While moviegoers in the United States eagerly anticipated big-budget sequels and vehicles for Hollywood megastars such as Jim Carrey and Harrison Ford–okay, not so much Ford–this summer, one of the hottest tickets in India was “Chalte Chalte (Walk Along),” starring reigning Bollywood king Shahrukh Khan and Rani Mukerji, a superstar in her own right. Like many B’wood films, the mid-film interval in “Chalte Chalte” marks not just a time disconnect, but a tonal one; however, in this case, the shift is rather fascinating and effective. The film’s first half plays like a jaunty romantic comedy in which salt-of-the-earth truck driver Raj (Khan) woos chic fashion designer Priya (Mukerji) while traveling around Greece. These opposites’ attraction progresses in typical rom-com fashion in any language, but the overwhelming charm of and palpable chemistry between the leads brings the formulaic material to a higher level. When Raj, barely suppressing tears, delivers a big goodbye monologue to Priya, the moment is undoubtedly manipulative as hell, but only the most stone hearts won’t be moved by Khan’s conviction and the silent, soulful eloquence of Mukerji’s eyes as she looks on.
While the first half works as its own self-contained romantic comedy, the second half plays as if it were that film’s more straight-faced sequel. Imagine, for instance, “Sleepless in Seattle” picking up after Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met and truly got to know one another–and the hard realities that come with that–and you get an idea of what “Chalte Chalte” evolves into after intermission. The way in which now-married Raj and Priya find out that life isn’t exactly happily ever after more than recalls Mukerji’s acclaimed hit drama of last December, “Saathiya,” but the stars’ likability and dramatic chops sell the emotion. The sugarcoated conclusion isn’t nearly as convincing nor as complex as the performances, but on the whole director Aziz Mirza succeeds in doing what most B’wood projects strive to do: offer romance, laughs, drama, tears, song, dance and real stars in one nicely wrapped package.