film reviews Cuts to the chase Mayank Shekhar FILM: Don DIRECTOR: Farhan Akhtar ACTORS: Shah Rukh Khan, Boman Irani, Priyanka Chopra Mirror Rating **** Growing up in a video generation that I did, with a VCR and battered VHS tapes for a lone source of entertainment, there were two movies that I got to watch in pieces and bits over quite a few years. One was Gandhi. The other, curiously enough, Chandra Barot's Don: both great films in their own right. But that doesn't entirely explain my compulsive behaviour. It's just that when every video rented from the local library was a beat-up, pirated copy, the two 'original' cassettes we had at home served as head-cleaners. Every time it became impossible to tell anything on the TV screen, we'd play one of the two videos for a few minutes, clean up the junk inside the player, pamper and prepare the machine for the scrap we were to insert again. The Don video, I clearly remember, was always cued to the same scene, the most powerful one: The real Don is already dead; Vijay, a look-alike moll, who poses as Don in the Mafiosi group, has lost his mentor, the Interpol cop who'd planted him without anyone's knowledge. The fake Don finds himself behind bars trying to explain his true identity to policemen on the other side of the lock-up. The police don't believe him. His mates, gang members standing beside, do: It's a giveaway; they could never imagine a vulnerable, nervous Don, no matter what. You can sense the chilling predicament of a protagonist, who, by a cruel accident of circumstances, can neither stay in, nor get out. The same sequence takes place in this version. Somehow, the simple, emotional connect gets lost in the slickness of moments, unlike Akhtar's previous, superior works (Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya). That may be a key to differentiate between the first and the latest Don. The former was a character-driven, intimate film, albeit a fairly slick thriller, mostly for its screenplay. The latter is a most updated Indian film of the action genre that always calculably concentrates on the new twists, and the turning points, both of which mostly seem cleverer than contrived; ably fitting pieces, the known characters, into a new domino (Boman Irani's studiedly calm DCP D'Silva who enrolls Shah Rukh's Vijay as the police informer; Priyanka Chopra's robust Roma, who is Vijay's girlfriend; Arjun Rampal's fairly pointless Jasjit, who needs to get even with DCP D'Silva…) The story of Don itself is merely a plot device; a valid premise for the polish; hearty reason for adapting Hollywood's thriller aesthetics; an efficient explanation for the escapism. It helps the 'redux' find a grammar of its own, with an existing strong narrative to support it — an infinitely more intelligent and entertaining screen to watch, than a bunch of bikers always zooming off with unexplained loot that nobody knows where they cart off. Only rarely do you just revel in, rely on, or resent certain aspects, for reminiscences of the Don you know. The first is when the tracks 'Khaike Paan' or 'Yeh Mera Dil' play out purely as passé remixes: a different scale, key or tempo to the numbers could've helped us see a new side to the immortal songs. The second of course concerns the leading man. In a 16-year film career, I doubt, he has adorned as stylized a screen image, or looked better. The trouble with having Amitabh Bachchan as the predecessor to the particular role though is matching up to Bachchan's natural ease at walking in both as an earthy bumpkin, and a smooth sophisticate. Shah Rukh's goofy, rustic Vijay, by no means, disappoints, which is a surprise. In fact he deserved more screen-time. The film itself is truly a spirited work of a '70s movie-enthusiast (the villain's redesigned den, or the shiny disco-ball appear, though only once in a while); a novel idea, when official remakes as tributes have usually been considered the privilege of an old 'classic' that Don isn't. Now I'm only wary of me-too movie-manufacturers who seem to have found a new excuse to deliver knock-offs under the garb of 'reinterpretation' of films they've seen and loved, and so we must see again. Let's just put it this way: As adequate and astounding an echo it may be, Akhtar's film can at best hope to share its space, a rack or two lower in history, to an original voice. Let this be an ample aberration, and not a norm. We usually pay to watch films we haven't seen.