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cash.jpg Romance, action, melodrama, stars, comedy, spectacle, skin, saris, tragedy and, of course, musical numbers...

Indian filmmakers aim to cram something for everyone into every film and since the industry turns out more than 500 features a year, they have a lot of chances to get it right. They work so hard to entertain you that I find myself surrendering more often than I resist. And if there are no Bollywood pictures playing at a theater near you, trust me — that will change.

Reviews:  Amu •   Bachna Ae Haseeno •   Aaja Nachle •  Bhoot •  Bhoothnath •   Black FridayBride & Prejudice •   Cash •   Chak De! IndiaChandni Chowk to China •  Delhi-6 •  Dostana •  Everybody Says I'm Fine! •  Guru •  The Hero: Love Story of a Spy •  Jaan-e-Mann •  Jhoom Barabar Jhoom •  Jodhaa Akbar   Koi... Mil Gaya •   Laaga Chunari Mein Daag: Journey Of A Woman •  Leela •  Love at Times Square •  Luck By Chance •  Marigold •  Mr. and Mrs. Iyer •   Monsoon Wedding •   Morning Raga •   Nina's Heavenly Delights •   Outsourced •  Rab ne Bana di Jodi •  Race •  Road •  Saawariya •  Sarkar Raj •  Shoot On Sight •  Slumdog Millionaire •  Such a Long Journey •  Ta Ra Rum Pum •  Tashan •  13B •  Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic •  U, Me Aur Hum •  Vanaja •  Veer-Zaara •  Yuva


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Aaja Nachle

(2008)
Directed by: Siddarth Annan.
Written by: Devika Bhagat.
With: Ranbir Kapoor, Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone.

Annan's light romantic comedy takes an abrupt, 11th-hour turn for the melodramatic that imbues it with unexpected resonance without seeming completely contrived.

The story of feckless chick magnet Raj Sharma (Kapoor) unfolds in three segments. In the first, set in 1996, he's a callow 17-year-old whose goofy charm makes girls swoon. While touring Switzerland with his pals, Raj spots fresh-faced Punjabi beauty Mahi (Lamba) traveling with her family. Sheltered and more than a little naïve, Mahi falls for Raj when he impulsively comes to her rescue after she gets left behind during a station stop. But though Raj seems like the quintessential nice guy w ho inevitably loses the girl to someone smoother, he's actually a cad in the making and winds up breaking Mahi's heart.

By 2001, Raj is living in Mumbai and forging a career as a video-game designer. He falls for his next-door neighbor, ambitious aspiring model Radhika (Basu), and in no time flat they've combined their apartments and lives. Raj gets cold feet when it appears marriage is on the horizon, and thinks he's found the perfect out in a transfer to the firm's Australian offices. Radhika, unfortunately, assumes the imminent move means Raj will want to get married ASAP so they can start a new life together in Sydney; he lacks the nerve to tell her otherwise. Radhika too winds up bitterly disappointed.

In 2008, as he's nearing 30, Raj meets his match in Gayatri (Padukone), who's driving a cab while planning to attend business school. This time, she's the one for whom romantic commitment isn't a priority and he's crushed. Finally realizing that his love karma needs a thorough overhaul, Raj tries to make amends to Radhika and Mahi. But to his naive surprise, they're both still plenty mad and not at all interested in letting him off the hook.

The son of Indian movie stars Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, Ranbir Kapoor made his debut in the lavish Saawariya (2007), whose Moulin Rouge (2001)/One from the Heart (1982)-like stylization flopped in India and abroad. But Kapoor's sophomore effort plays to his strengths — offbeat good looks and the ability to handle both broad comedy and drama — and wraps them in a glossy, standard-issue Bollywood coccoon of brightly costumed beauties, gorgeous locations, bouncy musical numbers and breathless romance. The result is slick, mainstream entertainment with just enough surprises that you don't have to feel like a fool for enjoying it.


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Amu

(2005)
Written and Directed by: Shonali Bose.
With: Konkona Sen Sharma, Brinda Karat, Chaiti Ghosh and Ankur Khanna.

Indian-born, U.S.-based documentary filmmaker Shonali Bose's fiction debut wraps a history of the 1984 Delhi riots into the story of an American-raised college graduate who returns to her South Asian roots and is shocked by what she finds.

Kaju Roy (Sharma) was adopted and raised by her single mother, lawyer Keya (Bose's aunt, political activist Karat), in Los Angeles. But she's always been curious about her birth parents, and about India, so after graduation she pays an extended visit to her mother's family.

Video camera perpetually in hand, Kaju sets about documenting the sights and sounds of the land where she was born but of which she has no memories. Her grandmother indulges her and her slightly younger cousin, Tuki (Ghosh), by introducing Kaju to Tuki's college classmates. One of them, Kabir (Khanna), reluctantly agrees to escort her around Delhi — Kaju's overprotective family won't hear of her wandering around by herself — and though Kabir mocks her as a pampered tourist whose naive ideas about "the real India" were formed by movies and fashion magazines, he clearly has a little crush on the headstrong American.

Kaju goes to Delhi to see the university her mother attended, but she's drawn to its slums, and with Kabir's help quickly discovers that what little her mother revealed about her past is a lie: Kaju's parents didn't die during a malaria outbreak in a small rural settlement. Her roots lie deep in the Delhi slums, and it becomes increasingly apparent that her story is deeply connected to the riots that followed Indira Ghandi's 1984 assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Over the course of three bloody days more than 5,000 Sikhs were murdered in retaliation, and Kaju begins to suspect that her father may have been one of the never-prosecuted killers.

Bose's intentions are impeccable and her film is clearly a labor of love: She was a college student in Delhi during the riots, and the brutality of the Hindus who turned on their Sikh neighbors — coupled with the involvement of government officials and the deliberate indifference of the police who allowed arsonists and murderers free rein — left a lasting impression. Bose's decision to make a fiction film rather than a documentary was fueled by the desire to reach a broad commercial audience, and while Kaju's voyage of horrified discovery is undermined by uneven performances, preachy digressions and a handful of clunky scenes, it's nonetheless compelling on a personal level.


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Bachna Ae Haseeno

(2008)
Directed by: Siddarth Annan.
Written by: Devika Bhagat.
With: Ranbir Kapoor, Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone.

Annan's light romantic comedy takes an abrupt, 11th-hour turn for the melodramatic that imbues it with unexpected resonance without seeming completely contrived.

The story of feckless chick magnet Raj Sharma (Kapoor) unfolds in three segments. In the first, set in 1996, he's a callow 17-year-old whose goofy charm makes girls swoon. While touring Switzerland with his pals, Raj spots fresh-faced Punjabi beauty Mahi (Lamba) traveling with her family. Sheltered and more than a little naïve, Mahi falls for Raj when he impulsively comes to her rescue after she gets left behind during a station stop. But though Raj seems like the quintessential nice guy w ho inevitably loses the girl to someone smoother, he's actually a cad in the making and winds up breaking Mahi's heart.

By 2001, Raj is living in Mumbai and forging a career as a video-game designer. He falls for his next-door neighbor, ambitious aspiring model Radhika (Basu), and in no time flat they've combined their apartments and lives. Raj gets cold feet when it appears marriage is on the horizon, and thinks he's found the perfect out in a transfer to the firm's Australian offices. Radhika, unfortunately, assumes the imminent move means Raj will want to get married ASAP so they can start a new life together in Sydney; he lacks the nerve to tell her otherwise. Radhika too winds up bitterly disappointed.

In 2008, as he's nearing 30, Raj meets his match in Gayatri (Padukone), who's driving a cab while planning to attend business school. This time, she's the one for whom romantic commitment isn't a priority and he's crushed. Finally realizing that his love karma needs a thorough overhaul, Raj tries to make amends to Radhika and Mahi. But to his naive surprise, they're both still plenty mad and not at all interested in letting him off the hook.

The son of Indian movie stars Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, Ranbir Kapoor made his debut in the lavish Saawariya (2007), whose Moulin Rouge (2001)/One from the Heart (1982)-like stylization flopped in India and abroad. But Kapoor's sophomore effort plays to his strengths — offbeat good looks and the ability to handle both broad comedy and drama — and wraps them in a glossy, standard-issue Bollywood coccoon of brightly costumed beauties, gorgeous locations, bouncy musical numbers and breathless romance. The result is slick, mainstream entertainment with just enough surprises that you don't have to feel like a fool for enjoying it.


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Bhoot

(2003)
Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma.
Written by: Lalit Marathe and Sameer Sharma.
With: Ajay Devgan, Urmila Matondkar, Victor Banerjee, Nana Patekar and Rekha.

Heavily influenced by The Exorcist (1973) on one hand and Japanese ghost movies of the '90s on the other, this Indian spookshow — "bhoot" means ghost in Hindi — involves a young couple who move into an apartment with a terrific view, plenty of closets and a surfeit of bad mojo.

Stock analyst Vishal (Devgan) falls in love with the duplex digs in a Bombay high-rise and thinks nothing of the fact that the previous tenant died in a fall from the terrace. "People die everywhere," he retorts when the realtor hesitantly reveals the apartment's history. "What does the poor house have to do with it?" Vishal and his perky wife, Swati (Matondkar), are soon happily ensconced in their new domicile, though Swati takes an instant dislike to the building's watchman — they even have words when he enters the apartment unannounced and speaks to her in an overly familiar manner. But the watchman is soon the least of their troubles: Swati begins seeing a girl lurking around the apartment, and is horrified when Vishal confesses that he knew someone had died violently there and didn't see fit to tell her. Within days she's sleepwalking and having vivid waking nightmares; after an especially disturbing episode, Vishal consults a psychiatrist. Then the watchman is found dead, his head twisted backwards; Vishal knows that Swati left the apartment in a trance the night before — could she be the killer?

Though at two hours this non-musical supernatural tale is considerably shorter than most mainstream Indian films, it's still slow going, padded with long shots of the troubled apartment building underscored by a soundtrack full of moans and screams. The number of times rational Dr. Rajan (Banerjee) insists that Swati suffers from multiple personality disorder and Vishal replies that his wife isn't crazy could easily be cut by half. Ditto the scenes in which laconic Inspector Liyacat (Patekar), who's convinced Swati is a murderess, pops up in the middle of some intense encounter and makes a droll and thoroughly inappropriate remark: The Exorcist's notoriously annoying Lieutenant Kinderman was less irritating. On the plus side, director Ramgopal Varma delivers a couple of effective jolts, and the witch doctor (veteran Bollywood star Rekha) to whom Vishal eventually turns in desperation is a witchy bombshell — it's hard to imagine the being, living or dead, who could resist the force of her will.


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Bhoothnath

(2008)
Written and Directed by: Vivek Sharma.
With: Amitabh Bachchan, Juhi Chawla, Aman Siddiqui, Rajpal Yadav, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Satish Shah and Shahrukh Khan.

Writer-director Sharma's variation on Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost is a kid-friendly supernatural tale in which a family unwittingly moves into a haunted house.

The Sharma family is often separated: Cruise ship engineer Aditya (Khan) spends months on end at sea, leaving his wife, Adjani (Chawla), to cope with their mischievous seven year old, Aman (Siddiqui), known to friends and family as "Banku." Aditya's employer rents them a spacious home in Goa, the Villa Nath, a handsome but neglected place locals believe is haunted. Adjani scoffs — she's sure the various odd sounds and goings-on can be laid at the feet of comic drunk Anthony (Yadav), who used to camp out in the empty house — and assures Banku there are no ghosts, just angels like his late grandpa. As it happens, she's dead wrong: Villa Nath is haunted, by the restless spirit of Kailash Nath (Bachchan), whose US-based son, Vijay (Chatterjee), now owns the house. Only Banku can see Nath, and Nath's efforts to frighten him fail dismally: Emboldened by his mother's reassuring words, Banku treats Nath like a naughty puppy. Banku's relentlessly bossy high spirits eventually wear Nath down, and he begins to find the child's antics charming. As Nath gradually assumes the role of Banku's guardian angel, his appearance and demeanor become less frightening than reassuringly patrician.

The film takes an abrupt turn for the melodramatic when Adjani finally realizes her son's chatter about the angel in the house is more than just childish make-believe. Once she learns why Nash is haunting his home, the stage is set for tragic revelations and tearful lessons about the importance of family.

Bhoothnath never finds a comfortable balance between broad comedy – most of which revolves around Adjani's lackadaisical housekeeping, Anthony's drunken antics and the buffoonish principal (Shah) of Banku's new school, who steals his students' lunches (Banku's are, of course, substandard) – and the bittersweet relationship between Nath and Banku, each of whom fills a void in the other's existence. The musical sequences are largely forgettable, with the exception of a schoolyard-standoff number in which Banku and his classmates imagine themselves as ghetto gangstas: The sign of little Indian girls dressed as ghetto hootchie mamas is nothing short of bizarre.


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Black Friday

(2008)

Written and Directed by: Anurag Kashyap, based on the non-fiction book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts by S. Hussain Zaidi.
With: Kay Kay Menon, Pavan Malhotra, Vijay Maurya.

Writer-director Anurag Kashyap dramatizes the aftermath of the Bombay bombings of March 12, 1993, in this nonmusical thriller that owes more to films like Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005) than to mainstream Indian commercial spectaculars. Adapted from crime reporter S. Hussain Zaidi's book about the investigation, it suggests that though the bombers were Muslim and claimed they were avenging the brutal violence of the 1992/1993 Bombay riots, calculating underworld crime lords were as much to blame as religious fervor.

March 9, 1993: Indian police interrogate a prisoner about recent riots triggered by the destruction of Babri mosque by a Hindu mob; the riots destroyed Muslim-owned businesses and left hundreds dead. The prisoner's warning about an imminent plot to bomb multiple locations in Bombay is ignored, and three days later 12 sequential bombs tear through the stock exchange, hotels, shopping malls, the passport office, a movie theater and other crowded targets.

The investigation, headed by Inspector Rakesh Maria (Menon), quickly leads to Muslim underworld figure "Tiger" Memon (Malhotra), who's already fled to Dubai and is holed up in luxury with fellow gangster Dawood Ibrahim (Maurya). The actual bombers, frustrated young Muslim men whose inchoate anger at anti-Muslim violence and discrimination was manipulated by Memon, have scattered, believing Memon will help them escape the country when things cool down. As the police gather information by whatever means necessary — the film's depiction of Indian police procedures vividly argues for avoiding arrest at all costs — the increasingly desperate conspirators shuttle from place to place, running out of money, worried for their families and increasingly afraid that Memon, a fellow Muslim, has callously thrown them to the wolves.

