Prem Ratan Dhan Payo
Direction: Sooraj Barjatya
Actors: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher
Towards the middle of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, a man in an obviously fake wig and beard makes lecherous passes at a woman. He attempts to grab her buttocks as ‘comical’ musical cues play. When it’s time for a photo shoot, he instructs her to shake her booty so it will photograph well, and she replies, ‘Yeh still photo hai; namai kyun hilaun?’
It’s one of numerous scenes that make Prem Ratan Dhan Payo feel like a Sajid Khan film that Barjatya somehow mistakenly ended up directing. The first collaboration between Barjatya and Salman Khan since Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999) — their previous work together has included Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) and Hum Aapke Hai Kaun (1994) — Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is a film that reminds you of all that was wrong with the ’90s.
It is set in a bizarre Barjatya-style parallel India where a royal family still calls the shots. Prem (Salman) is a small-timer who manages a performing troupe and is fascinated by the princess Maithili aka Rajkanya (Sonam Kapoor). Unfortunately for him, she is set to marry a Prince Vijay aka Yuvraaj (also played by Salman). In case you haven’t guessed already, what follows is a clichéd muddle of mistaken identities, body-switching, role-reversal, forbidden love and cardboard villains trying to usurp the throne.
Watch: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is an average film with stunning visuals
All of the hackneyed plot threads are stitched together with a never-ending barrage of vintage Barjatya-style songs.
There’s a big difference between nostalgia and regression in cinema. The former lovingly produces elements from a bygone era to remind you of the good old times, while the latter drags intellect and art down to dark ages when common sense and good taste were scarce.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is a collection of images and sounds that remind you just how silly were the films that ruled the box office 20 years ago. From Prem writing with a quill on Rajkanya’s bare back to a ridiculous football match and awful CGI of a palace perched atop a waterfall, Barjatya makes sure to keep your eyes rolling through the painfully long three hours.
The overly good-natured innocence of Prem and Rajkanya is as unbelievable as it is grating. To make matters worse, the performances are soap-operatic, complete with heaving chests and over-the-top dialogue delivery.
Anupam Kher, Yuvraaj’s right hand comically periodically drops unconscious without warning. Neil Nitin Mukesh and Armaan Kohli, playing shady characters connected to the royal family, sneer and scheme like Bollywood villains from the ’80s.
Worst of all, there is no Alok Nath. If anything were ever like a samosa without the aloo, it’s a Barjatya film without Nath.