It is not easy to reject righteous piety and saintly beings with beatific smiles as bloody boring. One tends to judge oneself through others’ eyes — piercing, judging eyes that reflect haloed men and women framed in parampara andsanskriti.
The marigold festooned Bharatiyata that the Barjatyas have peddled for years has banked on our unease at rejecting simulated filial piety — the singing, dancing pure-vegetarian Hindu parivaars where ideal men and women dwell alongside mild evil that exists only to reinforce their virtues. There’s always a Ram, epitomising sacrifice and adarsh, Lakshman and Bharat, models of devotion to the adarsh purush, and Sita whose dedication to the adarsh purushcan move the drawing room furniture. It’s a long chain of virtues devoted to keeping alive the myth of the grand Hindu parivaar.
Since we are human, and they seem godly, we bow.
The Barjatyas are stalkers and creators of this land. In their world, touch-me-not romances are conducted with the blessings of elders. In their world, hierarchy is rigid and respected and a feudal order paid due obeisance to. Their patriarchy is seemingly benign, given to largess and grand gestures, but is insidiously patronising, regressive and controlling. Piety is their chief whip. It lacerates souls.
Washed with Ganga jal, smelling of sandal wood, the homes they create are virtual temples, sanctum sanctorums of Hindu parampara, sanskriti and sanskar. You feel you should’ve left your shoes outside, at the popcorn queue.
Perhaps it was Madhuri’s spunk, perhaps it was that Madhuri and Salman made a believable pair. Perhaps it was all this plus nostalgia about a more recent past that made Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) work at least as a melodramatic romance conducted around a wedding.
This one, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, starts with some promise, but then nose-dives.
The film opens in Ayodhya, a happy place where Dilwale’s Ram Leela is being enacted just so that Prem Bhaiyyaji (Salman Khan) can arrive to save Sitaji’sizzat. Sita is being played by Prem’s sidekick Kanhiya (Deepak Dobriyal). It’s an all male affair. The only female who concerns Prem Bhaiyyaji is Maithili Devi (Sonam Kapoor) of Devgarh.
He does not have carnal feelings for this princess, only deep reverence because she is a smiling, cute pari who descends from a helicopter to distribute sarees and other stuff to the needy. Maithili, you see, is Mother Teresa in knee-high boots and jeans who runs the Uphaar Foundation, an NGO. And because she is so richie rich and pretty and yet mingling with flood and other victims, all her offices and homes are not lined with posters of the unwashed, but her own enlarged, engaging mug, just like it is seen on adverts of diamond earrings.
Maithili is to wed the yuvraj of Pitampur, moonch-wala Vijay Singh who lives in a grand palace and has fawning faces around him. But behind those made-up, smiling faces coils evil.
There’s his sautela brother Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh), and two sauteli sisters Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika. There’s also loyal Diwan saab (Anupam Kher) and the security guy, Sanjay.
Prem is headed for Pitampur, to meet Maithili, and Vijay Singh, after being spurned by his sisters who live in a house that looks like a birthday cake gone blue with anger, goes into vanvas – only his vanvas is in the fort’s dungeons with machines and tubes.
Prem arrives, is spotted by a loyal guard and a long time is spent in making us buy into the film’s humshakal conceit. It’s time wasted because humshakal is an Indian phenomenon like ichadhari nagin. We need no preface. We believe.
Prem has to now pose as the yuvraj who had weak digestion, ate only boiled veggies, but spoke many languages. Of course, Prem makes fun of French andghas-phoos. He is a lover of gibberish and oily-spicy food.
Prem is playing a role, but around Maithili he can’t control his emotions and begins an elaborate romance.
In between standard Salman jokes and silliness, Prem and Maithili play ghar-ghar episodically, with each new element getting its own song.
For a long time nothing else happens — we are subjected to an extended photo-shoot with Sonam in Royal Rajasthani vintage saris and jewels, and Salman posing as a sharif, caring, husband material.
Excruciatingly slowly we get to the raj tilak which entails two-three eye watering scenes about bhaiyya and love for his behens. The angry sisters make an unreasonable demand, Prem accepts, and the sisters are so moved by their brother’s love that they no longer want anything. Patriarchy trumps all.
PRDP’s promos may have given you the impression that there’s intrigue and drama. There is, but it’s scatty and completely lost in this chitrahaar by Himesh Reshamiya where most songs sound like bhajans.
We can take all sorts of fakery, even everyone emitting ethics ka ethnic glow if there’s a lead couple that’s believable and there’s actually a story. Prem Ratan Dhan Payo has neither. It’s grand, yes. The setting and clothes are all very stylish, imperial and vintage. And the screen is at most times filled with the smiling and airbrushed mugs of the lead pair, both glowing with inner beauty and upper-class Hindu piety. But that’s it. It’s pretty, but vacuous and very boring.
Ideally, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, written and directed by Sooraj Barjatya, should have been a four-episode Sunday morning TV serial, climaxing on Bhai Dooj. It has that satsang aura which has lingered since Aamir Khan occupied that slot.
We never had any delusions. We’ve known all along that Salman Khan can’t act. He just does his thing, and we expect no more.
Here Salman is surrounded by generally appalling acting, including by the simpering Sonam. That’s not been the case before. Also, Salman is now motuand ageing and slow on his feet. This means that our attention is more on his face. But there’s little happening there, as usual.
But something interesting is happening. Salman’s romances have been chaste for a while, but what’s interesting is that he seems to be making a deliberate journey from Salman Bhai to Salman Bhaiyyaji. From Jai Ho!, Bajrangi Bhaijaanto PRDP, his hand is now always extended for any rakhi that may be sitting sad and morose in his vicinity. What is this? Why this transformation — from an angry man to lover boy to a Hindi-god worshiping bhaiyya of one and all? I don’t know. All I’d like to say is, “Don’t be such a bore, bro.”
CAUTION! After interval and before this mammoth three-hour-long film resumed, came a shocker: A song, dedicated by Pahlaj Nihalani to Narendra Modi, Mera Desh Hai Mahaan, played for what seemed like an hour.
It’s a song where Modi sits, in Ninja gear, in the Himalayas in lotus pose, while burly Hindi, Christian and Muslim men sing about “Bapu” Modi’s swacch abhiyaan, secular politics and world-class development.
It’s unbelievably tacky and the megalomania it generates and panders to is staggering.
The censor board chief is paying his dues to the man who plonked him there. Watching the video you wish a slightly more talented man had been given the job of directing tributes to the PM. Fiction can be fun. This one, sadly, made me want to levitate away to the Himalayas, in Ninja gear.