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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Ontario Masala
by Donald Levit

The term "Bollywood" is widely enough known even if the films have not made inroads, and likely never will, into major markets outside diaspora immigrant communities. (A Trinidadian friend reports that, with its heavy Indian population, her Caribbean island gobbles them up.) Bollywood, from India's film capital of Bombay and Hollywood, loosely designates most all Indian cinema; strictly, however, it should be applied to about half --  those in Hindi mixed with Urdu -- of that enormous annual output of from five to nine-hundred features.

The sub-continent's cinema is among our oldest but, given sixteen official languages divided into 1,600 dialects and acrimonious cultural, religious, political and racial differences, has developed a two-pronged product: the regional dialect film from the Calcutta Bengali industry, and the so-called All-India film, the Bombay type reproduced and fondly satirized by Deepa Mehta in her Bollywood/Hollywood set in Toronto's sizable Indian population.

Bollywood producers and directors take pride in featuring the standard genres and storylines favored by American counterparts, even to touting a film as an "original copy," but adapting them to fit national tastes. A frequent overlaying theme is the generation gap, that ubiquitous clash between tradition-bound oldsters and, on the other hand, modern young people, usually males (Bend It Like Beckham's teen female protagonist Jesminda/Jess is atypical).

Whatever the basic theme, Bollywood films invariably include some five or six longish musical interludes, original songs and dances that in effect stop story action to comment like a chorus, however obliquely or even unrelatedly. Such has been standard since the nation's first talkie, Alam Ara (1931), successfully bridged linguistic differences through a dozen intermezzos.

Tongue-in-cheek in the script by Director Mehta and Sandeep Chowta's seven song-and-dance pieces, the result is gently affectionate, with no social bite at all. With its obvious-from-minute-one ending -- patently happy, at that -- and musical numbers at the drop of a turban, the film is no sillier than scores of equally kitsch Western productions of the thirties, forties and fifties.

Ten years after promising his dying father (Jolly Bader) that he will marry a sensible, non-short-skirted girl, millionaire Rahul Seth (Rahul Khanna) gets engaged to Kimberly Stewart (Jessica Paré), who is Canada's rising Britney Spears. To Mummy ji (Moushumi Chatterjee) and Grandma ji's (Dina Pathak) even greater dismay, Kimberly is Anglo and Protestant. After a very few minutes, however, the inconvenient fiancée is cavalierly disposed of via a supposedly humorous levitation accident below -- where else? -- the Hollywood hills sign.

Matchmaking proving to no avail, Mummy ji will cancel sister Twinky's (Rishma Malik) upcoming wedding if her first son cannot find an Indian bride of his own. Unknown to the older women, Twinky is pregnant, and younger brother Go (Arjun Lombardi-Singh) wants her out of the house, anyway.
Drowning his sorrow, Rahul is picked up in an upscale bar by Sue (Lisa Ray), who jokingly claims to be Spanish but looks Indian enough to be hired as an acceptable "fiancée" until sister has safely tied the knot. Understood and encouraged by family chauffeur Rocky (Ranjit Chowdhry), the mercenary young woman bargains and then agrees. But just as Rocky leads a double life, she, too, will turn out to be one surprise after another.

After the usual contretemps, falling in love and happiness come as expected. Punctuated by gleeful modern pseudo-traditional musical numbers and even the appearances of smiling dead characters, the story rolls to an inevitable conclusion. Judging a genre totally foreign to one's sensibilities, and a satire at that, is difficult and unfair, especially when acting is amateurish, humor forced and the occasionally unintelligible dialogue painfully flat. Perhaps I am a romantic, or perhaps the film manages to work by pure innocent accretion, but I felt slightly warmed when the staid hero and truehearted heroine overcame foolishness to find one another. It is doubtful that many others shared that feeling.

(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sensuality/partial nudity, some crude language and drug references.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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