Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NOT a review but...

…I liked Don on the whole, though it dragged towards the end and got all confused, what with all the intersecting sub-plots (and the two major twists). And yes, I thought Shah Rukh was very good in the first half (gasp away, people. K-k-kill me for saying it) where he plays the character his own way, not allowing the Amitabh legacy to cramp his style. The moment he struck up that pose in the room full of ballet dancers, in the very first scene of the film, I knew he wouldn’t screw up.

The problem is when he does the Vijay role, which is impossible for anyone to play without channeling (or seeming to channel) Amitabh's performance in the original. Also, SRK has surprisingly little to do in the second half, where the focus is on Boman Irani (superb as usual).

In a short (and frankly throwaway) piece I did on director Farhan Akhtar a few days ago (link here), I mentioned how tiresome all this Golden Ageism is, where we delude ourselves into thinking that the original Don was some kind of masterpiece that mustn’t be tampered with. “The remake will be all style, no substance,” was a common refrain when the new version was announced. But where was the “substance” in the original? I watched it on TV some time ago and the only things that still hold up are the songs and the Bachchan performance – and even that isn’t as fully realised as I would’ve liked. Amitabh is really good in his initial appearance as Vijay (and later in “Khaike…”), but once Vijay starts impersonating Don, we’re essentially back to AB playing himself. (Which I don’t usually have a problem with, by the way – but in this case I would have liked to see more of the paan-chewing bumpkin we were introduced to. That Vijay simply disappeared at some point in the film.)

Back to the new Don: I enjoyed the way Akhtar inverted the mood and tone of the original film, which progressed from darkness to light, evil to good. (Remember that the real Don, the one genuine bad guy Amitabh played during his superstar phase, is killed off just 40 minutes into the film.) The new Don heads in precisely the opposite direction and it’s one of the most cheerfully, unapologetically cynical films I’ve seen from mainstream Hindi cinema. Nearly everyone, it turns out, is corrupt, there’s no one to root for (except for the Rampal character and his son), there’s a lot of messing about with people’s sentiments (including those of a child) and this is basically a story about Evil vs Evil. The winner isn’t the guy who’s nicer, it’s the guy who has more style, more sang-froid. And that’s perfectly all right, because that’s really what this film is about: being stylish.

[Is it style over substance? Well, probably, though I have to say I’ve never really understood that phrase – and I certainly wouldn’t let it interfere with my enjoyment of a movie where the principal aim is to be glossy and eye-popping.]

Also see this post by Amardeep Singh

Update: very thoughtful post here by Space Bar, who takes the trouble to talk about some aspects of the film with intelligence and insight - not something people often do with mainstream Hindi movies (especially remakes).


  1. I am really surprised at the way you are dissing the old Don. Even the old Don was very stylish and I am not talking of amitabh's green shirts and suits here. The first forty minutes at least are beautifully shot and scripted. The film on the whole was very well written and for a change had a great role for an actress. Small time actors had some wonderful moments too, something that I sorely miss whenever I get to see some of the recent bollywood movies.

    Is it style over substance? Well, probably, though I have to say I’ve never really understood that phrase –

    One thing that irks me, and I am not talking about you here, but people in general, is that when people confuse style with surface gloss. it is this terrible bhansali syndrome which makes people confuse beauty with colours that really puts me off with so many bollywood movies. May be more learned critics will call it another evidence for the ubiquity of the "postmodern condition" where everything is all surface and there is nothing more mortifying than to be taken seriously, least of all movies. but to me personally these so called "stylish" movies seem to be terrible waste of time.

    I haven't seen this new Don yet but I liked Akhtar's previous two films a lot, two of the very few recent bollywood films that I liked, and I am actually looking forward to watch it if i can find it somewhere near.

  2. I am truly astonished at the hype in the media about Don. The original Don was a mediocre film compared to Deewar or Sholay. I haven't seen the new version. On hearing that Farhaan was going to do a remake of Don I thought to myself, What a waste! Jai, I agree with you that after Vijay becomes Don, Vijay simply disappears except for the Khaike Paan scene. Amitabh was just Amitabh in the role of Don. Zeenat had a better role and looked gorgeous. I have seen a trend nowadays. Any movie ovr 10 years old is instantly granted the classic status and eulogized. Now Rituparna is thinking of remaking Guide, another mediocre movie (lovely music, beautiful Waheeda, lousy movie). But Guide is regarded as a jewel in Bollywood's crown. Amazing!

