From Hollywood Babylon To 'Bollywood Hero'

Chris Kattan as Klaptar the Space Goat in 'Bollywood Hero' i

No second banana: Stuck with second- or third-fiddle roles like Klaptar the Space Goat, comic Chris Kattan (above) decides to leave Hollywood for India to pursue a leading-man career. Craig Mathew/IFC hide caption

itoggle caption Craig Mathew/IFC
Chris Kattan as Klaptar the Space Goat in 'Bollywood Hero'

No second banana: Stuck with second- or third-fiddle roles like Klaptar the Space Goat, comic Chris Kattan (above) decides to leave Hollywood for India to pursue a leading-man career.

Craig Mathew/IFC

The Oscar-winning surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire was directed by a Brit, sure, but it was shot and set in Mumbai, India — and with its exuberant score and its tense plotting, it turned many Americans on to the flash and dazzle of Bollywood-style movies.

Hoping to capitalize on the resulting interest, television's Independent Film Channel is premiering a three-night miniseries event called Bollywood Hero. Saturday Night Live veteran Chris Kattan, playing a fictionalized version of himself in the title role, leaves Hollywood for the Hindi-language movie capital because he's offered his first chance to be a leading man.

Kattan says he jumped at the opportunity to do Bollywood Hero because Indian movies make him remember why he wanted to be a film actor.

"I had that dream of wanting to be in the movies that we used to make," Kattan says. "You know, those great MGM musicals and those great action films, when movies were an escape and really, really, pure entertainment. Bollywood makes those kinds of films."

In what might be a nod to his own frustrations, Kattan plays an actor who wants to break out of comedic roles, but who can't get anyone in Hollywood to take him seriously. In the first installment, in fact, Kattan's L.A. agent tells him he's lucky to be getting cast as "the second male alien lead on a budding cable network TV show." So when Kattan meets an Indian director and gets offered a role as a leading man in a Bollywood production called Peculiar Dancing Boy, he takes it.

A Movie Town Richer (And More Beloved) Than Hollywood

Kattan-the-character is surprised when he arrives in India and discovers a sophisticated industry; his director (Ali Fazal) takes him on a tour of a Bollywood studio, and Kattan is amazed at its size. Then the director mentions, gloatingly, that when Steven Spielberg needed financing for his latest deal, he came to India.

"This is in fact accurate," says Temple University Professor Priya Joshi, who's working on a book about Indian cinema. She says $500 million of Indian money was just poured into a DreamWorks joint venture.

Chris Kattan and Ruma Sengupta in 'Bollywood Hero' i

Once he's on the ground in Mumbai, Kattan learns that Bollywood choreography is tougher than it looks. Luckily, there's Ruma Sengupta to help turn him into a Bollywood Hero. Kerry Monteen/IFC hide caption

itoggle caption Kerry Monteen/IFC
Chris Kattan and Ruma Sengupta in 'Bollywood Hero'

Once he's on the ground in Mumbai, Kattan learns that Bollywood choreography is tougher than it looks. Luckily, there's Ruma Sengupta to help turn him into a Bollywood Hero.

Kerry Monteen/IFC

But Indian cinema brings more to the table than money. It's a moviemaking style that's extremely popular around the world. Every year, more people buy tickets for Indian films than American movies.

Most American audiences are traditionally cool about foreign movies. But IFC executive Debbie DeMontreux, who greenlighted Bollywood Hero, thinks Americans will enjoy the series because it mixes a little West with its East.

"You are telling it through the eyes of an American character who American audiences are very familiar with," DeMontro says. "I think it's a really nice mix of an American story and an introduction to a different type of cinema."

Even the big glitzy dance numbers mix East and West. In real life, Kattan struggled to learn how to do Indian dance — and that found its way into the plot of Bollywood Hero. When he finally gets the choreography down, he sets out to impress a Bollywood starlet, played by real-life Indian cinema goddess Neha Dhupia. He asks her to dance — and suddenly the two of them are decked out in bejeweled costumes, surrounded by a dozen dancers. That wouldn't be out of place in a Bollywood hit, but here the music has a distinctly Western disco flavor.

Neha Dhupia in 'Bollywood Hero' i

Desilicious: Neha Dhupia plays Kattan's Bollywood crush — the development of which, naturally, necessitates a dance number. Kerry Monteen/IFC hide caption

itoggle caption Kerry Monteen/IFC
Neha Dhupia in 'Bollywood Hero'

Desilicious: Neha Dhupia plays Kattan's Bollywood crush — the development of which, naturally, necessitates a dance number.

Kerry Monteen/IFC

Joshi says she expects that we'll see more Indian-influenced movies in the U.S. But she worries, at the same time, that Americans are missing part of what makes Indian movies great.

"Some of us Western viewers, perhaps most, look at [Indian] cinema and say it's the cinema of energy, it's a cinema that's very dynamic, it's a cinema of song and dance," she says.

But the lyrics are worth paying attention to as well, she says. They're often written by respected poets, and they take on issues like class, poverty and politics — even topics as touchy as domestic terrorism.

"The songs and dances are a way of bringing to that frame certain political concerns that couldn't be talked about otherwise," Joshi says.

And that, unfortunately, is one part of Indian-style moviemaking that Joshi thinks Bollywood Hero is missing.

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