Friday, August 9, 2013

REVIEW 215: CHENNAI EXPRESS


Release date:
August 9, 2013
Director:
Rohit Shetty
Cast:



Language:

Deepika Padukone, Shah Rukh Khan, Sathyaraj,  Nikitin Dheer, Kamini Kaushal, Lekh Tandon, Manorama, Priyamani
Hindi and Tamil

WARNING: LONG REVIEW AHEAD!


The first half hour of Chennai Express is rollicking good fun: the lines are quick-witted, Shah Rukh Khan’s comic timing is a revelation (didn’t know he had it in him! he should do more comedies!), Deepika Padukone’s thick Tamilian accent is hilarious (if only we can relax and not get our knickers in a twist about it) plus we get a neat little parody of the climactic scene in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge that deserves, in fact, to be mocked. After that though, it’s a series of troughs and crests and crests and troughs – in fact, too many troughs – culminating in an overly long finale fight and the inexplicable Lungi Dance. Overall assessment though: if you’re in a mood for some determinedly nonsensical entertainment that’s not entirely as over-the-top as we’re used to seeing from director Rohit Shetty, this one’s it.

SRK takes on his favourite screen name once again in Chennai Express in which he plays the 40-year-old grandson of an over-protective North Indian halwai (Lekh Tandon) in Mumbai. When the old man passes away, Rahul heads off to Goa for a holiday but is diverted to Tamil Nadu’s Komban village when he gets unwittingly embroiled in the business of Meenamma (Deepika), the beautiful daughter of a Tamilian don (Sathyaraj). The question many have been asking since the film’s first trailer was released is this: is Chennai Express a return to the irritating old Bollywood stereotype of the oily-haired aiyyaiyyo south Indian epitomised by Mehmood in Padosan and repeated ad nauseam in Hindi films till the end of the 1980s? The answer, with a few caveats, is a surprising no. Yes, there’s a pointed contrast made between the skin colour of the film’s southern Indian lead players and their emphatically black-skinned flunkeys, but to be fair, Bollywood’s portrayal of north Indians is not very different, with a lighter skin usually conveying a higher status. It’s noteworthy though that Chennai Express sends out a gentle message to north Indians who by and large consider it every Indian’s duty to speak Hindi while making no effort themselves to learn other Indian languages. It does so by doggedly not subtitling its lengthy Tamil dialogues, choosing instead to get translations from Meenamma or a Tamil-speaking Sikh policeman played sweetly by Mukesh Tiwari, and on other occasions leaving the audience to guess what’s probably being said.
  
Most interestingly, SRK spends much of the film in a self-deprecating mood, being the anti-thesis of the Hindi film hero, openly showing his fear of the bad guys, with the camerawork intentionally stressing his smallness in comparison with the towering presence of the villain Thangabali played by Nikitin Dheer. He gets a drubbing from Thangabali at one point. Elsewhere, he seeks Meenamma’s protection though of course he won’t admit it. And in one scene, the lady even gets to kick him real hard for reasons we won’t reveal. How often does a Hindi film hero do this? Kudos then to Shah Rukh for risking it, especially considering the prevailing on-screen invincibility of his arch rival Salman Khan who remains capable of taking on crowds, trains and trams with his bare fists. Rahul even – hold your breath! – announces his age as 40 in the very first line he utters in the film, and Meenamma tells him he looks 50-plus. Considering that at 47-going-on-48 SRK played a 25-year-old boy in the first half of last year’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, this comes as a relief. Gentlemen of Bollywood, when you star in a film with a heroine half your age, kindly admit that it’s an older-man-younger-woman romance.
 
The other significant point is Chennai Express’ take on DDLJ, the film that catapulted SRK from stardom to stratospheric megastardom. DDLJ romanticised its regressive message about the unquestionable will of the family patriarch and a woman’s lack of say in personal matters. Twenty years later, SRK returns as another Rahul, this time not to succumb but to question a father for being despotic with his daughter. The men are still the ones doing the talking, but the nature of the conversation has changed, and that’s a small milestone to celebrate.

