Nov. 3, 2011: Action Movies ~ Thugs, Jugs & Bad Rugs

Julie M:  Saw Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006) last night. I was pretty dubious about how good it would be considering Indian action films are hit-and-miss for me and I’d never seen SRK do extended action, but if I’m going to see Ra.One and Don 2, I thought I’d plow through it.

I’ll try to do a plot summary without spoilers, although this film was so huge that I’m sure everyone’s already seen it. Don (Shahrukh Khan) is a high-ranking lieutenant in the drug-and-theft syndicate run by a shadowy kingpin named Singhania, and Don is in charge of the entire Malaysian end of things. He is handsome, smart, ruthless and a pretty decent dresser if you discount his habit of wearing, as necklaces, printed ties that match his open-collar, printed shirts [proof in our earlier article.]. DCP DeSilva (Boman Irani) is a police officer bent on hunting him down and extracting information crucial to bringing Singhania’s organization down.

At one point in the recent past Don had forced mild-mannered (but exceedingly handsome and fit) computer tech Jasjit (Arjun Rampal, looking very fine indeed) to steal some diamonds, but Jasjit was caught by DeSilva and put in prison. He has just been released and is out to get revenge, not on Don, but on DeSilva who wouldn’t believe he was doing the crime under threat of the murder of his wife and kid. Another element is Roma (Priyanka Chopra), the sister of one of Don’s employees whom Don killed for trying to get out of the business. Roma anonymously infiltrates Don’s organization and makes herself useful as she waits for the chance to get her revenge on Don.  Don’s two molls (Roma and Anita) get their own random disco item number.

A sting operation ends up with Don falling, wounded, into DeSilva’s hands. DeSilva sets up a plan of his own to infiltrate Don’s group by substituting a Don look-alike (also Shahrukh Khan), the lighthearted Vijay, a festival singer, in this number.

The rest of the film is a high-powered and near-random collection of chase scenes, gunfights, explosions, confrontations and coincidences with one or two pretty important plot twists that, although not super-surprising, were shocking enough to upend assumptions of individual characters’ motives. The final scene very nicely sets up the upcoming sequel. There were a couple of good musical numbers. The attempted stylishness of the film is demonstrated in the title song, “Main Hoon Don.”

I admit that I was highly entertained by Don. I like action-thrillers that focus more on thriller than action, and Don’s plot twists came at just the right moments to keep me from concluding that the action was pointless and silly. There was a significant amount of film-making awkwardness–SRK cannot, CANNOT pull off fight scenes so don’t make him try anymore, OK?–and one or two “oh, come ON!” moments, such as Roma’s inexplicable martial-arts prowess, and SRK and another guy being suddenly sucked out of an airplane and somehow one of them has the presence of mind to grab a parachute, which they of course fight over in free fall. But it was high-energy, somewhat stylishly done and did not focus too much on the details of Don’s gangster business. SRK was pretty good in a negative role–I like him better doing these than the gushy romantic roles.


Jenny K:  Here’s my own, Oh, come on moment…you can’t say SRK’s fighting wasn’t believable in Dil Se… and you haven’t seen Asoka yet, have you?  The fighting with swords and various other pointy objects is quite effective.  Maybe it’s just the director that makes the difference?  Sorry, Farhan.  You know I love you.


Julie M:  My favorite number was this one from later in the film showing Vijay-as-Don, on the run and drunk/high on bhang, dancing an ode to paan (filled betel leaf):

Not so fortunately, Kareena Kapoor’s item number in the beginning was cringe-worthy.  Although the song was pretty good, she is far too muscular and the steps too jerky to effectively pull off a seduction:

Overall, a fun way to spend a Friday night and B didn’t mind it too much either.


Jenny K:  Kareena’s seduction number in the glittery dress, “Yeh Mera Dil,” is a tribute to Helen’s version of it in the earlier Don with Amitabh in the lead of that one. It’s almost a move for move copy…a camp classic, it’s said. And the other one that you liked, the paan number, is another BigB classic.  SRK’s designers paid tribute to it with the design of the shirt fabric he wore.   I will say, that as much as I love Amitabh, his dancing makes Shahrukh look like Fred Astaire in comparison.


Julie M:  I like the original version of “Kaike Paan” better.  And even in the earlier version of “Yeh Mera Dil,” it’s a throwback to about 1966. Still campy, still not seductive. No wonder it doesn’t work on Don 1978. But Don 2006 seems to succumb to it, at least until the end. Maybe that’s the difference between SRK and The BigB.

