Shah Rukh Khan has very much been the King the world calls him. But the kingdom he rules has always resided in his head. The way he has called the shots. The choices he has made. For 22 years.
He was the King when he made the negative hero cool in the early 1990s. He was the King when he produced a film on media wars in 2000. He was the King when he led a gang of girls in a film about women’s hockey. He was the King when he gave a fresh twist to a cult 1970s Big B character. He was the King even when he spent crores and crores on a visual effects-heavy superhero film.
He who never cared about what the world was doing. He who charted his own course, making star directors out of first-timers like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and Farah Khan in the process. He who never was a me-too, trying to cash in on a formula or reprise a success story. He who took risks.
But what just happened? Chennai Express, the mammoth Shah Rukh Khan Id release, is so infuriatingly disappointing. It always promised to be silly, but it’s also strictly unfunny, needlessly stretched and mostly very rotten. What’s worse, the superstar is not in good nick. Within minutes of boarding the biggie, you start looking for the red ‘pull’ chain but you can’t get off the train baby! Because “chain nai, nai, nai...”
No, you as Shah Rukh Khan may call it a Rohit Shetty film (“Rohit Shetty is a unique property. And he has his own brand of cinema. There is this whole section of the audience who come in to watch a Rohit Shetty film,” SRK had told t2) but every film that has Shah Rukh Khan in it is a Shah Rukh Khan film. And that you have to sputter your Red Chillies over such insipid fare for the box- office pie leaves such a bad taste in the mouth.
Shuruat se shuru karte hain, as the opening voiceover says. So this 40-year-old (virgin?) Rahul (Shah Rukh) is jumping around with two other 40-year-olds (married) to have fun in Goa but boards the Chennai Express to fool his grandmother that he’s off to Rameshwaram to immerse his grandfather’s ashes. Now, this girl Meena Lochini (Deepika Padukone) is trying to run away from her Appa (Sathyaraj) a big don in Chennai, by boarding the Chennai Express!
Obviously Rahul will get embroiled in her dukhbhari kahaani — being forcefully married to Mr Muscles Tangaballi (Nikitin Dheer) — and land up in her village Komban where he would have to lead a subtitled existence. But language will not be the only problem as he and Meena will be chased around by hairy and scary men till he flings his arms wide to become the Rahul we know.
So the first half’s a comedy, the second half’s split into romance and action. In that first hour, as the victim of all the stupid jokes and silly comic setpieces, SRK tries to channelise Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura (the similarities with When Nature Calls don’t end there) but ends up being loud and blunt. And the timing’s all over the place. What doesn’t help is that everyone else around him is very natural. Even Deepika with her pronounced Tamil accent is many beats below her man’s exaggerated expressions.
The little half hour of luv-shuv in half two has the more endearing Shah Rukh but that soon hurtles itself to a bloodied finish. Hand-to-hand combat has never been the man’s forte and that David-vs-Goliath very-Ghulam-like climactic fight doesn’t stir the sympathy stream enough. And this is your pitch for “the power of a common man”? That was Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. The difference? That one ended in losses and this one’s going to strike gold! Till Sunday, for sure.
SRKtards might just be happy to see their star do everything in the same movie — laugh, cry, fight, dance and take his aviators on and off a zillion times. They might chuckle when he makes fun of his own films like DDLJ, My Name is Khan and Dil Se. They might dig the way he speaks Tamil. But they of all audiences should know how jaded he actually is, for once.
Still managing to merge magic into the madness is Deepika. Credited ahead of Shah Rukh Khan in the opening titles, she actually leads from the front with her crackling Tamilian act, replete with the perfect look and body language. Here she is such a far cry from the leggy boozed-out party girl and clearly the reason to sit through Chennai Express.
There are other attractions whisked in — from the Priyamani item number, which is quite a visceral experience, and that Lungi song with the closing credits which is a tribute to Rajinikanth. And yes a couple of cars do front rolls and back rolls in mid-air because, well, it’s “a film by Rohit Shetty and team”.
Perhaps if Chennai Express reaches its box-office destination, the King will stop riding on worn-out brandwagons and return to his kingdom. For a few dreams more.