Noted helmer Santosh Sivan switches tacks with "Nine Emotions," a plea for transsexual understanding that's far too broadly played for Western tastes. Winner of the National Award for Tamil film, pic's mediocre visuals and drag star Bobby Darling's outrageous camping never go beyond two emotions, let alone nine.

Noted helmer Santosh Sivan, best known for richly lensed pics like “The Terrorist” and “Asoka,” switches tacks with “Nine Emotions,” a plea for transsexual understanding that’s far too broadly played for Western tastes. An adolescent girl becomes the sympathetic vessel for the fictional plot’s discovery of India’s “third sex,” wrapped around a more docu look at an annual transgender festival. Winner of the National Award for Tamil film, pic’s mediocre visuals and drag star Bobby Darling’s outrageous camping never go beyond two emotions, let alone nine.

Precocious 13-year-old Swetha (Swetha) spies her uncle Gautham (Khushbu, sporting a laughably fake moustache) putting on women’s clothing, and follows him to the annual Koovagam festival — subject of the BBC docu “India’s Ladyboys” — in the hopes of bringing him back home. Along the way, she’s befriended by a simpering Bobby Darling (playing himself), who acts as a protective godmother and helps explain the Hindu mythology behind the celebrations. Objective look at the festivities are the pic’s most interesting sections, but the whole lacks a sense of build-up and Sivan’s compositional eye appears to have been compromised by the restrictions of a lower budget.

Nine Emotions

India

Production

A Handmade Films production, in association with Santosh Sivan Prods. (International sales: Handmade Films, Mumbai.) Produced by Sunil Dosh, Sivan. Executive producers, Mark Burton, Anne-Gaelle Kerhoas. Directed by Santosh Sivan. Screenplay, Sivan, Raaja Chandrasekar, Vishnu Vardan.

Crew

Camera (color), Sivan; editor, A. Sreekar Prasad; music, Aslam Mustafa; art directors, M.A. Shan, G.R.N. Sivasankkar, G.R.N. Sivakumaar; costume designer, Anu Vardhan; line producer, Ganapathi Subramanian. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Time & Tide), Feb. 3, 2006. Tamil, English dialogue. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Swetha, Eiji K. Umamahesh, Apeksha Bhat, Khushbu, Bobby Darling, Prince Pranav, Aasha Bharathy, Neethu S. Nair.
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