Movie Review: Bajrangi Bhaijaan
MUMBAI – Bollywood always talks about the perfect “formula” film, the elusive elixir that guarantees instant success and fame. Director Kabir Khan might just have cracked it and, what’s more, he’s milked it for all it’s worth in just one film.
“Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, this year’s big Eid release, comes close to perfectly exploiting every emotional trope that exists in films, and thus makes for easy viewing, if not great cinema.
The film-maker takes the image of India’s biggest star, Salman Khan, and turns it on its head. The actor plays Pavan, an earnest, god-fearing Hindu who thinks eating meat is a sin and entering the mosque a taboo. As a child, he attends meetings of Hindu nationalist group RSS, sniffs disapprovingly when he smells meat being cooked next door and seeks forgiveness from God for ordering chicken at a restaurant.
In short, Pavan is the antithesis of what we know about Salman Khan, and this irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone familiar with his real-life image.
In “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, child actor Harshali Malhotra plays a mute six-year-old Pakistani citizen who strays into India, and it is her character that brings out Salman Khan’s earnest, almost childlike demeanour in the film. The bond between Munni (as he calls her) and Pavan is endearing and their chemistry makes the film work. Malhotra’s angelic face and her vivid expressions, as she leads Pavan to her home across the border, are some of the film’s best moments.
Their bond deepens as Pavan sets about looking for the little girl’s parents, and our hero’s prejudices gradually fall by the wayside as he gets closer to Munni’s home in Pakistan. The rather convoluted and high-pitched climax, where he greets crowds with “Aadab” instead of “Jai Shree Rama” (glory be to Lord Rama), is the proof of his transformation and one of the many ways Kabir Khan ensures he gets maximum mileage from the star.
There are other themes in “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, like the India-Pakistan peace angle, the romance between Pavan and school teacher Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and her father’s bigotry. When it comes to tapping emotional buttons, the film hits all the right notes. Apart from the ending, which is predictably shrill and overdone, Kabir Khan keeps the film mostly light-hearted, focusing on Pavan and Munni’s relationship.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the Pakistani reporter helping Pavan and Munni, gets some of the film’s best lines, but he also stands back in deference to Salman Khan, allowing him to beat up the bad guys and take on the mantle of the hero.
Unlike the superstar’s previous avatars, this hero has a coherent story and a sketched out part, making “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” a huge improvement over Khan’s recent films. In spite of some soppy dialogue and a jingoistic end, the film is an easy, breezy watch, which you might enjoy even if you are not a die-hard Salman Khan fan. – Reuters