Don… If your first thoughts were of Don salami, then allow me to introduce you to the other non-cured meat variety — a suave criminal, a stylish James Bond-like figure ruling the underworld with vicious tenacity. A seminal film of 70s Bollywood, with a big star cast (Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman), it was a blockbuster that spawned several hit tunes, notably “Khaike Paan Banaraswala”. It was a slice of 70s action movie, in the vein of Bond and Dirty Harry for the Indian audience.
It would only be a matter of time before it was remade for the current masses. Don: The Chase Begins Again hit the cinemas in 2006 and promptly burnt a hole in the box office, earning a not too shabby spot in the top 10, the same year that Dhoom 2 was the top grossing movie in India. Of course that doesn’t really say much about the movie itself, especially if you compare it to the T+A fest that was Dhoom 2.
The chase does begin again, with the added advantage of a bigger budget and years of film technology development but how does Don:TCBA measure up? While the original Don isn’t some sacred ‘classic’ in my book — the last hour is a jumbled mess of ludicrous and embarrassing kitschness — it has withstood 20 odd years of time and is still watchable, and can be considered somewhat ‘cool’ with its distinct 70s film style and funky soundtrack.
Don:TCBA, manages to eradicate the worst of the original — that means the action sequences are better choreographed and more believable, god forbid even exciting with nods towards Con Air and Face-Off. The narrative and the characters intentions are more logical — gone are the sudden lapses in logic that plagued the original. The Jasjit subplot is also better paced and written, Arjun Rampal as Jasjit is a visual improvement from Pran in his dodgy toupee and the narrative dalliance with Jasjit as a circus performer is thankfully disposed of. And like any self-respecting remakes these days, it would be downright obvious to stick to a straight-up remake, so there are some dramatic plot and character changes that are cleverly incorporated.
However for all its cleverness, Don: The Chase Begins Again does leave one somewhat cold — it’s so intent on being Mr. Clever-Pants that the eventual trade-off is the audiences’ emotional satisfaction. After sitting through 2 hours and 40 minutes, we get slapped with ‘The Big Exposition’ in the final minutes. Your enjoyment of Don may rest on how you take this twist — I can only imagine that 1) you might feel slightly ripped off (if you have seen the original — at least you can momentarily marvel at its cleverness) 2) utterly confused (if you haven’t). Admittedly most of the ride was quite fun – the movie is slickly edited and as glossy as hell. The performances are decent enough although SRK never quite convinces me as a menacing and dangerous man. Perhaps it’s this new trend the costume designer was trying to pull off — the tie tucked inside the open shirt look. Perhaps it was hot in Malaysia where the film was shot. Whatever it was, SRK’s performance was not as captivating as usual. Boman Irani as DCP DeSilva is a stand-out while Om Puri makes his presence felt despite his smaller role. I’ll take Zeenat Aman any day over Priyanka Chopra but she looks the part and doesn’t fare too badly.
Curiously there is one thing that the old Don did better than the new one. The dance numbers in Don: TCBA had more of everything — more money, more glamour, lots of bare skin and explicit dance moves that will make your mother blush. They are so shiny and dazzling that they overshadow their original intention — enhancing the story and the characters. Case in point — ‘Yeh Mera Dil’. Kamini, working with the police, performs a sexy routine in order to keep the criminal Don from leaving a hotel room while the police rushes to the scene. The original number performed by Helen is absolutely rocking, yet never lets the audience forget what she is there for, every sizzling hip shake is to prevent Don from walking out. In the new ‘Yeh Mera Dil’, SRK and Kareena Kapoor both look like they are enjoying themselves a little too much mugging it up to the cameras for there to be any urgency to the situation. It’s not all bad, “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” is the one song number that serves its purpose well and SRK looks the most comfortable here goofing off under the influence of betel leaves and marijuana laced milk (who wouldn’t?)
The improvements of Don: TCBA are to be lauded, its success lies in being a well made and decent action thriller, with high production values that will appeal to most, but especially I suspect, to the macho end of the audience spectrum. Although it does end up being a bit of a ham, thankfully it’s not a turkey.