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A singing, dancing ‘Hero’

Times Staff Writer

Anil Sharma’s “The Hero: Love Story of a Spy” has all the classic elements of a Bollywood blockbuster taken to a spectacular level. It has adventure, romance, international intrigue, plus the musical interludes and marathon running time -- five minutes shy of three hours, not including an intermission -- that the mass Indian audience expects.

Shot in the Swiss Alps and Canada as well as India, it has a typically confounding combination of feverish antique melodrama, complete with some of the phoniest wigs and beards since “The Birth of a Nation”; a topical theme, the danger posed by Muslim extremists in the post-Sept. 11 world; and modern technology. Although it has an old-fashioned comic-book sensibility, Sharma and screenwriter Shaktimaan keep the pot boiling throughout. Contributing in a major way to the film’s sustained energy is Kabir Lal’s dynamic, though unevenly processed cinematography, which resourcefully captures a flurry of action sequences, culminating in nuclear peril amid snow-covered Canadian mountain peaks.

If “The Hero” is unsophisticated, straightforward escapist fare without a trace of wit or irony, it has been made with an across-the-board sense of commitment. It may be corny, unintentionally amusing at times, but it is also a lot of fun.

Sunny Deol’s Arun Khanna is Indian Army Intelligence’s answer to James Bond. He is a stocky, 40ish, ordinary-looking fellow, which makes him all the more convincing as a spy who becomes torn between love and duty but an unlikely action hero. After a 20-minute prologue showing off his prowess, he is sent to rural Kashmir, where he promotes kindness and falls for demure shepherdess Reshma (Preity Zinta).

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Duty demands he send Reshma over the border into Pakistan as a spy, with intricate plot developments propelling both Reshma and Arun, each believing the other dead, to Canada, where Arun must foil a plot to create a nuclear bomb for Kashmir as a means of asserting its independence from India.

Although fervently pro-India, “The Hero” above all attacks Muslim terrorists as a threat to world peace and betrayers of the true spirit of Islam. That all the heavy-duty action unfolds in the larger context of a swooning tale of unrequited love means that it offers a potent appeal to women as well as men.

The musical interludes, as jolting as they are to Western audiences, are better integrated than is usually the case, as fantasy expressions of the principals’ undeclared love. Even so, it is impossible not to smile when Arun and his men, in camouflage fatigues, break into song and dance during a rest stop on the way to Kashmir and Arun wonders whether he should join in “the waves of fun.”

*

‘The Hero’

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Standard action genre violence

Sunny Deol...Arun Khanna

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Preity Zinta...Reshma

Amrish Puri...Ishaq Khan

Priyanka Chopra...Shaheen

Kabir Bedi...Zakaria

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A Pathfinder Pictures/Videosound release of a Nanjibhai Shah presentation of a Time Movies production. Director Anil Sharma. Producers Dhirajlal Shah, Pravin Shah, Hasmukh Shah. Executive producer Saif Shaikh. Screenplay Shaktimaan. Cinematographer Kabir Lal. Editor Suresh Urs. Background music Gurmeet. Music Uttam Singh. Lyrics Anand Bakshi. Costumes Simple Kapadia. Art director Sanjay Dhabade. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes, plus intermission. In Hindi, with English subtitles.

Exclusively at the Fallbrook 7, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710.


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