Don 2, the Hindi film industry’s 2011 Christmas release comes hot on the heels of Mission: Impossible 4, and both appear to be aiming at a similar market. MI4 released in English and three Indian languages in India, becoming the highest grossing Hollywood film there ever. Adding Anil Kapoor into the mix, setting scenes in India, and releasing the Hindi version to 40 theaters across England makes it look like Hollywood is getting more serious about capturing a desi audience. Don 2 also makes a serious bid, with strong box office takings even before the Christmas holiday weekend began.
Five years after the first installment, Don (Shah Rukh Khan in a bad hair weave with braids) rules the drug trade in Asia, and in a globalization nightmare, he’s looking to expand to Europe by undercutting prices.
Because the film is largely an action thriller, it’s hard to describe what’s happening without revealing plot points. Suffice to say that the story follows many narrative conventions and includes a significant number of spectacular car chases, explosions, and fight scenes, with a tiny bit of human relationships thrown in.
Pacing is a big problem with the film. An action film can get away with lots of holes in the plot and huge gaps in logic and realism, provided that the rollercoaster ride we’re on moves along with the right balance of tense ascents and zooming drops. This film has significant lags and stalls, lessening the impact of the action scenes.
Don 2’s dénouement, after what appears to be the finale, is more a slow unravel than a thrill. It feels like the film should have ended but instead there’s one more major scene to go. Then that scene feels like the end, but no, there’s an additional flashback that explains part of what came before, which is at this stage a cerebral addition that lacks excitement.
The film’s ending falls flat, especially through a double entendre of SRK as Don smoking while explaining that Roma is a bad habit, and bad habits are hard to give up. SRK has been involved in controversy over his on- and off-screen smoking, and the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently cracked down on depicting smoking in films, a move Khan publicly opposes.
In the previous Don (2006), the song sequences added character depth and interest (think of the difference between “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” and “Aaj Ki Raat”), and provided extra energy. This film, bafflingly, has only one picturisation to balance out the dishooms and theft plotting. The soundtrack, with return music directors Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is rather weak. Director Farhan Akhtar is seasoned in film conventions, so I’m hard-pressed to understand what happened here.
The fight scenes are generally well choreographed in and of themselves by Wolfgang Stegemann, who also is one of the film’s goons. However, transitions in and out of the action feel wrong. Even the 3-D version, with flying glass shards and water barrels akimbo cannot make up for scripting issues that make this rollercoaster ride herky-jerky. The cinematography gestures toward using color to convey a theme, including plays between light and dark scenes, but overall lacks coherence.
SRK’s Don is often reduced to mannerisms, including an iconic grimace, and catchphrases. These shorthands are likely effective marketing tools, but there’s a danger of becoming hackneyed when overused or poorly written. For example, in the process of killing goons with a car crusher, Don offers them the option of becoming collaborators instead, adding “I don’t want to put you under any pressure.” These punning dialogues are probably supposed to be cool, but often come off as corny and overdone, as when Don tells someone ponderously, “You have 24 hours. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.” The rhythm of his speaking, with great dramatic pause, comes off more pretentious than menacing.
Khan has said that he modeled 2006’s Don after Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character, playing him a little bit femmey and dramatic, which gave the antihero more depth and interest than the standard stoic male action protagonist. Those character nuances are nearly gone in this film. Towards the end goons are following Don, and the contrast between his runway model walk, with one foot placed directly in front of the other, and that of his over-muscled pursuers is only a cipher of the glam ascot-wearing Don from 2006. In this film the stylist seems to favor 70’s style butch leather jackets, and nondescript clothing in general.
The film is fully focused on SRK’s Don: the other characters, and perhaps even the script, are mere accessories. Priyanka Chopra’s character is reduced to reacting and eye candy. Despite the media hype about the tension between Roma, who fell in love with Vijay’s version of Don, and Don, who has a fascination with this “jungli billli” (wildcat), it isn’t until the very end of the film that their attraction is explored. By then their chemistry feels tacked on and extraneous, rather than anything that moves the plot forward. Earlier in the film, Don’s confrontations with Roma are overly catty, played over the top almost to the point of humor.
Lara Dutta, Kunal Kapoor and Boman Irani show up as part of Don’s crew, and they are simply vehicles for the story. These kinds of characters have become standard in a thriller film, and as with Chopra it’s a disappointment to see the actors underutilized. Hrithik Roshan features in the compulsory big name cameo and his specialized skills are also not featured. Oddly, his unique right thumb appears to have been airbrushed out of most of the shots.
Although this sequel misses the inspiration and exhilaration of 2006’s Don, near the end of the movie (and I don’t think I’m revealing much here) a still-living Don races off on a motorcycle with license plate “DON 3.” I’m not sure if that’s a threat or promise.
I recently saw YRF’s Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl, and that film’s plot generated more tension and anticipation than Don 2’s, which is not an outcome I would have bet money on. If you like action films or SRK, this film is worth a single watch, but you’re not likely to go twice.