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Movie Review: Aladin (2009)

AladinPoster3 Stars (out of 4)

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There aren’t many kid-friendly Bollywood movies released in the United States, and those that have opened here, like Saawariya and Roadside Romeo, have disappointed. Aladin is a delightful update of the classic fairytale that will amuse the whole family.

In this live action version of the story — which differs significantly from the animated Disney film — Aladin (Ritesh Deshmukh) is a lonely college student. His parents died under mysterious circumstances when he was young, and he lives alone in the book-littered home of his deceased grandfather. Fellow students tease him because of his name, demanding that he produce a genie from a lamp like the fairytale dictates.

Aladin’s crush on Jasmine (Jacqueline Fernandez), an American exchange student, appears destined to go unrequited until she buys him a lamp from the “Ancient Thing Store” as a birthday gift. He’s goaded into rubbing the lamp which, naturally, contains a genie.

The genie, named Genius (Amitabh Bachchan) is close to retirement and is eager for Aladin to use his three wishes before his genie contract gets renewed for another million years. The duo sets about trying to woo Jasmine on Aladin’s behalf. But Genius doesn’t know that Aladin is in danger from an evil ex-genie named Ring Master (Sanjay Dutt), who’s eager to regain his powers and take over the world.

One of Aladin‘s best features is that it looks terrific. The fictional town of Khwaish is a perfect fantasy city: narrow cobblestoned streets that wind uphill through buildings made of sand-colored bricks. Dance numbers are colorful and the special effects are relatively seamless.

As for the characters and plot, writer-director-producer Sujoy Ghosh keeps the story true to tradition, while giving it his own spin. Deshmukh does a great job as Aladin, a likable guy with such simple desires that he’s incapable of misusing his new-found power.

Ring Master is also a fitting villain. His motives are clear, and he’s got a group of creepy circus-inspired henchmen to help him, including a lion tamer, a firebreather and, inexplicably, a Star Trek Klingon.

The writing in Aladin is solid, especially for a Bollywood comedy (see my review of Deshmukh’s other recent film, Do Knot Disturb). Several scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, and there are no extraneous plot threads or characters.

For parents of children who don’t understand Hindi, Aladin is a good introduction to movies with English subtitles, even if it is long at 2 hrs. 12 min. The story is familiar, so all that’s required is that the child be old enough to read English with some speed: third or fourth grade, perhaps. There’s no objectionable material, and no “gross” kissing (this is Bollywood, after all).

One note to parents who themselves aren’t familiar with Bollywood films: it’s worth telling kids that Amitabh Bachchan, who plays the genie, is one of the coolest guys in Indian cinema. He was an action star when he was younger and has always been a lady’s man. It’s the only way to explain why a man old enough to be a grandfather is rapping about “shorties.”

Worst Bollywood Movies of 2008

There were plenty of movies in contention for the title of “Worst Bollywood Film of 2008.” Recent lousy offerings like Ghajini, Karzzzz, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Yuvvraaj threatened to overshadow crummy films from earlier in the year like Krazzy 4, Roadside Romeo and Summer 2007.

I decided to select the absolute worst movie of the year from films that I awarded zero stars when I reviewed them. Abhishek Bachchan starred in two of those movies: Sarkar Raj and Drona. I was tempted to give the dubious honor to Love Story 2050, if only because it suggested that we’ll all still be playing the Xbox 360 forty years from now.

But the worst movie of the year had to be the one that was most painful to watch, the one that wasn’t bad in a funny way (like Sarkar Raj, Drona and Love Story 2050), but was just bad. Based on those criteria, the Worst Bollywood Film of 2008 is Golmaal Returns. No other movie approached its level of immaturity and ineptitude. Everything about it was annoying, and if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would’ve walked out of the theater after thirty minutes.

Congratulations, Golmaal Returns. May you never return again.

Movie Review: Roadside Romeo (2008)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Walt Disney Pictures’ first collaboration with Yash Raj Films fails to serve its intended audience: kids. The film follows the homeless Romeo (voiced by Saif Ali Khan) as he falls in love with lounge singer Laila (voiced by Kareena Kapoor) and runs afoul of a flatulent mafia boss. An abundance of references to other Bollywood films keeps Roadside Romeo from being universally accessible. And if the film didn’t star animated dogs, you’d never know that it is intended for kids, especially since the female dogs have disturbing hourglass figures.

No rating (animated violence); 93 minutes