Movie Review: Chennai Express by Kamran Jawaid

This post is the unedited copy of the review published at Dawn.com on 14th of August 2014.

Entertainment Page Blurb: This is Shah Rukh Khan’s Rahul – who we have seen before (sort of).

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Movie Review: Chennai Express

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid

“Myself Rahul”, says Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Chennai Express – and obviously, we have heard the name before.

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In “Chennai Express”, the sure-fire blockbuster that builds on – and over – Mr. Khan’s sprawling career – he plays Rahul (again), a big-time “halwai” by lineage, whose grandfather’s need for constant companionship has left him with a very unsuccessful love life.

Rahul, who is kinda-sorta attached to dear old grand-daddy (Lekh Tandon) is left with one final chore when dada-ji passes away a few moments before his 100th birthday: he has to take the ashes to Rameshwaram for the last rites. This royally messes up Rahul’s Goa trip, which was little more than a ruse to bask in some Sun, sand, scantily clad foreigners.

At this point, we can’t help but feel perplexed about Rahul’s lack of humanity, or the root of his attachment to dada-ji; “After all”, Rahul thinks in front of dada-ji’s cremation, “(he) had been alive from the days of All-India Radio till Twitter”.

The moment of enlightenment fades a few scenes later when Rahul helps a woman on a moving train, in the first of many scenes that rip Mr. Khan’s own career and age-jabs (he’s 40 in the film) for slapstick relief. The woman is Meena (Deepika Padukone), the daughter of a big-time mobster with a substantial grip on a significant chunk of South India. Her ‘appa’ wants to marry her off to another mobster’s son– a hulking 7-foot monster called Tangaballi (Nikitin Dheer) – to expand his empire.

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Assembling on the typicality of its premise, “Chennai Express” drags through its elongated runtime, often on account of director Rohit Shetty’s deliberately slowed-down camera moves and a penchant to reframe and reuse establishing shots (ie. shots that introduce a scene or a particular element); To top it off, Mr. Khan trips up on his own wisecracks about fifty-percent of the time.

Rahul’s cockiness, as well as an absenteeism of pluck, does differentiate him from Mr. Khan’s “other” Rahuls – however the material’s slack, and the screenplay’s constant return to old plot-points, like Rahul and Meena’s consistently successful escapes (and a redundant song or two), do little to stifle yawns.

Mr. Khan, even when he’s not performing (which is about 95% of his footage), eats up the screen with his star-charisma. Unfortunately, for an actor of immense potential Mr. Khan mostly bounds his acting-chops to puppy-dog expressions and a few bloodied growls.

Ms. Padukone, whose accent one struggles to digest, is straightlaced – in garb, looks and persona; however she’s quite a bit effective in being a strong-willed woman-on-the-run who has little agenda other than plan escapes.

Is Ms. Padukone better than Mr. Khan, you ask? – well that answer depends on the individual’s own membership to one of the two Khan-clubs.

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When “Chennai Express” doesn’t buckle under the its own extended running time, a lack of subtitles (a substantial number of dialogues are in Tamil), non-humorous gags, or computer generated cosmetic touch-ups (which there are a lot of), the movie is – dare I use the word – a “fun” jaunt.

“Chennai Express” doesn’t run away from what it is: a big, pop-corn, family-friendly flick (every woman here is in a Sari) – right down to its one, sole, thumping dance number (“1 2 3 4 Get On The Dance Floor”), a frilly romantic number (“Kashmir Main Tu Kanyakumari”) and a woman’s lib-message – which is more or less an afterthought in the climax.

Starring: Deepika Padukone, Shahrukh Khan, Sathyaraj, Nikitin Dheer, Manorama, Kamini Kaushal and Lekh Tandon.

Directed by Rohit Shetty; Produced by Gauri Khan, Karim Morani, Ronnie Screwvala and Siddharth Roy Kapur; Written by Yunus Sajawal, Story by K. Subhash; Cinematography by Dudley; Edited by Steven Bernard; Music by Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani.

Released by UTV Motion Pictures and Red Chillies. Chennai Express is rated U/A – there are many bloody noses in the final act.

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