Screenwriter turned director Kashyap's second feature was suppressed in India as being prejudicial to defendants whose cases were still making their way through the courts more than a decade after the bombings, and his script closely follows the source material. Opening with the Mohandas Gandhi epigram "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind," it humanizes the bombers without excusing their actions, blaming Ibrahim and Memon for using them as pawns to settle their own festering grudges — especially Memon's fury at having lost property in the riots. The film assumes knowledge of the bombings (which took place shortly after the first terrorist attack on the World Trace Center) and familiarity with various Indian and Pakistani law-enforcement organizations that few Americans have at their fingertips. But in the aftermath of 9/11, its assertion that religious terrorism isn't just about relgion is food for thought.


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Bride & Prejudice

(2004)

Directed by: Gurinda Chadha.
Written by: Paul Mayeda Berges and Chadha based on the novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
With: Namrita Shirokar, Aishwarya Rai, Naveen Andrews, Indira Varma, Nadira Babar, Meghna Kothari, Peeya Rai Choduri, Daniel Gilles and Nitrin Ganatra.

Director and co-writer Chadha puts a Monsoon Wedding (2001) spin on Jane Austen's much-adapted story of love and money, which opens with the trenchant observation, "[i]t is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife

Seeking suitable husbands for her four daughters, ambitious Amritsar matron Mrs. Bakshi (Babar) sets her sites on wealthy, eligible, London-based lawyer Balraj Bingley (Andrews) for her eldest, Jaya (Sirokar). Jaya and Balraj, who's in town for a wedding, accompanied by his snooty sister, Kiran (Varma), and his best friend, William Darcy (Martin Henderson), heir to an international hotel fortune, seem to hit it off. And Darcy and Jaya's feisty, formidably intelligent sister, Lalita (Rai), also seem to have a little chemistry bubbling until Darcy sticks foot firmly in mouth and convinces her he's an arrogant ignoramus who thinks the civilized world begins and ends in the United States. On a trip to Goa, Lalita meets handsome world traveler Johnny Wickham (Gilles), who grew up with Darcy and confirms her every suspicion and adds a few unsavory details she hadn't suspected.

Back home in Amritsar, Mrs. Bakshi is courting uncouth Mr. Kholi (Ganatra), who made a success of himself in American and wants a proper Indian bride, for Lalita. A lavish Bakshi-family dinner, whose guest list includes Balraj, Darcy, Wickham and Kholi, begins with high hopes and devolves into disaster. Balraj fails to propose, Lalita is awful to Kholi, next-to-youngest sister Maya (Kothari) performs an embarrassing cobra dance and baby sister Lakhi (Choduri) develops a massive crush on Wickham. Things all work out for the best, but not until tears have been shed, secrets revealed and the lavish musical numbers that define Indian mainstream filmmaking have set the screen awhirl with color and rhythm. The good news is that Austen's tale of heartbreak and social maneuvering continues to lend itself beautifully to contemporary adaptation: The rules of the game change, but the clash between what people want and what other people want for them is as vivid as it was almost 200 years ago. The bad news is that the much-ballyhooed Hollywood-Bollywood marriage is an awkward match: Gloriously seductive musical sequences seem suddenly hokey and self-conscious when they're staged in Western settings, and the songs' English-language lyrics are painfully banal.


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Cash

(2007)
Directed by: Anubhav Sinha.
Written by: Yash-Vinay.
With: Zayed Kahn, Shamita Shetty, Sunil Shetty, Ritesh Deshmukh, Dia Mirza, Esha Deol and Ajay Devgan.

"Cash in the front of me/Cash in the back of me/Money money on my mind/Making money all the time:" Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani's driving, hip-hop influenced title song sets the tone for this deeply stupid but hugely stylish Indian caper film in which a cross-section of police and thieves try to get their hands on a legendary diamond.

Slightly nerdy DJ (Kahn) strikes up an acquaintance with a pretty young woman aboard a flight to Italy and tells her a fabulous story that begins in 1836, when a poor peasant uncovers a stupendous, 200-carat diamond. The stone is eventually cut into three smaller gems that pass through many hands, leaving a trail of blood in their wake. Two of the three stones eventually wound up in a Belgian bank and were stolen; the third surfaced recently in Cape Town, South Africa, and was promptly acquired by the Chinese Mafia. Security specialist Shania (Shanita Shetty, younger sister of beleaguered star Shilpa Shetty, who survived both a racially-charged stint on the UK Celebrity Big Brother and a controversial public kiss with Richard Gere) has been charged with recovering the gem; she and her team plan to make the hot rock so hot that the only buyer willing to purchase it will be the fictitious "Hafeez," played by Shania herself and bankrolled to the tune of $4 million by the Indian government.

What Shania doesn't know is that embittered crook Adgan (action star Sunil Shetty), fresh off a five-year jail term courtesy of a bad old white gangster nicknamed "Uncle," is determined to steal the gem and use it to wreak his vengeance. Adgan renews his acquaintance with old partner/girlfriend Aditi (Dia Mirza), who in turn recruits veteran thief Doc (Devgan) for the job. Doc calls in specialists Lucky and Danny (Deshmukh, Khan again), the hitch being that the former best friends now hate each other. Doc must make sure they don't realize they're working on the same job, to which end he brings in Pooja (Deol), the top-notch getaway driver with whom both men were once in love, and charges her with keeping them apart. The biggest complication of all is that Doc is Shania's boyfriend, though she knows him only as mild-mannered writer "Karan." Under no circumstances does Doc want to involve Shania in the theft or have her discover his secret identity. And then the double crossing begins…

Director Sinha's glossy heist picture, dedicated to the proposition that no matter where you are, it's all about the Benjamins, makes little sense but features energetic stunts, some pretty sexy musical numbers and intermittent animated sequences in which the various characters suddenly become oddly-Caucasian cartoon versions of themselves. Ridiculous though it may be, it's never dull.


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Chak De! India

(2007)

Directed by: Shimit Amin.
Written by: Jaideep Sahni.
With: Shahrukh Kahn, Shilpa Shukla, Chitrashi Rawat, Seema Azmi, Nisha Nair, Masochon V. Zimik, Kimi Laldawla, Vidya Mallavde and Sagarika Ghatge.

A rare mainstream Indian movie without musical numbers (though it features original songs), Amin and Sahni's inspirational sports drama shoulders an unusually heavy thematic load, including the quest for personal redemption of a disgraced athlete, second-rate treatment of women's teams and the need for modern India to set aside inter-state and -faith rivalries in favor of loyalty to a united nation.

At the conclusion of a heated game against Pakistan's national field-hockey team, pride drives Kabir Khan (Kahn), captain of the Indian team, to claim a critical penalty shot for himself. He flubs it, sparking heated rumors that he did it deliberately to fix the game. Disgraced and unemployable, Kabir vanishes. Seven years later he resurfaces in a most unlikely place: Old teammate Uttamaji offers him a coaching job with the national women's hockey team. The Indian Hockey Association has nothing but contempt for the women's team — they're not good enough to play a European high school team, sneers one association official. Kabir is up for the challenge, but even he's daunted by the squabbling pack of players recruited from states all over India and utterly unwilling to let go of generations worth of seething regional resentments.

The battle of wills starts on Day 1, when Kabir benches five disruptive players, including strong, experienced Bindia (Shukla), who expects the privileges that go with seniority, and prodigiously talented tomboy Koumal (Rawat), who must defy her old-fashioned father to play. Rani and Soimoi (Azmi, Nair), dark-skinned girls from rural Jharkhand — Soimoi speaks neither Hindi nor English — are ostracized by the more worldly players, and Asian-featured Molly and Mary (Zimik, Laldawla), who come from the region where India borders Nepal, are barely acknowledged as Indian. Vidya's (Mallavde) in-laws are pressuring her to come home and honor her family responsibilities, while Preeti's (Ghatge) fiance, an up-and-coming cricket player, ridicules her ambitions. Kabir gradually wins over most of the players, appealing to their self-respect as women and athletes and inspiring them with his vision of a team that plays for India, not personal glory or regional pride. But Bindia continues to undermine their blossoming camaraderie, while Preeti and Koumal are locked in a distracting personal rivalry. Will the team ever work well enough together to compete on an international playing field?

Like A League of Their Own (1992), Chak De! India uses sports-movie conventions to address larger cultural and political issues, and while it doesn't miss a cliche, it also invests every one with vigorous conviction. Chak De! India's release was scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Indian independence.


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Chandni Chowk to China

(2009)

Directed by: Nikhil Advani.
Written by: Shridhar Raghavan and Rajat Arora.
With: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Mithun Chakraborty, Ranvir Shorey, Gordon Liu and Roger Yuan.

A lowly Indian food-stall worker is mistaken for the reincarnation of a great Chinese warrior and wacky complications ensue in this energetic, if uneven, movie masala whose ingredients include broad comedy, fists of fury, dark family secrets and musical numbers.

Hard-luck sap Sidhu (Kumar) chops vegetables at his stern foster father Dada's (Chakraborty) food stall in Chandni Chowk, Delhi's bustling market neighborhood, and pines hopelessly for spokesmodel Miss TSM (Padukone), who pedals made-in-China gadgets on TV. He buys lottery tickets and charms, goes to fortune tellers and even discovers the face of elephant-headed god Ganesh on a potato, but nothing changes his luck until he crosses paths with two Chinese men who seem to want something of him. Could they be the agents of his destiny? Sidhu enlists the help of his putative friend, part-Chinese con man Chopstick (Shorey), who learns the strangers are looking for the reincarnation of legendary warrior Liu Sheng, whom they hope will deliver their village from the persecution of gangster Hojo (Liu). Sensing an opportunity, Chopstick gives Sidhu a carefully edited version of their story, leaving out the part where Sidhu will be expected to going to have to take on a stone cold killer who delights in decapitating people with his razor-rimmed bowler (yes, just like Goldfinger's iconic Oddjob). A reincarnated hero — it's like something out of a Bollywood movie! Sidhu even meets Miss TSM at the passport office, and she's going to China too, for a meeting with her employers. Unfortunately, rather than swooning for Sidha she swindles him out of his place on line.

Once in China, the complications come thick and fast: Sidhu spots a women he thinks is the treacherous Sakhi but is actually notorious thief and killer Meow Meow (also Padukone). The police, by contrast, mistake Sakhi for Meow Meow, forcing her to go on the run. And what do you know: Sakhi was actually born in China! Her Indian mother was married to decorated Chinese police officer Chiang (Yuan), but when their twin daughters, Sakhi and Suzy, were just infants, he and Suzy were apparently killed by Hojo while visiting the Great Wall. Hmmmm... twins. And who's that crazy old bum who lives in the shadow of the Wall and begs coins from tourists? Everything comes together in a martial arts smackdown so stupid it's clever, and surprisingly satisfying as well.

Like most Bollywood films, Chandni Chowk to China is a wild and often uneven mix of genres, and the opening segment is rough sledding if you don't care for broad slapstick. Even if you do, Sidhu gets kicked in the ass by Dada and sent flying over the rooftops one time too many. But once the action moves to China the comedy becomes less buffoonish (a banana-peel gag in the Curse of the Golden Flower-inspired musical number notwithstanding), the kung fu kicks in (including the inevitable Karate Kid-style training sequence that transforms Sidhu into a master of the martial arts) and the family melodrama goes into overdrive. Like Sony's Sawaariya (2007), Warner Brothers' Chandni Chowk to China represents a major Hollywood investment in mainstream Indian cinema, as opposed to films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Bride & Prejudice (2004) and Marigold (2007), which are set in India and inflected by Bollywood style while remaining thoroughly Western movies. Warners opened it on 120 screens in 50 markets, with an eye to cutting themselves in on the immigrant/Desi market in the US and, presumably, perhaps picking up some whitebread moviegoers intrigued by the martial arts element.


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Delhi-6

(2009)
Directed by: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.
Written by: Prasoon Joshi, Kamlesh Pandey.and Mehra.
With: Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Om Puri, Waheeda Rahman, Rishi Kapoor, Atul Kulkarni, Divya Dutta, Cyrus Sahukar, Vijay Raaz.

Though admirably serious and ambitious, this fish-out-of-water comedy-drama about an American-born Desi rediscovering his Indian roots is a jumbled collection of moments that range from the touching to the tedious.

Half-muslim, half-hindu New Yorker Roshan, (Bachchan) agrees to accompany his seriously ill grandmother (Rahman) to India, where she still owns the house in which she was raised. It's located in the walled Chandni Chowk neighborhood (the same one that figures prominently the martial arts-musical-melodrama Chandni Chowk to China), the old section of Delhi that locals call "Delhi-6," after its postal code. Roshan may look Indian and speaks Hindi, but he sees Chandhi Chowk and, by extension, India as a whole through American eyes: Colorful, vibrant and seething with life, but also backward, corrupt and thoroughly infuriating. As long as he's ambling along the teeming sidestreets and snapping cell-phone pictures, he's just another tourist. But as soon as he begins to involve himself in day-to-day life, Roshan's cultural ignorance stirs up trouble, some petty, some of considerable consequence.

He stands up to a brutally corrupt police officer (Raaz) and gets himself thrown into jail, scandalizes the neighbors by treating a street sweeper/prostitute (Dutta) with simple human decency — doesn't he understand that she belongs to the most untouchable of untouchable casts? — and scoffs at reports that a mysterious black monkey spirit is lurking in the shadows wreaking havoc (such a rumor did in fact sweep Delhi in 2001). It's one thing for the media to make hay with credulous reports of black monkey mischief — they have air time to fill and there are only so many cute human-interest stories to go around, even in densely populated India — but the idea that people actually believe some folkloric simian spirit is real? He just can't wrap his mind around it, let alone that the stories could ignite ancient Hindu-Muslin hostilities. Roshan also befriends pretty Bittu (Kapoor) and encourages her to pursue her dream of entering an American Idol-style TV competion, even as her traditional father (Puri) is arranging her marriage, in part because he knows a restless daughter when he sees one. No child of his is going to disgrace the family by carrying on like some kind of Westernized hoyden.

