An attempt to merge Hollywood and Bollywood, Somnath Sen’s debut feature, a May/December romance between an East Indian California teen (Armol Mhatre) and the title character, his voluptuous sari-clad visiting professor from Bombay (Dimple Kapadia), succeeds only as a cultural exchange of cinematic cliches. When the duo falls in love, aud is treated to a tune-filled montage of them eating hot dogs and shooting hoops in the best tradition of sappy Hollywood romancers. Conversely, when they finally have sex, Bombay-patented leaping flames foreground the silhouetted lovemaking. Emigre themes and recognizable Hindi stars may secure “Leela” comfortable cable and homevid niches in the larger Indian community but crossover potential appears limited.
Nothing if not ambitious, Sen throws a little of everything into the melting pot — a touch of puberty comedy, a dash of Bollywood musical, a pinch of women’s lib and heaps of ethnic-identity confusion. A surprising number of characters sport representative yet complex backstories — the teen’s independent divorcee mother and feckless father, Leela’s loving but unfaithful husband. Sadly, the variegated elements never really jell and pic, despite the valiant efforts of its distinguished cast, remains well-intentioned but pedestrian.