<p>There are bad films and there are silly films. And then there is Rajdhani Express, a combination of both. The film, which is the Bollywoood debut of tennis star Leander Paes is derailed from the opening scene where a news channel anchor, a writer and an item girl are seriously — yet comically — discussing how to expose a police cover-up operation. What follows over the next two hours is nothing but torture. Bad dialogues, seriously terrible acting and an almost non-existent script are the not-so-vital cogs in the wheels of Rajdhani Express.
The film is about Keshav (played by Paes) who wants to get away from his supposedly wretched life, working as a domestic help at a supposedly bad guy’s house. The bad guy is played by Kiran Kumar (yes the ’80s badman is still around) and Keshav is apparently in love with his daughter. He boards the Mumbai-bound Rajdhani Express from Delhi and meets three people in the train — a Bollywood writer (played by Priyanshu Chatterjee), an item girl (Puja Bose) and a famous fashion designer (Sudhanshu Pandey). There’s the extremely annoying Gulshan Grover, who plays the head train ticket examiner of the train and insists on saying his full name and designation every time someone calls him on the phone. As if that’s isn’t enough, Grover insists on recitingshlokas from The Gita.
Jimmy Shergill plays the deputy commissioner of police and still seems to be suffering from the hangover of playing a snarling cop in the much-acclaimed A Wednesday. There’s little to talk about the film’s storyline, so let’s focus on the “star” attraction of the film — Paes.
Paes isn’t the first sports star to try his luck in Bollywood. Cricketer Sandeep Patil made his debut in the forgettable flick Kabhi Ajnabi Thhe (1985) with Poonam Dhillon. More recently, Ajay Jadeja tried his hand at acting in a movie called Khel(2003) alongside Sunny Deol, Sunil Shetty and Celina Jaitley. Vinod Kambli was as much at sea in films as he was against quality fast bowling in movies like Annarth (2002) and Bade Dilwala(1999).
Paes, arguably India’s best tennis player, made a catastrophic choice in picking Rajdhani Express as his first movie. His character is as confused on the screen as it must have been in the script. Every time something happens in the present, Paes goes back in flashback mode. For instance, when a fellow passenger sees him looking pale and offers medicine, we are taken back to Paes’s childhood and his life in an orphanage; when he gets into an argument with the item girl, we are shown how the love of his life made fun of him in front of her friends.
Can Paes act? On the evidence of Rajdhani Express, he certainly can’t. All he does is look angry and stares into empty spaces for half of the film. What doesn’t help him is an extremely poor supporting cast. Even when Paes tries to emote, the lines given to him are so ridiculous that it’s a pain to see him mouth them. Take the case of this line said by Paes to the fashion designer: “Are you a ‘he’ gay or a ‘she’ gay”. Paes has claimed that he has been getting movie offers for the last 16 years. All we can say is Leander, perhaps you should have waited for 16 more years before making your film debut.