Sunday, February 8, 2009

LOVE STORY 2050 (2008)

"Bollywood" tends to take an "everything including the kitchen sink" approach to its product. Indian movies seem to run longer, on average, than American films, and not just because of the musical numbers. The filmmakers seem to want to offer something for everyone, making movies for the sort of general audience that no longer exists in some places. The Baweja family's ambitious vanity project for scion Harman Baweja tries for all the bases, including action, comedy, romance, special effects and cute characters for kids. As a result, the 2050 part only kicks in about halfway through the picture, but that means there are still about 90 minutes to go.

Harman Baweja, son of the director and producer, stars as Karan Malhotra, son of a wealthy businessman based in Australia. Karan's mother is dead, and he has daddy issues. Due to parental indifference, Karan is a reckless risk-taker, pushing the envelope and wrecking Dad's MG in an effort to get the old man to take some interest and show some guidance. Karan is also willing to go recklessly for love. Off to Adelaide for an extreme sports tourney, he's besotted by the sight of Sana (the gorgeous Priyanka Chopra), a lady so lovely that butterflies alight in her open palm. When one such insect does the same for Karan, he knows that he and Sana are meant for each other. They finally meet cute when Sana mistakes her for her friend's boyfriend, a rival in a bike race, and roots for Karan to her pal's dismay. Director Harry Baweja goes all out with the bike race scene and a later bit in which Karan shows parkour-like skills trying to catch a bus bearing Sana through town. In time Karan wears down her resistance, challenges her to shoplift, and meets her family, who happen to be hosting his own Uncle Ya, aka scientist Dr. Yatinder Khanna, a NASA veteran who's been working on a time machine project. Karan and Sana play around inside the machine, she setting it randomly to travel to Mumbai circa 2050, but all it does is generate smoke and sparks.

Sana is then hit by a truck and killed while buying ice cream. The entire household is grief-stricken, but Uncle Ya stumbles across something she'd scrawled on one of his chalkboards after accidentally smudging it. Her drawing of an infinity symbol gives the professor an insight to perfect the time machine. He has the perfectly sensible idea of going back in time to prevent the fatal accident. But the controls are still locked at Sana's setting for 2050. This leads Karan to conclude that they'll have better luck finding Sana in the future, that she herself had unconsciously told them where and when to go. Dr. Khanna might be expected to knock Karan upside the head, but he's a believer in reincarnation. We've seen him discussing some ground rules earlier, including the idea that a person who dies without finishing their life's work will come back as her perfect double. The future it is! -- with two little kids as stowaways.

I half expected a nationalistic outburst portraying India dominant over the world, but the Bawejas have no political axes to grind as far as I can tell. In fact, they've been criticized for being Anglophile sellouts for seeming to suggest that Hindi by 2050 will be an obsolete provincial language. Even in the present, characters slip from Hindi to English and back again with almost unconscious ease. I suppose it'd be the same if they had movies in Renaissance Italy; characters would be equally glib in Latin and Tuscan or whatever the regional dialect was.

In any event, Mumbai in 2050 is somewhat reminiscent of the planet Coruscant, or maybe the world of The Fifth Element. I don't know if Muslim extremists are still a menace, but holographic adverts really get in your face -- or in one case threaten to run you over. Indians have apparently caught the bug for humanoid robots from Japan, since there are plenty to be found, including one Bicentennial Woman-like entity called "Quintessential Terrestrial" or QT for short. She calls Karan "Sec-C," short for Section C, the site of her own permanent memory bank. Inadvertently reactivated by our time-travelers, QT shows them how to get fake IDs and shows them around. We soon learn that the bottom has fallen out of the music industry, since instead of charging admission to arenas for concerts, the leading artists go about on giant floating platforms to entertain people in the middle of town. Greatest of the great is Ziesha (spelled so in her own graphics, but as Zeisha in the subtitles). At the sight of her Karan goes all Imhotep or Bram Stoker's Dracula on her; she is the reincarnation of his great love! Now he has to convince her of this.

QT (right) is Karan's friendly guide to future Mumbai in LOVE STORY 2050.

Ziesha is the stage name of a spoiled young woman named Zebelle. Her most intimate servant is a robotic teddy bear, a ruxpinite pink wretch named Boo whose inefficiency earns it frequent kicks in the tail from mistress. Miss Z is the host of a unique game show in which she asks fans questions about herself. They almost always answer incorrectly. What kind of fans are these? But Karan works his way into the audience and begins his mindgame. She's sort of attracted by his audacity. They meet cute again at a virtual Mortal Kombat game in which they wear white form-fitting motion-capture outfits (above, left) and merrily clobber one another. Karan lets her win; that's part of his plan. But someone else has a plan. The era's most powerful and most feared scientist, Dr. Hoshi, knows about the time machine. He was Dr. Khanna's lab assistant in the 2030s and has an inkling of what Uncle Ya had been up to. On his own, Hoshi has developed the power of teleportation and the ability to generate and fire bolts of energy. He has a scary costume and a mask. He does everything but breathe heavily. As Karan makes his moves on Ziesha -- never quite going to full Jimmy-Stewart-in-Vertigo lengths, but pretty questionable just the same, -- Hoshi makes his moves on Dr. Khanna and the time machine, setting up a climax in which love conquers time and death and Karan fights an android duplicate before the main event with Dr. Hoshi in a car chase high above the streets of Mumbai....

The reviews on IMDB from mostly if not entirely Indian viewers have been all across the board, from scathing to celebratory. This is understandable. Love Story 2050 is the sort of film which many people will immediately reject as stupid, because ... well, it is -- but may win over others with its all-out exuberance. The ideal audience would be one that was constantly curious to see what the Bawejas will do next. From the viewpoint of the wild world of cinema, our standards are as likely to differ from those of the run-of-the-mill Indian moviegoer as they do from his American counterpart. I'm a long way from having an objective standard of Bollywood aesthetics to compare this film against, but I can recommend Love Story 2050 to anyone who might enjoy a campy spectacle with singing, dancing, fighting, and special effects (including some contributions from Weta Digital) that never quite convince but fit the spirit of the film. Baweja seems to have the old barnstorming spirit that will put a camera and his actors on a speeding roller coaster (and no seat belt on his own son!) to get a cool scene. He really brings his Aussie locations to life, though his results with more futuristic sets are more mixed. At three hours (by the time the credits end) this film really is a little too long, but if you can spare the time (and you have a public library with a good foreign film section) you'll have a memorable experience of some kind.

What the heck. We may as well have a musical number. This is as representative as any.

1 comment:

Soiled Sinema said...

If I didn't know any better, this actually would look very entertaining and worthwhile.