by Piyasree Dasgupta
Dear Farah Khan,
The world knows you as a Shah Rukh Khan fan, but Farah, with Happy New Year, you have failed the sisterhood of those who love Shah Rukh. This is not just cruel and unusual, it is also a thoroughly painstaking cinematic experience. While I am not surprised that you made a bad film – the sound of Tees Maar Khan is more intimidating than dengue – it’s thoroughly irresponsible of you to take the film star who has made us go “Awwww” so many times over the past two decades and turn him into an insipid caricature, almost the Doordarshan of Bollywood lover boys. As a friend, as a fan, as a woman, how could you, Farah? (Insert whimper here.)
The ‘hero’ of your new film, Happy New Year, is a man whom we first see in a mud wrestling pit. He has no shirt on his person. His pants begin at a territory around the human pelvis that we usually associate with thongs. Given he still has the pants on after a five minute fight sequence during which he is thrown around like a frisbee, he makes us look at the science of pants from a perspective usually reserved for cars in a Rohit Shetty film and the human brain that has survived a Sajid Khan film. There’s a word for the resultant state of mind and it’s called awe.
The camera pans along his silhouette. He stretches his arms – his shoulder blades fluff up like a good phulka and other associated muscles shift under the skin, like autos crawling in traffic in Mumbai’s monsoons. He is tossed into mud. But he is the hero, so he rises, caked in mud, resurrecting the only memory Indians have of a certain Tata Young.
He squints. And then mutters…. “Sexy, sexy, sexy mujhe log bole…”
Okay, he doesn’t actually say that. But it wouldn’t have been completely inappropriate if he had.
Because he is then splashed with water from a hose and the camera lingers around Bollywood’s answer to cleavage – a thorax that looks as asbestos roof.
This man, apparently, is Shah Rukh Khan. The same man, who, with a faux stutter and a hairstyle that didn’t change for ten years first and ten years again after that, managed to make entire families flock to theatres. The man who didn’t need to give women close-ups of the male pelvis in order to make them go wide-eyed with adoration. The man who, with his shirt on and wearing pants that didn’t challenge Newton’s theory of gravity, was worth every penny of the overpriced ticket for which you paid. Overpriced popcorn included. Remember him, Farah?
Now, meet the new Shah Rukh Khan or Charlie, as he is known in your film, Happy New Year.
Charlie in your film – which I suspect is aspiring to be the Jaani Dushman of dance films – is a Boston University graduate. He is out to take revenge on Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), who has just one expression, formerly spotted on the ghost in Ram Gopal Verma’s Bhoot.
Charan Grover had set up Charlie’s father Manohar (Anupam Kher) so that Charan got the loot while the honest and conned Manohar was thrown in jail. Then like all good, rich men with great aesthetics, Charan moved to Dubai, grew a moustache and stubble, and took to wearing jackets seemingly made from the leftovers of wedding shamianas in Lutyens’ Delhi.
Charlie decides to give Charan a taste of his own medicine by stealing from Charan and leaving Charan to take the rap – that would be his revenge. Charlie has a crew to execute his revenge plan, like Bollywood’s version of The Expendables. Abhishek Bachchan and his overacting, Sonu Sood and his cleavage, Boman Irani who is kind and does weird stuff for friends and Deepika Padukone who makes average mortals wish away their own legs. These actors are put in Diwali gift wrappers – what else could explain that wardrobe? – and asked to dance and act. That’s Happy New Year for you.
The only reason to watch Happy New Year is Shah Rukh Khan, preferably being Shah Rukh Khan as he has in most of his best-loved films. This means a performance that has little to do with acting and everything to do with making the absurd, tolerable and the average, entirely awesome. The slight, funny, occasionally self-deprecating leading man who is completely ordinary in looks and acting talent, but is nonetheless endearing. He with his signature pose, iconic stutter, who made the predictable and the ordinary seem desirable.
In Happy New Year, Shah Rukh successfully undoes all of that. Instead, he tries too hard and becomes as caricaturish as Salman Khan — the horror! — while inadvertently hurtling fans into a nostalgic whirl. And for this, you are responsible, Farah.
From Priya Gill in Josh to a cold-as-a-Delhi-winter-evening Aishwarya Rai in Devdas, it was completely to Shah Rukh’s credit that he made dancing around trees, on mountains and in gaudy weddings, look romantic. He could rustle up chemistry with just about anyone and leave his audience slightly weepy. In Happy New Year, the only chemistry Shah Rukh has is with himself. How could you let him do that, Farah? How could you do that to us, his fans?
Shah Rukh’s relationship with himself in Happy New Year is much like the intimate relationship that a pout has with a selfie taken in a pub washroom. He is the self consumed, self obsessed, look-I’m-so-awesome hero a la Salman Khan. In the middle of Happy New Year, Shah Rukh even alights a car in slo-mo, smirking like a swimsuit calendar girl. When the camera is not sliding over him like sweat down Ryan Gosling’s post-workout abdomen, the gaze of the film is wholly directed at making Shah Rukh seem like the next best thing to have happened to our generation after Apple. Which he sort of was, until, you turned him into the narcissistic nightmare that he is in Happy New Year.
Deepika Padukone, who plays Charlie’s love interest and dance coach Mohini, does great justice to her name and is made to salivate over Shah Rukh. If this had been the Shah Rukh from his glory days, Mohini’s behaviour would have made sense. But this is Charlie and when she’s fluttering her eyelashes and fantasising about Charlie, we think she must either be blind or have a fetish for blonde-streaked hair. Shah Rukh, on the other hand, is so consumed with himself that he looks at the gorgeous Mohini the way we look at our electricity bills. When Shah Rukh can’t make your pulse flutter because of the way he’s looking into the heroine’s eyes, you know something is terribly wrong. I half expected the sky to fall on my head and Mumbai to step smelling of petrol when I stepped out of the theatre.
Look, a Shah Rukh Khan fan is allowed to overreact. It’s one of the things that we’ve loved in his performances over the years. Just think of all those glycerine-drenched tears running down his scrunched face at various movie climaxes.
Farah, your Charlie beats big people to pulp, his one punch breaks the backbone of a man who is triple his size. He knows Korean. He knows kung fu. I suspect he may also be in the next Game of Thrones given how he works a sword-like stick. He hangs from multistoreyed buildings and swooshes right back onto the roof and basically does everything Salman Khan has done in his last five films while trying to flaunt his torso the way Hrithik Roshan has done ever since Dhoom 2.
Farah, with Happy New Year, you killed a generation’s childhood memories. From all of us kids from the nineties, damn you for making a Salman out of Shah Rukh.
She Who Was Once A Fan