Our favorite suave and chique crime lord Don is back after escaping from Interpol agents Roma (Priyanka Chopra) and Malik (Om Puri) in the first part of this franchise. We pick up the story after a 5-year gap (most of which Don has spent growing his hair and getting a butt ugly tattoo probably as the trend of wearing a tie under your shirt wasn’t taking off)
After becoming the ruler of Asia’s drug empire, he has now set his eyes on conquering Europe too. The top gaudy shirted crime bosses of Europe get together to get rid of Don but by doing so they set into motion the return of the king. This time his plan is to steal the currency plates for Euro Notes, I think he probably watched Lethal Weapon 4 a few times when he was kicking back and having his hair braided by Apache Indian’s stylist, but to do this he needs to get a key to a safe containing a video tape from Vardhan (Boman Irani), his nemesis from the earlier adventure who’s locked up in a Kuala Lumpur jail. Will Don be able to bust out Vardhan, steal the Euro plates, wipe out his enemies and finally become the king of crime in both Europe and Asia?
Where as the 2006 Don was a remake/re-imagining, the twist it added set the movie up as a slick action thriller franchise. The sequel takes us into the heist genre following the usual tropes i.e. setting up the heist with blue prints and lasers, getting a crew together each with a specialized skill set, things go wrong during the heist and then the big reveal. The movie is quite action heavy and the set pieces are very glossy and precision engineered. The team will be glad to hear that they are on par with stunt sequences reminiscent of the James Bond or Mission Impossible franchises, and that is clearly what the film makers were intending. I particularly enjoyed the initial Muay Thai double cross in Asia and the main car chase in the middle of the movie.
Unfortunately the action scenes are very heavily inspired by some of the above mentioned movies, also they are trying to match that level but never surpassing or adding anything original to the mix. Barring arguments about budgets, this is something that Korean, Thai or even French cinema is able to do much better and hence has a more unique voice in the global cinematic landscape, maybe this is one of the struggles Hindi Film cinema will continue to have until they develop a confident identity and vision.
This brings us to the fundamental flaws in the screenplay. As an audience we are trained to inherently root for the good guy. The hero dishooms his way through a pack of villains and vindicates the social injustices we identify with. The original Don’s main intrigue was about a simple guy, Vijay, infiltrating a crime organization for the future of his adopted street children and a sense of civic duty.
You want him to succeed in his mission whenever he is danger of his secret identity being disclosed by police or gangsters. You cared for Vijay’s well being.
When you take that away that suspense from the audience, as was the case in the 2006 version, understandably you feel cheated. You loose track of why you are rooting for the protagonist and only your affinity for the actors on screen makes ithe movie a satisfying experience. The cache of the actors involved for both Priyanka and ShahRukh was on a much higher level in 2006 then it is now.
Although Don is now the king of Asian drug trafficking, in the screenplay as a character his crimes are white washed. We don’t see him doing any “evil deeds” or get any retribution for his actions whatsoever, Don is and remains a bad guy form start to finish without any character development.
Shahrukh has played anti heroes before in Baazigar and Darr that have been dubbed grey or negative characters but of each characters as an audience member you understood the motivation and story arc, be it obsession for revenge or love. I do think his role in Anjaam was overwhelmingly negative and to my recollection Anjaam flopped because of that. Don is a different beast.
He isn’t a “steal from the rich, give to the poor” kind of criminal. He is a vicious drug lord wanted in pretty much every country (which would make his mom proud as he proudly proclaims).
We are expected to root for this character and many times I was left wondering why we should do that? Just because Shahrukh looks cool? (again his coolness has lost a lot of its sheen since ’06) Or because he says please and thank you? Also where is his gang? Where are his minions? He seems to be very hands-on when it comes to pulling capers?
Director Farhan Akhtar mentioned when we spoke to him on our podcast that he also struggles with why audiences’ root for Don as a character and I don’t think he ever really figures it out during the entire movie and the only thing we are left with is… “Isn’t’ Shahrukh awesome?” (as a disclaimer, yes he is awesome)
The whole set up of Don 2 is that he wants to be a billionaire and wipe out all his enemies, of which all the information is contained on a again a mythical disk that acts as a mcguffin through the rest of the flick. You reach the intermission and ask yourself what are the stakes in this movie?
Are we just here to see a bad guy do more bad stuff (ie kill hostages and security guards by his henchmen) and if he has planned everything in detail as we are intended to believe then the innocents killed are on his conscience making the character very hard to like.
As a side note, I was watching a very interesting Star Wars documentary called “The People vs. George Lucas”, it spoke partly about how George Lucas made the first Star Wars when he started wanted to have control of his own movies and image and wanted to rail against the established studios by being a rebel outside of the system. But now after living years off of his franchise and desperately trying to protect his “vision” ended up becoming the system himself. Watching Don 2 made me draw a parallel between George Lucas and Shahrukh’s career.
Shahrukh in the same way started out breaking all the classical hero molds. He took on supporting roles, off beat characters and small scales movies when Hindi film leads were not willing to experiment. This became the reason we love our Shahrukh, the reason we want to see him on screen, the nostalgia we feel when we call him King Khan.
And now quite ironically, he has become the one hero who has become most rigidly stuck in the image he has created.
But it’s been a rough year for SRK and I don’t think the detractors will change their tune after seeing Don, which is unfortunate but also understandable after the oversaturation people fell after marketing mayhem of Ra.One and now Don 2.
