On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
“Kites” is an aromatic, cinematic Indian mutton stew. If that sounds different from usual movie fare, it is. It’s a Bollywood mixture of romance, violence, action, music and differing cultures and languages. Sometimes it’s tough; often it’s tender. It depends on your appetite.
There are two versions of “Kites,” a 130-minute Hindi-language original and a 90-minute remix. (Spoiler alert: The 90-minute version was remixed by spoiler American director Brett Ratner.)
I can only affirm the longer version. It does get redundant, but I would hate to see some scenes, such as the wild, energetic dance by Hrithik Rashan, cut. It’s one of the movie’s charms.
I might trim 10 minutes, but I wouldn’t deep-six 40 minutes. That’s cutting out too many spices just to replace them with Ratner adrenaline.
“Kites” is directed and co-written by Anurag Basu, but since it’s Bollywood, a Hindi-language product, it has major contributions from a Bollywood family. This time the clan is the Roshans: the father, Rakesh, is producer, his brother, Rajesh, does the original music and his son, Hrithik, is the leading man. Hrithik makes the movie hum.
“Kites” takes place and was shot in Las Vegas, the Southwest and rural Mexico. It’s an alien vision of America, based on pop culture movies.
In “Kites” it rains a lot … pelting rain. There never ever was as much rain in the actual Las Vegas as there is in this Bollywood Las Vegas. But when you enter the world of “Kites,” you enter a world of product placement — Calvin Klein jeans and Starbucks and buckets of inauthentic rain. It’s a wet, madcap world.
“Kites” basically is a bombastic love story full of the trappings of movie lore. Jay (Hrthik Roshan) is a hustler and dance instructor in Las Vegas. For a fee, he marries 11 illegal women to get them papers. One of them, Linda (Barbara Mori), eventually turns out to be the love of his life. But for a while, he loses touch with her.
He meets her again, but this time she calls herself Natashawhen. She becomes engaged to his present girlfriend’s (Kangana Ranaut) brother (Nicholas Brown). The brother and sister are the children of a brutal casino owner and crime boss. Fate intrudes, and Jay and Linda — the loving odd couple — run away with the vicious, jilted fiancé in tangy pursuit.
What stirs the pot even more is that the runaway couple does not understand each other’s language. Tony speaks Hindi, and Linda speaks Spanish. But as Jay tells an arbiter, “Love and music have no language.” Or nuance. Let the chaos begin.
“Kites” is a delirious hodgepodge of movie references. An allusion to Chaplin’s dance of the rolls in “The Gold Rush” is nice, but the pilfering of the graphic novel shootout from “Road to Perdition” is forced and makes the movie silly when it should be potent.
Basu uses Sergio Leone’s style as one of his major influences. He uses closeups and space, and as in Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West,” water is a major symbol. Hrthik’s eyes may remind one of Henry Fonda’s blue peepers in Leone’s classic western.
But Rajesh is no Ennio Morricone. Where Morricone’s music was often over the top, it was always evocative and effective. Rajesh’s often is just over the top. The soundtrack is overwrought, and the music is annoyingly blatant, especially the lyrics.
“Kites” is a great stimulus for movie aficionados. One may see sequences that recall “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Thelma & Louise,” as well the work of directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Sam Peckinpah.
It has great car chases and obliterating crashes. They’re a hoot. And ladies, I challenge you to resist Hrthik’s movie star looks and personality — he even strips to the waist for you. In India, Hrthik is a matinee idol, and his presence is magnetic in “Kites.”
At one point, the star-crossed couple escapes in an air balloon. It is ridiculous and clever, as is the entire movie. “Kites” flutters and plummets.
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.