Cast: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Deepak Dobhriyal, Swara Bhaskar, Armaan Kohli
Director: Sooraj Barjatya
Runtime: 174 min.
Genre: Drama, Romance
From what I remember, the impression I was provided by elders around was the Ms. Bhagyashree was the focal point of Maine Pyar Kiya. And if memory serves me well history Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was a complete Madhuri Dixit show. I have Raja as evidence. I wouldn’t vouch for its authenticity but I do remember Mr. Salman Khan complaining about not winning the Best actor award for it in 1994 and his reasoning was that since it was the biggest hit of the year he had to be the best actor. Don’t ask me, because I even remember Mr. Pramod Moutho using the same weird-ass reasoning to claim his right to the Best villain award for Raja Hindustani. And that is not the point. The point is that, for whatever reasons, Mr. Khan was almost never the focal point in his two biggest collaborations with Mr. Barjatya, and the whole Prem thing is something that has been cooked ages after the fact. Now, I do not want to go all meta on you and this film, but Mr. Barjatya, who, if not anything else, is pretty alright crunching emotions on a large-scale, seems to be least concerned with run-of-the-mill dramatic events and corresponding closures. See, there are spoilers and I don’t think so you need to be warned either. Read on, I say.So Mr. Khan is in a double role here, one a Prince by the name of Vijay and another a small time stage actor Prem, and Maithili (Ms. Kapoor) is engaged to the former and over the course of the film falls for the latter. When the time comes for one (Vijay) to do the obligatory right thing and hand her over to the other (Prem), Mr. Barjatya seems to feel almost too cool to go all melodramatic on us, say like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and end it all with a grand embrace. Rather, right before the cut away from the scene (it is as a matter of fact the last moment of drama before the obligatory closing song), she is still in the same frame (a sideways shot) with Vijay, who now looks exactly like Prem. That’s it. No movement from one post to another. Either is alright, Mr. Barjatya seems to tell me. And when I think of Mr. Khan’s character in a palace full of mirrors trying to find a way out of his own reflections, the film seems to practically beg for a meta-reading I do not in the least want to oblige it with. But I guess Mr. Barjatya is not providing us with that option because I think he is quite unhappy with Mr. Khan’s present larger-than-life image. He probably doesn’t like his moustached avatar (Dabangg) and all the alpha-male antics around the women he is courting. Maybe Prem is an extension, a sort of compensation, a character who in his overall moral framework completes him, and he doesn’t like the fact that what ought to be the actor’s defining character is being overwritten by several others so different in their essence. I don’t know, I might just be pulling stuff from my posterior, but the set-up, a variation on Bawarchi formula, is painfully simple – a patriarch’s dysfunctional domestic set-up needs glue (Mr. Barjatya and his marketing team probably missed an opportunity to have the Fevicol/Fevistick brand in there somewhere, thank you very much). The variation is that the patriarch is played by Mr. Khan, and the glue is played by Mr. Khan too, and in moments when both of them are on screen the latter feels as if he were some sort of a spirit, so feeble in his presence, so devoid of the narcissist streak, so single-minded in his purpose in the narrative. As opposed to the popular understanding, Mr. Barjatya’s films don’t uphold conservative values – his thought-process is probably too run-of-the-mill to do that – and instead what his narratives do is undermine (I wouldn’t want to go as far as subvert) and hopefully reverse traditional customs and rituals. More often than not, Mr. Khan’s Prem has been the agent – in Maine Pyar Kiya the whole Mere Rang mein Rangne Wali is as close to an agreement to full-blown pre-marital sex you are going to get in Mr. Barjatya’s films, which has an interesting parallel here, once again closely linking the not-so-much outdoor-but-not-so-much-indoor space with moral frivolity (don’t almost all this flirtatious activities happen in such sort of spaces), and the whole act of wearing a favorite revealing dress be some sort of response I can’t sink my teeth into; in a world where the parents would meet-and-greet before proceeding with a match, Mr. Khan’s Prem courteously went ahead and decided to find his own in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. The point here is that Mr. Barjatya’s films, as were many others’, are essentially liberal and we don’t have to burden him with the task representing family values and traditions. For him they are just the framework within which he can carve his romance and be naughty. What is a strict no for him though is for somebody to woo his women by the size of their masculinity, ala Jeevan (Mr. Mohnish Behl in Maine Pyar Kiya) shooting pigeons and exercising a display of control, and I guess I can suspect that is how Mr. Barjatya sees his alter-ego’s distortion into the present larger-than-life image. So he gives that image an impersonal palatial complex, rigid traditions, dysfunctional family and everything else we cannot really afford to connect with, and proceeds to introduce the alter-ego he believes as the catalyst of change. A sort of supporting member in his own narrative. Which is alright, except for the fact that the whole film feels distinctly like a concept trying its level best to have the vigor to metamorphose into a story, whose cause is not helped in the least by the half-written dialogues. Mr. Barjatya could be outrageously gifted in profiling walking figures under the light, his compositions consisting of vertical lines supplementing the slender figure of Ms. Kapoor still make the half-screens in multiplexes look tall, but for our generation at least, the sound of the convenience of an English word within a predominantly Hindi sentence quite simply breaks the illusion. The residual feeling here though is of something that is slight, or maybe light, and the melodrama just does not have the heft. Maybe by design, or maybe Mr. Barjatya was running through the motions. Or let me put it this way, if this were the 90s then Mr. David Dhawan would be feeling little to no compulsion to make a comedy out of this premise.