Show Hide image

Kambakkht Ishq (12A)

There’s no need for Bollywood to appeal to Middle England – it’s a success already

That revered word "crossover" appears in articles about Bollywood with such frequency that the uninitiated would be forgiven for believing it to be an important religious festival, some Hindu equivalent of Passover, perhaps. The speculation never seems to end about whether Bollywood will one day engage non-Asian audiences, inspiring Ordinary Joes to beat a path to films hitherto favoured solely by Ordinary Jadhavs.

I'm not sure it will happen. (Don't mention Slumdog Millionaire. One tacked-on dance routine does not a Bollywood movie make.) But from the Bollywood films I've seen, and the exclusively Asian audiences with which I've seen them, it is clear this lucrative and cherished industry doesn't need to rebrand itself New Bollywood and go canvassing in Middle England to continue being lucrative and cherished. Assimilation can be heartening, but every wistful prayer for a crossover hit implies that Bollywood isn't quite legitimate yet. Rest assured that the industry requires a leg-up like Akshay Kumar needs you to lend him a thousand rupees.

Kumar is one of the stars of Kambakkht Ishq ("Damned Love"). He plays Viraj, a carousing Hollywood stuntman horrified that his brother, Lucky (Aftab Shivdasani), is getting hitched. Rushing to the chapel to halt Lucky's wedding to Kamini (Amrita Arora), he is met by the bride's caustic confidante, the supermodel Simrita (Kareena Kapoor). Despite both being in the business of dissuasion, it's antipathy at first sight for Viraj and Simrita. She thinks he's a creep.

He calls her a bitch. Any chance they'll be exchanging vows by the time the credits roll? They sure take their sweet time about it. First, Simrita persuades Kamini to test her new husband's commitment by denying him sex for three months, rendering "Lucky" the mother of all misnomers. Then Viraj tries to help Lucky get his oats, or his lentils. This involves posing as a doctor complete with a black face, afro wig and "comedy" accent.

Not sure about the logic, but at least the scene proves that blacking up is a bad idea regardless of the skin colour under the boot polish.
If Viraj and Simrita have shades of Benedick and Beatrice, with the film often making much ado about nothing, then it all turns a bit Dangerous Liaisons when Viraj takes revenge for his brother's frustration by wooing Simrita with the intention of jilting her. What he doesn't know is that she mislaid her musical charm bracelet inside his abdomen when she was operating on him. Did I neglect to mention that Simrita is a surgeon, who only got into doing glitzy European photo shoots to pay for med school? Now a melodic Hindu mantra rings out once an hour from somewhere inside Viraj. Will this derail his duplicitous plan?

Are Kamini and Lucky headed for the divorce courts? And how might Simrita discreetly retrieve her beloved token from Viraj's abdominal cavity?
When I tell you that the answer involves a romantic evening on a luxury yacht, a hypodermic needle and a quantity of general anaesthetic, you have to believe that this is only the second strangest thing to happen in the film - the first being the dance number shot partly through the eyes of a man whose drink has been spiked with Viagra, thereby putting the "wood" into Bollywood.

Kambakkht Ishq chalked up the biggest-ever opening at the Indian box office when it was released at the start of July. (In the UK, it was the seventh highest-grossing film in its first week, and has taken nearly £700,000 here at the time of writing.) You'd be hard-pressed to explain why: it is deftly edited but often coarsely scripted, and offers little more than the customary ingredients (overripe production design, emphatic songs). I'd be amazed if the celebrity cameos had bolstered its commercial appeal.

Kambakkht Ishq isn't the first Indian production to enlist international stars, but it may be the best argument against the idea. We get a few scenes each from Brandon "Superman" Routh and Denise Richards (you know her: married Charlie Sheen, starred in a Bond film, divorced Charlie Sheen). I wouldn't say these actors look awkward, but I've seen mullahs on stag nights who appeared less out of place.

Then there's Sylvester Stallone, who needs no introduction. What he does need is to do some research next time he is cast as himself. It's all too easy, on the evidence of his bewildered performance here, to imagine him asking the director: "What's my motivation?"

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.