Chennai Express: A trainwreck of a masala film

Published: September 3, 2013
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Chennai Express is paisa vasool; shamelessly masala, no pretense otherwise. PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Chennai Express is paisa vasool; shamelessly masala, no pretense otherwise. The locations are absolutely stunning, the item number is decent, the humour hits the spot more than twice in 2.5 hours. Deepika, her acting and her saris are perfect, and of course the jodi works (mostly because of her). The music is ok, not Vishal-Shehkar’s best work this year, however, the Rajnikanth tribute stands out. But for all the pluses the film gloriously fails in the sensibilities category.

For a masala flick, it has two unexpected moments of intelligence. There was a good attempt at giving some depth to Rahul’s character (played by SRK) when Meenama (Deepika Padukone) calls him out for being selfish. Even though it goes nowhere, it was still refreshing. The second was Rahul’s passionate speech about how Indian women should not be celebrating India’s freedom, because they are not free to make their own decisions. As the whole village looked on, he beseeched Meenama’s father to let her choose and live according to her will – the father, a local don, wanted his daughter to marry a gangster to widen his hold in the area.

Then the filmmakers’ brain shut down (or maybe went back to ‘normal’ mode) and they proceeded to write in a 15 minute fight sequence in which Rahul fights the gangster almost to his death to “win” the girl. Only when the gangster concedes that Rahul may not be big but is brave and something to the effect of ‘you win’, does the father let go of Meenama’s hands. I am sure everyone’s patting themselves on the back for writing that one line and making such an epic case for women to be able to choose, but it would have been nice if they hadn’t gone back so quickly to their lovely misogynistic film tropes.

And gawd was the film racist; long haired, dark men growling as they run toward the camera brandishing machetes. Really?! It has been a while since the world caught onto racial stereotypes particularly one about unwashed tribals. It’s about time Bollywood figures this out and I am not even talking about the nonstop ridiculing of Southern culture and language throughout the film. Really, you are not celebrating Tamil culture by making fun of it constantly.

Apart from being racist and not very smart, the film is also completely unoriginal. It is everything we have already seen in other Bollywood films; there are references to almost every SRK hit, there is a ‘meet in the field away from family’ scene, there are lovely villagers who give refuge to a young couple, boy does honourable thing and doesn’t run away with girl and so on.

Kudos to SRK for making his character 40-years-old and then also joking about how he looks 50 (SRK is actually 47). But what was up with the juvenile humour between his friends (also men in their 40s) and him, and acting like a 20-year-old?

I suppose I am asking for too much; we should be grateful for small mercies.

Remember Aamir Khan actually trying to pass off as a 20 something in Rang De Basanti and 3 Idiots (weirdly all his friends were actually young actors)?

Shudder.

Rahma Muhammad

Rahma Muhammad Mian

A writer, researcher and Bollywood lover who formerly worked at The Express Tribune. She tweets @RahmaMian (twitter.com/RahmaMian)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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  • Kiesha

    SRK has converted himself from an actor into a clown as he is aging and that is pathetic. Grow up man.Recommend

  • Sarah

    whats your point of this write up? you enjoyed it or not? you liked it or not? Recommend

  • Rashid

    In the intro of the author, is it “formally” or should it be “formerly”?Recommend

  • Sarah

    You know they don’t really care because the film made HUGE amounts of money and it worked in those cities which are apprently made fun of. As long as money keeps cong ppl will continue making formula moviesRecommend

  • http://haroonriaz.wordpress.com Haroon Riaz

    It’s a racist film, people. Don’t watch it. Besides, Deepika and Shahrukh Khan are not from Chennai. Recommend

  • Sara

    Well really did not understand HOW did it earn so much………it has no story nothing interesting it then why people are so much in to this Chennai Express……what so exciting about it…. Recommend

  • Anshuman Tripathy

    I wonder why all of you pakistani critics are interested in reviewing only trash bollywood movies. I have not seen one person review any sensible Hindi cinema in the past few months. not once. Bollywood is not just latka-jhatka and cheesy item songs you know. There are visionary film-makers with a passion to tell wonderful stories through film.

