Directed by: Sooraj R. Barjatya || Produced by: Ajit Kumar Barjatya, Kamal Kumar Barjatya, Rajkumar Barjatya
Screenplay by: Sooraj R. Barjatya || Starring: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher, Armaan Kohli, Swara Bhaskar, Aashika Bhatia, Deepraj Rana, Deepak Dobriyal, Samaira Rao, Sanjay Mishra
Music by: Sanjoy Chowdhury, Himesh Reshammiya || Cinematography by: V. Manikandan || Edited by: Sanjay Sankla || Country: India || Language: Hindi
Running Time: 164 minutes
I had reservations going into this film regarding how formulaic its premise was and how consistently unlikable its star, “King” Salman Khan, has been both on-screen and off throughout his entire career. Other than satisfying my urge to see another Indian film on the big screen (and only my second theatrical Hindi experience to date), I caught myself wishing I had the chance to see a more nuanced, innovative story as I walked into the cineplex. But then again, maybe that would have defeated the purpose of the whole experience.
As I’ve noted in past reviews, Bollywood blockbusters tend to be most successful when they stick to their industry bread-and-butter of melodramatic romances, family intrigue, and highly choreographed, colorful dance sequences. So long as the melodrama and overracting is kept within reason, I’ll take something like Dilwale Dulhania La Jayenge (1995) or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) any day over Hindi “action” films like Ghajini (2008) or Dhoom 3 (2013) or wannabe indie-political dramas like Rang de Basanti (2006). Sometimes those stereotypical formulas exist for a reason: Because they work.
… which brings us back to Salman Khan’s latest hit, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo PRDP), written and directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya. This is in fact the fourth collaboration between these two Bollywood stars, including the immensely successful and influential Hum Aapke Hain Koun (1994) that vaulted Khan into super-stardom. Like that now classic film and most high-profile Bollywood hits of the 1990s, PRDP is a throwback to family-friendly romances, big fat weddings, and classic melodramatic Hindi structure. It doesn’t try to break the blockbuster mold at all, with limited action sequences, little terrible or unnecessary CGI, and an unapologetic focus on a totally over-the-top, ridiculous romantic premise whose climax once again asserts that good deeds and true love triumph over all. And you know what? The movie proves its point and serves that formula well. While PRDP’s story is one we’ve seen countless times before, what matters here, as in all films, is the execution of its thematic content and use of its story’s structure — not necessarily the story itself.
In other words, movies can be formulaic in both good and bad ways, and for my part PRDP is the former much more so than the latter. It wasn’t yet another example how the default mode of Hindi romances has become so bland, but rather an explanation for why it became so prolific in the first place. PRDP features plentiful familial politics, a prominent love-triangle, ridiculous conspiracies and mustache-twirling villains, and beautiful and melodic yet subdued musical numbers.
Leading this effort is Salman Khan himself, long one of my most disliked Indian stars and a true, utter jackass in real-life. In this film, however, he plays more of an Aamir Khan-type role, a more soft-spoken, warm-hearted, and personable protagonist with whom the audience can sympathize and even relate to on occassion. Khan’s character is smart and witty without being pretentious or cartoonish. He’s goofy without being irritating, which is a harder line to tread in Bollywood than one would think. Khan’s supporting cast builds around him rather than standing out as a truly memorable ensemble, but they contribute to the overall story through likable performances and effective character gags. Everyone has reasonable motivation and a consistent persona.
The story itself is rather inconsequential to the ultimate point of the movie, and won’t factor into one’s enjoyment of it (or lack thereof). It’s your basic pining male protagonist who, through wit and circumstance, goes on a bunch of wacky adventures in search of his glamorized goddess of a true love, and must navigate the delicate and treacherous relationships of her family and their enemies in order to bring home the bride and prove his character. The whole affair is ridiculous, sure, but the story establishes its whimsical, romantic tone and sticks to it, by golly. There are no bizarre, sudden spikes in violence or repetitive, terrible CGI setpieces, nor is there much hamfisted social commentary beyond a few kindhearted observations on family dynamics and forgiveness.
As per the story’s inevitable shortcomings, PRDP is way, way too long, though I suppose for most Hindi blockbusters that should go without saying. The film clocks in at 164 minutes — “short” by 1990s Bollywood standards yet boasting narrative complexity not warranting more than two hours. The villains and their plot to assassinate one of Khan’s two roles (he’s double-cast, did I mention that?) are the least interesting and least believable part of the plot, providing little more than a thematic MacGuffin to get the plot going. Even at the end when the film’s primary romance and secondary Shakespearean double-cross plot intersect, I never grew interested in the main family’s backstory beyond how they affected Khan and his relationship with female lead Sonam Kapoor (who is excellent by the way). There’s also a brief yet important scene near the beginning that uses crappy blue-screen composite shots.
Other than that, though, the film doesn’t have too many problems because it sticks to its industry-standard structure so well. It doesn’t take many chances but focuses on executing the tried and true tropes of romantic Bollywood filmmaking. I’d say it accomplishes its goal and makes the unlikable Salman Khan into a relatable everyman. If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is. So, if you’re in the mood for another family friendly Hindi romance that embraces classical formula over Indianized Hollywood ripoffs, that favors romantic melodrama over heavy-handed social commentary, and features simple yet beautiful dances over terrible CGI, I wholeheartedly recommend this.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Salman Khan is shockingly likable and demonstrates even more shocking comedic timing. The rest of the cast supports him in full and writer-director Barjatya builds a respectable story around them. True to its industry roots, Prem Ratan Dan Payo boasts great colors, luscious set designs, and old-school dance numbers.
— However… Also true to its roots, PRDP is way too long and its cartoony villains far too uninteresting. Why is Armaan Kohli dressed as Elvis Presley? How did he get that nice shotgun?
? Sometimes I feel like you’re not the man I fell in love with, that you were sent from heaven above to take away my loneliness. BUT WHO CARES?!
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