I am crazy enough to have watched them both this weekend just to bring you my compare and contrast!
Both Old Don and New Don have the same basic plot. Don, a super-cool criminal, goes about his business exchanging suitcases. Meanwhile, Ramesh, a member of Don’s gang, tries to leave the gang for good – Don kills him. Ramesh’s fiancée Kamini tries to take revenge on Don by seducing him in order to notify the police of Don’s location. Her attempt to delay Don into staying in the hotel room is the first song in both versions – “Yeh Mera Dil.” Don uses Kamini as a hostage and escapes – but only after he kills Kamini.
After Kamini’s death, Ramesh’s sister Roma swears revenge on Don for both of their deaths. In Old Don, Roma takes her rage and channels it into martial arts, learning to kick butt and making a friend of her teacher. In New Don, Roma is already involved in marital arts and has no teacher or support. They both join Don’s gang after a ruse where they pretend to shoot some police officers in order to make Don’s henchmen think that they’re tough chicks.
Roma joins the gang. Business continues as usual until Don is sent on a bad job that turns into a police ambush. Don is severely injured while on the run from the police and in Old Don he hides in the back of the car of DCP de Silva (the head policeman) and dies. In New Don, Don is hunted down by DCP de Silva and taken to a top-secret hospital – ALIVE. In both cases, DCP de Silva is the only person who knows Don’s fate.
Vijay is a guy who happens to look just like Don - much to his chagrin, I’m sure. Vijay is a street singer who has taken in either 1 (New Don) or 2 (Old Don) kids that he has to support. DCP de Silva guilts him into making a deal – he’ll pay for the child(ren)’s education if Vijay agrees to masquerade as Don.
Meanwhile, we the audience learn that the child(ren)’s father Jasjit is in jail! Sent there by DCP de Silva! The circumstances vary between Old Don and New Don. Old Don’s Jasjit was a tightrope-walker in the circus but before that, he was an expert safe cracker. Jasjit renounced his life of crime but was tempted back in to earn the money to save his wife’s life! You see, what happened was that Don’s main henchman showed up to convince Jasjit to steal the payroll of a factory – of course Jasjit refused! But then, Don gets Jasjit fired from the circus and at the same time the doctors tell Jasjit that his wife needs an expensive operation with a doctor brought in from overseas! OH NO! So, Jasjit does the job but he leaves behind his cigarette case and the cops track him down at the hospital while he is going to pay the doctor who can save his wife! DCP de Silva refuses to let Jasjit pay the doctor and when Jasjit tries to run away with the money to pay the doctor, DCP de Silva shoots him in the leg, thereby ruining his career as a tightrope-walker forever. Major woe. In New Don, Jasjit is a computer guy or something whose wife and son are kidnapped so that he will break into the safe of a diamond merchant whose computer system he set up. Then, while escaping with the diamonds, he is caught and shot in the leg by DCP de Silva, who won’t listen about the wife and son having been kidnapped thing. In both cases, the wives die and the children are left with Vijay.
Here is where the movies splinter – in Old Don, Vijay infiltrates the gang; falls in love with Roma; reunites the children with their father; and gets all the criminals sent to jail. the big twist is that the Interpol agent sent to track Don was really Don’s boss and he goes to jail, too. In New Don, Vijay infiltrates Don’s gang; Roma is tamed and dominated; the boy is reunited with his father; and the bad guy gets away at the end just in time for a sequel. There are two big twists – one of which is that DCP de Silva is really the big boss. The other… well, I’ll get to it.
Let me start by talking about Don himself. In Old Don, Don is distant, cool, and emotionless.
Check out how he reacts to Kamini’s seduction song –
He’s literally rolling his eyes at her. Amitabh’s Don has no time for any of this ‘feelings’ nonsense.
Meanwhile, Shahrukh’s Don is all carnal instinct…
This Don is all over Kamini – the tone of the song picturization changes, as well. You really get the sense that SRK’s Don enjoys seeing Kamini debase herself for him. While Amitabh’s Don just finds her vaguely amusing.
In Old Don, Don is basically out of the picture by about thirty minutes into the film. Despite the title, Old Don could easily have been titled Vijay because he’s the main hero and the guy we spend the most time with. On the other hand, in New Don, Don is glamorized and present from the first frame to the last. Shahrukh’s Don enjoys being in control and on top – Amitabh’s Don doesn’t really enjoy anything – not like we humans enjoy things anyway. He’s cold.
Or as Narang tells him – “You take everything so lightly.” And he does.
And what about Vijay?
Amitabh’s Vijay is kind of goofy but still sharp. He easily figures out what DCP de Silva wants and makes the informed decision to go ahead with it. This Vijay has a social conscience, as well.
More than just the thought of the children’s education, Vijay thinks about the community at large who would also be better off without the smugglers.
Shahrukh’s Vijay, on the other hand, is a bumbling simpleton. In fact, if I hadn’t seen the Old Don before New Don, I wouldn’t have believed that DCP de Silva actually believed that Vijay could even begin to pretend to be Don.
Vijay is somebody to admire in Old Don but not in New Don and maybe that’s part of the changing taste of modern audiences but I don’t think so. I think it’s part of the changing tastes of modern filmmakers – notably Farhan Akhtar, who directed this. Amitabh’s Vijay reminded me quite a bit of another guy who was rustic but not stupid and ended up in charge of a gang – Akshay Kumar as Happy Singh in Singh is Kinng.
I should have seen it coming that Don didn’t really die in New Don but I didn’t and strangely, finding out about Vijay’s death gave me the strongest emotional reaction I had to anything in the film. It just seemed so cruel and pointless to have poor Vijay killed off 10 minutes after his introduction.
