Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Bollywood enters the 21st century with few changes in this musical romance. As per the Bollywood genre, this one movie is an all-purpose entertainment machine, fulfilling a checklist of entertainment needs. Our attractive young stars play out a long, eventful romance designed to accommodate as many musical numbers, dramatic surprises and kick boxing fights as possible. The official tagline is "Music was his life until he met her...", which has almost nothing to do with the colorful pastiche on screen.
Feuding landowner Thakur Suraj (Mukesh Rishi) loses his real estate claim, angrily starts a tragic series of killings and goes to prison. Twenty years later, his thuggish son Abhay Thakur (Rajat Gawda) becomes engaged to the beautiful Dil (Gurline Chopra), who does not love him. She contracts a heart ailment and goes to England for an operation. In London she parties with a group of swinging friends and falls in love with Jeet (Jaz Pandher), a handsome band singer. The heart operation is a success, and Abhay shows up to take Dil back to marital misery in the old country. Jeet's parents encourage him to have courage, and send him back to India to fetch Dil for his own. But little does Jeet suspect that he is in actuality a survivor of the previous generation's feud, and that his real birth mother is still alive!
Viewers looking for high art, literary genius or world-class music should stay away from Indian Babu, but anyone curious to see what entertains 1.1 billion Indian nationals could do much worse than to check it out. The Bollywood formula is not that hard to comprehend. Imagine a full evening of television entertainment -- a musical comedy, a romance, an action spectacle and a soap opera. Instead of several programs, imagine them all rolled into one distended, unhurried plotline. And imagine this presented in brilliant color on a giant movie screen, a pleasant social event. The overall mood is uplifting and the themes don't get any deeper than Young Love Conquering All, or Obeying One's Parents is Important Too. There's plenty of wild music and big production numbers and even a suggestive dance or two, but no offensive sex content beyond a few kisses and hugs. Everybody goes home happy.
Indian Babu is two hours and forty-three minutes of spirited action and drama free from Western ideas of filmic believability. Dil and Jeet are tall and handsome beautiful people; their parents are much shorter and tend to be on the roly-poly side. Every character is in perpetual good spirits except for the bad guys; they just glare with a dull malice. Dramatic credibility just isn't an issue, and even the most crucial plot turns are only a matter of narrative convenience.
According to the subtitles, the name "Dil" means heart. Our true hearted Dil suffers a fainting spell at her first engagement party (there appear to be four or five of these) and is diagnosed as having 'a hole in her heart' that needs immediate surgery. A minute or two later Dil is in London awaiting her operation; she spends the time exerting herself dancing and cavorting around public monuments, at one point even jumping into the Thames just to see if her new boyfriend Jeet will rescue her. Of course, it is not 'serious' behavior, as Dil must go back to India to be married. The operation takes about 60 seconds, after which the completely recovered Dil is ready for more dancing and teasing with her new Anglo-Indian sweetie.
At least seventy minutes of the show take place in London. Glitzy musical numbers are staged in a nightclub, in Trafalgar Square and on the walkways below the Tower Bridge. The movie is definitely not cheap, and it must have been quite a spectacle for Brits and tourists to see a hundred brightly colored dancers going through their aerobic-styled moves on the streets. The choreography leans toward simple gyrations with only a few flourishes of style; most of their effect derives from extravagant costumes and flashy camerawork. As a musical, the dance spectaculars rate a "B-" for achievement and an "A" for enthusiasm. The ranks of dancers contain quite a few Anglos, who appear to be having a fine time reinventing retro moves from the Disco Era. The songs are split between languages, and Reet's English lyrics are frequently inane: "Yes I wanna take you higher / That girl is my desire."
The squeaky-clean story lurches from episode to episode, with plenty of lengthy digressions. At least twenty-five minutes are expended on an unfunny school detective who imagines himself to be agent .008, complete with 'borrowed' John Barry theme music. We can tell the movie was made recently, as ".008" boasts that he needs only a minute to, "locate a lost pencil or find out who blew up the World Trade Center." Jeet's band deals with a tricky promoter and spends quality time eating at a Pizza Hut. Product placement ads are everywhere, for restaurant chains, Coca Cola and Sony Playstations; the drama is already as thin as a TV commercial so the blatant hucksterism ("The woman I marry must be able to make pizza!") fits right in. It's also evident that the film is a showcase for the leading lady's elegant wardrobe. The secondary characters are often outfitted in garish design wear, but never the ever-graceful Gurlie Chopra.
The story grows darker as Jeet arrives in India to interfere with Dil's engagement plans. The black-hearted Thakur Suraj threatens violence and Jeet's new Indian mom tries to dissuade him from carrying out his plan to steal away with Dil. Dil's younger sister confuses matters further by making a play for Jeet, and contributes a fairly sexy dance in the rain. Abhay Thakur's thugs battle Jeet with clubs and fists, and eventually pursue him on horseback with rifles and swords. It looks like another bloody tragedy will ensue, but a surfeit of soap opera histrionics wins the day. With, of course, the help of two or three more flashy musical numbers.
Image Entertainment's DVD of Indian Babu is a passable enhanced encoding of the rather long feature; on a large monitor many of the busier dancing scenes are less distinct because of an insufficient bit rate. Color and sharpness are good throughout, except for one short sequence that has a strange side-to-side unsteadiness difficult to account for. Almost every minute of the picture is backed by scored soundtrack music, all of which is clear and dynamic.
The subtitles show signs of language difficulty, with absurd synonyms popping up from time to time. The detective keeps saying that Jeet is singing in London's "Lecture Square", which turns out to be Leicester (pronounced "Lester") Square.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Indian Babu rates:
Movie: Good (Good and Goofy!)
Supplements: TV spots
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 20, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson