Director Suraj Barjatya’s imposition of male-governed, majoritarian kingdoms somehow imposed onto contemporary India is inscrutable and misdirected.
By Meena Yeggina
Starring: Salman Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Swara Bhaskar, Anupam Kher, Armaan Kohli, Deepak Dobriyal
Music: Himesh Reshmayya Director: Sooraj R Barjatya
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP) is an archaic, banal and regressive work that frustrates you with its implicit themes of patriarchal monarchy. Suraj Barjatya’s imposition of male-governed, majoritarian kingdoms somehow imposed onto contemporary India is inscrutable and misdirected. Indeed, PRDP almost resembles a BJP-sponsored, RSS-directed family saga with the absurd, unrealistic twists of a typical Colors desi soap.
The film first introduces a monarch ruling several villages, probably populated by unassuming subjects who dote on their ruler, Vijay Singh (Salman Khan). Vijay is the undisputed heir and first-born son of the former king’s first wife. Vijay’s father marries twice while also maintaining a third affair (resulting in the birth of two girls). His second wife has a son, Ajay Singh, played by Neil Nitin Mukesh. The late king’s ultimate aspiration is for all the children from the three wives to unite peacefully. Barjatya’s assumption that this Hindu king’s polygamy and impractical desire to unify the children of warring wives, is attainable in today’s times, is disappointing; frankly, this core concept of the film strips the merit of the entire premise, and undermines the role of a wife. Rather, the woman in PRDP is marginalized, unless portrayed in the role of a love interest or a subjugating wife who must share her rights with two other women. She is relegated to a state of obscene inequality that is somehow normalized through consistent rushes of supposedly potent familial emotion.
Essentially, PRDP as a whole focuses on the life of Vijay Singh’s journey to self-realization, and reunion with his broken family of three siblings after the demise of his parents. Thrown in the mix is a scheming employee who wants Singh’s property, a Brahmin lookalike of the monarch (also played by Khan) who comes to the palace and serves as King while Singh is injured by his enemies, a repetitive love story with Sonam Kapoor, and too many musical numbers to count.
What I would like to know is – why would a king that truly wants his kids to live harmoniously despite his infidelity fail to equally divide his property prior to his demise? Instead, he abandons all the younger children, relinquishing them to the mercy of his oldest son; thus, he conceives intermittent jealousies, mistrust and hatred between his children. Although the two boys ultimately do attain relatively equal financial rights, the undisputed yet skewed facet of the family dynamic is that the daughters don’t possess a natural right to any of their father’s property. Rather, they are dependent on the magnanimity and charity of their fathers, brothers or husbands. Personally, I am distraught that, even today, films are subliminally engendering the idea that that girls are always inferior, and must ask for a claim in their familial property, while sons can accept it as their legal birthright.
Princess Mythili, played by Sonam Kapoor, plays Vijay Singh’s love interest, and apparently runs a local NGO mitigating poverty through lavish gifts and other resources. On one of her excursions in the film, she lands in an extravagant helicopter to the site of distribution, in designer clothing, and doles out the food – as if anyone doing charity in such a context would adorn themselves with rich attire directly in front of those less fortunate (this simply adds to the sheer unrealistic nature of Barjatya’s work). Moreover, she appears at the site for all of five minutes to distribute the food, give a charming smile, and then whooshes off in her helicopter yet again. I am saddened for all those truly dedicated to charity works, who are far more dedicated than is portrayed in the film.
In the 21st century where women, minorities and socially discriminated groups are struggling to eradicate already-existing inequalities, Suraj Bharjatya just rehashes a primitive, regressive societal structure also full of caste, not just gender, inequity. For example, a the king, a kind Kshatriya Hindu, only has fellow Hindus ruling alongside him, including a Brahmin trustee (Anupam Kher) who is ascribed with intelligence and chastity due to his caste. Not a single other religion is even demonstrated in his court, ostracizing a significant portion of the nation in a time when advancement in today’s society for faith-based unification is already turbulent.
On another note, the music in this film, in my opinion, is also extremely slow, monotonous, and sometimes even cacophonous. The Seesh Mahal (glass house) showcased in the final scenes of the film was also unimaginative. Indeed, the entire climax was rather trite, and reminiscent of every Hindi film in the 20th century – a cliché family reunion after a brief sequence of misunderstandings.
To my surprise, Salman Khan performed relatively well, compared to his past performances (like “Kick”). He was far more convincing than the artificial and chalky Sonam. Anupam Kher also proved once again his merit as an actor. A couple of teenage girls in the theatre found Neil “hot,” and Sonam “boring.” Unfortunately, the rest of the cast hardly has any visibility.
I cannot deny that the first half of the film does have its fair share of decent comedy, and Khan’s charm exudes the screen – sometimes so much you want to ignore the blatant errors in the script and immerse in the story. But by the second half, you regret ever doing so. Overall, I must assert that this film is archaic, inane and exceedingly male-centered. It’s trite message about family unity misses the mark on several accounts, and its premise is driven on an unrealistic goal. It almost feels as if Khan acted in PRDP to please the Hindu, rightwing, and ruling political party, BJP, in return for a lenient judgment on his impending drunk driving case. Indeed, a video titled 'Mera Desh Hai Mahan' created by Pahlaj Nihalani, a Modi bhakt (devotee) and president of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), was shown in the interval of the film. The video reeks of sycophancy, compares Narendra Modi to Mahatma Gandhi, displays several foreign projects as Indian, and even refers to Modi as “kaka (uncle) Modi,” a term stolen from “chacha Nehru.” See the full video here and have some fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=t8NCT_CdYaM). Do I need to say more?