Bringing the essence of Rajshri back to the cinematic arena, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is an Indian family drama that marks yet another association of Salman Khan and filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya. The film also stars Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher and Swara Bhaskar in prominent roles and will hit the screens this Diwali.
Bringing the essence of Rajshri back to the cinematic arena, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is an Indian family drama that marks yet another association of Salman Khan and filmmaker Sooraj Barjatya. The film also stars Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher and Swara Bhaskar in prominent roles and will hit the screens this Diwali. less
“PRDP has all the makings of a family blockbuster, but is a decade too late.”
It should come as no surprise that Prem Ratan Dhan Payo endlessly parades retrograde ideals – it is after all Sooraj Barjatya’s yet another loving ode to the big fat Indian family and traditions – but what he manages here is quite something, given that this movie (somehow) got made in 2015. It’s taken for granted that it’s only the bad guys in this movie who smoke and drink while the good guys only eat vegetarian food. But here’s the deal: there’s a prince, Vijay Singh, of the mythical kingdom of Pritampura, whose estranged sisters rudely rebuff each of his attempts at reconciling with them. Here, Barjatya wishes to establish how callous and spiteful they really are. Had this been a soap opera, these women would have worn huge bindis and bulky jewellery to help Barjatya reinforce his point. But here, he goes a step further: they go to school, and one of them plays football. Oh and of course, they are his step-sisters. To be fair, Barjatya does bring this thread to a close in a rather nice sequence involving a football match (the “Boy” and “Girl” caps from Hum Aapke Hai Koun are replaced by scorecards that read “Kings” and “Queens”) and the narrative has the characters take surprising decisions at times, but here precisely lies the problem – his establishment of the conveniently labeled good and bad guys is so socio-politically charged in its implications with regard to his naively virtuous worldview that the sequences he does pull off are robbed of their emotional punch. This is the kind of film that feels like it belongs to a different time. It doesn’t feel contemporary. There is, for instance, a Ram Leela sequence with endearing local flavour which serves as an entry scene for the hero Prem (Salman Khan, who else) that’s infused with playful pranks and gentle tomfoolery which should have been warmly charming, but leaves you cold because Barjatya’s idea of fun is deriding wayward youth who dare to joke about religious icons. A song crops up every five minutes – literally, no hyperbole – and a thoughtful filmmaker would’ve made this one hell of a romp, but the less said about the horrific mishmash that is the music, the better. It feels like Himesh Reshammiya was briefed that the songs have to retain the essence of the music from the 90s Barjatya films but must also sound modern – and the result is exactly how someone like Himesh would interpret that description. There’s a dreamlike song sequence in the second half set in a gorgeously designed garden which someone like Sanjay Leela Bhansali would have made gold out of. Like Bhansali, who made that other (rather underrated) Salman-Sonam (anti-)romance in an equally mythical setting, Barjatya is a filmmaker clearly not without strengths. Had he eschewed “story”, shunned conventional character and plot development with token twists and instead gone full crazy-indulgent on us, we would’ve landed with interesting material. But he’s after something else; his politics keep coming in way of his unique style. And while Bhansali’s positively unrealistic spaces seem to reflect the psychology of his characters, the grandeur in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo seems strangely divorced from its characters’ mindstates, there’s zero interaction between the film’s overall mood and its aesthetics. But Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, instead of playing to its strengths, wants to tell a story. Which is as much of a disaster as the film itself – the plot kicks off when the aforementioned prince is about to dutifully marry Princess Maithili because his long-deceased father had fixed the match when the two were kids, and as one character in the film proclaims, it would be sinister to break the vow. Perhaps I should modify my earlier statement that Barjatya doesn’t go full crazy-indulgent on us – he sure does, just that his own craziness adheres to good ol’ tradition as much as his characters do.