Kites – a flight of fancy

kitesCritics in India panned it; critics in the US have gushed with praise. What’s a desi to do? Should one assume that Kites has certain Western sensibilities that backwater hicks in the homeland can’t appreciate and fork over the 11 dollars in the theater? Or trust in the instincts of a billion people and go for the two-buck pirated version at the Indian grocery store?

Well, here goes – I hope this helps.

Kites is mostly a paean to beauty; the sculpted, six-packed fabulousness of Hrithik Roshan and the olive-skinned exoticism of Barbara Mori. To my Indian eyes she wasn’t a patch of any of our desi kudis, but I am willing to concede that this may be a cultural bias and that she may be, in fact, drop-dead gorgeous to any red-blooded male west of Mumbai.

The film therefore spends most of its time leisurely panning over the two lovebirds as they gaze soulfully at each other. Well, Hrithik does the soulful bit mostly; Mori just looks (again, could be cultural bias; I had a real problem with the Close-Up smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes). There is a story around this hazardous romance between English/Hindi speaking boy and Spanish speaking girl, but that story is just a vehicle to display the awesomeness of the two. Every scene moves at glacial speed as we contemplate the sheer physical perfection of the lead pair; they are displayed in the rain, on a train, in the desert, at the casino, in the pool, in the sea, each at various stages of undress. Even the chase scene, where the lovers are in immediate peril, feels like a weekend outing to the country, as a soft ballad plays in the background.

Director Anurag Basu has been a staple of the Vishesh Films/Bhatt family stable, churning out decent movies like Life in a Metro and Gangster and Murder. His forte is style, and Kites is a very stylish and stylized movie. What is lacks is pacing and drama. Perhaps that was intentional, but I think having a producer like Mahesh Bhatt would have made Basu haul up his socks and fix the problem double quick. Instead he has Papa Roshan, who probably has no problem with the many, many minutes devoted to the admiration of his gorgeous son.

Ultimately, cross-cultural romances work if there is a sizzling chemistry between the lead pair. Hrithik and Mori do look good together, but I didn’t get it (CB? Maybe?) The last one I remember was Ek Duuje Ke Liye with Kamalahasan and Rati Agnihotri, which worked because there was a charming awkwardness between the lead pair and you could believe that, as teenagers, they would do stupid and grand mistakes. But here both Hrithik and Mori are just too well put together. They are just not credible as down-on- their-luck deadbeats. Seriously, can anyone think of the six-foot, green-eyed Hrithik as a struggler?

There is a silver lining, though. As I mentioned, the key problem with the movie is pace. Now this Friday the English version of the movie, directed by Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, released. It is 40 minutes shorter than the Hindi version, which means a lot of the pacing problems may have been taken care of. It still won’t be a terrific movie, but it may be passable. If you are a fan of Hrithik, it might be worth checking out. Plus, the pirated DVD has awful subtitles! (And unless you know Spanish, you’ll need them.)

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