As I approached writing this review for the 2006 remake of the classic 1978 Bollywood action-adventure Amitabh Bachchan starrer Don, I tried desperately to assess the film on its own merits rather than constantly compare it to the hugely enjoyable original. But after repeated viewings, I’ve come to the conclusion that this may be an impossible task because it strikes me as though the picture never truly wished to create its own separate identity to begin with. Granted, in context with the light-hearted and relatively low budget original, this updated version opts for a far slicker and more sedate approach – however, so much else about it seems determined to remind the audience that they are witnessing a copy. From the 70s-themed score, to the reuse of the original’s songs, choreography and dialogue, to even in-jokes about the great Big B himself, it’s apparent that this new Don is little more than one glorified tribute act. And an unbelievably dull one at that. While the ’78 version had high camp value and was clearly out to have fun and entertain rather than be taken seriously, this noughties remake attempts to adapt the already ridiculous narrative into a moody and violent John Woo-style thriller framework. It doesn’t work, and the result is one of extremely glossy tedium.
The title character, ‘Don’ (Shah Rukh Khan), is a suave and cunning underworld criminal on the run from the Indian police headed by chief inspector DeSilva (Boman Irani). After Don is seriously injured in a violent car chase, his street-dwelling, unassuming doppelganger Vijay (also played by Khan) is sent by DeDilva to infiltrate Don’s gang. Little does Vijay know, however, that amongst the bad guys lurks another phoney in the form of the beautiful Rhoma (Priyanka Chopra), who is out to get even after her sister Kamini (Kareena Kapoor) is killed. Meanwhile, revenge is also on the mind of Jasjit (Arjun Rampal) – an ex-con on the hunt for DeSilva, whom Jasjit holds responsible for his wife’s death in an incident years prior. But is DeSilva himself also who he claims to be?
Being subjected to this near-three hour snore-a-thon makes it all the more baffling that the man responsible, director Farhan Akhtar, is also the same individual who brought us 2001’s outstanding comedy drama Dil Chahta Hai - a modern classic that is destined to become one of Bollywood’s all-time greats. Why he would then take such a step down and produce this utterly pointless piece of drivel boggles the mind. While Akhtar’s talents may have resulted in some admittedly professionally-shot action sequences with the expected gun shots, car crashes, huge explosions and polished CGI affects abounding, his overall efforts at retelling the story of the fun-filled ’78 release in a straight-laced manner here are misguided and fruitless. Don just doesn’t seem like the type of movie that belongs in today’s times. The original’s ludicrous plot, cheesy 60s Batman-style punch-ups and overblown melodrama could only come out of a 70s masala popcorn flick and sanitising all of that just serves to remove the source of its charm. Akhtar also errs in deviating from the original’s script in his update’s final reels to throw in a few more banal twists for good measure – all, incidentally, resulting in plot holes bigger than Britney Spears’ rehab bills and one that even undoes the entire point of the film’s premise.
Much of Don’s cast likewise fail to deliver the goods. When I originally watched the movie at the theatre, I thought leading man Shah Rukh Khan had done a decent job in essaying the roles of Don and Vijay since he admirably had not gone the obvious route of attempting an Amitabh Bachchan impersonation. After a couple more viewings though, the cracks in his performance became all too evident. Appearing less like the veteran actor with numerous acclaimed performances to his credit that he is, Khan instead comes off like an overexcited fanboy, giddy at getting to spout Don’s catchphrases and assume the character of the hero he grew up idolising. Hamming and posturing his way through each and every scene, he winds up positively cartoon-like and makes for a poor choice to play the role. While Khan has had experience early in his career at playing the baddie, it was usually of the sympathetic loser variety. As the cool and menacing Don, he is completely out of his depth and his appearance doesn’t help matters. Khan’s tiny frame, large nose and naff Beatles hairdo serve to make him look more like an undernourished Jackie Chan rather than an intimidating force to be reckoned with.
More miscasting occurs in the form of Boman Irani as DCP DeSilva; a fine character actor known more for his bumbling comedic turns, Irani here is unconvincing as the no-nonsense police chief. Among the female supporting characters, Priyanka Chopra leaves little lasting impression as her character of Rhoma is given virtually nothing to do except look good in tight clothing. Her 1978 counterpart Zeenat Aman was in a similar position in the original Don, but boasted bags more sex appeal than the colourless Chopra. And lastly, Kareena Kapoor’s cameo as the ill-fated Kamini in the seductive song sequence ’Yeh Mera Dil’ (‘This Heart Of Mine’) was doomed from day one to pale in comparison to legendary ‘item number’ queen Helen Richardson’s prior turn in the same part – a number which is still etched in the hearts of Hindi film lovers (many non-fans too will now be unknowingly aware of the song after it was sampled by the Black Eyed Peas for their hit ’Don’t Funk With My Heart’).
Neither a faithful retelling of the original nor a new entity in its own right, the 21st century Don is merely an awkward mish-mash in which almost nothing gels. You may get some bang for your buck in the form of the few garden-variety stunt and action set pieces on display and some solid photography courtesy of cinematographer Mohanan, but as a whole the film lacks any kind of emotional resonance thanks to its screwy script, drab direction and painful performances. Bollywood certainly has much better to offer. Nonetheless, thanks to megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s crowd-pulling power, the movie has garnered much success where it counts – at the box office collections. And with a sequel already in the pipeline, it seems we’ll have to endure yet more mugging from this diminutive ‘Don’ in the months to come. Let’s just hope Farhan Akhtar is forced into coming up with some fresh ideas next time around and can inject some genuine enjoyment into this feasibly feeble franchise.
On the surface, this 2-disc set from distributor UTV looks to be among the highest quality Bollywood DVDs on the market. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track sounds glorious – crystal clear, with superb use of channel separation. An extra 2-channel stereo track is also on offer which obviously won’t make the same use out of a home theatre system set-up, but still boasts of no faults. The progressive NTSC video is anamorphic, presenting the film in its correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and serves up a fantastically detailed picture (taken from an HD source) with immaculate colour rendition and little if any print damage. Inspecting matters a little more closely however and two almighty blunders can be detected, ruining this otherwise perfect transfer. Firstly, there is an unforgivable amount of compression artefacts present in busy shots thanks to some dodgy MPEG encoding. While secondly (and most detrimentally), the 24 frames-per-second film has been converted to the NTSC video standard of 29.97 FPS by using hard repeated frames rather than applying proper 2:3 pulldown. This has resulted in the film appearing to move in slow motion for its entire duration. What a cock-up.
A second disc of mostly by-the-numbers material make up the extras in this set, which include brief outtakes, incidental deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer. An hour-long ‘Making Of’ documentary also features, offering a reasonably interesting behind-the-scenes look at the film, but is unfortunately rather shoddily produced with poor sound recording at times making it difficult to understand the various talking heads. The special features are all also affected by the aforementioned repeated-frames problem and as is the case with nearly all Indian DVDs, no subtitles are made available apart from during the main future, in which the English captions are adequately-translated.
UTV’s presentation of the new Don certainly didn’t service to endear the movie any more to me. Fans of the film will likely be able to overlook the errors, but flawed encoding and humdrum extras still make for one less-than-stellar DVD release.
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