Have I reviewed Main Hoon Na? I can’t remember. I know I did Om Shanti Om because Farah re-tweeted my review and that was cool. And I know I HAVEN’T done this movie, because I made a mental note that I hadn’t reviewed it a few months back. Anyway, I already reviewed a fascinating groundbreaking risky sexy feminist film Paap, today I will review a big dumb fun hit film with a neutral to anti-feminist message. Let’s see which gets more attention!
Happy New Year is a fun fun movie. If all you are looking for is a good time, this is a great way to have a good time. The songs are sexy, hilarious, inspiring, and pretty, depending on which you watch. The performances have that slight overacting that is just camp enough to add flavor. Costumes are colorful, Dubai looks great, and the comedy and drama are mixed together so that you never quite get tired of either. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fulfilling time, this is a terrible movie to watch. There is no nutritional content to it, it is the potato chip bag of movies. Enjoyable to eat, but you still feel hungry when it is over.
Of course, potato chips have their place. Just like this movie has it’s place. Farah’s last two films managed to combine the fun tastiness of potato chips with some actual nutritional content. Not a lot, but enough to make you leave feeling like you had something in your stomach. This movie could have had that same nutritional content, but somehow it just fell apart. Too many rewrites on the script, too many casting changes, too much pressure to make the film a hit and throw in everything but the kitchen sink, and that little but of nutrition burned off and just left the potato chips. But is that the worst thing in the world? To make a movie that is just potato chips?
Farah’s favorite movies are the ones from the 70s and 80s. Not the big deep ones, but the fun ones. She grew up loving the potato chip movies, that is her passion and her artistic vision, the fun parts of it all. She puts in the nutrition just to make a buck, just to keep the audience happy. And sometimes her muse, Shahrukh Khan, puts in the nutrition just because he has to too. Shahrukh likes to entertain, he likes to make people happy, he likes to be silly. Too much digging in and being true to his character and feeling the agony and everything, sometimes he just wants to escape into the potato chip part of it. Happy New Year is a silly silly movie, but don’t they deserve to just have fun and be silly sometimes? And don’t we, the audience, deserve to just have fun and enjoy ourselves some time?
Farah and Shahrukh are leading the party, but everyone in this movie is having a good time. It’s kind of like watching a bunch of drama kids playing dress up, each of them immitating their favorite characters and making up the plot as they go along. Sure, their characters may not be the deepest or best, and if I try to think about them as symbols of a larger society (like, say, Boman’s “humorous” epilepsy representing an Indian attitude towards disability) then I am truly offended. But if I think of them as a childish version of reality, a staginess that is not supposed to be real or serious, then they just make me smile.
The cast is pitch perfect. The worst thing you could have in a movie like this is someone taking it too seriously, or someone pretending they don’t take it seriously at all. I don’t want to see a performance with a wink and a nudge and a “haw haw, I am so cool the way I am pretending to be lame”. And I don’t want to see a performance that is “I am going to find the Truth under the superficial humor”. I want to see a bunch of people just goofing around and enjoying themselves. Abhishek is the secret weapon of this cast, he commits his whole big body to being a goof. And his character is the lightest too, no big tragic backstory to weigh him down. Heck, it feels like Farah just added him on when Abhishek offered to take the role because she knew how great he would be in it. Boman is a bit too much in a lot of scenes, but when he calms down and is serious it has that much more of an impact. Vivien Shah is a sweetheart, adds a natural innocence to the cast. And Sonu Sood is the least comic and most serious of them all, introduced with a couple silly personal handicaps and then left alone to his dignity.
And then there is Deepika. She is a silly silly light heroine. A good person and a nice person, but not a tragic one. And that is okay! Not every heroine has to be terribly tragic and tormented. Maybe that’s why she is kept so distant from Shahrukh for most of the film? So that her light happiness will not be tained by his required heroic angst?
It’s that Shahrukh angst which is the biggest flaw in the film, I think. The closest the movie comes to darkness, and it almost ruins it. You can’t have potato chips with a big old chunk of ketchup in the middle, it’s just gross. If the film had stayed firmly with the plot of a wacky heist and not given a dark backstory and a troubled hero (very lightly troubled, but still troubled), it might have been a more consistent film. And the flaws of logic and morality and everything else would be more forgivable because there is no temptation to take it seriously.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
I feel kind of silly putting up that spoiler warning. It was a big hit movie, probably you all already know about it. And anyway, the plot is ludicrously predictable. Predictable to the point of glorying in its predictability, of course there will be a last minute problem, of course it will all come down to the last night of the competition, and so on and so forth.
