It is Hrithik Roshan whose superhero film Krrish which was shot in Singapore piqued my interest in taking that plunge into watching Bollywood films on the big screen, so it's been quite the ride following his film career with the star studded actioner Dhoom 2, then the sprawling period epic Jodhaa Akbar, and the last one to date was that supporting role as the bratty star actor in Luck by Chance which I thought he excelled in. My personal brush with Hrithik was spotting him at one of the local cineplexes here almost incognito, only to confirm his identity with that of his right hand, though in any case he's hard to miss with his good looks, curly locks, and those steely green eyes, making female fans swoon at his feet.
Which of course is to say to have him casted in an outright romance, is pretty much a no-brainer. He doesn't make a lot of films like say, Akshay Kumar, so his deliberation in making his next film comes with plenty of anticipation, and expectations. Kites had its trumpet blown early with the marketing machinery churning at full speed, and unfortunately, Anurag Basu's film somehow didn't hit all the highs it was aiming for, save for the casting brilliance of Mexican actress Barbara Mori as Natasha who holds her own, and more, opposite Roshan's Jay.
Kites takes its name from the notion of two beings seemingly carefree without a worry, dancing in the sky in their freedom, only that the harsh reality of life meant someone else is pulling the strings from down below, making them nothing but mere puppets in the whole scheme of things that is called Life. So sets the premise of star crossed lovers who have to jump through plenty of hoops just to get together, and given that romances usually tug at your heartstrings when they make you feel and shed a tear for the characters.
But in true blue Bollywood fashion, there's always a little time for song and dance, since Jay is a drifter in Las Vegas trying to carve a living through 1001 jobs, with the one he loves most being a dance instructor which doesn't pay a lot, and supplementing his income through green-card schemes by marrying illegal immigrants in a scam set up by his friend Robin (Anand Tiwari). As chance would have it, daddy's rich girl Gina (Kangana Ranaut who disappears to make way for Mori) has the hots for Jay, and the latter only reciprocating because of her money and legacy of her casino-owning father.
Enter Natasha, the fiance of Gina's brother Tony (Nicholas Brown), who also is set to marry the casino scion for the sake of money, never mind his constant ill-treatment and bad temper, and soon we have everything set up for the lovers Jay and Natasha, who go way back because of that green-card scam, to decide if they will risk everything, including their initial prime motivations of striking it rich the easy way, for true love, despite not being able to communicate directly except through broken, halting English phrases, since she's Mexican, and him Indian.
Told in non-linear fashion separating two timelines present and past through a series of flashbacks, this technique actually managed to draw plenty of emotions at the last major sequence where all is revealed about a key character, which is delivered brilliantly so much so that you'll be hard pressed not to reach for a tissue. It's shot in a peculiar fashion as well though with plenty of close ups on its beautiful leads, that offers plenty of opportunity to milk those symmetrical facial expressions in a very in-your-face fashion, which I suppose nobody in the audience will mind having to gaze at good lookers anyhow.
Hrithik Roshan's performance is almost flawless, but somehow I felt that his Jay is one of his weakest cinematic personas thus far. Opportunities to show his toned body comes by the by the bucketloads (and makes those struggling to fight flab extremely envious), and so does the chance to dance, being one of the best dancers Bollywood has to offer. He demonstrates once again he's Mr Flexible, and his dance number opposite Kangana Ranaut actually sizzles, with Ranaut actually showing that she can dance to the demands of a Hindi film heroine.
The revelation of the film though, as I mentioned, still belonged to the charismatic presence of Barbara Mori, who is likely to gain plenty of adoring fans from the Indian continent for her heartfelt portrayal as the drop dead gorgeous heroine who's vulnerable, yet able to show who's boss by wearing the pants in the relationship. She's no flower vase, having to take charge most of the time especially when Roshan's Jay goes into puppy dog mode, and frankly, in my opinion, her Natasha has him all wrapped up around her little finger. Mori makes the character believable, has moments where she injects natural comedy, and possessing a smile that is able to disarm the most stern of demeanour. I'm certain that most reviewers will find positivity from her performance even if they somehow adopt a lukewarm response to the hype surrounding the film which is basically a simple love story told in a roundabout manner.
Even if it clocks in at 130 minutes which is short by Bollywood standards, Anurag Basu still managed to throw in so many sub plot and elements into the film, that it pretty much travels at breakneck speed from start to finish unfolding in quite an expected manner. Action sequences in the film somehow had a ring of familiarity to them, and sadly none of them excites or puts you at the edge of your seat, being nothing more than peripheral for the major love story. Basu seemed to champion cars smashing against cars followed by noisy explosions, and exploits this so much that it becomes generic and a formulaic yawn. The action sequences needed to be more imaginative, just as how main villain Tony has to be more than a one-dimensional caricature to add to that sense of menace and danger.
It's reported that two versions of the film were shot simultaneously, one with the language predominantly in English, while the other in Hindi, the former for the Hollywood and Western markets. So enter director Brett Ratner who's re-editing it for a more "international" audience which promises no dance sequences and a lot more sensual scenes than what's shown here (where a simple kiss can raise eyebrows), while yet keeping true to the nature of the story, with Hrithik Roshan even moved by this version. I don't mind sitting through another round actually, just to compare and evaluate if the Ratner version is superior. Here's hoping the DVD will come with both!