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Ashram to ashes 

3 stars

If nothing else, "Cosmopolitan" deserves kudos for granting work to two actors always welcomed by discriminating viewers: Carol Kane, who sadly doesn't seem to end up in much of value these days; and Roshan Seth, who you'd swear is in just about everything, but only because you've stuck your snout so deep in the indie trough that you need to come up for air and see something good and commercial for a change. (Something with a talking ferret in it, maybe, or a wisecracking cop and a reanimated corpse who solve crimes together).

Just don't go before you see "Cosmopolitan," a slim but pleasing character study of an Indian-American man (Seth) facing a midlife crisis not of his own doing. Laid off from work when the movie begins, Seth's Gopal Muria suffers an added blow when his daughter announces she's leaving to teach English in Mongolia. Seconds later, his wife makes her own emancipation proclamation: She's abandoning him to join an ashram back home in India. Yes, just like that.

Left to his own, less-then-formidable devices, our hero is determined to stay as socially adept as you can be without actually leaving the house. He chats with telemarketers until they hang up in frustration, and he maintains a running process of self-evaluation by filling out the quizzes in Cosmopolitan magazine. This activity reveals Gopal as a "ditchable dude," but hope springs eternal -- maybe in the form of Helen Shaw (Kane), the high-school guidance counselor who lives next door. She's always struck Gopal as a woman with no morals, but suddenly, she's starting to look pretty good indeed.

In robbing Gopal of his support system, the movie aims to magnify the alienation felt by many first-generationers, who lose their mental hold on the motherland before fully coming to terms with their adopted country. Gopal's desperate drive to stay viable as a masculine figure is equally polluted by the Cosmo issues his daughter has left behind and the Bollywood musicals he watches habitually on the TV. The juxtaposition is about as subtle as the film gets: As directed by "Chutney Popcorn's" Nisha Ganatra and written by Monsoon Wedding's Sabrina Dhawani (adapting a short story by Akhil Sharma), it's given to obvious metaphors and quick associations. That might be an unavoidable byproduct of its tight, 53-minute running time (it will see broadcast on PBS in June), but the movie's just not always the right 53 minutes: The Gopal/Helen courtship springs up essentially overnight, while the number of fantasy sequences (three) that express Gopal's desires in the form of Bollywood-style musicales is allowed to far exceed their reasonable limit (one). Still, it's typically great to be in Kane's and Seth's company, and the film has a snazzy visual style, with explanatory text periodically popping up on screen to underline a good gag. Give it an hour now, and hook up with the ferret later.

Cosmopolitan with The Laughing Club of India 1:45 p.m. Sunday; all at Enzian Theater; 407-629-1088; $9 per screening, series pass $30)

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