Varun Tej takes on the role of a soldier in the Second World War so effortlessly in Kanche that it’s hard to believe this is only his second movie. His performance is one of the highlights of a film that has at its heart a simple love story but uses a more ambitious setting to deliver a deeper social message based on the literal and psychological ‘fences’ of the title.  The story starts in Thirties India and moves to the battle torn landscape of Italy during the Second World War using flashback sequences to keep the focus on Dhrupati Hari Babu (Varun Tej) and his romance with Seetha Devi (Pragya Jaiswal). It’s an unusual backdrop for an Indian film and despite a tendency towards melodrama in the second half Kanche is one of the better films I’ve seen this year and well worth catching in the cinema if you can.

The story starts when Hari meets Seetha while they are both studying in Madrasapattinam and Hari is working part-time as a waiter in a social club. Hari is outspoken but respectful with a twinkle in his eye, while Seetha is the perfect lady, always looking absolutely stunning in elegant saris, sparkling jewellery and perfect make-up. I was a little surprised at how liberal her thinking was for a wealthy and presumably somewhat sheltered girl in 1936, but Pragya has just a touch of aloofness which gives more authenticity to her role and she certainly looks the part. The couple have sparkling chemistry together and the romance moves along with a freshness that belies the familiarity of the story. Varun plays Hari with the perfect mix of serious scholar and carefree larrikin to make him an appealing character, and gives an immediate contrast with later scenes where he is more introspective and self-contained as a soldier in the Indian Army.

Although Seetha is from a royal family and Hari is the son of the local barber, their romance blossoms while they are away from home. When they return from college however their relationship seems doomed to failure since social norms decree that Seetha must marry a man from her own class. Seetha and Hari try to enlist the help of Seetha’s brother Eeshwar Prasad (Nikitin Dheer) but he is firmly on the side of tradition and opposes the match almost more vigorously than Seetha’s father. Nikitin plays Eeshwar with a permanent sneer that looks painful to maintain and becomes almost comical with each reappearance. There are whiffs of a more rational and intelligent man but they don’t seem to be able to make it past the facial grimace and Eeshwar is too one dimensional to be completely convincing here. Sowcar Janaki has more scope as Seetha’s mother, trying to get her daughter to conform while at the same time acknowledging that as a woman she has little influence and no effective assistance to offer. I love the subtle message that Krish adds here about the role of women in Indian society which is just as effective as his more obvious statements about social divides later in the film.

The class divide isn’t enough drama for Krish though, and he adds in inter-caste rivalries in the village which increase the tension and lead to literal fences being constructed alongside the invisible social barriers to keep different groups of villagers apart. The village is split by class, caste and gender which makes for a lot to expect Hari to fix in the final half of the film!

The romance is told as flashback sequences interspersed with events on the battlefields in Italy and although the love story follows a predictable path, the rest of the film is rather more unexpected. Eeshwar is now Hari’s commanding officer and still hasn’t lost the sneer or his enmity towards Hari although the two avoid each other as much as possible. Krish doesn’t fall into the trap of making Eeshwar a vindictive bully and Nikitin does a better job in these scenes, making Eeshwar an honourable and decent man behind the curled upper lip. As events unfold, Eeshwar is forced to depend on Hari when he is captured by the German army along with the other commanding officers. Hari and a few other soldiers set out to rescue them but find themselves confronted by Nazi atrocities in a small town they pass through and need to adjust their plans accordingly.

There are a number of more subtle messages that are almost lost as Krish hammers home the point that anything can be achieved through co-operation and mutual trust. The camaraderie between the soldiers – British and Indian – is unexpected and an interesting counterpoint to the more usual rivalry and prejudice seen in other films. Hari’s letters to Seetha also provide a different view of the war and her unseen presence provides support for Hari as he struggles with the realities of the conflict.

