Movie Review: Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)

BajrangiBhaijaan3 Stars (out of 4)

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Salman Khan tones down his tough guy persona to play a naive but principled man in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. His performance is a much appreciated reminder that Salman is capable of delivering more than just punches and kicks.

The opening credits roll over gorgeous footage of the snowy mountains of Kashmir, establishing that this is more than the story of one man, and that it takes place in a world grand enough to make any individual seem small. Throughout the film, director Kabir Khan shoots characters from high vantage points in order to emphasize how small they look in the greater scheme of things.

The mountainous terrain in the opening credits is home to Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a six-year-old Pakistani girl who can’t — or won’t — speak. Her mother takes Shahida to pray at an Indian shrine renowned for curing muteness. On the ride home, precocious Shahida gets off the temporarily stopped train to help a lost lamb. The train restarts suddenly, leaving Shahida on the Indian side of the border with no identification or ability to communicate.

Shahida’s curiosity draws her to a festival where she watches Pawan (Salman Khan) lead the dancing. Although he doesn’t know how to help her, Pawan can’t bring himself to abandon the little girl. Since she can’t tell him her name, he calls her Munni and brings her to the family home of the woman he loves, Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan).

Pawan isn’t perfect. He’s neither book smart nor street smart, and he’s trusting to a fault. He’s also unsure if aiding Munni is his responsibility. Yet his honesty and sense of duty inspire others to help him, despite their own cynicism.

Pawan’s trusting nature becomes a source of jokes after he meets a freelance reporter named Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). With Pawan’s plan to return Munni to her family stalled, Chand enlists Munni to pull off some tricks that will help them progress. Even at 6, Munni is more savvy and morally flexible than Pawan.

Director Khan trusts the audience to get why the jokes at Pawan’s expense are funny. He allows his moral of empathy across national and religious boundaries to develop without wacky sound effects or overly emotional musical cues.

Yet Khan abandons that approach in favor of a corny, populist climax. Various individuals assist Pawan and Munni in order to make the point that there are generous people of every creed, caste, and nationality. Instead of trusting the audience to understand that the helpful individuals are representative of a larger body of good people, the outcome of Pawan’s mission hinges on thousands of people gathering en masse. It’s cheesy and unnecessary.

Leading up to the climax, Khan also employs a variation of the overused “man on the street” Bollywood trope: the viral video. People all over India and Pakistan gather around mobile phones and laptop screens to watch a video Chand Nawab posts to his blog.

There are two problems with this trope (besides the fact that we have no reason to care what any of these random people think). First, this is not how videos become viral. Links are disseminated electronically, and individuals watch them alone, not gathered together as if listening to a World War II radio report in the 1940s.

Second, a human interest news piece about a good Samaritan helping a lost child is not the kind of video that goes viral. “Gangnam Style” goes viral. “What Does the Fox Say?” goes viral. Most people don’t fervently refresh awaiting a call to civic action.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan features one of the most nuanced characters Salman Khan has played in years. Pawan undergoes a compelling transformation when he realizes he can’t trust anyone else to care about Munni’s safety as much as he does. Salman and Nawazuddin make a much better pair of on-screen buddies than one would expect. Kareena’s Rasika is wise, but not so cynical that she can’t appreciate Pawan’s innocent worldview.

Little Harshaali does an admirable job, especially given the physical limitations of her character. Munni seems like a very real kid: too curious for her own good, but also smarter than adults might give her credit for. That Harshaali is cute as a button certainly helps, too.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is among the best kind of Salman Khan films. He gets to beat up some bad guys, as we’ve come to expect, but his character grows and changes. One need not be a hardcore Salman fan to enjoy this movie.

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64 thoughts on “Movie Review: Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015)

  1. moviemavengal

    Thought I’d see you, but missed you. I think you liked it more than me. I found it a bit slow from the middle to the end. I did think Salman was about the sweetest I’ve ever seen him (and that’s saying something.) It was nice to see him not just beat people up. The little girl was adorable, and stole the entire movie.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Totally agree about the little girl, Mel. I was cool with the story until about the last 30 minutes. I bolted from the theater the second it ended, so all you would have seen of me was a blur heading out the exit. πŸ˜‰

