-By Ethan Alter

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Salaam Namaste is a routine Bollywood musical comedy with one notable exception-it is the first such production to be filmed entirely in Melbourne, Australia. Director Siddarth Raj Anand makes the most of this "exotic" locale: Ninety percent of the film is shot outdoors and he rarely uses the same location twice. The result is a movie that functions as both a piece of entertainment and a travelogue. In fact, the Melbourne tourist bureau might want to prepare themselves for the onslaught of visitors that is sure to follow the film's release. They could even use stills from the movie in their brochures.

Just because the setting has changed, though, you shouldn't expect the story to be any different. Once again, we are presented with a pair of mismatched would-be lovers who spend the first half of the movie bickering until romance finally blossoms, courtesy of a lengthy love song. In Salaam Namaste, these crazy kids are Nick (Saif Ali Khan) and Ambar (Preity Zinta). He's the star chef at Melbourne's top Indian restaurant; she's the star RJ (radio jockey) at Melbourne's top Indian radio station. Clearly, this is a match made in Bollywood, but their relationship gets off on the wrong foot when Nick misses his scheduled on-air interview with Ambar. After that debacle, neither of them wants to be in the same room together. But then they wind up meeting face-to-face at a wedding and-wouldn't you know it?-hit it off. Still, Ambar is reluctant to start a relationship since she's working towards a medical degree in addition to her job at the radio station. Rather than take no for answer, Nick proposes that they move in together-keeping separate bedrooms, of course-to see if they get along. While this idea doesn't sound particularly practical, it seems to work for them. Not long after moving into a gorgeous beach house, they are ready to give up the separate-bedrooms arrangement.

As the movie enters its second hour, the tone abruptly shifts from comedy to melodrama. Ambar discovers she's pregnant and decides to keep the baby over Nick's violent objections. The lovers endure a painful breakup, but neither one is able to move out due to money problems. So they continue to live together, even though they refuse to acknowledge each other's presence. Will Ambar go through with the pregnancy? Will Nick grow up and learn to take responsibility? Will the movie end happily despite all the heartbreak? And finally, will there be more singing and dancing? If you thought the answer to any of these questions was no, then you've clearly never seen a Bollywood picture before.

Like this past spring's Indian import Bunty aur Babli, Salaam Namaste gets a lot of mileage out of its charismatic lead actors. Khan and Zinta make a charming onscreen couple and acquit themselves nicely in the more dramatic scenes as well. The dance numbers are appropriately surreal and energetic and there are also some fun supporting performances, particularly Javed Jafferi's hilarious turn as an Indian landlord who believes he's the second coming of Crocodile Dundee. And while the movie doesn't attempt to offer any deep social commentary, it does touch on the different ways these characters have chosen to assimilate into their new surroundings. (Nick has stopped using his Indian name, for example, much to Ambar's distaste.)

But Salaam Namaste isn't as consistently engaging as Bunty aur Babli; the storytelling is choppier and the melodramatic second half grows tedious after a while. At times, director Anand seems to think he's helming a commercial instead of a movie; the first dance number on a beach is filmed like an ad for swimwear, complete with rapid-fire editing and swooping camera moves. It's fair to say that the Melbourne setting-along with Khan and Zinta-makes the movie. Otherwise, it mainly feels like Bollywood business as usual.

-Ethan Alter

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