Eventually Jackie Chan and Jet Li, after years as stars in the East, made a dent in the U.S. market; and in 2005 the movie Bride and Prejudice, starring Bollywood princess Aishwarya Rai, tried unsuccessfully to anglicize the Indian musical. Yet there's been little foreign exchange between the two national cinemas. So far as I know, Chandni Chowk, which Warner Bros. is giving a fairly wide release in the States this week, represents the first A-budget crossbreeding of Bollywood and Hong Kong.
The results of this genetic experiment are mixed. Chandni Chowk (named for a working-class neighborhood in Delhi) is probably a decent sampler for Americans who've never seen a full-out Bollywood musical, since it goes heavy on the action scenes and light on the big dance numbers. The movie does include other conventions of the genre, such as the need of a young man to both rebel against his father figure and please him, and the melodramatic abasing of the protagonist; but these are familiar from Hollywood films, so they won't strike the uneducated viewer as unduly weird, just a little hackneyed. Indeed, that's the impression I got from the movie: different faces, same clichés. And (another facet of Bollywood films), longer: 2 hours and 36 minutes. In current American movies, that running time would encompass the telling of a man's whole life, backward. The plot should remind you of Kung Fu Panda, last year's excellent DreamWorks cartoon about the clumsy bear, employed in his father's noodle shop, who becomes a martial-arts expert and saves his village from a villainous tiger. Chandni Chowk is more a Kung Fu Pandit, with the oaf-hero Sidhu (Akshay Kumar), chopping away in the shop of his Dada (Mithun Chakraborty). Some visiting Chinese folks ID him as the incarnation of their nation's greatest warrior, Liu Sheng, and think Sidhu is just the fellow to rid their village of the oppressive Hojo (Gordon Liu). Accompanied by his raffish translator Chopsticks (Ranvir Shorey), Sidhu travels to the Great Wall, where his life is saved by a mysterious beggar (Roger Yuan) with twin Indo-Chinese daughters: the TV hostess Sakhi and Hojo's henchwoman Suzy (both played by Deepika Padukone) who were separated at birth and unaware of each other's existence.