Sunday ReRun: Don 1 and Don 2! Two Films in Search of a Third

Don 1 and Don 2!!!! Super fun movies, both to watch and to talk about. Also, BEWARE! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! And these are movies you definitely don’t want to spoil

Let’s start at the beginning, back in the 1970s.  Nariman Irani, a cinematographer, was in debt after trying to produce his first film.  But he had friends, and they knew he was in trouble, so they suggested he produce another film and they would help him out by appearing in it.  He got Salim-Javed, top scriptwriters, to agree to do the story, and Amitabh Bachchan, top everything, to star.  And Zeenat Aman to be the heroine, Helen to play the sexy dancer, Iftakhar to play the cop, and Pran to play the friend.  Guaranteed hit.  Even with a first time director who had never done anything else.

Image result for don poster 1978

And then Irani died.  Which meant the film became that much more difficult to make, and that much more important.  His family was still dealing with his debts, and had no hope of further income.  So for his widow and children, everyone kept working.  With no money or time.  Continuity went out the window as everyone worked late night shifts in between other roles, and the script was rewritten to accommodate all the unexpected shifts.  And finally,  3 and a half years later, Don was released.  It flopped the first week, but word of mouth picked up and by the second week it was a hit.  The profits were presented to Irani’s widow.

The film itself is delightfully fun and unpredictable.  There is a great spirit of fun to it, of no consequences, of leaving it all on the floor.  But all of that fun serves to hide a bit the brilliance of the essential script.  An original idea centering on 4 unique characters, allowing for all kinds of thought experiments and audience discussion.

And that’s what brings us to 2006.  It’s always a bit tricky when you make a remake of a classic film.  There’s the challenge of somehow justifying it’s existence by adding something new, and there’s also the matter of being respectful of the original artists, not implying that you think there is anything wrong with their vision.  And neither of these were a concern here!  At least, not for Farhan, the writer/director.

Farhan is Javed’s son, clearly he has the permission of the original author and will be respectful. And Farhan also has a unique vision, he revolutionized the Hindi film industry with his very first film.  There was no chance he would create merely a retread of his father’s vision.

The overall idea of the film, the concept and image and on and on, no concerns there, Farhan would do something brilliant and yet respectful.  It was the cast that ran into problems.  How do you cast someone to play a role originated by Amitabh?  Or Zeenat Aman?  Or Pran?  Or, most impossible of all, HELEN!!!!!  The early reports were full of pearl clutching and horror as every casting announcement came out, and I did quite a bit of pearl clutching myself.  Arjun Rampal as Pran?  Kareena as Helen?  Shahrukh as Amitabh???  Even for a Shahrukh fan like myself, that was a lot to take.

But, shockingly, it worked!  Every actor managed to play both a version of the original, a nod to the fun and funky 70s version, and something new, something modern and 2000s style.  And the script as well, kept the fun twists and excitement of the 70s while adding on something new for the 2000s, something a little darker and more bitter, something a little dangerous and exciting.

Image result for don poster 2006

That’s what made the 2006 Don something really special, that remix effect of the 1970s version with the modern day.  And that’s what I personally was missing from the sequel, the 2011 version.  I can understand the temptation, Shahrukh had found something special in the character, Farhan had found something special in visuals, and the story practically demanded a sequel, there were so many additional directions it could go.  But without the 1970s flavor mixed in, it just wasn’t the same.  The romance went from sweet and innocent to sexual, the message went from moral to amoral, the songs went from exciting original remixes to kind of bland modern songs.

If Don 2 didn’t have the shadow of Don 1 hanging over it, it might have seemed like a much better movie.  Shahrukh and Priyanka’s chemistry is electric, and the plot is the kind of twisted heist that Hindi film hardly ever does. Plus the production quality is amazing, car chases and shoot outs and everything at the same level as a Hollywood film.  But because it is a follow-up to Don 2006, and also to Don 1978, it feels just a little bit empty.  A little bit less than what had come before.

(I know I always put a SPOILER bar, but this time I REALLY REALLY MEAN IT!!!  The films, especially 2006 Don, deserve to be watched with fresh eyes and letting the plot surprise you)

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The essential idea is simple.  There are 4 characters.  First, the noble cop played by Iftakhar in the original and Boman Irani in the remake.  Next, the traumatized and vengeful young woman (Zeenat Aman in the original and Priyanka in the remake) whose brother was killed by the mobster he worked for, and then her sister-in-law killed as well when she tried to have him arrested.  Then, there is the decent street performer just trying to get by and take care of the two kids he has adopted (Amitabh in the original and Shahrukh in the remake.  And finally there is the struggling ex-con trying to put his life back together (Pran in the original and Arjun in the remake).  And all of these characters revolve around the central problem, the titular “Don” who has ruined all their lives in a different way.  But the trick of it is, he ruins their lives even while he isn’t there.  Don disappears and Iftakar/Boman bring in Shahrukh/Amitabh who happens to look exactly like him to take his place and infiltrate the gang.  The challenge is, how to convince the fellow “good” people that he isn’t Don after all, he is someone good too.  How can these 4 people find each other and work together?

