Kites, or I Don't Know What the Message is but it was Damned Entertaining
I have been waiting for this movie since I first became a Hindi film devotee a bit more than a year ago. I happened upon my first Hindi film Jodhaa Akbar when it was available for instant viewing via Netflix and I needed to test out my new Tivo wifi adapter. Hrithik Roshan immediately mesmerized me with his breathtaking beauty, screen charisma and talent.
Hrithik was my first love in Bollywood. Immediately after watching Jodhaa Akbar I googled him (what did we stalkers do before google?) and started finding out everything I could about him and watched and purchased ALL of his movies in quick succession. I quickly exhausted all of his films and so my focus shifted to waiting for Kites which was already in the works (until SRK entered my life and stole my heart... but that's another story for another day. I still love Hrithik and he is 2nd in my affections hence my continued anticipation for this film.) So today, after the release date being pushed back time and time again, I finally got to see Kites.
Normally, the kind of hype and anticipation that preceded Kites would result in me being disappointed by the final product but it turned out to be everything I expected it to be, a feast for the eyes, a real entertainer and just great fun at the movies. Anyone who expected it to be more than that...you're misguided at best and kinda dumb at worst.
From my perspective, as someone who saw a decade's worth of Hrithik's work all at once, I definitely think he made a huge leap in his confidence and comfort in his own skin and as an actor with Jodhaa Akbar, Dhoom 2 and Luck By Chance. One thing I was anticipating in Kites was seeing whether or not he had taken that further. I think the answer is that he demonstrates less potent sex appeal and mesmerizing charisma in Kites than he did in JA and Dhoom 2 but in exchange he seems to have grown as a dramatic actor. It's almost as if the compelling gazes and sexy expressions which he perfected in Dhoom 2 were put on the backburner for Kites while he mastered a more subtle style for his dramatic scenes. Now he just has to put it all together in the same film, the subtle dramatic performace with sizzling sex appeal, to really blow people away. This is not to say that there are no "Gah!" moments in Kites where he'll make you drool because there are...just not as many as in JA or Dhoom 2 (a moment on the boat comes immediately to mind and pretty much anything at the beginning of the film when his backstory is being established. Add learning to turn into a toothpick at will to life goals...you'll understand once you see the movie).
All of that being said, Hrithik gives a great performance...I just can't wait to see how he continues to evolve as an actor because I know he can be even better than he is in Kites. I guarantee you, from an American gori's perspective, if he were in a Hollywood film tomorrow, he would be an instant phenomenon in America just like he was in India after his debut. I'm not sure that "Kites the Remix", however, is the platform that will do that. The main reason being, the acting of the supporting actor who plays Tony is totally cringeworthy, enough so that it casts a serious pall over the entire film that may cause American audiences to have trouble taking the whole film seriously. Other than that, there were only two scenes that really didn't work for me and only two scenes that I noticed being lifted from or reminiscent of other films SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT>>>>>>>>>> There is a scene between J and Natasha/Linda that takes place the night before her wedding to Tony in which they are discussing their motivation for why they are with Tony and his sister and discussing cutting their ties to each other. It didn't work for me. It was the one scene where I felt Hrithik's acting was less than convincing. The line delivery was just off for me. Others may find it charming...I just didn't.
The other scene that threw my mental brakes was one of the car chases. They have an extended scene of J and Natasha/Linda driving down an empty desert highway then the police come out of nowhere and start chasing them which is fine, it looks as though the police were laying in wait for them. That I can accept. What bugged me was how all of the sudden approximately 10 other cars suddenly appear on this previously empty highway in the middle of nowhere just so the police cars have something to smash into. It was poorly executed. The other chases, however, were great! I love a good car chase and so, apparently does Anurag Basu. The chases were fantastic and the stunts and action sequences were very well done and not at all cheesy.
The scenes that were lifted from or reminiscent of other films (this is a Rakesh Roshan production after all) were a scene where J sees Natasha/Linda through as fish tank a la Baz Luhrman's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and a scene where Tony's father punishes a cheater in his casino which reminded me of Reservoir Dogs.
OK, so enough with the negative. On with the gushing!
