By Ishan Marvel for Youth Ki Awaaz:
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.
It 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, 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.