Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NAMASTEY LONDON - bear with it....

NAMASTEY LONDON is an infuriating film. Which is not to say that it doesn't work on some level. I began by watching the DVD extras, including some interviews with the cast and crew. Director Vipul Amrutlal Shah, the man behind WAQT: A RACE AGAINST TIME, was keen to emphasise that this was NOT a typical Hindi film. He wanted to avoid those typical dance numbers in front of famous London landmarks and photograph the real streets where ex-pats live. The lead actors, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, were also keen to emphasise that their characters were just normal people - nothing special. Akshay's Punjabi boy, Arjun Singh, should not be over-played as a village idiot. And Katrina's London-bred modern girl, Jasmeet, should not be a caricature either. The movie should be a funny, moving tale of love between two opposites with some soft-pedalled social criticism thrown in.

So imagine my surprise when I started watching the film. It is about as unrealistic as any Bollywood movie ever tried to be, with London and Indian iconic landmarks up the wazoo. Despite being a London bus-driver, Jasmeet's father somehow lives in Hampstead-style mansion. Jasmeet herself is no modern career girl in a dull office. Rather she skips into work in a mini-skirt and has a desk over-looking St Paul's Cathedral! But the real kicker is that her English boyfriend, hillariously called Charlie Brown, lives in an English country house full of antiques and while he looks about thirty he has apparently been divorced three times. 45 minutes into the film, Jasmeet's father packs the family off to India and marries her off to the Punjabi boy. Again caricatures. Punjabis drink milk straight from the cow, drink too much alcohol and eat too much ghee!

Still, these flaws are common to the genre, and if we look for identifiers of quality in an old-fashioned Bollywood film we have to ask two questions: how were the song and dance numbers and did we feel all sappy about the central love story? The songs were basically mediocre so no luck there. But where the film does luck out is in casting Akshay. Because while Akshay has a very narrow range, he can certainly do what he does well - and that's the good-hearted simple boy turned romantic hero. He really looks heart-broken when Jasmeet dumps him and we will him to get back together with her. Katrina is window-dressing, although she does a good job of speaking heavily English-accented Hindi. Her straight-forward English, however, has a strong American accent.

As for the social critique there are some nice lines about how ex-pat Indians want the best of both worlds. But the best speech is given by Arjun Singh on a boat on the Thames. He explains to patronising Englishmen the strength of India. Sure, it's patriotic flag-waving, but you can't help inwardly applaud a country where "a Catholic woman steps aside so that a Sikh can be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim President in a country where more than 80% of the population is Hindu."

NAMASTEY LONDON was released in March 2007 and is now available on DVD.

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