Director Deepa Mehta has always been willing to tackle explosive and emotional subjects in her films. When her "Fire" was released in India in 1998, the lesbian relationship at its center so incensed religious conservatives that they were moved to riot, vandalizing and burning theaters that dared to show the picture.
Yet the love that the Toronto-based Mehta still holds for her Indian home has always been palpable in her work. "Bollywood/Hollywood" is ample evidence. Turning on its head the typical Bollywood plotline -- "Nonresident Indian returns from the decadent West to fall in love with a girl and his homeland while singing many, many songs in the process" -- the movie tells the story of Rahul, an obscenely well-to-do Indian, and the incredible pressure his family puts on him to marry a nice Indian girl. In the process, they sing many, many songs.
Mehta crafted the film with a wink-wink hilarity that at first teeters between parody and homage. The combination of stereotypes (the overbearing women in Rahul's family, the clash between "tradition" and "modern life") and sheer bizarreness (Rahul's last girlfriend was a "white whore" who died in a levitating accident, while his chauffeur, Rocky, is a sari-clad drag queen when not at the wheel of the Town Car) helps flesh out the razor-thin plot: Rahul must find a fiancee -- an Indian one, no less -- or his mother will call off his sister Twinky's wedding. (Twinky!) Rahul meets a girl who he thinks is Spanish and pays her to play Indian long enough to convince his mother to go through with his sister's wedding. Of course, the voluptuous and sassy "Sue" turns out to be "Sunita," who's dealing with her own Indian-in-Toronto issues (namely, a father who spontaneously breaks into songs from Bollywood movies during conversation). For an hour, we get to wonder whether she'll really win Rahul's heart.
Played out like a soap opera-cum-Bollywood retread of "Pretty Woman" and "Monsoon Wedding," "Bollywood/Hollywood" features musical numbers staged on a low budget but laced with the neck-snapping edits that make modern Bollywood films such dizzying spectacles. Such touches reveal the true heart of the film. It's clear that Mehta simply wanted to update her beloved genre for the thousands of Indians who fancy themselves too sophisticated for the cheese-laced spectacles that pack 'em in on the subcontinent.