If the preceding paragraph suggests in any way that Meenamma is a pushover or Deepika’s role is subordinate to Shah Rukh’s in this film, you’ve read that wrong. Meenamma is a woman who strains at her chains every step of the way. And Deepika sustains her comic timing from start to finish in Chennai Express even when SRK’s Rahul gets repetitive in the second half. After the emotional roller-coaster she pulled off in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, here’s another thumbs up for Ms Padukone, this time in a vastly different role. SRK lives up to his promise – made in a beverage ad – that from this film forward his heroine’s name would appear before his in the credits, which as we all know is a break from MCP Bollywood’s norm. Now that’s a condescending piece of tosh if your heroine is playing fifth fiddle to you as is the case with most Hindi films (and certainly Rohit Shetty’s own last two, Bol Bachchan and Singham), but in Chennai Express Deepika is an equal partner to her hero, as she has been in most of her films so far. Hopefully a day is not far when a leading lady does not have to depend on a leading man’s largesse to have her name placed in the credits where it should rightfully be. Until then, here’s another small milestone to celebrate.

It’s because of how Chennai Express chooses to portray south Indians and its heroine until that point that the Lungi Dance in the end is so jarring. First, it relegates Deepika completely to the position of junior partner when it starts off with the announcement, “This is the tribute to Thalaivar from King Khan…” Second, the so-called “tribute” to Rajinikanth continues to reduce this Tamil film icon to mere exotica, which is how North India has deigned to recognise him ever since the North India-centric, supposedly “national” media accidentally woke up to his legend status with the release of Sivaji. As a comical song-and-dance somewhere in the middle of this film, Lungi Dance might have been enjoyable. Placed at the end with the credits, with absolutely no connection to anything that’s gone before, and positioned as a bow to Rajini, it’s reductive and makes absolutely no sense. Though some people north of the Vindhyas may find this hard to believe, there’s ACTUALLY more to Rajinikanth than his sunglass-flipping and other stunts.


Clearly then, Chennai Express is not an entirely smooth ride. Never mind the ideological analysis… Purely from an entertainment point of view, the film slows down too much in the second half. Some things remain consistent though: DoP Dudley does a good job of capturing the film’s uniformly picturesque locations; production designer Narendra Rahurikar creates prettiness without colour coordinating wall paint with the clothes worn by people standing against those walls as we’ve seen in too many films of the past decade; and the costume design team clothes Deepika in the loveliest southern Indian saris and half-saris while dressing the rest of the cast impeccably too, sans the loudness we’ve come to associate with Rohit Shetty’s films. The music, on the other hand, is mostly lousy – except for the extremely catchy Chennaiaiaiaiai Chennai Express theme and the reasonably melodic Titli, This comes as a huge disappointment considering Vishal-Shekhar’s amazing track record. National Award-winning Tamil and Malayalam actress Priyamani looks lovely in her item song appearance but must bear the brunt of the tunelessness of the number to which she is dancing. South India knows her well; Bollywood saw the impact she makes even in a supporting role when she played Abhishek Bachchan’s sister in Raavan… for god’s sake, she deserves better than this.

When you weigh out the film’s assets and liabilities though, there’s more to like than not. Too many Bollywood comedies in recent years have come laden with “jokes” about rape, faeces and farts, urine and sundry body fluids. Chennai Express steers clear of crudeness except for a couple of un-funny comments about izzat lootna, one tacky wisecrack about “chhakkaas” and a few-seconds-long distasteful reference to Shah Rukh’s most sensitive film so far (“My name is Rahul and I’m not a terrorist,” says the hero here, rolling his eyes as if autism is amusing). Chennai Express is partly designed as a bow to SRK (I lost count of the number of times in the film he stretches out his arms in that trademark gesture) but in a fashion that’s less in-your-face than the grating Salman-worship we’ve lately been seeing in the other Khan’s films.

One thing’s for sure: this film is not as mindless as it would like us to think it is. Anyway, kee farak painda? For as Meenamma might say in that infectious accent of hers, “Main ab review khatam karti, tum review padhti, phir tum film dekhti aur khud decide karti ki tum film like karti ya hate karti.Chennai Express is not unrelentingly laugh-worthy, but it’s still good enough for a relaxed, pleasant evening. Happy Eid, folks!

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
2 hours 23 minutes

29 comments:

  1. So, the choice is left with the viewer......gud one anna

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  2. Nice ending to an overall informative review but why the constant North India bashing Anna? did you forget that the Hindi film industry is in Mumbai???

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    1. Dear Mansi,

      Glad you found the review informative. But why do you consider it "north India bashing" if I state facts about lack of awareness and prejudices prevailing in this part of the country? Not sure exactly what point you are trying to make with respect to the location of the Hindi film industry, but do you forget that Hindi is primarily a north Indian language or that Mumbai is not merely the capital of a western Indian state but also the commercial capital of all of India?

