Chennai Express

Director: Rohit Shetty | Year: 2014

Just back from Chennai Express. I must confess I haven’t seen any of the Rohit Shetty films , on big or small screen, since Zameen. The trailer of this one hadn’t particularly impressed me and it had been an effort sitting through Shahrukh’s last, Jab Tak Hai Jaan. The only reason I went for this one is because my wife is a die-hard Shahrukh fan, and there was no other film that I could take her to this weekend. Ship of Theseus was gone. Even BA Pass wasn’t running. Let me also confess I had to buy the ticket in black, paying double the price for a couple of balcony tickets in a single-screen theater.

But when the film started, after the trailers of Krissh 3 and Satyagrah, both looking quite good, I was instantly hooked. From the very first frame. There was something of a genuine raconteur’s charm in the way Sharukh voices his grandapa’s story that wins you over right away. The fact that Rahul has no compunction about cheating his granny in taking his grandpa’s ash only till Klayan and not Rameshwaram helps. And the much applauded scene where Rahul helps Meena and her four cousin-cum-kidnappers unto the compartment sets the tone of this really stylish comedy. Contrary to what I had heard of Rohit Shetty’s films requiring you to leave your brain at home, the comedy in the film was very well though-out and elegantly executed. I have been always an admirer of physical comedy as well as ‘objects’ comedy – comedy that makes inventive use of objects around characters – the kind that you see in films like ‘ Kiungfu Hustle’ or in the films of Jackie Chan. Not many Indian directors try it or are any good in it. The genres require adroit choreography of sorts and Shetty is rather good at it. From simple gags like Shahrukh’s rucksack hitting the faces of the goons repeatedly tothway the different weapons of the four encircle Shahrukh’s neck in a single coordinated swipe are examples of this within the first few minutes itself. The encryption of message through a feigned antakshari is a lark. And use of words like ‘ shauchalay’ within it and the goons prodding Meena to sing when they assumed was her turn makes you chuckle out loud.

Chennai Express, Image 1

The gags flow smooth and easy right until the interval. I had to admire Shetty’s artistic integrity while noting that there was only one song, the vey tastefully staged One Two Three Four, Get On the Dance Floor to interrupt the proceedings. The gag with double-date arising out of mistaken missive, or the Srilankan smugglers on high seas , or the episode with appa’s favourite car meeting its watery end are all inventive and funny, not to count the many verbal gags involving mix up between Tamil and Hindi.

Though I wish the second half had stayed in the same spoofy territory, what we get is not too bad. There is something really quaint about the romance blossoming in this fairy tale village with such droll and sweet uncles and aunties. There is no gainsaying No one does romance as well as Shahrukh. And I like it better when it is not over-sweetened like it is in films of Aditya Chopra or Karan Johar. The three hundred steps of carrying the weight of love is touching for sure , but it plays s so much better because it is prefaced by Shahrukhs, “ Where is the temple? Where is the temple?” The scene where Deepika goes back from the escape car only to return with the urn containing the ashes givea lie to the canard that Shetty’s films are brainless.

I would have admired Shetty a lot more if he could come out with something more inventive than the climax fight. But given the way the film had been set up with a don and his four henchmen and a giant ofa rival in love, I could not complain too much about the turn of events. At least it was staged well – like the stove being flung and setting something on fire and Shahrukh being left holding the handle of a bucket after smashing it over someone’s head. And Shahrukh;’s speech here about father’s being heartlessly blind to what their daughters want is so much better than his “ Jis jagaah se mein dekh raha hooon..’ speech to Amitabh in Mohabbatein, both in substance and style. The Tamil bits and lines like ‘ Mein ek Halwa-wala hoon lekin ek kdwa bbat kahunga’ help in cutting the mawkishness and the ‘ gyan’ element.

