In ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, Salman Khan is being human both sides of the border. His Hanuman worshipping, honest and naïve Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi might have been weak at studies (he graduated on his 11th attempt) and a further disappointment to his father because he could not wrestle (he is ticklish you see), but his values are 100 percent. So it’s perhaps good fortune that Shahida, a six year old separated from her mother on the wrong side of the border, decides to make Pawan her saviour.
Shahida happens to be mute, which makes the entire exercise of finding out where her parents and her home are all the more difficult. Its odd that a six year old mute does not have any means of communication – no drawing or self-devised sign language either. But this is just one of the conveniences in the script. Another is that an otherwise obedient and timid child wanders off a train in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night.
Pawan, with the help and support of his empowered girlfriend Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan), embarks on a mission to reunite ‘Munni’, as he dubs her, with her parents. How does he discover she is Pakistani? Here director Kabir Khan uses a predictable device – Munni cheers for a winning Pakistani cricket team as the rest of the family is despondent over India’s loss. Another Kabir Khan device that expectedly makes an appearance is the media as a conduit and catalyst.
If the first half of Bajrangi Bhaijaan is as much about Pawan’s back story, his romance with Rasika and his encounter with Munni, post-interval is largely about cross-border issues and his adventures in Pakistan. Assisting Munni and Pawan is a local TV reporter (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui). With the entry of Siddiqui, the rhythm changes and a new, much needed layer is added. Thank god, because Pawan’s repeated invocations of Bajrangi and bowing to every monkey in sight become tedious after a point.
You know there will be a happy ending, you know a well set up moment earlier on in the film will have a resounding pay off at the expected time, you know this is a film designed to be a hit. It pushes all the right buttons and moves you too, not least because of the absolutely delightful child actor Harshaali Malhotra who will steal your heart as Munni.
Preachy in latter parts, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ is a literal lesson in being neighbourly, tolerant and humane as much as it paints Salman Khan in noble strokes as a big-hearted do-gooder. It comes with a quintessential larger-than-life ‘Bollywood’ ending, and that’s what this is – a Bollywood movie, with Salman Khan towering over it. Underplaying the part, one misses his flamboyance. But only a little and never when Harshaali is in frame.
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