Director: Rohit Shetty
The Indian Express rating: **1/2
Wannakum, wannago? I went into Chennai Express dreading I would be doused, doused I tell you, with a staggering number of stereotypes, and that I would spend the film flinching and grimacing and counting the minutes.
But as Chennai Express began chugging along, I found myself guffawing in a place. Or two. The laughs came intermittently through the first half, and I was still sitting in my seat at the interval. And then it turned into the same old story : the plot, which was thinner than a self-respecting wafer to start with, just gives up and dies, and the lead pair, Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone stop talking to each other (even as Padukone's thickly-accented "main aati, aur thum jaati" out-Mehmoods Mehmood at his most outre) and begin posturing. They have no competition from anything else : the trademark Shetty bang bang ' car chases, jeeps blowing up, large groups of people charging at each other ' is by now more eye glaze than ever.
In Pics: Shah Rukh Khan meets fans as Chennai Express hits theatres
This could have been a good caper, in which madcap characters race around the countryside with other madcap characters in hot pursuit. Especially when Shah Rukh Khan is so willingly sending himself up as only he can, with such a knowing nudge-and-wink that you smile despite yourself. "Rahul", he introduces himself to Meenamaa (Padukone): "naam toh nahin suna hoga". You know you are being set up, and yet you can't help being amused. The amusement lasts only momentarily, and you are left feeling sorry at the waste.
Rahul wants to head to Goa to party with his pals, but he gets on to the Chennal Express instead, to fulfil his late dadaji's dying wish. On that train hops the beauteous Meenakshi aka Meenamma, on the run from her appa (Sathyaraj) who is some kind of a don in a Tamil Nadu village, and who wants to marry her off. One thing leads to another, and the two reach said village. Towering hulk who is also would-be-groom (Dheer) arrives to growl and snarl. A phalanx of dark-complexioned fierce fellows shake sickles at Rahul, who is left to face a barrage of rapid-fire Tamilian yakkity yak, and a Meenamma who dimples prettily whenever she is given a chance, and a film that rapidly heads, ha ha, south.
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Mercifully, the director doesn't have his dark "southy" fellows licking rasam off their elbows. Yes, the stereotypes are there, but they are not as bloated as Shetty can get them to be. He also, surprise, has them speak long, complex sentences in Tamil without someone immediately translating them (a very Shetty, very tiresome thing). So much so that Chennai Express can safely be called the first Tamil film in Hindi. Or even the other way round. Clearly, having Shah Rukh as co-producing star stopped Shetty from ratcheting the blown-jeeps-meter: he suddenly finds he has to go all emo, and do a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. And cobble bits and pieces from other hit SRK films. It's another matter that Shah Rukh Khan is looking his age in certain angles: having the sprightly Padukone josh about him looking fifty cuts too close to the bone.
Still, this is a pair trying to have some fun, and coming up with some genuinely funny moments. Padukone looks lovely in a just-about-to-burst-into-a-Bharatnatyam-dance sort of way, and sticks unwaveringly to a spunky over 'the-topness, till she's made to go all emotional. That's when her graph dips. That's when Shah Rukh's raffish charm slips. And that is also when Chennai Express derails. And the laugh-out-loud wannakum becomes okay, wannago.