Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Warning: Like with every other movie from Bollywood director Rohit Shetty ('Bol Bachchan', 'Singham'), it’s best if you leave your brain at the door when watching this and just enjoy the over-the-top action and undeniable chemistry between the leads.
Simply put, 'Chennai Express' is a movie in which Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) and Meena (Deepika Padukone) find out that opposites attract, in this case, North Indians and South Indians.
The urbane, suave Rahul travels from Mumbai to the holy city of Rameshwaram to scatter his Grandfather’s ashes in the ocean. His plans are derailed when he meets Meena on board the Chennai Express. Hilarity ensues when she returns to her village and passes off this stranger as the man she loves to save herself from an arranged marriage.
The opening scene, in which Rahul stretches out his hand to receive Meena as she runs down the platform in slow motion, trying to catch up with the train, is an all-too-familiar scene from his iconic 1995 film, 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ)'. Complete with intense moments when they lock eyes and the sweeping music, they poke fun at this popular Bollywood film cliche. Rahul repeats the same action to let four gangsters on the train, and the music tempo moves along with the hilarity of the scene.
COUNTLESS REFERENCES TO OLD ROLES
In the beginning, all this is bearable, almost welcome. But the 'DDLJ' references get old, and fast, particularly when every other gag in the movie hints at something Shahrukh Khan did in his original role as Raj Malhotra in that film.
It sets the tone for the rest of the movie, where countless references are made to Shahrukh's famous (and there are many) roles and dialogues, everything from those in 'My Name is Khan' (2010) to 'Don' (2006). It reeks of the screenwriters’ laziness, and frankly it seems like we are watching a Filmfare awards rerun.
Another oft-repeated gag is about Shahrukh’s/Rahul’s age, which is about the only believable thing in the entire movie.
What’s baffling is that the movie doesn’t need any of these contrived jokes to be effective. People will still go watch it for one thing and one thing alone – Shahrukh Khan.
It’s a classic high-energy performance where he shines in the comic scenes, reminiscent of his early performances in 'Baadshah' (1999) and 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' (1998). Even his usual over-the-top acting serves him well in this role, fitting perfectly with the larger-than-life aesthetic of a Rohit Shetty production. It’s almost as if the old Shahrukh is back. If he ever went anywhere, that is.
The glowingly beautiful Deepika Padukone is a revelation in 'Chennai Express'. From her perfect Bharathanatyam mudras to a hilarious "sleep talking" scene, she is graceful in a movie that stumbles along on buffoonery.
The interplay between the Hindi and the Tamil, and the subtitles or the lack thereof, make for comic lost-in-translation moments that are truly laugh-out-loud. Even Deepika’s halting Tamil is passable.
You get the feeling that Rohit is playing tribute to the movies of the South (Kollywood) without parodying them, all the while keeping his trademark heart-racing car chases, outrageous explosions and gratuitous fight scenes intact.
There are a host of South Indian actors in lead and supporting roles, including Tamil actor Sathyaraj, who is cast as the don of the village and Meena’s father.
The movie wins on its moments of sweet, lighthearted romance. And songs such as 'Kashmir Main Tu Kanyakumari' and 'Titli' are beautifully shot, with the same pomp, colour and spectacle of one of director Rohit Shetty’s South Indian counterparts.
If you can look past the jarring product placements, the hackneyed association of the South with idhli (rice cakes) and sambar (vegetable stew) and the jarringly bad Tamil accents of the non-Tamil-speakers, the show is a full-on Rohit Shetty-style entertainer.