Monday, February 22, 2010

70s Week: Don vs. Don: Two will enter only one will leave!

Don – the cool criminal who is not just difficult to catch but impossible to catch – has appeared in two onscreen versions. The original 1978 movie Don starring Amittabh Bachchan and the updated 2006 Don starring Shahrukh Khan. Both films had the same basic plot and starred the top Hero of their respective eras and yet the two films are totally different.

I am crazy enough to have watched them both this weekend just to bring you my compare and contrast!

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.

Enter Vijay!

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.

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.

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…

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.

Exhibit A.

One big happy masala family! This is the last frame of the film – everything is okay!

Exhibit B.


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!!!


bollywoodfoodclub said...

Lovely! Excellent side by side look at the Dons! Pyaar! You have set the bar so high for the 70's week.
ALl the best,

Anarchivist said...

You have a Pran t-shirt? Details, please!

Beth said...

I love both Dons - don't make me choose between my children - but in very different ways. I love the old one because it's masalawesome and the new one because it is Bond-like and full of both murky and flat-out evil - a commentary on today's more complicated (according to films) world, maybe? I think it lacks masala heart and all completely on purpose, but I can understand not finding that appealing. And you are SO right on the heroines - the poorly written Roma is my one major gripe with new Don.

Superwow start to 70s week!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Really intelligent comparison filmi-girl- enjoyed it ever so much. I think the Arjun-Pran character difference is the most startling, but then it would have been impossible for anyone to fill Pran's shoes, in any character. It may have been well to simply change the pviotal scenes like you mention, and be done wiht it. really well done post.

Filmi Girl said...

@Sita-Ji Thank you! :D

@Anarchivist Yes! I will have to bring it to Mumbai with me... :D The PPCC made the image for me and I had it printed through cafepress. I can send it along if you want one, too!

@Beth I might have enjoyed the new "Don" more if not for a) the constant demeaning of Roma and b) the switcheroo with Don/Vijay/Don. It didn't (and doesn't) make sense in a either a 'plot' way or a 'masala dil' way.

I can only hope that Don 2 will be better because it won't be trying to ape the original Don.

Actually, I found Prabhas's Billa a far more superior remake, combining the slickness and grittiness of New Don with the heart of the Old Don. You should watch it!

@Shweta Thanks!!

Ameya said...

You seem to be comparing the main character to Vijay in both films, but the second film it is not Vijay, so yes, he's going to dominate Priyanka, because he's DON. His ego wont let anyone beat him, not even a pretty girl. I thought he actually did a good job of seeming to let his gaurd down with Roma a few times (like in the Paan song) where you can see just a touch of a real live man behind the whole Don/ Don-pretending-to-be-Vijay-pretending-to-be-Don thing. I love both movies for different reasons (i'm glad i saw them in chronological order, though) and I much prefer the modernizing and creative changes they made to the new one, rather than have it frame-by-frame the same as the old. If you stuck the dad on a tightrope on this one, it would have been ridiculous, and not quite in a delicious way.. that's what old bollywood is good for!

Anita said...

OrigiDon was one of my fave movies so I was worried the remake would never live up. And Priyanka didn't even remotely match Zeenat's badassery.

But we know that I was *very* satisfied with the ending. I ran off with Shahrukh!Don. :D

I hope Anita is in the sequel, or I will be very disappoint. ;)

myrna-nora said...

I was dissatisfied with New-Don , it wasn't the movie I was hoping for. The New-Don that I was imagining, I finally saw in Prabhas's Billa . Like you said it combined the style of a slick new film with the heart of the original. At first I was sad that they didn't have the Jasjit character in Billa, but it was probably for the better because nobody does a Pran character like Pran!

Ami said...

I wrote a longass comment that spanned nearly 2 pages..eeep.

