Director Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express keeps you largely in good humour. In no mood to try something new, Shah Rukh, like most stars, seems to like revolving in the same orbit and tries to pretend that he is not tired. Here he has come up with a medley of characters he has played over the years, and the writers (Sajid-Farhad) have merged them into his good old screen persona, Rahul. The dash of realism, if you could call it so, is that Rahul is 40 now.

So Shah Rukh rewinds to the zany side of Baadshah, the never-say-die spirit of Chaahat and, of course, the audacious romantic side where he chooses parents’ blessings over elopement. Over the years he has played several characters, which start as wimps but end up as all-conquering heroes. Here, he unabashedly does it all over again as a meek mithaiwala who discovers his courage over two-and-a-half-hours of exaggerated emotions and action. The challenge is he knows he is fooling the audience by offering them yesterday’s pudding but still makes them taste it. Of course, he makes fun of his screen name, age, brands that he promotes and parodies the hit songs of his previous films in a way nobody else can. Rohit follows suit in this jolly ride. Known for mounting his funny jamborees in Goa, here his protagonist is also eager to party in Goa but a family responsibility demands that he be in Rameswaram. Rohit remains unfazed as many of the locations seem straight out of Goa!

Trying to put the past behind him as Rahul hops on to Chennai Express he comes across a Tamil girl Meena (Deepika Padukone), running away — and towards him — from the sidekicks of her gangster father (seasoned Tamil actor Sathyaraj). If it is a railway platform and Shah Rukh happens to be there, the Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge episode has to repeat itself. Anyway, the two begin to get close amid the funny clash of cultures and confusion caused by language. The premise opens up several possibilities but Rohit and his writers fail to exploit the fun in the situations. When this train takes off, it does prepare you for an old-world style entertainer where language and ethnicity become a barrier to love, but — be it the presence of a Sikh police officer in a Tamil Nadu village or playing on Rahul’s age — every time you feel like ‘Oh! they are on the right track now’, the narrative gets derailed because of lack of creative fuel.

No, you don’t expect socio-economic discourse from a Rohit Shetty film, nor do you look for authenticity of accents. He goes by types and this time he has generated what appears like a south Indian milieu full of character artistes from the region on a Bollywood set. And from his standards, Rohit hasn’t come up with an offensive gag fest. There is a fairly generous use of Tamil in the dialogue. The timeless message that love knows no language, superficial as it is, doesn’t hurt. In fact, the film is a representative of the healthy ‘give and take’ between Hindi and south Indian cinema in the last few years.

Shah Rukh is a master of melodrama and even when you know that he has done all this before, in exactly the same way, you still fall for his intense portrayal of emotions. However, it is Deepika who has a tougher role to justify. It is not easy to inhabit a broad character like Meena, who is untouched by nuances and Deepika does a fairly good job, reminding one of Hema Malini of Basanti vintage.

But what you do expect from Rohit is seamless, superficial all right, entertainment. In his films you tend to get a bunch of solid character artistes who keep coming up with one-liners to divert you from the flaws in the flimsy plot. Here the dependable Sathyaraj is reduced to a one-note character and Nikitin Dheer doesn’t even get that consideration from the writers. The entire focus is on the lead pair and this makes the journey laboured, for, despite the earnest attempt by Shah Rukh and Deepika to make the silly sound compelling, this Express turns into a passenger train after every few stops. As if Meena’s don father had shown it a red flag! The escapades of Meena and Rahul and their declaration of not to meet again are either too contrived or too convenient to ignore and the action lacks the energy we associate with Rohit’s flicks. By the end, the hollowness becomes too glaring to be covered by Shah Rukh’s presence or Deepika’s charm.

But does Rohit or his star producer need to care? Riding on the festive mood, the film is already safe in business terms.

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Director: Rohit Shetty

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Sathyaraj

Storyline: A Mumbaikar falls in love with a Tamil girl on the way to Rameswaram.

Bottomline: Only the route and passengers are new, the journey remains the same!