'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo': Film Review

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo Still - H 2015
Ravendra Singh/Fox Star Studios

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo Still - H 2015

Bollywood spectacular is bloated, but hits the right emotional targets

Salman Khan (in a double role), Sonam Kapoor and Sooraj Barjatya deliver a squeaky-clean love story in time for the Diwali holiday.

With the exception of a couple of genuinely exciting sequences, director-writer Sooraj Barjatya’s latest syrupy extravaganza Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (I Received a Treasure Called Love) is a highly predictable effort. That won’t stop fans of the film’s star, Salman Khan, from queuing in droves.

The lavish two-and-a-half-hour romance, which opened on a record 284 screens in North America, the biggest ever release for a Hindi film, is expected to break box office records for both producer Rajshri and distributor FoxStar over the Diwali holiday.

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Khan plays Prem, a local street theater artist who earns his living performing in Ram Leelas, the mythological folk plays that tell the story of how Lord Ram vanquished the 10-headed demon Raavan to save the honor of the beautiful Sita. Prem is a sweet and innocent man whose only desire in life is to meet a gorgeous young woman named Maithili (Sonam Kapoor), who runs a charity and happens to be a member of India’s royal dynasty.

Tipped off to the news that Princess Maithili will visit a nearby town, Prem decides to travel there for a glimpse. That’s when the proceedings get “filmy”: seems there’s a prince there named Vijay Singh who is engaged to Maithili – and Prince Vijay happens to be Prem’s perfect double, sporting an identical ripped physique and hulking gait – though much better dressed.

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Palace intrigue movie conventions demand that Vijay’s enemies are out to kill him, so they orchestrate a cliffside accident that leaves him hospitalized, but Vijay’s allies spot Prem -- in the bazaar, cheerfully munching on a piece of guava -- and decide to swap him for the injured Vijay in time to stand in for a coronation and wedding to Maithili. 

And movie double role conventions demand that the unsuspecting Maithili finds she loves this version of Vijay much more than the stiff, moustachioed guy she’s engaged to: Points for guessing which Khan ends up happily ever after.

The music-packed film has the unmistakably forced feeling of a P.R. exercise designed to distract Khan’s fans from the reality that their beloved star, who they refer to as “bhai” (brother), can’t seem to shake his unsavory past. This May, Khan was sentenced to five years in jail after his 2002 DUI hit-and-run, but his sentence has been suspended and he remains free to travel outside the country. Khan has been burnishing his public persona for over a decade, with pious or heroic roles and heavily hyped charity work with the NGO he founded, the Being Human Foundation.

Visually, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is one giant bonbon, shot on location in palaces in Rajasthan and Gujarat; and the film’s soundtrack by Himesh Reshammiya could have been written 20 years ago, not that that’s a bad thing – the soundtrack’s familiar tropes swirl around 10 songs, each more intricately colored and choreographed than the last.

Love interest Sonam Kapoor isn’t given much to do beside gaze at Prem in adoration, but the film’s supporting cast, including Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook) and Neil Nitin Mukesh (New York, Jail), are solid.

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The film shifts into drive when Prem coaxes a crowd of overdressed royals into an impromptu and very muddy soccer match, and again when Maithili attempts to seduce Prem the night before their wedding (with a pained glance heavenward, Prem hugs her primly and regretfully declines).

Barjatya and his family’s production house, Rajshri, are known for creating unique cinematic concoctions that blend chaste love stories, family value lessons and vast displays of wealth. Way back in 1994, when Barjatya’s smash hit Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? (also starring Khan and Madhuri Dixit) packed movie houses, the filmmaker’s style was endearing. He and Khan have collaborated on four hit films; now, his vapid, scrubbed-down version of modern Indian life just seems anachronistic and out of touch. Is it really necessary for Maithili to arrive at a flood relief zone charity camp in a flashy white helicopter?

Production company: Rajshri Productions 

Cast: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Neil Nitin Mukesh

Director/screenwriter: Sooraj R. Barjatya

Producers: Kamal Kumar Barjatya, Rajkumar Barjatya, Ajit Kumar Barjatya

Cinematographer: V. Manikandan

Production designer: Nitin Chandrakant Desai

Editor: Sanjay Sankla

Costume Designers: Ashley Rebello, Alvira Khan Agnihotri, and Anamika Khanna

Composers: Himesh Reshammiya, Sanjoy Chowdhury

Not rated; running time 166 minutes