Chennai Express (Milano-Chennai via Boston)
A review by our Italian friend – Ludovica Gazzè, who is visiting from Boston and enjoys Shah Rukh Khan movies! She also exceptionally smart – a PhD student at MIT, who also serves a movie critic for web magazines. Enjoy the review…
I guess the first question is what does an Italian woman who doesn’t speak a word of Hindi do watching a Bollywood movie, and one with not so great reviews, in Lucknow? Let’s go back to where this story should start – which is pretty much what Shah Rukh Khan says at the beginning of the movie, standing all covered in blood, a nice breeze caressing his corvine hair (which is a little too long if you ask me).
I study economics in Boston, development economics. But this doesn’t matter for our story, beside having brought me to work in the city of Lucknow. What matters is I love movies, all sorts of movies, and I might have a thing for Indian men. So here I am, pretending to be a SRK fan, from the “My name is Khan” premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, to watching “Billu Barber” at a friend’s in Milan and actually enjoying it. Just to be honest: he’s not even that handsome. But I like to play along. And it’s impossible to get a drink in this city, so for a change let’s go watch Chennai Express.
I just said SRK is not that handsome, I know, but this is no reason for him to deform his face in expressions that are not funny. But this is what he does for the first 30 minutes of the movie (Italian readers: if I say Christian de Sica, you should get an idea of the kind of humor, but clearly less sexist). I am not amused, but the people around me do laugh at his funny voices. I start thinking that too much gets lost in translation. But does it?
Me: Did she say her father wants her to marry some “not that handsome” guy, and so she ran away?
Collegue: Indeed. But how did you guess?
How did I guess? What can possibly happen in an Indian movie? He, Rahul, meets her, Mina, they fall in love (at some stage) but they cannot marry. And with that sad face, lips down and corrugated eyes (you know when a little kid makes a sad face? That one) she can only be talking about an unhappy marriage ahead. And with this, I might not have laughed at any actual joke in the script, assuming they were funny, but I pretty much got all that happened.
What I still don’t get is why in the middle of a fight with a bunch of “scary-looking” dark and hairy Tamils wearing tablecloths as skirts SRK invites me to the dancefloor (that was a great song, though!). Whatever, I enjoy the music and watch on. What happens later is predictable: beautiful landscapes as bright as Technicolor can have them, and maybe a little too clean, but that might be my bias after coming back from Varanasi, and love love love, with a different song that I can’t sing as a soundtrack, but you can imagine it as the opening scene of Love Actually, and it’ll give you the idea well enough.
But there is a striking difference between “western” love stories and Indian ones. No, I’m not thinking about sex, although it is interesting how chaste Indian movies are… not even a kiss with the tongue! I’m thinking about how women are portrayed in these movies. Gee, Indian women must be a bit bossy: this one just wants it her way, and “don’t worry Rahul, I got a plan ready”, and she bosses him all around. Italians in comparison are as sweet as a mango lassi.
Indeed, she says exactly “don’t worry”. It seems like English appears when there is a need for emphasis: “Because I love her” shouts the hero when he’s ready to die. He also keeps asking “why?” to make the point that a sweets-maker should be able to marry the daughter of a gangster, not to mention the self-citation, I love big egos, “My name is Rahul and I’m not a terrorist” accompanied by the face deformation, pretty much like in The Mask, that makes SRK into the autistic protagonist of My Name is Khan.
But a special face is left to the major line of the movie, the one he repeats a thousand times until it becomes a refrain just like the songs: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE COMMON MAN. Oh yeah, we are poor, but not as poor as not being able to get a 34,000 IRS Nokia Lumia and brag about it for half the movie, and we might look stupid ‘cause it sells better, but we are the people, we have the power, and we dance the lungi dance. Get your tablecloths ready!