[T]his film has been a low-key affair, a small budget film devoid of stars, not much publicized and now hardly being written about. Nevertheless, under the aegis of Subhash Ghai, it comes from the banner Mukta Searchlight which has produced films like Iqbal, Jogger’s Park and Nauka Dubi earlier. Why this film is worthy of attention is that it has been made (well, almost) by the students of Subhash Ghai’s film school Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. Most of the artists and technicians in the film, including director Sunny Bhambhani are the products of a film school, which raises expectations and makes one curious to see their work.
One would expect such a film to be novel, experimental and above all, fresh. The film is a huge disappointment in this regard. There is hardly any freshness about the film; it is the type that conforms to the safest tradition of storytelling in Bollywood. At a time when Hindi cinema is really coming-of-age, Love Express transports you back in time with its conventional script, garish dialogues and a tinge of melodrama. This is also a time when many debutant directors are hinging their films on style which if nothing more, shows their exposure to cinema of different kinds; but this film refrains from making any style statement either. One will feel deceived if one tries to look for any cinema in this drama-on-train saga, it even feels like a soap opera playing on screen at times.
Why a soap opera? There is a grand setting and there are characters playing out their roles, everything a bit over-the-top. The plot unfolds, and the problem and the resolution happen all on a train journey from Amritsar to Mumbai. One keeps wondering if the setting could have been a bit more realistic: the train is shown to have a cafeteria, a bar and ample space for the vivacious Punjabis to break into song and dance sequences time and again. The film is entirely shot in Whistling Woods Studios and the fact of the far-from-real train wouldn’t have nagged so much had it not been a film from students. Aren’t people passing out of films schools supposed to be more innovative and realistic in their approach to filmmaking?
That said, Love Express can’t be written off so easily. It is warm and entertaining and it succeeds if that is what the purpose of the film is. It is packed with the story of two “rocking-shocking” Punjabi families, some funny situations, and lots of loud and over-the-top Punjabi-ness in a train full of baaratis. The film stands true to the Punjabi ethos and is enjoyable. There is a couple (Sahil Mehta and Mannat Ravi) which finds itself trapped in an arranged marriage and tries tricks to break it off. Then comes the twist in the story following which they eventually fall in love (what did you expect?). There is a parallel story of another couple (Vikas Katyal and Priyam Galav), who had broken up sometime back and meet by chance on the same train. It’s a happy ending for all.
The actors making their debut in Love Express manage to impress as much as the veterans playing the family and the extended family in the film. Om Puri in the role of dadaji is adorable, and the romance between the aged dada-dadi in the film really heart-warming! Mannat Ravi stands out in her role as the supposedly coy, actually chirpy and talkative Punjabi lass. The problem is that we have seen it all earlier. Why must film school students play so unimaginatively safe, is a bit difficult to understand.