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[Y]Watch: ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ – Who Cares About Plot And Acting Skills? Prem Is Back!

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In 1947, the year that India was supposed to have woken to light and freedom, the Barjatya clan established Rajshri Productions Pvt. Ltd. They have produced 56 feature films beginning 1962, and their website boasts of a “focus on family entertainment, melodious music and new talent” and “tremendous commercial success and critical acclaim”. So basically, the Barjatyas know the game. They know it so well that sometimes they take the plotlines of one of their old hits and remake it into a fresh blockbuster years later. [For example, ‘Nadiya Ke Paar’ (1982) and ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’ (1994), or ‘Chitchor’ (1976) and ‘Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon’ (2003).] They know, that in the land of the great mythical beast called the Indian family with its attendant (and often disputed) sets of values, ‘family entertainment’ is the sure-shot way to box office gold, especially when the lead actor commands the manic devotion of millions.

prem ratan dhan payo_editIt all goes back to 1989 and the release of ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’. The next year, at the 35th Filmfare Awards, it won best film (over the likes of ‘Parinda’ and ‘Salaam Bombay’) and Salman Khan won best debut. And though Sooraj Barjatya, also a debutant back then, lost the best director award to Vidhu Vinod Chopra for ‘Parinda’, a phenomenon was born. After that, Rajshri Productions and Sooraj Barjatya went all out after the young-rebellious-love-but-with-family-values-and-with-happy-endings-after-lots-of-drama genre that summed up most of the subsequent 90s Bollywood blockbusters (perhaps to some extent, along with the likes of the Chopras and the Johars, Barjatyas are to be blamed for how the 90s generation turned out). Now, after a hiatus of seven years since his last directorial venture, ‘Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi’, and 26 years since ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, Sooraj Barjatya is back with Salman Khan in ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ (PRDP). Yet another take on ‘The Prince And The Pauper’, with Khan in a double role. Two things are clear: one, folks at Rajshri want to make tons of money (and they will of course), and two, they seem to have done some rethinking—tried to adapt with the times, like Yash Raj Films.

The attempt is fairly superficial though, for at heart, it’s the same old Rajshri film dipped in Ramayana morality and motifs in a new bottle. The setting is grander than ever, it’s no longer just rich joint families with their petit-bourgeois morals and petty intrigues. This time, we’re dealing with royalty. In fact, the whole film aspires towards the spectacular, be it the rich colours, imposing landscapes and regal opulence, or the sheer number of heads thrown into certain shots. Bollywood masala film aspect number one, check. Then, there are over-the-top action scenes with bad CGI and effects thrown in; lots of pointless, terrible songs composed by Himesh Reshammiya; oodles of filial melodrama; and the Salman Khan brand of chhichhora-and-alternatingly-intense-in-parts heroism and humour. The last aspect is the key ingredient, for without it the rest is pointless. The film works solely due to Khan’s trite charms and irrepressible energy, and he plays the badass-hustler-fighter-joker-with-a-heart-of-gold as effortlessly as ever. And as we all know, inconsequential things like plot and acting skills do not matter when it comes to the Midas of Bollywood. He somehow makes it work, he just does. And yes, he does entertain, and at times even inspire. Again, not because of good acting, but sheer charm. And yes, he does take off his shirt in one scene, but only partly. Clearly, the man has come a long way.

sonam kapoor prem ratan dhan payoSonam Kapoor, meanwhile, is as annoying an actor as ever, but playing a Rajshri heroine perhaps comes naturally to her. All she needs to do is look pretty in saris, smile and giggle a lot, and play the coy bride and shed a few tears on demand. However, in a major departure from Rajshri tradition, her character, Princess Maithili, actually speaks her mind, and that too about things like sex and intimacy (all very veiled and polite of course) and the flaws of arranged marriages. In these scenes, Kapoor’s limited emotional range is all too evident. Anupam Kher is great as the royal diwan, the voice of tradition and morality, and the ‘virgin bapu‘. The raillery between him and Khan is one of the few notable highlights of PRDP. Neil Nitin Mukesh chips in with a half-hearted performance and Armaan Kohli (‘Jaani Dushman’ and ‘Bigg Boss 7’ fame) is as bad as might have been expected of him. Honourable mentions: Swara Bhaskar as the jilted sister, and the woefully underutilized Deepak Dobriyal as Khan’s sidekick.

However, the most important contribution after Khan’s is that of the background score. Each situation, each mood is overtly manipulated and amplified by the accordingly jovial, plaintive, thunderous, or suspenseful tracks. One major problem: the film is almost three hours long—it could have been shorter than two. In addition, there’s a shameless rip-off of the ‘Enter The Dragon’ mirror-room scene in the climax. But again, in the end, none of this matters. PRDP works for what it is: a Salman Khan and Sooraj Barjatya film—a fun, family entertainer out to break the bank. An Elizabethan or a Jacobean drama—full of aristocratic intrigues for power and revenge, family feuds, bastards, fools, Machiavellian characters, love stories, and comic sub-plots—without the poetry or the genius.

meter review PRDP

There are two Salman Khans in this film. Decide accordingly.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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