A 40-year-old bachelor sets out to honour his grandfather's dying wish, by scattering the late patriarch's ashes in the holy waters of the Rameshwaram. The rail journey to exuberant southern India causes him to reassess his priorities, and realise the importance of love, life and relationships.

Bollywood blockbuster railroads logical storytelling.

Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood superstar often referred to as India’s answer to Tom Cruise, is more Jerry Lewis than Jerry Maguire in his Eid holiday blockbuster, Chennai Express. A loud, lame-brained romantic comedy from the (very) broad directorial brush of Rohit Shetty, SRK’s over-hyped vehicle sees the charismatic but ageing actor badly miscast and easily overshadowed by his leading lady, Deepika Padukone.

whisper-thin in the plot department

Khan plays Rahul (a familiar moniker, for his legion of fans), a 40-ish bachelor who has dedicated his life to working in his grandfather’s sweet shop. Upon the old man’s passing, Rahul books a trip to Goa to finally enjoy the party lifestyle, lying to his grandmother that he will distribute the old man’s ashes at Rameswaram, located at the opposite end of the country. His devious plan is waylaid by the beautiful Meena (Padukone, who gets top-billing) whom he helps to board a train that’s headed for her hometown in the deep-south Tamil Nadu countryside. His act of goodwill backfires when it is revealed she is the daughter of the local Don (Sathyaraj), whose ruthless parenting and hordes of henchmen make Rahul’s life difficult at every turn. Most threatening is the towering mountain of Tamil muscle, Thambabali (the imposing Niketan Dheer), a brutish thug to whom Meena is unwittingly promised. Rahul and Meena flee and steadily become attracted to each other (naturally); their actions lead to an over-staged, surprisingly bloody showdown with Thambabali and a final reel confrontation with Meena’s father.

Shetty, ever the shameless showman (Khan’s career is to Cruise’s like Shetty’s is to Brett Ratner’s), bolsters the mood with flourishes of garish colour and an over-saturated palette, as well as every visual tic in the directorial book, including shutter-cam, slow- and fast-motion and physics-defying stuntwork. He also employs the crowd-pleasing tactic of referencing and lampooning key scenes from past Bollywood hits, notably My Name is Khan (2010), Main Hoon Na (2004), 3 Idiots (2009) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). Such gimmicks occasionally dispel the notion that Chennai Express is whisper-thin in the plot department.

Forty-eight-year-old Shah Rukh Khan demands that his character yuck it up like a 20-something leading man, clearly hoping to take the new wave of younger Bollywood stars (Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Kumar) on at their own game. But the result is unconvincing; Chennai Express may prove to be his biggest hit, but it’s his least believable performance.

The entire enterprise is too crassly commercial to warrant any serious social commentary, so the culture clash elements that pit the 'simple country folk’ of the rural Tamil south against the metropolitan mindset of Mumbai’s middle-class will likely play stronger with domestic crowds than international audiences. (Some detractors may opine there are a few too many cheap shots at the expense of the Tamil people and their language.) But the dance numbers deliver as expected for a film entirely obsessed with a vibrant aesthetic over inherent logic.


2 hours 21 min
In Cinemas 08 August 2013,