Coolie No. 1 Review (SPOILERS): Silly, Happy, Farce in Which the Only Real Thing is Love

I betcha that people are going to call this movie not-feminist. Because it stars Varun Dhawan and has songs and bright colors, and therefore must be misogynist. Only darkly lit serious movies can be feminist, you know? But what I enjoyed most about this movie is the way it never made me cringe. The female characters were just people. Not saying it’s a great movie, but really, there’s nothing wrong with it! It’s fun!

Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:

Varun Dhawan was raised on the train platform among the coolies. He grew up to be cheerful and confident and loving his life helping people. But he was sad because no one wanted to marry him because he was only a coolie. Meanwhile, Paresh Rawal is working with a marriage broker Javed Jaffrey but rejects a nice decent candidate because he only wants the richest possible groom. Javed leaves, angry and insulted, and on the way home bumps into Varun who falls in love with the photo of Sara Ali Khan at first sight. Varun agrees to go to the resort owned by Sara’s family pretending to be a wealthy Singapore prince with his best friend Sahil Vaid acting as his driver. He and Sara fall in love as he stays at the resort, Sahil Vaid and Sara’s sister Shikhsa Talsani also fall in love. Paresh Rawal rushes them into marriage because he believes Varun is rich, although his mother raises concerns about them not meeting Varun’s father or really knowing anything about him. Sara and Varun get married and leave together, and Varun pretends that his rich father has thrown him out of his house for marrying Sara. He offers to send Sara back home, but she insists she wants to stay with him. Sara cleans up his tiny flat, and Varun goes back to working as a coolie, and they are very happy and in love.

Problem happens when Paresh comes to visit them and sees Varun working as a coolie. Varun has not told Sara he is working as a coolie, and doesn’t want Paresh to interfere in the marriage because he is a manual laborer, so he pretends to be his own twin who is working as a coolie. Varun in character as Sara’s husband explains that he has a worthless twin brother, a drug addict who was thrown out of the house and who he refuses to have anything to do with. Paresh, so money hungry he doesn’t care about anything else, insists that his other daughter Shikhsa should marry Varun’s twin in order to get all the family money. Varun and his “twin” are sent on a weekend get away with Shikhsa and Sara. Varun arranges for his friend Sahil to come along secretly too, Shikhsa and Sahil have a great weekend behind the back of the “twin”, while Varun and Sara have a honeymoon too. Meanwhile, the real Singapore rich man (a bad drug addict) has learned about this fraud and plans to kill his father and frame Varun. Varun and Sahil go to the hospital to save the life of the rich man so he can testify on their behalf. While there, they learn Shikhsa is getting a forced abortion of Sahil’s child. They save her and along the way she and Sahil confess their love for each other, and Varun finally tells Sara the whole truth and she doesn’t care. They save the rich man’s life, he offers Varun his wealth, but he turns it down because he would rather be a coolie. HAPPY ENDING.

Coolie No 1: Sara Ali Khan shares quirky poster as she announces trailer  release date of Varun Dhawan starrer | PINKVILLA

A farce is about taking something we all accept as “normal”, and slightly flipping it to make it abnormal. What this movie is doing with that is the whole idea of wanting a “good” son-in-law for your daughter. Paresh, as the father, goes totally over the top ridiculous in what he wants, he wants someone who “takes a helicopter to buy groceries!” And he goes totally over the top ridiculous in not caring about anything else, his mother gently asks about meeting Varun’s family, Paresh rejects it, nothing matters but the money he has!!!! On the other hand, we have Varun who is in love with Sara but knows her father won’t accept him. Only instead of lying a little bit about his job or whatever, he is a coolie who pretends to be a Prince!

