Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rab Ne Bana D Jodi 

There was a time when audiences were as innocent as cinema technique was primitive. Filmmakers relied on the audience's total suspension of disbelief as they drew them into an emotional web and kept them hooked till the end. When they came out they were all teary-eyed or goofy-grinned—slightly embarrassed at being so easily manipulated.

Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is that kind of film. Look for a new plot, fresh idea or zingy style and it's not there. But there is romance, emotion, simplicity and a performance from Shah Rukh Khan that would make any actor dizzy with envy.

As the geeky, introverted minor bureaucrat Surinder Sahni, Khan gives an amazingly astute and well-observed performance (the right accent, even the right nerdy shoes), plus a lack of vanity, so that looking at him, nobody could tell that he is a major star. Tragic circumstance end up in his marriage to young Taani (Ansukha Sharma), who says right at the start that she will try to be a good wife, but won't be able to love him. The already besotted Surinder humbly accepts crumbs, because he feels he doesn't deserve any better. A dabba packed by her for his lunch is enough to send him into paroxysms of joy.

Taani wants to participate in a dance competition, and with the help of a flamboyant friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak), Surinder gets a makeover and turns himself into the crude, flirty Raj Kapoor, Taani's dance partner. Now comes the suspension of disbelief— with those eyes, that nose, those lips and that Adam's apple, she does not see that Surinder and Raj are the same man.

Surinder gets into the Golmaal-like schizophrenic situation—boring Surinder by day and funky Raj by night. Even with her resistance Taani falls in love with Raj—there is a cute dream sequence that pays tribute to the old stars and their songs. Without really underlining it, Aditya Chopra (in the tradition of films like Love in Simla and Chhotisi Baat), makes a comment on the superficiality of judging people by their looks. But the film—with some excellent lines—keeps it simple, the story is just about these two very ordinary people and it takes some doing to convince an audience that Shah Rukh Khan is ordinary.

The casting of a non-glamorous, pudgy-faced Anushka Sharma as Taani helps emphasize Chopra's point that even homely and plain people are deserving of great love—if God wills it. Love turns the frog into a Prince or the ugly duckling into a swan. Movies and fairy tales have been saying this for ages… mostly it's the women who have been transforming themselves to bag the prince, here, for a change the man does.

Then, after saying this, and wringing some tears, Chopra has funny end-credits about Mr and Mrs Sahni's honeymoon. If Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi with its cliché-ridden plot is still so watchable it's because of Shah Rukh Khan's near-magical performance, showing that he is always capable of throwing a surprise even when he is playing yet another Romantic Raj--naam to suna hoga, he says, one of the many nods to the director's own DDLJ, a bit too much patting of his own back. Or admitting that DDLJ will forever be a benchmark for his career, and then lowering his own sights.


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