Kudos to director and co-writer Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for his commitment to tackling serious social issues — religious intolerance, police corruption, the plight of modern girls forced into arranged marriages and lower-caste citizens condemned to lives of hopeless misery — and to superstar Bachchan for wanting to be part of a film that defies the Bollywood formula for success. It doesn't even have musical numbers. But Delhi 6 never gels, largely because Bacchan's Roshan is such a shallowly drawn character: His gradual seduction by his homeland is never convincing, especially as he becomes increasing aware of its entrenched injustices. And while men and women have been known to uproot their lives for love — it's entirely possible that Roshan's own parents moved to America to escape the stigma of a mixed marriage — his chaste romance with Bittu founders on the absence of chemistry between Kapoor and Bachchan. Ironically, star chemistry is the thing Bollywood films usually get right: Maybe a few of those glitzy musical set pieces would have helped. (In Hindi and English)


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Everybody Says 'I'm Fine!'

(2001)
Written and Directed by: Rahul Bose.
With: Rehaan Engineer, Juneli Aguiar, Sharokh Bharucha, Boman IraniKoel Purie, Rahul Bose, Pooja Bhatt, Anahita Oberoi.

Indian actor Rahul Bose's writing/directing debut is a jaw-dropper, a dark, English-language melodrama about a hairdresser who reads minds — not in a manner of speaking, mind you, but literally.

As a child, Xen (Engineer) saw his parents die in a freak accident in a recording studio; the trauma somehow endowed him with the ability to hear other people's thoughts. The troublesome gift faded as he matured, but after opening a chic Mumbai haircutting salon he found that he could still listen in on the innermost workings of his clients' minds while he clipped their hair, as though their thoughts were leaking out through the freshly trimmed ends. Xen's clients, an idle cross section of the rich and restless, have no idea their lives are open books to the handsome, deferential young man who trims their locks. And many would be mortified if they did.

Xen knows, for example, that college students Tina and Bobby (Aguiar, Bharucha) are nursing mutual crushes but are too embarrassed to act. He also learns more disturbing things: businessman Mr. Mittal (Irani) is a sadistic misogynist; pampered housewife Tanya (Bhatt) has been cruelly abandoned by her husband and is living in near poverty; snobbish Misha (Oberoi) is a cocaine addict who deals on the side; and actor Rage (Bose) hides a deepening depression behind his manic facade. Where a less benevolent individual might consider blackmail, Xen simply does his best to help and then retreats into the hush of his upstairs apartment, where the windows are always closed and the television is perpetually muted. Then wild-child Nikita (Purie) blows into the shop and Xen is confronted by the sounds of silence... Perhaps Nikita is as empty-headed as her frivolous, attention-getting antics suggest, or perhaps her secrets are so terrible she can't even bear to think about them.

Though the film's fanciful premise seems more naturally suited to comedy, Bose exploits its more sinister implications surprisingly skillfully until the combined weight of narrative threads involving incest, suicide and murder eventually bog the story down. Unlike most commercial films made in India, Everybody Says I'm Fine! has no musical numbers and was shot almost entirely in English, the lingua franca of the privileged classes whom Bose skewers so mercilessly.


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Guru

(2007)
Written and directed by: Mani Ratnam.
With: Mithun Chakraborty, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Mithun Chakraborty, Arya Babbar, R. Madhavan, Vidya Balan, Roshan Seth and Mallika Sherawat.

Inspired by the life of controversial entrepreneur Dhirubhai Ambani, Tamil filmmaker Ratnam's politically inflected Hindi-language melodrama examines three decades in the life of Gurukant "Guru" Desai (Bachchan) who rises from his modest rural origins to the top of the business world.

Idhar Village, Gujarat, 1951: Young Guru bitterly disappoints his father, headmaster of the local school, by failing his exams. But Guru is less interested in academics than business, and takes the opportunity to move to Istanbul, where an uncle teaches him the basics of trading. Though Guru's knack for commerce lands him a promising job offer from a British petroleum company, he doesn't want to live in Turkey and work for Europeans. So he returns to Idhar, where he and his childhood best friend, Jignesh Patel (Babbar), decide to go into business together: The only thing stopping them is money — though Jignesh's father used to be a moneylender, he's keeping all his spare funds as a dowry for his headstrong daughter, Sujatha (Rai, Bachchan's offscreen wife). So Guru marries Sujatha, and the three of them move to Bombay, only to find that a web of trade associations and government quotas conspire to keep newcomers from establishing themselves.

A fortuitous meeting with newspaper publisher Manikdas Gupta (Chakraborty) gives Guru the break he needs; Gupta, who's impressed by Guru's drive and energy, exposes favoritism within a local union, and Guru steps into the resulting breach. He becomes a successful yarn trader, then expands into fabric import and export. He sees an opportunity in polyester and opens a textile factory, later diversifying his interests to include chemical manufacturing. Guru's financial success erodes his integrity and he alienates old friends and supporters, including Gupta, who assigns hotshot reporter Shyam Saxena (Madhavan) to cover irregularities in Guru's Shakhti family of companies.

Guru embodies a number of trends that emerged in postcolonial India, and when he's called before a government commission he delivers an impassioned speech that emphasizes national pride — he and Sujatha even request that the proceedings be conducted in Hindi rather than in English — and the need for India to establish itself as a respected member of the international business community. Unlike most mainstream filmmakers, Ratnam doesn't try to include something for everyone, but he does deliver several handsome production numbers. The highlights are a sultry belly-dance sequence featuring Mallika Sherawat and a solo for Rai that emphasizes her rural roots while contriving to get her sari soaking wet.


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The Hero: Story of a Spy

(2003)
Directed by: Anil Sharma Written by: Shaktimaan.
With: Sunny Deol, Preity Zinta, Deep Dhillon, Priyanka Chopra, Amrish Puri, Kabir Bedi, Parvin Dabas and Rajpal Yadav.

Mission: Impossible-style international spy thrills, with musical numbers.

Much-decorated Indian secret agent and master-of-disguise Arun Khanna (Deol, who bears a striking resemblance to Kevin Spacey) is given a vitally important mission. Power-mad Isaq Khan (Puri), head of Pakistan's secret service, has concocted a diabolical plan: He intends to allow religious fundamentalists operating in the name of Kashmiri independence to steal one of Pakistan's nuclear warheads ("our Islamic bomb"), which they will then use against India. But he's foiled by Khanna and imprisoned with his cohorts. Khanna subsequently assumes the guise of an army officer at a military outpost on the Kashmir/Pakistan border, the better to keep an eye on the doings of Pakistani colonel Hidayatulla (Dhillon), who's suspected of being in cahoots with the conspirators.

Khanna falls in love with studious shepherdess Reshma (Zinta), but puts duty first and places his beloved, who often crosses the border while tending her sheep, in harm's way. Hearing that Hidayatulla is looking for a servant girl, Khanna trains Reshma as a spy and sends her to Hidayatulla's house, where she gathers intelligence — including the vital information that Khan and his co-conspirators are out of jail and plotting again — until she's discovered. Khanna rescues her and proposes marriage, but Khan blows up the pavilion where the engagement party is held and Reshma is counted among the dead. As is always the case in epic melodramas, many more plots and counter-plots play themselves out before the lovers are reunited.

Since this is an Indian melodrama, the diversions include elaborate song-and-dance numbers, some of which arise naturally from the story — an elaborate village celebration, a floor show at a corporate gala event — while others are pure artifice. And since this is also an action thriller, there are shootouts, fights, high-tech spy craft and the climactic pursuit of a runaway train in the snowy Canadian wilderness. Over all, the film is no more preposterous or jingoistic than American big-budget action thrillers,and it pays lip service to ideals of international and interfaith brotherhood and love: Reshma is a Hindu orphan adopted by Muslim neighbors, Khanna refuses to defile the Pakistani flag (his quarrel is only with terrorists) and treats the Muslim villagers of Kashmir with kindness and respect, though that doesn't stop him reviling Pakistan at every opportunity.


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Jaan-y-Maan

(2006)
Written and directed by: Shirish Kunder.
Written by:.
With: Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, Anupam Kher, Tom DiNardo and Soni Razdan.

Even by the genre-bending standards of Bollywood musicals, this bizarre, aggressively self-referential spectacle ("I am showing you a flashback," one character tells another as an expository scene begins to play on the wall) features a nutty mix of broad comedy, romance and maudlin melodrama.

It begins in outer space, as NASA astronaut Agastya Rao (Kumar) does a zero-gravity waltz (yes, the "Blue Danube Waltz") with his curvy copilot. As he's about to call his friend Suhaan (Salman Khan) with birthday greetings, she intervenes, pointing out that it's 5am in Mumbai. So Agastya kills time by telling her the story of his unlikely friendship with Suhaan.

Though they attended college together, handsome, arrogant Suhaan never noticed Agastya, a math geek with braces, frizzy hair and a dreadful fashion sense. Neither recognizes the other when they meet seven years later, when failed-actors Suhaan is broke and alone, having destroyed his marriage to the beautiful Piya (Zinta) for a shot at stardom. Piya moved to New York to be close to her wealthy family, and Suhaan, who hasn't paid his court-ordered alimony for a year, is faced with her lawyers' demand for a huge one-time lump payment he has no way of paying. As Suhaan bemoans his sorry lot with his lawyer, scheming dwarf Bonny Singh (Kher), the answer to his problems rings the doorbell. It's Agastya, who has worshipped Piya from afar ever since they were classmates, and has finally woeked up the courage to declare his love. This is the most recent address he was able to find for Piya, and he's dismayed that she's not there; fortunately, he has no idea that Piya and Suhaan are married.

The perpetually scheming Bonny takes Suhaan aside and points out that if Piya remarries, he'll be released from his financial responsibilities. So Suhaan gives Agastya Piya's New York address and tells him to follow his heart. Unfortunately, the mere thought of Piya reduces Agastya to the pitiful, stammering loser he used to be, so Suhaan comes along and, with the help of tiny electronic earpieces, coaches Agastya through his courtship. But the heart is unpredictable and Suhaan realizes he still loves Piya. Many complications arise before this triangle resolves itself, and along the way Suhaan learns not to be such a jerk and Agastya finds genuine self-confidence.

The film's transition from sight gags — most involving the outlandish getups Suhaan dons so he can stay close enough to Agastya to feed him lines without being spotted by Piya — to tear-stained family drama is especially abrupt, and most of the musical sequences are undistinguished. But there is a bizarre number for creepy midgets in elf costumes, and the tale's comic punch line is oddly memorable.


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Jhoom Barabara Jhppm

(2007)
Directed by:Shaad Ali. Written by: Habib-Faisal.
With: Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Lara Dutta, Bobby Deol and Piyush Mishra.

A contemporary spin on A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM pairs attractive Bollywood stars Bachchan and Zinta as a couple who fall in love at a London train station while awaiting the arrival of their fabulous spouses-to-be.

As a puckish guitar slinger in a coat of many colors and a rakish feathered hat, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan entices commuters to drop their bags and "Sway, Baby, Sway" (one translation of the film's title and its catchiest tune by far) on the platform, while jack-of-all-trades Rikki Thukral (Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh's son) and respectable working woman Alvira Khan (Zinta) bump into each other, first at a newsstand and then at a crowded cafe, where they're forced to share a table. It's dislike at first sight. He accuses her of having a "typical Indian attitude" — stuck-up and status-conscious — while she pegs him as a crude, rude hustler and a relentless flirt. Nonsense, Rikki replies — he's engaged and waiting for his gorgeous, refined fiancee, Anaida (Dutta, Miss Universe 2000), a manager at the Hotel Ritz in Paris whom he met just before Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed left the premises and had their fatal accident. It was dislike at first sight with her, too: She caught him trying to run out on a very large bill. But true love found a way around her reservations, and now she's coming to London to marry him.

Alvira met her prince in legal briefs — handsome, fabulously wealthy Steve Singh (Deol) — when he rescued her from being crushed by a Superman figure at Madame Tussauds. As they finish their stories of true romance, the train pulls in, revealing that neither Alvira nor Rikki was telling the whole truth: She's meeting her aunt and cousin, while he's meeting his raffish business partner, Huffy Bhai (Mishra). And that's not the half of the dissembling: The real fun begins when Rikki and Alvira must try to keep their fictions alive. What fools these mortals be!

Shaad Ali Sahgal's colorful, glamorous romantic comedy is pretty racy for a mainstream Bollywood production (experienced Alvira even has a gay best friend) and filled with catchy numbers that culminate in a hip-shaking dance-off at a ballroom in Southall, London's Little India. The Paris locations are gorgeous, the comedy is snappy rather than goofy (as is often the case in Indian films), the leads are lavishly costumed, and there's even a tear-jerking, everlasting-love montage. Now that's entertainment.


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Jodhaa Akbar

(2008)

Directed by: Ashutosh Gowariker. Written by: Haidar Ali and Gowariker.
With: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Yuri, Ila Arun, Chetana Das, Shehzor Ali, Punam S. Sinha, Sonu Sood, Parth Dave, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Punam S. Sinha, Suhasini Mulay and Digvijay Purohit.

Ashutosh Gowariker, director of the Academy Award-nominated Lagaan (2001), wraps a plea for Muslim-Hindu unity in the kind of movie Hollywood just doesn't make anymore: An epic 16th-century romance awash in jewels, swordplay and elephants.

1555: Jalaluddin Mohammad becomes leader of the Mughal nation at age 13, but his guardian, General Bairam Khan (Yuri), holds the real power. The boy king's first act as ruler is meant to be the decapitation of defeated, half-dead Raja Hemu (Ali), but he refuses and Khan steps in instead. Jalaluddin (Roshan) takes the reins when he comes of age, and proves an unusual warrior king: Repulsed by wanton brutality and political corruption, tolerant of all religions and willing to strike alliances with local leaders rather than seize their kingdoms by force. Raja Bharmal (Kharbanda) of Amer — whose Rajput subjects are famed for battlefield courage and chivalry — brokers one such deal with Jalaluddin, sealed with the emperor's agreement to marry Bharmal's fiercely proud and independent-minded daughter, Jodhaa (Rai).

Jodhaa is obedient but cold to her new husband, even though he defies his own clerics to fulfill her prenuptial demand that she be allowed to maintain a shrine to the Hindu god Krishna in her quarters at the Mughal fort in Agra. With their marriage unconsummated — in addition to all his other fine qualities, Jalaluddin is a gentleman — Jodhaa is at a disadvantage in the snake pit of court politics. Though she finds a surprising ally in Jalaluddin's widowed mother, Mallika Hamida Banu (Sinha), she also has an implacable enemy: Maham Anga (Arun), the wet nurse who virtually raised Jalaluddin. She occupies a powerful position in his court and has used it to further the ambitions of her own cruel, dissolute son, Adham Khan (Choudhary). Maham isn't about to allow some Hindu upstart to erode her influence and steps up her efforts to undermine her when it becomes apparent that Jalaluddin and Jodhaa are beginning to warm to one another. Meanwhile, Jodhaa's brother, Sujamal (Sood), whom their father passed over as successor, is recruiting allies to help him seize his birthright, while nobleman Sharifuddin Hussain (Nikitin Dheer) is plotting to depose his king and TAKE control of the Mughal empire.

