The Bollywood film ‘Kites,’ directed by Anurag Basu, was a film unlike any I’ve seen before. It was spoken in three languages, had a diverse cast and it wasn’t from Hollywood. It was a completely original experience. It blithely leaps from romance, to musical, to action adventure, to western, referencing any number of Hollywood genres along with one of the more beautiful musical scores in recent memory. The romance, in particular, was as intense as Nicholas Sparks‘ ‘The Notebook,’ and the chemistry between the leads was off the charts. I have to say I was surprisingly entertained and am a better critic for having seen this film.
The plotline begins in the blistering heat of the Mexican desert, where a man has been left for dead. This is “J,” (Hrithik Roshan, the biggest movie star in India), a once- carefree Vegas huckster, now a wanted man, fighting for his life. As he makes his way back home, “J” relives the past, and we learn that the one thing keeping him alive is his burning desire to reunite with Linda (Bárbara Mori, best known in America for the 2005 hit “La Mujer De Mi Hermano”), the love of his life. When “J” first meets her he is working odd jobs, the oddest of which is to marry “illegals” for money. Linda, fresh from Mexico, has barely enough cash to pay for the phony marriage but, like “J,” she has dreams of striking it rich in America. They wed and, that very night, she departs, green card in hand. Though he barely knows her, and they don’t even speak each other’s language, “J” will never forget her. The next time he sees Linda, she is engaged to Tony (Nick Brown), the son of a fabulously wealthy casino owner. As fate would have it, “J” is dating Tony’s sister. Both of them are prepared to marry for money so they can finally make their dreams come true. There are just two problems: they are still legally married and they have fallen madly in love. Choosing one another over wealth, they flee, with a vengeful Tony in hot pursuit… This romance is described in the film as a love that “knows no language,” an apt description of KITES itself, which has more international appeal than the more traditional Bollywood fare.
Bollywood films are a rare breed of cinematic products here in the States and there are legitimate reasons why films from India aren’t successful with American audiences: they are always over 2 hours (we complain when it’s 1hr 45m), they’re like musicals that involve too much dancing (we left the musicals back in the 50’s and ‘NINE’ was a flop) and for the most part, they’re not spoken in English. The closest movie we’ve had to a successful Bollywood production has been Danny Boyle’s Academy Award effort ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and that wasn’t really ours, it was a collaboration we did with England.
Nevertheless, Kites has the potential to change the way we look at Bollywood films. Due to its Latin flavor, it has the ability to reach the largest movie going audience in America, the US Hispanic. Enter director Brett Ratner. Known for taking Asian action star Jackie Chan and crossing him over into American superstardom with his spectacularly successful “Rush Hour” series, Ratner carries a unique synergy – he’s a Hispanic of Cuban descent who understands the power of the Hispanic consumer and what it would take to attract them to the theaters. In a brilliant strategy move by Roshan Productions, Ratner was asked to rework an English language version, designed to extend the reach of the original to the largest possible audience, including the younger demographic for whom 2+ hours is a challenge. This led to “Kites: The Remix, A Brett Ratner Presentation”. Its title suggests, a true “remix,” in that it is the same film, played to a different rhythm, running a swift 90 minutes as opposed to the 130–minute original.
The remix caters to a mass audience but it begrudgingly also contains some elements from the original cut that hurt it. For my particular tastes, the acting by the secondary cast is not as strong as the leads. There are some over the top acting moments that are quite risible. We could have done without some of the excess torso bearing poses by Hrithik, but I imagine the ladies need a dose of carnal ecstasy once in a while. Despite these small imperfections, the film is very entertaining, even for audiences that don’t regularly consume Indian films.
The bulk of the entertainment comes from the extravagant, larger than life action sequences that involve 18 wheeler trucks, chases, explosions, bullet fights, crashes and jumps that stun the senses.
Actor Hrithik Roshan is extremely charismatic and possesses the handsomeness of a major movie star. His talents don’t just end there; in the only dancing sequence of the movie, he gyrated, twirled and whirled like a snake in Vegas. He needs to come to Hollywood and do movies here ASAP. Bárbara Mori, the Uruguayan actress, raised in Mexico, fit perfectly well with Roshan and her new environment. Even though her English accent is rough, it is endearing. She has a magnetic connection that has made her one of the top actresses in Spanish television in the US. We look forward to her evolution in cinema.
Despite the positives of the protagonists, to craft an affecting love story the stars need to be well-developed, evidence a degree of sexual chemistry, and their relationship needs to be allowed to unfold on screen. By falling somewhere in between – more serious than the average comedy and lighter than the typical drama – Kites feels just about right. This love story isn’t going to appeal to those who don’t appreciate romance. It is sweet and sentimental and embraces the fantasy of love all the way through its operatic finale.
Kites recalls such master movie mixologists as Sergio Leone, Quentin Tarantino, and Baz Luhrmann. Producer Rakesh Roshan and director Anurag Basu, have made Kites into an intoxicating cinematic cocktail with a flavor—and a kick—all its own.