Prabhu Dheva (where did the extra ‘h’ come from?), the dance guru, directing Shahid Kapoor, one of the few Hindi actors who can dance – surely that has to be a good thing?
Well… the premise is there, but in delivery R…Rajkumar is not as good as expected. While the dancing is excellent (and it is fantastic to see a director make full use of Shahid’s talents in that respect), there are a few too many distasteful misogynistic moments to make this film anything other than just OK. Shahid makes a reasonable attempt at masala served southern style, and his goofy shirts, dreadful hair and love struck Romeo are entertaining if somewhat reminiscent of Siddharth in Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana. Although Shahid does his best, the story is standard fare, and adheres strictly to the usual Telugu formula complete with cartoonish fight scenes and ineffectual heroine. It’s such a shame when all the ingredients are there to make a much better film, if only a little more thought had gone into the screenplay.
Romeo Rajkumar turns up in a small town where two rival gangs are battling for control of the opium trade, managing to arrive just at the right time to save Chanda (Sonakshi Sinha) from a stray bullet. Simultaneously he falls deeply in love with her after just one brief glance – so deeply in fact, that the mere sight of his ‘lollipop’ (gah!) is enough to halt him in his tracks. And I do mean completely stop – no matter what – even when taking part in an assassination or when driving the getaway car after another attack on a rival gang. Much hilarious comedy ensues. Well, to be fair, it is funny the first time or two, but it just gets repeated a few too many times.
Rajkumar signs up with Shivraj (Sonu Sood) and soon becomes one of his top men in the fight against rival gang boss Parmar (Ashish Vidyarthi) becoming good friends with Qamar Ali (Mukul Dev) in the process. The first half is full of outrageous shirts, bad hair and some amazing dance moves from Shahid along with a brief appearance from Prabhu Deva himself.
But while Shahid is blowing kisses and generally making an idiot of himself, there are darker scenes such as an apparent rape in the police station which is treated as an everyday occurrence and not worthy of further mention. Further threats of violence and rape against the heroine are also treated as comedy and while some of the lewd dialogue is funny, most is offensive rather than comical.
Sonakshi Sinha starts off as a feisty village girl with great attitude as she beats up a gang of louts who dare to wolf-whistle at her and her friends. She berates Rajkumar for his unwanted attentions repeatedly, until she manages to overcome her aversion to eighties hair and loud shirts and decides that maybe Rajkumar isn’t so bad after all. But that’s the end of any personality for Chanda, who rapidly becomes vapid and useless, totally unable to defend herself against her uncle and his plans for her marriage, and completely helpless in the face of Shivraj’s attempts to seduce her. It’s a role Sonaskshi Sinha has done many times in the past but she has less conviction in her character here, and it shows. There is no energy in her performance and zero chemistry with her co-star which makes me wonder why Prabhu Deva didn’t pick someone like Trisha or even Charme Kaur (who turns up in a song) who surely would have brought more oomph to the role.
Equally disappointing is Sonu Sood who is less menacing and more buffoonish than expected as a gang boss. Ashish Vidyarthi is even more of a caricature as his rival, while Asrani is actually rather restrained in his role as spiritual advisor to Shivraj. It’s bitter sweet to see Srihari appear here as the über villain Ajit Taaka, in one of his last appearances. Generally he’s fine in spite of a rather unconvincing storyline and one rather bizarre scene where he appears gyrating with some bikini clad women on top of a hotel in (supposedly) Hong Kong. Best to just ignore and move along – when did masala ever have to make sense?
What does work well in the film are the songs by Pritam. Prabhu Deva does an excellent job with the choreography, as for example here in Saree Ke Fall Sa where he uses the backing dancers and a few basic props to good effect. The only exception is the last item song with Ragini Dwivedi and Scarlett Wilson which is shambolic with much less of a southern feel.
While the film initially feels like a series of short comedy sketches, everything slows down in the second half and becomes a little more serious with more fight scenes and fewer songs. The inevitable final showdown is good, although I don’t think Shahid is quite as convincing in ‘back-from-the-edge-of-death’ recoveries as, for example, Shahrukh in Chennai Express, which does make the last fight scene funnier than I think it was meant to be. The film could definitely do with fewer rape references, and a more socially responsible hero would have made for less uncomfortable viewing. Still, Shahid puts in a good performance and seeing him dance up a storm southern style, makes R…Rajkumar worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights I expected.