In the interest of honest, unbiased reviews, let me begin by putting my biases on the table: I’m a sucker for Shah Rukh Khan. I’ve delighted in Rahul and Raj and the romantic fantasies they engendered over the last two decades. I cry when Rahul becomes a widower in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and swoon when Raj sweeps Simran in his arms amidst the swaying mustard fields in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
So it breaks my heart to tell you that Chennai Express left me cold. This hyper, eager-to-please Rahul sorely tested my patience. And after a while, the innumerable references to DDLJ seemed like a lazy shot at siphoning some of the enduring affection we have for that film.
The fundamental problem is a clash of sensibility. Shah Rukh embodies the urbane, effortlessly suave and charming metro man. Director Rohit Shetty specialises in amped-up, largely logic-less and incoherent storytelling with a generous dose of low-brow humour that, at its best, is laugh-out-loud funny — do you remember that wonderful scene in Golmaal 3 in which Prem Chopra is humiliating his daughter’s poor suitor, played by Mithun Chakraborty? When Prem Chopra asks, “Karte kya ho tum?” Mithun Chakraborty, wearing a purposefully awful wig replies, “I am a disco dancer. Zindagi mera gana, main usi ka deewana.” It was priceless.
But Chennai Express plays neither to Rohit’s strengths nor to Shah Rukh’s. It’s a strangely sloppy mishmash of cheesy humour, half-hearted romance, half-baked emotion and head-banging action. The film is filled with gigantic men whose size functions as a punch line. Yes, some of it is funny. The locations are beautiful. And I enjoyed watching Deepika Padukone as Meena, the don’s daughter with the thick accent, who meets Rahul on Chennai Express and turns his life upside down. Padukone’s spirited performance — she even makes that accent attractive — helps to lift the film.
But, mostly, Chennai Express is a slog. Rohit’s movies have never been about plot or character or performances. His films have only one function: to entertain you by whatever means necessary. But sadly a film specifically designed not to bore does exactly that.
Two weeks ago, I had interviewed Shah Rukh and asked him whether in choosing to do a determinedly loud, over-the-top film like Chennai Express, he was cheating on his core audience — urban, educated, metro folk. Shah Rukh replied that he would never cheat on us but that people who have loved his earlier avatars will just have to accept that he’s going through a phase.
We do. Now come back Rahul. All is forgiven.