The pearls! The silks! The golden earrings and grape-sized gemstones… and that's just the men. Gowariker's three-and-a-half hour epic is sheer, sumptuous spectacle: Armies rush towards each other across desert sands, dervishes spin gracefully at Jodhaa and Jalaluddin's wedding, battle elephants stomp heads, velvet-tasseled horses kick up a spray of stinging dirt with their sharp hooves, white-clad Rajput warriors practice their swordsmanship, blades flashing in the sun. The film opened to controversy over its accuracy (never the strength of historical epics); there was a Hindu queen among Jalaluddin's many wives, but "Jodhaa" was actually the name of his daughter-in-law. Popular misappropriation of the name apparently dates back to an earlier historical romance, Mughal-e-Azam (1960), and in Rajastan — where the Mughal-Indian alliance brokered with the marriage of Raja Bharmal's daughter is a matter of considerable local pride — Jodhaa Akbar was met with such resistance that it never opened. It did, however, set a new record for Hindu-language releases in the US, playing more than 100 theaters.

Whatever its deficiencies as history, JODHAA AKBAR is the kind of grand historical epic Hollywood has lost the knack of making, filled with pomp, intrigue, swordplay, heartache and elephants — lots of elephants. While the lavish musical production numbers for which Bollywood is famous are absent, there are music-driven montages and a handful of dance sequences that arise logically from the action, including the dreamy dervish number and a series of large-scale celebratory routines feting Jalaluddin's decision to repeal an unpopular tax on religious pilgrims. As to leads Roshan (Koi… Mil Gaya) and Rai, they're the kind of stars who once glittered in the MGM heavens and look out of this world in rubies and ropes of pearls.


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Koi... Mil Gaya

(2008)
Directed by: Rakesh Roshan.
Written by: Haidar Ali and Gowariker.
With: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Yuri, Ila Arun, Chetana Das, Shehzor Ali, Punam S. Sinha, Sonu Sood, Parth Dave, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Punam S. Sinha, Suhasini Mulay and Digvijay Purohit.

A loopy, musical science-fiction hodge-podge of story ideas borrowed from American films, notably E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Charly (1968), this lavish Indian feature (whose title translates as "I found someone") revolves around a mentally challenged young man and a little lost alien.

Rohit Mehra (Hrithik Roshan) was brain-damaged in utero during the car crash that killed his father (Rakesh Roshan, the film's director), a scientist obsessed with contacting alien life forms.

Under the watchful eye of his fiercely protective mother, Sonia (Rekha), Rohit has grown into a handsome young man with the mind of an impish child. His peers are embarking on their adult lives, but Rohit is still in grammar school. Rohit develops his first crush when he lays eyes on the vivacious Nisha (Priety Zinta), who's recently moved to town. On the advice of her father, who believes in being kind to the less fortunate, Nisha befriends Rohit and is charmed by his innate goodness. This enrages local bully and self-styled ladies man Raj (Rajat Bedi), who misses no opportunity to torment and humiliate Rohit. Determined to live up to the memory of his father, Rohit persuades his mother to dust off his father's old computers, and with Nisha's help inadvertently summons some aliens. They land briefly in the nearby hills but retreat into space when a herd of elephants spooks them; one little blue extraterrestrial gets left behind.

As police and local officials search furiously for the alien, which they plan to turn over to government scientists, Rohit and Nishi find the lost creature and dub him "Jadu" — the Hindi word for magic — because of the astonishing powers he wields. Rohit's friends, a lively band of neighborhood children, soon discover Jadu and join the conspiracy to keep him safe from harm. In return, the wide-eyed, fish-lipped Jadu gives Rohit normal intelligence and confers phenomenal basketball-playing skills on the delighted youngsters.

Like most mainstream Indian films, this epic entertainment aims to provide something for everyone: Low comedy, high pathos, cute kids, chaste romance, scowling bad guys, family drama and, of course, elaborate song and dance routines. Whether deliberate or accidental, the look of stunned perplexity on little Jadu's face when he finds himself in the middle of a hillside musical number is itself worth the price of admission.


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Laaga Chunari Mein Daag: Journey Of A Woman

(2007)
Written and Directed by: Pradeep Sarkar.
With: Rani Mukherjee, Abhishek Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Jaya Bhaduri, Kunal Kapoor, Anupam Kher and Hema Malini.

Sarkar's lavish melodrama about a dutiful daughter and the sacrifices she makes for her family recalls both golden-age Hollywood tales of moral sacrifice and redemption and the highly regarded 1995 Marathi-language film Doghi.

Sisters Vibha (Mukherjee) and Chutki Sahay (Sharma) grow up in straightened circumstances in Varanasi, Benares — one of India's holiest cities — but their family is happy until a heartless uncle and cousin decide to repossess the house they've always lived in.

The shock nearly kills their father, Shivshankar (Kher) — who has always lamented that he has no sons — and their mother, Sabitri (Jaya Bachchan), can't support the family by sewing petticoats. So Vibha decides to become a "son" — she moves to Mumbai, claiming that Sophie, a low-level Bollywood employee who once came to Varanasi to scout movie locations, has promised her a job. Vibha fails dismally and quickly wears out her welcome with Sophie, but she can't go home empty-handed: There's no money for Shivshankar's medicine, studious Chutki's college tuition or a lawyer to keep them in the family home. When Vibha is at her lowest point, new friend Michelle gives her some no-nonsense advice: Beauty is a commodity and Vibha needs to start exploiting it.

So Vibha takes the shame-name Natasha and becomes a high-class call girl, supporting her family on her earnings as a corporate "event planner," and resigns herself to never being able to go home at all. When she meets handsome international lawyer Rohan (Abhishek Bachchan), who seems to love her, Vibha flees — what would he think if he knew what she really does for a living? Vibha's double life catches up to her when Chutki, now an MBA with a promising career at a swank Mumbai advertising agency, agrees to marry her boss, creative director Vivaan (Kapoor). How can Vibha return home for her sister's wedding without disgracing her family?

A slick, old-fashioned women's weeper in contemporary clothes, the film's song-and-dance component is relatively small; award-winning choreographer Howard Rosemeyer even stages Vibha's fall from grace as a dark psychological montage (albeit with fab op-art decor) rather than a full-blown musical number — but never fear, there's a wedding and all the spectacle that implies. Overall, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag breaks no new ground but is solidly entertaining.


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Leela

(2002)
Written and Directed by: Samath Sen.
With: Dimple Kapadia, Amol Mhatre, Deepti Nava, Gulshan Grover, Brendan Hughes, Kelly Gunning, Garrett Devereux, Kyle Erby, Michelle Van Wagner.

Indian star Kapadia shines in this family melodrama that takes some surprising turns and addresses the issues of cultural assimilation and friction between immigrant parents and their American-born children more subtlety than less polished features like ABCD and American Desi (both 2001).

Shaken by her mother's death, Bombay University professor Leela (Kapadia) takes stock and finds her life wanting: Approaching 40, she's been married for two decades to Nashaad (Khanna), a famous poet and singer some years her senior, and is afraid she's accomplished nothing. She takes a job as a visiting professor of South Asian studies in California, where her students include sophomore Kris (Mhatre) — Krishna to his mother and no-one else — the thoroughly Americanized son of fellow-teacher Chaitali (Nava). Chaitali is divorced from Jai (Grover), who's now married to an American woman (MVan Wagner) and is a marginal influence in his son's life

The over-protective Chaitali has a boyfriend, Summer (Hughes), but keeps the relationship secret from Krisha, who's still a virgin and takes a lot of ribbing from hot-blooded American pals JC (Gunning), Chip (Devereux) and Jamal (Kyle Erby). Kris and his friends are all smitten with Leela's beauty, grace and calm air of spirituality, and though Kris accepts an American Pie-style bet that he can lose his virginity to Leela, he instead falls in love with her.

Leela in turn befriends Chaitali, and reveals that her marriage to Nashaad, a habitual womanizer who calls her his muse and declares his devotion in songs and poems, is a source of emotional turmoil. As Leela grows closer to Kris, his relationship with his mother deteriorates, and Leela begins questioning the compromises she's made for her marriage. Each must make life-changing decisions above love, loyalty and family.

Working primarily in English and on location in the U.S., but incorporating certain Indian stylistic conventions (notably musical numbers, here woven naturalistically into the story), first-time writer/director Samath Sen fashioned a modern version of the women's pictures that were once a Hollywood staple and are still hugely popular with Indian audiences. Though occasionally didactic (the supporting characters are especially prone to awkward exposition), the film's overall approach is deft, and Sen resists the urge to paint any of the major characters in broad strokes. Kapadia's intelligent, nuanced performance is the film's highlight, balanced by Khanna's portrayal of Nashaad, who could easily be a patronizing, chauvinist caricature. (In English and Hindi)


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Love at Times Square

(2007)
Directed by: Dev Anand.
Written by: Dev Anand.
With: Henee Kaushik, Dav Anand, Shoeb Khan, Chaitanya Chaudhary and Siya Rana.

Eighty-year-old actor-turned-filmmaker Dev Anand is a legend in the Indian film industry, but this sunny romance — which he wrote, produced, directed and stars in — is a crudely executed affair that doesn't play well to Western sensibilities.

Vivacious, beautiful Sweety (Kaushik), the pampered daughter of billionaire philanthropist Shaan (Anand), is pursuing a career as a journalist in New York. While covering the New Year's Eve 2000 festivities in Times Square, two young men — successful, California-based computer engineer Raj (Khan) and poor-but-determined Bobby (Chaudhary), who's recently come to New York to make his fortune — fall in love with Sweety.

Sweety likes both, but her first loyalty is to her widowed father, who's recently moved to California, which seems to give Raj an edge, until Bobby lands a job working for Shaan. Over the course of the year, Shaan is persuaded to nurture the musical ambitions of Angela (newcomer Rana), a neighbor's daughter, and Bobby brings his family over from India so his sister can pursue her music studies.

Raj and Bobby each declare their love for Sweety, who demurs because she dreams of a perfect match like that of her parents. Sweety is nearly kidnapped by gangsters, and Bobby takes a bullet in her defense. Shaan witnesses the destruction of the World Trade Center and writes a million-dollar check to the people of New York. Angela and her all-girl band make their debut at an Indian film-stars extravaganza; and everyone winds up back in Times Square for New Year's Eve 2001, where the various story strands get tied up neatly.

Leaving aside the story, which is no more cliched than the average Hollywood romance, the film is marred by bright, flat lighting (which makes the patently fake sets look even less convincing than they otherwise might) and the kind of exaggeratedly perky, eye-rolling performances favored by the hosts of children's television programs.

Kaushik is adorable but painfully over-animated. The scenes in which the lanky Rana (who bears a distinct resemblance to Liv Tyler) "plays" the cello and saxophone are simply ludicrous, though her legs look absolutely terrific wrapped around the former. The flashback to the plane crash that killed Sweety's mother is unintentionally hilarious, from Shaan's miraculous survival to his discovery of his beloved wife's severed hand in a bush. The film's production numbers are energetic but fairly artless, and the music is thoroughly generic pop.


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Luck by Chance

(2009)

Written and Directed by: Zoya Akhtar.
With: Farhan Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Hrithik Roshan, Rishi Kapoor, Isha Sharvani, Juhi Chawla, Dimple Kapadia, Alyy Khan, Sanjay Kapoor and Ashish Sahweny. Featuring, as themselves: Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor, Dia Mirza, Karan Johar, Ranbir Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Vivek Oberoi, Boman Irani, Anurag Kashyap and Rajkumar Hirani.

Poised somewhere between an outright art movie and a mainstream Indian feature, writer-director Zoya Akhtar's behind-the-scene look at the hopes and shattered dreams of aspiring Mumbai movie stars could as easily have been called "What Price Bollywood?" or "Run, Vikram, Run."

Small-town girl Sona Mishri (sen Kokona) comes to Mumbai with big dreams, which unscrupulous producer Satish Chowdhury (Alyy Khan) cynically encourages. Of course, they'll have to spend a lot of time together… getting to know one another as artists, of course.

Three years later, Sona is a little older and a lot wiser, but still clinging stubbornly to the hope that Chowdhury will make good on his promise of a starring role. In the meantime, she's made a couple of regional films and played dozens of bit parts on his advice. Meanwhile, Vikram Jaisingh (Farhan Akhtar, the director's brother), has graduated from the Nand Kishore School of Acting and left his hometown, Delhi, to pursue his dream. Fortunately, he has a well-off father willing to indulge him, at least for a while. Vikram wants nothing less than to go home and work in his father's store, but so far he's gotten nowhere: Without connections, he can't even get into cattle-call auditions, so he spennds a lot of time hanging out with his friends Sameer, who aspires to direct while working as a prop man, and Abhi (Mathur), who pays the rent with TV gigs but "nourishes his soul" by doing theater. Abhi and Sameer live down the hall from Sona: Vikram, meet Sona. Sona, Vikram.

The ambitious youngsters fall in love, encouraging each other when things are bad, rejoicing together in every bit of luck. But the movie business is a tough one, built on nepotism, casting-couch favoritism, shrewd politicking and ungovernable luck; the one sure thing is that success — even a taste of it — has a way of revealing people's true faces.

The children of screenwriter Honey Irani and lyricist Javed Akhtar, Zoya and Farhan grew up in and around the movie business, but it still took Zoya seven years to get Luck By Chance made. She clearly spent them watching the Bollywood circus (a metaphor she employs with glee in one of the film's handful of musical numbers) and making mental notes. The clowns, acrobats and high-wire artists include veteran producer Rommy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor), whose buffonish exterior covers a razor-sharp instinct for the business; his wife, Minty (Chawla), who's way more influential than most people realize; pretty boy Zaffar Khan (Roshan), Rommy's in-house star, who gets an offer he can't refuse from another producer that just happens to conflict with Rommy's next picture; Rommy's idiot brother Ranjit (Sanjay Kapoor), a failed actor-turned-sirector who thinks he's India's answer to Quentin Tarantino; aging star Seena Walia (Kapadia), who's masterminding the career of her brainless, sheltered daughter, Nikki (Sharvani); and a host of bona fide Bollywood luminaries playing themselves, including Rani Mukherjee, Abhishek Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan, who gives some sage advice about the intoxicating but fleeting pleasures of stardom. He ought to know.


