Till long after I watched this movie I refused to believe that Salaam Namaste referred only to the radio station Preity worked for. My refusal paid off when I realised that no other title could come as close to the film's theme as Salaam Namaste; Salaam Namaste when jumbled almost gives Masala Sans Meat.
Salaam Namaste is another loose brick from Yashraj Films' flimsy wall. It's got all the unnecesary-but-sufficient ingredients of a Yashraj blockbuster. With directors realizing that the audience no longer accepts plain bullshit, debutant Siddharth Raj Anand garnishes it with some comedy, some hysteria, some bold scenes, and some clichéd attempts at appealing to modern sensibilities. But the voice talking about "relevant" problems like pre-marital sex and live-in relationships has chronic laryngitis. The director wrongly assumes that addressing social issues in lavish settings and with lots of oomph will appeal to both the niche and bench audience.
Salaam Namaste is about radio jockey Ambar (a cute-turned-irresistibly sexy Preity Zinta) and chef Nikhil Arora (played by Saif with his trademark nonchalance) who, after having a bitter fight over the radio, get attracted to each other at a party. They decide to live-in but in different rooms. The movie is quite entertaining from the start to when both move from different rooms to the same bed. They succeed in abstaining at first, and then not only taste the forbidden fruit but bite so deeply into it that the inconceivable happens (yes, pun intended). Along with Preity’s virginity, the entertainment ends. She realizes she is pregnant, INTERMISSION is flashed on the screen, and I wait eagerly, anticipating some intense drama in the second half.
The second half follows a beaten-to-the-point-of-pulverization track. Saif doesn’t want the kid but Preity insists on keeping it. They decide to continue living in the house, but out of each other’s way. Meanwhile, Siddharth Raj Anand introduces Javed Jaffrey in a highly intimidating role. How a loafer can survive his lifetime on the back of a lottery is a question the director would love to skip. He does crack some absolutely delightful one-liners, but overdoes his Sorry…Eggjacktly. Anyway, the movie meanders on with high-decibel confrontations, Saif and Arshad Warsi’s discussions on children and wives, Arshad’s married life with Tania (of Who Dares Wins fame), and other trivialities. Preity’s stomach grows enough to house the Indian cricket team, complete with the super-subs, coach, and Dalmiya. But how can that stop her from dancing at 11:45 p.m? Yashraj has to entertain the fetuses in the womb.
Their relationship travels from lust to love to disgust and obviously back to love, and how! With Saif obstinate about not wanting to father the child and Preity equally adamant of mothering it, the former shies away from testing his blood to detect a complication in the child (the director uses some medical terms to appeal to us educated audience). The paranoid Saif finally gets his blood tested by her gynaecologist and gets a copy of the sonograph. He watches the video, and gets all icky about Preity and their twins. The film gets maudlin and Saif does a Shahrukh Khan towards the end, broadcasting his love on Salaam Namaste. He uses the radio and the jobless public to get to his love. He proposes and her labour pains start, and Lo! Who do we see in the hospital? A qualified doctor worthy of a swank hospital? Or a mentally retarded Abhishek Bachchan who jumps about like a brain-dead kangaroo in the labour room? The climax was the last of the twenty thousand nails in the coffin.
Preity was stunning in the first half, but looked awful and acted poorly in the second half. Saif was cool in the first half, and decent for most part in the second. The cacophony they created in the second half was Yashraj’s idea of powerful dialogues. Arshad Warsi wasn’t used well, though he did his bit well. Jugal Hansraj took a role a Bhojpuri tele-serial sidekick would’ve rejected. Javed Jaffrey, Preity’s boss, and Abhishek Bachchan were pathetically crafted characters. The songs were too long and the music was typical of Yashraj Films (read bad).
The movie will definitely work because it has enough steam for men, enough slapstick comedy for the bench, and a little urban comedy for the college junta. Also, star power will take it a long way. But if you think you have finally found a commercial success that is not preposterous, think again. If you think the beggar in your street is well stocked for the month you can buy a balcony ticket. If you think it is a wholesome family entertainer, make sure you’re the only member of your family. If you think Indian Cinema will move ahead with this, you’re probably standing in the wrong direction.