UTV Motion Pictures and Red Chillies Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.’s Chennai Express (UA) is about unlike poles attracting. Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) is a 40-year-old North Indian bachelor who has been brought up by his grandfather (Lekh Tandon) and grandmother (Kamini Kaushal) after the death of his parents when he was still a child. As per his late grandpa’s wishes, he sets out to immerse his mortal remains in the river in Rameshwaram for which he boards the Chennai Express train. Although he has plans to cut short his Rameshwaram trip and instead head to Goa with two friends (…….), he meets Meena (Deepika Padukone), a Tamil girl, on the train and finds himself trying to save her from her kidnappers. The ones trying to kidnap her are her own cousins, sent by her don-father (Sathyaraj) who literally rules Kumban village where the family lives. Meena has run away from home as she does not want to marry Thangabali (Nikitin Dheer), the man her authoritarian father has chosen for her.
Rahul is unable to go to Goa as planned, because he realises that Meena is in distress and needs help. The kidnappers take Rahul and Meena to Kumban, where Thangabali challenges Rahul to defeat him in a duel. Since Thangabali is very strong, Rahul instead flees. He is brought back to Kumban village and this time, he escapes with Meena. The two reach another village and pretend to be man and wife in front of the villagers who, therefore, give them shelter. But Meena’s father is still hell-bent on getting his daughter back so that she can be married off to Thangabali.
Along the way, Rahul falls in love with Meena and the desire to save her from Thangabali is even more intense now. Is Rahul able to protect Meena from the tough Thangabali and from her father? Why does Rahul take Meena back to Kumban? Is Meena also in love with Rahul? Is Meena forced to marry Thangabali? Or does her father see Rahul as her prospective husband? Does Rahul have to fight it out with Thangabali?
K. Subhash’s story is very ordinary and Yunus Sajawal’s screenplay, with additional inputs by Robin Bhatt, doesn’t improve matters or make the drama any better. Rather, the screenplay is repetitive and often meanders aimlessly, giving the impression that incidents have been simply pieced together. Although the film is a comedy, the fun and frolic often look contrived and fail to evoke the desired amount of laughter. Yes, there are some scenes and sequences which make the audience laugh but the really hilarious ones are few. The train sequence, in which Rahul gives a helping hand to Meena first and to some men thereafter so that they can board Chennai Express which is pulling out of the station, is hilarious. Equally funny is the sequence in which Rahul and Meena pass on messages to one another in song form, in the train. But the train sequence, after that, becomes boring. The drama in Kumban village looks too stretched and contrived. The sequence of the boat headed to Sri Lanka, the challenge of Thangabali to Rahul, the scenes in the other village – all these are lengthy and don’t add much to further the drama in an interesting or captivating way. The climax is engrossing and engaging, arresting the audience’s attention. It has some emotional appeal also.
Perhaps, the three main drawbacks are: firstly, Meena doesn’t come across as a damsel in distress for whom Rahul has to stay back and help. Secondly, the entire drama looks too contrived rather than a smooth-flowing story. Thirdly, there is just too much use of the Tamil language in the dialogues, making it irritating and boring for non-Tamil-speaking people. Also, the numerous Tamil faces, used as character actors and junior artistes, will make the story less identifiable in North, East, West and Central India. The romance fails to gladden the heart and, therefore, the emotional scenes do not touch the viewer’s heart. The repetitiveness of the story lets monotony set in quite early on. Some sequences (like Rahul’s interaction with a midget) could easily be deleted or shortened. Even the very reliable duo of Farhad-Sajid is not able to salvage the drama completely with its dialogues. While the dialogues are very funny at places, they are not consistently so.
Shah Rukh Khan plays to the gallery and succeeds brilliantly in some scenes (train sequences, climax) but less effectively in others. Deepika Padukone gets the Tamil accent right and entertains because of her gender-incorrect dialogues. Her performance is quite nice. Nikitin Dheer does not have much substance in his role. His formidable personality adds more weight to his presence than his role or performance. Mukesh Tiwari, as police Inspector Shamsher, acts ably. Sathyaraj is average as Meena’s father. Kamini Kaushal and Lekh Tandon, as Rahul’s grand-parents, are okay. Priyamani entertains in the ‘One two three four’ dance number. Others fit the bill.
Rohit Shetty has been able to make neither a universally appealing laugh riot nor a heartwarming love story. While his handling of the drama is quite nice, his choice of subject, his liberal use of Tamil dialogues and his choice of South Indian faces in the cast will restrict the film’s business. Vishal-Shekhar’s music is good but the absence of super-hit songs is felt. All the songs, including the ‘Lungi’ song composed by Honey Singh, are entertaining. The ‘One two three four’ number is catchy. Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics are mass-oriented. Song picturisations (by Chinni Prakash, Farah Khan and Raju Sundaram) are eye-filling. Amar Mohile’s background music is quite nice. Dudley does a wonderful job of the camerawork. His cinematography is outstanding and the outdoor locales are a visual treat. Narendra Rahurikar’s sets are good. Action scenes, designed by Rohit Shetty and choreographed by Jai Singh Nijjar, are mass-appealing and have the typical Rohit Shetty flavour, which will be liked by the masses. Steven Bernard’s editing needed to be sharper and crisper.
On the whole, Chennai Express will meet with a mixed response – it will be liked by one section of the audience but its comedy will not find favour with another section of the public. This will come in the way of a long run for the film. No doubt, its business will be good because of the release during the bountiful Eid festival but collections, especially in circuits like U.P., Bihar, Rajasthan and East Punjab, will not sustain for too long after the initial euphoria dies down. Producer Red Chillies Entertainment has already made huge under-production profits by pre-selling the all-world rights to producer-distributor UTV Motion Pictures. As for UTV, it will also make profits as its total investment of Rs. 105 crore will easily be recovered. Around 55% of the total investment of UTV has already been recovered from the sale of satellite and audio rights and another about 20%, from the sale of distribution rights of some circuits. The balance 25% of the investment will easily be recovered from theatrical business in circuits not sold to individual distributors, like Overseas, Bombay etc. But the individual distributors, who have paid heavy prices for the distribution rights of the film for the various circuits, will not be able to make profits. In fact, they may end up losing part of their investment.