3 Good

Bajrangi Bhaijaan

Celebrations among the Muslim community at this time of the year mark the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. While several may join in the festivities at Mohammed Ali road, the rest look forward to a big weekend for hindi cinema when almost every year, we are subjected to the abject mediocrity of several Salman Khan movies that make little sense but a whole lot of money. The trend continues in spite of his controversial hit and run case and what we have in Kabir Khan’s (‘New York’, ‘Kabul Express’, ‘Ek tha Tiger’) ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ is a slight departure from the excessive over-the-top action by another angry young man. Surprisingly, Bhaijaan is perhaps the most sensible, poignant and overall entertaining film from the Salman Khan camp in recent years. However, the intellect of mankind be warned, it still remains in the league of implausible, overlong, at times ridiculous cinema that the masses adore.

Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi (Salman Khan) is a devout follower of Hanuman and with all his earnest mannerisms, is quite credible as the innocent, small town lad. However, with his academic failures and non-accomplishments, he is sent to Delhi to his father’s friend Digambar (Sharat Saxena), who could possibly offer him a job. He of course, has a beautiful daughter Rasika (Kareena Kapoor) who develops a fondness for Pawan. Kabir Khan then reminds us of ‘Maine pyar kiya’, when the father of the girl demands that her suitor make something of himself and prove that he is worthy for her hand in marriage. It’s Salman Khan, so challenge accepted.
Meanwhile, during one of his celebrations, he is followed by a mute child, seemingly separated from her parents. She refuses to let go of his company, somehow trusting him for his personality. She’s a child after all. Things get complicated when he has to bring her back home and provide shelter while he investigates her origins. After a lot of predictable scenes that reveal her religious background to the devout brahmins, Pawan is forced to take extreme measures to send her back. His decision to hand her over to a travel agent like a DHL parcel is not only questionable but simply ridiculous even for an imbecile that the director projects him to be. It only starts getting interesting when the hero decides to take things into his own hands and deliver Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra) to her family in Pakistan.
The series of events that unfold in a Muslim country such as Pakistan for a devout brahmin makes things funny and awkward but Salman Khan is good at such situations. This was his strength much before he took on the action roles. For the audience, a huge relief arrives in the form of the reporter Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whose charming performance provides all the one-liners with exceptional timing and sincerity to Pawan’s cause that adds gravity to the film’s underlying story about a girl’s separation from her parents. Nawab joins the duo in their attempt to avoid authorities and to find Shahida’s lost paradise and in all the madness of the storyline, his respect for Pawan’s sincerity and intentions is remarkably transposed in his performance.
This has to be one of the most mellow, non-Salman performances by Salman Khan even though, he has attempted such characters before. Watching him not repeating the same punchlines throughout the movie that would have audiences whistling, is quite a relief this time. His rise to being a hero in the climax is the bane of this film. The exaggerated version of Bajrangi Bhaijaan being recognized for his efforts is overlong and frankly, facepalm worthy.
Harshaali Malhotra has been much appreciated for her cuteness and innocence in the film. Much like any other child artist. However, her talent needs further testing in a movie where she gets to speak but at some points, her expressions of disapproval, grief, mischief are on point. Om Puri in his cameo is delightful and so is Sharat Saxena in all his seriousness. Kareena Kapoor was just there but that blame goes to the director for not giving her a character to work with.

V Vijayendra Prasad is on a roll currently with ‘Baahubali’ and Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s successes that owed a fair amount to his story writing. However, he is quite unimpressive here with a very predictable, slow paced story that couldn’t offer any engagement were it not for a couple of solid performances. Factors that certainly raise the film above mediocrity are the locations of Rajasthan, Sonmarg and Zoji-La in Kashmir. Spectacularly shot by cinematographer Aseem Mishra, these scenes will be etched in memory for a long time. The music is definitely a burden of the film with not one song being a memorable tune. Bhardo jholi by Adnan Sami is an exceptional qawalli that was originally sung by the Sabri brothers. While Adnan does a good job with his own version, it’s quite a blatant infringement. Tu jo mila by KK is a melodious tune, reflecting upon the poignant relationship between Pawan and Shahida. The rest of the songs are quite forgettable.

The film’s predictability, over-the-top climax and mediocre music maybe the shortfalls but performances by Salman, Nawazuddin and Harshaali are outstanding in their own right. Kabir Khan left the best parts in the second half when the 3 of them team up in Pakistan, searching for Shahida’s home. Their journey is long and tedious but entertaining nevertheless. The first half was too great a burden on the film. Yet, it is Kabir Khan’s best film so far, not that he has such an impressive list and it certainly is Nawazuddin’s best role in a big budget film. Salman Khan proves that he can get away from stereotypical characters and almost make us believe in his earnest, religious Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

7.381 on a scale of 1-10.