THODA PYAAR THODA MAGICNot Rated
Maybe our shuddering expectations helped, but this Bollywood musical about an angel and the four orphaned children she's sent to care for in the mansion of a cold multimillionaire who's been forced to take them in actually pulls it off: a tearjerker-comedy family film that doesn't make you want to puke. In fact, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic ("A Little Love, A Little Magic") goes way the opposite direction, addressing such themes as abandonment and judicial disparity for the rich, and including a sexy though not risqué pool party. This ain't your Gandhi's family movie.
Ranbeer Talwar (prolific Indian superstar Saif Ali Khan, recently seen here in Race and in the wildly Tarantinoesque romp Tashan) is a concrete-hearted celebrity CEO. Driving back one night from being presented yet another award he doesn't care about, Talwar accidentally broadsides a car at an intersection, killing the two parents within. Faster than you can say "media circus," a year has passed, and speculation's rampant that this famous multimillionaire will somehow evade justice. And in an admirably un-whitewashed nod to moneyed reality, he sort of does: Rather than be sentenced to 20 years in prison, like others might get, Talwar is ordered to take in the four orphaned Walia children: the seven-year-old eldest Vashisht (Akshat Chopra); Aditi (the young Joan Cusack lookalike Shriya Sharma); adopted Sikh brother Iqbal (Rachit Sidana) and tiny Avantika (Ayushi Berman). No shipping them off to boarding school, no traveling without them, and no making them unhappy, the judge warns, or you really will get sent up the Ganges.
The kids, however, are hardly angels. Taking a hard-line approach that if they can't be with their parents, they'll just raise themselves, the four alienate the few relatives willing to take them in. And as for Talwar—whom they hate with visceral passion for having taken their mother and father from them—they're going to make him blow his top and go to prison.
God, however, in the form of a nattily white-suited, celestial chairman of the board (Rishi Kapoor), takes pity on the orphans, and over the objections of his all-female archangels he's dispatches their childlike compatriot Geeta (major Bollywood star Rani Mukerjee), his favorite. Riding a bicycle down a rainbow—hey, is it any odder than Mary Poppins floating to earth with an umbrella?—the ever-cheerful Geeta bulldozes her way into the household, and magically flipsides the kids' traps and other attempts at getting rid of her. She helps the uncompromisingly unpleasant, self-centered Talwar by getting his ditzy-bombshell girlfriend Mallaika (the heart-stopping Amisha Patel, a Tufts University grad who worked for Morgan Stanley before taking up acting) to break up with him, as he'd been wishing for.
Though Talwar by this point still hasn't warmed to the kids, he figures he can at least use his charm and other business techniques to defuse them. This works to a point, but when the clan must travel to Los Angeles to close a big corporate buyout, and bitter ringleader Vashisht sees a chance to ruin Talwar's empire, matters reach a head.
That the film brings to such sitcom-y convolutions a palpable range of emotions from characters with genuine inner lives is a remarkable feat. Some tropes are just that—the deadpan butler, the occasional "wacky" music, the big ol' drooly dog—but more often the film delivers scenes and ideas you don't often find in similar American films like, oh, The Game Plan with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. When Geeta takes the bored, jaded kids to a museum, and makes history literally come alive by Forrest Gumping them into the virtual middle of one of the Indo-Pakistani Wars, you know you're in territory where Disney dares not tread.