Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Dilwale Review! A New One!

This was the first big movie to come out after I started blogging, so I hadn’t really figured out how I was going to structure reviews or anything. Which means the existing reviews are fun, but kind of a confusing hodge podge. Time to do better!

This movie is not perfect, but it is very enjoyable. Like, highly enjoyable. More enjoyable than most movies lately. Great songs, fun cast, even the set design is a joy to see. Sure the plot is a bit hinky and the pacing is a little off, but it’s still pretty gosh darn fun! I saw it opening night Christmas week with a big crowd and we had a blast. It’s one of those movies you have to see with a crowd and be ready to enjoy to have the best of it. If you watch it at home alone trying to analyze and make sense of it and find some kind of “quality”, you won’t get the best of it. You’ve gotta just let go and enjoy.

Dilwale (2015) - IMDb

It doesn’t work with analysis partly because there’s no central theme. Beyond “have fun”. There’s a little bit about sibling love, a little bit about romance, a little bit about gangsters and action, and a little bit about comedy too. But there’s no one thing that pulls it together. That’s not always the case with Masala films, but sometimes it is.

There’s really two kinds of Masala in Hindi cinema. There’s the kind like this one, or Qurbani or Disco Dancer, where it’s just whatever is fun with no point. And then there’s the kind like Deewar or Chennai Express where there is a central theme that all the fun sort of weaves around. The first kind, with no point, could always find one, you can always give a point to a film, but doesn’t want it. The second struggles and battles it out to make the point work inside the Masala. This one is Masala unapologetically, just for fun, doesn’t even want to have a theme, just wants to dance around.

What makes the film work as well as it does is that everyone is on the same page here. All the actors are just having fun, the composers, the choreographers, even the editors just playing along. That’s Rohit Shetty’s great gift as a director, he creates a marvelous community on set and makes sure everyone is having the best time they can, and then manages to send that feeling out to everyone else watching the film.

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Such a silly plot! Shahrukh is a garage owner in Goa with a little brother Varun. Varun falls in love with new girl in town Kriti Sanon and runs afoul of some gangsters moving in on his favorite bar lead by Boman Irani. Shahrukh defends him from the gangsters and goes to meet Kriti’s sister to arrange their engagement, which is when he learns that Kriti’s sister is his old girlfriend Kajol from back in Prague when they were rival gangsters. Kajol is mad at Shahrukh and forbids the engagement, Varun and Kriti work to reunite them. It finally happens when Boman shows up at a friend’s wedding and attacks Varun and Kajol and Shahrukh rescues them.

Everything in this film is silly. From the garage which seems to be entirely open air and not have a way to drive cars in and out of it, to the Prague gangster period which seems to be all about car chases and shoot outs and no actual gangster stuff (like, how did they make their money?), to the love stories which are all about sudden love at first sight and nothing else. Nothing makes sense and nothing is supposed to make sense, from the very first scene of the film in the gorgeous colorful fake Goa neighborhood, we know that we are through the looking glass in an imaginary world. You either embrace it or you reject, it but don’t try to make sense of it.

I am embracing it! Not just the illogical world of the film, but the whole illogical structure of the film. The pacing is weird, the romances are abrupt, there are all kinds of technical issues I could pick over. But you should not pick over technical stuff with this film. It was not intended to be logical, some sort of structural masterpiece. It was intended to just flow right along with whatever seemed fun. If it is enjoyable to watch, then it has succeeded, and that’s it.

Why is it an enjoyable watch? Part of it is the colors, everything is so bright and busy, your eye never feels bored or tired, just joyful with what it is seeing. There’s also the dialogue, it bounces along, no long monologues, no big poetic speeches, just fun little back and forths that amuse you without challenging you. The physical way the performances happen, every gesture and emotion is just slightly too big. No hidden message to hunt for, you can just relax and immediately understand what is happening and how people are feeling. Finally, there’s the special effects. Gravity is defeated again and again as cars and people fly about, one punch carries the power of a truck, and of course when you are in love, everything goes magical and slow motion. It’s not logical and practical, but it is a lovely moment to look at.