Kites is a beautifully shot film. There are some scenes that are simply stunning visually. Two that I especially enjoyed were one where J is looking at his new car and the flashing lights of the casino sign are reflected on the car surface. It's just a great visual, very cool. The other is a scene of J and Natasha/Linda in the desert framed by rock arches...very pretty. I also appreciate the color coordination of the couples' outfits when they are on the boat. If you ever wonder in a Hindi film who is going to end up together, look at who is wearing the same color and you'll have your answer. I like that. It's certainly better than airbrushed T-shirts from the mall.
My two favorite scenes in the film are two quiet, tender scenes between J and Natasha/Linda. The first is when they make shadow puppets together. It's so sweet you can't help but smile and feel all gooshy inside. The other is a stand out scene for Hrithik where he tells Natasha/Linda about why the rain makes him sad. Really well written and exceptional acting from Hrithik.
The other scene that I loved was Hrithik's big dance number. He never fails to top himself. He is without a doubt the BEST dancer in Bollywood! The man must be made of rubber! Knowing a bit about how Hrithik prepares for roles, I can't even begin to imagine how many hours of practice he put into getting the dance right. He works incredibly hard yes, but he also has enormous amounts of natural talent. The scene is mesmerizing. I think I watched the whole thing with my jaw on the floor. The high splits alone will blow your mind.
As far as the music is concerned, I really enjoyed all of it and thought it was different than the usual Hindi film fare, it absolutely works both in the context of the film and as stand alone songs...that is except for Kites in the Sky. It pains me to criticize Hrithik's first attempt at a movie song but this song just does not work! I think Hrithik is a decent singer...probably better than this song indicates. It's just a bad, bad song (Rajeshji did a bad, bad thing). The lyrics are beyond cheesy and the arrangement is awful. Upon hearing it before the release of the movie I know some kept an open mind thinking, "Oh, it just needs to be heard in the context of the film" Nope! In fact, it may have been slightly less cringeworthy if used in a different scene, a quieter scene. As it is, the context in which it is played just adds to the reasons why the song doesn't work at all. I hope Hrithik sings again...just a much better song.
Barbara Mori is gorgeous and sexy but sweet at the same time. You can't help but fall in love with her just like J does. She's a fresh, talented actress and is especially touching during the climax of the film. She will break your heart in the scene where she saves J's life. I am curious to see what she does next.
Hrithik's performance I already touched upon but I will say a bit more (mostly because there are few things I like more than rhapsodizing about Hrithik and SRK). In the beginning when they are showing us J's life in Vegas, Hrithik couldn't be hotter! God, he's sexy! But I digress. He does a great job playing a convincing...well, player. He then transitions beautifully to devoted man in love. He is totally believable as both. He is also really funny in a few scenes. I would love to see Hrithik in a *smart* comedy. He has some great comic timing and expressions. His most affecting scenes were the quiet scenes between he and Barbara. He's fantastic at sweet and sincere. He has also really gotten good at the big drama scenes. He held back the lip and nostril quivering (well, there's a little bit of that but not too much) puppy dog-eyed histrionics. He was subtle and believable. His physical performance complimented the scene rather than detracting from it by being too over the top.
As for the much speculated about on-screen chemistry between Hrithik and Barbara...it is powerful, no doubt. I would, however, not call it sizzling or hot or anything with a sexual connotation. There are a couple of steamy moments to be sure and they are certainly very beautiful together but I found the chemistry to be more emotional than physical. When they look into each other's eyes, you really believe that they love each other not just that they want to jump each other. Oh and for those of you who care, there's not just one kiss in the movie...there are at least 4 if my count is right. ;-)
The supporting cast, with the exception of Tony (Nicholas Brown) and the train station agent, are quite good. I especially liked Kangana in her limited role and Anand Tiwari as J's friend Robin.
So what is the message of Kites? I don't know. Does it need one? At the beginning, there is a scene with two kites in the sky with a narration that likens them to two lovers but we are cautioned that the kites don't have control of their actions or fates, those who hold the strings do. So, who then controls the fates of our lovers if not they themselves? The rich and powerful Tony and his father? Fate? There's no clear answer to that especially since J and Natasha/Linda individually have chosen paths that are less than noble so they can't really blame anyone but themselves for the people they find themselves beholden to. Then they continue to make poor decisions that lead them to their ultimate fate. So the story seems to actually contradict the "theme" of the kites. Anyway, like I said, does this movie need a message? Nope. It just entertains and does so thoroughly. I'm recommending it to everyone just with a parenthetical disclaimer about "Tony's" acting.