Utkal on Bajrangi Bhaijaan

( Spoilers Alert: Some key scenes are described in the write up)

Just back from Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It is not good as I expected it to be. It is also not as bad as I thought it was after sitting through it restlessly till the interval. In the last thirty minutes or so the film shifts into the right gear and becomes a tolerable viewing and the climax does manage to give you a high.

But much of the film was an effort for me to sit through. The first half is very casually done with no care or conviction. Every scene is predictable and some are so ham-handed they make you cringe. I entered the hall ten minutes late when the little girl was being left behind and the reaction of the old Pakistani was the kind of over-the-top sentimentality that is so hard to swallow. The romance between Pavan and Rasika is staged equally perfunctorily as if it was something the director had to get past somehow. The scene where she reprimands him on seeing him at her place, “Tum mere pichha karte yahan bhi aa gaye’ was so lame as was the scene where she comes down holding his hand saying she sees her father in him. Kabir Khan’s attempt at social satire lacks the lightness of touch. The lines about she being a Brahmin because she is gori and a Kshatriya because she is gori and eats meat sounds contrived coming froma simpleton like Pavan. The brothel episode is another paint-by-number narrative involving a little girl. NH 10 was so refreshing because the director did not fall into the trap of showing something predictable like some one sexually assaulting Anushka in the macholand of Gurgaon. Kabir Khan is not sophisticated enough. He goes through all the tried and tested, and tiresome, bullet points, including one about the father telling him he better get a house within six moths if he wants marry his daughter and later they using the money saved for the house for taking back Muni to Pakistan.

The talk of religious amity is also along expected lines, and the presence of a few good Pakistanis in every strata which is revealed after an initial anti-Indianism is once again another predictable and boring template. If the build up romance of Pavan and Rasika was unconvincing and bloodless so is her reaction when he is stuck in Pakistan. She and her family just seem to be going through the motion, especially when she is ‘ otherwise I too will go to Pakistan without a visa,’

But the film does get into its stride once the cat and mouse chase between the Pakistani authorities and the trio of Pavan-Chand Naawb-Munni/ Shahida. The jokes that were falling flat begin to work when Nwaz delivers the lines, be it when he is telling Salman to be the one to wear the burkha or telling the policeman about their marriage through elopement. Kabir Khan is also good at narrating the intrigues and the ploys used in the cat and mouse game. I liked the film from the dargha scene onwards because of the smooth narration from then on. The little tricks like Shahida recognizing her mother from the video and before that recognizing her homeland from a calendar photo of Switzerand are simple but they work nicely.

Also what works is the character of Pavan inspite of all its exaggeration and Munni/Shahida with her innocence as well as liveliness. I liked the gusto with which she wants to attack her chicken leg. ( But I found the rattling of chicken Afganai, chicken Lahori, etc unfunny and the business of Shahida stealing te handcuffs out of character.) The performances of the lead trio also smoothens a lot of rough edges and makes the film at least watchable. The other good thing about the film is that it has a heart-warming story at the core and tries to focus the narrative around that core quite scrupulously.

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34 Responses to “Utkal on Bajrangi Bhaijaan”

  1. I have almost similar views. Liked second half because of Nawaz. The movie needed some editing. You pretty much know the story but the flow of story telling is good.

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  2. Munna: Yes. Kabit Khan can narrate a story well, and you aren’t ever bored with the proceedings. But his social observation skills and comic talent is limited. So it needs Nawaz to perk up the film which he does once he enters the scene. Also the first half is quite slipshod in the writing department.

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    • There are many scenes which could be chopped in first half. Brothel, chicken eating at restaurant…and I agree some of the scenes are lazy writing. It is an emotionally manipulative movie but i didn’t mind. I liked the qawalli but the other song which is played in background in the movie is jarring.

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  3. omrocky786 Says:

    Maza nahin aaya……Parking, Samosa, Popcorn, traffic, distance to the hall, RSS, Kaun soya- Kaun Jaaga……..all of this is missing. Is this really Utkal Bhaijaan’s review ??

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    • Haha…Unlike many other reviews of Utkal, this IMO has more substance and less on poetic words or imaginary assumptions.

