There have been a number of Indian films made that highlight the Partition and ongoing Indo-Pakistani tensions. While these films are dramatic and often inspiring, they are full of characters who struggle with culture and identity. For those new to Bollywood who may not understand the history of the region, these films may not get much attention from western audiences.
This summer however, the Kabir Khan-directed Bajrangi Bhaijaan offers a new version of this story which is full of heart, humor and humanity. While Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan themes permeate the film, the story offers many entertaining and sincere moments of human connection that resonate beyond one's cultural background.
As a devotee of Hanuman and Bajrang Bali, Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi a.k.a. "Bajrangi" (Salman Khan) can never lie or do anything by stealth. He is a very simple man who is honest to a fault - a recurring theme in the film. But this is also his charm. He lives his life believing that "even if I fail, I'll fail. But I will not cheat. I will not lie." People may laugh when he insists on being perfectly truthful in his dealings in whatever circumstance he finds himself, but secretly they respect him for living such an straightforward life.
This lifestyle alienates him from his father and brings him from his village to Delhi and into the life of Rasika (Kareena Kapoor Khan). As expected, the two fall in love. Bajrangi's lack of advanced education, innocence and trust in others puts him at a disadvantage and Rasika's father (Sharat Saxena) insists that Bajrangi prove himself to earn the right to marry Rasika. Bajrangi is up to the challenge and sets about setting up a financial foundation for his marriage to Rasika.
Then a 6-year-old mute girl from Pakistan (Harshaali Malhotra) suddenly appears. Separated from her mother after a brief visit across the border to the Nizamuddin Dargah - the shrine of one of the world's most famous Sufi saints, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya - she is lost and alone and vulnerable. While her parents across the border worry and pray for the return of their daughter, her grandfather hopes that somehow she finds someone kind to take care of her.
The little girl finds such a man in Bajrangi who becomes the girl's guide and protector in a world that is foreign to her. He doesn't realize the magnitude or importance of this undertaking at first - after all, he is just temporarily taking care of a lost little girl, whom he has nicknamed "Munni", until her parents can be found.
When Bajrangi discovers Munni is from Pakistan, his world is turned upside down as he tries to find a way to send this little girl with no passport and no voice back to her country. After trying to work through government channels as well as less than honest travel brokers, Bajrangi decides that he's the only person he can trust to ensure that she reaches her country and family safely.
While Bajrangi is a gentle soul, he is a trained wrestler who is strong and capable of handling challenging physical threats and situations. But crossing the border between India and Pakistan without passports or visas presents an unfamiliar set of problems. Soon the travails of Bajrangi and Munni attract the attention of Pakistani journalist Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who becomes a travelling companion, assisting them on their journey.
Bajrangi's trust and honesty creates both humor and tension throughout the film. When Munni comes into his life he finds his personal beliefs challenged. He crosses thresholds he never crossed before. While he manages to maintain his integrity, he expands his understanding of people and cultures beyond his own. By doing so, he becomes an example of human kindness to others.
One theme that stands out about this Bollywood film is that Pakistan is portrayed on equal footing with India. Neither country is the "bad guy". Both have some bad people, but the focus is recognizing the shared humanity between the countries. The head of Pakistan's Censor Board announced as much via Twitter.
Also previewed & certified Bajrangi Bhai jaan & for the record it is not a negative or anti Pakistan film. pic.twitter.com/Nay1UKrdHB— Fakhr-e-Alam (@falamb3) July 13, 2015
Infact bajrangi bhai jaan is the most positive film for Pakistan that bollywood has produced in a long time. Totally unexpected.— Fakhr-e-Alam (@falamb3) July 13, 2015
Thanku Pakistan censor board for your generosity pic.twitter.com/LoeygABesz— Salman Khan (@BeingSalmanKhan) July 16, 2015
For Salman Khan fans, the film is a triumph for the superstar as actor. While there is one scene in which he is shirtless (a Salman Khan trademark) and he does manage to throw some bad guys through some windows, this is not an action flick. His performance doesn't demand he be the center of attention in the film. In fact, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the adorable Harshaali Malhotra each offer an outstanding performance - and it is the sincere interactions with those around him that make Salman Khan's Bajrangi a stand-out role. His portrayal of a common man undertaking an uncommon mission on behalf of a stranger makes it a fitting tribute to what being human is all about.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a film full of heart, humor and humanity and one you'll want to see if you are new to Bollywood.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan Trailers
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Bajrangi Bhaijaan Posters
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