When Aishwarya (Deepika Padukone) wrestles and flips Vikram Rathore (Shah Rukh Khan) into the mud, best of luck paying attention to anything other than the statuesque grace and power of. Khan’s Vikram knows it’s a losing battle and he’s happy to surrender. Just before she flips him — it’s an elegant, effortless and magnificent move — he murmurs that he had lost himself to her long before this moment. The theatre swooned and then roused itself to cheer ecstatically.
well-known for crafting fantastic on-screen chemistry with his co-actors and in the recent past, Padukone has proven to be one of his most charismatic collaborators. An endearing generosity is a part of their dynamic in that moment when Khan gazes while she performs. He respectfully recedes and her luminosity burns. The limelight is shared and the chemistry is crackling.
Still, not all of these collaborations, and moments, are created equal. So here we go.
Happy New Year is arguably not a bad film, with its gang of “losers” who are adorable and have great chemistry as well as some hilarious running gags, like Nandu’s (Abhishek Bachchan) penchant for vomiting.
However, Charlie (Khan) embodies the kind of masculinity that doesn’t particularly lend itself to Khan, or at least, doesn’t charm to the same effect. In the first scene itself, you see Khan take punches from a man who he is supposed to lose to because the bet has been placed on his loss, and he has made a deal behind-the-scenes. But, the moment he hears the man mock him, and talk about his father being a thief, Charlie is triggered and beats the man to a pulp. Padukone is luminous as Mohini, a Marathi bar dancer who becomes the crew’s dance instructor to help them with a heist. This is not Farah Khan’s best work, and the song ‘Lovely’ is the high point of this film. Khan infuses too little irony into his performance and Mohini aka Padukone can only do so much.
It is a flashback that deserves a film of its own (which is not surprising given director Atlee is a fan of flashbacks). Padukone is Aishwarya, wife of super soldier Vikram Rathore (Khan). Her intro shot is set during a down power. Vikram has just tackled a man twice his (and her) size in a waterlogged field in Barnala, cheered on by a crowd of moustachioed men. Aishwarya enters the frame, dripping wet, clad in a red saree, and declares to Vikram he is going to lose, and then flips him to the ground. What a woman. What an entry.
This is number four on the list because Padukone’s is actually an extended cameo and Atlee can’t be bothered to let Aishwarya have any identity beyond being Vikram’s wife and his son’s mother. “Mothers and wives are dispensable, there for the romance or the sentimental factor,” said critic Baradwaj Rangan to Scroll, while explaining the characteristics of and distinctions between mass and masala movies. We’ll have to wait for someone, anyone in Hindi cinema to wake up to what we’ve known ever since Padukone performed the feat of strength that was dancing in a 30-kilogram lehenga for (2013): Deepika Padukone is the action hero we need.
Padukone’s deliberately caricaturish accent in Chennai Express will no doubt divide audiences, families, offices (this is definitely true of the Film Companion office). However, while there is good reason to applaud actors who work to get accents right (like did for ), there’s something to be said for the accent that throws itself at the altar of clichés, just to give us some laughs.
The Tamil accent is not (always) the butt of the joke in Chennai Express. Rather it’s the vehicle for Padukone’s admonishment of Khan and his fumbling, incompetent ‘can-do’ attitude. Padukone recently enacted a clip from the film on its release anniversary along with her cheerleading husband. In response to Rahul (Khan) telling Meenamma (Padukone) that impossible as a word does not exist in his dictionary, she says: “Kaha se khareedi ayesi buck-waas deektionary (where did you buy a dictionary of such a poor quality?)”. That pronunciation of “bakwaas” is iconic.
And who can forget that sequence where Rahul (Khan) climbs 300 steps with her in his arms. They are pretending to be a newly-wed couple as they are on the run from Meenamma’s father, and are asked to perform a ritual where the husband climbs 300 steps at the local village’s temple so that the bond between the husband and the wife gets strengthened. The two are still in the process of falling in love, but by the time they reach the top, and given the way Meenamma is gazing at Rahul after this stunt, it is obvious that she has fallen for him the way one falls into a ditch.
This pairing, despite how wonderful Padukone is as a comedy actor, is lower in the ranking because Khan’s performance is grating. Grumpy Khan can be mined for comedy in films, Rahul in K3G (2001) and Vikram Rathore in Jawan are great examples of that. This particular enactment of grumpiness was cloying.
Directed by Farah Khan, Om Shanti Om was Deepika Padukone’s debut film and she had a double role. As Shanti Priya, a beautiful and successful Hindi film actress from the Seventies, Padukone had no trouble convincing audiences that she can easily summon droves of adoring crowds who just want to catch a single glimpse of her. In the song ‘Aankhon Mein Teri’, Shanti Priya gets out of her car to walk the red carpet, and in slo-mo, we see Om (Khan) look at her with deep reverence. As she waves at the manic crowds, his coat button gets stuck in her dupatta, and captivated, he enters the red carpet and is mindlessly led by her. That, in a nutshell, was the audience as they discovered Padukone’s star power.
The second half of the film reverses this dynamic with Khan playing superstar Om Kapoor, and Padukone plays an adulating fan. This could have been a less-than-agreeable relationship to watch given how much younger Padukone’s character is and the power dynamic between her and Om. However, Khan has the ‘gaze’ — Shrayana Bhattacharya’s book, ‘Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh’ has an ode to it, and rightly so — which does not objectify, but dignify and revere his co-actor.
Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan has an Indian agent Pathaan (Khan) and a Pakistani agent Rubai (Padukone) flirting with each other, saving each other, and spouting humanistic values that transcend geopolitics. In the first half of the film, Rubai heroically takes on several men at once to save Pathaan’s life, while he watches her with loving admiration. She cracks someone’s neck with a skilful backward move of her long leg even as she is tackling other men’s intent to attack and neutralise her.
Despite her limited screen time, Rubai does not play second fiddle. She has a backstory, motivation, agency and impressive ice-skating skills. Both Pathaan and Rubai, though loyal to their countries, are also discerning about the implications of the missions they are asked to carry out. Rubai, once she understands the catastrophic cost of the mission that she is a part of, reaches out to Pathaan to help her contain the situation. She is later arrested by the Indian authorities who see her as suspicious, but Pathaan saves her because his moral clarity trumps the protocols he is asked to follow.
It is the kind of screenplay that gives a generous amount of space to both Khan and Padukone to be sexy, do some critical thinking and snap some necks along the way.