Shahrukh was the well brought up middle class son Anupam Kher, a successful safe maker. Anupam’s best friend and business partner was Boman Irani, and his trusted surrogate son at work was Sonu Sood. Anupam was hired by Jackie Shroff, a diamond dealer, to install a safe in his office. But it turned out to be a set-up, Jackie was just looking for someone to frame for the theft of diamonds he was holding for someone else. Anupam was thrown in jail, Shahrukh was rushed back from his overseas university with no future and left to work as an underground fighter, Boman Irani forced to move in with his mother, and Sonu Sood forced to work as a stunt man for the film industry. After years of planning, Shahrukh now has the chance for his revenge. He has figured out that Jackie will be taking his diamonds and storing them in a hotel safe. The same hotel is hosting a dance championship, if Shahrukh can get his team into the championship and backstage, they can access a route to the safe. He will bring in Boman to crack the safe, Sonu to provide explosives and muscle, Sonu’s cute little nephew Vivaan Shah to work the computers, and funny kid from the streets Abhishek as the doppelganger of Jackie’s son who will get them past the guards. They all know the plan and the motive behind it and are dedicated to it, Sonu and Boman because they loved Anupam and Vivaan because he trusts his uncle, and Abhishek because he feels kind of sorry after hearing the story? Something like that.
But then, problem! They are terrible dancers. Vivaan Shah can rig the system and get them to the championships but they need to be able to at least vaguely fake a dance number. After struggling through respectable teachers, Shahrukh gives in to Abhishek’s suggestion that they hire someone a little lowclass, dancing hall girl Deepika. Deepika at first refuses but agrees because she immediately falls for Shahrukh. Shahrukh resists returning her feelings, tries to stay focused on the mission. And keeps her out because she innocently thinks they are really in the dance competition, doesn’t know about the heist. They make it to Dubai, Deepika and Shahrukh get a little drunk and flirty the first night there, and then they do terribly in the first round of the competition and Deepika is sad and they all feel a little guilty but don’t really care since the heist is more important. Only to discover that they can’t do the heist after all. But then they surprisingly pass to the next round because the judges like that Shahrukh stopped in the middle of the dance to help a kid on the other team. Everything is great, they are now the darlings of Dubai and the heist is back on track. It gets more risky when Jackie starts to suspect them, but Deepika overhears their conversation (and Shahrukh’s reveal that Anupam died in jail) and volunteers to join the heist too because she sympathizes with their motives. The heist goes smoothly but Jackie almost catches them. They are about to leave town, only it is the night of the final competition and Deepika insists she is going to perform and try to win. One by one, the rest of the team joins her on stage. They win the competition (no duh) and escape with the jewels. Back in India, Deepika opens a dancing school, Shahrukh proposes to her, and everyone else gets their own happy ending too.
Now, every other time I have considered this movie, I have considered the answer to be making it deeper. For instance, Shahrukh’s character as an illegal fighter is ridiculous, why not keep the original opening that they shot which had Shahrukh trying to sell low cost security systems to retirees? Make Shahrukh and Deepika’s romance more poignant, give Abhishek more of a backstory, etc. etc.
But now I have a new idea! Maybe the problem isn’t that it is too shallow, maybe the problem is that it isn’t shallow enough. The thing that first attracted me to this film was when the trailer revealed the heist would be part of a dance competition. I wasn’t there for the serious family drama. And the second thing that attracted me to the movie was the silly and fun love song “Manwa Laage”. I didn’t want a deep and tragic love story, I wanted fun and silly dimples and smiles and sparks. What if the whole film had stayed at that level? Maybe the bits that seemed like problems (magical telepathic conversations, silly blonde hair dye, Abhishek vomiting) weren’t really the problems. Maybe they only looked like problems in contrast with Shahrukh’s tormented eyebrow waggles and Deepika’s earnest heartbreak and Boman’s occasional moments of wisdom.
When I am watching the movie, I enjoy all the silly parts, sincerely enjoy them. And then I get to Shahrukh’s sad monologues and Deepika’s hurt expressions and I feel bad for enjoying the silly parts when I should be feeling for the serious bits. The overall heist plot might have worked better if the only motivation was money, no big dramatic family problems. And the romance would DEFINITELY have worked better if it was just Shahrukh and Deepika flirting away and then embracing, no big guilt over being distracted from revenge by love. With the way it is, the serious bits mess with the fun bits.
Like, for example, “Manwe Laage” with Deepika and Shahrukh falling in love and being cutely embarrassed and happy is a delight. But then we have Shahrukh being oddly disrespectful to Deepika right before, which means his emotions are probably all conflicted with guilt over forgetting his revenge mission, taking advantage of this innocent girl, and general discomfort over being with a dancing girl. Makes all “Manwe Laage” a lot less fun! Or, when they are all dancing terribly to “Dance Like a Chammiya”, I’m enjoying it, but then I feel bad for enjoying it because it’s part of a deeply serious revenge heist plot. And Shahrukh’s mud fight intro, that’s just stupid. But if the whole film is stupid, maybe none of it is?
Because with the drama gone, the rest of it is so good! Shahrukh is genuinely fun and funny, Deepika is charming and happy, Abhishek is hilarious, the heist sequence is tautly exciting (well, except for the stupid last bit when the whole audience figures out the password before Shahrukh), the songs are all great, and the plot (at least the heist and dance competition part) is really well done.
Maybe the solution to the plot imbalance is to just take out all the pretense of being more than potato chips. Forget logic, forget motivation, Shahrukh is a mudfighter who somehow hears info that gives him a chance to make a big score. He brings in a gang of other thieves and adds on a dance girl that he is embarrassed to find himself falling for. The heist and the dance competition as competing motivations are enough drama for this kind of a film.