Movie Review: Prem Ratan Dhan Payo

November 12, 2015

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In the 10 years or so since we last saw a Sooraj Barjatya film, the world according to Rajshri (his production house) seems to have changed, albeit superficially. The women are still coy and chaste, but dress up in western wear and have a semblance of a career. The men are still virtuous and patronising, but cloak the attitude in jokes about virginity and skinny-dipping.

But at its core, Barjatya’s candy-floss universe is intact, and “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” (prem = love, rattan = gemstone, dhan = wealth, payo = to get) is about the great Indian family, its (easily solvable) conflicts, song and dance, and a lot of moral science lectures delivered by Salman Khan in a double role.

In his first avatar, Khan plays Prem, a street theatre actor who harbours a crush on Maithili (Sonam Kapoor), the benevolent princess who runs the local NGO in his hometown of Ayodhya. When he finds out that she is visiting her fiancé, the crown prince of a nearby princely estate, he goes there in the hope of coming face to face with her. What he doesn’t know is that the crown prince is badly wounded in an assassination attempt, and that his face is eerily similar to Prem’s.

Prem soon takes the place of the prince and goes about his princely duties in exactly the opposite way that is expected of him. He mends bridges with his estranged stepsisters, romances Maithili and breaks every royal protocol along the way, much to the horror of Dewanji (Anupam Kher), the royal family’s trusted retainer.

Everything in this 174-minute film is over-the-top in its saccharine sweetness and after a point, it is hard to keep track of why we should care for these one-dimensional, cardboard characters. Barjatya is so determined to tell, rather than show, that he over-emphasises everything. So a girl who likes football wears football boots even when she’s at home; Maithili is supposed to be a “career woman”, but is only shown as a submissive partner who always does what her husband wants her to.

Barjatya packs in songs and opulent dance routines but manages to say little of significance other than to emphasise and re-emphasise the importance of family and staying together. And despite the attempt to intersperse English in the dialogue (“Shree Ram ne little little steps liye”), it is clear that Barjatya and his story are still stuck in the dark ages.

Salman Khan saunters onto the screen, pretends to emote, and then bursts into song and dance. Sonam Kapoor is particularly grating – more than ten minutes of her on screen and you might want to look away. Right from Kapoor’s attempts to appear subdued and coy, to the fake waterfall gushing under the palace, “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” is a spectacle that rings hollow. This is not the Diwali gift you were waiting for.

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, and David @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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