Not everyone can like Sooraj Barjatya. It’s not easy. But, not everyone can really dispute the fact that he is good at what he does. Yes, he takes familial values to astronomical heights, he is too sanskaari and painfully old school in matters of romance, he is too engrossed into the lessons from Ramayana, and he is obsessed and surprisingly comfortable with lengthy soundtracks and lengthier run time. But, he is also extremely successful in retelling stories with same moral messages again and again, he is very aware of his strengths and has never really yet bored us to death with any of his films (given the template in question, death by boredom is a distinct possibility).
Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath Saath Hain are films weaved by the same thread, but I bet you can distinguish between them even while you are asleep. And I also bet that you watch all these films on TV every now and then. On lazy Sundays. From interval point, 20 minutes before the credits roll or half an hour after the film has started – does not really matter. It’s lazy fun.
No, this article is not an ode to Sooraj Barjatya. But, I thought it was pertinent to quash the prejudice that surrounds him and his body of work. With Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Barjatya achieves nothing spectacular but still manages to hold your attention for good 3 hours. That’s not a mean feat.
Of course, he is hugely aided by a certain Salman Khan who seems to be finally enjoying himself as an actor. Salman is affable as the quintessential Prem even after all these years. Barjatya does a smart job of squeezing out a dual act from him wherein Salman blends the histrionics of Prem with the goofiness of a simpleton with utmost ease. He is charming, restrained, emotive and effective. First Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now this. Salman, it seems, is suddenly a good actor.
To begin with, the backdrop of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is extremely opulent and lavish. From his typical happy Indian family, that eats, prays and sleeps together (err, did that sound wrong?), Barjatya moves to a big, fat royal family that houses a lonely prince Vijay Singh (Salman Khan) who shares uneasy relationship with his siblings. Enter princess Maithali (Sonam Kapoor) and a large-hearted simpleton from Ayodhya (yes, this is a new high in Rajshri’s obsession with Ramayana) Prem (again Salman Khan). Expectedly, there is a lot of song and dance, much of it meaningless, and the sinister plans of the palace insiders begin to fail and the broken bonds start to heal.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is different from a typical Rajshri film in some superficial ways. There are some well-shot action sequences, perhaps keeping in mind the current image of Salman, and a lazy attempt to infuse an ingredient of thrill and suspense. That Barjatya is no Abbas Mustan is clear but you got to credit the man for slightly tweaking his otherwise stubborn template. And yes, talking of how PRDP is not-so-typical, there is no official wedding in the film, there is no Samdhi-Samdhan bonding, women are not always in the kitchen (guess what, they are playing football!) and Mohnish Behl and Alok Nath are missing. Okay, I actually kind of missed Alok Nath.
In the acting department, Sonam Kapoor takes time to settle into the shoes of a Barjatya heroine. She looks a little odd while trying her hand at all the ‘shy stuff’ to begin with but eventually Rajshri parampara gets better of her. The actress does well in a couple of emotional scenes and her chemistry with Salman Khan is quite natural. Neil Nitin Mukesh as the half-brother and bete noir of Salman looks as odd as how litti chokha would look in a Gujarati Thali. Armaan Kohli as the cunning palace insider does a good job. So does Anupam Kher in the role of a loyal confidante of the royal family. Swara Bhaskar, as Salman’s step-sister, looks uncomfortable in unfamiliar territory but same can’t be said for Deepak Dobriyal, who does a neat job as Salman’s friend.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is pulled down by a crazy runtime that bothers you at places if not bores you completely. The film also has a lot of unnecessary songs with weird lyrics – there is a song talking about Gujiya and Mathri. I would be keen to find out if the lyricist Irshad Kamil got a certain brief from Barjatya to write these tacky songs or was he himself undergoing some sort of poetic menopause. To Kamil’s and music director Himesh Reshammiya’s credit, there are a couple of hummable songs in an otherwise lackluster soundtrack. The title song, with its signature step being the latest fad for Dubsmash-ers, is very well shot, so has been the romantic track Jalte Diye. But, apart from these two songs, there’s nothing much in the soundtrack that features 10 songs!
In addition to the above mentioned loopholes, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is also riddled by a lackluster screenplay that seems to have suffered at the cost of all the grandiose and bling. Somehow the ‘simplicity’ of Rajshri films seems to have been a bit compromised, what if there are some added toppings on offer.
Overall, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is far from flawless and not close to being Sooraj Barjatya’s best work. Yet, the film stays afloat due to an in-form Salman Khan and some old school sanskaar. Watch it on a lazy and jobless Sunday afternoon. You might just like it.
Rating: *** (3 out of 5 – Good)