I have never been a fan of Salman Khan; the actor or the human being. But then I am a highly critical and cynical cinema viewer. And Salman Khan does not fall into my list of likeable actors, not even by a long shot. However, I did enjoy a short interview with the star last September only because of his self-deprecating humour. That veneer made good copy. More than his films ever did!
I must admit, that for lack of anything to do during the recent holidays, I went to watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I had no great expectations as I explained to friends. For God’s sake, it’s a Salman movie.
But this time, the sanctimoniousness and the smugness did go for a toss. It’s impossible not to fall in love with little Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra) at first sight. And when Wagah, the Indo-Pak border comes into view, it is a foregone conclusion, director Kabir Khan has a hit on his hands.
There’s nothing that raises or helps race the emotions of Indians and Pakistanis like an Indo-Pak story. I mean a good Indo-Pak story. No jingoism, no OTT patriotism. But some cleverly-scripted dialogues that don’t proclaim but make us understand that we are no different from each other. Throw in a little helpless speech-impaired girl who gets lost in India, a Hanuman-bhakt who does no wrong, some cricket, a journalist on the right side of free speech, junta who flocks to the border to see the good Samaritan back to India (how is this ever possible?), and you know the peacenik intentions will tug at the heart-strings. Never mind if a few scenes make you baulk, “Gori hai, toh brahman hogi” (She is fair, she must be a Brahmin). And to top it all, the message that social media is the solution to everything in this world. Almost!
Salman Khan as Bajrangi Bhaijaan is to put it, in one simple word, endearing. Like a recent article pointed out, the actor should sack his PR outfit and turn to Kabir Khan. In one cinematic stroke, the ‘de-bhaisation’ of Salman Khan has happened. Bhai – a strong, goonda who can also be a brother. Bhaijaan – a respectable, loving brother who can be looked up to! What a masterstroke!
I watched the film on Eid day with a crowd mostly comprising Pakistanis and Omanis. And was overwhelmed by the experience. There was thunderous applause at all the subtle ‘India-Pakistan is one’ dialogues. I did eat a piece of humble pie, if not crow. The hearts were in the right place. All will be good!