Bollywood films have never been given this much attention in the United States and the world. The reason? The 2008 success Slumdog Millionaire, which masqueraded as Bollywood, while raking in awards, attention and box-office. Those three things are the Holy Trinity to Hollywood and will cause studios and theatres to attempt to catch lightning in a bottle again. Kites has been given the widest release a film from India has ever gotten.
Kites is Bollywood's version of the Hollywood blockbuster. It's a strange mix of styles and genres, all over-the-top and filled with relentless energy, as releases from Bollywood typically are. Set mostly in the American southwest, Kites is even more of a mash-up between Bollywood/Hollywood than Slumdog Millionaire was.
It won't win awards or sell as many tickets, but Kites has enough melodramatic silliness, action and romance to make it an entertaining escape from the usual guilty pleasure temptations that litter the multiplex during the summer months.
Jay (Hrithik Roshan) is tossed bloody and bearded from a train. Bullets are removed, he staggers outside, and we flash back to his life before he came to this dusty wasteland in the middle of nowhere.
Jay lives in Las Vegas and does a little bit of everything to get by, including marrying foreign women for cash so they can stay in the country. All of this is incredibly unrealistic but who cares, the neon lights of the Vegas strip burn so bright, they almost carve etchings against the eye.
Jay meets Gina (Kangana Ranaut), the very wealthy daughter of a casino mogul. The pair join forces and are in a wild and crazy dance-off a few minutes later in the first (and only) dance routine in the entire film. The scene, with throbbing music, ultra hip dancers battling underneath strobe lights, is purposely very different that what you'd normally see in a Bollywood film. Lockin', poppin' and overtly sexual, the sequence resembles a music video more than what you'd expect from a film from India. The message: This is Bollywood for the youngsters (or the Americans).
Jay and Gina begin a relationship. Jay is given entry into her privileged world of luxury with gifts of fancy watches, clothes and keys to a new car. Her family is powerful and dangerous, so he better treat Gina right.
There's trouble lurking around the corner when Jay meets Natasha (Barbara Mori), the hot fiancée of Gina's violent brother. Cut to Jay bloody and battered on the train, the big question of how he got to that place and how he and Natasha are star-crossed lovers risking their lives for their love.
Kites is meant to be fun, and it delivers on that promise. It is the equivalent of a popcorn movie from Bollywood and is no more absurd than the mindless blockbusters pumped out in droves by Hollywood.
It's got very, very attractive actors who can't act a lot, but because they are so beautiful, that is forgiven. It's got hot air balloon escapes, unplanned bank robberies and action scenes with mass carnage on the highway. It's pure product without a doubt, but it's so zealous in its hunger to show us a good time, I guiltily fell for it all.
Director Anung Basu is gung-ho from the start, and Kites is full-tilt at all times. All times. Quick edits, more slow motion than you will likely see in a film all year, enough car explosions to make demolition expert director Michael Bay jealous, close-ups of characters as they burn with longing and raging villains vowing revenge. Don't expect subtlety because it's not supposed to be. Just like the American blockbuster, Kites is more interested in the spectacle than nuance.
There are moments when its connection to India is unmissable though. Some of the dramatic songs about "liberated hearts" that are "exulting in rapture" is pure Bollywood schmaltz. Thankfully, the songs only last for a verse or two before they fade away and the action resumes. No characters join in song, but there is a scene with shadow puppets as foreplay linked to music that will get the Bollywood juices flowing.
The most interesting thing about Basu's film is how it appropriates American genres and links them with elements of Bollywood. There are doses of noir, western and gangster movies in the ultra-romantic story. Early on, there's a shot of Jay standing in a doorway with an open landscape in front of him. It is a clear cut reference to John Ford's 1956 western The Searchers (this shot by Ford is actually one of the most imitated shots in film history).
It's a clue that the film is going to be American cinema history viewed through the melodramatic lens of Bollywood. It doesn't all go together or make sense, but it's entertaining all the same.
There will soon be two versions of Kites as director Brett Ratner has decided it needs a "remix" (re-edit). It will be shorter, have different music and will come out on May 28 in select cities. I'm not quite sure why this is necessary as the Kites I watched is an entertaining, fast paced, convoluted, silly, boisterous, non-stop movie of Bollywood merged with Hollywood style and attitude that lands firmly in the guilty pleasure category.
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