Straddling the line between East and West
Some recent releases have attempted to bring the genre to new viewers, including the recent feel-good Pride & Prejudice. They didn't just translate to English, but stripped out some of the more foreign aspects of the films and cut down the length dramatically. These examples of Bollywood Lite are a decent way for new audiences to dip a toe in the Indian waters.
Bollywood/Hollywood is another attempt, a Canadian production written and directed by indie Indian auteur Deepa Mehta, who, to this point, has been known for personal, controversial films like Fire. Somehow, she decided her follow-up should be a comedy of misunderstanding, in which Rahul, a rich bachelor, hires Sue, a beautiful woman he believes to be a prostitute, to pose as his fiancee, in order to help trick his mother into allowing his sister to get married. As with most stories of this kind, it's hard to not fall in love with your fiancee, fake or not, and the growing feelings between Rahul and Sue complicate their business deal. It's an odd choice of plot for Mehta to be certain, on par with Curtis Hanson's post-Wonder Boys career.
Subtle, this film is not. There's barely a scene that doesn't have a TV nearby playing a Bollywood film scene that corresponds to the scene in this film, so as to serve as a constant reminder of the connection. There are also numerous subtitles throughout the film, indicating what's going on on-screen, acting as a visual guide for the uninitiated, to the hallmarks of Bollywood that are parodied or referenced.
The visuals aren't the only obvious parts of this movie, as most of the characters are one-dimensional, with a massive quirk that is there only to attempt to draw a laugh, like the grandmother's quoting of Shakespeare or Sue's father's love of film. Romantic comedies rarely call upon complex characters to fill screen-time, and this movie is no different, right up to the silly, pointless ending.
Though Mehta has shown herself to be a quality filmmaker, better choices in her crew would have helped. Having a cinematographer and choreographer without any experience in the Bollywood genre robbed the film of some of the energy and look of those movies. When you're attempting to parody or pay homage, you need to get as close to the material as possible, and this film failed to do so on some key points. While trying to do the good things that Bride & Prejudice and My Big, Fat Greek Wedding did, this film came up short.
Despite its shortcomings, the movie is hardly painful to watch, thanks to the entertaining musical numbers and a likeable lead, Lisa Ray, who is in many ways similar to Bollywood giant Aishwarya Rai, right down to the last name. A beautiful, lively girl, she is probably the best actor in the film, a title that won't go on her resume. Her main attribute is her mix of Western and Eastern style, which helps bridge a culture gap in the film.
The audio doesn't serve to impress either, with a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 track that sounds very flat, despite the many musical numbers. Most everything is clear and easy to hear, but everything sits front and center, on the same aural plane. There's nothing special to this really.
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