Obviously there are endless variations on how this plot can play out.  The misunderstandings, the fights, the changing alliances, and so on and so on.  That’s what the 1978 version played with, taunting us with the knowledge that both Zeenat and Amitabh were good people, only they didn’t know they could trust the other.  And then adding on Pran, the father who thought he was saving his children from a vicious gangster, not realizing it was the humble street performer who had become their foster parent.  That’s my favorite scene of the original, when Amitabh surprises Pran in a dark alley with the two children, both men fighting to the death for the sake of the children they love, without realizing they are both just trying to help them.

The original has a strong central plot, but mostly it feels a bit like a sandbox everyone is playing in.  Any idea is good enough to be considered.  A comic song, “Khaike Pan Banaraswale”, thrown in last minute.  Zeenat Aman’s character learning martial arts in, like, a day-good enough!  Put it in!  Helen doing an amazing item song that is also plot-relevant, great!  40-something Pran playing an acrobat/cat burglers-sure!  Totally logical!  Nothing is too silly, nothing is too over the top, everything is allowed.

This isn’t exactly a problem, but it means an opportunity was missed.  The central story didn’t get to shine quite as much as it could have, because there was all of that other stuff around the edges.  I can imagine Javed telling his kids about how he wished he could have done that script differently, polished it a bit move, added some more twists to the plot instead of more silly songs.  And I can imagine Farhan growing up and thinking about all those things that could be added.

And so we get Farhan’s version.  Same basic framework, but with a new twist added on.  Several actually.  First, there is the plan to use Shahrukh’s charade to capture Don’s superiors including a little seen hidden boss.  Second, there is the reveal that Boman is in fact that hidden boss!  In hiding all this time as a police inspector.  This leads to a whole finale act of the film, the team coming together to get evidence on Boman.  And then the final twist, the real mindblower, that Shahrukh was, in fact, Don all along!!!!  He woke up while drugged, and traded places with the other Shahrukh.  He was tricking everyone the whole time, including the audience.

It’s a brilliant trick to play on the audience.  Because we think we know the story, we think it is a straight remake.  We are waiting for the little changes and we think the we have found them with the Boman reveal.  And then the plot goes back on the expected track, Shahrukh and Priyanka and Arjun are working together to take down the big bad.  Until, in the last 5 minutes, it all blows up again.

There’s tricks within tricks here.  Because once you know the ending, you can go back and watch the rest of the film and see how it was there all along.  All the little clues, Don’s favorite cartoons playing the background, the mask slipping just a little bit in fight scenes.  This is the kind of careful structure they couldn’t do with the original, they couldn’t even keep the heroine’s hair the same length, let alone sprinkling in subtle clues leading to a big reveal.

And so Farhan justified his remake.  He managed to take the essential idea and present it in a different way, a way that highlighted the careful plotting and the build and the twists of it, instead of just the joyous anarchic fun of the original.  The two films work together, each serving to highlight what makes the other special.

But then there’s the 2011 film.  This is NOT a simple plot, this is an extremely complicated plot with no clear point to it.  Shahrukh is on the run, Priyanka is working for interpol trying to catch him.  And Boman Irani is in jail and resentful.  Shahrukh turns himself in and offers to testify against everyone if he can get immunity in return.  They don’t give him the deal, so instead he goes to jail and meets up with Boman and reveals that he has a plan for both of them to escape and he needs Boman to help him break into a safe.  Shahrukh and Boman go to Germany and meet up with hacker Kunal Kapoor and mysterious Lara Dutta.  They arrange a meeting with a desi German banker and blackmail him into helping them get currency plates out of a hidden safe.  However, during the actual heist, Shahrukh is betrayed by Boman who has paid off part of the gang.  Shahrukh is arrested by Priyanka but convinces her to let him guide her into the bank to stop the robbery by Boman.  Priyanka is shot and Shahrukh goes berserk.  He gets her out and gets his promised immunity for helping, and then goes off.  Only to reveal that he kept one of the currency plates, and slipped information to the police on all the other gang bosses in Europe, making him now the only one left standing and the king of the European underworld, with immunity for his former crimes, and a currency plate.

