Published May 20, 2010I've always wondered why no Bollywood film has ever become a breakout success on the world market, but having seen Kites, I have my answer. Consider the opening, where Jai (Hrithik Roshan) drives through a Las Vegas so drenched in purple, pink and aqua neon that the scene suggests a light fetishist's fantasy. While most Hollywood films about Las Vegas regard the city with a certain ironic detachment, Kites takes it at face value. Jai's narration actually describes it as, "Where cab drivers become millionaires and millionaires become cab drivers."
Popular Hindi cinema does have a fundamentally different film, but it's not just the long running times, dance numbers or awkward tonal shifts; it's the complete absence of irony. This is a film industry that still worships its stars as royalty, and is still enraptured with the basic sensual pleasures of glamour and melodrama that the rise of irony and postmodernism have halted in the West. Sure, Hollywood films are known to linger on the beautiful bodies of their leads, but look at the scenes in Kites where Hrithik Roshan reveals his action-figure abs ― the camera focuses on his ludicrously perfect physique with the single-minded intensity of pornography.
This sense of earnestness ― I might go so far as to say naïveté ― can sometimes be charming, but not here, even if the story has promise. Jai is a drifter who makes his living marrying illegal immigrants so they can be granted citizenship. Complications arise when he marries Natasha (Barbara Mori) and winds up falling in love, despite not sharing the same language. Natasha is engaged to rich, fearsome mobster Tony (Nick Brown). When they finally run off, the murderous Tony is on their trail.
Roshan and Mori have so much charm and chemistry, and the idea of a love that transcends language has so much potential, that it's extra disappointing that director Anurag Basu feels the need to underline every emotional moment with aggressive string music and sappy love ballads. The second half stretches the leads' chemistry very thin, with a repetitive series of scenes in which they declare their love, and Tony's ham-fisted villainy feels out of place in what would otherwise be an intimate love story.
Hindi cinema often channels its broad, bigger-is-better approach into minor classics of over-the-top spectacle (like the recent Om Shanti Om and the seminal Sholay), but in the case of Kites there is a better, more resonant way to tell this story. Just because Kites' flaws are inherent to its film industry doesn't mean they aren't flaws.
The original 130-minute version of Kites will be distributed in Canada, but U.S. audiences will see a 90-minute cut edited by Brett Ratner, which raises a question: is it possible to "Americanize" something so fundamentally Indian? (Reliance)