Yash Raj once again produces a heavily self-referenced film with nostalgic undertones. For the last 5 years or so there has been a trend in Bollywood and especially in Yash Raj and Farah Khan films to parody or pay tribute to films and stars of bygone days. It has been quite enjoyable to ‘pick the references’, especially for someone like me – who is relatively new to Bollywood cinema. However, most embellishments, if done to excess can become quite tiresome. Where they once appeared quite original, nostalgic references are now beginning to look like expensive padding. Having starred in Farah Khan’s pastiche Om Shanti Om (2007) and playing a caricature of his famous Raj roles in Aditya Chopra’s latest film – Shah Rukh Khan is emerging as a figure head for retrospectives. It’s not a trend that will serve the actor well in the long run because it’s beginning to run dry. And the Indian summer of clinging to youthful roles (albeit subtlely) is all but over.
Aditya Chopra has written some successful screen plays among them – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Mohabbatein (2000), Bunty aur Bubli (2005) and Dhoom (2006).
What makes Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi interesting is its initial emphasis on ordinary life.
You can almost smell the streets in the early scenes as the attractive, young bride (Anushka Sharma) is taken to her new home by her meek, scholarly husband – Surinder (Shah Rukh Khan). Most of the film’s charm emanates from simple deeds, exchanges and observations. Surinder – who is some 20 years older than Taani and painfully introverted, attempts to endear himself to her. He attempts to rouse her for breakfast by tapping timidly at her door several times before he manages an audible knock. Or he places a red rose across her plate, looks at it and reconsiders the boldness of the move. Surinder imagines capturing her heart slowly in an endearing rendition of Haule Haule so in keeping with the naïve and loveable man being portrayed. His movements are of the simplest type – slow, on-beat, clichéd –just like an old fashioned Punjabi man dancing. For this guy, there is no fantasy world of breathtaking surroundings or glamorous locales; he is fulfilled by riding on a rickshaw with the woman he adores. The Surinder character as written by Chopra and performed by Khan works a treat but the same cannot be said of his alter ego – Raj.
For Aditya Chopra the act of discovering ‘the extraordinary in an ordinary jodi’ can only be achieved by smothering a heart-felt story in an overlay of celebrity and glamour. He does not take up the challenge of grounding the film in everyday life but opts for clichés and quick-fixes derived from a dance competition, a wacky Japanese expo and a tribute to some of Bollywood’s greats. It’s a Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis, 1963) premise grafted onto a story which promised a lot more as Surinder adopts a persona; becomes an Ed Hardy clad dude to steal intimate moments with Taani. Although Taani likes this guy, Raj is too much of a caricature to be taken seriously and Khan is past playing youthful roles. An attempt is made to develop his character but the effect is so fake and filmi that I was waiting for the dance business to finish; for Surinder to don the fake moustache and become his more interesting, regular self.
The expensive item number with retrospective theme – Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte does not fit seamlessly into the story. It is supposedly Taani’s fantasy but looks and feels like Dhoomtaana from Om Shanti Om. Throughout the film Taani gives the impression that she is drawn to modern day culture and possesses a certain independence of spirit which is contradicted when she imagines send-up romantic scenarios featuring the very fake Raj as Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Raj, Shammi and Rishi Kapoor. The humour of the nostalgic tableaux presented is not in keeping with Taani’s personality so the function of the number is entirely unclear. Perhaps it’s there only to allow Shah Rukh Khan the opportunity to bask in the afterglow of vintage musings.
The storyline is fairly thin and predictable with too little substance and a great deal of padding. Vinay Pathak as the flamboyant hairdresser – Bobby is there as a sounding-board for Surinder’s character but it’s difficult to understand their friendship. What could the highly intelligent Surinder have in common with the somewhat vacuous Bobby? Yes he’s attracted to the latter’s flamboyance but does that warrant such an intimate bond? At one stage, the relationship between the two seemed almost gay – extremely physical and focussed on mutual sensitivity. If that in fact was the case it could have been spelt out a bit more – after all we have just had Dostana.
There are many instances in the film where Surinder speaks to God – a memorable feature of Dil To Pagal Hai but in the current film the monologues are overdone. Aditya Chopra is aiming for the time honoured Yash Raj tradition of leaving the audience with a little saying (affirmation) about the nature of love; in this case, of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Unfortunately, the effort seems laboured because such an overt method of self-reflection (ie.soliloquy) is better suited to the stage than to the medium of film.
Shah Rukh Khan does well with the character of Surinder who says little but emotes through facial expressions and restrained gestures. I felt that some of the expressions of his mouth were at times a little too deliberate (postured). This was magnified by the fact that the mouth was often famed by a conspicuous moustache and amplified by extreme close-ups. The Raj character was obviously – all stops out – but not successful because he didn’t mesh with the more real and human tone of the film.
So Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is not without charm but its real worth is devalued by a cluttered and sometimes irrelevant screenplay and an overriding need to establish glamour in a story that doesn’t need it.