"Nothing is what it appears to be" runs the ad tag to "Bollywood/Hollywood" -- but the problem is that <I>everything </I>in this faux-hip, Toronto-set, cross-cultural comedy is exactly what it appears to be.

“Nothing is what it appears to be” runs the ad tag to “Bollywood/Hollywood” — but the problem is that everything in this faux-hip, Toronto-set, cross-cultural comedy is exactly what it appears to be. Lacking any kind of nuance, and oozing a self-satisfied smirk at its own dandy cleverness, this latest Western attempt to climb on the Bollywood bandwagon may shake out a few B.O. rupees in Ontario but will look depressingly parochial in more worldly markets.

Pic comes with impeccable ethnic credentials in the form of writer-director Deepa Mehta, who was born in India and moved to Canada in 1973. Mehta clearly knows her subject and her Bollywood movies but, as in her previous “Fire” (1996) and “Earth” (1998), shows few discernible smarts in transforming interesting material into a capable movie. Dialogue that no doubt looked smart on paper sits flat on the screen like a cold waffle.

Constructed in the vein of a corny Bollywood movie through North American eyes, film starts with the Seth family’s paterfamilias conking out in front of his young son, Rahul (Rohan Rama Bader). “You now hold the baseball bat of destiny,” croaks Daddy-ji (Jolly Bader).

Ten years later, Rahul (Rahul Khanna) is a successful businessman with a — gasp! — white singer for a girlfriend (Jessica Pare). Neither his Mummy-ji (Moushumi Chatterjee) nor his grumpy Grandma-ji (Dina Pathak) are too pleased by this development, though his preening desi sister, Twinky (Rishma Malik), and bratty younger bro, Govind (Arjun Lombardi-Singh), aren’t too worried.

When Rahul’s g.f. accidentally kills herself in L.A. while trying to, uh, levitate over the “Hollywood” sign, Mummy-ji gives him an ultimatum: Find a nice Indian girl to marry or she’ll call off Twinky’s upcoming marriage. As Twinky is secretly pregnant, Rahul understandably finds himself under pressure to comply.

Enter Sue (Canadian-born, Polish-Indian model Lisa Ray), a sassy escort who claims to be Hispanic and agrees to stand in as Rahul’s g.f. until Twinky has tied the knot. It’s a strict business deal, with no sex or late nights, and four-star hotel accommodations for the duration. Rahul gets his cross-dressing chauffeur, Rocky (Ranjit Chowdhry), to coach her in Indian manners and all seems to go well — until Sue reveals her real name is Sunita Singh and Rahul starts falling for her.

Mehta kits the plot out with numerous jokey captions (“Devdas: very tragic Bollywood hero”) as well as seven original songs composed by Sandeep Chowta that are intended to parody Bollywood conventions. Though the latter may play OK with anyone who’s never watched a genuine masala meller, they’re largely uninspired musically and way too short, as if Mehta lost the courage to go the whole enchilada.

Only one number, at Rahul’s engagement party, briefly takes flight with the presence of real-life Bollywood star Akshaye Khanna, though Mehta stages the sequence with way too much steadicam; another number, set on the balcony of a Toronto hotel, is embarrassingly cheesy. Unfortunately, Mehta underlines the difference with the real thing by often having clips from Bollywood musical numbers playing on TV in the background of scenes.

Dialogue, which is entirely built out of cross-cultural cliches dating from a generation or more ago, lacks comic timing and conviction. Khanna is marginally better than Ray in the acting stakes but makes for an overall lame lead, while the rest of the cast chews the scenery to varying degrees. Technically, pacing is dull and Doug Koch’s widescreen lensing only so-so. Ritu Kumar’s Indian costumes are colorful.

Bollywood/Hollywood

Canada

Production

A Mongrel Media release of a Different Tree Same Wood production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam/Hong Kong.) Produced by David Hamilton. Executive producers, Hamilton, Ajay Virmani, Camelia Frieberg. Co-producer, Bob Wertheimer. Directed, written by Deepa Mehta.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe Toronto color, widescreen), Doug Koch; editor, Barry Farrell; music, Sandeep Chowta; additional background music, Pravin Mani; lyrics, Ajay Virmani, Jaideep; production designer, Tamara Deverell; costume designer, Anne Dixon; costume designer (Indian), Ritu Kumar; sound (stereo), Elius Caruso; choreographer, David Connolly; assistant director, David McAree. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Perspective Canada, opener), Sept. 7, 2002. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Rahul Khanna, Lisa Ray, Moushumi Chatterjee, Dina Pathak, Ranjit Chowdhry, Kulbushan Kharbanda, Jessica Pare, Jolly Bader, Rishma Malik, Arjun Lombardi-Singh, Jazz Mann, Leesa Gaspari, Neelam Mansingh, Rohan Rama Bader, Akshaye Khanna.
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