Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Don trailer, and the tunes that bind

I blogged once before about Karan Johar’s lovelorn and worshipful presentation of Shah Rukh Khan on screen. This was most obvious in the opening moments of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna – the scene with SRK on the football field, scoring the winning goal. Johar took great care to shoot his Muse in such a way that his face would be hidden from audience view as long as possible; it was almost as if he couldn’t bear to share it with us. (When we finally got a front-on shot, we still couldn’t see SRK’s face because he had pulled his shirt up over it after scoring the goal!) Watching all this was a bit like encroaching on someone else’s private moments, and I felt genuinely uncomfortable. The eruption of the stadium crowd at the end was clearly a substitute for orgasm.

Or so I explained to a friend who angrily snapped back that I was being an over-analytical idiot as usual, and that this was in fact standard Hindi-movie treatment of its superstars – going back to the days where little weepy Master Mayur or Master Raju would leap off a bridge and a full-grown Amitabh would land on the train chugging beneath.

Now, after watching the trailer for Farhan Akhtar’s Don remake with Shah Rukh in the lead role, I have to gloomily admit that maybe the symptom does extend beyond Karan Johar movies. “Teaser” might be a better word for this trailer, since the whole thing was built on the principle of gradually revealing parts of SRK’s (leather-clad) anatomy while keeping his face out of sight, or shadowed. It was like those multi-part Godzilla trailers where you caught tantalizing glimpses of a giant eye or foot or tail, but never the whole lizard at once.

At any rate, the gleaming visuals, computer-generated effects and sleek black suits on display in this new Don seem to put it firmly in the Matrix/Mission Impossible league; it was hard to relate it in any way to the beloved 1970s Bachchan starrer. Until, that is, I heard the familiar strains of “Main Hoon Don” (even if in an unfamiliar remix format) playing in the background. Very briefly, all was right with the world.

Last year, when plans for the Don remake were announced, I had a minor argument about it with a friend. For some reason (the problems of music copyright perhaps), we had assumed that the remake would have completely different songs, even if their contexts remained the same. I was put off by the idea. He wasn’t. “What’s the big deal?” he said. “The story is the same. Don doesn’t have to be all about ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswaale’ or a couple of other songs, melodious though they are.”

But in a sense, of course it does. Commercial Hindi cinema of the 1970s was more about a pastiche of eye-popping scenes and vignettes (including song sequences) than about the coherent forward movement of a plot (which was the least important element in those films anyhow). When a mainstream Hindi movie has a great, or even reasonably good, soundtrack, it becomes nearly impossible to separate the film from its songs over a passage of time. Why should a remake with completely different music be considered a remake at all? And it’s not like there was anything so unique about the story in the first place.

When I first watched the original Don, as a child, the music didn’t figure very strongly on my radar – what mattered was watching Amitabh scowl, saunter, rage, goof and fight his way through the film. But many years elapsed before I saw the film a second time (on cable TV) and in the intervening period I heard the songs very often, so that they became representative of the film for me. Consequently, when I did see Don again, I was almost disappointed by the visuals that accompanied the songs: excellent as Amitabh was for much of the film, the vibrant voice in the title track was all too clearly Kishore Kumar’s, and the lip-synching was shoddy and unconvincing. When Helen gyrated in the “Yeh Mera Dil” number, I kept seeing Asha Bhonsle’s face (and Asha Bhonsle’s face atop a gyrating body doesn’t make for a pretty picture).

All this is a way of saying that sceptical though I am about the idea of a Don remake (or an Umrao Jaan remake for that matter), I’m glad they’re retaining the original soundtracks (assuming the tunes aren’t completely massacred). Modern-day Bollywood is so obsessed with showing off its glossiness, being better-looking and more stylish than movies from an earlier age, that music is sometimes the only remaining link between originals and their “tribute-remakes”. (However, there are some links we don’t need: please, please let the remake not feature an unbilled “surprise cameo” by Amitabh...)


  1. i wish sometimes that they'd just leave these old movies alone. surely there are enough ideas to make an original, without rehashing and repackaging an old one? maybe not, actually. i saw some promos of don, shahrukh in a leather suit and i am filled with a sense of anguish almost.