Anyway, cutting it very very short ^^;.. getting to what you wrote on the ending:
Shah Rukh said he approached Don as a lover..who's in love with killing ^^; ..but I absolutely love Anjaam, which was a flop btw, where his character does unspeakable things to get the girl, including her husband's murder, out of sheer evil-spiritedness.. unjustified by mental illness like in Darr or revenge like in Baazigar. So I sorta can follow where he's going in Don. And if you say well..the guy dies at the end of Anjaam, I have to remind you that Don may still get his glorious dying scene (with lotsa blood the way Shah Rukh likes to do it) in Don 2. Picture abhi baki hai mere dost~~

I just want to conclude on the way Shah Rukh plays Don. He said that he played Don a bit his talk, in his body language, in his gestures. And I find it intriguing coz a lot of the villains in hong kong kung fu movies are powerful eunuchs. Don has shaolin kung fu in the fight choreography as well.. and with your "Bollywood going to Taipei" gossip post, let's not forget Akshay's CCTC, and SRK trying to rope in Jackie into I wonder whether hindi cinema is consciously trying to incorporate some Chinese-cinema elements in their content to break into that market.

Oh, another thing..the Don/Vijay/Don thing is something like what he did in Rab Ne as well with Suri/Raj/Suri. I amuse myself trying to catch when who is which LOL. I dunno if anyone's done role reversals in as many movies as SRK, but he's simply superb. Love him.

Bollyviewer said...

Love your comparison, Filmi Girl - gives me several more reasons to dislike the new Don, and I did dislike it! Let me count the reasons: it was too slick for my taste; SRK hams it up like AB did not; AB looked like he was having fun when he was goofing off as Vijay, while SRK just looks like he is performing. And I completely agree with the cruelty of killing off Vijay - if Don was to live instead of Vijay, they should have given us a good reason to root for him - at least one redeeming character trait. But the worst part of the film, for me, was Yeh mera dil - the comparison between Kareena and Helen is just so cruelly against Bebo.

veracious said...

Great comparison post! I like both but neither in a massive way. Perhaps it comes down to the main stars; while I like both, I'm not a huge fan of either.

I think Farhan's take on the story is interesting (taking the "to kill Don is not difficult, it's impossible" line to its logical conclusion) but at the same time, I don't really desire Don 2. Franchising Dhoom is one thing.. But Don? No thanks.

I totally agree with you that Roma is so much better in the original.

I tend to not take the new Don very seriously. I like Shahrukh's Don but I laugh my head off at him, y'know? Even if the new movie is slick, it is more cheesy to me than than the original. Yeh Mera Dil for one .. the way Don sleazes on Kamini is just hilarious to me. But surely the comedy there is unintentional? :)

Filmi Girl said...

@Ameya It's not that I found Don's treatment of Roma awful in New Don but rather the FILM's treatment of Roma was less than ideal. And Roma does fall for DON who treats her like crap. It's not something I found remotely appealing.

@Anita I think Don 2 must be better than the first just because they won't be trying to fit in references to Amitabh's Don.

Plus, there is the you running away with SRK thing. XD

@myrna-nora I'm so glad you agree with me!!!

@Ami I wonder whether hindi cinema is consciously trying to incorporate some Chinese-cinema elements in their content to break into that market.

They could well be doing that! I might be one of the few people who enjoyed CC2C so I would be happy if there was more cross-over action. Vic Zhou + Asin? Barbie + Ranbir? The possibilities are endless!

@Bollyviewer Great minds think alike!! I agree 100% about them making a mistake in not giving us anybody to root for with the New Don. Why bother to establish emotional plotlines if they are not going to follow through? I could have rooted for an evil villain if he was clearly established as such but the switching back and forth was awful.

@Veracious I actually think Don 2 could be better than Don 1 because Farhan and SRK will be free to do whatever they want AND we will have a firmly established anti-hero. I disliked a lot about New Don but what bothered me most was the reveal at the end, making a mockery of Roma and us in the audience. Maybe on re-watching, knowing that Don is really Don, I could take that distance and just mock it but, honestly, the film left such a nasty taste in my mouth that I can't bring myself to do so.

memsaabstory said...

Shammi was the original Don, in Chinatown (although he was called Mike/Shekhar instead of Don/Vijay) :)

I need to check out the SRK Don, haven't gotten to it yet!

Ami said...

aha! You're a Meteor Garden fan, aren't you? :D

*spamming yr blog again*

I fell in love with Issha the moment she laughs at Don's joke in the death-by-golf ball scene. I'm peeved she's not in the confirmed cast for Don 2. I don't mind it even if she just hangs around being Don's arm accessory.

