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Bland and inoffensive; Bollywood Beats feels like a classic bait and switch. You're lured in by promises of fun and frothy dance sequences before being served up enough drama to choke a horse (I'm making the bold assumption that horses hate drama). I have no problem with films that carry messages but writer / director Mehul Shah approaches his material with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, crushing all nuance into smithereens in the process.
The film revolves around a core group of 6 characters. We first meet Raj (Sachin Bhatt) who dreams of being a dancer and goes to plenty of auditions in order to make that a reality. His parents aren't as supportive as he would like and give him an ultimatum: he has 6 months to find a paying gig or he has to start working for his dad at the family jewelry store. To make matters worse, Raj's long time gal pal dumps him because they are 'not on the same wavelength'. Of course, when Raj gets mad, all he can do is dance (like hulking out...but not). During one such rage-fueled dance session, he is spotted by Jyoti (Lilette Dubey), a middle-aged woman who would love to get some dance lessons. Thus, Bollywood Beats is born.
With Jyoti as a vocal supporter, Raj attempts to drum up interest in his fledgling dance troupe finally attracting a few new faces. There's Laxmi (Pooja Kumar), the timid housewife; Veena (Sarita Joshi) and Pooja (Mansi Patel), a feisty grandmother-granddaughter duo and finally Vincent (Mehul Shah himself), a gay schoolmate of Pooja's. The rest of the film charts the many misadventures of the group as they enter dance competitions, go clubbing together and form a small support group of their own. To keep the melodrama quotient high, they also squabble, break up, reform and go through all sorts of plot-necessitated contortions. Did I mention there was a lot of drama?
It's fairly evident that Mehul Shah is eager to please. It explains why he feels the need to give every single character a tortured back-story. Unfortunately his willingness to share the focus evenly exceeds his ability to tie together character arcs in a meaningful way. This manifests itself every single time a serious situation arises only to be resolved in a trite fashion or completely off-screen. Laxmi struggles with an unfaithful husband but you'll never know how much since he is barely deserving of screen time. Pooja's dad abandoned her after her mom died but that only requires a teary conversation between Pooja and her grandmother. Most troubling is the way Mehul treats his own character, Vincent. Vincent's dad doesn't approve of his dancing and completely flies off the handle when he discovers his son is gay. To see him in the audience during the finale without any explanation, smiling and clapping along, is a disservice to the character of Vincent and the issue he faces.
Once you get past the sitcom-level hijinks (Spying on Laxmi's husband in disguises? Really?) and endless sermonizing on society's ills (sample exchange: "When did you become pro-gay?" "When I realized they're just like you and me."), you're left with the question of whether the film actually features any dancing at all. The answer is kinda. You see, the film makes it perfectly clear that these aren't highly trained individuals. Rather than detailed choreography, we get plenty of training montages and a few goofy sequences that play up the joy of dancing. This would be perfectly fine if it weren't for the climax that makes misstep after misstep. For no good reason, a key character is injured and unable to dance in the big finale. Why make a big deal about the group coming together if you're going to splinter them in the most critical scene? To make matters worse, this also requires a nonsensical sacrifice on the part of another character. Why? More drama.
With a sharpened focus and a bit more care, we could have ended up with a film that was sweet and unassuming rather than cloying and obvious. Mehul Shah has taken the worst aspects of the everything and the kitchen sink approach that is often seen in Indian cinema and applied it to his little independent feature here. The only problem is that it can't handle all that weight...the kitchen sink is the straw that breaks this camel's back (metaphors successfully mixed...I think).
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. While the image was watchable, it didn't even come close to knocking my socks off. The visually flat presentation coupled with a slightly dull color palette seemed underwhelming. Much of the film was clear and free of visual defects while in certain spots the brights were blown out with occasional aliasing, noise and softness in shots. The quality of this transfer was definitely a mixed bag.
The audio track was presented in English 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo mixes. There were no subtitles available. This is an unfortunate omission because there are a few spots where certain words are spoken in Hindi. I chose to view the film with the 5.1 Surround mix and found it adequate. The front of the sound stage gets most of the love while the rear channels struggle to make their presence felt. With that said, the dialogue is presented with clarity and the Hindi hip-hop fusion soundtrack often possesses a healthy thump.
We start things off with a Behind the Scenes Featurette (7:38). After an introduction by Mansi Patel and Mehul Shah, we get details on how all the characters were cast. Mehul gets to display his passion for the characters while showering his cast with praise. Beyond this, a few moments are spent on the small production crew and the overarching message of the film. This is followed by a pair of Deleted Scenes (4:41) that feature additional interactions between Laxmi and her husband and Vincent and his mom. This is a case where both scenes needed to be left in the film since they help flesh out the underdeveloped characters. A set of AFI Cast Interviews (6:22) with Sachin Bhatt, Mansi Patel and Mehul Shah is followed by a Trailer (1:27) for the film.
Bollywood Beats isn't offensively bad. It just isn't very good. While the performances themselves are often spirited (especially Pooja Kumar and Lilette Dubey), they are in service of characters that are thinly written. The blame for this falls on writer / director Mehul Shah who clearly has affection for these characters but doesn't know how to tell their story without falling back on clichés and trite sermonizing. Even the occasional dance sequence isn't enough to make the proceedings memorable and set the film apart. Picking on a small, independent film is like kicking a puppy (but that's between me and my puppy-loving God). Skip It.