‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’: the fantastical world of Sooraj Barjatya
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“It’s a case of cerebral concussion with cerebral edema.”
This dialogue form Prem Ratan Dhan Payo sums up many things—what the audience feels like after watching the film, why the scriptwriter wrote the script he did, and what could be the only explanation behind Sooraj Barjatya’s world view. A world view which doesn’t seem to have evolved since his first film, Maine Pyar Kiya, way back in 1989—over 25 years ago.
No, I’m not delusional to go watch a Salman Khan-starring Bollywood film and expect it to depict emancipated women or a smidgen of logic. But Barjatya’s concept of real life, families, filial relationships and women in specific is troubling. If Barjatya truly believes what he shows us on celluloid, I would give my kingdom to spend a day with him and his family.
There is no spoiler alert because there is no real storyline to this film. It is the meanderings of a man who has obviously never stepped out from behind the high walls of his mansion in whichever plum part of Mumbai film producers live in. Here is what Barjatya’s idea of the world and women outside Barjatya mansion is.
To bring you up to speed, the basic plotline of the film is that Salman Khan is the prince of a kingdom called Pritampura. His parents are dead, his younger brother played by Neil Nitin Mukesh hates him, his stepsisters played by Swara Bhaskar and a new actress Aashika Bhatia don’t speak to him, his estate manager played by Armaan Kohli wants to kill him, only his retainer and anti-intolerance protester Anupam Kher loves him.
Prince Salman is to be engaged to Princess Sonam Kapoor, whom he has spoken to five times. Pauper Salman—yes, it’s a double role—works in a Ram Leela troupe and has a crush on the princess. Armaan Kohli tries to kill Prince Salman by getting his charioteer to make his horse-drawn chariot jump off a ravine. While Prince Salman is recuperating, Pauper Salman is asked to step in and pretend to be him till he recuperates. Pauper Salman then wins over everyone’s heart and all is well with the world.
Leaving aside Barjatya’s concept of how royalty lives in modern India—which is that they spend their days fencing, riding in horse-drawn carriages and don’t work—his spectacular depiction of men and women is what is worth noting.
Like many royals, Prince Salman’s father is also shown to have had a wife and a mistress (or in the words of the Censor Board, a maashooka), both of whom have two children each—sons with the wife, daughters with the mistress. Through the film, he is shown as a loving father and husband and lover who just happened to make his sons’ music teacher his mistress and fathered two daughters with her. And by the by didn’t stand up for his mistress or daughters when his wife threw them peremptorily, and maybe with good reason, since she was having to watch a music performance by the said mistress, out of their palace.
To display his great love for his daughters, he also willed his entire property to his sons—as all good men should. Every time he is shown in the film, it is through rose-tinted glasses, especially when he explains away his philandering by looking poignantly into the camera and saying, “Yeh mera kamzori tha (It was my weakness).” Papa ho to aisa.
That he is the root of all evil in this film and that the siblings would never have fallen out if not for him and we would not have had to suffer three hours of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is not even discussed or inferred by Wise Man Barjatya. Also, the wife is shown as portly and a harridan, while the mistress is beautiful and artistically inclined—but has zero say in demanding rights for her daughters. All good women.
Then comes Sonam Kapoor, who is shown to be a royal with a purpose. She runs a charity and provides supplies and relief to flood-hit areas. How? Her helicopter descends among the unwashed and hungry, she emerges in high boots, white starched shirt and tight jeans with full make-up. She stands next to a table with packets of Parle G and some water pouches and hands it out to starving people who’ve forgotten that they’re starving upon seeing her and who kiss her on her cheek and dance with her and show her how to wear a saree. If this is the life of the displaced and starving, we should all hope to be part of it.
Kapoor is shown to have no say on whom she will marry and seems quite at ease with the situation. She’s marrying the prince whom she doesn’t really care for. Her independence is shown in a five-minute sequence when she asks him whether he actually wants to marry her or not. But she then falls in love with Pauper Salman who is impersonating the Prince and has also fallen in love with her.
But when the Prince returns, the Pauper, without a by-your-leave, hands Sonam Kapoor over to the Prince and returns to his Ram Leela troupe looking pleased as punch. She is then handed over by the Prince to the Pauper at the end of the film, just like a box of cookies which you may have been forgotten at a friend’s place. The friend finds the cookie box, decides he doesn’t like the flavour and comes and returns it to you. Should you be pleased? I’d say no. Because if he did like the flavour, he’d have eaten it and never given it back to you. Sonam Cookie Kapoor is the same.
Then comes Barjatya’s idea of how women express love. This has remained unchanged over decades. In Maine Pyar Kiya, Bhagyashree took off her stole to display her love for Salman by showing that she’d worn a short dress. In this film, every time Sonam Kapoor expresses her love for both Prince and Pauper Salman, she remove a satin gown to reveal a short dress.
The only difference is that Barjatya has now thrown food into the mix in this film. So, Kapoor also offers to barbecue some vegetarian tandoori food for her paramour. I dread to think how many young girls who’ve watched Prem Ratan Dhan Payo are now buying short dresses and firing up the tandoors to make butter bhindi in the hope of finding love in return.
Then come the princesses who hate their half-brother. Why? Because he ill-treated them? No. Because he threw them out of their home? No. They hate him because they want to own the palace he lives in. As all sisters should. So, how does he win them over? He wills them the palace. Immediately, they become one happy family. They hug, kiss, forget all their problems. Because in the Fantastical World Of Barjatya, nothing brings a family together like property papers do.
This film is as demented as it comes. Yes, we all know that audiences would rather watch a film which helps them escape from the drudgery of their lives, than some highfalutin parallel cinema about the trials and tribulations of life. But nothing justifies such nonsensical and illogical storytelling or the hundreds of crores that must have been spent on creating this horror.
The only saving grace and something to take solace from—no black bucks or endangered animals were harmed during the shooting of at least this film.