Bollywood's summer onslaught of star vehicles continues with highly awaited sophomore outing of "Dil chahta hai" helmer Farhan Akhtar, about a rich Indian kid becoming a man fighting Pakistani incursions. Hrithik Roshan can't carry a thinly scripted movie: Look for a hunky start on worldwide release, followed by wobbly legs.

Bollywood’s summer onslaught of star vehicles continues with “Lakshya,” the highly awaited sophomore outing of “Dil chahta hai” helmer Farhan Akhtar. The good news is that the Himalayan foothills have rarely looked better in this well-tooled yarn about a rich Indian kid becoming a man fighting Pakistani incursions. The bad news is that pin-up Hrithik Roshan can’t carry a thinly scripted movie that leaves the viewer gagging for some good old Bollywood extravagance instead of more realistic, Western-style dramatics. Look for a hunky start on worldwide release June 18, followed by wobbly legs.

Akhtar, son of veteran writer Javed Akhtar and scripter Honey Irani (who made an impressive helming debut last year with “Armaan”), brought a fresh spin to formulaic material with “Dil chahta hai” (2001). The story of three college friends who later drift apart earned a place in recent Bollywood history with its smooth technique, use of direct sound and, most of all, relaxed perfs.

“Lakshya,” despite its sizable posted budget of 330 million rupees ($7 million), is a smaller film in terms of character, with the story centered on one protagonist, and most of the supports largely there for decoration.

This would have worked fine if (a) Roshan were a more involving actor, and (b) if Javed Akhtar’s script had given him more to bite on. But for a movie that finesses traditional Bollywood antics, there’s not much here to take their place: Roshan is much more at home in straightforward genre material and, though “Lakshya” rarely drags across its three hours, the viewer longs for the movie to bust out of its britches with a splashy musical number or “Mission Kashmir”-type heroics. This is a star-driven blockbuster in permanent denial.

Roshan is Lt. Karan Shergill, first seen arriving at an army outpost near Kargil, in remote northwest India. It’s 1999, and the real-life border incursion by Pakistani troops (also the subject of J.P. Dutta’s war epic, “LOC: Kargil,” earlier this year) is about to begin. Back in Delhi, Karan’s onetime g.f., TV journo Romila Dutta (Preity Zinta), is propositioned by an old friend, but she can’t get Karan out of her mind.

Flashbacks limn Romila and Karan’s college years, when she was an activist and he a long-haired slacker. She berates him for having no goal (lakshya) in life, and he signs up for the army almost as an afterthought. After losing his nerve during training, Karan gets a dressing down by his father (Boman Irani) and, in a sudden conversion, becomes a gung-ho soldier who graduates with honors.

Back in the present, Part 1 ends with the news of Pakistani invaders occupying Peak 5179, and Karan’s commander, Col. Sunil Damle (superstar vet Amitabh Bachchan, in a relatively small role), launches Operation Vijay, to take the hill “at any cost.” Second half, with Romila on hand with her TV crew, basically follows Karan and his small band of men.

War scenes are more varied, and with a clearer sense of geography, than those in “LOC: Kargil,” and the movie briefly sparkles in the final reels with a “Cliffhanger”-style mission, complete with impressive visual effects. In general, however, Farhan Akhtar’s direction and U.S. d.p. Christopher Popp’s widescreen lensing have a handsome coolness — rather like Roshan himself — that doesn’t draw the viewer in.

In a reasonably developed role, the pixie-ish Zinta shows again she’s one of Bollywood’s most natural actresses, and the large contingent of soldiers is well cast, if never especially defined. Om Puri contribs a small role as a grizzled major.

Songs are a mixture of marching tunes and soundtrack numbers, with one out-and-out fantasy number (designed in B&W) that neatly showcases Roshan’s gymnastic skills, but seems out of place.

Lakshya

India

Production

An Excel & AA Films release (in U.K.) of an Excel Entertainment production, in association with UTV Motion Pictures. (International sales: Excel, Mumbai/London.) Produced by Ritesh Sidhwani. Executive producer, Zoya Akhtar. Co-producer, Ronnie Screwvala. Directed by Farhan Akhtar. Screenplay, Javed Akhtar.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Christopher Popp; editor, Anand Subaya; music, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; lyrics, Javed Akhtar; art directors, Sunil Babu, Sonal Sawant, Suzzanne Merwanji; costume designer, Arjun Bhasin; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Roger Savage; sound designer, Nakul Kamte; choreographers, Prabhu Deva, Vaibhavi Merchant, Bosco Ceasar; visual effects supervisors, Craig Mumma, Mark Kolbe (Los Angeles), Keya Banerjee (Mumbai); special effects supervisor, Angelo Sahin; stunt co-ordinator, Shyam Kaushal; 2nd unit director, Chris Anderson; associate producers, Pravin Talreja, Zarina Mehta; assistant director, Reena Kagti; casting, Nandini Srikant. Reviewed at Century preview theater, London, June 10, 2004. Running time: 185 MIN. (I: 82 MIN.; II: 103 MIN.)

With

Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Om Puri, Sharad S. Kapoor, Raj Zutshi, Sushant Singh, Prashant Chainani, Shakeel Khan, Ranvir Shoerey, Ajai Jose, Aditya Srivastava, Abir Goswami, Parmeet Sethi, Boman Irani, Kushal Punjabi, Sanjay M. Singh, Nawab Shah. (Hindi dialogue)
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