Published: May 17, 2011
CANNES, France – Saris swished, heaved and swirled Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival, as the rarified bastion of auteur cinema paid homage to the world's most popular movie industry: Bollywood.
A montage of footage culled from nearly seven decades of Indian films, "Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told," bursts with the irrepressible energy and over-the-top exuberance of Bollywood, and India itself.
Directors Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Jeff Zimbalist, a 32-year-old American, appear to have been trying to pack snippets from as many films as they can into the movie's 81-minute running time. They allow most scenes just a few seconds, giving the movie the feel of an extended music video.
The idea for the movie, which screened out of competition, stemmed from a conversation one of the producers, Shekhar Kapur, had with festival organizers last year, when the "Elizabeth" director was on the jury.
The montage is loosely arranged around Bollywood's eternal themes — love at first sight, love thwarted, love regained. Couples chase each other through fields filled with yellow flowers, race toward one another on train platforms, roll in haystacks and frolic in the rain in a seemingly endless parade of wet sari shots.
There's also a surprising number of locked lips, considering that on-screen kisses only made it onto Bollywood's silver screen in the last few years.
For the uninitiated, "Bollywood" can be exasperating. But for the estimated 2 billion regular consumers of Bollywood films, it's a thrilling ride. All the best moments of all the best movies are there, from the elaborately choreographed dance scenes of crossover blockbusters like "Devdas" or "Lagaan" to the train-top scene in "Dil Se" to the pathos-filled crooning of classic tear jerker "Mother India."
But the jewels of the movie are the stars themselves: Muscle-bound Hrithik Roshan, sweet girl-next-door Kajol, long and lean Katrina Kaif and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai. And of course, two men widely considered cinematic gods in India: Amitabh Bachchan — worshipped for his roles as a take-no-prisoners gangster and an irresistible ladies man in the 1970s — and today's undisputed superstar, Shah Rukh Khan.
"It's a celebration of Bollywood ... a documentary take on all the razzmatazz," Roonie Screwvala, one of the film's three producers, told journalists at Cannes. "There's just so much excitement around Indian cinema and we wanted to capture that."