Friday, January 16, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China: Warners goes Bollywood Kung-Foo

Has anyone else out there in movie-watcher land noticed the increasingly pretzel-like convolutions to which some of us critics resort when faced with a movie from “Bollywood”? Ah, the twists and turns we go through in order to find something good to say, finally concluding, "but oh, god -- it's so LONG!". I’m no Bollywood expert, nor, from my enormously negative reaction to the new CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA, am I likely to be anytime soon. I’ve enjoyed (to a point) Bolly/Holly/Independent-wood mixtures such as Marigold and The Guru and I found Lagaan and a few other Bollywood features reasonably entertaining – for at least part of their enormous running time. But CC2C (to reduce the title, if not the film itself, to bearable length), which opens today nationwide and is supposedly Warner Brothers’ first foray into Bollywood, is so bloated and repetitive that its barely 30 minutes of legitimate content is blown up to five times that length.

We get everything from the sort of “live-action animation” that would not be out of place in a Bugs Bunny cartoon to a beheading, lots of kung-foolish action scenes, love (without the longed for lip-smack we westerners appreciate, though there is an ironic nod to this), death and regeneration, bathos by the tubful -- and dancing (above and below). I would have joined the handful of walkouts during the press screening, had not I felt (and been told by one PR person) that this is inappropriate behavior. Though the film is also supposed to be the first to combine Bollywood with Chinese martial arts, the marriage is consummated via sledgehammer rather than style and finesse. And its inordinate length (by American comedy standards) coupled to the very low intelligence level left at least one viewer feeling suckered by the endless parade of one-two punches.

On the plus side (yes, the movie has one) is its star Akshay Kumar (photo, top), an approaching-middle-age actor who is said to be India's biggest box-office draw these days. He's attractive, funny, light on his feet (except when he's prat-falling) and indicates abilities far in excess of what this particular film allows him. He reminded me at times of a shorter, more hirsute Jean Dujardin (from the OSS 117 franchise), though the sophistication level Dujardin possesses is not called for in Kumar's role. His co-star, playing a variation on the good/evil twin, is Deepika Padukone (below right), and she's gorgeous. Gordon Liu (below, left) essays the villain Hojo (nothing to do with Howard Johnson's) and Ranvir Shorey, an actor whose physical appearance seems a perfect blend of China and India, plays our hero's friend Chopstick.
I had to pay an emergency visit to my NYC cut-rate dentist (aka The New York University College of Dentistry) this morning, where my student dentist Rajdeep happens to hail from India. I asked him about CC2C, and he described it as what Indians refer to as a "Masala" movie -- one in which every spice in the kitchen is tossed into the mix. Appropriate critique! According to Rajdeep, every one of the many Indian student dentists he knows at the NYUCD recommends Slumdog Millionaire as the current "Indian" movie to see.

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