Facing a downturn in box-office business after a string of organized-crime scandals, the Indian film industry has lately been using more spice and stylistic variety to lure back audiences. The classic Bollywood model—low-budget, high-spirited historical romances and contemporary family comedies—has been giving way to murder mysteries, gangland sagas, and erotic thrillers. That last genre is especially novel for an industry that has traditionally eschewed even onscreen kissing, lest it offend the morals of rural viewers throughout the Pacific Rim. But even in change, a lot stays the same. The new pulpy influence hasn't altered the Bollywood formula of pretty faces, romantic triangles, comic relief, and catchy musical numbers.
The 2003 potboiler Body—known in India as Jism, but translated here for obvious reasons—is credited with kick-starting the new frankness, though the movie itself is relatively tame, with a lot of sweaty flesh but no nudity. The plot rehashes Double Indemnity, right down to the desperate voiceover narration by a man who regrets his choices. John Abraham plays the man, a drunken no-goodnik who falls hard for Bipasha Basu, a married seductress who tries to convince him to murder her husband. The story is straight from the '40s, but Body's style and sound is all '80s, full of pastel colors, subtle key lighting, and washes of synthesizer. It's very Against All Odds and Body Heat, as Basu captivates Abraham by spilling juice down the front of her dress, then lets him blindfold her and trace her curves with ice cubes. The fantasy is heightened whenever Body breaks for a musical number, which allows the leads to gaze longingly at each other while their inner thoughts play on the soundtrack.
The music also pads out the screen time, and stretches a plot that already seems excruciatingly repetitive and recycled. Body looks great, and has some winning songs, but if this kind of made-for-cable skin-soap is what Bollywood is going to become, maybe it'd better for the industry to crumble. On the other hand, maybe Body is just a socio-historical curiosity and no real cause for concern. According to recent reports from overseas, the sex-and-sizzle era may be over already, replaced by a return to traditional values and chaste romance, the principles that have long made Bollywood unique.