Let’s move onto our Heroine – Roma.
In Old Don, Roma is played by Zeenat Aman. And her Roma is pissed off!
She wears pantsuits and knows how to handle a gun. And she has great chemistry with Amitabh’s Don/Vijay!
Importantly for me, Roma is never shown beaten down. She is never humiliated to make the hero seem tougher unlike the other Roma.
Priyanka Chopra does a fine job with what she’s given – I actually liked her quite a bit in this – but the script doesn’t do her any favors. To start with, Priyanka’s Roma doesn’t have the driving rage that Zeenat’s Roma does – it makes a difference narrative wise to have Roma take up martial arts in service of her revenge.
Shahrukh’s Don gets the better of Priyanka in a fight a number of times; he physically dominates her in a way that Amitabh’s Vijay will not do to Roma. She seems weak and stupid – unlike Zeenat’s Roma.
And what of my good buddy Jasjit? He’s an afterthought in New Don - an excuse to use Arjun Rampal.
And Arjun is pretty but his narrative has no drive! The poor guy can only do so much with the material.
Compare New Jasjit’s confrontation with DCP de Silva with the Old Jasjit’s confrontation.
Tense but subdued.
Meanwhile, Pran is rolling around in a pile of money after having fallen down the stairs because his tightrope walking-leg was shot! There is no comparison.
And the fateful escape with the son (and daughter)?
Arjun manages to limp across a pedestrian bridge with handrails! *yawn*
My man Pran carries his two children to safety across the very tightrope he thought he would never be able to use again! WILL HE MAKE IT? Now I’m on the edge of my seat. A pedestrian bridge? Give me a break! Pran would take one look at it and demand it at least have a gaping hole in the middle or something for him to take a death-defying leap over.
I already discussed “Yeh Mera Dil” but I thought I should mention lovely Kareena Kapoor and lovely Helen who both do a wonderful job as Kamini.
The last character that needs discussion is DCP de Silva.
Look at Boman Irani’s face! New Don’s DCP de Silva is just as ruthless as Don himself is. I still can’t get over his ruthless pursuit of Don and heartless use of Vijay.
Back in the 1970s, old reliable Iftekhar played DCP de Silva. He was callous in applying the rule of law but there was never any doubt that he was a strict law and order guy. It wasn’t personal. Boman plays it personally – which worked well given Shahrukh’s portrayal of that Don. The scene that this screencap is from is actually one of my favorites – Don is hiding in the backseat of DCP de Silva’s car. He’s beat up and leaking blood and yet both men are collected and calm. And Don’s death is so creepy! One minute he’s alive and pointing the gun and then DCP de Silva turns the car and Don just tips over! And you realize that he’s dead with those lifeless eyes just staring…
In New Don-world, making Boman Irani the bad guy means that the ending is a satisfying mano-a-mano fist fight. The chaos and of the HUGE group fight at the end of Old Don has no place in this slick film.
And speaking of slick, let’s talk production values.
Why have a wall safe when you can have a walk-in safe?
And yet, while the run times on both films are about the same, I couldn’t help but feel that the old Don was broader in scope, deeper in emotion, and overall more entertaining. The new Don works fine as a Shahrukh Khan vehicle but then why tie the film specifically to the old Don? Why include the character named “Mac” and the remake of “Yeh Mera Dil”?
The social conscious was gone – Jasjit never says “I’m happy being poor.” like he does in the old Don. And the paan song makes no sense when sung by Shahrukh in his Don.
In the original film, the paan centers Vijay and frees him from the taint of Don. You can see Amitabh doing this brilliantly in the song picturization.
The new film has no need for this particular narrative device and the song is totally superfluous except as a call back to the original film.
And as for the endings (SPOILER ALERT), well – see for yourself.
One big happy masala family! This is the last frame of the film – everything is okay!
I was left with such a terrible taste in my mouth after watching New Don. He’s not an anti-hero like Amitabh’s Vijay in Deewar or Pran’s bad brother in Johnny Mera Naam. Shahrukh’s Don is just a bad guy who does bad things for no reason other than because it’s fun. And he is shown as “cool” throughout the whole film. Maybe it’s my inner auntie talking, but if I wanted to see that, I’d just watch a Hollywood film.
Sitting down to watch a masala film, the audience has certain expectations – one of which is that the moral universe will be aligned. Dhoom 2 had a similar narrative problem when it seemed that Hrithik Roshan’s ultra-cool thief was going to get away with this crimes but the script ended with a great work-around that left me satisfied that no further mischief would be done AND a somewhat happy ending is salvaged. New Don totally fails at this. Not only does the protagonist turn out not to be a Hero at all, the guy we thought was the Hero died an hour and a half ago and the Heroine is made to look like a fool.
Not only that, but the Race-style pointless plot-twist is just stupidly executed. The person Don would have needed to fool is DCP de Silva. Why bother fooling everyone else or pretending to be Vijay pretending to be Don when he IS Don. He doesn't need to make Roma love him or pretend to fall in love with her because she's just part of the gang - who cares what she thinks! He could have just killed her or something.
Was anyone satisfied with this ending?
I’ll close up with my extra screen caps! One last complaint, though – whoever choreographed the dancing in New Don did a terrible job – either that or Isha Koppikar, Shahrukh Khan, and Priyanka Chopra are physically unable to coordinate their steps.
PRAN!!!!! Join the Pran club! I have a T-shirt!
Hi, Mac Mohan! Lookin’ good!
I know, Arpana Choudhary, he really isn’t the same old Don. I wonder if they hired Isha Koppikar because she looks just like Arpana?
And who doesn’t love this shot?
I love Helen’s rings!
In short, I LOVE THE 1970s!!!