Let me say upfront, this may be promoted as a Shah Rukh Khan-Rohit Shetty film but it is, in fact, leading lady Deepika Padukone who steals the show.
As much as her mock Tamilian accent jarred in the trailer of Chennai Express, it is endearing and works within the film as a whole. Padukone makes the most of the material in spite of the stereotyping of her character Meena and the way she speaks Hindi (train jaati hai, tum khaati hai etc). One grouse is that the accent is inconsistent – pronounced at first, and disappearing towards in the emotional scenes. Fortunately the supporting actors are not caricatures and they speak Tamil as it is spoken. In fact, this not a Hindi but a ‘Tamlish’ film!
Rohit Shetty’s attempt at making a relationship comedy, rather than his usual massive action set pieces interspersed with pedestrian humour, gets derailed by half time. I must add, that this film is far less lowbrow and far less offensive than some of Shetty’s earlier films. Chennai Express has some truly funny moments (I particularly enjoyed the DDLJ spoof and Meena’s nightmare scene). But the overt product placements (we are told the price of his expensive cell phone three times) and reference to all SRK’s past movies suggest a creative bankruptcy.
Rahul’s plans of not taking his grandfather’s ashes to Rameshwaram, but diverting on a holiday to Goa with his friends are sabotaged when he lends a hand to Meena onto the Chennai Express. He’s on the Chennai Express to scam his grandma that he is doing the dutiful thing.
Meena is the daughter of a feared and powerful Tamilian don (Sathyaraj) being escorted back to her village where she must marry the giant thug (Niketan Dheer) of her father’s choice. Rahul is a man-boy who refuses to grow up. But he also never runs away from Meena, which is another inexplicable point in the script. Instead he gets more and more entangled in her lies, the biggest one being that they are a married. They fulfill all kinds of post-wedding rituals as suggested by strangers in a village where they are taking refuge. This is when love begins to blossom, a love that – as Rahul says in the climax – has a universal language. And then he begins to beat up all the bad guys. Where did this sudden personality change come from? How did he go from the cowardly, immature Rahul who hops around a lot, to the angry, brave Rahul who can face a punch and deliver one too, sometimes in Tamil? Ask Rohit Shetty and his writers.
By now you are numb, even to Rahul’s preachy speech about women being allowed to make their own choices. It’s reminiscent of the regressive mainstream South Indian films we have long derided. If Chennai Express is meant to be a spoof, it is not. If it’s meant to be a tribute, it’s not that either. It is a project: hit director, superstar, big budget holiday release. Never mind the poor computer graphics, the variable lighting, inconsistent camerawork, gaudy colours, the dropped accent and various script liberties.
Shah Rukh is pulling out the same tricks from his bag, but he takes Meena’s jibe about him being close to 50 on the chin. Padukone, on the other hand, appears to be relishing the comedy and the saris and she makes ‘bakwas’ her own!