You might want to keep off those Diwali sweets if you intend to watch Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Indulging in both could lead to the kind of sugar overload that your doctor would most certainly disapprove of. Hum Aapke Hain Koun director Sooraj Barjatya’s latest is a familiar tale that involves setting right the wrong, reuniting estranged families, and conquering hearts with basic human goodness. These are formulas he’s employed to great success in previous films, but the tropes have gotten rusty, the emotions seldom feel genuine, and the writing is strictly surface level. Good thing then that the film’s got Salman Khan as leading man, his abundant charisma glossing over many of its flaws. 

 
In Pritampur, an estate in North India that didn’t get the memo on the abolishment of the monarchy and royal practices, Yuvraj Vijay Singh (Salman Khan) is injured in an attack by disgruntled family just days before his coronation and the arrival of his fiancée, Princess Maithili (Sonam Kapoor). While the prince recuperates in a secret chamber within the royal fort, his lookalike Prem, a small-time entertainer from a nearby town, is discreetly recruited to take his place so the formalities can go off without a hitch. 
 
It’s a testament to the star power of Salman Khan that Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is never unwatchable despite its old-fashioned story, its frankly laughable scenarios (the climax takes place in a palace of mirrors built on top of a waterfall), and its failure to flesh out characters adequately. The film revisits many of Barjatya’s favorite themes – the importance of family, the enduring bond of brotherhood, and the power of forgiveness – but it has nothing particularly new to say that might justify making this film in 2015. 
 
Pre-intermission the film coasts along breezily, buoyed by the humor in the interactions between Prem and the loyal palace diwan (Anupam Kher), who’s trying desperately to rein this man-child in. But melodrama reaches fever pitch in the film’s shrill second half, in which an angry half-sister (Swara Bhaskar) and a conniving half-brother (Neil Nitin Mukesh) must be won over, and a trouble-making relative (Armaan Kohli) must be defeated. Meanwhile, the romantic track between Maithili and Prem packs some nice moments, including a running joke about not getting ‘cozy’ until they’re married. 
 
Alas, the predictable plotting and the lazy characterization never really allow you to be invested in any of the film’s characters or to even care for them. Make no mistake, Salman Khan is the sole draw of this film, and he works hard for his top billing. The actor is in good form – terrific in the comic scenes, and earnest in the emotional ones – turning on the charm to help you survive, and even enjoy, this nearly 3 hour film that’s crammed with songs, and over-styled to a fault. 
 
I’m going with two-and-a-half stars plus an additional half star for Salman Khan, which makes it three out of five for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Get ready for a sugar rush.
 

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