Bollywood Hero (IFC, Thursday through Saturday at 10 p.m. ET) stars Chris Kattan as himself, a role well outside of his dramatic range. He is patently unfit to play parts requiring more than trace amounts of seriousness, a circumstance that itself motivates the slack plot of this shaggy miniseries. Kattan spent seven seasons as a member of the cast of Saturday Night Live. No one quite so weird has stuck around the show that long. On SNL, Kattan distinguished himself by burpily breathing life into the zealous and epicene male stripper Mango and into Doug Butabi, of the Roxbury Butabis. There was also Mr. Peepers, a missing-link-type anthropoid—and a reminder that the majority of Kattan’s characters behave like chimpanzees. That’s their appeal.
Bollywood Hero picks up with Kattan, who wants leading-man roles that might allow him to “fight the bad guys and sleep with attractive women,” stewing impotently at his agent over a meal. The agent believes that the actor’s current gig playing a “space goat” on a science-fiction show is the best that he should expect. This is the point at which the fictional Kattan parts ways with the real one. Taking poetic license, the show’s creators have somewhat overstated the man’s prospects. Space goat can’t sound half bad to a performer whose most notable recent works include Gym Teacher: The Movie (which aired on Nickelodeon), Christmas in Wonderland (which grossed $79,000), and Delgo (which Movieline recently described as “the biggest animated box-office failure ever“). Kattan the fictional schlemiel wonders why he hasn’t had the career of Keanu Reeves. This is the point at which Bollywood Hero reveals itself as farce. Kattan the actual schlemiel must know that the appropriate question regards why he hasn’t had the career of Rob Schneider.
An offer comes Kattan’s way to star in a Mumbai-produced spectacular titled Peculiar Dancing Boy, and he is soon enough steaming potently at his agent at a benefit, declaring that he is fed up with Hollywood and that he’s prepared to risk to throwing it all away in order to strike out to the subcontinent and pursue his dreams. (Again, it is not at all clear what might be getting thrown away.) Throughout the conversation at the party, Kattan’s SNL buddy Maya Rudolph is literally standing behind him. She’s got his back. Also, she upstages him without even trying to, without saying a word, simply squinting and foggily nodding and giving the agent a leery once-over. The viewer quickly gets the idea that this miniseries will be a slog. Even if Kattan were an engaging presence as a nonbizarre character, this miniseries would be a slog. Its three-hour running time feels so well padded as to make one suspect that the producers filled out what ought to be a 90-minute TV movie in order to justify shooting on location.
But it must be said that Bollywood Hero is an entirely novel kind of slog, one messily combining a musical comedy, a backstage drama, two romances, a tale of sibling rivalry, a lesson about patrimony, and any number of very special messages about cultural differences and social structures. Boarding an Orientalist Express, Kattan goes on a field trip through India and its film industry as Peculiar Dancing Boy struggles to be born. There are ashrams and cups of chai tea and heaps of urban squalor to marvel at. The first song-and-dance number erupts when Kattan, kicked out of his hotel after a credit card mishap, bumbles into the slums and then busts a move alongside a quick-stepping troupe of untouchables. They’re all outcasts, see.
When Kattan jerks and flutters and capers around in dancing-boy mode, he is at his most magnetically peculiar, but he’s generally not on top of his physical comedy game here. Perhaps the tone of Bollywood Hero, which teeters between slapstick and somber, is to blame for throwing him off. In any case, his timing is wrong on the spit take when he sputters out a spicy hors d’oeuvre, and he doesn’t at all convey the radiating ache of testicle trauma in the show’s sorry excuse for a nut-shot moment. In the scene at the benefit, Andy Samberg, playing himself, sympathetically talks with Kattan about being “relegated to playing goofy brothers and wacky neighbors.” But if this limp kind of heroism is the alternative, then goofiness is a noble calling. We need all the wacky neighbors we can get.