      Reply
  2. Mihir

    Nice review Kathy.
    I was surprised to see a story in a ‘BHAI’-film! πŸ˜‰
    I had low expectations considering how much silly Salman’s previous Eid outing was.
    And me too wanted to rush out of the theater during the final 15mins.
    It was an extremely manipulatIve climax that I have seen since a long time.
    It felt as if it’s never gonna end.
    The theater in which I watched BB was full of hardcore salman fans, so the level of claps and whistles blown was too high and the level of enjoyment was at par.
    I found the best performer in the super-cute Harshali Malhotra. She was too good with her expressions and innocence.
    Salman too impressed me since in the second half he barely had much dialogues to speak off.
    Nawaz is the man to watch out in commercial movies. He brings so much gravity in over the top movies such as this.
    Loved him.
    And as you mentioned, Mishra’s Photography was terrific. The scenic beauty kept me hooked despite blunder and illogical climax.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      “Manipulative” is the right way to describe the climax, Mihir. But we both found a lot of other things to like in the movie. πŸ™‚

      Reply
      1. Mihir

        Yeah. We did!
        πŸ™‚
        And did you saw the teaser of Raees attached with the movie?
        If yes then what’s your take on it hm? πŸ™‚

        Reply
          1. Mihir

            Okay. You did watched.
            I was suspecting that you might not fully understand it.
            Shah Rukh plays a DON in the movie. All that liquor bottles, goons smashing guys in the backdrop was in contrast to his work. What hooked me in were the crackling dialogues. They had so much feel.
            πŸ™‚

            Reply
              1. Mihir

                Oh! Haha
                Then it’s very tough to catch up with the dialogues you know.
                The language used is very lay-man kinda.
                But I am hoping the production releases the trailers and the film with relevant subtitles otherwise it will the same unenjoyable experience for you like youbhad while watching FUKREY!

                Reply
  3. Paul Smithson

    Excellent review Kathy, although I’d have to give it 3.5 out of 4.

    I went to see it on the day of release with my wife and 17 year old son. I’m not Indian or Pakistani, but white British, so it was fun sat in a cinema full of Pakistanis, to watch a film that could have painted Pakistani in a negative light. Luckily it didn’t … phew! I thought it was very fair at seeing the good and bad in everyone, regardless of nationality. There ARE good people everywhere, and it is nice when that is highlighted.

    However, judging by the murmuring I could her there did seem to be some people during the interval that were not too impressed with the film – slow, boring, blah, blah – but by the end I think everyone left happy. I think this was partly down to the first half not portraying Pakistan as positively as it did, maybe, in the second half.

    From a white British guys perspective I thought it was a terrific film, and so did my wife and son. Great story, interesting characters, a ridiculously cute kid who stole the show without saying very much, excellent music, and scenery that took your breath away.

    I thought Salman Kahn was great, much more three dimensional than I was expecting. Kareena Kapoor provided a big dose of eye-candy – there’s something about Kareena that just does it for me – and she played her part well too, although it would have been nice for that part to have been developed more – a lot more.

    But for me the star of the show – other than Harshaali Malthotra, the little girl – was definitely Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He is one of the most mesmerizing actors I’ve ever seen. He could read the label of a sauce bottle and have everyone transfixed.

    In typical Bollywood style the first half was your standard setting-the-scene, which I thought was done very well, and it kept me interested throughout, but after the interval, as soon as Nawazuddin Siddiqui made his appearance, the film took off and didn’t let-up until the end.

    All-in-all a thoroughly enjoyable film for all the family no matter whether you’re Pakistani, Indian or a crazy white British guy who takes his family to see Bollywood films on the day of release even if everyone in the cinema thinks he must have walked into the wrong movie theatre. It makes me laugh because the ticket inspectors ALWAYS do a double take and say “You do know it is a Bollywood movie”. I just find it weird that I seem to be the only white guy in town who goes to see Bollywood films, and yet when Bollywood films are as good as this – surely it would be right to just call it a ‘great movie’ and not have to qualify it by say a ‘great Bollywood movie’.

    Personally I think Bajrangi Bhaijaan was THE BEST movie on at the cineplex yesterday, unless of course you prefer movies with dinosaurs (Jurassic World) or cuddly toys that talk (Ted2) in which case it had some tough competition. But for me, it was BB all the way πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Glad you and your family had a great time, Paul! One thing I appreciates about Kareena’s part was that, even though she didn’t have much to do in the second half of the film, they didn’t completely forget about her. It wasn’t like Akshay’s family in Baby where you see them in the first half, but then they aren’t ever mentioned again.

      As for Nawazuddin, there’s a shot where the trio is riding on a bus, and he’s sitting in the seat in front of Salman and the kid. The camera’s focus is on Salman and the kid, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Nawazuddin. I actually thought, “Wow, he’s so good at riding the bus.” LOL!

