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Let Love Be Your Guiding Light...

It’s a  well-known truism: Americans are starved for romance. How starved?

According to American news reports, they prefer British men over American men, because they think British men are “more romantic.”

“The bar has been lowered so much by American men that British men look like superstars to American women,” says Matt Titus, author of “Why Hasn’t He Called.”

There is even an elite dating service that pairs brash American women with British men. American women pay Rs three lakh PER YEAR to join, just for a few introductions to British men which may or may not lead to second dates.

That’s how starved Americans are for romance. If the women are starved, the men are starved too, naturally.

Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of those great Latin lovers, the British, to go around, so too many American women are forced to find romance in books and movies. In fact, American men can be very romantic, they’re not all dressed-up cavemen, and British men can be cavemen too. The whole world is starved for romance.

This is where Bollywood comes in.  Love desired, love gained, love betrayed, love lost, love found again -- these are familiar tropes in the cinema. But Indian cinema places a higher premium on them than Hollywood, and often expresses them differently. Bollywood loves love, at least onscreen, and has a key advantage over Hollywood because in Hindi movies, men dance as well as swashbuckle, and women all over the world like that, a lot.

The things that traditionally hold back Indian romantic comedies in the west are no longer as evident in Bollywood. There is less saccharine and more realism, more kissing, tighter and more innovative scripts. Running time is still an issue, as the western attention span is trained to a 90-minute vehicle, two hours on the outside, while indian movie lovers often feel cheated by the shorter time. (Most of the exceptions to this rule are scifi or historical epics, and notably, one of those exceptions is Lagaan.)

A happy medium can be achieved with the western audience by cutting out extraneous dance numbers. There is almost always one, often two that don’t work from a western perspective.

Bollywood already has everything it needs to succeed in this area, including great onscreen couples and romantic heroes. These days, all major stars of Hindi film have cult followings among firangi, many of whom blog about it.  Western movie critics seem to be rooting for Bollywood and its stars too. This is your Fifth Column.

Bollywood also has a clear edge when it comes to combining genres, like putting action and romantic comedy together. In the west, action and romance are almost always segregated, even though the audience no longer is.

Western filmmakers seem to have a hard time combining the two genres.  Romance might appear in an action film, but it’s usually a minor subplot, playing a poor second fiddle to the “action,” as in Star Wars or the Indiana Jones movies. A romantic comedy might have a little adventure, but not enough to please action fans of either gender -- not even close. The exceptions in Hollywood, and they are rare, are 1984’s Romancing The Stone and last year’s Avatar.

This, I think, is what Kites was trying to do,  but didn’t quite. I liked Kites -- so sue me -- but I left the theater thinking, they could have just remade Dhoom 2.

Dhoom 2 is my second favorite Indian romance, after Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, which as a “parallel” film is a topic for another day.  Dhoom 2 has everything --  great music, great choreography and dancing, sexual tension, romance and action.

I’m not alone in this assessment. I have my own personal focus group for Indian movies, people from different walks of life, races, economic levels and geographic locations throughout North America, people I’ve either sent movies to or who have watched them with me. Of all the films in my Indian film sampler, the one that everyone loves is Dhoom 2, from the stay at home mom to the career woman to the blue collar dad to the action producer in Hollywood. The action folks loved the singing and dancing as well as the stunts, and the romantic crowd loved the action as well as the romance and dancing. The only major change suggested, and this was a unanimous choice, was cutting out the superfluous beach and eating scenes and the song My name is Ali, which is not catchy enough to justify stopping the action and seems to be there just to give Uday Chopra and Bipasha Basu more to do. Three people -- all women -- noted that men do all the cooking in the movie.

If you give the cavemen great action  and tie it all in to a great plot, they’ll be able to enjoy the romance with pure pleasure instead of guilty pleasure and you will have provided the Perfect Date Movie. Great music and dance numbers, a little campy self-parody and a world-class kiss don’t hurt either.

Sparkle Hayter is a writer who worked in Bollywood for a Canadian movie channel for two years. She has been following Hindi cinema for over 20 years.

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