The mechanics of Dilwale

Warning – spoilers ahead…

Rohit Shetty’s latest blockbuster, Dilwale, has a lot to do with mechanics. For starters our heroes, Shahrukh and Varun, are literally mechanics in the film. They own a garage and like their director, they specialize in modifying originals and pimping them out to an unrecognizable degree.

Make no mistake this film was clearly intended to be a sum of many parts. A patchwork of scenes, each individually desgined to evoke various reactions ranging from seetis to screams, from taalis to tears. However something didn’t quite come together on this assembly line. So while the film has a few outstanding moments, it doesn’t cohesively, or coherently, make for an outstanding film.

There’s a particular scene where it’s revealed that there is more than meets the eye to Kajol’s charcter. In an intriguingly devious plot twist she reveals she led on and set up her leading man, leaving him in the wake of her deception. This moment could have set up a deep and dark thriller the likes of which we have not witnessed from the evergreen romantic pair since the Baazigaar days. But alas just a few scenes later all the intrigue is swiftly set aside when Shahrukh opts to prove that the power of love can overcome obstacles as sinister as, say attempted murder and things of that nature.

It’s perplexing why Rohit Shetty opted to change gears so abruptly after such an interesting set up. But wait, there’s another twist. And then another. Before you know it the story becomes more twisted and mangled than one of the many stunt cars rolling wrecklessly after being blown literally up.

Perhaps his dilemma was in which classic to modify, and what shiny new aftermarket parts he could throw on.

There are parts of Hum, parts of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, even of Kabhi Kabhie. And of course elements of DDLJ. Did I mention Baazigaar? All modified, souped up and rigged together to build a monster truck of a film that is not meant to be a smooth ride but more of a thrilling, bone crushing experience. It certainly seemed that was the intention and Rohit Shetty may have succeeded, as I for one left the theatre feeling like I had just survived a serious car crash.

The performances, like most everything in the film, are earnest yet inconsistent. As noted there are some outstanding moments, like the big reveal and subsequent confrontation between Shahrukh and Kajol, or the heartfelt brothers over lovers scene between a sincere Varun Dhawan and a genuine Shahrukh Khan. But then there are many more moments in between which are so over the top there’s no scope for subtle, nuanced performance. The cast were forced to ham, hem and haw, while the audiences where sit and watch, and cringe and moan.

The least experienced actor of the lot, Kriti Sanon, comes off as the most even kiel character in the entire ensemble cast. Perhaps it was to her advantage not to have an image or 2 to live up to.

As for Varun Dhawan, one wishes his father had been in the directors seat, for at least in Main Tera Hero his character was consistent, enabling him to channel that manic energy and crazy charisma towards a certified comic caper. Here he is silly one scene, serious the next and melodramatic thereafter. A good test of his range I suppose, especially when forced to go over the top and redline.

Shahrukh and Kajol are positioned to relive seemingly every chapter of their storied 22 year affiliation. At one point I was expecting him to die only to be reincarnated, ala Karan Arjun. If only I was kidding.

Oh what could have been with this starcast, this budget, even to an extent this story, had Rohit Shetty opted to.remain focussed on one uniform film and not a collection of scenes. But this is what happens when you build something entirely out of spare parts.

Making Special Appearances Special

Are special appearances truly special these days? After watching several recent hindi films, it’s left me wondering. 

What was the purpose Sanjay Dutt’s special appearance in Rajkumar Hirani’s acclaimed PK? Dutt was great in the film, his charismatic style gelling well with the films quirky vibe. But his character Bhairon Singh did not seem significant to the story, at least not as significant as he should have been.

If you recall, Bhairon Singh runs into PK (quite literally) and befriends the alien. Later he takes PK to a brothel where PK meets a Bhojpuri prostitute and by holding her hand he is able to learn her language. But the character of the prostitute was extraneous, it was unnecessary to move the story forward, as the Bhairon Singh character could have easily fulfilled that same purpose. And doing so would have added much more weight to the character, and to the film overall.

Imagine if, rather than speaking in the prostitute’s Bhojpuri accent, PK mimicked the speech patterns of Bhairon Singh. Of Sanjay Dutt. Imagine how magical it would have been to watch Aamir Khan emulate Dutt’s mannerisms and, in the context of the film, having Bhairon Singh be PK’s voice in this strange new world. And then imagine the impact of the scene in the pre-climax where Bhairon Singh fell victim to an act of terrorism. He would have lived on through PK, through his voice. Now that is some powerful stuff. But for some mystifying reason, even with all the key ingredients present, Hirani opted not to go this route for the film. Which leads back to the initial observation of what was the purpose Sanjay Dutt’s special appearance?

This seems to be a trend of sorts, or perhaps a new special appearance syndrome. 

Govinda was similarly under-utilized in 2 recent films – Holiday & Happy Ending. While he lit up the screen with his infinite charm despite his limited screen time in both films, audiences were left wanting more. And just like in PK, Happy Ending (directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K.) had the perfect set up to offer Govinda more, and more of Govinda to the audience, while still serving the purpose of moving the film’s story forward. 

In Happy Ending Govinda plays fading film star Armaan who commissions Saif Ali Khan’s Yudi to write him a rollicking romedy blockbuster. However throughout the film when Yudi needs advice he goes to… his oddball twin Yogi. The inclusion of the Yogi character was not only needless it was also redundant given the purpose of Govinda’s character. Adding a second Saif may have actually detracted from the film. 

Imagine how much fun it would have been if during their narration sessions it was Armaan who offered Yudi all the desi rom-com advice, which Yudi not only applies to the film he’s writing but also to his relationship with Aanchal (played by Ileana D’Cruz). The film, afterall, is about how art imitates life, thus this symbiotic relationship was a natural, seamless fit, and could have helped bring the film together more cohesively. Extending Govinda’s screentime would have also added some much needed life to the proceedings. I bet to it’s box office too. 

Bollywood audiences have high expectations, particularly from their stars. By making their appearances more special, by giving audiences more of the stars they love, and my having their inclusion in the film be more meaningful, it would leave the audiences with a much stronger lasting impression. 

What do you think? Can you think of other examples where a star was underutilized? Where the special appearance just wasn’t special enough? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.