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India's Hollywood Takeaway

01/09/2003. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

Buy Koi Mil Gaya in the USA - or Buy Koi Mil Gaya in the UK

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Billed (inaccurately) as the first Indian science fiction film, Koi ... Mil Gaya mixes elements of many films, especially E.T. and Charly. Mark finds a movie which, while groundbreaking as a Bollywood film, rarely transcends American cable fare.


Okay, let's get this out of the way at the beginning. This is not the first Indian science fiction film. This may be the first exclusively Indian science fiction film, but in 1952 there was the Tamil-American co-production KAADU (a.k.a. THE JUNGLE).

Koi ... Mil Gaya

It was about an expedition to find why the animals in one region are behaving strangely. It turns out their area has been invaded by living wooly mammoths. The film starred Americans Caesar Romero and Rod Cameron as well as Sulochana, a popular Indian actress.

KAADU is mostly an India travelogue made to fit in with the 1950s science fiction film cycle and is now quite a rarity. Also, the Hindi film MR.INDIA (1987) used an invisibility formula gimmick.

Rakesh Roshan (who wore the hats of producer, director, co-writer, and actor) plays Sanjay Mehra, a scientist doing his own work on searching for extra-terrestrials. His method is to transform Hindu religious symbols into a musical string and then use this melody to try to get a response from alien races. It works and he makes contact with aliens.

When he brings his results to the members of the scientific community they laugh at him and his claims. However, while he is returning home by car, a UFO arrives responding to his signal and finds him. Not paying attention to his driving, Rakesh is in an accident that kills him and injures his pregnant wife.

Eighteen years later his son Rohit (Rakesh's son Hrithik Roshan) is physically developed but mentally arrested at age eleven. Nevertheless Rohit is likable and is the leader of a group of boys physically younger but about his mental age. They live in a small hilly village, what is called in India a hill station. Rohit is happy with his young friends but is tormented by some local bullies and is humiliated by the teachers at the Catholic school he attends.

He wishes to be normal. To the village comes Nisha played by the extremely Western-looking Preity Zinta. (I initially thought that she was supposed to be American or European.) Rohit is smitten with her, but does all the wrong things and has a difficult time winning her over. But win her over he does. Together the two dust off Sanjay's old computer equipment and they inadvertently summon interstellar visitors.

One of the visitors is accidentally marooned on Earth. What happens then is strongly reminiscent of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL crossed with bits of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.

One fairly interesting aspect of KOI... MIL GAYA is the emphasis on religion. The Bollywood films I have seen have generally not had religious messages beyond peaceful coexistence and Ahimsa. In this film there is a good deal of attention paid to religion. Rohit is taught wisdom and kindness from the Bhagavad-Gita. Later when Rohit founds a basketball team they call themselves the Pandavas. Rohit calls on Krishna for help.

But Rohit goes to a Catholic school where the teachers are insensitive and unkind. The camera carefully picks up crucifixes and religious paintings as decoration. Perhaps Rakesh Roshan did not want to appear to be siding with science over religion, much as 1950s American science fiction films would carry religious messages.

The music, always an important element of a Bollywood film, is provided by Rajesh Roshan, the director's brother. While in some reviews people who know Indian soundtrack music seem to be saying that the score is groundbreaking, I am not enough of an expert to pick up the subtleties. The choreography frequently uses wirework, which hurts the spontaneity.

Wirework is even more obvious and unnatural in fight and athletic scenes. The Roshans wanted to have special effects that would match Hollywood films and hired Marc Kolbe (who worked on GODZILLA, INDEPENDENCE DAY, and the Indian DEVDAS). Still, this film cannot be said to have a lot of special effects. They are used sparingly by American standards. There is extensive use of an alien suit with an articulated (probably wire controlled) face.

This is a film that is full of small homages to American films. Besides those mentioned already we see little bits of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and STAR WARS. The latter gives a strange effect as the opening credits flow backward at an oblique angle over a starscape.

That can be effective but when the credit is "Bankers" it seems incongruous. I wonder if this also is the first Bollywood film to seriously go in for product placements.

While science fiction is really still very new to Indian domestic films, American science fiction films have traditionally been quite popular in India. Unfortunately they have traditionally been less accessible since they are almost always subtitled. There was some protest when JURASSIC PARK was released in the various regions of India dubbed into the local language.

There was an accusation that this was unfair competition. But there is a ready market for science fiction films in India and if KOI... MIL GAYA is successful, as it almost definitely will be, perhaps there will be more science fiction films from India.

This film may have more to offer to Indians than to Americans who can get most of what this film has off of cable. But it is a pleasant fantasy and rates a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R Leeper|

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