I think it was enjoyable to act in for similar reasons. You don’t have to think about being “realistic” or “understanding the character”, you just play the simple surface version as loudly and clearly as you want. For that kind of a performance, this is the perfect cast. Shahrukh adores entertaining people, he will go all out and have a blast if he thinks folks will like it. Varun is the young star who is most like that, struggles slightly when he tries to “act” but can go all out when he is just trying to entertain. Kriti is a young actress with a great ability to make you smile back at her when she smiles at the camera, all that’s really needed for her role. Kajol was her 20 years earlier, but by the time this film came along Kajol struggled a bit to find herself. She’d had another long motherhood break before filming, her charm was still there on camera but her dialogue delivery and general comfort was a bit missing, she tended to call back on smiling charm more than she needed. And lean quite a bit on her co-star Shahrukh.

That’s probably the biggest flaw I can pick out, even in this silly illogical not caring movie. The Shahrukh-Kajol chemistry isn’t quite right. It’s too strong, I think in a way that reflects how strong it had to be off screen. Kajol was having a really hard time with this movie, and Shahrukh was smoothing her way the whole time. What ended up coming through was this deep abiding affection, not the same as romantic love, something more stable and steady than that. They should be a a fun exciting love story when they are young, and a complicated sweet love story when they are old. But instead there is this undercurrent of deep knowledge of each other that doesn’t fit with their kind of silly misunderstandings and flirtation story.

Otherwise, this is a flawless film. Or flawful film, depending on how you look at it. The whole thing is an illogical mess. But only the SRK-Kajol unbalanced romance really interferes with your enjoyment of the mess. It’s just a delight is what it is, there to make us smile.

7 thoughts on “Shahrukh Birthday Countdown, Dilwale Review! A New One!

  1. I read somewhere that Kajol was sorry she made Dilwale, wished she hadn’t. I did find her the weak link in the quartet.
    I watch Dilwale (and Happy New Year) over and over. And OMG, the Dilwale songs! Janam! Gerua! Daayra! TukurTukur! I play them when I need a moment to forget the past, ignore the present, and stop obsessing about the future. I

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    • She’s weak, but I don’t know who would have been better. It needs to be someone with that onscreen charisma, and the Shahrukh chemistry, and all of that. Young Kajol, or Kajol who wasn’t coming back from a break, could have KILLED the part. But Kajol-slightly-off-her-game might still have been better than anyone else. Like, Deepika wouldn’t have brought that feeling of being the same age. And Juhi wouldn’t have been as glamorous and kind of sexy-dangerous. And Anushka would have been too young AND not glamorous enough.

      On Sun, Oct 25, 2020 at 2:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. You left out Johnny Lever and Sanjay Mishra. Those are the parts I always fast forward. Along with most of Varun and Kriti, to be honest, they don’t have much in the way of scenes that make me want to revisit. I like each of them in the sibling relationship more than in the romance. This movie has a ridiculously strong cast – Boman and Pankaj along with the leads – and yes, as you say, uses them to just goof off and have fun.

    I like your reading of why the SRKajol energy feels a bit off, that seems right.

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    • The Jonny and Sanjay Mishra bits are the ones I always fastforward too. But I can’t call them flaws in the film exactly. They are sections that I don’t enjoy, but they are also exactly what the director set out to put at those points, and they are parts that other people greatly enjoy (based on the laughter in the theater audience). And I am sure there are loads of people who watch those bits and fastforward the romance and song bits. They aren’t “bad” exactly they are just “not to my taste, but good for the people who like that stuff”.

      On Sun, Oct 25, 2020 at 11:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Not Prague, Bulgaria. Probably Sofia but I’ve never been so that is an assumption. Dilwale and Sex in a Tent movie, are both in Bulgaria. Bulgaria must have been offering some big filming incentives. JHMS has the Prague gangsters. Prague is in the Czech Republic with it’s literary poet president after the fall of Communism, a cute/head scratching attachment to black light puppets, and in general a very western European feel for a Slavic nation. Bulgaria had a harder time leaving the USSR. That is all I really know. When I get my head in order and restart my COVID stalled vicarious travellers book club maybe I can convince folks to go to Bulgaria. I admit I’m curious.

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    • And Dilwale and Sex in a Tent movie both have flashbacks set ten years earlier! Do you think young sex in a tent lady was fleeing Bulgaria gangsters like Shahrukh when she came to India for mountain climbing?

      On Mon, Oct 26, 2020 at 8:13 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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