Imagine the French film of several seasons back, "Venus Beauty Institute," given a slightly surreal and boldly stylized spin and the result would be something like Rahul Bose's beguiling and venturesome English-language debut film, "Everybody Says I'm Fine!" Both films delve into the lives of several people at a beauty salon -- in this case a trendy Bombay beauty salon rather than a Paris day spa.
As intuitive as Warren Beatty was in "Shampoo," he's no match for Bose's equally handsome hairstylist Xen (Rehaan Engineer), who, the moment he starts cutting a customer's hair, can read his or her thoughts. Ever since Xen as a boy witnessed his parents being killed in a freak accident he has had this gift. He suspects the circumstances of the tragedy have left him acutely aware of thoughts of others while distrusting the power of words.
Xen, however, puts his gifts to good use. He knows that the industrialist husband of the beautiful Tanya (Pooja Bhatt) has thrown her out over her gambling debts and, therefore, allows her to run up a considerable tab as she struggles to keep up appearances. He has compassion for the student (Sharokh Bharucha) who comes in one day for a haircut and understandably loses his heart to another customer (Junelia Aguiar), who has got to be one of the most stunning-looking young women in all of India (or anywhere else). Other regulars include a corporate tycoon (Boman Irani) and a flamboyant actor (Bose himself) who insists discovery awaits him. The calm, kindly Xen sustains these people more than they can possibly realize.
Then in comes the striking Nikita (Koel Purie), a free-spirited, somewhat disturbingly edgy young woman to whom Xen is immediately attracted yet is puzzled to discover that he cannot read her thoughts, a perplexing but not unpleasant first for him. Yet Nikita, ironically, can read him like a book and deduces that he is afraid of life.
Even more than "Venus Beauty Institute," "Everybody Says I'm Fine!" recalls the romantic yet clear-eyed films of Jacques Demy, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort" in particular. While no one sings dialogue here as the cast did in the Demy-Michel Legrand collaborations, Bose has directed his film as if it were a musical. It includes some moments for which he has written lyrics and which have been clearly choreographed, with California-based Zakir Hussain's lively, sinuous score and a clutch of other songs on the soundtrack playing a vital role.
For a film that proceeds with such a blithe spirit, "Everybody Says I'm Fine!" takes a darkly daring tack that pays off handsomely, providing wholly unexpected dimension that reveals the full measure of Bose's imagination and skill. Smartly designed and richly photographed, this film is an idiosyncratic charmer -- and a lot more.
'Everybody Says I'm Fine!'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Some sequences too intense for small children; adult themes
Anahita Uberoi...Tanya's friend
A Panorama Films release of an Insight Productions presentation. Writer-director Rahul Bose. Producer Viveck Vaswani. Cinematographer Vikas Sivaraman. Editor Suresh Pai. Music Zakir Hussain. Choreographer Shiamek Daver. Costumes Anahita Shroff. Production designer Aradhana Seth. Art director Guruji Bross. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
Exclusively at the ArcLight, at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, (323) 464-4226, and the Fallbrook 7, 67631 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710.