Movie Review: CHENNAI EXPRESS (2013)
Given that most criticisms against Shahrukh Khan are about his off screen personality and his choice in films, it comes as a surprise that he would choose a movie that is full of self deprecating humor and almost a parody of his most famous roles, teaming up with a Director who is a master of the masala-entertainer. CHENNAI EXPRESS is one of Rohit Shetty’s most entertaining films, and one of Khan’s most honest portrayals in recent times.
Blank Page Rating: 3 Out of 5 Urns
A typical story about being in wrong place at the wrong time, along with a language barrier plot device, CHENNAI EXPRESS refers to a train toute that our hero gets caught on, leading to the worst experience of his life. Shahrukh Khan is Rahul, a man with no ambitions or goals of his own, who spent his life following his grandfather’s instructions. After his death, Rahul decides to live his own life by sneaking off to vacation with his friends. Things go awry when he saves, what he thought, was a damsel in distress, in typical Shahrukh Khan filmy romantic style. Instead, he becomes accomplice to the girl’s attempt to escape her arranged marriage by her crime boss father and his thugs. Things get worse when Rahul is dragged back to the mob boss father, and the girl Meena, played by Deepika Padukone, concocts a story about their together and her love for Rahul, as a means of buying more time. Cue misunderstandings, deception and uber shenanigans.
It’s a typical misunderstanding story with lies upon lies that traps the character in an overwhelming web is over the top situations with similarly over the top characters. But all of this is overwhelmed, as usual, by Shahrukh Khan’s performance; but for once, that’s not a bad thing. Khan, in one of his rarest roles ever, plays a cowardly mouse of man, who is less than equipped to handle the situations he finds himself in. Looking to run away at every turn, Rahul has no loyalty and expresses no sense chivalry regarding Meena’s situation. This is a huge departure from Khan’s various usual hero portrayals where his larger than life off screen persona completely takes over the character.
The story takes a few twists and turns, through some scenic locales, while Meena and Rahul fake being a couple yet again to hide in a village while on the run from the 7 foot giant that wants to marry Meena. As far as a typical Rohit Shetty movie goes, CHENNAI EXPRESS is entertaining and funny, with a fresh fish out of water story that includes a language barrier of Rahul’s North Indian Hindi with Meena’s South Indian Tamil, requiring the two to speak by improvising the lyrics of existing Bollywood movie songs so they can communicate in secret from Meena’s Tamil speaking family. It’s a plot device that gets the most laughs, while other elements add to the richness of the story even more. Non-Bollywood fans are at a serious disadvantage with this movie though, given that a pre-existing knowledge of Bollywood movies is required to fully appreciate this gag.
I return to Shahrukh Khan’s performance, as it’s something worthy of note, for the often criticized Khan. Despite his huge talent and caliber of success in the industry, Khan’s choice of commercial films always seem to pander to the lowest common denominator, which rub some people the wrong way. In CHENNAI EXPRESS however, Khan gets leaves all the ego behind, and deliveries jokes, most of which mock and parody many of his own famous performances and portrayals. The most common punch line is the role that catapulted Khan to fame in DARR, where he would psychotically stutter the heroine’s name as he stalks her, while here, it’s used by Khan as false bravado, right before he cowers away from a confrontation. It’s a genius move on Khan’s part to essay a role that is in no way the typical grandiose and charming hero that is has become infamous for, but rather a character with so many flaws that he is barely likeable, but very hilarious. The consistency of this performance stays true even in the fight scenes, where he doesn’t automatically become an action star, but had to resort to using weapons and other underhanded tactics in order to best the physically imposing villain.
While CHENNAI EXPRESS may not be the greatest movie, or even the greatest comedy, it does deliver the fun via Shahrukh Khan, with him satiring himself, in a very unexpectedly refreshing performance by the usually clichéd Khan. Rohit Shetty tones down the physics defying action, not counting the Sickle flipping over a Jeep scene, and even keeps the cheesy romance to a minimum, conveying most of it in one song and then moving on with the story at hand. It’s a departure for both director & lead actor, and it pays off as being the entertainer that most Shetty films are supposed to be, without the exasperation.