There were two guys in their 20s sitting next to me in the theatre when I went to watch Kabir Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijaan Friday morning. At some point, one of them leaned over and asked if there was any water left in the bottle I had. Puzzled, but also immediately on my guard (because Delhi will do that to you), I said there was, why? Slightly embarrassed, very politely, he asked if he could have some. "Sirf ticket ke paise the, aur badi pyaas lagi hai."
Are we still reviewing Salman Khan's films? Why? Who needs a review? The audience is going to show up regardless (hell, they're ready to get the box office ringing weeks before the actual release), the rest of the industry doesn't stand a chance on Bhai's opening weekend especially when he insists on bagging Eid, Bhai himself couldn't care less, and critics...well, considering Khan's last few unbearable-but-box-office-shattering releases, reviewing his movies is not only redundant, but also becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do.
Still, since we're here, let's have a go: First off, Bajrangi Bhaijaan is not impossible to watch. Which is downright shocking, given his past releases that have included Dabangg 1 & 2, Kick, Ek Tha Tiger, Bodyguard... We've gotten used to Bhai not doing very much acting in his movies because hello, he's here, what more do you want from the guy? He even eased up on the dancing along the way, because why do somersaulting handstands when you can shake a belt buckle and get the same reaction from your audience? So Bajrangi Bhaijaan is, in that respect, different. He does a lot. There's song and dance, of course, even a few dropkick routines, but there's also a bunch of Deep and Meaningful things that he seems to finally be wanting to make an effort to explore.
Despite his spectacular star status, however, Khan shares top dollar with six-year-old Harshaali Malhotra, who holds her own in her role as Shahida, a Pakistani girl lost in India. She is the sweetest looking thing in the movie, an achievement in a movie that also has other really sweet things in it like lambs and sheep and really hot Pakistani men with pink cheeks. Shahida was born dumb, hasn't said a word in six years, so her mother decides to take her to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in New Delhi, famous for answering even the most impossible of prayers. In the middle of the night, when the train halts in the middle of nowhere, Shahida scurries away from her sleeping mother and gets off to go pet a lamb she's spotted from the window. The train starts up again and leaves before she can jump back on. And there begins Shahida's journey. "Koi toh nek aadmi hoga Hindustan mein...." who will take care of Shahida, says an old man.
Say Jai Bajrang Bali and brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for Bhai ki Entry. A pivotal point in every Khan movie, the moment we've all been waiting for, he could literally be doing anything when he is first introduced in a film, and audience excitement will spiral out of control. Open with Bhai in a song and, well...
Nicknamed Bajrangi because of what a massive Hanuman bhakt he is, Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi (Khan) is a simple man with a good heart and an aversion to lies and cheating, who wants you to concentrate on him Being Human. When he comes across the lost Shahida in Delhi, he takes on the responsibility of getting her safely back home, wherever it is. But she can't speak, so he has to rely first on his own assumptions and then on the clues he gets from her. And the whole movie is about the obstacle race that involves reuniting her with her family in Pakistan.
Yes, there's a girl (Kareena Kapoor Khan) he's smitten by along the way, there always is. But Bajrangi Bhaijaan chooses amazingly to focus instead on the story of love that builds between Bajrangi and Munni (which is what he calls her), ensuring plenty of muffled sobs and awwws in the theatre through the almost three hour-long runtime. The second half of the film is brightened as always by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Chand Nawab, a news reporter who helps Khan complete his "mission of love".
Besides Bhai ki Entry, there's also the checklist of Bhai ki Big Fight, Bhai ki Almost-Death, Bhai ki Amazing Recovery and Bhai ki Jai Ho, but even though the plot points may have seemed a little forced and predictable for me, he kept his shirt on through all of it, and still got everyone else to whistle and hoot as usual. This movie is about good over evil, of course, you knew that already, but it stepped up to also be India-Pakistan Bhai bhai. Given the reactions around me, I'm inclined to conclude that if this movie is able to influence/change even one person's attitude when it comes to religion and the hatred and divisions that it still so easily creates, then it's done its job. Eid Mubarak.