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  4. Salman khan getting cheered in chennai like Rajini.. no other bollywood star get this kind of applause. How is this?

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  5. Utkal I respect your opinion because the intent is always honest though sometimes a bit hurried. I got this review from mini mathur ( kabir khan’s wife ) twitter account and addresses a lot of your concerns. Add this to Rangan’s views and hopefully you will be able perceive the intended meaning.

    Mini Mathur ‏@minimathur Jul 18
    Another reviewer that gets Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Id Mubarak to Shri Ram

    http://www.deccanchronicle.com/150718/entertainment-movie-review/article/movie-review-bajrangi-bhaijaan-id-mubarak-shri-ram

    “Salman Khan can’t act. When he has to, he distorts his face and squints, as if trying to push out potty. But, he can hold a close-up for as long as he wants, and he can project primal emotions like few others can — power, love, hurt, anger. And here, it’s a pleasure to watch him, together with the help of the story, the director and his co-actors, weave a character. I’m firm in my belief that of all our big stars, Salman is the most confident, least insecure. If an actor of Nawazuddin’s calibre doesn’t rattle him, nothing can rattle Salman Khan.”

    The last line summarizes Salman very well here.

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  6. MS Dhoni: I am in full agrement about Salman’s acting in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He si wonderful. And incidentally I belive that the perecetion that he can’t act is aloaf of bul. He is a fine actor. Except that he hasnt chosen projects that match his talent and has squandred his talen and time in the past, doing films like Dabangg 2 and Jai Ho. This was a very good career move and he has come out trumps as an actor.

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    • if Salman is a fine actor every person who appears on the screen is also a fine actor. I think there remains this great confusion about stars who are very effective on screen and who can be even more effective in certain parts and those who are actors in some deeper sense. Just as every film that one enjoys is even moved by is not automatically a fine piece of cinema. Of course I don’t even mean this in the reductive sense. I am perfectly fine with every star not being an actor. I like many stars who are non-actors more than many who are. But there is this impoverished vocabulary where if one has liked a star one screen one must say that he’s acting well. Put differently a star signature when deployed in the right way is enough to create empathy. It need not be backed up by a performance. If we call everyone an actor every time we like them in a film the word ceases to have any meaning. It’s like saying every song that we enjoy is somehow great music. And again if I made a list of favorite screen figures there would be many ‘non-actors’ on it. Some great legends (outside India as well) have belonged to this category. Now it is also true that sometimes a star will come up with a performance that is surprising. That can happen on the rare day for such a star but it certainly isn’t the norm. Now what you’ve said for Salman would be fine if it were said for SRK. He’s someone who was probably capable of much more but sold out very early for low hanging fruit (I don’t mean just the safe genres here but more importantly acting in a lazy way calculated to get a certain applause from the audience.. in other words it wasn’t just about getting typecast but not even being sincere about it). He could have been much more as a star-actor. To say that Salman whether in MPK or HAHK or anything since ever provides any evidence of being a ‘fine actor’ is simply incomprehensible.

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    • Sharukh fans saying heis fine actor is like rajini fans saying the same.. all his old films when his mannerisms were fresh

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  7. ‘If we call everyone an actor every time we like them in a film the word ceases to have any meaning.’, Why? It is not as if we like every actor in every film. If Salman can make you buy a charcter like Pawan, mkae you belive in the chrcater, make you care for the chracter, make you laugh, make you crey….that is fine acting fior me. You may of course call it something else. At least I have clarified what I mean by fine acting. Salman has portayed characters in fims like HAHK and MPK quite flawlessly. His comic turn in films like Andaz Apna Apna or Biwi No 1 is perfect again. He si vert fliud and inventive in a film like Dabangg. That’s good enough a range to be called a fine actor. It si another matter that he has a lot more films in his filmography that do not use his talent. That’s another matter. That’s why i think Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a good career choice. And films like Sultan and PRDP should help him further in establishing his acting credentials.

