The Best Picture Oscar race officially takes off this week with the release of Anurag Basu’s KITES. This is PURE OSCAR GOLD. Unfamiliar with Basu’s work, I went into this screening blind, with no idea of the story, the filmmakers or the actors, but I quickly found myself blinded by the beauty before me on screen and the brilliance of a stunning and exceptional film. Reminiscent of Baz Luhrmann in style, color and texture, KITES is a seamless, beauteous meld of “Moulin Rouge!” and “Romeo & Juliet” capped off with the drama of a Sergio Leone western and a Bret Ratner action flick. Technically classified as a “Bollywood” film, KITES is anything but. Primarily dialogued in English and Spanish with some Hindi tossed in, and filmed exclusively in the United States and Mexico, the international demographic cross-over appeal is undeniable. As the core love story of J and Linda unfolds before us, KITES soars to new filmmaking heights with untold emotion that electrifies and explodes on screen, drawing one ever deeper into a magical elixir that fills you body and soul.
J is a man who dreams of money and power. Orphaned at a young age, he has made his way to Las Vegas seeking “the good life”. Climbing his way to the top, J has hawked popcorn, been a street vendor , committed a few misdemeanor infractions hustling people on the street, married illegal immigrants for money and been a dance teacher. Ah, dance. His true passion, for as J even tells an immigration officer at Wedding #11 to a woman we come to learn is Linda, language barriers do not stop love as music and dance speak to the hearts. And it is thanks to this love of music and dance that all of J’s dreams are about to come true when he pairs with a hot little number named Gina.
When describing Gina, “spoiled brat” is an understatement. And while J has no desire to be with her, once he learns that her father is owner of the largest casino in Las Vegas, that sheds a different light on the situation. Pairing with Gina for a dance competition in which both dazzle and delight a frenzied crowd and Gina’s parents, it doesn’t take long for J to be embraced by the family and particularly her father, Bob - and for J to embrace the benefits the family’s wealth and power give to him. But for J, this is just a means to an end. He can act forever if it means having the kind of wealth and power Gina can give him. Or can he.
Doesn’t take long before J is toasting Gina’s brother Tony’s engagement to a beautiful girl named Natasha. A flawless beauty, there is a longing spark of recognition in J’s eyes as he silently watches her from afar at the family compound or on group outings. And every now and again there is a playful flicker of recognition reciprocated by Natasha.
But all this beauty and opulence is just superficial as we being to see the ruthlessness, madness and horror of who Gina’s family really are - an Indian mafia with guns at the ready, everyone under suspicion and disloyalty to the family results in death. And we learn that the connection between J and Natasha is more than recognition - it is love and it is marriage. Natasha is really Linda, J’s wife #11, and the love of his life (which is quite interesting given that he speaks Hindi and English and she speaks only Spanish). Both intent on success, wealth and power, the two turned their backs on what was an undeniable silent love, but now, on the eve of “Natasha’s” wedding with Tony becoming increasingly violent and J falling more desperately in love with her as the minutes pass, J and Linda take a leap of faith that will forever change the lives of everyone.
With Tony, his father and their henchmen hot on the heels of J and Linda, the two embark on a thrilling and dangerous journey back to Linda’s family in Mexico, all the while believing that true love can win over money and power. But does it.
From the first second you look into the eyes of Hrithik Roshan, you are lost in a world of love and lust. Already deemed one of the hottest actors and models in India and Europe, personally, he is without a doubt the hottest guy on the planet. He is off the charts gorgeous. But beyond that, he can act....and damn can he dance! But what gives him that "star" quality is the natural ease and fluidity of his performance. His physical and facial expressiveness say more than any words, which is one reason why this film with its many dialects works on so many levels. He commands the screen with just his walk or a look but balancing that strength with a gentility and emotional softness that makes you melt just watching him. He needs no words to convey mood and emotion. And his eyes - mesmerizing. As for his action-stunt skills! Amazing. This guy is beyond a triple threat. Why American directors haven’t found and embraced Roshan yet is beyond me, but I hope that changes after they see his performance in KITES.
