One of the reasons certain tennis players grunt distinctly and even iconically on the court, besides sinus and habit, is to throw off their opponent. The idea is to intimidate via bellow, to try and convey just how much force is behind that particular shot, to quantify the effort and make it seem like an awful lot. Shah Rukh Khan, for instance, grunts every time he’s in a fight scene, his overloud breath punctuating the action and lending greater credence to both his muscle and to the blows he takes.
Were Farah Khan to play tennis, I wager she’d be a grunter as well. There has always been a significant look-what-I-did quality to her movies, movies where she often telegraphs her jokes and lingers on them a tad too long, and yet makes the moment work because her gags are themselves sharp, clever, ruthless. Happy New Year, alas, isn’t the sharpest tool in her shed, and while there is some good ol’ fun to be had in being thwacked on the head by a blunt instrument, it loses its novelty in the third hour. Yessir, ladies and gents, this is a three-hour film, and — for a film that shares more of its DNA with an episode of Scooby Doo than it does with Ocean’s Eleven — that’s way, way too much to bear.
Not to mention Abhishek Bachchan whose superpower is barfing. Um, we’ll get to that.
A film makes its intent, its universe, its treatment clear very early on, and fifteen minutes into Happy New Year it is more than apparent that while this may be a film littered with backstories and motivations and things that could well do with maudlin background music, it happens instead to be a goofball cartoon far more obsessed with the gags. Dead/ailing parents must be avenged/provided for, loyalties rekindled, dance schools opened and the son of a great actor must try and hack into blockbuster-land… Mighty missions all, and Shah Rukh Khan’s Charlie starts off assembling his ragtag team with flair, as, it appears, has Farah. The film plays out like a spoof from the get go, a gigantic lark where nothing is taken seriously and where there are no sacred cows — jokes are made at the expense of the mysterious committee that picks India’s entry to the Oscars as well as a certain Prime Minister obsessed with good days.
The problem, however, might lie in the fact that everyone’s a caricature. Charlie’s a street-fighter who knows everything, Sonu Sood plays a partially-deaf goon, Boman Irani is a childish safecracker, bar-dancer Deepika Padukone melts at the sound of English the way Wanda in A Fish Called Wanda did with Italian (and then Russian) and Abhishek Bachchan — who sportingly plays this movie’s Uday Chopra — has two roles, one who throws up while the other does Zoolander’s Blue Steel. Add to that a swaggering Jackie Shroff as the bad guy, and there’s no straight man in sight to help the jokes land. (The words ‘no straight man in sight,’ may, in fact, also imply to the curious way the men in this film all seem to covet other men, asking for “puppies”, lifting each other up in the air by waist and hip, ending a performance with a man’s head resting lovingly on another man’s bottom, and — in the case of Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Dadlani — doing unspeakable things with boas.)
This is a heist film, sure, but it is also a sports film disguised as a dance film. The diamonds must be boosted (from a safe called Shalimaar, no less) while the World Dance Championships are on, and thus must our nutjobs all learn to put up a show. Naturally, national pride enters the equation, and — bizarrely enough considering Farah’s trademark cheek — the film heads in a direction that Manoj Kumar and JP Dutta would both applaud. It’s all about Indiawaale, and while Sonu Sood stays consistent and Deepika inevitably dazzles, it is Shah Rukh himself who appears the most out of place — in a movie made to rest on his shoulders. Perhaps they piled too much onto him; perhaps the decades of raising those arms into that iconic pose have taken their toll… Either way, Happy New Year never gets to soar.
Rating: 2 stars
First published Rediff, October 24, 2014