This week, for the humour column, the joke turned out to be on me.
My idea for this week’s piece was to catch the film Madras Café, apparently centred on Lankan Tamils, LTTE and Rajiv Gandhi Assassination — a sensitive and emotive subject in these parts — and write a responsible report filled with tasteless jokes on John Abraham.
Probably they got wind of what I was up to, the film hasn’t released here yet. Chennai Express is still on the screen where I was supposed to watch Madras Café. Left with no other option, I have gone ahead and spun a yarn around Chennai Express, and heaven knows that the film could do with some extra publicity. Also, in my defence, Chennai Express and Madras Café have one thing: John Abraham’s acting is non-existent in both.
Now cut to chase: Deepika Padukone does not want to marry the man chosen by her dad on the most logical ground that he (the prospective groom) has the most ridiculous name that any one could imagine: Thangaballi. Seriously, Thangaballi seems exactly the kind of name any parent would come up with for their son just to preempt others from thinking up a separate nickname for him.
Not wanting to marry Thangaballi, Deepika, chased by her cousins, does the sane and smart thing of escaping from Mumbai in a train that takes her to the place where his father, a dreaded don, and the groom to-be live. If Rohit Shetty were to make a World War movie, the script will have scenes where Japanese themselves order attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the train, Deepika runs into Shahrukh Khan, who has been entrusted the task of scattering his recently-demised granddad’s ash in the sea at Rameshwaram. Shahrukh is on the train just as part of an elaborate drama to cheat his grandmother, while his actual intention is to get off in the next station and travel to Goa with his friends. Just like our Finance Minister’s efforts to tame the inflation, it is a complicated but actually feckless plan.
In the event, Deepika, forced by the exigencies of circumstance, especially the one that they cannot end the film hardly half-an-hour into it, tells her dad that Shahrukh is her beau. Her dad, played by Sathyaraj, who wants her to marry Thangaballi, in a stratagem of remarkable cunning — something which every dad who wants to separate his daughter from her lover must emulate — makes him stay along with his daughter in his house.
The village itself is your archetypal Tamil village where the local policeman typically is a son of the soil Sardar, and the entire populace is involved in the traditional rural occupation of standing around and gawking at what is happening to others.
Meanwhile, Thangaballi, a Herculean hulk of a human, turns up and challenges Shahrukh for a fight, and the latter manfully accepts the challenge, and beats him to pulp. No, that would have meant ringing down the curtains an hour into the movie. So reserving the fight with Thangaballi for the climax, Shahrukh, in a rousing show of heroism, flees with Deepika in tow in her dad’s jeep.
The director Rohit Shetty comes into his own in this stretch, mostly because at this point he seems to have handed over script to R K Narayan, overlooking the minor fact that he is long dead. Seriously, the village that Shahrukh and Deepika find themselves in would make the essentially benign Malgudi seem, in comparison, rough and rowdyish like downtown New York.
All you see everywhere is flowing river, pristine pond, dandelion greens, hazy hills, multi-hued temple, quaint houses and quainter people. It is a place filled with guys who are devoid of guile and artifice. They are so innocent that the temple purohit, in Iyer vibhuthi motifs on his forehead, hardly realises that it is actually an Iyengar Perumal temple that he is in. If he had any more scenes in the film, we would have seen him to be the pastor for the local parish also.
When Shahrukh and Deepika enter this village, the locals do what all sensible folk do when faced with suspicious duo on the run in the dead of the night —- they open their spacious houses to them, feed them and let them live together for days without end. In short, the two interlopers get to enjoy the kind of hospitality that is not possible even at the Taj Hotels.
And when Thangaballi’s men arrive on the scene, the village chief helps Shahrukh and Deepika — two people he has not met before, and the ones he is unlikely to meet again — to escape in his jeep. As the old saying goes, it is because of people like him that we get rains and MLM schemes.
Anyway, Shahrukh and Deepika, reach her father’s village (after a small detour to Rameshwaram, which going by the geography as seen in the film, seems a hill station with a built-in fully functional ocean, so that he can fulfil the task of scattering his grandfather’s ashes in the sea and also complete the bigger task of falling in love with Deepika) and after a long fight with Thangaballi and a gaggle of henchmen, who adhering to the Geneva Convention of Climax Fisticuffs, attack him one after the other and eventually fall flat.
The tailpiece of the film is the rambunctious Lungi song, syncopated with shouts of Thalaiva, leading to a spontaneous chorus for a ban on Vijay’s film in these parts just because its title reminded people of the ludicrousness of this song.
On the whole, Chennai Express with Shahrukh playing a 40-ish aimless, fumbling Rahul…wait, wait is the subtext of Chennai Express too is Rajiv Gandhi’s issue?
PS: Chennai theatres may not have screened Madras Café. But we have surreptitiously released it in this piece’s headline. Try anagramming it.