  2. Jai - This is probably off your post but I had this thought when I read "When a mainstream Hindi movie has a great, or even reasonably good, soundtrack, it becomes nearly impossible to separate the film from its songs over a passage of time. "

    What then of those songs that are remembered fondly/vividly even though their movies - mainstream or otherwise - have not been blockbusters. For eg - "rim jhim gire sawan" from Manzil, to "Allah ke bande" from "Aisa bhi hota part 2" (I'm tempted to add "Seene mein jalan" and "Bawra mann" but those songs are inseparable from their movies). I'm sure the list is long. Any thoughts ?

    On the broader point I remain sceptical of remakes. I'm not sure I'll remember Kareena dancing to "ye mere dil pyaar ka deewana" as much as I would Helen. But then I'd probably be accused of nostalgia.

  3. I learnt two things from the post: what pastiche means and that "Yeh Mera Dil"( a song I greatly appreciate) was from Don( Sorry! I am from the south). Thanks.
    If you want to see a really hilarious remake of the "Don", go watch NTRs 70s hit "Yugandhar" in telugu. I can't stop singing "Naa Pere Yugandhar...Yugandhar...Yugandhar", in my head. If you really want to know it's telugu for "My name is Yugandhar...Yugandhar...Yugandhar..." Now I know where Eminem got his inspiration for Slim Shady.
    Anyway, don't really care if they make remake again or not. Wasn't going to watch it anyway, especially if Shah Rukh is going to sing like Amitabh did in the original. It's bad enough to tolerate his relentless hamming; enduring his singing will require a whole new level of stamina.

  4. Is it a self-conscious, campy meta-movie, an intelligent comment and a critique of the original Don? It is the only way this remake can be justified...

  5. Alok, why does it have to be camp? I just don't get this overuse of the concept of "camp" when it comes to Hindi movies. No, they are not deliberately camp, they are only camp when viewed from a very specific lens.

    Ravi, when did Amitabh sing in Don? The only two films where Amitabh sang were Mr. Natwarlal (Mere Paas Aao) and Silsila (Neela Aasmaan, Rang Barse).

  6. overuse? well the dominant aesthetic of mainstream bollywood is nothing but camp. Heightened emotions, garish colours, revelling in its own artificiality, underinvolvement with the "real" world or downplaying the "reality" of the world -- these are the things, among many others, which define conventional Bollywood cinema which also fits the dictionary definition of the word Camp. I think it is a very useful and enlightening way to look at Bollywood.

    I was just saying that it would be interesting to see someone trying to make an intelligent meta-movie about Don. A remake which takes itself seriously ("a 21st century Don") would be boring.

  7. Oops...my bad! For some reason, I thought Amitabh sang this. I got it mixed up with Rang Barse. This is why I always said I need a fact checker for my comments. Thanks for pointing that out, Thalassa.

  8. The original Don had amazing background music which grew on you after you watch the movie. The first thing that struck me about the original was pace. The movie had great zip with chases and double edged characters.It was an amazing effort for a director who was never heard of later.

    I think we can still bear SRK as don but Arjun Ramphal will be a bigger challenge.

  9. As Bombay addict pointed out, I might be accused of nostalgia in addition to being partial towards Kishore, but the original paan banaraswala is like a lot better than the new version. Also, Sunidhi Chauhan seems to have kind of restricted herself in the yeh dil song.

    Nice post, found myself agreeing with almost everything. And btw talking about remakes, you mentioned don and umraojaan. No comments about Sholay?

  10. sorry, restrained herself rather than restricted.-srini

  11. Have downloaded the top three songs from Don2006, the "Main hun Don", "Khaike paan banaraswala", and "Yeh Mera Dil ". The songs are painful, to be kind to them. Very painful.

    The worst interjection comes in when Shahrukh Khan's voice drops in for a cameo in between. Already on tenterhooks, that just pushes it beyond. I actually dug out "Aati kya Khandala" from the archives, listened to it a couple of times to soothe my frazzled nerves.

    Why did Farhan Akhtar have to take Shahrukh? Why Shahrukh? Tch

  12. Thalassa/Ravi

    Amitabh sang in more than just those two films...one was a great song in Mahaan (he played a triple role)-jidhar dekhun teri tasweer nazar aati hai)...the recent Baghban had him crooning a couple of songs too.
    To add a comment in response to Jab's post, all I can say is, I recently caught the original Don on TV and man, they just don't make men like the Big B anymore. I totally cannot relate to the superstar as he is today. Must get a DVD of the real Don as soon as I can.

