Before I even start the reviews, I want to draw people’s attention to the beautiful, resilient city of Chennai. In November, the city experienced the worst flooding it’s seen in a century, killing 400 people, displacing 1,800,000 and causing up to $15 billion in damage. Devastating doesn’t begin to describe it. The city had been on our family itinerary, but the rain made us change course. For me, my first visit is only delayed, not really cancelled; I can’t wait to visit on my next trip to India. If you’d like to help, googling “Chennai Relief” or “Chennai Floods” will take you to many organizations helping provide relief. Unfortunately, I’m not informed enough to send you to the one with the best track record. The people of India have also risen to the challenge of helping, as seen even among children: check out this app designed by a 10 year old! http://www.thebetterindia.com/40519/calamity-relief-app-to-help-chennai/
I wanted to get that out there because one of my reviews is Chennai Express, and I don’t like to hold back…
First things first – I was a film major in college. I worked in Hollywood for 4 years, and I still work in media. I love film themes and screenplay structure, and I can get pretty annoying analyzing it on the way out of the movie theater. But I don’t think I’m TOO snobby. I think film should be made for an audience… and so does Bollywood! Bollywood is a love/hate thing for me – the overacting is difficult to swallow, plus the lack of subtlety makes me roll my eyes. But those colors! That music! The dance moves! In general, I love the Rom Coms more than Action or Drama because it’s they don’t take themselves so seriously. Also – reminder to readers, currently, I have to watch all these films with English subtitles, so there may occasionally be something lost in translation. Anyway, let’s get to it.
The Topline Reviews:
BAJRANGI BHAIJANN – Slo Mo overload, but ya, I cried.
CHENNAI EXPRESS – Least redeemable romantic lead of the the year, but I love the South!
Quick Summary: Rahul is a 40 year old bachelor who is tasked with spreading his grandfather’s ashes in the Ganges in Tamil Nadu. Instead, he wants to go on vacation with his friends in Goa to meet ladies (classy guy, right?). In the process of tricking his grandmother, he helps a beautiful South Indian woman board the train – Meena – then four large, scary men. Through some altered Hindi songs, she communicates that the four Tamil-speaking men are kidnappers. She was trying to escape a forced marriage arranged by her father, a crime boss in Tamil Nadu. Through a series of mishaps and failed escape attempts, they end up in her village where she claims Rahul is her fiance. The rest of the movie continues with Rahul nagging Meena to help him escape the situation she put him in… I’ll leave it at that.
Review: You might know how this is going to go, because I didn’t hide my distain much in that review. Rahul is the least likable romantic lead I have ever had the displeasure of watching. He literally whines or cowers or nags 80% of his scenes. SPOILER (but not really): She falls for him very quickly, when he’s acting like a good husband, not because of how he actually is good husband material. Ugh. He starts unlikable and stays that way until the very end when he decides to come back for the gorgeous, generous, sweet, spunky woman who’s madly in love with him for unknown reasons. I seriously don’t know what the writers were thinking. The fact that it’s SRK is the only reason you can stomach the character, and the creators shouldn’t rely on that! And don’t get me started on the ridiculous hand-to-hand combat at the end. I thought Hollywood’s fights were unrealistic. They don’t even explain how Rahul 1) knows how to fight 2) can physically survive even one punch from the giant he’s fighting. Maybe it’s the magic of love. gag.
Are there redeeming factors? Sure. I love the settings, clothing and music. The bright infusion of South Indian culture is a real treat, and I can’t wait to watch more South India-based films because of it. Deepika Padukone as Meena is delightful. It’s not her fault that the writers were so bad at pacing her love storyline.
Also… why did he not just postpone the Goa trip? Or shocker, go to Tamil Nadu after a week in Goa. Simple solutions that prevent him, a 40 year old man, from lying to the grandmother who raised him. Jeez.
Quick Summary: An adorable Pakistani girl is brought to the shrine of a Sufi saint in India to cure her inability to speak. She is separated from her mother on their train ride back, and without the right papers, her mother isn’t able to go back and find her. Lost in a city, she is found by a gentle-hearted devotee of Hanuman,a wrestling enthusiast named Pawan, aka Bajrangi. He names her Munni. When his last resort to get her home turns out to be a very evil man, Bajrangi rescues her and commits to taking care of her. While staying with his father’s friend, Bajrangi falls in love with his daughter Rasika (played by Kareena Kapoor). She chooses Bajrangi over another suitor, and her father declares that Bajrangi must have a home and job in X months or he will not be able to marry her. The main storyline of the film is sparked when the father kicks Munni out when it’s discovered she’s from Pakistan. The loyal, optimistic Bajrangi swears to return Munni to her family even though he doesn’t have a passport or visa – a very dangerous proposition. And so the adventure begins.
Review: This film is as unsubtle as you can get about religious tolerance, and creates a fairly one dimensional character in the strong, honest, cheerful, dedicated Bajrangi. But it’s all forgiven because Bajrangi is truly the hero everyone wants in their life. Though not overly intelligent, he embodies all the goodness of humanity. Playing surrogate older brother to innocent, young Munni, you just want to go give him a hug. This feeling is what gets people of all kinds to help him in his quest. The social media component that highlights his selflessness to spur his release from jail is actually quite realistic in today’s world. A well-edited, heart-wrenching video can stir the masses, even if they only have a short attention span. I appreciate that the love story remains 10% of the film, while the quest to return Munni takes up 90%.
My last complaint is the slo-mo. We get it, you’re pulling at our heart string, but I prefer when it’s used as the cherry on top. Used the right moment, it almost feels natural. Repeat use makes it feel like a tool.
As I said in the topline review, my cynical heart couldn’t resist the swelling of the music and the slo mo of young Munni running towards her hero. You knew it was coming… but you cry anyway.
If it’s Chennai Express vs. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, it’s Bajrangi all the way.
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