01/16/2009 07:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

I Love Bollywood - and Chandni Chowk

At the rate of 1,000 films a year - double the output of the American film industry - India's Bollywood has established itself as the world's richest cinema culture, if not its most quality-driven.

So it's only a matter of time before Bollywood catches up with Hollywood, in terms of the quality of the films it's releasing. Hey, if you can't make a movie better than Bride Wars, you're not trying

Chandni Chowk to China, a lavish Bollywood kung-fu musical, is getting the largest American release of any Bollywood film ever. It's a bold commercial move - but Chandni Chowk just might be the movie to break the barrier.

This isn't a perfect film by any stretch. At two and a half hours, it could easily lose 45 minutes, at least for the average viewer. But, as someone who hasn't had much exposure to Bollywood films, I never got impatient or antsy with its length. Every time it seemed about to take itself too seriously, it popped its own bubble with a self-aware joke.

Directed by Nikhil Advani, the film stars Akshay Kumar, India's biggest action heartthrob, as Sidhu, who lives in the Chandni Chowk neighborhood of Delhi. A cook who works for his adoptive father, Dada (Mithun Chakraborty), Sidhu wants more out of life than chopping vegetables for the pakoras and samosas at Dada's food stand. So he seeks out fortune tellers, plays the lottery and prays to Ganesh - anything he can think of to help him get rich quick.

Through a mix-up, he is mistaken - by a pair of Chinese peasants - for the incarnation of Liu Sheng, an ancient Chinese warrior. The Chinese are looking for this modern-day iteration because of a prophesy that Liu Sheng will help save them from the modern-day gangster who threatens their village.

Their confusion is facilitated by Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), a scam artist with Chinese ancestry, who convinces Sidhu that the Chinese want to shower him with riches. Chopstick tags along as translator, aware of Sidhu's true nature - and of the fact that, in reality, the Chinese want the ill-equipped Sidhu to battle the ruthless gangster, Hojo (Gordon Liu). Insert ice cream/hotel joke here.

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