Read more below

  • Published 24.12.11

Much has changed in the five years between the two Dons. Shah Rukh Khan has become a superhero, on screen and off it, Priyanka Chopra is the go-to actress and Farhan Akhtar has pushed back the director’s chair for a career in front of the camera. The audience too has changed, fed on a weekly diet of Hollywood.

Don 2 reflects that change. It is that rare Bollywood film that attempts to balance style with substance. The feel is hip, the treatment slick and the look international.

Free from the baggage of a hallowed blueprint — as in the case of the first film — Farhan Akhtar dives headlong into Don 2. Akhtar the filmmaker has plenty to play around with — a menacing anti-hero, a woman alternating between love and hate for him and the prospect of crafting an adrenaline-pumping action thriller.

At the centre of it all is Don. The cool customer. The body language cocky, the demeanour bordering on zany and the attitude flamboyant. His languid entry on a speedboat across a meandering Thai river defines his cool. Smoke twirls around his face in a circular motion, he lazily flexes the ‘D’ tattoo on his biceps, his dreadlocks blow in the wind and the piercing eyes peek above the RayBans. It’s an entry that sets the tone — and raises expectations — for the rest of the film.

The one-liners are spouted —often in third person — with relish and the smirk never leaves the face. Don watches Tom and Jerry with childlike glee even as he plots his next murder in cold blood. Don will make a grab at any opportunity of redemption, but twist it around to suit his wily designs. The humour is self-deprecating, the attitude towards the cops out to get him almost indulgent. When cornered, he refuses to go down on his knees, for that would mean staining his white trousers. He gloriously hums Lionel Richie’s Hello to a cop baying for his blood.

Don is deliciously wicked. And wickedly charming. He plays up the sexual tension between him and nemesis Roma, daring his Junglee Billi to let go of her steely demeanour and look helplessly into his eyes. His effeminate swagger is accentuated when he looks into another man’s eyes and nonchalantly remarks: “Your eyes are beautiful!”

Unfortunately, Farhan can’t make the film as compelling as Shah Rukh makes the man in the middle. The convoluted plot isn’t taut and the action isn’t edge-of-the-seat. The first half is intermittently boring, despite a spectacular car chase through the nooks and corners of Berlin, ending in a whew! pile-up. The pace picks up post-interval, propelling the plot to rise a few notches higher. Despite a daring heist planned on foreign shores and within sniffing distance of Interpol, the action never forces you to chew on your cuticles.

The cat-and-mouse template that kept us on the edge in Don isn’t as enthralling in Don 2. If Don is consistently a few steps ahead, the lackadaisical police force is always caught on the backfoot.

But to give credit where it’s due, Farhan treads virgin Bolly territory, giving us a Don who can challenge Danny Ocean or John McClane or Ethan Hunt. The heist itself is a nod to the Oceans series, Don’s entry and exit on the pressure-controlled floor in the vault a homage to the iconic scene in the first Mission: Impossible film. Like the Oceans franchise, the throwback summary at the end is slickly done, Farhan making sure that — despite the lame twist — it doesn’t degenerate into a dictionary for dummies.

A special mention also goes out to cinematographer Jason West who makes the French Riviera, the Thai backwaters, the cobbled Berlin streets and the Swiss Alps come alive. And fret not if you manage only 2D tickets. Don 2 is no Avatar and the 3D — despite a superbly filmed dive by Don from a highrise — is strictly passable.

What props up Don 2 is also the stellar cast in the credit rolls. Boman Irani’s Vardhaan is effectively evil while Lara Dutta as a moll ups the glam quotient. Priyanka Chopra kicks ass with some well-shot action sequences and shares crackling chemistry with Shah Rukh, but somehow fails to infuse Roma with the spunk of the first film. A much-touted cameo calls for more than a willing suspension of disbelief but who cares when it plonks Hrithik Roshan on your screen for five minutes?

The man who makes Don 2 — despite its flaws — immensely watchable is the Badshah. The lines may be said with a little more flourish than necessary and the character may be a little overbaked, but SRK makes Don — as he had told t2 earlier this week — “sexy twisted”.

But the man is also a do-gooder Bolly hero, whose outstretched arms and mischievous smile can throw millions into a tizzy. So Don places himself in the line of a bullet aimed at another and pleads with the bad men to let a helpless lady hostage go. Despite its Hollywood slickness, this, after all, is a Bollywood film.