There's a serious condition ailing the mainstream Hindi film industry - the unnecessary compulsion to talk more and show less. In one sequence in Farhan Akhtar's Don 2, the conniving lead (Shah Rukh Khan, back with his grimaces) explains in detail to his accomplices the plan to blackmail a high profile target. Once the accomplices nod and agree to the plan, they then execute the plan, exactly as was explained earlier. And after the same thing has been told and then shown, it's told again in a summary of sorts where the cops hunting for Don realize the plan and feel the need to spell it out. Again. This, unfortunately, is what unceremoniously drags Don 2 down from its high expectations and even bigger hype into disappointment.
Akhtar has established himself as a quality filmmaker (amongst his many other talents), managing to balance style with story in a fresh, new age way. He has done this right from his directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai, and followed it with Lakshya and even the first Don film, which was a remake of the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan cult classic. Conjuring up an original sequel to a remake of a cult classic is akin to playing with fire. This is why Don 2 comes with such high expectations and is an unfortunate letdown. The script and dialogues become the biggest weakness of a premise that had the potential for oh-so-much.
The story continues some time after where the first one left off. It begins with the elusive Don resurfacing, creating some more havoc and in a surprise move, he turns himself in. His goal is to see Vardhan (Boman Irani) again, his arch enemy who was caught and imprisoned at the end of the first film. Whipping up another plan, Don now wants to collaborate with the one man he trusts the least, starting with plotting both their escapes from prison. The premise is intriguing and, knowing the dynamics between these two characters in the first film, the sequel could have been taken in so many different directions to make for a taut and thrilling ride. But the intrigue fizzles out soon after, as Vardhan is reduced to a mere sidekick for most of the film. He listens to Don's plans, asks a couple of clarification questions and then agrees each time. Yes, he too has his own motives but his character's dramatic weight is significantly lessened here.
Akhtar and his team have designed Don 2 as an action thriller, using the cat-and-mouse chase template that has proven to be such an entertaining genre. The problem with this film, however, becomes the sheer lack of depth in the story which drags the film considerably. The first Don had a lot going on - multiple players in a drug trade, a police department with embedded criminals, a powerful female lead with a personal agenda, a wronged man looking for vengeance, all encompassed within an intricate, if bizarre, master plan hatched by an all-powerful elusive villain. In Don 2, this master criminal just wants to rob a bank in Berlin.
The cop team of Roma (an uninspired Priyanka Chopra) and Malik (an even more uninspired Om Puri) are back on the hunt for Don as they follow him from Malaysia to Germany. Don's new arm candy accomplice is Ayesha (Lara Dutta, oozing glamor), who is actually one of the more effective characters for how little she needs to speak. Her expressions and actions say it all as she dutifully and confidently helps put Don's puzzle together. The other new character is the tech whizkid Sameer (Kunal Kapoor, functional but underused), who is hired by Don to execute his plan.
Good action films also need lots of one thing - good action. The few chase and action sequences Akhtar orchestrates are snazzy. The car chase as Roma tails Don through the streets of Berlin tries some new stunts and is a thrilling watch. But even the action sequences fade out in the second half and especially the climax. The part of the film that should have been the fastest in pace, filled with twists and should have left the audience breathless is instead riddled with mundane dialogues, as the characters literally stroll casually through a high pressure, time-sensitive situation.
The best thing in Don 2's favor is its production quality. It is by far one of the slickest and most stylish films seen in Hindi cinema recently. In that respect, it more than lives up to one of Akhtar's trademarks as a filmmaker. The camerawork by Jason West is a pleasure to watch. The one and only song-and-dance sequence in the entire narrative, Zara Dil Ko Tham Lo, is brilliantly shot and the action sequences have an artfulness to them that is still rare in commercial Hindi cinema.
At a runtime of two and a half hours, Don 2 simply doesn't have enough to justify its length. While Khan managed to carry off the character effectively in the first film, he seems forced this time, turning his character from a wicked and clever baddie to just a nuisance. It's hard to connect with him or any other character in the film, while the script leaves hardly anything to the imagination. If you must watch it, go for the visuals and the action scenes. Otherwise, it's an underwhelming film in many ways from Akhtar, which is disappointing considering his impressive track record.
Image courtesy of Reliance Entertainment.