The first thing you see as Chennai Express begins is Deepika Padukone getting the top billing followed by Shah Rukh Khan. One would think that it is a gracious gesture by one of the top heroes of the country. As the movie progresses you realise that the movie indeed belongs to Deepika. It is a kind of poetic justice that the girl who debuted in another SRK hit blooms into a performer in yet another of his films. Shah Rukh Khan has a lot of fun riding shotgun and allowing his protege take center stage throughout the film.
When I saw the trailer of the film, I assumed - like most of us, that it would offend South Indians by drawing a caricature of us. The movie does nothing like that. The highpoint of the movie is the perfect imitation Deepika makes of that big animated South Indian mouth. And her body-language and language - she uses a perfect South Indian Hindi diction that is indeed a caricature but never an over-the-top caricature which is consistent through out her performance both in comedic and emotional scenes. In what one can call an author-backed role, Deepika never for a moment is the model-turned-actor who I always thought cannot act to save her life. She is Meenamma.
The movie is filled with the current brand of SRK's self-deprecating humour. Early in the movie, there is a nice spoof of the now legendary climax scene of DDLJ; sadly, the joke gets tiresome when it is done 4 times over. As far as I am concerned, the film has one really good joke that spoofs another line that belongs not to SRK but the Big Daddy of Hindi cinema - 'hum jaha khade rehti, wahi se station shuru hoti'. Another funny that had me chuckling is related to that notorious Tamil alphabet 'zh'. I have been corrected a million times by my fanatic Tamil friends on the correct pronunciation of 'zh', the alphabet that is supposedly unique only to Tamizh and SRK in a couple of scenes hilariously gets lost in the tongue twister. The Temple Stairs scene where Saarookaan transforms from the frivolous to the earnest over a span of few seconds endearing himself to the heroine is a showcase of how he has come to be the King of Romance. 20 years down, if a young person asks me 'what's so great about him?' and is impatient to watch the full length version of DDLJ or another of his great romances, I will point her to the Temple Stairs scene from 'Chennai Express'. It is like that Karwa Chowth scene in DDLJ where he is fooling around taunting Simran on the rooftop all the while starving through out the day without her knowledge. Or that other scene from Yes Boss where... and so on and so forth. For girls of a certain vintage, Shah Rukh Khan defined romance and laid down the parameters of Mr. Right Guy. Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this... alright, alright, let me not get carried away.
Shah Rukh Khan comes into his own in the last quarter of the film doing what he does best - rattle out a nice long monologue on love and social order to the young and old, woo the father of the bride and snatch another man's woman. As important as his famous gesture of spreading his arms wide for the heroine and the famous shake of his head with the quiver in his lips is another aspect of SRK's performances. No one can get bashed up on screen like SRK. That 360 degrees rotary turn which lands him on his knees with a bleeding face and dishevelled hair that he perfected since his early Baazigar days is one of the enduring sights of Hindi Cinema.
In a movie stuffed to the gills with Tamilians speaking chaste Tamil, I thought it was a lost opportunity that not a single local addresses our hero as Raagul.
2.5 out of 5 Tamizhs.