Movies that over-extend their arrival often have their welcome become anti-climatic and, in the end, boring. For Rakesh Roshan and his son Hrithik, who has not headlined a matinee since his 2008 hit Jodhaa Akbar, both time and tide appear to have conspired to reverse the rules of cinematic logic and box office success.
Released after two years in the making, Kites evidences a maturation of styles for both. Despite overlapping genres, ranging from Robert Rodriquez’s Mexico-flavored shoot-em-ups to a number of onscreen high-speed chases to Bollywood musicals, Kites is a well-made film that finds its own unique international niche.
Filmed in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New Mexico, Kites is two halves of the same journey. A Vegas shyster (Hrithik), who only goes by the name “J,” makes a living out of teaching dance and sometimes agreeing to marriages of convenience with illegal women wanting to land a coveted U.S. Green Card. Linda (Mori) is an illegal immigrant who J gets hitched to in a rush of mutual contrivance. Both J and Linda unabashedly desire riches—which leads them to the lair of corrupt Vegas kingpin Bob (Bedi). Bob’s son Tony (Brown) wants to marry Linda while J, unknowingly, pursues Tony’s sister Gina (Ranaut). Before J and Linda grasp the graveness of their plight, they are on the run from a legion of Tony’s goons, federal marshals, and even some bounty-hunters.
In Hindi movies with love stories that span cultural differences, so much rides on star chemistry. In Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981), Kamalahasan played a Tamil speaking man who falls for the Hindi speaking Rati Agnihotri. What made them click was the actors’ portraying a genuine on-screen bond that transcended the language barrier. Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker (1970), on the other hand, featured Kapoor’s circus clown having feelings for a Russian trapeze-ballerina (Kseniya Ryabinkina). Joker could not overcome a gap that perennially showed her flying in the air just out of reach of his floor-bound clown.
The Roshans took a huge gamble with Mori—a Uruguan/Brazilian/Japanese beauty virtually unknown
outside her adopted home in Mexico, where she is a well-known TV serial star. Both Penelope Cruz and Sonam Kapoor were considered for the role before the producers zeroed in on Mori. The selection pays off handsomely. Hrithik Roshan and Mori share an amazing onscreen vibe. The duo—both easy on the eyes, thank you—fumble and stumble their way into a language of love that successfully transcends barriers that are linguistic (he only speaks Hindi and English while she speaks Spanish and a few words of English), international (he is from India, she is from Mexico), and also inter-cultural (his street cred is forged by a make-a-quick-buck-in-Vegas milieu while she is convincingly depicted as being straight from the barrio).
Despite its resemblance to Mexican pulp fiction, with elements from Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvres, as well as Thelma & Louise, Kites succeeds because it has only one mission in mind—to reunite the lovers on their untethered flight at any cost. Along the way, director Basu convincingly sells the concept of America as the land of endless opportunities that can sometimes corrode the soul. Vegas, especially, stands in as a blunt hyper-capitalist wasteland whose foundation stones are the rubble from the highway of broken dreams. By this measure, Kites offers a slightly more accurate depiction of America than Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan, which read like a postcard from America with one date-stamp too many.
Hrithik Roshan, much like Aamir Khan, has become exceedingly selective with the movies he greenlights. A record-setting (for a Hindi movie) 2,300 screen global rollout for Kites was itself newsworthy. That, combined with distributor Reliance BIG’s incessant promotions, helped Kites open to the second-highest opening in Hindi cinema history (behind only Khan’s 3 Idiots). Kites also became the first Indian movie to land at the highest-ever number (10) on the U.S. box office charts (it scored an even better five in the United Kingdom). As long as the Roshans successfully stage each of Hrithik Roshan movies as an “event,” with this much fanfare and marketing finesse, each mini come-back will continue to create buzz and keep their bank-accounts well stocked. Brett Rattner’s “re-mix” of Kites, scheduled for a May 28, 2010 release, may just reinforce the Kites phenom. Despite being panned by critics in India, Kites may just prove to be Hrithik Roshan’s stepping stone to Hollywood fame.n
Entertainment Quotient (EQ): B+
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.