Happy Varun Dhawan Day! Judwaa 2, Varun Tries to Be Salman

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.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot in 2 paragraphs (yes, it is slightly different from the original):

Sachin Khedekar is on an airplane flying to India from London when he gets a call that his wife Upsana Singh (I think) is in labor.  He chats with his fellow passenger actor-whose-name-I-can’t-find and after they get off the plane, offers to watch his bags.  The fellow passenger hides smuggled jewels in Sachin’s bag and then is arrested.  Sachin goes to the hospital, sees his babies, learns that they will have a “reflex action” if they are close to each other, and that one twin is weaker than the other.  Then the smuggler arrives, asks for his hidden jewels, and Sachin reveals that he knew all along that he was a smuggler and has called the police.  The smuggler runs away, grabs one of the babies, jumps out a window, leaves the baby on a railway track, then runs into a house and sets off an explosion before being arrested, and lying to the police and Sachin that the baby died in the explosion.  Of course, the baby didn’t die, it was found by a cheerful fisher woman who decided to raise it.  And as a small boy made friends with another small boy for life.  Meanwhile, Sachin is told that the smuggler is in jail for 22 years, but his family might try to take revenge, so he should leave the country.  Sachin and Upsana take the remaining baby to London where he grows up sweet and innocent.  He goes to college, gets ragged, is sad, needs his brother to protect him.  Back in Bombay, Varun and Rajpal Yadav are best friends and Varun’s foster mother is dead.  They get in a fight with Vivan Bhatena and are scared of vengeance from his family, and so get fake passports from Johnny Lever and go to hide out in London.  On the plane there, Varun sits next to Jacqueline and flirts with her, but she ignores him.  Off the plane, they are greeted by Pavan Malhotra, a police officer who is there to arrest them for illegal immigration.  They run from him, get jobs at a pizza place, and Varun bumps in to Jacqueline again later and ends up grabbing and kissing her in order to hide from the cops, which naturally makes her fall in love with him.  Meanwhile the other Varun has a crush on Taapsee, his fellow college student.  She invites him over to her house to teach her music, and he kisses her and her mother in response to Varun 1 kissing Jacqueline.  Misunderstandings keep building up, Varun 1 gets in a fight for Varun 2 when the college bully Vikas Verma gets mad at him for dating Taapsee, and Varun 1 randomly ends up saving Sachin from a car accident and being mistaken for his brother at the hospital, so on and so on.  Until they finally meet and realize they are lookalikes.  They tell the two girls the truth, but before they can figure out any more, the smuggler from the beginning is released from jail and comes to London for revenge.  He kidnaps Rajpal Yadav to force Varun 1 to kidnap Sachin.  Varun 1 goes to the house, his parents tell him that he is their lost son, the two boys come up with a plan.  Varun 2 pretends to be Varun 1 and takes their father to the smuggler den, while Varun 1 sneaks in and beats people up.  Until finally Varun 1 is locked in a cage while Varun 2 is being beaten, and they use the “reflex action” to force Varun 2 to fight.  And then happy ending, the two brothers are on their honeymoon, Varun 2 goes to talk to Varun 1 because he is moving “too fast” with Jacqueline and pulling Varun 2 along with him.  But while they are talking in the hallway, Salman shows up!  Both Salmans from the first Judwaa!  And after some awkward talk, they invite Salman to dance “Tan tana tan tan tan tana” with them, and it is great! And then the movie ends.

So, let me start by pointing out all the changes.  A big big big one with all kinds of implications, in the original our heroes’ father was an honest Indian cop.  In this one, he is a wealthy NRI.  The ideal father has shifted that much.  And not just that, the ideal person fighting for justice and right has shifted that much.  The police can’t capture the smuggler, but he can.  And the smuggler doesn’t care about getting vengeance on the police, he cares about the wealthy NRI.

I may be miss-remembering, but I think the specific explanation that the “reflex action” only comes into effect when they are near each other, plus the discussion of the “weak” and “Strong” twin is new.  The “weak” and “strong” thing is a big deal, the parents underline it by saying that the strong twin can take care of the weak one, so it will be all right.  In the original, “bad” Salman was clearly the hero.  “Good” Salman was just there for comic relief.  But in this one, “Good” Varun is the central one, “bad” Varun is just there to take care of him and make his life easier.

(You can see it even in the trailer)

I mentioned in the “no SPOILERS” review that it feels like they made this change on purpose, because the “good” role is a slightly better fit for Varun.  But there are bigger implications to it too.  We are no longer relating to the low class street tough type, we (the audience) are now relating to the cowardly NRI who wishes he has a low class street tough to protect him.

Let’s see, what other changes?  Oh, one that is interesting but I don’t think has any real implications, in the original the “bad guy” actually dies in that explosion, leaving his son thirsting for vengeance.  Whereas in this one the bad guy survives and in the end it is both him and his son thirsting for vengeance together.  It feels like that was just an actors decision, instead of being Mukesh Rishi on his own as the bad guy, they needed two actors to split the role.

And then there are some other bigger changes.  In the original, we never learn exactly how “bad” Salman grew up, he just sort of grew.  And as a little boy he found his own family, a baby he adopted as his sister and a fellow orphan boy as his brother/friend.  But in this film, we see that he was adopted himself by a fisher woman, and the sister track is cut entirely.

