In a summer of sci-fi blockbusters and comicbook heroes on the silver screen, there's a milestone that's come and gone almost unnoticed by the American public.
India has released her first big-budget special effects sci-fi epic.
Sci-fi has never gone over well with Bollywood audiences. You would think that a film industry that specializes in masala flicks, those spicy mashups of action, comedy, musical, and romance, could fit in just one extra genre.
And in recent years there's been some success. Koi . . . Mil Gaya (a Bollywood version of E.T.) and it's sequel Krrrish (a Bollywood hybrid of The Matrix and Batman) did pretty well at the box office. And ghost stories such as Bhoot and Bhootnath have popped up with increasing frequency.
It's a sign of an increasingly urban, educated, and affluent Bollywood audience that embraces speculative narratives. Bollywood still has to play to the provinces, it still has to entertain the rubes who will riot at the mere mention of dalits, but now it also has to play to a culture of techies and a diaspora of expatriates accustomed to Hollywood-sized production values.
You would think that this was the perfect time and place for Love Story 2050, the biggest and flashiest sci-fi flick to ever come out of Bollywood. On paper it seems perfect. It's highly international, filmed partially in Australia, promoted at the IIFA awards in Thailand, and premiered in London. It's a reincarnation romance, the genre recently reborn with Shahrukh Khan's Om Shanti Om. The first half of the movie is your standard musical love story. Other than a half-hearted parkour scene, there's little remarkable about it.
In the second half, the hero travels forward in time to Mumbai in 2050 to re-unite himself with the re-incarnated soul of the woman he loves.
Because this is a Bollywood flick, ninety minutes go by before the time machine fires up. And another ninety pass before the credits roll.
It pays off to wait the length of your average Hollywood fare for your first taste of speculative imagery. That hour and a half is like the languid intensity of a Tarkovsky film, or the quiet pauses of a Beat Takeshi movie. It primes you for the moment when the hero looks at the glowing towers of Mumbai and sees his one true love amid the aircars and hoverbikes.
She's now a redhead and an international rockstar with a giant floating dance platform, but it's the same woman.
I don't know about you, but other than the post-scarcity economy, the one thing I'm looking forward to about the future is all the redheads.
The musical set-pieces in the latter half, with their dancing cyborgs, are themselves worth the price of admission. Dance numbers are what Bollywood does best, the same way that Hong Kong does kung fu, America does car chases, and Japan does tentacle porn.
Sadly, the writing doesn't achieve the same quality. Love Story 2050 is the sole artistic responsibility of writer/director/producer Harry Baweja. He was best known as the director of Qayamat: City Under Threat, a tawdry (yet very entertaining) interpretation of Bruckheimer's The Rock.
Baweja's dialogue is forced, the plot melodramatic, and the characters flat, even by Bollywood standards (although it is neat to see the hero's character arc between a trust-fund brat who wrecks daddy's car to a futuristic rebel who wrecks aircars).
Surprisingly, his most questionable production choice panned out perfectly. Baweja cast his own son, Harmon Baweja in the lead role. There has been much comparison between Harmon and established Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan. Harmon and Hrithik have the exact same hair. They both have six-packs. They look almost identical. And they both are where they are today because daddy is a big-name Bollywood producer.
But most importantly, they are both unaccountably talented. Harmon dances like a snake in a hotplate.
The futuristic vision of Love Story 2050 leaves much to be desired. Every single sci-fi image was cribbed from another movie. They have the teddybear robot from A.I. There's the regimented hall of robots from Will Smith's I, Robot. There's the aircar chase from Phantom Menace. Nowhere is there anything as fresh and edgy as, say, Ian McDonald's vision of future India.
Love Story 2050 has met scathing reviews and lackluster ticket sales. It's already well on its way to being a flop.
Young Harry will probably escape the catastrophe unscathed. His highly publicized affair with co-star Priyanka Chopra and his crazy snake hips have already landed him follow-up roles and a place in the pantheon of bankable Bollywood stars. From that perspective, Love Story 2050 has accomplished all that was expected of it.
As an experiment in genre filmmaking, Love Story 2050 has failed miserably. It may be years before we see another movie with bhangra-dancing robots.
So enjoy it while you can.