The last time director Sooraj Barjatya and actor Salman Khan collaborated on a film was in the previous millennium. Back in the days of Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath-Saath Hain, the superstar was still a work-in-progress. Salman has since acquired phenomenal crowd-pulling powers. The question is: Has Barjatya kept pace with the changing times?
If Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is a pointer, the scion of one of Hindi cinema's most successful production banners is stuck in the past. He has mastered the gloss and the glitz all right, but in shaping the substance of his new film, he has taken recourse to tools and ingredients that are out of vogue. PRDP tells the story of a contemporary royal family, but does so in a style that is so stale that the film looks a Ruritanian drama from some past era.
The film has Salman in a double role, which should certainly enhance its box office potential on the opening weekend. But given the rather weak and outmoded foundation that the three-hour film is built upon, it would require more than just star power to sustain it in the second week. In one of his two roles, Salman is a Ram-Leela actor who, along with a friend (Deepak Dobriyal), finds himself in the middle of a plot to eliminate a righteous prince (also played by Salman) who is days away from becoming the king of his principality.
The would-be king has enemies in the palace. So a trusted minister (Anupam Kher) hatches a plot to save him by installing a lookalike in his stead. But the decoy has to be thoroughly groomed so that nobody, not even the princess that the prince is all set to marry (Sonam Kapoor), stumbles upon his true identity. The real prince has a step-brother (Neil Nitin Mukesh) who envies his rising clout and two half-sisters (Swara Bhaskar and Aashika Bhatia) who are upset with him for being denied access to the family and the royal palace.
PRDP is about how a humble actor enters the lives of the lonely prince and his squabbling siblings and gives them a hands-on lesson in love and family bonding. The approach that the film takes to this simple theme is convoluted, with sub-plots about a philandering maharaja, his illegitimate children and festering sibling rivalry that finds expression in swordfights, besides a lot else.
PRDP is a mawkish melodrama cradled in the clichs of the genre. Not even Salman's efforts to lend some spark to it prove effectual. The star has very little support from the rest of the cast, least of all from lead actress Sonam Kapoor. Her slender shoulders and her style-icon body language are ill-suited for the character she essays. Neil Nitin Mukesh in the role of the perfidious brother and Armaan Kohli as the first full-fledged villain in a Rajshri film have no more than walk-on parts.
The patchy role written for the talented Swara Bhaskar, too, has little depth. But in the occasional scene that she is allowed to make her presence felt, she makes the most of the opportunity. Only for Salman Khan fans.