In the interest of honest, unbiased reviews, let me begin by putting my biases on the table: I’m a sucker for Shah Rukh Khan. I’ve delighted in Rahul and Raj and the romantic fantasies they engendered over the last two decades. I cry when Rahul becomes a widower in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and swoon when Raj sweeps Simran in his arms amidst the swaying mustard fields in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Direction: Rohit Shetty
Actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone
So it breaks my heart to tell you that Chennai Express left me cold. This hyper, eager-to-please Rahul sorely tested my patience. And after a while, the innumerable references to DDLJ seemed like a lazy shot at siphoning some of the enduring affection we have for that film.
The fundamental problem is a clash of sensibility. Shah Rukh embodies the urbane, effortlessly suave and charming metro man. Director Rohit Shetty specialises in amped-up, largely logic-less and incoherent storytelling with a generous dose of low-brow humour that, at its best, is laugh-out-loud funny — do you remember that wonderful scene in Golmaal 3 in which Prem Chopra is humiliating his daughter’s poor suitor, played by Mithun Chakraborty? When Prem Chopra asks, “Karte kya ho tum?” Mithun Chakraborty, wearing a purposefully awful wig replies, “I am a disco dancer. Zindagi mera gana, main usi ka deewana.” It was priceless.
But Chennai Express plays neither to Rohit’s strengths nor to Shah Rukh’s. It’s a strangely sloppy mishmash of cheesy humour, half-hearted romance, half-baked emotion and head-banging action. The film is filled with gigantic men whose size functions as a punch line. Yes, some of it is funny. The locations are beautiful. And I enjoyed watching Deepika Padukone as Meena, the don’s daughter with the thick accent, who meets Rahul on Chennai Express and turns his life upside down. Padukone’s spirited performance — she even makes that accent attractive — helps to lift the film.
But, mostly, Chennai Express is a slog. Rohit’s movies have never been about plot or character or performances. His films have only one function: to entertain you by whatever means necessary. But sadly a film specifically designed not to bore does exactly that.
Two weeks ago, I had interviewed Shah Rukh and asked him whether in choosing to do a determinedly loud, over-the-top film like Chennai Express, he was cheating on his core audience — urban, educated, metro folk. Shah Rukh replied that he would never cheat on us but that people who have loved his earlier avatars will just have to accept that he’s going through a phase.
We do. Now come back Rahul. All is forgiven.