Nick (Saif Ali Khan) and Ambar (Preity Zinta), two Indians living in Melbourne, start off on the wrong foot when he fails to show up for a scheduled interview on her radio program (an architect turned chef, he's meant to be promoting his restaurant, Nick of Time). But when the two meet again at a wedding - unaware of each others' identities - an attraction soon develops. On the suggestion of Nick, the two move in together - sleeping in separate bedrooms - as an experiment to see if a real relationship is possible.
Review by Jake Wilson:
I write this review as a proud Melbournian, so readers from elsewhere may take it with a grain of salt. Still, for locals who enjoy seeing their city on film, Salaam Namaste is the most unmissable event since Jackie Chan came to visit in the mid-1990s: three hours of synchronised dance numbers, farce, melodrama and general Bollywood craziness against a background featuring all our most photogenic tourist landmarks from the Fitzroy Gardens to Federation Square.
But don't look here for the bars and grimy alleyways of Fitzroy and Collingwood - the Melbourne on display here is as shiny as the shirts and beachwear sported by the cast, a sunny paradise where a Hindi radio station operates from plush commercial premises and a financially struggling couple can commute between the inner city and a beach house on the Great Ocean Road. Apart from a few local actresses who gamely turn themselves into cartoons of crude Aussie sheilas, the film takes place entirely within an Indian expatriate community imagined as sufficient to itself, dispersed throughout the city but linked by the radio station's broadcasts, and (of course) by a network of taxi drivers.
Undeniably, part of the appeal of Salaam Namaste lies in the quaintness of its point-and-shoot style, hokey plot devices and unfussy transitions (in a wedding sequence, someone yells "Beach party!" whereupon the guests pull off their formal gear to dance on the sand). For fullest enjoyment, though, it's best to abandon any sense of superiority and embrace the carnival spirit. While Preity Zinta isn't the subtlest actress, she's quite a comedienne - for a Hollywood equivalent to her combination of beauty, high-strung emotion and facial gymnastics you might have to go back to Natalie Wood. At any rate, she looks like a model of restraint compared to the frantic clowns who pop up in support parts - the most perplexing being a surly rogue who dresses like Crocodile Dundee and speaks in a mixture of Hindi and mangled English cliches ("when in Rome, do the Romans").
Ultimately, Salaam Namaste demonstrates how far you can go by ignoring all considerations of good taste: while every scene is played to the hilt, the lengthy squabbles and sudden emotional gear shifts add up to a surprisingly authentic depiction of what it means to be part of a couple. Despite some touches that are daring in a Bollywood context (including the discreet portrayal of pre-marital sex) the film is unified as well as limited by its traditional moral outlook: after many ups and downs, we know the lead characters will have to grow up, settle down, and assume the responsibilities of monogamy and parenthood. It's this morality that gives weight to Nick's climactic speech, rejecting the dream of a "perfect" life in favour of the joys, sorrows and farcical complications of reality - a philosophy abundantly dramatised, for once, by a form in which near-chaos is securely contained within tradition.
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SALAAM NAMASTE (M)
CAST: Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta, Arshad Warsi, Tania Zaetta
PRODUCER: Aditya Chopra, Yash Chopra
DIRECTOR: Siddharth Anand
SCRIPT: Siddharth Anand, Abbas Tyrewala
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sunil Patel
EDITOR: Ritesh Soni
MUSIC: Vishal Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 158 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: MG Distribution
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 8, 2005