I interviewed the poised and reticent Shikha Talsania in mid-December for Coolie No 1, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan in the lead. Normally I would have posted the review based on her comments but she did not reveal anything about the movie other than quoting “it’s a refreshed version” and “ a family movie”.
So, I watched the movie on Christmas Day with my family. Although I had forgotten the scene by scene roll out of the 1995 blockbuster, the raving zest of Govinda, his side-splitting interactions with Kader Khan as Hoshiarchand. The credulous “Barbie-like’ mannerisms of Karisma Kapoor had left a mental imprint. Twenty-five years ago, I remember borrowing the VCD tape from a street vendor in Manhattan over a long holiday weekend, watching it with my friends and being flabbergasted by the song “Main to ladki ghuma raha tha...Tujhe mirchi lagi toh main kya karoon?” At the same time marveling as to how the lyrics-tune beat combo “Husn hai suhana ishq hai deewana” had created a cult-like appeal.
As I watched the 2020 David Dhavan remake, I was catapulted back into the frenzied hip-hop of the roaring 90s! Apart from that, the new movie was unable to cast a spell. Varun Dhavan is a handsome and talented actor who has cast a spell in Badri Ki Dulhaniya and other films. Sara Ali Khan is glammed up (though costumes are not tasteful) but her acting skills are untapped. I wish David Dhavan would have reimagined the storyline after a quarter of a century! If he is thinking of vesting money and energy in remaking other Govinda movies with Varun, he must rethink it.
There are a myriad of stories and current real-life issues to be explored and presented to the audience in commercially successful cinema. I hope to see Varun, Sara, Shikha, and other stars cast in original socio-economic-political narratives to entertain and enlighten the audiences. If the lure of “rags to riches” theme is too hypnotic to ignore then there are stories like that of Ambani, a son of a village school teacher, and Narendra Modi selling tea at Vadnagar railway station. Although the remake has a backstory, it could have been more creative! Bollywood must come to grips with the fact that the 2020 filmgoer finds it ludicrous to believe that a change of costume can conjure a completely different identity, whether that be of twin or not.
The story is as follows: Humiliated by a mercenary hotelier, Jeffrey Rozario (Paresh Rawal), matchmaker Jai Kishan (Jaaved Jaaferi) avenges himself by introducing a railway coolie Raju (Varun Dhawan) as Kunwar Raj Pratap. Raju is smitten by the photograph of Jeffrey’s daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan). Sarah gullibly believes Raju’s tall tales. It might have been more interesting to see the daughter Anju (Shikha Talsania) marry Raju’s friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid) rather than team up with a fictional twin of Raju.
If the movie was made as an homage to the original, it falls short. If it was made to erase the original from our memory, it fails hopelessly. Govinda’s unexpected words, irrational antics, and outlandish costumes are unforgettable, as are his bona fide dance moves in those loose trousers! Govinda pulled off a con in Coolie No 1 by holding the audience spellbound but Varun Dhawan’s over-rehearsed expressions and mimicry failed to tickle the funny bone. Paresh Rawal’s limericks, or Rajpal Yadav and Javed Jaffrey’s pranks did not do the trick either. I feel that the entire cast was so much in awe of Govinda’s comedic high jinks and they lacked the oomph to overshadow the original Coolie No 1. It’s like comparing an original Indian soda to the same soda in a fancier bottle but with more sugar and less fizz! Although the songs will be good for zoom zumba the movie fails to dazzle! Coolie No 1(2020) is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Hotstar.
Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, and the other in her birth home India. Writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books: My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.