- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

Bollywood is a billion-dollar business. However, most Americans have had just a taste of the Hindi-language genre through clips shown on television screens in their local Indian eateries.

That could change with “Chandni Chowk to China” as Warner Bros. gives the film the largest-ever release of a Bollywood movie in North America.

The question is: Will this very different type of film please the American palate?

“Chandni Chowk” seems, in some ways, like a dish at one of those Indian restaurants - its spiciness has been toned down for the American market.

Still, it’s unlike anything Hollywood puts out. The Bollywood film is unapologetically sentimental and silly, and this melodrama is no exception.

One of Bollywood’s biggest stars, the dashing Akshay Kumar, stars as Sidhu. For reasons that aren’t quite clear, two Chinese men the bumbling Sidhu bumps into think he’s the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior. Their village has been enslaved by the Shanghai despot Hojo (Gordon Liu from “Kill Bill”) and they think Sidhu is their only hope of defeating him and his henchmen.

The humble cook works at his father’s restaurant at the bustling Chandni Chowk market and doesn’t speak a word of Chinese. One of his unscrupulous friends does, though, and tricks Sidhu into going to China under rather false pretenses.

Also on her way to the Orient is a beautiful actress, played by Deepika Padukone. She was born in China to a Chinese father and Indian mother, and her family was torn apart by the aforementioned Hojo. She and Sidhu both have reason to fear the tyrant.

“Chandni Chowk” boasts a few other firsts. It’s the first Hindi film shot in China, and it’s the first film the Chinese government has allowed to shoot a fight scene on the Great Wall. “Chandni Chowk” is, in fact, the first Bollywood kung-fu comedy.

Of course, the problem is that the action is broken up now and then by the song-and-dance numbers that are obligatory in Bollywood. The lyrics tend to be pretty corny in these numbers, but maybe something is lost in translation. (Sample line: “Like tamarind, I’m spicy and sweet.”)

On the other hand, perhaps it all adds to the comedy. When one song in China urges, “Be the master of your destiny,” Sidhu exclaims, “‘Master!’ This is an Indian song.”

The silliness begins with Sidhu’s father repeatedly sending him flying across Delhi by kicking him in the butt, and it continues when Sidhu insists on carrying around a potato he says contains the image of Ganesh.

At about 2 1/2 hours, “Chandni Chowk” might be a bit too much Bollywood for most Americans to handle. You won’t want to see another shot of a female with a single tear rolling down her cheek for quite some time.

Still, the film and its charming slacker protagonist are likable enough and provide a slick introduction to one part of world cinema that even our art houses have neglected.

★★½

TITLE: “Chandni Chowk to China”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence and martial-arts action)

CREDITS: Directed by Nikhil Advani. Written by Shridhar Raghavan with dialogue by Rajat Arora.

RUNNING TIME: 154 minutes

WEB SITE: https://cc2c-thefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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