Friday, October 20, 2006

the police await don in eleven countries. i catch him before the premiere.

Something in my genetic make-up has predisposed me to love the crack. I can think of no other reason why I didn’t hate Don.

Spoilerrific wonderment at the above follows.

This is the thing: evil Don, conniving cops, Don being pulled out of the evil overlord race by conniving cops, replacement Don turning up, plans for world domination are set in motion by way of mysterious upper hands – but whose? Also throw in a dead dancer, a revenge-seeking sister, and a wronged young man. Go wild.

Watching it in the fifth row from a gigantic Imax screen did not help ease the experience of utter disorientation: the dialogue was off in places, the script was loose and the action often edited in bizarre cop-out ways. The acting was – well, let’s just say bizarre covers it. Allow me to further destroy anyone’s hopes of a likeable Kareena Kapoor when I say that the best thing about her role was that it was mercifully short, and bundled out of the way in the first quarter of the film.

I had great hopes for this story. Anyone who thinks the old doppelganger trope is unfashionable is inadequately prepared for life and art – it is a super cool trope. I know a lot of us Bollywood-fed types hurt at the stupidity of the identical-twins, lost-in-the-Kumbh-Mela aspect of it, but double identities are as hip as they come. I was very enthusiastic about driving myself crazy wondering which guy it really is, and if there is actually only one guy, and imagining the endless possibilities of cross-double-cross. I had such great hopes, as a matter of fact, that I enjoyed myself thoroughly in spite of all the bad stuff.

I thought Farhan Akhtar had some good ideas. He takes the single major dual identity theme in the old Don and unravels it to spread out over every aspect of the film. No one is who they seem to be. Everyone has a hidden agenda and secrets of their own. There’s no particular suspense involved for the audience in this. All the characters soliloquise or monologize enough, in that eccentric seventies way, to lay out their cards on the table as soon as their characters are established. We know Kamini and Roma and DaSilva and Jasjit’s motives and secrets before we know them. We should settle down to enjoy how these things dawn (heh.) on the other characters, and be unprepared for what we are about to learn at the end of the film, which is meant to shock the audience. About fifty percent of the people I went with guessed the big secret halfway through the film, of course, regardless of whether they had seen the first Don or not. It’s no major riddle.

What it did require was a more deft touch. There are some lame, rudderless sequences. Mostly it’s all a hefty mass of uncoolness. Uncoolness is death for a film like this. The set-piece at the beginning will make you cringe. There’s a bit with a parachute that will make you cry – if you have the guts to look at the screen when it’s happening. Kareena Kapoor proves herself equal to the best in the Kapoor tradition of the why-god-why school of performance.

As I was saying, I enjoyed it. What can I do? It was so brazen in its desire to let everything hang out. It was totally on the bad drugs, but it owned up to it freely. The art direction’s sassy reflection of the old style was delightful. And I love how Boman Irani veers between method and madness to play his role: sometimes he’s all invested and serious about it, and sometimes he’s just sitting on his character’s shoulder and making it do mad stuff. I was less excited about Shah Rukh Khan. I think this is the first in a long while that I’ve seen him perform at least part of a role free from the illusion that being awesome and being Shah Rukh Khan are one and the same thing. He loses the tics and the irritating speech habits for at least some of the scenes. And his song sequences are the best I’ve seen in ages – his energy and absorption hearken back to why India made him its blue-eyed boy in the first place. It’s too bad that this film settles, once and for all, the question of where he stands with respect to Amitabh Bachchan. He just doesn’t. Watching him work at anything – the studied menace, the dancing, the bumbling act – and casting your mind back to the unblemished charisma of seventies Bachchan is like having candle-flame meet sunlight. I’m not a Bachchan sentimentalist, and I don’t think I’m wrong about this. The past and present Dons challenge and contrast their personae much more clearly than the Chopra-Johar duds that threw them together ever did.

Phew. Before I’m done, a word about Arjun Rampal. I don't hold much truck with the idea of models being actors, because they aren't, but he behooves me make an exception. His studly being is a pleasure to behold on film.


  1. I remember I loved the original Don, and have always been a bit of a "Bachchan sentimentalist". Especially the seventies Bachchan.
    Which is one reason I've been afraid of watching thise one. (The other reason being my pathological hatred of SRK.) Bachchan, esp as the original Don was uber-cool. And the rude transition to the street song was delightful.

    Guess I will catch this one, if only to reaffirm my lack of faith in SRK.

  2. Nice. Good to see reviews (more in the blogosphere than in the mainstream) that are actually examining the film on its own terms instead of blindly doing the comparison thingie. I re-watched the original Don recently and was struck by what a tacky film it is - the only things that hold up today are the songs and the Bachchan performance. Taking the "why remake an acknowledged classic" stance is silly Golden Ageism in my view. That argument might apply to Sholay (which is still as fresh today as it was 30 years ago) but it certainly doesn't apply to Don.

  3. Great post. I celebrated Diwali by watching it and was surprised by the fact that I actually found it quite enjoyable despite the many cringe inducing moments. Kareena Kapoor bursting out of that gold dress - my eyes!! *Ouch* And that parachute scene - I fell off my seat laughing.

    I thought SRK was good once Vijay came on. His Don act in the beginning was well, SRK. But he did bring something to the role, though I agree completely with what you say about there being NO (none, zilch, nada) comparison between him and AB.

    Re J'wock - I actually never thought Don was a great film. Other than AB (and the songs) there was a lot that could be improved so I thought remaking it was actually not a bad idea. I don't think Akhtar has succeeded per se, but well, it a stylish, fun take on it anyway.

    Oh also I saw the trailers of Umrao Jaan and thats one remake that doesnt really leave me with a good feeling.
    Ok, end post length comment.

  4. Oh and - Happy Diwali :D

  5. I object to your assertion that this film was on bad drugs. It was on no drugs at all. It was sterile, hollow funded by bankers and Compaq crapola.

    For a film to be on drugs, it ought to have one or all of the following:
    a) A villian, enigmatically named Rainbow who makes frequent attempts to rape the hero's sister in full view of almost the entire cast of the film

    b) A hero who after having earnt Rs 10,000 driving a bicycle in a circle for a week, believes he's done enough for the family already; and on being asked to save his sister from the lascivious attentions of Rainbow, holds a short dissertation on the nature of coal, obliquely implying that his sister was a bitch and asking for it.

    c) The evil brother of the hero who looks up at the sky and spits on being instructed to do so by an elderly relative and reacts with genuine shock when he finds himseld enveloped by his own loogie.

    d) A man who like Hamlet is haunted by the ghost of his dead father. Except the a ghost is about six inches tall, dressed as the Air India Maharaja, and spends a lot of its time in the refrigerator. It also walks over its son's rather prominent belly, berating him for being so henpecked and pussywhipped.

    Don was competently executed mediocrity, banal and painful to endure. It's sadly an attitude/style that's spreading, taking the joy out of rock concerts, movies and just about everything else.

  6. Wow, you take my breath away with your definitive opinion on what crack is. Some cheese with whatever you're on? * unwraps a cube *