Director: Sooraj R Barjatya | Year: 2015
The damp and depressing Bengaluru weather. disappointing ‘ Rajkahini’ the night before. And then at last, the heart has been suitably warmed. And the faith in humanity restored…somewhat.
Yes. I am just back from Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and I have a couple of things to announce. First, Sooraj Barjatya hasn’t lost his touch. Second: I enjoyed this more than ‘Bajarangi Bhaijaan’. And a couple of disclaimers too. First: I think fairy tales are the best tales in the world. And I have tremendous affection for films that don’t pretend to be real. And second: I saw the entire film imagining Katrina Kaif in place of Soma Kapoor. All through the film. And the trick helped.
The film breezes through the first half like a song, I scarcely could believe it was interval already. The second half too chugged along nicely till the fight scene in the Sheesh Mahal which is a bit clunky, I thought. But Sooraj makes a good come back with the parting scene involving the two Salmans. Someone trying to make things look real would have finished the film with the golden-hearted Prem Dilwale returning to Varanasi and the princess tearfully returning to a somewhat chastened Vijay Singh who will try to make her happy, aided by the lessons learnt from Prem. But not Sooraj. When jiggles coquettishly to her version of ‘ Aaj Unse Milna Hai’ with both of them on the cycle rickshaw we know we have been watching a fairy tale all along. And yes. Won’t it be loverly…if this world was a place where a princess would leave a palace to marry a Ramleela-wala because he is one who knows how to press her happiness buttons?
Soooraj is at his best in mapping the contours of the relationships…be it the romantic one between Prem and the princess, or between the prince and his siblings. I liked the dramaturgy at the crucial turns…the instance when Prem breaks his maunvrat, or when the younger sister cant hold herself back from joining the football match, or when the princess tries to seduce Prem amidst burning lamps floating on water. Sooraj is good at capturing the undercurrent of erotic charge simmering under all the Bharatiya samskriti, and the writing on the back with the feather and the fetish of the original prince to see the princess in her little black dress proves that.
And no, I didn’t find the ideas or their execution in the film outdated. What is outdated about loving one’s siblings? In fact I cried in the scene where Salman announces that he has decided that hi sisters would have equal share in not only the palace but all that their father had left behind, and in return could he have his share of his sister back.
And no, I didn’t feel there were too many songs. Not one song was out of place or overstayed its welcome. ( Except perhaps the lines from the Bachpan song appearing during the fight sequence.) Sooraj was as inventive with his picturization as before. I loved the puppet dance in the Pyar Tum Karte Ho number. Such a wonderful touch. Loved the leap of imagination in the football match and the elegant setting and the lead in of the Diya Jal Uthe song. The choreography of all the other songs, especially the title number, had distinctive character and a plenty of charm.
I was pleasantly surprised by the aesthetic choices that Sooraj made at various pointsn both the scripting and production design. His choice of colours , especially the soft pastels for the princess was quite exquisite. He pulled off the royal setting in modern times without looking anachronistic at all. The cars, the interiors, the staff; were all well-chosen. (Only the bouquet carried by the prince to greet the princess at the station, I thought, was not grand enough.) Yes, the Sheesh Mahal amidst the cascading waters was a bit fanciful, but what I like is that he used to capture the childhood play between the siblings than to stage an extravagant dance number. I liked the piece of filmy wisdom offered in this context: Letting children play together can be as ennobling as making them read the Ramayana or Gita.
Of course this film won’t fly without Salman. He has grasped the character of Prem with such perfect intuition that he can’t play a note wrong while portraying him. He is equally in character in the short bits when he has to be Vijay Singh. This is a bravura performance worthy of a lusty round of applause. The award juries will have a tough time choosing between Bjarangi Bhiajaan and this one while deciding to honour Salman who seems to have taken his acting a lot more seriously of late.
So what falls short? Firstly, the screenplay. It is good, but not great. It is kind of weakened by the intrigue and fight sequence involving Neil Nitin Mukesh and gang as this territory is not where Sooraj is at his strongest. The story is a bit of an old wine. And the madness that Prem wreaks in the place could be used more tellingly by someone like Hirani. But what is most fatal, even to the extent of making it not work for many, is the choice of the heroine. Sonam just doesn’t cut it. I felt so she is not voluptuous enough. To put it more plainly she lacks sex appeal. When she heaves her bosom and sings ‘ Saanso se sargam se diye jal uthte hain’ the scene cries out for someone like Katrina. The same goes for the scene when she makes Salman write on her bare back. Or when she comes out in her little black dress. The scenes don’t carry the erotic charge that is written into them. Also, you needed someone who could match Salman in charisma. Bhagyashree could do it against a debutant Salman in MPK, Madhuri could do it in a more evolved Salman, in HAHK. Here Sonam looks gawky and not the goddess that Prem would be ready to worship by just seeing her picture on a poster.
But as I said, I sat through the film replacing her with Katrina in my mind, and quite enjoyed it all through. I will be looking forward to the next film of Sooraj Barjatya. I like the way he creates his own world and tells his quaint stories in a language that is entirely his own.
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