coolie review

A scene from “Coolie No. 1.” (Publicity photo)

Films, qualitatively as well as in terms of success, are made or “unmade” in the second half. “Coolie No. 1’ is breezy and entertaining despite the clichés in the first hour. The Farhad Samji lines add some wit and the man himself makes a cameo— as a plumber!

It is in the second, more vital half, that the film plunges abysmally, with its toilet humor quotient increasing, dated “comedy” dominating and some bizarre goings-on, especially in the hospital climax.

Make no mistake. The film is a disaster for the OTT audience as well as Hindi film fans of the comic genre in the millennium. And I do not think that even the lowest common denominator kind of audience will take to it today: at the end of the day, as I always maintain, it is the masses that are smartest!

David Dhawan’s penchant for risqué as well as toilet humor takes over and seems as out of place in 2020 as a groveling old “mother” talking about “sarson ka saag” for her city-returned son in the cinema of 60 years ago! We are simply not able to comprehend why this filmmaking giant, knowing the levels and standard of comedy that has worked in the last 20 years from masters like Priyadarshan, Anees Bazmee and Rohit Shetty and in his own superior films like “Jodi No.1” and “Chashme Baddoor,” does not jettison such dated crudity.

The story, as we all know, is of how an arrogant rich man, Rosario (Paresh Rawal) insults a marriage broker, Pandit Jaikishan (Jaaved Jafferi) for bringing a middle-class suitor for his daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). He wants someone so rich he can rescue a country from economic ruin (!). Jaikishan swears revenge and his weapon is golden-hearted coolie Raju (Varun Dhawan), who has flipped for the girl on seeing her picture.

Jaikishan wants to fool Rosario into getting his daughter married to someone not rich at all and thus Raju has to pose as a man whose riches know no bounds, a prince named Raj Kunwar who is the son of a tycoon Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (Anil Dhawan, based in a palace supposedly in Mumbai’s Juhu of all places).

Raju meets with instant approval and Sarah too likes him. The marriage is solemnized and soon Raju has to face the bitter truth of his origins. And so he starts leading a double life as the prince and the coolie as his father-in-law spots him while alighting from a train. The spiraling of lies continue and those who have seen the 1995 laugh-riot (one of Dhawan’s best films, unlike “Judwaa” that he rebooted first) will know the rest of the plot.

Sadly, it is in modernizing the 25 years-old film that Dhawan loses his own great plot. Rumi Jaffrey messes up his own screenplay from the earlier film, the dialogues later slide as Farhad Samji finds himself in retro territory, and obviously, despite the escalated costs (some of the sets have easily cost a bomb), the film hurtles downwards.

As a small deviation, Dhawan scored better in “Judwaa 2” because the original (despite its super-success thanks to Salman Khan, the music and the whacky plot) had room for improvement and Dhawan did fare a shade better overall. But here, it is a bit like trying to improve upon cult perfection. “Coolie No. 1” was said to be a copy of a Tamil movie named “Chinna Mapillai,” but to be honest, the last film was also a smart adaptation of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s  “Gol Maal” (1979) that also inspired the hilarious “Bol Bachchan” in 2012.

Nothing in this enterprise, therefore, obviously can match the 1995 original. Tanishk Bagchi’s “original” “Mummy Kasam” is decent, Udit Narayan is terrific, but the song is a sly remake of “Ramji Ki Nikli Savaari” composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal in “Sargam.” Javed-Mohsin’s “Teri Bhabhi” is just okay and it is the Anand-Milind 1995 re-creations that are a cut above in essence. Thankfully, both remakes maintain the original voices and are proof, if still required, that proper playback singers from the past can still fit today’s young stars.

Varun Dhawan, when not made to imitate half the industry’s stars in individual scenes, tries to be himself, but when you are Govinda’s film’s successor, it will always be heads (you mimic him) he wins, and tails (you remain yourself) you lose. So for him, there was little scope despite his sincerity and fluidity.

Sara is a disaster, and so is Rajpal Yadav placed in the ‘90s Shakti Kapoor role and terrain of comedy—the latter truly sucks. Paresh Rawal tries to be sincere, but the script ensures a losing battle for him. Jaaved Jafferi makes a mark, but the rest have nothing to do.

And if you too have nothing to do, watch the film. Otherwise, get into the wi-fi time machine and go revisit the 1995 film.

Rating: ** (At best)

Produced by: Vashu Bhagnani, Jackky Bhagnani & Deepshika Deshmukh

Directed by: David Dhawan

Written by: Rumi Jaffrey & Farhad-Samji

Music: Anand-Milind, Tanishk Bagchi, D.J. Chetas, Lijo George & Javed-Mohsin

Starring: Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Bharti Achrekar, Jaaved Jafferi, Johny Lever, Vikas Verma, Sahil Vaid, Shikha Talsania, Rakesh Bedi, Manoj Joshi, Anil Dhawan, Hemant Pandey, Rajpal Yadav & others

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