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A good-looking guy's demise forces him to switch bodies in order to return to Earth.

(Hindi, English dialogue)

A good-looking guy’s accidental demise forces harried bureaucrats running the afterlife to arrange a switcheroo for his return to Earth in director-actor Rajat Kapoor’s high-concept “Fatso!” Part of a trend in Mumbai-shot pics that can’t be categorized as classically Bollywood, the film trades in all manner of Hollywood tropes, starting with “Heaven Can Wait.” Kapoor (“Mixed Doubles”) tones down his farcical side while at the same time blatantly playing to the crowd, a wily plan that should do well with the kind of folks depicted onscreen — young, urban Indian adults.

Navin (Purab Kohli) and Nandini (rising star Gul Panag) squabble like any other couple, but he convinces her to marry him in the opening minutes during a New Year’s celebration with pals Yash (Neil Bhoopalam), Sudeep (Ranvir Shorey) and Yash’s prickly g.f., Tanuju (Gunjan Bakshi). Party sequence establishes the overweight Sudeep as liked by all but very much the odd man out, happy to work on his painting and live at home with his mom.

When the car in which Yash, Sudeep and Navin are traveling crashes, not everyone survives. The sharp turn into tragedy is a bit of a daring storytelling strategy for Kapoor and co-writer Saurabh Shukla, though the shift also leads to the film’s fantastical conceit, in which Navin finds himself facing off with bureaucrats in a busy purgatory of office spaces, desks and recently dead souls trying to figure out what’s happened.

During this phase, “Fatso!” resembles a Preston Sturges comedy with its combination of human-scaled dilemmas, sharply drawn characters bleeding into caricature, and a pointedly satirical attack on contemporary life — namely, India’s world-famous bureaucratic maze. The solution fits a body-switching formula favored by Hollywood well over a decade ago, and now seems a touch antique.

Shorey, a Kapoor regular, is critical toward making the rest of “Fatso!” work. While the fatsuit the actor must wear is beyond ridiculous, Shorey overcomes this and other hiccups with a nicely tuned performance that plays on the character’s vulnerabilities and the mind-boggling dilemma (best left unexplained) he realizes he has to resolve without hopelessly damaging his friends’ feelings. A sidebar drama with Tanuju needlessly distracts and pushes pic’s running time too long.

Fans of up-and-comers like Panag and Kohli should enjoy their screentime — which includes plenty of romance — and the ultimately cheery, life-affirming tone confirms this as a mainstream entertainment with satirical nudges. As usual for Kapoor and producing outfit PNC, the production package is aces, led by designer Meenal Agarwal inventive vision of the life beyond.



Production: A Pritish Nandy Communications presentation. (International sales: Pritish Nandy Communications, Mumbai.) Produced by Pritish Nandy, Rangita Pritish-Nandy. Executive producers, Rajat Kapoor, Bobbie Ghosh. Directed by Rajat Kapoor. Screenplay, Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), Rafey Mahmood; editor, Suresh Pal; music, Sagar Desai; production designer, Meenal Agarwal; supervising sound editor, Resul Pookutty. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, April 20, 2010. (In Indian Film Festival Los Angeles.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With: (Hindi, English dialogue)

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