This is funny, because the world is funny. It’s funny that a father gets to have a say in who his daughter marries, it is funny that money is a consideration in a marriage, it’s funny that a young couple who are perfectly happy together have to go through this farce of getting family approval. And the second half is funny in a different way, it’s funny that a father would rather marry his daughter to a rich drug addict she doesn’t like than to a poor driver she does. It’s funny that a father would set his daughter up to have sex without shame because he thinks it is a rich marriage, and then rush her into an abortion when he thinks it is the child of a poor man. It’s funny that a man has to run around like crazy to protect his marriage by fooling his father-in-law, when all along it is clear that the marriage is happy. It’s even funny that we, the audience, think he has to accept wealth at the end in order to be happy, or be reunited with his long lost mother. He LIKES being a coolie, he LIKES doing his job, why should he change?

All our values are questioned, money, patriarchy, even premarital sex. We are the silly people for believing in those silly values, it is the characters onscreen who are the sane ones for rejecting them. But of course a farce only works if there is one thing that is real after all, one real stake to the plot. Which is love.

Varun falls in love with Sara’s photo at first sight, which is awfully convenient. But setting aside that awkward beginning, the love story is handled well. They are initially attracted to each other, falling into each other’s arms in a broken shower and sparking. Then Varun likes Sara’s confidence, and Sara likes Varun’s kindness. He appears in her bedroom and she hides him, he asks if she would love him if he were poor, she kisses him in answer, it’s cute and sweet. When he takes her home to his little room, he is sincere in offering for her to go back home while he figures out something better, and she is sincere in wanting to stay with him no matter what and making his house into a home. We want these two to get together! And then stay together! There’s never a super big risk they won’t, they are so happy, but at least it is one real thing to keep the engine of the film chugging along.

The real thing is love and, greater than that, the real thing is female choice in all ways. Sara and Shikhsa’s grandmother straight through is pushing to have a say in who her granddaughters marry, and her son ignores her, and that’s how he get’s into such a mess. Varun has a potential marriage lined up early on, Sahil’s sister who likes him and he likes her well enough, but her father rejects him because he is a coolie. And that’s wrong, if the young people are happy with the match then the father shouldn’t get in the way. Sara picks Varun not for his pretend wealth, but for his real qualities (hot, kind, shy, sweet), he is her choice and he helps her make that choice by tricking her father into letting her marry him. After marriage, she chooses to stay in poverty. Shikhsa chooses to have sex with Sahil. Sara chooses to stay married to Varun when she learns the full truth. Shikhsa chooses to keep her pregnancy and Sahil supports her.

Let’s think about this in terms of the job of “Coolie”. There is a line in this film and in the first film, that he is a coolie and so he will carry his wife on his shoulders all her life. That’s a true thing! Really, at the heart of this silly silly film, it is about a hero who is ready to humiliate himself and do whatever it takes so that the woman he loves has what she wants.

4 thoughts on “Coolie No. 1 Review (SPOILERS): Silly, Happy, Farce in Which the Only Real Thing is Love

  1. Okay one thing that I absolutely loved about C1 is the fact that it had fantasy songs during the movie. I was expecting Mirchi Lagi Toh to be an end credits song and I was pleasantly surprised that it actually wasn’t!

    I think my main issue was that Sara didn’t really have much to do after they get married. Like she’s still around but the main plot moves on to being about tricking Paresh Rawal and helping his friend and her sister. There’s nothing really wrong with the plot choices but I think I just didn’t expect that going in.

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    • They made a decision to keep the idea that Karisma learns he is really poor, but not the full truth until the end, and I think that keeps her out of the fun bits in the second half. If they had let her be Varun’s partner in crime for that bit, she could have done a lot more.

      On Mon, Dec 28, 2020 at 11:02 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Oh yeah, that would have been a really fun change! Varun telling Sara midway through the movie that he’s really a coolie and then the rest of the movie being them both tricking Paresh into thinking that he’s rich and has a twin. Then you could have both Sara and Varun working together to get her sister married to Sahil Vaid.

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        • Yes! There was a little bit of them working together during courtship which was fun, I would have liked more of that. But it would also be a big flip to the plot, so I understand why they didn’t want to go that different.

          On Mon, Dec 28, 2020 at 12:29 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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