Rating: 3 stars
The theme of peace between India and Pakistan tugs at every heart. The hope exists on either side of the border. Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan tries to capitalize on this sentiment and he could not have picked out a better occasion than Eid to wave his cinematic flag of truce. The only problem: the India-Pakistan politics is so complex that the film’s simplistic solutions lurk on naivety.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is an enduring story of an endearing character Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan) who meets a six-year old lost, mute girl Shaheeda (Harshaali Malhotra) from Pakistan and decides to reunite her with her parents. Bajrangi lives in Delhi with his father’s friend Dayanand (Sharat Saxena) who refuses to give shelter to a Pakistani, Muslim and non-vegetarian girl under his roof. However, supported by Dayanand’s daughter and Bajrangi’s love interest Rasika (Kareena Kapoor), Bajrangi makes it his mission to return Shaheeda safely to her home in Sultanpur, Pakistan. Once in Pakistan, he finds a fellow companion in Pakistani TV reporter and journalist Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who plays a crucial role in the final solution of the problem.
Under the capable aegis of director Khan and cinematographer Aseem Mishra, the movie has some breathtaking panoramic shots capturing the natural beauty of snow-capped mountains, the decrepit bylanes of Pakistani towns and the green valleys of PoK. Also, the sight of hordes of Indian and Pakistani civilians storming towards the border check post at the end of the film was captivating. This ensured a good-looking film with high production costs.
For a two-hour, 43-minute long film, there is much pressure to hold the attention of the audience. In the case of this film, this job is accomplished merely by the screen presence and acting skills of its three pivotal actors- Khan, Siddiqui and Malhotra. The movie had enough time to develop and establish each of these characters with their distinct idiosyncrasies and habits. Bajrangi’s insistence on speaking the truth even before the Pakistani military officials, Shaheeda’s weakness for chicken and fascination for bangles and handcuffs and Nawab’s faith and goodness of heart – the audience relishes each of these characters even when the plot does not have much to offer in the second half apart from the random and predictable. The second installment of the film takes on the feeling of a road journey that builds layers of fun, friendship and brotherhood. The screenplay also holds small incidents around food habits and religious rituals in order to bring out the nuances of the Hindu caste hierarchy in India and the patriotism and communalism in both the neighboring countries.
The trailer of the film had pretty much established the storyline and much of the anticipation in the audience was created through that. Yet, story and screenplay writer Vijayendra Prasad has weaved very believable premises in the first half of the film. Be it the reason for Shaheeda’s mother to visit New Delhi or the way in which the former is left standing outside Samjhauta Express or the compulsion for Bajrangi to travel himself to the other side of the border to ensure Shaheeda’s safety.
What is disappointing is the over dramatic and loud background score that made a plethora of unnecessary moments over-the-top and jarring. The lyrics of most of the songs were mediocre and therefore, even decently choreographed and well-shot songs turned out to be boring and noisy rather than melodic and uplifting. There was an attempt to have the stock standard mixed bag of a romantic number, a theme song, a qawwali et al but the film scores poor overall in this department.
While Bajrangi Bhaijaan was made clearly to lure the masses and satiate the front row audience, there were some iconic shots to establish the title character as a modern, fictional figure of peace and faith. In the closing sequence of the film, an injured Khan wrapped in a shawl with a wooden stick in his hand literally and metaphorically walking the path of peace between the two countries is very reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi. The mass following courtesy YouTube and digital media is another contemporary comment on the nature of public and political support among citizens. The very name fuses the Hindi Bajrangi with the Muslim Bhaijaan. The message of peace and brotherhood could not have been louder and clearer but I only wish it was shorter and more practical.