A Bollywood Survey Mixes English Lit With High Camp


In Bollywood touchstone Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (The Braveheart Will Take the Bride), hellcat Kajol throws hissy fits as Simran, the South Asian Londoner whose star-crossed lover is yummikins Shahrukh Khan. Wailing “the mute soil doesn’t read your letters,” Simran is so fussy about virtue that one longs to send her to Dosa Hut for another helping of slut juice. DDLJ, released to raves in 1995 and still playing at a Mumbai theater, is one of six features in Cinema India!, an expo of commercial, documentary, and art-house films currently barreling out of Bollywood, including the latest rage: the Westernized masala noir.

Most compelling of the lot, the Tamil-language Kandukondain, Kandukondain (I Have Found It) stars pageant winner Aishwarya “Ash” Rai and inscrutable indie gazelle Tabu. Kandukondain, based on Sense and Sensibility, wryly sends up both stock Bollywood themes (class conflict, destiny, reversal of fortune) and campy Hindi filmi dance numbers. So what if Ash as Meenakshi bungles Marianne Dashwood’s manic sensuality with disorienting hair tosses? At least Tabu, playing a jinxed Elinor Dashwood type, validates the restrained agony of her Sowmya. Maqbool, another Tabu-headlined adaptation—this time, Shakespeare’s Macbeth—is self-consciously gritty and monotonously paced. Not even the humanity Om Puri brings to his role as a police officer gaga for astrology saves the film.

The atmospheric Bariwali (The Lady of the House) exposes the oppressive solitude of middle-aged, unmarried Banolata and her collapse at the hands of a film director who exploits her devotion. The decaying family villa near Kolkata where Banolata oils her hair recalls Lorca’s Bernarda Alba; her house begins to mimic Banolata’s decline. The inventive Tarantino- inspired gangster confection Waisa Bhi Hota Hai (Anything Can Happen) has been hailed as the “new breed of Bollywood,” but it’s the catchy ditties that really do the most slaying.

Former child prodigy Zakir Hussain, now in his fifties, still recalls a young Judge Reinhold, all rumpled curls and highly kissable. In The Speaking Hand, a documentary exalting his humility and commitment to the tabla, Hussain reveals his finger techniques. The Speaking Hand could benefit from a coat of polish and even some irreverence, but Hussain, a lyrical genius who has collaborated with Mickey Hart, ultimately seduces with his beats.

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