One of my pet hates in films with foreign characters is the usually poor quality of the performances, however here the actors are good and generally appropriately cast. The commanding German officer and a family of bakers in a small Italian village are particularly effective and add credibility to this part of the film, while the various British soldiers are also all good in their roles.  The dubbing is however not as successful with a definite miss on some of the British army accents making the British General sounding more like an East End butcher rather than an officer of the British Army. There is also some confusion with the Italian villagers who speak variously in oddly accented Italian and German, although this is mostly drowned out by the Telugu voice-over. Still, overall the foreigners are much better than usual and are convincingly part of the film storyline rather than simply extras in the background for added flavour.

The pace in the second half is slower and the particularly in the final scenes the action becomes overly dramatic where less really would have been more compelling. The end is also heavy on the films message of peaceful co-existence through mutual respect and tolerance, even adding a baby called Hope just in case there could be anyone who missed the point. However despite the awkward melodrama and overly drawn out final fight scene, the story is still powerful and Varun is impressive right to the end. Definitely an actor to look out for.

With good performances, an interesting story and some clever dialogue, Kanche demonstrates Krish’s ability to think outside the norms of Telugu cinema and deliver another great film. Don’t miss it!

Chennai Express


I had very low expectations of Chennai Express, mostly due to Rohit Shetty’s idea of humour. I expected something along the lines of “a typical filmi Rahul type wanders into a Tamil film. Hijinks ensue.” And that is what I got. Not entirely successful, but amusing enough with loads of colour and movement, Chennai Express is a good timepass.

Chennai-Express-it starts

Shah Rukh plays this Rahul as an anti-Rahul. Where the KKKG model Rahul would have made his grandfather’s last wish a priority, this one tries to skive off. Rahul has lived in comfort all of his 40 years and yet feels no obligation to family. He is an unappealing manchild clearly in need of a wakeup call. A series of misadventures see him trapped on the Chennai Express, headed straight for a showdown with a Tamil don and his family. Shah Rukh has no qualms about making Rahul a shallow idiot to start with and there is an air of self-parody about some of his preening and posing. I particularly liked the sly humour when Meenamma (Deepika Padukone) guesses he must be 50, or maybe even older. Shah Rukh does all his familiar shtick from hair ruffling, décolletage sniffing (you know the move), arm flinging, to the eyes welling with tears. Of course it wouldn’t be an SRK film without a far too long speech about some social issue. While I appreciated the content (women should be able to make choices for themselves) it was rather undermined by the context (blokes beating each other to a pulp so Rahul might win the right to give Meena her choice). Shah Rukh isn’t perfect, and he does ham wildly at times but he also has the courage to show off those spindly legs in a lungi.

chennai-express-Deepika and SRK danceChennai-Express_Deepika as Meenamma

Deepika gives one of her better performances as Meenamma (leaving aside her much criticised accent which didn’t bother me that much). From her DDLJ style entry (and one of the funnier scenes that ensued) and her cheerful explanation that her father (the excellent Sathyaraj) is a renowned don, Meenamma made an impression. Deepika always looks pretty but often fails to convey chemistry with her co-stars. She seems to have overcome that as her scenes with Shah Rukh are lively, often fun and even moving. She has worked on her dancing too and appeared to good effect in the big production numbers. And her wardrobe was just lovely although I’m not sure where all the sarees kept coming from. Generous village ladies I guess.

Chennai-Express-Rahul and MeenammaChennai-Express-Love starts

Initially dismissive of each other, there is no insta-love. Their relationship develops through forced proximity and dealing with external threats.  A series of events open each character’s eyes to their feelings and the triggers for these changes make sense within the story. Meena is the first to fall but she has reservations about Rahul and isn’t overcome by silliness just because her heart flutters. The romance works for me as it isn’t the primary motivation from the start, despite Rahul’s pathetic flirting.

