Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the best-Bhai vehicle ever but that’s like saying that the seventeen Venkatesh Prasad scored in Cuttack was his best batting performance. It’s not a high bar.
The cinematic quality is of course not really what held me in awe.
It was something else.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a stupendous exercise of image-engineering,one from which everyone, from PR gurus to husbands who have been caught sexting by their wives may draw lessons.
Bhai is a golden-hearted Hindu fundamentalist, the kind of half-man half-child that Aamir Khan plays in every film (no wonder he carried a towel to cry in, this should have been him), someone who never lies no matter what the consequences, so pure that he makes Yudhishtir look like Suresh Kalmadi. This portrayal of an orthodox Hindu as a saint, novel as it is in the annals of mainstream Hindi moviedom, is a marvelous way to placate the group that has traditionally not been his hottest demographic, and this is not just because he needs their business.
No that’s not the main reason.
Now usually a Salman film is a storyless montage of the man bashing baddies up, ripping off his shirt, playing bongo on female bottoms, brashly justifying his “character dheela”-ness, smiling rakishly at the camera, swinging women onto his muscled shoulders, unleashing neanderthalisms like “Tu ladki ke peeche bhagega, ladki paise ke peeche bhagegi … tu paise ke peeche bhagega, ladki tere peeche bhagegi” of the kind that make his fans in their front-stalls, chest-thump, whoop and clap, “Kya dialogue boss, mard hai sala mard hai yeh banda”.
Admiration and lust though it may engender, it does not gain the man much sympathy.
Though right now, that’s what he needs.
Sympathy. And good will.
In that Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a success that numbers like five hundred crores or seven hundred crores cannot really capture. Kabir Khan is such a consummate artist that when at the end, Salman Khan, bearded, broken and bleeding, like a Christ descended from the cross, without once even lifting his finger against the sinners who torture him like Roman legionnaires of yore, walks across the border, the cocky swagger that is so Bhai soaked away to be replaced by a Gandhian aura of marytrdom, the lines between the projected image of the actor and the perceived image of the character is finally blurred, and you leap out of your seats, and scream in unison…
The driver did it.