Director : Farah Khan
When a film opens with the leading man mouthing a series of his world-famous dialogues, you can have two reactions.
One, grin a knowing grin, and chuckle “kyonki badi badi picture mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain”. Two, groan and think aloud — couldn’t they think of one new dialogue because, you know, it is a new film, innit? Or is it just Farah Khan, reuniting with her old friend turned foe (via a very public feud fought in the tabloids) turned friend again, reprising her number — paying tribute to the ’70s Bollywood masala movie, only bigger and more blindingly brighter than ever?
Happy New Year turns out to be a cross between an Oceans 11/12 and Flashdance and a whole bunch of movies that topline Mera Bharat Mahan sentiments. And a film which threatens to sink because it begins with such an eye glaze, but manages to rescue itself because of Farah’s relentless take-no-prisoners attitude: where it can get big, make it gigantic; where it can get colourful, stuff in every single primary colour, and turn the spotlight on. She pulls it off, but only just.
And only after giving us long patches when you are left clutching your head. All that self-referential humour can get heavy. To call your bar dancing leading lady Mohini? Of course, you will flash back to Madhuri in Tezaab, as you are meant to. To call a safe-filled-with-diamonds Shalimar? Right, we get it. There are a bunch of others, but we’ll let you do a spot-the-ref by yourself, when you can see the film from the noise. And I’m warning you, the decibels are in the range of high-higher-highest.
At nearly three hours, Happy New Year is a long showreel of what Khan the director and Khan the superstar can do, which is this: put on display rippling eight (or is it 12?) packs whenever you get the chance (which is often), bung in a song-and-dance whenever possible (also often), and when there is a gap, shove in some dialogue-and-action. And when all else fails, rev up the patriotic fervor, because we all love our India, right?
The plot, such as there is, involves a bad diamond merchant (Shroff), a good safe-maker (Kher), the good safe-maker’s son Charlie(Shah Rukh), an expert safe-cracker (Irani), an ex-Army man who likes blowing things up (Sood, whose impressive eight packs sometimes get a chance to out-glisten the Khan’s ), a tapori who likes barfing (Bachchan; err, barfing? Don’t ask), a young hacker (Shah, mandatory accessory for a film like this), and the aforementioned bar dancer (Padukone, leggy and lithe and bright-eyed ).
The theme is revenge twinned with romance and tragedy and comedy, leavened with dollops of stereotypes: gay people have to mince, right? And it is played out in huge explanatory chunks ( because we are all kids at heart, and it is good to keep everything simple, right?). And in dance competitions in Mumbai and Dubai, and in tunnels that lead to a safe that no one crack, except, of course, our heroes.
And especially our hero, Shah Rukh, whose eight packs achieve the status of a separate character, given the amount of footage they get. In other places, Khan is his usual self-deprecating cool self, and cracks a couple of good jokes: one cuts close to the political bone. But it is also a performance that feels a trifle frayed, because he has nothing substantially new to do.
And that is the problem with Happy New Year. Every where you turn, you find a scene, a line, a sequence that is familiar, from Farah’s own Main Hoon Na (we will win, us India-waaley, of course we will) and Om Shanti Om (SRK’s “entry” in Happy New Year may have him rolling in mud, but it still fetishises him, just as it did in Om Shanti Om: ooh, look how ripped he is), and all the others it borrows from.
Deepika Padukone is the one that manages to stand out a little, and that could be because there is no other female competition. It helps that she is an excellent dancer, and has grown by leaps and bounds, both in the moving-and-acting departments, from her first film ‘Om Shanti Om’, in which she starred opposite SRK. A few riffs in the song-and-dance numbers remind you of Farah’s original talent as a choreographer, and Padukone is twinkly-toed enough, most times, to keep slackness momentarily at bay. As is Shah Rukh’s sexy-weary schtick, when it gets a chance to come to the fore.
But, as I said, it’s only just. Too often we are left struggling against ennui — of having seen it, and heard it, before. How long can you keep the whole tribute thing going and still make it feel fresh? How much send up is too much?
Can Shah Rukh Khan break free of having to resort to so much self-referencing? In a film that presents him as a completely new character? As, heck, a character? That, now, might lead to a truly happy new Bollywood year.