A few weeks ago I was praising DOSTANA for tackling contemporary sexual morality and pushing forward the boundaries of Hindi cinema. By contrast, RAB NE BANA DI JODI is a rather old-fashioned Bollywood weepie that espouses the virtues of integrity, loyalty and selflessness over hot dance moves and good looks. Both movies have their strengths and, in some ways, I rather preferred RAB NE BANA DI JODI precisely because it's a throwback to simpler, more straightforward times.
In contemporary Punjab, Surinder Sahni (Shah Rukh Khan) is a geeky, hard-working, quiet man. He attends the wedding of his professor's daughter, Taani (Anushka Sharma) only to fall in love with her at first sight. She's a vivacious, beautiful much younger girl - they seem to be chalk and cheese. When the groom party is killed in an accident, and the professor dies from grief, Surinder does the honourable thing in marrying Taani, giving her a home. He doesn't press his marital rights - rather waiting for love to grow slowly ("Haule Haule"). She promises to be a good wife, but claims she can never love him. In order to cheer her up and spend time with her, Suri decides to enter a dance contest with her, under the guise of a cool, confident guy called Raj. The make-over is so dramatic that Taani doesn't even recognise him. Soon, Taani is having a wonderful time with Raj. So much so that Suri is wondering if he'll lose her to his alter-ego. Or will Taani learn to appreciate Suri's quiet goodness? Well, this is Hindi cinema, so you can guess the ending!
The success of the movie hinges on the performances of the two leads. Shah Rukh Khan is marvelous as Suri/Raj. As Suri he is suitably self-effacing and nervous - and takes immeasurable delight in small triumphs - such as when his new wife prepares his first tiffin! As Raj, Shah Rukh beautifully satirises ridiculous Bollywood Heroes - complete with camp outfits and cheesy one-liners. Model slash actress Anushka Sharma does a good job in the harder role - she has to express the conflict of a well-brought up girl who considers leaving her husband for another man. Still, she doesn't have the screen presence of a Shah Rukh (who does?) or of legendary Bollywood actresses such as Kajol and Madhuri.
Behind the screen, Ravi K Chandran shoots Punjab beautifully and the Merchant brothers have produced a beautiful score. I particularly liked the sweet love song "Haule Haule" - nice to see Sukhwinder Singh singing a slower, softer number. And the lyrics to the song "Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai / I see God in you" are deeply moving. But by far the most entertaining and intellectually interesting number is a song called "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte". It's a dream sequence in which Shah Rukh Khan sings himself through the history of Hindi film - pastiching the hit numbers of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. It's a tremendous set-piece - exuberant, cheeky but fundamentally nostalgic for a shared heritage. And if anyone's still in doubt about who really has the heart of India, wait for the reaction when the first "item girl" appears on the screen!
RAB NE BANA DI JODI is on global release.