On the evening of May 2, late into the nearly four-hour music and dance extravaganza known as "Breathless," the spectacle came to a spontaneous halt when Deputy Mayor Carmel Sella came onto the Los Angeles Sports Arena stage and presented the event headliners, Indian film superstars Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, official commendation certificates from the City of Los Angeles for support and advancements of the cultural arts. This was truly a landmark moment; after all, for years similar tours featuring Hindi cinema stars recreating their most memorable musical moments have passed through North America without so much as a word of mainstream recognition. To go from not even a blip on the general-interest radar to official civic validation was further confirmation that the much-buzzed-about crossover between the worlds of Hollywood and Bollywood is, indeed, in full swing.
The figure at the forefront of the movement is Rai. Bollywood's reigning queen was recently named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time magazine, and this fall's eagerly awaited Miramax release Bride & Prejudice--an English-language, Bollywood-style musical adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, from Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha--is but the first in a number of Hollywood projects lined up for the stunning former Miss World. If her performance and audience reaction at the "Breathless" concert is any indication, she has more than a good shot at making her one-time pageant title applicable to the realm of movies. It goes without saying that her spirited dance numbers--including dazzling, spot-on recreations of two key scenes from her international breakthrough, the 2002 hit Devdas--didn't give the audience a taste of her award-winning acting chops, but her beauty, grace, precision and presence came out in full force. Nothing transcends language, geographic and cultural barriers like pure star quality. As genuinely exciting as her "Breathless" performances were, there was a certain bittersweet air to Rai's entire involvement, as it had the feeling of a farewell/graduation tour before she moves on to bigger things.
Should Rai conquer the West, Hollywood will no doubt look East for more talent, and the natural next choice would be heartthrob Roshan. His reputation as "the Brad Pitt of Bollywood" is rather deserved, for his famously pumped-up physique and pin-up-ready looks hide a generally underrated acting talent. What has never been questioned, however, is his charisma and amazing dancing ability, which was well-exploited in "Breathless" (as was, rather shamelessly so, his body; one number ended with him slowly peeling off his shirt). Roshan received some due as an actor this past year by collecting a number of awards for his commendable performance as a mentally-challenged young man in the blockbuster (but overall rather jaw-droppingly awful, if you ask me) E.T./Close Encounters of the Third Kind/Forrest Gump ripoff Koi... Mil Gaya (I Found... Someone), and so "Breathless" featured a number of nods to that film, from cleverly recreated musical numbers (featuring Rai in the place of the film's leading lady, Preity Zinta) and--rather embarrassingly--a bizarre skit where an in-character Roshan travels to an alien planet and defeats an invading race with his nifty dance moves. Upon reflection, I revise my statement in the last paragraph: nothing transcends language, geographic and cultural barriers like star quality... and bad movies.
The "Breathless" show was not just a showcase for those two popular stars. Also on hand were two hot up-and-comers in the Bolly-world, sultry ex-beauty queens Lara Dutta (Miss Universe 2000) and Celina Jaitley (Miss India 2001), who strutted their considerable stuff in some steamy numbers from their recent films; popular singer Shaan, who ebulliently performed medleys of his greatest movie hits; and actor Fardeen Khan, who proved to be a tagalong in more ways than one. Khan is one of those film stars whose career and popularity never quite took off like they were once expected to, and so from the get-go his involvement bore some whiff of coattail-riding (not helping matters is the fact that Roshan is married to his cousin). As fate would have it, he broke his foot during the pre-tour rehearsals, thus preventing him from actually performing in the show; however, that still didn't prevent him from tagging along, and so he was dragged onstage to engage in some rather forced Q&A with the teenyboppers in the audience. It was all rather awkward and more than a little tedious, but it did make for one of the more amusing moments of the night, however unintentional. In response to one young female's marriage proposal (yes, this was the fangirl-y line of questioning to be endured), Khan deadpanned that he had a huge dowry. The young woman's reply? "But you're worthl--uh, priceless." Such inadvertent, Freudian slip hilarity was enough to leave one breathless.