Eye-watering production values and a sparkling performance by Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai more than compensate for a thin script in “Kuch naa kaho,” an impressive debut by young, Stanford educated helmer Rohan Sippy, son of veteran director-producer Ramesh (“Sholay,” 1975). Yarn about a carefree bachelor who finds his ideal woman may be beyond his reach was only moderately successful on release last fall, considering its reported big budget of $3.5 million, but ranks as one of the classiest Hindi productions of last year, of interest to offshore Bollywood programmers.
Raj Malhotra (Abhishek Bachchan, son of megastar Amitabh) is a boyish, pampered NRI (non-resident Indian) in Gotham who doesn’t believe in arranged marriages. On a trip back home to attend a cousin’s wedding, he’s suckered into meeting some prospective brides by his uncle (Satish Shah), who’s deputized one of his employees, fashion designer Namrata (Rai), into arranging the dates.
This involves Raj and Namrata spending plenty of time together and, once she gets over her initial dislike of him, the inevitable happens. However, just prior to the intermission, Raj is gobsmacked to find she not only has a 7-year-old son (cute Parth Dave) but she also distrusts love, after being dumped by her husband (Arbaaz Khan) just when she was giving birth in hospital.
Nonetheless, in Part Two, Raj takes it on the chin and becomes close to Namrata and her kid. Until, that is, a classic “surprise” development creates emotional turmoil for our beautiful single mother.
Plot is perilously light on actual developments, with even the usual narrative twists only mild by Bollywood standards. But such is the on-screen chemistry between Rai and Bachchan, and the sheer flow of the whole production, that there’s little downtime in the 168 minutes.
Sippy’s direction — and sense of detail, even in backgrounds and with extras — is amazingly assured, and his seasoned crew has contributed to one of the best-looking Bollywood productions of recent years, up there with “K3G” and “Devdas.” However, unlike in “Devdas,” the production and costume design don’t overwhelm the human story, and the organic musical numbers, choreographed for character first and spectacle second, provide some glorious opportunities for Rai and Bachchan to strut their stuff. Opener, delivered almost in sprechgesang, is a real charmer, and even the obligatory disco number is handled with class. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s songs initially seem pleasant rather than knockout, but quickly become catchy on subsequent listening.
Bachchan, an actor who’s still struggling to make a mark under his father’s giant shadow, is just fine here as the easygoing Raj, especially in pic’s sparkling first hour. But the movie is Rai’s through and through, packaging all of her individual qualities — model looks, girlish spirit, mature sexiness — for the first time in a single performance. “Kuch” again proves that, given the chance, she’s also an entertaining light comedienne.
Widescreen lensing by South Indian d.p. V. Manikandan, with its full colors, is topnotch, lapping up exteriors in Kerala, Mauritius and Malaysia, and resonant in studio interiors. Color coordination between sets and costumes (especially Rai’s stylish wardrobe) is a perpetual delight without being overdone. Original Hindi title means “Don’t Say Anything.”