Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo
Director:  Sooraj Barjatya
Starring:  Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, Neil Nitin Mukesh
Salman Khan has a new post-violent message to give: Make love, not war, and it comes couched in family friendly terms: through a Sooraj Barjatya movie, in an epic narrative style underscoring its similarity to a traditional Ramlila. Important to note here, is that the movie in question, Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, has released right before Diwali, not Eid. What Khan’s reasons may be for underscoring his friendliness to the saffron scheme of things is beyond the scope of this review, but there is no doubt that he has taken the Hanuman avatar seriously post Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo. Khan takes it a step forward this time, in this metaphor of incarnations, and plays both Ram and Hanuman in this commercialised epic played out in fairytale Rajasthani palatial sets sponsored by polki and kundan jewelers (No really, their boards appear in the film, if you don’t believe us.) This is a pious movie, for a neo-conservative India that needs to hold on to its traditions, and fight the onslaught of the modern world. What better way to do it than to escape into a fantasy world full of characters that suit your rhetoric?

A Ramlila within a film is not the only often used trope in traditional Bollywood movies that Barjatya has borrowed from. We also have the classic case of imposters in a wedding scenario (DDLJ déjà vu) who takes the story forward. There is the common trope of the central protagonist (Salman Khan as the heir apparent) temporarily missing in action due to vague injuries (The film provides concussion as a helpful explanation, even though the sets reveal an inhaler next to his sick bed and confuses us further). Barjatya is clearly a fan of Judwa, with Khan coming back in a alter ego double role in Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo. Aishwarya Rai’s beautiful violet saree in a dreamscape garden in Bhansali’s Devdas has returned with Sonam Kapoor romancing Salman Khan in a similar set in similar clothes. However, while Rai was in control, Kapoor’s character sadly alternates between a sycophant and a coquette while clamouring for her lover’s attention (another common trope for Salman Khan’s leading ladies). Sonakshi Sinha’s village belle avatar that became so popular has been applied (rather strangely, since she plays a princess here) to Sonam Kapoor at the end of the movie (where she is seen happily buying vegetables) perhaps to make her a little more relatable to the masses.

The fantasy land that Barjatya has created doesn’t necessarily stick to the plotline, but like in Ramlila, the story is not as important as the message in this modern folk tale, and the message here is to create an aspirational fantasy land that will serve as a stern moral lesson on how blood is thicker than water, and sticking by family is the most important thing one can do in life. Even so, the focus on building a romaticised mise en scene crosses the line to incredulity at times – Neil Nitin Mukesh changes his attire from a regular black shirt to a purple sherwani accessorized with a pearl necklace and a pugdee before attempting his last royal fight, right in the middle of a crisis situation. After all, who cares about mundane problems such as continuity of action and realism when you have such a pretty boy to play dress up with?

Khan doesn’t falter even once in his performances; he is believable as the village actor, the Shakespearan fool “Dilwaale”, as well as the royal Yuvraaj (where he plays himself, complete with a strange posh accent). Swara Bhaskar is wasted in this movie; if she doesn’t move fast, she will be typecast as the perpetual supporting actress given the role of the sister and the mistress. Sonam Kapoor is less over-the-top than usual, but it is also possible that she has finally found a movie where her version of melodrama doesn’t stick out.

Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo is not an abomination; it is watchable and even entertaining at parts with genuine moments of insight and humour. If only it wasn’t so d**n long, and full of a fall sense of grandeur. While the filmmakers clearly set out to make a classic King-Queen-Pauper epic fantasy, what we see is wasted money on needlessly grand sets with actors trying to hold on desperately to the illusion of opulence translating into respect and power, but failing miserably.


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