Opening this week

Film review: ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ has two stars, neither of whom is called Salman or Kareena

The knee-high Harshaali Malhotra and the redoubtable Nawazuddin Siddiqui steal the show in Kabir Khan’s seriocomic cross-border drama.

Salman Khan conquered the box office a while ago, and even he probably cannot stifle a yawn at yet another turn at sending villains flying into the air with a single punch, exposing his perfectly sculpted chest, and wriggling his hips in something resembling a dance move.

This doesn’t mean that Khan is going to stop saving India from itself – his legions of fans demand nothing less from him. But since the nation is already in the bag, Khan turns his eyes towards Pakistan, an undeniably difficult neighbour but also a lucrative film territory. In Kabir Khan’s seriocomic Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which the superstar has co-produced, Salman Khan plays the peace dove whose flight over the barbed wire that separates India and Pakistan melts the hearts of citizens on either side.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which is based on a story by Telugu writer Vijayendra Prasad, presents Khan not as an action hero with god-like powers but an ordinary mortal with an extraordinary dedication to social service. The opportunity presents itself to Khan’s Pavan when Shahida, a mute six year-old girl from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, lands up in India. Pavan is a failed student and a failed wrestler. He has been successful only in love, with the immaculately dressed Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan), and his resolve to restore Shahida to her home is also a mission to prove himself to Rasika’s strong-willed father (Sharad Saxena).

The movie’s geopolitical concerns and peacenik bent are laid out in the taut and moving opening sequence. Shahida has travelled to India with her mother, but on the way back, she wanders out of the Samjhauta Express and fails to get back on board. Borders once closed do not open easily, especially when they are between nations that have gone to war. Thus it is that Shahida finds herself in Kurukshetra, where Pavan is dancing for the consumption of real bhakts and Salman Khan’s bhakts.

This is a movie that consciously and unconsciously appropriates cultural signs and symbols. Hence Pavan wears a locket shaped like a mace, is the vegetarian son of a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh member, greets everybody with “Jai Shri Ram”, and never passes a Hanuman idol or a monkey without genuflecting before them.

Pavan is also pure of heart despite being clueless about communities that are not like his, and when he learns through a series of amusing circumstances that Shahida is neither a Brahmin nor a Kshatriya but a Pakistani Muslim, he decides to take her back home by hook or crook.

All you need is love

Every fairytale has its princess, and the honours in this film go not to Kapoor Khan, who is content with a strictly ornamental role, but to Harshaali Malhotra, whose expressive face and irresistible charms steal the show all the way.

Rasika is relegated to the background as Pavan and Shahida smuggle their way into Pakistan and run into an assortment of large-hearted Pakistanis as well as nationalists who are convinced that Pavan is a spy. The water cannons that were turned on in the opening sequence are in full flow in the manipulative three-hanky climax, but before that, Pavan has another scene-stealer to contend with. The redoubtable Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Chand Nawab, a small-time reporter who helps Pavan and Shahida reach their destination.

The complete lack of logic in the way people behave and events transpire on the other side of the border gives the movie much-needed levity, and is perfectly summed up in a line tossed by Chand Nawab to the deeply religious Pavan: “Will Bajrangbali helps us in Pakistan too?”

Given the cock-eyed manner in which Pavan navigates Pakistan without so much as a map and unerringly makes his way to Shahida’s home, the question answers itself.

Kabir Khan’s attempts to foster bonhomie and empathy between the great subcontinental rivals are as touching as they are earnest. Since the movie is often seen from Shahida’s knee-high perspective, it follows that the complexity of the Indo-Pak question and the business of the status of Kashmir are boiled down to the simplest of thoughts and emotions: the flags are different but the people are the same.

Although this approach still does not solve the Kashmir problem, Bajrangi Bhaijaan is refreshingly free of jingoism, and tries to navigate difficult truths, such as the bigoted reaction of Rasika’s family towards consuming meat and renting out to Muslims, through comedy. The message doesn’t as much sink home as it is rammed in.

Although the movie is as handsomely produced and glossily shot as Kabir Khan’s previous productions, the director’s track record of sluggish pacing, be it New York or Ek Tha Tiger, is unbroken with his latest release, which stretches on for 159 minutes. The post-interval bits in Pakistan are an unruly jumble, and Pavan’s self-declared lack of intelligence makes him the unlikeliest of heroes. Salman Khan will regard Bajrangi Bhaijaan as a career redefining moment, but his limited acting skills show up in every scene.

Luckily for Pavan and the viewers, he has Shahida and Chand Nawab by his side. One communicates through her smile, while the other nails every line he utters.



We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.