Well, who knew?
My only motivation for going to theater tonight were (1) the excitement of seeing a Diwali hit on Thursday night at 8pm (EST) while India is still waking up and the cinemas there have yet to open, and (2) the picturization of the Ganapati Morya Re song.
I mean, come on, how do you re-do an Amitabh Bachchan film, especially one as cool and campy as the original 1978 Don, and that, while the Master himself is still alive and romancing 18-year-old heroines? Then, pile on that the extreme disappointment of SRK in Kabhi Alvida, and one doesn’t have very high expectations as one climbs up to the stadium seats in the AMC theater in the heart of Times Square.
But wait, only minutes into the movie I realized I had underestimated how much I would enjoy Don – the Chase Begins Again. It’s not a Deep and Meaningful Film, but nor do we expect it to be. It’s one fun ride. And as one friend commented as we left the cinema “You forget you’re watching a Hindi movie.”
From the opening scene in Paris, a doublecross drug deal with Chunky Pandey (looking very trippy), Shahrukh Khan is clearly not the nice boy we’ve seen in so many earlier movies. Two negative roles in two of the biggest releases in one year. On the brink of 41, perhaps he’s seeking to do new things, or rather, go back to his roots, given that some of his earlier roles were negative (Baazigar and Darr). The interesting thing is, whereas in Kabhi Alvida he was a loose, uncontrolled mess, in Don, SRK reins himself in and behaves like someone driving a Maserati around the hilly twists of Monte Carlo.
(Interesting to note, when SRK is first seen on the screen, we behold only his lips, poised over a cup at a Paris cafe, and just that sight provoked whistles in the theater tonight.)
The opening credits are no match for acid-toned, thwacka-wacka, fabulous ’70s original titles, but these ones, all techno green and black, zoom and loop with the names of the ensemble, in an architecture that foreshadows the highways and on- and off-ramps that encircle modern day Kuala Lumpur, where 80% of the film takes place.
We hear in a briefing made to Malaysian cops by Indian Chief Inspector Desilva (Boman Irani), some tale about a guy named Boris who emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union and who formed a major drug ring, whose 2 top bhais are based in KL. Hamara Don, it turns out, is the man who manages business for one, Singhania.
Shortly after, Kareena Kapoor makes her brief appearance, as the fiancée of one of Don’s thugs, who’s quitting the business to run away with her. Oh, too late, Don finds out and kills him, thereby setting Kareena on the path of revenge, as she attempts to step into the biggest strappy dance sandals in Bollywood, namely those of our beloved Helen.
It’s an impossibly tall order. There’s just no match for Helen in that white outfit and blue contact lenses slinking along the shag carpet toward the sullen and unresponsive Amitabh, but for what it’s worth, Bebo gives the number a lot of oomph. The choreography itself is softer and rounder than in the original, and the emphasis seems to be more on posing the former Poo in that shiny gold halter dress for maximum exposure, allowing the camera to linger on her perfectly made up, heavily kohl-lined eyes and high gloss lips, and let me tell you, this girl has some solid calves.
One annoying sartorial trend started in the “Yeh Mera Dil” scene is SRK in these print shirts with a little necktie of the same fabric wrapped directly around his neck, inside the collar, inside the shirt. Ick. This just looks like a leftover from the days when women new to the workforce wore floppy bow ties to try to ape the men already in the ratrace. Let’s just hope no abundantly confident Bombay dandies (Gaurav, Manish, Chandrahas, soniye, please) out there see this film and think “Hey, I can pull that off!” (Thank Heavens the Wardrobe Gods smiled on Arjun Rampal. More on him later.)
Somewhere around here Priyanka Chopra, as Roma, makes her presence known. Turns out, she’s the sister of Kareena’s dead boyfriend and she wants vengence too. She infiltrates SRK’s gang and waits for her chance to bring him down.
We see Don in his high tech lair, where the best part is his walk-in closet/safe, with floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with packs of dollars, drugs and complemented by the recently recovered Edward Munch painting The Scream (that was one cute little in-joke). For some reason, the criminal mastermind backs up all his tippest, toppest secret data on a tiny disc, which he allows to slip through his fingers and become the Maltese Falcon in this film.
While called on business to India, Don gets injured and caught, and the storyline follows that of the original, namely that the cops replace him with Vijay, a well-meaning guy struggling to feed and educate a young runaway boy, Deepu, who he’s taken under his wing.
And cue the song I’ve had in my head for the past week at least – Morya Re – which replaces the Bombay Nagariya number that Amitabh did 28 years ago. It’s set during the Ganesh Utsav festival in Bombay and it’s got all the rhythm and exuberance that you expect from a Bollywood movie. Shahrukh in simple jeans, white shirt, Teva-like sandals and a saffron bandana leads the band as he sashays down the road with a float bearing a very large pastel-toned Ganapati toward the sea. Funny enough, if you listen to the opening bars of this song, before the bells and cymbals kick in, you’d think you were listening to Bahia’s native sons, Olodum.
While Vijay learns how to be Don, we meet Jasjit, the handsome and handicapped Mr. Rampal, sweating in a cut banyan as he does push-ups on some parallel bars, looking very determined indeed. We see his mental movie and learn that he was once a mild-mannered IT whiz (how would someone who is so devastatingly beautiful ever be mild-mannered??) coerced into a crime because his wife has been kidnapped. It’s during that melée that he sustains the leg injury and loses his son (can you guess where the son ends up?).
Cut to interval and all the double crosses keep rolling on. None of the main characters in this film plays just one role, everyone’s got something else going on. For all the twists and switchbacks, and false starts and false endings, Farhan Akhtar is able to keep all the storylines from getting tangled and sustain our interest to see how it all turns out. He has also clearly taken the long view in calling his version of Don – the Chase Begins Again, for he must have sequel(s) on his mind.
Never mind plot twists and acting, what about the clothes and the makeup and the sets, you say. Well darling, the clothes were quite nice, but ugh, how does anyone wear so much leather in steamy Malaysia? Vijay appears in a screaming Bruce Lee long-sleeved t-shirt that was quite a howler, and Don himself wears a variety of pairs of sunglasses, most quite cool, but please, there’s one pair that would look much more at home on Karl Lagerfeld’s countenance than that of an underworld kingpin. The best items of the men’s wardrobe went to Arjun Rampal, especially a very delicious, form-fitting black t-shirt that stood him very well while his muscles flexed and rippled in a fight scene with SRK. Arrey vah.
Make-up on the ladies was dewy and smoky and fresh, which is a plus for Priyanka Chopra, who was so overspackled in Krrish she must have had breakouts for weeks after shooting wrapped.
Set decor was lush and appropriately affluent, and looked solid, which is one detail that helps this movie in beliveability, as so many sets in past Hindi movies looked remarkably flimsy. I had to laugh in one scene when I saw the King Khan reclining on the very same green striped Indian silk pillow covers that I have, and that you can have too, as they come from IKEA.
This has been an auspicious beginning to the holiday movie season. Let’s see what the coming weeks bring us…
See it or skip it?
See it! Bilkul bindaas hai!