Boarding ‘Chennai Express’ comes with its own set of challenges.
Firstly, it’s tough to overlook a filmmaker’s real intentions, despite a disclaimer about not intending to mock a community, when his jokes are entirely focused on just one region.
Secondly, he unapologetically relies on Bollywood stereotypes, where South Indians speak in a twang that’s over-the-top and completely incomprehensible even to South Indians.
Thirdly, director Rohit Shetty is unable to differentiate between neighbouring South Indian states Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In one song, he plugs the dance forms of one state even when it isn’t pitched there.
Fourthly, there’s a famous track on the ‘lungi’ dance, even when none of the characters ever dress in one. Instead, they wear the traditional ‘mundu’ (a white sarong that’s respectable men’s attire).
But, logic isn’t something that we’d associate with this breed of comedies, but, despite these obvious slip-ups, Rohit Shetty’s ‘Chennai Express’ manages to chug along.
K Subash’s story starts when forty-something Rahul, who finally sets out to live his life, abruptly bumps into pretty Meenamma.
She’s from the South, born into a highly influential criminal family, while he’s from the North, born into a rich family that feeds off a sweets business.
Their unplanned train journey forcefully ends at her notorious hometown.
What begins then is a madcap adventure as he tries to escape from the clutches of the gangsters, and she from a marriage she doesn’t approve.
Rohit plays to the gallery and lifts many iconic Bollywood situations and invests immensely in buffoonery. He’s even got writers Farhad and Sajid pen numerous inane one-liners that mock his and Shah Rukh Khan’s earlier movies.
The method isn’t novel, but is definitely chuckle-worthy. At least, some of it is.
But Rohit’s uneasiness is evident when he’s forced to restrict his trademark action thrills to a few scenes, and focus on the funnier escapades instead.
He even changes tracks mid-way, hoping to ride on SRK’s famed romantic image, and prompts him to crinkle his nose, flaunt his dimples and directs much attention to his legendary gaze, but with so much madness going around it’s tough to take anything serious.
That said, it’s Deepika Padukone, who manages to overshadow SRK with her incredible beauty, cute dimples and a consistently over-the-top accent.
Despite being given a character that could easily turn into a caricature, she manages glamour and comedy well. That’s an incredible feat considering she’s just a few films old.
That said, Rohit obviously gives Shah Rukh immense attention, allowing him to display his vintage antics, and spread his arms in his trademark style at many occasions. Evidently these are crowd-pullers, so SRK loyalists won’t be disappointed.
It’s notable how Rohit even allots space for Tamil dialogues that are spoken with just as much earnestness as Hindi. That’s surely a first in a Bollywood frame.
In fact, Rahul would be Rohit’s first hero who doesn’t possess superhero powers, and instead cowers when instigated to fight.
It’s endearing at times, but the jokes are repeated so often that they lose shine.
Rohit’s carnival-like comedy coaxes some laughs, but can leave you exhausted. Make no mistake, ‘Chennai Express’ is fun, but the kind that Rohit endorses.
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