Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan 

Being Human

It’s a tragedy—we live in such terrible times, that a film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan needs to be made. Kabir Khan’s film gives out a simple message of humanity beyond borders. That people everywhere are essentially kind—except when greed intervenes—and it’s the politicians who divide to rule.  That India and Pakistan may be separated by a barbed wire fence and rival cricket teams, but their hearts beat as one.  It is sad that communities are so divided that a film has to make a big deal about  a Hindu saying Salaam and a Muslim saying Jai Shri Ram (though the Hindi equivalent would actually be Namaskar!)

Salman Khan plays Pavan aka Bajrangi, a good-for-nothing duffer (his father actually dies of shock when he passes an exam!) so devoted to Hanuman that he bows before every monkey he sees. He has an RSS background and is a vegetarian Brahmin, whose feet tremble when is forced to enter a mosque.

Into his life drops a mute six-year-old Pakistani moppet Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), separated from her mother when visiting India. Since she can’t speak or read Bajrangi and his host’s daughter Rasika (Kareena Kapoor) guess very gradually from her behavior (fondness for non-veg food) that she is a “Mohammedan” and later (gasp!) a Pakistani (when she cheers for the Pak cricket team).

The idea is to be simplistic, illogical and manipulative or Bajrangi and Rasika could have done what a Pakistani journalist Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) does later—put her story on the net to help find her parents.  Of course, that would have been end of story before the intermission,  and would not have allowed Bajrangi to get into Pakistan illegally and let audiences see how kind and helpful people across the border are. An armyman risks court martial to let him enter Pakistan, a cop throws his career  to help him return—a journalist, bus conductor, maulvi, ordinary people, all join in his noble mission to reunite the child with her parents. The only evil ones are an Indian travel agent who tries to sell the kid to a brothel (so that Salman Khan gets a fight scene) and a  Pakistani politician who wants to brand Bajrangi a spy (so Salman gets to take his shirt off and endure torture in prison.)

Kabir Khan, who had made relatively sophisticated films so far, goes full massy with this film, playing on Salman Khan’s strengths and star power.  Only habitual scene-stealer Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and to some extent, Om Puri in a tiny part as a maulvi leave their mark in this Salmanfest.  The Kareena Kapoor character might as well have been left on the editing room floor, so redundant is her part.

Salman Khan does not even have to act, he just has to ‘be’ for the audience to flock to his films—this one is such an unapologetic tear-jerker and obsequious crowd pleaser that nobody will even have a what-the-hell thought till much later.  Somewhat like returning from a party to discover that your pocket has been picked.


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