Writers: Sachin Bhowmick, Honey Irani, Robin Bhatt, Rakesh Roshan, Javed Siddiqui
Producers: Lester John Watkins, Shammi Saini
Cast: Hrithit Roshan, Preity Zinta, Rajat Bedi
Year of release: 2003
Reviewed from: UK theatrical screening
Here it is at last, folks! An actual, genuine Bollywood sci-fi movie! There have been a very few Indian SF flicks in the past - there’s a tantalising still in the index of The BFI Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema from a 1967 film called Waham Ke Log - but I’m confident in saying that this is the first modern, effects-filled SF blockbuster from India.
As is traditional in Bollywood (though not obligatory, as Bhoot showed) it’s three hours long and stops fairly frequently for a song and dance number. The first half is essentially a remake of Close Encounters and, when the spaceship departs, it leaves behind a little alien and we get a completely blatant remake of ET. With songs.
In a prologue we see Dr Sanjay Mehra (director Rakesh Roshan), an Indian scientist working in Canada, who has devoted his life to trying to contact extraterrestrials, sending out a sequence of notes from his computer. One night he receives a signal back, but when he tells the folks at the Space Research Centre they laugh at him. Driving home with his heavily pregnant wife Sonia (the versatile Rekha, who played the witch doctor in Bhoot) beside him, they see an alien spaceship fly overhead. Mehra loses control of the car, which crashes, though fortunately Sonia is thrown clear.
The widowed Sonia returns to India with her son Rohit, but by the time he is eight he has a mental age of only two and a half. A doctor explains to her that this is due to brain damage sustained when she fell on her stomach from the crashing car. In a terrifically clever bit of editing, we move forward about 15 years or so. Rohit is a young man (Rakesh Roshan’s real-life son Hrithik), a tall, geeky beanpole, but still has a mental age of about ten and hangs around with a bunch of kids (four boys, two girls). They play cricket, whizz around on their micro-scooters, and have a great time. (Anuj Pandit, Mohit Makkad, Jai Choksi, Omkar Purohit, Hansika Motwani and Pranita Bishnoi are the child actors - credited as ‘The Super Six’. All are aged eight to ten and they’re very good indeed.)
Into the mix comes Nisha (the gorgeous Preity Zinta) - the daughter of an old friend of the town magistrate Harbans Saxena (Prem Chopra, also in recent horror hit Dhund/The Fog and more than 150 other films, including a 1979 version of Ali Baba) - who has moved back to Kasauli, the town which the family left when she was little. She falls for Raj (Rajat Bedi), the magistrate’s son, a handsome, motorbike riding bully who takes delight in taunting Rohit. Rohit and Nisha get off to a bad start - he has a child’s naivete and she doesn’t understand his mental condition. But when Sonia explains, Nisha befriends Rohit and makes Raj and his friends apologise. The two start to fall in love, but Rohit is still just a big kid who will never grow up - can this ever work out?
Hold on, you’re saying, apart from the prologue this doesn’t seem much of a sci-fi movie. Well, about an hour in Nisha and Rohit discover his father’s old computer in the shed and after a bit of playing around with it, they make contact with the aliens through that same musical sequence (based on the Hindu word ‘aum’). A damn great spaceship - a terrific effect courtesy of Mark Kolbe and Craig Mumma (Godzilla, Independence Day) - flies over Kasauli and is reported in the news. Police chief Khan (Mukesh Rishi) discovers a large, charred circle where the ship must have landed. There are three-toed alien footprints around the area, but one more set leading away from the ship than back to it - which means one of the aliens is still in the area...
From here on this really is ET: The Extra-Terrestrial redux, except not nearly as patronising or pretentious as that massively over-rated movie. This is like ET but fun! The alien is a little blue fellow with a fabulously expressive animatronic head, designed and created by James Colmer of Bimmini FX in Australia. He has telekinetic powers, derives his energy from sunlight, and befriends first Rohit, then Nisha and Rohit’s little chums. They call him Jadu, which means ‘magic’ (that’s how it is spelled in the English subtitles, but on the website it’s Jaadoo).
