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by Bryce J. Renninger
May 20, 2010 5:59 AM
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With "Kites," Bollywood Aims for the Sky...and for a Place in Global Cinema

An image from Anurag Basu's "Kites." [Image courtesy of Reliance]

When Anurag Basu's "Kites" opens in theaters tomorrow, it will have the distinction of being the largest worldwide release for a Hindi film, screening on 2300 screens, 500 of them outside of the Indian subcontinent. Hindi films, or Bollywood films as we commonly call them, are getting wider and wider releases abroad. Films like "My Name is Khan," "Dostana," and "Kal Ho Naa Ho" are set and shot in the US and have been part of a trend of aiming films to the profitable NRI (non-resident Indian) audience.

"Kites" tells the story of Jay (Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan), a US citizen who marries immigrants in Las Vegas sham marriages so they can gain citizenship. When the one wife who he ever fell for, Natasha (South American actress Barbara Mori), is marrying the monstrous brother of Jay's rich girlfriend, Jay must take action to win her over. The pursuit becomes difficult, though, due to the two star-crossed lovers' language difference. Jay does not speak Spanish; Natasha does not speak Hindi or English.

Talking to the film's creative team, producer Rakesh Roshan, director Anurag Basu, and the film's star, Hrithik Roshan, one gets the impression that the Hindi film community is ready to be a part of something big, but they're unsure how ready they are for it and when they'll be invited to the "global cinema" club.

Rakesh Roshan, an actor, director, and producer who is also the father of Hrithik, was calm and cool a few days before his film's release. Speaking about his ambitious forecast for the film, he said: "I always thought of making a film for the global market. All of my films in India have done well. And I said now what? Should I keep making films in India or should I step forward? For a global film, I thought the most appealing story would be a love story, because love is everywhere. And so I made the film in two versions. The Indian version has 50% English/Spanish and 50% Indian language. For the English version, it's nearly all English/Spanish with a few scenes in our Indian language."

The second, English, version came about after Rakesh showed a print of an early cut of the film to Hollywood director Brett Ratner, who recognized its potential for mass U.S. appeal. Ratner, keeping "U.S. sensibilities" in mind, made a 90 minute cut, the "remix," which will be released next week in the U.S. In it, he cut out a dance sequence, several songs, and, in Rakesh's words "made the film faster." Eager to pitch his film to the global audience, Roshan described the film, in both cuts, as "a very real film. The characters are very real. They have gray shades also, like any human beings have. It's a very believable film but made in a big canvas."

Anurag Basu had quite a few films under his belt when his last, "Life in a Metro...," became a huge hit and an exemplary film in the new wave of Indian directors. While that film and his others were generally outside of the Bollywood formula and structure, Basu took on the "Kites" project with zeal.

"This is the first time that I was given an idea and an actor," Basu said. "This became an advantage for the film; I think that Hrithik as a person has international appeal. As I was writing it, I thought I should expand the appeal of this story, which is not just for Bollywood."

Basu was particularly eager to figure the Indian national film industry within the circuits of international cinema. Like Rakesh, Basu wondered why filmmakers from China and Korea could gain respect and fans in the global cinema, but Indian films, seen by so many, were virtually ignored by most in the global cinema community. He said of "Kites," "I am not saying that we are making a world cinema or global cinema, but something that isn't just Bollywood. Maybe just making a film that is universal."

Speaking of taking the film to the U.S., Basu admitted, "I'm really anxious to know the reaction. I'm not worried about the NRI audience or any diasporic audience, I want to know how others take this movie."

Least eager to define his desires for Hindi film on the global stage was the film's star. Hrithik Roshan, dressed in a leather biker's jacket, was ready to see how the film's release and his career would play out over the next few years. "Well, I feel like I'm at the bend of something," he said. "I don't know what it is, but it definitely seems like something's about to happen. It could be good. It could be not so good. But the winds are a changing for sure. All the feedback that I get is going to be my access points for growth. So good or bad I will keep growing, so no fear."

He made it clear, though, that he had no definite ulterior motives in the U.S.. "Mumbai will always be home, for sure," he said. "I don't look that far into the future. I just concentrate on that next little step and put everything there, where it will lead me. Will I one day have a house in LA? I don't know that. I don't really waste my time trying to see or fix such goals in a future so far ahead."

Describing the journey he's been on with the film thus far, Roshan noted, "The fact that I'm sitting here in New York talking to you about "Kites" is not something that I could have manipulated or calculated or even envisioned when we started off with this film. It's just the natural progression of our attempt to make an honest film."

Early reviews are inconclusive about "Kites"' chances at taking Hindi film to the global stage. Writing in the Times of India, Nikhat Kazmi says, "Where's the chemistry? Where's the story? And where's the twist in the tale? 'Kites' could have been that cross-over film that Bollywood has been dreaming about so long. Sadly, it flounders even before it can take off and soar.... "

Though it is not a ringing endorsement, David Chute in the Village Voice ends his review by saying, "Not even the incoherent mish-mash of plot (mostly faux Sergio Leone by way of Tarantino and Rodriguez, with periodic car-flipping chase sequences) can entirely dim the appeal of this match-up between a blue-eyed Punjabi and a blue-eyed Mexican of almost equal comeliness."

As more Hindi films attempt to outpace the effect of "Slumdog Millionaire" on U.S. audiences, it is unclear where "Kites" will figure in this history. What is clear is that hopes are high, and the remix is ready.

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