Producer Rakesh Roshan wants everyone to know that Kites is opening wider than any other Indian movie to date, playing on 2,000 screens in India and more than 500 abroad, including 208 in the U.S. That’s a gimmick, of course, but it got me to watch.
I’m embarrassed to admit that the only Indian films I’ve seen before this one were art-house fare by people like Satyajit Ray and Deepa Mehta, so I have no way of knowing how much this emotion-drenched melodrama borrowed from other Bollywood movies. But I can tell you that it hoovers up Hollywood movie tropes like a contestant downing wieners at the annual Coney Island hot dog-eating contest.
Set mostly in Las Vegas and a mythical American West that looks like something out of a John Ford movie, Kites stars producer Roshan’s son Hrithik as Jay, a pumped-up, moonwalking dude who dresses like Tom Waits. He also has a lot of Elvis in his mischievous grin and contagious self-confidence. A penniless immigrant, Jay is a dancer and a bit of an operator who runs little scams on the side while waiting for Vegas to make his dreams come true. One of those scams is marrying illegal immigrants who need a green card, and the last of his “wives” is Linda (an appealingly spunky Bárbara Mori), a Mexican beauty whose green eyes, impoverished background, and ambitious dreams match his own.
By one of those Dickensian coincidences that we expect in movies like this, Linda and Jay wind up engaged to a brother and sister from the same casino-owning Indian family, a ruthless bunch that employs gangster tactics to maintain control of its financial fiefdom. So when our lovebirds fly off, trying to escape into a Hollywood West of one-street towns lined by two-story wooden buildings and old Texaco signs at dusty gas stations, we know they’re in for a picturesque, action-packed, and probably doomed ride.
Kites plays like a Douglas Sirk melodrama interpreted by Sergio Leone and with a score by Enya. There are also musical numbers, black-and-white noir sequences involving lots of rain and umbrellas, Buster Keaton-esque stunts, a nod to that roll Charlie Chaplin made dance in The Gold Rush (which Chaplin had stolen from Fatty Arbuckle), and a car stunt straight out of Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II. The dialogue is a mishmash of languages too, with nearly as much Spanish as Hindi and probably more English than either.
But Kites gets by for long stretches with no words at all, letting its iconic images do the talking. It’s primitively strong stuff, and it’s not for everyone (Brett Ratner made a streamlined version for American audiences, Kites: the Remix, that cuts out more than a third of its 130 minutes). My husband walked out halfway through—something he hardly ever does—after shifting around in his seat a lot while muttering about all the close-ups and overheated emotions, which were just part of the fun for me. I did think the supporting cast was weak and the plot pretty bare-bones, but those were just minor obstacles, easy enough to overlook with everything else it had going on. Kites is a roiling wave of emotion and imagery that I enjoyed surfing.
Elise Nakhnikian has been writing about movies since the best way to learn about them was through alternative weeklies. She is currently the movie reviewer for TimeOFF. She also has her own blog, Girls Can Play, and a Twitter account.