You know by now. Bajrangi Bhaijaan tells the story of a Pakistani six-year-old called Shaheeda (a brilliant Harshali Malhotra), an angelic imp who may be described as the embodiment of everything that's cute and beautiful. She grows up near silent snow-capped hills under the loving care of her pastoral parents, showering her own love on snow white lambs. There's a problem in paradise, though - the child is mute.
For various reasons, Shaheeda's gutsy mother decides to take her daughter to New Delhi to restore her voice to her. But during the return journey, the little devil lands herself in trouble by alighting the train when mumma's gone to sleep and manages to board another train which promptly drops her off at Kurukshetra in Haryana instead of Lahore in Pakistan as she hoped. It is there that the lost child bumps into Bhai.
Bhai alias Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi alias Bajrangi alias... (you get the drift) is a well-meaning brahmin who's a die-hard devotee of Lord Hanuman. He's a "dull at mind, bull at physique" sort of a guy who is trying to make a living and get hitched to Rasika (a charming and beautifully costumed Kareena Kapoor Khan). He takes pity on the lost mute child and one thing leads to another causing him to vow that he'll return the child to her parents in Pakistan, regardless of any hurdles.
The juicy plot is thanks to V Vijayendra Prasad whose progeny is currently busy making Telugu people across the globe proud with an epic
. The potential of this plot is fully realised by a focused, yet commercially viable, screenplay by Kabir Khan (also the director) and Parvez Shaikh. There's a light and convincing romance between Rasika and Bajrangi. There's complete hilarity in the scenes where Bajrangi tries to narrow down where the little kid is from. There's a warm emotionality in the bonding between Munni (as Bajrangi calls her) and Bajrangi. There's a high-voltage Bhai stretch before the intermission, which is completely paisa vasool for the fans and anyone who likes a good hero. And there's a compelling message of love which comes as a part of the story rather than dull preaching.
What makes Bajrangi Bhaijaan important is that very aspect - the expression of a message without suffocating preachiness. Quite a few films have attempted to promote the oneness of humanity and, in particular, Indo-Pakistan friendship. But many of these movies suffer from incompetent filmmaking or become so serious that they forget to entertain. Bajrangi Bhaijaan strikes a balance quite well and speaks to the heart all the while entertaining you in full measure. It also brings a twist on Salman Khan himself.
This is the most unconventional Salman Khan film in a long while. Check out these tropes - the hero is expected to save the day. He does, too. But there's no villain or intricately orchestrated action choreography. What he fights are the hurdles and not people. The hero is very likeable. But he's not the the one-liner cracking impish hunk we're used to. Bajrangi is straight as an arrow, doesn't indulge in sarcasm, and is supremely respectful to practically everyone (there's a lovely moment where his questioning arms express disappointment at a guy who breaks his trust followed by Bhai breaking his bones). He goes shirtless, of course. But he isn't beating anyone up. He's tied up and getting beaten in prison (gasp!).
Kabir Khan gives us a Salman Khan we are not used to, and the best part is Salman Khan acquits himself amazingly well. The man rarely indulges in an actual performance, but he goes all the way in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It's quite a joy to watch a full-blown star doing a good job at acting, too.
The supporting cast, too, does a great job. Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Om Puri both sail easily through broadly sketched but significant roles. Sharat Saxena flexes wondrous muscles on screen giving Salman Khan a run for his money. The lady playing Shaheeda's mother evokes deep sympathy. Everybody else fits pretty well in their role.
There are the usual quibbles about lack of logic, unimportant role for the heroine (we'd however like to argue that Shaheeda is the lady lead this movie), everything working out a bit too conveniently, utter implausibility of some events and so on and so forth. The film indeed requires a good bit of suspension of disbelief, but you can be charitable, because the final product is pretty good.
Yes, everything about Bajrangi Bhaijaan is pretty good - the cinematography, the editing, the songs, the score et al. However, nothing is superlative. Except, maybe, Salman Khan and the delightful Harshali Malhotra. They give great performances individually, and together concoct a warmth that you have to care about. Kabir Khan ought to take a bow for putting it all together and making it work.