Starting Friday, August 5, theaters nationwide will showcase Bazodee (Trinidadian slang for disoriented or confused), described as a “Bollywood-style Caribbean musical.” The filmmakers are betting audiences who enjoy Bollywood cinema will be drawn to a love triangle set in Trinidad and Tobago, starring soca superstar Machel Montano. In spite of spurts of music, color and passion, Bazodee is a predictable, passive watch and not quite the promised romantic thrill-ride.
In the grand tradition of Bollywood love sagas, we have a girl who must choose between familial obligations and her heart. Anita Panchouri (Natalie Perera), daughter of Trinidad entrepreneur Ram Panchouri (Kabir Bedi) is preparing for her engagement to Bharat Kumar (Staz Nair) whose own father is a successful London-based businessman and long-time friend of Ram. The match would bolster Ram’s sinking business and just as Anita accepts Bharat as her fiance, charming musician Lee De Leon (Machel Montano) walks into her life. Will Anita’s attraction towards Lee ruin her fairytale wedding, or will the humble singer with a ukulele bring the excitement she craves from life?
Charismatic Leading Pair
After decades of performing live and selling out shows at venues like Madison Square Garden as one of the most popular soca artists in the world, Montano is making his film debut and does well. He has good comic timing, is sincere in his delivery and his on-stage charisma translates on-screen. Perera is endearing and has radiant, expressive eyes with an infectious smile to match. Neither Montano nor Perera are flawless and become melodramatic to express sorrow, but their chemistry is genuine.
Hooray for Diversity
Kudos and respect to the Bazodee team for making a film cast entirely with people of color. A man of African heritage and woman of South Asian heritage are in the leading roles, front and center in a major potion picture, a feat last witnessed in 1992’s Mississippi Masala. Furthermore, whether it’s a Hollywood or Bollywood film, women who are lighter complected typically get the coveted title of heroine, so it certainly was a welcome change to see the lovely, chocolate-hued Perera cast as the leading lady.
Music, Music, Music
With soca king Montano as the leading man, how could the music not be fantastic? From the soca twist to the 1980 smash hit “Aap Jaisa Koi” to his spirited Carnival composition, Montano ensures his fans leave the theater satisfied. Without a doubt, music is the crown jewel of Bazodee.
Amateur writing from Claire Ince is to be blamed for not elevating Bazodee from a mediocre flick to an impressive film. Characters consist of a single dimension and say dialogues with enough information to load up the cinematic spoon, and feed the audience.
Todd Kessler, famous for co-creating the wildly successful children’s TV series Blue’s Clues, is not too clued in when it comes to making a live-action love story. Shots are oddly framed, blocking of characters is clunky and direction to actors clearly inadequate. For example, why does Nikhil (Valmike Rampersad), brother of the groom, have the same evil stare in every situation and sleep in his business suit? Is Nikhil seriously scheming every moment he’s breathing?
Nikhil isn’t the only disappointing character. Anita’s fiance, played by model turned actor Staz Nair, who can give dashing Disney princes a complex, does little else than kiss his bride-to-be. Kabir Bedi, whose career spans decades surprisingly hams his way through the entire film. Maybe Mr. Bedi wanted his acting to mirror the quality of the screenplay. Two supporting actors, however, do very well: Chris Smith as Lee’s friend and Cindy Daniel who plays Anita’s confidant.
Missed Opportunity for Trinidad and Tobago
What’s the story behind the unique, Indo-African-Carribean culture of the island nation? Does tension exist between communities, (i.e, are inter-racial relationships frowned upon) or is the country a paragon of harmony? Perhaps afraid of making the film a history lesson, the Bazodee team stuck to making the twin islands a postcard. But a few dialogues, some quick shots and even a scene would’ve added more depth to the story and a country most Americans know nothing about.
“Soca is the beautiful blend of Calypso and East Indian music.”
At the incredible, post-screening after party where Montano performed with Indian percussionists, he proudly told the audience that soca is the beautiful blend of Calypso and East Indian music. Had the writing and direction done better justice to the dazzling, blended culture of Trinidad and Tobago and made their story and characters as layered and interesting, movie-goers would feel the kind of bazodee you get from a well-crafted film.
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Shivani cannot remember a time when she wasn’t madly in love with Indian cinema, which now inspires much of her writing. She lives in both New York City and Twitterpur at @Shivani510.