      Reply
      1. Paul

        They did keep her in the story throughout the film, which was good. Buy hey, I could watch Kareena do nothing for three hours and I’d still go home happy πŸ™‚

        And as for Nawazuddin riding the bus, you’re right. He is one of those actors who has that kind of impact. He’s definitely got star quality.

        Reply
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  5. nav

    Hi Kathy,

    I agree with everything you mentioned in the review but not on the video going viral part since it happens in life. Lot of videos are picked by indian news channels that highlight events involving common people.

    Though I like Salman but this movie was awesome. It must be 3.5/4.

    Just to add people had to gather in the climax to reflect public mood. Else it won’t have been possible for Salman to go back! It is plausible.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed the movie, Nav. I’ll address the last part of your comment first. Public approval wasn’t necessary for Salman’s return, and there’s evidence of that in the movie. He’s able to cross in to Pakistan when a small group of border guards agree to let him pass. All it would have taken was for a small number of police officers and the dozen or so Pakistani border guards to agree to open the gates. Undoubtedly, the Indian guards would’ve let him back in. Done deal. It would be easy enough for them to concoct a story to cover themselves, and no one would be the wiser.

      Regarding the viral videos, that’s common practice in the United States, too. However, we (the audience) don’t need to see shots of random people watching the news footage. I assume that if the news televises something, that someone is watching it. All we need is a shot of the news covering the event (although I hate that trope, too). The whole reason for showing the random people is to set up the climactic public gathering which — as I stated above — is unnecessary according to the movie’s own rules. I felt the ending was just pandering to the masses.

      Reply
  6. nav

    Also another case in point Nawaaz specifically mentions at a point in the movie (when the girl recognizes her mother) that he had just uploaded the video and it has been watched by only few people and hasn’t gone viral as yet.

    Reply
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  8. Salim

    Hey,

    I never imagined that people from other countries watch Bollywood movies this way. I mean, Paul mentions that he watches Bollywood movies all the time and apparently he is also taking out time to provide his two cents on the movie on a website, this is indeed a surprise for me.

    About the review, your review is awesome because while appreciating the good things, you didn’t forget to mention the holes in the plot. For me, the movie was an amazing experience not only because I’m a Salman khan fan but also because after a long time he has made a movie where its not just about him but other characters as well. All his recent movies used to revolve around him for the entire 2 or 2.5 hours. But, this movie had other people having equal contribution story wise and presentation wise as well. The best part was Nawaz was noticeably given better dialogue and importance than Salman in the second half.

    Yes, the entire premise of the story was unrealistic from the second half. I live in Gujarat, it is a neighbouring state of Pakistan, so I know what are the rules here. Army never let anyone hover around the 2+ km area of the border fences. The phrase used in the movie is completely true, they shoot first and ask questions later. Yes, there are people who set up illegal immigration and help people cross the border with their expertise (and only God knows if the tunnels exist in reality). That would have been considered realistic, but the insistence of our Bajrangi to take permission while innocent and hilarious was a let down for me.

    Lastly, the ending. I completely agree with you that the people gathered were not required for the plot. But it was just to please the audience in the B and C centers of India, after all it is a Salman khan movie, he is a larger than life or you can even call him a super hero in India. Well, from my point of view this kind of scene was required for the people in areas like Gujarat where there is a lack of unity in both the sects of society. You could say it is the same like the end scene of Rocky 3 or 4 (I don’t remember in which he fought with the Russian), where the entire crowd was praising Sly in an excess but again it was an amazing scene for me and many more like me. and the way sly says that if we can change why can’t all, I think Salman didn’t say it but meant the same.

    BTW I’m bookmarking this website and will be reading all your reviews πŸ™‚

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks so much, Salim! Welcome to the site. You picked up on one of the reasons Bajrangi Bhaijaan has done so well overseas: international audiences want to see Salman in plot-driven movies more than his “one man army” films where he has to save Sonakshi. πŸ™‚

      Your point about the social conditions in Gujarat is very interesting. By setting the film there, director Kabir Khan had to address the audience specifically. The populist ending is one of those things that may not resonate as well with international audiences who aren’t familiar with Gujarat specifically (kind of like how people said of Tanu Weds Manu Returns, “If you’re from Haryana, it’s really funny”).

      Reply
    2. Paul Smithson

      I’m very unusual being a white Brit and going to watch Bollywood films. Trust me, I get some seriously odd looks from the rest of the people in the cinema, but who cares πŸ™‚

      I agree with you on the ending Salim. I watched the movie in a cinema full of Pakistanis, and I could sense that it was important to them that they were not, in any way, portrayed as the bad guys.

