This award-winning 1992 Tamil production from respected writer/director Mani Ratnam has been dusted off and slightly recut for international distribution, thanks to the growing Western interest in Bollywood films, exemplified by “Lagaan,” and a timely theme of love triumphing over terrorism. Ratnam has long been embraced on the festival circuit as a director who manages to package serious themes within the conventions of commercial Indian cinema, and “Roja” is a perfect example: Between scenes of torture and beatings, characters burst into catchy songs provided by A. R. Rahman, who also did “Lagaan.” Despite “Roja’s” undeniable entertainment value, it remains unclear whether Western audiences will accept both the melodramatic excess and the cultural assumptions about marriage on which the plot rests.
Roja (Madhubala) is an appealing country girl, who, for dubious reasons, finds herself not entirely willingly married to Rishi (Aravind Swamy), an urban computer engineer specializing in codebreaking. When Rishi is kidnapped by Kashmiri separatists, Roja realizes the depth of her love and does everything possible to secure his release. The leads are undeniably appealing, and Rahman’s great tunes are matched by stunning cinematography from Santhosh Sivan.