The release of a Shah Rukh Khan film is little short of a global event. It's also the cause of some trepidation. Not merely because cinema such as this, that caters for a mass audience, is prone to being a hari-kari inducing concoction of mindless masala, tawdry songs, overblown heroics and decidedly puerile comic antics, but also because the die-hard fans won't hear a word of criticism directed at their icon. One way or another, you may not live to tell the tale.
Thankfully, Chennai Express overrides the lacklustre clichés commonly associated with mass entertainers and is in fact, an unexpectedly enjoyable ride on the Shah Rukh Khan bandwagon.
40-year-old Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) uses a trip to Rameshwaram for the immersion of his grandfather's ashes as a ruse for a lad's holiday in Goa. About to disembark the Chennai Express, he is waylaid by Meena (Deepika Padukone), a rebellious Tamilian runaway escaping an arranged marriage orchestrated by her power-hungry father. As Rahul becomes unwittingly embroiled in her plans, comic encounters ensue and love unexpectedly follows. Rahul must fight cultural differences and his new-found foes to win her hand.
It's a comic caper almost in the Tom and Jerry vein, replete with funny sound effects and aided by some seamless editing, but with a discernible, if not entirely plausible, plot line and a burgeoning love story. The comedy teeters on the edge of being puerile, most notably in an ill-placed scene with a vertically-challenged man, but thankfully it stops short of falling into the precipice of lunacy and finds a palatable balance.
The partnership of Khan and Padukone is dynamite, both stars turning on a charm offensive and delighting with their mischievous comic turns and rib-tickling attempts at Antakshari (song game). Khan revels in the in-jokes, exploiting our affection for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge with some point scoring references. The signature moves that first won hearts 15 years ago are all pulled out of the bag with the same winning effect, proving that Khan still has what it takes to charm a world audience.
Padukone is chameleon-like in her ability to manifest her characters, with all their unique traits and quirks, and her tender expression has you convinced that she is a woman in the first throes of love. Her portrayal of Meena, the spunky South Indian with both backbone and a funny bone, is utterly endearing.
The film has the prerequisite soliloquy from Khan, and while these are often overblown, in this instance - even though it shouldn't - his diatribe against those who would devalue their daughters seems to work, resonating as it does with the prevailing mood. And what would our cinema be without a little overblown sentiment?
The beautiful shots of the South Indian landscape distract from the film's saggy middle and while Khan has a knack for selecting the most brain-numbingly infectious songs, it would be a wise move to leave before the traumatic 'Lunghi Song' kicks off the end credits. That aside, there is a whole lot of Shah Rukh Khan, back on form and delighting audiences in a movie that is already breaking records.
'Don't underestimate the box office power of Shah Rukh Khan' or his ability to engage an audience. For if there is anything to be said of Khan's contribution to Indian cinema it is this: that for good or bad, he gave his all to entertain us. Jump aboard the Chennai Express for a full-on, SRK-fueled joyride.
Watch Digital Spy's video interview with Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone below: