KAHO NAA… AMOR HAI
A cross-culture romance cum road movie is very easy on the eye, and very difficult to endure.
MAY 23, 2010 – IS IT POSSIBLE TO FASHION grand opera from a libretto based on a Mills & Boon paperback? Anurag Basu, with Kites, hurls himself ill-advisedly into this undertaking. He has material for a goodish soap opera (and this is not a snide dismissal; in the right hands, soap opera can certainly become goodish entertainment) – he strives, instead, for Great Art. Scene after overstuffed scene is modeled after a soaring aria when the more sensible approach might have been to locate the pop heart at the centre of the pulpy story, about a very pretty couple on the run across very pretty countryside. The opening frames set the tone. Two (very pretty) kites flutter against the sky, as Hrithik Roshan (who plays an alphabet named J) expounds very poetically (and rather needlessly) on the titular metaphor. His voiceover, here, is muted, but elsewhere he’s this opera’s full-throated tenor. The veins in his mammoth neck pop out like foundational pillars, upon which he builds his performance. He belts out each emotion as if playing to an attention-deficit audience in the back rows in the lunar craters. Subtle, this isn’t.
And that’s hardly the issue, that this isn’t a good film. The vexation with Kites is that it doesn’t stretch far enough in the opposite direction, that it isn’t a bad-enough film. This could have been a deliriously deranged mishmash of Ek Duuje Ke Liye (cross-culture lovers) and Dil (who run away) and Bonnie and Clyde (and begin to rob banks, and escape to the accompaniment of a furiously twanged banjo) and Romancing the Stone (and have eye-poppingly energetic escapades, leaping upon trains and into rivers and onto hot air balloons) and, especially, the commensurately overblown Written on the Wind. (From the latter is derived the dominant love quadrangle, with the spoilt rich siblings Gina and Tony, played by Kangana Ranaut and Nick Brown, and with Barbara Mori as Tony’s fiancée Natasha, whom J falls for.) And there are certainly instances of soapy sentiment that are almost worth the price of admission, if only to witness the seriousness with which they are brought to life. (J purrs, “You added colour to my life, my black-and-white life.” Natasha subsequently hints at exactly which colour he was alluding to, as she croons, “You are bleeding, my love.”)
To qualify as a campy hoot, Kites needed more lines like these, and more scenes like the one where Kabir Bedi, hamming it up in his patented silken style as a Las Vegas casino tycoon, urges J to gun down a poor sap who’s being suspended by the ankles. Or the one where a kindly old man extracts a bullet from J’s back and sends him on his way, across the desert, with a fond farewell wish (“Hope you find the love of your life”) and without bothering about tiny practicalities like thrusting a canteen filled with water in J’s hands. Intentional or not, these laughs are welcome in a film whose pulse is as parched as the environs it’s set in. The culprit is the romantic track. Kites wants us to revel in the amoral adventures of J and Natasha, but when it comes to their love, the film turns utterly (and fatally) moral. J is not interested in Gina and he throws her out of his house when she slinks in to seduce him. But when he realises she’s rich, when he lights up upon sighting her limo, he reconciles to a life with her. So too Natasha – she’s with Tony only because he has money.
You’d think that two mercenaries like these would circle warily around one another before falling in love (or at least, that they’d be in lust first, before it transmogrified into something else). In a nicely observed scene, J and Natasha compare the “gifts” they’ve received for selling out – like kids at an orphanage stumbling into presents beneath a Christmas tree, they delight in her $12,000 necklace and his $40,000 automobile. A little later, as they kiss, Natasha’s eyes wander to a photograph on the wall, of her impoverished Mexican family, and she breaks off the kiss. She knows what’s important, and it’s not the penniless J. And yet, we’re asked to believe that theirs is a true love, when we’re not even shown the falling-in-love part. (All we get is an unexplained, and hardly convincing, initial attraction.) A little more plot and a little less poetry may have salvaged this gorgeous mess – but then Basu wants his shots of slo-mo wipers pacing across a windshield in the midst of a downpour, so that he can film a conversation inside the car as the water makes lovely translucent patterns. At least, it’s pretty.
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