Cast: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Swara Bhaskar, Armaan Kohli, Deepak Dobriyal
Director: Sooraj Barjatya
It's not easy to reject righteous, piety and saintly beings with beatific smiles as bloody boring. One tends to judge oneself through the others’ eyes – piercing, judging eyes that reflect haloed men and women framed in parampara and sanskriti.
The marigold festooned bharatiyata that the Barjatyas have peddled for years has banked on our unease at rejecting simulated piety – the singing and dancing pure vegetarian, Hindu parivaars where ideal men and women dwell alongside mild evil that exists only to reinforce their virtues. There’s always a Ram, epitomising sacrifice and adarsh, Lakshman and Bharat, the models of devotion to the adarsh purush, and Sita whose subservience to the adarsh purush can move the drawing room furniture. It’s a long chain of virtues, all devoted to keeping the myth of the grand Hindu parivaar alive.
Since we are human, and they seem godly, we bow.
The Barjatyas are stalkers and creators of this land. In their world ‘touch-me-not’ romance are allowed to blossom with the blessings of elders. Here hierarchy is respected and a feudal order paid due obeisance to. Patriarchy is seemingly benign, given to largesse and grand gestures, but is insidiously patronising, regressive and controlling. Piety is their chief whip. It lacerates souls.
Washed with Ganga jal, smelling of sandalwood, their homes are virtually temples, sanctum sanctorums of Hindu parampara, sanskriti and sanskar. You feel you should leave your shoes outside, at the popcorn queue.
Perhaps it was Madhuri’s spunk, or perhaps it was Madhuri and Salman that made a believable pair. Perhaps it was all this coupled with nostalgia about a more recent past that made ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’ (1994) work at least as a romance.
This one, ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’, starts with some promise, but then nose-dives.
The film opens in Ayodhya, a happy place where Dilwale’s Ram Leela is being enacted just so that Prem Bhaiyyaji (Salman Khan) can come to save Sitaji’s izzat. Sita is being played by Prem’s sidekick Kanhiya (Deepak Dobriyal). It’s an all male affair.
The only female that concerns Prem Bhaiyyaji is Maithili Devi (Sonam Kapoor) of Devgarh. He does not have carnal feelings for this princess, but deep reverence because she is a smiling, cute pari who descends from a helicopter to distribute sarees and other stuff to the needy. Maithili, you see, is Mother Teresa in knee-high boots and jeans, who runs the Uphaar Foundation, an NGO. And because she is so ‘Ritchie Rich’ and pretty and yet mingling with flood and other victims, all her offices and homes are not lined with posters of poor and needy, but her enlarged, engaging mug, just like it is seen on jewellery adverts.
(I don’t know whether the Uphaar tragedy was lost on them, but the name was very jarring, despite the mithal-walla font in which Uphaar was written.)
Maithili is to wed the yuvraj of Pitampur, moonch-wala Vijay Singh who lives in a grand palace and has smiling faces around him. But, behind those made-up faces coils evil.
There’s his sautela brother Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh), and two other sauteli sisters Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika.
There’s also loyal Diwan (Anupam Kher) and the security guy, Sanjay.
Prem is headed for Pitampur, to meet Maithili, and Vijay Singh, after being spurned by his sisters who live in a house that looks like birthday cake gone blue with anger, is sent to vanvas – only this vanvas is a coma-esque state in the fort’s dungeons where he lies attached to machines and tubes.
It is all very serious and worrying -- cerebral concussion with cerebral edema. Yet, his head rests on a pillow that is red velvet with gold lining. Royal perks, I gather.
Prem arrives, is spotted by a loyal guard and a long time is spent in making us buy the film's humshakal conceit. It’s time wasted because humshakal is an Indian phenomenon like ichadhari nagin. We need no preface. We believe.
Prem has to now perform the duties of the yuvraj who had weak digestion and thus ate only boiled veggies, but spoke many languages. Of course, Prem makes fun of French and ‘ghas-phoos’. He is a lover of gibberish and oily-spicy food.
Prem is playing a role, but around Maithili he can’t control his emotions and begins an elaborate romance whereby there is no doubt about whose neck the garland should fall on.
In between standard Salman jokes and silliness, Prem and Maithili play ‘ghar-ghar’ episodically with each new element getting its own song.
For a long time nothing else happens -- it's an extended photo-shoot with Sonam in Royal Rajasthani vintage saris and jewels, and Salman posing as a sharif and caring poster husband. All leading up excruciatingly slowly, to the rajtilak and the royal wedding.
We get to that after two-three eye watering scenes about bhaiya and behen. The angry sisters make an unreasonable demand, Prem accepts, and the sisters are so moved by their brother’s love that they no longer want anything. Patriarchy wins.
The film's promos may have given you the impression that there’s intrigue. There is, but it’s scatty and completely lost in this chitrahaar where most songs sound like bhajans.
We can take fakery and everyone emitting ethics ka ethnic glow if there’s a lead couple that’s believable and if there’s actually a story. ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ has neither. It’s grand, yes. The setting, clothes are all very stylish, crisp, royal and vintage. And the screen is at most times filled by the smiling and airbrushed mug of the lead pair, glowing with inner beauty and upper class Hindu piety. Pretty, but vacuous and very boring.
Ideally, ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ should have been a four-episode Sunday morning TV serial, climaxing on ‘Bhaiyya Dooj’. It has that satsang aura which has lingered since Aamir Khan left that slot.
Surrounded by generally appalling acting is Salman Khan, the film’s big draw. We never had any delusions. We’ve known all along that Salman Khan can’t act. He just does his thing.
But Salman is now motu, ageing and slow on his feet. That means that our attention is more on his face. But there’s little happening there.
What, however, is interesting is how Salman Khan is making a deliberate journey from Salman Bhai to Salman Bhaiyyaji. From ‘Jai ho!’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, to this, his hand is now always extended for any rakhi that may be sitting sad and morose in the vicinity. What is this? Why this transformation – from an angry man to lover boy to a bhaiyya of one and all? I don’t know. All I’d like to say is, "Yo, bro. Don’t be such a bore."