    There have been so many good movies this year that none of you guys bothered to review:
    1.Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
    2.Lootera ( got a bad review from on of ur reviewers)
    3.D-Day
    4.Madras Cafe
    5.Kai Po Che
    6.Ship of theseues (is surely going to be India’s entry for the oscars)
    7.Sahib Biwi aur Gangster Returns
    8.Bombay Talkies

    There’s more to Bollywood than shallow masala movies.Recommend

  • tee

    how was it racist??? if anything they are showing the real south and will do wonders for south tourism. Have you ever been to south? Thats how people look like there.Recommend

  • rudz

    Coz it was a gun movie. Not only srk fans bt evn family enjoying it n keeps cuming. If it was dat bad then it wd hsv been like ra1 tyos in secnd wek itslf. So pls..apreciate the wrk. Movies r fo entertainment.. mesags r frm documentrizz.Recommend

  • Kidwan

    Madam Rahma Muhammad Mian people watch the movie for entertainment don’t take it so serious and don’t try to connect it with real life. Its not a true story or a telefilm where real life is depicted. Its all a ficticious story. Just watch, have a laugh and have a fun. One can understand why in Pakistan its difficult to make a film. The director has to compramise inorder to satisfy the closed minded people who are in large.Recommend

  • Bharat

    Shah rukh Khan is a south Indian from his mothers side. His mother is orinigally from Mangalore.

    It may come as a shock to many but is a fact.Recommend

  • boco

    @Anshuman Tripathy: I agree with you but the thing is for our sad, entertainment hungry awaam (janta) the mindless masala Bollywood is the only Bollywood they are familiar with, anything intellectual or thought inducing is written off as too serious or artsy – the case is somewhat close to your country in which the biggest, top grossing films are usually Chennai Express, Ready, Rowdy Rathore etc the only difference is that the level of literacy and education in your country is much higher than ours so the appreciation for intellectual films in India is in more volume. As far as the question of why aren’t sensible Hindi films covered on this space goes I think its probably because song and dance Bollywood is the only Bollywood most Pakistanis are familiar with because its easy to laugh at (or laugh with, as the case may be) even though the same Pakistanis would be the first to praise a mediocre Hollywood movie (seriously except the films you hear about due to academy awards which Hollywood movie is actually worth watching these days? European and Asian films have far better content) while they are criticizing a superior Bollywood film. As a Pakistani I’m loving the new era Bollywood has stepped into and films like Lootera and Kai Po Che are a testament to that – art truly is without borders. Recommend

  • SHAGY

    I do not understand why people expect Hollywood style films from Bollywood? Bollywood movies are all about the masala, the latka jhatka, the beautiful locations, the colorful dance sequences, hero wooing the heroine with his machoness (Film ka hero kuch bhi ker sakta hai) and mindless comedy that we Pakistanis can relate to cause that’s the only cinema available to us that we can all understand!

    The movie was brilliant and the reference of SRK’s movie was a pun itself which many people unfortunately failed to understand.

    @Anshuman Tripathy if I have to watch those kind of movies, I would rather watch American, French, Iranian, or Japanese cinema! Recommend

  • Critical

    @writer
    What was your point for writing this blog?
    Why are you so serious about a simple comedy film?
    Why you have bring “racist’ issue?

    Films are for enjoyment, entertainment, relaxatipon and @Rudz is right that ‘mesags are frm documentrizz.’. Chennai Express is an entertainment work that turned into a big hit and nobody can deny the fact!!

    Some film looks like total absurd but populace enjoyed them and made them a big hit, best examples are Amitabh Bachchan films. Most of them are senseless fiction….but AB’s fan still liked them. Recommend

  • Bilal

    Haters gonna Hate… Chennai Express is a great action-comedy movie guys. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The plot,the beautiful locations, cinematography, direction, acting, music everything was just top class… This is easily Rohit Shetty’s best work better than his Golmal series and even better than Singham too…

    I was initially hesitant to watch this movie based on mixed reviews and some 20-25% dialogues being in Tamil…but Love clearly has no language, it uses the language of emotions to communicate……..As a I came out of the theater, this film has slowly but surely grown on me…It’s a must watch movie..Don’t miss it!!! Recommend

  • Deepwater

    The author throws out words such as “mysogny” and “racism” rather willy-nilly. South Indian films are full of growling dark men brandishing machetes and this film paid homage to that genre. Besides, growling Nordic men would have been quite out of place.

