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Subhash K Jha Pens An Open letter To His Friend David Dhawan After Watching Coolie No.1



Dear David,

Merry Christmas, David. I  always  think of you as a Christian.  Could  your name have something  to do with it? I’m so moved that  you’ve given  your brother AnilDhawan  a role in your latest comedy,  your 45th  farce  Coolie  No  1.  Nepotism  be damned.Agar bhai bhai ke  kaam na aaye  tooh phir  kaamyaabi ka  kaam kya?You’ve even given your brother(who plays  a millionaire in a filmy bungalow  which your son Varun describes as, ‘Yeh bungalow nahin Bangaal(Bengal)  hai’) a mouth-to-mouth kiss with Johnny Lever. I am sure this  is the highlight of Anilji’s career.

But Coolie No 1 is not  about your brother. It’s  about your son ,Varun . And he has lots  more kissing to  do than your brother (whose role is briefer than Sara Ali Khan’s  clothes, though I am sure the budget for Sara’s clothes must be ten  times what  you paid your brother).For some strange reason Varun keeps kissing Sara everywhere…in the shower,  in the swimmingpool,etc. I stopped  counting the kisses.And  started admiring your  sense  of  innovativeness. The kiss is  your way  of  keeping with  the times.  Who knows , in your next comedy Varun may  even kiss Rajpal Yadav, if we’re lucky. Here in Coolie  No 1  we have the  privilege  of seeing Varun and his  sidekick(Sahil Vaid)  dressed as two  women named Kareena and Karisma.

What  drag  act! For the record the Kapoor sisters are  not suing.

More for  the  record,  Govinda  didn’t kiss KarismaKapoor even once  in Coolie No 1. He didn’t need to. He had to resort  to no extraneous  props to get  our attention.Varun , your son, tries every trick in the  book to get our attention.In fact he  impersonates so  many actors  that  the  footage feels  like prop-o-ganda(dirty) for the all-time greats , most prominently Amitabh Bachchanwhose Coolie directed  by Manmohan Desai is  not only an inspiration  for Varun but , in the cleverest part of  the  film, the animation credit titles  tell us that BachchanSaab’s Coolie  adopted Varun’s Coolie in this  film and  brought  him up as his own.

This, I’m afraid, is the  only stroke  of  inventiveness  in the tortuously unfunny  2 hour 14  minute film that has some  of  the most hideous  artwork I’ve ever seen. David. I’m so glad I saw the film at home. To watch the riot of garish colours, unimaginative sets, ditzy itsy-bitsycostumes  on the   big screen  would be unbearable. 

The world has moved on  since Coolie No  1 first  staged  its staggering absurdness 25 years  ago. The same  nonsensical  drama staged for today’s audience, specially at time when the OTT  platform has opened  the doors to  a whole new world  of cinematic entertainment, is to be caught in  a time warp.Nothing has changed since Coolie  No 1 in  1995  except that Varun’s  gags are longer and Sarah’s dresses are  shorter than  Govinda and Karisma’s.  In fact so awful is their attempt  to fill their predecessor’s shoes that  audiences will  now look back with affection at  the old  version of the story which  was no great shakes either.

While I admit rationalizing  your cinema, David, is  to attempt the impossible, I still  found the new Coolie  No 1  impossibly  illogical. Sara Ali Khan belongs to  a Catholic family. Yet she is shown rushing to the temple with a thali(designer-secularism?). Her father Jeffrey Rozario, played by poor  Paresh Rawal(poor, because when next he meets  PM Modi  how will he explain his  presence in something so stagnant  subversive and anti-progressive?) keeps  telling his mother Bharati Achrekar(in a Amazon-ordered wizened wig)  to go light candles  .

Presumably that’s all Catholics do.Talent like Paresh, Achrekar(she  even scored as  just  a voice  in RiteshBatra’s  Lunchbox), Rakesh Bedi(in a 4-minute  appearance where he plays  a stammerer for laughs), Johnny Lever, Rajpal Yadav is not just wasted  but also ridiculed.Tujhko mirchi  lagi,indeed. 

 The vigorous dancing of  the  neo-Coolie couple is no patch  on  Govinda and Karisma who were just fantastic  on their feet. Varun amd Sara, I am afraid, look like poor copies in spite of trying so  hard to be feisty, funny and vigorous. Varun spends  the second-half impersonating  Mithun Chakraborty. It took me  while to  figure out that’s what your son  was  doing.  Most of the time I had no idea what he was doing,and why.

Incidentally , I have never so many empty suitcases posing as “luggage”  in scene  after scene. Empty suitcases to match empty minds?And  no, the excuse that intellectualizing your content  is  doing your cinema disservice, won’t work. Absurdist cinema  is not akin to  brainless cinema. You  can’t slap on a slapstick by  pretending to be entertaining the masses. The “masses” have moved. So  should you.

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