Simple story tugs at heartstrings

Pawan (Salman Khan) helps Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a mute six-year-old girl, find her way back to her parents.
Pawan (Salman Khan) helps Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a mute six-year-old girl, find her way back to her parents. PHOTO: EROS INTERNATIONAL

159 minutes/Now showing
3.5/5 stars

The story: Shahida (Harshaali Malhotra), a mute six-year-old girl from Pakistan who is visiting India with her mother, gets lost when she steps off a train, which then speeds off. With no passport and no way to go back, she follows Pawan or Bajrangi Bhaijaan (Salman Khan), who ends up taking her to his home. Frustrated with the system's inability to help Shahida, he takes it upon himself to re-unite the girl with her parents in Pakistan.

As far as stories go, this is simple enough. And in its very simplicity, Bajrangi Bhaijaan tugs at the heartstrings.

Despite the emotional overload, it arrives with the requisite dose of entertainment and enough colourful songs to keep you entertained all the way through.

Director Kabir Khan, who is known for films that often take on thorny issues such as terrorism, addresses fraught India-Pakistan ties. Full credit to him for taking it on here without turning the film into a preachy discourse.

There are several tried-and-tested Bollywood tools at play, including a quick flashback that establishes Pawan's character.

The audience meets a charming loser, known for his devotion to the monkey god.

This is what results in the name lovingly given to him - Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It is at a colourful festival honouring the monkey god that Shahida finds him.

All eyes have been on this movie as it features the controversial superstar, who was recently found guilty in a September 2002 hit-and-run accident - and Khan pulls off one of his career's best performances without taking off his shirt.

Child star Malhotra, who gets as much screen time as Khan without the luxury of delivering dialogue, holds her own throughout the film.

With her lovable face and her soulfully expressive eyes, she turns her performance into a visual treat that explores a canvas beyond words.

When Shahida and Pawan arrive in Pakistan without any documents, they end up in jail. A reporter called Chand Nawab finds and helps them.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui does justice to a role that is inspired by a real-life television reporter whose piece-to-camera clip went viral on YouTube.

In the ultimate tribute, this clip is revisited in full in this film and provides much-needed laughs.

When the odds are stacked against this unlikely trio bound by a strange sequence of events, you sit there in the hall with clenched fists hoping it will all end well because what you see are three beautiful souls trapped by circumstances way beyond their control.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline Simple story tugs at heartstrings. Subscribe