The 1978 Hindi crimer that proved such a good vehicle for thesp Amitabh Bachchan proves a trickier platform for his modern equivalent, Shah Rukh Khan, in this big-budget remake. Cleverly plotted yarn about a street musician who’s asked to impersonate a dead crime lord has plenty of twists and turns, but Khan is more believable as the doofus than the don, and script never builds up a dramatic head of steam befitting its ambition. Heavily promoted blockbuster did good biz on October release in India and offshore, and is OK popcorn fare, but could have been much better.
Helmer Farhan Akhtar (“Dil chahta hai”) is the son of noted writer Javed Akhtar, who co-scripted the original and also contribs song lyrics to this new version. Remake stays pretty close to its predecessor’s plot, although most of the action has been transferred to Malaysia with a Paris-set prologue also stitched in.
Khan’s gift has always been in romantic comedy, and it’s hard to accept him as the title character, a ruthless business manager for Indian crime lord Singhania (Rajesh Khattar), who himself rose to the top by murdering his Russian boss, Boris. When Singhania took over Boris’ drug empire, Boris’ favored deputy, Vardhaan, disappeared. In an important plot point, no photos of Vardhaan are known to exist.
Don has a rep for never being caught and getting rid of anyone who’s a threat. After bumping off a colleague, Ramesh (Diwakar Pundir), who wants to get out, and then Ramesh’s fiancee (Kareena Kapoor, in a star cameo), he takes the beauteous Roma (Priyanka Chopra) into his org, though he has suspicions about her motives. Roma is actually Ramesh’s sister, and looking for revenge.
Main plotline, however, concerns Don and a middle-aged cop, De Silva (Boman Irani), who’s out to get him. After a well-staged chase in India, De Silva finally gets his man — but doesn’t turn him in. Instead, he keeps him on ice in a hospital and persuades a look-alike musician, easygoing Vijay (also Khan), to take Don’s place so he can bring down Singhania.
Khan is far more convincing as Vijay, playing up to his rom-com fanbase with plenty of boyish humor and having a ball in a musical number celebrating “The Don Is Back!” Meanwhile, picintros another main character at the hour mark: IT specialist Jasjit (Arjun Rampal), who blames De Silva for his wife’s death and happens to be the father of a street orphan Vijay took care of years ago.
With more than enough plot elements already on the table, pic pulls a surprise revelation just before the intermission and then proceeds to mix things up in part two, as Vijay is left to prove his real identity when De Silva is killed in a shootout. Final twist at the end handily sets up a possible sequel.
It’s Irani’s cop who really holds the screen and propels the drama, even when the pace sags under Akhtar’s stop-start direction. For such a star-based vehicle, Khan never gets under the skin of either of his characters, and Chopra is largely decorative.
Pic makes great use of its Langkawi locations but fumbles its use of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers (seen to much better effect in Sean Connery starrer “Entrapment”). Five musical numbers are pleasant but unmemorable, like the pic as a whole.
For the record, the original “Don” was remade at the time in three other Indian-dialect versions (Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam), making the current Hindi one the tale’s fifth outing.