See????  Not simple!  Not simple at all!  Not illogical either, very carefully crafted and it all hangs together.  But a whole different feel to it, a kind of grown up version of the 2006 Don where everything is like a children’s game.  A sexy children’s game, if that makes sense, but ultimately very simple.

The Shahrukh and Priyanka relationship is where that shows up the most.  In the 2006 Don, Shahrukh is eeeeevil and molesty and she is disgusted by him and hates him.  And then he is innocent and good, and they flit a little.  And then the end twist is that he was evil all along and apparently just amusing himself by tricking her and using her for his plan.  But in the 2011 version, it’s a whole different thing.  Priyanka hates him for killing her brother, but is also a little obsessed by him, desperate to hunt him down and arrest him so she can stop thinking about him.  And Shahrukh, he seems obsessed in his own way, corrupt and selfish, but also sincerely attracted to Priyanka, caring about her even, enough to avenge her when she is shot.

What draws them together is that Shahrukh calls to the darkness inside of Priyanka, after all her brother was a gangster, she grew up in the shadows.  And Priyanka calls to the goodness in him, the sense of something a little more that lead him to aspire to take control of the gang, to think outside the box in how he did it (setting up the charade and tricking Priyanka into being his agent).  This film really builds on those parts of both of them, Priyanka is offered a nice boring love interest at Interpol, and yet somehow she can’t forget about Shahrukh.  Shahrukh sincerely wants a clean slate and really does turn in all the other gangsters in Europe.  And he also helps nice Kunal Kapoor with his pregnant wife to make some money.

Maybe that’s why I want a Don 3 so much.  Because it feels like the story of Don 2 isn’t quite finished yet.  Priyanka and Shahrukh are on a journey and we have to see where it leads.  Will Shahrukh turn fully “good” in the end?  Or will Priyanka turn bad?  The first films, those were closed stories.  Good was good and bad was bad, and that was their strength.  But this second film, it opened the door to something more without fully going through.  There is a finishing that hasn’t happened yet.

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17 thoughts on “Sunday ReRun: Don 1 and Don 2! Two Films in Search of a Third

  1. Hubby and I re-watched Don 2 over the weekend but then I never got around to commenting here. I wanted to ask you to elaborate more on something you said your post where you announced that these were the re-run movies. You said the message goes from moral in the remake to immoral (or amoral?) in Don 2. Did I understand that right? Because I think that both movies have a pretty similar morality. Very different tones, for sure, but both have pretty straight good guys/gals, bad guys/gals, and in both our main bad guy gets away in a better position than when the movie started.

    I’m really glad that Don 2 is a straight heist movie, though it makes me sad to have only one full song. Just because it’s a good, stylish heist movie, with no need to have seen the remake. I love that Lara’s character Ayesha gets to do much more in this movie than be a loyal moll. Shah Rukh’s and Boman’s chemistry is so fun too. And it has a few fun things to pick up on re-watches–SPOILER–like how shots of “Hrithik” at the ball emphasize that, hey, he doesn’t have an extra thumb. Something funny’s going on here…

    For Don 3, I really want the main plot to revolve around Don and a grown daughter. Could be that he’s raising her to take over his crime empire and she wants to take it in a different direction, could be that he wasn’t a part of her life growing up but now she is in danger because his enemies found out about her, could be an entirely different setup. I think it would be a cool way for Shah Rukh to transition to sometimes playing older roles. Older doesn’t have to mean boring. This can allow for more exploration of Don’s ambiguous character while avoiding a replacement or stand-in Roma character. It could even allow for some tension or teasing between Don and Ayesha. Can you imagine Don asking Ayesha to help him tell his daughter about the birds and bees, or help her pick an outfit for her first recital or first date? So cute!

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    • Oh boy, I don’t remember what I said in the announcement! But what I might have meant was that Don-the-Amitabh-Original had a strong moral code, while the remakes are amoral. Meaning the original has justice served, bad guys lose and good guys win, do the right thing and you will be rewarded kind of a message. While the remakes exist in a world where the bad guys can win and the good guys can lose and sometimes bad guys do good things and good guys do bad things. I wouldn’t say they cross the line into nihilism or anything, we never see Don torture a puppy or something like that, but it is more along the lines of “sometimes crime does pay and people look cool in leather jackets” than the traditional “crime never pays and heroes are cooler than villains” attitude.

      I actually took a couple of friends to see Don 2 in theaters who had never seen Don 1, and they really enjoyed it. And then later I showed them Don 1 and SPOILERS they knew SRK survives and turns bad, so their theory was that it was a psychological thriller, as he pretended to be Don, he became Don and stopped being good. Which would have been a pretty awesome idea! SPOILERS OVER

      I still think the only possible plot for Don 3 is PC dying in the opening and SRK going on a revenge spree. Solves the casting issue and gives a nice finale touch to the SRK-PC relationship. I suppose part of that could be SRK raising PC’s daughter by another man, that would be kind of fun, wouldn’t it?

