Friday Classics (on Saturday): Happy New Year! A Very Silly Movie, But Not a Dumb Movie

Were you thinking “boy, Margaret hasn’t posted anything at all for 24 hours she must be really sick?” You were right. I reached the point of asking my parents to come over and help me tonight, do laundry and dishes and bring me more orange juice. And, most humiliating, take Dog Hazel home with them because I am too sick to take care of her. But! I promised a Happy New Year review! Even if it takes me multiple little 5 minute spurts of clear thinking to do it. Oh shoot, wasn’t I supposed to do a TGIF post too? Ugh. I’ll repost something and come back here and keep going.

I can forgive this movie a lot, because it knows it is silly. It isn’t a movie struggling for a deeper meaning or a message of any kind. It isn’t even a movie struggling for a deeper emotion. It is just a big bright silly film that wants to entertain, no bigger ambition. And no hypocritical pretense to any bigger emotion. So, yes, the plot is a bit odd and the romance is a bit misogynistic and there are a lot of random surreal moments (the “Kung Fu Fighting” fight scene on the roof leaps to mind), but none of that necessarily ruins the film, because there wasn’t much there to ruin.

Image result for happy new year poster

Maybe because it is so silly and light, it was able to attract this very high profile cast who just wanted to do a fun film. Well, semi-high profile. Shahrukh and Deepika were at the top of the industry, Abhishek is a known name actor, and the Boman Irani and Sonu Sood are fairly in demand character actors. To have all of them together as the leads says that there had to be an extra inducement, to get them to set aside ego and career considerations. And I think the extra inducement was how just plain fun this movie was to make, as fun as it is to watch.

The other advantage of the multi-cast is that no one is asked to do too much heavy lifting. Although Farah makes sure everyone has their own little moments too. Sonu gets his fight scenes and his one deep speech. Boman gets loads of comedy to do. Deepika gets a couple of emotional dignified moments and lots of great dances to make her look amazing. And yet, they also spend a fair amount not on screen, or reacting without lines. It’s easy, there isn’t a lot to memorize or prepare for, you can just have fun and experiment while on set.

Even Shahrukh could relax a little. Although, he really shouldn’t have. Or rather, he shouldn’t have let the film go forward in a way that let him relax. It’s a silly movie, but our lead and central character should have had something to play that was a little more than just silly. Or else a little less. Basically Shahrukh is playing the straight man in this whole movie. Abhishek is hilarious, Boman has his moments, and Deepika and Sonu have some sincere emotions. But Shahrukh is mostly just boring, never really letting his emotions go or getting to have a big comic moment. Either the script needed to work harder to give his character an identity, or he as a performer needed to work harder to make his bland lines entertaining.

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Such a simple and yet brilliant plot! For reasons of revenge and justice, a gang comes together to steal diamonds from evil millionaire Jackie Shroff. Only in order to gain access to the safe where the diamonds are stored, they need to have access to the dressing rooms in the luxury hotel owned by Jackie. And in order to get access to the dressing rooms, they have to complete in the World Dance Competition. So the gang brings in an innocent outsider, Deepika, to teach them to dance and be part of their team. In the end, Deepika learns the truth and is willing to help because they are pulling off the heist for a just reason. But also insists on them finishing out the competition for the honor of India. They win, and successfully steal the diamonds and return to India.

The “plot”, silly as it is, is pulled off perfectly. I can understand the general motivations for the characters and relationships between them, and I can follow the whole heist plan and the levels of the dance competition and so on. Where the film falls apart is in the themes.

This comes up most obviously in the romance plot. I can follow generally that Dips has a crush on Shahrukh right away because he speaks English and is a gentleman. And that he is drawn to her but resists it. Until he finally gives in. But what is missing is the theme of the film, the theme stated over and over again, that they are supposed to be a team of losers. Shahrukh is supposed to be a smart international up and coming businessman whose life fell apart and he was turned into a “loser”, but he can’t quite accept that, resists the final step of discovering he is in love with and has more in common with the dance girl he looks down on than with the respectable English speaking hotel organizer. And Deepika is supposed to be one of the most triumphant characters in the film, a dance girl who knows she is a dance girl and isn’t ashamed of it, one who the whole world sees as a loser but she knows what she is. That is what scares and attracts Shahrukh, a woman who has a dignity and confidence he lacks, who loves him and doesn’t believe he is above her reach or beneath it, but her equal.

There are so many movies where the dance girl is a comic figure, or a tragic figure. There is the “appropriate” love interest and romance and then the silly one. An Evening in Paris with the two Sharmila Tagores, Rekha in Mukadder Ka Sikander, Tanuja in Jewel Thief, Helen in anything. Deepika with her sexy dancing and obvious attempts to attract Shahrukh, she could be relegated to that, the comic relief sexy role. And of course Shahrukh’s “real” romance is with someone better for him. But Farah wanted to do something different here, going all the way back to the earliest interviews about the film she talked about her concept of a heroine who is a naach girl, no explanation and no apology. Deepika dances for men for money and she is good at it. She is proud of her dancing and proud of herself. And when she falls in love with Shahrukh, she has no hesitation in going after him, no thought that she isn’t good enough, that she is just the comic relief in his life and not the true love.

