Salman Khan is Rambo meets Rajinikanth with a sprinkle of Robin Hood for Bollywood loving populace. The damned shirt that he wears, rips itself off his chiseled body, Munnis swoon over his dance moves, leading ladies blush every time he cracks a not-so-funny joke and most importantly the bad men remember their grannies by a mere mention of our great Indian messiah of the masses. So, it is almost unthinkable to imagine the same irrepressible Salman Khan as a simpleton who is so earnest, sweet and well-behaved that you may consider pinching yourself. Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan takes a great gamble by projecting Salman as not himself but as somebody that he can perhaps never be (in real life) – and boy, the gamble pays, and pays well!
Let me remind you that Salman Khan as a simple and sweet guy is not a discovery of Kabir Khan. Salman of 90s was a shy but charming hero, most notably as portrayed in Sooraj Barjatya films, but it is the Salman of the post Wanted era that the audiences have lapped up with both their hands. The macho image of Bhai who is ‘Dabangg’ enough to ‘Kick’ his enemies but is also ‘Ready’ to have a bit of fun has done wonders to Salman’s career which was going through a rough patch in the mid 2000s. It is in this regard that Bajrangi Bhaijaan is both a clever and risky film for Salman Khan.
Khan plays Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a sweet buffoon who is a great devotee of Lord Hanuman but is actually good for nothing in life. But his life changes when he bumps into a 6-year old Pakistani girl Munni/Shahida (played by the cutest girl child ever – Harshaali Malhotra) who has lost her way in India. Overcoming his initial reluctance and apprehension, Pavan finally decides to take the little girl all the way to Pakistan all alone and that too without any Visa or passport! Did you just imagine Bhaijaan punching the soldiers in green in their face, driving through the roads of Karachi in his sports bike, shooting and mowing bad souls who come in the way? Well, nothing of that sort happens. And, yes I just devoted a paragraph to describe the story of a Salman Khan film! Bajrangi Bhaijaan DOES have a good story!
Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s greatest strength is its simplified, or say oversimplified approach and treatment. Our hero, Bajrangi, is a devout Hanuman bhakt so he never lies, not even to the Pakistani officers who are questioning his presence in their country. Bajrangi is a noble soul, a sweetheart, so he never unnecessarily runs into Pakistani police or army, unlike Sunny Deol of Gadar. In fact, most of the times, Bajrangi is avoiding confrontation, folding hands, greeting people, sharing happiness! Ah! Say hello to new Salman Khan!
Kabir Khan tries to juxtapose formula with social messaging and mostly succeeds. In fact, his simplistic resolutions to Indo-Pak bitterness, religious orthodoxy reminds you of the unbelievable but enjoyable social problem solutions provided by Rajkumar Hirani and his team in PK and 3 Idiots. Kabir Khan does not have the finesse of a Hirani but he is good with the limited scope of story and screenplay which is at disposal. Most interestingly, he manages to extract ‘acting’ of some sorts out of Salman Khan who easily delivers one of the most important performances of his ‘acting’ career. Salman may not be a revelation in the film, he has never been one throughout his career, but he is clearly earnest, sweet and more ‘human’.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is also catapulted by a strong support cast led by Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays Chand Nawab, a small time reporter in Pakistan. Nawazuddin brings in his unique brand of humor and a certain earthiness to the entire proceedings. Kareena Kapoor Khan is relegated to a bit role and it is sad to see her play an almost third fiddle in the film. Sharat Saxena and Rajesh Sharma are effective in their support roles but the star of the show is the little girl, Harshaali Malhotra. The girl is brilliant given her tender age and the fact that she has no dialogues to deliver. Her pretty face, lovely smile and occasional tears smoothen the film’s blurred edges and evaporate the audiences’ fatigue, if any. The bonding of Pavan and Munni/Shahida is another high point of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It is one of the finest rendition of ‘child and his/her protector’ relationship that we have seen in Hindi films of late.
The film’s music (Pritam) is average and some of the songs add little value to the narrative. The film could have easily been trimmed by at least 15-20 minutes to make it more sleek and edgy. Nonetheless, the overall length of the film (154 minutes) never really catches on to your nerves because the narrative is nicely woven into different sequences and sub-plots. The cinematography (Aseem Mishra) captures the essence of Kashmir, Delhi and Rajasthan perfectly and the recreation of the Pakistani hinterland seems to be believable.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan may not be perfect and you may wonder at times that how can somebody be ‘so good’ or ‘so foolish’. But, Salman’s films have always been about the make-believe world. For a change, this is a Salman Khan film that does not ‘force’ you to believe, it simply makes its point in an uncomplicated manner, and you are almost swooned into the utopian world of a simpleton. It has its heart at the right place, emotions tucked in large quantities (keep tissue papers handy), and intentions mostly gentle and nice.
Watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan because it is one of the better Salman Khan films in a long long time. Yes, this one is not just about the affable Bhai but also has a lot of ‘jaan’ or life of its own. Recommended!
Rating: ***1/2 (Very Good)