There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Perhaps Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta undertook her latest film as a rom-com respite. The director’s controversial Fire broached the subject of lesbianism in patriarchal India, and the harrowing Earth revisited India and Pakistan’s bloody 1947 partition. Compared with those films, however, Bollywood/Hollywood is dismayingly flimsy. In the wake of Monsoon Wedding, The Guru, and Bend It Like Beckham, there may be an audience for this big-fat-Indian-engagement burlesque, but the movie doesn’t exactly demonstrate a flair for comedy. Mehta’s script merely strings together clichés, which she attempts to disarm with irony: Many scenes proceed with Bollywood musicals playing on video screens in the background, and handwritten comments frequently flash on the screen to reassure viewers that the director knows how corny it all is. Yet such devices barely mitigate the trite scenario: After his New Age-y (and Anglo) true love dies in a freak levitation accident, young Toronto hi-tech millionaire Rahul Seth (Rahul Khanna) faces heavy pressure from his widowed mother (Moushumi Chatterjee) to marry a nice Indian girl. He resists, but when Mom says she’ll cancel his sister’s upcoming wedding unless he gets engaged, Rahul takes action. He hires raven-haired escort Sue (Lisa Ray), who he supposes is of Spanish descent, to pose as his new fiancée. Sue is an utterly Hollywood vision of the hooker as perfect woman: an empathetic, college-educated beauty and a film buff to boot. (At home, she’s hung posters for Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Exotica, a film by fellow Torontoan Atom Egoyan, the subject of repeated homages.) Suspiciously persuasive in a sari, Sue wows Rahul’s mother and Shakespeare-quoting grandmother (Dina Pathak). The imposture is threatened not by the revelation of Sue’s real identity, of course, but by Rahul and Sue’s growing attraction. The developments are occasionally interrupted by musical interludes, including a drag-club number featuring Rahul’s cross-dressing chauffeur (Ranjit Chowdhry, perhaps the hardest-working bit player in Indian-rooted North American films). And the music, recorded in Madras, includes some contributions by superstar composer A.R. Rahman, who scored Fire. Despite its regard for Indian movie music, however, Bollywood/Hollywood’s balance overwhelmingly favors the latter. Mark Jenkins