Here’s the other song remake from the 1978 version, Main Hoon Don.


Jenny K: Wow…I hadn’t realized how much they’ve changed this one, though keeping the same title and setting.  Only a few words in the chorus are similar, but SRK’s version is much more dangerous and James-Bondy.  Completely different music. And boy, does he make a better evil entrance!  Not sure I’m digging the lion mask on Amitabh.


Julie M:  And for those interested in plot differences: not many, mostly in the spoilers that I’ve left out.

The 2006 version is clearly both an homage and a reboot for the 21st century. Did the film need it? Probably not, but then again, neither did Footloose (1984 and 2011).


Jenny K:  Don’t get me started on Footloose 2011…talk about your slavish, pointless xeroxing.  No matter how much the artists involved said they loved the original, why bother if it’s that close a copy?


Julie M: My personal feeling is that remakes have to happen for a reason, not just to make the original more palatable to the younger generation (e.g., better clothes, music, technology and if necessary special effects) and earn more money for the studio holding the rights to it.

[a couple of weeks later]

Jenny K:   Went to see Ra.One on opening night and thought I should warn you, as you have definite opinions on kitsch in your films…


[Sorry about the video quality (you can up it to HD on the menu bar) and no subtitles, but this one seemed more indicative of the feel of the film.]

Pat and Kathy loved it. Pat had been really worried she’d hate it, as she likes superhero films no more than I do. Reena (our friend from Mumbai) seemed to like it too. I didn’t hate it, but was pretty bored for most of the first half anyway.  Problem for me was that I kept seeing all the influences that SRK’s people were drawing from.  Virtuosity, in particular, which I loved, was a big influence, as well as Tron and Terminator 2 (Good Arnold) with tiny bits of Matrix and Starman thrown in with the kitchen sink. And, of course, though the tech on it was much better than Virtuosity, I didn’t like it nearly as much.  That could just be the Russell Crowe factor…I am aware of my own prejudices.

SRK brought his own sense of humor and self-mocking to it, especially in the first half…but all the exposition had me sorta bored…the kid, Armaan Verma, kept reminding me of Elijah Wood back in his whippersnapper days.  Kareena was not very annoying.  Arjun Rampal continues his sexy villain trajectory…best one yet.  He’s mostly in the second half…which is much the better part in almost every way.  Beware, for you, of a rather alarming cameo at the very beginning of the second half.  I thought it was sort of funny.

I decided, after I left, that maybe I was being too hard on the filmmakers.  This is really only one of the first few tries at the Indian Super Hero genre, and what else are they supposed to do but draw from things that they liked from international examples?  It isn’t a direct copy of anything…and with the song and dance numbers (two, I think, plus a montage song and another dance over the credits) and after they get used to the CGI and the other bells and whistles, then, maybe they will start coming up with their own original themes and plots. I think I may go back with a few of my other friends who missed Wednesday’s show and give it another chance…if just for the experience (hopefully the last) of seeing SRK try to play South Indian.  And to watch the crazy Manga section at the beginning, over again.  Everyone liked this bit. But someone should feed the man intravenous milkshakes for a while…SOOOOO skinny!


Julie M:  And my friend Marcia and I went to see it on Saturday afternoon, 2:30 p.m. show.  I’m so mad at the theater—well, not the theater, but the promoter who organizes Indian films at the theater, but the theater bears some blame as well. After our Bodyguard debacle with no subtitles, I called the theater a couple of days before to make sure the showing was subtitled. The guy said yes. To make double-sure I emailed the promoter who arranges the films at this theater and never heard back. So of course, we get there and it’s not subtitled. The guy at the ticket desk said that they really don’t control which showings are subtitled. So, that’s TWO films non-subbed that I’ve seen there, and only one (ZNMD) that was. I’m going to email the promoter again and electronically yell at him/her. Or maybe I’ll just spread his name all over the Internet and shame him. He’s got one more chance.

Nevertheless, we stayed. The first part, where the son is dreaming in a video game, was fun because of the obvious allusions to Asoka (the look of the hero-character) and calling the damsel (Priyanka Chopra from Dostana) “Desi Girl.” And Sanjay Dutt as Khalnayak. Definite in-jokes that I had to explain to Marcia.


Jenny K: I could have done without that tight, fisheye lens on Sanjay.  Scariest thing in the movie, but a fun segment.  Shahrukh as the new Manga Superhero?  Now his hair was great in that scene, not like the crazy, curly one in his mundane life.


