Coolie No 1 Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal David Dhawan
David Dhawan at his peak is a hard act to follow. The master of madcap cinema, whose favourite playing field remained farce and the ridiculous, Dhawan had the uncanny ability to make every scene a rib tickler. With generous help from Kader Khan’s laugh-a-minute dialogues and the nimble-footed Govinda’s spot-on comic timings, you were never given a chance to examine the script – there wasn’t any – or the lack of coherence. We were in for the ride, and the breathless spontaneity carried you along. It is that spontaneity you miss desperately in Coolie No 1, Dhawan’s rehash of his hit from quarter of a century ago. And the original was never a perfect product in the first place but it was always light on its feet.
Watch Coolie No 1 trailer
The director’s son, actor Varun Dhawan, is the one answering to the call of ‘Aaaeee Coolie’ this time round. Senior Dhawan doesn’t change the story, offers no surprises for those of us who went to a single-screen theatre to catch the original. Instead, he gives his scenery a lick of paint, adds a flashy wardrobe and voila, a 1995 hit is ready for an all-new audience.
Kader Khan’s Seth Hoshiyarchand is now Goa hotelier Jeffery Rozario (Paresh Rawal) whose only dream is to find a stinking rich husband for his daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). For some reason, he is made to talk in rhyme, with the first line being ‘Heaven on the Docks man’. It grates on your ear the first time he says it and never gets better.
Rozario, in his search for the richest man in the country for his daughter, insults the matchmaker Jai Kishen (Jaaved Jaffrey, a 2020 version of Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s Shadiram Gharjode) who promises to avenge the insult. He brings in a railway porter Raju (Varun Dhawan) to play the rich suitor Kunwar Raj Pratap Singh. Blinded by the promise of immense wealth, Rozario gets Raju married to his daughter, but soon realises everything is not what it seems. In order to throw him off the scent, Raju cooks up the story of having a twin, adding more confusion to an already overflowing plot.
Coolie No 1 has a few moments, owing largely to Varun Dhawan’s enthusiasm and spontaneity. As the ruffian Raju, he gets to channel his love for broad, physical comedy as he apes Mithun Chakraborty, complete with the pelvic thrusts. It is as the straitlaced Raj that you wish that he had dialled down on all the mimicry of the veteran actors. He is surrounded by familiar faces; besides Paresh Rawal and Javed, Johnny Lever, Rajpal Yadav and Sahil Vaid show up too. The women, like most David films, have little to do besides show up for songs and act supportive. Sara Ali Khan is adequate when duty calls.
Although suspension of disbelief is a part of watching a David Dhawan film, Coolie No 1’s plot is hopelessly out of sync with today’s time. Men get hit in gonads and women are the victims of casual sexism. Speech impairment is mined for laughs, as is people’s weight. Even coronavirus is not spared as it is used in a rather tasteless, and unfunny, joke.
Then there are the crater-sized plot holes. While everyone carries smartphones and takes selfies, no one bothers to google this desi Richie Rich before vows are taken and weddings organised. You squirm in your seat as the greedy father throws his daughters at the rich suitor, forgetting that we are living in a different century from when this was originally written. Things reach a point too often in Coolie No 1 when such inanity is too much to swallow, especially when no chuckles follow.
The VFX sequences in the film can be a primer on how not to use CGI. They are of such poor quality that you can actually make out where green screen was used.
David Dhawan has proved beyond doubt that it is impossible to templatise David Dhawan. With the sharp writing and editing missing, Coolie No 1 is but a poor facsimile of the original. As the jokes land with a thud, we are left just with the songs and even there, the OGs clearly win. For those who ask you not to compare the 1995 hit with the 2020 product, my one-line answer is that the makers should not have given us a copy in the first place. This is not a reboot, it feels like a spoof and it is best not to tamper with nostalgia.
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