A love story set amid a rivalry among bike gangs in the gritty streets
of Mumbai.

Familiarity with an Indian flavour.

There are times when Bollywood releases feel like a mash-up recreation of the cinematic past, and instances when they hint at being the future. Pradeep Sarkar’s Lafangey Parindey, which had a worldwide release last week, is a typically hyperactive, genre-bending mainstream film from the vast Indian market: colourful song and dance sequences, a melodramatic storyline underpinning the structure, heavy over-reliance on editing for momentum and texture, and a handful of gloriously untoward moments that defy written explanation.

It’s comparatively easy to break down the elements and aesthetics that Australian audiences without a great deal of Bollywood experience will recognise: Busby Berkeley musicals shot on the street with natural light, motorbike stunts that recall an ersatz The Fast & the Furious; 40s romance that requires great loss to pre-empt great love; Flashdance; in fact the more you think about the picture the more you wonder why Joel Schumacher – the happily preposterous Joel Schumacher of Batman & Robin and Flatliners and St. Elmo’s Fire – hasn’t reinvented himself on the sub-continent? Openness, to influences or the compromise of genres, was a quality he always had.

As it is Sarkar is catching up fast. While there is a patina of social realism to Lafangey Parindey, which is set in the dense back streets of Mumbai, the film stays close to the pre-ordained love between two protagonists who keep the outside world at arm’s length. One Shot Nandu (Neil Nitin Mukesh) is a bare knuckle boxer who fights blindfolded because his other senses are so strong. Pinky Palkar (Deepika Padukone, rocking a truly great character name) is a young blind woman who finds her freedom dancing on roller skates (Mumbai may be crowded, but her ability to commandeer essentially empty warehouse with silhouetted lighting is preternatural).

Naturally they meet cute, and although both to differing degrees and distinct reasons want to get out of their neighbourhood, a fair proportion of scenes make it an altogether inviting place. The text is about someone who doesn’t want to see the world, and someone who desperately does but simply cannot, although the boyish Neil Nitin Mukesh may not have the cavalier disdain that One Shot Nandu requires. As he plays the character, despite the boxing scenes, he’s all too easily cracked.

Then again it helps when the cracking is done by a movie star as natural as Deepika Padukone. One of the great joys of Bollywood is the industry’s unswerving dedication to female screen perfection. Padukone, a former model, is photographed with all the care (but none of the shadows) that Josef von Sternberg lavished on Marlene Dietrich, and she in turn plays comic scenes with a light touch that just stays out of the saccharine while the romantic scenes are a fait accompli since the camera already loves her. Padukone is not a great screen actress, but she is a formidable screen presence (and in the cinema that’s a very subtle distinction). There are scenes where Pinky Palkar seems to regain her sight given what she does, but Padukone breezes through them. Continuity is plainly for character actors.


In Cinemas 20 August 2010,