JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Bollywood Beats (Director/Writer: Mehul Shah) - September 15, 2012
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Bollywood Beats

3 3
113 min.

BGP307
More dance, less drama

Fast on the high heels of Go Go Crazy (cross-reference below), Mehul Shah has written, directed and starred in another film that uses the frequently employed plot point of a dance competition to drive/focus the action. Unlike Go Go, the contestants are not buff male strippers. Instead, two fine looking men (Shah cast himself as gay-and-getting-used-to-it, dancer-in-training Vincent; Sachin Batt—stealing the show early on with his own audition and subsequent in-the-shower encore—is perfect for the part of Raj, who has six months to make a go of a dance career or start earning his keep alongside his father in the jewelry business) learn the finer points of 21st century bhangra and quite a lot all about themselves.

With Raj as the leader and Vincent his puppy-eyed student (but the possibility of love at first bruah is quashed early on: “It would be the first time I was on that side,” offers the instructor but, nonetheless, agrees to accompany his eager charge on his first outing to a gay club), the intrepid troupe is, er, fleshed out by four generations of women.

Leader of the female pack is determined spinster Jyoti (Lillete Dubey suits the role of mover and shaker to a T with just a pinch of smouldering lavender). Sarita Josh is immediately lovable as the matriarch Vina who has a “past” in long-ago Bollywood films. Her granddaughter, Puja (Mansi Patel) broods for her inattentive father but finds new life as she works through Raj’s paces (mom has died, dad remarried). Playing Laxmi, a trophy bride who has been brought to Los Angeles by her husband to fulfill her destiny as cook, maid and—consequently—game show devotee, Pooja Kumar positively blossoms as—under the extra attentive ministrations of Jyoti—she sheds both her inhibitions and cheating husband with grit and grace.

For his second feature, Shah has tried to make the script a kind of send up of all things Bollywood while updating the dance track. The former works exceedingly well. Worth the price of admission alone is the competition number where past decades are put under the Indian-focused microscope: ‘60s—too-loud by-half outfits; ‘70s— sultriness and smoky backgrounds; the ‘80s sparkle and glitter to illuminate one and all; the ‘90s feature lots of hats and primary colours where red is definitely in; and finally now, where there’s a lot more craven drums, undulating moves and vocal exclamation points adding still more raw passion to the result.

The trouble comes from the mockumentary aspect. It’s as if Shah had compiled every cliché from Indian culture and angst then thrown them all together to make his points between the too infrequent dance routines. Just a few: wives in silent servitude, dads who want their sons to (a) make a living (b) be heterosexual, the pain of a broken home on the “abandoned” child, the quiet pride/repressed shame that allows an unfaithful husband to continue banging—wait for it—his wife’s supposed school chum.

The combined effect (along with some basic narrative miscues: How can pre-cuckolded Laxmi attend a 5 o’clock class when it’s already known she must be home at 4 o’clock to begin preparing her master’s dinner?) is too much to bear even as most Bollywood productions are savoured more for their look, music and movement than their storylines.

Next time around—especially for Shah and Batt whose collective talents carry the show—let’s hope the raw material is further exploited and the societal issues are pared down. There’s enough impressive material found here to whet the appetite for another excursion into the evolution of East-meets-West on the dance floor. JWR

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