JHOOM BARABAR JHOOMNR
Shakespeare doesn't get much more universal than when providing the plot of a Bollywood romantic-comedy musical—and just as Hamlet echoed in The Lion King, so does A Midsummer Night's Dream reverberate in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. With a heart as big as Bangladesh underscoring wacky complications and a mis-identity plot, this rambunctious confection may in fact be too American for Indian critics, who gave it mixed to negative reviews. An Indian-American audience on an opening-night show in Manhattan, however, was rollicking.
Goodhearted go-to guy Rikki Thukral (Abhishek Bachchan) can get you tickets to a soccer match or counterfeit DVDs. His cell-phone ringtone chimes, "Hello, handsome!," and his favorite two sayings are "I've got class"—which is more aspiration than anything—and "What-ya-saying?," which usually follows some unexpectedly befuddling or doubtful remark.
Prone to making those remarks are his Pakistani buddy, Huffy Bhai (Piyush Mishra), a philosophical guy who helps them stay one step ahead of the cops, and Alvira Khan (Preity Zinta), a smart-mouthed girl-next-door he meets at a crowded sandwich shop in London's Waterloo railway station, where the two are forced to share a table. Al, as she's called, wants nothing to do with the flirtatious young man, whose come-on technique might be described as proud Pound Puppy. Right away she tells Rikki to back off—she’s engaged and waiting for her fiancé coming in on the Birmingham train. That's a coincidence, Rikki replies—he’s waiting for his own fiancée arriving on the same train. This being British Rail, that train turns out to be an hour or two late, and with nothing else to do, the two while away the time telling stories of how they met their betrotheds.
Al describes a rich, dashing, romantic lawyer, the half-Brit, half-Indian Steve Singh (Bobby Deol), who swept her off her feet—literally—when he saved her from a falling Superman figure at Madame Tussauds. Rikki regales Al with his tale of Anaida Raza (Lara Dutta), a manager at the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Flat broke after a more-or-less legal deal failed to go down, he got caught trying to bail on his bill. Anaida first makes him wash dishes to work off his debt, but gets softhearted when he explains that if she'll let him return to London, he'll dash back with the money he owes. He keeps his word, and after a brief misunderstanding they declare their love. At one point Rikki wonders how she could fall in love with a schlub like him, since, he says, she looks like Miss World. It's an in-joke: Dutta was Miss Universe 2000—and in a hip-swiveling musical number wearing a micro-miniskirt, she leaves no doubt she could have taken the title every year from then till now.
That eye-popping dance is just one example of a frankness here that's unusual for Bollywood. We see Alvira and Steve embrace passionately in silhouette, Al tells a suitor she's had sex with 11 men, and Rikki incorporates into his plan a beautiful prostitute whom he frequents. It's all played chastely and for laughs—the girl's a hooker like Shirley MacLaine and Julia Roberts were movie hookers, but still…
It would be a spoiler to describe the specific complications those crazy kids get into, but it's a ball. As always with Indian cinema, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom—the title of which translates variously as "Dance, Baby, Dance" or "Sway, Baby, Sway" and was inspired by the unrelated 1960s Indian hit "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom Sharabi"—has a host of song-and-dance numbers that take music-video conventions and add seasoning. Bachchan's father, the legendary Indian action star Amitabh Bachchan, plays a Greek-chorus Puck/Oberon figure in musical interludes, looking like an subcontinental Willie Nelson in a coat of many colors.
That this sweetly silly musical also gives us a beautifully heartbreaking fantasy sequence of two young lovers marrying, having a family and growing old together elevates it all from the silly to the sublime.