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They've got the beat: Two locals star in 'Bollywood Beats' at St. Louis Film Festival

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 20, 2009 - We know what you're thinking already. "Bollywood Beats"? OK, so there will be lots of dancing and singing, a love triangle, betrayal, a whiny auntie and a cute kid.

Sounds like the stereotype for a lot of Bollywood movies, but not this one.

"Dancing won't just come out of nowhere," says Mehul Shah, the 28-year-old writer and director of the film.


There is dancing, true, but this is not a Bollywood film, to begin with. Instead, "Bollywood Beats" tells the story of Indian Americans in America.

It's really more like a Hollywood tribute to Bollywood, Shah says.

"The style is evocative of a Bollywood film," says Chris Clark, artistic director of Cinema St. Louis.

The film, which is Shah's first major feature, stars two St. Louis natives, and having some local connections did help it get chosen for the St. Louis International Film Festival, Clark says.

In the film, Sachin Bhatt plays Raj, a young man who loves to dance but can't catch a break. He soon starts a Bollywood dance class and each of the characters in the class becomes part of the story.

One of those characters is played by Pooja Kumar. Kumar, who grew up in Ballwin, never planned on acting, but after winning Miss India U.S.A., opportunities began piling up and she hasn't stopped since. Kumar has been in 10 films and acted on television.

Shah knew of Kumar through a casting director, and says she blew him away with her performance as an Indian woman who comes to the U.S. through an arranged marriage.

The character was a fun one to play because it's so unlike the experiences women now have, Kumar says, but so like the lives of her mother's generation.

But finding an actor to play Raj wasn't so easy.

"It was hard to find an Indian American guy who could dance and was an actor," Shah says.

He did find that actor, and it turns out Kumar's late mother had something to do with Bhatt's dancing skills. She used to teach him dance classes in St. Louis, Kumar says.


Though "Bollywood Beats" tells the story of Indian Americans, Kumar thinks anyone can relate to the film.

"There are things that all cultures can identify with in being the first generation," she says.

And the film takes a more American turn, featuring a gay teenage boy as one of the students in the dance class. That is a stretch for Indian audiences, says Kumar, who lives in New York.

"That's pretty big, actually."

But the film recently played at the Mumbai Film Festival, and Shah says it got a great response.

"People are really enjoying it."

Shah and actress Mansi Patel will attend the screening, and while Kumar is trying to make it into town for the weekend, she knows that, regardless, St. Louis will support a few of their own.

"That's what's so great about St. Louis," she says.