There’s a train. There’s a totalitarian father. There’s a lissom daughter being forced to marry a man she does not love. There’s a wedding. And there’s Shah Rukh Khan.
Wait, you might say. This is Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (The Lover Will Take the Bride), a 1995 romantic film starring SRK – the template for nearly every SRK movie ever made.
No, Chennai Express isn’t DDLJ. It’s worse. It’s DDLJ redux. And it’s produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, owned by King Khan himself.
The story is simple: the 40-year-old Rahul (SRK looking suspiciously Botoxed but finally playing his age instead of trying to pass as a 20-year-old) has to go to Rameshwaram, a holy city in southern India, to immerse the ashes of his beloved grandfather. To do this, he gets on the Chennai Express and unwittingly helps Meenamma (Deepika Padukone), a Tamil girl running away from her mafia-don father and marriage, to board the train. They end up in her village. And all hell breaks loose.
Three hours, several unrelated songs, unconnected scenes and I-speak-Hindi-you-speak-Tamil jokes later (such as, I kid you not, “Ready, steady, po [Tamil for “go”]), Rahul beats up Meenamma’s Goliath-like suitor and wins her father’s heart (“You are a real man, son”).
The plot is so full of holes you could tear it on the dotted line: SRK goes from Mumbai to an obscure village in Tamil Nadu, and in between also finds himself on a fishing boat off the coast of Sri Lanka and lost in a forest. Special mention: he also destroys an SUV with a single blow of a machete.
But all this nonsense is still tolerable. What is not are the dozens of references to nearly all of SRK’s films, from Dil Se to My Name Is Khan to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and (someone’s really got to step up and slap him out of it) DDLJ. In fact, the last four words SRK says in Chennai Express –with no trace of irony – are “dilwale dulhaniya le jaayenge”. Ugh.
SRK, you’ve been riding the DDLJ train for 18 long years. But just like cinema in India has evolved, the audience has, too. Careful now. The last thing you want is for their reverence to turn into rage.