Dir: Deepa Mehta. Canada. 2002. 103mins.
Canada-based Indian emigre Deepa Mehta lets her exuberant affection for her home country's film conventions run wild in Bollywood/Hollywood. A bloated comedy which awkwardly attempts a blend of the two cultures against a dreary Toronto setting, the film suffers in comparison to Mira Nair's 2001 Bollywood homage Monsoon Wedding, which resonated with Indian joie de vivre while retaining disciplined storytelling technique and poignant character arcs. A market will nevertheless exist for the film within the Indian diaspora as well as appealing to western audiences who are surfing the current Bollywood wave. The feature had its world premiere at Toronto in the Perspective Canada sidebar.
Mehta, whose last film Water was never completed due to protests that it portrayed India as too corrupt and permissive, had already told tight, focused stories in Fire and Earth, the compelling first two films in her India trilogy of which Water was to be the last. Bollywood/Hollywood is virtually a reverse in strategy, applying the rambling traditions of Bollywood to a story set in the west. But whereas a traditional Bollywood movie - running to three hours or more - can accommodate the indulgence of music numbers, broad comic asides and elements of fantasy, it is ill-fitting in a 103-minute English-language romantic comedy. Culture clash is right.
The hero of the film is Rahul (Khanna), a good-looking and successful Indian man, who has broken a promise he made to his father on his deathbed and fallen for a local girl - a white pop star called Kimberley (Jessica Pare) - who is roundly insulted by his ultra-traditional mother (Moushumi Chatterjee) and grandmother (Dina Pathak) when she comes to visit. Almost more traditional than Indians in India, the matriarchs insist on Rahul marrying an Indian girl and, when Kimberley dies in an accident in Los Angeles, they blackmail him into meeting one. Only when he is affianced to an Indian girl will his sister Twinky (Rishma Malik) be allowed to marry her fiance.
Guilted into their plan, Rahul decides to hire a girl he meets in a hotel bar who could pass for Indian to pose as his fiance. Called Sue, the girl is dark, beautiful and probably a hooker, but she remains enigmatic when quizzed on her background. She passes the deceit off perfectly at a family party, but Rahul slowly realises that Sue is in fact Sunita, is actually Indian and he is falling in love with her.
Bollywood/Hollywood comes complete with comic subtitled comments and dance sequences (a bit shabby compared to the spectacular Bollywood versions), but a jaunty spirit cannot make up for the lack of inspiration in execution. Compensating a little for the dreary, gloomy-skied cityscapes is the lovely Lisa Ray who is a standout as the tough but vulnerable Sue, torn between the disapproval of her parents and pursuit of her own western identity. Khanna is handsome, although not altogether likeable in the role of hotshot Rahul, and it's a pleasure to see Mehta regular Ranjit Chowdhry (who was in Sam & Me, Camilla and Fire) in a supporting role as Rahul's limo driver who is secretly a drag queen by night.
Prod cos: Bollywood/Hollywood Productions
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales
Exec prods: Ajay Virmani, David Hamilton, Camelia Frieberg
Prod: David Hamilton
Cinematography: Doug Koch
Prod des: Tamara Deverell
Ed: Barry Ferrell
Music: Sandeep Chowta
Main cast: Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, Moushimi Chatterjee, Dina Pathak, Kulbushan Kharbanda, Ranjit Chowdhry, Jessica Pare