2.5 Stars (out of 4)
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Devoted Salman Khan fans have expectations of movies starring their Bhai, and surely Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (“Received a Treasure Called Love“) fulfills their expectations. For moviegoers who aren’t hardcore Salman fans, the film seems too familiar.
Don’t get me wrong, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (PRDP, henceforth) is a fine enough film. It lives up to its billing as a spectacle, with colorful dance numbers and magnificent sets. The story is full of teary-eyed reunions and blossoming romance.
But this all feels like something we’ve seen before, and that’s coming from someone who hasn’t seen any of Salman’s three previous collaborations with writer-director Sooraj Barjatya. Salman plays the same character he always plays these days, no matter if he’s starring in an action flick or a romantic comedy.
Prem (Salman) is a supremely righteous devotee who narrates religious plays. His best friend, Kanhaiya (Deepak Dobriyal), is an actor who dresses in drag to perform the lead female roles in the plays. At Prem’s insistence, they donate all of the money they earn to a charity run by the beautiful Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor).
On their way to meet the princess in person for the first time, the guys are intercepted by representatives of the princess’s betrothed, Prince Vijay (also Salman). Prem looks exactly like the prince, who is presently comatose following an attempt on his life by his scheming younger brother, Ajay (Neil Nitin Mukesh). Vijay’s right-hand man, Deewan Saheb (Anupam Kher), convinces Prem to temporarily pose as the prince, giving Prem the perfect opportunity to spend time with the princess.
While posing as the prince, innocent Prem comes to learn that Vijay is kind of a jerk. Complicated family dynamics — Vijay is his father’s firstborn, Ajay was born to their father’s second wife — have strained the relationship between the brothers. Their younger half-sisters — Chandrika (Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia) — by their father’s mistress have turned their back on the family completely.
Worst of all, from Prem’s perspective, is that Vijay is mean to Maithili. The royal couple argues all the time, and Vijay once tried to get fresh with Maithili (a big no-no to Prem, who doesn’t even approve of kissing before marriage).
Prem takes his opportunity as Vijay to try to heal the relationship between the siblings and to make things right with Maithili. If he can’t have her himself, at least he can lay the foundation for a happy marriage to Vijay. Prem asks her to list all of Vijay’s faults, which she does in song form. Unfortunately for international fans, the song lyrics in PRDP are not subtitled.
As one would expect, Salman is almost always the focus of attention. This myopia means that the villainous machinations against Vijay take place primarily offscreen. The revelation of who was plotting what and why is abrupt and confusing.
If you’re going to cast Neil Nitin Mukesh as the villain, use him. Don’t give him fewer than thirty minutes of total screentime, especially in a movie that’s nearly three hours long.
Same goes for Deepak Dobriyal, whose character is sidelined once they get to Vijay’s palace. Dobriyal is one of those actors who has my attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Again, if you’re going to cast him, use him.
Prem describes his relationship with Kanhaiya thusly: “You’re my compulsory companion.” That’s a good description of any character who plays sidekick to Salman. Salman’s characters are often written as being unconcerned by money, which means that it falls to his “compulsory companions” to pay for everything Salman’s characters buy. Since Salman’s characters are usually supposed to embody moral purity, why are they always mooches?
PRDP delivers a bunch of songs, many of which are lavish spectacles. Sonam is pretty, and Salman is heroic. Things proceed pretty much as expected. A happy ending is all but guaranteed.
I don’t know that that’s enough to make PRDP a must-see movie for its own sake. For a holiday weekend outing with family and friends, it’s reasonably entertaining (although the lengthy runtime is a challenge, especially if your theater doesn’t have an intermission break). But is it unique? Is it memorable? I’m not so sure.