And how about Barbara Mori as Linda/Natasha. Between her and Hrithik Roshan I have never seen two more smiley people. I hope their dentists get credit in the film. Their chemistry is electrifying and watching the love story between Jay and Linda unfold fills the heart with unbridled joy. Mori has a sensual innocence and easy breeziness to her that reminds you of a spring day with a soft wind wafting through the air against a blue sky dotted with wispy puffy clouds. But, then she turns on a dime with an intensity that is startling. She brings this undescribable protective nature to the character when dealing with “love”. You can’t describe it, but you feel it when you see her on screen.
Sadly, I must say, will somebody please get Nicholas Brown to an acting school. As Tony his acting is beyond horrific. He is the one fly in an otherwise perfect elixir. And very nice to see the always reliable and able Luce Rains being his bad ass self as a bounty hunter.
Written by Basu together with Robin Bhatt, Akarsh Khuran and based on a story by producer Rakeh Roshan, KITES really needs no words, no dialogue. The imagery, action and passion tell the entire story. The acting, the naturalness, the beauty, the characters, the story, the complexity and intertwining of the sub-plots and characters are perfection.
As a director, Anurag Basu's vision is crystalline, pure, volatile and breathtakingly beautiful, resonating with both body and soul. The story itself is one of beauty, and like Baz Luhrmann, celebrates love, putting love above all else. The dichotomy created with love, power and money is riveting, held together not so much by dialogue, but by Basu's incredible imagery. Even after watching this film for 130 minutes, I could have easily and willingly welcomed the chance to sit and watch it all over again.
From the opening with the dance competition, one's heart stops and you find yourself swept into this Vegas world of vibrancy, life, grandeur and opulence. The use of eye-popping super saturated color is wondrous to behold, defining not just the mood and tone, but telling a story in its own right.
The film’s second half catches one totally off guard when love is in full bloom and the color palette quickly shifts to one of natural beauty and grace - the soft blue of the sky, the green of grass, the red canyons of the southwest, the pristine purity of the desert, the quaintness of a rustic old "Bonanza Ranch." And then you get hit smack in the face with car chases and crashes extraordinaire. Explosive, creating as much excitement and tension as the passion between Jay and Linda. The parallel emotions are dynamic and powerful.
Interwoven is the artfully crafted story, inter-cutting from the present to the past, giving us the answers we seek to the opening frame of the film and then continuing onward to its ultimate conclusion.
Lensed primarily with close-ups and midshots, one is spiraled ever deeper into this world of romance and ultimately, revenge. Every shot is like a glossy magazine cover. Mind-boggling beauty. Unfortunately, the filmmakers and distributor have not provided a complete cast and crew list in time for this review so I am at a loss as to who the brilliant cinematographer is responsible for this masterpiece. And of course, kudos to David Baca for his production design. FLAWLESS! I expect Oscar to come knocking at his door in 2011.
And I would be remiss to not mention the incredible work of the stunt team and second unit crew. The bulk of the second half of the film is a non-stop roller coaster ride with one thrilling stunt, car crash or plain old western shoot-out, after another. Impeccably executed.
Other than Nicholas Brown, there is one aspect of the film that has irritated me since the screening. J is driving a 40K car, wearing a 15K watch. Linda has a 5K diamond bracelet and a 12K necklace. Yet, they are drinking $8.99 Korbel. On the flip side, however, once could interpret this as a calculated move, going to the heart of the story, emphasizing that love is more important than money. Some things, such as frugality and the comfort of memories - even of poverty and cheap champagne - never leave you. I'd be interested to find out if there was
significance to using Korbel or if they just paid big money for product placement.
KITES. Power, passion, revenge, heartbreak, heartache, tragedy, joy, lust, and love. Let yourself soar with KITES and a love that knows no boundaries, no barriers, a love that is eternal.
J - Hrithik Roshan
Natasha/Linda - Barbara Mori
Gina - Kangna Ranaut
Tony - Nicholas Brown
Bob - Kebir Bedi
Directed by Anurag Basu. Written by Basu, Robin Bhatt, Akarsh Khuran and based on a story by producer Rakeh Roshan.