Dir: Rakesh Roshan
Star: Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Rajat Bedi, Rekha
For the first Hindi SF film, I can’t help wishing they’d come up with an original idea, rather than a wholesale ripoff of E.T. – though with typical Bollywood charm, everything from Flowers for Algernon through to Singing in the Rain are also clear inspirations. At first, however, its closest cousin is another Spielberg film, Close Encounters, as a scientist uses music to communicate with aliens; bizarrely, the tune he uses is actually Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, played very slowly. [This might be an accident, but something suspiciously close to Art of Noise’s Moments in Love crops up later in the soundtrack, so I think a fan of 80’s technopop worked on the music. And the production company is called Filmkraft…]
Said boffin (played by the director, who’s also the star’s real-life Dad) dies in a car crash caused by a UFO, which also causes his pregnant wife to bear a mentally defective son. Twenty years later, Rohit (Bollywood superstar Roshan) is still struggling at school, tormented by the local boys, and hanging out with those around his mental age. But two arrivals change his life. First, Nisha (Zinta), who sees the warm heart within Rohit, and then they discover Dad’s old computer, boot it up and send out the alien signal. A couple of nights later, in probably the film’s best scene, the town is visited by a massive mothership – and evidence suggests one of the aliens was left behind… E.T. follows – with the twist that, while the little rubber-faced critter can cure Rohit’s affliction, will the inevitable departure lead to a relapse?
Two things about the film distract – firstly, Roshan has two thumbs on one hand. Really. It’s quite bizarre (in the US, there’s no chance any actor wouldn’t get that fixed), and I noticed they gave the alien the same deformity. Secondly, the scenery is stunning: oddly, much of it was shot in Canada, rather than India. As for the film itself [Ah, Bollywood: you need 2 1/2 paragraphs to say anything meaningful], it suffers from meaningless subplots, such as a pointless basketball match, and the over-familiarity of the subject matter. Luckily, the performances are mostly good, particularly Roshan, and Rekha as his mother, who give the film emotional heart when it could easily become pure cheese. Even at 165 minutes, it’s rarely a chore, though it’s clear India still has much to learn before it can deliver SF that can stand beside Hollywood.