Dir: David Dhawan
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan
On: Amazon Prime Video
Don’t lie: Even if you were up and about in the ’90s, how many of you really remember David Dhawan’s Coolie No. 1 (1991). Pretty sure, none. For all our love and longing for times gone by, pictures like Coolie, Biwi, Hero, 1, 2 whatever, really merge as a thing you watched. Also, because you had little else to.
We fondly remember Govinda in a lot of them—really winging it as an improv artiste, right at the centre of the theatre of the absurd! And then he’d do/say something—God knows whether scripted or not—that would stick. Like that throwaway line about his house being so big that he rides on a motorcycle between rooms in David’s Haseena Maan Jaayegi (1999)!
Likewise, with Mithun Chakroborty’s random B movies in the ’90s, where he either played a goon or cop avenging his sister’s rape. There’s his whole filmography on one side, and there is Gunda (1998), the top shrine that certain kinda movie-buffs still bow down to.
Also Read: David Dhawan on recreating songs for Coolie No. 1 from 1995 original
In this Coolie No. 1 remix, directed by David Dhawan himself, his talented son Varun essentially plays two roles. One, as Govinda. The other, as Mithun, literally mimicking Prabhujee—as Mithun Da is better known/worshipped among bhakts of trashy Hindi movies!
If this was Varun’s performance for a sangeet night at a wedding, one could totally understand. That he’s doing it with a certain belief that public will love him as those two cult heroes rolled into one, mildly borders on blasphemy, if you ask me!
Not that it’s his fault, besides that he signs up for it, and shows up on a railway platform, where an unknown girl’s (Sara Ali Khan’s) photo lands in his hand. And he goes berserk appreciating her “gaal, baal, dhamaal”, dancing later with other railway-station coolies, anointing her as their bhabhi.
Also Read: Coolie No. 1 song: Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan’s Mirchi Lagi Toh will take you down memory lane
None of this campy comedy from the times of Campa Cola is done with any sense of irony. Making everything else that follows seem not so much as an insult to the audience’s intelligence, as a movie that ignores your intellect altogether. To be fair, David is doing a regressive redux of his own film—rather than, say, Sai Paranjpye’s Chashme Buddoor that he hopelessly knifed in 2013.
Now, since you can’t recall the original Coolie No. 1, which is the same as this—often, I’m told, word for word—there’s a poor coolie, who wants to score a rich man’s (Paresh Rawal) daughter, posing as someone gazillion times richer than him.
By being rich, of course, I mean homes with spiral staircases, and the sethji wearing cravat and suits, sitting decked up at home. Totally missed the old man in deep maroon smoking jacket, with a pipe between his lips—that was Bollywood’s prototype for the ‘sethji’, through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even ’90s, when there were such few billionaires that one had to simply imagine them for the movies.
Surely with 30 years of economic ascent, that has changed. Or maybe not. By the way, Sudha Kongara’s massy, Tamil biopic of Captain Gopinath, Soorarai Pottru (2020), also on Amazon Prime Video, might well be the anti-thesis of Coolie No. 1, since it’s about how India’s railway passengers can afford a plane ride.
Also Read: ‘Coolie No. 1’ in theatres? Here is the truth
Rawal’s character, on the other hand, who’s a big hotelier, ‘Goa ka king’ and all, still takes a second-class sleeper train, which is how he spots the coolie on the platform, who’s been faking it as a tycoon to him, and the ‘bhanda’/bubble bursts!
What else did I miss/notice, having zoned out of this film after the first few minutes, on my phone? It would’ve still been tolerable by way of nostalgia in a single screen theatre. Or maybe if you really wanna go back in time, sit with a pager, and switch on a dial up connection!
Ah, there is Johnny Lever. Isn’t he absolutely ageless? He’s been looking the same since much before I was born, and I’m old! Johnny Bhai plays a cop. His pivotal scene involves mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He breaks the fourth wall to tell his audience, “Waise toh mein apni biwi ke bhi muh nahin lagta (I don’t kiss my wife), but Sethji ki jaan bachani hai (must save a life).” A little later he starts bumbling around, yelling “Dhople, Dhople, Dhople!” What? Am I missing something? Well. Neither are you.
Also Read: Sara Ali Khan on her comic timing: Not as spontaneous as my dad or mom
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