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Bollywood joyride has something for everyone

May 31, 2006|John Anderson | Special to The Times

Bollywood has long employed the operating ethic that Hollywood now calls its own: Make every movie an event. Something for everyone. All things to all humans. If this means cross-pollinating Benny Hill with John le Carre, so be it.

In "Fanaa," which is likely to be the biggest mainstream Indian import in years, the envelope is not just pushed, it's pushed off a cliff. The plot makes a hairpin turn mid-film that would, under almost any other circumstances, be laughed off the screen. But given the epic improbabilities that have already occurred, it seems perfectly plausible, even predictable, that what was previously one movie would suddenly become another.

What has it been up till then? A typical Bollywood romance, in which rakish tour guide Rehan -- played by Hindi matinee idol Aamir Khan, of the cricket epic "Lagaan," among others -- meets a blind girl named Zooni, played by the ridiculously beautiful Kajol. He woos her, loves her, sings with her in the seemingly obligatory musical-number-in-the-rainstorm, helps her get her eyesight restored.

And then the drama begins.

To say any more regarding the story line -- and we've only provided the briefest intro -- would certainly ruin it. It's worth noting that, as in many Bollywood films, the musical numbers go on forever. The comedy is generally broad and low. (An Indian tourist, passing a monumental tomb built by a Mughal wife for her husband, says to his spouse, "I can't even get you to make me bread and potatoes." To which she replies, "I'm having one built for you.") The lyrics to the numerous songs are generally inane (although the same can be said for a lot of Italian opera). And unlikely coincidence rules the narrative, and the day.

Kajol, however, is a wonderful actress (director Kunal Kohli can't seem to take the camera off her). Khan, though not looking his best, has moments of genuine truth, as well as charm. And the intent of the movie is, as always, entertainment pure and simple. There are no boundary issues with "Fanaa" -- what the viewers want, emotionally, is what they get.

To resort to strictly ethnocentric references, "Fanaa" is equal parts MGM extravaganza, Shakespeare lite and James Bond. In their heart of hearts, isn't that what movie audiences really want?



MPAA rating: Unrated

A Yash Raj Films release. Director Kunal Kohli. Producer Aditya Chopra. Screenplay by Shibani Bathija. Director of photography Ravi K. Chnafran. Editor Ritesh Somi. Costume designers Manish Malhotra, Mamta Anand, Mandira Shukla. Music Jatin-Lalit. Art director Nitish Roy. In Hindi with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 48 minutes.

At Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710; and the Naz 8 Cinemas, Naz Plaza, 6440 E. South St., Lakewood, (562) 866-2444.

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