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Mr. and Mrs. Iyer

(2002)
Written and Directed by: Aparna Sen, based on a story by San and Dulal Dey.
With: Konkona sen Sharma, Rahul Bose, Vijaya Subramanium, A.V. Iyenger, Rabiranjan Maitra, Niharika Seth, Riddhi Basu, Arnab Moitra, Richa Vayas, Oden Das and Jishnu Songupta.

An "art film" that lacks the musical numbers associated with mainstream Indian movies, veteran actress-turned-director Aparna Sen's variation on David Lean and Noel Coward's devastating Brief Encounter (1945), in which larger social forces keep potential lovers apart, benefits greatly from lovely performances by Bose and Sen Sharma.

The movie begins as circumstances force sheltered, upper-caste Hindu wife and mother Meenakshi Iyer (Sen Sharma, the filmmaker's daughter) — Meena to her friends — to conclude a visit with her parents, who live in the mountains, by returning home to Calcutta alone. The trip begins with a long bus ride followed by a transfer to a train, and Meena is juggling her baby, Santhanam, and all the usual baby supplies. At the bus stop, her mother asks a friend of a friend, wildlife photographer Raja (Bose), to keep an eye out for Meena. He agrees, but makes a point of not sitting with Meena and the baby.

The bus's passengers comprise a cross-section of Indian society, including an elderly Muslim couple, a pair of Sikh men fretting about marrying off their daughters and nieces, a frisky young couple, some boisterous vacationing college students, a woman traveling with her handicapped teenage son and a roguish group of card players. Then a closed road forces the bus to make a detour through the mountains, and the trip becomes a nightmare. A petty village squabble has escalated into a riot, roving mobs of Hindu extremists are slaughtering Muslims and the police can't guarantee anyone's safety. That's when Raja lets Meena in on a secret: He's Muslim. She's horrified, but when a bloodthirsty mob surrounds the bus her better impulses surface and she declares that Raja is her husband, respectable Hindu Mani Iyer. With the entire area under martial law, the passengers arrange makeshift accommodations and "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer" end up in a most unsuitable situation, sharing a remote bungalow with only one usable bedroom.

Over the course of a few frightening days, during which their real lives seem somehow suspended, Raja and Meena are disabused of their prejudices and preconceptions. He's surprised that a spoiled Brahmin housewife has a degree in physics, she's enchanted by the stories he spins about their fictitious life together when it's necessary to deflect unwanted questions. But what will become of their relationship when order is restored?

The dialogue is sometimes too baldly issue-driven and for a film so conspicuously committed to tolerance to resort to the stereotype of the cowardly Jew when someone is needed to commit an act of terrible betrayal is disturbing. But overall, Sen's film is an entertaining ode to the power of familiarity to vanquish hatred, and a striking exception to the lavish musical spectaculars that dominate the Hindi Film Industry. (In English, Bengali and Tamil)


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Morning Raga

(2004)
Written and Directed by: Mahesh Dattani.
With: Shabana Azmi, Perizaad Zorabian, Prakash Rao, Lillette Dubey, Shaleen Sharma, Vivek Mashru, Ranjani Ramakrishnan and Naaser.

A fatal bus accident affects two generations of South Indian families in this art movie driven by traditional Indian music.

1984: Gifted singer Swarnalatha (Azmi), schooled in the classical carnatic tradition, persuades her friend, amateur violinist Vaishnavi (Ramakrishnan), to perform with her in a nearby city. But the bus carrying both young mothers and their children collides with a weaving car while crossing the bridge that connects the village to the mainland. Vaishnavi dies, as does Swarnalatha's child.

Twenty years later, Vaishnavi's son, Abhinay (Rao), lives in big-city Hyderabad and has a successful career writing jingles. Frustrated by the anonymity of composing commercials, he quits and returns home to consider his options. His old-fashioned father (Naaser) insists he should give up music and take over the family farm, but Abhinay wants to form his own progressive rock ensemble. He'd also like to speak with Swarnalatha, against whom his father still nurses a bitter grudge. Swarnalatha, for her part, is convinced the accident was a punishment for her ambitions and hasn't left the village in 20 years.

Overwhelmed by guilt and superstitious fear of the bridge, reinforced by the fact that Abhinay is nearly run down by a car just as she passes it, Swarnalatha retreats further into seclusion. But the near-accident proves serendipitous: The driver, a young singer named Pinkie (Zorabian), join forces with Abhinay and her mother, Mrs. Kapoor (Dubey), lets them rehearse in a space above her successful clothing store and uses her connections to get them gigs. She also tells Pinkie a secret with terrible implications: Not only did her father die in the same accident that killed Abhinay's mother, but he actually caused it.

The band gets off to a rocky start; one of Mrs. Kapoor's friends warns that they're imitating white musicians trying to be black, and if they want to find their own unique sound they should look to their own heritage. So Abhinay badgers Swarnalatha into rehearsing with them, setting the stage for emotional upheaval as the accident's legacy of secrets and lies come home to roost.

Writer-director Mahesh Dattani's earnest melodrama uses backstage-musical conventions to juice an awkwardly told tale of music's power to heal old wounds. The film lurches from goofy "Hey, kids, let's form a band!" cliches to scenes filled with overwrought weeping and rending of garments, but the utterly gorgeous music helps keep it afloat.


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Marigold

(2007)
Written and Directed by: Willard Carroll.
With: Ali Larter, Salman Khan, Rakesh Bedi, Nandana Sen, Vikas Bhalla.

Call it "Bollywood Lite" or "Bollywood for Dummies" if you will, but this insubstantial East-West romance is a colorful charmer that might even persuade a few skeptics to check out the real thing.

Spoiled, self-centered Hollywood B-starlet Marigold Lexton (Larter, of TV's Heroes) reports to the Goa set of "Kama Sutra 3" without luggage (deliberately rerouted by a fed-up airline employee after an especially ugly tantrum at the boarding gate) and without much in the way of prospects — it's been years since she did a movie that didn't have a number in the title. Worse, her agent has just quit, which means she's forced to rely on the kindness of strangers while she gathers her wits and figures out a way to get home.

Fortunately, there's an Indian movie shooting nearby, and she catches the eye of director Manoj (Bedi), who's happy to write a part for a lissome blonde into his South Seas epic. It quickly becomes woefully apparent that Marigold can't dance, but no matter: Manoj will improvise and rewrite her scenes for broad comedy. Add a humiliating encounter with conceited and lecherous star Raj (Bhalla) and Marigold's Bollywood career is off to an infelicitous start. Fortunately, she's rescued by dance director Prem (Bollywood superstar Khan), who agrees to coach her and is such a perfect gentleman that Marigold can scarcely believe he's real. After several magical days, he invites her to attend a wedding at his family's lavish home. Here reality intrudes on Marigold's fantasy romance… reality Bollywood-style, beginning with Jaanvi (Sen), the beautiful, educated fiancee Prem's parents selected for him when they were both children.

Inspired by a stay in Chennai, American writer-director Carroll hit on the idea of making an English-language love story that incorporated the energy, color, lavish song-and-dance numbers and old-fashioned melodrama of Bollywood films. Overall, he succeeded admirably: The film is a little over-the-top for mainstream American viewers and a little short on musical numbers (especially in the second half) for mainstream Indian audiences, but between heartthrob Khan's smoldering eyes and Larter's yummy tummy, there's ample diversion for all. It also features original songs by the popular team of Shankar Mahadevan, Loy Mendonsa and Ehsaan Noorani, as well as gorgeous locations and a tangle of romantic complications that resolve themselves exactly as they should.


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Monsoon Wedding

(2001)
Directed by: Mira Nair.
Written by: Sabrina Dhawan.
With: Sameer Arya, Vasundhara Das, Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Parvin Dabas, Vijay Raaz, Ishaan Nair, Randeep Hooda and Tilotama Shome.

Director Nair's love letter to family, weddings and India revolves around the elaborate nuptials of two young professionals, each with one foot planted in tradition and the other in the modern, globalized world.

In love with married television personality Vikram Mehta (Arya), Aditi Verma (Das) decides marriage is her best chance for moving forward and so allows her parents, Lalit (veteran Indian actor Shah) and Pimmi (Dubey), to arrange a match with Hemant Rai (Dabas), an engineer who lives in Houston, Tex. Soon the Verma and Rai families — but especially the Vermas — are up to their bindis in wedding preparations, which include a whirlwind of receptions, parties and other events leading up to the big day. Lalit hires planner P.K. Dube (Raaz) to handle the endless details — tents, marigold gates, musicians, catering — while Pimmi entertains the dozens of relatives converging on New Delhi from points as far flung as Australia and the U.S.

Meanwhile, Aditi gets cold feet and, ignoring the level-headed advice of her older, unmarried cousin Ria (Shetty), sneaks off for a disastrous assignation with Vikram. As the wedding approaches, emotions run high: Lalit and Pimmi argue about whether their chubby, dance-loving son (Ishaan Nair) should attend military school. Cousin Rahul (Hooda) flirts with sultry dance student Ayesha (Neha Dubey). Lalit worries about money, unaware that Aditi is about to confess her indiscretions to Hemant, possibly scuttling the wedding, and Ria must decide whether to explain her dismay that jovial Uncle Tej (Rajat Kapoor), who now resides in America but lived with the Vermas when Ria was a child, has singled out little cousin Aliya (Kemaya Kidwai) for his special attentions. Like Nair herself, the Vermas are of Punjabi extraction; originally from India's northwest, many Punjabis were displaced after the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan but rebounded to become part of India's thriving middle class.

Punjabi weddings are notorious for their lavishness, and Nair's intoxicating soap opera revels in the sights and sounds of this clamorous family ritual. Her style is a canny combination of contemporary realism — cinematographer Declan Quinn's hand-held camera glides among the participants like a nameless partygoer, while characters speak a fluid mix of Punjabi, English and Hindi — and glossy Bollywood cliches. The subplot involving Dube's romance with the Vermas' shy young maid (Shome) is the stuff of pulp romance, and Nair even manages to get in a dance number and a wet sari scene before the festivities are over.


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Nina's Heavenly Delights

(2007)
Written and Directed by: Pratibha Parmar.
With: Shelley Conn, Laura Fraser, Ronny Jhutti, Art Malik, Raji James, Veena Sood, Raad Rawi, Atta Yaqub and Zoe Henretty.

While not a Bollywood spectacular, Nairobi-born, U.K.-raised writer-producer-director Pratibha Parmar's frothy lesbian romance unfolds within the confines of Glasgow's bustling Indian community and explores issues that will resonate with Desis the world over.

As a child, Nina Shah (Conn) was the apple of her father Mohan's (Rawi) eye. He delighted in sharing the art of cooking with her, and she spent many happy hours at the family's restaurant, "New Taj," with her father. But as an adult, Nina fled to London to escape the expectations of her family and neighbors, particularly the one that she would marry Sanjay Khanna (James), whose family owns the rival "Jewel in the Crown." Nina decamped on what was to have been her wedding day, devastating two families and scandalizing the community.

She returns three years later for her father's funeral to find that the Taj is up for sale — her father used it as gambling collateral — and that Sanjay's father (Malik) hopes to buy it. Nina convinces her mother (Sood) to put off selling the restaurant long enough for her to enter it in a fiercely competitive local curry cook-off. Nina argues that the restaurant will fetch a better price as a three-time award-winner, but has an ulterior motive: She wants to honor her father's memory by proving that the Taj is the best Indian restaurant in Glasgow. As she begins formulating the perfect menu with which to wow the judges, Nina uncovers all manner of neighborhood secrets, all of which pale next to the realization that she's fallen in love with childhood friend Lisa Mackinlay (Fraser), who happens to be dating Nina's brother, Kary (Yaqub). Everything comes to a head on the set of Kohma-TV, the local station that sponsors the cooking competition and is closely watched by just about everyone Nina knows.

A bubbly little romantic comedy that has more in common with Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) than grittier tales of being gay within a tight-knit ethnic community, Parmar's film is light and sweet, comfort food dressed up with a dash of exotic spice; for all the escalating complications, there's no crisis that can't be fixed by a cuppa and some bickies. Life is generally messier and more painful, which is why formulaic movies like this exist: They recast emotional ordeals as silly spots of bother that go down as easily as that comforting cup of tea. And sometimes that's exactly what you need.


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Outsourced

(2007)
Directed by: John Jeffcoat.
Written by: John Jeffcoat and George Wing.
With: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Asif Basra, Matt Smith, Arjun Mather and Larry Pine.

Bollywood? No. But Outsourced, which was produced in the US but shot almost entirely in Mumbai, couldn't help but pick up some of the Hindi Film industry's energy. First-time director John Jeffcoat's fish-out-of-water comedy, cowritten with George Fifty First Dates Wing, finds gentle humor in corporate outsourcing and tin-eared cultural misunderstandings.

Seattle-based Todd Anderson (Hamilton) supervises a telephone fulfillment center for Western Novelties, purveyor of tacky gewgaws for tasteless cheapskates. He hates his job, but he's good at it, so it comes as a shock when his boss (Smith) announces that Todd's entire department is being fired and their jobs outsourced. Todd still has a job, but it involves going to India to train his replacement.

From the get-go, Todd and India don't hit it off: He hates the heat and the crowds, the food disagrees with him and man, does he want a cheeseburger! He's not xenophobic, exactly; Todd just doesn't get the way his Indian employees do things, and his efforts to get his new staff to disguise their accents so callers will think they're talking to sales reps in Chicago and make small talk while getting people off the phone ASAP just aren't working.

But years of corporate training notwithstanding, Todd quickly starts seeing the men and women who staff Western Novelties' half-constructed call center as people rather than interchangable personnel assets — bright, charming people eager to improve their lives. Todd's replacement, Puro (Basra), is hardworking and eager to learn, and ambitious underling Asha (Dharker) is funny, whip-smart and walking a careful line between her parents' traditional expectations and her own more modern aspirations. How could Todd not fall for her?

While Wing and Jeffcoat's screenplay hits all the familiar notes — it's no surprise that Wing's agents tried to set it up as a studio feature before taking the independent-production route — Hamilton and Dharker have genuine chemistry. Their flirtation doesn't end up as it would have in a conventional American film, nor does Todd's gradual surrender to India's sights, sounds and cultural attitudes proceed as obviously as it might have. Outsourced is a sweet, good-natured surprise that takes the cliches of an overworked genre and makes them seem almost fresh and entirely charming.


