Monday, November 13, 2006

A-A-A on Don


Excellent. A stylish, sexy and contemporary update of the convoluted, absurd, inane but ultimately cool bollywood thriller genre, revelling in its excesses and cliches. I expected no less from the director of our old favourite, Dil Chahta Hai. Some specific comparisons are listed below.

Shah Rukh Khan is a much better Don than Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan is, however, a much better Vijay and Khan is a poor imitation.

The old Khaaike pan banaras wala song is great — it is more fun watching a bunch of village oddballs dancing than all those semi-naked gyrating chicks one gets these days.

Both Priyanka Chopra and Zeenat Aman are very good, but Aman is sexier.

The ending is the best bit of the new film. It rescues us from the clich├ęd happy-ending of the original and presents a more wicked and delightful possibility. I thoroughly enjoyed the twist.

Again, I think this is a great remake. What I missed most about the old Don are: Bachchan as Vijay, the fat pot-bellied Punditji dancing for the Banaras song, and Zeenat Aman in that sexy nurse costume.

Finally, I want to note how we are first introduced to the character of Vijay. This happens when he is seen singing and leading celebrations at the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. In fine Bollywood secularism style, you will observe that immediately to Vijay's side are two Sikhs with patkas, and next to them, two Muslims with prayer caps, all singing and dancing together in communal harmony.


Frankly, I didn’t find Don that good. Stylistically, it’s a rip off of Face/Off and the Bourne movies. Shah Rukh Khan acted better as Don when he did not open his mouth. I reckon he fared better as Vijay only with the street dancer scene.

Perhaps the experience in cinema would have given me more pleasure. Perhaps my point of view then would have been different. But all I have are pirate CDs, with many scenes deleted — result, the plot is lost when Khan stops to admire Priyanka Chopra bathing in the pool.

Also the Banaras wala song, well it was not convincing enough to have me believe that the character is actually don not Vijay. But wait, does that mean that Shah Rukh Khan was a convincing Vijay?

Observations from other regular Bollywood viewers: the new version is dull compared to the original; Khan over acts; and the ending, well it is not quite easy to understand what the ending means.


In 1978, Vijay earned 11.75 rupee after singing the whole day. In 2006, he earns 3,000 rupee in three days — that’s 1,000 rupee a day. This is an 85-fold (or 8,411%) increase. According to the IMF data, prices have gone up by 7¼ to 8½ fold (or a maximum of 740%) depending on the measure. That is, the real wage of a busker has increased 10-fold in the past 28 years. Now, in the long run, real wage can only increase if there is an improvement in productivity, and it is hard to see exactly what revolutionary technological change could have occurred in the busking industry. But one can invoke the Balassa-Samuelson effect and argue that perhaps there has been a 10-fold productivity increase in the industries where Vijay could have worked had he not been busking. If this explanation is right, then according to the movie, the living standard in Bombay has increased 10-fold in these years, compared with a mere 3-fold increase in the country’s per capita income. Regardless of what Bhagwati says, that kind of rise in inequality is bound to cause trouble.

But enough about economics, let’s talk about the movie. I have to say, there is something rather fundamentally irrational about the plot (in both versions, but more stark in the new one) — why does Narang not kill Vijay/Don after the accident? Vardhan wants Vijay/Don to infiltrate Singhania’s gang, sure. Don wants to escape, right. Why does Narang keep him alive? What good is an amnesiac Don to the gang?

Okay, I’m still being rather tedious about what was actually a rather enjoyable movie. A few thoughts on what Amar and Akbar said. Perhaps it is intentional that Khan didn’t portray Vijay well — Khan was playing Don who was playing Vijay, perhaps the idea is to make Vijay non-convincing. I liked the idea of Desi diaspora in Malaysia replacing the oddball villagers in the Banaras wala song. As for the ending, well perhaps this leaves the door open for a sequel, or even a trilogy. The title of this movie is Don: the chase begins again. Perhaps the sequel will be the chase continues and the last one will be the chase ends. Perhaps we’ll see Priyanka Chopra kicking arse in the sequels. She’d need help — perhaps from other cool gangsters and rogue cops. Now that would be cool!