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    • Once again you’re confusing the star’s signature for a performance. Akshay Kumar is in the same group. He’s not an actor but he has a certain fluidity with comedy and is a good fit for certain over the top kinds (he’s far better at this than Salman in my view). Occasionally he might even come up with a charismatic star performance like Khakee or Ajnabee where he’s ‘better’ than usual. The point isn’t that people in this category cannot deliver effective performances but that the ‘nature’ of these performances is very different. I have already said that this is a ‘definitional’ issue not necessarily one of value. I adore Clint Eastwood in his Westerns. De Niro couldn’t be a tenth as effective doing the same. But Eastwood is nonetheless not an actor the way De Niro is. It’s not De Niro is ‘better’, he’s just doing something else altogether. Now Eastwood will sometimes come up with a surprising performance and critics will praise him for him. Loosely even in the West ‘star’ and ‘actor’ might be used interchangeably. But this is very different from calling Salman a ‘fine’ actor. Because here one is making the claim that within his contexts he’s capable of that order of performance.

      The other confusion here is that those parts Salman plays or has played are not ‘characters’ at all. They are just ‘types’. He never does the sort of film where he is really required to play a character. Nor is he the sort of actor who can make a ‘type’ something more than the obvious. This is precisely why words are important. When Ranbir does a Rockstar that’s a character. How he does it might be debatable but it’s a character on paper. There is no character in Biwi No 1 in the same sense! Is Salman perfect in Dabanng? Sure! But that perfection neither requires a character nor an actor. It requires a type which can then be played well or not by the right star. Salman does the job here. It doesn’t prove anything more than the obvious. Dev Anand was a great star but something other than an actor. Dilip Kumar was both. I prefer Dev Anand to Dilip Kumar and I don’t find him lacking in any sense when he takes on his parts. But my enjoyment of Dev Anand does not involve the belief that he’s a fine actor. Because again one can enjoy stars for very many reasons. if there weren’t this factor we would only have Naseeruddin Shah or Om Puri! Commercial cinema is precisely a vehicle for something that can but doesn’t necessarily have to involve characters in any deep sense nor performances in the same way. Much as we can enjoy junk songs without being forced to believe that fine composers or singers are behind these efforts! Vin Diesel is extremely effective in his key parts. that doesn’t mean there’s a ‘character’ here or some fine performance. But going by your standards I’d have to say that he hasn’t explored his talents. An even better example in this regard might be Will Smith. Would anyone confuse him with Depp or Di Caprio?

      I’d finally say that such elevated language (‘makes me care for the character’ etc) might also often be beside the point in such situations. Sometimes we just enjoy a movie that’s cynically pushing all our right buttons, we respond to certain types well on screen, we like certain situations, so on and so forth. This doesn’t mean we ‘care’ for the characters the way we might for others in much better films. The fault therefore is also in the definitions on our side. It’s not just the debate over what kind of actor Salman might be but the extent to which we might overvalue our reactions to films and actors as being serious emotional responses and hence falling into the logical (even narcissistic) trap of assuming that the actor/film on the other side must be ‘great’ to create that response in us. Maybe we just enjoy certain kinds of junk! I know I do! I loved Jurassic World, liked the lead pair very much in it. But they were still putting up extremely cliched predictable performances in every sense of the word. The same is true for a number of other stars. We should be questioning some of our choices! Not because we don’t have the right to enjoy anything that appeals to us but if we try to ‘justify’ these choices in certain ways things become far more dicey. I can enjoy Jurassic World as much as I like but if I say it’s a fine film only the latter claim is problematic. Why? Because ‘fine film’ suggests something more objectively valuable in the work and furthermore implicates all other films that could be spoken about in similar ways. What sense does it make to say that Scorsese makes ‘fine’ films and that Jurassic Park is ‘fine’ too? We’ve neutralized the adjective right there.

      I’d say at the very end that your description of Salman Khan actually fits Sanjay Dutt far better.

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  8. If I dont think Jurassic World is a fine film, I wont enjoy it. Period. No one confuses Will Smith with Depp or Di Caprio. Will Smith can be a fine actor in his own way and Depp in another. And Di Caprio can be more thana fine actor, he maybe a great actor.