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Rab ne Bana di Jodi

(2008)
Written and directed by Aditya Chopra.
With: Shahrukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Vinay Pathak, M.K. Raina and cameos by Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutta, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee and Kajol Devgan.

Aditya Chopra's romantic comedy could teach Hollywood a thing or two about breathing life into hoary cliches.

As the vibrant Taani (Sharma) prepares to don her bridal gown, her beaming father, Professor Gupta (Raina), receives a terrible phone call: Taani's groom-to-be and his family have been killed in a bus accident en route to the wedding, and Professor Gupta must deliver the news that will break his daughter's heart. The aging professor's own heart is too weak to withstand such sorrow, but the prospect of dying can't compare to his dread of leaving the still-grieving Taani alone in the world. And then a solution presents itself. Surinder "Suri" Sahni (Shahrukh Khan, who's at least a decade too old for the part but acquits himself surprisingly well), Gupta's favorite ex-student, is unmarried, has no family to look out for his interests and has always nursed a secret crush on Taani.

Women ignore Suri because he's shy and geeky, but Gupta sees past the awkwardness and sad little mustache to the kind, responsible, loyal soul beneath. Gupta could entrust his precious daughter to such a man, and both Taani and Suri love and respect Gupta too much to refuse his dying wish.

From this inauspicious start, Taani and Suri construct a sad shell of a marriage: He hopes she'll grow to love him even after she says she won't, and her dutiful efforts to be a good wife — cleaning, cooking, playing the gracious hostess when Suri's boisterous friends from the office invite themselves over — only make him sad. When Taani mentions that "Dancing Jodi," a Mumbai-based variation on So You Think You Can Dance, is coming to Amritsar, Suri immediately offers to pay her entry fee: It's the first thing in which she's shown interest since they were married.

The quietly miserable Suri's only confidant is hairdresser Bobby Khosla (Pathak), his unlikely best friend. And the "Dancing Jodi" situation gives Bobby an idea. He'll give Suri a total makeover: sexy new clothes, stylish haircut, bad-boy sunglasses and no more pathetic mustache... "If she recognizes you, I'll close this salon," Bobby crows as he gives Suri a fake mustache so he can resume his nerd persona at will. All Suri has to do is attend the "Dancing Jodi" tryouts and wow Taani with his smooth moves. Once she's under his spell, Suri can reveal the truth and watch as Taani's defenses drop like cherry blossoms. Next stop: connubial bliss.

Anyone who's ever seen a romantic comedy will be able to call what happens next: Suri improvises a full-blown alter ego to go with his new look, Taani falls for the brash stranger who calls himself "Raj Kapoor," Taani and "Raj" keep advancing through the elimination rounds, Suri keeps up the masquerade and Taani finds herself torn between her promises and her dreams. What do you think: Does everything come to a head during the final, televised rounds of "Dancing Jodi"?

Rab ne Bana di Jodi has been dismissed in some quarters as self-conscious and artificial, a coyly self-referential reworking of outdated movie tropes a la Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, but it works for me in a way that most contemporary Hollywood romcoms don't. In all fairness, Rab ne Bana has certain cultural mores in its corner, particularly the deference many thoroughly modern, successful, emotionally mature Indian men and women show their parents in marital matters. The average 21st-century American regards marriage as a completely personal matter, so parental considerations — positive or negative — don't cut it as relationship obstacles.

Hollywood writers have to come up with increasingly preposterous contrivances and behaviors to keep couples apart, and I have to say that it truly makes me cringe to see characters in their late 20s and early 30s forced to act like idiotic teenagers because if they were to behave like 21st-century American adults there would be no movie. That's why I'm always thrilled to run across a movie like Kissing Jessica Stein (2002), in which a pair of Manhattan women stumble over the practical nuances of the term "bi-curious."

But I digress: The musical medley "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" ("We'll Meet Again as Time Goes By"), which begins as Taani and Suri are escaping their troubles at the movies and blossoms into a homage to Bollywood choreography of yesteryear, from Busby Berkeley-influenced numbers to a '70s disco number, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Each section showcases a major star, from Kajol Devgan to Rani Mukherjee. It really is worth the price of admission all by itself, especially the swinging sixties pastiche that features Lara Dutta channeling the cult favorite Queen Helen — if you've seen Ghost World, you've seen her — albeit briefly — at her go-go booted best. If you haven't, this will have to do. She's the one in the black tights...:


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Race

(2008)
Directed by: Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla and Mastan Alibhai Burmawalla.
Written by: Shiraz Ahmed, Jitendra Parmar and Anurag Prapanna.
With: Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif, Anil Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Saif Ali Khan, Johnny Lever, Sameera Reddy, Dalip Tahil and Gurpreet Guggi.

To all appearances, half brothers Ranvir and Rajiv Singh (Ali Khan, Khanna) are equal partners in Stallions Inc., a world-class horse farm in Durban, South Africa. But in reality, elder brother Ranvir actually runs the business with the help of loyal secretary Sophia (Kaif) — who's clearly nursing an unrequited passion for her boss — while alcoholic wastrel Rajiv just lives the high life.

The Singhs breed thoroughbreds and make book on races; their chief rival is Kabir Anuja (Tahil), whose theatrical sneering, dirty dealings and extravagant mustache would do Snidely Whiplash proud. But while Ranvir cultivates a suave, law-abiding persona, he's every bit as ruthless as Kabir: After learning that a longtime Stallions employee threw a race at Kabir's behest, Ranvir kills him with a car bomb. And though Stallions Inc. seems like a gold mine, it's actually in major financial trouble: The ranch property is mortgaged to the hilt and the company needs a major infusion of cash — the sooner the better. Meanwhile, Rajiv falls hard for Ranvir's girlfriend, up-and-coming model Sonia (Basu): Can fratricide be far behind?

In the first of many twists, brotherly devotion trumps romance. When Rajiv declares that he'd stop drinking for Sonia, Ranvir doesn't hesitate to sacrifice his own happiness for Rajiv's well-being: He cunningly alienates Sonia's affections while maneuvering her into Rajiv's arms. But all is not as it seems, and RACE is packed with reversals, revelations, plots and counterplots even before eccentric sleuth Robert D'Costa (Slumdog Millionaire's Kapoor) and his sidekick, Mini (Reddy), who may or may not be as dumb as she appears, arrive to further complicate the question of who's zooming who.

The film opens with a terrific action sequence that culminates in a stunning car crash, then squanders the next 20 minutes on a series of flashbacks introducing the four leads, complete with a horribly miscalculated voice-over better suited to a light caper film than a complex tale of greed, deceit, jealousy, betrayal and revenge. But once the head games commence in earnest, Race settles into its sun-splashed neo-noir groove. It's sleek, glossy, utterly preposterous and surprisingly steamy for a mainstream Indian film: Ranvir and Sonia's roll in the hay (literally — they're in a stable) would be racy without Rajiv watching via closed-circuit camera, and Sophia's big musical number, "Zara Zara Touch Me" lives up to its insinuations. (In subtitled Hindi and English)


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Road

(2002)

Directed by: Rajat Mukherjee.
Written by: Rajnish Thakur.
With: Manoj Bajpai, Vivek Oberoi, Antara Mali, Rajpal Yadav, Koena Mitra, Vijay Raaz, Raj Zutshi, Makrand Deshpande and Sayaji Shinde.

The Hitcher (1986) goes Bollywood in this thriller, a fascinating mix of the familiar and the exotic. Producer Ram Gopal Varma had a big hit in early 2002 with a crime picture called Company, starring Oberoi and Mali; he immediately followed it up with Road, which delivers a generous serving of violence and sexual suggestion.

Modern young lovers Laxmi (Mali) and Arvind (Oberoi) are in a quandary. They want to get married, but Laxmi's old-fashioned father, a police bigwig, refuses to give his consent. So they decide to elope and strike out across the desert in Arvind's SUV. Along the way, they pass an abandoned car and a few miles later pick up the driver, who introduces himself as Babu (Bajpai). They soon regret playing good Samaritan: Babu is rude, belligerent, insinuating and more than a little obnoxious. When Arvind tries to throw him out of the car for making rude remarks about Laxmi, they learn just how big a mistake they've made: Babu pulls a gun and forces Laxmi to drive off, leaving Arvind to hitch a ride with a friendly truck driver (Deshpande) and try desperately to find the psycho who's abducted his girl.

Director Rajat Mukherjee and composer Sandesh Shandilya speak the international language of MTV, and the killer-on-the-road story is as comfortingly formulaic as a fairy tale. But while the plot is predictable, the production numbers add spice, especially the steamy, Nine and a Half Weeks-style duet for Laxmi and Arvind, and the sequence in which Babu imagines that Laxmi has fallen in love with him. Mali — who could teach Britney Spears a thing or two about belly-baring costumes — is a charismatic beauty, the many car chases are handsomely staged and the film's wide-open desert landscapes, bisected by an empty ribbon of road, are iconic territory for B-movie buffs. And if the lavish musical sequences that illustrate characters' inner thoughts seem bizarrely foreign, just think of Chicago (2002) and Rent (2005). They're musicals too, just as chock full of lust, death and cruel twists of fate.

Though tame by American standards, Road earned an adults-only certificate in India, where almost all films are designed to be suitable for the entire family.


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Saawariya

(2007)
Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Written by: Prakash Kapadia and Vibhu Puri, based on the story White Nights, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
With: Ranbir Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Zohra Sehgal, Sonam Kapoor and Salman Khan.

The first full-fledged Indian musical coproduced and distributed by a major Hollywood studio, this fanciful love story takes its unlikely inspiration from Dostoevsky's short story White Nights.

The story takes place over a period of four days, culminating in the first day of Eid, the Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan fasting. Naive musician Ranbir Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) arrives in a strange city — a fairy-tale melange of Venetian-style canals, giant Buddhas, and English-language bars and cabarets that recalls the exuberantly stylized Montmartre of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (2001) — with no money and no friends.

He quickly lands a job at the glamorous RK Bar, a swank nightclub in the middle of the red-light district, and glamorous pavement princess Gulab (Mukherjee) directs him to a local hotel run by Lilian (Sehgal), a cranky old Englishwoman who's won over by Raj's childlike playfulness and innocently loving nature. Soon after, Raj spots a beautiful young woman, Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), crying on a bridge. Smitten, he gradually draws out her story. Sakina lives with her overprotective grandmother (Begum Para) and an elderly servant, Jumari, and is waiting for the return of a mysterious lover named Imaan (Khan). It's been a year since they promised to reunite on the bridge, and she's torn between giddy elation at the thought of his return and the fear that he won't.

Sakina welcomes Raj's friendship, but he hopes to make her forget Imaan — who probably isn't coming back anyway — and return his love.

Saawariya ("beloved") marks Sony Pictures' pioneering effort to secure a piece of the lucrative Indian film market, where moviegoers flock to domestically made films and American movies have made few inroads. While the film features the traditional lavish musical numbers, modest romance and broad humor juxtaposed with unabashed melodrama that are typical of mainstream Indian films, the somber palate, dominated by blue, black and slashes of red, is unusual. Production designer Omung Kumar's enormous, elaborately art-directed sets are simply incredible and overall the film is breathtakingly beautiful, but the story is painfully dull and repetitive.

The songs are undistinguished, and while newcomers Sonam Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor (who aren't related) both have impeccable Bollywood pedigrees, her performance is wildly uneven — she's good with crazy, but otherwise she's bland — and his strenuously madcap antics are grating rather than endearing. Established stars Mukherjee and Khan eclipse them effortlessly, and with far less screen time.


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Sarkar Raj

(2008)

Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma.
Written by: Ram Gopal Varma and Prashant Pandey.
With: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Victor Banerjee, Rajesh Shringarpore, Dilip Prabhavalker and Govind Namdeo.

Ram Gopal Varma's sequel to his own hit Sarkar (2005), a reworking of The Godfather relocated to India, this crime thriller delivers the casting coup of Bollywood's royal family – Amitabh Bachhan, his son, Abhishek, and Abhishek's wife, Aishwarya Rai – onscreen together for the first time. But despite Varma's willingness to tackle serious issues like entrenched corruption and cozy relationships between government officials and unelected ward bosses, the result is overwrought and cliched.

Anglo-Indian developer Mike Rajan (Banerjee) wants to build a power plant in a poor, rural part of Maharashta state, and hires shady fixer Hassan Qazi (Namdeo) to handle local officials. Qazi tells him the primary obstacle is "sarkar" ("big boss") Subhash Nagre (Amitabh Bachchan), a ruthless gangster. But while Subhash wields substantial behind-the-scenes influence over Maharashta politics and policies, his motives are fundamentally benevolent — he wants to protect the interests of the poor and marginalized against those of rapacious businessmen and corrupt government ministers. Subhash rejects Rajan's plan because it would displace some 40,000 villagers, but his American-educated son and heir apparent, Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan), argues that the long-term benefits of the Sheppard Power Plant project outweighs the short-term liabilities.

Educated but naive Anita Rajan (Rai), who's working with her father for the first time, sees the plant as a dream come true: It's good business that will do good for the general public, providing jobs and bringing power to an underserved region. She comes to India to help Shankar convince both the villagers and his father, but they encounter strong resistance from politically ambitious activist Sanjay Somji (Shringarpore), reportedly modeled on real-life politician Raj Thackeray. Somji, the son of Subhash's mentor, Rao Saab (Prabhavalker), uses fiery rhetoric to convince local farmers that the Nagres are in cahoots with Rajan and corrupt officials, and that all they want is to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. The volatile situation eventually explodes into an orgy of rioting, betrayal, murder and revenge.

Despite occasional references to events that occurred in Sarkar, notably Shankar's murder of his black-sheep brother, there's no need to have seen the first film to follow this one, especially if you've seen the first two Godfather films. Sarkar Raj's seriousness is evident in the absence of musical numbers and Amitabh Bachhan's performance is outstanding, but the screenplay recycles gangster movie cliches that have been rehashed so many times it's hard to make them feel fresh or vital.


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Shoot on Sight

(2008)
Directed by: Jag Mundhra.
Written by: Carl Austin, based on a story by Jag Mundhra.
With: Naseeruddin Shah, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox, Alex McSweeney, Gulshan Grover, Om Puri, India Wadsworth, Ralph Ineson, Stephen Greif, Laila Rouass, Avtar Kaul, Chris Wilson and Mikaal Zulfikar.

Bollywood, no. Of interest to South Asians living in the post-911 West, yes. In this timely, if pedantic, thriller, a Muslim police officer is forced to confront insidious racism and religious intolerance when he's chosen to head up the investigation of a police shooting in the London Underground.

