The script, unlike all Khan vehicles, trims Bhai-fat and lets other characters occupy spotlight longer than the average Khan film. As a result, people who don’t fancy Salman Khan either swooping down from rooftops, or throwing pulverised thugs at the screen, or scampering around onscreen mumbling ‘hur hur dabangg’ or ‘E le le le le le’ etc, were greatly relieved at being served small portions of Salman.
Khan in small servings has never been a bad idea, if you are a Bollywood masala lover. For example, some scenes in Dabangg where Khan is seen sending baddies flying with one punch or doing that strange jiggle, he is fun to watch. However, it is the rinse-repeat routine of these few Salmanisms that makes his films clones of one other and mostly boring.
In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the post-interval half would have reduced to a nonsensical mess had Nawazuddin Siddiqui not held it together. In fact, some of the best and most hilarious scenes have Khan in a burqa – therefore, not doing much – and Siddiqui leaving the audience in splits. Ordinary scenes are single-handedly lifted from mediocrity by Siddiqui. And in some scenes, with Khan in the same frame, you can’t miss the ease with which Siddiqui slips into the character of the lowly reporter Chand Nawab, while Khan somewhat struggles at being a regular human being as opposed to Bhai.
One of Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s most memorable scenes from the film is the one that introduces Siddiqui’s Chand Nawab, while he tries to shoot a TV news report. We know has been lifted from a real life situation, but it testifies Siddiqui’s talent for comedy. In another scene, Siddiqui convinces an old man who doesn’t know Chand Nawab from Adam, that Chand Nawab is the old man’s son-in-law. The scene’s farcical, but the kind of slapstick that has you laughing till your stomach hurts. Again, Khan is in a burqa in this scene, helpfully doing nothing to distract the audience from Siddiqui.
If you’re one of those people who likes watching good acting, Bajrangi Bhaijaan might remind you that the last time Siddiqui and Khan were in the same film, Siddiqui had to play the revolting caricature of a villain in Kick. If Kick was a price he paid for Bajrangi Bhaijaan, it was entirely worth the embarrassment.
Likewise, the first half of the film has cameos by a group of supporting actors that manage to break the monotony of Salman Khan’s usual antics. From the five-minute cameo by Atul Srivastava as Salman Khan’s RSS ideologue father fed up of his son bungling at everything to Sharat Saxena as Kareena Kapoor’s wrestler father, the people surrounding Khan in the film do a fabulous job of compensating for Khan’s inadequacies as an actor and distracting the audience from his inability to reinvent himself.
A lot of credit for Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s success should be reserved for Harshaali Malhotra, the little girl who plays Munni in the film. The problem with most other Salman Khan films is that it’s impossible to find an emotional anchor in them. There’s no one you can completely like, no one who you feel anxious for, no one you subconsciously trail throughout the film. That’s an integral part of truly enjoying an average Bollywood tearjerker. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan compensates the dreariness of an average Salman Khan potboiler with a cute child with expressive eyes and an equally engaging smile. Malhotra makes it infinitely easy to ignore Khan in scenes that are supposed to be highly emotional. She acts and emotes, and as a result, he doesn’t have to.
One can only hope that the star learns from his success and allows Salman Khan to take a backseat occasionally in his films, so that they don’t seem like fatuous love letters to him.