      Regards, Anna MM Vetticad

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    2. Anna, i fail to understand why critics, such as you, keep this in mind that movie-makers could read the review as well ? I hate to say, but your review is not right and is misleading. This movie is absolute crap.
      If you like such movies, you should stop reviewing or you need to watch better movies. At one point you call it 'mindless' and then you ask people to watch it. I mean, you don't have to praise it just because of Shahrukh. Please review better or don't do it.

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    3. Interesting .very interesting review and I am so much in agreement with you on a certain mindset that north indians have...or something being tried to be portrayed by this movie. Sir Rajni is like god to many people but by showing flipping sunglasses and a "lungi" goes on to show the mental association that a myopic Rohit Shetty or SRK have for Sir Rajni and south indians in general.
      Disagreement on your take on hindi though...while Hindi is a noth indian language it also is our national language and most commonly spoken. So there should be no shame in learning or at least trying to speak your national language.

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    4. Dear Bob Albert,

      I'm not about to argue with you over your opinion about the movie - you have a right to your point of view and I have a right to mine without having to hear that my opinion is wrong and yours is right.

      I think though that perhaps you read someone else's review and posted a comment on my blog by mistake. Can't think of any other explanation for your comment: "At one point you call it 'mindless' and then you ask people to watch it." (a) I didn't call the film "mindless". Quite to the contrary, my exact sentence is: "One thing’s for sure: this film is not as mindless as it would like us to think it is." (b) I never tell people to watch or not watch a film. My reviews only contain my opinion of a film and as a matter of principle, I've consistently refused to answer the "should we / shouldn't we watch it" question that readers so often ask.

      Regards, Anna MM Vetticad

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    5. Dear Sports Brigade,

      Glad you found my review interesting. Just wanted to gently point out a couple of factual errors in your comment though:

      (a) Hindi is not our national language. India does not have a Constitutionally designated national language.

      (b) I did not at any point say there's any shame in learning Hindi. I simply pointed out that too many Hindi speaking people in northern India don't make an effort to learn Indian languages other than Hindi.

      Thanks for writing in.

      Regards, Anna MM Vetticad

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  3. Thank you. I absolutely loved the movie but even then I can take your criticism because its well thought out. Unlike other reviewers who are sitting in their cultural ghettos, with a knife in their hands to slaughter the movie. I mean did they not get it from the trailers that they were'nt going to see Satyajit Ray or Mani Ratnam?

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  4. Poor reviewer is hell bent on comparing SRK with SK and his movies. Chennai Express is boring, tedious and completely nonsensical. I feel pity for SRK who cannot act (that is when he does!) without hamming throughout the film. Cheap rip off and mockery of DDLJ. This film should have ONLY released in Chennai giving the dialogues, clothes, people and everything else which is left to be included.

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  5. Anna,Thoda bauth generosity on the stars...3.5 wud hv been apt ..agree with the rest of the review :-)

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  6. Rahul naam to nehi suna hogaAugust 9, 2013 at 7:12 PM

    exactly my feeling mam.enjoyed the movie: ).was a guilty pleasure.but felt more like a rohit shetty one than a usual srk movie. but still better than the others we see in this genre.hope it becomes a blockbluster and srk moves on to work with directors like anurag basu and kashyaps.

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  7. Like the review but feel the comparisons to Salman were unnecessary. And it's funny that you see his films as "Salman worship" because I see them more as poking fun at himself whilst retaining everything his fans love about him, from Dabangg to Ready to ETT.
    Also, I have read countless articles claiming Rani Mukerji has a cameo in the film. Does she?