As I expected, the comedy is often too broad and overplayed for my tastes. But there were some wittier scenes that I really liked. Rahul and Meenamma communicate in front of their abductors by singing in Hindi to Bollywood songs, many from SRK films. When Meena finds out Rahul is a mithaiwala or tries to guess his age, Deepika’s reactions seemed spontaneous and very funny. But it is hit and miss. Heather found several things funny that I would edit out (e.g. Meenamma’s ‘nightmare’) and other audience members were just about wetting themselves in scenes that had me checking my watch. I liked the product placements that were often done in tongue-in-cheek style.

CHENNAI EXPRESS - Rowdieschennai-express-village scenes

There is a lot of chatter about the South Indian stereotypes portrayed. Well, there is just about every stereotype present and the North Indians were less than perfect. Rahul was arrogant, ignorant and not really interested in Tamil culture, assuming people were quaint caricatures or savages. The Tamil rowdies were played by the guys who play Tamil rowdies in almost every film; swarthy, stocky and spiral permed as always. The ‘other’ South stereotypes also appeared – salt of the earth villagers with hearts of gold. There was even a comedy Punjabi policeman. No one was safe. Maybe it is just that years of watching Indian film portrayals of fat people, coloured people, white people, disabled people, what was the other one … oh yes, women, has eroded my sensibilities. Rohit Shetty gave some standards his own fun twist too – like trading a convoy of white Sumos for a fleet of colourful 4WDs.


The supporting cast are largely playing the same roles they play in their own film industry so that was fun to see. Nikitin Dheer was perfectly fine as Meenamma’s unwanted prospective groom but I couldn’t help wishing they cast favourite “That Guy” Subbaraju. Maybe he refused on the grounds that singing Chamak Challo would be bad for his image.

Hooray for item numbers! Priyamani and her back up dudes were fantastic. I especially liked the enthusiasm of the guy in the yellow scarf who appears between SRK and Priyamani and the guy in the stripey mesh singlet. Who cares if the song lyrics are stupid? Vishal-Shekhar had me wanting to hit replay and dance! SRK struggling to keep up with the chunky backing dancers and looking like a fish out of water may not have been intentional but it suited Rahul. He looks happy and absolutely knackered in the behind the scenes bits in that clip.


The other songs were visually extravagant and included all the other SI film staples that couldn’t fit in the narrative. The much vaunted tribute to Rajinikanth is a dud. While Rajini is not much of a dancer, there was little of his style in the number. The fight scenes and car stunts are what I’d expect from a Hindi director with a big budget and a couple of Tamil DVDs on the coffee table; spectacular but a bit slower and more laboured than if this was a real South film. And like many South Indian films, this is visually gorgeous.

I liked more than I disliked about Chennai Express, but apart from the songs I don’t think I would watch it again. Despite all the Tamil references, this reminds me more of a Telugu film as – spoiler – no one is raped and there are lots of survivors at the end. Worth a watch, more so if you’re a Shah Rukh fan.

Heather says: I also had really low expectations for this film which is possibly why I enjoyed Chennai Express as much as I did.  For a change I even liked Deepika and I thought she did particularly well in the comedy scenes.  Perhaps it’s only when she appears opposite Shah Rukh that she actually manages to act.  I also laughed much more than I was expecting – after all I don’t think I’ve been amused by a Rohit Shetty film before either.  Chennai Express is really very funny, despite the humour mostly being very broad and largely based on various caricatures.    However as Temple mentions, there was some more subtle humour and the references to many older films were witty and often poked fun at SRK more than at any particular stereotype.

I enjoyed the music and dancing more on screen too, since I hadn’t been terribly impressed with the soundtrack on first listening.  The highlight was definitely Priyamani and watching Shah Rukh trying to keep up, but most of the songs were well pictured and enjoyable.  Any song is always much better with the addition of elephants in my opinion!  Overall the film looks beautiful, although it really could have been almost anywhere in the south and only the language placed the film in Tamil Nadu.

Chennai Express is not one of my favourite Shah Rukh Khan films, but definitely not his worst, and there are a few scenes I would like to watch again. Not the lungi dance tribute to Rajni over the end credits though – I’d recommend leaving when the credits start to roll!