Prem Ratan Dhan Payo feels far too familiar

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      Starring Salman Khan. In Hindi, with English subtitles. Rated PG.

      The hype surrounding the Diwali weekend release of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo promised the return of “Prem”. While this is the name of every male lead in director Sooraj Barjatya’s films, Salman Khan became a Bollywood superstar when he played the original Prem in 1989. He returns here to play another incarnation of the character in a movie that is, itself, an unoriginal rehash of familiar themes.

      Prem is a small-town stage actor who has a distant crush on Maithili Devi (Sonam Kapoor). She’s from a royal family and runs a charity. Prem’s performance troupe collects donations for it and he travels to a nearby fiefdom in the hope of meeting her in person. Maithili is scheduled to attend the coronation of her fiancé, Vijay Singh—who inexplicably looks exactly like Prem.

      But something is rotten in the royal family of Pritampur, with much conflict between Vijay and his three half-siblings. Vijay’s royal future is at risk when he has a nearly fatal accident. Upon seeing Prem, the royal advisor (Anupam Kher) enlists him into impersonating Vijay. He steps into the role with all the naiveté and pure intentions that one expects from his character.

      Barjatya’s films have long fixated on the theme of preserving family connections despite all the dastardly behaviour therein. There is nothing new here. Over the course of a few days and way too many songs, Prem tries to reform this wayward clan.

      The film takes place in the present, and the magnificent palatial locations in Rajasthan and Gujarat are littered with signs of modernity that Barjatya’s camera doggedly catches in frame. But there’s a historical feel to Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and it’s not just because of the sets. It’s trite message is every bit as anachronistic as the feudal titles that the characters hold.