Here’s what someone asked a critic who unapolegetically bashed Rohit Shetty’s latest film Chennai Express on a social networking site: “Did you not get from the trailers that you weren’t going to see Satyajit Ray or Mani Ratnam?” It is as simple as that. There is no point looking for logic or cinematic brilliance in a film that promises nothing of that sort.
Chennai Express, thus, is a film that throws up no surprises whatsoever. What it does instead is reinforce the fact that “King Khan” is called so, not because of his acting skills, which seems to have disappeared right after he wrapped up work on Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India. Throughout the film, Shahrukh Khan, who plays Rahul, the 40-year-old mithaiwala, looks more than happy to play the fool. And unfortunately, the actor, who boasts a two decade-long career, fails to pull off a convincing act. His comic timing is terrible and his antics are almost always over-the-top. Little would have Khan known when he promised to roll out his leading lady Deepika Padukone’s name before his in the credits, that she would outdo him with her spirited performance as Meena Lochini. With her thick Tamil accent, which she manages to retain even during the romantic and sad sequences, Padukone is the saving grace of Chennai Express. She breathes life into her exaggerated character and looks stunning on screen in her South Indian avatar.
There is nothing more than what the trailers show to the “Rohit Shetty Shtyle” love story. It starts with both Rahul and Meenamma boarding the Chennai Express. While the damsel in distress is running away from her periathalai (don) father (Sathyaraj) who wants her to get married against her wishes, Rahul is on his way to Rameshwaram with his grandfather’s ashes. After he helps her and a dozen of her “cousin brothers” get on the train (DDLJ style) and becomes the sole witness of a murder they commit, he is taken to the Komban village. Here he has to fight the mighty Thangaballi (Nikitin Dheer), who wants Meenamma’s hand in marriage, if he wants to get out of the village alive. Most of the comedy should have ideally come from Rahul’s bewilderment in being caught in such an unfamiliar land with people who speak a language he cannot understand. Somehow, the un-subtitled Tamil spoken seemed to fascinate the audience we saw the film with more than Khan’s buffoonery.
The film doesn’t even try to break any new ground and sticks to the tried and tested formula of high-profile action set pieces, a few song and dance numbers, a little melodrama, and a speech on women empowerment. But after the hue and cry the film’s trailer gave rise to about the alleged stereotyping of South Indians, it is refreshing to see that Chennai Express stays clear of any such gimmicks. The Tamil spoken is by and large authentic, except for maybe that spoken by Thangaballi. However, Shetty has reduced every Tamil village shown in the movie to a collection of a few roadside stalls selling colourful buckets and flowers, a temple, a few dark-skinned and big-built goondas, half-sari clad young girls, and the periyathalai’s palatial house in the middle of it all. Shetty can be pardoned for this because he doesn’t resort to any below-the-belt jokes on South Indians.
Packaged and promoted as a tribute to Rajnikanth aka thalaivaa, the Lungi Dance song inserted at the end of the film, however, stands for everything Chennai Express was accused of doing in the first place. It does nothing but add to the north Indian misconception that Rajinikanth is nothing more than his cigarette- and Ray-Ban spinning antics, which, of course, no south Indian can agree to.
All said and done, given that the film is being translated into almost 10 international languages, we wonder in what language Deepika’s Meenamma will say, “Achchcha! Kaha se laya aisi boak-waas dictionary?”
Film: Chennai Express
Director: Rohit Shetty
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Shahrukh Khan, Satyaraj, Lekh Tandon, Nikitin Dheer