Movie Review by Lisa Henshall
Starring: Preeya Kalidas, James McAvoy, Ciaran McMenamin, Ray Panthaki
Director: Jeremy Wooding
I really wanted to love this film, I promise I did. I own more Bollywood DVDs than most of my Indian friends and I’m always on the look out for new films that integrate western and eastern cultures in an exciting way and do justice to both. Bollywood films in recent years, like DIL CHAHTA HAI, COMPANY and ASOKA have seamlessly mixed eastern stories with western influenced film techniques but BOLLYWOOD QUEEN fails to deliver what it promises.
The film is basically a feature length version of Wooding’s excellent short film SARI & TRAINERS. It’s about a young British Asian girl who falls in love with a white boy from her school. It’s about triumphing over adversity (her over-protective brothers) and staying true to herself without losing her cultural identity. To this end, that’s basically the storyline of BOLLYWOOD QUEEN, just stretched to 90 minutes.
It stars many recognisable Asian faces from British TV screens, including two of the Ferreira brothers from BBC’s Eastenders. Preeya Kalidas reprises her character from SARI & TRAINERS and upcoming star James McAvoy (seen in Stephen Fry’s directorial debut BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS) plays Jay, the love interest, newly arrived from Somerset to make his fortune. The setting is London’s East End, which makes a refreshing change from the assumption that all Indian families live in Southall, (West London). There are a few scenes which do work really well, especially the brief picnic scene when Jay and Geena run away to Somerset. The dialogue felt real and it was the first time I really believed their romance was genuine. Unfortunately, for most of the film, the dialogue seemed forced and unnatural – too full of cliches or just plain dull, particularly some of the ‘dating’ scenes.
The song and dance numbers are a mixed bunch with two or three standing out as inventive. Oddly though, they each come along in a short burst (often just one verse) which makes them feel prematurely cut-off. If you do watch this film, look out for the clever sequence in the car using the rain outside as a visual cue, and the R&B style song at the wedding towards the end. Unfortunately the others don’t live up to the same standard.
And this is where my other problem with the film lies. There is a gap between Geena’s apparent obsession with being an R&B star (she’s formed a Mis-Teeq style group with her friends) and the lack of R&B or similar music in the film. Apart from a very brief scene in a nightclub (with a cameo from DJ’s Raj & Pablo), and the big wedding number at the end, there are no other musical references to R&B in the film. Not even any use of R&B as incidental music between scenes (or even catching a snippet of music on a car radio) – there’s nothing. All the song and dance numbers have traditional vocals or even worse mimic other western styles (be-bop, country & western!!) and this just doesn’t sit with her constant verbal references to loving R&B. These days, with so much Asian-influenced music in the charts (Nitin Sawney, Bhangra Knights, Rishi Rish to name a few), it’s disappointing and difficult to see why Wooding didn’t use at least some of this modern style to infuse the film with the funky vibe it’s so obviously screaming out for.
Unfortunately, in the end this film just didn’t make the grade and this is especially disappointing because it had a lot of potential but it’s certainly not the worst film I’ve seen this year. I feel like a school teacher writing a report and all I can think of saying is…”could do better”.