While small-budget films are fortunate if they can generate pre-release buzz, doing so can also inflate audience expectations. By the time last week’s premiere of director Manan Katohora’s When Kiran Met Karen rolled around, anyone familiar with the project had been hearing about it for a good 19 months. But even after accounting for what a set-up that kind of hype presents, the movie is ultimately disappointing.
The basic premise is sound. Kiran Lohar (Chriselle Almeida) — or K. Lo, according to the tabloids — is a rising Bollywood star who’s in New York for the premiere of her latest blockbuster, A Himalayan Love Story, produced by her mega-rich music mogul fiancé, Dev Ghosh (Samrat Chakrabarti). Karen Sorens (Kelli Holsopple) is a fledgling reporter for Reel Women magazine who wants an exclusive interview with Kiran.
The eponymous meeting between the two takes place after Kiran flees a press conference for her new film in a diva-like huff once the line of questioning takes a turn for the personal. Karen pounces on the same cab Kiran has just hailed, seizing the opportunity for a private audience with the starlet.
At first, Kiran — who rolls her eyes throughout the first half of the film — has no interest in talking to her fellow rider. But Karen, who is white, catches Kiran’s attention by demonstrating that she speaks Hindi, even if she has a tendency to bungle the pronunciation. It’s a successful ploy, and soon Kiran is actually engaged enough to point out Karen’s culturally insensitive failure to distinguish between Hindu and Hindi.
Kiran goes home and tells Dev about the obnoxious Hindi-butchering American journalist who wants to interview her, and he eventually convinces her to go through with it. But while one might expect the women to hurtle toward an inevitable affair, a good 90 minutes of film rolls before a romantic encounter of any sort unfolds between them.
The primarily female audience at the world-premiere screening in Philadelphia on July 12 seemed positively squirmy during the film’s first love scene — a lengthy one between Kiran and Dev, and perhaps not what the queer-film festival goers turned out hoping to see. The florid soundtrack also hampers the intended effect of this and other scenes.
Kiran and Karen’s only love scene, at more than three quarters of the way into the film, has its own distracting musical accompaniment. Even if you’re able to get through the cheesiness that overshadows the action, you will still have to contend with odd special effects (blue clouds undulating over the house) and post-coital weeping (presented without explanation, as if it’s an inevitable result of ladies hooking up).
Casting this film was no easy feat for Katohora, but rather a two-year process that included the withdrawal of at least two big names attached to the project. But Almeida and Holsopple are capable leads and well-suited to their respective roles. Their chemistry runs more chummy than steamy, but at least theirs isn’t an improbable pairing.
And while Almeida’s performance may lack subtlety, it seems unfair to blame her when the role she’s been handed lacks dimension.
The deficiently attentive Kiran needs constant stimulation — whether it be TV, music, booze or coke — and is ever restless and bored. She is high drama even when she’s alone, at one point sprawling across a pool table as if enacting a crime-scene outline just for solitary kicks.
In any event, some of the film’s sillier moments are admittedly kind of sweet. Kiran and Karen share an impromptu Bollywood-style (if not that elaborate) dance interlude that the mansion’s architect must have had in mind when designing the twin staircases flanking its entryway. And at another point, though they’re sitting so close their legs are touching, the women handle the mounting erotic tension by texting each other. Kiran asks, “will u have txt with me?” Karen replies, “have u ever had txt with a woman?”
But some of the schmaltzier moments are indeed the most entertaining — particularly if you’re able to find amusement in small details, such as when the women take easy puffs on a supposed joint as if it were a cigarette. Or when Kiran politely asks if she can take Karen’s coat, then unceremoniously flings it over the banister, as if no one on set considered that a spotless billion-dollar home would probably have a coat closet that gets used, or simply didn’t bother to point it out.
And do both women really need to climb up to the second-story balcony after they find themselves locked out in the back yard? At first it seemed preposterous that Kiran would follow Karen rather than waiting for her to run downstairs and let her in through the back door. But then Kiran would never have sustained a fateful scrape on her tender inner thigh, and the piano music would never have kicked in at the moment Karen unfurls a bandage and lovingly affixes it to the wound.
Whether or not it’s intentional, the film certainly has a campy appeal.
Ultimately, the biggest disappointment of this film is the twist ending, which I won’t reveal here. But suffice it to say that with hardly a single redeeming quality among the three lead characters, it’s hard to get too invested in who ends up with whom, equally deserving as they are of each other’s bad company. Kiran in particular proves to be a poor judge of character when it comes to both men and women. And in the end, it’s hard to care too much about the meeting of two fictional characters I’d never care to meet in real life.
This film was screened at the 2008 Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian film festival.