Director Farah Khan has built many of her screenplays around the art of deception. In Main Hoon Na (2004) an army officer pretends to be a college student; in Om Shanti Om (2007) a modern girl with limited acting skills poses as a superstar of the 80s; in Tees Maar Khan (2010) a con man pretends to be a film director; and in her latest - Happy New Year - a motley band of losers pretend to be dancers so they can execute a heist. Spoof, masala elements, plenty of Shah Rukh Khan, lively dance numbers, physical humour make for light entertainment but Happy New Year just seems to reaffirm a formula without offering any real surprises or twists.
I suppose it boils down to how you like your masala films. Personally I prefer that melodrama and romance form the core of the film with comedy acting as an embellishment. Main Hoon Na did this by setting up the brother bonding premise and developing it. We had a crime, unresolved angst and the focus stayed on the brothers and their mother.
In Happy New Year the heist which is rather derivative - gets too much attention (I donât care for mechanics just get on with the relationships!). Shah Rukh Khanâs lip trembles as he narrates the tale of his fatherâs deception at the hands of a corrupt businessman. The moment encapsulates a brief flashback, which doesnât adequately establish the main characterâs bitterness let alone the remorse of his comrades. We donât see any of them engage with the father figure (Anupam Kerr) during these defining scenes. If characters are caricatures as they seem to be in Happy New Year then thatâs fine for purely comedic purposes but the movie seems to be angling for a âfeel goodâ ending which isnât really possible. We need to invest in the characters for this to happen and they are a bit too silly. Nationalism can be pumped to the max but it doesnât compensate for the fact that the characters are too cartoon-ish.
For example, âFatsoâ (Boman Irani) is an elderly Parsi âplayboyâ who lives with his mother but is actually a wizard at cracking safes. He has a severe speech impediment and carries âa bag of tricksâ which supplies him with endless foodstuffs and commodities. Nandu Bhide (Abhishek Bachchan) is a drunkard who vomits copiously and often. Jag Prakash (Sonu Sood) is an explosives expert with a temper that heats up when he hears his mother being maligned. This happens rather often because he is deaf (a disability reminiscent of the forgetful principal in Main Hoon Na). The characters are introduced as being wacky, weird and motivated by a volley of filmi tropes which is okay if we go down the path of comedy. However the film crosses over into âfeel goodâ territory which translates as being worthy of our concern. And frankly none of these characters are.
You might remember that in Main Hoon Na there was a running gag which had the army guy (Shah Rukh Khan) being struck speechless in the presence of the gorgeous chemistry teacher. This was repeated in Om Shanti Om. Now in Happy New Year we are treated to the reverse. Our love struck one says too much (again and again) in the ladyâs presence. Apart from the picturization of âManwa Laageâ however, the film is largely unromantic. Less so than Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om. The camera has a love affair going with Shah Rukh Khan and a separate one with Deepika Padukone but together they donât really set the screen on fire (even though flames literally ignite various items of the set and clothing during the song).
What Farah seems to do well though, is work with an ensemble cast. Although Boman Iraniâs speech patterns and character are too clown-like the other characters are more compatible with each other. Abhishek Bachchan is well cast and gives an energetic, slapstick performance which he clearly enjoys. I particularly liked his improvised snake dance. Although Deepika Padukone as Mohini âthe pole-dancer with a heart of goldâ has rather a bland role, she is high profile in all the dance routines - especially the voyeuristic âLovelyâ with its âShiela ki Jawaniâ type belly-dance moves.
Farah Khan seems keen on channeling her other films, and her repertoire of film in general as well as harnessing family (her own and Shah Rukh Khanâs) along with celebrity cameos to garner mass appeal. The routines that she gets from non-actors during the credits attest to her ability to work with the human element - even though the larger than life technical effects have clearly been delegated.
Special effects created by Red Chillies are entertaining especially the martial arts for Shah Rukh Khan. Slo-o-o-owest slow-motion is coupled with contrasting dynamic stunts.
Happy New Year exploits its Dubai setting, looks glossy and has its fun moments but doesnât have the inbuilt repeat value of Main Hoon Na - a simpler, better constructed film. (Then again, I could have missed quite a few gags because I am subtitle dependent!).