Well, this was as expected mostly! Enjoyable, fun, all of that. And yet (having just rewatched the original), I found myself thinking “it just doesn’t feel the same”.
It’s not Varun’s fault. I’ll get that out of the way from the beginning. It’s really not! He does a good job, he works hard, he is fun when he is onscreen. But he isn’t Salman. Because he is Varun. And this isn’t the perfect Varun-y type of role, this is the perfect Salman-y type of role.
It seems like this should be a one-size-fits-all idea, a “good” twin and a “bad” twin, works great! But I didn’t realize how many specific touches and tonal subtleties there are in this role that really only work with Salman and no one else. Especially with the “bad” twin.
They must have known that, this film spends a lot more time with “good” Prem versus “bad” Raja. Because that is a slightly easier part to play if you are not Salman Khan. But “bad” Raja, that is almost impossible for a non-Salman. And “good” Prem isn’t that easy either!
See, the thing is, “bad” Raja has to be this perfect combination of amoral and moral. He steals and lies and everything else without any shame or regrets. But he is also loyal and loving towards his friends. It’s the perfect Salman role! His heart is so big and his good deeds are so good, that we forget the bad.
And then there’s “Prem”. Who has to sell that he is a “good” boy, who can still enjoy “bad” things sometimes. Again, very difficult. Without making the “good” boy seem hypocritical. But with Salman, we can believe it! He is a good shy “Prem”, but he is still a man.
With Varun though, it just doesn’t quite work as well. If there had been no Salman, I may not have noticed that his performance wasn’t perfect. But there was a Salman, so I noticed. “Bad” Varun is both a little too bad (missing the pure big heart peeking through) and a little too good (cries sometimes, why?). And “Good” Varun is a little too good. Well, not good, straight up weak and cowardly. In the original, we bought that it just wasn’t in his nature to fight or flirt. But otherwise, he was a fine person. He wouldn’t actively hide from a fight, like “good” Varun does here.
Dishoom, that was a similar movie written just for Varun. And it was perfect for him. Sweet, kind of goofy, but also brave and loyal and so on. It’s not that he isn’t capable of carrying this kind of film, it’s that he isn’t capable of carrying a film which was made for someone else.
The other actors have much smaller shoes to film. And they sort of pull it off. Jacqueline is a fine Karisma substitute. Still not quite as good as the original, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything from her performance. Taapsee, like Rambha before her, just doesn’t have much to do. Obviously, there can be no replacement for Bindu or Kadar Khan. The one performance that really stood out as something special, not just “not quite as good as before” was Anupam Kher as Jacqueline’s father. Really wonderful, effortlessly entertaining, had no issues going way way way too far in order to sell a joke. And amazing chemistry with Varun! This is one of those side benefits of the nepotism system, there’s a certain comfort and relaxation that comes across beautiful onscreen between two actors when one of them has watched the other grow up, and the other has known him his entire life. The same thing that made Wazir worth watching, just to see Amitabh and Farhan together.
(check out the way Farhan is looking at him at the very end. To me, that isn’t just a co-worker look, that’s a “Amit Uncle I love you” look. And the way Amitabh smiles and goofs at 2:30, that feels like the kind of thing he’s probably been doing to make Farhan smile since Farhan was a toddler)
The other thing that isn’t quite the same is the script. They streamlined it quite a bit, in ways I will get into in my SPOILER review. But I kind of miss the odd bumps and bunches of the old version! Sure it made a lot less sense, but it had a lot more charm too.
It also had a lot more heart. There were a few decisions along the way here that were a clear case of “well, no one will believe that, so let’s cut it”. But, I mean, we are coming to see Judwaa 2! We clearly want to believe! Give us what we want!
This brings us to some bigger issues in the “new” version of Hindi film. I’ll start by beating up Varun a little some more. In the original, Salman played a 25 year old. Because he was a Man who took on manly roles and responsibilities. His character was a well-known gunda with a reputation. And his other character was a professional musician international superstar. In this one, college student. As are both heroines. Bland, young, no history or anything to add any shadings to them.
(College function instead of sold out concert)
And in a similar way, we aren’t in India any more. Now, everything is in London. Clean, pretty, straight-forward London. Where everyone has a job, most people are millionaires, and life is perfect. And, bland, young (in terms of Indian community), no history or anything to add any shadings.
It’s just kind of tasteless is all. Not in a “no class” way, but in a “no flavor” way. It’s like trading in your street kabob for a McDonald’s meal. Sure, there’s less chance of food poisoning and tummy upset, and it’s more cohesive and generally well put together, but on the other hand it just doesn’t have that zing to it that it used to have.