Friday, July 24, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Amor vincit alles (Love conquers all)

This review appeared in Republica on July 24, 2015.

Let me confess in the beginning. I don't consider myself to be an emotional person and generally don't burst into tears even when sad.

But Salman Khan's latest offering Bajrangi Bhaijaan forced tears out of me with its strong emotional content. Fellow audiences watching this movie in the theater couldn't stop tears coursing down their cheeks. A woman was sniffling and unable to stand up from her seat after the screening ended.

Helmed by Kabir Khan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan tells the story of Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan), a person with thick head and large heart. A staunch devotee of Lord Hanuman, he is poor at studies but is morally upright. Once during the Hanuman festival in Kurukshetra, Haryana, he comes across a mute girl Munni/Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra).

Shahida, with a cherubic face and dilated eyes, has been lost while returning to Pakistan after paying obeisance to Hazrat Nizamuddin in New Delhi when her mother (Meher Viz) fell asleep in the train and Shahida wandered away. It's an uphill task to take Shahida back to her home as she cannot speak. After knowing that she is a Pakistani, Bajrangi enters Pakistan through an underground route without any passport or visa.

The second half gets interesting when Bajrangi is wrongly considered a spy and is on the run from the authorities. With the help of a bumbling video journalist Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Bajrangi continues with his humanitarian mission. Whether he is successful or not in his mission in the face of adversities builds the narrative that reaches a rousing climax.

Salman Khan is not critics' darling actor but this time he scores a victory over their cynicism. He proves that he possesses histrionics acumen (only that he hadn't flaunted his potential to the full). He has changed tack in his film in that he doesn't rip his shirt apart and bare his chest at the drop of a hat like in other films. He lives up to the role of a pious man guided by love for humanity venturing outside the boundary of religious and national bigotry. After all, travel broadens one's horizon of thought.

Debutante child actor Harshaali wins everyone's heart of with her powerful acting. Even a stone-hearted member of the audience bursts into tears when she weeps. In one particularly strong scene, she remembers her lost mother with trembling lips and teary eyes. This scene alone makes her a good prospect in acting. Kareena Kapoor, however, fails to impress and she hasn't even got a significant role. The super-talented Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the sincere journalist Chand Nawab delivers a terrific performance. While providing much needed comic relief in a lachrymose-dominated tale, his one-liners carry deep meaning.

The film is so strong because of minor characters. Om Puri's cameo as the Ustad is delightful. Unlike narrow parochial teachers, he puts Bajrangi, a person from different faith, at ease with his generous gesture. Meher Viz as the suffering mother of the lost child proves what an accomplished performer she is. Rajesh Sharma, as the tough Pakistani cop, who has a change of heart after knowing Bajrangi's truth is an equally powerful actor.

Kabir Khan deserves all praise for pulling off this narrative. There are numerous plot craters that threaten to derail the narrative but Kabir puts powerful emotions and deep meanings in various scenes to make up for the errors. He shows that non-violence is the only viable option to bridge gaps by making slightly stooping Bajrangi to walk with the stick just like Mahatma Gandhi. The Switzerland reference to Kashmir is a jibe at politicians who have made that beautiful valley the most dangerous place to live in.

In fact, all the comic scenes serve as satire against artificial differences created by people. Thus, the conjecture of Shahida's milk-white complexion as belonging to a Brahmin is a satire on inhuman caste system. When Bajrangi tells Chand Nawab that Lord Hanuman will protect him from anything, the latter asks, "Even in Pakistan?" This is a biting satire on narrow religious thinking. Kabir's genius is reflected in the parallelism of cricket teams and Shahida raising hands in religious gestures.

Pritam's music is ordinary. None of the songs is memorable.

I urge you not to miss this movie. There is no point in waiting for the DVDs to come out. Let go of your inhibitions and shed some tears. You can take your hankie along.

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