      Was it corny and cheesy? Absolutely. Did it add to the movie? On balance, I think if it kept all sides happy and portrayed the majority of people as good people, then that’s got to be a good thing.

      Reply
  9. Salim

    Yeah, you are right. I don’t know for sure but I guess it has already crossed the kick collections overseas. Taran has tweeted that its the second highest weekend opener in overseas. All the time I just hear Shahrukh breaking his own records overseas, then Aamir came in with 3 idiots, Dhoom 3 (which is the worst aamir movie ever) and PK, these movies broke all the records and went on to be the highest grossers outside and in India. But now Salman has also joined the big leagues outside India with this movie. While I’m confident the next movie of Salman Prem Ratan Dhan Payo will develop him more overseas, his later releases might bring him down again as he would be joining hands with his brothers again πŸ˜‰

    Well, may I please know what is the ticket price of Indian movies over there? And do you write reviews for Hollywood movies as well?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      To put Salman’s box office performance into perspective, before BB, his highest earning film in the US and Canada was Dabangg 2 with around $2.5 million. By comparison, if a film starring either Aamir or SRK earned $2.5 million here, it would be considered a disappointment. The floor for Aamir & SRK movies here starts at around $3 million, with SRK topping out at around $6 million and with Aamir reaching as high as $10 million.

      Movie tickets in my area — which isn’t quite as expensive as, say, New York — cost around $10 (about 635 rupees) for a ticket on a weekend evening, but they can be as low as $5 (about 317 rupees) for shows during the day.

      I keep track of my thoughts on Hollywood and other foreign movies at Letterboxd:
      http://letterboxd.com/accessbollywood/

      Reply
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  11. Salim

    Exactly Paul, since it is shoeing the majority of people in both the counties as good people, its receiving amazing response in both the countries. Even government is recognizing the movie, it has been declared as tax free or tax exempt in one state already and few are following this trend and will be exempting it from this week onwards. This will reduce the ticket prices which will eventually increase the footfall so that the message reaches to maximum people.

    Reply
    1. Paul Smithson

      That’s awesome news Salim. If it helps bring people together and create positivity where there is often currently a lot of negativity then that has got to be well worth doing.

      Reply
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  14. aryan029

    “international audiences want to see Salman in plot-driven movies more than his β€œone man army” films where he has to save Sonakshi. :-)”

    100% true the reason why he used to be at top and rule overseas market in 90s with films like MPK HAHK HDDCS HSSH, even his film khamoshi was top bollywood overseas grosser of 1996 instead of raja hindustani big blockbuster of bollywood in the same year. then in 2000’s first SRK overpowered overseas market and then later aamir,

    glad to see salman again make a come back at top after 90s, as i said above hope he continues to do such performances oriented films and permanently quits doing one man army films

    Reply
          1. aryan029

            I meant katrina only, she is showpiece only in most of her films, good in dancing etc but no acting whatsoever, whereas kareena is fairly good actress. πŸ™‚

            Reply
  15. aryan029

    Agree mostly with your review, except that the child stole the show, even though child actor played her part perfectly, in my view Salman Khan’s act was the main factor for working of this film, he was simply terrific.in bringing all the various emotions his character went through ( comedy, being naive, simplicity, crying) most subtle and natural, the innocence he brought to his character pawan can hardly matched by any other bollywood leading actor.

    Nawaz was brilliant he brought certain energy to the film, as someone said above he was also given better dialogues than salman post interval. also for me script though good was not excellent or any great, it was the acting of everyone which made the film reach to different level.

    and yes like you i also didnt like the last 30minutes, except the last exact scene, it went way over board, post interval whole film any way got imaginative and almost fantasy based, (Salman entering pakistan through border and getting away from the army cops everyone specially the way he did) it was total day dreaming of director, cloud cuckoo land but was likeable and not manipulative until the pre climax which was completely way OTT except the last exact which tried to make up for all the way beyond unimaginative pre climax but for message and also commercial reason one can understand why did they made it that way.

    This film also showed how grossly under utilized salman khan is as an actor specially for the last 7-8 years, hope he sticks to doing performance based films like this, and not one man army films where there is hardly any scope of acting.

    my rating for the film was 3.75/5.

    Reply
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  23. Azeem

    Hi Kathy,

    I came across this blog on the BB imdb page and thought your review was great. While I had heard a few foreigners watch bollywood movies, the knowledge you and Paul who commented simply amazes me. I guess our song and dance sequences are catching on with some people :p

    Much love from India. Will be following your blog from now.

    Cheers

    Reply
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