Wednesday, October 25, 2006

In Defence of Farhan Akhtar's Don

I'm shocked by the thrashing Farhan Akhtar's Don has been getting since the day it was released. Agreed, it's not path breaking cinema or a really outstanding entertainer. But does it deserve the lashing it's got? The same critics and journalists, who have had good things to say for even the most mediocre of films, somehow seem to have ganged up against Farhan Akhtar with vitriolic pens and caustic tongues. But why?

Before I get to my theory for this anti-Don tirade, there are a few things I want to be clear about. One, this is certainly not one of my favourite films or something that I would call a classic (people who’re today proclaiming the 1978 Don a classic are making a huge mistake. That never was and never will be a classic. If at all, it got the classic tag only after Farhan chose to remake it). I found it entertaining despite its flaws, but it still isn't one of the best films of 2006. Then, much as I want to avoid comparisons with the original, others are perfectly justified in making comparisons. By all means….if Farhan chose to remake a popular film, comparisons were bound to happen. Only, the conclusions drawn from such a comparison should confine to the limits of objectivity and logic. And this is something I haven’t seen in any review or interview thus far. Also, I respect the belief of people that remakes represent a dearth of creativity, and people should let the originals be. If anyone doesn't like the remake of Don for this reason, I don’t have any problem. But please be honest about it. It's the concept you hate, not the film per se.

Now let me come to the point. According to my theory, people have trouble accepting Farhan's Don because of one or more of the following four strong beliefs:

Belief 1 - new can never match the old or Old is Gold: While this might be true to a large extent, the corollary that everything old is great is not true. So while the 1978 Don was a good thriller, to say that it was a great, perfect film is a big mistake. It was an entertaining film with many, many flaws (just like Farhan Akhtar’s Don). But today, when our esteemed film experts want to pass a judgment, they do as if the original was perfect; and if the new one has a few flaws, it's a trashy film. For them, Amitabh was great, SRK not so great (true); Helen was hot, Kareena not so hot (maybe, but contestable); Zeenat Aman fantastic, Priyanka so-so (really???). I thought that Zeenat Aman was the worst thing about the original Don - Priyanka was better than her in the remake. Anyway, without digressing any further, I think that when critics are making comparisons, they are starting from the assumption that the original Don was a perfect film (which it certainly wasn't). They're not comparing Farhan's Don with Chandra Barot's – in fact they're putting Farhan's film against their notion of a perfect film, against which obviously it is bound to fall woefully short. I challenge anyone to view the two films side by side and then make an objective comparison.

Belief 2 - Amitabh is God: Even to me, Amitabh is God. I think he’s the greatest living actor in India, but that doesn't mean that if someone else makes an honest attempt at re-interpreting a character played by Amitabh he has to be bad. It almost seems to me that as soon as Farhan announced that SRK would play Don's character in his version, the critics had started writing SRK's and the film's obituary. And again, when we compare SRK's Don with Amitabh's, sub-consciously we’re comparing him to Amitabh’s entire body of work and not just his Don. This is quite natural given the demi-god status that Amitabh has achieved. But one expects film critics to be a little more discerning. To be fair to Shahrukh, he's done a fairly competent job. This whole thing makes me wonder how the critics would react when the tables turn and Amitabh plays Gabbar (immortalized by Amjad Khan) in RGV's interpretation of Sholay. My guess is that even if Amitabh comes up with an ordinary performance (which is quite unlikely), the critics would still say that he’s bettered Amjad Khan….we’ll have to wait for that.

Belief 3 - Triumph of Good over Evil is the only legitimate theme in Hindi Cinema: I'm quite surprised that many detractors of the new Don have put forward this idea. They feel that the original Don worked because it had the traditional theme of good over evil. The Good – Inspector D'Silva, Vijay, Jasjit, Roma – finally triumph over the Evil – Don and his gang. The twist that Farhan gives to his story, turns it all on its head and we finally see the game of one-upmanship being played between two Evils. If the original was a moral tale, the new version is amoral! Is this logic justified? Haven’t the times changed since 1978? Just because the new version is not a lesson in moral science, does it automatically become a bad film? I certainly don’t think so.

Belief 4 – While remaking a film one should not make any changes to the original: This is the belief of the purists. While they do have a point, I think that if someone attempts a remake it should not appear as a facsimile copy of the original. I salute Farhan Akhtar for introducing significant twists in the plot in order to make his version dramatically different in terms of its denouement, yet keeping the feeling of nostalgia alive in the minds of the audiences.

Final word for film critics and journalists - If you hate the new version of Don for a legitimate reason, there's nothing wrong with it. But if any of the beliefs that I mentioned above are playing in your mind and clouding your judgment, I have only one request – Think again, and this time be a little objective!