Since Judwaa was an unapologetically slapstick comedy of errors, and the goal of this new release is to cash in on the recall value of that brand, it could have been safely assumed without visiting a theatre today that director David Dhawan would not go all cerebral on us with Judwaa 2.
A new generation will perhaps watch this film as a standalone venture, but two questions are inevitable for those who have seen the original. One, which is better? Two, more important: who is better, Varun or the earlier hero, the then successful and now phenomenal Salman Khan?
Dhawan has positioned Judwaa 2 as a contemporary reboot of his 1997 film featuring Khan in a double role with Karisma Kapoor and Rambha as the female romantic leads. It is the closest to a carbon copy that a remake can get, with his son Varun Dhawan reprising the characters played by the superstar back then. So what we get is Dhawan Junior as Raja and Prem Malhotra, conjoined twins whose surgical separation at birth results in a unique biological phenomenon seen in one in eight million cases according to the Bollywood Book of Judwaa Bachchas – when they are in geographically nearby locations, each experiences the sensations the other is going through and unwittingly clones the other’s actions.
Before you can digest that educational moment, the villain of the story kidnaps one, and through a series of circumstances you would be familiar with if you have watched the earlier Judwaa, Prem is brought up in London by wealthy parents and Raja by a poor woman in Mumbai.
Of course the brothers end up in the same city at some point (London, nicely shot by cinematographer Ayananka Bose). Prem falls for Samara (Taapsee Pannu), while Raja is smitten by Alyshka Bakshi (Jacqueline Fernandez). The confusion caused by their respective lovers and respective enemies being in the same area leads to a chain of mix-ups and mess-ups that Shakespeare might have approved of.
Given that this is the premise, obviously Judwaa 2, like Judwaa, is not an intellectual enterprise. Fair enough. We all need to occasionally let our hair down with a dose of old-fashioned stupidity, and large parts of Judwaa 2 offer silly, mindless laughs.
Even silliness must evolve though, and this would have been a better film if the screenplay by Yunus Sajawal (with dialogues by Farhad-Sajid) had, while retaining the same concept, moved beyond some of the stereotypes and insensitivity that once dominated Bollywood and occasionally lingers in projects such as this. For instance, the main antagonist Charles (Zakir Hussain) conforms to the irritating Bollywood stereotype of the Christian who cannot speak Hindi without saying “God” in place of “Bhagwan”, while a Hindu who visits a church says “God” in the middle of Hindi dialogues, as though “God” is not a common noun but the name of a specific Christian being seated somewhere upstairs in the clouds. This kind of stuff is bearable though – idiotic but not offensive. Far less tolerable is the re-use of a once-popular cliché: a “totla” character as a butt of jokes.
I am not getting all hoity-toity here and saying a speech defect may not lead to amusing situations, but that this team lacks the finesse that, say, Vishal Bhardwaj & Co employed while writing their “main ‘ph’ ko ‘ph’ bolta hoon” protagonist in Kaminey, marvelously balancing humour with sensitivity.
There is a fine line between portraying a person with a disability and turning that person into a caricature. Nandu, played by Rajpal Yadav, crosses that line. To be fair though, Yadav’s Nandu is a toned-down version of Judwaa’s over-the-top Rangeela delivered to us in yet another cringe-worthy performance by Shakti Kapoor. Thankfully too, Nandu gets limited screen time.
The rest of the film is harmless fun for the most part, except when it ventures occasionally again into crude clichés revolving around Dhawan’s assumption that the mere sight of black people should be a cause of laughter, and the abominable terms in which a middle-aged woman – Samara’s mother – is repeatedly described. In one scene, Raja calls her a “khataara gaadi” (dilapidated car) and consoles her because “tu murjha gayee hai” (you have withered).
Sigh. Is there any point in explaining ageism and sexism to David Dhawan? Does he care? Well, never mind him. We should.
With the recent Mubarakan, director Anees Bazmee showed us how it is possible to hark back to the comedies of an era gone by, even dip into stereotypes and trite comedic devices – boisterous Punjabis, twins separated at birth – without resorting to those that should have been retired in the Stone Age. Judwaa skates on thin ice on occasion, but for the most part passes muster without being earth-shatteringly good anywhere.
There are conversations that are genuinely funny, some because they are so hare-brained, and some because the actors make it work with their comic timing. Except for one-off blandness in the form of “Iski jack lag gayee aur main handle nahin kar paa raha hoon” (a line bestowed on Varun) and “Rustom ke Akshay Kumar ki tarah tum chhupe rustom nikle” (which Fernandez is forced to pull off), Judwaa 2 is a fair enough visit to the slapstick genre.
Still, the question arises: why was this film made at all, when David Dhawan could as well have re-released Judwaa on DVD, Blu-Ray etc with added features? (I mean, c’mon, Judwaa 2 even borrows two songs from the earlier film, Oonchi hai building and Chalti hai kya nau se baarah. They are the most attractive part of an ordinary soundtrack.)
The answer lies in two words: Varun Dhawan. This format gives Junior the opportunity to showcase his acting talent by playing two characters with vastly different backgrounds and demeanours in the same film and sometimes in the same frame, display his action skills in a bunch of fight scenes, and dance. Smart move, Daddy. ’Cos your son does all three well.
I’ve enjoyed watching Varun from his first film: he is attractive, has a nice body that goes well with his sweet face (the currently fashionable body-builder look would not suit him), and dances with passion. Though he still does not manage to erase his own personality for his roles (the London-based Prem in Judwaa, for instance, speaks English with an out-and-out Varun Dhawan-style Mumbaiyya accent and diction right down to pronouncing “miracle” as “miricle” and “violent” as “viylent”), he seems like the kind of actor who has what it takes to get there and the desire to work towards it.
The women of Judwaa are of course secondary to Varun. Still, within the limited space they get, they make a mark. Pannu, whose calling card in Hindi cinema right now is her brilliant performance in last year’s Pink, shows here that she is suited to the singing-dancing-swimsuit-wearing-glamour-doll routine too. She is outshone though by Fernandez who has spent most of her short career doing precisely that, but reminds us in Judwaa 2 that she is not the frozen-faced non-actor that too many people take her for.
As we saw in 2016’s Dishoom, it is clear here too that this gorgeous young woman deserves a shot at larger roles in comedy.
The fabulous Pavan Raj Malhotra is wasted in a film where the gifted supporting cast is marginal and the focus is entirely on Varun.
Which brings me back to my earlier comment about Varun being the reason why this film was made. The point is underlined by Salman Khan’s cameo in Judwaa 2. It is a separate matter that that scene must rank as the most poorly conceived, amateurishly executed guest appearance by a major star ever, with jarringly bad sound quality to boot. What Dhawan Senior seems to be hinting at through the weird conversation there is that he sees Varun as a future Salman Khan.
Well, I am sticking my neck out and saying the father is shortselling his son with the comparison. Whether or not Varun becomes as big a star as Khan is not something anyone can predict, but he clearly does have the potential. More to the point, he is a better actor and a more flexible dancer than the Khan. Now Daddy, give him a more imaginative film to work in. Those of us who have enjoyed you at your best, know that you are capable of so much more than just “not bad” which is what Judwaa 2 is.
Footnote: The Censor Board asked Dhawan to remove a shot of Lord Krishna dancing and playing the saxophone in the song Suno Ganpati Bappa Morya. It is clear from their directive that they have not understood the ABC of the playful down-to-earthness that is the hallmark of Hindu mythology.