88. Chennai Express (2013) — I didn’t think the new SRK would be as bad or even as good as others have claimed. I liked his pairing with the doe-eyed, long-limbed, progeny-of-sporting-legend Deepika Padukone in Om Shanti Om (specifically when she was playing the ill-fated movie star), so I knew I wouldn’t go bleargh at her not-Kajol-ness (only Kajol herself can fulfil that). I’m glad to report that, to me and Sayesha at least, 90% of the movie was entertaining enough. The 10% that flunked was its last 20 minutes, when a lack of careful scripting and a machismo meltdown resulted in too many thoughtlessly angry words and too much bloody fighting.
That being said, I was pleased with the surprises in the movie. SRK, aka the character Rahul, honestly wimping out. His scaredy-cat falsetto is very charming. The hilarious handling of songs from films from SRK’s past. You really have to have caught them to catch the jokes. I was most tickled by Sayesha being tickled the most by the Malayalam song quoted from Dil Se. The visual splendour of South India as lensed by Bollywood, most visible in the adorning of DP, in the guise of the character Meenamma. The touches of feminism in DP’s name being shown before SRK’s, in a leading lady who rescues more than she needs rescue, in a rant against the falseness of India’s independence for half its population, and in the hero humbly asking the heroine to marry him and not just take her for his own after ‘winning’ her in the eyes of her people.
Best surprise of all, though, was the unexpected authenticity of the farfetched romance. Ah, that’s what Sayesha and I have been missing from the offerings of recent years. For some reason, the director Rohit Shetty, whose films are better known for their car-flipping antics, managed to inject some good ol’ Eau de Romance into a few scenes. And no, the EDR is not constituted by the bland formula Attraction = Love. Just because a man is handsome and a woman is beautiful does not mean they conduct a believable romance.
Here, the man is entranced by the woman’s beauty but it is her kindness and courage that leads him to grapple with his fears and decide on the brave thing to do. Here, the woman rolls her eyes at the man’s weirdness but comes to see the strength that belies him and mirrors her own. The scene at the sky-high temple works because the story is suddenly not about maidens or mobsters or a mithaiwala with a mid-life crisis, but about how true substance (in this case, love) sometimes flows into the familiar forms we surround ourselves with (in this case, ritual). It’s about how and why the heart of a mobster maiden can be quickened for a mithaiwala with a mid-life crisis.
So, despite its flaws, Chennai Express is worth a night out at the movies, especially if you have enjoyed SRK’s better offerings. Age is catching up, folks!