You can tell a lot about a filmmaker from the way they use a stolen scene.
Somewhere in the middle of the once-great sitcom How I Met Your Mother, narrator Ted Mosby meets a doctor called Stella who is too busy for a date. She eventually grants him two minutes and, within those fleeting seconds, he heroically packs several samples of a date-night, from cab-ride to movie to dessert. Romance, if you will, by way of tasting menu.
Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale has Kajol — a street-side artist who seems to have nothing better to do than buy high-contrast metallic nailpaint — give Shah Rukh Khan a similar five minutes, following which Khan throws out his take on the full Mosby. Except that this is only possible because Khan, a mafia don, has henchmen working for him, and because Khan, the mafia don, has a ton of money to spend on her. The shameless lifting of the scene is eclipsed by the tragic fact that the original prized the character’s ingenuity, while the knockoff is all about budget and access.
Budget and access. These have long been Shetty’s favoured lego blocks, and they have never been more visible than in Dilwale, where the greatest on-screen pair in modern Hindi cinema are reduced to insignificance. Sure, there is a sparkle here and a gleam there of what could have been — and Kajol looks beguilingly beautiful, better here than ever — but Dilwale is an absolute dud. We expect insignificant froth from the director but this particular can of Rohit Shetty has been lying open too long. The contents are not merely un-fizzy but, unforgivably, flat.
Nothing, for example, happens in the first hour or so of the film. A lot of grown men share hugs and talk about how they love each other, all moist-eyed and overwhelmed, but this is too generic to care about and, disturbingly, too straight-faced to laugh at. As the plot unravels, involving rival gangster families, a bullet-ridden past and a Dilip Chhabria present, the film goes dimly through the motions, not even bothering — as Shetty normally insists, inanely — to tickle laughs out of us. Set mostly in a Goa so oversaturated it feels like an Aqua video, there is nothing here to be seen despite Varun Dhawan trying gamely to appear spontaneous and Shah Rukh Khan hamming it up like only he can.
Hamming, of course, is the sensible option in a film this badly written. No actor in the world could have lifted this material, and Khan cleverly chooses to play his part — lips q-q-q-quivering, eyes ‘intense’ — with such showiness that it looks like he’s in on the joke. Thank God. Kajol is more earnest, and both actors occasionally conjure up some fire when their eyes lock or when their grins match, but there is too little of this amid the increasingly loud tomfoolery. It is this tomfoolery, to be fair, that somewhat makes the second half bearable — in relative terms, I must stress, but there is only so much Sanjay Mishra is allowed to do in a film of this sort.
Even the car stunts — something Shetty is known for — are unoriginal, coming to us from Goldeneye and The Fast And The Furious movies, and so Dilwale, which, in its convoluted, sloppy fashion, tries to pay homage to Mukul Anand’s Hum — a highly compelling action melodrama — was always going to be an uphill climb. What we end up with barely gets off the ground. Ho-Hum.
Rating: 1 star
First published Rediff, December 18, 2015