Mehta lightens up a bit

Between making Earth and Water for her Elements trilogy, Deepa Mehta wrote and directed a musical romantic comedy entitled Bollywood/Hollywood, a fun little movie that good-naturedly spoofs both Hollywood romantic comedies and Bollywood musical romances. The plot plays out like a Pretty Woman clone and revolves around a family of Indian descent living in Toronto, each generation a bit less traditional than the one before it. Rich boy Rahul, who has bad luck in love, hires Sue the escort to pose as his fiancée so that his mother won’t call off his little sister’s wedding to force him to find a wife. The two bicker until they fall in love. We get Bollywood style musical numbers, in Hindi, thrown into the English language movie just for kicks. It’s a pretty great concept, but with hit-and-miss execution.

The lead roles are played by Rahul Khanna, whose first movie role had been as a sadly ill-fated lover in Earth, and Lisa Ray, the stunner who played a tragic widow in Water. It’s nice to see these likable actors lighten up and sing and dance a bit, as they do here in a rooftop number, though from the gangly dance moves we’re clearly not seeing the best that actual Bollywood musicals have to offer:

I’m not super knowledgeable about Bollywood, having seen only a few of the big extravagant films the industry is famous for, but I’m intrigued by the idea of exploring the similarities and differences between mainstream Indian and North American filmmaking. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure Mehta does a good job of it here. I enjoyed the movie well enough, and I could tell what parts were meant to poke fun at specific conventions (an especially great bit has our heroine’s father doing a 180 on his opinion of her life choices near the end of the film, with his only explanation of his epiphany being that that’s what happens in his favorite movie), but the overall message was lost on me, if there was one. Sue is fair skinned and told by Rahul that she looks “almost East Indian”—she tells him that she’s Spanish, but then reveals that she really is Indian by showing off her ability to start up a big musical number at his sister’s engagement party.  This could have been a great opportunity to comment on how the clash of Western and Eastern cultures affects these kinds of characterizations and assumptions, but it pretty much just results in Sue getting pissy at Rahul for a while. I really wanted more payoff from the set-up.

After watching most of Deepa Mehta’s movies this month, I feel like she is a solid filmmaker with a lot of important things to say. There are some times I’d like to beg her to be a little more subtle, and others when I’d push it farther, but I look forward to seeing where she goes with her career. And I love that she lets nothing stand in her way. The entire movie industry needs more women like her who just do what they please. Screw the boys’ club mentality!

I also look forward to watching some more Indian movies—Netflix has made me many recommendations since I started getting Mehta’s stuff. Anyone want to do a Bollywood night sometime?


2 Responses to “Mehta lightens up a bit”

  1. 1 Carly May 30, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    i wanna do a Bollywood night! boo middle states for getting in the way! i want to see her do something less story-driven, more aesthetically-driven, because her imagery is so stunning, i think it would be even cooler less weighed down with blatant symbolism. not that i dislike symbolism. but i think she could make pretty frames to look at just for the sake of pretty frames. or, more for the sake of pretty frames than driving home a narrative or moral point. yeah? can you tell i work mostly with abstract post-modernists?

  2. 2 Emily June 2, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    I’m in! yay for singing and dancing and pretty colors. Oh, and I agree with your analysis of B/H – fun, but I’m not quite sure I get it.

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