Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Harshali Malhotra
The last few months have been trying times for Salman Khan…. quite literally! The superstar, whose Eid releases have been Bollywood box-office highlights for last quite a few years, has been in the eye of the storm. As if the real life court proceedings, the guilty verdict and the subsequent bail were not enough problematic, his reel-life ability to keep pulling off 100 crore blockbusters out of lame scripts through his macho Bhai image also seemed to be dwindling. He needed to break free; he needed a change; he needed to try and reinvent himself on screen.
So he tried and did Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a different bhai film with Director Kabir Khan, whose last film Ek Tha Tiger, a 2012 spy thriller, was Sallu’s one of many Eid blockbusters. How has this new experiment worked?
What’s the plot?
Coming to Delhi with for seeking cure for her speech impairment, a six year old Pakistani girl (Harshali Malhotra) gets lost and ends up coming alone to Haryana’s Kurukshetra. A kind-hearted Hanuman-bhakt country bumpkin(Salman Khan) finds her and vows to reunite her with her parents. He brings her to where he is staying- his father’s friend’s house. The father’s friend is an ultraconservative Hindu wrestler, who is already cross with the simpleton for being his much qualified daughter’s (Kareena Kapoor) marriage choice. When they all finally figure out the little girl’s Pakistani origins (and her Muslim religious roots!), the only solution left is to immediately repatriate her. With no official documents and no visa, the only way to do that is to smuggle her across the border, under the heavily guarded barbed wire fence! But how will that happen with the extremely God-fearing simpleton’s total unwillingness to utter any lie and do anything illegal?
· The writer Vijayendra Prasad, (who also wrote the story for another blockbuster Bahubali!), weaves a clever engaging plot highlighting the triumph of kindness and humanity over cross-border enmity and inter-religion hatred.
· Director Kabir Khan handles the potentially prickly storyline with sensitivity and flair. He once again shows his already proven cinematic command on shooting different difficult but picturesque locales (Remember Kabul Express?).
· This film clearly demands a willing suspension of disbelief and for most of the parts, the director succeeds in making the audience believe the fantasy-filled narrative.
· The second half is pacy and fun-filled.
· The supporting cast is excellent.
· Kareena Kapoor shines even though her role is purely decorative.
· Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant in his second half role as a sympathetic Pakistani reporter, who helps the hero and the girl reach their destination. His witty one-liners are a riot!
· Salman Khan convincingly plays the naïve, devout, truthful village bumpkin willing to go to any length to fulfill his vow. This role is a far cry from his popular ‘Wanted’ ‘Dabangg’’ image and Salman infuses it with simplicity, sincerity and easygoing charm.
· The real superstar of the film though is not Salman but a little girl going by the name Harshali Malhotra. Without any dialogue, with just a few gestures and summoning all her sweet innocence, this angelic small debutante wins over hearts in no time!
· The pacing of the film is uneven. The first half drags quite a bit.
· The naïve hero’s sweetness and innocence do get cloying at times.
· The director uses copious melodrama, which particularly becomes irritating in the long-drawn climax.
· Pritam’s music is mostly unmemorable except for Adnan Sami’s heartfelt devotional qawwali.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan, despite its obvious commercial motives and syrupy sentimentalism, is a film with lot of fun and lot of heart. Kabir Khan has successfully employed PK-like manipulative formula (Kindness over hatred, humanity over enmity!) and engineered a total makeover for Salman Khan’s screen image. Many bigwig writers are linking this clean-cut image-change to Sallu bhai’s court conviction and his attempt to win public sympathy.
I’d rather look at it as the superstar’s clever career gamble to try out a new avatar, letting go of the rough-and-tough image, which had run its course at the box-office.
Whatever the subtext might be, this gamble has succeeded. So what if he has willingly played the second fiddle here to a cute little thing? The 100 crore days continue; the Salman show goes on!