For a mega-industry that does just fine on its own, it seems unnecessary for Bollywood to branch out beyond the borders of nation and UHF channels. Luckily, most prior attempts to do have died miserably. No one bothered with the Bollywood/Hollywood (well, Canadian, actually) crossover Bride and Prejudice , which utterly failed to preempt the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, as the saying goes. Or, if you’re set on fixing it anyway, make only slight adjustments.
Opening in 2,300 theaters worldwide—an Indian record, though still well shy of Sex and the City 2 numbers—Kites was filmed in the American Southwest, scales way back on the musical numbers, slims down the length to something more manageable (though still too long) and cranks up the needless explosion-heavy car chases. (An even-more-gutted-for-Yanks “remix” overseen by no less than Brett Ratter will open in some markets, though not in Philly. Alas.) But Kites keeps most every other Bollywood trademark: purple filmmaking, purpler emotions, crazy Tyler Perry tonal shifts and a story at once 100% derivative and pure.
Hrithik Roshan plays J., a Vegas transplant and con man who falls for Mexican hottie Natasha (Barbara Mori). Unfortunately, she’s betrothed to Tony (Nick Brown), the psychotic son of a casino owner. The two don’t share a language (except the language of love, natch), and a couple reels of slow-motion, slack-jawed gawking later, they’re barreling southward, eluding Tony and gang.
The reference points are largely junk American. Very famous bits from Bad Boys 2 and Thelma & Louise get shamelessly pilfered in their entirety, and a scene from Casino winds up spliced with Reservoir Dogs’ ear-severing. But the flow remains stubbornly Bollywood—familiar bits energetically remixed into something fresh and, more importantly, fun. It’s nothing new for other countries’ populist fare to steal from Hollywood. But Kites does it on our own territory, and it manages to does it better than us. (Or at least weirder: one car chase concludes with our heroes escaping by hot-air balloon.)
The romance and action (not to mention comedy) elements are in almost perfect balance; it doesn’t seem unnatural when our two lovebirds switch from moony glances to automotive mayhem. Compare this with, just to cite two recent examples, The Bounty Hunter or Date Night—assembly-line products where the thrills distracted from the comedy (or attempts at, anyway).
Saying something’s better than a Jennifer Aniston vehicle may be damning it with the very faintest of praise. But as we’re ankle-deep in one of the dreariest-looking summer seasons on record, it’s worth pointing out that some countries do inane blockbusters better.