It may be categorised in the ‘most inconsequential forms of cinema ever’ box, but Chennai Express has done wonders at the box office in Pakistan and India. The Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone-starrer is an aesthetically selected evolution of the Dabangg genre.
Much like recent films that made big money at the box office, this romantic action comedy relies heavily on cliches but not the ones popularised by Salman Khan a few years back; instead, you’ll find the kind pioneered by King Khan almost two decades ago.
So here’s the plot for the film that manages to give even the thickest skinned viewers something to laugh about. Right when 40-year-old bachelor Rahul is all set for a trip to Goa, his grandfather passes away. As per his wishes, Rahul has to immerse a part of his grandfather’s cremated ashes in Rameshwaram. To dupe his grandmother, he boards the Chennai Express (with all intentions to meet his friends in Goa), when, in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge style, he helps Meenama (Deepika Padukone) onto the train, as well as four more people who turn out to be thugs running after her. The rest is a predictable combination of slapstick comedy, romance and action in Rameshwaram (South India).
The script has its highs and lows. Whenever you think it’s reaching a flat point, the director astonishes you with a visually exciting song. But before the climax, where Rahul is finally negotiating with Meenama’s father, it seems as if SRK is asking for permission to adopt his daughter rather than asking for her hand in marriage. The colour grading of the songs really breathes new life into the visuals and keeps you from going out to take a break. The tunes by Vishal-Shekhar are catchy and give a new sound to a rather stereotypical story without relying on the usual suspects of hit film music, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and more recently Sukhwinder Singh. Keeping its stylistic brilliance aside, the film at large, is a drag and relies on needless action sequences to which neither the special effects supervisor nor Khan could do justice.
The character Rahul is designed to suit SRK’s limited acting skills. Everything around him has been smartly tailored by the director to suit SRK’s shortcomings as an actor, making him seem immersed in the character. But, this is undeniably his best comic performance. SRK manages to generate the raunchy humour expected of him; a person of his build (which is quite basic compared to B-town standards) shares a major chunk of screen space playing Tom & Jerry with thugs four times his size. There are some scenes in which SRK is genuinely funny, such as when he tries to ask a dwarf on the highway for directions as he makes his way out of the jungle. Not only does his comic timing surprisingly return, but this is also one of the very rare scenes where he actually shares real chemistry with a co-star.
Padukone’s character is the real driving force of the film, perhaps with a little too much power. Her irritating accent will get under your skin and her saris keep her mostly covered (sorry, guys!) and less glamorous. But other than that, she makes her presence felt by pulling off such a difficult dialect with ease as well as dominating a performer of Khan’s calibre at some places.
The film ends with King Khan paying tribute to Rajinikanth, the king of South Indian cinema, whose star power has recently won over film-makers from Bollywood. While some might consider this the official acceptance of South Indian cinema’s domination over Bollywood, it still doesn’t change the fact that most of the South Indian linguistic and cultural references were pushed in to generate humour. This was hypocritical and racist on the part of film-makers, and reiterates the fact that Bollywood is far from celebrating diversity in its mainstream narrative – something an industry its age should have exercised by now.
Verdict: Recommended for die-hard SRK fans. For the rest, brace yourselves for a reckless escape and pointless humour.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2013.