Bajrangi Bhaijaan, directed by Kabir Khan, stars Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Harshaali Malhotra in pivotal roles. The movie revolves around a six-year-old mute Pakistani girl who accidentally gets lost in India and a God-fearing simpleton named Pavan, aka Bajrangi, who takes it upon himself to unite the girl with her parents back in Pakistan.
Ever since the partition of British India as per the Mountbatten Plan, back in the year 1947, which gave rise to the newly formed states of India and Pakistan, the relationship between the two nations, despite numerous diplomatic attempts, has continued to remain hostile. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, with its themes of love and brotherhood, can be seen as an attempt on the part of the Indian film fraternity to bring the two estranged countries together. Perhaps, the greatest divide between the two nations is religion. Bajrangi Bhaijaan's depiction of a devout Hindu, a disciple of Lord Hanuman, who jeopardizes his own life to rescue a Muslim girl hailing from Pakistan, is certainly targeted towards bridging this great religious divide between India and Pakistan.
With the Pakistani Censor Board having already cleared the film for the release, we can expect Bajrangi Bhaijaan to spread its message of peace and love across the border as well. Whether the movie actually succeeds in bringing the two countries closer remains to be seen. But, for now, we all ought to admire the film as a great reminder that no barrier is strong enough to hold the people's will for too long; sooner or later, it must go down like the Berlin Wall. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, we get to see a very different Salman Khan--a marked departure from films like Dabangg (2010) and Kick (2014) in that there is more realism and less histrionics. One of the major side-effects of stardom is that it can make a person lazy and predicable. Of course, it makes little sense to try out new things when one can still make the mark with minimal efforts. The problem is that laziness and predictability can cost dearly in a longer run. It appears that Salman Khan finally took cognizance of the growing need to get rid of the predictable elements in his act. And, it seems to have paid off really well for Salman.
If Salman Khan's character 'Bajrangi' is the story's hero then the journalist character 'Chand Nawab,' brilliantly essayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, has to be our deus ex machina--an event or character introduced into a story to resolve seemingly unsolvable problems. Siddiqui's character enters the story in the second half and repeatedly bails Bajrangi and his little travel companion out of impossible situations. It can be seen as an interesting parallel to the Hindu mythological tale of Lord Rama wherein Rama succeeds in rescuing his abducted wife Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravana with the timely assistance of his ardent devotee Hanuman--the ultimate deus ex machina. In the movie, Bajrangi is the devotee of Hanuman and the timely help comes from Chand Nawab.
Overall, Bajrangi Bhaijaan comes across as a perfect summer blockbuster and has all the ingredients to entertain the audiences of all age groups. The movie carefully avoids touching upon the core issues which still remain a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, like most commercial offerings from Bollywood, relies heavily on time-tested gimmicks which makes it somewhat predictable. Salman Khan over the last half a decade has given us films that have rarely been devoid of style and hard hitting entertainment. But most of those films lacked in terms of storytelling. Bajrangi Bhaijaan is certainly an exception; it is a rare Salman Khan film that relies heavily on its plot. Yes, it will still require you to suspend your disbelief. No, it is not a kind of film that will make a film connoisseur feel proud of Hindi cinema. But, loaded with emotions and stashed with a few delightful moments of Bollywood-esque magic realism, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, despite its flaws and weaknesses, does come across as a film that's much more than being just another mindless entertainer.
(A version of this review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges)