Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kites in the Sky

It is a truth universally acknowledged that action movies are for boys and romances are for girls and never the twain shall meet - at least that is what Hollywood would have you believe. While Hollywood is busy selling us on the idea that only women, their gay best friends, and a few masochistic boyfriends are willing to sit through the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, Bollywood knows that everybody, no matter their gender, loves a good romance and the new potential cross-over hit Kites is ready to prove it to American audiences, too.

Kites is not art house, it's as masala as Dhoom 2 but translated it into something closer to what audiences worldwide are used to - no songs breaks, naturalistic acting, and kissing. The story is simple - set in Las Vegas, Hrithik Roshan plays a sexy salsa instructor (the better to fit in some dancing for reluctant Westerners) who falls in love with a Mexican gangster's daughter (Barbara Mori) and the two must run away in order to be together. They are chased by bad guys and must do some crazy things to earn money but the heart of the film is still the romance and that is what separates Kites from the aspriational 'international cinema' of things like My Name is Khan that have tried to rope in the Western crowds. Romance is not taken seriously in the West.

If you ask an American film buff to name you some of Hollywood's greatest films, the answers are likely to be things like
Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Citizen Kane. Okay, yes, you might get a Casablanca or Harold and Maude if you happen to speaking a sentimental film fan but for the most part, the best American films list is one big sausage party - cowboys, gangsters, military men and Easy Rider. Ladies not invited and, therefore, romance not invited. This ghettoizing of romance into 'women's films' is completely foreign to Bollywood. Most films have some sort of romantic plot, even if it's not the main push of the story and audiences may shout out "Heroine kahan hai?" when she is taking her time in making her slow-motioned, wind-machined appearance. This isn't to say that all of Bollywood is feminist (it's not) or that there aren't plenty of gangster films (did somebody say Ram Gopal Verma?) or films where one man (hi, Sunny Deol!) takes on the entire Pakistani Army by himself but that even in those films, the lead actor takes a break from shooting bad guys to whisper sweet nothings to his leading lady.

Romance is an integral part of Bollywood
masala, which means romance just isn't embarrassing in Bollywood. Actors don't find their masculinity compromised by being seen as romantic. (The same goes for singing and dancing, but that is a subject for another day.) One of the best loved Bollywood stories - one that has been remade time and time again - is that of the tragic romantic hero Devdas, the quintessential 'lover not a fighter.' The Thespian Dilip Kumar won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor for playing Devdas in 1957, as did Shahrukh Khan in 2003 - two of Bollywood's great actors known mostly for their romantic side. And while there are many more examples of actors being appreciated for their romantic skills in Bollywood, the closest Hollywood has gotten to awarding a doomed lover in recent years was Heath Ledger's nomination for Brokeback Mountain, and even then the "doomed" by far overshadowed the love story. Hollywood actresses are awarded for romance all the time but actors? Not so much. Western romance is a woman's game.

Think of it this way. Yes,
Shakespeare in Love and Titanic won for Best Picture in the 1990s but Leonardo DiCaprio was not even nominated for his performance in Titanic nor was Joseph Fiennes for Shakespeare in Love and yet their female counterparts in those films were. Could it be possible that in two Best Picture winning films that also had Academy Award winning/nominated performances from the leading ladies had wooden planks standing opposite them? Or is romance just not respected in Hollywood?

In Bollywood, even action heroes find time to woo their leading ladies, and Hrithik Roshan potential cross over star of
Kites is the perfect example of this. He won the Filmfare Award in 2006 for his portrayal of super-thief Aryan in the big budget action-comedy Dhoom 2. Aryan was cool, collected, a master of disguise, and a master of thievery but his main character arc was falling in love with his reluctant partner. The big climax was a kiss between Hrithik and Aishwarya, for goodness sakes! Have you ever seen a Hollywood thriller aimed at a general audiences that dared to pull that off? (And if so, let me know because I'll watch it.) Just because Aryan crooned sweet love songs to his lady, didn't make him any less of a man to be admired. Even with Brett Ratner (yes, the Brett Ratner of Rush Hour) editing the "international" version of Kites, which is rumored to be shorter than the Indian version with longer chase sequences and full frontal nudity, the heart of the film should remain intact.

Now, we can only watch and see if Western audiences are ready for a love story aimed at everybody, not just women.


Anonlee said...

Nice writeup.

But I have absolutely no interest in this movie. It seems to be taking itself too seriously and not being marketed as a fun timepass movie like D2.

Plus the Roshans in their interviews have completely alienated me so I refuse to contribute to their earnings.

They'll get their "international movie" hit without my help.

Anishok said...

Good points. I've never thought of romance in Hollywood and Bollywood in these terms, but you're totally right.
While I love Hrithik and think that Barbara looks decent, I don't think world audiences will pay to see two unknown foreigners in a mainstream movie.

ajnabi said...

Well, it might be a success. "Shall We Dance" (the original Japanese version) was kind of a sleeper international hit. My husband & I went to go see it when we were dating and the theater was packed--in Kansas City! But it would have to have a really good heartstring tug in there, and so far the trailers haven't evidenced that to me.

I like what you have to say, Filmi Girl, and agree with it. I wonder what those marketers would think to know that my husband was the one who bought Serendipity and Return to Me? Oh, right. They'd probably think he's gay. ;-)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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