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  8. Looooooooooooog review..like the movie. "Chennai Express, CTS station se ghantay pahele nikal chuki hai lekin ab tak sirf Dadar station hi pahunchi hai"....LIKE IT or MYND IT
    Great review Anna..me gonna WATCHITaaaa :-)

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  9. its too long m not going to read it

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  10. "Most interestingly, SRK spends much of the film in a self-deprecating mood, being the anti-thesis of the Hindi film hero, openly showing his fear of the bad guys, with the camerawork intentionally stressing his smallness in comparison with the towering presence of the villain Thangabali played by Nikitin Dheer. He gets a drubbing from Thangabali at one point. Elsewhere, he seeks Meenamma’s protection though of course he won’t admit it. And in one scene, the lady even gets to kick him real hard for reasons we won’t reveal. How often does a Hindi film hero do this? Kudos then to Shah Rukh for risking it, especially considering the prevailing on-screen invincibility of his arch rival Salman Khan who remains capable of taking on crowds, trains and trams with his bare fists."
    Thank you for this paragraph! Usually people ignore such little details but it's these intricacies which mean a lot to me. This makes SRK a little different from his fellow heroes. He is not afraid to be portrayed as weak or scared. He's not afraid to make fun of himself. He doesn't mind putting the lady on the driver's seat. Shows how secure he's of himself as an actor.
    The film was a mindless comedy but glad it didn't go the offensive pathway. There were hardly any Tamil stereotypes. I enjoy commercial Hindi comedies as long as they don't feature offensive racist, homophobic, sexist humour which, I think, this film MOSTLY avoided. They could've left out the unnecessary 'izzat lutni' line. And regarding the 'chhaka' bit, I don't know if I have missed anything but I don't think a double entendre was intended here.

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  11. It always happens with your reviews and I am afraid that it has happened again. Ma'am you've got some serious issues, not that I am saying that no one else does. But the problem I find in your reviews is that somehow your issues tend to find a way into your work. I remember reading the review of "Cocktail", you talked about how a girl with a Christian name is shown as a brat/slut who drinks and has one night stands while another girl with a Hindu name is shown to be the perfect lady like character, and then you went on about how Bollywood has went on an on with this tradition and it needs to be changed. As you were the only critic to have pointed this out in the reviews It seemed to me that your being a Christian somehow made you write this. Though I must add I made this assumption solely because of your name.

    Then some/a very few of your tweets about certain things on other matters, be it political or sports had the same angle to them.

    Now after reading this review the same thing is again visible to me. Only this time it is your issue regarding the treatment of south Indians. In a review of a mere movie you bring in everything from the skin tones discrimination, the media bias, the north Indians view of Mr. Rajnikant etc etc. Now I might not be sure about your religion but I am sure you're a South Indian. :)

    I understand it is your prerogative completely as it is your review and every critic needs to add something to make his/her review unique, but in my opinion sometimes your issues take up more space than they should.

    As you might have noticed in this comment I have tried to use words which are not specific to a particular gender. At places I have used "His/Her" etc. I did this because I think if I write a sentence like "a critic wants his review to...." then you might say why I have used "his" for a critic when the said critic could have been a woman as well. This, the above paragraph is what I go through and feel when I read your reviews. After reading them what I take back instead of how good/bad a movie is, is what things in society you have problems with.

    Your reviews are on of the best and most honest, but I sincerely wish the issues you have could be somewhat less visible.

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  12. Wow, so biased towards sarook...that's fine...just don't ridicule other films/actors when they do similar foolishness...

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  13. never wanna see a movie of this type...it wud be a time pass but we cud save that time for somethng benefitial...
    then trust ur review

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  14. A boring, tedious, ham-fest, loud and grating on nerves! That's what Chennai Express is. Even a train chugging out of a station has sweeter sound than the whole of this 'boakwaas' film. SRK's face-making and facial twists is horrible. That drunk scene is the worst ever in the annals of film history. And what was that lengthy Nokia advt placement all about - and the repetitive scene in the train after that! I dont know about SK's movies, but this review surely seems to be 'SRK Worship' and nothing more! Pls avoid this movie if u wish to retain your sanity. I pity Deepika, though, because she is the only good point in this otherwise annoying and irritating film.

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  15. Not a great movie. The jokes though stale, but because of their perfect timing do make us laugh. Both SRK and Deepika have done a good job and because of them the film is watchable.

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  16. M surprised you didn't know he had a good comic timing? He was hilarious in om shanti om, baadshah, duplicate. N no m not an srk fan. But he's always been good at comedies.

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  17. Can say the direction of Rohit Shetty was awesome in Chennai Express and role played by SRK and Deepika is really fabulous but the lacking part in this movie is music only otherwise movie is really great and one time watch for fun and comedy.

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  18. I kind of agree and disagree with you on the language issue. The fact that irritates me about most north Indians is that they don't even bother to find out about south India. Many even put all five states in the bracket of madrasis.

