Two minutes into “Bollywood Hollywood” and any viewer who has seen “Fire” or “1947 Earth” will refuse to believe that this is a Deepa Mehta film. After writing and directing two strong social commentaries, Mrs. Mehta decides to show her lighter side and goes absolutely berserk at that. As the title suggests, “Bollywood Hollywood” works not only as a feel-good family drama or a musical, but also as a very intelligent spoof of Indian film culture.
As a writer, Deepa Mehta impressively and intentionally creates an amalgam of clichés pulled out of every nook and corner of Indian cinema, and then projects them through very western sensibilities. The plot is of little importance as the narrative is primarily character driven. Rahul, a young millionaire pressured by his family to find a bride, employs who he thinks is a Spanish escort woman, Sue (Lisa Ray) to pose as his Indian fiancee. The interactions between Sue and Rahul’s family seem at times a wonderful homage to films like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge.” As love blossoms between Sue and Rahul, Sue’s true identity threatens to change the course of the future.
Flawless casting and brilliant performances contribute much to the fun-filled experience that “Bollywood Hollywood” is. While Rahul Khanna’s character is not nearly as challenging as the malish wallah of “1947 Earth”, his performance as the culturally trapped Rahul Seth brings all the tribulations of his character to the forefront with a lot of ease. And then there is the gorgeous Lisa Ray. Her Indo-Canadian background allows her to identify quite deeply with Sue’s character. The surprise package of the film, Lisa Ray seems very much at ease handling a range of emotions be it melodrama or comedy. Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Moushimi Chatterjee are absolutely hilarious with the former playing a “Bollywood”-obsessed father. However, the most domineering role of the film belongs to legendary actress Dina Pathak. In the last film of her career, Dina Pathak at almost eighty years of age, shows what screen command and power is all about. Mrs. Pathak may have been playing the old grandmother all her life, but never before has she played it with the kind of punch as in this film.
After working with A.R. Rahman in “Fire” and “1947 Earth,” Deepa Mehta ropes in Sandeep Chowta. Chowta’s score and songs support the movie aptly. However, for a musical, the composer fails to create that memorable track that viewers could take away from the film. Many of Rahman’s songs such as “Rang De,” “Mehndi Hai Rachnewali,” and parts of “Earth” also contribute to much of the background music. The dance sequences lack the energy of mainstream Indian films. Akshaye Khanna makes a special appearance as himself in one of the musical numbers along with Lisa Ray. The fact that Dina Pathak seems to be able to dance better than the younger Khanna is a different story all together.
“Bollywood Hollywood” also suffers from choppy editing and dull cinematography. For a light-hearted musical with a strong Indian theme, the production design and cinematography is simply not colorful enough. Vibrant color schemes as opposed to the sullen schemes employed could not only have sped up the proceedings, but also made the film a visual delight given its colorful content.
Despite these flaws, “Bollywood Hollywood” holds its own thanks to Mehta’s playful direction, a spoofy-witty screenplay, and an extremely talented cast. An interesting experiment in blending Indian filmmaking style with western sensibilities, “Bollywood Hollywood” is highly recommended viewing for fans of Indo-American New-Wave Cinema. In the dearth of good films in the last few months, “Bollywood Hollywood” arrives as a savior of sorts – at least for most of the hour and a half that it lasts.