“Farhan Akhtar and Shahrukh Khan went global with Indian action films in 2006 with Don, their remake of the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan gangster classic of the same name. Don 2006 was an excellent action film, and one with so many plot turns and twists that it demanded and rewarded repeat viewings. The massive success of that film made a sequel almost an inevitability, the problem then becomes how to follow up such a juggernaut.
Don 2 is all about star power, Shahrukh Khan’s star power. SRK, more than anyone in India today, is a brand, his films are often more about him and his presence than anything else. His face on the poster sells out cinemas on opening night without fail, and his performances, even the bad ones, inspire swoons and hoots in theaters worldwide. There is a downside to this, and that is that films often fall back on his presence and charisma rather than putting effort into making an engaging story.
If I had to compare Don 2 to something you might have seen in western cinema, it felt a bit like a Hindi Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, just without the comedy or importance of the ensemble cast. Shahrukh Khan’s Don is the central character and defining force in this film, and his supporting cast is just that, support. Nothing happens in Don 2 that doesn’t relate back to Don directly. There are no subplots, there is very little character development (they assume you saw the first), and even when Don isn’t on screen, the dialogue, such as it is, is all about him. In fact, there’s even one case in which fellow villain Vardhaan (Boman Irani reprising his role from the first film) is talking to Don’s lady friend, Ayesha (Lara Dutta), and Don is somehow magically present in the frame via obtuse reflection (or astral projection, I can’t tell which). With a star possessed of lesser charisma, this would be ridiculous, but it is established within moments of the opening credits that this is SRK’s film.”
“One of Don 2’s great successes is it’s cinematography, which takes a page from the original’s book. There are lots of fantastic vistas, wonderful framing, and dynamic action shooting from DP Jason West. Farhan Akhtar seems to have been given carte blanche by production company Reliance to make Don 2 big, and he did it the same way he did in the first film: location, location, location. We hop across the globe with Don from Thailand to Malaysia and eventually settle in Berlin for about 70% of the film’s running time. These locations are utilized beautifully, including the now standard massive car chase through city streets and tunnels.
The stunt work is pretty damned impressive, too. One of the things that got me pumped about this film from the trailer was the impressive looking car chase. After getting a closer look at the whole thing, it is really even more impressive, with the chase moving from street to subway platform, and back into busy traffic with relative ease. There are also lots of very potent explosions to look at, and plenty of gunplay to keep the fans of things like Heat and/or The Matrix happy.
The first Don was a full on masala film and a tribute to the ’78 original. This meant plenty of comedy, romance, and the traditional Bollywood songs. For many films, the songs feel forced and don’t propel the narrative, but Don was the rare case in which the songs filled a narrative need. Not to mention that they were damned fun, and even now, 5 years on, that soundtrack remains one of my favorites all around. This time around, Farhan Akhtar and SRK decided to go for a more modern, international look and jettisoned most of the traditional Bollywood tropes, including the song and dance numbers.
Don 2 has only one choreographed song during the film, and then another over the closing credits. This was their attempt to make a Hollywood styled action spectacular. I’m of two minds about this. Part of me recognizes that to tell the story they wanted to tell with Don 2 that songs would have been an impediment to the pace they’d set for themselves and would have been very awkward to have shoehorned in. The other part of me remembers how much fun the first film was, and misses that sense of levity, of which Don 2 had almost none.
Yes, this is a serious action/thriller/heist film. However, that doesn’t mean that SRK’s smooth charisma doesn’t ooze all over the place. Don manages to get in a number of good one liners, but no other characters are allowed to be anything but subservient to him in the plot. The fact that the film opens with the credit “Shahrukh Khan IN and AS Don” tells you really all you need to know. Normally with Indian films there are at least two writers credited, one for the story and the other for “dialogues”, which is the Bollywood word for screenplay. The strange thing about Don 2 is that there really are no “dialogues”, you get the feeling that every word that comes from Don’s mouth would have been said whether there was someone there to hear it or not. He speaks in one liners, he refers to himself constantly in the third person, and he talks to people as if they aren’t there, always either in rhetorical or in the imperative. It is very strange.
Don’t let me give you the wrong idea, though. Don 2 is fun, and I feel like I’m critiquing it for not being something that it never aspired to be. There are enough twists and turns here to keep the audience guessing, and enough flashback reveals to reward future viewings, just not quite as much as the first film. If anything, I would fault the film for being a bit too linear, and not exploring the other characters behind the action as well as it could have. Granted, many of these stories are told in the first film, but a little bit of development wouldn’t hurt anyone. The addition of Lara Dutta as Don’s plaything, and Kunal Kapoor as his computer hacker buddy/associate are certainly welcome, and Kapoor as Sameer gets the only real stab at a backstory that the writers even bothered with.
Of the two big Shahrukh Khan vehicles in 2011, Don 2 is certainly the one more grounded in reality. How much of a bonus that is for an action spectacular, I don’t know. I do know that if you like heist films, betrayal, fast cars, explosions, pretty girls, smooth talking guys, and lots and lots of fighting, that Don 2 has something for you. A Bollywood cross between Ocean’s Eleven and Mission:Impossible, Don 2 is a film that represents modern Indian action cinema well. It represents the push toward Indian cinema becoming global cinema, and it puts India’s best foot forward. I sometimes wish for another song and dance number, though.”Boman Irani Don2 Farhan Akhtar Priyanka Chopra Reviews Shah Rukh Khan