So has the Chennai Express bashing started yet? It is amusingly chortleworthy the extents to which people have been hating on Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Shetty or many others for that matter, on every single instance that such a ‘mass-entertainer’ releases. Sigh, give those verbal scythes a rest, give those textual garrotes a breathe. None of them are criminals, even if they make bad movies. So stash those tools away!
Now coming to this year’s Eid release. The first trailer of Chennai Express proclaimed loud and out that this festive season, we were invited to have fun ‘Rohit Shetty Style’ at the movies. After having seen so many Shetty films ring Box Office numbers, despite being heavily panned by every critic, were we really expecting him to turn over to an Anand Gandhi overnight? The trailer was specter enough for daggers to pulled out and wait for this weekend for some good old pummeling. It has been a while since Himmatwala came out, hasnt it? But then Shetty has been perennially gormless towards his critics, stiffening his position in the industry and honing his shtick film after film. The latter, which is more of an atrocious sham for the ‘real’ cine-astes. They defy logic, they shun innovation but then what if it is still honest to what it promised? Transporting you to a world of good old clean masala, with action, romance and comedy.
Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express does exactly that for its first half. He sticks to what he knows best and this film is just a diatribe of his earlier products, despite showing some growth in him as a filmmaker. You are whisked away to an over-the-top world of Rahul (SRK) who effortlessly spoofs himself through the movie at the bat of an eyelid. As frustrating as it may get for the haters, he rollicking overrides all apprehensions about his choice of doing a comedy film with a surprisingly fresh take on this character and his overtures decree a spring of fresh laughter as the contrived situations roll in one after the other. The story belongs to the 90s but Shetty, SRK and Deepika (Meena) give them a fresh spin with a sound first half full of gags, action and some romance.
The problem arises when the film enters its second half. Shetty’s shortcomings as a director of romance, which were gullibly visible in his earlier works like Singham and Bol Bachchan, expose themselves once again. As the couple keep avoiding trouble by running away, we witness a string of misplaced songs that strip the film off its lighter tone. The love story could be cutsey but the manipulative emotional wrangling all the way through the climax is injected in an injudicious attempt to package a lot in one film. Cartoonish yet spiffy, the sparse comic bits in the second half are the only shiny bits of an hum-drum second half. Credited for its writing, K Subash, Sajid-Farhad and Yunus Sajawal are never terrible overall despite a paperthin account of facts or logic. In the end, this is a genre which dictates entertainment via some amount of silliness and there is no one better than Shetty to do it. Personally, I find it hard to complain if the entertainment provided was not completely lame or outright slapstick, save for one track involving Deepika suffering from a night disease. And then there is a running track where the leads sing songs to each other to communicate. Contrived, lame but still funny somehow.
Mounted on monstrous budgets by UTV Motion Pictures and Red Chillies Entertainment, Chennai Express carries the lollypop visual style of all Shetty Films. Largely appalling is the slushy hogwash work that has been done on the VFX shots making them look super tacky. Music by Vishal-Shekhar comprises mostly of guilty pleasure tracks, beset by a bad placing in the screenplay. Tera Rasta Chodoon Na and Titli will stay longer with us due to the soothing vocals and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s non-sellout lyrics. Cinematography by Dudley and Editing by Steven Bernard could have been several notches above what it is. Dialogues do reek of shlock and corny crap at few instances. Jarringly unusual was the underwhelming design of stunts and action by Rohit Shetty himself.
They say he should stop playing Rahul or Raj. But then his last three movies were Ra.One, Don 2 and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. He was none of these in any of these. But then liking him would be profane in any case, so lets just hate. Yes, Chennai Express is about Rahul and Raj, the characters SRK has made and lived. In a stupid way, he spoofs them and relives them through another spin here, almost perfunctory. But then this Rahul does not only play his raffish charm, he wears a humor bone that is spirited but not hammy, cartoonish but not caricaturist, and believe me, its a delight. Deepika Padukone will be nimbly subject to much scrutiny on her accent, but the spunk is visible and some efforts, until she is asked to shed tears. Sathyaraj, as Meena’s father, and Nikiteen Dheer, as Tangabali, are no real great cast for this one. Yet, it is the persuasive zeal and continuous shenanigans of the leads that ride the film home without letting the chasms appear.
Chennai Express is a film that is relentlessly trying to provide an elopement adventure, often wavering, slowing down but never completely derailing. I liked Shetty’s Golmaal, but not G2, G3 or ATB. Then I enjoyed Singham and didnt mind Bol Bachchan. But then CE is where I feel he has grown astute enough to not need cheap takes on films, spoofs on disability or sexual orientation, or any other puerile/slapstick humor to be weave some genuine laughable situations. A raging first half, a choppy second half and some packaged contrivations sold as entertainment, Chennai Express does provide most things a regular moviegoer is looking for.With the mercurial hype surrounding its release, a Box Office storm could be expected. Its far from perfect cinema, but it is that guilty pleasure you would not mind having. The final payoff is good family time and smiling faces, at least that was the case with my theater. An extra half star for Shetty growing up enough to not use CE to jest at South Indians or anyone else and for SRK reviving his comic touch!
Rating – 3/5