Bollywood/Hollywood | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper



In her amusing lampoon of All Things Indian, Deepa Mehta tells the story of Rahul, a prosperous, 30ish, self-proclaimed "techno-geek" who falls in love with a New Age white girl, which displeases his upscale but still ridiculously traditional Indian Hindu Canadian immigrant family.

Fortunately for Rahul's mother (who eschews Christian blasphemy, just in case) and grandmother (a prickly dowager who quotes Shakespeare), the girl dies while practicing her levitation techniques above the Hollywood hills (apparently her karma slips, and she falls to her death). Depressed one night, sitting alone in a bar, Rahul (Rahaul Kahanna) is approached by Sue (Lisa Ray), a slinky grifter and brainy existentialist (with, let's say, a Sikh-ret) who tells him that she can be anything he wants her to be. So they devise a plan ("Movie Plot 101," they call it) to pass her off as Indian so Rahul can have a suitable date for the wedding of his younger sister.

From there, it's pure Hollywood -- and also pure Bollywood, a term that refers to Indian's prolific industry of interminable comedies and dramas laced with elaborate musical numbers. These films are hugely popular in India and a gentle joke around the world. So in Bollywood/Hollywood, Mehta uses their style and reputation to poke fun at the bizarre mix of modernity and backwardness in upscale Indian culture, whether in India or Toronto.

Her witty masala, which even throws in a kitchen sink, features a family chauffer who's secretly a drag queen; Rahul's kid brother, who films everything with a home-movie camera ("this is way better than any Bollywood movie") and gets beat up by tougher Asian kids at school; and of course, lots of production numbers, introduced with their cheesy titles flashed across the screen. At a pre-wedding party, in a scene that Mehta calls "Om Sweet Om," Sue sings that she's "Simply Sweet and Sassy," and Rahul's melodious mother, filled with the joy of her children's engagements, tells the world, "My Heart Is a Pigeon Coop -- Come In."

These elaborate spectacles are coyly of the "so bad they're good" variety -- just slightly off kilter, and not quite "real" Bollywood song and dance. But as the chauffeur observes, "Everyone's a sucker for exotica," and Sue, who first quotes Pablo Neruda, agrees that nobody can resist the "sing-song and melodrama" of a three-hour Bollywood extravaganza.

Mehta doesn't need to explain or apologize for her mockery in Bollywood/Hollywood, so her screenplay seems just a tad overwritten when Rahul says things like, "We're caught in a time warp here, trying to preserve what we can of the whole country." And of course, she doesn't begin to approach the more horrifying custom of aborting, killing or selling girl babies because they burden a family financially. She keeps the movie appropriately playful and, compared to a real Bollywood film, mercifully short.

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