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  9. Not being able to play charcters is a minus, sure. But being able to play tyoes with flourish, is definitely a plus. I am willing to grant Salman both. and occasionllay he plays a character too… and quite well..Pavan Chaturvedi, Radhe ( Tere Naam)…the may not always be froma realstic universe….but they are characters nevertheless. But I will agree Salma has not been great in portarying characters. Then how many Mumbai heroes do characters well?

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    • Utkal: I am STUNNED that you mention that Radhe. Sethu is “the” seminal Vikram role and Salman completely ruined it…in his hands, the role turned turned from tragic to a farcical one

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      • @ Saurabh:
        TOTALLY AGREE. Salman ruined it. His lack of acting skills ‘shone’ through the film. For Christ’s and his relatives’ sake, the actors who enacted the role before him were VIKRAM and SUDEEP!! How on God’s not-so-green-Earth can Salman better Vikram and Sudeep in acting chops!!?

        As Satyam has detailed in his explanation above, the ‘signature’ and ‘performance’ are really at right angles. Very rarely you get actors that can merge the 2; or at least lessen the gap. Like Amitabh or Dilip.

        But I would dis-agree with Satyam that a star can NEVER be divorced or at least minimize his ‘signature.’ Satyam said in one of his earlier discussions that people who say AMITABH has ‘shed’ his mannerisms or signature in PIKU are mistaken – he has not. I agree. Certain physical traits or bodily mannerisms are very difficult to ‘get rid’ of. But a great performer is one who has the ability to ‘shine’ through even when he is asked to minimize or get as far away as possible from those signatures. Amitabh did it fantastically in PIKU and previously, in NISHABDH. [NISHABH, to me, remains one of his most endearing and superlative performances of a senior actor in the modern era – the way Amitabh brought forth the ‘existential’ crises of a 55+ man caught in the rigmarole of marriage and life but in contrast, is actually a man who enjoys nature at its inhibited best is simply jaw-dropping.]

        And here’s the main catch. When the audience or critic DOESN’T whole-heartedly reject a star who is trying to shed signature, one can guess the richness of an actor. Now Salman might have minimized his ‘stock’ whistle-inducing mannerisms in BB, but the point is, to what extent are the neutral audience or critics willing to believe that he is capable of delivering a knock-out if not completely, at least majorly, against type performance? He did PHIR MILENGE didn’t he? Let’s just assume PHIR MILENGE gets released today. How many people would flock to the theaters because Salman is going against his actor-type? Substitute the same with Amitabh or for that matter, even SRK. Where do you think the bets lie? Are you really interested in Salman playing against type or Amitabh playing against type? Be honest, and you get the answer..

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        • An Jo: Didn’t know that Sudeep also did a Sethu remake, will try and seek it out.

          On Salman, my problem with him isn’t that he is a complete non-actor but that he is not even potent as a “star” (the only exception to this is Dabanng and parts of Wanted though here too he is so insipid compared to Mahesh). In other words, while he is not Naseer, no one would is going to confuse him with Dev Anand or Eastwood either. In other words, he is nowhere in the league of Dev Anand as a “star”. So my problem with Salman isn’t that he can’t do Deewar or Sparsh (or Sethu), but that he can’t even do Johnny Mera Naam or Baazi!

          On a related note, as a pure performance Saawariya might be Salman’s single best outing.

          Also is there any other “star” in the world who can be as subtle and understated as Mohanlal. He is the only guy I have seen who can hide his signature. I still like Mammootty though, just find the latter one of the most effective screen presences ever.

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        • omrocky786 Says:

          AnJo, this is a classic what I call shifting of goal post.
          Now that BB is a blockbuster – lekinn actng nahee aatee ussko !!
          I saw Vikram in Raavan- total bakwaas !!, saw bits of david- Bakwaas !!

          Heard a lot about Surya here, saw him in RC- theek hai, koi khaas nahee !!

          Salman dil mein aata hai samajh mein nahee,, LOL !!
          Aside- 40 Senior Citizens ko nikala hai FTII sey who were living on taxpayer’s money!!
          Slob, Grover ,Pragya, and ganf should say something about that !!

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      • i thought salman was brilliant in tere naam and his chemistry with bhoomik was crackling..