  13. Jai....Wow i never seen so much written about something that i would assume would mean so little in the scheme of things. But you never can tell can you...

  14. I am amazed by some of the comments,though I agree iots just an opinion like everyone has one.

    BUt why so much Shahrukh bashing..what has he done except make most of his movies commercially viable...and most of his producers rich. Bollywood, like hollywood is about making money and if it means Sharukh...so be it.

    It has become common among the inteligentisia to deride Sharrukh for his hamming and stutters while praising the averagely talented Ameer Khan. Honestly except for a couple of his performances..he has such a limited range as an actor and dont brag about Fanaa and Mangal Pandey...it will want to make you puke.

    I am no big fan of Sharrukh..but then I dont tend to have elitist thoughts about it though..if you ask me...there are hundreds of actors out there beyond bollywood and amitabh who have more consistent track record wrt to acting..mohanlal for one. How many of you ahve heard about him or seen some of his roles. Cz for a north Indian...south Indian actors means the highly over rated Kamal haasan.

    Anyways lets treat each movie as a stand alone product...which is the way it shud b..:)

    Sorry about the typos and keep smilin guys

  15. Jai, we'll just have to forget that this is a re-make of Don. And not watch it.

    Swati, AB sang in only two movies?! Brush up your facts, child. The first was "Laawaaris" - how can you forget "Mere angne mein"? Sandy-girl has pointed out another decent effort in "Mahaan" (also sung over the phone, like the sequence in "Baghbaan")

    Somebody said Aamir Khan is an average actor. Can't agree. Check out "Rangeela". Even "Rang de". But yes, "Mangal Pande" sucked big-time.

    But please ... the worst part about the Don re-make is being subjected to the trailer no matter what movie I go to watch.


  16. Well, Don2006 does look like a self-consciously campy take-off (rather than a sincere remake) of the original. Which is, to me, a point in its favour. And if there are any roles Shah Rukh can be good at, they are these cheesy spoofy ones where he gets to show off his intelligent and very 21st century sense of humour.

    And ReadnRight, nobody has an 'elitist' attitude towards SRK or anything against him simply because he is successful. We are merely saying the man can't act. Anyway when has that stopped anybody from becoming a superstar (and I am NOT referring to AB senior)?

  17. What if they went the other extreme and gave us a sombre, thoughtful artsy Don?

    That should freak the little shits.

  18. Alok, that analysis of Hindi films is flawed at so many levels, but I'm just too bored to argue.

    Sandygirl, JAPda, yes forgive me for I have erred. I thought of "Mere Angne Mein" the very next day :)!

    And yes, when I get too traumatized by Bachchan's current mediocrity, I go and hunt down even the briefest of scenes from his 70s films. He was just mindblowing in those days.

    I saw the Don trailor, and oh to hear Shahrukh say "Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin......" is painful, painful!

  19. yeah, a thoughtful artsy Don sounds like a great idea. Amitabh going through a psychological crisis and trasformation for example... It will also allow the reviewers to analyse such profound things like "self", "identity" and "fluidity of human personality" :)

  20. I saw the full trailer last night. It's marketing itself as a mean, souped-up acksun-thriller: it seems to take off more from a mid-nineties nasty!Shah Rukh vehicle than a 70s extravaganza. My heart broke a little because I was REALLY looking forward to this film. I mean, black velvet jackets!

  21. As for Umrao Jaan, JP Dutta says, it ain't remake of original Umrao Jaan

  22. Actually this hiding the face of the superhero scenario has been used very effectively in "Goldeneye".

    We don't get to see Brosnan's face - until you see a great shot of his face him gun and all in a very creative and clever angle...

  23. Great post, I have to say I don't mind the remakin of a film that could have been much better, like Don, as opposed to a film that was already near perfect, aka Sholay/Umrao Jaan. Don looks pretty stylish and slick, which is great. But why oh why Shahrukh? Nothing against the man himself, but he just sounds aweful trying to say Big B's lines.
    He sounds so lame and embarrassed when he say "Don"...he might as well have said doodhwala...

  24. finally saw the full trailer yesterday (quite late I guess) and yes, hearing Shahrukh say 'Don ko pakadna...' is absolutely cringe-inducing.

    On the Don soundtrack though, the *only* good song is 'Aaj ki raat.' After the terrible 'Yeh Mera Dil' and the marginally better 'Khaike paan' comes this song, and it totally redeems Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.

  25. It was extremely interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more soon.