The way in which mainstream Asian cinema works by entirely different rules from contempo Western fare is strikingly evident in “Main prem ki diwani hoon,” a lavish, three-hour-plus chunk of brainless Bollywood masala that makes even the recent “Armaan” look intelligent. Expertly juggling the usual cliches and stereotypes, and spinning the pin-head plot into a mass of candyfloss, lighthearted romantic pic about two guys falling for the same girl still packs an emotional punch as the tumblers click into place during the final half-hour. Bollywood devotees should lap it up as a huge, guilty pleasure.
Rajshri Prods.’ half-century rep for wholesome family entertainment is put to the test by helmer Sooraj R. Barjatya, whose previous three pics, “Maine pyar kiya” (1989), “Hum aapke hain koun!” (1994) and “Hum saath-saath hain” (1999), were big grossers for the company. Latest big-budgeter, also packaged in colorful style, repeats the same formula of young entanglements and traditional family values, though here there’s a more Western edge to the upfront, teasing sexuality.
Pout queen Kareena Kapoor, encoring from “Hum saath-saath hain,” plays Sanjana, spoilt younger daughter of a book publisher (Pankaj Kapur) and his wife (Rima) in the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh. After defiantly flashing her independent-grrrl credentials in a college musical, Sanjana finds herself lined up by her parents for marriage to Prem, scion of the filthy-rich Kumar family.
Prem (Hrithik Roshan) turns out to be a muscular young joker who’s into action sports and, after initially resisting his charms, the next hour or so is entrely taken up with both eventually falling for each other, via five musical numbers, various exotic settings (actually lensed in New Zealand and Mauritius) and a whole two-reel sequence set on a “Love Boat”-themed hotel complete with game- show hosts.
Pic’s major twist comes just before the intermission, after which another guy, also called Prem Kumar (Abhishek Bachchan), arrives on the scene and all three leads find themselves emotionally conflicted amid the usual personal and family pressures.
Entire first half functions as a kind of elaborate shaggy-dog intro to the main drama, which is packed into part two. Latter section hardly wins any prizes for emotional complexity, but the way in which the pieces fall into place, especially during the final reels, is still clever.
Mostly clad in her usual garb of tight jeans and tops, Kapoor is in turbo-charged form as Sanjana, but it’s megastar Roshan who radically changes his image here, showing a much more extrovert, playful side from his usual George Chakiris-like brooding persona. The chemistry between the two motors the picture, while Bachchan is lower-key as Prem No. 2 and Kapur, as Sanjana’s father, is quietly impressive. Comic interludes by Johny Lever, as Prem No. 2’s assistant, fit far better here than in many masala productions.
Production values are tops on all levels, with production design and costumes frequently dazzling. Anu Malik’s musical numbers are more rhythmic than tuneful, but performed with energy by the whole cast and numerous extras. Animated inserts — especially Sanjana’s family parrot, whose vocabulary is composed of titles of Bollywood hits — are technically smooth and entertaining. Pic’s title means “I’m Crazy About Love.”