Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Salman Khan, Harshali Malhotra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Om Puri
So here are some of the things I expect to see in a Salman Khan film — the superstar playing a charming, irreverent superhero; a largely incoherent script that exists only to showcase him as a superhero; a largely irrelevant heroine who needs rescuing from some foolish villains; low-IQ comedy punctuated by a few crackling one-liners.
Here’s what I don’t expect to find — a coherent, emotionally satisfying script; Salman underplaying his supersized image; a heroine with spunk; drama that actually moves you; and tears! Yes, it happened. I have now cried while watching a Salman Khan film. Bajrangi Bhaijaan is simplistic, occasionally silly, and tiringly over-stretched. It’s also unashamedly manipulative. But it works. Director and co-writer Kabir Khan preserves the larger-than-life Salman image but also allows it to evolve so that the star is not just a slick superman. Instead, he’s a simpleton who teaches us that humanity stands above religion, borders and politics. Think of him as another PK, one that is human instead of alien.
Bajrangi’s real name is Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi. He is called Bajrangi because he’s an ardent Hanuman bhakt. This is a man so child-like and morally upright that he says Jai Shree Ram to a prostitute and insists on entering Pakistan without a passport or visa but with the permission of the security officer who apprehends him at the border. Why is he so keen to go across? Because a lost, speech-impaired six-year-old girl from Pakistan needs to be reunited with her mother. When all other methods fail, Bajrangi decides he will do it himself.
If you’re reminded of Randhir Kapoor’s 1991 film, Henna, yes the story is similar. But by making the displaced character a child, Kabir and his co-writer, V Vijayendra Prasad, have made the plot more potent.
In fact the biggest weapon in Kabir’s artillery is the angelic Harshali Malhotra. She’s refreshingly unaffected. She seems unfazed by Salman. Harshali has a heart-breaking innocence. For the viewer, it’s love at first sight. You invest in her instantly and her tears wring your heart. Salman gets the requisite thundering action sequence. And yes, he does a shirtless scene. But it doesn’t showcase his towering masculinity. Actually, he’s being beaten up. Bajrangi is interesting because he’s not invincible. Of course you know that he will eventually make miracles happen, but he also bleeds and breaks.
Salman plays Bajrangi with aplomb. He’s endearingly naïve and sweetly vulnerable. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, playing a small-time television reporter, comes into the film late but is worth the wait. Unlike the character he played in Kick, he gets no flashy moments here. But he has a few terrific lines and he flies with them.
Kareena Kapoor Khan has the most under-written part, but even she gets one good scene. And as usual, her clothes make an impression; her dupattas are just gorgeous. Om Puri playing a maulana in Pakistan is also memorable.
Where Bajrangi Bhaijaan trips is on length. The film is too long and the numerous songs don’t do much for the narrative. The plot feels convenient and convoluted at the same time. There are scenes that make you groan. There is also an unapologetic lack of subtlety — Kabir goes full-throttle for your heartstrings, and once he’s grabbed them, doesn’t let go.
This is an overblown, old-fashioned, feelgood film. But I recommend that you surrender, and keep a hanky handy.