Julie M: The rest, to me, varied from merely interesting (the whole thing about video games transitioning to reality) to very funny (the scene with the piercings at the airport) to gratuitous (all the booty-shaking dancing goris) to random (fight scene at the airport) to just plain confusing (why did the game villain fixate so much on the kid?).


Jenny K:  That one was in the text…Ra.One hates losing to anyone, and as Prateik left the game in the lead, our villain needed to find “Lucifer” (his game name) to save face…as if he had one, in the first place!


Julie M:  I’m sure I missed some key explanations due to the lack of subtitles, but in general it was easy to follow. Nerdy dad designs killer video game villain Ra.One to impress son, then due to its particularly advanced technology the game invades the real world. Dad is killed by villain, who is actually looking for the son, but comes back as G.One, the avatar of the hero (which he had modeled on himself). G.One follows family around to protect them, and eventually has to battle the shape-shifting villain. Of course Mom half-falls in love with G.One, and son bonds to him. Add in item numbers (gratuitous, as mentioned earlier, but darn if that “Chamak Challo” song isn’t catchy!) and a cameo by Rajinikanth Sir (our theater went WILD when he showed up, more so than for SRK), and there isn’t a trick that was missed. I would call it a glorious hot mess, and a sequel seems likely.


Jenny K:  Ah, a South Indian audience in your area…probably why they usually don’t bother with subtitles there.  From my experience, South Indian promoters think there is no one non-desi that will want to see their films.

Here’s that catchy Akon song, and a link to an interesting video on the recording of it.  BTW, get rid of that line through the video by hitting the red rectangle on the menu bar below it.  Annoying.


Julie M: There were too many crotch and snot jokes for my ultimate comfort, and allusions to Terminator 2 and The Matrix were frequent. Like you, I also saw a bit of Starman in it. Marcia was slightly miffed because the main game designer’s name was Akashi, a good Japanese name, but the character was supposed to be Chinese. She thought it showed a cultural insensitivity on the part of South Asians for East Asians. SRK looked gaunt (guess he was supposed to be buff? He sure was in the opening sequence, but who knows how CGI’d that was), and in the final over-the-credits number he looked much older than he is.


Jenny K:  Tell Marcia that I didn’t get the impressions in the dialogue that Akashi was supposed to be Chinese…everytime someone joked with him, calling him Jackie Chan (because of all the martial arts) he’d get really p’ed off at them.  His mother would hit anyone who said it.  They seem to agree with Marcia.


Julie M: Plot–ordinary to us, but probably unusual and interesting in context. Genre–sort-of a superhero movie, kind-of science-fictiony but more like a traditional (to us) video-game movie of the type that attracts 14-y-o boys and that I don’t typically watch. Special effects…definitely high-level. My favorite effects were not the animations that defined the game characters, cool as they were, or the high-flying fight scenes, silly as THEY were, but the ones where the train station was destroyed. Awesome.


Jenny K:  That scene where the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (calling it the VT was much easier) was demolished, was, I think the best CGI segment in the film.  Very state-of-the-art.  Here’s a short promo with BigB talking about CGI use in Indian Cinema today.

Sorry about the subtitle problems…But I am impressed with both of you sticking in there. Fabulous! I think you did get most of the jokes, too…though you’d really see even more parallels if you’d seen Virtuosity. The girls here were pleased with everything except SRK’s horrible curly wig as the game designer, and there being too many “butt dance numbers.”

I kept having problems with plot logic, like, why a game company would have so much equipment to create the real life game characters in the first place. Also, why would you invent a game that requires you to know various forms of technically complicated martial arts to actually play it? Isn’t the popularity of these games due to the fact that they make normally skilled boys major warrior he-men? Oh, well. When I got too frustrated, I could just stare at Arjun some more.


Julie M:  Arjun definitely did not disappoint. Without the hair, though, he was hardly recognizable. I likes my hunky men with long hair…but there was not enough Arjun to suit me.  I didn’t at all mind nerdy SRK–kind of a throwback to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi–but the hair was hideous. I agree with the NYT review that Kareena looks better with a few extra pounds. And her eyes did not bug me like they usually do. I think she makes a good mom-character, although doing this bit once more might disqualify her from ingénues in the future.

Compared to this movie (which I remind you that I DID like), Bodyguard seemed almost…literary in its faithfulness to the masala format.


Jenny K:  Ah, Salman…patron saint of the old, multi-song genre!  Who’da thought I’d be thankful to him for something?

The adventure continues…

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