The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

Try Netflix for Free!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bunty Aur Babli

A Bollywood musical.

I was debating just leaving it at that. Either you are familiar with modern Indian filmmaking and can read a lot into that summary line, or you aren't and I'm unlikely to sway you with a review here. But let's give it a shot.

Firstly, a little background for the neophytes. The Indian film industry is absolutely huge. It churns out movies at a rate that dwarfs the American studio machine. Actors often make several films at once, moving from set to set. The sell to the audience is almost exclusively based on name recognition and star power. Indian movie stars are lionized to an extent that would amaze even the most avid American reader of Entertainment Weekly.

Stars can make so many movies because they don't have to work very hard on getting into character or figuring out deep motivations. Plot lines and basic structure tend to follow familiar patterns. A young man and young woman are protagonists. They have some tension in their family life. They eventually fall in love. Complications ensue. The young man is usually in some danger from pursuing bad guys and has to endure several action sequences. The film may end on an up-note, with everyone living happily ever after, or as a tragedy.

Along the way there will be several musical dance sequences shot in an 80's MTV style. The singing is often dubbed by a few very well known voices in the industry. Audiences know and expect this... Singing stars are the exception. One dance will feature the boy and show his effervescent and mischievous personality. One dance will feature the girl, and at some point she will be dancing in a downpour (real or artificially created). One dance will feature the couple happily discovering their love for one another. Then there will be some feature or ensemble dances, usually with bright flashy costumes and big soundstages.

The other point of commonality is that the actresses in these movies are freakin' gorgeous. Not that I would ever notice such a thing (Debbie).

With that out of the way, we move on to the specifics of Bunty Aur Babli (a 2005 release). The plotline has the disaffected male youth itching to break out of his common little existence in his small town. Mom and Dad want him to stop dreaming and follow in his dad's footsteps as a career ticket taker on the train. The role was written so that you'd figure the character is in his young 20's. The actor playing the part (Abhishek Bachchan) was actually 40 years old. You can't help but notice.

The girl (Rani Mukherjee) is a young attractive thing who seems to be rather spoiled and dreams of becoming Miss India and going on to a life of fashion modeling (little nod of the head to Aishwarya Rai?) Her parents have arranged for her to be married off to a guy she doesn't like. Sometimes her character seems to have been written for a 17 year-old. The actress is 27.

The two run away from their families to pursue their dreams. They meet and find they are somewhat kindred spirits. Plot developments occur and they end up teaming as con artists, pulling bigger and bigger scams. The media takes note and they end up capturing the public's admiration for their audacity and for the fact that they often give part of their loot to poor people along the way. Their alias names (which they publicize at the scene of each crime) are Bunty and Babli. Thus the literal translation of the title.

After about 80 minutes of film time, they finally admit their love for each other and decide to get married. The camera swoops up in a crane shot and the movie ends on a big happy note. But wait! There's a sign for intermission and then we come back to a second half of the movie that is just as long as the first! I think they filmed it this way so it could be cut and shown as two separate movies if a theater owner wanted to charge extra admissions. But on the DVD it is all one movie... two hours and 45 minutes long. Better put aside a chunk of viewing time!

In part two, we are introduced to a detective who has taken on their case as a personal fixation. The actor (Amitabh Bachchan) looks and tries to act like Al Pacino in "Heat" or "Insomnia." He's the wily, grizzled vet who will stop at nothing to track down these scumbags.

I won't complete the plot, as you have to wait to discover the outcome of the chase. But I didn't realize I was missing a major focal point of the film until I watched the closing credits and saw the names of the actors. Did you notice the names when I wrote them a few paragraphs ago?

The detective is played by (according to IMDB) "arguably India's greatest ever superstar." He has 163 films in his filmography, has hosted India's version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" on TV, has his statue in Madame Tussaud's, etc. etc.

The young man is played by his son. And the entire first half of the film is an homage to scenes from his father's well-known film career. Near the end of the film, the two are talking and the young man says to the detective, "You could almost be my father." Hah hah... A big obvious joke for the audience that sailed right over my head.

The other in-joke you need to know if you are not a follower of Indian film is that there is a feature dance in the film. You hear a female voice from off-screen say, "Hey, handsome!" The guy turns around to look at the speaker and falls to the floor in surprise. It's Aishwarya Rai, a spectacularly popular Indian film actress proclaimed as one of the world's most beautiful women (THE most beautiful by some).

"Enough, already!" I hear you cry... "Is the movie any good?"

Yeah, it's pretty fun. The Bonnie And Clyde angle is played very lightly, without the danger and violence you would expect in an Americanized version. The beginning is a bit rough, with over-hyped acting by both young (?) leads. I think they were trying too hard to play young and it felt phony. Later they stopped worrying about it and just decided to act the parts as themselves. The acting picked up quite a bit.

The music and choreography are not top notch for the industry, but they are watchable. Aishwarya can really dance. Mukherjee gets a scene where she is wearing the shortest suit skirt I have ever seen. One sneeze and this would have gotten an R rating.

There are a couple of outlandish plot points as the couple's scams get bigger. You really aren't supposed to care. The movie is quite sexually progressive for the Indian market, as the two leads get married and then kiss on the mouth, and are even seen in bed together in a sexual (non-graphic) situation. VERY unusual for Bollywood!

I don't know as how I'd recommend this for first-time Indian movie watchers, but it's cute and inoffensive and not a bad entry in the overall pantheon. Knowing some of the back story helps.

Parents would have no concerns about letting their kids watch along. Young children should like the bright colors and bouncy music of the dance sequences. Dialog is in Hindi and although the DVD has no special features, it does have the longest selection list of subtitle languages I've ever seen. You can watch it translated into English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Dutch, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, or Bengali.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home