  3. The first forty minutes at least are beautifully shot and scripted. The film on the whole was very well written and for a change had a great role for an actress. Small time actors had some wonderful moments too...

    Alok: good points there, and maybe I needed to look at the film more closely (watched it in patches on TV). Incidentally, Baradwaj also mentions the Salim-Javed script in this post. But I do think the film’s reputation is overblown on the whole – it looks quite shoddy compared to some of the other key movies from Amitabh’s peak period (Deewaar, Muqaddar ka Sikandar, Kaala Pathar for instance). And anyway, my point was that there was nothing so great about it that should have automatically precluded the possibility of a remake.

    Soumya: I agree about the unnecessary, nostalgia-driven Golden Ageism, but I don't have a problem with any film being remade (whether it's bad or good). In competent hands, the new version can be an extension (or inversion - as in the new Don) of the themes addressed in the original - in the process telling us interesting things about the changes in our attitudes over time.

  4. Great to know you liked the movie....I wrote about Don here and expressed similar opinions....

    I think remakes and reinterpretations (when acknowledged, not plagiarized) should be welcomed if they are (re)made well, Kuruthipunal (from Drohkaal) and Chachi 420 (from mrs Doubtfire) are cases in point...

  5. Soham: I liked this observation in your post:

    The best thing about it, and this was Farhan Akhtar's touch, was that we didn't have to come out of the theatres believing that a Banarasi Pan chewing street guy suddenly plays Don so convincingly that all and sundry are deceived.

    Now of course suspension of disbelief is a major factor in watching these films - so strictly speaking, whether Vijay's impersonation is believable or not shouldn't be such a big deal. But I did think the remake was more consistent (and hence effective) in this respect.

    In fact, the reason I guessed the final twist was that it seemed obvious that Shah Rukh was still playing the genuinely menacing, cocksure Don (rather than a meek character impersonating Don) even in the second half - watch how dangerous and animal-like he becomes in the fight scene in the airplane. With due respect to Bachchan (whom I worship), that distinction was never too clear in the original film.

  6. I enjoyed Don too! im no Bollywood buff, in fact, the last time i saw a Bollywood flick, it was Bunty aur Bubli (which temporarily robbed me of the will to live). The last time i saw an SRK flick - the lines of which my besotted cousin was reciting simultaneously alongside me as he hammed it up to the high heavens onscreen - that was actually DDLJ!! But in Don he was actually not so irksome...he has a sort of panache about him, and the hype and arrogance that loom over the already overblown national mascot/carnival float hero he's become actually make you forget that he started out (and is still) actually quite a talented actor.

  7. I enjoy reading this blog and I enjoyed the post on the new Don. You know the old Don still remains my favorite film and I imagine a lot of people had fun watching it. That is what makes it a "classic". It's not something you can dissect intellectually and impress a first year film student. But it's something that is embedded somewhere in our cultural code.

    In any case, just wanted to mention that I've seen Boman Irani in a few films and he is definitely always excellent. I like how he steadfastly refuses to get drawn into the cheap pratfall comedy that all good actors (e.g. Anupam Kher, Om Puri) get drawn into. However, his range is getting a little pinned down. I think he has become Bollywood's Bill Murray: a really good actor who keeps doing the same shtick.

    Thankfully Murray's quality control is alive and well and so he manages to insert himself into stuff like Broken Flowers, where we can be more forgiving of his rote. Hopefully Boman Irani can do better.

  8. Talking of originals being "classics", now that the new Umrao is here - since when did Rekha's Umrao Jaan become a classic? Most people on this blog may not be old enough to remember it but I am - and while it was a commercial success, it certainly wasn't a critical success and neither was Rekha so universally lauded. To a large extent it actually fell into the category of middle brow cinema - a la Merchant Ivory (as an aside on the fate of Merchant Ivory few Indian critics draw blood like the Brits). Muzzafar Ali's Gaman in fact was the movie which got a lot of kudos - the film and the music - though I don't see it appealing to a 21st century audience.

  9. Karuna: more Golden Ageism at work there. But even when the original film was both a critical and commercial success, I don't understand the protest that it mustn't be remade.

  10. Waiting to hear your views on The Departed.