Bollywood meets South India in "Saathiya," a Hindi remake of a Tamil B.O. hit. Paired with Vivek Oberoi ("Company") in a standard love story told in a slightly unstandard way, young actress Rani Mukherji steps up to the plate with one of her best perfs to date, making this an enjoyable <I>masala</I> item for Bollywood buffs.

Bollywood meets South India in “Saathiya,” a Hindi remake of a Tamil B.O. hit in which the more relaxed southern style of filmmaking has a loosening effect on its northern cousin’s formulae. Paired with boyish-looking up-and-comer Vivek Oberoi (“Company”) in a standard love story told in a slightly unstandard way, young actress Rani Mukherji steps up to the plate with one of her best perfs to date, making this an enjoyable masala item for Bollywood buffs. Initial biz at home has been average since the pic opened Dec. 20, as counter-programming to male-dominated gangster blockbuster “Kaante.”

Remakes are nothing new to the voracious Hindi industry, but this one sticks pretty close to the 2000 original, “Alai payuthey” (Waves), written and helmed by Mani Ratnam, the Tamil industry’s internationally best-known filmmaker. Lyricist Gulzar is responsible for the Hindi dialogue, many of the original’s songs by noted composer A.R. Rahman are re-used, pic’s plot still revolves round a train station, and even two star names from the original pop up for no discernible reason in the final act. Remake is confidently helmed by Shaad Ali, a onetime assistant to Ratnam.

Story is told largely in flashbacks — announced by the frozen widescreen image turning to ochre and receding within the frame — as Aditya Sehgal (Oberoi) waits one evening at a Mumbai station for the love of his life, Suhani Sharma (Mukherji). First flashback shows their meeting at a wedding where, in a zippy musical number, Suhani is one of the dancers. He’s a law student and she’s studying pediatrics, and when they later pass each other on different trains — one of several sequences fluidly shot and edited that sum up the film’s special flavor — a spark flies.

However, Suhani ain’t no pushover and, though she obviously likes Aditya a lot, she turns down his marriage proposal, citing her upcoming finals. There’s also a class difference between their families, pointed up when the parents meet and Suhani’s poorer father (Sharat Saxena) is miffed at the perceived condescension of Aditya’s upper-middle class dad (Satish Shah).

But when Suhani heads south to Tamil Nadu to work for a brief spell as an intern, Aditya pursues her, and they agree to marry in secret and live apart in Mumbai until Suhani’s elder sister, Dina (Sandhya Mridul), is hitched. That plan is torpedoed when Aditya’s family tries to pair Suhani off with Aditya’s younger brother, and Suhani blurts out the truth.

The light, flowing feel of the first half — enhanced by d.p. Anil Mehta’s gliding camerawork and sharp colors — continues after intermission as the plot proper gets going. The two are now living together in a cheap rooftop apartment and an entertaining number musically sketches the ups-and-downs of early married life. However, personal dramas and misunderstandings intrude, bringing the story up to the present and explaining why Suhani is late for her meeting with Aditya at the railway station.

Though the story lacks the simple charm of the Tamil original, and Bollywood conventions invade the pic at, among other places, a beach number (showcasing singer Shamita Shetty), there’s still a freshness to the movie, thanks to some witty dialogue by Gulzar and — especially — the perfs of the two leads. Oberoi makes a likable, unnarcissistic Aditya and pairs well with the vivacious, husky-voiced Mukherji, 24, who’s at the top of her game as the all-or-nothing Suhani. Among a solid cast of supports, TV thesp Mridul stands out as Suhani’s sensible older sister.

Musical sequences, which are more rhythmic than melodically memorable, run the gamut from fully fledged fantasy numbers to montages with songs on the soundtrack, though there are no mass-choreographed showstoppers. Tech credits are very good throughout.

Saathiya

India

Production

A Yash Raj Films presentation of a Kaleidoscope Entertainment production. Produced by Bobby Bedi. Directed by Shaad Ali. Screenplay, Mani Ratnam, Gulzar, based on Ratnam's Tamil screenplay "Alai payuthey" (Waves).

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Anil Mehta; editor, Sreekar Prasad; music, A.R. Rahman; lyrics, Gulzar; art directors, Chetna Prabhu, Priya Raghunathan; costume designers, Manish Malhotra, Ferzeen Khambatta; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Robert Taylor; choreographers, Saroj Khan, Geeta, Piyush; assistant directors, Kiran Rao, Richa Gupta, Hasan Kutty. Reviewed at Warner Village West End 8, London, Dec. 23, 2002. Running time: 137 MIN. (I: 70 MIN.; II: 67 MIN.)

With

Rani Mukherji, Vivek Oberoi, Sandhya Mridul, Tanuja, Satish Shah, Sharat Saxena, Swaroop Sampat, Tinnu Anand, Shamita Shetty, Shah Rukh Khan, Tabu. (Hindi dialogue)

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