nicolas Brown and Anand Tiwari.

(Above): Barbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

At the risk of sounding tedious, we return to an uncharitable comparison we made in last month’s film review. Sometimes — in fact, all too often — Bollywood reminds you of a ditzy blonde.

You get the idea.

Great looks. But hardly anything there upstairs.

Kites has ditzy blonde written all over it. Great photography, terrific action sequences, above-par production values that meet international standards, but that’s about it. It even had an interesting kernel of a premise —two people, one of Indian descent, the other from Mexico, each from a different Third World nation with a rich cultural heritage, brought together by love.

But the film founders hopelessly on a fatal flaw.

Dude, where’s the story?

(Above): Barbara Mori in "Kites."

Producer Rakesh Roshan appears to have a fanciful notion that you can string along a bunch of pretty-looking scenes, throw in some maudlin dialogues, add some spectacular car chases and exploding automobiles, and Voila! You have a hit.

Not so fast, my friend.

Maybe Rakesh needs to enroll in Filmmaking 101. If you look at recent hits like the estimable Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots, it’s ultimately a gripping story that keeps drawing audiences. Bollywood aficionados will forgive more than an occasional lapse in logic, but the overall package must offer an engaging story line that offers something that resonates with the viewer.

If you haven’t got that, all the tamasha is in vain.

(Above): Barbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

What makes the filmmaker’s effrontery all the more preposterous is that the film has pretensions of being a launching pad for Hrithik beyond the ambit of the traditional Bollywood clientele and hopes to woo the broader Western audience.

That is simply unsustainable presumption.

Way beyond a ditzy blonde.

Think Sarah Palin.

God knows logical lapses are a dime a dozen in standard Bollywood fare, but here it borders on the ludicrous. More about this later.

First, a brief synopsis of the story, such as it is.

(Above): Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

Jay (Hrithik Roshan) is a money-grubbing, shifty salsa-dancer who lives in Las Vegas. He is a U.S. resident, so he cooks up a tidy little side business of helping illegal females get much-coveted Green Cards by getting into phony marriages — all for a fee, of course.

He runs into Gina Grover (Kangana Raut), who falls in love with him. Jay sees in her a way to get in bed with his true love — lots of little green pieces of paper with U.S. presidents printed on them, a.k.a. $$$. You see, Gina is the daughter of casino tycoon Bob Grover (Kabir Bedi).

Jay goes along with Gina, romancing her a bit, and ends up in their luxurious beach home where Gina’s brother Tony (Nicholas Brown), a vicious thug, is about to marry Natasha (Barbara Mori).

Sparks fly between Jay and Natasha, who, it turns out, is actually Linda, who had once “married” Jay to get legal status.

Jay and Linda hang out and their feelings for each other get stronger, but Tony gets wind of what’s going on, and soon enough there is a hot chase as the lovebirds try to beat a hasty escape from Tony. The action heats up as cop cars join the chase and hit other vehicles and fly in the air, with at one point Jay jumping on to a moving train. The filmmaker tops it all off at the end with a contrived happy ending, which, in terms of absurdity, exceeds anything shown before. Let’s give credit where it is due — this is no mean achievement.

(Above): Barbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

The so-called story not only has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, some of the holes are big enough to drive a truck through it. Kabir Bedi’s violent, thuggish casino owner, Bob Grover, is an anachronism that sticks out like a sore thumb. Didn’t anybody tell the filmmakers that notwithstanding the town’s murky financial connections, that sort of violence belongs to a long bygone era of mob-ruled Vegas?

Tony, Bob’s son, treats Nevada cops with a disdain that is unthinkable in the U.S., or for that matter, any Western country. It’s as if the viewer has been transported to the world of Sholay.

As cop cars fly into the air, the film’s connection with reality becomes increasingly tenuous — in the real world in the U.S., you don’t mess up with cops and get away with it. If the cop cars don’t get the bad guy, choppers join in the fray, and eventually the National Guard will join in if needed, but here’s the bottom line: You can run from law enforcement, but you cannot hide.

Here, it’s Tony that Jay keeps running away from, and Tony and his henchmen seem to rule the roost with an impunity that befits a gun-slinging spaghetti Western. People, this is the U.S., not some lawless nook in the Chambal Valley. The writ of the law runs everywhere, period. Then there’s Jay’s escape in a hot-air balloon, with passengers who don’t speak English, which will strain the credulity of even the most forgiving Bollywood fan.

(Above): Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

The film’s last strand of connection with reality is severed as a chase scene reaches a climax at a sheer cliff by the ocean. Come again? Vegas is in the middle of the desert — what’s with this ocean?

One is grateful for small mercies, one being that the ambition of the filmmaker of reaching Western audiences is certain to remain a pipedream. One cringes at the possible scenario likely to have ensued if Western audiences did indeed hit the cinemas to watch the film: the cinema would likely reverberate with frequent gales of laughter for all the wrong reasons.

Indranil Ghosh nailed this point well in his review in Bloomberg.com:
Rakesh Roshan’s attempt to get his son’s entry into Hollywood via a global cast, American locales and a sleek pace, fails because of a simple flaw: It’s a poor copy.

Western consumers want authentic Indian fare: hence the popularity of chicken tikka masala or films such as Lagaan.

(Above): Hrithik Roshan in "Kites."

This is an age-old lesson Roshan failed to pick up from duds going way back to Shalimar (1978), starring Rex Harrison, Dharmendra and the hip Zeenat Aman, which too attempted a Hollywood-Bollywood concoction.

Rakesh Roshan, Anurag Basu, listen up. If you know what’s good for you, you will stick to the Bollywood esthetic instead of being all over the place in a curious cultural confection that’s part Western, part Hollywood, part Bollywood — a mish-mash that lacks character and does not inspire either respect or confidence. Without that, nobody will watch your stuff.


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TRAVEL: A Trip to Britain
AUTO REVIEW: 2011 Ford Fiesta
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