    But even the south Indians are ignorant about Hindi. They will learn Tamil/Telugu/Kannada/Malayalam (depending on their region) and also learn English but not the Hindi. Every state has it's own language but at least the others try to speak Hindi, even though a bit inaccurately. Why give English a chance and not Hindi when that's the language most of your country people speak?

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    1. Dear Manyu,

      This is absolutely not true. In my experience, most non-English speaking southerners who come to north India make a greater effort to learn Hindi than English to communicate with the local people. If you have found resistance to Hindi on the streets of Tamil Nadu though, it is for historical and political reasons - a resistance to any effort to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speakers by those who believe Hindi should be made the national language since it is spoken by large numbers of people in the north. Personally, I feel everyone in the country should learn their mother tongue and the local language of the place they are living in if they are not in their home state, but I'm against any sort of imposition or language fanaticism.

      Regards, Anna MM Vetticad

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  19. Dear Anna,

    I respect your views and I am not saying that Hindi is superior to any language. just that there must be one language that everyone must know so that we Indians can talk to each other. A lot of times, tourists from one state travelling to another face this problem. The auto-rickshaw wallas, ticket vendors at station often start talking on their regional language and it causes unnecessary problems. Also, giving more importance to your state than to your country creates differences and tension. It's the same divide and rule policy still at work. We all love our mother tongues and home towns but we must also have the same respect for our country. And we need to be less anal about things like castes, regions and religions. having a common language, whichever it may be, is not the solution, but a step towards eradicating evils like honour killings.

    And coming back to movies, I think it's great that films like Chennai express pair people from different states and show it as a non-issue in an entertaining way. (Meena's father doesn't object to Rahul's region, just says that he has already fixed her wedding somewhere else.)

    Thank you for the interesting review
    Manyu

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    1. Dear Manyu,

      Are you seriously arguing that non-Hindi speaking people are putting their states above the country when they speak their mother tongues in their home states?! People who speak in their mother tongues don't cause tension; those who tell others they're being "anal" by speaking their mother tongues are the ones who create problems where there are none.

      I have not understood what you mean by "it's the same divide and rule policy at work"? Nor do I know how you feel speaking Hindi across India will eradicate evils like honour killings. As for your other concern: well, tourists anywhere in the world face language difficulties. When you go to France and find it hard to communicate in English, do you demand that everyone there should know English? Don't you instead try to get around the problem by picking up some key words in the local tongue and using sign language? Why is it so hard to do likewise at home? The only way India can survive as a country is by celebrating our differences instead of imposing an artificial homogeneity on the people.

      Glad you found my review interesting :)

      Regards, Anna MM Vetticad

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  20. How many languages do u speak? You speak English because you may have been educated in an English medium school and are part of the English media. You speak Hindi because you live in the North. You speak Malayalam coz that, if I am not wrong, is your mother tongue. How many Indian languages have you made an EFFORT to learn? I know Sikhs settled in Kerala who speak perfect Malayalam and Marwaris settled in Tamil Nadu speaking perfect Tamil, just as Malayalees settled in Delhi speak perfect Hindi. Language learning is all about adapting to a culture. You seem to have seen only one side of it

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  21. Dear mam, I have a serious doubt here...pl clarify...I remember making speeches in school time with phrase "hindi hamara rashtra bhasha hai"...was it wrong?

    Your reviews are wonderful...
    Watched #CE and found it worth watching for fun and entertainment...

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  22. Dear Anna,

    By people preferring their their states over their country, I was talking about the whole MNS, Shiv Sena thing happening in Mumbai. I am a north Indian living in Mumbai and have faced discrimination due to this attitude of some people. That is what I meant by "divide and rule at work". Some politicians use these things to create differences and it affects the national integrity. I am not generalising everyone, but there are people who do that. Coming from a small town, I have seen instances where people pressured their kids to marry people of the same community. It happens a little too often in small towns.

    As far as a having a national language is concerned, what is so wrong if we all speak one language? or at least trying to? as we are a part of the same country, interaction between different communities should be motivated. And it's difficult to interact if we can't even understand each other. That's the only reason why I feel it's better to have a common language.

    I am not trying to create issues where there are none. But the fact is, a lot of politicians create tension by telling their community that the central government isn't doing anything for their state or that people from other states are "Stealing" their jobs. Such unnecessary things can be easily avoided if we communicate.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. This is just a difference of opinion between us. I hope there is no negativity!

    Manyu

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