Do you like the dangerous dead sexy bad boy, the safe husband type, or the clown? Whichever it is, this movie has a man for you! And then of course we have the added complication as the series progressed, WHICH dead sexy dangerous bad boy do you prefer, John or Hrithik?
The first Dhoom film was a revelation, in multiple ways. First, it was an important part of rebranding YRF. In the past, Yash Raj Films was known for swoony “Yash Chopra” romances. Even if he didn’t direct them (like Doosri Aadmi, for instance) all their movies had a distinctive Yash Chopra feel, luxurious costumes and sets and swoony love stories. But Adi had taken over now and he wanted something different, he was trying to build a studio that could do it all, that could dominate the entire market horizontally and vertically. DVDs, distribution, ancillary products (I still regret not buying the Mohabattein bedding set when it was available), and the actual films would all be under the grand YRF umbrella. But it starts with the films, they needed to dominate the film market first, and they couldn’t do that with only romances. Keep making romances, sure, but sprinkle in other genres too, shake things up, have a totally different kind of film every few months. Make YRF a sign of quality, not of genre.
Adi hit the ground running in 2002 and never looked back. For the first time EVER an Indian film studio produced in house 3 films in the same year. Previously smaller banners handled the actual production and larger studios/distributors would buy the rights and slap their label on it. But Adi was doing something different, he had his mega-studio grounds now (spent the past couple years building them) and he wanted to shepherd films from conception all the way into the theaters and the DVD stores all within the gates of YRF. 2002 saw 3 films, a comedy and two romances. Then a gap, then 2004 saw a rom-com, an action film (this one), and a traditional romance. After 2004, YRF didn’t look back, no more production gaps, a varied slate of films every year. And further expansion into the digital space, ad films, everywhere there is money to be made, you will find their hands. And a lot of that is because of Dhoom, success in this very different genre gave him the confidence (and the money) to branch out.
The Dhoom-genre, this kind of lighthearted action film with high production values, was also a bit groundbreaking. At least, in the early 2000s. Back in the 80s, there were loads of these fun action films, but they had fallen out of favor around the time Indian film started breaking through internationally. To see a fun silly buddy action movie kind of plot, with the gloss of the newer production values, was revalatory for the audience.
It wasn’t just that, it was the casting too. Abhishek Bachchan had been around for a few years but not really hit it big. This film was when everything clicked for him. The snarky cool dude persona, the perfect hair the slightly unshaved look, the unbuttoned collar shirts, it all worked all of a sudden. Uday Chopra, he was actually funny in this movie! Not trying to carry the weight of being a real “hero”, but just there to jump around and put in some energy and excitement. John Abraham of course, before he got all beefed up, back when he was slim and sexy and “different”. These weren’t the usual suspects for a big budget film, especially not an action movie, and it made the whole film feel new in a way that putting in Akshay Kumar or Ajay Devgan wouldn’t.
And then there was the script. A truly clever thriller! Sure it had silly songs and silly jokes, it didn’t feel “smart”, but it was. There were twists you didn’t see coming, and the whole thing came together beautifully like a puzzle box. It brought together the lightest touch of character development (Uday and Abhishek’s friendship) with a mystery just complicated enough to get your attention, and heist plans that were legitimately imaginative.
And a soundtrack with super catchy songs, and sexy costumes all round for boys and girls, and A MOTORBOAT THAT JUMPS OVER A ROAD!!!!!! It was the first big fun stupid blockbuster of the new era, and it has a certain freshness and innocence that the later Dhoom movies, and their imitators, just don’t have.
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Oh this plot! So silly! Abhishek is a calm low key police detective with a sexy wife, Rimi Sen. He is assigned a robbery in which the thieves escape on motorcycles. To help him catch the thieves, he asks for help from a small time crook who runs a motorcycle shop, Uday Chopra. Uday is foolish and talkative and always falling in love at first sight. He and Abhishek go on a series of stake outs but keep missing the thieves.
The motorcycle gang is run by shirtless John Abraham. He plans and times out every heist perfectly, and is runs his gang perfectly too, very controlled. He and Abhishek have a near miss when Abhishek takes Rimi to dinner at the pizza restaurant where he works, but John keeps cool and avoids him.
Uday is twice distracted at pivotal moments by Esha Deol. First when her car breaks down and he helps her fix it while on a stake out, and second when she is the performer at a big event and he dances with her and misses the heist. Abhishek is so angry with Uday that they have a big public fight and stop working together.
BUT!!! Here is the twist! I mean, it was already a plenty amusing plot, the heists are exciting and tightly wound, we have that moment when Abhishek almost meets John, and the eventual reveal that Esha is part of the gang, and so on and so forth. But it is the ending that really pulls it together. First the surprisingly upsetting falling apart of the Uday-Abhishek friendship, and then! Abhishek is FIRED! Fights with Rimi and spins out into getting drunk at a hotel bar! At the same time, Uday having lost his hope of a better future with Abhishek’s promises of making him a “real” police officer some day, goes back to crime and ends up joining the same gang they were trying to bring down! It’s upsetting and surprising and dramatic!
And then there is a twist! Just when all seems lost, when the final heist is going to come off, with the help of Uday who now hates Abhishek, TWIST!!! Uday and Abhishek were working together THE WHOLE TIME! They staged the fight so Uday could join the gang and not be suspected as still working for the police! And while we are still recovering from the emotional roller coaster of that reveal, we are slammed right into the awesome epic final chase scene! This whole movie builds and builds chase after chase until we reach the last one, which has cars and motorcycles and BOATS all mixed in together. And then we end with a fun end credits song!
It’s just such a well put together movie! We even end with a little bit of an emotional chest punch when John Abraham chooses to drive off a cliff rather than go to jail. Beyond the overall structure, there are the little scene by scene combos. We open with a pulse racing motorcycle chase, and then slow it down for a fun sexy song with Abhishek and Rimi, the Uday-Abhishek humor mixes in with the chase scenes to keep things light, and then just when the humor and chases start to get boring, we toss in a semi-serious scene from John. Heck, just the idea of the criminal being kind of the “dramatic relief” sprinkled into the action comedy of the police, that is original and perfect!
Watching the later Dhooms makes me appreciate how this one is put together even more. Dhoom 2, fun though it is, really loses track of the Abhishek-Uday characters and plot by about half way through. That isn’t an issue for Dhoom 3, because it never even pretends to give Abhishek and Uday their own storylines, but the action scenes are a struggle. They have much higher production values than in Dhoom 1, but the peak is really the first chase, and everything after that just doesn’t have the same energy. The structure and build of the film is not as good. Plus putting the twist at the interval makes it much less energized for the second half. The later movies have a lot more complications and layers to the stories, bigger names and more experienced casts, but they don’t have the stripped down solid structure of this one. And, for me at least, they just don’t feel as fun.