More than anything else I like the structure and the tone of the film. It plays out like a marvelous fairy-tale adventure set in an enchanted place. The picturesque South India, populated by droll South Indian characters who look not the least bit fake help in creating this flavour. The Kathakali and Theyaam dancers add the extra tang. At times it feels like an Indian Jones adventure at others like a Jackie Chan caper. AS I have said earlier, There is a lot of thought that has gone into the writing. Take the nodding of the head ( mundi hilana) sequence in Kamban and its counterpoint of shaking of the head in the other village, with its clever explanation by Deepika. I also like the use of incomprensiblr Tamil helps some gas to be structured like in a silent film, where the sequence works regardless of the verbal content.

Must mention the songs in the film which deserve special praise. I have expressed my low opinion of seasoned directors like Mani Ratnam when they reveal total disregard for Bollywood grammar in using songs and treat them like showy MTV music videos without any soul or any attempt at dovetailing the lyrics to the intent of the scene. When I saw the name of Amitabh Bhattacharya as lyricist in the opening credits, my expectation rose, and he did not disappoint me. Even in the so called item song like One-Two-Three-Four every line is meaningfully constructed. (Ho aankh bhi, jaane kaahe /Phadke meri phadke meri baayi/Kundali me ho jaise ulti dasha ulti dasha aayi). I am exasperated at crtics who cannot recognize and applaud Shetty for showing how an item song can be clean and fun without sexual innuendos and double-meaning lyrics. Then take the song ‘ Mein Kashmir Tu Kanyakumari’ , visually it is so uplifting with all those colorful characters lined up on the hill road, and the lungi movements are so much fun. But what got to me is the celebration of the ‘ unity in diversity’ of India in such an offhand manner. ( ‘Tel bechne jaye toh phir yeh duniya saari’ indeed !) (‘Uttar ne dakshin ko aflatoon aankh maari’ is very clever in pointing to the wink-wink-nudge-nudge relationship going between the North and the South at te moment, especially in films). If there are three songs in 25 minutes, so what, they are not inserted without context. I thought they are exactly where they should have been. Oh yers, I must not forget the exquisite romantic song sung by Mohit Chuhan: Meherbaani nahi tumhara pyar maanga hai / Tumhe manzoor hai tabhi to yaar manga hai / Ghairon ke dar se, tere sheher se / Hai kasam rishta todoon na. Wah!

The characters have been etched with much more clarity and consistency than you see in Bollywood masala capers. Both Rahul and Meenamma have been written lovingly. Nowhere has their characters been compromised in terms of dress or behaviour to make them more heroic or glamorous. No DKNY Tees for Sharukh, no designer outfits for Deepika even in fantasy song sequences. Thank god Shetty knows that White and Gold Kerala sarees can take your breath away too.

Well I have been saving my last for the two performers who breathe life into the film and their characters and make you buy their story wholesale without a murmur. There is not a single note that these two play wrong. I had stopped falling in love with Bollywood actresses on screen until I saw Deepika in Cocktail. Fell in love with her again in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. And now I am reay to love her for seven more films if not seven lives. Her Hindi with mixed up genders is as funny accent as you would have ever seen in a Hindi film, and no one was needed to carry it through a whole film. And whenshe says’ Kahan se kharidi aisi bakwas dictionary’ to Sharukhs’s ‘ Mere dictionary mein impossible jaise shabd nahin hai’ she makes it sound as sharp as any of Gladstone’s riposte to Disraeli. And when she does her chudail act before delivering that solid kick to Shahrukh she is a treat to watch. And what about Sharukh? Well I think the King has got his crown back. For someone who had no patience with his romantic Rahul act in Chopra and Johar films, I say, Welcome home. Good to see you in roles like Don 2 and this. I mean we all know he was great in Swades and Chak De. But what the heck, he could be extremely funny and entertaining actor too. Good to have the Shahrukh of Yes Boss and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa back – in a more mature and more confident avatar. Salman may have more chutzpa and Aamir better script sense, but it is Shahrukh who has the innate intelligence as an actor that only a few like Dilip Kumar or Amitabh Bachchan possess. Here he is in perfect control and lets himself go in equal measure. Can’t remember when I saw a male and female lead in a Hindi film complementing each other so well in a comedy caper.

To sum up, if I must have masala I don’t mind it served as this kind of a concoction, with largely this kind of a flavour.

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