During his two-decade-long career, Shah Rukh Khan has done plenty of ‘commercial comedy’ or as it is dubbed today, ‘situational comedy’, but never Rohit Shetty-style. While on the flip side, Shetty, fondly dubbed ‘Mr Blockbuster; has been churning out blockbuster after blockbuster, but he’s never made a film Shah Rukh Khan-style. So, when they teamed up to make Chennai Express, the product is a perfect festive movie and a fun ride.
Both actor and director are well within their comfort zones and that means double the fun. Interestingly, during the first half, we watch Shetty’s signature cinema and SRK trying to match the director’s style. Post-interval, the roles are reversed and it’s Shetty trying to match SRK’s signature cinema. So, if it’s Shetty style that scores in the first half, it’s the SRK-style romance that keeps you well and truly hooked during the second half. In short, Chennai Express is a perfect amalgamation of Shetty and Khan, which can only spell classic entertainment.
The film feeds the audience huge dollops of entertainment at regular intervals and you emerge fully satisfied. The only major flaw is the use of Tamil in the film, which could leave a large swathe of the film-going audience cheated. And it’s not a small dose. Why, even Shah Rukh Khan’s character speaks in Tamil towards the end of the film. The refreshing part is that the gags are new and bear no resemblance to Shetty’s earlier films. The characters are fleshed out very well and every actor looks his part.
The film follows 40-year-old bachelor Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) from Mumbai who runs a sweet-meat shop. He’s single, thanks to his overprotective grandparents. Soon after his grandfather’s death, Rahul sets off for Rameswaram for his grandfather’s last rights but he detours to Goa.
Here, his path crosses with a Tamilian girl Meena Lochini (Deepika Padukone), who he helps, in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge-style, to board a train. He finds out she is on the run and is being pursued by goons. But the goons have been hired by no less than Meena’s father (Sathyaraj), an intimidating don. Her father wants to get her married to Tangaballi (Niketan Dheer), a baddy himself.
Rahul gets entrapped with Meena and is escorted to Meena’s village. Here, one lie leads to another, and Rahul gets mixed up in Meena’s problems. So Rahul and Meena decide to elope. What follows forms the crux of the story.
Khan and Padukone’s conversation while they sing is a major highlight of the film. Khan lifting Padukone in his arms while climbing the temple steps; Khan getting drunk and riding away from the village; Padukone kicking Khan in her sleep, the Rameshwaram scene; and the climax, where we watch Shah Rukh Khan performs his classic antics after ages, are the other major highlights of this film.
Director Rohit Shetty is in top form again, and delivers a true masala entertainer. Every frame has ‘Shetty’ stamped on it. Editing by Steven Bernard is fine but a little jarring sometimes. Cinematography by Dudley is another highlight of the film. Story by K Subhash is nothing to rave about but it’s Yunus Sajawal’s screenplay that lifts it.
Although the screenplay leaves too many questions unanswered, this is where Shetty’s execution works. Alas, dialogue writer-duo Farhad-Sajid are not in form. Compared to Shetty’s previous films, the dialogue is the weakest link in Chennai Express. One reason is, much of the dialogue is in Tamil, which when translated into Hindi, loses its charm. Despite the sometimes-slow, sometimes-fast tempo, and with a run time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, the film is a smooth ride. What you miss the most in the film is Rohit Shetty-ishtyle end credit.
Performance-wise, Shah Rukh Khan is hilarious in every scene. It takes a lot of courage for an actor to parody his past films, and SRK does it with élan and ease. He paints his character beautifully with plenty of comedy. In the second half, he’s outstanding as a lover. Deepika Padukone is an actress to watch out for as she plays her part with conviction and confidence. She’s the soul of the film. In the dream sequence, where she’s psyched, she’s mind-blowing. Niketan Dheer looks good but fails to act. Sathyaraj impresses and plays his role with gusto. Manorama, who plays Padukone’s aunt, supports well. Kamini Kaushal as Khan’s grandmother does justice to her role. Mukesh Tiwari fits the bill. The rest of the cast lends adequate support.