    Secondly, poking fun at a community is quite OK. Vicky Donor poked fun at Punjabis (“money minded drunks”) and Bengalis (“fish eating intellectuals”) and everyone had a laugh. Political correctness would choke the living daylights out of our diversity.

    Lastly, Chennai Express is one of the most successful Hindi films ever released in the South which has its own robust and very competent film industry. Both Deepika and Shetty are Mumbai based south Indians.

    So loosen up a little.Recommend

  • Ilias

    I respect her views. CM is made to entertain and it lives up to it. I go to the movies to forget my daily stress and spend few hours laughing and having fun with my family. Like me there are millions and therefore the movie is such a big hit. For people like you who thinks that movies should be in line with reality then why go to movies? Reality is all around me.Recommend

  • a r modak

    more than the SRK factor, it was Deepika’s pitch perfect southern accent-
    and the chemistry between the two former OSO stars, that led to this “train smash” at the box office!
    Deepika delivers a “Cocktail” of a good performance opposite her more senior star, at times eclipsing him in the comedy stakes, especially the nightmare scene, where she literally kicks him off the pedestal!
    with this, the lanky lass has now had three hits in a row- making her the first star to transcend the 200 crore barrier- not bad for a girl who was nearly written off after a series of duds!Recommend

  • From USA

    The Movie was excellent and highly enjoyable.Recommend

  • S

    Doesnt Paisa Vasool mean “worth every penny”. By the review, it looks like it was a waste of moneyRecommend

  • SAL

    How pathetic that Pakistanis rave about indian movies. Why don’t you write a review on A Pakistani Film like Main Hoon Shahid Afreedi.
    People like you are also responsible to bring down PAK film industry. Recommend

  • Muhammad Waseem Bari

    Chennai Express is a perfect entertainer and a movie to relax with after returning tired from work.

    Do not try to find out realities and truth in movies. They sell dreams. SRK and Deepika are at their best. Its a good time pass and a perfect entertainer.Recommend

  • Palani Vel

    its not tamil culture…its Kerala culuture which s shwn n da film…Kathakali,decorated elephants all are parts o temple festivals n kerala…The film s named ‘Chennai’ express to get a wider audience dats all…a gud mix o Hindu culture o south India which was not influenced by Islam lyk NorthRecommend

  • http://[email protected] jija

    Srk rockkkkkkkkkkksRecommend

  • http://[email protected] jija

    Heart of this film is SrkRecommend

  • ruby

    @writer:
    Thanks for calling out that the film is racist. You are one among few who did that.Recommend

  • Critical

    @tee:
    As a tamilian,I can say that the film was a bit racist towards us…Not just that film,the entire Hindi belt stereotype Tamil cinema as one where there are potbellied heroes bashing 100s of villians with bare hands while romancing the heroine at the same time…

    I dont deny that such movies dont come from the South Cinema,but that doesnt mean that all our movies are like that..South Indian movies(alongwith Bengali and Marati movies) regularly win National award and standing ovation in many International film festivals….

    Its strange that Tamil cinema is now entering into a phase where small budget movies with a strong storyline rein in box office over the big budgetted A-List actor movies ..whereas in Bollywood,the brainless potboilers are raking money while independent movies hardly get theatres to screen them….

    FYI,Deepika’s Tamil was atrocious,it was like she was scratching her nails on a boardRecommend

  • Tareen

    Completely agree with Rahma. I was shocked at how pathetic this film was. Horrible attempts at humor by SRK, complete overacting. And yes, blatantly racist. It was worst than the worst movies of the 80s and 90s. Thanks for this write-up, glad someone else felt the same way. Recommend

  • Critical

    @Critical

    May I know who you are,sir/madam????Recommend

  • Sridhar

    Hi,
    I am a tamilian settled in US. My wife is from Kerala (a Malayali or Mallu). We both watched this movie at a theater here and enjoyed it. I found Deepika Padukone’s tamil diction tolerable but being a southie (from Bangalore), she should have done better. The first 40 min of so of the movie was uproriously funny. Some of SRK’s banters and quick retorts were funny too.
    Not a bad movie. You can’t expect a classic from Bollywood. I wish they could make one. There are plethora of subjects. Bollywood stays clear of historical movies. As audience matrues and becomes more literate, good clean movies will come to the fore. Some of the movies already are making a mark. Bhaag Milka Bhaag is a very good example.Recommend

  • Indi-Pop

    @Anshuman Tripathy:
    You forgot to add “The Lunchbox”. For me, it is definitely the movie of the year!Recommend

  • humaira

    Well south indians making fun of themselves is ok, isnt it?

