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MOVIE REVIEW

It's 'Pretty Woman,' Bollywood style

October 03, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Deepa Mehta's good-natured but ho-hum "Bollywood/Hollywood" has the look and feel of Bollywood melodramas, with a lot of musical interludes, along with the contemporary social attitudes of a Hollywood movie. Even so, it's much more Bolly than Holly and has little crossover appeal.

When the fiancee of an Ontario, Canada, business tycoon (Rahul Khanna) is killed in a New Age attempt at levitation, his mother (Moushumi Chatterjee) and grandmother (Dina Pathak) are relieved rather than grief-stricken. Since his sister has announced her engagement, their traditional-minded mother seizes the opportunity to declare that her daughter's marriage cannot go forward without her son marrying a nice Indian girl first.

Since Khanna's Rahul Seth has no intention of submitting to an arranged marriage but is a decent fellow who intends to live up to his traditional duty to his sister, he decides to solve his problem by hiring a woman to pretend to be his fiancee until his sister's nuptials take place. When a hooker at an upscale bar comes on to Rahul with an unlikely line, "Life is full of existential angst," he decides he has found his fake fiancee. He takes her to be Latino, but Lisa Ray's Sue is really Sunita, a Canadian Indian like Rahul himself, a beautiful young woman rebelling rather drastically against her conservative middle-class parents' insistence on an arranged marriage.

Sue is akin to Julia Roberts' pretty woman, and she easily charms Rahul's family -- and, not surprisingly, Rahul himself. Born in Canada but a highly successful model in India, Ray radiates star quality and emerges as a poised actress as well. She gives the film an unexpected dimension amid a lot of affectionate satire of rigid traditional Indian mores celebrated in Bollywood pictures, best exemplified by Chatterjee's fluttery-seeming yet dominating traditional wife and mother. Ray plays well with Khanna, who brings an effortless charm as the film's beleaguered hero.

Still, "Bollywood/Hollywood," which is in English while the many singing and dancing interludes are in Hindi, lacks the sharpness and sophistication necessary for it to appeal beyond Indian audiences. As a filmmaker, Mehta is more accomplished in a serious mode than she is in comedy, as revealed in her astute, controversial "Fire," banned in India for its depiction of a lesbian relationship.

*

'Bollywood/Hollywood'

*

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexuality/partial nudity, some crude language and drug references

Times guidelines: Adult themes and situations but suitable for older teens

Rahul Khanna...Rahul Seth

Lisa Ray...Sue (Sunita) Singh

Moushumi Chatterjee...Mummy ji/Ruby Seth

Dina Pathak...Grandma ji

Kulbushan Kharbanda...Mr. Singh

A Magnolia Pictures release. Writer-director Deepa Mehta. Producer David Hamilton. Executive producers Hamilton, Ajay Virmani, Camelia Frieberg. Cinematographer Doug Koch. Editor Barry Farrell. Music Sandeep Chowta. Lyrics Ajay Virmani and Jaideep. Choreographer David Connolly. Indian costumes Ritu Kumar. Production designer Tamara Deverell. Art director Jason Graham. Key set decorator Nigel Hutchins. Running time: 1 hour. 45 minutes.

Exclusively at the Cecchi Gori Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 281-8223.

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