Shah Rukh Khan, the 47-year-old, engagingly talented, Indian icon (affectionately referred to as “Baadshah of Bollywood”/ “King Khan”) starring in over 75 films, garnishing a myriad of awards; hopefully optimistic, wishing for the Western success of this movie, as it has championed the box office in the East. Unfortunately, the first half is preposterously, irritatingly silly, topping the scale at the acid -reflex level: slapstick “3 Stooges” idiocy: a forty-year-old man, “Rahul” (Khan) commissioned to scatter his grandfather’s ashes in Rameshwaram (southern most part of India), meets the beautiful, conflicted “Meena” (Deepika Padukone) on the painfully elongated “Chennai Express” sequence, plus goons (giving credence to the “missing link” theory), seeking to return her to her father and an unwanted arranged marriage. Khan pushes all the buttons of inane, grimacing, cowardly foolishness as a man/child incapable of recognizing the exquisite gem waltzing before him; delightfully-dimpled, destined for each other; audiences suffer Olympian persecution, torturous scenes of escapism, striving to placate an intractable father and a brutish, goliath- Neanderthal, “Tangaballi” (Nikitin Dheer) posing as the jilted betrothed.
After almost an hour of implausible lunacy a strange phenomena occurs ; director Rohit Shetty (“Om Shanti Om”) subtly addresses the anomaly of women and their role in a patriarchal society; they have been prime ministers, heads of corporations, community activists but still used as chattel, bargaining chips, when it comes to marriage, a state that under the most positive circumstances needs “love” to survive. Meena, with a will of steel, refuses to acquiesce to the untoward dictates of her father; because of her prodigious strength and tenacity Rauhl’s metamorphosis transpires; resulting in a satisfactory finale.
Typical, predictable Bollywood dance numbers, costume changes, mountaintop embraces are pleasing but the initial immaturity of Rahul robs the film of legitimate depth; possibly, the ubiquitous Bollywood fairy tale is the entree demanded by Eastern audiences, leaving Western viewers clamoring for more substantial fare.