It’s a somewhat long ride that occasionally teeters on the edge of tedium, but it certainly isn’t all wrong. Parts of Chennai Express, propelled by a spirit of inspired lunacy that holds the no-holds-barred action comedy in good stead, is markedly better than the sum total of the film.
If only it had enough steam to sustain its momentum all the way to the very end, it would probably have been far more fun to watch.
But do hop aboard. This Express is designed for quite a crazy carousel. If you hang in there and do not allow the many distractions and diversions along the way throw you off track, you might actually find yourself getting into the swing of things, especially in the first half.
Some of the stops en route might seem rather unnecessary and overstretched. In fact, not all the platforms that Chennai Express chugs into are uniformly inviting.
But the thunderous rhythm of the voyage does generate some genuinely funny gags.
Chennai Express warms up pretty quickly and delivers exactly what you would expect from a Rohit Shetty film: runaway entertainment.
Shetty, who obviously does not have any patience for half measures, goes full tilt at the resources at his disposal and rustles up an action-packed culture-clash comedy that has crowd-pleaser emblazoned all over it.
The director throws dollops of good-natured drollery into the thrills-and-spills blender and comes up with a movie that has all the tried-and-tested ingredients of the genre that he has made his own.
Does Chennai Express get to its destination without too many splutters? Well, although the film runs somewhat low on velocity at times and tends to meander a touch in the second half, fans of Shetty’s brand of filmmaking will have no reason to feel shortchanged.
What is most unusual about Chennai Express is that at least half its spoken lines are delivered in Tamil. Yet comprehension is never a problem, thanks to a screenplay that tides over the need to explain every dialogue in chaste Hindi.
Barring the lead pair and a Tamil-speaking Sikh policeman (played by Mukesh Tiwari), the principal characters in the film communicate their thoughts in their mother tongue, with the heroine serving as an ‘interpreter’ wherever the need arises, earning the sobriquet of Ms Subtitle from the wise-cracking male protagonist.
The storyline is no great shakes but the delivery is always rambunctiously lively. Shah Rukh Khan is a sweetmeat trader’s beloved grandson. The grandpa dies just shy of turning 100.
Rahul’s granny (Kamini Kaushal) requests the 40-year-old to fulfill the dead man’s last wish to have his ashes immersed in the sea off Rameswaram. Rahul takes the urn ostensibly on a trip to the South but connives with a couple of friends to head to Goa instead. Fate intervenes and his feigned trip on Chennai Express lasts much longer than he had bargained for.
He bumps into Meena, who is being escorted back home by four beefy cousins after a failed attempt to flee her village. Rahul is caught in the game that the girl decides to play with her dad, Durgeshwara (Sathyaraj), in order to avoid marrying a hulky muscleman, Thangaballi (Nikitin Dheer).
Chennai Express promises a superstar in all his many-splendoured glory. And it delivers Shah Rukh Khan in a guise that is 75 per cent lover boy-prankster Rahul (that is what his character is predictably called) and the remaining 25 per cent a fearless ‘common man’ who musters the strength of a hundred able-bodied men when he is pushed to a corner.
Chennai Express also gives Deepika Padukone a vantage seat in the best coach and she makes the most of the opportunity. As a southern mafia don’s feisty daughter, Meena, she lays it on really thick, both in terms of accent and body language.
Deepika’s diction and lingo appears a tad too labored at times, but, to her credit, she gets it right consistently.
The whole-hearted zeal that Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika bring to the table and the steady flow of funny one-liners serve Shetty’s purpose well, turning Chennai Express into an elopement-against-all-odds rigmarole that hits the right buttons at most turns.
Amid the flying bodies and cars that the director has a penchant for, the actors make their way through the rubble largely unscathed.
That, of course, does not mean that Chennai Express does not hit its share of rough patches. It does, but thanks to the free-wheeling energy that courses through its body, the smooth passages make up for the ones that are riddled with jerks.
Chennai Express is a full-on masala film that is completely unapologetic about its intentions. And that is its USP.