Mostly happy, sometimes sad
Happy New Year
Director: Farah Khan
Actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone
Let alone describe, how do you even strictly label a film that is at the same time about a major heist and the world dancing championship, with some sort of a family feud involved? In Hollywood, you could possibly call this a cross between Step Up and Ocean’s 11. On Indian television this would be a mash-up of, I don’t know, maybe CID and Nach Baliye? From Hindi films of the ‘80s and ‘90s, think Mithun Da’s Dance Dance, merging with Anil Kapoor’s Roop Ki Choron Ka Raja. No? Okay, maybe not.
Either way, this is a film directed by Farah Khan. This roughly means that at its best (Om Shanti Om), it would be a mad movie, made with a lot of love and conviction. At its worst, it would be a pastiche of needless non-sense (Tees Mar Khan). This film veers much more towards the former than the latter.
And that’s a pleasant surprise. What’s not is that Shah Rukh Khan starts off with a tribute to self. He plays Charlie, who gets introduced on screen in eight-pack abs parodying lines from his alter-ego SRK’s films: “Badi badi fights mein chhoti chhoti chot lagti rehti hai” (DDLJ); “Kaun kambakht bardaasht karne ke liye pit-ta hai” (Devdas); “Imaandari se kamana mushkil hi nahin namumkin hai” (Don) etc etc.
Meanwhile he also delivers a key lesson, which is that the world is divided between two kinds of people—winners and losers. And that he is a loser, although it’s hard to tell exactly why. He’s a “Boston University topper” and a prizefighter, and not too bad at dance either. Super-fit, and global inspiration to anyone who’s about to turn 49, to be fair, he’s every bit the superstar.
The only reason for him to feel like a loser, I suppose, is that his father was unfairly considered a chor (thief). He spends eight years planning to right that wrong by taking on the villain (Jackie Shroff) who screwed his dad over. He wants to steal precious diamonds from the villain. They are kept carefully locked for a day inside a vault in a hotel, which is also hosting the world dance championship.
That “mera baap chor hai” bit is from Amitabh Bachchan’s Deewar (1975). The safe where the precious stones are kept is called Shalimar, after the Dharmendra-Zeenat 1978 starrer of the same name. Shalimar’s theme song plays in the background. The dance-off that takes place before the heist points towards Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977). A fun fight sequence is a nod to the rare, singing-action track ‘Mamaiya kero mama’ from Arjun (1985). A victory dance is dedicated to Sunny Deol’s moves in Jeet (1996)….
A reason I’m listing these obvious references is to let you know that this is the sort of Bollywood movie about so many Bollywood movies that calling it homage would be a serious under-statement. Most people in the West don’t get these movies with so much dance, light, colour, action and over-acting—they would drain a novice out. Bollywood also makes much fewer of them now. The only way to get away with them with a straight face is to treat them as tribute to ‘Bollywood’ itself.
Speaking of which, the leading lady (Deepika Padukone, rather out of form), who teaches the guys to dance, is Mohini from Tezaab (1983). Abhishek Bachchan, key member in the heist group, plays a double-role: one’s rustic, the other suave, much like his dad’s Don (1978). Then there are Sonu Sood, Boman Irani and Vivaan Shah playing equally idiosyncratic characters. Together they make for a rare ensemble cast film featuring Shah Rukh Khan. How do you even judge a movie so willfully high on lunacy? I guess when you’re happy—you just know it.
As a viewer, I had the lowest expectations before getting into the theatre, despite a ‘house-full’ board outside it. Firstly we know the film is 3 hours long. The director’s last picture was called Tees Maar Khan. And yet as you settle in, you smile at the scenes that work. Many of them do. You look away for a bit when it gets too much. Several scenes do.
Eventually, while walking down the aisle, after what could’ve been an exhausting experience, you realise that while you hadn’t really been rolling on the floor laughing, you weren’t quite rolling your eyes either. This is a happy film—much fun, for the most part.