‘Tis the season of remakes. Taking a break from its well-established habit of cannibalizing Hollywood for plot ideas and sequences, the Hindi film industry has decided, almost en masse, to seek inspiration from its own rich celluloid heritage: with a remake of “Don” and “Umrao Jaan” playing in the theatres and a remake of “Sholay” in the works.
Remakes aren’t necessarily a bad idea (as long as proper acknowledgement is being given and copyrights being respected ) especially for movies from earlier eras that have “aged” thematically and/or technically and could do with an effective re-packaging for a new generation of movie-goers.
Which is what Farhan Akthar attempts in Don (2006). Taking a typical 70s style Bollywood potboiler, he scissors out the “dated” psychedelic colors, over-sized bow ties, bell-bottoms and tacky tiger masks (remember the one AB comes out wearing in the song “Main Hoon Don”) while retaining the legendary, oft-repeated lines of the original. On top of that, he layers in novel characterizations, several plot twists and most importantly oodles of camera-angles, split screens, greenish hues, breath-taking locales, stunning set-pieces and Hong Kong-style choreographed fights (as opposed to what in the 70s used to be referred to as “Thrills”).
What emerges is an extremely contemporary, cool-looking escapist fantasy that can compete stylistically with the Bonds and Mission Impossibles of the world.
However Farhan Akthar has a challenge that Steven Soderbergh didn’t have to deal with when he redid “Ocean’s Eleven” on similar lines (which incidentally is an excellent example of a remake that totally reinvented the original). That challenge being that the success of his movie will be critically measured by how well the actor playing the title character can match up to the sheer aura and presence of India’s biggest ever superstar, Amitabh the Big B Bachchan who played Don in the original.
Which is quite impossible—the B cannot be replaced.
People who are expecting a performance from Shahrukh Khan that supplants Amitabh’s will be disappointed with the new “Don”. They will be seen coming out of the theatre shaking their heads saying “Shahrukh Khan is no match for Amitabh Bachchan”. Absolutely true. He is not. He does not have Bachchan’s machismo, his raw screen presence and his amazing dialogue delivery skills.
And here’s the thing. He does not need to. Shahrukh Khan is his own Don—in a way totally different from the role Amitabh essayed in the original. If Amitabh represents the hirsute caveman masculinity of the Sean Connery school of sexiness, Shahrukh Khan epitomizes the more modern David Beckham-Pierce Brosnan ideal of the well-groomed, somewhat wimpy meterosexual for whom a broken nose is preferred to a poorly-ironed suit. Essaying the role of the over-the-top mega-villain in a movie where believability is of no concern, Shahrukh Khan’s lip snarls, goat laugh and quivering eyes do not appear out-of-place for once and actually help him in forging a distinct identity for his character, independent of the towering shadow of the Big B.
This also explains why the weakest part of the movie is during the two song sequences where Farhan Akthar tries to slavishly follow the original —the “Yeh Mera Dil” sequence where Kareena Kapoor totally flops out compared to the command performance from dance-legend Helen and the “Khaike Pan Banaras Wala” where Shahrukh looks like the biggest fraud Banarasi Babu ever. (that song was ideal for the Bachchan version of the Don but not for the SRK one) If only Farhan Akthar had bothered to re-adapt these two songs like he did with the “Main Hoon Doon” song, then he would have had a much stronger product.
In conclusion, I have to say that I went in with very low expectations for “Don”, fearful that I would have to start my review with “Don dekhna mushkil hi naheen namumkin hain”. However I was pleasantly surprised by Farhan Akthar’s clever direction and deft re-characterizations which while not elevating “Don” to anywhere near the level of a masterpieceÂ still manages to make it deliver on its promise of non-stop, brainless, totally low-brow entertainment.
Which is more than what I can say for the other big budget releases of this year.