Never mind which side of the divide you decide to stand, here’s one fact of life you ignore at your own peril: Never judge a Salman Khan fan when he’s rooting for the Bhai pulling off the most logic-defying stunts, and even scenes. Because, Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan is one film that will bring them to the theatres in droves and you’d do yourself a favour by keeping quiet even if you think this film is over the top. But then, chances are that you may also love it.
First things first. There is no doubting Salman’s secular credentials. He is one actor who never tires of talking about the multi-religious ethnicity of his family and he has reasons to do so. But now he has decided to extend this ideology to the themes of his films as well.
In a way, it started with Jai Ho where his crusader ‘aam aadmi’ image was built. Kick consolidated this image, and now Bajrangi Bhaijaan completes the picture. This film presents the bhai as the quintessential ‘aam aadmi’ who is forever ready to embrace religious pluralism if that is the last resort. And guess what, Salman does it in a style no one else can.
Pawan Kumar Chautrvedi (Salman) enjoys the burden of carrying the legacy of his RSS member father in Pratapgarh, UP. This is not exactly a load as Pawan grows up to be an extremely religious guy who likes to bow down to every monkey he meets. Turns out, he is least interested in studies and wrestling, two streams his father wants him to excel in. Pawan’s life is turned upside down when his father sends him away to Delhi for, what else, a job. Like it happens in every Hindi film, once in the city, he meets Rasika (Kareena) and her tough-nut father Digambar (Sharat Saxena), a devout Brahmin.
Pawan, alias Bajrangi, stays true to his religion in the big city, never missing a chance to attend anything that has Lord Hanuman’s name next to it. His pursuits lead him to Kurukshetra where he finds an abandoned child after dancing his shoes off to Selfie le le re.
Soon, we are told that this child cannot talk, is from Pakistan, and that she is stranded here in India.
Not surprisingly, Pawan takes it upon himself to reunite the child with her parents. Just that he has a set of problems that threaten to throw his mission off balance right from the word go: he has no passport, he never lies, and he is a vegetarian.
On the face of it, this is probably Salman’s most mellowed down performance in recent times: he refrains from flaunting his street fighting skills (unless he’s left with no option, that is), and he has managed to look innocent in the scenes where his character’s inner dilemma over non-vegetarian food comes out or when he finds that the lost child is actually a Muslim (Who he likes to call Mohamden similar to a large number of North Indians).
Through some cheesy and over-the-top sequences, he befriends Munni (a super cute Harshaali) and begins a journey that takes him to a small-time TV reporter in Pakistan, Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin). Remember that viral video featuring Chand Nawab reporting from Karachi on Eid? The same one.
One thing that works for Bajrangi Bhaijaan is that it is not a preachy film, a great feat in itself considering that the film’s crew relentlessly talked about the ‘paradoxes involved in the religious outset of India’ in every pre-release interview. And Purani Dilli, the director’s choice for unfolding the basic premise, serves him well. The crowded bylanes of the walled city demonstrate the extent to which the religious lives of the Hindus and the Muslims are entangled in this part of the world. Apart from a moment when Kareena Kapoor mouths sermons of peaceful co-existence and how a small child should be kept out of the religious debates, things appear under-control.
V Vijayendra Prasad’s story doesn’t boast of too many twists and turns, and that puts the spotlight back on its primary characters. The way the director introduces Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his understanding of mainstream commercial cinema will amaze you. Nawazuddin’s pauses, hamming and high pitched dialogues… everything adds value to the character he plays. He saves a linear story from going wayward in the second half. In fact, he very charmingly informs the audience about the absurdities of our daily lives. Take a look at this conversation:
Chand Nawab: Wahan tumhari madad kaun karega?
Pawan: Bajranbali karenge humari madad.
Chand Nawab: Pakistan me bhi? (Laughs)
Though it’s obvious that the film’s dialogue writers walked on razor’s edge so that they don’t hurt any religious sentiments, the one-liners bring out the deep-rooted contradictions of our society. Consider this one: While struggling to find Munni’s religion, Pawan declares: “Ye Brahmin hogi, dekhti nahi kitni gori hai.” In another scene, when he finds Munni eating chicken, he mutters, “Kshatriya hogi, wo maas khate hain aur gore bhi hote hain.”
And, of course, you can’t keep the eternal Shahid Afridi versus Sachin Tendulkar debate out of any such film.
One powerful tool Salman uses with ease in most of his films is his self deprecating humour. No prizes for guessing that with Kabir Khan, there is more than a fair sprinkling of it in this film too. And yes, just like Ek Tha Tiger, you don’t get a clear-cut answer if you wanted to figure out how old he is.
The film opens with aerial shots of snow-clad mountains and moves inside Pakistan capturing the scenic beauty of the region in the process. But, the one shot that remains in the spectator’s subconscious is the top angle one of people flocking the Kurukshetra station. And the sequence right before it where Kabir Khan shows the situation at Wagah-Attari with Aaj rang dini playing in the background is also worth noticing.
Now, the most crucial part of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, its climax. Don’t worry, we won’t spill the beans, but just that it is the film’s big surprise. Suddenly you feel like transported to the ’80s where everybody is serious about just one thing: To defy logic and scientific grounding. Apart from this part of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which is likely to garner a louder applause than the rest of the film, it remains a perfectly paced story
Needless to say, Salman is one-man army against all the hindrances and that’ll suit his fans. But you may also fall for Nawazuddin’s reporter act. Kareena Kapoor Khan glows but that’s the most of it. Harshaali is cuteness overload and that may inspire some ‘aww’ moments.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is totally dependent on Salman Khan’s superstardom and he pulls it off provided you overlook his in-your-face ‘bhai’ act in some scenes. It’s an entertaining film for sure, definitely in the not-to-be-missed category.