"Don Ko Pakadna Mushqil Hi Nahin, Namumkin Bhi Hai". (it's not just difficult to catch DON, it's impossible). You could say that again! Farhan Akhtar who once upon a time made one of Indian cinema's prevalent path breakers DIL CHAHTA HAI, slips into a gamine groove to recreate Salim-Javed's script from the original 1978 film of the same name.
Let's not play the blame game. But whoever thought a slicker version? no, make that a much much slicker version of the clever wheels-within-wheels 1978 script would work better when packaged in gallons of gloss, has gall? and a vision that just stops short of being audacious.
This is a cheeky and chic homage to the earlier DON. It goes into places that the earlier film couldn't have dreamt of.
Farhan Akhtar's feisty feast of muted fury film opens in Paris (totally unnecessary) and quickly moves to Kuala Lampur where the narrative stays put as Farhan Akhtar tries to put across the story of DON, his doppelganger Vijay, the vendetta-oriented Roma (Priyanka Chopra) and Jasjeet (Arjun Rampal). Roma fumes as though she had taken lessons in femine fury from Zeenat Aman in the earlier DON. Rampal frets and limps (in tandem) as though he had watched Pran in the original DON hard enough to know, if you can't beat 'em, zonk em. And Shah Rukh is the twin-faced imp/ogre? He snarls, sneers, jeers and taunts the whole cult of superstardom by taking the role as away from Bachchan's star-turn as humanly possible.
It isn't a performance. It's a bouquet of over-the-top expressions designed to showcase the star's ability to get the better of his character, rather than let the character get better than what it was when it was last seen almost 30 years ago. But we're straying? a crime that this film never commits. The narrative is so ram-rod straight and razor-sharp you wonder which came first: the remake or the remix. Or are they the one and the same?
The confusion of identity goes well with the delicious ambiguity that is given a psychological twist in this re-interpreted tale of the good, the bad and the agli kadi in the karmic cycle of remakes that seems to have overtaken our cinema.
In terms of content and treatment, how much further has Farhan Akhtar taken the Bachchan flick? There's no easy answer to that. Outwardly this revisionist version of Chandra Barot's DON is slicker than anything Farhan or his chic ilk have ever attempted. But at times you feel the slickness (and full marks to D.O.P Mohanan for creating timbres of grey, light-blue and other pale hues suggesting a heady mix of sepia tones and futuristic ring-tones) is a sickness. The film's outstanding topographical and technical detailing hampers the audiences' journey towards the characters.
There's not one emotionally moving sequence in the whole chase-in-a-valium-daze scenario? not when the sizzling Kamini (Kareena Kapoor, doing a temporal take-over) dances before DON to avenge her fiance's murder? not when Roma (Priyanka Chopra) takes to martial arts and guns to avenge the death of her brother? not even when the little boy who links DON's look-a-like to Jasjeet, facilitates a reunion between the two warring men.
A coldness grips the heart of this stytlish motion picture. Purposely stripped of overt emotions, Farhan deconstructs the clever tale of glorified-gangsterism. The neo-Don increases the glam-quotient in crime beyond anything we've seen in Hindi cinema. Makes you wonder ?what happened to the good old morality tale?
DON is dangerously revisionist in its tempting over-view of Good and Evil. Some of the fights are so heart-in-the-mouth you are left wondering if Farhan chose to do his take on this Bachchan classic only so that he could make Shah Rukh romance the rugged riskiness of the Malaysian hinterland. Indeed there's no sexual frisson between Shah Rukh and Priyanka Chopra. They combat one another intellectually and physically without getting too close for comfort.
Kareena, in that one brief drizzle of sizzle singing ?Yeh Mera Dil Pyar Ka Deewana? drives you nuts with her radiant presence.
Ironically the film aims deliberately for a mood opposite to radiant. The back-ground score is minimalist, the sound design subsumes silences with as much reverence as the screech of rubber on the roads, and the elaborately choreographed songs and dances are done in the spirit of doomed desperation rather than masti. And yes ?Khai Ke Paan Benarawas Wala?, which carried the original DON to another level of excitement, misses the point completely over here. No one can chew on a paan and jive the way Bachchan did in the earlier DON. Don't even look for that feeling here. Farhan Akhtar wants us to escape into a realm of repressed rage and ravishing violence.
No one here is apologizing about crime? not even the gangster d'Silva (Boman Irani, coolly cunning in his evil designs) masquerading as a cop.
So where's the question of punishment?
Let's look at this way. The other DON was a rapidfire morality tale. This one is a slow-burn amorality tale, spiced up with mellow aromatic scents and flavours, which suggest violent antecedents and a present tense in a mood that's distinctly and pungently futuristic.
DON gets full marks for packaging. So much so that the content defines itself through the sleek surface.