Saturday August 17, 2013

Chennai Express (Movie review), Rohit Shetty

Posted by Karthik

chennai-express18To start with, I wasn’t sure if I should watch Chennai Express as a South Indian (Tamilian, to be precise) or as an Indian who happens to be from the South and also understands Hindi. But I saw the film and actually liked it! And to think I was prepared not to like it at all, for whatever preconceived notions I had about it.

The film’s plot – by K Subhash (if I got the person right, he is Mani Ratnam’s ex-assistant and went on to make pretty good Tamil films like Chatriyan and Brahma, besides turkeys like Yezhaiyin Sirippil and Pavitra!) – is a mish-mash of many Tamil and Telugu films of recent times, with Mahesh Babu’s Okkadu topping the list. Just that the film imagines Okkadu’s hero as a 40-50 year old who doesn’t understand Telugu and tries to run away from the heroine more times than one could care about.

But Rohit Shetty gets a lot of things right. For me, it started with the ingenious Antakshari style conversations that the film’s leads have early in the film and later in a crucial scene when a 3rd participant enters unexpectedly, to even more hilarious effect! Its idea seems juvenile, but given the context in which it is happening – language issues – it works very well and is a hoot, for most times. In particular, the way Deepika does her part of the singing with just the tune in place without a care for rhyme or even proper closure, all in her Mehmood-Hindi, is hilarious.

My South Indian nature refused to work with Deepika’s horrendous… no, not Hindi – that I have reconciled with easily – but Tamil. Even Thangabali’s Tamil was equally bad. It’s a pity that these so-called Tamilians speak Tamil like aliens, but in the overall context of the film where almost everybody speaks at least one language horrendously, it seems like a given.

The other thing about the film that was thoroughly endearing was the fact that it has a superstar lead who is joked about his ’50 years of age’ and who, for most parts of the film, was utterly inept, scared and idiotic… sometimes all three at once! This reminded me of Ranvir Singh’s role in Band Baaja Baraat, where he was the submissive one to Shruti Kakkar’s outspoken and confused. In Chennai Express, Shah Rukh Khan the superstar seems to have submitted himself to Deepika’s Meenalochani completely, while she, for most parts of the film, merely uses him as a crutch to escape, again and again. So, when the film turns to a love story in the second half, I was left wondering what she saw in him to go that way (besides the film’s script, that is), while he had ample reasons to fall for her. The portions in the other village leading to the lovely Titli song seems to justify that question, but it is utterly filmy and defies the way Rahul’s character was built so far.

The songs that sounded terrible in the soundtrack continued to sound equally bad to me, but yes, the picturization of Kashmir tu main Kanyakumari would make Shankar proud!

Then there are completely oddball touches that are delightful – the scene with the ‘small’ man in the jungle, the brief outing with Shah Rukh Khan’s grandfather, Deepika’s act in the single bed when she is dreaming with eyes open (for some reason, every review says that she gets possessed, though she doesn’t say that at all – she just refers that as a dream that makes her do things!) showcases a side of Rohit I haven’t seen yet.

Yes, the finale seems way too forced and pandering to the image of the superstar who is at the helm of affairs, but even here Rohit could have added more of something that may have made the ‘fight’ scene more believable. For instance, Rahul uses a weapon to fend off the sidekicks, but resorts to hand to hand combat for most parts with Thangabali. Against a man of his size, that sounds silly – in an all-out fight where one puny man is against so many villagers and one hulk of a man, I’m not sure why heroism would be served only if it is hand to hand combat. Thankfully, the hand to hand combat is interspersed generously by Shah Rukh using some impromptu aid, like a bucket and finally, and appropriately, as axe.

There is a Shankar-like grandeur almost all through the film, some forced (like the shot in the international waters), and some forced but amazing, like the train stopping in the middle of nowhere on a bridge overlooking a breathtaking view!

Thankfully, the film was just not about mutual incomprehension of Hindi and Tamil, as the promos wanted us to believe. Almost one third of the film was in Tamil and there was no overt attempt to transliterate anything that is going on, to the audiences – what they heard was merely snippets that Shah Rukh wanted them to know as his thoughts of what he assumed was happening… and what he asks Miss Subtitles to translate occasionally. That this film went beyond making fun of language mismatch is a record by itself for Rohit Shetty, who I thought would dig deep into it, but beyond a fleeting abuse of the old joke ‘Tamil teri ma’, there was no more of this sort, surprisingly!

And strangely, what bothered me deeply with this film were merely pedantic – the geography of the film seemed completely all over the place even for a fictitious place called Komban. Komban seemed like it was close to a hill, but it seemed close enough to Rameswaram and also a Ooty-like hill station that formed most of the Kashmir tu song. Even names seemed poorly researched – Thangabalu is a Tamil name, Thangabali seems like a Thai name. And that absurd background cue for so-called jokes on screen… it seemed like Rohit wanted to ensure that people know a joke is unfolding on screen and replaces a ‘Laugh now’ cue with a silly sound.

These are minor and paltry quibbles in what I thought was a broadly enjoyable, mindless masala. Manmohan Desai would be proud of this North-South bridge at masala, while I’m sure it takes guts for a star like Shah Rukh to be joked about his age as ‘50’ and resort to general buffoonery (dipping into his own repertoire for ‘in’ jokes, at times!) for 95% of the film, leaving the better, saner part of the film to his delightfully in-form and luminous looking leading lady. But then, having been here and done it all, does he have a choice?



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