Chennai Express
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Chennai Express
Director: Rohit Shetty
Music: Vishal-Shekhar
Year: 2013
Length: 141 minute


On the previous day I had actually come across an opinion column in the International Herald Tribune that referenced the film in an essay on the diffuse cultures and polyglot languages that are spread across the vast country and yet how it still remains indelibly Indian with the people considering themselves a vital part of the Indian fabric. In a time with so many countries ripping themselves apart due to ethnic and religious internal differences it was a positive message for a change. Much of the premise and humor of the film is predicated on a Hindi speaker from Mumbai ending up in the south of the country where Tamil is spoken and not being able to understand anyone. In a postscript, the film notes that in India 1,613 languages are spoken and that there is no national language. English is probably as close as it gets which is why it is often peppered into so much Bollywood dialogue in films.

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This partly comedic partly dramatic film had its moments and felt at times like a travelogue of beautiful rural scenes in southern India – that made me want to hop on a plane before I remembered how hot it probably was – but it was overall rather annoying and silly. Childish almost. Most of this can be laid at the doorstop of King Khan who alternates his character and his acting between whining, carping, cringing, scolding and stuttering. None of it was particularly enjoyable to watch and though in the last reel he does magically transform into Hero Khan, having to put up with his insipid, shallow and worthless character for over two hours was a Herculean test of patience especially since it was as obvious as a clock tower striking noon that he would eventually have his moment of epiphany and enlightenment. I just wanted to yell at the screen “Grow some”. His female co-star Deepika Padukone though lovely to look at and ethereally graceful in her dance movements wasn’t much better company. Only in movies do people who act like truculent scorpions stinging one another either kill each other or fall in love. This being Bollywood you can guess which happens here. But then what do I know as it appears that the film broke all sorts of opening week box office records. Maybe being away from the joys of Bollywood for so long has turned me sour and grumpy like a lemon sitting in storage for too long.

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Rahul (Shahrukh) is in his forties and as innocent and sheltered as the sweets he sells in his grandfather’s shop. He has never been in a romance and one assumes he has never been laid and may never get laid. But fortunately grandfather dies on his 99th birthday and Rahul plans a fun getaway to Goa with his buddies. But the grandmother lays the guilt on him and tells him that the grandfather’s dying wish was to have his ashes spread in the waters off of  Rameshwaram down south. What a drag and just when he thought he might get his thing going in Goa. But his friends persuade him that the waters from Goa flow through Rameshwaram so he can still have his fun and fulfill his obligations to his grandfather. This bit of moral ambiguity and selfishness spotlights his character and so begins a lesson in Karma, humility and finally introspection and catharsis.

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As Raul is about to jump off his train leaving the station, he sees a lovely vision of a sari clad woman running for an open door to catch the train. He lends her a hand and then he assists a parade of ever larger men to also board the train till he realizes he can no longer get off. The woman  Meena (played by Deepika) has tried to run away from her father who has arranged a marriage to a man she doesn’t love and these four bigger than the Taj Mahal men have been sent to bring her back. She communicates this to Rahul in charming Hindi Bollywood classic songs that her kidnappers cannot understand as they are from the south and speak only Tamil.  Rahul gets drawn into her plight kicking and screaming, whining and grousing for nearly the remainder of the film till suddenly to swelling music he realizes what a fool he has been and that perhaps Meena is the only woman that would ever have anything to do with him. He faces his challenger and his own conceits like the King Khan he truly is! It just took a very long time getting there.

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Nicely shot with a few solid very colorful musical numbers packed primarily into the second half of the film.  The film rarely is able to catch its breath as it zips through the beautiful Indian countryside like a runaway caboose but it is generally so frantic that when it finally slows down for the inevitable romantic clinch it is hard to understand how these characters found the time to fall in love. But that’s the movies.

Rating: 6/10