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Movie Review

'The Pool' reaches impressive depths

Venkatesh Chavan plays an Indian janitor obsessed with a rich man's pool. Venkatesh Chavan plays an Indian janitor obsessed with a rich man's pool. (Vitagraph Films)
By Michael Hardy
Globe Correspondent / October 3, 2008
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"The Pool" begins with Venkatesh, an 18-year-old janitor at a hotel in Panjim, India, making his daily pilgrimage to a hilltop bungalow whose prime attraction, to Venkatesh, is its unapproachable pool. One day, the bungalow's owner (played by Bollywood legend Nana Patekar) spots Venkatesh and hires the teenager as his yard boy. Venkatesh accepts the job in order to get closer to the coveted pool, but in the meantime develops a cross-caste friendship with the owner's poncy daughter, a member of India's leisure class.

The story behind "The Pool" is almost as interesting as the story told in "The Pool." Director Chris Smith, best known for the 1999 documentary "American Movie," based the film on a short story about an Iowa graduate student who becomes obsessed with a local swimming pool. After reading the story, Smith decided the tale would make more sense if it were set in India, so he emptied his pockets (the film was entirely self-financed), called up a few friends, and decamped for Panjim to begin a marathon 65-day-shoot.

For maximum authenticity, Smith recruited most of his actors off the streets; Venkatesh Chavan, who plays the character of the same name, was helping his family sell scrap metal in the nearby city of Vasco da Gama when Smith ran into him. This casting approach, along with Smith's use of a hand-held camera, lends the film a documentary feel that distinguishes it from Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited," which was filmed in India but could almost have been made on a Hollywood soundstage. Like Anderson, many directors claim to value local color, but few have gone as far, or achieved such impressive results, as has Chris Smith in "The Pool."

The Pool

Directed by: Chris Smith

Starring: Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah, Nana Patekar, Ayesha Mohan

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 98 min

Rated: PG

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