If Lagaan—the only Bollywood film to receive a noteworthy stateside release—wasn’t enough to spark a rash of imports, then Agni Varsha (Cinebella, opens August 30 at the Loews State), despite its audience-friendly two-hour running time, won’t do the trick. Despite its candy-hued costumes, hyperbolic acting, sudden lapses into song, and mystical context (all Bollywood staples), it lacks Lagaan‘s sweep, humor, and colorful characters. The poor special effects and the noticeably fake scenery undermine the attempts at an epic look. The musical numbers, with their lively choreography and lyrics like “Your presence is like heady mead/A tavernful won’t shake my need,” have an energy and joyousness missing in the rest of the picture.
The story involves Paravasu (Jackie Shroff), a priest charged with making a sacrifice to a rain god so that a 10-year-long drought will end. Paravasu has neglected his wife (Raveena Tandon), who out of loneliness shacks up with Paravasu’s cousin (Nagarjuna). Meanwhile, Paravasu’s brother, Arvasu (Milind Soman), wants to marry Nittilai (Sonali Kulkarni), who belongs to a lower caste. A few instances of outrageous stylishness disrupt the tedium of the melodrama: a Vertigo track-in/zoom-out to suggest a meditative state, slo-mo to exaggerate a leap over a knee-high rock, hyperactive camerawork during a scene depicting the birth of a demon, and a big whoosh on the soundtrack when said demon whips his hair around. The excess has a certain charm, but not enough to offset the banality.