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It is almost a year since Chennai Express, a record breaking Indian blockbuster of the king of Bollywood, Sha Rukh Khan, was released. This Indian flick may have a few surprise lessons for students of the movie craft.
It is one of those rare events on the silver screen, which provides a lot of insight to anyone seriously considering to master the craft of cinema and how to press the right buttons to enter the hearts of millions.
Bollywood films routinely become blockbusters with record collections at the box office, thanks to a captive audience looking out for a pass-time and burdened with a deficit of IQ and excess of money in their pockets both in India and abroad.
Chennai Express which got only sub zero marks from film critics, but managed to add a record number of zeros to its box office collection, however, is different and something of a a mystery of the Indian silver screen.
No one really knows how and when the ‘rail cars’ of Chennai Express, with such complexity that they could all have hardly come alive in a single brain, came together.
If Chennai Express was a typical director’s film it might have been a Rohit Shetty film. It is actually a unique flick, with a lot more deeper and serious facets to it than a film director’s work of entertainment. Many of those can be attributed to its hero, the Indian movie star and entrepreneur, Sha Rukh Khan.
A rail car named desire.
It is clearly the enormous desire of Sha Rukh Khan to make more money by investing wisely in a sure-fire formula which compelled him to venture out to make a film with Rohit Shetty, who is a young Indian director with a string of blockbusters under his belt. Rohit had cracked what the modern Indian audience wanted and was ready to to pour oil on any desire which made good commercial sense. The result could hardly be anything but explosive. Chennai Express, a deceptively dangerous theme, was the product of bold commercial vision of Khan, as suicidal as it is genius.
A script no one will touch
With the fire of desire in its gut, the express train of Sha Rukh and Rohit Shetty could have gone in any direction, but it took a southern turn with its script writer Subhash, son of a veteran southern film director, connected with the leaders of linguistic strife in India before independence.
It was no surprise that his script came with a genesis of an impossible dream of unity and harmony between southern and northern India, which broke down with the departure of the British and was aggravated by the linguistic division of India after independence.
From Helen of Troy to Gone with the wind, regional human conflict had been the backdrop of great classics, depicted truthfully and presented to audiences who can discern life from entertainment.
However, it would be utterly irresponsible to ignore consequences of chauvinism, even if it is in mere movie entertainment, in the 21st century India more divided and ignitable than ever.
The script of Chennai express, dealing with the love of a northern man to a southern belle was explosive any day, novel yet fraught with danger of massive protests and national grief if not a civil war, with the risk of negative stereotyping of south Indians. Though the script has a strong message of the power of love to unite everyone, almost impossible to deliver today as it was nearly a century back, the great Khan was audacious enough to grab it because he saw a divine touch of great commercial success.
The divine touch
What actually created the spark of creation of Chennai Express was a touch almost divine as the one in the Creation of Adam of Michel Angelo. It was the final touch of Khan’s own blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, still running in Mumbai after two decades, as the longest running flick.
Khan has instantly recognised that the feel of goodness where he left off in DDLJ is his ticket for Chennai Express which had the pulling power to drag millions of Indian hearts along with him in to it. It not only sealed the script of the movie but also the soft corner he has managed to sneak in to in millions of hearts worldwide.