A “Romeo and Juliet”-style story of lovers from clashing cultures, “Bollywood Queen” attempts to fuse the fantastic flights of Hindi musicals with the more down-to-earth realism of community-specific Brit comedies like “East Is East,” “My Son the Fanatic” and “Bend It Like Beckham,” but lacks the spice of either of its influences. A riot of color and confusion stitched around a flimsy plot, director Jeremy Wooding’s debut gets off to a vibrant start and offers intermittent charm, but runs out of steam fast, which is likely to narrow commercial avenues.
Wooding’s short film “Sari & Trainers” was the inspiration for this East-meets-West musical-romance, but the director and co-scripter Neil Spencer have neglected to flesh out the schmaltzy story or develop the one-dimensional characters.
Soon after learning from her fortune-telling uncle that love and trouble are in the air, Geena (Preeya Kalidas) is saved from a falling construction beam by newly arrived Somerset transplant Jay (James McAvoy). The instant romantic sparks literally lift them off the ground. Geena comes from an Indian rag-trade family in London’s East End, while Jay gets work via his brother (Ciaran McMenamin) with a rival clothing factory. As love blossoms, so do obstacles in the form of traditional Indian expectations, family interference, cross-cultural incomprehension and inter-community hostility.
There’s a half-hearted attempt to put some beef on the narrative bones with the refusal of Geena’s father to expand the company beyond selling saris while her scheming brothers secretly branch into designer wear, adding to the conflict with Jay’s camp. The story’s sputtering motor becomes especially problematic in the chaotic final act at a family wedding.
Kalidas — the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Bombay Dreams” on the London stage — and McAvoy are attractive and appealing within the limited scope of their characters, and the exuberant mix of Hindi and English songs provides a certain freshness. But too many of the songs seem wedged in rather than flowing organically from the English-dialogue action. Some of the bigger production numbers suffer from sloppy staging, with Wooding displaying no feel for the kind of dance sequences any decent musicvideo director can pull off.
Jono Smith’s fluid widescreen camerawork boasts plenty of energy, particularly in the terrific opening scenes, as it weaves through the London traffic and bustling neighborhood. Steve Beresford supplies a robust, Indian-flavored score, and production values also are rich and vividly colorful.