But then this doesn’t quite work because the themes don’t quite play out as they are supposed to. We never get a sense of Shahrukh’s self-loathing and self-doubt, that his insulting comments about Deepika come out of his fear of his own feelings, and the fact that deep down he secretly feels she is better than him. That his decision to go after what he wants and admit his own feelings comes as he gains his own confidence, as they begin to win in the dance contest and he is able to confront and defeat his enemy Jackie Shroff.

Sonu Sood explicitly says this to Deepika, that Shahrukh is trying to resist her because he is afraid of his feelings, but we never see it in Shahrukh’s performance or in the way his character is written. Because we never see him as weak, we never see him as uncertain or shamed, he is always perfect.

This song should be showing us that Shahrukh is uncomfortable and embarrassed and desires Deepika. It kind of does, but not nearly as over the top and explicit as it needs to be.

It’s the same with the other characters. Vivaan Shah is supposed to be a shy forgotten computer nerd who finds his confidence. Sonu Sood is supposed to be an overlooked action hero who finds his dignity and place with people who see him as a friend, not just a thing. Boman Irani is in arrested development, living with his mother and afraid to leave and be an adult again. But none of that comes through, not quite. Vivaan is forgotten after his intro sequence, Sonu never really gets to be more than eye candy for the plot, Boman stays childish straight through. There needed to be another pass at the script, another effort to give the characters a full clear journey. The ingredients were there, Vivaan for instance is introduced at a club being embarrassed by his friends, and then has the moment right before the interval when he manages to work his computer magic and help the team win the contest. And in the end, he is the first person to decide to stay back with Deepika and compete in the dance contest. Just a few more passes at the script and what we would have is a young man who learns to be proud of his skills instead of ashamed of them and, once he has seen how he can contribute to a team, gains the confidence to think for himself and do the right thing.

It’s not just the characters, the “losers pulling together” theme was supposed to resonate with India as a whole, and with the Dubai setting. The underdogs who can do anything when they have faith in themselves and faith in each other. In Dubai, the NRI community is a minority, not necessarily powerful. They wanted someone to cheer for, something to be proud of, and they didn’t see it in this shameful miss-match group of performers. It’s the same journey as the characters had to go on, accept that they are “losers” after all, but that doesn’t mean they have to be ashamed of themselves or give up trying.

But, it doesn’t. And so instead of this being a movie that has a depth an meaning to it, that sends shivers down your spine in certain moments, it is just a fun silly movie that is awfully entertaining.

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15 thoughts on “Friday Classics (on Saturday): Happy New Year! A Very Silly Movie, But Not a Dumb Movie

  1. I think I will rewatch with your comments in mind Margaret. I enjoy the film, there are genuinely funny parts throughout and I am able to ignore most of the politically incorrect stuff, but Shahrukh’s treatment of Deepika always bothered me and I couldn’t see the need for it. I’d like to think it through from the points you have made, both on that and the character development angle.
    …. snake dance, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle,,,,,,

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    • Agreed, the treatment of her character in general really bothered me. I don’t understand why she couldn’t have been in on the plot. It would have made her character more interesting and gotten rid of the need to treat her like a clueless outsider.

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      • I think there was supposed to be a tension there, that she really cared about the dance competition and they cared because she cared. That she was a pure spirit in some ways and we could see their respect for her and care for her in the way they actually tried during the dance competition and were happy when they won. And then she surprised and pleased them all when she agreed to be in on the plan after all. But with the poor way the characters were laid out, it just put her off to the side and outside of the action for most of the time.

        On Sat, Jan 5, 2019 at 5:19 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I think the clues are there that, at one point, the intention was to show Shahrukh attracted to her and struggling because of it. That’s how his reactions in “Lovely” look, and that’s what Sonu Sood said to Dips. But the dialogue they gave Shahrukh just doesn’t match that, it doesn’t play out the way it was intended.

      On Sat, Jan 5, 2019 at 2:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Wow, the movie you describe would be a completely different movie, and one I’d totally be into. Love action movies and heist plots. As it is, this is one of my least favorite SRK movies, especially after the first half, where the comic tone is more consistent and before the treatment of Deepika’s character starts to get to me. I have no problem watching the mud fight :).

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    • See, it’s the second half where we really lose the character building, I think. the first half gave us those great fun little intros to everybody and got us used to seeing them together. But then for the second half to really work, we needed to have some depth to what they were going through, some changes as Shahrukh fell in love, Abhishek gained gloss, Boman grew up, Sonu found his dignity, and so on. But instead we just got a series of comic set pieces with no real emotional connective tissue.

      On Sat, Jan 5, 2019 at 5:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I love the terrible dancing throughout. The scene where they SPOILER: win the qualification round by rigging the vote just cracks me up every time. It’s such a basic slapstick sort of humour which is really funny and it looks like they must have had fun making it.

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    • Yes! The basic idea of 4 terrible dancers entering and winning a dance contest is wonderful. I wish we had more ridiculous scenes like that first competition. Complete with terrible costumes!

      On Sun, Jan 6, 2019 at 3:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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