The sister no longer being a part of things is perhaps the biggest difference in this film versus the original.  In the original, it told us right away that this was a special little boy, he may be a thief and a fighter, but he also cared about people.  And there was a bigger message to it, it threaded straight through the film, “bad” Salman took on this responsibility as a child, and he kept it up, he beat up college boys who teased her, got her married, and at the end was trying to save her from kidnapping when he kidnapped his own father.  And she was the reason he ended up in conflict with the “bad guy”, she witnessed a crime, was attacked in revenge, Salman attacked back, and so on and so on.  The message was, it doesn’t matter what else he does, so long as he is a good brother.

And then in this film, that was turned on it’s head.  He got in conflict with the bad guy simply because he was rude at a Ganpatti Puja (whole other discussion about how the liberal capitalist message of the original was replaced by a Hindu message in this one).  And whenever he gets in trouble, he gets out of it by spinning a long story about family tragedies and how he is trying to solve them.  See, original “bad” Salman actually had family tragedies, but he solved them himself, he didn’t try to use them for sympathy.

(No more “East or West, India is the Best” global capital message.  Nope, it’s all about God)

I wouldn’t be thinking about comparing the two films so much, except that this film WANTS me to compare them!!!  There are so many references.  And not just to the original Judwaa!  Constant quotes and songs playing from other movies, like entertainment is contagious or something, like you just have to mention one good movie and your movie will somehow become better.  But, it doesn’t work like that.  If you are actually making a good self-reflexive joke about it (like, say, naming Salman “Prem” in the original), it works great.  But you can’t just throw in a pointless reference and expect us to laugh.  The only one that actually worked for me is when the psychiatrist character is called “Rishi Kapoor lookalike” just as I was thinking “my goodness he looks like Rishi!”  But see, that felt natural, like they cast the actor and then at some point someone on set said “hey, doesn’t he kind of look like Rishi?” and they threw that in.  Not like they had some kind of required number of references to other films they had to squeeze in on a regular every 5 minute schedule.

Moving on, another big difference, while Reema Lagoo in the original was tragically catatonic with grief, in this one she’s fine.  Around to raise her one remaining son in a loving environment.  And, when she meets her other son, she does not magically recognize him.  “Bad” Varun takes his father to the hospital, Upsana rushes in and sees him and calls him “son” and embraces him and asks where her husband is.  Varun doesn’t realize what is happening, things it is just an upset woman.  And she thinks it is “good” Varun that she is talking to.  I don’t mind this scene, it is nice and melodramatic and all that, but it isn’t quite the melodrama and everything that a woman magically talking and walking again once she is reunited with her lost son would have been.

Image result for reema lagoo

(Plus, there will never be another Reema)

There is this avoidance of melodrama, and logical leaps, that makes it not quite as wonderful as the original.  For instance, one of my favorite things about the first movie is that both Salmans just accept the fact of their similar appearances without a moment’s pause.  Whereas in this one they have to take the time for a big reaction and wonderment before moving on.  Throughout the film, they keep kind of “puzzling” over the coincidences instead of just accepting and moving on.

But the biggest thing is the shift to the London setting.  It is no longer our NRI “good” hero coming to the real world where things happen in India, it’s our “bad” Indian hero coming to London, the real place where things happen.  Our hero is no longer explicitly a thief, or explicitly anything before he arrives to London.  His life starts here.  And our other hero suddenly has so much backstory, we see him with his family, at the start of his career, getting ragged in college, and kinds of things.

Our heroines suffer as well. Karisma in the original was a wild rich girl who ran around India fearlessly and helped her boyfriend on his thieving jobs, while Rambha was a “good” girl who was uncomfortable with how her mother was throwing her at Salman.  Now they are essentially the same.  Jacqueline is a little wilder, but Taapsee isn’t just a shy good girl any more.  She saves “good” Varun from being ragged, she seeks him out to ask for music lessons, she is only slightly less aggressive than Jacqueline.  Because NRI girls are all kind of the same.

(In the original, Karisma jumps up and dances with Salman, but Rambha does not.  Because they are different people)

Oh, and the one final huge change, which just makes NO SENSE to me.  In the final fight scene, one of the most famous parts of the original is that “bad” Salman has to beat himself up, do his own half of a fight scene alone, in order to get “good” Salman to fight. It’s brilliant and hilarious and jawdropping to watch Salman do a whole fight scene by himself.  But in this one, they just have another of the bad guys locked in with them, so “bad” Salman beats him up.  It’s not brilliant or hilarious or jawdropping, it’s just another fight scene.

Which kind of summarizes this film.  Fun, but not special.  Which becomes painfully clear in the end when Salman shows up.  Salman is kind of sleepwalking through most of the appearance.  Because there isn’t really anything for him to do in it, just say a couple of bland lines and stand there.  But once they start dancing to “tan tana tan tan tan tana” Salman turns it on and everything changes!  It’s especially noticeable since, as of right now, Varun is the much much better dancer.  Salman is old and stiff and not quite the same.  But when he smiles at the camera and moves his hips a little, there is something there that Varun just can’t even come close to.  Jawdropping.

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