The killing of suspected terrorist Baqir Hassan (Kaul) leaves London's Metropolitan Police in the middle of a public relations nightmare: Hassan's family insists that he was an apolitical artist with no connections to Islamic radicals, and accuse the police of racial profiling. Scotland Yard's media savvy Daniel Tennant (Cox) puts Commander Tariq Ali (Shah) in charge of the investigation and all but promises a promotion if he helps defuse the volatile situation.

Though a devout Muslim born in Lahore, Tariq is thoroughly assimilated, married to a white Englishwoman (Scacchi), the father of two thoroughly westernized children and fiercely devoted to the police department. But Tariq's loyalty is quickly put to the test: The more he digs, the more it appears that the Hassan family is right — Baqir was a law abiding student who failed to comply with police orders because he didn't hear them over his mp3 player. Tariq's increasingly troubled home is no refuge: His rebellious daughter (Wadsworth) gets herself arrested at a rave and his nephew, Zaheer (Zulfikar), a university student who recently came to live with the Alis, has become involved with radical imam Junaid (Poori), who was Tariq's childhood friend. Resentful co-workers Harry Marber and John Shepherd (Ineson and Greif) are trying to undermine Tariq at work, and to top it all off, a pair of beat cops stumble onto a bona fide terrorist plot while responding to a routine noise compalint.

Kolkata-born director Jag Mundhra, who once made nothing but unabashed exploitation movies like Tropical Heat, Improper Conduct (1994) and Privater Moments (2005), now alternates them with topical films inspired by real events involving South Asians. This one tackles England's "shoot on sight" anti-terrorist policy, which was implicated in the shooting by London police of a Brazilian electrician shortly after the 2005 suicide bombings in the Underground. Written by Carl Austin, Mundra's frequent collaborator, it's tediously earnest, well-intentioned and scrupulously even handed, in the style of made-for-TV problem movies.


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Slumdog Millionaire

Directed by: Danny Boyle; Loveleen Tandan, co-director (India)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel Q&A, by Vikas Swarup.
With: Dev Patel, Tanay Hemant Chheda and Ayush Mahesh; Freida Pinto, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar and Rubina Ali; Madhur Mittal, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail; Anil Kapoor, Ankur Vikal and Irrfan Khan.

No, Slumdog Millionaire isn't a mainstream Indian movie; frankly, so much of it is in English that I'm not sure it would qualify for an Oscar nomination in the foreign-language category. But it's a UK-India co-production, based on an Indian novel and informed by Bollywood conventions. It's also one of the best-reviewed films of 2008 and, as such, just might help persuade US viewers who've never seen an Indian film to test the waters. That's why I'm including it here. Oh... and the fact that it won eight Oscars doesn't hurt.

Adapted from first-time writer Vikras Swarup's 2005 novel, Q&A, UK filmmaker Danny Boyle's (28 Days Later, Trainspotting) picaresque tale follows its Candide-like hero from the gutter to the glittering heights of a TV game show that promises instant celebrity and riches. The story's contrivances wouldn't be out of place in a Bollywood musical, but they're wrapped in all-too convincing squalor and misery that make the feel-good ending seem righteously earned.

Against all odds, 18-year-old Jamal Malik (Patel), the spawn of Mumbai's grimmest slums, has made it to the final round of India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and host /producer Prem Kumar (Kapoor, in his first English-language role), a sleek huckster with a gleaming shark smile, wants to know how. Better men than Jamal — doctors, lawyers, university professors — have failed where this stubborn slumdog has succeeded, and to add insult to hubris, he keeps on playing. He must realize he's already won more than he could reasonably expect to earn in a lifetime of serving tea to call-center employees, and yet he won't take the money and disappear, even though he risks everything with each new round. Kumar is convinced he's cheating, which is why, less than 24 hours before his last shot at the big brass ring, Jamal finds himself being brutally interrogated by a corrupt Police Inspector (Khan). The answer is both straightforward and preposterous: Jamal may be ignorant of things a middle-class five year old would know, but the stars have aligned in his favor and the answer to question after question proves to be rooted the hardscrabble life Jamal relates to the inspector.

It begins in the fetid but vibrant shantytown where seven-tear-old Jamal (Khedekar) and his older brother, Salim (Ismail), lose their mother during the 1992 Bombay Riots, when Hindu mobs armed with clubs and torches turned on their Sikh and Muslim neighbors. Orphaned and alone, the boys learn to fend for themselves, and street life quickly lays bare their fundamental natures. Pragmatic Salim purges himself of softness and sentiment, while Jamal stubbornly looks for evidence of good amidst Dickensian squalor and casual cruelty.

It's Jamal who spots the bedraggled Latika (Ali) shivering in the rain and persuades Salim to let her share their makeshift shelter, and Jamal's childish crush intensifies after the children are separated. His determination to find and rescue Latika insulates Jamal against the dog-eat-dog nihilism that eventually claims Salim (Mittal), but his quest seems doomed. Jamal has already found and lost her twice, once as an adolescent (Lonkar) and once as an adult (Pinto); what are the odds that he'll get another chance?

Strip away the exotic details and Slumdog Millionaire's roots become clear: It's Oliver Twist for the global world, a pitiless portrait of life defined and deformed by abject poverty made palatable by the promise that virtue will be rewarded. The injustices visited upon Jamal and Latika are as cruel as than those Charles Dickens brought down on poor Oliver 170 years earlier; Slumdog's corrupt pied piper. Mamon (Vikal), who lures abandoned children into lives of crime and vice, is Fagin with a tan and virtue's vindication comes in the form of a windfall tailored to the times — Oliver comes into an unexpected inheritance, while Jamal hits the game show jackpot. Both are sophisticated fairy tales — anyone who thinks Dickens was a naïve sentimentalist hasn't read Great Expectations recently — and both are hugely satisfying. Who wouldn't like to believe, if only for two hours, that a steadfast heart and the power of love can transcend grinding poverty, violence, brutal exploitation and entrenched indifference? And I suspect cynics want to believe most of all.


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Such a Long Journey

(2000)
Directed by: Sturla Gunnarsson.
Written by: Sooni Taraporevala, based on the novel by Rohinton Mistry.
With: Roshan Seth, Soni Razdan, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Ranjit Chowdhry, Sam Dastor, Kurush Deboo, Pearl Padamsee, Vrajesh Hirjee, Shazneed Damania and Kurush Dastur.

Though shot in English by a Canadian director, Such a Long Journey roots are thoroughly Indian. Based on Rohinton Mistry's sprawling 1991 novel, this intimate epic focuses on the Noble family and their day-to-day lives as India lurches towards war with Pakistan in 1971.

The Noble family are Parsis, descendents of Zoroastrians who fled 9th-century Persia to avoid forced conversion to Islam; they remain a religious minority in primarily Hindu India and prospered under the British Raj — many left India with the British. Born to wealth and privilege, Gustad Noble (Seth, who bears a striking resemblance to Dustin Hoffman) supported his parents after they were swindled out of their fortune, and now clings to middle-class respectability by working as a bank clerk. His apparently close-knit family is held together just as precariously, their fraying bonds embodied by the once genteel, deteriorating housing compound in which they live. Eldest son Sohrab (Hirjee) leaves home after a blowout over his refusal to attend the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology; daughter Roshan (Damania) contracts malaria and Dilnavaz (Razdan), Gustad's sensible wife, begins dabbling in sorcery, convinced by an elderly neighbor that a curse has ignited Sohrab's rebelliousness.

Gustad's troubles escalate when he agrees to do a favor for old friend Jimmy Bilimoria (Shah), who vanished suddenly some years back and now claims to work for the government's secret service. The favor ensnares Gustad, his friends and his family in a dangerous web of corruption and political subterfuge. A fundamentally decent and loyal man, Gustad is increasingly dismayed by the world's ugliness and perfidy; but his disenchantment makes him rigid and stubborn, as though will alone could return things to the way they once were.

Though Sturla Gunnarsson was born in Iceland and raised in Canada, Such a Long Journey deals with recent Indian history from the perspective of a native son, Mumbai-born Mistry's acclaimed English-language novel was adapted by Indian screenwriter and photographer Sooni Taraporevala, whose credits include Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay!. Taraporevela pared down Mistry's sprawling, Dickensian novel to manageable proportions, and Gunnarsson, who shot in Mumbai and Maharashtra state crams each sequence with subtle, telling detail while avoiding "exotic India" cliches.


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Ta Ra Rum Pum

(2007)
Directed by: Siddharth Anand.
Written by: Habib Faisal, based on a story by Siddharth Anand.
With: Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Jaaved Jaffrey, Victor Banerjee, Shruti Seth, Ken Thompson, Ali Haji, Angelina Irani and Bharat Dabholkar.

Bollywood meets NASCAR in Siddharth Anand's musical comedy-drama about the rise and fall of a hot-shot race car driver.

Happy-go-lucky New York Speedway pit-crew flunky Rajveer Singh (Ali Khan ) and well-born music student Radhika (Mukherjee) meet in New York City after he bribes a cabbie to let him take the wheel — Rajveer is always running late. Too bad poor Radhika picked this moment to get into the back seat; she's treated to a hair-raising and geographically improbable drive that starts at Herald Square and arrives at 50th Street, less than three-quarters of a mile north, by way of the 135th Street viaduct. Radhika huffs off, but fate's wheels are spinning: Hack Harry (Jaffrey) just happens to manage a failing NASCAR team called Speeding Saddles ("Whenever a dream is shattered in New York, another cabbie is born," he muses ruefully) and offers Rajveer a spot, while Radhika serendipitously crosses the smitten Rajveer's path twice in the next 24 hours.

By the time the newly renamed "RV" aces his first race, he and Radhika, whom he dubs Shona ("sweet" in Bengali), are clearly headed for happily-ever-aftering. Her wealthy father (Banerjee) objects — he doesn't want his brainy, level-headed daughter marrying some feckless, uneducated thrill seeker. But over the course of eight heady years the happy couple has two adorable children (Idnani, Haji) and RV skyrockets to the top of the NASCAR heap. Unfortunately, he spends money as fast as he makes it, going deep into debt so the kids can attend an expensive private school and Radhika can have the best of everything. Then disaster strikes: Unscrupulous rival driver Rusty (Thompson) deliberately causes a near-fatal mid-race crash, and RV is laid up for a year, which leaves him on the verge of bankruptcy. His nerves shattered, RV's comeback fizzles and heartless team-owner Billy Bhatia (Dabholkar) tosses him out like a bald tire. The family is forced to sell everything and move to a slum, where Radhika and RV tell the children they're only pretending to be poor so they can win a reality show called "Don't Worry, Be Happy." But they're hard put to keep smiling as they work long hours at demeaning jobs and keep falling further behind. Maybe Radhika's father was right — love doesn't pay the rent.

American auto-stunt specialist Steve Kelso engineered the surprisingly good race sequences that alternate with the standard Bollywood mix of heartbreak and humor — there's even a saccharine dance sequence in which the Singhs are joined by four cartoon bears. The "cute" kids are insufferable, but leads Ali Khan and Mukherjee radiate the unabashed star quality that's all but gone from American movies — poverty and desperation haven't looked so glamorous since the glory days of Joan Crawford.


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Tashan

(2008)
Written and Directed by: Vijay Krishna Acharya's.
With: Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Mishra, Manoj Pahwa and Yashpal Sharma.

Screenwriter Vijay Krishna Acharya's directing debut is a delirious crime romp that borrows its pop-savvy attitude from Quentin Tarantino, its stylized gun play from Sergio Leone and its stylized hand-to-hand combat moves from Hong Kong action films. The result is a nutty, ridiculously entertaining neo-noir pastiche with lavish musical numbers that did dismal business in India and the US while attracting a small but passionate coterie of admirers.

Mumbai call-center drone "Jimmy Cliff" (Ali Khan) teaches English on the side because it's a great way to meet babes. Then, much to his surprise, he finds himself falling for old-fashioned country girl Pooja (Kareena Kapoor), who works for flamboyant businessman Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor, of Slumdog Millionaire), and agrees to give Pooja's boss English lessons in hopes of seeing more of her. He's so smitten that he ignores the warning signs — an innocent request to pull a couple of phone numbers from the call center's confidential database, the gigantic bag of money Pooja accidentally drops — and never questions her sob story about being indentured to Bhaiyyaji in payment of a debt incurred by her late father.

Determined to help his true love escape, Jimmy helps Pooja steal $250,000 from her employer, only to have her vanish with the cash just as he learns that Bhaiyyaji is actually the sociopathic Lakhan Singh, who murdered his way out of rural Uttar Pradesh to become a Mumbai crime lord, complete with his own fortified compound. Bhaiyyaji charges Bachchan Pande (Kumar), a none-too-bright thug from his hometown, with retrieving his property, and soon Bachchan, Jimmy and Pooja are at the center of a dizzying series of double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses.

"Tashan" means style or flair, and Acharya's film has it to burn: Dumb, rudely flamboyant, high-energy pulp style. The action sequences are so cartoonish it almost doesn't matter that the big car stunts are obviously computer generated: There's no pretense of realism to violate. The music and choreography are consistently strong, particularly Kareena Kapoor's bad-girl anthem "Chhalia" ("I Flirt, I Trick, I Cheat") , which The Plot magazine recently named one of the top ten songs from Bollywood flops.

For the full song, go here. And let's not forget the "impromptu" number the fugitives impose on American art-house production "Holy Widows" after hijacking the director's trailer to get through a police roadblock. His meek protest that there are no songs in "Holy Widows" is met with the inevitable rejoinder: "Dude, this is India. There's a song for everything."

Try to argue with that. (in subtitled Hindi and English)


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13B

(2009)
Written and Directed by: Vikram K. Kumar.
With: R. Madhavan, Neetu Chandra, Sachin Khedekar, Poonam Dhillon, Murli Sharma, Deepak Dobriyal, Dhritiman Chatterjee.

13B, a rare example of a flat-out Indian horror movie, borrows liberally from The Amityville Horror and familiar Asian horror tropes, but having a haunted soap opera is a new wrinkle.

Civil engineer Manu (Madhavan) and his older brother, Manoj, pool their resources to buy a modern, spacious, 13th-floor apartment for their extended family: Their mother, Sushma (Dhillon); college-age sister Divya; wives Priya (Chandra) and Riya; and Manoj's two young children. Everyone's thrilled, but Manu quickly notices odd things about the new place, starting with the elevator that works for everyone but him. Milk sours mysteriously, all efforts to hang holy pictures in the prayer room end disastrously (the building porter is nearly electrocuted, and Manu hits his thumb so hard it bleeds), photos of Manu come out weirdly distorted and the normally placid guide dog belonging to their blind neighbor, Kaamdar, refuses to set foot over the threshold. But since the down payment exhausted both brothers' financial reserves, Manu chooses to ignore the troubling signs.

