Saturday, November 04, 2006

Its DON, not Vijay!

Full disclosure: This review was published first by in English and Spanish. It is one of the many projects I am associated with, and in many ways, gets first shot at carrying my film reviews.

Once upon a time, there was a classic role – made immortal by the Shahenshah of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan back in the late 1970s. Cut to 2006, a daring young director decides to recast the current King of Bollywood – Shahrukh Khan – for a remake of the same film. Some may call that foolhardy. It is most certainly, definitely, risky.

Don – The Chase Begins Again has been raising hackles ever since it was announced. Old fans have complained how no-one could recreate Don. Critics have sneered that Shahrukh’s clean image would never do justice such a role, perhaps forgetting that the actor got a start playing negative parts.

So what’s the new Don like? Well, a lot slicker, trendier and bigger – the action, the car chases and fight sequences are all superb. There are lots of gadgets and well choreographed action sequences. The women all look glamorous, with one exception of a hideous dress choice by Isha Koppikar (A word of advice – NO-ONE looks good in flounced baby doll dresses!). Kareena is polished and glamorous in her bit part as Kamini, a role essayed originally by the classic Bollywood queen of oomph – Helen. Priyanka Chopra never quite manages to slink around in a bikini a la Zeenat Aman, but her Roma remains dangerous and sexy.

Arjun Rampal is a gorgeous update on the original role played by Pran – as a man looking for his missing son and vengeance. The original featured a rather feeble high-wire scene with Pran. It has been replaced by a vertigo-inducing sequence on top of the Petronas tower in Malaysia – still scary, perhaps even more so, because it is so believable.

And so, we come to Shahrukh. He hasn’t had this much fun in a while. For once he is gets to be an all out bad boy. And boy, does he love it. You can practically see him grin with pleasure as he struts and snarls and sneers. He keeps a lot of the old iconic dialogues, but brings enough of his own to update them. His Don is a lot darker, more dangerous and coldblooded. Shahrukh works in shades of Al Pacino’s Scarface in his rolling walk and a subtle coke-head’s sniff and swipe of the nose that almost seems a nervous tic. It’s a master touch for a Don who is now an international drug smuggler. What is also interesting is the new Don’s appetite for women – Amitabh’s version seemed more interested in getting business done than in Helen’s charms. Even as the bumbling Vijay, he stayed true to Roma once he fell for her. Not so in 2006 – this Don eyes up the babes with a sexual hunger that borders on sleazy. His parties are barely a shade up from upscale orgies.

And then we get to Akhtar’s changes to the script. Smartly he doesn’t try to recreate the moral universe of the original film. Nor does he try to reconstruct the hinterland bumpkin persona of Vijay. Neither would have worked in 2006, when the old moralities have been inevitably blurred, and even the small town lads are clued in to the latest MTV hits thanks to satellite television. Instead, he revives some of Shahrukh’s early star persona – of Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam – with the dark, psychotic shades. And then he packs in lots of twists and turns of the plots, including the surprise package at the end. What you get is not a remake of Don, but a Don version 2.2, updated and packaged for the new millennium.

My verdict: Akhtar is evolving into a director comparable to Gulzar, or Manmohan Desai or even early Subhash Ghai. Just his name on the film credits is a guarantee for a well constructed, well shot and beautifully edited film. Go see it – not because you want to compare it to the old Don, but because this is a great cinematic experience – fun, furious and fabulous. And of course, then there is Shahrukh!

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