Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Harshali Malhotra
Rating: Three stars
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a sweet story, dusted with sugar, glazed with honey and dipped in saccharin. While the sugar rush can get a little dizzying in the start, it’s a matter of time before you acquire the taste for it. For Kabir Khan’s latest offering is a simple and earnest mix of ingredients that most Indian audience finds palatable-apart from bhai of course. Cricket, cross-border love and happy endings. The last bit’s hardly a spoiler and regardless of the liberties it takes with rationality and sense, it is an entertainer through and through.
For once, or at least in a long, long time, Salman Khan doesn’t play one of his staple characters in the film. He isn’t cocky, doesn’t have the best punch lines among the cast, isn’t the quintessential hero and, much to the dismay of many fans, isn’t bare-chested either.
Instead, he plays a village simpleton-Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi bhaiya. Bajrangi, as he is fondly called, is a devotee of Hanuman and never lies about anything. Period. He also happens to be a disappointment to his father, since he excelled neither in academics nor in wrestling-the two things his father was passionate about. He did however, take to his father’s religious inclinations and became a staunch Bajrangi bhakt, bowing to every monkey in sight and staying a safe distance from anything that was “mommedan”. He dreads setting foot in a mosque and stays miles away from the whiffs of non-vegetarian food.
His life and religious beliefs are turned upside down when he meets Munni/Shahida. A little mute girl from across the border who loses her way in the Indian Capital. Being the golden-hearted man that he is, Bajrangi takes it upon himself to find the girl’s house-even if that means taking on authorities on both sides of the border and most importantly, his potential father-in-law, (Sharat Saxena) who plays Rasika’s (Kareena) father. But luckily for him, he’s not alone. An entire army of good Samaritans from both sides of the border is helping him and his little accomplice to reach their goal. So insanely helpful are these people that lack of a passport, visa or any documentation for that matter, proves to be no deterrent. Bajrangi has decided to do his deed and Bajrang Bali ki kasam, nobody can stop him.
As ludicrous as the premise sounds, Kabir Khan adds a certain dimension to the story that makes you want to keep rationality aside, if only for a bit, to bask in the goodness of the people- some of which include Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Chand Nawab), Om Puri (maulana) and Sharat Saxena among others. Nawaz plays a Pakistani reporter who puts to use his journalistic skills to be bhaijaan’s voice. He has some very good lines in the film and given his impeccable timing, they are glorified on the big screen.
When Bajrangi assures him of pulling off his mission with the help of his Hindu deity, a good-humored Chand Nawab enquires, “will he help in Pakistan as well’? Kabir Khan has very shrewdly drawn inspiration from a popular Youtube clip of a Pakistani reporter of the same name for Nawaz’a character, so if the film manages to release in Pakistani theatres, as is being discussed, this one’s sure to garner the loudest applause. The other Good Samaritan, Om Puri, in the tiny window that he is offered, makes a great impact too. Kareena adds just the dose of glamour that is indispensable to a Bollywood blockbuster (it’s safe to assume at this point). This is one of Salman’s most mellowed down performances, which includes no sniffing or unnecessary goofing around. But the most adorable act is undoubtedly of little Harshaali (Munni) who without uttering a word, makes a strong statement.
The film draws from various stereotypes from either sides of the border and from Hindu and Muslim beliefs, but not once making them seem provocative. Salman’s secular roots off screen make him the most appropriate candidate to mouth certain ignorant dialogues such as ‘doodh jaisi gori hai, zaroor Brahmin hogi’. Kabir Khan it seems, is fully aware that for a man with a fan following across castes and borders, this is hardly risqué.
The film beautifully explores the relationship between Bajrangi and Munni and how a devout Hindu xenophobe turns guardian angel to a Muslim girl from Pakistan. He orders a dozen chicken dishes and takes shelter in a mosque, beliefs be damned. Some of the scenes addressing cross-border tension in the film are very endearing too, reminding one of how love knows no boundaries and how sometimes a little girl plays a better peace ambassador to two war-torn nations than diplomats ever can.
Giving a cinematic glimpse of Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, BB also explores the gorgeous terrains of Northern India. Khan capitalized on his locations making a few scenes absolute visual delights. The music of the film except a couple of tracks isn’t particularly noteworthy, but adds just the euphoria required for the moment. Adnan Sami’s rendition in a mosque however, is a powerful one.
In many ways, BB isn’t a typical Salmanesque affair, but like all his films, it has just what the bhai-worshipping crowd will cheer for from the word go.