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Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000

FILM GENERAL'S WARNING

'Jeans' may cause dizziness


The phrase "overdoing it" is just not in the vocabulary of the Indian film industry -- along with words like "subtlety," "reticence" and "brevity." The average Indian film spans three hours and is packed to the gills with Indian pop-rock, nonstop dance numbers, saris galore and the most beautiful women on the planet. Walk into one of these and you are walking into the heart of an orchestral cymbals section.

The latest is "Jeans," which incorporates all of the factors just mentioned -- and multiplies it by 10. The director: Shankar, who also penned the screenplay, and repped it to be incapable of anything unfantastic. The music score: created by A.R. Rahman, the "Hans Zimmer" of Indian movies. The leading star: Aishwarya Rai, Miss World '94 and currently India's busiest actress. The result: 175 minutes of rock-solid entertainment, where something happens, someone sings or dances in every single frame. In all fairness, this is a movie that should come with a doctor's warning.

Speaking of which, Aishwarya Rai should not be allowed in public without an entourage of paramedics. Surely one cannot gaze at her for more than 10 seconds without sunglasses. Put her next to anything -- a building, a palm tree, a man -- and they all start to look ridiculous. If there is a flaw in her beauty, it's that there is too much. The senses can't handle it. Circuits go out of whack, fuses blow and one is left to gape, stupidly, while several million brain cells sizzle and melt away.

But the sheer scale of "Jeans" demands just such a personage. Featuring location spots from three continents and 14 different cities, with a dizzying story line that probably breaks a couple of physics laws, "Jeans" redefines "major motion picture" with a vengeance. "Jeans," a joint Hollywood production, makes full use of every American cent. No special effects, no fancy production design. Just zowie CG visuals and a cast that worked their butts off and followed him all over the globe. (Three of the leading stars play extremely convincing twins, and when you consider how long the movie is, it's a wonder these people had time to sleep.)

Rai plays Madu, a dazzling Indian girl who has come to L.A. with her brother Madhesh (Raju Sundaram) and grandma (Lakshmi) for the latter's operation. At the airport she runs into twin brothers Visu and Ramu (Prasanth in an incredible double role) who graciously invite the family to their home. Visu and Ramu are completely identical in everything, including college majors and outfits. Only their father (Nazar) can tell them apart.

This is a problem for Madu, since she and Visu have fallen passionately in love, but she never knows which of the brothers she is whispering sweet nothings to. The father has his own solution: Madu can forget about marrying his son, since he will only consent to mate the pair with twins. Seeing Madu's grief, grandma steps in. That's OK, she says. Madu has a twin sister, separated at birth. The father insists on meeting her and everyone sets out to Madu's home in Madras. To you, this was a two-paragraph summary. To me, it was over an hour of singing, dancing and the kind of melodrama that could kill an ox if injected into its bloodstream. Plus the fact that at this time, Madu has changed outfits and hairdos about 30 times (total of 64), against a whole slew of different Californian settings (Universal Studios was a gas). And the story isn't half over. When finally they land in Madras and Madu's twin sister Vaishnavi (Rai, again) enters the scene, one feels that a 30-minute break is in order -- preferably with a futon, overlooking a rock garden, to get in touch with something drab and gray for a change.

But the movie forges on. Soon it's revealed that the twin brothers' father was also a twin, but certain unhappy incidents in the past have set him against the slightest bit of differentiation. Needless to say, theirs is one confusing family. Especially when all the twins get together and start hurling insults at one another. And the extraordinary thing is, they all look natural. Bizarre, but natural, like in a Diane Arbus photo.

"Jeans" is in a league apart from most Indian movies. As the title suggests, it's a lot more casual and Westernized, with a distinct MTV touch to the music sequences. More than anything, it shows what Indian movies can do, once they've discarded traditional dress and changed into jeans.

If they ever decide to go for leather, half of Hollywood may have to get another job.

"Jeans" opens today at Cine Saison in Shibuya.


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