To be or not to be, that is the question. A comedy or not from David Dhawan, the laugh-meister himself. Struggling between making the flicks for which he is so loved by the masses, Dhawan ultimately compromises and offers a mishmash comedic romance. Perhaps it was to prove he could succeed with other genres, as he once did in the early 1990s. (Witness Swarg and Shola Aur Shabnam.) Whatever the reason, Chal Mere Bhai is ┬┤thora hatke┬┤ from the DD-ditties of late. That it is comme ci, comme ├ža, and a been there, done that tale, is another matter altogether.
The formulaic love triangle forms the crux of the story. Billionaire brothers, Vicky (Sanjay Dutt) and Prem Oberoi (Salman Khan), are joined at the hip. In spite of personality differences, their love for one another is of the Barjatya kind. However, when cute and clutzy Sapna (Karisma Kapoor) enters their lives, both eventually fall for her. Each one tries to play the sacrificial lamb, panning away his love on the other. Groan!
See, the crucial success factor in recycling any old theme is to repackage it with a mix of new settings, great performances and a couple of twists the audience has never seen before. (Why do you think Rangeela, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai were so successful? Don┬┤t make me laugh by saying they had new stories.) This flick succeeds on the first two counts, but in my books, fails with the third.
First, Chal Mere Bhai will win over the audience with its gorgeous locales and settings. The opulent sets and foreign locales are a visual treat thanks to Harmeet Singh┬┤s always commendable cinematography and the art direction. (Side note: The Oberoi home is not one I can recall seeing in any previous movies, and it is one anyone would aspire to own. Actually more than the house, I would like to own the Oberoi farm house, with its built-in Domino┬┤s Pizza store.) Anand-Milind┬┤s songs are not the most memorable for a love story, but the visuals, Ganesh Acharya┬┤s awesome choreography (thank God he didn┬┤t force himself into the scenery as he usually does) and Karisma┬┤s beauty work in tandem to compensate for the average tunes.
Second, the performances are all pat on perfect by the leads. Karisma Kapoor, I must say, is the best of the lot thanks to her perfect quiet, unassuming and gorgeous Sapna act. Here is an actress who steals each and every scene she is in. No, not because of any melodramatic monologues. She conveys more emotion with a slight flinch and scratch under the nose than reams and reams of dialogue ever could. (One finally sees the confidence and natural screen presence Amitabh Bachchan once noticed after seeing Lolo┬┤s debut in the abysmal Prem Qaidi. I never saw it then, but I certainly do now.) Admittedly, the starlet I once thought was the worst actress in Bollywood┬┤s history, has matured in to one of its best. It makes us all the more anxious to watch her shine in Shyam Bengegal┬┤s Zubeida and Khalid Mohammed┬┤s Fizaa.
Sanjay and Salman demonstrate a comical and natural fraternal bond not witnessed in ages at the movies, thanks in large part to their great off-screen friendship. When Karisma┬┤s not stealing the scenery, these two are up to some pretty amusing antics. (The "Tum Mujhpe Hans Rahi Ho" scenes and the title song are riots.) Salman has not given this natural and comical a performance in eons and Sanjay is adequately subdued to suit Vicky. (Of course, both actors have played these characters before, albeit not opposite one another as brothers.) Of the supporting cast, Sushma Seth, who I think deserves much more credit than she ever gets, makes me wish my Dadi was still alive. Watch her react to Himani Shivpuri┬┤s subtle marriage proposal at the farm house. Those facial expressions and physical gestures are priceless.
Third, now back to the bad news. In spite of all its pluses, Chal Mere Bhai just did not show me the gusto which sets it apart from other films with the same subject. You know all along how this comedic drama is going to unfold and end. There are numerous scenes which are very entertaining thanks to Dhawan┬┤s direction and Rumi Jaffrey┬┤s great dialogues, but the basic story-line is as predictable as the answer to an arithmetic problem.
David Dhawan proves he can still make a watchable movie in a non-comedic format. He just needs a better script in to work with. If you watch Chal Mere Bhai to ogle at its technical brilliance, enjoy the performances and unwind with some really entertaining scenes, you will likely enjoy most of it (once). If novelty is your desire, Hey Ram and Hera Pheri are your answers.