The boring SRK mega-mode
You have a sequel of an adaptation of a mediocre thriller from the 1970s that gained pop-classic status only because of Amitabh Bachchan, and you would think, finally, some free reign of the imagination? The second instalment of Farhan Akhtar’s Don is unfortunately, again, a classic case of borrowed imagination.
Akhtar, the actor-director-producer synonymous in Bollywood with films which best project the affluent urban youth, is on shaky ground here. He is evidently better with another milieu. His 2001 debut, Dil Chahta Hai, has been his directorial pinnacle so far. Both the Don instalments are weak imitations of Hollywood staples of this genre, such as, most recently, the Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible films. Despite the budget on display, Don 2 doesn’t excel in story, performance or plot ingenuity, three bedrocks of a great work of crime fiction.
Weak imitation: Khan has no new tricks up his sleeve and Chopra (right) plays an artless law enforcer.
Going by its production value, which is an amalgamation of art direction, cinematography, costumes and all the other visual aspects of the film, Don 2 is notches above the first, and indeed many other Hindi films of today. The world-roving drug lord, Don (Shah Rukh Khan), careens through the backwaters of Thailand, the streets of Zurich and Kuala Lumpur, and navigates the hi-tech corridors of a financial centre in Berlin, against gorgeously captured visual backdrops. Don jumps off a skyscraper and glides down its refracted glass surface. Well, familiarity with Mission: Impossible could kill this scene for a viewer.
Don wears the best, his wardrobe designed by New York-based designer Jaimal Odedra. The nightclub song, totemic in most Hindi films, has dazzling flourishes of the camera, dance choregraphy and lighting. Don 2’s star is indeed its cinematographer, Jason West.
Beneath the sheen, however, there’s little in the film to sustain a discerning audience’s interest. It is meant to be a thriller, with a climactic bank heist. The master plan for the heist has some amount of the criminal cunning integral to an astutely executed heist. The execution has some edge-of-the-seat moments. But because the entire film suffers from severe literality, even the best sequences don’t have genuine surprises or thrills. Nothing is left unsaid. As they carry out the heist, every move of Don and his league of men is explained. That annoying tool used compulsively by our film-makers, the narrative voice-over, is on overdrive. The screenplay by Akhtar, Ameet Mehta and Ambrish Shah is ultimately secondary to the visual rigmarole.
We first meet Don in Bangkok, where he is fighting Europeans for control of a drug mafia. On his trail is an Interpol officer, Roma (Priyanka Chopra), who takes over the reins of the case from CBI officer Vishal Malik (Om Puri). Don surrenders to Roma knowing he would meet his old foe Vardhaan (Boman Irani). They plan an escape, and then together, with the back-end support of his moll, Ayesha (Lara Dutta), plot a grand heist. He must avoid assassination or arrest, whichever comes first, so that his plan reaches the gratuitous end he wants.
While the Hollywood template is obvious—the background score by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy sounds strikingly similar to that of Ocean’s Eleven, and a few scenes are all too familiar—the trademark touches of 1970s’ Bollywood make the film an odd fusion.
Even if it was intentional, the fusion is not seamless. For example, part of Don’s plan to escape from jail is to add a liquid to the food of the inmates in order to induce food poisoning! The dialogues, written by Akhtar, have a faux-retro ring: “Get me Don! Get me his head!” screams Vardhaan in one of the climactic interludes.
The lead woman in Akhtar’s story is Don’s “wild cat”. She is incapable of even the smallest of jobs, although her boss seems to have entrusted her with the toughest case. Chopra gets some naive, laughable lines; Roma’s only defining qualities are her amazing artlessness and lack of resources. Watching her at work, it’s difficult not to recall the character Kangna Ranaut played in another film produced under Akhtar’s banner, Game, in which most of what Ranaut did was look at a monitor and say, “Let’s go!” or “Let’s do it!”, but finally went nowhere and did little. In both these roles, the writers’ obvious attempt to create a dubious alpha female composite of a Bond girl and a tough cop falls flat. Chopra, though, gets a fight sequence, in which she excels. Dutta doesn’t have much to do; watching any Bond girl cursorily would teach her the ornamental nuances of the role she’s playing.
While visual wizardry and the accomplished but not pioneering action by Matthias Barsch acquire more importance than the writing, the leading man overwhelms everything else in Don 2. Khan has no improvisations and no new methods. He plays himself; after a few dramatic entries, the animated swagger and few wicked one-liners, the familiar charm wears off. Khan’s age-old tricks, the hamming and the twisted expressions, his trademarks, get tedious. Don, like all other characters he plays, has to adapt to the SRK mega-mode.
Barring some sequences, the 2 hours and 26 minutes of Don 2 are pretty, and remarkably boring.
Don 2 released in theatres on Friday.