    Deepika 100% south indian
    Shetty 100% south indian
    SRK 50% south indian (from mothers side)Recommend

  • Salman

    Deny or not who’s in this flim say the actor in the world B.srk king srk world who introduced in the depika say srk srk’s a directer helpes shetty is very depika 50/100 Shetty 70/100 Srk 1000/1000 Recommend

  • Gp65

    @Bilal: Let me tell you a secret. Many Tamilian friends of mine complained that they could not understand the dialog – I mean the part that was supposedly in Tamil. There are some people in the North who use made up phrases like ‘andu gundu narugundu’ or ‘muttakodi kawadi hada’and think they are speaking Madrasi (such people sometimes do not know there are 4 main languages in the south one for each state and use a generic word madrassi to describe all south indian languages) or they say ‘ille ille po’ and laugh as though they said something very funny when all they have said is no , no go. I think this movie was poking fun at all such stereotypes. Secondly it is upto people what kind of movies they watch. Watching movies for time pass is absolutely fine. But this author goes to a movie that claims to be an out and out masala film and then criticizes it for being masala. How absurd. That is why Anshuman suggested the other movies for the author and those who prefer movies with more solid story lines.

    @Palani Vel: Agree. It was more of Kerala culture and if there is any accent that Deepika was close to, it appeared to be Mallu accent – though by no means am I an expert on southie accents.

    @Anshuman Tripathy: Also Jolly LLB, Special 26, Raanjhna.

    @ruby: Racism and stereotyping are not the same thing. This movie had some good natured stereotyping but no racism. That is okay. People in south could figure out the good humored parodies or else the movie wouldn’t have been as big a hit in the south.

    @a r modak:
    4 hits in a row -3 in 100 crore plus category : cocktail, race 2 , yeh jawani hai Diwani, chennai express. I love Deepika and her versatility. But the accent was a caricature. That was NOT Tamilian accent.Recommend

  • vijay

    When there is no story, How many people are behind it. Means all the Producers are suceeded to change the views of Maharashtrian people. May be from Tamil Nadu people also.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    Rohit Shetty ripped off Tamil movie in Singham. He made a photocopy of the Tamil version and changed the actors and locales. He now has shamelessly lifted funny bits from different Telugu movies and made it unfunny.

    The most saddest part of all this is his name indicates his origins are from Karnataka, my state. Recommend

  • Critical

    @humaira:
    Well south indians making fun of themselves is ok, isnt it?

    Dipika is a Konkani and Rohit Shetty is Tulu…..Not sure about Shahrukh’s mom ,but I think she’s not tamil

    FYI,there are four major languages in South India along with some minor language….and there is as much difference between them as the difference between Latin and Sanskrit……

    Each state has its own distinctive culture,food habits,traditions etc…Just clubbing all of them together as one entity isnt fair…..Recommend

  • http://gujrat Zalim singh

    people who criticize SRKs films are Islamophobic.Recommend

  • bla

    srk is annoyinggg…i refuse to watch any of his movies since of them coming out for the past few years are really really baddRecommend

  • Arijit Sharma

    My significant other has started addressing me as “tangaballi”. Recommend

  • sterry

    Why do we need to hear about an Indian film on a Pakistani newspaper? South Indian or North Indian or SRK it’s all Indian to me – hence foreign. Let the Indians enjoy their movies but Pakistanis should be promoting their own films and culture.Recommend

  • Eric Kumar

    When you are go and see movies one does to hear a sermon. You go forget all the daily monotony but to relax and enjoy. It takes to all over the world, one can see a different types of people and culture, living in harmony. You enjoy tilting music. Next time if you want hear truth either go to Church, Mosque, or Temple. Please, I request.Recommend