I must admit that I went into this film with pretty low expectations. Hrithik has never struck me as much of an actor, although he certainly is very beautiful and I love to watch him dance. Plus, the whole fuss being made about “global appeal” strikes me as sheer idiocy. Good art is good art: Vermeer didn’t have to paint scenes from daily French life to appeal to the French; Michael Jackson didn’t need to sing Hindi film songs to appeal to Indians; and Kurosawa didn’t have to sacrifice any of his culture-specific sensibilities for his films to appeal to Americans (nor did Aamir with Lagaan). The Roshans don’t need to either.
Despite all their protestations to the contrary, this is full-on Hindi cinema. I say that praising with great praise: I have not seen the English version, to be fair, and nor do I want to, to be honest. If you enjoy a gripping story with suspenseful twists, romantic chemistry laced with humor, beautiful locations and photography, lovely music, and plenty of thrills, you will like Kites. I did, and I’m not even a big action-genre fan. It wasn’t perfect by any means; there were definite missteps (I don’t know about India, but in Amrika the police will not tolerate a thug bashing up an innocent old man in front of them, for instance. Also, those same police wouldn’t just stupidly continue driving like robots into large and destructive oncoming obstacles. And polygamy is just plain illegal here too, for everyone. Khair.).
For me though, the flaws were minor in the face of how engaged and entertained I was, and how much I really cared about what happened to the main characters. Hrithik and Barbara Mori’s performances and much-talked-about chemistry were superb. I think Hrithik has truly come into his own in this one: he is Jay, and handles the large demands of his role with ease.
Of Anurag Basu’s work, I have only seen Life…in a Metro (which I loved). As with that one, he spends painstaking time building the characters and the story layer by layer. This makes for a slow start (I actually started to count the pores in Hrithik’s and Barbara’s faces at one point, there were so many lengthy and loving closeups of them) but it pays off hugely when the action finally gets going and you really need and want to be rooting for someone.
The story is told in flashbacks. It begins with Jay (Hrithik Roshan), practically dead from a gunshot wound and other injuries, being found in a hay-filled train car on a siding at a small southwestern depot. Wounds treated, he sets out as soon as he is able across the desert in search of his beloved, desperate to find her and needing to know why she had abandoned him at death’s door.
Three months earlier, Jay had been a Las Vegas jack-of-all-trades dreaming of hitting it rich and eking out a living by marrying women who need green cards and teaching dance classes. When one of his students, Gina (Kangana Ranaut), makes it clear that she’s smitten with him he rejects her—and then realizes that she is the beloved daughter of a very wealthy, powerful and dangerous Vegas casino owner (Kabir Bedi). He hastily invites Gina to participate with him in a dance competition (which apparently has been cut from the English version! Criminal! It is amazing!) and uses their practice sessions to encourage her feelings for him.
As he is welcomed into the bloody embrace of Gina’s gangster family, he discovers that her brother Tony (Nicholas Brown), a crazy man with anger management issues, is engaged to a Mexican girl named Natasha (Barbara Mori) whom Jay has met before—the only one out of eleven green card applicants he has married that he has ever been sorry to see go.
As the days pass, he is more and more attracted to her although she speaks only Spanish. She has agreed to marry Tony for the same reason Jay is romancing Gina: money. Her family in Mexico are desperately poor and she wants to provide a better life for them. They connect with each other in small, intimate moments stolen while Gina and Tony aren’t looking, but they are conflicted over their growing feelings and their desire to lift themselves out of poverty.
Then on Tony and Natasha’s wedding day Tony’s abusive behavior causes Jay to snap, and Natasha is forced to make an on-the-spot choice between the two men. She chooses Jay, and soon they are fleeing for their lives from a furious Tony and from the police who have been told that they have robbed one of his father’s casinos.
On the run, their attraction blossoms into true love but Tony is determined to avenge the insult to his izzat and he has plenty of money and influence on his side (not to mention a pathologically violent nature).
Can they beat the odds—and their pursuers—and find peace and happiness together? What has happened to Natasha, and why is Jay now alone after being so grievously wounded? Will he find her, or will Tony find (and kill) him first?
After the show, I had the chance to discuss the film with other fans and filmmakers alike. Whatever its failures, it engendered a lively debate—always a good sign, in my opinion! It does have problems: some action scenes go on too long, some events are unrealistic, Tony’s character is almost cartoonishly OTT, and there are disconnects with the American culture we are supposed to be immersed in. But if you can overlook all that, it is intensely emotional and engaging, with wonderful performances from the lead pair. Barbara Mori is a find—gorgeous, charismatic and a good actress, and I was truly impressed with Hrithik. It’s well worth seeing on the big screen too, with fabulous locations and compelling plot twists and eye-opening stunts. It may not be “the” crossover film (if such a thing can even exist) but it’s a breathtaking ride and I’m glad I was on it.
Here I am at the premiere in New York (pink skin, gold earring) hidden behind a girl in a white shirt between Vinod Chopra’s sister (and my friend) Shelly (in the embroidered green top) and my favorite director Raju Hirani (who is standing next to Karan Johar, out of the frame). It was a complete mob scene—many thanks to Virginia for braving it and doing her level best to get a photo. And most of all a huge thank you to Raju and Shelly for inviting me and sharing a really fun evening—love you, mean it (in my best “Hollywood” voice)!
My camera is broken and my sister’s is lost, so all I had was my extremely cheap-o mobile phone one, but here are the Roshans and Barbara and Anurag Basu thanking us all for being there. Sorry, it’s Indian-dvd-manufacturer-kwality.