There are several interesting ideas trying to get out of Bollywood romancer "Chalte chalte," but none of them comes to fruition. Pic starts teasingly but becomes more conventional in its second half. Twinning of megastar Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee should ensure good initial biz, but pic doesn't look like it will have long legs.

There are several interesting ideas trying to get out of Bollywood romancer “Chalte chalte,” but none of them, frustratingly, comes to fruition. An attempt to find a fresh spin on familiar material — two opposites fall in love but find marriage uphill work — pic starts teasingly but becomes increasingly more conventional in its second half, to OK rather than special results. Twinning of megastar Shah Rukh Khan (“Devdas”) — who also co-produced — and Rani Mukherjee (newly hot after “Saathiya”) should ensure good initial biz, but much-awaited pic doesn’t look like it will have long B.O. legs.

A bunch of friends waiting at a bowling alley for another couple to arrive, tell a romantic yarn to a woman in the group who likes reading love stories. The hero is named Raj (Khan), a happy-go-lucky Punjabi truck driver, and the heroine is Priya (Mukherjee), an NRI born in Greece who comes to Mumbai to hold her first fashion show. Their tale unspools with occasional cutbacks to the bowling alley.

The two met on a country road when his truck almost hit her fancy car and, after getting off on the wrong foot, they patched things up and became friends when they re-met at a mutual friend’s wedding. She’s sophisticated, from a wealthy background, and in control of her life; he’s a genial spieler running a small transportation business with his pal Mannubhai (Satish Shah).

When Priya had to go back to Greece to get engaged to rich childhood friend Sameer (Jas Arora), Raj offered to accompany her. However, friendship turned to love when they got stranded on Mykonos, and Priya ended up dumping the understanding Sameer and, against the wishes of her father (Rajiv Verma) and aunt (Lillette Dubey), married Raj instead. The happy couple returned to India and set up home in Raj’s simple apartment.

Audience has so far been led to believe this is an invented story to fulfill the romantic fantasies of the woman in the bowling alley, who by now is in tears. Script’s approach also raises expectations that the movie is going to become a clever genre-bender, in which Raj & Priya’s story is manipulated every which way as the woman asks more questions about the couple.

Instead, just before the intermission, the pic springs a neat surprise that is also its subsequent undoing, putting the yarn on a more realistic level. Second half is both conventional and predictable, going through the dramatic motions (including a tearful airport finale) with no surprises.

During Part I, as Raj and Priya are portrayed as two opposing stereotypes who, despite everything, fall in love, the movie has a slight fairytale atmosphere that fits the material. (It also explains how they’re able to drive overnight from Mykonos, an island, to an unbelievably rural-looking Athens, on the mainland.) However, in the more grounded Part II, it’s more evident the script has nothing new to add about marital ups-and-downs once initial passion cools.

Basic theme was done much better, and with a lighter, more charming touch in “Saathiya” (2002), in which the raspy-voiced Mukherjee was simply terrific and had good chemistry with fellow thesp Vivek Oberoi. In “Chalte,” she seems constrained by her new, sophisticated look and drained of much of her usual natural vitality: Both she and Khan, who’s unconvincing as the declasse Raj, seem to be punching the clock far more than in their earlier pairing, the mega-hit “Kuch kuch hota hai” (1998). Technically, pic is very smooth on a reported $5 million budget, though the handful of musical numbers (all twosomes) are pleasant rather than jaw-dropping. Title means “Along the Way.”

Chalte Chalte

India

Production

An Eros Intl. release of a Dreamz Unlimited production, in association with UTV Motion Pictures. Produced by Aziz Mirza, Juhi Chawla, Shah Rukh Khan. Executive producers, Sanjiv Chawla, Sanjay Bhattacharya. Directed by Aziz Mirza. Associate director, Haroon A. Mirza. Screenplay, Aziz Mirza, Robin Bhatt, Pramod Sharma, Ashish Kariya, Rumi Jafri.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Ashok Mehta; editor, Amitabh Shukla; background music, Aadesh Shrivastava; song music, Jatin-Lalit, Shrivastava; lyrics, Javed Akhtar; art director, Priten Patil; costume designers, Manish Malhotra, Naresh Rohira, Radhika Mehta; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Rakesh Ranjan; choreographer, Farah Khan; associate producers, Ronnie Screwvala, Zarina Mehta, Deven Khote. Reviewed at Empire, London, June 13, 2003. Running time: 165 MIN. (I: 81 MIN.; II: 84 MIN.)

With

Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Jas Arora, Satish Shah, Jayshree T, Rajiv Verma, Lillette Dubey, Johny Lever, Aditya Pancholi. (Hindi dialogue)
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