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  10. I am not comparing Salman’s performance to Vikram’s . The fact is I have not seen either of the two films. But tell me which of the Bollywood heroes has done anything close to Vikram’s performance in Sethu? At least Salman has tried and from all accounts has been received well. Though having not seen it I cannot say anyhthing about it with certainty.

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    • sethu is vikram best role.. i like pithamagan to extent but was strange characterization by bala..

      about bllywood perf close to vikram in sethu.. i can think of saif in omkara, the don in gangs of wasseypur, devgan saab in zakhm..

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  11. jayshah Says:

    I just saw the film. I have a very different view. I think this is a very touching, evenly paced film. Didn’t feel the jarring or slowness at all. Practically everything worked for me.

    This is a film like TZP or PK or Swades where it is very hard not to feel for the plot and its intentions. The pitch and tone of the film is nothing like Kabir Khan’s films. The flow is smooth, the film smoothly introduces characters be it from the girl to Salman to Kareena to Kareena ‘s family to Nawaz to Om Puri. Each character adds something. Nawaz’s intro scenes and thereafter lift the movie but contrary to many I think the first half was fine too. The love story is rushed (but many are in these plot driven films).

    The background score is spot on, the music barring one song that plays throughout I felt was a little out of place. The ending is a moment earnt much like the ending in TZP.

    Everyone works well in the film. Salman is effective in a role reminiscent of the 90s. The dhawanisatiion relinquished, his is a innocent, naive character that is a complimentary foil to the young girl. Her performance is the most stirring for sure but towards the end Salman gets the moment he deserves. Nawaz changes from comic to supporting hero effortlessly and his scenes with Salman are a hoot.

    Thursday evening in the biggest screen at my local this was near housefull. The crowd was teary eyed for sure and my wife agreed with me, you have to see it to believe it. This Salman film is a little rusty gem with flaws not worth mentioning and it’s heart is in the right place.

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    • jayshah Says:

      One other note. Kind of a spoiler.

      The film teases another ending. Personally I would have gone with that ultimately tragic but edgy ending. A keen reminder that the world simply is not as rosy or forgiving as the film ultimately ends on. The shock value of that ending given the character Salman plays and the innocence he saves – well I am sure it would have left the audiences surprised and added that unpredictability the film maybe needed.
      But the film does well not to dwell on that moment too much or the indo- pak theme at the end. Yes it’s a grand ending around that but it’s more about the 2 leads. In fact the ending shot is exactly the same as TZP!

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      • When I learnt about the plot and so on I felt it should have had that sort of ending. Unfortunately these days no one would risk it because it’s not clear if the multiplex audience would take to it as well.

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        • jayshah Says:

          The moment that false ending happened – the audience gasped, my wife blurted out “oh no!!!”. If the story found a sensible way of continuing thereafter that’s where I would have taken it.

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      • **Spoiler**
        Someone else suggested a tragic ending with voice coming in response would have been more edgyl. Or they could have taken Shor/Black reference and the kid getting voice but Salman losing it but still living.

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    • Even I don’t why that song kept on playing in younger voice. It just was not gelling. I liked the Qawalli but found that Sabri brothers have sung it before.

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  12. MSDhoni Says:

    Glad you liked it Jay. Apart from resemblance to Hirani sort of screenplay , I too wanted to mention the similarities on level of innocence wrt TZP sometime back, but got busy with something and thought never came back. Thanks for reminding. In this all corrupted and convoluted world , innocence is one of the most exciting things remaining in the world and well told human stories will always excite an audience. There is an abundance of that in this movie in both Harshaali and Salman.

    May be it was the way story was written and writer is the real hero, but I am compelled to say Kabir K may have been underrated as a director. He has successfully given Salman a ‘multiplex audience’ edge first with ETT and now this. His documentary making background here assists the movie to a large extent.One thing for sure – he knows how to title his movies which immediately gets the curiosity level high. Hearing about a movie named Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan gets inquisitiveness high.

    If one is naming a movie Bangistan or Welcome to Karachi or some of the recent ugly name , more or less a large section is going to keep out of it anyway.

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  13. Absolutely agree with MS Dhoni on naming. Why name a film Bangaistan? Whom does it attract? How does it help?

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