“Happy New Year”… Heil Bollywood!

Posted on October 24, 2014

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Spoilers ahead…

Farah Khan wouldn’t be making movies if people before her hadn’t made movies. She loves the films she grew up on, and she gives the term “tip of the hat” a whole new meaning. In Happy New Year, she tips her hat to Tezaab (the dancer-heroine, played by Deepika Padukone, is named Mohini), Rocky (a dance competition makes use of Aa dekhein zara), Shalimar (this film too is about a jewel heist, masterminded by Shah Rukh Khan’s Charlie), Deewar (the hero is told, “Tera baap chor tha”), and what appears to be the entire Shah Rukh Khan oeuvre, from Devdas to Chak De India to Main Hoon Na (which remains Farah’s funniest and best-made film). Plus, we see Sajid Khan get his comeuppance for his cinematic crimes. We have a villain (Jackie Shroff) named Charan Grover (rhymes with Karan Johar). We have a killer spoof on Saroj Khan’s dance steps for the Chane ke khet mein number. In a scene where Deepika Padukone appears as the object of everyone’s desire (though one could argue that that’s pretty much every scene), we hear strains of Aankhon mein teri, which was the song that played when she became the object of Shah Rukh Khan’s desire in Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om.

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This relentless cannibalisation (and self-cannibalisation) is a pity because Farah’s real talent lies in the mad bits she cooks up – like the spitting-teacher routine in Main Hoon Na. In an early song here, Mohini is so hot that things literally catch fire. Charlie’s team members are given little quirks that, sometimes, have amusing payoffs. I loved the idea of Boman Irani’s safecracker having a Mary Poppins-style bag, from which he pulls out the most amazing things, including a whole pineapple cake. And the scene where Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan) uses rather unconventional methods to prop himself up is a scream. I wouldn’t mind watching a Farah Khan movie that was just a random collection of these skit-like stretches – like a longish Saturday Night Live episode with really big stars.

But, alas, Farah wants to tell a story – and a sustained narrative is most certainly not her strong point. The sentimental portions (Anupam Kher makes an “emotional appearance”) and the inordinate length (nearly three hours) make this comedy/heist movie less comedic and nail-biting than it should have been, but Farah probably thinks that, with an often-shirtless Shah Rukh as the draw, nothing else is needed. He pulls the film together, despite a bizarre, tasteless running gag where his character keeps demeaning Mohini as a bazaroo aurat (bizarre because this actor makes a point of his feminism by having the heroine’s name before his in the credits). And he certainly plays to his (and Bollywood’s) NRI fan base. The film, which is set mostly in Dubai, begins with cheering multi-ethnic crowds waving the Indian flag and it ends with a stage performance where the confetti is coloured saffron, white and green. In between, we get a visual of the Taj Mahal, a “Narendra Modi” cameo, and the nagging sense that Farah Khan is doing for Bollywood what Leni Riefenstahl did for Nazi Germany. Happy New Year is possibly the most lavishly mounted propaganda movie yet about India’s increasing soft power.

KEY:

* Aa dekhein zara = see here
* Chane ke khet mein = see here
* Aankhon mein teri = see here
* spitting-teacher routine = see here
* bazaroo aurat = fallen woman

Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi