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‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’: Sober Salman, excellent Nawazuddin steal the show

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MUMBAI: Salman Khan turns producer with Bajrangi Bhaijaan and, at the same time, ventures into a different genre away from his usual action films. Salman has been doing action films on a regular basis since Wanted and it has generally worked for him. But, now, especially with a bunch of new generation actors, all with chiselled muscular bodies doing the same, it’s probably time for Salman to take a much needed detour. After all, how much can one differ in every action film? Instead of countering the law of diminishing returns, this film is meant to touch hearts.

Salman is a diehard Lord Hanuman devotee, is clean hearted and swears by Hanumanji that he would never do anything wrong or illegal and would never lie. So much so that people call him Bajrangi, a name he loves. Following the myth, he even bows every time he sees a monkey. His introduction scene comes through a group dance he is performing in the praise of Hanumanji at a local temple in his native town.As he sits down for a glass of water, he sees a six year old girl. Salman offers her water and she gulps it down to the last drop. Realising she could be hungry as well, he orders a paratha for her but she signals for two.

The doll-like girl, Harshaali Malhotra, is speech impaired and,at an elder’s suggestion, is on a visit to the dargah of Nizamuddin Chishti in Delhi from her native town in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Her mother is told that whatever one wishes for at the dargah comes true. Having paid their visit to the dargah, mother and daughter are on their way back to Pakistan on the Samjhauta Express. The train is still on Indian territory and has taken a long halt because of a technical problem. While all others are sleeping, Harshaali spots a lamb near the train, the kind she loved to play with in her native village. She can’t resist the urge to go cuddle it and gets down from the train.

While Harshaali is playing with the lamb, the train starts moving, leaving her behind. Distraught, the girl sees a goods train come to a stop there. She boards it and ends up in Salman’s town. After being fed parathas, she tags on to Salman not willing to leave him. Salman tries various ways to pass the responsibility but fails. He has to return to Delhi where he has shifted after his father passed away and where he lives with his father’s friend, Sharat Saxena. He has no alternative but to take her to Delhi with him.

Sharat has a pretty daughter, Kareena Kapoor. Soon, Kareena falls for Salman’s simple ways. This romance, subtle though, and gradually finding out about where Harshaali hails from takes almost all of first half of the film. It is slow, feels like it is not going anywhere and makes one restless. Since Harshaali can’t speak, Salman reels off names of all the towns in the vicinity. After all, kids get lost in crowded places like a fair or a pilgrimage. Harshaali can’t relate with any city from the names.

Salman, himself a guest in Sharat’s house, is under pressure to find Harshaali’s folks. Salman convinces him that she sould be a Brahmin like both of them looking at how fair she is. When he watches her craving for non-veg food, he assumes she is a Kshatriya.It is during an India-Pakistan one day match the family is watching on TV that they realise Harshalli is from Pakistan.

Failing to find a way to send her to Pakistan on her own, through the embassy or through an agent, he decides to take her home on his own. That is when the film takes a direction and has some better moments. Nawazuddin Siddqui’s entry soon after adds some distraction and interest in the proceedings. A small-time stringer trying to sell his footage to TV channels, almost always unsuccessfully, he picks up the story that a spy, Salman, has crossed over illegally into Pakistan. He shoots Salman as he is escaping from a police station. He also starts following him and listens to Salman’s story as he narrates it to the co-travellers on the bus.

Nawazuddin has had a change of heart realising that Salman is not a spy and has entered the country with noble intentions. He now becomes Salman’s escort helping him along as the police is hot on their trail.When no news channels is willing to accept Nawazuddin’s footage or version of the story, he finally takes recourse to the net, splashing the true story with videos online.

India and Pakistan are uneven enemies but both share similar sentiments and the writer and director use it to come up with an emotional climax. Nawazuddin’s posts on the net spread Salman’s message: ‘Being Human’ giving the film its best moments.

Direction is apt living up to standard set by Kabir Khan with his last couple of films; climax wins the battle for him. The music is not much to hum about. Editing needed to be crisper. Dialogue is claptrap atplaces. Cinematography is good.

Salman Khan brings to the fore his sober side and convinces the viewers with his portrayal of a simple, honest man. Kareena Kapoor does not have a meaty role, yet manages to make her presence felt. Nawazuddin excels. The central character, Harshaali is the casting coup and she manages to deliver as expected. The supporting cast is okay.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan appeals mainly to the gentry and a Salman film being inevitable for masses, also to single screen audience. Releasing worldwide on the Eid weekend with an open two week run, there is no stopping this film at the box office.

Producers: Salman Khan, Kabir Khan, Sunil Lulla

Director: Kabir Khan

Cast: Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor,Harshaali Malhotra, Nawazuddin Sidiqui, Sharat Saxena, Om Puri (guest artiste), Adnan Sami (cameo)

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