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The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" was a surprise hit in the United States, and it introduced many Americans to Indian-style cinema. This was not an opportunity the entertainment industry was going to waste. Tonight, more Bollywood comes to America with a miniseries on the Independent Film Channel called "Bollywood Hero." The former "Saturday Night Live" performer Chris Kattan plays himself, leaving Hollywood for Bollywood because he's offered a chance to be a leading man.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: Chris Kattan says Bollywood movies make him remember why he wanted to be a movie actor.

Mr. CHRIS KATTAN (Actor, Comedian): I had that dream of wanting to be in the movies that we used to make, you know, those great MGM musicals and those great action films and - when movies were an escape and really, really, pure entertainment. And Bollywood makes those kind of films.

SYDELL: Perhaps with a nod to his own frustrations, Kattan plays an actor who wants to break out of comedic roles. The series opens at a party, where Kattan runs into his agent, who's trying to convince him how lucky he is to get a role in a sci-fi series.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Bollywood Hero")

Unidentified Man #1: He's the second male alien lead on a budding cable network TV show that I'm guessing is consistently going to rank in the top 75, give or take 25.

Unidentified Man #2: I say congratulations.

Mr. KATTAN: Look, I don't want to play alien, all right? Why can't I go out for the roles that, like, Keanu gets? Huh? Why can't I do that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: Kattan snaps back that he's been offered a leading role in India.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Bollywood Hero")

Unidentified Man #3: You're going to play cowboy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KATTAN: No, it's not that kind of Indian. From India, like the country.

SYDELL: When Kattan arrives in India, he's actually surprised to find the industry there is more sophisticated than even he imagined. He goes on a tour of Bollywood studios with his director, Monty Kapoor, played by actor Ali Fazal.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Bollywood Hero")

Mr. KATTAN: This is really impressive. This is much bigger than any set I've ever seen in L.A.

Mr. ALI FAZAL (Actor): (As Monty Kapoor) Well, Steven Spielberg needed financing for his latest deal. Where do you think he came?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KATTAN: Spielberg - you know, I met him twice.

Professor PRIYA JOSHI (Temple University): This is, in fact, accurate. There's a huge amount of money in India.

SYDELL: Priya Joshi is a professor at Temple University who's writing a book on Bollywood cinema.

Prof. JOSHI: So when Monty proudly says when Spielberg needed money for his two big ventures, he came to us, indeed, that's the case. Five hundred million dollars has just been poured into DreamWorks for a production. And the idea is that Hollywood will make the movies, Bollywood will fund them.

SYDELL: But Indians may not be bringing just the money. Every year, around the world, more people buy tickets to see Indian films than American movies. Debbie DeMontro, who gave the green light to "Bollywood Hero" at the Independent Film Channel, thinks Americans will enjoy the series because it mixes a little East and a little West.

Ms. DEBBIE DEMONTRO (IFC Executive): Because you're telling it through the eyes of an American character, and specifically Chris Kattan is playing himself, and someone who, you know, American audiences are very familiar with. I think it's a really nice mix of just an American story and an introduction to a different type of cinema.

SYDELL: And in that Bollywood type of cinema, the actors find reasons to break out into elaborate dance numbers decked out in glitzy, bright costumes.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Bollywood Hero")

Mr. KATTAN: Would you like to dance?

Ms. NEHA DHUPIA (Actor): (as Lalima) Now?

Mr. KATTAN: Yeah. Now.

SYDELL: In "Bollywood Hero," and in real life, Kattan struggled to learn Indian dance, but eventually he proves to a Bollywood starlet, played by Neha Dhupia, that he can do it - albeit with a little American disco twist.

(Soundbite TV show, "Bollywood Hero")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #4: (Singing in foreign language)

SYDELL: But Professor Priya Joshi worries that "Bollywood Hero" may be missing something important about Indian cinema.

Prof. JOSHI: Some (unintelligible) Western viewers, perhaps most, look at the 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, and then they go for that. And they miss the point that the songs and dances are ways of bringing to that frame certain political concerns that couldn't be talked about otherwise.

SYDELL: The song lyrics are often written by respected Indian poets and deal with issues like class struggle, domestic terrorism and poverty. Joshi thinks Americans are likely to see more Bollywood-influenced pictures. She just hopes they also get to see some of the substance that's usually behind all that song and dance.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you can see some clips from "Bollywood Hero" at the new npr.org.

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