I have always put my trust in the audience response more than any critic when it comes to Bollywood films. And this was reinforced on my viewing of Happy New Year. I had written off the film and went see it mainly to please my wife who is a big Shahrukh fan, partly because I had a relatively free weekend and no other choice. What I found was the critics who had given it 4/4.5 stars and the critics who had given it 2/2.5 stars, calling it Ocean’s eleven written by baboons and the like were both wrong.
It is actually a fairly decent watch and I preferred it vastly to Farah Kahn’s earlier efforts, Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om. I remember sleeping through much of the second half in OSO, but here I was wide awake all trough its near-3-hour running time, even though it was a 9.45PM show I had opted for.
And not once was I tempted to check my FB posts on the phone like I did throughout the running time of Krish 3. In fact, unlike my wife, and many others whose comments I have read, I didn’t mind the first hour with the character introductions at all. Mainly because, I am a huge fan of physical comedy, and only Rohit Shetty does it with some flare in Bollywood.
Now this is no Kungfu Hustle, but Farah does manage to stage some pretty funny gags – the one with Boman Irani having his face shoved into the cake, or the misfired bombs in the film shooting comes to mind. The good thing about her style here is that it is all clean, innocent fun, which every child, and the child in every one of us can enjoy.
What I did not like in these portions was the reference to other films in every other line. I think only people without any talent or ideas resort to such ruses. People like Manmohan Desai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Raju Hirani base their humor on their observation of life, and not on lines from other films. Mimicking of film dialogues is for college fests by those filmy dudes think they are creative because they have seen too many films and remember a few lines like ‘ Badi bade mulko mein chhoti chhoti baatein ho jaatein hain.’
Fortunately, Farah snaps out of this quickly enough, and with the entry of Abhishek and Deepika, the film really perks up. The two characters are very rooted and add the earthy flavor to the proceedings. Both have performed well and make you care for the characters they are playing. The scenes between Shahrukh and Deepika are some of the best-written scenes in the film. The idea of Mohini admiring Charlie because he speaks English and has an English name works well and it plays out at subtler levels beyond just being funny. I laughed when Abhishke says,’English mein sorry bolna.” I like the way the scene that follows is written.
Charlie does ‘ apologize’ to Mohini, but we can see his attitude towards her doesn’t fundamentally change. He still cannot resist taking a dig at her ‘ movement of your booty’ err..’Beauty of your movement’. I like the way the relationship is written. Till the end Charlie hasn’t really fallen for Mohini and that’s quite brave for a commercial, mainstream film I thought.
In fact, the reason I like this much more than MHN or OSO is precisely because Farah here has steered clear of the Bollywood template and concentrated solely on telling her story without distraction. I saw much sophistication in the way the relationship between Jackie and Salman was mapped in ‘Kick’ and this goes one step forward. Harrah! Bollywood is growing up.
In fact I am so disappointed with critics who have failed to point what a purer storytelling mode Farah is pursuing here without giving into the temptations of Bollywood masala formula. Take someone haloed like Mani Ratnam. He is unthinking enough to saddle the Ajay Devgn character with a Romance and introduce that bland duet with Esha Deol. Farah could have easily got Nandu embroiled with some risqué romance with either slum girl or a white bimbette in Dubai (like the shenanigans of the Uday Chopra character in the Dhoom series). But she keeps the yarn clean and the fabric dyed in innocence. And I liked that.
I liked the basic plot and its unraveling. The level of detailing is just right for the key at which she is telling her story. The bits with the Korean group are cute. And I loved the choreography of the fight between Shahrukh and the Korean guy, with ‘Everybody Was Kungfu Fighting’ in the soundtrack adding to the zing.
The build up to the first performance of the ‘ Indiawaale’ song is well orchestrated: first the ugly welcome for the team on arrival, then Jackie’s open antagonism portrayed credibly with lines like “ Olympic ka team ho ya Oscar ka film, you Indians always send the wrong entry.’ So when the Indiawaale song comes up it is hard not to feel all pumped up.
Many have pointed out that for film based on dance, there is hardly any innovative choreography or a great dance sequence. True. But I think that is intentional. Farah did not want to use elaborately choreographed dance sequences to act as item numbers, distracting from the flow of the story. (Opportunity for Mani Ratnam here again for some learning.) Be it Mohini’s opening dance or the Nonsense Ki Night sequence, they are all weaved into the narrative. I especially liked the way the Satkali song is picturized, against the lovely water fountains of beautiful Dubai, establishing the camaraderie of the team rather than play it like an item number with cool dance moves.
The staging of the final heist, the twists and turns, and the reprise of the Indiawaale number worked very well for me. Here again she resisted the temptation to stage a full-blown action climax, even though she had the speedboats, the helicopter and the sea ready, and I thank her for that. She was interested in the human aspect of the story and that comes through so much better in the staging of the Indiawaale reprise.
I liked the little touch of the airport staff throwing the glass with the blue liquid into the garbage chute. But I am wondering, won’t it have been better not to make Charlie the smart thinker of Don 2 and let them just lose the diamond? After all he had achieved the objective of just revenge on Charan Grover and the 10 lakh USD prize money was enough for Mohini to open her school and Sonu to have his mother’s operation. So was this really necessary? Just a thought.
Summing it up, I would say I this one is certainly in the same league as Kick, Chennai Express and D3, though I perhaps like CE and D3 a lot more (CE for its innocence and fairy-tale charm and D3 for its mythic double angle). It is not a particularly great story and it is kind of loud throughout without quieter moments. It does not have any exceptional moments that you would like to take home.
Happy New Year is a fun story, told in a fun way, without pretensions, without cynical disregard for the audience, without too many stale formulaic elements. In fact this is one of those Shahrukh films that I liked more than my wife. And I did like Shahrukh in the film too. He looked especially cool in the initial portions, with his long hair and sparse beard. His performance was restrained and confident, shorn of standard mannerisms and not showy at all. I am so glad he has managed to reinvent his persona.
SRK loyalist Anupama Chopra has said in her review, “Come back, Rahul. All is forgiven.”” And I say, “ Don’t.” We want see you as Charlie, Kabir Khan , Mohan Bhargav…and many other things. But not Rahul. Please.