To begin with, let’s set some things straight: Farhan Akhtar is one of my favourite filmmakers, and I consider him one of the foremost talents to emerge in 21st century Indian cinema. Nobody else in the industry delivers films of such consistent good quality. The term ‘Hollywood Quality’ is bandied about a lot in Indian cinema these days, but in the case of anything with the name Farhan Akhtar on it, its use is usually justified.
And so we come to Don 2, a film upon whom that term fits quite well. It’s a sequel (a sequel to a remake, no less), a heist movie set across two continents, four countries, and several action set-pieces (India the country is neither seen nor heard from in this pan-global jaunt). It has all the hallmarks of the modern, slick action thriller, with a twisty plot & sexy cast, gadgets & pyrotechnics, a consistent disregard for the laws of physics and logic to make things more fun to watch.
But I enjoy Farhan Akhtar movies as much for their Indianness as any polished-to-a-shine international credentials, and the question I asked myself going in was: Is it Indian enough?
The characters themselves wonder something along those lines too, when the second-in-command of the German central bank turns out to be an Indian. “You know us Indians,” Don says, “we’re everywhere.” That banker is J.K. Diwan (Aly Khan), who once brokered a deal with an arms dealer to get him and his boss their current job. Don (Shah Rukh Khan) is using a tape of that deal to blackmail Diwan, not for money, but for something more valuable: currency printing plates.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. While the heist of these plates forms the majority of the plot of Don 2, before then there are several action sequences in Thailand, and a Malaysian prison, where we are re-introduced to the characters, now five years later, a little older, a little wiser, a little worse for wear. Don himself is hardly the suave, immaculately groomed man we last saw jetting away with his, um, Don-girl. Bearded and bedraggled, he seems to be just a little tired of all the shady double-crosses and attempts to kill him from all quarters. Is it any wonder that he just strolls into Interpol’s lobby in Kuala Lumpur, giving himself up?
And who better for him to surrender to, but Roma (Priyanka Chopra), once his nemesis-turned-lover, now a full-fledged Interpol officer with only him on her mind. But while Roma may think she can rest easy, Don’s surrender is only another step in his master-plan, which involves springing his arch-enemy Vardhaan (Boman Irani) so he can aid him in the plate heist, of course.
It is, as you may have guessed, quite an elaborate plot, one that fits well-within the twisty nature of the first Don, but also manages to not re-hash the same formula. There is no secret-identity bingo to play this time, and instead it gives ample space to its anti-hero and his amoral cohorts, which it does so with glee.
Don 2 is, first and foremost, an excuse to see Shah Rukh Khan & co. having fun, which as light entertainment goes, can’t really be beat. You can argue about the ludicrousness of the plot twists and cartoon physics until you’re blue in the face, but that would be missing the point. Don’s favourite thing in both films seems to be Tom & Jerry cartoons, and this is very much a Tom & Jerry cartoon for adults, all of its violence and humour intact, with a good shot of sexy. It has the aesthetic & pace of a Chuck Jones short, and as an avowed fan of that master filmmaker too, I was quite pleased to go along with almost every one of its whims.
I say almost, of course, because Don 2 is a bit rough round the edges. It does indulge itself a little now and then with a completely unneccessary stunt or sequence. Most of the new characters are flat and fairly unremarkable — Lara Dutta is little more than eye candy, Kunal Kapoor (an otherwise fantasic, underappreciated actor) is similarly forgettable — and this takes away from what I really like seeing: Don being Don, Roma being Roma, and Vardhaan being an asshole.
Luckily, we get to see plenty of those three doing those things (Vardhaan being an asshole — a consistent treat in the first film — is still a trope that delivers), but it too is dampered by the biggest, most heinous failing of Don 2: the music. The songs — what few there are — are bad enough, but the score is loud, jarring & in sharp contrast to the minimal, 1970s-meets-modern score of the first.
Such restraint is missing from Jason West’s cinematography too. I miss K.U. Mohanan’s slicker-than-slick, soft-lit spaces. The cinematography isn’t bad by any means, but it’s nowhere as consistently beautiful and instantly-identifiable as the first Don‘s. It does the job — it often does the job very well — but unlike the first I won’t be pausing the Blu-Ray months from now just to wonder how on earth a shot was done.
Such criticisms are, ultimately, less of a concern to the average movie-goer than an awful nitpicky fanboy like myself. Indeed, Don 2 does exactly what it sets out to do, provide a perfect sequel to Don, continue the stories of the characters, entertain consistently through its 2.5 hour run-time (you’ll scarcely notice it pass), and set things up for an inevitable Don 3. It’s a ‘Hollywood Quality’ action thriller through-and-through, which of course, brings me back to my initial question of Indianness.
And I’m happy to report that, yes, it is. For somewhere in Don 2‘s labyrinthine heist, late in the third act, when every ‘Hollywood Quality’ movie both sides of the world has dispensed with pesky things like character and emotional development in favour of non-stop stuff-blows-up, Don 2 has the audacity to lay in a rich track of both those things. To give its main two characters — Don & Roma — their major emotional arc in this part of the film instead of, say, the middle or before, is both unusual, and unusually rewarding. It may seem a small thing, but for me this was the greatest triumph of Don 2, that instantly negated all the indulgences and rough edges, and stood even above all the deliciously well-executed action.
You don’t need to be similarly swayed to enjoy Don 2. But I certainly did, immensely, because of several little touches like that. It is all those details, not the big-budget thrills & glamour, that really make Farhan Akhtar a great filmmaker for me.
Bring on Don 3.