Chennai Express: DDLJ Deja Vu

It’s all there… the goofy look, the gorgeous dimples, those warm cognac eyes, the trademark stutter, the patented name Raaaaahul…girl hotfooting it on railway platform, hero reaching out gallantly with his hand to hoist her onto the running train – ah, it’s vintage Shahrukh.

In a madcap series of adventures that commences by boarding the Chennai Express, Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) is supposedly headed to Rameshwaram in the south to immerse his recently deceased grandfather’s ashes there. However, this is just a ruse the clever fella has thought up to fool his grandmom (Kamini Kaushal; brief cameo but nice resurrection) with; the idea is to hop off the train at Kalyan where his friends are waiting, and drive to Goa instead. However, caught up in fellow passenger Meenamma’s (Deepika Padukone) drama, who is a runaway from home, he is virtually kidnapped by her gang of hulking cousins, as he is the sole witness to their having flung the train ticket collector into a convenient passing river! This merry group then alights at Komban village, where Meena’s appa is the local “daann” (don.) In a bid to save her skin, Meena tells Daddy-O she and Rahul love each other and want to get married – and it’s a rollercoaster of confusion after that.

Of course there isn’t much sense to the movie – what do you expect with a lethal combination like Rohit Shetty and Shahrukh Khan?! Then again, what do you expect from a package of Rohit Shetty and Shahrukh Khan – a series of non-stop gags and laughter. Pre-interval the first half is side-splittingly funny and there’s hardly a dull moment, with the repartee flying swift and sure. Post interval, the film lags noticeably. Meenamma’s talking-in-her-sleep scene is the most farcical I’ve seen from Bollywood in recent times. Also, isn’t it enough to have the film’s release coincide with Eid, without bunging in a half-hearted dialogue on Independence Day as well?? There is such a thing as trying to cover all your bases and doing justice to none.

It’s a no-holds-barred Shahrukh Khan movie all the way, and Deepika ably matches up to him. It’s also an unabashed tribute to ‘Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge’ but fortunately, Rohit Shetty manages to pull it off without jarring the senses. A long-legged Dippy does the mandatory run along the platform in her pavda (a far cry from the podgier Kajol) while Rahul hauls her into the train and charmingly dimples: “maine pehle bhi kiya hai.” Indeed, there are allusions to almost all SRK popular hits; ‘Dil Se,’ ‘Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman,’ etc. Meena and Rahul carolling out their answers to each other in the tune of popular songs started off by being funny but soon hit the jarring note, possibly coz the words weren’t funny enough. Dialogues are peppy: “Logon ki train miss hoti hai, aapki vajah se meri platform miss ho gayi”; “seatam”; “All India Radio ke zamaane se Twitter tak.” It goes without saying that the dialogues have hit their mark only because of Khan’s inimitable style.

Full marks to continuity. When Meenamma alights at Komban, the gajra in her hair looks brown and wilted as well it should, considering she’s been on a train for a couple of days. It’s a Rohit Shetty movie – so there is some super action. I’m not quite sure though why he used watered-down ketchup liberally on Rahul in the climax fight scene; surely he knows people have graduated to using real blood (animal) in movies? I hear a film set was constructed at popular shooting locale Wai near Panchgani at a humungous cost of Rs 1.5 crores. Shoddy job. The village looks too contrived. Do the Tamilians really paint on these uber-huge rangolis in their courtyards and have these gaudy plastic matkas stacked around handily for people to fall over when they wanna break each other’s faces?? Naah, bit over-the-top there. Err. Were the waterfalls constructed too or were they cleaned up for the act (ha!) coz they look too bubbly and blue, more like crashloads of Meena, sorry, Nirma, were poured down them!

Which brings us of course to the current raging war cry that the movie is a parody of the Tamilians. Well, the movie is a spoof on a lot of things, but I can’t say as how I would be offended much; certainly, the Tamilians or rather, South Indians generally, tend to get the genders mixed up in speech and certainly, their Hindi is heavily accented (well, so for that matter is their English. And, I suppose, their German!) Playing devil’s advocate, certainly too the heavyweights chosen to play Meena’s goondis were positively burlesque. However, lighten up people, let’s have a sense of humour in play here, huh. ‘Chennai Express’ never claimed to be an intellectual exercise. It’s a pure entertainer – leave your brains at home! CE does not bring you the Shahrukh Khan of Chak De India; if you thought that, more fool, you.

Established Tamil star Sathyaraj plays Meenamma’s father. Nikitin Dheer essays the role of Tangaballi, appa’s preferred love interest for his errant daughter. Both hold their own in the face of the Bollywood heavyweights.

Notwithstanding the fact that there’s more pancake on the face to hide ‘em wrinkles, or that he’s frankly beginning to show his years in the dance sequences, like wine, our Khan only gets better with time. Or perhaps, more beloved!

I believe I’ve had occasion to mention this before – what IS it with Dippy and those awful caterpillar eyebrows that look as though a kindergartner had drawn them on with crayon? She blunders on in the fashion area – that awful brassy hue she’s picked as her hair colour merely serves to make her look old and jaded. That apart, she’s done a good job.

Cinematography by Dudley is competent. Editing by Steven H Bernard could have been brisker. Sorry – except for the title track ‘Chennai Express’ and perhaps ‘Lungi Dance’ I’m not impressed by Vishal-Shekhar and what they’ve optimistically passed off for music here. The premise of the story by K. Subhaash is entertaining enough however, somewhere, the screenplay (Yunus Sajawal) lost the plot.

It’s surely unusual to honour another senior living actor the way the Shetty-Khan duo have done with Rajnikant. The ‘Lungi Dance’ song sequence at the end of the movie is a brazen accolade to “Thailava” ; dunno what Rajni will make of it, but I thought it was nice and in innocent fun and a genuine compliment. So what? Sometimes directors are allowed to make films for themselves too, innit? Also dunno what SRK’s ace rival Amitabh Bachchan will make of the tribute; he considers himself the Daann of Indian cinema, don’t he?!

It’s the first time this director has teamed up with SRK. Verdict? Shetty Khan (can) do.

*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.

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