Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Roadside Romeo

Welcome to the Club

I guess the number of dogs in Disney's repetoire isn't enough, and this year they're looking to grow the kernel which houses the likes of the 101 Dalmations, Goofy, Pluto, Lady and the Tramp with Bolt, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and of course, Roadside Romeo and his pooch friends hailing from India.

Touted as the first Indian full length CG-animated film, the end credits reveal just how much Disney's participation here likely amounted to, being primarily consultants to what was mostly work done by Tata Exlsi Visual Computing Lab. And it's a pretty fine job those guys there are doing, because if you were to strip away the Hindi language and end credit roll so as not to cue in on production details, you're more than likely to think that this was made by Disney themselves. So it's absolutely not a bad effort at all, for a first film.

Animation aside, this is as Bollywood a movie as it can get, with distinct song and dance sequences rooted in Bollywood spirit. Storywise, it's kept really simple with one main plot running and no sub plots trying to complicate matters. The characters too seem to leap out of a typical Bollywood film with over the top villains and their slimy incompetent henchmen, err, dogs, coupled with the propensity to switch to English with constant plurality and grammatic errors in efforts to impress everyone.

Saif Ali Khan voices the titular character of Romeo, once a dog living the life of luxury, before given the boot onto the streets when his owners take off to settle overseas. Left to fend for himself, he relies on his street smarts, suave ways, quick wit and smooth talking to garner himself a posse of abandoned dogs and one cat, putting into use his fashionable skills with the scissors to open a salon for the neighbourhood hounds.

Adversary comes in the form of a Don Corleone Godfather type bulldog named Charlie Anna (Javed Jaffrey), who has three "angels" for protection (and to fuel plenty of tired Charlie Angels jokes and references) and to dish out torture, running a protection racket which Romeo and gang run afoul of given their new enterprise, and on a personal level, the rivalry for the affections of Laila (Kareena Kapoor), which becomes the centerpiece in the second half of the film. The first half did seem a bit of a drag though, especially with the expanded introduction of Charlie Anna and subsequent scenes just to demonstrate what he's capable of, together with some repetitive threats of torture that definitely tested patience.

Otherwise, once the seeds of romantic rivalry has been sown, with Laila being marked as Charlie Anna's romantic target, it led to a number of hilarious playful cross-exchanges between Charlie, Romeo and his gang Guru (Vrajesh Hirjee), Interval (Suresh Menon), Hero English (Kiku Sharda), and cat Mini (Tanaz Irani), which the victim given its focus on these characters was Laila, being reduced to an unfortunate supporting presence.

For some strange reason, Roadside Romeo needed some getting used to as the dogs prance around on two hind legs most of the time, which brought back some memories of Barnyard. But once you come to terms with it (just like how the Barnyard's bulls all have udders), it's quite an enjoyable and light piece of animation that should do well with its intended demographic, though to an international audience, some nuances because of one pooch's frequent impersonation of Bollywood legends might be woefully lost in translation.

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