      And thank you for commenting! So sad when a post has no comments.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 8:54 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Ah ok, that makes much more sense re: morality. Ha, I love the idea of Vijay getting taken over by evil. That would have been a good plot too!

    I’m good with revenge, while raising PC’s daughter from a pity one night stand with Arjun. 🙂

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    • But Arjun deserves to raise his own daughter! Make it a pity one night stand with the boring SEX Police guy. He’s so dull, I won’t care if he dies or is a bad father. Or maybe PC gets married and has a “normal” life after the catharsis of Don 2, then dies with her husband in a fiery explosion leaving their daughter an orphan.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 11:09 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • He’s SO boring!!!! Which has to be a purposeful part of the amoral message of the film, right? The people who do crime are sexy like Hrithik, Shahrukh, and Kunal. Or you can be honest and anti-criminal and live with boring Arjun as your only potential sexual partner.

          On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 11:27 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Or is a sign that the feminine characters are beyond the masculine concepts of “good” and “bad” and exist in their own sort of morality?

            And to be fair, Arjun R. was definitely “good” in the first movie, and was also definitely hot. So I guess the second film did become less moral in that the good characters stopped being hot!

            Also, let us never forget my beloved “Inspector Verma” in the first movie, who seemed to exist just to look good in tight police pants so we had something to look at while Om Puri talked.

            On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 11:51 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I just spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes trying to find this:

            On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 12:00 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. The interpretation of Don 1 that Vijay turns bad is interesting but clearly not what was intended. The clues planted throughout the film, like the cartoons, are pretty obvious once you realise they are there, and take the film to another level.

    What I find fascinating, especially in D1, is how such an evil character engages the audience and becomes the hero. He is much nastier in 1 than in 2, the scene where he kills Verma and mocks him as he is dying, is really mean. Is it just that having the hots for Shahrukh means he can get away with anything?

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    • The structure of D1 is so brilliant, because it gives the audience a moral “out” in terms of liking this evil character, and than twists around on them and asks if they were seduced by evil. So long as it is Vijay-pretending-to-be-Don, we are okay with the wild parties and heists and violence and all the rest of it. Because he’s really “good”, he is just pretending to be bad. But then we learn no, he isn’t pretending, he really is bad. And maybe we should have known that all along, because he actions told us so, we just wanted to go along for the ride of letting ourselves root for the bad guy, because he is really good.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 2:00 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Don 1 is so much more fun on a second watch, because you (or at least I) didn’t keep thinking, “How on earth does Vijay know how to fight so well?” 🙂

      I agree that Don in the remake is much nastier than Don in Don 2. I think they toned down Don’s campy, twisted, meanness in the second one to focus more on the heist-y elements. For me it’s not a question of Shah Rukh getting away with anything. In the Don movies it’s clear that he’s an irredeemable bad guy, but in the fake world of the movie, one can’t help but root for him because he’s also kind of a scrappy underdog.

      In a movie like Raees I find the morality more troubling. We’re supposed to think he’s a good man because he loves his neighbors, his mother, his friends, his wife, and his son, even though his very livelihood kills people, directly and indirectly? I usually don’t have any patience for Gangster with a heart of gold movies–including all the Godfather films, Goodfellas, etc. Shah Rukh IS hot enough to make Raees interesting for me, but I was glad about the ending. A bit sad because it meant that Nawaz’s character was now quite corrupt, but otherwise it made the movie better for me.

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      • I think Raees got confused. I suspect the message they wanted was something closer to Amitabh’s classic films of the 70s, that the system is corrupt and wrong and there is no answer besides crime and violence. They showed that there was no other economic option for the area than bootlegging, and they even clarified that he was careful to bring in legitimate alcohol that wouldn’t poison anyone. And we saw over and over again that the “legitimate” authorities were more corrupt than the criminals, and less caring. The ending that would make sense to me was Nawazuddin turning fully corrupt and being paid off by his rivals to kill Raees. Bringing in the bombs and all the rest of it just made it confusing, should have gone from him winning the election to the politicians trying to undermine him in other ways to Nawazuddin finally being corrupted by being offered a higher position and told he can have the power to do more good, all he has to do is kill Raees. And then the ending can have us question if Nawazuddin’s “honest” cop being given power is really a happy ending if he had to kill a more or less innocent man to do it.

        Bringing it back to Don, I think style is really the key for Don, right? It is so clearly cartoony and fun and heist-y and stylish that you can give yourself over to rooting for the bad guy and not feel bad.

        On Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 8:25 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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