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
Left to right: Kelli Holsopple, Samrat Chakrabarti, Chriselle Almeida
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
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).