It feels a bit silly reviewing a Yash Raj Films opus starring Shah Rukh Khan. You know that the film is going to find its audience regardless of what you think about it; that you're being a killjoy and a pedant if you point to flaws of logic or to the thousand plot loopholes (you're simply not supposed to notice these things); and that if you didn't at least think of the film as decent paisa-vasool, you're best off not discussing it at all. But a professional reviewer doesn't have that option, and so the thing to do is to find some talking point and stick with it until the requisite word-count has been met.
So let me focus on the deep sympathy I feel for Tani, the heroine of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Not because she loses her husband-to-be and his family in a bus accident within the first five minutes of the film, and is subsequently orphaned when her father suffers a heart attack on hearing the news. No, these tragedies are quickly glossed over. The really tough thing about Tani's life is the decision she is expected to make towards the end of this exhausting movie. Choosing between two men can be difficult in itself, but when both men occupy the same body and you're expected to plump for the one with the bad haircut rather than the one with the six-pack abs...What's a girl to do?
The trouble begins when Tani's boring replacement husband Surinder, who works with the Punjab Power board, decides to electrify her life with an elaborate masquerade. He undergoes a makeover that involves shaving off his moustache, changing his hairstyle, wearing tighter clothes, acquiring a new set of biceps and generally looking a little more like Shah Rukh Khan than he did before; in this new avatar as the "hep" Raj, he becomes Tani's dancing partner in a local competition. (In the fine tradition of short-sighted heroines from Lois Lane downwards, Tani fails to realise that the mousy Surinder, with whom she stiffly has dinner every night, is the same person as style-boy Raj with whom she greedily consumes gol-gappas and goes on bike rides through the narrow lanes of Amritsar.)
Now here’s the rub (rab?): having gone to ridiculous extremes to create an exciting new persona that he knows will appeal to his wife more than his "real self" ever could, Surinder/Raj takes the higher ground and decides that his wooing of Tani can be deemed successful only if she falls in love with the dullard Surinder, not with his alter-ego. The basic flaw in this premise is for anyone to see: imagine Christian first passing off Cyrano's poetry as his own and then insisting that Roxane passes the "test" only if she loves him for his own bilge. (For this analogy to be fully satisfying, Christian and Cyrano would have to be the same person and Roxane would have to be short-sighted, but you get the drift.)
Anyway, given Tani's nascent feelings for Raj, the big question is: how does the film arrive at an ending that will satisfy everyone and uphold all the moral requirements? The solution is stunning in its simplicity. (Obligatory Spoiler Alert, though if you really want a spoiler alert for this film, you’re a loser and need a makeover.) In a short, unfussy scene set at the Golden Temple, Tani experiences an epiphany where she realises that her "Rab" (God) is Surinder. No, really – that's it. This movie has been invoking Rab's divine will at regular intervals long before this moment, but it's usually been done in an offhand sort of way, so we aren't quite prepared for a scene where He literally enters the confused girl's mind, fiddles with her synapses and sees to it that she makes the "right" decision. This is God as the ultimate Deus ex machina.
Which is not to say there’s nothing good about Rab ne.... At least 20 of its 170 minutes are watchable. There are a couple of charming vignettes, such as an early scene involving a rose stem, which hints at an unseen romantic side to the reticent Surinder, long before his makeover happens. Vinay Pathak could easily have phoned in his performance as Surinder's hair-stylist buddy Bobby, but in the context of this film it must be counted as a bright spot. In the Surinder-Bobby relationship and in Surinder’s remark to Tani that "maine kabhi lady se pyaar nahin kiya" ("I have never loved a lady"), we see glimpses of the ambiguous form that male bonding can take in small towns where interaction between the sexes is restricted before marriage. But this isn't particularly explored elsewhere in the film. Incidentally, the scene where Bobby introduces the word "macho" into a Punjabi sentence and then turns it into a refrain may prove to be a landmark moment in the history of profanity in mainstream Bollywood. Especially because Pathak does the bucolic Punju accent with gusto and the script requires him to say sentences where the word immediately following "macho" begins with a "D" sound.
But the best thing about Rab ne... is the voiceover with the "honeymoon in Japan" postcards that accompany the closing credits. If you've already bought tickets for this film, you should consider entering the hall three hours after the starting time.
P.S. I’m looking forward to the next Shah Rukh movie that isn't a meta-film with references to his Raj image and the obligatory song sequence where a bevy of SRK's favourite heroines (Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta etc) fawn over him. The fantasy song sequence "Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte" looked like an outtake from Om Shanti Om.