Appellate Judge James A. Stewart admits that he'd never heard of Urmila Mathondkar before watching this Bollywood masala—but then again, she's never heard of him, either.
"There are so many faces…mine ought to be recognized…
When we first see Mili (Urmila Mathondkar), she's skipping down the street, attracting a crowd of astonished onlookers. "Dance with me and steal some color from the world," she sings, as the scene morphs into a dance number, with rapid-fire changing of scenery and costumes. There's even a group of armed soldiers dancing along to her beat at one point. As she leads a karate class with her more peaceful moves, the scene changes abruptly…
"You've ruined my dream!" she tells her mother as she's awakened. As you might imagine, she's a Bollywood dancer, but instead of being the star around whom all the others revolve, she's one of the extras dancing in the background. In the morning banter, we learn that Mom is harsh on her daydreaming daughter, but Dad encourages her to pursue her dreams. He even does some mock movie moves (not as smoothly as his daughter does, of course) to torment his stern wife.
Mili's soon going to get the break she longs for, as star Raj Kamal (Jackie Shroff) watches her rehearse on the beach one day and decides that she's his next leading lady—maybe even outside the studio. Since the course of movie love can't run smoothly, this sets up the conflict. Munna (Aamir Khan), a tough guy who lifts bananas from street vendors, and who can't sit through a movie without causing a fight, also adores Mili, and is working up the courage to propose.
Munna plans to seal the deal over an expensive dinner at a fine hotel. As he and Mili are waiting for their order, Raj spots her and invites her to visit a famous director with him—leaving Munna sitting alone. The waiters arrange their exquisite meal for two in a ring around the small table as Munna sits, slumping with defeat. Having set up the cliffhanger—Will Raj or Munna win the heart of the lovely Mili?—it's time for the intermission. Put the DVD on pause, and run to the kitchen for a samosa.
Bollywood Dreams (originally released as Rangeela, or "Colorful One") is an example of Bollywood moviemaking. The movies are often referred to as masala, since there's a little bit of everything here—romance, action, comedy, and music. You might not have heard of Bollywood, but the popular blend of Hindi music and melodrama has been around since 1931. The Mumbai film scene, which has been gaining global attention in recent years, made a big impact on the U.S. film radar this year, thanks to Aishwarya Rai's Bride and Prejudice. Wikipedia notes that Bollywood sold 3.6 billion tickets in 2002, compared to 2.6 billion for Hollywood. The movie budgets aren't as huge, though, because ticket prices are much cheaper in Mumbai than in Miami.
Hollywood doesn't make movies like this, but it used to. The exaggerated expressions and gestures remind me of Hollywood's silent era; the throwbacks to Technicolor musicals (the DVD case compares this one to Singing in the Rain, with good reason) are even more obvious. While there are some steamy moments, the film cuts away from even a kiss (a little stricter than the Hays Code). The simple storylines give it a universal quality. If you give it a chance, you'll probably enjoy the music and dancing, and be able to follow the plot even without translation. An occasional "Oh my God" or "He loves me so much" does pop into the dialogue, since English is widely spoken in India, so you might have enough to go on anyway. Once you get into it, the movie is pure escapism.
Urmila Mathondkar's star presence shines through despite the language barrier. While she stresses Mili's strong drive to succeed—you can see the fear etched in her face when she freezes and botches her lines in her first day in the spotlight—she's also playful, teasing and mocking the admiring Munna. Jackie Shroff plays the nice-guy star with warmth, helping his leading lady while dealing with his growing feelings for her. The exaggerated, childlike Munna might be annoying at times, puffing his chest to boast in dance numbers and chasing Mili around like he's a three-year-old during an argument, but Aamir Khan humanizes the swagger, showing Munna's shy side as he tries to propose to Mili.
This particular Bollywood movie pokes fun at moviemaking: on a soundstage for the movie's fictional flick, the action shifts abruptly from a fight scene to a dance number, reflecting the abrupt shifts found even in this movie. We also get to meet the prima donna star, whose mother rushes into the midst of filming when the lady twists her ankle. Movie buffs will enjoy the comic performance by Gulshan Grover as the director, who yells "Cut! Cut!" even though the camera isn't moving, and complains about how Steven Spielberg doesn't have to put up with the nonsense he deals with.
The song-and-dance material isn't just window dressing, by the way. The songs introduce characters and their internal conflicts, and also move the plot forward. They switch settings quickly, and they're not realistic—as you might realize when Munna and Mili ride high in the sky on a flying sofa, but they shouldn't leave you puzzled if you've ever seen an MTV video.
The transfer here leaves a lot to be desired, but I was left with the feeling that Pathfinder wasn't working with a pristine print. There are spots and lines through the picture at times, and a number of outdoor scenes are washed-out, muddy, or faded, especially when the action's taking place at the beach. I also saw scenes that came through with all the color the original title implies. I found no problems with the soundtrack; I will note that I couldn't dig up full information on the sound, although the original movie was in Dolby Digital.
The English subtitles were a couple beats behind the Hindi conversations, occasionally making it tough to figure out which person is talking. The subtitles lead to another problem. Since the film is lengthy (although it falls short of the 175 minutes listed on the box), I had to stop a couple of times while watching. Thus, I discovered that you can't get English subtitles in the scene selection. That's not good if Pathfinder wants to expand the audience. As for extras, a little bit of knowledge about the stars and Bollywood would be helpful.
The film's not guilty, but Pathfinder is guilty of passing on opportunities to bridge the cultural gaps with its presentation. Since a Bollywood movie might not even have subtitles in a theatrical showing, this DVD of Bollywood Dreams still is an easy way to sample India's movie masala.
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