August 22, 2008

Cheetah Girls Go Bollywood

By Bill Keveney

The Cheetah Girls: One World lives up to its title.

The successful Disney Channel franchise traveled to India for its third movie (tonight, 8 ET/PT), mixing the familiar, three singing-dancing friends, with what many viewers will find exotic: dance, music and clothing emblematic of India's Bollywood film industry.

One World, which comes five years after the first Cheetah film, opens with the three recording hopefuls -- Chanel (Adrienne Bailon), Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan) and Aqua (Kiely Williams) -- hitting young adulthood and contemplating separate pursuits. (The fourth member, Galleria, is off to classes at Cambridge, an explanation for the absence of Raven-Symone, who was in the first two films.)

The three change plans when they're cast in an Indian musical, only to find one role when they arrive.

The actresses, who spent two months in the cities of Mumbai and Udaipur, had to pick up different dance moves and music tempos, learning how various movements symbolized the stars, the moon and other elements, Bailon says.

"It was difficult for us in the sense that it was different. We're so used to one style of dance. (But) we were really enthusiastic about learning it," she says. "I think our movie will open some eyes to a whole new culture."

One song, Dance Me If You Can, begins as a challenge between performance styles, which come together as the song concludes. "It was really cool the way we blended our sound, which is pop, hip-hop, with Indian sounds. It started out like two different songs and it (ends) like one complete song," Williams says. "Fans will be able to do it the Cheetah Girls way and the Indian way."

Filming in India provided scenes of "breathtaking" beauty, Bailon says, and a full-on Bollywood experience for the actresses, including a song, One World, the singers performed in Indian dress on top of an elephant. "Riding an elephant was so fun (but) scary at times because we had a huge elephant, and when she walks it's not the sturdiest thing to be on top of," Bryan says.

The Cheetah presence will make Bollywood elements less intimidating to core viewers (ages 6-14) who are unfamiliar with the genre, says Gary Marsh, entertainment president of Disney Channels Worldwide. "There's a connection our audience has to Western elements. Using that connection, we can introduce Eastern cultural elements."

And on a business level, the foreign setting and multicultural cast should play well on a network available in more than 100 countries, including India, Marsh says.

The first two films were big draws; they attracted 6.5 million and 7.8 million viewers, respectively. Marsh says audience response will help determine whether there is a fourth. The three stars are gung-ho about another film, even as they venture into solo projects.

"We've got a wish list of places to go," Williams says. "Japan, South America, 'Cheetah Girls Down Under.' We can pretty much go anywhere."

**** World, Critic's Corner, 14B (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>