Film Review | Happy New Year

A Dubai Bollywood Night on loop, and some stale heist tropes

There is nothing Chandramohan Manohar Sharma, or Charlie (Shah Rukh Khan), cannot do, except love a woman. This is not a Khan character we know.

Rarely do we see Hindi film superstars play characters, it is usually the reverse—the characters playing them. So, in this case, Khan is far from the romantic hero, or the villain whose fate is linked inextricably to the woman or women he loves. The gorgeous Mohini (Deepika Padukone) is in front of him, batting her eyelids, shedding copious tears and shimmying to the point of desperation, but Charlie is unmoved.

Directed by Farah Khan and written by the director along with Althea Kaushal and Mayur Puri, the film has Khan in an avatar close to what has long sustained Salman Khan and his legions of fans. Charlie knocks down hulks in mud wrestling, water wafting down his multiple-pack (certainly more than six there) chest in slow motion, washing the mud off. He can dance as well as win over a Korean atop a Dubai high-rise after a slew of flying kicks. He can convince a hacker, a Bollywood dancer, a Parsi stud and a drunkard from a Mumbai slum to help him carry out a heist-cum-revenge plot, and hoist the tricolour and sing maudlin praises of “Humara India" with chest-thumping ardour.

Khan’s histrionics have not changed tone. He has the same laboured set of expressions, just more trebly, perhaps notched up a few levels to suit the revenge and patriotism theme. The routine charisma of his early career is lost.

For reasons never explained, Charlie has numerous cronies and is a kind of demi-god figure when we meet him. He lives in a plush house, although we don’t know what he does for a living except plot revenge for his father’s death. He has to loot a “diamond agent" named Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), who lives in Dubai.

For the job, he has Tammy (Boman Irani), a Parsi man with a Hitlerian mother who was his father’s friend, Jag (Sonu Sood), an assistant on a film set, Rohan (Vivaan Shah), a young hacker, and Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), a Marathi slum dweller who vomits on people in front of him without warning, and who happens to look interchangeably like Charan’s son. They go to Dubai in the guise of Team India for the World Dance Championship that the Grovers are sponsoring, and rob them of a set of precious African diamonds. Mohini, a dancer in a bar who dreams of having her own dance school for children and who breaks into paroxysms of desire when she hears someone speak English, falls in love with Charlie in an instant, and continues to dote on him while the hero, possessed of the desire for revenge, ignores her not-so-subtle gestures.

After playing a 40-year-old in his last film, Rohit Shetty’s blockbuster Chennai Express, Khan’s age is kept ambiguous here. He is just an impossibly heroic, hammy man who can cry, save a child and perform amazing martial arts feats with equal ease. This is one of Khan’s most unconvincing attempts at the larger-than-life hero. Farah Khan, who has made two enjoyable potboilers, Om Shanti Om (2007) and Main Hoon Naa (2004), a combination of candyfloss, farce and riot of dance and colour being her signature, does not quite make the transition to revenge and heist—Happy New Year is a forced juxtaposition of a dance movie and a predictable thriller. The result is painful.

The choreography has a few flashes of invention, although for a film about a dance competition, the moves are noticeably repetitive and stock B-Bollywood. The humour is largely dull except for a few gags by Irani, although he just recreates the cardboard Parsi blub.

Sood’s Jag is the maa-ka-beta, a classic Hindi film conceit that has worn thin. So when smoke billows out of the strapping man’s ears and his shirts start tearing off his body when he hears a word of slander about maa, and that too many times over, the character ceases to have anything you’ll care about. Sood pulls off the beefed-up standby of the hero. Bachchan is uninhibited and delivers a couple of funny scenes, although as the man of the street, his character has no rough-hewn shades. Shah comes across as a complete mismatch for this ensemble, supposed to be a geek but ending up more as an afterthought—a disappointing second role after his debut in 7 Khoon Maaf.

Padukone is resplendent in her glittering costumes, her Mohini sold on the idea of making India proud and reclaiming her respect, but throughout the film she is working towards the opposite of that goal—she is an unadulterated bimbo, a pretty thing to be laughed at and pitied.

The really insufferable moments in the film unfold simultaneously with the follow-up to the heist, when all of Dubai is going “India! India!", when saffron and green illuminate riverfronts and city hoardings. Nandu mistakes the Korean for a Chinese because “they all look alike", while Charlie teaches the leader of the Korean team a thing or two about being generous—all this because, of course, the Indian is the model of the greatest human virtues.

Happy New Year is like a Bollywood Night in Dubai on loop, with a few stale heist tropes thrown in. Some of Farah Khan’s tricks to propel her story are painfully old-fashioned, one being the villain discreetly mixing a pill into the drink of the good guy so he becomes unconscious.

So much staleness, packed into a running time of 3 hours, is revolting even to the brain-dead stupor that we, fans of Hindi movies, sometimes habitually get into just for the sake of time-pass entertainment.

Happy New Year released in theatres on Friday.

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