Coolie No. 1 movie review: Varun and Sara, here’s a question after I watched the film – why?
In Coolie No. ItShouldNeverHaveBeenDone, the pace lags, the worn-out formulae are a bore, Dhawan Junior is off colour, Sara Ali Khan is a mere glamorous prop looking bizarre in the kind of outfits that looked awful when Karisma Kapoor wore them in the 1990s and are just as horrendous in 2020.
castVarun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Jaaved Jaaferi, Sahil Vaid, Shikha Talsania, Bharati Achrekar, Anil Dhawan, Rajpal Yadav, Johny Lever
A Christian heroine who makes the sign of the cross in the middle of regular conversations, a Christian Dad who says “Oh maaaaan” more often than the definite article, a supporting character with a stutter, another with a debilitating lisp, a third who does a ‘South Indian’ impression with a sing-song accent, a ‘South Indian’ server at a dhaba who goes “Aiyyaiyyo” at the drop of a hat, a hero who does a kinnar imitation during a song and dance routine – the list of Stone Age stereotypes and politically incorrect clichés from pre-2000 Bollywood that Coolie No. 1 regurgitates could fill a page.
Truth be told though, they are not worthy of being analysed or deemed offensive. Because what is far more troubling is that director David Dhawan decided to pack exhausting corniness into a remake of his 1990s Govinda-Karisma blockbuster of the same name which in itself was a remake, without an atom of originality in the entire being of the 2020 version and nothing to match Govinda’s under-rated comedic genius that shone through even in terrible films – Dhawansaab who, when at his best, is capable of creating comedies of errors without insulting human intelligence.
Like the earlier one, Coolie No. 1 Redux is about a marriage broker out to avenge an insult from a former client. Pandit Jai Kishen (Jaaved Jaaferi) brings a family to meet the daughter of the gold-digging Jeffery Rozario (Paresh Rawal) who humiliates him because he wants a billionaire for his girl. Jai Kishen vows vendetta and for this purpose, finds a poor orphaned porter called Raju (Varun Dhawan) – the “coolie” of the title – at a railway station to fix him up with Ms Rozario, Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). The catch is that Jai Kishen, now disguised as a curly-haired south Indian called Jackson, gets Raju to pretend to be the son of a wealthy man (Anil Dhawan) in an elaborate scheme that has more loopholes than the chhed (holes) with which Robinhood Pandey threatened to riddle Chhedi Singh’s body in Dabangg.
Obviously, stories in this genre are not meant to be assessed for logic. They require a suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to swallow the possibility that a wig or a new accent, a fake moustache or coloured contact lenses are enough to convince normal humans that you are a different person from the one they earlier met. I don’t know about you, but on a day when the actors’ comic timing and the pace of the narrative are spot on, I am happy to submit myself to such unapologetic stupidity.
In Coolie No. ItShouldNeverHaveBeenDone though, the pace lags, the worn-out formulae are a bore, Dhawan Junior – who has proved his skills with comedy in films such as Main Tera Hero – is off colour, Sara Ali Khan is a mere glamorous prop looking bizarre in the kind of outfits that looked awful when Karisma Kapoor wore them in the 1990s and are just as horrendous in 2020, and not a single member of the supporting cast does anything to redeem the film.
For how many decades will Bollywood slapstick feature characters who rhyme sentences, mix up Hindi and English words and mimic famous movie stars without at least a new spin on this old wine?
When Raju makes a prediction early in the film and declares that he is an “astronaut” (by which he means “astrologer”) I was in an indulgent mood and giggled.
Then he mistakenly substitutes “prisoner” for “princess” and tells a woman “main tumhe prisoner ki tarah rakhoonga” (I will keep you like my prisoner), and I smiled, though cautiously, because the predictability had already begun to show.
Then he apes Mithun Chakraborty and Amitabh Bachchan, and I got myself a cup of coffee.
Then there is a play on Sarah’s name involving the Hindi words saara (full) and aadha (half) that was not half bad but fell flat because his dialogue delivery was slower than a snail. And I yawned further.
Then Jackson says (never mind the situation): “Kunwar saab, very risky,” to which Jeffery Rozario’s reaction is, “What? What risky? Jab meri beti ho gayee iski, abhi toh only rum and whiskey,” and I dozed off.
Then Raju apes Chakraborty for the millionth time, and I got myself a second cup of coffee.
Then Rozario tells his other daughter who he is taking on a trip to hook a rich man: “Heaven on the dock! Bag mein daala na chhota-chhota frock?” and I fell into a sleep so deep that I had to be woken up by a friend with a splash of cold water on my face.
Along the way, the story of Coolie No. 1 makes light of a man marrying a woman and having sex with her by deception, but this film is too ineffective to merit even anger. And the characterisation is inconsistent but the script is too bland to merit evaluation.
The only evolution I can think of, if it can be called evolution at all, is that the many stereotypes in this film – the Christians, the south Indians, the persons with disabilities and so on – are not as exaggerated-to-the-point-of-being-nauseous as they were in pre-2000 Bollywood (although someone really really needs to educate Hindi filmmakers and tell them to stop ignorantly replicating in the Indian scenario the American and European Christian weddings they see in Western films. I have attended scores and scores of Indian Christian weddings in my lifetime, and I have yet to see one where the priest tells the groom, “You may kiss the bride.” Seriously, Dhawansaab? Eye roll!)
Varun Dhawan has innate comic talent (and versatility as we saw in Shoojit Sircar’s October) but his performance here is under-par.
Sara Ali Khan began her career with such promise, her searing charisma blazed across the small screen in her famous maiden TV interview on the show Koffee With Karan and was matched by her moving performance in her debut film Kedarnath, but for some reason since then, she has picked one uninspiring script after another and in this one is satisfied being the kind of heroine who does nothing more than fill the slot of “the hero’s love interest” in a formulaic Bollywood venture.
The rest of the cast, who have been impressive in other films, is ordinary here.
The lone points of enjoyment in Coolie No. 1 are the revisitations of the hit numbers 'Goriya churana mera jiya' and 'Main toh raste se jaa raha thha,' although it says everything there is to say about this film that the latter song was more fun when it ran with the closing credits and no visuals of the lead pair than when it was inserted into the narrative with the two of them dancing to it.
Dhawansaab, Varun and Sara, here is a question for you – why?
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