Then there's that new soap opera, Sab Khairiyat("All's Well"), that airs on channel 13; the women watch it initially because the remote suddenly stops working, but are quickly hooked on the story of a family that bears an eerie resemblance to their own. Manu discovers Sab Khairiyat when he happens to be home on a weekday, tuning in as the family's daughter, an indifferent student, discovers she has unexpectedly passed all her classes — with honors, yet. Moments later, Divya bursts in to tell him she's done exactly that.

Weird and about to get weirder: Everything that happens on Sab Khairiyat transpires in real life, and while some plot developments, like the pregnancy of Priya's TV equivalent, are the normal stuff of daytime dramas, others are more disturbing. Manu confides his suspicions to a friend who scoffs until Manu persuades him to see for himself; they get to 13B just as Manu's onscreen surrogate arrives home with his friend. Thank goodness the family physician, Dr. Shinde (Khedekar), is also a specialist in the supernatural!

13B, which was shot simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil (leads Madhavan and Chandra are in both versions; the remaining casts are different), is technically rough around the edges, particularly the cinematography — it has the muddy, yellowish cast of ultra-low budget exploitation films of the 1970s (which, as it happens, is when the incident that precipitates all the trouble took place). The score is standard scary-movie stuff and the plot wears its influences rather too obviously. But the Sab Khairiyat twist is inspired, a perfect example of finding terror in the familiar, and it goes a long way to compensate for 13B's liabilities. The lavish musical sequences Bollywood audiences expect clearly have no place in a genre predicated on generating nerve-jangling tension, so Kumar worked out a compromise: two montages set to songs by the popular team of Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa. A third — the utterly incongruous "Oh Sexy Mama" — gets the full treatment and runs under the closing credits. It's extremely entertaining.


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Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic

(2008)

Directed by: Kunal Kohli.
Written by: Rohena Gera and Kunal Kohli.
With: Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Rishi Kapoor, Amisha Patel, Akshat Chopra, Shriya Sharma, Rachit Sidana, Ayushi Berman, Sharat Saxena, Razak Khan Mahesh Thakur and Taranna Raja Kapoor.

Bollywood writer-director Kunal Kohli's spin on Mary Poppins is less cloying than its high proportion of cute orphans, adorable animals and fairy-dusted whimsy — starting with the nanny who's a real angel — might suggest.

Arrogant businessman Ranbeer Talwar (Ali Khan) is driving home from an awards dinner when he broadsides a small car, killing the occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Walia, and orphaning their four children. The case goes to trial amid rampant media speculation that Ranbeer will get off scot-free because of his money and connections, but the judge has no intention of letting that happen and hands down a highly unusual sentence. Ranbeer must take in the Walia children, Vashisht (Chopra), Aditi (Sharma), Iqbal (Sidana) and Avantika (Berman), as though they were his own. That means no shipping them off to boarding school or pawning them off on hired help. The judge will be checking in regularly, and if the children aren't happy, Ranbeer is going to jail.

The assignment is a tall order: The resentful, grieving siblings have already worn out their welcome with various relatives, and they didn't even hate them; they do, however, well and truly hate the man who killed their parents and set about making Ranbeer's life a living hell. Ranbeer's flighty and none-too-bright girlfriend, Mallaika (Patel), is no help; she know lots about shopping and nothing about children, let alone children who are acting out because their parents were cruelly snatched away from them. Fortunately, God (Kapoor) happens to take a look around and realizes it's about time the Walia kids got a cosmic break. So he sends them Geeta (Mukherjee), a mischievous angel who bicycles down a rainbow and announces that she's the new nanny.

For all the heartwarming cuteness, Kohli makes the effort to give the characters a little more depth than one finds in the typical children's fantasy and his efforts pay off, making Ranbeer's inevitable transformation from icy ogre to warm father figure fairly convincing. Mukherjee's charm keeps the child-like Geeta from being thoroughly annoying, and the musical numbers are pleasant, if not particularly memorable.


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U, Me Aur Hum

(2008)

Directed by: Ajay Devgan.
Written by: Robin Bhatt, Ashin Dhir, Sutanu Gupta and Akarsh Khurana, based on a story by Ajay Devgan.
Ajay Devgan, Kajol Devgan, Divya Dutta, Isha Shervani, Karan Khanna, Sumeet Raghvan, Mukesh Tiwari, Sachin Khedekar, Aditya Rajput, Hazel Croney and Aumckar.

Popular actor Ajay Devgan's directing debut starts out the kind of forced, formulaic romantic comedy Hollywood churns out for stars like Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller. But Devgan negotiates the film's abrupt turn into tear-jerking tragedy (via developments that owe no small debt to Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook) with remarkable skill, and its third-act revelations recast the opening sequence in an affecting new light.

Smitten by a girl he spots on a buffet line, teenager Aman (Rajput) responds to his father's well-meaning advice about romance by daring him to chat up a stranger, choosing a middle-aged woman reading The Thorn Birds. The woman initially resists to his attempts at small talk, but gets sucked into his tale of long-ago love at first sight, a story so engrossing that even the yahoos at the next table are soon rapt.

Many years ago, psychiatrist Ajay (Devgan) was vacationing with his friends Nikhil (Raghavan), Reena (Dutta), Vicky (Karan Khanna) and Natasha (Sharvani) on a luxury cruise ship. Successful gynecologist Nikhil has been married to Reena for years, but petty stresses and disagreements have driven them to the verge of divorce. Cuties Vicky and Natasha are blissfully happy, but not ready for formal commitment. Bachelor Ajay is smitten from the moment he sees waitress Piya (Kajol, Devgan's real-life wife) in the ship's disco, but she's less than impressed — passengers are always coming on to her, and Ajay gets very drunk and makes quite the spectacle of himself. Desperate to make up for the bad first impression, Ajay sneaks into Piya's cabin and reads her private "Book of Possibilities," a diary detailing her likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams. He uses the information to woo Piya, while making the rookie mistake of lying about his past to make himself seem more interesting. Piya inevitably discovers the truth and breaks things off, hurt and furious that she fell for some sleazy player looking for a shipboard fling.

Eight months later: Reena and Nikhil are divorced, Natasha and Vicky are as happily uncommitted as ever and Ajay — who's been AWOL since the cruise — has a surprise announcement: Six months after the break up, Piya forgave his lies and has agreed to marry him. They move into a dream apartment in Mumbai and begin planning their future, from the children they hope to have immediately to a 25th-anniversary cruise commemorating the way they met. But fate has a devastating surprise in store, one that tests their love and forces their friends to examine their own relationships.

U, Me Aur Hum ("You, Me and Us") has more than its share of awkward moments, including some excruciating slapstick, which makes its successful transition to wrenching drama (the same kind of transition that totally derailed Hollywood's Chaos Theory, which opened the same day) all the more remarkable. The first half is dumb kid stuff, but the second is classic melodrama aimed straight at viewers who've experienced life's cruel caprices and taken stock of what really matters. It will take a hard heart to remain dry-eyed at the story's final revelation.


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Vanaja

(2007)
Written and Directed by: Rajnesh Domalpalli.
With: Mamatha Bhukya, Urmila Dammannagari, Ramachandriah Marikanti, Krishnamma Gundimalla, Karan Singh, Bhavani Renukunta, Krishna Garlapati, Babu Veeramma Sadula, Prabhu Garlapati, Veeramma Sadula, Ram Babu Tarra, Babu Rao Murugula and Rao Nagulu Busigampala.

An art movie developed in the United States, writer-director Rajnesh Domalpalli's first feature tells the story of an impoverished country girl who tries to better herself through Indian classical dance. Simultaneously resigned, frustrated, cautiously hopeful, angry and ravishingly beautiful, it's a stunning debut.

The film opens with a folk-dance performance on a rural stage; 14-year-old Vanaja (Bhukya) and her best friend, Lacchi (Renukunta), are thrilled by elderly but still-graceful dancer Padma (Sadula), who genially predicts that Vanaja will herself one day be a great performer. But Vanaja's circumstances are constrained. Though a good student, she leaves school to help support her aging father, widowed fisherman Somayya (Marikanti), who's deep in debt to a local moneylender.

Vanaja inveigles a job at the home of wealthy landowner Rama Devi (Dammannagari), herself a fine musician and once a renowned dancer. Vanaja boldly badgers Devi to teach her, and the older woman eventually agrees. But things take an ugly turn when Devi's American-educated son, Shekhar (Singh), returns home to launch a career in local politics with his ambitious mother's guidance. The petulant Shekhar, accustomed to getting his way, takes a liking to Vanaja but is infuriated by her independence — she is, after all, a low-caste serving girl — and eventually rapes Vanaja. Pregnant and disgraced but determined to have her child, Vanaja abandons her lessons and returns to her father; the scandal derails Shekhar's campaign and Vanaja's already-circumscribed future looks bleaker than ever.

Developed at Columbia University's graduate school of the arts, filmed in Andhra Pradesh, southern India, with nonactors, and shot in super 16mm, Vanaja is a triumph of determination over obstacles. Bhukya is a remarkable screen presence, Milton Kam's cinematography is rich and vivid, and the lengthy sequences in which Vanaja begins to master the traditional discipline of Kuchipudi vividly convey the stylized beauty of India's classical dance traditions.


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Veer Zara

(2004)
Directed by: Yash Chopra.
Written by: Aditya Chopra.
With: Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Amitabh Bachchan, Kirron Kher, Boman Irani, Anupam Kher, Divya Dutta and Hema Malini.

Yash Chopra's thinly veiled plea for reconciliation between India and Pakistan is cloaked in a decades-spanning Romeo-and-Juliet romance.

In the present day, principled, Pakistani human-rights lawyer Saamiya Siddiqui (Mukherjee), who overcame entrenched prejudice against women in the legal profession to fulfill her late father's progressive ambitions, is about to try her first case. It's a tough one: Prisoner 786 (Kahn), an Indian national, has been imprisoned in a Lahore jail for 22 years and his case has just come up for review. But he hasn't spoken since he was imprisoned, so how will Saamiya even begin to build an argument for his release? Saamiya breaks through the silent prisoner's defenses simply by addressing him by his real name — Veer Pratap Singh — which is not the name under which he was convicted. Once he speaks that first word, Veer begins to pour out his heart to Saamiya in an extended flashback.

Raised by his forward-thinking uncle (Bachchan) and aunt, who devoted their lives to turning their small village into an oasis of educational opportunity and tolerance, the Veer joined the Indian Air Force rescue squad and met Zaara Hayaat Khan (Zinta) while helping victims of a bus accident. Though headstrong and adventurous by nature, Zaara, the pampered daughter of a wealthy Pakistani politician, is resigned to the fact that she'll never do anything more important with her life than be a dutiful spouse like her mother. Her last act of rebellion is to fulfill the dying wish of her beloved Sikh nanny. Zaara intends to immerse nanny's ashes in the river that runs past the temple in Kiratpur, reuniting nanny Bebe with the family she left behind in 1947, when her employer — Zaara's grandfather — took her to the newly created Muslim state of Pakistan. Veer and Zaara fall in love, but Zaara is already engaged to Raza, whose politically powerful family is the key to Zaara's father's political ambitions. Mindful of her family responsibilities, she returns home to her arranged marriage, but is so haunted by thoughts of Veer that her faithful maid, Shabbo, secretly calls him and begs him to rescue Zaara from the lifelong prison of a loveless marriage. "What century are these people living in?" Saamiya marvels as the full extent of what Zaara and Veer sacrificed is finally brought home to her. "Are they people trying to behave like gods or gods pretending to be human?"

Though Chopra's film is emotionally extravagant even by the standards of India's epically unrestrained cinema, the star-crossed lovers bear the weighty metaphorical significance of their travails surprisingly lightly, particularly Zinta's radiantly lovely Zaara.


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Yuva

(2004)

Written and Directed by: Mani Ratnam.
With: Abhishek Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi, Rani Mukherjee, Esha Deol, Kareena Kapoor, Anant Nag, Vijay Raaz and Sonu Sood.

Chennai-born writer-director Mani Ratnam's sprawling story of modern Indian youth (yuva in Hindi) follows the intertwined destinies of three young men from dramatically different backgrounds.

The movie opens as ambitious thug Lallan (Bachchan), student activist Michael (Devgan) and yuppie Arjun (Oberoi) converge on Kolkata's traffic-clogged Howrah Bridge: Lallan shoots Michael, whose skidding motorbike nearly hits Arjun. Three lengthy flashbacks trace the circumstances that brought them to this dramatic juncture.

Lallan, a product of the Kolkata slums, is bailed out of prison by his older brother, Gopal (Sood). Gopal provides muscle for a crooked government minister (Puri), who's in the thick of a contentious local re-election campaign. Although Lallan's vague aspirations to go straight are encouraged by his pregnant wife, Sashi (Mukherjee), the lure of easy money and street credibility win out. Gopal recruits Lallan to discredit a student coalition dedicated to exposing the minister's corruption, and eventually orders him to kill their leader, second-generation political agitator Michael. Radhika (Deol), Michael's childhood sweetheart and a recent college graduate, joins the cause to be near him. Arjun, also newly graduated, just wants to have fun and make some money. His father (Nag), who holds a prestigious government job, hopes Arjun will follow in his footsteps. But Arjun has secretly applied for a visa to study in the U.S. Then he meets Mira (Kapoor) at a local discotheque: Smart, independent and practical, she's just agreed to an arranged marriage but welcomes one last flirtation. Love derails their tidy plans for the future, and Michael winds up on Howrah Bridge making a last-ditch bid for Mira's heart. He instead pulls the gravely wounded Michael from the Hoogly River and accompanies him to the hospital. The story then moves forward as the three couples decide what to do with their futures.

Ratnam, known for integrating controversial cultural and political themes into popular melodramas, bundles a multitude of coming-of-age traumas into the kind of juicy, overwrought narrative that was once a Hollywood staple. Yes, Devgan is too old to be a student and Bachchan — the son of Indian megastar Amitabh Bachchan — glowers like a storm cloud about to erupt. But the story is absorbing and the songs by A.R. Rahman and Mehboob are damnably catchy. Ratnam simultaneously shot a Tamil-language version of the film, Ayutha Ezhuthu, with an almost entirely different cast; only Deol appears in both.