I really wanna go on record here to say that Priyanka's Roma is a wimp. No, seriously. I don't know much martial art but I'd still be able to kick her ass, probably. It got to a point where I actually CHEERED when Don makes a fool of her coz I think she deserves it..grrr. Zeenat's 70s Roma is light-years more badass than Pri's. If she's still wimpy in Don 2, I'll kick her virtual ass (in twitter..hehe).

Arjun's Jasjit is a waste of my second CD. I wish I could get a discount at the store if I buy just the 1st & 3rd ones coz I only watch those on repeat anyway. I love Arjun on any given day, but if Jasjit's wall-climbing, computer-programming, superhuman-strength presence is still purposeless in Don 2, I'ma whack Farhan with a virtual pillow.

SRK said Don 2 is Don gone too bad. I think we have to prepare ourselves mentally for all the glorification of violence & evil in that movie. My biggest complaint in Don 1 is, there's not enough evil Don to ogle. I love him the most when he's killing people *cough*. I don't like him subdued, so I think I'll enjoy Don 2 more..but there'll probably be backlashes coz to most ppl: SRK = good family guy. They need to understand that the fluffy, chocolate-hero SRK is no more..that way everyone's life will be so much easier :P

Ami said... more thing, on yr question of "why Don bothers to fool everyone else by pretending to be Vijay pretending to be Don when he IS Don?".. I think it has to do with Don's capture. Obviously someone ratted on him, so he couldn't show himself to his gang before he knows what's what. Plus, there was that power struggle between him and his boss (the convo in the vault). I think Don has been trying to gain control of Asia's underworld activity from the beginning, and what better way than to eliminate all the thorns at his side (his bosses, some of the underlings) while pretending to be dead?

But I think Don 2 can answer yr question better..and if it can't, I'm never watching a Farhan Akhtar movie again..hmmph.

Mithel said...

Count me among CC2C's fans. I saw it in theaters here in Toronto with an audience of seven. My very first Bollywood movie, too, so that was definitely part of the charm for me.

I guess you could call it my gateway drug, it lead me to Don(1978), not to mention DDLJ and bunch of others. Haven't seen the SRK version of Don, but I might now. On the other hand, without the bowties, what's the point?

shell said...

I had a rental of original Don in my hands and had to send it back without watching it because I was going on vacation. I'd love to watch and compare them too, though I really enjoyed Shah's version. I thought his Don was deliciously evil (some girls just love a bad boy you know!), but I was shocked and saddened by Vijay's demise and I hated Bebo's Yeh Mera Dil. I thought it was atrociously bad.

I am looking forward to Don 2, though. Big surprise. It will be interesting to see where the two of them can take this.
Still have to see original though. Zeenat has piqued my interest.

d said...

fyi, the extraneous "just" in your (subtitles'?) translation eviscerates the rhetorical force of don's remark. he says "don ko pakaRna mushkil nahin; naamumkin hai": it is not difficult to catch don; it is impossible. (if he'd said "mushkil hi" or some such, it would translate as you said.)

Sriram said...

Awesome post!! Don '78 was Manly
Don '06 is kiddo, more juvenile.

Thelondongirl said...

i watched Don (new) and I love it. It does appear somewhat referential to the type of hollywood fare of recent years. However I would point out that this is the norm rather than the exception of Bollywood now. Multiplexes have changed everything, there is space for massala, filmi stuff, film that has a western tinge. I think your love of the 70's and of the first Don coloured your expectations of the new one to the extent that you feel you were being patronised by the ending. would this have happened had you never expected a happy ending, or seen the first. I find there are far more patronising elements in bollywood films than an evil dude hoodwinking everyone. It was cute, reminiscent of The usual suspects, and as we all know, Bollywood borrows from all of the major films from hollywood. just a sign of the times.

Hans Meier said...

Nice double review and i also agree to your conclusion.

arul john said...

I haven't watched the old Don. I just finished watching the new Don, and didn't like it much. I found the killing of Vijay was cruel and unnecessary. And Roma was made to look like a fool throughout the movie.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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