Through his pseudo-magical powers Jadu turns Rohit from geeky, retarded beanpole into super-intelligent, super-strong hunk. Since it turns out, when he takes off his shirt, that Roshan really is a hunk (one year he received 30,000 Valentine cards from female fans!), it’s a testament to the make-up, hair and costume departments that he passes so believably for a lanky weed in the earlier scenes. And the transition is made gradually, hence all the more believably. Things come to a head when Raj challenges Rohit to a basketball game, and Rohit fields the four little lads as his team. With Jadu’s magical help, they beat Raj’s champion team, the kids flying around the basketball court in some very effective wirework.
There’s still the question of the authorities looking for the alien, and there’s a tense stand-off, a great chase sequence, and a rather unnecessarily over-the-top rescue when the still-learning Rohit becomes an all-out action hero. Of course Jadu has to return to his own people when they come for him, but there’s a poignancy that’s completely missing from the over-sentimental Spielberg movie: when Jadu goes, Rohit will return to how he was before. In this respect, the movie seems to owe a debt to Daniel Keys’ story Flowers for Algernon (filmed as Charlie) about a retarded young man developing highly advanced intelligence then losing it again. That may be coincidental, though the general ET theme certainly isn’t - there’s even an homage to the ‘bike across the moon’ scene. Mind you, there’s also a scene where Jadu drinks Coca-Cola, which may be the world’s first homage to Mac and Me!
Though there’s nothing unexpected in the film, and the very last scene is a bit of a cop-out happy ending, nevertheless this is hugely enjoyable in every respect. The acting is good, from both kids and adults, especially Hrithit Roshan who is simply superb as Rohit before, during and after his transformation. Direction, music and cinematography are all top-notch and the effects are as good as anything you’ll see come out of Hollywood. Plus there’s no chance of this being re-released with the cops’ guns replaced by walky-talkies! The cops here have guns and they use them, and there are some quite violent fights between Rohit and Raj too. There’s also some broad but very funny comic relief from Johnny Lever (from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the first Bollywood film to be a major theatrical hit in the UK, whose stage name stems from his previous job working for Unilever!) as a local policeman.
And then there’s the songs. Only Rohit and Nisha actually sing, though occasionally accompanied by the kids - and once by Jadu himself! Despite everything but the prologue being set in India, the dance numbers were shot in Canada so whenever the orchestra breaks in, the location shift to the Rockies for no real reason. But that’s part of the charm of Bollywood. (Watch out for a truck at the edge of one shot, owned by a Canadian fisherman who simply refused to move it!)
One of the oddest aspects of the film is that Hrithik Roshan, a genuine Bollywood megastar, has two thumbs on his right hand! Apparently this is a genuine deformity, never referred to in the film, though the alien race also have a double thumb, subtly suggesting that Rohit’s mother may have somehow picked up some alien DNA during her initial close encounter.
Rakesh Roshan was a leading man in Bollywood (he was in the serial killer thriller Haveli) before becoming a producer and, from 1986, a director. His first film, Khudgarz, was a hit and more recently Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, which launched his son Hrithik as a leading man, was the most successful Bollywood film of the new millennium. His very similarly named brother, musical director Rajesh Roshan, has scored more than 130 films since he started in 1973, including several directed by Rakesh, and has won numerous awards. Songs and music are very important in Bollywood films, and the music director is almost on a par with the actual director; it’s a similar situation to the standing of the effects director in Japanese movies.
Though it wears its influences very much on its sleeve, I have to say that I definitely enjoyed this movie more than either the pretentious CE3K or the saccharine ET. And the children, though they may be straight out of an old Children’s Film Foundation movie, are nevertheless much more like real kids than you’ll find in any Spielberg movie. The title means ‘I found someone’ and with its parallel themes of tolerance and understanding - both for Rohit and for Jadu - this is a moral, but never preachy, film. Definitely one to see if you get the opportunity.
(Koi... Mil Gaya was followed in 2006 by Krrish, in which Rohit’s son, also played by Hrithik Roshan, becomes a superhero!)
MJS rating: A-
review originally posted 14th June 2006