Movie Review: Don

Less than 24 hours since I returned from that screening of Jaan-e-mann, I was back inside those darkened halls, this time to watch director Farhan Akhtar’s Don, his remake or his contemporary version – whatever he likes to call it – of the 70s Bachchan starrer.

Having watched the original Don many, many years ago, it had been on my mind for more than a few weeks now, to revisit the original film once again, perhaps on DVD, before watching the new Shah Rukh Khan remake, but eventually I decided against it. I think it’s important to watch each film independently and to judge it on its own merits. And in all honesty, that’s the approach I finally took while watching and critiquing Farhan’s film.

I trust you’re more or less familiar with the plot, but here goes nonetheless: Shah Rukh Khan plays a slick underworld kingpin who the police force in 11 countries is in hot pursuit of. After successfully dodging the cops across the world, Don is eventually, fatally injured in an encounter with the police here in India.

The officer assigned to the case, Boman Irani sees an opportunity to uncover the entire mob ring by replacing Don with a look-alike – a local simpleton – who infiltrates the mafia. It’s when that officer Boman Irani gets killed, that the real problem arises because he was the only man who knew that the real Don is dead, and that this guy is actually a police mole. Now to this premise add a few more vital characters and a handful of new twists, and lo you have it – Farhan Akhtar’s take on that vintage hit.

I understand that your daddy co-wrote the original film and that you’ve actually paid money to acquire the remake rights of the earlier picture, but I still have to ask, what gives director Farhan Akhtar the right to indulge himself like a child in a candy store? If his very basic reason to remake Don was because it has such an enduring story, then why tinker around with it pointlessly?

Characters in the new film are poorly developed, case in point, Arjun Rampal as the avenging angel who you learn in flashback was a software engineer who was bullied into stealing diamonds from a millionaire’s safe. One moment he’s helping people change their computer passwords, next moment he’s scaling a skyscraper and breaking an entry with the ease of a pro.

If it’s not the characters, it’s the over-the-top action like that ridiculous scene where Priyanka Chopra air-lifts an entire ambulance to kidnap Don from police clutches. You know there’s no problem at all with a little self-pampering, but Farhan Akhtar really tests your patience with this enterprise that is all style and little substance.

To point out the basic and most vital flaw in Farhan’s film, I must refer to the original picture. Amitabh Bachchan oozed believability as the title character because he could separate Don from simpleton Vijay based on the strength of his personality, his commanding screen presence and, most importantly, his remarkable acting skills.

But in Farhan’s film, there’s little difference between Shah Rukh as Don and Shah Rukh as Vijay. Moreover, in the film’s early portions when he’s establishing Shah Rukh as the feared mafia ganglord, the actor plays the part with a touch of camp – with flair and flourish, thus reducing the part to an odd caricature instead of investing in it a menacing threat that he was probably trying to convey.

Spiffily shot and stylishly packaged, the new Don may wear a new look, but what it’s clearly lacking is the raw energy, the unpredictability of Chandra Barot’s original thriller.

Which brings us to the two songs, Farhan’s nod to the earlier film. Kareena Kapoor’s Yeh mera dil pyaar ka diwana is no match at all for Helen’s sensuous original jig, although Shah Rukh does somewhat save the day with Khaike paan banaraswala to which he brings his own unique style, which is arresting to say the least.

In the end, what you remember of Don as you leave the cinema is how long and how tedious the film is. You know, I’ve always believed that one may be willing to forgive a film several faults – bad acting, poor production values, even a weak script. But when a film bores you to death, to the extent that you’re looking at your watch every few minutes, then that’s pretty much it.

At a running time of close to three hours, it’s an exercise in indulgence, evidently even the film’s editor was so bored he fell asleep watching the film instead of chopping it down considerably.

And now to be fair to Farhan and his team, I agree there’s nothing more thrilling than watching the new generation of actors pay tribute to the older set by remaking their golden classics and uttering those immortal lines all over again. Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai – I think I broke into a spontaneous applause as did several others in the cinema, when Shah Rukh appeared on screen and said that line for the first time in the film. But dude, what is this film?

This is hardly a remake.

It’s Farhan Akhtar taking the plot of Don and then adding to it his favourite scenes from Kill Bill, Mission Impossible 2 and all the James Bond films.

So, then that’s a thumbs down for Farhan Akhtar’s Don. You know, even though I didn’t pay to see the film, I’d still like my money back. To paraphrase that line of dialogue from the film: Iss naye Don ko jhelna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai.

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