Like the earliest Hong Kong films with their emphasis on valor, honor and love worth dying for, Bollywood musicals return to a more old-fashioned brand of storytelling. Instead of reflecting the uglier truths of real life, Bollywood suggests we could all stand to aim a little higher.
I Have Found It is an exuberant, charming adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility to contemporary India. The film pokes fun at Bollywood's ludicrously over-the-top production values while deriving a great deal of visual pleasure from their toe-tapping excesses.
Onto Austen's social drama director Rajiv Menon lays a thick spackle of giddy, often outrageous musical numbers that resurrect the old-school thrills of Julie Andrews twirling on an Austrian hilltop, or Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly splashing in mud puddles.
The story concerns two comely sisters of marrying age and their complicated quests for Mr. Right. The oldest, Sowmya (Tabu), is being courted by an aspiring filmmaker (Ajit Kumar) who wants to make the antithesis of Bollywood -- an action flick about a runaway train called Speed. The younger daughter, Meenakshi, is a green-eyed, otherworldly beauty (played by former Miss World Aishwarya Rai). She is in love with a brash, new-money entrepreneur (Abbas Srividya Shamili), much to the despair of a disabled war veteran (Ajith Mammootty) hopelessly devoted to the girl.
When their grandfather dies, a sudden change of fortune ensues. The grandfather leaves the family's country estate to his son, who forces the girls and their mother out. Evicted from their ancestral home, the women try against harrowing odds to make a new start in Madras. And their romantic lives become just as complicated.
Literature is filled with such abrupt changes of fortune. But I Have Found It shows its allegiance to cinematic willfulness in having all roads inevitably lead to its preordained sugarcoated conclusion.
Combining storytelling conventions as old as time, and a Moulin Rouge! sensibility of delirious, postmodern pastiche, I Have Found It's musical numbers jump from a castle in Scotland and a romantic fantasy straight out of Mattel to the rice fields of India. The film boasts some of the most surreal, outlandish and transporting musical numbers imaginable -- so infectiously kicky and audacious, they make you laugh out loud.
The dance choreography, energetically accompanied by A.R. Rahman's music, melds traditional Indian dance crossed with the hard-edged synchronization of Janet Jackson music videos. A lover's imagination knows no bounds and neither does director Menon, who sets his film to the crazed-quilt rhythms of the global pulse.
Underscoring how trivial reason is in this rollicking, giddy vortex of song, the film's bizarre translations are often hilarious head-scratchers. "An affection? Don't use sluggish words," Meenakshi chides Sowmya.
Making sense of the subtitles may be a challenge, but interpreting the romance-dominated storyline is never difficult -- you can practically see the puffy pink hearts dancing around the characters' heads.
Old Hollywood movies are often criticized for their required happy endings and contrived comeuppance for the bad guys. But in all that manufactured happiness, there is a message, too: In the realm of fantasy, at least, evil deeds are punished and true love triumphs. In all that simplicity, there is a solid belief that if you can dream it, one day maybe the world will make it so. We have an essential desire for myths of prevailing good, and I Have Found It rewards those desires by suggesting that integrity and dreams seize the day instead of money and guile.