The use of doppelgänger in Indian film is a frequent practice. So when Salman Khan appears in duplicate form in Sooraj R. Barjatya's film Prem Ratan Dhan Payo ("Received a treasure called love") it seems like just another opportunity for a Hindi superstar to play a dual role.
However, this family film offers more. While it begins with a premise similar to Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper, it takes a deeper journey into themes of family, loyalty, and love.
The film tells the tale of stage performer Prem Diwale (Salman Khan) who embarks on a journey to donate his modest earnings to a disaster relief foundation set up by Princess Maithili Devi (Sonam Kapoor). When Prince Vijay Singh (also Salman Khan) is severely injured in a suspicious accident days before his coronation, look-alike Prem is discovered on his journey by the royal loyals - lead by Diwan "Bapu" Sahab (Anupam Kher) - and finds himself as a stand-in for the prince.
Unlike the tale of The Prince and the Pauper, however, the Prince doesn't return to the throne as an entirely changed and better man. Instead, it is the intervention of Prem in the lives of the royal kith and kin that ultimately redeems the Prince.
As Prem-turned-Prince, Salman Khan is full of fun and frolic with a touch of lunacy. As he is groomed for his first meeting with Prince Vijay Singh's fiancée - who just so happens to be Princess Maithili Devi - this hippy-dippy showman is hushed by the Prince's handlers who instruct him to adopt the ruse of having taken a vow of silence.
However, upon learning that all is not amicable in the relationship between Princess and Prince, it does not take long before Prem breaks his silence to try and resolve the differences between the royals. Soon more rules are broken, hearts are melted, and family is reunited as Prem sets out to repair a household that is nearly in ruin due to years of emotional disarray.
The romance between Prem-turned-Prince and Princess Maithili Devi lies at the heart of the film. Prem attempts to comfort the woman who has heretofore felt unheard and unloved by the Prince. Through their interactions, the Princess sees the man she barely knew has changed into a man she can truly love. She doesn't question this change, but welcomes it - and finds herself wanting to be closer to this man who would be king.
But Prem is a man of honor and when it becomes clear that the Princess has fallen in love with Prem-turned-Prince, he realizes he must step out of the picture as soon as possible.
Behind the scenes, doctors and those loyal to the Prince have been focused on the real royal's recuperation from his accident. But the enemies of the Prince - led by step-brother Ajay Singh (Neil Nitin Mukesh) - continue to threaten. The bad guys in this film are somewhat over-the-top in their nasty naughtiness and hateful histrionics. They even manage to plant enmity in the mind of the Prince toward Prem.
So in the big climax where the Prince, Prem, and the bad guys meet to battle over life, liberty and love, the Prince views Prem as one of his enemies. As he clamps his hand around Prem's throat and asks him if he is afraid of his impending death, Prem responds, "I would be if I had done something wrong." Prem's integrity and honesty manages to win over even the heart of the Prince.
Unfortunately, english subtitles weren't available for the musical numbers on the first day show we watched. However, the choreography successfully conveyed the ideas of the lyrics, contributing to the overall enjoyment of the music, penned by Himesh Reshammiya and Irshad Kamil. It was particularly amusing to see that after singing about chicken entrees in the superhit film Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the Bhai returns to the big screen to sing about laddoo and other sweet confections.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is a personal story depicted on a grand scale with beautiful set designs - including a magnificent mirrored royal residence perched on a waterfall - which make this feel-good film even more enjoyable. There are a few minor CGI mishaps, but they don't detract from the storyline.
The best part of the film is Salman Khan himself. He portrays the Prince as a man of intellect and tradition while Prem is driven by his heart. It is no coincidence that the name "Prem Dilwale" translates as "love hearted". Whether Prince or Prem, as he interacts with those around him his confidence and craziness makes you want to cheer him on.
In the end, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo offers a delightful theater-going experience - a redemption tale, rich in emotions, told through the construct of a modern fairytale world. While the story may not feature anything new or earth-shattering, it is a film that offers fun fare for family and friends.
The following playlist features the trailer and behind-the-scenes videos from Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.
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