…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).