Following the rules of sequelitis, this one is bigger, better, flashier but the ’78 Saleem Javed version delivered something that was still memorable after 20 years. So much so that it has been remade in different eras as well as languages and regions. No one will be remaking Don 2 in 20 years and people that aren’t on board of the SRK or Piggy Chops train, won’t come out of theatres won over by the movie.
Although the loopholes in the screenplay, the dialogues penned by Farhan Akhtar himself are fun zingy one liners that had me half smirking in the quintessential SRK way quite a few times. I did purposefully stay away from the “Don Says’ virals on the net as I didn’t want the impact of the dialogues spoilt outside of context and this was a major win for me. Also since I am not a fan of those desperate marketing experiments, which are the equivalent of entertainment fast food that neither the performers nor the audience truly enjoy, and if they do, shame on them!
The soundtrack has been a pretty big disappointment and lacks anything catchy or mythical for us to buy or even revisit the album. Unlike Don ’06 we missed Kareena’s sizzling item number and there isn’t a “Khaike paan banaras wala” to lift the spirits either. The background score is slightly better and makes the heist and the action scenes more impactful.
In a way this makes the movie less Bollywood and maybe missing what the French call ” I don’t know what?”
The stunts are shot exquisitely shot (actually most of the cinematography is great by Jason West. Who is also playing one of the baddies, if I haven’t misread the cast list) they are very much competing with the MI franchise but unfortunately never taking it ever further. The execution is top notch but it looses out in creativity.
I chose to see Don 2 in 3D even if I am not a big fan of post converted movies (I haven’t seen any that I have liked or felt that the 3D added anything more). The 3D adds a sense of depth to the action scenes and but also points out the low budget design of the movies CGI. What 3D can provide something more is to the dance sequences in Zara Dil Ko Thamlo, But again since there was only one song and not much choreography required, there wasn’t much left. (My hopes are still high for Shrish Kunder’s Joker, next year, which IS shot in 3d and not post converted)
I wouldn’t shell out for the premium ticket for 3D if you are on a budget or anything and don’t enjoy wearing the glasses.
Unless like me you are not biased against 3D or just want to see a hindi 3D movie.
The 2 other niggles I had with the movie were Priyanka Chopra as performer and the character of Roma and her team at Interpol.
Interpol never provides a foil for Don or any threat, weakening the dramatic tension. Roma was an innocent victim of Don and collaborated with Interpol as an undercover mole, now she seems to be a Special Agent and the bright shining future of the team and there isn’t a moment her ability to do anything except pout and point out whatever is obvious on screen. Here is an example of her investigative method: “We see 2 people in the car, BUT now there is only 1 person so someone must have stepped out of the car” – No shit, Sherlock!
Not even the local German police takes this version of Interpol seriously, neither do the banking officials (who seem to have the power to offer immunity to felons)
On top of that Roma struts around every time Don surrends as if she actually did anything to catch him, which she clearly didn’t. Her introduction to the movie is where she has forgotten her colleagues’ birthday… and this is the agency that is chasing Don, the most notorious criminal, no wonder they haven’t gotten anywhere.
Priyanka does look ravishing and is quite impressive in the final action scene where she kicks some ass with really skinny arms.
Too bad for her she again gets outshone by the supporting actress who is wearing a gold dress, last time Kareena, this time Lara Dutta.
Overall I would say, I had been really excited for Don 2 and I liked it but it’s not going be on anyone’s top 10 of the year list. It’s a very slick, enjoyable and above all well made movie reminding me of Excel’s Game, released earlier this year. The star power and the brand recognition of Don 2 will carry this movie further in terms of Box office then it did for Game.
And I do have to admit that I walked out of the theater humming the title track, popping my collar and sneer- smirking like only a wanted man does….
- Having been cheated once before in the earlier Don, you start to expect a twist at the end of this one. I wouldn’t want the Don franchise become a N Shymalan style movie where most of the impact is lost just because you as an audience member don’t want to me cheated and just sit there waiting for a twist.
- Hritik Roshan’s cameo: Don goes undercover as Hritik followed by a Mission Impossible 2 style mask taking off, which was illustrated in one of the posters that came out earlier. Although a preposterous set up ( MI did put in the effort to explain how the managed to copy the voice and mannerisms, here it’s not the case) it was quite fun to see Hritik even if it was for a short while. It made me wonder when will we get to see Hritik play a bad ass? But then I thought of the Agneepath traier and it was like my wish will be granted very soon
- More effort should have been put into establishing Interpol’s credibility, instead of introducing us to them by talking about missed birthdays, maybe talk about a case Roma just cracked? would have given her a bit more development as a character.
- Some of the influencesI picked up watching the movie:
- Die Hard and the Nakatomi heist, up to the final climax where Don arches his arms back when he is close to surrendering. I was hoping they would just go completely meta and make SRK say something like: “Yippikay kutte!”).
- Mission Impossible 1: face masks, heist, poison pen, fire brigade escape, upside down safe crack
- MI 2: Don’s get up in the finale
- Shah Rukh’s hair foibles: Seriously what look were they trying to go for?
Let us know what you thought of Don 2? We have a podcast discussion with our good friend Danny Bowes about Don 2 going up in a couple of days so keep your iTunes feeds updated!
- Movie Review | ‘Don 2’: ‘Don 2,’ With Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra – Review (movies.nytimes.com)
- Don 2 Interview with Director Farhan Akhtar (upodcasting.com)